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"The movie business is macabre. Grotesque.
It is a combination of a football game
and a brothel."
-- Federico Fellini
Jan 082021
 

The Berlin File (2013 — South Korea) Korean action director Ryoo Seung-wan takes on East-meets-West-double-agent intrigue in this breakneck thriller. Exposed during an illegal arms trade gone wrong in Berlin, a North Korean “ghost” agent finds himself in the crosshairs of an international manhunt involving South Korean intelligence agents, the North Koreans and the CIA.

Bert Stern: Original Mad Man (2011) The definitive voyage into the life and work of one of the greatest American photographers of all time. An original Madison Avenue “mad man,” Bert Stern’s images helped create modern advertising; his ground-breaking campaign for Smirnoff forever changed the industry. The iconic photos he took of celebrities like Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Audrey Hepburn, Shirley MacLaine, Sophia Loren, Twiggy, and the infamous Lolita image from Kubrick’s film, minted Stern — along with Irving Penn and Richard Avedon — as a celebrity in his own right.

The Big Gundown (1966 — Italy) The first-ever U.S. home video release of the greatest Spaghetti Western you’ve never seen — Sergio Sollima’s widescreen epic “The Big Gundown.” The legendary Lee Van Cleef stars as a relentless bounty hunter on the trail of Cuchillo (Euro-film superstar Tomas Milian), a savage Mexican outlaw accused of the rape and murder of a 12-year-old girl. Features an incredible soundtrack by Ennio Morricone.

Cold War (2012 — Hong Kong) In the safest city in Asia, the Hong Kong police department has been untouchable for years. That was until they receive an anonymous call after a fully loaded police van, carrying five highly trained officers and equipment, disappears off the grid. After several cryptic phone calls, it becomes clear that the hijackers are aware of every crucial decision the task force makes. As the perpetrators execute a carefully planned attack, the police do their best to fight back but little do they know they’ve become unwitting pawns in a bigger, more dangerous game.

A Company Man (2012 — South Korea) Hyeong-do wears a suit and tie like any other rank-and-file white collar worker … except his profession is murder. Seemingly a section chief in the sales division of a metal fabrication company that is actually a front for an organization of hit men, Hyeong-do is regarded as one of the best contract killers in the business … until he falls in love with a married woman, quits his job, and is targeted and hunted down by his former employers.

The Damned [Les maudits] (1947 — France) Set in the closing days of World War II, “The Damned” is a gritty mix of film noir and suspense about Nazis fleeing for South America in a submarine. This rediscovered masterpiece by director Rene Clement (“Forbidden Games,” “Purple Noon”) has been remastered and is available for the first time on Blu-ray and DVD. The 1947 Cannes winner for Best Adventure and Crime Film features stunning cinematography by Henri Alekan (“Roman Holiday,” “Wings of Desire”). It arrives in the centennial year of a director about whom film historian Ephraim Katz said, “His insistence on authenticity of detail nearly approaches an obsession.”

Dead Sushi (2012 — Japan) A wild and silly action comedy that one has to really suspend disbelief for. The daughter of a legendary sushi chef finds work at a rural hot springs inn, where a pharmaceutical firm is holding a work retreat. When a disgruntled former researcher uses a serum to awaken the murderous instincts of ordinary sushi, turning them into bloodthirsty monsters, Keiko must use both her sushi training and her martial arts skills to save the others and defeat the flying killers.

Drug War (2012 — Hong Kong) by Johnnie To. Manufacturing just 50 grams of meth in China will earn you a death sentence. Timmy Choi (Louis Koo) just got caught making tons. Now he’s in the custody of Captain Zhang (Sun Honglei), and has one chance to avoid execution — turn informant and help the cops bring down the powerful cartel he’s been cooking for. Over the next 72 sleepless hours, the sting spins out of control, the line between duty and recklessness is blurred, and it becomes unclear who actually has the upper hand.

56 UP (2012) “Give me the child until he is seven and I will give you the man.” Starting in 1964 with “Seven UP,” the UP Series has explored this Jesuit maxim. The original concept was to interview 14 children from diverse backgrounds from all over England, asking them about their lives and their dreams for the future. Every seven years, renowned director Michael Apted, a researcher for “Seven UP,” has been back to talk to them, examining the progression of their lives. This is his eighth film in the series.

