Let's say $200 falls out of the sky. Even more incredibly, there are no bills to pay.
That buggy iPhone 4 can wait. I'm headed for the virtual video store, where the Criterion Collection loyally awaits.
Good timing. With Blu-ray in the mix, it's been a terrific 2010 for the connoisseurs video label.
A couple of Criterion's key early titles are back, this time in high def with spiffed up visuals, audio and extras. These include two "Black Narcissus," "The Red Shoes" and "Walkabout."
Among the new -- and most welcome -- titles added to the Collection are "Mystery Train," "Stagecoach" and "Red Desert" (pictured, top left).
Back to the fantasy. Here's what my $200 puts in the sack (based on Amazon prices, as linked). In some cases the DVDs go for more on Amazon than the Blu-rays, go figure.
Black Narcissus: The Archers' hypnotic masterpiece, resurrected for HD. No, that's not the Himalayas, but U.K. soundstages where cinematographer Jack Cardiff and art director Alfred Junge created their colorful and mysterious Shangri-la. Deborah Kerr heads a group of nuns gone batty from the high altitude and the musk of a man's man. An excellent 2005 documentary features Kathleen Byron, right, who has plenty to say about the film and her role as a stalker nun. Director Michael Powell does the commentary via archival audio, with Martin Scorsese spliced in. Owners of the 2001 DVD should heed the call to upgrade. "The Red Shoes" is back as well. (Blu-ray, also out new DVDs.)
Red Desert: Michelangelo Antonioni's first color film, carefully restored to a state of oddball beauty. The film couldn't be any more timely with its depiction of an Italian desolation row plagued by industrial pollution and scarred landscapes. In this toxic environment, Antonioni finds menace and camaraderie. Our heroine (Monica Vitti) suffers eco-ennui; Richard Harris kindly helps her ... and himself. Extras feature a half hour of dailies as well as interviews with Antonioni and Vitti. Unique film, not widely seen or considered among the Italian director's best works, but should be. (Blu-ray, also out on a new DVD.)
Mystery Train: Three sparse stories from director Jim Jarmusch, who loved the music of Memphis so much he dedicated himself to making a movie there before there was a movie. The best comes first as two cool and kooky Japanese tourists walk in the footprints of Elvis and Carl Perkins. Screamin' Jay Hawkins looms large over the movie, playing the manager of the hotel where the three tales intersect. He's also the star of the DVD extras. Jarmusch doesn't see the point in commentaries, so Criterion put out the call for fan questions, which he answers at length. A movie so hip it hurts, beautifully rendered. (Blu-ray, also out on a new DVD.)
Stagecoach: The movie that wedded John Ford and John Wayne retains plenty of punch, even if its dramatic wheels do creak a good bit. In the extra features, this early Ford masterpiece is referred to as "the first adult western," emerging from "an unusually subversive recipe." A robust collection of extras, including an infuriating TV interview with the director. "Stagecoach" won't look any better than this anytime soon. Climb aboard. (Blu-ray, also out on a new DVD.)
Walkabout: The Aussie outback, the cameras of Nicholas Roeg and a young Jenny Agutter serve up a visual feast. The famed imagery trumps all -- especially in high definition -- but the story about a primitive cultural detente and its collapse hasn't gotten its due. A relatively recent video interview with Agutter solves a few of the film's mysteries. (Blu-ray, also out on a new DVD that replaces the Criterion release of 1998)
Days of Heaven: HD passes the litmus test with this visual stunner from Terrence Malick. Richard Gere shows up in the extras to proclaim: "Everything about it I will always love." Shot almost entirely with natural light, including the hellish glow of a dry-brush fire going out of control. Cinematographer Nestor Almendros created his images while almost blind. Cameraman Haskell Wexler recalls "hours and hours of exquisite light" up there in Alberta. (Blu-ray, also out as a new DVD.)
The Leopard: Luchino Visconti's sprawling tale of revolution and mortality comes restored to its 185-minute running time. Burt Lancaster stars, although his voice is dubbed into Italian. If that bugs you, the set comes with the shorter U.S. version, in which everyone conveniently speaks English. The ballroom scenes dazzle in HD. Same extras as the fine Criterion DVD of 2004. (New on Blu-ray only)
Brief Encounter: David Lean takes the standard elements of melodrama and transforms them into an astonishing meditation on life, choice and perception. One of my favorite films, a bargain at about $7 off the 2001 Criterion DVD. No extras of note, but there's charm in letting the mystery be. (Essential Art House DVD)