Criterion Round-Up

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The Criterion Collection released it's latest slate of releases a couple weeks ago, and it's an interesting mix: Costa-Gravas' 1969 classic Z; three more recent releases, Gommorah and A Christmas Tale, both from 2008, and Mira Nair's 2001 film Monsoon Wedding; neglected studio product Downhill Racer; and Criterion's first foray into TV, The Golden Age of Television. The cover art for these releases are above.

What makes this list so interesting is how eclectic it is. Z, which is making the repertory rounds courtesy of Rialto, was almost guaranteed a Criterion release, so nothing strange there. But then there's Downhill Racer, a Paramount release from 1969 starring Robert Redford and Gene Hackman. Criterion has released studio films in the past, but they normally have some sort of arthouse cache, like Days of Heaven. Of course, Criterion also released Armageddon, so... Downhill Racer might be well-made, but it seems to land on the cult side of things, and Criterion tends to release cult studio movies sparingly, and more recent releases have come under their Eclipse imprint. That the company decided to give Downhill Racer the Criterion treatment makes the film worth some attention.

Then there's the three films from this decade. Criterion doesn't release contemporary films that often, relative to how often they release decades-old world cinema on DVD. (Of the discs released in June and July, the most recent film, For All Mankind, originally came out in 1989.) But three in one blast is really strange. A Christmas Tale and Gommorah were both well-received, and Monsoon Wedding is something of a modern classic, yet are they worthy of being part of the Criterion library? That's not a rhetorical question, really. The Criterion brand stands for filmmaking excellence (again, the less said about Armageddon the better), and movies that have been around for less than a decade are always suspect when they end up on Criterion's release schedule.

Finally, there's the TV set, which is a collection of made-for-TV movies from the early days of the medium. (The complete list of what's in the set can be found on Criterion's site.) This is a fantastic release, giving long-overdue attention to films that helped shape television as well as Hollywood. One title in the set is Marty, which went on to become a Best Picture-winning feature with Ernest Borgnine, while others feature soon-to-be-stars like Jack Palance and influential filmmakers like John Frankenheimer. Let's hope this set goes over well and Criterion returns to the TV well.