If I could magically bestow an Academy Award, or at least a nomination, on someone who got wrongfully neglected this year, my largesse would go to Robert Redford for his extraordinary performance in one of 2013’s best films, All Is Lost (Lionsgate Home Entertainment). As “the man,” a nameless fellow stuck on a slowly but surely sinking ship in the middle of the ocean, Redford has almost no dialogue here, but he still conveys a full range of emotions as someone trying desperately to stay alive.
The film itself tells a compelling story without falling back on the usual cheats — not only does Redford’s character barely speak, there’s virtually no backstory either, nor music cues that instruct you on how you’re supposed to feel. This is storytelling stripped down to the beams, and it’s never less than riveting. That it’s the sophomore feature by J.C. Chandor, whose Margin Call was all about lengthy conversations and character interaction, makes this one all the more impressive. If you liked Gravity but could have lived without the dead-daughter backstory, give this engrossing film a shot.
Also available: The hilarious, candy-colored GBF (Vertical Entertainment) explores the dilemma of two closeted best friends who discover that their high school’s reigning queen bees won’t rest until they’ve got the season’s hottest accessory — a gay best friend; Jared Leto’s other acclaimed performance last year came in the offbeat sci-fi drama Mr. Nobody (Magnolia Home Entertainment) from director Jaco Van Dormael (Toto the Hero); AnnaLynne McCord as a wronged woman and Billy Zane as the object of her vengeance equals Scorned (Anchor Bay Films), and with a cast like that, you already know whether or not you want to take a big bite.
Jennifer Hudson, Jeffrey Wright, Anthony Mackie and Jordin Sparks lead a powerhouse ensemble cast in the acclaimed Sundance entry The Inevitable Defeat of Mister & Pete (Lionsgate Home Entertainment); Zaytoun (Strand Releasing Home Entertainment) stars Stephen Dorff as a downed Israeli pilot who forges an unlikely friendship with a young Palestinian; Ving Rhames plays a convicted murderer who helps turn around the life of an imprisoned teen in Jamesy Boy (Phase 4 Films/XLrator Media), which also features James Woods and Mary-Louise Parker.
Some of the best documentaries are the ones where the story changes during the shooting. That was certainly the case with The Armstrong Lie (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment), in which Oscar-winning director Alex Gibney (Taxi to the Dark Side, We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks) was given access to cover cyclist Lance Armstrong’s return to the sport for the 2009 Tour de France. What had originally been planned as a testament to the will of an athlete wound up being an examination into doping and steroids as the truth about Armstrong’s career came to light.
Gibney, a world-class documenatarian, handles the shift in tone with grace, and he doesn’t pretend that he was, like most of the world, once dazzled by Armstrong’s seeming achievements. Whether or not you’re a sports fan, The Armstrong Lie is a great piece of storytelling and a compelling portrait of hubris.
Also available: The Oscar-nominated Cutie and the Boxer (Radius/Anchor Bay Entertainment) examines two artists in a long-term relationship and what happens when one of them decides to stop being overshadowed; admirers of mid-century architecture and design won’t want to miss The Oyler House: Richard Neutra’s Desert Retreat (First Run Features), a captivating look at one of California’s most extraordinary homes; The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology (Zeitgeist Films) is a one-of-a-kind exploration of the intersection between movies and philosophy.
While many people think of the Criterion Collection as a label that specializes in foreign and classic films — and it certainly releases its share of them — it also does a terrific job of recognizing relatively contemporary films that have already earned a place in the canon. Take two of its recent releases: Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox and Steven Soderbergh’s King of the Hill.
Anderson’s stop-motion animated adaptation of the Roald Dahl novel is a thing of beauty unto itself, and the new Criterion release does it justice with extras like a director commentary, animatics, footage of the cast (including George Clooney and Meryl Streep) recording their dialogue, and a documentary on Dahl. Soderbergh’s film based on A.E. Hotchner’s memoir of his youth in the Depression is one of the great underrated films of the 1990s; the director’s major-studio debut didn’t rake it in at the box office, but critics then and now heralded its sensitive portrayal of a boy coming of age in desperate circumstances. If it’s a movie that’s been off your radar, there’s never been a better time to catch up with it.
