Limiting the number of documentaries proved tough in a year when quality nonfiction titles were particularly plentiful. LJ video reviewer/Fast Scans columnist Jeff T. Dick’s annual best-of list leans heavily toward docs but also highlights favorites in classic, foreign and independent film, and small-screen crème de la crème.
City Lights. b/w. 86+ min. Charlie Chaplin, Criterion Collection. DVD/Blu-ray ISBN 9781604657852. $39.95.
Four years after the birth of talkies, Chaplin offered this funny and sublime send-off to silent pictures. In the charming Little Tramp’s 1931 swan song, he takes a shine to a blind flower girl whose sight he gets restored. (Trailers, LJ 10/1/13)
Intolerance. 2 discs. tinted. 167+ min. D.W. Griffith, Cohen Media Group. DVD UPC 741952758594. $39.98; Blu-ray UPC 741952758693. $49.98.
Four stories dramatize the effects of bigotry across the centuries in this 1916 silent epic celebrated not just for its lavish sets but for mingling its discrete narratives to suggest a common theme. Restoration reestablishes its power.
Medium Cool. 2 discs. color. 110+ min. Haskell Wexler, Criterion Collection. DVD ISBN 9781604657272. $29.95; 1-disc Blu-ray ISBN 9781604657289. $39.95.
A Chicago TV news cameraman (Robert Forster) uncovers his conscience in this groundbreaking 1969 film (now in HD), which places its fictional story within the unfolding reality of the tumultuous 1968 Democratic National Convention. (Trailers, LJ 4/1/13)
On the Waterfront. 3 discs. b/w. 108+ min. Elia Kazan, Criterion Collection. DVD ISBN 9781604656602. $39.95; 2-disc Blu-ray ISBN 9781604656596. $49.95.
Marlon Brando delivers a knockout performance as a once-promising boxer who “coulda been a contender” had he refused to take a dive. But the gloves come off when he testifies against the Mob in this restored 1954 Oscar pick. (LJ 7/13)
Shane. color. 118+ min. George Stevens, Paramount. Blu-ray UPC 883929330256. $19.98.
An enigmatic drifter (Alan Ladd) rides into a bitter feud between Wyoming homesteaders and ranchers, forcing him to take up his abandoned gun-toting ways. Shined up in high-def, 1953′s mythic Shane is back and better than ever.
Blackfish. color. 83 min. Gabriela Cowperthwaite, Magnolia Pictures. UPC 876964006170. $26.98; Blu-ray UPC 876964006187. $29.99. Rated: PG-13.
The film’s tagline, “never capture what you can’t control,” nicely sums up this exposé of orca whales in captivity, in light of the 2010 killing of Sea World trainer Dawn Brancheau by Tilikum, an orca with a deadly history.
The Central Park Five. color. 120+ min. Ken Burns & others, PBS. DVD UPC 841887018579. $24.99; Blu-ray UPC 841887018586. $29.99.
The case of five black and Hispanic teens from Harlem wrongly convicted of beating and raping a white female jogger in New York City’s Central Park in 1989 puts the justice system and racial prejudice on trial in this riveting examination. (LJ 6/15/13)
56 UP. color & b/w. 138+ min. Michael Apted, First Run Features. DVD UPC 720229915380. $29.99.
The eighth—and maybe final—entry in the once-every-seven-years series that started in 1964 with 7 UP revisits some dozen British middle-agers and shows the effect of a rigid class system on their hopes and achievements. (LJ 8/13)
Koch. color. 95+ min. Neil Barsky, Zeitgeist Films. DVD UPC 795975115339. $29.99.
Dubbed the “man who loved New York City,” the irascible four-term mayor (1978–89) benefits from an evenhanded treatment that displays his failures as well as his successes governing during a turbulent time for the Big Apple. (LJ 11/1/13)
The Law in These Parts. color. 101+ min. Ra’anan Alexandrowicz, Cinema Guild. DVD UPC 881164000637. $29.95.
The application of Israeli law on Palestinians inhabiting the Gaza Strip and West Bank comes under scrutiny in this meticulously mounted presentation in which retired Israeli officials defiantly justify choosing security over justice. (LJ 4/15/13)
Searching for Sugar Man. color. 87+ min. Malik Bendjelloul, Sony. DVD UPC 043396413665. $30.99; Blu-ray UPC 043396413634. $35.99. Rated: PG-13.
