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

If I picked the Oscars

THE BIG SICK

The nominations for this year’s Academy Awards come out tomorrow – and Academy of Motion Picture  Arts and Sciences is not asking my opinion.  But if I picked the Oscars:

Best Picture:  My choice for the year’s best movie – Truman – is NOT going to be nominated because it is a little-seen Spanish movie. But there are several deserving choices, including The Big Sick, The Shape of Water and The Post. The Academy almost always chooses a drama for Best Picture, seemingly equating seriousness and gravitas for quality. That means that comedies – and despite the coma, The Big Sick is fundamentally a romantic comedy – get underrated. So I don’t think it will win, but I gauge The Big Sick, an almost perfect film, to be the best American flick of the year.

Best Director:  I’m rooting for Guillermo del Toro for The Shape of Water, a story that could not be told as well in a novel, on stage or in any other artistic medium. It has to be a movie and one which springs from del Toro’s imagination.

Best Actor:  He’s probably not going to even get nominated, but I would go with Richard Gere in his best career performance in Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer. The huge favorite, of course, is Gary Oldman for Darkest Hour; it’s a fine performance, but I think the Oscars over-elevate portrayals of Great Men and Women.

Best Actress:  Can’t go wrong with Meryl Streep in The Post or Sally Hawkins in The Shape of Water.   Saoirse Ronan in Lady Bird was pretty special, too.

Best Supporting Actor:  Sam Rockwell is going to win this for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, but I prefer the performance of Woody Harrelson in the same movie. Harrelson doesn’t have as  showy a role, but this is one of Woody’s very best performances. Another brilliant performance that will NOT be nominated is Steve Coogan’s guy hanging on to sanity with his fingernails in The Dinner, but nobody saw it.  Among the guys who stand a chance of getting nominated, my preference is for Willem Dafoe in The Florida Project.

Best Supporting Actress:  Allison Janney will be nominated for I, Tonya, she will win and she will deserve it.

Best Animated:   Coco, of course.  Pixar is back.

Best Documentary:   The brilliant Ken Burns documentary The Vietnam War, which aired on PBS, isn’t eligible for an Oscar, but it was the year’s best doc.  Of the eligible documentaries, I really liked Abacus: Small Enough to Jail.

Best Foreign Language Picture.  I am all in for Truman from Spain, which will not be nominated.  Of those nominated, I most admired In the Fade from Germany.

Original Screenplay:  Martin McDonagh for Three Billboards in Ebbing, Missouri.

Adapted Screenplay:  Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber for I Tonya.

Cinematography:  I’m going to cop out on this category.  There just too many wonderfully visual movies this year tp pick just one as the best.  In any other year, the Academy could easily recognize the cinematography  in The Shape of Water, Dunkirk, Call Me by Your Name, Phantom Thread, Baby Driver and Okja – but only one can win the statuette.

Film Editing: Baby Driver or Dunkirk.

Long ago, the Oscars recognized a “Juvenile” acting category.  Brooklynn Prince of The Florida Project would be deserving for her exuberant performance.

Other groups give a “Promising Newcomer”award; mine would go to Greta Gerwig as writer.  Obviously, she’s not new to the movies, but her first screenplay makes me eager to see her next ones.

Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell in THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI

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.

A plea from The Movie Gourmet for Critics’ Awards and the Oscars

Lily Gladstone in CERTAIN WOMEN
Lily Gladstone in CERTAIN WOMEN

I’m always worried that the work of deserving filmmakers will get overlooked by the Academy Awards. It’s time for the critic’s awards, which can prompt Oscar nominations. And I have some opinions about some nuggets that should be recognized.

BEST PICTURE

I’m glad to see the San Francisco Film Critics Circle at least shortlisted Hell or High Water as a finalist for Best Picture. It’s getting overlooked among all the Holiday Prestige Movies, but it’s my pick for the best film of the year.