The Great Gatsby (2013) by Baz Luhrmann. “Gatsby” follows would-be writer Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) as he leaves the Midwest and comes to New York City in the spring of 1922, an era of loosening morals, glittering jazz and bootleg kings. Chasing his own American Dream as a bond-seller, Nick lands next door to a mysterious, party-giving millionaire, Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio), and across the bay from his cousin, Daisy (Carey Mulligan) (whom Gatsby loved and lost before the Great War, when he was too poor to win her over), and her philandering, blue-blooded husband, Tom Buchanan. Nick is drawn into the captivating world of the super-rich, their illusions, loves and deceits. As Nick bears witness, within and without the world he inhabits, he tells a tale of impossible love, incorruptible dreams and high-octane tragedy, and holds a mirror to our own modern times and struggles. The film — and book — is about our quest for love and belonging and the American Dream, and the loss of the former and the hollowness of the latter, something that Nick learns by the end of the story. It’s the great American novel and the great American tragedy. Luhrmann nails “Gatsby” and its themes — he researched “Gatsby,” F. Scott Fitzgerald and the story’s cultural era and, though he alters the context just a little (Carraway relates the story in flashbacks from a sanitarium), he has created a masterpiece. His use of 3D and a modern music score (hip-hop and electronic dance music) is a stroke of genius. The acting is top-notch, the sets and costumes miraculous. The first shot of DiCaprio as Gatsby as his smiling face fills the screen is pure Hollywood and alone worth the price of admission. Co-stars Joel Edgerton, Isla Fisher, Jason Clarke, Elizabeth Debicki, Amitabh Bachchan.

Hard Romanticker (2011 — Japan) Writer/director Gu Su-yeon adopts his own autobiographical novel to the screen to tell the wild story of a bleach blond Korean-Japanese rebel named Gu (Shota Matsuda) who’s pursued by gangsters and cops alike after his friend mistakenly kills a rival’s grandmother. High octane, nasty violence.

The Imposter (2012) A chilling factual thriller that chronicles the story of a 13-year-old boy who disappears without a trace from San Antonio, Texas in 1994. Three and a half years later he is found alive, thousands of miles away in a village in southern Spain with a story of kidnapping and torture. His family is overjoyed to bring him home. But all is not quite as it seems. The boy bears many of the same distinguishing marks he always had, but why does he now have a strange accent? Why does he look so different? Any why doesn’t the family seem to notice these glaring inconsistencies? It’s only when an investigator starts asking questions that this strange tale takes an even stranger turn. The stranger than fiction mystery, which features many twists and turns, is told in a cinematic language that combines documentary and stylized visualizations. Perception is challenged at every turn, and just as the truth begins to dawn on you, another truth emerges leaving you even more on edge.

In the House (2012 — France) by François Ozon. A sixteen-year-old boy insinuates himself into the house of a fellow student from his literature class and writes about it in essays for his French teacher. Faced with this gifted and unusual pupil, the teacher rediscovers his enthusiasm for his work, but the boy’s intrusion unleashes a series of uncontrollable events. The student seduces his friend’s mother and the teacher’s wife. He inadvertently causes the teacher to be dismissed but they remain in touch due to their mutual passion in finding stories that excite them.

Ivan’s Childhood (1962 — USSR) The debut feature by the great Andrei Tarkovsky (“Andrei Rublev”), “Ivan’s Childhood” is a poetic journey through the shards and shadows of one boy’s war-ravaged youth. Moving back and forth between the traumatic realities of World War II and serene moments of family life before the conflict began, Tarkovsky’s film remains one of the most jarring and unforgettable depictions of the impact of war on children. An astonishing work of art.

The Kid With a Bike (2011 — Belgium) Twelve-year-old Cyril (Thomas Doret), all coiled anger and furious motion, is living in a group home but refuses to believe he has been rejected by his single father (Jeremie Renier). He spends his days frantically trying to reach the man, over the phone or on his beloved bicycle. It is only the patience and compassion of Samantha (Cecile de France), the stranger who agrees to care for him, that offers the boy the chance to move on. Spare and unsentimental but deeply imbued with a heart-rending tenderness, “The Kid with a Bike” is an arresting work from the great Belgian directors Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, masters of the empathetic action film.

