Streaming can be a valuable tool. If there’s a film I want to watch and don’t have on DVD, I can see if it’s on Netflix, Hulu, or one of my favorite streaming services, Tubi TV, a treasure trove for hidden gems and old classics. However, streaming also remains a double-edged sword. If a film without a physical media release leaves a streaming service, it gets caught in limbo, hoping on a wing and a prayer for another streamer to discover it. Worse, what if it’s not available to stream anywhere? Therein lies the importance of physical media and curation.
Thanks to distribution companies that engage in film preservation, such as MUBI, Kino Lorber, and the subject of this piece, the Criterion Collection, films can avoid the risk of vanishing without a trace. With stores like Best Buy ceasing sales on them, DVDs and Blu-rays are on the verge of being relics of the past. But by adding films to their always-growing collection with their streaming service also serving as a home for their slate, the Criterion Collection is a vital tool for cinephiles from current and future generations to expand their film-watching horizons while potentially getting storytelling inspiration.
Below is a list of ten films without a US physical media release that are either only on streaming/VOD or neither available to rent or stream anywhere that would be worthy candidates to join the coveted Criterion Collection. Given how the Collection has become more partial to including modern masterpieces, I went with ten films released in the last four years, which also spotlight often-underrepresented voices in front of and behind the camera. In addition, I threw in features ranging from filmed and written interviews to short films on the directors’ filmographies that would be intriguing extras should these films ever get the Criterion treatment.
Capping off this list is a film announced as a part of the collection. Yet, almost four years later, not so much as a cover art reveal. Besides the fact that Mati Diop’s feature debut is a masterpiece, there’s how it should join the other 2019 masterpiece lensed by Claire Mathon (Portrait of a Lady on Fire). In an interview for the AFC (French Society of Cinematographers) from the 2019 Cannes Film Festival, Mathon dives deep into her documentary experience, which influenced how she lensed the colorful landscapes of Dakar, Senegal. In a Q&A with composer Fatima Al Qadiri at the 2019 Mill Valley Film Festival, which would be another informative extra, she meticulously explains her composition process and collaboration with Mati Diop(Also, hearing that score on 4K. My lord!). Plus, there’s Diop’s collection of short films, including her debut short Atlantiques, which are all currently streaming on the Criterion Channel.
The material is there. We’re just waiting to know when we can hit the “Pre-Order” button.
Atlantics is currently available to stream on Netflix.
The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open (2019)
Directed by co-star/co-writer Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers and Kathleen Hepburn, The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open heavily grips you from the beginning to end. Told in real-time and using the one-take structure, the film follows two Indigenous women from different backgrounds: Rosie (Violet Nelson) and Áila (Tailfeathers). After a chance encounter on the streets, both women embark on a turbulent emotional journey where they navigate themes of trauma, colorism, and class.
As for possible extras, there is the essay of the same name from writer and scholar Billy-Ray Belcourt of the Driftpile Cree Nation, who, according to Tailfeathers, who based the story on a personal experience, allowed her and Hepburn to borrow the story’s title.
The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open is unavailable to rent to stream anywhere.
Fire Island (2022)
Andrew Ahn’s modern re-telling of Pride & Prejudice, written by star Joel Kim Booster is a blissful and erotic ode to both queer friendships and the titular island it takes place in. Extras such as photographs from the past exhibition “Safe/Haven: Gay Life in 1950s Cherry Grove,” an ode to a historic hamlet that’s been a place of hedonistic refuge, would be a further tribute to the cherished vacation spot for the LGBTQ+ community. Also, Andrew Ahn’s award-winning short film Dol (First Birthday), which inspired him to come out to his parents, being included would be an ode to Ahn as a filmmaker.
Fire Island is currently available to stream on Hulu.
The Forty-Year-Old Version (2020)
The Criterion Collection contains various stories about life in New York City (i.e., Paris is Burning, Frances Ha, Uncut Gems, Do the Right Thing, etc.). One worthy of entering that particular canon is Radha Blank’s feature directorial debut, The Forty-Year-Old Version. As it serves as an ode to NYC and follows the story of Radha (Radha Blank), a playwright who ventures into rapping, The Forty-Year-Old Version acts as a reminder that there’s no age limit when it comes to finding artistic purpose.
As for extras on a potential DVD/Blu-Ray, one is a behind-the-scenes feature titled “How New York Inspired Radha Blank’s The Forty-Year-Old Version” on the Netflix: Behind the Stream YouTube channel. In that five-minute video, Blank explores how she made NYC feel like a character along with her filmmaking influences, which include Spike Lee and John Cassavetes, and even how the movie’s black-and-white cinematography reflects the visual aesthetic of hip-hop music videos from the 1990s. Plus, there’s an interview with Blank from when she developed the project in the Screenwriters Lab at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival before the picture premiered at the festival three years later, and Blank won the U.S. Dramatic Competition Directing Award for her efforts.
The Forty-Year-Old Version is currently streaming on Netflix.
His House (2020)
Remi Weekes’ feature debut is one of the most unsettling horror films in recent memory. Whether it’s in a scene delving into the supernatural or captures the uneasy feeling of being a stranger in a new, foreign land, His House has a never-ending creepy atmosphere. When Bol (Sope Dirisu) and Rial (BAFTA nominee Wunmi Mosaku) migrate from South Sudan to London and try to get accustomed to their new residence, they become haunted by a spiritual entity known as an Apeth that forces them to reckon with the ghosts of their past.
