— Criterion Collection (@Criterion) December 31, 2016
Two Cuban flags, a swirling ghost, a woman cooking noodles, the letters "D" and "T" waving hello. Although this drawing looks like the work of a wildly imaginative child, it is actually an official statement from The Criterion Collection — the American home video distribution company cherished by film aficionados everywhere.
Criterion, for those unfamiliar, licenses classic, contemporary, and cult films, for home video reissues. The organization's efforts often involve the preservation or restoration of these films' original attributes, and the addition of special features (which explain its heroic reputation among film buffs). Its releases over the last three months have ranged from Jean-Luc Godard's 1960 crime drama Breathless to Richard Linklater's Boyhood.
At the beginning of each year, Criterion debuts a drawing by Jason Polan — the American artist perhaps best known for his daily illustrations of New Yorkers — that contains clues to the titles it will release in the coming months. Past works of art have featured giant babies, ghost cats, and clowns walking on tightropes. And for the last seven years, the dedicated folks at CriterionCast (a podcast and website for Criterion's devoted fans) have attempted to decode these mysterious doodles, annotating each element to discover which films await them in the new year. That giant baby? Code for Pedro Costa's 2006 docufiction Colossal Youth.
CriterionCast already has some guesses for this year's cryptic cartoon. Certain hints are more obvious than others; CriterionCast points out not only are there sixteen candles scattered throughout the image, the 1984 teen film's director, John Hughes, has a phantom page on the Criterion website. The gravestone — inscribed with "They, 8 pm - 5 am" — almost surely suggests Nicolas Rey's 1948 noir thriller They Live by Night.
Other films are a bit harder to discern. The two Cuban flags and musical notes indicate Wim Wenders's 1999 documentary Buena Vista Social Club, but some Criterion commenters suggest the height of the flags in the drawing could indicate 1936's Under Two Flags.
Text Emily Manning