The Frida Cinema

Orange County's Year-Round Film Festival

The Writer’s Room: Criterion Sale Picks

It’s July—one of the two months of the year when film afficionados flock to Barnes & Noble for the Criterion Collection 50% Off sale, all the while regretting the holes left in their wallets. Though there are plenty of boutique label sales throughout the year, including those by Arrow Films and Vinegar Syndrome, The Criterion Collection sale is perhaps the most well-known and popular of its type for cinephiles. It also offers a wide selection of filmmakers and genres for people to explore: you can browse online or travel to your nearest brick-and-mortar store to physically thumb through the array of discs on display.

But where do you start? To help, members of the Frida Cinema Writers Room, each with dreams of entering the Criterion closet one day, are here to offer their hot takes—from personal favorite Criterion editions to underrated gems, Criterion Channel recommendations and Criterion wishlists.


Austin Jaye, Writing Team Member

Wim Wenders: The Road Trilogy:

It’s bordering on impossible for me to choose a mere single option to recommend for the Criterion sale. But considering the plans I just made to drive up north next month, I’m thinking a collection of road movies is the one to single out, and it doesn’t get much better than Wim Wenders. His collection including Kings of the Road, Wrong Move, and Alice in the Cities—one of my very favorites of his—is to die for if you’re craving the kind of soul-searching escape that venturing out into the world can always provide you.

Streaming on Criterion Channel: Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Cure:

Any opportunity I have to recommend a film by Kiyoshi Kurosawa is one I will gracefully leap toward. On the Criterion Channel is 1997’s Cure, which I will say with confidence is my very favorite horror film. A detective thriller in the vein of works like Se7en or Zodiac, there is a dread in Cure that is so innately palpable that it almost doesn’t even feel safe to watch it. I’d rather save the plot details for those who seek it out, but I can’t provide a higher recommendation than to say that the only thing more terrifying than the movie itself is the thoughts it leaves you with, lingering like the coldest blister. Tread lightly, folks.


Anthony McKelroy, Writing Team Member

The Complete Films of Agnes Varda:

Before her passing in 2019, Agnès Varda was as vital an artist as she had ever been during her staggering 70 year career.  It was her penultimate film, Faces, Places (2017), that earned a nomination for Best Documentary Feature at the Academy Awards—Varda’s first and only recognition from the institution. Though she would lose out to Bryan Fogel’s supremely forgettable Icarus, Varda would break an Academy record by being the oldest nominee in any competitive category, a record she maintains to this day.

With such a prolific career, it’s a marvel that Varda maintained such voracious originality in each of her films: Cleo from 5 To 7 (1962), Lions Love (. . . and Lies) (1969), Mur Murs (1980). With more than a few blind spots myself though, I look forward to this boxset and hope it will help fill in some gaps and see where those stylistic shifts emerge from. All the extras are exciting as well. I’m especially interested by the 2006 TV special about her visual art exhibition. I had no idea she painted!

Inside Llewlyn Davis:

As with Agnès Varda, Minnesota natives Joel & Ethan Coen are monstrously productive—18 features in 37 years with no signs of slowing down. While other Coen brothers movies might have funnier characters with more memorable wardrobes, none underscore their artistic idiosyncrasies (and capabilities) as directors better than Inside Llewyn Davis (2013).

Remarkable for its insights specifically about artistic collaboration between a duo, the movie suggests a crisis of creative identity after Llewyn finds himself working solo in the music industry. Now before I get too far, yes, I know this is a film about musicians and not filmmakers. And yeah okay, Llewyn’s former partner Mike isn’t his brother either. But there is a cynicism in this film towards isolation and loneliness that’s quite revealing in the context of the film’s co-authorship.

The happiest people in this film are in relationships, in bands. In a system that relies on them. I hope the conversation between the Coen’s and director Guillermo Del Toro that’s in this Blu-Ray explores that subject.

