Monday, July 12, 2010
In a date much anticipated by art house fans worldwide, the grand Criterion 50% off sale begins today at BarnesandNoble.com. While it's hard to go too wrong with just about any of their selections, I wanted to spotlight five Blu-Rays that are really worth your time, and more than worth the few shillings they're charging during the sale (I've previously spotlighted ten of their DVDs, so feel free to reference that as well, as I still heartily recommend them). It was the Blu-Ray set of The Godfather trilogy that really converted me to Blu-Ray, but it wasn't until I saw Criterion's work that I really knew what the format was capable of. So if you're like me and you're desperately trying to stay within your budget while still taking advantage of this fantastic deals, here are some suggestions to make that journey even more difficult.
Red Desert - This will be my first and most urgent purchase during the sale, having watched it a few weeks ago and been absolutely awestruck. My brother has this whole thing of giving me books as gifts so that, even if I don't read them right away (if at all), they'll have a presence in my house, and there are some films I feel the same way towards - my cinematic soul will be better for the presence of Red Desert, and I can always take a peek at it when I need to glimpse perfection. And did I mention the special features include two short documentaries by Antonioni, a commentary, and a booklet with an interview with Antonioni by none other than Jean-Luc Godard? Among other things, naturally.
Last Year at Marienbad - Speaking of perfection. This is my second-favorite Criterion Blu-Ray in terms of just the look of the thing (sadly my favorite, The Third Man, is out of print). I first saw Alain Resnais' masterpiece on a shoddy dupe of a Region 2 disc, and while the movie is still good enough that it shook me through all junk holding back its total glory, the layers and depth revealed to me by this disc is astonishing. The special features are worth the price of admission alone - a ton of information on the production of this film (which is endlessly fascinating in a way film production rarely is, unless something goes Apocalypse Now-level wrong), a dissection of various interpretations, a truly wonderful booklet, and best of all, two short documentaries by Resnais that I recommend with the greatest urgency. I'd pay for it all over again if I had to.
Playtime - There are those who say you haven't seen this film until you see it projected on 70mm. That may very well be the case. Until then, this representation of the film on Blu-Ray is beyond satisfactory. I watched it with a small group, and the alternating joy and confusion of laughing at something nobody else noticed and desperately searching the frame to see what someone else was laughing at is one of those odd, wonderful, irreplaceable movie experiences. I haven't plunged into the Special Features, but with tons of interviews with writer/director Jacques Tati and a good chunk of behind-the-scenes info, I have a hard time seeing why it wouldn't be pretty damn cool.
Bigger Than Life - Every cinephile worth their salt has a few canonized directors who just don't do anything for them, and for a long time, Nicholas Ray has been mine. While it's no Party Girl (which I mean and I don't at the same time), Bigger Than Life is the most convincing argument I've been presented with that Nicholas Ray really is one of the greatest directors of all time. A stunning Technicolor transfer (Lord do I love Technicolor) and a ton of scholarly dissections make this a disc worth owning.
Stagecoach - First, if you haven't seen this movie, it's even more awesome than you'd ever expect. Second, be warned that the transfer is an honest representation of what a film looks like, which means it has, oh no, grain and scratches. For those of you who like movies and appreciate such things, it's a wonderful disc all around. Not only do you get one of the best classic westerns (it's between this and Red River for me), you get more special features than you could shake...well, something significantly larger than a stick. Like an entire silent film by John Ford. Or an hour-long interview with the man himself. Or an interview with Peter Bogdanovich about the film, or a visual essay analyzing the film's style, or how about every God damn thing you could ever want. It's extraordinary.
Bottom line, you really can't go wrong with Criterion Blu-Rays. I've seen a good chunk of the ones they've released, and can whole-heartedly recommend all of them. These are merely the ones that stand out. Let me know if you have any others you feel especially strongly towards!
Posted by Scott Nye at 4:26 PM