The Apeth is not only a figure derived from Sudanese folklore but has been the subject of an academic essay known as “Some Notions of Witchcraft Among the Dinka,” written by Godfrey Lienhardt in 1951, which would be an intriguing DVD extra.
His House is currently available to stream on Netflix.
The Invisible Life of Eurídice Gusmão (2019)
Next is another 2019 masterpiece lensed by Hélène Louvart: The Invisible Life of Eurídice Gusmão, Brazil’s Best International Feature submission for the 92nd Academy Awards. Directed by Karim Aïnouz, The Invisible Life of Eurídice Gusmão – also known as Invisible Life – is an emotionally stirring melodrama about two close-knit sisters separated for years by a patriarchal system with visually arresting cinematography by the previously mentioned DP maestra.
When the movie premiered at TIFF, Aïnouz delved deep into his collaboration with Louvart, including having the film shot digitally and discussing the importance of having a female cinematographer lensing a female-centric story such as this. Other topics include the nature of melodramas and how to translate a classic genre for a modern audience.
Invisible Life is currently available to stream on Amazon Prime.
Lingua Franca (2019)
Isabel Sandoval’s Lingua Franca is a transfixing telling of desire that also captures the anxieties of being both an immigrant and a trans person of color in America. Tense yet also erotic as its protagonist, Olivia (Sandoval), finds romance with the grandson of her elderly patient, the exquisite Lingua Franca feels in the vein of the likes of Wong Kar-Wai even as Sandoval turns it into her creative vision.
An interview with IU Cinema for their “Final Draft” series, where she delves further into Wong Kar-Wai and even Chantel Akerman as her influences for both the film and her work as a director, would make a doable DVD extra. Plus, there’s her short film Shangri-La, a similar meditation on sensual desire and American immigration, from Miu Miu’s Women’s Tales series a few years ago.
After a filmed visit to the Criterion Closet and contributing her own personal Top 10 films for the Criterion website, her feature getting the Criterion treatment will hopefully be on the horizon.
Lingua Franca is unavailable to rent or stream anywhere.
Here’s a film that feels tailor-made to join the Collection. The acclaimed Sirkian melodrama by Rebecca Hall would be a worthy entry to join the likes of the Douglas Sirk pictures that are already in the collection. Understated yet lingeringly effective, Passing boasts a stellar central acting duo, Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga, and expertly used black-and-white cinematography by Eduard Grau (A Single Man).
In a quick eight-minute interview with the AFI Conservatory, Rebecca Hall explains her choice to shoot the film in black and white, her connection to the source material, and her mother’s reaction to the picture. For more potential extras on the cinematography, there’s one behind-the-scenes look where Eduard Grau describes how he and Hall intended from the beginning to lens the picture in black and white and shooting at the 4:3 aspect ratio to reflect the feelings of claustrophobia felt by the two protagonists.
Passing is currently available to stream on Netflix.
Quo Vadis, Aida? (2021)
Based on the real-life Srebrenica massacre in July 1995, Quo Vadis, Aida? is a nail-biting filmmaking exercise even if there’s hardly any violence shown on screen. As its titular translator (A riveting Jasna Ðuričić) is thrust into the middle of a harrowing conflict, trying to get her family entry into the UN refugee camp she resides in, we see that the citizens struggling to gain access to the shelter to avoid the bloodshed is just as grueling as the bloodshed surrounding them.
As a survivor of the Bosnian War in which the massacre took place, director Jasmila Žbanić has been open on how cinema should revisit the past so that we’re not doomed to repeat it. She stresses that talking point in a video interview with the European Film Academy, where the picture dominated at their awards with four trophies, including Best Film. Plus, in an interview for TIME Magazine with Angelina Jolie, Žbanić goes further in saying how the events shape her artistry in general and recognizes the Mothers of Srebrenica, an activist organization dedicated to keeping the memories of the genocide victims alive.
Quo Vadis, Aida? is currently streaming on Hulu and Kanopy and available to rent on various platforms (i.e. Amazon Prime, Apple TV+, Google Play, Vudu, etc.).
Sarah Gavron’s Rocks is a harmonious yet heart-rending addition to the coming-of-age pantheon about a friendship that acts as a sisterhood and the perils of being a teenager thrust into adulthood as the titular protagonist (played by BAFTA Rising Star winner Bukky Bakray) must scramble to try and raise her brother after their mother’s sudden disappearance. In addition, it’s received praise for being a touchstone in British realism cinema. Particularly for portraying working-class people in a far less dismal light than usual and its heavily accurate reflection of the diverse melting pot that London is, with young actresses of various races and religions comprising the central ensemble.
As for possible special features, there’s an interview Gavron did with TIFF where she goes deep into the casting process and how it contributed to the film’s realism aspect. She explores how they held auditions before they had a script and let the actresses draw from their life experiences to lend the film its authentic feel. She even touches on her and DP Hélène Louvart (Beach Rats), opting to use natural lighting.
Rocks is currently unavailable to rent or stream anywhere.