Criterion Wish List: The Love Light:

Despite having well over 100 screenwriting credits to her name, filmmaker Frances Marion took up the director’s chair on only 3 occasions: The Love Light (1921), Just Around The Corner (1921), & The Song Of Love (1923). Her well documented, trailblazing career in Hollywood led to many friendships with some of the most iconic players of the silent era, and yet these films, along with countless others, remain wholly inaccessible to modern audiences.

It’d be nice to see, at the very least, Frances Marion’s directorial works collected in one place. As far as extras go, you would HAVE to include the scripts for each one, or some approximation. It would be the perfect way to give silent cinema more tangibility for newer generations. Frances Marion also wrote plays and novels, which I would also love to see in a comprehensive box set.


Nicole Nguyen, Writing Team Member

Don’t Look Back and To Be or Not to Be:

I wouldn’t consider myself a collector by any means, but I do have some opinions about actually owning copies of media you like so as to not be at the fluctuating whims of streaming services. So, whenever I come across a film that I 1) would probably watch more than a couple times and 2) am interested in enough to want extras, I take it as a cue that I should probably get a physical copy. D.A. Pennebaker’s Dont Look Back (1967), a documentary that covers Bob Dylan’s 1965 England tour, was one of my first Criterion DVDs, if not the first. Then and now, I wouldn’t necessarily call myself a “fan” of Dylan, but it was and still is interesting to consider the divide between person/artist and celebrity. Ernst Lubitsch’s To Be or Not to Be (1942) was a more recent purchase. I first came across the film in the course of writing a paper on Lubitsch’s career. Since his films were more known for the kind of risqué humor that come into direct conflict with the Hays Code, it was interesting to see how Lubitsch adjusted during the Code era. Reception at the time of release was mixed, which is to be expected: comedy and Nazis makes for a risky combination. However, it was intriguing to consider the reasons that might have been behind why Lubitsch, being both German-born and Jewish, opted to make a mockery of Nazi-era Germany.

Criterion Wishlist: Gold Diggers of 1933:

The film I think I’d most like to see in the collection is Mervyn LeRoy’s Gold Diggers of 1933, a pre-Code musical comedy with numbers choreographed by Busby Berkeley. Though this was relatively early on in Berkeley’s career, the musical numbers are kaleidoscopic and captivating. And despite the story being more or less what’s on the tin, Gold Diggers is surprisingly not as light as one might expect. Actually, it provoked some rather heavy questions. For example, what are young, unmarried women who need food and shelter to do during the Great Depression when their jobs are threatened? Realistically, what might they have to resort to? While on the surface Gold Diggers initially seems glitzy and frivolous, it demonstrates a marked awareness of the trauma of Depression-era poverty.


Sean Woodard, Writing Team Member

Dazed and Confused and The Before Trilogy:

Ethan Hawke and Richard Linklater will be honored later this year at the Lone Star Film Festival, which means now is the perfect time to revisit their work. Criterion has curated six of Linklater’s films, including four that star Hawke.

While Dazed and Confused has also received a Blu-Ray release from Universal, the Criterion edition features the director-supervised film transfer and a treasure trove of special features. It’s pretty easy to see why this release receives top marks from me. This anti-’70s high school nostalgia film ironically evoked a sense of nostalgia for legions of its fans since 1993. Turn up the volume and revel in the rock-n-roll soundtrack and its myriad of memorable characters. Successfully launching the careers of many of its young stars, including Matthew McConaughey–hey hey, Dazed and Confused is “Alright, Alright, Alright.” Richard Linklater’s Before Trilogy—Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, Before Midnight—has got to be the most romantic films about love ever put to celluloid. They never fail to create a lump in my throat and my eyes to water. Even though a sense of idealism frames Jesse and Celine’s developing relationship when you first watch the films, additional layers make themselves more apparent each time you revisit them as you age with the characters. Jesse and Celine face their share of problems (which are explored further in the third film, Before Midnight), but you can’t help but ache for them to be and stay together. You indelibly become invested in these characters as you revisit them every nine years by the natural chemistry between Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy. Criterion’s boxset is the perfect way to visit and revisit these wonderful films with its 2K director-approved film transfers. Also, the box design and artwork is absolutely stunning. This Criterion release is a must-own addition to your film collection.

