LJ‘s film reviewer/Fast Scans columnist picks his top 20 titles from the past year’s home-video releases of documentaries and foreign, indie, and classic films.
Ben-Hur. color. 222+ min. William Wyler, dist. by Warner Home Video. DVD UPC 883929178261. $20.99; Blu-ray/DVD combo UPC 883929209453. $34.99.
Wyler’s 1959 epic about a noble Jew (Charlton Heston) up against his childhood pal (Stephen Boyd) and mighty Rome looks amazing, thanks to a frame-by-frame restoration best appreciated in its signature chariot race.
Citizen Kane: The Ultimate Collectors Edition. color & b/w. 193+ min. Orson Welles, dist. by Warner Home Video. DVD UPC 883929184811. $49.99; Blu-ray UPC 883929184804. $64.99.
The undisputed masterpiece boasts an extensive restoration for this 70th-anniversary edition that includes commentary from film critic Roger Ebert and director Peter Bogdanovich, a feature-length making-of doc, and more. Rosebud, indeed.
12 Angry Men. b/w. 96+ min. Sidney Lumet, dist. by Criterion Collection. DVD ISBN 9781604655094. $29.95; Blu-ray ISBN 9781604655087. $39.95.
Digitally restored in this extras-laden special edition, the suspenseful 1957 courtroom drama about a dissenting juror (Henry Fonda) who dissuades his fellow deliberators from their rush to judgment warrants unanimous praise.
Bill Cunningham New York. color. 84 min. Richard Press, dist. by Zeitgeist Films. DVD UPC 795975113731. $29.99.
Bicycling around New York, 80-year-old shutterbug Bill Cunningham has long captured fashion on the street as well as on the runway. A fascinating portrait of a charming, humble, and ascetic artist who lives for his craft.
Buck. color. 89 min. Cindy Meehl, dist. by IFC Films/MPI Home Video. DVD ISBN 9780788614132. $24.98.
Scarred by an abusive father, Dan Brannaman grew up to be a cowboy with a conscience and the actual horse whisperer who inspired Nicholas Evans’s 1995 novel. A stirring portrait of a compassionate guy who rides tall in the saddle.
Freedom Riders. (American Experience). color. 120+ min. Stanley Nelson, dist. by PBS Distribution. DVD ISBN 9781608834013. $24.99; Blu-ray ISBN 9781608834600. $29.99.
In a nonviolent protest against lingering segregation, student activists both black and white rode buses through the Deep South in 1961, provoking mob attacks along the way. Archival footage and interviews re-create one hell of a ride. (LJ 10/15/11)
Inside Job. color. 109 min. Charles Ferguson, dist. by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. DVD UPC 043396369160. $28.95; Blu-ray UPC 043396369139. $34.95.
Journalists, politicians and financial insiders make painfully clear sense of the complicated and rickety Wall Street house of cards that came tumbling down little over three years ago in this Oscar-winning documentary feature. (LJ 5/1/11)
Marwencol. color. 84 min. Jeff Malmberg, dist. by Cinema Guild. DVD ISBN 9780781513517. $29.95; Blu-ray ISBN 9780781513647. $34.95.
Experiencing the lingering effects of a severe beating, brain-damaged artist Mark Hogancamp builds a dollhouse town in his home, inhabited by figures representing people in his life. Ways of coping don’t get much more strange. (LJ 8/11)
Page One: Inside the New York Times. color. 92+ min. Andrew Rossi, dist. by Magnolia Home Entertainment. DVD UPC 876964004251. $26.98; Blu-ray UPC 876964004268. $29.98.
The notion of journalism as a public good is driven home in this year-in-the-life-of the nation’s newspaper of record. A forceful inside account of actual news gathering in an era of online aggregators offering leeched reporting. (LJ 10/15/11)
Pom Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold. color. 97+ min. Morgan Spurlock, dist. by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. DVD UPC 043396384385. $30.99; Blu-ray UPC 043396384354. $35.99.
This funny and incisive documentary about product placement, marketing, and advertising underwritten by understandably wary sponsors further solidifies Spurlock’s (Super Size Me) emerging “brand” as a clever satirist.
