New Criterion Releases: January 2020
Welcome to the new decade! What hasn’t changed since they started in the 90s is the monthly release of new films as part of the collection. This time, we got a Spanish classic, two Sidney Lumet films, a Godard, and a new American screwball film to join the rest of the great 1930s. Here’s the rundown.
All About My Mother (1999)
Pedro Almodovar returns to the collection following the release of Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown and Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! This time, it is one of his more tender films about a woman whose son is tragically killed and decides to track down the father, a trans woman he kept hidden from her son. Along the way in Barcelona, she reunites with an old friend and meets with other women with their own tragic lives. Everyone wears their heart on their sleeve and make them sympathetic whatever the circumstances, bringing the wit and heavy emotion that Almodovar always has in every film he has done. It is why not surprisingly he won his first Oscar for Best International Film.
Fail Safe (1964)
Released the same year Dr. Strangelove, Sidney Lumet’s Cold War thriller follows the scramble of the U.S. military trying to prevent a nuclear war after a mechanical failure sends one warhead heading towards Moscow. Henry Fonda is the confident, relaxed President as he scrambles to reach to his bomber crew going to Moscow and his team of advisers, including Walter Matteau as a scrupulous theorist. Both Fail-Safe and Dr. Strangelove was released by Columbia Pictures and the former failed at the box office because of the latter’s release months earlier. Later on, it would get its reevaluation as a great thriller of its time about the hair-trigger danger America and the Russians were in over a nuclear holocaust.
The Fugitive Kind (1960)
Another film by Sidney Lumet is a reissue by the Criterion from their original release nine years earlier. This one is a Southern Gothic tale written by Tennessee Williams starring Marlon Brando as an ex-con trying to go straight but finds himself in a love triangle with an unhappy married woman (Anna Magnani) and an open-minded young woman (Joanne Woodward). It did not do well upon its release, but remains a piece of underrated Tennesee Wiliams drama that taps into the same well that brought in the heartbreak of love and the pitfalls of small-town living surrounding an individual looking for a way out.
Le Petit Soldat (1963)
“The Little Soldier” as translated was filmed right after Breathless, but the politics of the Algerian War at the time, plus the depiction of torture, kept the film from being released until 1963. As his fourth film, Godard takes direct aim at the French government for their actions in an unpopular conflict, making it his most politically confrontational compared to his other works that had a direct political connection. This is also the first film he did with his muse of the Sixties, Anna Karina.
Finally, there’s George Cukor’s romantic screwball comedy starring Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn. Grant is a wealthy man engaged to a woman he doesn’t know well except that she’s also wealthy. Then, he meets his soon-to-be sister-in-law played by Hepburn, the rebellious free-thinker who starts to fall for him. It’s about class within a small section of a class, defying expectations made by the family, and knowing that money doesn’t bring true happiness. Two years later, Grant, Hepburn, and Cukor (along with screenwriter Donald Ogden Stewart) would collaborate on another masterpiece, The Philadelphia Story.
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