July brings the full heat of summer and a new crop of programming on The criterion channel. This month, collections honor great boxing movies and timeless classics of all kinds. Let’s look at seven options that go well with an air-conditioned living room and are sure to make an impression.
Available: July, 1st
Realized by: Martin Scorsese
Written by: Paul Schrader Mardik Martin
Cast: Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, Cathy Moriarty
A legendary boxing movie with barely 10 minutes of boxing, angry bull is one of many Martin Scorsese Movies who could have won an Oscar but didn’t. It features robert deniro like Jake La Motta, a washed-out boxer whose heyday we experience through flashbacks. La Motta – in both his over-the-hill and prime forms – is not a very pleasant man to spend more than 2 hours with. He is emotionally immature, reactive, mean and violent. Embodying those shades of repulsion – while retaining its trademark charisma –did win De Niro an Oscar. It’s a committed performance that necessitated a production shutdown where the actor gained 50 pounds to better illustrate the sedentary passage of time. It’s shot in black and white, but still warm, and is considered one of the best films of its time, if not of all time.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001)
Available: July, 1st
Realized by: John Cameron Mitchell
Written by: John Cameron Mitchell
Cast: John Cameron Mitchell, Andrea Martin, Michael Pitt, Miriam Shor
Based on the musical of the same name, Hedwig and the Angry Thumb is a colored counter-programming for angry bull. This is the story of young Hansel, born in the Communist East and dreaming of escape. An entanglement with an American soldier promises that freedom, with the caveat that Hansel must undergo sex reassignment surgery. Disappointed with later turns in her life, the rebranded Hedwig sets her sequined boots on her way to becoming a rock star. It’s a story about rising from the low, dusting off the pain of unrequited love and the sting of unrealized success. Hedwig watches her songs being stolen to serve another’s fame, and we experience those pains through explosive rock songs and heartfelt performances. It was boundary-pushing stuff for a comedy at the time, and 21 years later it still works as a provocative, radical piece of work if only to exist in the first place.
Available: July, 1st
Realized by: Richard Linklater
Written by: Richard Linklater, Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy
Cast: Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy
A Criterion Channel darling, and for good reason, July finally sees the streamer hosting the entirety of Richard Linklater’s Before Trilogy. For this list, we chose to recommend the latest installment, Before midnight. The first film told the story of two people, Jesse and Celine, who found each other and fell in love. The second, released 9 years later, is the story of these two people rekindling their love after parting ways. Released in 2013, after a new jump of 9 years, Midnight tells the story of this same couple, now in their forties. They accept the decisions they have made throughout their lives, professionally and personally. They raise twin daughters who are the product of their union and a teenage son from Jesse’s previous relationship. Linklater is a great director, but the script and his sensitivity to European drama is the star here. Like the director’s Childhood (previously featured in this space), or Noah Baumbachit is Marriage story, the film is a collection of masterfully acted conversations that take place at important moments in the lives of the characters. Enjoying it doesn’t require intimate knowledge of previous entries, and the familiarity the actors have with their characters and each other adds a realism that is unmistakably felt.
Available: July, 1st
Realized by: John Waters
Written by: John Waters
Cast: Divine, David Lochary, Mink Stole, Mary Vivian Pearce
From the Before trilogy to an entry in which director John Waters calls his “Trash Trilogy”, we have Pink flamingos. It features a real-life drag performer Divine as well as Divine, a fictional crime enthusiast. She lives in well-received misery with her son and mother. She became famous in the media as “the dirtiest person in the world”. This “disgusting” title is a source of pride, is deserved and speaks more to his subversive acts than his poor hygiene, even if that is also part of it. Our inciting incident: An attention-seeking couple has arrived on the scene, and they’re aiming to come and get their dirty crown. They engage in filthy practices such as selling hard drugs to minors and selling babies to lesbian couples (babies obtained by impregnating unsuspecting hitchhikers). To compete with such low lives, Divine must step up her dreadful game. What ensues is a parade of bad taste. Sexual fetishes, scatological acts, cannibalism, unsimulated, scatological sexual acts to eat, and all the taboos you would never have imagined. It’s a movie that begs to be banned, a film whose request has been granted in many countries. It’s not impossible to sit down, but it’s also basically the case. Its commitment to its own part is what elevates it, and most critics will ultimately say more about the viewer than the work itself, which is often the case with art whose intention is to challenge.
