The Criterion Collection has released some 750 films since its launch in 1984. Today, a Criterion release ranks among the highest compliments a film can receive. These kingmakers of cinematic taste can lead critics to reevaluate a film’s reputation and drastically increase its distribution. For a recent example of the Criterion bump, see the deluge of articles on John Frankenheimer’s long-ignored Seconds after Criterion released the film this summer.
The following list includes 12 films we think should have a place in the Criterion canon. We’ve split this list into three distinct types of titles. We first look at great films that are either hard to find or out of print. We then discuss four films in need of a better home video release. We lastly explore four films that look great—if only we could see them.
Rare/Out of Print Films
Criterion has a long history of bringing rare and out-of-print films back on the market. These four films are prime candidates for a proper, bells-and-whistles rerelease.
Ranked among critics as one the 100 greatest films ever made, Beau Travail remains maddeningly out of reach for many viewers. How can this be? It tied with Chinatown on BFI’s once-a-decade poll last year, yet Claire Denis’ 1999 masterwork is only sporadically in print and unavailable on streaming services. The film is an incisive take on the rituals of male desire. The men of Beau Travail live for combat and the clubs, and Denis depicts their rhythms with an ethnographic eye. The movie unfolds, in many ways, like a spiritual twin of The Hurt Locker, that other female-directed picture about men, the battlefield, and the wonders of testosterone. This slow-moving, knotty film ends with one of the great standalone final shots in film. The sight of Denis Lavant—unchained on an empty dance floor, unleashing his inner id to Corona’s “Rhythm of the Night”—is at once a gleeful music video and a tearful encapsulation of the entire film. Criterion released Denis’ White Material in 2009; the rarer Beau Travail is an almost too-obvious contender for their attention.
Ken Russell‘s The Devils is a movie that more people know of than have actually seen, and it deserves a Criterion treatment for its influence, rarity, and artistic audacity. More than 30 years old, its controversy hasn’t diminished. In addition to Oliver Reed’s raucously blasphemous performance, there’s a notorious sequence depicting a nun orgy that outdoes all other nunsploitation movies combined, culminating in the sexual desecration of a Jesus statue (“the Rape of Christ”). Much of The Devils has slipped into our culture through music videos and other films, which is surprising since the movie has been kept out-of-print in the United States by its distributor, Warner Bros. The last stateside release was on VHS in 1995. Last year, the British Film Institute licensed a 111-minute version of The Devils, and Ben Wheatley introduced a U.S. screening of the film at this year’s Fantastic Fest. There are apparently scenes missing (the original cut was 117 minutes) and some of the video quality is poor, but The Devils is Criterion-worthy even in this incomplete state.
The cult film to end all cult films, Possession turns the torment of a bad breakup into a phantasmagoria of shrieks, spasms, and body-horror. Here’s a film with enough camp/shock value to delight midnight crowds and the dramatic gut-punch to intrigue Ingmar Bergman lovers. Few films have gone more over-the-top and retained such a devastating emotional core. Possession’s many excesses inspire laughter, terror, and throat-grabbing agony, often in the same scene. Above all, the film captures the feeling of a dying relationship, when the rest of the world disappears and the histrionics take over. Despite its established cult appeal, Possession has no DVD distribution in the U.S.; fans must currently settle for a South Korean import. Possession is a quintessential Criterion picture: a daring, art-house lightning rod in need of critical resurrection. No viewer, no matter how calloused, can walk away unscathed from Possession. A virtual roadmap for the careers of Lars Von Trier and David Cronenberg, Possession is a scarring, unshakeable film in need of a greater audience to terrorize.
Frederick Wiseman is one of the most acclaimed documentary filmmakers of all time. His work is just as influential as the Maysles brothers, whose Salesman, Grey Gardens, and Gimme Shelter are already part of Criterion’s catalog. Though Wiseman’s movies are available through Zipporah Films, his inclusion in the Collection is long overdue. A great initial release would be Wiseman’s 1967 directorial debut, Titicut Follies. One of the few documentaries that appears on lists of the most disturbing films ever made, Wiseman crafts his grim portrait of criminally insane inmates being mistreated in such a way that narration is superfluous. He’s stuck to this approach for more than four decades, which has led many to consider Wiseman an exemplary filmmaker of the vérité style. Yet Wiseman is resistant of this label, given the way he puts his films together. As Errol Morris noted in a Daily Beast article from 2009, Wiseman’s films are “personal and idiosyncratic visions”, less interested in capturing objective reality and more focused on “the essential absurdity of the world”.
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