This isn’t a “Top 5” list, in fact, such a list would be near impossible to do when regarding something like the Criterion collection. But I wanted to come up with a list of 5 films that are available on Criterion and streaming Hulu Plus that people should totally check out! So here they are, in no particular order:
Sometimes people ask me why I watch so many movies, why I spend so much time reading about, studying and looking for hard-to-find old movies. Now, as a response, I can just present them with a copy of “Make Way For Tomorrow.” This is why I search through old movies. This is something special. Never before released on any home video format in the US, “Make Way,” is the kind of movie that anyone who has seen it sings the praises of so highly and so frequently, that you are compelled to see what all the fuss is about. Such is the way with this movie.
Directed by Leo McCarey, and based on the book The Years Are So Long, “Make Way For Tomorrow” tells the story of Barkley and Lucy Cooper. (Better known as Pa and Ma.) As the movie opens, they have gathered their grown children at their house to tell them that, because of their financial position, they have lost their house to the bank. The children are horrified, but promise to help, offering the parents a place to stay, Unfortunately, only child one has a house large enough and she needs to make some chagnes before she moves them in. So Ma and Pa are packed off to two different children’s homes. At her house, Ma clashes with her daughter-in-law, as she tries to run a class to teach the finer points of bridge. Ma’s granddaughter doesn’t feel comfortable bringing gentlemen callers around and is constantly sneaking around. Meanwhile, Pa makes a friend in the neighborhood where he’s living, but his daughter and her family don’t approve. They don’t like the rules changing. They live how they want to live.
Eventually things change and the plot moves along, and Ma and Pa are finally reconnected before parting again. The final sequence of the movie is a 30 minute walk through New York City and memory lane for the two heads of the family. It is one of the most touching sequences of film I have ever seen.
Orson Welles reportedly called “Make Way For Tomorrow,” “The most depressing movie ever.” While I didn’t find it that, I found it incredibly touching and moving. It reminds me in many way of the opening sequence of “Up,” where you see how close these two people have grown together.
The movie was directed by Le McCarey, who is probably better known for his work with the Marx Bros., (“Duck Soup,”) Cary Grant, (“The Awful Truth,”) and Bing Crosby, (“Going My Way.”) Released during the depression, “Make Way For Tomorrow,” was praised by critics, who at the same time warned audiences that the movie was terribly depressing. Not surprisingly, they stayed away in droves. When he won the Academy Award for “The Awful Truth,” McCarey thanked the Academy, but said he thought they gave him the award for the wrong movie. (“Make Way,”) was released the same year.
“Make Way,” never seemed to get a fair shake. That is, until now. Continuing their tradition of releasing and reminding audiences of great, perhaps overlooked films, The Criterion Collection has released “Make Way.” It is a highlight in their 500 plus films. It is great to see a movie so overlooked for so long to receive this kind of loving treatment. “Make Way,” deserves the rediscovery it have found recently. Check it out. Highly recommended. -Sam
Pier Paolo Pasolini’s ‘Salo, or 120 Days of Sodom,’ is a difficult film to review. Not necessarily because of it’s challenging and unblinking content, but because of the controversy that has surrounded the film since the day the production wrapped.
Director Pasolini was run over twice and killed by a male prostitute shortly after finishing shooting. Images of Pasolini’s horribly mangled body were run in newspapers alongside images from his most recent film. After finding a DVD release as part of Criterion’s prestigious collection, the film quickly went out of print, with copies of the film going for hundreds of dollars on the second-hand market.
Set in Italy during the final days of World War II, the story is about four dignitaries who round up sixteen boys and girls and then steal away to a remote villa with nothing but the most vile plans in mind. The film is a virtual laundry list of terrible and disgusting behavior. Rape. Incest. Beatings. Degradation. Torture. Excrement eating. (Don’t see this movie on a full stomach.)
The children are rounded up, stripped and then, once inside the villa, start every day with a story from a lavishly dressed older woman, who gleefully recounts their early years spent as a prostitute. The children are sometimes pulled away from the main hall by one of the dignitaries, who will rape them, or make them endure some other strange kink. Or the whole group will be forced to endure some bizarre tableau concocted by the men.
In no uncertain terms, it is disgusting. However, Pasolini is too talented a filmmaker to simply present these vile scenarios for no reason other than to titillate. He is trying to say something about the human condition. Combining the end of the war with the Marquis de Sade’s ‘120 Days of Sodom,’ is a masterstroke and in another filmmaker’s hands would have been a mess. Perhaps that filmmaker wouldn’t have gone far enough. What makes this film a success is Pasolini’s refusal to compromise. It an unabashed depiction of unspeakable horror. You either appreciate what he is trying to do, or you don’t.
However, as strange as it is to say this, I kind of wish the picture wasn’t so pristine and the history of the film wasn’t so well documented on Criterion’s new two-disc set. With a booklet featuring diary entries by a friend of Pasolini’s, detailing his visits to set, and a second disc with several documentaries about the movie, including one by BBC film critic Mark Kermode, the film is almost too well explained.
If I had run across this movie in film school as a bootleg copy, with terrible subtitles, a muddy transfer and no information about the history of the production, this movie would have scared the hell out of me. Who made this? Why did they make it? How did they get a cast and a crew to agree to help make this? However, in this latest edition of the film, with a pristine print, one almost feels the film is too well explained. If sunlight is the best disinfectant, the film seems too clean. With such a well documented history, some of the horror is awaited. Sometimes the best way to see a film is knowing nothing. -Sam