Lapland Odyssey (2010 — Finland) Set in the frozen landscape of northern Finland, this comedy follows a raucous road trip that begins when slacker Janne is sent out into the night by his beautiful and frustrated girlfriend Inari to purchase a cable box for their home. But the quest is not as simple as it sounds. Janne, accompanied by his two hapless and troublemaking friends, is propelled along a bizarre journey filled with such obstacles as naked, gun-toting Russians, some very hostile reindeer, a Jacuzzi of bikini-clad beauties, barroom brawls, Inari’s creepy ex-boyfriend, and much more.

Let’s Get Lost (1988) Traveling with the elusive jazz vocalist and trumpeter Chet Baker, Bruce Weber weaves together the life story of the jazz great. The film uses excerpts from Italian B movies, rare performance footage and candid interviews with Baker, musicians, friends, ex-wives and his children in what turns out to be the last year of his life. The movie is bookended with two romps on the beach: Baker in Santa Monica in early 1987 and then later in Cannes. Interspersed are interviews with friends, family and lovers; rare photographs; vintage clips; and performances by Baker. Baker (who was visually a cross between James Dean and Jack Kerouac) burst on the jazz scene in the early 1950s as a self-taught, amazingly accomplished trumpet-player and singer. He was summoned to play with Charlie Parker in L.A. in 1951, went on to join with Gerry Mulligan in his famous quartet, played with Stan Getz, Shelly Manne and Art Pepper, and cut a host of well-received albums, including “Gerry Mulligan Quartet Featuring Chet Baker” (1952), “Chet Baker Sings” (1954), “Chet” (1959). Baker, unfortunately, began using heroin and was an unapologetic addict for the rest of his life — it was a habit that took its toll on his health and career (for a while he had to star in Italian B movies to earn cash). In the mid-60s to 70s his career faltered, with numerous bouts with the law, but he later resumed recording and performing. From 1978 until his death he lived in Europe; the later decade of his life saw a more mature, capable musician (Baker died May 13, 1988; he apparently fell to the street from an open window in his second-story hotel room in Amsterdam; an autopsy showed drugs — heroin and cocaine — in his body). This gorgeous documentary captures the flavor, contradictions, happiness and sadness of the musician’s music and life.

Lifeforce (1985) by Tobe Hooper. A race of space vampires arrive in London and begin infecting the Earth. This Blu-ray includes both the US theatrical and international versions. Based on the novel “The Space Vampires” by philosopher Colin Wilson, the film was reviled when released; the restored film has much to offer in the way of speculative thinking, sci-fi fun — and offers up the distinction of being the only film released in which a woman is completely nude from beginning to end. Stars Steve Railsback, Peter Firth, Frank Finlay, Nicholas Ball, Mathilda May.

The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis: The Complete Series (1959-1963) “The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis” ignited one of the many loves of American television: stories about teenagers. Dobie Gillis was a typically indecisive young man who continually set out on hopeless quests for popularity, money and the attention of beautiful girls, all the while trying to make his parents happy. Created and written by humorist Max Shulman and adapted from Shulman’s celebrated collection of short stories, “The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis” premiered on CBS in 1959 and was a counter-culture hit throughout all four years of its network run. Starring Dwayne Hickman, Bob Denver, Frank Faylen, Florida Friebus, Tuesday Weld, Warren Beatty and Sheila James, this timeless show triggered a sea change in sitcoms and dramas, which would focus on the hopes, dreams and angst of teenagers for decades to come.

Marketa Lazarova (1967 — Czechoslovakia) In its home country, Frantisek Vlacil’s “Marketa Lazarova” has been hailed as the greatest Czech film ever made; for many U.S. viewers, it will be a revelation. Based on a novel by Vladislav Vancura, this stirring and poetic depiction of a feud between two rival medieval clans is a fierce, epic, and meticulously designed evocation of the clashes between Christianity and paganism, humankind and nature, love and violence. Vlacil’s approach was to re-create the textures and mentalities of a long-ago way of life, rather than to make a conventional historical drama, and the result is dazzling. With its inventive widescreen cinematography, editing, and sound design, “Marketa Lazarova” is an experimental action film.

