DVD/Stream of the Week: recent Oscar winners for Best Documentary

AMY

This being the week that the Oscar nominations are released, here’s your chance to see three recent Oscar winning movies. Each was recognized as the year’s best documentary, and each is completely engrossing.

Amy is the heart-felt, engaging and innovative bio-pic of singer Amy Winehouse. DVD from Netflix and Redbox and streaming on Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube and Google Play

Searching for Sugar Man is about a modest guy who didn’t know that he was a rock star. For real. Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube and Google Play.

Undefeated is the story of a high school football coaching trying imbue some hope into kids living in crushing poverty. On DVD and streaming from Netflix; also streaming from Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube and Google Play.

SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN

Movies to See Right Now

Jeremy Renner and Gil Birmingham in WIND RIVER

With the contemporary Western thriller Wind River, screenwriter Taylor Sheridan has delivered another masterpiece, this time in his first effort as director. It’s got mystery, explosive action, wild scenery and some great acting, especially by Jeremy Renner and Gil Birmingham.

Other movies that are among the best of the year are the historical thriller Dunkirk and the delightful romantic comedy The Big Sick.

The best of the rest:

  • Baby Driver is just an action movie, but the walking, running and driving are brilliantly timed to the beat of music.
  • I enjoyed Charlize Theron’s rock ’em, sock ’em, espionage thriller Atomic Blonde.
  • The Trip to Spain, another gourmet romp from Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan is funny for the first 90 minutes or so – just leave when the characters part company in Malaga.

My DVD/Stream of the Week is an Oscar-winner that you haven’t seen: the Feel Good documentary Undefeated. You can find it on DVD and streaming from Netflix Instant, Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube and Google Play.

On August 30, Turner Classic Movies presents the second and the funniest of Blake Edwards’ Pink Panther movies, 1964’s A Shot in the Dark, in which Peter Sellers really comes into his own as Inspector Clouseau. A Shot in the Dark also introduces Herbert Lom, the king ofte slow burn, as Clouseau’s perpetually infuriated boss.

On September 1, TCM airs the 1933 submarine movie Hell Below. It’s a pretty contrived Robert Montgomery vehicle, but there are some elements worth fast-forwarding to. The comic relief is provided by Jimmy Durante, who plays the cook Ptomaine; Baby Boomers tend to remember Durante for his shtick on variety shows of the 1950s and 1960s – here’s the unadulterated Durante. Durante even boxes with a kangeroo! Hell Below also features Walter Huston, who was a major star at the time and who I think would be very successful today.

Peter Sellers as Inspector Clouseau in A SHOT IN THE DARK
Herbert Lom in A SHOT IN THE DARK

DVD/Stream of the Week: UNDEFEATED – an Oscar winner you haven’t seen

UNDEFEATED

With football season (finally) approaching, it’s time for a Feel Good, Oscar-winning story set on the gridiron. The extraordinary documentary Undefeated begins with a high school football coach addressing his team:

Let’s see now. Starting right guard shot and no longer in school. Starting middle linebacker shot and no longer in school. Two players fighting right in front of the coach. Starting center arrested. Most coaches – that would be pretty much a career’s worth of crap to deal with. Well, I think that sums up the last two weeks for me.

Undefeated is the story of this coach, Bill Courtney, leading his team through a season. The kids live in crushing poverty and attend a haplessly under-resourced high school in North Memphis.

Undefeated may be about a football team, but isn’t that much about football. Instead of the Xs and Os, it shows the emotional energy required of Courtney to keep each kid coming to school, coming to practice and on task. He gets many of the kids to think about goals for the first time in their lives. He is tireless, dogged and often frustrated and emotionally spent.

The film wisely focuses on three players, and we get to know them. Like the rest of the team, all three are from extremely disadvantaged homes. One is an overachiever both on the field and in the classroom, but surprisingly emotionally vulnerable. Another has college-level football talent but very little academic preparation. The third, recently back from youth prison, is impulsive, immature, selfish and extremely volatile.

Undefeated won the 2012 Oscar for Best Documentary for filmmakers Daniel Lindsay and T.J. Martin – but it didn’t get a wide theatrical release. It’s available now on DVD and streaming from Netflix Instant, Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube and Google Play.

Best Movies of 2013

BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR

Visit my Best Movies of 2013 for my list of the year’s best films, complete with images, trailers and my comments on each movies.  My top ten for 2013 is:

  1. Blue Is the Warmest Color
  2. The Hunt
  3. Before Midnight
  4. Stories We Tell
  5. The Spectacular Now
  6. Mud
  7. Short Term 12
  8. Fruitvale Station
  9. The Act of Killing
  10. Captain Phillips.

