Whether you’re a year-end Top 10 Movie list maker (for fun or profit) or just want to keep abreast of the some of the best that 2013 had to offer, you owe it to yourself to check out Frances Ha (The Criterion Collection; also streaming on Netflix). Cowritten by director Noah Baumbach (The Squid and the Whale) and leading lady Greta Gerwig (Damsels in Distress), this is a graceful coming-of-age tale about a woman who probably should have come of age a few years sooner.
In her late 20s, Frances (Gerwig) sees relationships, living situations and career aspirations fading away, but since the filmmakers clearly love the character, they let new ones take their place as this young dancer stumbles around and makes a mistake or two as she slouches toward adulthood. Lyrical and hilarious, Frances Ha never makes a wrong move on its way to a denouement that was, for me, one of the most singularly perfect cinematic moments of the year. And watching Gerwig dance-run down a New York City street as David Bowie’s “Modern Love” blasted on the soundtrack took my breath away.
Also available: Computer Chess (Kino Lorber), the latest festival favorite from Andrew Bujalski (Funny Ha Ha) revels in retro-nerd chic as it examines the dawn of personal computing and artificial intelligence, with Wiley Wiggins (Dazed and Confused) totally rocking the dork glasses; it’s a nuptials comedy and a Christmas movie as a mismatched pair of gay dudes find love in The Perfect Wedding (Wolfe Video); Edgar Wright’s “Cornetto Trilogy” ends on a high note as Simon Pegg and Nick Frost face an epic pub crawl and the apocalypse in The World’s End (Universal Studios Home Entertainment).
Oscar-winning screenwriter Diablo Cody (Juno, Young Adult) makes her directorial debut with Paradise (Image Entertainment), a naïf-in-Vegas comedy starring Julianne Hough, Octavia Spencer, Russell Brand, Nick Offerman and Holly Hunter; if you’ve ever used the phrase “the banality of evil,” you’re quoting German intellectual Hannah Arendt (Zeitgeist), the subject of this powerful biopic from two fellow Teutonic legends, actress Barbara Sukowa (Berlin Alexanderplatz) and director Margarethe von Trotta (The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum); Renoir (Cinedigm) beautifully captures the relationship between two giants of art — Impressionist painter Auguste and his legendary filmmaker son Jean; acclaimed documentary filmmakers Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman take a narrative look at the life of troubled adult film legend Linda Lovelace in Lovelace (Anchor Bay/Radius-TWC), starring Amanda Seyfried (in the title role) leading an all-star cast that also includes Peter Sarsgaard, Sharon Stone and James Franco.
They’re the kind of band that was probably always more popular among their fellow musicians than among the listening public at large, but here’s hoping that the compelling Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me (Magnolia Home Entertainment) can bring new fans to seminal 1970s pop combo Big Star. (“I never travel far/Without a little Big Star,” the Replacements memorably sang in their tribute song “Alex Chilton.”)
Also available: Speaking of music docs, the “white witch” of rock and roll’s collaboration with Dave Stewart of Eurythmics is the subject of Steve Nicks: In Your Dreams (Warner Bros. Records; available December 3), a look at the recording of her first solo album in a decade; Anton Corbijn Inside Out (Music Box Films Home Entertainment) examines the filmmaker who went from making videos for U2 and Nirvana to directing features like Control and The American (the latter film’s star George Clooney pops up to discuss the director’s work); and for music of a whole other kind, there’s Hava Nagila (The Movie) (Cinedigm), which traces the history of the bar mitzvah hit back to its historical origins a century and a half ago.
Learn the secrets and the deceits of magic with the illuminating Deceptive Practice: The Mysteries and Mentors of Ricky Jay (Kino Lorber), featuring the actor and performance historian best known for his collaborations with David Mamet and Paul Thomas Anderson; Leonard Maltin and Anjelica Huston are among the notables who sing the praises of legendary titles designer Pablo Ferro (he created the memorable Dr. Strangelove lettering, among many others) in Pablo (Breaking Glass Pictures); The Big Picture: Rethinking Dyslexia (Cinedigm) examines the often-misunderstood learning disorder through the eyes of several well-known dyslexics, including Richard Branson and the film’s director James Redford (son of Robert); you may not think of college football players as exploited laborers in a multibillion-dollar industry, but Schooled: The Price of College Sports (Strand Releasing Home Entertainment) makes a pretty convincing case.