Mud (2013) Is Jeff Nichols a modern-day filmic Mark Twain? Based on this film and his previous outing, “Take Shelter,” the young director is a storyteller — and creator — par excel lance of the American myth. In this tall tale set in the South, best friends Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland) find a mysterious man named Mud (Matthew McConaughey) hiding out on a deserted island in the Mississippi River. Mud tells the boys fantastic stories about his life, including how he once killed a man in Texas and now vengeful bounty hunters are after him. He tells them he’s planning to meet and escape with the love of his life, Juniper (Reese Witherspoon), who’s waiting for him in town. Skeptical but intrigued, Ellis and Neckbone agree to help him. But it isn’t long until Mud’s tall-tales come to life and their small town is besieged by bounty hunters out for blood. Welcome back, Huck and Tom.

New World (2013 — South Korea) Korea’s biggest crime organization, “Goldmoon,” has been infiltrated by a cop and when the head of the syndicate dies, the police chief orders the undercover cop to participate in project “New World,” designed to bring down the notorious crime organization by damaging the relationship between the two feuding contenders. The undercover cop faces a difficult decision: follow the chief’s orders or maintain his loyalty to “Goldmoon.”

Night of the Comet (1984) by Thom E. Eberhardt and starring Robert Beltran, Catherine Mary Stewart, Kelli Maroney, Sharon Farrell, Mary Wornov, Geoffrey Lewis. A comet wipes out most of life on Earth, leaving two Valley Girls to fight the evil types (killer zombies and blood-seeking scientists) who survive. But first they do what all good Valley Girls do … they go shopping. In a Blu-ray debut.

Nightfall (2012 — Hong Kong) Grisly thriller pits a bitter, aging detective against a recently released murderer in the mystery surrounding the killing of a popular opera singer … but a clear-cut case of revenge gets murkier, with the facts — and the truth — becoming harder to uncover. Stars Simon Yam, Nick Cheung.

The Painting (2011 — France) A feast for the eyes as well as the imagination, this wry parable from visionary animator-director Jean-Francois Laguionie centers on a kingdom in a painter’s studio that is divided into three castes: The impeccably painted Alldunns, who reside in a majestic palace; the Halfies, who the Painter has left incomplete; and the untouchable Sketchies, simple charcoal outlines who are banished to the cursed forest. The story follows the adventures of Lola, a Halfir, and Ramo, an Alldunn, as they break through the canvas of their painting into the Painter’s studio. The abandoned workspace is strewn with paintings, each containing its own animated world, and they explore first one picture and then another, attempting to discover just what the Painter has in mind for all his creations.

The Paperboy (2012) A sexually and racially charged film noir from director Lee Daniels (“Precious”) that takes audiences deep into the backwaters of steamy 1960s South Florida. Miami Times reporter Ward Jansen (Matthew McConaughey) returns to his sleepy home town of Lately, Florida, where a decades-old façade of Southern gentility strains against the sweeping social changes of the 60s. Accompanied by his writing partner Yardley Acheman (David Oyelowo), Ward is chasing the career-making story of violent swamp rat Hillary Van Wetter (John Cusack), who claims to have been framed for the murder of a corrupt local sheriff. Drafting his younger brother Jack (Zac Efron) to serve as his driver, Ward tries to unravel the mystery of the crime, aided by a mountain of evidence amassed by sultry death-row groupie Charlotte Bless (Nicole Kidman), who turns out to be Van Wetter’s fiancé. As the odious Van Wetter awaits the electric chair, the Jansen family’s longtime black maid Anita (Macy Gray) watches in alarm as Jack becomes more and more infatuated with the alluring Charlotte. But when Ward’s investigation reveals a web of deception it sets off an explosive chain reaction that pulls everyone involved into a quagmire of evil as dark as the Everglades themselves. Inspired by a true story, “The Paperboy’s” tale of obsession, violence and ambition earned a nomination for the 2012 Cannes Film Festival’s highest prize, the coveted Palme d’ Or.

Prime Suspect: The Complete Collection (1991-2006) Seven-disc set with all nine feature-length mysteries of the iconic, universally acclaimed police drama starring Oscar-winner Helen Mirren in her Emmy-winning role as Detective Jane Tennison, in this revolutionary police drama broadcast on PBS to universal acclaim and more than 20 major international awards, including seven Emmys (three-time winner of “Outstanding Miniseries”), eight BAFTAs, and a Peabody. Guest stars include Ralph Fiennes, Tom Wilkinson and Jonny Lee Miller.