The other best films of the year are:  The Great Beauty, Nebraska, American Hustle, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, Rendez-vous in Kiruna, The Gatekeepers, At Any Price, Undefeated, In a World… and Me And You.

I’m saving space for these promising films that I haven’t seen yet:  Her, The Wolf of Wall Street and The Past (Passe).

Note:  Undefeated is on this year’s list, even though it won an Oscar a year ago, because it only became available for most of us to see in 2013.

2013 at the Movies: breakthroughs

Adèle Exarchopoulos in BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR

The year’s biggest breakthrough has to be 19-year-old actress Adèle Exarchopoulos, who delivered the year’s best cinematic performance in the year’s best movie, Blue is the Warmest Color.

American actress Brie Larson‘s star-making performance Short Term 12 showed her to be a big-time talent, possibly another Jennifer Lawrence.

Other remarkable breakthrough acting performances:

  • Elle Fanning in Ginger & Rosa (in which she, at her actual age of 14, played a 17-year-old).
  • Michael B. Jordan, thoughtful and charismatic in Fruitvale Station.

And here are the filmmakers whose work showed special promise:

Movies to See Right Now

LEAD US NOT INTO TEMPTATION at Cinequest

We’re now in the final two days of San Jose’s Cinequest Film Festival.  It’s been a good year for thrillers at Cinequest, and you can still see Lead Us Not Into Temptation, Dose of Reality and Chaos, as well as the German dark comedy gem Oh BoyCheck out my CINEQUEST 2013 page for comments on these films, plus another 20 or so that I’ve seen.

In the theaters, I recommend The Gatekeepers, a documentary centered around interviews with all six surviving former chiefs of Shin Bet, Israel’s super-secret internal security force; these are hard ass guys who share a surprising perspective on the efficacy of Israel’s war on terror.  The Alex Gibney (Taxi to the Dark Side) documentary
Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God is now playing on HBO; it explores the Catholic Church’s decades-long cover-up of priest abuse from a Wisconsin parish to the top of the Vatican (and I mean the top).  I admire Steven Soderbergh’s psychological thriller Side Effects, starring Rooney Mara, Jude Law and Catherine Zeta-Jones.

Quartet is a pleasant lark of a geezer comedy with four fine performances. The charmingly funny Warm Bodies has made my list of Zombie Movies for People Who Don’t Like Zombie Movies. The drama Lore is about the innocent children of monstrous people, but its intensity is so unrelenting that it wearies the audience.

I haven’t yet seen the Chilean historical drama No (with Gael Garcia Bernal), which was nominated for the 2013 Foreign Language Oscar and opens widely today. Nor have I seen Emperor, with Tommy Lee Jones as Gen. Douglas MacArthur leading the American occupation of Japan. You can read descriptions and view trailers of upcoming films at Movies I’m Looking Forward To.

You can still catch the Academy Award winning Argo, as well as Zero Dark Thirty and Silver Linings Playbook. To ride the momentum of director Ang Lee’s surprise Oscar win, Life of Pi is now out again in 3D, which I recommend. The Oscar winner for Best Foreign Language Picture, Amour, is brilliantly made and almost unbearable to watch.

My DVD of the week is still Undefeated, last year’s Oscar winner for Best Documentary.

Movies to See Right Now

THE GATEKEEPERS

Three documentaries are dominating this week’s cinematic landscape:

  • The Gatekeepers is a documentary centered around interviews with all six surviving former chiefs of Shin Bet, Israel’s super-secret internal security force.  These are hard ass guys who share a surprising perspective on the efficacy of Israel’s war on terror.
  • Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God, now playing on HBO, explores the Catholic Church’s decades-long cover-up of priest abuse from a Wisconsin parish to the top of the Vatican (and I mean the top).
  • 56 Up is the surprisingly mellow next chapter in the greatest documentary series ever.  Starting with Seven Up! in 1964, director Michael Apted has followed the same fourteen British children, filming snapshots of their lives at ages 7, 14, 21, 28, 35, 42 and 49 – and now at 56.

We’re now in the third day of San Jose’s Cinequest Film Festival.  I’ve updated my CINEQUEST 2013 page, which includes comments on The Sapphires, In the Shadows, Lead Us Not Into Temptation, The Almost Man, Panahida, Dose of Reality, White Lie, Aftermath and The Hunt.