Also available: Director Sam Fuller flouted 1950s convention for including an interracial romance in The Crimson Kimono (Sony Pictures Choice Collection), a murder mystery set in the Little Tokyo neighborhood of L.A.; George Cukor’s inside-showbiz drama What Price Hollywood? (Warner Archive Collection) is considered a warm-up for the various versions of A Star Is Born — including Cukor’s — plus Dorothy Parker collaborated on the script; some of the first feature films decrying apartheid are collected in Come Back, Africa: The Films of Lionel Rogosin, Volume 2 (Milestone Films).
One of the best — if not most faithful — book-to-film adaptations is George Roy Hill’s hilarious and melancholy The World According to Garp (Warner Archive Collection); Chicago (Lionsgate Home Entertainment) gets a “Diamond Edition” Blu-ray featuring a new documentary on the Oscar-winning musical; speaking of Best Picture winners, Rocky Heavyweight Collection (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment/MGM) features all six of Sylvester Stallone’s boxing epics; and speaking of Best Picture winners about boxers, Million Dollar Baby (Warner Home Video) celebrates its 10th anniversary with a Blu-ray release.
Disney’s classic animated version of The Jungle Book comes with plenty of new features, including intros by Diane Disney Miller and songwriter Richard Sherman; if you like two-fisted, low-budget 1950s action, check out the gritty The Miami Story (Sony Pictures Choice Collection); any pulp hero became fair game after the Tim Burton Batman broke box office records, which is how we wound up with The Shadow (Shout Factory), now available as a Collector’s Edition Blu-ray featuring new interviews with stars Alec Baldwin and Penelope Ann Miller and director Russell Mulcahy; Linda Hunt’s cross-dressing, Oscar-winning performance remains one of the main draws of The Year of Living Dangerously (Warner Archive Collection), but it’s also worth checking out the palpably erotic performance from Sigourney Weaver as well as the intense sex appeal of Mel Gibson before he became who he became.
The double feature Blu-ray of Bad Dreams and Visiting Hours (Shout Factory) provides an interesting vantage point for careers going in different directions. For director Andrew Fleming, his debut feature Bad Dreams (whose cult seems to be constantly growing as the years pass) was the platform from which he would go on to even more highly acclaimed films like The Craft, Dick, Threesome and Hamlet 2.
Visiting Hours, on the other hand, seemed to demonstrate that even seasoned, Oscar-nominated actresses like the great Lee Grant could find themselves doing the running and screaming required of the heroine of a slasher movie, this one set in a hospital. Despite an impressive supporting cast (including William Shatner, Linda Purl and Michael Ironside), it was probably genre exercises like this one that convinced Grant her energies were better served on the other side of the camera, where she has excelled as a director of film and television.
Also available: Korean martial arts epics seem to be the rage right now: Byung-hun Lee (G.I. Joe) stars in Masquerade (CJ Entertainment) as both a corrupt king and the performing commoner who is recruited to be the monarch’s double, while Kang Woo-suk’s Fists of Legend (CJ Entertainment) reunites three estranged friends on mixed martial arts reality show that has them competing against each other for the top prize. Dolph Lundgren battles lethal viruses and killer robots — just another day at the office — in Battle of the Damned (Anchor Bay Films).
You don’t have to be a child or a stoner to enjoy Adventure Time: The Complete Third Season (Cartoon Network/Warner Home Video), but it couldn’t hurt to tap into your Inner One or the Other for this wonderfully loopy romp through the surreal Land of Ooo with our backpack-wearing hero Finn and his mouthy dog Jake. It’s a brain-fryingly wacky cult hit that defies logic and physics alike, and if you haven’t already tuned it, you’re missing out of some primo TV weirdness.
Also available: An American TV network has already announced its intention to remake the French zombie hit The Returned: The Complete First Season (Music Box Films), so check it out now and be the trendy complaining guy later when we mess it up stateside — it’s less The Walking Dead than The Dead Who Would Like Their Old Jobs Back, Please; Spike Lee directs the controversial boxing legend in the one-man show Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth (HBO Home Entertainment); if Lindsay Lohan playing Elizabeth Taylor didn’t quite scratch your itch for TV-movie camp, may I recommend Gina Gershon as fashion maven Donatella Versace in this deliciously unhinged House of Versace (Lionsgate Home Entertainment)?
Take another look at an icon of early TV as The Red Skelton Show: The Lost Episodes (Timeless media Group) serves up 16 classic episodes that have never been available on DVD, with guest stars like Jackie Gleason, Arthur Godfrey and Danny Thomas; and it really is a nice day for a Red Wedding in the much-talked-about Game of Thrones: The Complete Third Season (HBO Home Entertainment).
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