Q The Winged Serpent (1982) Quetzalcoatl, a dragon-like Aztec god that is summoned to modern-day Manhattan by a mysterious cult, roosts at the top of the Chrysler Building and begins feasting on window washers, construction workers and rooftop sunbathers. Michael Moriarty is a small-time thief who finds the nest of the creature, and Richard Roundtree and David Carradine are New York’s finest, hot on the serpentine tail of the bloodthirsty Q! A bizarre masterpiece by cult director Larry Cohen. In a Blu-ray debut.

Searching for Sugar Man (2012) The true story of Rodriguez, the greatest 70s rock icon who never was. Rodriguez was discovered in a Detroit bar in the late 1960s by two celebrated producers who were struck by his soulful melodies and prophetic lyrics. They recorded an album, which was expected to secure his reputation as the greatest recording artist of his generation, but in contrast, the album bombed and Rodriguez disappeared into obscurity amid rumors of a gruesome on-stage suicide. Nonetheless, a bootleg recording found its way into apartheid South Africa and, over the next two decades, his music became a phenomenon and an anthem for the people. “Searching for Sugar Man” follows two South African fans setting out to discover what really happened to their hero, leading them to a story more extraordinary than any of the existing myths about the artist known as Rodriguez.

The Silence (2010 — Germany). 13-year-old Sinikka vanishes on a hot summer night. Her bicycle is found in the exact place where a girl was killed 23 years ago. The eerie resemblance sparks a harrowing investigation into the mystery of the seemingly parallel crimes. Unhealed wounds are opened and fresh dangers arise as detectives, parents and the retired investigator of the first case set out to uncover the truth. A creepy, breathtaking procedural thriller set in rural Germany.

Silver Linings Playbook (2012) by David O. Russell. Life doesn’t always go according to plan. Pat Solatano (Bradley Cooper) has lost everything — his house, his job, and his wife. He now finds himself living back with his mother (Jacki Weaver) and father (Robert DeNiro) after spending eight months is a state institution. Pat is determined to rebuild his life, remain positive and reunite with his wife; all Pat’s parents want is for him to get back on his feet — and to share their family’s obsession with the Philadelphia Eagles football team. When Pat meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a mysterious girl with problems of her own, things get complicated. Tiffany offers to help Pat reconnect with his wife, but only if he’ll do something very important for her in return — enter a ballroom dance contest. As their deal plays out, an unexpected bond begins to form between them. Breakthrough performances by Cooper and Lawrence.

Spring Breakers (2013) by Harmony Korine. Brit (Ashley Benson), Faith (Selena Gomez), Candy (Vanessa Hudgens) and Cotty (Rachel Korine) are best friends anxious to cut loose for spring break, but they don’t have the money. After holding up a fast-food restaurant for quick cash, the girls head to the beach in a stolen car for what they think will be the party of a lifetime. At a motel room rager, fun reaches its legal limit and the girls are arrested and taken to jail. Hungover and clad only in bikinis, the girls appear before a judge but are bailed out unexpectedly by Alien (James Franco), an infamous local thug, rapper, drug pusher and arms dealer, who takes them under his wing. Rough on the outside but with a soft soul on the inside, Alien wins over the hearts and dreams of the young Spring Breakers, and leads them on a Spring Break they never could have imagined.

Starlet (2012) Explores the unlikely friendship between 21 year-old aspiring actress Jane (Dree Hemingway) and elderly widow Sadie (Besedka Johnson) after their worlds collide in California’s San Fernando Valley. Jane spends her time getting high with her dysfunctional roommates and taking care of her chihuahua Starlet, while Sadie passes her days alone, tending to her garden. Drifting and driving contentedly around the sun-dappled San Fernando Valley, Jane one day finds a pile of cash stashed inside an old thermos she’s purchased at a yard sale held by the elderly Sadie. After treating herself to a manicure and Starlet to a sparkly new halter, Jane returns to the house where she bought the thermos and, prompted by a growing sense of morality and guilt, begins a tentative friendship with Sadie.