Opening this week, the drama Lore is about the innocent children of monstrous people, but its intensity is so unrelenting that it wearies the audience. You can read descriptions and view trailers of upcoming films at Movies I’m Looking Forward To.

I admire Steven Soderbergh’s psychological thriller Side Effects, starring Rooney Mara, Jude Law and Catherine Zeta-Jones. Quartet is a pleasant lark of a geezer comedy with four fine performances. The charmingly funny Warm Bodies has made my list of Zombie Movies for People Who Don’t Like Zombie Movies.

You can still catch the Academy Award winning Argo, as well as Zero Dark Thirty and Silver Linings Playbook.  To ride the momentum of director Ang Lee’s surprise Oscar win, Life of Pi is now out again in 3D, which I recommend.  The Oscar winner for Best Foreign Language Picture,  Amour, is brilliantly made and almost unbearable to watch.

My DVD of the week is another documentary, Undefeated, last year’s Oscar winner for Best Documentary.

Turner Classic Movies is celebrating the Oscars with its annual 31 Days of Oscars, filling its broadcast schedule with Academy Award-winning films. This week, the lineup includes Inherit the Wind and Elmer Gantry.

DVD/Stream of the Week: Undefeated – an Oscar winner you haven’t seen

The extraordinary documentary Undefeated begins with a high school football coach addressing his team:

Let’s see now. Starting right guard shot and no longer in school.  Starting middle linebacker shot and no longer in school. Two players fighting right in front of the coach. Starting center arrested.  Most coaches – that would be pretty much a career’s worth of crap to deal with.  Well, I think that sums up the last two weeks for me.

Undefeated is the story of this coach, Bill Courtney, leading his team through a season.  The kids live in crushing poverty and attend a haplessly under-resourced high school in North Memphis.

Undefeated may be about a football team, but isn’t that much about football.  Instead of the Xs and Os, it shows the emotional energy required of Courtney to keep each kid coming to school, coming to practice and on task.  He gets many of the kids to think about goals for the first time in their lives.  He is tireless, dogged and often frustrated and emotionally spent.

The film wisely focuses on three players, and we get to know them.  Like the rest of the team, all three are from extremely disadvantaged homes.  One is an overachiever both on the field and in the classroom, but surprisingly emotionally vulnerable.   Another has college-level football talent but very little academic preparation.   The third,  recently back from youth prison, is impulsive, immature, selfish and extremely volatile.

Undefeated won the 2012 Oscar for Best Documentary for filmmakers Daniel Lindsay and T.J. Martin – but it didn’t get a wide theatrical release.  It’s available now on DVD from Netflix and Redbox and streaming from Netflix Instant, Amazon VOD and others.

2012 at the Movies: biggest disappointments

DAMSELS IN DISTRESS

1. I haven’t seen Undefeated, the Oscar winning documentary about an underdog high school football team, or the French political thriller The Minister (L’exercice de l’État )   because – as far as I know – they haven’t yet been released in the US.  How can an Oscar winner not get a release?  You can read descriptions and watch trailers of these films as Movies I’m Looking Forward To.

2.  There was also no US release for the hilarious Norwegian curling comedy King Curling or the creepy Slovak voyeur thriller Visible World.  I think that, given a chance, American audiences would have responded to both of them.

3.  Sometimes my favorite filmmakers let me down.  There wasn’t much to Martin McDonagh’s Seven Psychopaths, which I had been eagerly awaiting for months.

Whit Stillman (Metropolitan, Barcelona) hadn’t made a film for thirteen years and then came up with Damsels in Distress. With the tedious Greta Gerwig.  Really, Whit?

And I thought that Aardman Studios’ Pirates! Band of Misfits was a bore.

Note: I don’t have a Worst Ten Movie list because, unlike professional critics, I don’t have to see every movie.  I do see over 100 new movies each year, but I try REALLY, REALLY HARD to avoid the bad movies.  So my worst movie going experience is always either 1)  on an airline flight when I see a movie that I normally wouldn’t; 2) a hyped art film that disastrously falls on its face and/or really pisses me off (The White Ribbon); or 3) something I find on cable TV while channel surfing (Paul Blart: Mall Cop).  But usually, the culprit finds its way aboard a long airline flight.  Not this year.

4.  That being said,  the worst film that I saw was probably Dorfman, which would have derailed if it had started out on the rails.