While everyone else is busy asking if the movies are dying or not, the Criterion Collection — year after year — is quietly devoting themselves to making sure that the medium will live forever.
Widely accepted as the gold standard of DVD, Blu-Ray, and beyond (2016 saw the company expand their grasp on the world of home video with the launch of FilmStruck, a streaming platform that’s largely dedicated to their roster of films and the cinephiles who can’t live without them), Criterion operates in a gilded bubble of their own design — it doesn’t matter if physical media is on the decline, people who swore off buying DVDs years ago still find themselves stockpiling those beautifully packaged Criterion editions like they’re building a library of precious volumes, like their homes would be glaringly incomplete without them.
2016 was business as usual for the boutique distribution outfit, which is to say that they churned out dozens of essential new titles (some newer than others). In addition to their usual assortment of bonafide classics (e.g. “Gilda” and “The Graduate,” refurbished to look as good as they did the day their first prints were sent through projectors), Chaplin treasures (“The Kid”), and first editions of major new works from around the world (“Phoenix,” “Clouds of Sils Maria,”), Criterion also spent the last 12 months broadening their reach and paving over some of the more glaring holes in their line-up.
Animation has been perennially underrepresented in the Collection, but the release of René Laloux’s nightmare-inducing “Fantastic Planet” represented a super on-brand effort to change that. And while Criterion could definitely be doing more to offset the overwhelming maleness of the cinematic canon, the decision to put their stamp of approval on Laurie Anderson’s “Heart of a Dog” suggested a newfound willingness to right that imbalance from the present forward (an effort that’s due to continue with the February release of Kirsten Johnson’s kick-ass “Cameraperson”).
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But, at least so far as DVD & Blu-ray are concerned, 2016 will likely be remembered as the year when Criterion salvaged and shared some of cinema’s holiest (and most elusive) of grails. After 11 years of reading about Terrence Malick’s various cuts of “The New World,” three of them were served up to fans on a silver platter. After ages of being kept from the world due to an Elvis-related copyright snafu, Edward Yang’s monumental “A Brighter Summer Day” finally got to enjoy its time in the sun. And after decades of being lost in the immensity of its creator’s shadow, Orson Welles’ bellowing “Chimes at Midnight” was rescued from the 2am slot on Turner Classic Movies and presented with all the brightness and bluster that it demands.
So head to your local video store, peel off those cellophane wrappers, and pop in our gallery of the 10 best Criterion Collection DVDs and Blu-rays of 2016.