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Criterion 2013

The Criterion Collection is an ever-expanding accumulation of canonical works of cinema. Yet Criterion’s selections don’t only represent deliberate attempts to construct a pristine archive from cinema’s past, but also force a conversation with cinema’s present. These releases (and the cult of anticipation that develops around them) produces a distinctive contrast between the best of cinema history against the spoils of the current moment. And while 2013 did introduce us to some very good films (three of which made it into the Collection), the best selections of cinema’s past always have a lot of instructive lessons to offer the smorgasbord of cinema’s present. So here are some useful pieces of advice that we think current filmmaking should take from this year’s crop of Criterion releases.

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discs drinking buddies

Welcome back to This Week In Discs! If you see something you like, click on the title to buy it from Amazon. Drinking Buddies Kate (Olivia Wilde) and Luke (Jake Johnson) are friends and co-workers at a beer brewery, and both are in relationships. She’s dating Chris (Ron Livingston), and he’s engaged to Jill (Anna Kendrick), but when the four get together for a weekend at Chris’ cabin some lines are crossed in the realm of love and fidelity. Ignore the marketing as it’s selling something (a romantic comedy) that this film is most definitely not. Director Joe Swanberg keeps the improv method used in his past “mumblecore” films, but it still manages to tell a cohesive and truly affecting story. A big reason for that is a cast of extremely talented actors with wicked good comedic timing in the lead roles. The four performers, along with a more assured Swanberg directing and editing, have crafted a story about heartbreak, temptation, and friendship. While they’re all fantastic, this is Wilde’s show, and she absolutely crushes it with a character that will leave you frustrated, aroused, entertained, and engaged in nearly equal measure. [Blu-ray/DVD extras: Deleted scenes, interviews, featurettes, commentary, trailer]

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Screen Shot 2012-12-04 at 2.23.54 PM

The Fitzgerald Family Christmas marks writer/director/star Edward Burns’ return to capturing the working class milieu of his earlier work in films like indie darling The Brothers McMullen. Somewhat surprisingly, the film also marks Burns’ very first foray into a making a film about the holidays. In the film, Burns plays Gerry, a grown man who still lives with his mother (Anita Gillette) on Long Island. He also lives with the burden of running his family’s bar and filling in for his father (Ed Lauter), who walked out his large Irish family – a total of seven siblings – twenty years ago. When his father announces that he’s dying and wants to spend his last Christmas with his family, the disparate siblings come together and debate whether or not they are ready to forgive their father for the transgressions of the past. Amidst all the family drama, Gerry also strikes up a romance with at-home nurse, Nora (Connie Britton). Here’s what the very prolific Burns had to say about his inspirations for the film, the benefits of working with friends, how VOD is changing independent film, and a little rumor that he might guest star on Nashville…

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Culture Warrior

You hear the phrase “This movie could never be made today” quite often, and it’s typically a thinly veiled means by which a creative team allows themselves to administer loving pats on their own backs. But in the context of at a 35th anniversary exhibition of the restoration of Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver with a justifiably disgruntled Paul Schrader in attendance, such a sentence rings profoundly and depressingly true. Like many of you, I’ve seen Taxi Driver many times before. For many, it’s a formative moment in becoming a cinephile. But I had never until last weekend seen the film outside of a private setting. And in a public screening, on the big screen, I’m happy to say the film still has the potential to shock and profoundly affect viewers so many decades on. For me personally it was the most disturbing of any time I’d ever seen the film, and I was appropriately uncomfortable despite anticipating the film’s every beat. Perhaps it was because I was sharing the film’s stakes with a crowd instead of by myself or with a small group of people, or perhaps the content comes across as so much more subversive when projected onto a giant screen, or perhaps it was because the aura of a room always feels different when the creative talent involved is in attendance. For whatever reason, I found the film to be more upsetting than in any other context of viewing. But one of the most appalling moments of Taxi […]

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hankwilliamsbiopic

Country music’s biggest star is headed for the big screen. Yes, I realize that Walk The Line came out years ago. Luckily, we’ll finally have a biopic of Hank Williams, too.

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