Ave DuVernay’s unflincing account of civil rights marches in Selma, Alabama is the most painfully relevant film of 2014. Sure, Oscar decided to ignore the director’s brilliant work as well as David Oyelowo’s stunning, wearied performance, but that doesn’t mean you should. DuVernay is a master storyteller at the top of her game and with her stewardship, Selma is a well crafted, straightforward punch to the gut.
Another underappreciates 2014 gem, Mike Leigh’s biopic Mr. Turner, releases to home entertainment today as well. While the films are markedly different, they do share some wonderful elements in common. Leigh’s approach suits the material beautifully as his painterly camera and fluid direction give the story room to breathe, while a magnificent lead performance from Timothy Spall keeps you spellbound. Both boast wonderfully nuanced turns from a large, capable ensemble and both were woefully underappreciated by the Academy. You should give them a chance.
The best horror film (indeed, one of the very best films, period) of 2014 is available today for home entertainment and you must see The Babadook. Writer/director/Australian Jennifer Kent, with an assist from cinematographer Radek Ladczuk and magnificent performances from Essie Davis and Noah Wiseman – has crafted an unsettling and spooky haunted house style tale.
The horror here is fueled by compassion generated by the naturalistic performances. Kent has captured something with primal urgency, something simultaneously heartbreaking and terrifying. The film’s subtext sits like a raw nerve just below the scary happenings afoot, making this as the freshest and most relevant horror film of 2014.
Pair it with another remarkable tale of either a crazy mother or a supernatural presence, J. A. Bayona’s 2007 ghost story The Orphanage.
Belen Rueda shines as a mother whose son disappears shortly after making imaginary friends at the orphanage the family owns. Bayona creates a haunted atmosphere and Rueda’s utter commitment to the character keeps the film breathless. It is a spooky nightmare that takes its material seriously and delivers.
If box office numbers can be trusted, you probably missed A Most Violent Year when it was in theaters in 2014. Now is your chance to remedy that wrong. The film – one of the finest and most underseen of last year – releases for home entertainment this week. Just the third film from fascinating director J.C. Chandor, it’s a look at the merits and moral compromise of the American Dream in a gritty drama set in NYC’s crime-ridden 1980. The look is impeccable, outdone only by a spectacular cast anchored by another magnificent turn from Oscar Isaac.
While it would make just as much sense to highlight either of Chandor’s previous efforts, A Most Violent Year makes us nostalgic for the filmmaking of Sidney Lumet, so instead we decided to pair it with his last, wonderful effort, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead. An older brother (the great Philip Seymour Hoffman) hiding dark, addictive behavior, talks his sad-sack younger brother (Ethan Hawke) into something unthinkable. It’s the last master turn from Lumet with help from a top to bottom wonderful cast.
We want to recommend a couple of lovely Irish tales for this week’s queue, beginning with the Academy Award nominated Song of the Sea. This beautifully watercolored dream mixes modern day with Irish folklore to spin the yarn of a wee selkie and the brother who begrudgingly loves her. Magical, sweet, charming and funny, it’s a treat parents will enjoy at least as much as their kids. It should have won the Oscar.
Pair it with director Tomm Moore’s first Oscar nominee, the gorgeous Celtic poem The Secret of Kells. Moore’s talent for blending everyday challenges with ancient magic is again at work as we shadow young Brendan through the riotous color and animated details of the enchanted forest outside the medieval abby where he lives. It’s another visually stunning bit of animation that’s as compelling to adults as it is to children.
Get it while it’s hot – Oscar winner J.K. Simmons throws a cymbol right in your home! Whiplash releases for home entertainment today, and it’s a film that must be seen. No film this year ratchets tension like this one, as one musician and his mentor go mano y mano in a battle that makes the Hobbit look light-hearted. Brilliantly written, expertly directed, and boasting two excellent performances (not to mention some really great music!), Whiplash is easily one of the best features of 2014.
Not all youngsters endure punishment in the name of their art – and that’s why punk rock is so much better than jazz! We Are the Best! follows three Swedish teens circa 1982 who find an outlet for their artistic and energetic impulses in punk rock. The film bubbles and bursts with the energy, innocence and sweet-natured idiocy of youth. It’s an absolute joy.