He made three movies, all at the same studio, and became a Hollywood immortal after dying in a car crash at 24. The James Dean Ultimate Collector’s Edition (Warner Home Video) features the very first remastered Blu-rays of Dean’s filmography — East of Eden, Rebel Without a Cause and Giant — alongside three feature-length documentaries about Dean’s life and influence, as well as a 48-page photo book. It’s a great gift that belongs on the shelf of any classic-movie lover.
Also available: Robert Altman’s game-changing Nashville (The Criterion Collection) gets a Blu-ray/DVD combo set befitting its place in American cinema history, featuring not only Altman’s commentary from a previous release but also a new documentary, archival interviews and demo versions of David Carradine’s songs; the newly restored The Bat (Film Chest Media Group) offers horror fans the chance to catch up with a Vincent Price chiller they might have missed before now — with Agnes Moorehead, to boot; best known as the executive producer of John Carpenter’s Halloween, filmmaker Moustapha Akkad tackled two challenging biopics, both new on Blu-ray from Anchor Bay Entertainment and Trancas International Films: Lion of the Desert (starring Anthony Quinn as Omar Mukhtar, who led the Libyan resistance against Mussolini) and The Message (probably the only movie about Muhammad we’ll ever get, given the challenge of making a movie about a personage whose image isn’t supposed to be represented in art).
Joanne Woodward snagged a well-deserved Best Actress Oscar for her portrayal of a woman tormented by multiple personalities in The Three Faces of Eve (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment); nearly 70 years later, William Wyler’s The Best Years of Our Lives (Warner Home Video) remains one of the most powerful movies ever made about soldiers returning home from war; check out the director’s cut on a new, remastered release of Roberto Rossellini’s suspenseful WWII drama General Della Rovere (Raro Video); Russian Ark (Kino Lorber) takes us through hundreds of years of Russian history in one glorious, uninterrupted, 99-minute take, shot at the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg.
A film that hit big screens when real-life history had caught up to it, First Monday in October (Warner Archive Collection) stars Jill Clayburgh as the first female Supreme Court justice, butting heads with fellow jurist Walter Matthau; the German Expressionist horror classic Nosferatu (Kino Lorber) gets the deluxe treatment in a sharp and swanky two-disc set; the great Anna Magnani shines in The Rose Tattoo (Warner Archive Collection), starirng in a role written specifically for her by playwright Tennessee Williams.
While it’s considered something of a footnote in the distinguished careers of both actor Ed Harris and director George Romero, a new Blu-ray release of Knightriders (Shout Factory) may raise this cult film’s profile. A retelling of the Arthurian legend on motorcycles, the film focuses on a group of Ren Faire performers who joust on Harleys, attempting to keep their nobler intentions alive as they travel from town to town to play for increasingly bloodthirsty audiences.
Also available: One of the great genre mash-ups of the 1980s, Night of the Comet (Shout Factory) mixes poofy-haired, girls-at-the-mall comedy with zombie nightmare as totally bitchin’ survivors of the titular event face off with the walking dead; the odd pairing of musical-comedy star Gregory Hines and Paul Verhoeven leading lady Renée Soutendijk is just one of the pleasures of the cop-vs.-robot thriller Eve of Destruction (Shout Factory); Assault on Precinct 13 (Shout Factory), John Carpenter’s gritty, urban take on Fort Apache, gets the Blu-ray treatment in a new release; and an A-movie budget yields lots of B-movie thrills in the exciting, implausible, hilarious and thoroughly entertaining White House Down (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment), hands down one of the year’s most fun (and underrated) movies.
