Criterion is a video distribution company with a long history of producing only the best and, according to their mission statement, “most important classic and contemporary films”. With a few exceptions (seriously Criterion, #TheRock doesn't deserve to be on the same list as #RearWindow) they have brought revolutionary films such as #CitizenKane and #SevenSamurai to an American public who might otherwise be oblivious to their existence. Each year Criterion releases a small comic to give us a hint at things to come. The strange sketch gives subtle and confusing images to suggest what films they will be releasing in the coming year. Criterioncast, a podcast network that is dedicated to fine films, has put their sophisticated brains to work deciphering this enigma. These are their best guesses as to the meanings of these cryptic cartoons.
Sixteen Candles (1984)
It doesn’t take advanced powers of observation to notice the sixteen dripping wax candles peppered throughout the image. The classic '80s teen drama Sixteen Candles features the drama and destiny of a girl named Samantha “Sam” Baker as she struggles to survive her sixteenth birthday. The film would influence all high school love stories that followed. Its romantic twists and turns still resonate with anyone struggling through the agony that is high school.
Buena Vista Social Club (1999)
Two waving flags frame the image, hinting at a long rumored addition. Geographically savvy moviegoers will notice that the flags represent the island nation of Cuba. The much-anticipated classic is Buena Vista Social Club. It is a documentary about passion, music, and the bond between artists. In the film a collection of once famous Cuban musicians struggle to stay relevant following the Communist revolution. The Buena Vista Social Club features actual musicians from the golden age of Cuban culture Such as Ibrahim Ferrer, Ruben Gonzáles, Eliades Ochoa. The film helped to spread the wonder of classic Cuban style across the globe.
Jeanne Dielman, 23 Commerce Quay, 1080 Brussels (1975)
Just left of center you will find a woman preparing food on a table. The woman looks quite a lot like Jeanne Dielman, a character from a Belgian film with the laborious title Jeanne Dielman, 23 Commerce Quay, 1080 Brussels. Jeanne is a struggling single mother who is stuck in her daily routine of cooking, cleaning, and occasionally dabbling in prostitution. It struck a chord with the feminist movement of the 1970s and impressed critics with its subtle nuance and careful staging. Criterion aficionados will note that this film is already part of the collection, but Creterioncast believes that Jeanne Dielman will receive a Blue-ray upgrade in 2017.
On the far wall, to the left of the window, hangs a set of four hooks with three pans. If we can assume that all four hooks are intended to hold a pan, one might say that the fourth hook has been “de-panned”. Most likely this refers to the 2015 French film Dheepan. The titular character is Dheepan, a Sri Lankan “Tamil Tiger” warrior, who flees a horrible civil war to begin a new life in France. The film seeks to open people's eyes and highlight a group of refugees that are not often considered in modern French society.
To quote the astounding head trip of a film Inception, “We have to go deeper”. The woman at the table is a quiet Belgian housewife, but the food atop the table is a clue to a very different kind of movie. The food looks to be some sort of noodle dish, and a pan containing chopsticks sits off to one side. Criterioncast has ventured to guess that this refers to the 1985 Japanese comedy Tampopo. The film is about two truck drivers who are, inexplicably, also master ramen chefs. They join forces with a struggling roadside ramen shop and hilarity ensues. Tampopo was labeled the world's first “ramen western”, playing on the classic spaghetti Western genre of the 1970s.
Ghost World (2001)
This clever clue hovers on the far left of the image. A ghost, not unlike one might find in a children's book, spins in a circle. One might even say the ghost has been “whirled”. If you haven't guessed this submission is Ghost World. Ghost World is not the first criterion film to be inspired by a graphic novel, but it would be a very respectable addition. Two socially awkward young women, fresh out of high school and hell bent on leading aimless lives, navigate the confusing world of human interaction. In 2001, Ghost World opened to an exceptional critical reception and it's popularity had not waned. Roger Ebert gave this comic book adaptation five out of five stars and it still boasts a score of 92% on rotten tomatoes.
Near the center of the cartoon stalk of corn stands behind a very well dressed letter R. While some clues reference a plot device or character, this two piece hint alludes to a title. Putting the two together we get the word “stalk-r”, as in the science fiction drama Stalker. The Russian film has all the style and flair that you would expect from a Soviet-era Communist drama. In a dystopian future a man, known only as “Stalker”, is hired to escort two pilgrims int a forbidden “zone”. The "zone" is similar to the exclusion zone around Chernobyl and contains a magical room that grants your inner most desire. The film received a less than stellar reception by the Soviet State Committee for Cinematography, but since then Stalker has risen to prominence. It has earned a respectable spot on the British Film Institute's "50 Greatest Films of All Time" poll.
A Farewell to Arms (1932)
Placed against the far wall there is a letter T with one hand. The T seems to be waving to the bespoke letter R just to the left. If we assume that T is waving farewell to R, then we must be talking about the Hemingway based classic A Farewell to Arms. Set in the later days of the first world war, A Farewell to Arms is a tragic story of love, loss, and the ravages of war. It is based on the semi-biographical novel by Ernest Hemingway and can not be denied as a true American classic. The film received Academy Awards for Best Cinematography and Best Sound, and was nominated for Best Picture and Best Art Direction.
Mysterious Object at Noon (2000)
Initially, one might be tempted to think that the box with a question mark refers to the masterful and much-loved film adaptation of Super Mario Bros. Alas this is not the case, as the clock beside the box is part of the clue as well. The hands of the clock set at 12:00 and, while there is no indication of whether it is AM or PM, the combination likely points to the film Mysterious Object at Noon. This experimental film mixes a documentary format with a fictional story. The crew traveled throughout the country of Thailand and asked strangers to add a sequential piece to a single story. Due to its experimental nature Mysterious Object at Noon has struggled to find an identity in the film industry, but it has won a number of special mention awards at film festivals around the world.
The Marseilles Trilogy (1931)
On the lower edge of the frame, there is a large S in a wedding dress. Just to the left stands a classical roman statue of Caesar wearing a fanny pack. This clue refers to not just one film, but three classic french films known as The Marseilles Trilogy. The Bridal S or “marry-s” refers to Marius, and the statute refers to Fanny and César. Marius tells the tale of a young man, Marius, who is torn between his love of a girl, Fanny, and his desire to travel the world. Fanny continues the story as Marius abandons a pregnant Fanny to embark on a long voyage, leaving her to struggle to find her way on her own. César concludes The Marseilles Trilogy with the story of the son of Marius and Fanny, who embarks on a journey to find his estranged father. The trilogy is still well thought of and is widely regarded as a classic piece of French cinema.
They Live by Night (1948)
The final clue sits alone at the bottom right corner. A tombstone with the word “They” and the times “8 pm - 5 am” inscribed on it. Given the reference to life and death, and the time span of late evening to early morning, Criterioncast believes this is referencing the 1948 crime noir They Live By Night. The film begins with a prison escape and takes you on a roller-coaster ride of action and suspense. It was well received upon its release and has endured as a classic example of a '40s era crime thriller
Criterion’s collection of fine films has a nearly untarnished record of excellence. If Criterioncast is accurate in their predictions, it looks like that record will continue for another year. Of course, we may all be completely wrong and we could see the addition of Transformers 4 (damn you Michael Bay and your ridiculously successful franchise).