Sunday Afternoon with Criterion: George Washington Edition


I: Intro
II: Steven Soderbergh and the Criterion Collection
III: George Washington
IV: What’s New?
V: Links


Welcome to Sunday Afternoon with Criterion, a series of weekly posts on covering everything Criterion—the company’s newest releases, just announced projects, reviews, lists, links, and more.

With the debut of Steven Soderbergh’s final feature film, Behind the Candelabra, I’ll start this inaugural SAwC post with some thoughts on the great director’s career as it relates to the Criterion Collection before I move on to a brief discussion of David Gordon Green’s George Washington. Finally, I’ll touch on two new Criterion releases—Life Is Sweet and Medium Cool—and share some of the best Criterion-related posts I’ve read this week.

Steven Soderbergh and the Criterion Collection

It was with a heavy heart that I sat down to Steven Soderbergh’s Behind the Candelabra earlier this week. The film itself was something special—a rather twisted look at romance, celebrity, and shattered dreams. But knowing it was Soderbergh’s last film—and considering the roll he’s been on lately with Contagion, Magic Mike, and Side Effects—meant Candelabra was tinged with a sort of meta melancholy that threatened to overtake me as the film reached its conclusion.

Soderbergh’s career has been on my mind a lot lately. There isn’t really a director like him out there. He’s such a diverse talent; His handful of Criterion-approved films—Schizopolis, Che, Traffic, And Everything Is Going Fine, and Gray’s Anatomy—is alone proof of that. You’ve got a massive art-house epic coupled with two theatrical monologues and an Oscar-winning ensemble piece (plus Schizopolis, which, if you’ve seen it, defies any sort of easy classification).

It’s interesting to me, however, the films of Soderbergh’s that Criterion has chosen to enshrine. I’d argue his first few films—particularly Kafka and Sex, Lies, and Videotape—are jonesing for the Criterion treatment. The former, Soderbergh has said, is destined for a total makeover. The latter, meanwhile, is a Palme d’Or winner that could and should probably join the 15 other Palme-winning films already in the collection.

Then there are Soderbergh’s post-millennium art films like The Girlfriend Experience and Bubble. Made at a time when Soderbergh seemed to be getting tired of the studio system, they represent this artist as his most obtuse and enigmatic, and they’re films I’d love to see join the Criterion Collection.

George Washington

At 25 years old, David Gordon Green made his directorial debut, and there’s confidence in George Washington that’s way beyond its director’s years. That isn’t to say the film completely works; The power of its more sorrowful moments is unfortunately offset by how often it becomes twee.

Green is a director I’m uncomfortably discussing too much because I’m not very familiar with his work, but there’s enough in George Washington to whet my appetite. The film reminded me both thematically and tonally to a Terrence Malick film—maybe just a little lighter.

And if you’re a fan of this film (which features some magnificent cinematography and incredibly naturalistic and effective child acting), I’d recommend a film called Hide Your Smiling Faces, which I saw at Tribeca this year. If it gets a theatrical release in 2013, it’s a lock for my top 10 list. Like George Washington, it deals with rural children coping with death in honest, tragic, and surprising ways.

What’s New?

Only one new Criterion release this past Tuesday. It’s Mike Leigh’s Life Is Sweet, which isn’t a film I’ve seen, but Leigh is a director I adore, so look for some thoughts on his film in an upcoming edition of this column. Same for Haskell Wexler’s Medium Cool, which I just picked up in a Barnes & Noble sale. Until its announcement as a new Criterion title, I hadn’t even heard of the film. Its description intrigued me to no end, however, and with Blu-Ray in hand, it won’t be long before I check this 1969 film (which brings to mind Abbas Kiarostami’s Close-Up with its plot synopsis) out.


I leave you this week (as I will every week) with the always thoughtful words of some admired friends and contemporaries:

Steven Flores at Surrender to the Void just watched a TON of recent Cannes titles for the first time, including the film I named by favorite of the decade so far—Kiarostami’s Certified Copy.

Fogs’ Movie Reviews (with an assist from Daniel Simpson of PG Cooper’s Movie Reviews) tackles the Hitchcock classic The 39 Steps.

Lasso the Movies, appropriately, reviews another relatively new Criterion release—the western Jubal from director Delmer Daves.

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