Best new releases from the Criterion Collection: February 2022

Each month, Paste brings you the best new selections from the Criterion Collection. Beloved by casual fans and moviegoers alike, Criterion has been presenting special editions of important classic and contemporary films for more than three decades. You can explore the full collection here.

In the meantime, because chances are you’re looking for something, anything, to check out, find all of our Criterion picks, check out some of our favorite February new releases and, hey, since many of us have plenty more time on our hands, browse the top 100 deals currently airing on The Criterion Channel.

Year: 1982
Director: Ann Hui
Stars: George Lam, Andy Lau, Cora Miao, Saison Ma
Duration: 106 minutes

Charity, goodwill, idealism – in the real world as in Boats, they don’t mean much until it costs something. Director Ann Hui’s new wave drama Hong Kong disperses allegorical politics among the rambling street children of postwar Danang, and Japanese photojournalist Shiomi Akutagawa (George Lam) documents them. Death comes easily and often, for the communist experience decays through the same rot that plagues most human endeavours: greed, smugness and ambition. Boats damn Vietnam’s new economic zones as deeply as it damns mainland China’s actions; points the finger as much at the US military as it does at an ineffectual international group of bleeding hearts. As Akutagawa befriends one of the local children (Season Ma, remarkable in his first role), we see the difficulty of maintaining innocence – in this country, in this world. Wong Chung-kei’s long shots, vivid colors and crisp lighting immerse you in the film’s intense observational environments, while jaded performances by Cora Miao and Andy Lau reduce its heartbreaking detail to a razor-thin point. You expect nothing good from this oppressive world, and the small connections that arise are all the more significant for him. Hui’s masterstroke is not to let these connections exist in a magical unreality. Their true strength and value lies in their ability to confront their dehumanizing opposites – to pay their price without questioning whether it’s worth it or not. Thoughtful and deeply critical (of virtually any diet you’d like to attribute it to), Boats remains the difficult gem of Hui’s Vietnamese trilogy.—Jacob Oller

Year: 1939
Director: Leo McCarey
Stars: Charles Boyer, Irene Dunne, Maria Ouspenskaya
Duration: 87 minutes

One of the definitive romantic installations of American cinema, love affairThe tight camera work and tonal mastery of reinforce the emotional and comedic timing of its tracks up to the 102nd floor of the Empire State Building. So abstract and essentially emotional that the oft-remade story received a fresh coat of paint decades later from its own director, Leo McCarey, as A case to remember, love affairThe protagonists of (Charles Boyer and Irene Dunne) sparkle furiously as recognizable archetypes and as strongly individualized characters. Their chemistry, melodramatically tested by an injury-laden plot enforced by the then-dominant production code, heats up with slow heat as the two sadly engaged gold diggers find something worth fighting for. one in the other. Rudolph Maté’s low-key but quick camera movements enhance the same qualities in the protagonists’ emotional arc – if you’re unmoved by the rush to Boyer’s apartment in the finale, you might want to check your pulse. The new restoration from the Museum of Modern Art and Lobster Films looks crisp and lovely, as the lighting changes from the heady glow of romance born on a boat to the more realistic New York look, making the version Criterion the definitive modern way to experience this classic love story.—Jacob Oller

Year: 1990
Director: Joel Coen
Stars: Gabriel Byrne, Marcia Gay Harden, John Turturro, Jon Polito, JE Freeman, Albert Finney
Duration: 115 minutes

Ask a bunch of moviegoers what’s the best mob movie of all time, and you can be fairly certain that Coppola The Godfather or its sequel will be the answer. Both of these films are so ingrained in pop cultural consciousness that even people who haven’t seen either will likely rank them #1 and #2. But changing “best” to “favorite” and ” Mafia” into “gangster”? Be ready for Miller crossing to enter into the conversation. Joel and Ethan Coen’s 1990 noir does what many of their films do, drawing on classic genre niches of the (relative) past to create a vigorous and elegant iteration. In situation and in dialogue, Miller crossing draws heavily on Dashiell Hammett’s hard-boiled detective fiction of the early 1930s, particularly The glass key and red harvest– while returning to gangster movies popular around the same time. (Later films, such as The third man and The Godfather also receive cinematic nods.) In the film, Tom Reagan (Gabriel Byrne), the right-hand man of crime boss Leo O’Bannon (Albert Finney), must deal with the consequences (and manipulate the results) when his boss ignores his sage advice and starts a gang war. As with any good black, there are crossovers, double crossovers and, oh, so many loyalties tested. (Not to mention the blood, beatings, and booze.) But for modern audiences, just keep it simple: the movie looks cool, the dialogue clicks, and the performances, especially from Byrne, Finney and John Turturro, simultaneously anchor and propel a riveting plot in the kind of cinematic experience that, 30 years later, makes the exclamation “Have you never seen it?!” as much an expression of anticipation as of disbelief. —Michael Burgin

Year: 1956
Director: Douglas Sirk
Stars: Rock Hudson, Lauren Bacall, Robert Stack, Dorothy Malone
Duration: 99 minutes

Melodrama is not often understood as anything less than obvious. Cinematic artifice – bold colors and daring circumstances and volatile emotions wielded by brassy characters – apparently exist so that melodrama can too, the tension of American life manifest itself in so many dramatic extremes. This is largely thanks to Douglas Sirk, a Danish-German director whose Hollywood melodramas from the 1950s to 1956 written on the wind as archetypal as the other six titles Sirk has created with Universal-International this decade-unearthed all the country’s sublimated postwar misery, racial oppression and Cold War class resentment and paranoia, for the expose. There are few obvious things about written on the wind, then, each image has an incalculable weight. A tractor from a man named “Mitch Wayne” (Rock Hudson) has spent his life growing up alongside wealthy psychopaths Kyle (Robert Stack) and Marylee Hadley (Dorothy Malone), the former likely to inherit the empire his father’s oilman, even though Mitch is the responsible, humble company man and Kyle the permanently half-armed playboy. Between the two lifelong buds sits Lucy (Lauren Bacall), unable to resist Kyle’s seduction, which at first proves to be far too strong (a personal flight south, lavish gifts, constantly rising Mitch ) then far too irresistible (unbridled honesty and a complete reform of his racing manners). Meanwhile, Marylee harbored a lifelong obsession with Mitch, unfulfilled to the point that she developed a reputation for being, ahem, “loose.” It all, so tight in George Zuckerman’s script and so over the top in Russell Metty’s ever-blooming cinematography, comes undone, because it has to. Sirk’s images contain too much. Suddenly, Kyle, after hearing he has “low” sperm, wanders dazed and wide-eyed into a kid bouncing a bit too aggressively on a coin-operated plastic horse. He’s tormented, face twisted, confronted with this symbol of his inability to procreate, to give Lucy the family he swore he would have when he quit drinking, his lifelong proof that his carelessness has started young so that by the time he barely hit his mid-twenties he had a doctor telling him that all that ignorance towards health, all that hard and thoughtless living, had now caught up with him. Everywhere he looks is a reminder of the evolutionary rot at his heart. “He was sad. The saddest of us all,” Marylee says at the end of her brother, though she’s arguably sadder. She sits at her late father’s desk, inheriting his company and a or two phallic images. It’s, for lack of a better word, sad. Sirk leaves little doubt about it. —Dom Sinacola

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