Criterion Collection Releases for May 2014

Well, it’s that time again. Time for the Criterion Collection to announce the latest grouping of films to be honored with an induction to their illustrious vaults this coming May. Some of these titles are already part of the Collection, just obtaining a new (and much appreciated) blu-ray upgrade, with a couple of other films making their Criterion debut (and after much speculation, I might add). So, without further ado, here are the newest films that are now available for preorder.

Being released May 6th, 2013

  • “Ace in the Hole” (1951): Billy Wilder made so many great films, it can be easy to overlook one (or even a few in his case) every now and then. That is exactly what many movie-lovers have done to “Ace in the Hole”, aka “The Big Carnival”. Ace in the Hole (1951)The film revolves around a New York newspaperman (magnificently played by Kirk Douglas), who ends up at a small town New Mexico paper, waiting again for a chance- his chance to move back into the “big time”. That opportunity comes when a man (Richard Benedict) gets trapped in an old Indian cave while digging for artifacts. Instead of focusing on getting the man out, Douglas makes the event the largest possible story he can, creating a media circus the likes of which were rarely seen at the time (but we fully understand-and flock towards today). Quite simply, “Ace in the Hole” is a must see film in every sense of the phrase. Billy Wilder does some of his most underrated work here, and you will never forget the power of Douglas’s performance, or that of the hardened, unloving wife, perfectly performed by Jan Sterling.

Being released May 13th, 2013

  • “Like Someone in Love” (2012): This film, from Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami, is a French-Japanese production about a young woman attending college, Like Someone in Love (2012)who spends her nights working as a prostitute. She ends up getting a call that leads her to the home of an older professor, and the two spend the night bonding (in the non-physical way). The morning only brings problems for both of them, as together they run into her boyfriend, who knows nothing about her night job. “Like Someone in Love” has received much praise and admiration from audiences since its initial release, and is a welcomed addition to the Criterion Collection, particularly after Kiarostami’s previous films (“Taste of Cherry”, “Close-Up”, & “Certified Copy”) have proven to be such glorious additions to the Criterion Collection.

Being released May 20th, 2014

  • “Overlord” (1975): This is another film that is already part of the Criterion Collection, but the blu-ray upgrade is not only deserved, but also encourages fans to watch it yet again.Overlord (1975) This film, directed by Stuart Cooper, centers on a young man fighting during the D-Day invasion. He is an average man, except for the fact that he has already had a premonition of his own death, and now contemplates “his part” in the war, as well as the world, while waiting for what he considers his own inevitable end. The real beauty of “Overland” is in the mastery of the picture’s construction. Its portrayal of war is as real as it can be in a film, and in ways feels more documentary than anything else.

Being released May 27th, 2014

  • “Red River” (1948): Yee-haw!! Need I say more? Well, I will anyway. Red River (1948)“Red River” is one of those movies that never gets old no matter how many times you have seen it, and with John Wayne and Montgomery Clift leading the way, it is easy to enjoy yourself. What is also amazing about the way director Howard Hawks pieced this one together is how is mixes the light-hearted western atmosphere from so many westerns of its time, with a darker, much more mean-spirited side that keeps the audience off-balance. It jumps back and forth between these two opposite styles, and feels so often the entire picture almost seems jumbled, keeping the audience constantly intrigued, sitting on the edge of their seat, waiting for that climactic conclusion. “Red River” is a movie that has been rumored to be joining the Criterion Collection for years, and I for one, am thrilled to see it finally make the list.
  • “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou” (2004): Creative The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissoufilmmaker extraordinaire Wes Anderson is one of the most regular directors around the Criterion office these days. All but one of his currently released films (Where is “Moonrise Kingdom”, Criterion?) are already part of the collection, including his sometimes misunderstood (but still brilliant) 2004 film, “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou”. With an all-star cast, and enough subtle humor to fill two films, Anderson has brought the world of Steve Zissou (Bill Murray) and his life on the water, to our hearts and minds- never to be forgotten. Also starring in this hysterical tale are Cate Blanchett, Owen Wilson, Anjelica Huston, Willem Dafoe, and Jeff Goldblum.