Stoker (2013) by Park Chan-wook. India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska) was not prepared to lose her father and best friend Richard (Dermot Mulroney) in a tragic auto accident. The solitude of her woodsy family estate, the peace of her tranquil town, and the unspoken somberness of her home life are suddenly upended by not only this mysterious accident, but by the sudden arrival of her Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode), whom she never knew existed. When Charlie moves in with her and her emotionally unstable mother Evie (Nicole Kidman), India thinks the void left by her father’s death is finally being filled by his closest bloodline. Soon after his arrival, India comes to suspect that this mysterious, charming man has ulterior motives. Yet instead of feeling outrage or horror, this friendless young woman becomes increasingly infatuated with him. An involving and intriguing mystery-thriller — with twists and a nod to Hitchcock — from the great South Korean director (in his U.S.-directing debut).

This Is The End (2013) Follows five friends attending a party at James Franco’s house — Jonah Hill, Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, Danny McBride & Craig Robinson playing themselves — who become trapped together after a series of strange and catastrophic events — the apocalypse — devastate Los Angeles. As the world unravels outside, dwindling supplies and cabin fever threaten to tear apart the friendships inside. Eventually, they are forced to leave the house, facing their fate and the true meaning of friendship and redemption. There’s a lot of sick jokes and nasty action but it sure is a pleasure to see some of these stars come to untimely, Godly ends. Co-stars Aziz Ansari, Paul Rudd, Mindy Kaling, Jason Segel, Michael Cera, Rihanna, Emma Watson, Martin Starr, Christopher Mintz-Plasse.

Tristana (1970 — Spain) by Luis Bunuel. A surreal criticism of Catholicism and the modern world, told through the story of Tristana (Catherine Deneuve), a young Spanish woman left to the care of Don Lope (Fernando Rey) — a protective but impoverished aristocrat — when her mother dies. Don Lope sells his possessions to avoid manual labor and champions the causes of the dispossessed and downtrodden of society. He takes advantage of the vulnerable Tristana, seducing her, but she eventually leaves him when she falls in love with Horacio (Franco Nero). Unable to commit to him, she returns to Don Lope when she falls ill. He asks for her hand in marriage, and she accepts after losing her leg to cancer, finally choosing to remain in a passionless union rather than be subject to the harsh realities of society. Lovingly restored and remastered.

Two Men in Manhattan (1959) Rediscovered classic from master filmmaker Jean-Pierre Melville. Melville’s moody dramas, including “Bob le Flambeur,” “Le Doulos,” “Le Samourai” and “Army of Shadows,” were deeply influenced by classic Hollywood crime pictures, making iconic use of cigarette-smoking, world-weary gangsters and detectives in trenchcoats and fedora hats. His minimalist style, including shooting on real locations rather than in studios, was a major influence on the next generation of filmmakers that would create the New Wave. The dark shadows of New York come to life here in Melville’s rarely seen, jazz-soaked noir masterpiece. A French UN delegate has disappeared into thin air, sending reporter Moreau (Melville himself) and hard-drinking photographer Delmas (Pierre Grasse) on an ethically fraught mission to find him. Their only lead is a picture of three women. Set against a smoky jazz score and featuring stunning black-and-white cinematography by Nicolas Hayer that beautifully captures the gritty streets at night, this is director Melville’s love letter to New York City and homage to American film noir.

The Untold History of the United States (2013) Ten-part Showtime Original Series from three-time Academy Award-winning writer and director Oliver Stone. The in-depth, surprising, and totally riveting series, co-written by Stone with Peter Kuznick and Matt Graham, was directed and narrated by Stone. Stone and Kuznick, esteemed American University Associate Professor of History, and director of the Nuclear Studies Institute, co-authored the companion book (Gallery Books) to the series, which presents our country’s unlearned history, drawing on archival findings from around the world and recently declassified material. The documentary looks back at human events that at the time went under-reported, but that crucially shaped America’s unique and complex history throughout the 20th photo for The Untold History of the United States century, covering the time period from the atomic bombing of Japan to the Cold War, through the fall of Communism to the events of today.

Vic (2006) Vic Reeves (Clu Gulager) was once a Hollywood star respected for his award-winning roles in classic Westerns and television dramas. Today, past his prime, overlooked, and forgotten, he is reduced to making appearances in cheap B-grade slasher flicks. When a late-night phone call from director Tony La Salle offers Vic an opportunity for a comeback, the actor must face the toughest audition of his career. Featuring cameos from Carole Lynley, John Philip Law, Gary Frank, Gregory Sierra and John Lazar, and music by acclaimed Italian composer Franco Micalizzi, “Vic” won director Sage Stallone a Best New Filmmaker Award at the Boston Film Festival.

