Hearing the words “Criterion Collection” is normally enough to make any film nerd salivate. Ever since the ancient days of laserdisc, Criterion has been going out of their way to ensure that the greatest classic and foreign films are available in packages so great that you’ll want to cry (or at least tear up a little). As usual, 2014 was packed with some incredible releases from Criterion that any film buff would receive as a gift through squeals of joy. If you’re having trouble deciding what to shove deep into the stocking of the movie obsessive in your life, a good old Criterion disc would be enough for that person to be forever in your debt a. So, we here at Dork Shelf decided to serve up a list of the five finest Criterion discs released last year to make your holiday shopping a little easier (especially if you’re buying for one of us).
5) A Brief History of Time
If you buy a ticket to see the Oscar hopeful The Theory of Everything over the holidays, you might find yourself coming out of the theater wondering if there will ever actually be a genuinely excellent movie ever made about Stephen Hawking. Fear not loyal reader, it already exists and Criterion shipped it out on Blu-Ray earlier this year anticipating that you’d find yourself in this very dilemma. The film comes from incomparable director Errol Morris, one of the most original filmmakers who ever lived. In the early 90s, Morris made a beautiful, thoughtful, and ambitious documentary adaptation of the most potent ideas in Hawking’s iconic book A Brief History of Time, intertwined with the tragic life story of the man himself. You’ll hear all the theories and stories from Hawking directly (as well as the people who knew him best) and see the endlessly visually imaginative filmmaker find ways to bring Hawking’s science thrillingly to the screen. It’s a brilliant little flick that Criterion made available in North America for the first time in decades on a beautiful Blu-ray, along with exclusive interviews with Morris and his cinematographer John Bailey.
4) Y Tu Mama Tambien
Long before he was transforming viewers into puddles of goo with Gravity, Alfonso Cuaron established himself as one of the most interesting filmmakers of his generation with this harsh, moving, and thoughtful teenage road comedy. A way-too-young Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna star as a pair of horny Mexican teens who take a middle aged woman with a secret (Maribel Verdu) on the road to a beach that may or may not exist. Along the way, the power dynamics between the group constantly shift and hard lessons are learned about sex, love, death, and politics (along with plenty of nudity and filthy humor for teen sex comedy lovers). It’s Porky’s as poetry, and a genuinely brilliant movie shot through low-fi, hand-held long takes by Emmanuel Lubezki that would set the tone for the blockbusters that he and Cuaron would make over the next decade. Criterion slid the film onto Blu-Ray last year with an eye-tingling transfer, a vast archive of special features from past DVDs, an amazing new documentary featuring interview from all the major players in the film, and a fat booklet featuring character biographies by Alfonso and is brother Carlos on all the major characters in the film (including the car). Another international masterpiece given the respect it long deserved by Criterion.
3) The Complete Jacques Tati
Only France could produce a philosophical slapstick comedian. Jacques Tati only made a handful of films in his career, but each one blurred the line between Mr. Bean style silent buffoonery and pointed social commentary. The one benefit to Tati having made so few movies is that Criterion was able to combine them all (along with his shorts) into this one big, beautiful box set. Some of these films (like the classics Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday and Mon Oncle) made their long awaited Blu-Ray debut through the box, while others were impossible to get in North America in any format before now. It’s a definitive guide to one of the most fascinating comedic filmmakers who ever lived packed to the gills with documentaries, interviews, and commentaries to put his work in the proper perspective. In other words, this is a little film school in a box that will have you giggling endlessly while tickling your brain.
The most famous exploding head in film history has been given the most prestigious home video treatment possible. David Cronenberg’s tax shelter brain-burster was a cult classic pretty much from the moment it was released, yet has always been stuck in shabby home video presentations. Thankfully, Criterion finally righted that wrong with a gorgeous restoration of the sci-fi shocker that finally got the director attention in Hollywood. Cronenberg supervised the new transfer, but sadly didn’t bother to participate in any of the special features. Thankfully, Criterion still managed to pack this disc with a new documentary on the film’s special effects, a fresh interviews with Stephen Lack and Michael Ironside, a vintage interview with Cronenberg, and as an added bonus the HD debut of Cronenberg’s first experimental feature Stereo. It’s the classiest possible way that you can give your dearest the gift of gore over Xmas, so please do that.
Finally, there’s only one release that could possibly top this list. David Lynch’s first feature is the closest thing that you’ll ever experience to watching a living nightmare unfold on film, so what could be better to curl up with around the TV following Christmas dinner? Personally transferred to HD by David Lynch, it’s impossible to imagine the movie looking any better than this and then Criterion tossed in hours of extras as trimmings. You’ll get a fresh documentary with all of Lynch’s living collaborators on this four-years-in-the-making flick, interviews with Lynch from 1977 until the 2000s, a collection of Lynch’s finest short films, and a vintage introduction to the film from David Lynch surrounded by a collection of Woody Woodpecker dolls. In others words, there will never be a finer home video release for Eraserhead. This is it. So shove this sucker under the tree and watch your beloved’s eyes widen with joy. As you’ll soon learn, everything is fine in heaven.