Well, that’s all for this month. Happy shopping movie fans!

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Ace in the Hole (1951)

 ★★★★

 

Billy Wilder is one of the few directors who was actually appreciated in his own time. Everyone seemed to know that he was talented, and hisAce in the Hole (1951) films often received positive reviews as well as financial success. Of course there is always the exception, even for Billy Wilder. “Sunset Boulevard” (1950) was released to enormous acclaim, and then it was later nominated for 11 Academy Awards, including Best Picture. Wilder must have felt as if he was on the top of the world, as it was his third Best Picture nominee in the last seven years. With his established record for superior filmmaking, Wilder set out to make a movie that was bold and daring. The result was the drama film, “Ace in the Hole” (1951), which was not only bold and daring, but also Wilder’s biggest failure.

In this film, Kirk Douglas plays a washed-up newspaperman named Chuck Tatum. He has been fired from 11 of the top newspapers in the country for lying, manipulating, drinking and sleeping with his bosses’ wives. Chuck finds himself in New Mexico, where his car breaks down and leaves him penniless. He wanders into the local newspaper and openly tells the boss that he is a great newspaperman, with a checkered past. He is willing to work well below his worth price in order to try to earn back some attention from a larger newspaper.

A year later, Chuck is still doing meaningless stories day after day, until he finally runs across a curio shop picturesquely located in front of Ace in the Hole (1951) some old Indian dwellings. The shop’s owner, Leo (Richard Benedict), was digging for Indian artifacts and became trapped inside the cave. Chuck sees the potential for a story and agrees to help, but his motivations aren’t on the well being of Leo, but on his own career.

Chuck wants to prolong the rescue in order to drive up the popularity of the story, so he makes an under the table deal with the local sheriff to drill from the top of the rock, rather than securing the tunnel. Now instead of getting Leo out in a couple of days, it will take a whole week. Chuck also meets Leo’s wife, Lorraine (Jan Sterling). She is fed up with life in New Mexico and wants to run away. Chuck convinces her that if she stays and allows him to embellish her side of the story, spectators will come, and her little shop will make a fortune, allowing her to be Ace in the Hole (1951)financially secure after Leo gets out.

Of course things go better than could be expected for Chuck, as things continue to get worse for Leo. The cliff dwelling becomes a tourist attraction and people flock to them by the hundreds. At one point it gets so out of control that a carnival even sets up their rides in order to entertain the people while they wait. People come from miles around, not to eat the food or ride the rides, but to bare witness to the human drama that is unfolding before them.

At the beginning of this page I said that this film was a failure, and in many ways that is true. The critics were irritated with Wilder’s depiction of the callous and manipulating media, and audiences didn’t identify with any of the “regular” people in the film, who seemed to be obsessed with watching everything unfold. Perhaps they were all too blind (or inept) to see the accuracy of this glorious film. Then again, what if they were all right? What if in 1951 the media didn’t manipulate stories for their own benefit?  And perhaps back then people didn’t flock to events of travesty, just to say that they were a part of the drama. In today’s world we expect our media to be out of control and ridiculous, and I don’t think Ace in the Hole (1951)anyone is going to attempt to say that us “regular” people don’t like to be involved in real life drama. After all, if reality television has proved anything, it’s that we love to watch people like us in extraordinary situations.

It’s too bad that people didn’t appreciate this film in its time, because much like everything else that Wilder touched in the 1950’s, it’s a brilliant film. Kirk Douglas fits perfectly into his cocky, bright-eyed character, and even though you want to hate him, his attitude and natural charisma just make it so darn hard. What really drives the film home is the deliciously written script. Douglas gets most of the good lines, as he is the focal point of the film, but every character seems to have been blessed with an abundance of wit and humor, even in serious situations.

So here we are 60 years after the release of “Ace in the Hole”, and instead of the film being unrealistic, it’s become an accurate depiction of the future. I guess that’s just one more thing to add to Billy Wilder’s resume: writer, director, producer, clairvoyant.