Finding Detroit-based singer Sixto Rodriguez, whose few early 1970s albums sold big in South Africa, rekindles Rodriguez’s career after decades of manual labor. Second chances don’t come much sweeter than in this inspiring biography, winner of the Academy Award for Best Documentary. (LJ 3/1/13)
Somm. color. 93+ min. Jason Wise, First Run Features. DVD UPC 720229915663. $24.95.
Four sommeliers strive to achieve the rarefied status of Master Sommelier—the wine-profession pinnacle. Sort of like passing the bar exam for lawyers, the ordeal is fraught with blood, sweat, and tears. And lots of whites and reds. (LJ 10/1/13)
Stories We Tell. color. 108+ min. Sarah Polley, Lionsgate. DVD UPC 031398174219. $19.99. Rated: PG-13.
Director and actress Polley learns her real father is not the man she assumed him to be and proceeds to interview family members in a novel attempt to deal with a long-held secret and, in so doing, probe the subjective nature of storytelling. (Trailers, LJ 8/13)
FOREIGN & INDIE
Ain’t Them Bodies Saints. color. 93+ min. David Lowery, IFC Films, dist. by MPI. DVD UPC 030306989495. $24.99; Blu-ray UPC 030306191997. $29.99. Rated: R.
An outlaw couple on the run are pulled apart when Bob (Casey Affleck) takes the blame for Ruth (Rooney Mara) over a police officer’s shooting. But prison can’t keep them asunder in this grittily lyrical exploration of undying love.
Amour. color. 127+ min. In French w/English subtitles. Michael Haneke, Sony. DVD UPC 043396417380. $30.99; Blu-ray UPC 043396417359. $35.99. Rated: PG-13.
An elderly Parisian couple (Jean-Louis Trintignant, Emmanuelle Riva) find their love tested when the husband turns caretaker after his wife has a stroke in this powerful if atypically unsentimental winner of the foreign film Oscar.
The Place Beyond the Pines. color. 140+ min. Derek Cianfrance, Focus Features, dist. by Universal. DVD UPC 025192182976. $29.99; Blu-ray UPC 025192182983. $34.99. Rated: R.
Ryan Gosling reteams with his Blue Valentine director for an ambitious triptych drama about a stunt motorcyclist who resorts to robbing banks to support his child, setting in motion events spinning out for two generations.
Tokyo Story. b/w. 136+ min. In Japanese w/English subtitles. Yasujiro Ozu, Criterion Collection. 2-disc DVD/Blu-ray ISBN 9781604657784. $39.95.
An aging, rural couple visit their children in the big city but feel unwanted. Later, when one parent is stricken, it’s the offspring who come calling in this subtly touching, digitally spruced-up 1953 film about generational relations. (Trailers, LJ 10/1/13)
MADE FOR TV
Downton Abbey: Season 3. 3 discs. 465+ min. Brian Percival & others. PBS. DVD ISBN 9781608838134. $49.99; Blu-ray ISBN 9781608838141. $54.99.
The prospect of the Earl of Grantham (Hugh Bonneville) losing his family estate almost pales in contrast to the personal losses to come in the tragedy-laden third season of the eminently watchable “upstairs/downstairs” drama. (LJ 3/1/13)
House of Cards: The Complete First Season. 4 discs. color. 674 min. David Fincher & others. Sony. DVD UPC 043396424708. $55.99; Blu-ray UPC 043396424678. $55.99.
Kevin Spacey exudes unctuousness as ruthless Democratic Majority Whip Frank Underwood, a master manipulator wielding power as the coin of the realm in this Netflix miniseries that actually improves on the BBC original.
Mad Men: Season 6. 4 discs. color. 618+ min. Matthew Weiner, Lionsgate. DVD UPC 031398171904. $49.99; 1-disc Blu-ray UPC 031398171911. $49.99.
The sideburns are longer, the skirts are shorter, and pot competes with booze as the addictive AMC series reaches 1968. The times are a-changin’, but ace ad exec Don Draper (Jon Hamm) still philanders. Some things do remain the same. (Trailers, LJ 10/1/13)