Three Criterion picks (before the Barnes & Nobles sale is over)

Barnes and Nobles have been marking 50% off from the regular price of its Criterion titles (as they do once a year). Many have taken advantaged of this unbeatable deal already, and you have a couple more days until the sale is over by the end of July. Besides the obvious favorites and essentials (Breathless, 8 ½) here are three should be on your shelf:

1. The Great Dictator
Modern Times is Charlie Chaplin’s undisputed masterpiece, but at $15 (discounted from its original $30 tag), there is no such thing as a better deal than this 2-disc set of Chaplin’s first real talkie. The commentary by Dan Kamin and Hooman Mehran is on the spot; the extras including a documentary tracing the parallel lives of Chaplin and Hitler is fascinating; the booklet features insightful essays, Chaplin’s own response to critics and the original illustration for the film’s release. Released in 1940, when Hitler was at the height of his power and the United States had yet to enter the war, the audacity of which Chaplin displayed by making this stinging satire is unprecedented and has not been matched by any artist in any era. His passionate speech at the film’s end polarized critics of its day and The Great Dictator remains as Chaplin’s boldest career move.

2. Close-up
Back in April, I hailed Abbas Kiarostami’s Certified Copy as the best film of 2011 (Yes, it was early but I doubt few can challenge that spot). His playful and stimulating take on truth and perception first caught the attention of the international audience in 1990 with his breakthrough film Close-Up. Based on the true story of a man who was arrested for posing as a filmmaker and promising film roles to an upper-middle family, Kiarostami brilliantly uses the real-life individuals involved with the incident to produce a part-documentary, part-fictional account of the story. The catch is that there is no way to tell which part of the film is real and which part is staged. Close-up is an endlessly fascinating study on reality, identity, filmmaking, class struggle, redemption and perhaps a lot more. There are much to look for in this groundbreaking film, and the man who many critics called the best filmmaker of the past 25 years weaves it altogether seamlessly. (Note: Extras include The Traveler, Kiarostami’s debut feature film.)

3. Paris, Texas
If there is one color film you should own in your video library, it will be Wim Wenders’s Paris, Texas. Shot in gorgeous colors by the legendary cinematographer Robby Müller (Down By Law, Breaking the Waves), Americana has never been this beautiful on the big screen. Without digging into the plot (because you can do that when you watch the film), the 1984 Palme d’Or winner is an aching story about love and lost (penned by Sam Shepherd), featuring terrific performance from the whole principal cast. Harry Dean Stanton, who plays the protagonist Travis, displays the virtues of a true “character actor” in every sense of the term. Nastassja Kinski’s screen time is brief yet her devastating beauty is unforgettable. There are certainly more to praise about this film (including Ry Cooder’s score), and you’ll find yourself revisit this film over and over again. Wenders provides a terrific commentary with enlightening insights and anecdotes (in which he tells how he became a Teamster member in order to shoot in Texas). For Houstonians, you’ll get a glimpse of your city at the end of the film.

Images courtesy of Criterion Collection


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