There’s a lot of talk lately about what companies like A24 and Neon have done for the film industry, but it feels like Sony Pictures Classics has never gotten the love it deserves. A stunning new 11-film box set to mark the company’s 30th anniversary makes it clear how important the company run by Tom Bernard and Michael Barker has been for the art form. From Best Picture nominees to critical darlings to some of the best work by master filmmakers, SPC has been one of the most consistent distributors of the last twenty years. They are a brand that matters because they are a company that has never valued profit over art. Even with their missteps, there’s a sense that the people at Sony Pictures Classics love film. Trust me, I’ve spent time with Michael Barker—his passion for what he does is palpable. He gets excited by good movies. And you can feel that excitement in the films his company releases. Again, no company is perfect, but SPC has earned its reputation in a way that makes this set feel like a window into the independent filmmaking of the last three decades. It feels very intentionally designed to show the breadth of styles over the entire run of SPC, including titles from all three decades and from around the world. It also highlights some of the company’s most legendary auteurs, including Pedro Almodovar (a name I associate with SPC), Luca Guadagnino, Jean-Pierre Jeunet, and more. It also includes ten films that had never been in 4K before and one that had never been on Blu-ray at all.
As for the transfers, they’re stunning. “City of Lost Children” is one of my favorite movies of the ‘90s. I can vividly remember the experience of seeing it for the first time in a small theater in London, and I was the kind of movie geek who had a British poster for it on his dorm room wall when I returned from that foreign study program. It’s a stunning movie that looks amazing in 4K. Darius Khondji’s use of shadows to really give depth to Jeunet and Caro’s vividly-rendered world can be better appreciated than ever before with this transfer's rich variations in black. (And, man, does Badalamenti’s score sound better than ever.)
I sampled most of this set and couldn’t find a flawed transfer. All of them seemed to fit the film. For example, the 4K work on “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” the only film in the set previously available in 4K on its own, maintains the old-fashioned film look of Ang Lee’s aesthetic instead of over-polishing it into something that could have looked like a cartoon. The colors of “Volver” pop off the screen. The affection of SPC in general has translated to the films in this set.
As for the movies themselves, not only are ten of them making their 4K debuts, including a recent Best Picture nominee, but the charming “SLC Punk!” has never been on Blu-ray at all before now. It’s a little disappointing that SPC hasn’t made any of them available standalone given the massive price tag on the full set. If someone wants to own “Call Me by Your Name” or “Synecdoche, New York” in 4K without having to buy ten other films, they should be able to do so. However, serious collectors will adore this set, easily one of the best of the year, and a reminder that we should always pay attention to Sony Pictures Classics.
Click through for reviews of the 11 films in the set:
And here’s a fun game, my suggestions for a sequel 4K box set of 11 more essential SPC films, following the same rules of trying to represent their entire history (and with no directors repeated from the first set):