Every once in a while (okay, usually in February and September) I find myself and my colleagues lamenting the fact that movies just aren't as good as they used to be. Looking back at the sheer volume of venerated classics from decades past, such a decree seems pretty indisputable. But the truth is that Hollywood has always churned out tons and tons of movies, and not all of them are good. In fact, most of them aren't. And that's the reason we remember the good ones, and forget the others. Even looking back just a few years, how many people ever think about The Man, starring Eugene Levy and Samuel L. Jackson? Or Ecks Vs. Sever, except maybe as a punchline?
That, however, is not to say that there are plenty of forgotten or overlooked films that aren't genuinely good. Quite the opposite, in fact: the deluge of grindhouse movies released in recent years notwithstanding (and there are a bunch of gems among those too), films like Freebie and the Bean, Grand Prix, The Killer Elite and many more featured big-name stars and high-profile directors, and are mostly ignored because they fit into filmographies and times in film history that featured bigger successes.
In addition to their always-stellar roster of foreign remasters and re-releases, Criterion has quietly dedicated themselves to resuscitating films from major studios with major stars that have otherwise been lost to time. Last month, they reissued the Michael Ritchie film Downhill Racer, which stars Robert Redford, Gene Hackman and Dabney Coleman among others, and this week's "Shelf Life" is determined to discover whether it needs to be seen by contemporary audiences, or it's a movie better left in the time in which it was originally released.