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

  • Lily Gladstone’s heartrending performance is the most indelible in Certain Women, a movie co-starring much more recognizable actresses (Laura Dern, Michelle Williams and Kristen Stewart).
  • You can imagine the entire back story of Katy Mixon’s waitress in Hell or High Water, a gal who is fiercely determined to hang on to her tip, no matter what.
  • The absolutely irreplaceable Margo Martindale is the heart of The Hollars.
  • Michelle Williams doesn’t need any help from me to be nominated for her six or seven heartbreaking minutes in Manchester by the Sea.
Alan Rickman in EYE IN THE SKY
Alan Rickman in EYE IN THE SKY

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

  • The late Alan Rickman is more than a sentimental choice for a posthumous award for Eye in the Sky; it’s one of the best performances by any actor this year.
  • Simon Helberg’s hilarious non-verbal reactions are actually the funniest part of Florence Foster Jenkins.
  • I would also recognize Devin Druid in Louder Than Bombs;  it’s easy to overlook even the most brilliant portrayals of teenage boys who don’t talk much and sure don’t show their feelings (like Miles Teller in Rabbit Hole or James Frecheville in Animal Kingdom).
  • Michael Shannon is the best thing about Nocturnal Animals.
  • Jeff Bridges should get another nomination for his superb performance in Hell or High Water.

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE

  • Isabelle Huppert’s performance in Elle is so astonishingly sui generis, it is so essential to the movie’s success and she has such an amazing body of work, that I can’t imagine her not winning this Oscar. It doesn’t help that, as usual, there’s shortage of other excellent roles for women.
  • I loved Imogen Poot in Frank & Lola. The entire movie hinges on whether she is a Bad Girl or a Troubled Girl, and she plays it credibly both ways.

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE

  • Like Huppert, Casey Affleck is a deserving lock to win the Oscar for Manchester by the Sea.
  • But, in Hell or High WaterChris Pine finally got to act in a complex, textured role and he really delivered.  Deserves a nod.

BEST WRITING, ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

  • Kenneth Lonergan will certainly snag a nomination for Manchester by the Sea.
  • So I am campaigning for Taylor Sheridan and his masterpiece screenplay for Hell or High Water.
Jeff Bridges and Katy Mixon in HELL OR HIGH WATER
Jeff Bridges and Katy Mixon in HELL OR HIGH WATER

 

Richard Jenkins and Margo Martindale in THE HOLLARS
Richard Jenkins and Margo Martindale in THE HOLLARS

DVD/Stream of the Week: THE SECRET IN THEIR EYES – see the real Oscar winner before the Hollywood version

Ricardo Darin in THE SECRET IN THEIR EYES
Ricardo Darin in THE SECRET IN THEIR EYES

The superb The Secret in Their Eyes (El Secreto de Sus Ojos) won the 2010 Oscar for Best Foreign Language Picture. The Hollywood remake is coming out this weekend, but you should first see the original. The Secret in Their Eyes is a police procedural set in Argentina with two breathtaking plot twists, original characters, a mature romance and one forehead-slapping, “how did they do it?” shot. The story centers on a murder in Argentina’s politically turbulent 1970s, but most of the story takes place twenty years later when a retired cop revisits the murder.

Veteran Argentine actor Ricardo Darin shines once again in a Joe Mantegna-type role. Darin leads an excellent cast, including Guillermo Francella, who brings alive the character of Darin’s drunk assistant. Darin’s detective is a solitary guy who retracts into his lair to bang away at a novel. He has feelings for his boss, a tough judge played by Soledad Villamil. Her career and her personal life can’t wait for the detective to get his own stuff together. All three characters throw themselves into solving the murder and, when stymied, are all scarred by the lack of resolution.

The movie is titled after one element that I hadn’t seen before in a crime movie. And then there are the major plot twists. The final one is a jaw-dropper.

Director Juan Jose Campanella received justifiable praise for the amazing shot of a police search in a filled and frenzied soccer stadium. It ranks as one of the great single shots of extremely long duration, right up there with the opening sequence of Touch of Evil, the kitchen entrance in Goodfellas and the battle scene in Children of Men. This shot alone makes watching the movie worthwhile.

