In 2018, the Criterion Collection provided a much-needed break from reality. The label released several important box sets, including Ingmar Bergman’s Cinema and Dietrich & Von Sternberg in Hollywood, as well as a long list of important individual releases.
Unfortunately, I did not get the Bergman box. And as this year was my first full year where I had to worry about more living expenses than previously, I did not go insane during the Barnes & Noble sales. However, Criterion sent me quite a few discs to review throughout 2018. I have done individual reviews for some, but others are still on the backburner.
Without any further delay, let’s get to some of my favorite releases and features from the year.
Favorite Overall Release – Dietrich & Von Sternberg in Hollywood
This is easily one of the best box sets Criterion has put together in the Blu-ray era. Dietrich & Von Sternberg in Hollywood might not have the vast number of extras matched by The Complete Jacques Tati or The Essential Jacques Demy, but the extras we do get provide a fascinating analysis of the films. Criterion’s best sets usually have a theme built around them, and this one aimed to prove Marlene Dietrich was never putty in anyone’s hands, especially Josef von Sterneberg’s. She ran the show when it came to her fame. Throughout the set, you realize that even if von Sternberg had not found her, she would have become a star anyway.
Favorite Individual Release: Orson Welles’ The Magnificent Ambersons
Criterion’s partnership with Warner Bros. has yielded some fantastic releases, but none have been as essential as The Magnificent Ambersons. Since the lost footage will likely remain lost forever, Criterion instead put together a comprehensive release on what we have and how it came to be. The unfinished aspect of what we have even continued into the incredible package design. Each individual supplement is invaluable, and help paint at least a picture of what Orson Welles‘ envisioned when he set out to bring Booth Tarkington’s novel to the screen.
Favorite Release of a Movie Already on Blu-Ray: Rob Reiner’s The Princess Bride
Unlike most, I never grew up with The Princess Bride and I somehow managed to live without seeing it until Criterion’s Blu-ray release this year. Criterion understood that the film has been released dozens of times on home video, and 20th Century Fox even released it on Blu-ray multiple times. So, they created an intricate package, releasing the Blu-ray in its first digi-book and excavating the laser disc extras they made in 1997. It’s a loving release of a great film. Although it came out just before author William Goldman’s death, it also serves as a touching tribute to his work.
Favorite Individual Supplement: The Art of Subtitling
Sure, the extended version of The Tree of Life is great, but The Art of Subtitling, a 20-minute essay found on Panique is essential. Rialto Pictures founder Bruce Goldstein, who is also the director of the New York Film Forum (one of my favorite places on the planet), goes over the history and evolution of subtitles. Without them, English speakers would never understand the greats of international cinema unless we were already fluent in those languages. One part that was particularly fascinating is how part of the art is understanding when not to translate.
Favorite Discovery: John Murray Anderson’s King of Jazz
Since I already mentioned Panique, which is such an incredible movie that I will get around to reviewing eventually, the “Favorite Discovery” award will go to King of Jazz. Since I don’t live in New York, I was not able to attend any of the screenings of this film after Universal’s shocking decision to restore it, so Criterion’s Blu-ray was a treat. The extras are marvelous, Farran Smith Nehme’s essay is a delightful read and the non-Disney Oswald The Lucky Rabbit shorts are fascinating.
Most Disappointing Release: Tony Richardson’s Tom Jones
How can a two-disc Blu-ray set be a disappointment? Unfortunately for me, the release of Tony Richardson’s 1963 Best Picture Oscar-winner Tom Jones was a bit of a let-down. Although it included both the director’s and theatrical cuts, there were not many extras here. A commentary or something more on the original book would have been welcomed.
Another very disappointing release was Shampoo, a great film that deserved a lot more than less than an hour of extras. If that’s all it was going to get, I wonder why Criterion did not let Sony release it themselves.
So those are just some of my favorites from Criterion in 2018. It was a great year for the label. Although Filmstruck’s demise did not help, Criterion’s continued commitment to physical media is a relief. Other labels are doing great work too, but Criterion is still the best at what they do.