Holy cow, what a week. We’ve had a couple of rather lean Tuesdays recently, and from the look of today’s slate, the studios were saving them up: two great flicks nominated for Best Picture, one that should’ve been, a kick of a comedy with our favorite duo, and a provocative bio-doc from one of our best non-fiction filmmakers. Oh, and we had to expand from our customary five titles this week, on account of Criterion’s release of one of the best films of the 1960s.
ON BLU-RAY/ DVD/ VOD
Carol: Todd Haynes’s magnificent adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s The Price of Salt could’ve easily been a retread of his 2002 masterpiece Far from Heaven, again casting a modern eye towards the taboos of the 1950s. Instead, he jettisons that film’s Sirk homage to take a more modest approach, telling the story of a tentative romance between a wealthy housewife (Cate Blanchett) and the younger shopgirl (Rooney Mara) who hasn’t quite figured herself — or the world — out yet. Neither sensationalistic nor (as its critics charged) “cold,” it’s a film that lives in its subtext, in the long pauses and stolen glances and lingering touches that give the relationship, and the film, its life. (Includes Q&A and gallery.)
Brooklyn: In one of those strange accidents of movie timing, another of last year’s best movies was also about a ‘50s New York shopgirl — this one an Irish immigrant (Saoirse Ronan, marvelous) dealing with the simultaneous heartbreak of leaving the life she knows, and the joy of creating a new one. The sheer wrenching heartache of homesickness has rarely been rendered onscreen with such genuine emotional impact; it’s a film that harnesses big, powerful feelings, and doesn’t try to blunt them with irony or cynicism. Gorgeous and moving, this was my favorite film of 2015. (Includes audio commentary, featurettes, and deleted/extended scenes.)
The Big Short: Director Adam McKay tackles Michael Lewis’s dense history of the subprime mortgage crisis and subsequent financial meltdown, adopting an approach that’s equal parts irreverence and anger. Focusing on a handful of outsiders who saw the crisis coming and acted (not always honorably) on that information, McKay constructs a cross between seriocomic drama and Vox explainer that entertains yet enrages — and forges some genuinely interesting filmmaking, with a playful sense of montage and sound that’s downright Godardian. And his stellar cast (Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, and Brad Pitt chief among them) manage to invest their characters with a humanity and morality that too often eluded the players in this story. (Includes featurettes and deleted scenes.)
Sisters: There are precious few honest-to-goodness comedy teams left in the world, and that’s all the more reason to be thankful we finally got a real Amy Poehler-Tina Fey vehicle. And, like even the best of the Abbott and Costello or Marx Brothers vehicles, Sisters is wildly uneven: it’s too long, the dramatic subplots are a drag, and Jason Moore (Pitch Perfect) directs with little flair. And when you get down to it, it barely matters: it’s a movie with frequent laughs, many of them big, and the Fey/Poehler comic rhythms are as well-oiled and reliable as ever. Plus, bonus, their audio commentary (with Moore and screenwriter Paula Pell) has as many laughs as the movie – if not more. (Includes featurettes, deleted/extended scenes, gag reel, improvisations, and the aforementioned audio commentary.)
Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine: If you found Danny Boyle’s fall Jobs biopic too kind, good news: Here’s Alex Gibney’s welcome corrective to the Jobs hagiography, seeing the Apple frontman as (contrary to what seems to be popular opinion) just a man, and often not a particularly admirable one. He approaches his film less like a conventional bio-doc than as a non-fiction Citizen Kane, and if some of the shots are cheap-ish, the overall effect — and the way it leaves you side-eyeing your iPhone — is irrefutable. (Includes Gibney interview, deleted scenes, and trailer.)
The Manchurian Candidate: John Frankenheimer’s Cold War thriller — both horribly chilling and blackly comic — has lost none of its blunt force in the fity-plus years since its original release. Frankenheimer fuses an uncomfortably of-the-moment narrative with matter-of-fact surrealism, creating a nightmarish story of red-baiting and nationalist fear that gets at the dread and paranoia of the period. His compositions are still stunning — dig the fun-house mirror effects of the frames with the frames of the hearing scene — and he gets all-time great performances out of his ace cast (particularly Frank Sinatra, whose tough, feverish turn is haunting as hell). It’s a cold, frightening film, and a brilliant one. (Includes audio commentary, new interviews, trailer, and vintage conversation with Frankenheimer, Sinatra, and screenwriter Gorge Axelrod.)