The holidays are just around the corner, so why not start stocking up on your DVD entertainment for those cold nights in front of the fire (or a staggeringly big pile of Christmas cards that need to be signed, stamped and addressed)? Introduce your kids to the Charles Dickens classic in just 26 minutes with Mickey’s Christmas Carol, starring Scrooge McDuck in the role he was born to play. Walt Disney Home Entertainment serves up new Blu-rays of this as well as another December favorite, Winnie the Pooh: A Very Merry Pooh Year.
Also available: Brenda Blethyn and Timothy Spall star in the sweet and poignant British import Christmas Angel (BBC Home Entertainment); writer-director-star Edward Burns spins another dysfunctional family comedy, this time at the holidays, in The Fitzgerald Family Christmas (Magnolia Home Entertainment), also featuring Anita Gillette, Connie Britton, Brian d’Arcy James and the late Ed Lauter; Scandinavian filmmaker Nils Gaup (Pathfinder, Shipwrecked) returns with Journey to the Christmas Star (Vertical Entertainment), about a young girl on a magical and hazardous quest.
Put one of the great television series of all times underneath the tree, or on your own shelf, as The Twilight Zone: The Complete Series (Image Entertainment) collects together all 156 classic episodes of Rod Serling’s immortal anthology. From the “Talky Tina” doll to those creepy “Eye of the Beholder” aliens to “It’s a cookbook!” every moment of this groundbreaking show can be at your fingertips.
And if your tastes run less into the supernatural and more towards intense cop stories, Image is offering up yet another landmark show with Naked City: The Complete Series Box Set, featuring 138 episodes and a dizzying array of guest-starring actors, from Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford to Carroll O’Connor and Jack Klugman.
Also available: One of the great series of today’s “new Golden Age” rolls merrily along as Mad Men: Season 6 (Liongate Home Entertainment) features the much-talked-about recent set of episodes, along with new featurettes on capturing the 1960s; and if you like both Mad Men and Curb Your Enthusiasm, you won’t want to miss seeing Jon Hamm and Larry David match wits as big business frenemies in Clear History (HBO Home Entertainment); one of Jamie Lee Curtis’ richest performances came from the TNT adaptation of Wendy Wasserstein’s Tony-winning play The Heidi Chronicles (Warner Archive Collection); the landmark cable comedy marks its quarter century with the Mystery Science Theater 3000 25th Anniversary Edition (Shout Factory), a handsome tin box containing five great titles and lots of fun extras.
If you or someone you love is a Brony, don’t miss My Little Pony — Friendship is Magic: A Pony for Every Season (Hasbro/Shout Kids); the hilarious Polly Holliday (Gremlins) told the world to kiss her grits, spinning off from Alice into her own show, now available as Flo: The Complete Series (Warner Archive Collection); once upon a time, there were three TV networks, and they made original movies, and some of those movies were based on hit songs, and some of those song-based movies starred the singer, and that’s how we got Kenny Rogers as The Gambler (Timeless Media Group).
Edie Adams contributed more to the medium of television than just being the wife of Ernie Kovacs, and her singular achievements are spotlighted in Here’s Edie: The Edie Adams Television Collection (MVD Entertainment Group), featuring jazz giants (Count Basie, Stan Getz, Duke Ellington), comic legends (Bob Hope, Buddy Hackett) and more; if you like your Dark Knight brightly colored, teamed with fellow DC Comics greats and boasting a sense of humor, look no further than Batman: The Brave and the Bold — The Complete First Season (Warner Archive Collection); fans of those go-go heroes will be gaga for Power Rangers: Seasons 8-12 (Shout Factory/Saban), featuring 196 episodes alongside new featurettes; gay Web sitcom Old Dogs & New Tricks: Complete Seasons 1 & 2 (Wolfe Video) follows the misadventures of four West Hollywood gentlemen of a certain age in their quest for love, sex and a dignified midlife crisis; and one of cable’s most powerful dramas returns with Treme: The Complete Third Season (HBO Home Entertainment).
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