Filmmaker Billy Ray has remade the Argentine film as Secret in Their Eyes, to be released October 23 starring Nicole Kidman, Julia Roberts and Chiwetelu Ejiofor. Ray is no hack – he’s adapted the screenplays for Shattered Glass (which he also directed), Captain Phillips and the first The Hunger Games. The plot has been turned into a story about thee US federal law enforcement officials and the murder of one of their children; unfortunately, the trailer looks more like a plot-driven Law & Order, with none of the characters as singular or as memorable as in the Argentine original. We shall see.

The Secret in Their Eyes is high on my Best Movies of 2010. It’s available on DVD from Netflix and streaming from Amazon Instant Video, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube, Google Play, Xbox Video and Flixster.

DVD/Stream of the Week: THE SECRET IN THEIR EYES – see the real Oscar winner before the Hollywood version

Ricardo Darin in THE SECRET IN THEIR EYES
Ricardo Darin in THE SECRET IN THEIR EYES

The superb The Secret in Their Eyes (El Secreto de Sus Ojos) won the 2010 Oscar for Best Foreign Language Picture. The Hollywood remake is coming out this fall, but you should first see the original. The Secret in Their Eyes is a police procedural set in Argentina with two breathtaking plot twists, original characters, a mature romance and one breathtaking, “how did they do it?” shot. The story centers on a murder in Argentina’s politically turbulent 1970s, but most of the story takes place twenty years later when a retired cop revisits the murder.

Veteran Argentine actor Ricardo Darin shines once again in a Joe Mantegna-type role. Darin leads an excellent cast, including Guillermo Francella, who brings alive the character of Darin’s drunk assistant. Darin’s detective is a solitary guy who retracts into his lair to bang away at a novel. He has feelings for his boss, a tough judge played by Soledad Villamil. Her career and her personal life can’t wait for the detective to get his own stuff together. All three characters throw themselves into solving the murder and, when stymied, are all scarred by the lack of resolution.

The movie is titled after one element that I hadn’t seen before in a crime movie.  And then there are the major plot twists.  The final one is a jaw-dropper.

Director Juan Jose Campanella received justifiable praise for the amazing shot of a police search in a filled and frenzied soccer stadium. It ranks as one of the great single shots of extremely long duration, right up there with the opening sequence of Touch of Evil, the kitchen entrance in Goodfellas and the battle scene in Children of Men. This shot alone makes watching the movie worthwhile.

Filmmaker Billy Ray has remade the Argentine film as Secret in Their Eyes, to be released October 23 starring Nicole Kidman, Julia Roberts and Chiwetelu Ejiofor. Ray is no hack – he’s adapted the screenplays for Shattered Glass (which he also directed), Captain Phillips and the first The Hunger Games. The plot has been turned into a story about thee US federal law enforcement officials and the murder of one of their children; unfortunately, the trailer looks more like a plot-driven Law & Order, with none of the characters as singular or as memorable as in the Argentine original. We shall see.

The Secret in Their Eyes is high on my Best Movies of 2010. It’s available on DVD from Netflix and streaming from Amazon Instant Video, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube, Google Play, Xbox Video and Flixster.

DVD/Stream of the Week: FORCE MAJEURE – some things you just can’t get past

FORCE MAJEURE
FORCE MAJEURE

In the droll Swedish dramedy Force Majeure, a smugly affluent family of four vacations at an upscale ski resort in the French Alps. The wife explains to a friend that they take the vacation because otherwise the husband never sees the family. But, while the wife is blissed out, the kids fidget and complain, and the hubby sneaks peeks at his phone.

Then there’s a sudden moment of apparent life-and-death peril; the husband has a chance to protect the wife and kids, but instead – after first securing his iPhone – runs for his life. How do they all go on from that revealing moment? The extent that one incident can bring relationships into focus is the core of Force Majeure.

Clearly, the family has a serious issue to resolve, but there’s plenty of dry humor. In the most cringe worthy moments, the wife tries to contain her disgust, but can’t keep it bottled up when she’s in the most social situations. The couple repeatedly huddle outside their room in their underwear to talk things out, only to find themselves observed by the same impassive French hotel worker. The most tense moments are interrupted by an insistent cell phone vibration, another guest’s birthday party and a child’s remotely out-of-control flying toy.

