January is generally a slow time for the film industry. The season is typically known as a dumping ground where studios discard their duds early in the new year. But the Criterion Collection never sleeps, and it’s business as usual for the boutique DVD/Blu-Ray, cinema-lovers label. January 2016 is shaping up to be a kick-ass month for the company and will hopefully set the tone for the rest of the year. Criterion’s big whopper release is the Coen Brothers’ “Inside Llewyn Davis,” the brothers very first film in the collection — hopefully this paves the way for more of their releases. It’s the film that broke Oscar Isaac into the mainstream and arguably lead him to getting a lead role in “Star Wars,” but more importantly, it’s a sharp, existential, and humorous look at failure and the idea of success being much more elusive than simply possessing talent.
If you’re the Wim Wenders moviegoer that really only knows “Paris, Texas” and “Wings Of Desire” (his most popular films), you’re going to get a real education of the German filmmaker’s oeuvre in 2016. Criterion and Janus Films unveiled a major retrospective of his work theatrically earlier this year — which began with a beautiful MOMA retro in March. Most of this early works have been restored and remastered, and now that the tour has trekked across most of the major cities of North American, their DVD/Blu-Ray counterparts are about to arrive.
Criterion will begin in January with “The American Friend,” a riveting and morally nihilistic film noir that is one of Wenders’ best films, but is still woefully underseen. It’s the perfect place to start to get your feet wet for more Wenders. It stars the late Dennis Hopper and Bruno Ganz in a loose adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s “Ripley’s Game.” In Wenders’ way to tip his cap to the American cinema that influenced him so deeply, the movie also features cameos by the great filmmakers Nicholas Ray and Sam Fuller. Nerds like us should note that the release features a commentary track from 2002 between Wenders and the dearly departed Dennis Hopper, so that should be a huge treat. Many, many more Wenders movies are coming to Criterion, but with like eight or nine restored titles, give or take, don’t be surprised if Criterion spreads out those releases over the next few years to save appearing like the Wim Wenders fanboy club. The next one you want to look out for is “Alice In The Cities,” and if you want to deep dive, you can read our Wim Wenders essentials.
Other films coming out in January include Charles Vidor‘s “Gilda,” his sensual 1947 noir starring Rita Hayworth; Italian filmmaker Giuseppe De Santis‘ pulpy neorealist film, "Bitter Rice," from 1947; and for Quentin Tarantino, and lovers of violent Asian action cinema, Toshiya Fujita‘s two-part vengeance/assassin films under the title of "The Complete Lady Snowblood" (a big influence on "Kill Bill”). There’s no way you could get bored with those riches. Plan to put them on your Christmas list as a pre-order now. [Criterion]