RN&R Arts Editor Brad Bynum asked me to do a DVD/Blu-ray piece about some of the year’s best home video releases so far. Immediately, Criterion Collection popped into my mind. Actually, he could’ve said “Snakes often eat blueberries found on Greyhound buses by ducks wearing tank tops!” and Criterion would’ve still popped into my mind. I’m sort of obsessed with them.

No question, Criterion has long been the best for home video releases. Here’s a sampling of some of their more recent offerings. Not surprisingly, they are among the best of the year so far.

Certified Copy (Blu-ray)

Movie: A-

Special Features: B+

This is a beautifully made, pleasantly tricky movie from writer-director Abbas Kiarostami and starring Juliette Binoche as a woman who goes to see an author (William Shimell) do a lecture. The two meet up, start talking, and many strange and wonderful things transpire.

Rather than trying to figure out what is real and what is fantasy in this film, it’s best to just relax and watch it. Binoche, who won Best Actress at Cannes, delivers what may be her best performance, using three languages and keeping us interested every step of the way. Shimell is equally good as the befuddled man who may or may not be something else to the Binoche character.

I loved every moment of these performers together, and found the whole thing captivating.

Special features: There’s a revealing interview with the director, a nearly hour-long documentary on the making of the film, another feature length movie, called The Report, by the director, and a collector’s booklet.

Being John Malkovich

Movie: A

Special Features: B

This will always, always be one of my favorite movies. Director Spike Jonze and writer Charlie Kaufman came up with a timeless, unique concept for this film, and their execution of the material is hilarious, dark and timelessly truthful.

God bless John Malkovich for allowing this movie to be made, a trippy meditation on what it’s like to have your privacy invaded, as well as an interesting take on reincarnation.

John Cusack plays an eccentric puppeteer who gets a job as a file clerk and discovers a portal into the body of Malkovich while peeking behind a cabinet. Catherine Keener plays the mean girl Cusack falls for, a woman who only wants to exploit the portal and steal his wife (an uncharacteristically mousy Cameron Diaz). Her affections for the wife depend upon her actually traveling through the portal and going into Malkovich.

This creates one of cinema’s all time strangest love triangles, which is actually a love square if you count Malkovich himself, even though other people are inhabiting him. It’s not as confusing as it sounds.

All the performers are great, but I especially like Malkovich, who was robbed of an Oscar nomination. I would’ve loved to see him take home an Oscar for playing himself. Michael Caine won that year for The Cider House Rules, and was far less deserving.

Special features: The two-disc set contains a strange and funny commentary from director Michel Gondry, a friend of Jonze who actually gets the director on the phone towards the end of the track. Gondry is a little hard to understand, but that’s actually part of the fun. You also get a new interview with Malkovich, who describes how he got involved with the project. He loved the script but wanted it to be about somebody else. Also available in a single-disc Blu-ray.

A Night to Remember (Blu-ray)

Movie: A

Special Features: B+

Long before Jack and Rose plunged into the icy waters after their cruise ship took a big hit, the story of the Titanic was told quite effectively in this film, a noteworthy adaptation of Walter Lord’s classic book.

They didn’t have James Cameron money back in 1958, but director Roy Ward Baker did manage to do a terrific job recreating the disaster with miniatures and a lake. Given the time of its release, it’s fair to say that this film is a landmark special effects movie. The fact that it was shot in black and white also makes the whole ship sinking just a little scarier.

While no big stars appear in this one, Kenneth More does distinguish himself as a sailor trying to keep order on the ship. Michael Goodliffe gives the film a good moral core as ship designer Thomas Andrews, a part played winningly by Victor Garber in Cameron’s 1997 classic.

As is often the case, the Criterion transfer and restoration has made an older film look brand new. The picture is crisp, with little to no film damage evident. The movie has never looked better. And those who found themselves a little irked by James Cameron’s use of a goopy love story to drive his film, this one steers clear of that sort of gimmick. (I count myself as a fan of Cameron’s goopy love story. I just know a strong faction of people can’t stand it.)

Special features: Some great interviews, including one conducted in the ’90s with one of the last living survivors. You also get a commentary with Titanic historians, an old making-of featurette, and a classy booklet.

The Last Temptation of Christ (Blu-ray)

Movie: A

Special Features: B-

Basically, this is just a Blu-ray reissue of the past DVD release. Still, it’s worth your while.

When it comes to Jesus at the movies, I’m a big fan of Robert Powell in Jesus of Nazareth. He totally rocked it. And Jim Caviezel did a good job getting his ass royally kicked in The Passion of the Christ.

Bur for my money, the best movie Jesus of all time is Willem Dafoe with his complex characterization in Martin Scorsese’s ultimate film about faith and sacrifice. Whether or not you’re religious, the depiction of the final sacrifice of Christ in this movie constitutes some of Scorsese’s most compelling work.

On its release in 1988, the film garnered a lot of controversy, mostly from people who didn’t see it. Granted, the idea of Jesus getting married and fathering kids is a wild notion to some, but isn’t that one of the greatest gifts here on Earth? And if so, didn’t Christ, if he did indeed exist, sacrifice much by not getting to live a normal human life? If he were a man, wouldn’t he have been tempted?

The film explores all of those questions, and made me think about the meaning of the life of Christ more than any Sunday school class ever did.

Special Features: There’s a booklet with a nice essay on the film, and carryover features from the prior Criterion DVD release. They include a commentary by Scorsese, cast and crew, a funny look at some of Scorsese’s own location videos, and an interview with Peter Gabriel, who scored the film.

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