Happy 2016! Criterion Collection’s Annual Mystery Cartoon Has Us Excited

Posted on January 05, 2016, 9:30 am
6 mins


For the past several years, the Criterion Collection has given cinephiles a New Year’s gift in the form of a cartoon offering hints of what new films might be added to their catalog in the coming year. This year’s cartoon is the largest and most complex yet, which tells me one good thing right away: Lots of new releases!

Criterion Collection's 2016 teaser comic by Jason Polan

Criterion Collection’s 2016 teaser cartoon by Jason Polan

Film buffs are speculating about the meanings of each element of the comic on Criterion Collection’s website. Some seem more obvious than others. Here are bits that have me excited:

Im Lauf Der Zeit (1976)

How perfectly apt to start with the Three Magi on the far left! It’s a few days from Epiphany, and seeing how these kings are on the road, they likely refer to Kings of the Road, the English title for Wim Wenders’ 1976 Im Lauf Der Zeit. That film is itself a perfect start, as it is in a sense a road film framed by filmgoing. The two central characters travel along the East-West German border, stopping in ramshackle movie theaters along the way. It’s visual poetry.

Valley of the Dolls (1967)

It will never be said that the Criterion Collection is only high-brow. It encompasses a broad range of films, including cult classics that are culturally significant even if they weren’t cinematic triumphs. Hence, I am guessing those dolls in the background at left are The Valley of the Dolls (1967), a campy cult classic that is also probably the most ineffective anti-drug movie ever made. Does it come to a cautionary end? Yes. But my god, a preening life on barbiturates has never looked more glamorous.

La Planète Sauvage (1973)

What is that floating over those dolls? Looks like a fantastic planet to me! That being the English title of La Planète Sauvage, I’m guessing that we’re getting a long overdue major release of Rene Laloux‘ animated masterpiece. If you see one film this year in which struggling humans are antagonized by dead-eyed giants, make it this. (But there’s also 2015’s Attack on Titan if you are into that sort of thing, and like horror.)

El ángel exterminador (1962)

That angel riding a bomb may be reenacting one of the most iconic scenes in film history (Major Kong riding the bomb down in Dr. Strangelove), but I think it is referring to something more surreal and avant grade: Luis Buñuel‘s cocktail party from hell, El angel exterminator, translated as The Exterminating Angel. Outrage in Spain and the Vatican after its release led to its negatives being destroyed, so we’re lucky that it is still with us fifty years later. Those who have seen it know that it’s the sort of film that stays with you…

The Manchurian Candidate (1962)

Angela Lansbury has left a trail of death and destruction through her acting career. One wonders if her character on Murder She Wrote, Jessica Fletcher, ever visited a single place that didn’t involve a grisly murder. Before that, she was the best Mrs. Lovett ever in Sweeney Todd on Broadway. But it really all started with a Communist assassination plot, in which she was the main conspirator, willing to sacrifice anyone and anything to achieve her goal. Her character is so wicked, you’ll even think Mrs. Potts is full of poison by the end of it. She’s divine.

Granted, the key plot device in The Manchurian Candidate is a queen of diamonds, and the figure that Polan drew here is the queen of hearts. But c’mon…it’s wearing a JFK pin (and this film was released during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and it regards an assassination plot), so I’m sticking by this prediction.

Easy Rider (1969)

There’s just no way that that isn’t supposed to be Jack Nicholson‘s bike from Easy Rider in front of that patriotic convertible. Done.

The Squid and the Whale (2006)

That’s also pretty obviously a squid fighting a whale. I’m not going too far out on a limb here to guess that Noah Baumbach‘s 2006 critically-acclaimed, semi-autobiographical, coming-of-age dramedy The Squid and the Whale is the object here. But who knows? Maybe it’s a really lazy rendering of Sharktopus?


Other guesses:

That looks like Warren Beatty in McCabe and Mrs Miller (1971) pushing that stroller, and someone else pointed out that The Bicycle Thieves (1941) might be the figure toting “Easy Rider.” The phoenix above is, well…probably Phoenix (2014), but I haven’t seen that one yet. I guess it will be easier to see it this year if Criterion Collection indeed includes it. (All Criterion Collection movies are available streaming on Hulu.)

Check out the image close up and join in the speculation on Criterion Collection’s website. And if you want some of my top recommendations of films already available in the Collection, read my post of seven films worth watching instead of the Republican presidential debates. Seeing as we have seven of those left in 2016, it’s still relevant and just the right number. 2016 is going to be great, eh?

T.s. Flock is a writer and arts critic based in Seattle and co-founder of Vanguard Seattle.