Best of Criterion's New Releases, January 2017

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Best of Criterion's New Releases, January 2017

Each month, the Paste staff brings you a look at the best new selections from The Criterion Collection. Much beloved by casual fans and cinephiles alike, The Criterion Collection has for over three decades presented special editions of important classic and contemporary films. You can explore the complete collection here. In the meantime, here are our top picks for the month of January:


ExterminatingAngel285x400.jpg The Exterminating Angel
Director: Luis Buñuel
Year: 1962

What self-respecting film student hasn’t seen Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dali’s surrealist cinema manifesto, Un Chien Andalou (1929)? Or been seduced by the Spanish filmmaker’s scandalous Belle de Jour (1967) or That Obscure Object of Desire (1977)? Now, with Criterion’s restoration and re-release of Buñuel’s bizarre social satire The Exterminating Angel (1962), we are given a seat at a decadent bourgeois table for a late night banquet that begins cheerily enough but may never end.

Angel is a fascinating film—at once mind-numbing and terrifying. Writer-director Buñuel tortures his cast of characters into merciless submission by the film’s end, though it is never clear if this glib ruling class ever quite gets the message. To see the film is to become a party guest for the excruciating trip down Buñuel’s wicked spiral—but that doesn’t mean Angel is hard to swallow. It is lavishly designed, brilliantly shot, and curiously edited so as to emphasize a kind of menacing déjà vu that you might miss on the first pass. —Chris White


HeartOfADog285x400.jpg Heart of a Dog
Director: Laurie Anderson
Year: 2015

Picking on a movie made in part as a tribute to its creator’s deceased animal companion feels like a dick move, especially when the creator is Laurie Anderson, the avant-garde performance and media artist whose last feature film, Home of the Brave, came out in 1986. Heart of a Dog is a long time coming, as follow-ups go, and Anderson is so smart, and her insights so astute, that her efforts deserve nothing if not our respect. But it’s one thing to respect a film this personal, and another to enjoy it, and rich though Heart of a Dog may be with sharp political and cultural observations about post-9/11 America, the work is suited to very specific palates. Experimentation with form is a necessity for growth, but sometimes you just don’t want to be the lab rat to a filmmaker’s outré tests of the medium’s boundaries. When Heart of a Dog settles on a mode and lets Anderson’s cool, even modulated voice dictate the links between her late terrier Lolabelle’s encounters with birds of prey and with Americans’ newfound fear of the skies following the destruction of the World Trade Center, it looks like the work of a genius. It’s a grind the rest of the time, though if you think your mind can be changed, pick up Criterion’s Blu-ray release and let critic Glenn Kenny attempt to do so with the reverent essay he penned to complement the disc. —Andy Crump


Roma285x400.jpg Roma
Director: Federico Fellini
Year: 1972

Similar to Kurosawa’s Dreams, Federico Fellini’s Roma is something of the odd man out in the director’s filmography. It is less La Dolce Vita and more in line with Dusan Makavejev’s WR: Mysteries of the Organism. Fellini’s underrated 1972 film is a masterful blend of fiction, autobiography, documentary and surreal, dreamlike imagery. It may be even more surreal than Fellini Satyricon in its blend of grounded realism and more fantastical elements, including an “ecclesiastical fashion show.” At the heart of this film, however, is a bittersweet atmosphere—a love of his city, but also a careful rumination on its future. This is not to say that Fellini condoned its fascist past—hardly—but he also contemplates the direction his beloved Rome may be headed toward. It is a magnificent portrait of place more than a traditional narrative. Fellini’s use of setting as character and its residents as dialogue predicts a future wave of auteurs. In much the same way that Spike Lee used a Bed-Stuy neighborhood and Richard Linklater uses Austin, Fellini paints a fleeting portrait of a location and its inhabitants. Those up for something out of the ordinary should look into this hidden little masterpiece, supplemented here by extra footage and excellent interviews, one in particular with Paolo Sorrentino discussing the importance of Fellini’s legacy. —Nelson Maddaloni

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