The Best New Movies on The Criterion Channel in September 2022 – Collider


With collections in tribute to the British New Wave and art film distributor Cinema 5, here’s the best on the Criterion Channel this month.
September brings Autumn, which means cooler weather for many, and consistently cool programming from The Criterion Channel. There are collections in tribute to the British New Wave, art film distributor Cinema 5, cinematographer James Wong Howe, and more. Below are seven of the best choices.
Available: September 1 | Directed by: Nicolas Roeg
Cast: David Bowie, Rip Torn, Candy Clark, Buck Henry
This science-fiction drama is the acting debut of David Bowie (you might have heard of him). Up to this point, he was known primarily as a genre-pushing rock star and server of timeless looks. By 1976, Bowie had already shed his space-oddball Ziggy Stardust persona, but he had not abandoned drug-fueled persona-hopping in general, and so the role of a fallen alien destined for greatness felt undoubtedly like a logical next step. The movie is about that humanoid, Bowie-shaped alien whose planet is besieged by nuclear woes, and is thus in dire need of water. He comes to Earth armed with the means to make himself rich and powerful enough to ship some water back home and to maybe reunite with his wife and child. He becomes a famous musician. He builds a spaceship. The novel on which the film is based is more interested in these aspects of the plot, the why of it that is. The movie on the other hand is a surreal, satirical look at the what, at life on Earth in the 1970s, life in a competitive and chaotic Western culture toward which our alien is drawn, mission be damned. It comments especially on fame and values, presented in the stylish, rich visuals of the era’s best productions.
Available: September 1 | Directed by: Ken Loach
Cast: David Bradley, Freddie Fletcher, Lynne Perrie
Kes is a very specifically British story used to discuss themes that might feel universal in 2022, and maybe even did in 1969, when it was released. It is about how Britain’s now-defunct Tripartite education system undervalued working-class youth, especially those who test poorly. If they were imaginative, sensitive, or creative, these tendencies were encouraged out of them. The better to make them what their country needed—under-skilled workers filling the ranks of low-wage jobs. For Billy, the boy at the center of this story, that does not feel like enough.
Bullied at home and at school, he comes into possession of a kestrel, a sort of commoner’s falcon. Commoner or not, he becomes its falconer, and the bird his friend. The story that plays out is touching and funny, enjoyable and thoughtful. It’s a movie that is entertaining first, with none of its underlying points ever struck obviously. It is shot beautifully, with images of the countryside juxtaposed with the dark industrial plumes that serve as specters of our lead’s inevitable future.
Available: September 1 | Directed by: Luchino Visconti
Cast: Dirk Bogarde, Björn Andrésen, Mark Burns, Romolo Valli, Nora Ricci
Italian filmmaker Luchino Visconti turns a short story about an all-consuming holiday fixation into a film drenched in nihilistic existentialism. It is Death in Venice. It’s about Gustav, an aging German composer who vacations in Venice, in around 1911. What he doesn’t know until he gets to his resort is that a plague is ravaging the city. One by one, those around him start to disappear, falling prey to this illness that was indeed not in the brochures. What takes his mind off this unstoppable flu and his own susceptibility to it is Tadzio, a beautiful young man with whom Gustav becomes absolutely obsessed. He follows Tadzio and his family around the city, never interacting with them, but pulled through the film by them.
There is a documentary about the actor who plays the young man (Björn Andrésen, who, as an adult, is in Ari Aster’s Midsommar). That documentary is called The Most Beautiful Boy in the World, and it is also coming to the Criterion Channel, arriving on September 19. Gustav’s obsession is self-destructive, scary even. One watches with tense hope that our Gustav never successfully makes contact with this stranger and his family; this plague can’t move fast enough. It all leads to a bleak climax, of course, (bleak for Gustav, at least) but the journey is arresting in its artfulness and a good entry into the work of its director.
Available: September 1 | Directed by: Ang Lee
Cast: Sihung Lung, Lai Wang, Bo Z. Wang, Deb Snyder
September on the Criterion Channel isn’t big in the way of modern classics, leaning heavily on historical works. An important entry from the 1990s will have to do. Ang Lee would grow into an artist capable of observing essential Americanness with unsparing, poetic acuity. The Ice Storm and Brokeback Mountain see him taking a measured approach to dissecting suburban and rural malaise, respectively. Pushing Hands is his first full-length feature. It doesn’t quite have the subtlety and ease he would manage to bring to some of his strongest later works, but it’s got its charms. Especially on display in this story of an elderly Chinese father moving in with his son are the topics Lee seems most interested in discussing going forward. Clashing customs, stifling expectations, domestic disappointments. His follow-up, The Wedding Banquet, would feature this film’s star and cover some of its territories, but Pushing Hands is a great look at an important storyteller building his artistic muscles, and an example of what can be accomplished on a shoestring budget.