Force Majeure is exceptionally well-written by writer-director Ruben Ostlund. It’s just his fourth feature and the first widely seen outside Scandinavia. He transitions between scenes by showing the machinery of the ski resort accompanied by Baroque organ music – a singular and very effective directorial choice.

Force Majeure was Sweden’s submission for the Best Foreign Language Oscar. It is available on DVD from Netflix and streaming from Amazon, iTunes, Vudu and Xbox Video.

[I’ve included the trailer as always, but I recommend that you see the movie WITHOUT watching this trailer – mild spoilers]

FORCE MAJEURE: some things you just can’t get past

FORCE MAJEURE
FORCE MAJEURE

In the droll Swedish dramedy Force Majeure, a smugly affluent family of four vacations at an upscale ski resort in the French Alps. The wife explains to a friend that they take the vacation because otherwise the husband never sees the family. But, while the wife is blissed out,  the kids fidget and complain, and the hubby sneaks peeks at his phone.

Then there’s a sudden moment of apparent life-and-death peril; the husband has a chance to protect the wife and kids, but instead – after first securing his iPhone – runs for his life. How do they all go on from that revealing moment? The extent that one incident can bring relationships into focus is the core of Force Majeure.

Clearly, the family has a serious issue to resolve, but there’s plenty of dry humor. In the most cringe worthy moments, the wife tries to contain her disgust, but can’t keep it bottled up when she’s in the most social situations.  The couple repeatedly huddle outside their room in their underwear to talk things out, only to find themselves observed by the same impassive French hotel worker. The most tense moments are interrupted by an insistent cell phone vibration, another guest’s birthday party and a child’s remotely out-of-control flying toy.

Force Majeure is exceptionally well-written by writer-director Ruben Ostland. It’s just his fourth feature and the first widely seen outside Scandinavia. He transitions between scenes by showing the machinery of the ski resort accompanied by
Baroque organ music – a singular and very effective directorial choice.

Force Majeure is Sweden’s submission for the Best Foreign Language Oscar. I think it deserves an Oscar nomination, although I can’t see it beating out Two Days, One Night, Ida or Leviafan.

[I’ve included the trailer as always, but I recommend that you see the movie WITHOUT watching this trailer – mild spoilers]

Searching for Sugar Man director dies

Malik Bendjelloul
Malik Bendjelloul

The Swedish filmmaker Malik Bendjelloul has died suddenly at age 36. He won the Best Documentary Oscar with his FIRST FEATURE – the powerful Searching for Sugar Man. Judging from Sugar Man, this is a significant loss to future cinema. At least we can still watch his one riveting and flabbergasting story – available on DVD from Netflix and Redbox and streaming from Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube and Xbox Video.

Movies to See Right Now

AMERICAN HUSTLE
AMERICAN HUSTLE

The Palestinian Omar is a heartbreaking romance inside a tense thriller; Omar is nominated for the Best Foreign Language Oscar. The Chilean drama Gloria is about an especially resilient 58-year-old woman. Harder to find, Stranger by the Lake is an effective French thriller with LOTS of explicit gay sex.

My DVD/Stream of the Week is the flawless true story thriller Captain Phillips, my choice as the best Hollywood movie of the year. It’s now available on DVD from Netflix and Redbox and streaming from Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube, Google Play and Xbox Video.

In theaters, you can still find Oscar nominees Nebraska, American Hustle and Her, which all made my Best Movies of 2013. I also strongly recommend Best Picture nominees The Wolf of Wall Street and Philomena. Dallas Buyers Club, with its splendid performances by Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto, is formulaic but still a pretty good watch. The Oscar Nominated Live Action Shorts is also a good bet.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is another fine thriller from that franchise, with another amazing performance by Jennifer Lawrence. I also like the Mumblecore romance Drinking Buddies, now available on VOD.

We’re still enjoying Turner Classic Movies magical month of Oscar-nominated films – 31 Days of Oscar. This week I recommend the brilliant 1971 drama The Last Picture Show and the classic Bogart/Bacall thriller Key Largo.