Five Years of Criterion Months

As amusingly bizarre as Colin’s conclusion to this year’s Criterion Month was, I thought the occasion deserved even more fanfare. You see, this marks five years of Criterion Months, since we started this tradition way back in 2017. That was uniquely the only time we did two Criterion Months in a year, as we followed that up with another one for that year’s Shocktober. We could afford to do those sorts of things those days, because life was so simple. Back then, we streamed Criterion movies on Hulu and TCM’s FilmStruck and had even more incentive to do this because the Barnes and Noble John worked at was still open. Things sure have changed a lot since then.

We’ve collectively reviewed 182 movies (I refuse to include Cyberspace Jam), let’s break them down.

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Criterion Month Day 31: Space Jam: A New Legacy

Space Jam: A New Legacy

I wrote this review shortly after Space Jam: A New Legacy came out, but refrained from posting it and disrupting the posterity of Criterion Month. While the film world has already moved on from Space Jam to that beach that makes you old, it still felt appropriate to end Criterion Month with the kind of movie that’s a vital reminder that taking a break from cinematic trash for a month can be a very good thing indeed.

When you spend as much time sifting through the world as pop culture as we do, sometimes you get certain movies or TV shows or franchises attached to you as being specifically “yours”. I had this with Space Jam in recent years, receiving multiple birthday or Christmas gifts from friends consisting of Space Jam merch. Now, one has to ask how a film that was relatively successful 25 years ago and has had no direct sequels, spin-offs, or reboots could garner a veritable amount of merch so long after the fact. I think a lot of this had to do with a mix of millennial nostalgia, half-irony, the ‘90s being a golden age of basketball, and the fact that it was the most successful re-introduction of the Looney Tunes into the zeitgeist in recent memory. Whether any of this has to do with the quality of Space Jam as a film is a little beside the point, though I am not one of those people who will tell you that of course Space Jam: A New Legacy is bad because the original Space Jam is bad. Continue reading

Criterion Month Day 30: Certain Women

Certain Women (2016)

I can’t believe I almost forgot to write my last review for Criterion Month! I was distracted watching a guy get his fingers ripped off in the latest Saw. It made me feel dirty. Not this movie though. Quite the opposite. Like Colin said in his review of Kelly Reichardt’s Old Joy, the unassuming nature of some of Reichardt’s work is a warm bath compared to a lot of overstimulated modern media. Which is good cuz I need something to wash off all the blood and cartilage from these finger bones.

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Criterion Month Day 29: Old Joy

Old Joy (2006)

So after reviewing movies of various lengths and ambitions this year, I’m bringing it home with a review of a movie that is decidedly small. Kelly Reichardt has made a singular career out of crafting these very intimate, contemplative films that rarely have a ton of conflict or innate drama. Of the films of hers I’ve seen, Old Joy seems like the purest distillation of this, as there’s not a ton that happens (even for the indie road movie genre), but then again, nothing really needs to. Like much of Reichardt’s oeuvre, the film’s unassuming nature is like a warm bath compared to the overstimulated nature of today’s media, or should I say it’s like a dip in a hot spring? Continue reading

Criterion Month Day 28: The New World

The New World (2005)

When people decry the state of modern filmmaking, I think they must consider the case of Terrence Malick. The famously private writer-director made his debut with Badlands in 1973, an indie film financed mostly by people outside the industry. Five years later, he followed that up with the gorgeous Days of Heaven, which had a difficult production and lengthy post-production. That was enough to leave him struggling to get a picture off the ground for two decades, until he finally released The Thin Red Line in 1998. It took him another eight years to do The New World, then six more for The Tree of Life. So five movies in nearly 40 years.

But something changed in the 2010s: To the Wonder came out just a year after The Tree of Life and Malick managed to make three more movies (plus an IMAX experience) before the end of the decade. Back in the day, his films were huge events for cinephiles like me, now sometimes I don’t even hear about them at all when they come out (the fuck was Song to Song?). For whatever reason, one of our least bankable directors became his most prolific during perhaps the most commercial era in cinema’s history. I leave it to you to decide if giving Malick access to so many ways to make and distribute movies enabled an auteur to finally thrive or took some of the shine off of him.

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Criterion Month Day 27: The Piano Teacher

The Piano Teacher (2001)

I just realized out the nine films I’ve watched for Criterion Month so far, six of them have featured promiscuity or having an affair as a prominent plot point. Is this a coincidence? Or is there a reason I’m drawn to taboo subject matter? I think a parallel can be drawn with my passion for horror movies. I’m drawn to what that scares me. Watching things you feel like you’re not supposed to be watching is exciting. Uncomfortable, sure. But you can learn a lot about humans from discomfort. The Piano Teacher is thus pure unfiltered Michael Haneke.

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Criterion Month Day 26: Beau Travail

Beau Travail (1999)

Ah, the plight of a film watched late in Criterion Month, when we’re all a little burned out from watching arty, cerebral movies. This makes it especially hard to write about a film as layered and exquisitely made as Beau Travail, which leaves as much to chew on as any film I watched during this year’s Criterion Month. So much so that despite how much I enjoyed my viewing of it, I didn’t zero in that much on one aspect most people seem to talk about in regards to Beau Travail (its portrayal of repressed homosexuality). Though that’s just one aspect of what’s remarkable about the film, as everything is done with so much confidence, and yet there are so many things left unspoken by the film’s end that it leaves you lingering in its dusty doorway, looking for answers. Continue reading