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  • Writer's pictureCarrie Specht

The Criterion Collection January 2020 New Releases

In January, the Criterion Collection will kick off the New Year with one of Pedro Almodóvar's most beloved films: All About My Mother, the Spanish auteur's Oscar-winning ode to maternal love and female fortitude. George Cukor's effervescent romantic comedy Holiday, stars Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant in one of their most memorable pairings. The classic romantic comedy will now be available on Blu-ray for the first time in a new 4K restoration. There's also Jean-Luc Godard's long-unavailable sophomore feature Le petit soldat, the director's first collaboration with his iconic muse, the recently deceased Anna Karina. And that's not all. Sidney Lumet is represented with a new 4K restoration of his arresting nuclear-war thriller Fail Safe, as well as a Blu-ray edition of his Tennessee Williams adaptation The Fugitive Kind, starring Marlon Brando and Anna Magnani. Holy cow, this month is amazingly eclectic, stretching the gamut of film from A to Z.

All About My Mother is Pedro Almodóvar's Oscar-winning melodrama explores the meaning of motherhood in modern society. This film is one of the international filmmaker's most beloved, beautifully performed by an impressive cast that includes Penelope Cruz. This very personal film is bursting with cinematic references, while providing a vibrant tribute to female fortitude, a one-of-a-kind family portrait, and a work of boundless compassion. If you're a fan of Almodóvar's then you must have this definitive copy. If you're not already a fan then you need to get out from under that rock of your's and check out this master of cinema.

Fail Safe is an unnerving procedural thriller that painstakingly details an all-too-plausible nightmare scenario in which a mechanical failure jams the United States military's chain of command and sends the country hurtling toward nuclear war with the Soviet Union. If this sounds familiar there's a very good reason - it's the same basic plot of Dr. Strangelove, except this film is presented as a serious drama. Working from a contemporary best seller, screenwriter Walter Bernstein and director Sidney Lumet create palpable suspense from the doomsday fears of the Cold War era, making the most of a modest budget and limited sets to create an atmosphere of clammy claustrophobia and astronomically high stakes (their budget was much smaller than that of the Stanley Kubrick film). One of the really cool aspects to the film is that it stars Henry Fonda as a coolheaded U.S. president and Walter Matthau (playing against type) as a trigger-happy political theorist. And although it was over shawdowed by the earlier release of Stranglove, Fail Safe is a long under-appreciated film that sounds a warning about the deadly logic of mutually assured destruction.

The Fugitive Kind features four Oscar-winning actors. Marlon Brando, Anna Magnani, Joanne Woodward, and Maureen Stapleton, whose legendary talents excel under the apt direction of Sidney Lumet in a Tennessee Williams story. A smoldering Brando is a drifter trying to go straight. He finds work and solace in a small-town southern variety store run by the married, sexually frustrated Magnani. But he's just as bothered by the temptation of a local wild child played by Woodward. Lumet captures the intense, fearless performances and Williams's hot-blooded storytelling and social critique with his customary restraint, resulting in a drama of uncommon sophistication and craft. This is without a doubt one of the most talented group of actors ever gathered upon the screen. And Magnani went on to receive the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her earthy performance.

Two years before Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant teamed up with director George Cukor for The Philadelphia Story, they brought their immense talents to Holiday. The adaptation of the hit 1928 play by Philip Barry is a delectable slice of 1930s romantic-comedy perfection. Grant is at his charismatic best as the free spirit who tumbles into the lives of his fiancée's aristocratic family, which includes her brash, black-sheep sister (Hepburn of course). With a sparkling surface and an undercurrent of melancholy, Holiday is an enchanting ode to nonconformists and pie-in-the-sky dreamers everywhere, as well as a thoughtful reflection on what it truly means to live well. This is a true gem amongst the best of 1930s cinema.

French New-Wave godfather, Jean-Luc Godard's second feature, Le petit soldat is a thriller that tackles the most controversial subject in France: the use of torture in the Algerian War. The film stars Anna Karina in her first collaboration with Godard, whose camera is visibly besotted (yes, cameras can have crushes on their subjects). She is beguiling as the mysterious woman with whom the lead male becomes infatuated. Sadly, the film was banned for two and a half years by French censors for its depiction of brutal tactics on the part of the French government and the Algerian fighters. Regardless, it is clear to see that Le petit soldat finds the young Godard already retooling cinema as a vehicle for existential inquiry, political argument, and ephemeral portraiture (I admit, that's a line from the news release, but it explains Godard so well I just had to lift it). Arguably, it is this film that exemplifies Godard's goal of using a medium for delivering "truth twenty-four times per second."

All of these films include varying special edition features, such as new 2K/4K digital restorations, behind the scenes documentaries, director commentary, interviews with actors and production insiders, as well as coverage of public screening Q&As, high-definition digital restorations with uncompressed monaural soundtracks. As usual, Criterion does their best to provide devoted cineastes the best available bonus material available, in the best format possible. After all, if you're going to enjoy, you might as well indulge.


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