Best of Criterion’s New Releases: March 2023Movies Lists The Criterion Collection
Each month, Paste brings you a look at the best new selections from the Criterion Collection. Much beloved by casual fans and cinephiles alike, Criterion has presented special editions of important classic and contemporary films for over three decades. You can explore the complete collection here.
In the meantime, because chances are you may be looking for something, anything, to discover, find all of our Criterion picks here, and if you’d rather dig into things on the streaming side (because who’s got the money to invest in all these beautiful physical editions?) we’ve got our list of the best films on the Criterion Channel. But you’re here for what’s new, and we’ve got you covered.
Here are all the new releases from Criterion, March 2023:
Mildred PierceYear: 1945
Director: Michael Curtiz
Like Double Indemnity, Michael Curtiz’ Mildred Pierce succeeds on the strength of its leading lady; in this case that’s the immortal Joan Crawford, who plays the film’s central character, not to mention all of its heart and soul. (Arguably, it’s the most definitive Crawford performance of all time, at least next to What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?) Mildred Pierce is a strong woman driven by an inexhaustible love for her children, Veda (Ann Blyth) and Kay (Jo Ann Marlowe), but she’s also stymied by the restricting grasp of a patriarchal society. Even Veda is contemptuous of Mildred for daring to have the moxie to have it all. The film is about more than prickly mother-daughter relationships, of course, specifically the murder of Mildred’s second husband. But sandwiched in between Curtiz’ probing whodunit lies one of noir’s most sympathetic and purely humanist tales. —A.C.
Chilly Scenes of WinterYear: 1979
Director: Joan Micklin Silver
Dancing beyond the fourth wall, John Heard’s lovelorn narrator/protagonist Charles almost convinces you that he’s not a ball of slime. But Chilly Scenes of Winter’s prickly, bittersweet rom-com always lets him run his mouth a little too long—lets his mind work just one step beyond the point of decency—before cutting away. His nonlinear pining over Laura (Mary Beth Hurt), the married girl from work he picks up and loses during her separation from her husband, is as pathetic as their initial chemistry is vibrant. As we learn to spot the warbles and distortions in his perspective, either front-and-center in his present-day bachelor life with his layabout roommate (Peter Riegert) or warping the edges of his memories, we see how sharply writer/director Joan Micklin Silver adapts Ann Beattie’s novel. Her clear-eyed script gives gift after gift to Heard and Hurt, both at the top of their game; her direction weaves the meandering timelines together with smarmy direct address and yearning daydreams. Frank and heartbreaking, Chilly Scenes of Winter is a fittingly icy movie submerged in snow—which makes you treasure the cozy, confined shots of Charles and Laura at home, in a truck, at a diner, or taking in a skin flick all the more. It’s more than comfort, it’s survival. And that’s how an obsessive love feels: Not just like coming in from the cold, but in finding a hearth after feeling abandoned to the tundra. Make sure you see the re-released, downbeat cut to really rub salt in the wound.–Jacob Oller
Last Hurrah For ChivalryYear: 1979
Director: John Woo
Before he was iconically known for the likes of Hard Boiled and the “gunkata” genre, director John Woo dabbled in classical kung fu and wuxia pictures. Many of the themes are the same, though–killers for hire, deception, organized crime and revelations about who is really working for whom. Here though, instead of cops and robbers it’s swordsmen and kung fu masters. Last Hurrah For Chivalry is definitely a film that leans on its stuntwork and choreography rather than any story of particular interest, but lovers of stage combat will certainly appreciate the fast and furious swordplay. The slashing sound effects are beyond ridiculous, but that’s to be expected, and the creative use of props elevates these swordfights to a sublime level. —J.V.
Inland EmpireYear: 2006
Director: David Lynch
If you aren’t a fan of The Straight Story, you’re probably a fan of this one. Inland Empire is probably the Lynch-iest David Lynch movie the director ever made—it was also potentially his last feature film. It’s one, long hallucinatory trip into the artistic director’s brain, in which tomorrow is today and events can happen at multiple locations through multiple characters. It helps to think of Inland Empire as a kaleidoscope, with characters and events turning in on one another, expanding, contracting and repeating in vaguely familiar patterns. At first, the film seems to be one of Lynch’s standard Hollywood movies. We see actress Nikki Grace (played by the absolutely mind-blowing Laura Dern) land the lead role in a film opposite Devon, played by Justin Theroux. Pretty quickly, it’s revealed the film, titled On High in Blue Tomorrows, is actually a remake, but the first version was never finished due to the fact that the two lead actors were murdered. The director hints the film may be cursed. Soon, it becomes hard to tell what is acting from what is reality, and soon Inland Empire turns into a wild, mega-meta surreal film that grabs you in and doesn’t let go. As Ebert puts it, “a fractal telenovela.” Is it a bit too much, sometimes? Definitely. Lynch spends much of the film playing with our expectations and perceptions of time and reality. He knows the viewer, like Dern, will try to grasp at logic and reason, only to be completely contradicted. The final hour and a half of Inland Empire plays out like a nightmare that won’t end—images and plot lines intersect and collide, and the familiarity of many of the actors from previous Lynch films adds a layer of deja-vu, as if this is actually several Lynch films coming together in one. Dern’s performance is formidable, and her joy, terror and constantly shifting persona makes it hard to look away. If you’re ready to take a trip inside Lynch’s inner thoughts and stand witness to the full power of his cinematic imagination, look no further than Inland Empire. Just a heads up—it’s going to be absolutely exhausting.–E.C. Flamming