One of the best films of 2014 and the very best performance of Jake Gyllenhaal’s career becomes available for home entertainment today.
No telling why it took so long to combine Network and American Psycho, but Nightcrawler is here now, so buckle down for a helluva ride. Jake Gyllenhaal is at his absolute best in a film that is as scorchingly relevant an image of modern media as it is a brilliant character study in psychosis. You should see Nightcrawler.
There may be no better pairing for this acidic look at modern media than the only film that could do it one better, Sidney Lumet’s masterpiece Network. The film is as prescient as any movie could be, predicting with wicked humor and weird precision the catastrophic consequences of pairing network news and profit. It’s one of the best films ever made.
Butts did not fill seats when Tom Hardy and James Gandolfini’s small time mobster flick The Drop screened theatrically, which is a shame. But the film releases today for home consumption, so eat up, people! The two play cousins running a bar used to launder Chechan mob money, with Hardy adding layers and layers to a fascinating, maybe simple bartender. Shady characters, double crosses, symbolism and meager redemption keep your attention, plus there’s an incredibly cute dog. It’s worth a look.
The Drop writer Dennis Lehane has penned a number of Boston-based crime dramas, including Shutter Island and Mystic River, but the best of the bunch is Gone Baby Gone. The film that shocked us all with the knowledge that Ben Affleck is a genuinely talented director follows two private investigators working a missing kid case. Morally complicated, brilliantly filmed and boasting a career-best turn from Amy Ryan, this is a surprisingly great crime drama.
It can be said that we have a weak spot for twins. Nonetheless, a really excellent comedy/drama that happens to be about twins comes out today – The Skeleton Twins – and we recommend you take a look.
Estranged siblings Maggie and Milo (a great Kristin Wiig and a letter-perfect Bill Hader) reunite over tough circumstances and muddle sloppily through life as they’ve come to know it. Never tidy, often funny, surprisingly intimate and moving, the film looks a lot like life.
Pair it with an utterly brilliant film that looks nothing like life but represents the best Nicolas Cage ever had to offer – twice! Cage plays twin brothers Charlie and Donald Kaufman in Spike Jonze’s twistedly brilliant look at writer’s block, Adaptation. It is a work of genius, co-starring Meryl Streep and Chris Cooper, who won the Oscar for his work.
Let’s assume you saw Guardians of the Galaxy while it was in theaters. If you didn’t, you should probably not admit that out loud. So, seein’s as how you already saw the best, most fun intergalactic misadventure in years, you can look around for something you might have missed with this week’s Queue. We recommend two new releases: Frank and Calvary.
In Calvary, filmmaker John Michael McDonagh may have found his muse in the endlessly wonderful Brendan Gleeson. Gleeson plays Fr. Michael, a dry-witted but deeply decent priest who has a week to get his affairs in order while a parishoner plans to kill him. Sumptuously filmed and gorgeously written, boasting as much world-weary humor as genuine insight, it’s an amazing film and a performance that should not be missed.
And speaking of magnificent performances, please see Michael Fassbender’s tender, funny, beautiful turn in Frank. Inspired by an enigmatic musician who performed and lived wearing a giant, fake head, Frank is a wry yet intimate film that offers a thoroughly entertaining, wholly odd journey into relationships, fame, mental illness, and the mad magic of music.
Generally speaking, we like to take the weekly Queue feature to draw your attention to a worthy film that may have flown under your radar while it was in theaters. But one of our favorite blockbusters of the year comes out this week with little real competition for attention, so may we instead recommend Dawn of the Planet of the Apes?
Equally successful as political allegory and popcorn muncher, the sequel takes the themes and emotional merit of its predecessor and turns them into something grander, more epic and even more amazing.
The obvious double bill is Rupert Wyatt’s 2011 Apes prequel Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Heartbreaking because of green screen magician Andy Serkis’s magnificent performance as Caesar, the clever kick that restarted a franchise is not as smooth or as epic as its sequel, but there is an aching humanity in it that resonates.