West of Memphis (2012) Documentary tells the powerful story of the 18-year fight to free the “West Memphis 3,” three teenagers (Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley Jr. and Jason Baldwin) wrongfully convicted of the 1993 murders of three 8-year-old boys in West Memphis, Arkansas.

The World’s End (2013) Simon Pegg and Nick Frost reteam with director Edgar Wright in this wildly entertaining thrill ride. Twenty years after their first epic pub crawl attempt, the “five musketeers” reunite in their home town to complete the ultimate challenge – one night, five friends, twelve bars – a boozy quest on which only the strongest will survive. But after a bizarre series of encounters with the out-of-this-world locals, they soon realize that reaching their final pub, The World’s End, may be the least of their troubles — they now have to save the world. This is the third and final film in Wright’s “The Ultimate Three Flavors Cornetto Trilogy,” which also features hits “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz,” and was released simultaneously in a Blu-ray set.

And don’t forget the following Criterion releases:

Babette’s Feast (1987 — France) At once a rousing paean to artistic creation, a delicate evocation of divine grace, and the ultimate film about food, the Oscar-winning “Babette’s Feast” is a deeply beloved cinematic treasure. Directed by Gabriel Axel and adapted from a story by Isak Dinesen, this is the layered tale of a French housekeeper with a mysterious past who brings quiet revolution in the form of one exquisite meal to a circle of starkly pious villagers in late 19-century Denmark. “Babette’s Feast” combines earthiness and reverence in an indescribably moving depiction of pleasure that goes to your head like fine champagne.

The Devil’s Backbone (2001 — Spain) The most personal film by Guillermo del Toro is also among his most frightening and emotionally layered. Set during the final week of the Spanish Civil War, “The Devil’s Backbone” tells the tale of a 10-year-old boy who, after his freedom-fighting father is killed, is sent to a haunted rural orphanage full of terrible secrets. Del Toro effectively combines gothic ghost story, murder mystery, and historical melodrama in a stylish concoction that reminds us — ­as would his later “Pan’s Labyrinth” — ­that the scariest monsters are often the human ones.

The Earrings of Madame De … (1953 — France) The most cherished work from French master Max Ophuls, “The Earrings of Madame de …” is a profoundly emotional, cinematographically adventurous tale of deceptive opulence and tragic romance. When an aristocratic woman known only as Madame de (Danielle Darrieux) sells a pair of earrings given to her by her husband (Charles Boyer) in order to pay a debt, she sets off a chain reaction of financial and carnal consequences that can end only in despair. Ophuls’s adaptation of Louise de Vilmorin’s incisive fin de siecle novel employs the elegant and precise camera work for which the director is so justly renowned, to ravishing effect.

Gate of Hell (1953 — Japan) A winner of Academy Awards for best foreign-language film and best costume design, “Gate of Hell” is a visually sumptuous, psychologically penetrating work from Teinosuke Kinugasa. In the midst of epic, violent intrigue in 12-century Japan, an imperial warrior falls for a lady-in-waiting; even after he discovers she is married, he goes to extreme lengths to win her love. Kinugasa’s film is an unforgettable, tragic story of obsession and unrequited passion that was an early triumph of color cinematography in Japan.

A Man Escaped (1956 — France) With the simplest of concepts and sparest of techniques, Robert Bresson made one of the most suspenseful jailbreak films of all time. Based on the memoirs of an imprisoned French resistance leader, this unbelievably taut and methodical marvel follows the fictional Fontaine’s single-minded pursuit of freedom, detailing the planning and carrying out of his escape with gripping precision. But Bresson’s film is not merely process-minded — ­it’s a work of intense spirituality and humanity.

Medium Cool (1969) It’s 1968, and the whole world is watching. With the U.S. in social upheaval, famed cinematographer Haskell Wexler decided to make a film about what the hell was going on. His debut feature, “Medium Cool,” plunges us into that moment. With its mix of scripted fiction and seat-of-the-pants documentary technique, this story of the working world and romantic life of a television cameraman (Robert Forster) is a visceral, lasting cinematic snapshot of the era, climaxing with an extended sequence shot right in the middle of the riots surrounding the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. An inventive commentary on the pleasures and dangers of wielding a camera, “Medium Cool” is as prescient a political film as Hollywood has ever produced.