Criterion Wishlist: The Grandmaster:

Criterion’s World of Wong Kar Wai boxset was a much anticipated and hotly debated release by cinephiles for its revisionist color timing, re-edits, and framing decisions. While I understand people may have their preferences (and Wong Kar Wai has his), the set allows many fans of the director to have nearly all of his films in one place, especially since many titles previously released on DVD and Blu-Ray are out of print. To me, the one area this set sadly overlooked was its exclusion of 2014’s The Grandmaster.

The film remains in my Top Five Films list. Every time I watch it, I come away with something new. I view the film as a distant relative to Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in America in terms of aesthetic—from its elegiac tone and pacing to the camera’s lingering on facial expressions to communicate cannot be done through words, and the inclusion of Ennio Morricone’s “Deborah’s Theme.” While there is still that kinetic energy present from his earlier films, The Grandmaster is less concerned with being a movie a biopic of Wing Chung grandmaster Ip Man or martial arts extravaganza. It is more focused on matters of the heart and unrequited love, the balance between duty and honor, and fading legacy in the face of modernity. What some people may not know is that there are three authorized versions of the film—a Hong Kong cut, an international release, and the US Weinstein edit.

While most people have seen only the truncated US cut—which also reordered the narrative in chronological order and inserted additional contextualizing voice-over and subtitles for Western audiences—the two other versions feature the original fluid timeline. Each version is uniquely different with exclusive shots and sequences absent from its sister versions. Personally, I’ve tracked down Blu-Ray all editions of all three version from around the world and am thankfully able to play them on a region-free player. However, audiences deserve to see all three cuts and have them widely available. I hope Criterion is able to release a three-disc edition that grants The Grandmaster the same attention those in the Worlds of Wong Kar Wai boxset received. New 4K digital masters for each version and a plethora of new bonus features would be most welcome what I feel is Wong Kar Wai’s most mature work. Granted, releasing such an edition may be difficult due to securing distribution rights and other issues, but I can dream.


Reggie Peralta, Content Editor

The Wages of Fear:

The irony of me contributing to this list is that I’m trying to save up money at the moment and as such, will probably not be able to buy any Criterion movies this time around. That being said, if I weren’t saving up, then I would almost certainly buy Henri-Georges Clouzot’s The Wages of Fear. A tense thriller that was later remade by William Friedkin as the equally—dare I say even more?—effective Sorceror, it’s admittedly been years since I’ve seen it. But while the details of the plot and dialogue may escape me, I distinctly remember the anxiety-inducing suspense of the film’s centerpiece: the perilous journey of two nitroglycerine-loaded trucks through the South American mountainside. From an agonizingly delicate attempt to maneuver a truck over a rickety bridge to the endless drone of the horn at the movie’s end, it’s a film whose imagery and profound sense of unease have long lingered in the back of my mind.

Criterion Wishlist: Ken Russell Boxset:

For my wishlist pick, I’m going to cheat and say a boxset of Ken Russell’s films (several of which I discussed in a previous post.) A director whose movies are farcical, fantastical, and very often both, there are few filmmakers truly like Russell and so it’s only fitting he receive the honor of getting the Criterion boxset treatment. From his colorful classical composer biopics The Music Lovers and Mahler to his Roger Daltrey-starring rock opera duology Tommy and Lisztomania, and from the erotic sleaze of Crimes of Passion to the sci-fi spectacle of his metaphysically-minded masterpiece Altered States, Criterion has more than enough to work with. Plus, his early, relatively-restrained drama Women in Love is already in the collection, so clearly there’s room for Russell among Bergman, Kurosawa, and other such giants of cinema.