Prohibition. 3 discs. 360 min. color & b/w. Ken Burns & Lynn Novick, dist by PBS Home Video and Paramount Home Entertainment. DVD UPC 097368224742. $39.99; Blu-ray UPC 097361458243. $49.99.
The king of the epic documentary, best exemplified by The Civil War, chalks up another winner with this intoxicating examination of moralists, lobbyists, politicians, bootleggers, gangsters, and the 18th Amendment.
Rebirth. color. 108 min. Jim Whitaker, dist. by Oscilloscope Laboratories. DVD UPC 896602002418. $29.99.
Five people who survived or lost loved ones on 9/11 affectingly discuss the progress of their lives in periodic interviews paralleling reconstruction of the World Trade Center site, beautifully captured in time-lapse photography.
Waiting for Superman. color. 111+ min. letterboxed. Davis Guggenheim, dist. by Paramount Home Entertainment. DVD ISBN 9781415757222. $29.99; Blu-ray ISBN 9781415757598. $39.99. Rated: PG.
Pushing for charter schools as an alternative to public education proved eye-opening for this provocative documentary, which enjoyed wide theatrical distribution, providing a more compelling take on events in The Lottery. (LJ 6/15/11)
Beginners. color. 104 min. Mike Mills, dist. by Focus Features/Universal Studios. DVD UPC 025192095139. $29.99; Blu-ray UPC 025192095146. $34.99.
After at long last coming out of the closet, an elderly widower (Christopher Plummer) belatedly bonds with his son (Ewan McGregor), who is handling intimacy issues of his own in this poignant drama about getting over fears.
Carlos. 4 discs. color. 339 min. In Arabic, English, French, German, Hungarian, Japanese, Russian, & Spanish w/English subtitles. Olivier Assayas, dist. by Criterion Collection. DVD ISBN 9781604654844; 2-disc Blu-ray ISBN 9781604654837. $49.95.
Terrorist for hire Carlos the Jackal, who carried out kidnappings, hijackings, bombings, and murders throughout Europe and the Middle East in the 1990s, is thrillingly dramatized, with a ferocious performance from √âdgar Ramirez. (LJ 11/15/11)
In a Better World. color. 118 min. In Danish, Swedish & English w/English subtitles. Suzanne Bier, dist. by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. Blu-ray/DVD Combo UPC 043396383364. $45.99.
The decidedly deserving 2011 foreign-language Academy Award winner explores the repercussions of retaliation when two colliding families with fully realized characters deal with remorse and forgiveness in the aftermath of violence.
Incendies. color. 130 min. In French & Arabic w/English subtitles. Denis Villeneuve, dist. by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. Blu-ray/DVD Combo UPC 043396385153. $45.99.
Acting on their mother’s final wish, fraternal twins journey to the Middle East in search of the father and brother they never met. Flashbacks to wartorn Lebanon provide pieces to a puzzle in an intricate tale of ethnic hatred.
Three Colors: Blue, White, Red. 4 discs. color. 288 min. In French w/English subtitles. Krzysztof Kieslowski, dist. by Criterion Collection. DVD ISBN 9781604655070. $59.95; 3-disc Blu-ray ISBN 9781604655063. $79.95.
Named for the colors of the French flag, this bold trio of interconnected films remains the benchmark of art-house cinema from the 1990s, offering resonant story lines exploring themes of liberty, equality, and fraternity.
MADE FOR TV
Brideshead Revisited: 30th Anniversary Edition. 3 discs. color. 691+ min. Michael Lindsay-Hogg, dist. by Acorn Media. DVD ISBN 9781598286700. $59.99; 2-disc Blu-ray ISBN 9781598285598. $69.99.
Still the summit of small-screen literary adaptations, this 1982 British miniseries based on Evelyn Waugh’s 1945 novel marks 30 years with a much-needed digital remastering for its hi-def debut. Extras enhance appreciation of a milestone.
Downton Abbey. 3 discs. color. 368 min. Julian Fellowes, dist. by PBS Distribution. ISBN 9781608833894. $34.99; Blu-ray ISBN 9781608834259. $39.99.
Masterpiece Classic evokes its Upstairs, Downstairs glory days with a multiepisode tale of the drama unfolding at a British lord’s pre‚ World War I lush estate attended by servants with their own intrigues. (LJ 3/1/11)