Ministry of Fear (1944) Suffused with dread and paranoia, this Fritz Lang adaptation of a novel by Graham Greene is a plunge into the eerie shadows of a world turned upside down by war. En route to London after being released from a mental institution, Stephen Neale (Ray Milland) stops at a seemingly innocent village fair, after which he finds himself caught in the web of a sinister underworld with possible Nazi connections. Lang was among the most illustrious of the European emigre filmmakers working in Hollywood during World War II, and “Ministry of Fear” is one of his finest American productions, an unpredictable thriller with style to spare.

Naked Lunch (1991) In this adaptation of William S. Burroughs’s hallucinatory, once-thought unfilmable novel “Naked Lunch,” directed by David Cronenberg, a part-time exterminator and full-time drug addict named Bill Lee (Peter Weller) plunges into the nightmarish Interzone, a netherworld of sinister cabals and giant talking bugs. Alternately humorous and grotesque — ­and always surreal — ­the film mingles aspects of Burroughs’s novel with incidents from the writer’s own life, resulting in an evocative paranoid fantasy and a self-reflexive investigation into the mysteries of the creative process.

Repo Man (1984) A quintessential cult film of the 1980s, Alex Cox’s singular sci-fi comedy stars the always captivating Harry Dean Stanton as a weathered repo man in desolate downtown Los Angeles, and Emilio Estevez as the nihilistic middle-class punk he takes under his wing. The job becomes more than either of them bargained for when they get involved in reclaiming a mysterious — ­and otherworldly — ­Chevy Malibu with a hefty reward attached to it. Featuring the ultimate early-eighties L.A. punk soundtrack, this grungily hilarious odyssey is a politically trenchant take on President Reagan’s domestic and foreign policy.

Seconds (1966) Rock Hudson is a revelation in this sinister, science-fiction-inflected dispatch from the fractured 1960s. Directed by John Frankenheimer, the film concerns a middle-aged businessman dissatisfied with his suburban existence who elects to undergo a strange and elaborate procedure that will grant him a new life. Starting over in America, however, is not as easy as it sounds. This paranoiac symphony of canted camera angles (courtesy of famed cinematographer James Wong Howe), fragmented editing, and layered sound design is a remarkably risk-taking Hollywood film that ranks high on the list of its legendary director’s major achievements.

To Be or Not to Be (1942) As nervy as it is hilarious, this screwball masterpiece from Ernst Lubitsch stars Jack Benny and, in her final screen appearance, Carole Lombard, as husband-and-wife thespians in Nazi-occupied Warsaw who become caught up in a dangerous spy plot. “To Be or Not to Be” is a Hollywood film of the boldest black humor, which went into production soon after the U.S. entered World War II. Lubitsch manages to brilliantly balance political satire, romance, slapstick, and urgent wartime suspense in a comic high-wire act that has never been equaled.

Things to Come (1936) A landmark collaboration between writer H. G. Wells, producer Alexander Korda and designer and director William Cameron Menzies, “Things to Come” is a science fiction film like no other, a prescient political work that predicts a century of turmoil and progress. Skipping through time, “Things to Come” bears witness to world war, dictatorship, disease, the rise of television, and finally, utopia. Conceived, written, and overseen by Wells himself as an adaptation of his own work, this mega-budgeted production, the most ambitious ever from Korda’s London Films, is a triumph of imagination and technical audacity. One of the most overlooked classic film of all time.

The Tin Drum (1979 — Germany) Restored director’s cut never before seen in the United States. Oskar is born in Germany in 1924 with an advanced intellect. Repulsed by the hypocrisy of adults and the irresponsibility of society, he refuses to grow older after his third birthday. While the chaotic world around him careers toward the madness and folly of World War II, Oskar pounds incessantly on his beloved tin drum and perfects his uncannily piercing shrieks. “The Tin Drum,” which earned the Palme d’Or at Cannes and the Academy Award for Best Foreign-language film, is a visionary adaptation from Volker Schlondorff of Nobel laureate Gunter Grass’s acclaimed novel, characterized by surreal imagery, arresting eroticism, and clear-eyed satire.

The Best DVDs of 2011

The Best DVDs of 2012

 Posted by on January 8, 2021  Add comments

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