Available: September 12 | Directed by: Albert and David Maysles, Charlotte Zwerin
Cast: The Rolling Stones, Ike and Tina Turner, Jefferson Airplane
Meant to embody the matter-of-fact, guerilla documentary style of the Direct Cinema era (think verité but non-fiction), Gimme Shelter evolves from a concert film about a Rolling Stones concert at New York’s Madison Square Garden to a document of the Stones’ Altamont Speedway Free Festival. Altamont was a daylong concert featuring Santana, Grateful Dead, and more. It was meant to be a countercultural celebration—the anti-establishment cultural movement that developed alongside the civil rights movement—and took place just weeks after Woodstock. This free concert was meant to be the West Coast Woodstock, a free-love party in the sun, but this one had the mournful misfortune of having its security duties handled, on purpose, by the Hells Angels, a motorcycle club whose members are notable for riding gnarly Harley Davidsons and not being hippies. Carnage ensued. People died. Young people. Artists were attacked—Mick Jagger was punched in the face by a fan moments after showing up at the field. A Hells Angel attacked a member of Jefferson Airplane. If you’d been insuring the event, this would all be bad news. But if you’re watching a movie made by a crew (including George Lucas!) who had no idea any of this was going to go down, then the film is a near-marvel. The Rolling Stones are in fighting shape, as is Tina Turner and Jefferson Airplane, so, you know, there’s also music.
Available: September 12 | Directed by: George Butler, Robert Fiore
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Lou Ferrigno, Franco Columbu, Mike Katz
Before gym-centric influencers could beam body dysmorphia straight to our cellphones and indeed our dreams, there was Pumping Iron. Filmed in 1975 but completed and released in 1977, it made a star of decorated bodybuilder Arnold Schwarzenegger years before his breakout acting role in Conan the Barbarian. It was initially intended to follow a different, more petite actor’s journey from slight to herculean amid the niche world of bodybuilding. The filmmakers were forced to switch gears when the actor decided the lifestyle change was not for him. What rose in its place was the story of Schwarzenegger’s rivalry with peer Lou Ferrigno (who would star in The Incredible Hulk series from 1975 and voice the Hulk in 2008’s cinematic adaption). It also became the story of their dueling preparations for the Mr. Olympia physique competition. Pumping Iron is a landmark in the subculture it represents. It cannot be overstated how influential Schwarzenegger’s look and attitude have become in that sport. Watching the film, he often comes across as a ruthless bully, degrading his competition’s mental health to the point that no one feels confident beside him once they’re on stage. Not the stuff a great best friend is made of, but obviously a starter pack for one of the most storied Hollywood action careers of the blockbuster era, and an inspiration to dudes posing on TikTok to this day.
Available: September 21 | Directed by: Sarah Maldoror
Cast: Domingos de Oliveira, Elisa Andrade
From 1961 to 1974, Angola (the country in Africa) was locked in an independence war against the dictatorial Portuguese regime, who were forcing them to cultivate cotton, with all the harshness that dictatorial regimes are known for. Sambizanga takes place in the opening year of this conflict. It tells the story of a working-class Angolan who is accused of being a dissident and is thus arrested, imprisoned, and threatened with torture unless he gives up his co-conspirators. We follow his harsh treatment in the prison, his wife’s search for which prison, exactly, is holding him, and the liberation movement's struggle for independence.
French/West Indian director Sarah Maldoror broke boundaries with this film, which wasn’t legally released in Portugal until years after its release. Crucially, she was among the first women to direct a film in Africa and would go on to have a prolific career. Martin Scorsese included it in his Criterion Collection World Cinema Project, physical copies of which will be released on September 27.
Fredrick James writes about TV and movies for Collider. He is a writer and artist from New Jersey, land of the Sopranos, and currently living in California, land of sunny traffic jams. Since childhood, he’s been enamored with the “why” and “how” of film, music and television, scouring credits for familiar names to get excited about and generally wondering how cool things got to be that way. When he isn’t leaving food out for his neighborhood’s less feral stray cats, he is playing Crusader Kings 3 and missing New York’s pizza parlors.
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