Available: July, 1st
Realized by: Valeska Grisebach
Written by: Valeska Grisebach
Cast: Meinhard Neumann, Reinhardt Wetrek, Syuleyman Alilov Letifov, Veneta Frangova
western is not really an entrant in this mythical genre but has raided its thematic closet. It’s a bit of grizzled masculinity, a bit of territorial culture clashes, a bit of loud, quiet guys keeping their cool while loud-mouthed louts play for attention. Its literal story tells of a group of German construction workers, working on a building site in Bulgaria, putting them culturally at odds with the residents of a nearby village. The two sides don’t speak the same language, and that of course stokes antagonism as much as potential comedy. As the presence of the Germans persists, local resentment also simmers, and so simmers the film’s underlying tensions. We have the constant feeling that western prepares for a decisive and definitive explosion of violence. It’s shot like a lush documentary, with actors mostly new to their craft (even those in middle age) and the landscape photography that makes Westerns so epic. The historical subtext here is not the cowboys and where they got their land, but Germany’s use of Bulgaria as a transit ground during the World War II. It all adds up to a superb, tense, and observant characteristic that uses archetypal simplicity to mask the complexity of the pieces it displaces.
Mississippi Massala (1991)
Available: July 20
Realized by: Mira Nair
Written by: Sooni Taraporevala
Cast: Denzel Washington, Roshan Seth, Sarita Choudhury, Charles S. Dutton, Joe Seneca
With Before midnight Up there exploring a long-term relationship further down the road, here we get that instant burst of attraction that many romance fans love to see. Mississippi Masala is set in one of the most racist states in American history and uses it as a bed on which to place the interracial couple at its center. Our female protagonist is Mina (the underrated but still working Sarita Choudhury), the daughter of an Indian expelled from Uganda during the reign of the ruthless Idi Amin. As such, Mina’s father carries a harsh unforgiveness towards his black neighbors and a distaste for his daughter’s complete assimilation into American melting pot culture. Much to the delight of Mia and the audience, but much to her father’s annoyance, the manager of the local carpet cleaning business happens to be Denzel Washington. Well, a guy named Demetrius who is play by Denzel Washington. There are several peak periods in Washington’s career, and the early 90s is one of them. Together, he and Choudhury create a smoking hot and compelling couple plagued by intense attraction. The film is also concerned with more than that, being one of the most immersive and detailed looks at the realities of South Asian American immigrant families this side of Ms. Marvel.
Available: July 25
Realized by: Zhao Liang
Petition is a documentary feature film, shot in China for more than a decade. It is basically how authoritarian governments, once in power, wield that power to demoralize and control the poor and the working class. In this case, the government is in Beijing, and its weapons are Kafkaesque bureaucracy and legal cruelty. This is, at least, the case harrowingly presented by Petition and the Chinese citizens whose stories he follows. In China, the petition system sees individuals facing a grievance from their local governments – say, a soldier abusing or bullying someone you love, a municipal office not doing their job; false imprisonments, illegal confiscation of land, etc. – and seek reparation from the government of the capital. These individuals are heading to Petition City, a slum where the petitioners are providing their evidence and waiting to be seen by the highest officials in the country. They could wait years being seen. What the film captures is a system designed to present the facade of hope and resolution, but delivers lost conclusions. Director Zhao Liang a camera sneaks into an office, and we learn that the petitioners barely get a word before their differences are called off, and they’re sent home, unresolved. The cruelty of such a system is felt, if only through the numerous testimonies of the documentary. It’s the kind of truth that an artist might have serious trouble illuminating, and so it functions as a document about its subject, but also about the bravery of the filmmaker.