You’ll probably be happy to see the end of 2020. But you may also find sadness about the films going away from The Criterion Channel at the end of December.
Here are a few that will disappear from Criterion on New Year’s Day:
A Trouble in Paradise (1932)
What’s so fascinating and entertaining about witty, sophisticated crooks that makes us want to root for them? Probably our own desire to get away with it. This near-perfect pre-code screwball proves that whatever it is, it works. Yet another deliciously amoral Ernst Lubitsch comedy about sex, love, money, and larceny. Starring Miriam Hopkins, Kay Francis, and Herbert Marshall.
A The Illusionist (2010)
Nearly 30 years after his death, Jacques Tati has finally made a new film. Okay, animator Sylvain Chomet (The Triplets of Belleville) made the movie, but he started with a never-produced Tati script, and his protagonist not only looks like the great comedian but moves like him, as well. The story, about a magician in a world that no longer values his craft, and a young girl so naïve she believes his tricks are real, is sadder and more wistful than Tati’s own work. But it still manages to be very funny, as well as almost entirely free of dialog (there are no subtitles and you won’t miss them). This is the best film I’ve seen that was released in 2010. Not to be confused with the Edward Norton/Paul Giamatti indiewood movie of a few years back.
A- Bad Day at Black Rock (1955)
While everyone else was working hard to fill the new, giant Cinemascope screen, director John Sturges and cinematographer William C. Mellor saw how effective it was to keep it empty. Spencer Tracy stars as a one-armed stranger who comes to a small desert town after World War II and discovers how far people will go to keep a secret.
A- The Public Enemy (1931)
James Cagney lights the screen on fire as a violent thug with a little bit of heart (very little) and—because he’s Cagney—the grace of a tiger. Once Public Enemy hit theaters, neither Cagney’s career nor grapefruit at breakfast would ever be the same. Not quite the best of the early pre-code gangster epics (that would be Scarface), but the one with the best lead performance.
B+ Attenberg (2010)
You have to adjust yourself to the slow pace here. Writer/director Athina Rachel Tsangari examines the life and character of a young woman simultaneously facing her late-blooming sexuality and her father’s mortality. The static and low-key opening scene of two women kissing in the most awkward way possible sets the tone: Be patient, and you’ll be rewarded with some unique yet believable individuals, as well as some genuine and human laughs. And with the funniest sex scene I’ve ever seen (at least the best that was intended to be funny). Read my full review.
B+ Cat People (1942)
In the 1940s, Val Lewton produced several stylish, psychologically-themed, low-budget horror movies for RKO. This was the first and one of the best. A fairly normal American guy (Kent Smith) and a strange woman from Serbia (Simone Simon) fall in love and marry too soon. They haven’t even kissed. In fact, she won’t kiss him, or let him sleep in the same room. She believes that if she experiences strong feelings of anger, jealousy, or lust, she’ll turn into a panther and kill the object of her emotions. And she just might be right. The movie sports two classic suspense sequences that can knock you out of your seat without really showing anything.
B+ The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958)
The first and best of Ray Harryhausen’s three Sinbad movies. In fact, of all his movies, only Jason and the Argonauts is better. The stop-motion animation is splendid, and the story, while trivial, is fun. Not a must-see like Jason, but still an entertaining escape into a fantasy past. 7thVoyage is an important movie in Harryhausen’s career; his first in color, his first period piece, and his first out-and-out fantasy after a series of sci-fi pictures. I discuss the movie in more detail in Earthquakes and Monsters.
B The Smiling Lieutenant (1931)
This early Hollywood musical isn’t Lubitsch at his best, but it’s still an enjoyable romp. Maurice Chevalier plays the title character, who is, of course, irresistible to women. He falls for a beautiful violinist (Claudette Colbert), but then a spoiled and virginal princess (Miriam Hopkins, in her first work with Lubitsch) falls for him even though he doesn’t love her. Everyone is charming, funny, and often singing.
B The Bigamist (1953)
Edmond O’Brien plays the title character, although he only receives fourth billing. He’s married to Joan Fontaine in San Francisco, where they run a business together and are hoping to adopt a child. But in Los Angeles, he’s married to Ida Lupino (who also directed), and they have a baby. Most of the movie is a flashback narrated by O’Brien, explaining how this happened. It’s a fun little pot-boiler, where everyone tries to do the right thing, but that proves impossible.
B Theater of Blood (1973)
The ultimate Vincent Price movie, simply because he gets his biggest chance to overact. He plays a Shakespearean actor/director who has been savaged by the critics. So, he fakes his own death and starts killing off the critics, always in ways inspired by the immortal bard. It’s bloody and gruesome, but also funny.
B Don’t Look Now ((1973)
Nicolas Roeg at his most conventional and commercial, and it’s still pretty weird. Don’t Look Now is a horror film, and a fun one – sort of. Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie star as a British couple in Venice trying to get over their daughter’s sudden, accidental death (well, the husband is obviously American, but that’s never discussed). It’s all about ESP, seeing dead loved ones, and predicting the ghastly future. The film contains what just might be cinema’s longest and most graphic sex scene between major stars – and it feels just thrown in.
Here are four other films I’ve seen and liked that are going away December 31. I’m not discussing them here because I haven’t seen them for a very long time.
You can also look over all the films that will go away with the old year.