Two of last year’s best movies – one narrative, one documentary – arrive on disc and streaming platforms today, the highlights of a busy week that also gives us a neo-noir sleeper, an edgy family comedy/drama, and the Blu-ray debut of a tribute to a recently departed icon. Plus, a 21st century classic lands on Netflix.
Mulholland Dr.: David Lynch’s bonkers thriller is in this month’s new-to-Netflix rotation, and repeat viewings are not only helpful but necessary; there’s so much in it that’s just plain inexplicable (the bungled hit, the espresso, the old couple in the back of the taxi, those Billy Ray Cyrus scenes). And yet, if anything, the bizarre detours and off-ramps heighten the experience Lynch is creating — he’s operating off nightmare rather than daytime logic, spinning a web of unnerving moods, haunting images, bizarro dialogue, and narrative curlicues. After a decade and a half, I still can’t explain it; what’s more, I still don’t want to.
ON BLU-RAY / DVD / AMAZON PRIME
Cameraperson: Cinematographer Kirsten Johnson has been shooting documentary films for a decade and a half now, accumulating a stunning array of sounds and pictures. But this is no demo reel; as she explains in the opening text, “These are the images that have marked me and leave me wondering still.” Initially, she collects moments and outtakes, with rough transitions and off-camera chatter (and gasps, and sneezes) left in, a document of the creative process – we hear conversations about what the crew is shooting and what to shoot next. But as the portraiture becomes more evocative and the themes begin to coalesce (via connected images, places, and compositions), these human moments create a dialogue with each other, combining to tell a wider, powerful story of their own. One of last year’s best documentaries, a film less about this artist, more about the world she has captured. (Also streaming on Amazon Prime.) (Includes featurette, roundtable conversation, film festival talks, short film, and trailer.)
ON BLU-RAY / DVD / VOD
Loving: It’s sort of amazing, how delicately writer/director Nichols (Take Shelter, Mud) sidesteps all the clichés of the based-on-a-true-story prestige drama to dramatize the union and subsequent legal battles of Richard and Mildred Loving, whose eventual hearing before the Supreme Court would end the criminalization of interracial marriage. Nichols tells their extraordinary story in a refreshingly ordinary way, with an off-hand intimacy and an emotional resonance, making it not about two people who wanted to change the world, but two people who were in love and wanted to spend their lives together. Nichols and his actors (a marvelously taciturn Edgerton and the excellent, Oscar-nominated Negga) never overplay these modest scenes; they don’t have to. They end up with not only one of the year’s best films, but one of its most honest. (Includes audio commentary and featurettes.)
Frank & Lola: Writer/director Matthew Ross tells the story of an odd couple (Michael Shannon and Imogen Poots) with thankfully unpredictable flair; we don’t really see them meet, and his judicious editing only shows us the moments that matter, dispensing with the small talk and introductions. That stylistic flourish also puts us in the proper anything-goes spirit for his film, which shifts tones and approaches yet never missteps. It’s got the wounded romanticism and unapologetic nastiness of great film noir (Poots says “Pour me a drink” with the authority of a legit femme fatale), but a genuine humanity at its core, embodied by a pair of performers who are never merely going through the motions. (No special features.)
Little Sister: What’s most striking, on its face, about Zach Clark’s story of a young Brooklyn nun on the verge of her first vows is how he takes his subject, and her choice, seriously. There are no cheap shots at her faith. Instead, the film is animated by curiosity about how she became this person, and who she was previously. Those questions come to pass during an unexpected trip back to her family home, to see her badly-burned war-hero brother, a trip in which she has to go back to her former self to reach him in his current state. Ally Sheedy is tremendous as the protagonists’s emotionally unstable mom, while Addison Timlin crafts an admirably flexible lead performance, always hinting but never telling. And while the movie could use a bit more focus (it’s got three or four too many endings), it’s held aloft by its tiny moments of truth. (Includes deleted and extended scenes, home videos, commercial, Q&A, trailer, and excerpts from Clark’s debut feature, Rock & Roll Eulogy.)
Leonard Cohen: I’m Your Man: “I’m not a very nostalgic person,” Leonard Cohen insists in this 2005 portrait. “It’s just not a mechanism that operates very strongly in me.” Considering that, he might not be an ideal subject for the bio-doc treatment, but this is no conventional bio-doc; director Lian Lunson organizes his film around a January 2005 tribute concert to Cohen and his songs, rotating the typical performance, rehearsal, and interview footage with the documentary details, Cohen commentary, and testimonials from admirers. It might not work with all performers, but it works here – there’s something appropriate about how the songs are cued by their author’s memories, theories, and bits of wisdom, highlighting how, for Cohen, the songs are the biography (or autobiography, to be precise). So it’s not really a documentary or a concert movie. It’s more of a celebration, and a deserved one at that. (Includes audio commentary, Cohen interview, and additional performances.)