It is a very big week indeed for home viewing, holy Moses. First and foremost, we’ve got the just-crowned Oscar winner for Best Picture on disc and on demand, alongside one of the fall’s biggest hits and one of its prettiest. Also from the Department of Quick Turnarounds, the winner of this year’s Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury prize is already available for your streaming pleasure on Netflix. And the week’s must-have box-set is Criterion’s collection (GET IT?) of the most unexpected film franchise of our time. Let’s dig in.
I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore: Actor Macon Blair, best known for his lead and supporting turns (respectively) in Blue Ruin and Green Room, writes and directs this darkly comic thriller starring the great Melanie Lynskey as a nurse’s assistant who turns amateur detective (and vengeance-seeker) when her home is burglarized. But that’s just the set-up; it’s an insightful study of invisibility, of a person who’s used to not being seen or considered in common interactions and finally finds an outlet for her frustration over the tiny inconsiderations and irritations she chooses to overlook every day. Lynskey is, as usual invaluable – her reactions to the increasingly escalating situation are marvelous, particularly when Blair descends into his magnificently messy, blood-and-vomit-spattered conclusion – and he writes his supporting characters with the detail and flavor of someone who’s spent years grinding it as one of those day players. He’s an exciting filmmaker, and his debut feature vibrates with an enviable anything-goes spirit.
ON BLU-RAY / DVD / VOD
Moonlight: In this, the afterglow of its surprising (I mean, really surprising) Best Picture win, it’s sort of amazing that Oscar voters went for Barry Jenkins’s low-key character study at all; it’s the kind of modest work that’s often too subtle for that voting bloc. But it’s a moving and powerful piece of work, telling stories and sounding notes few films even attempt; witness the sensitivity of the beach encounter, the patience and delicacy of the diner sequence, the way you see Chiron’s hardened mask trembling in the scenes that follow. It’s rare indeed that the year’s actual best picture wins Best Picture, but here we are. (Includes audio commentary and featurettes.)
Doctor Strange: The latest entry in the “Marvel Cinematic Universe” prompts the usual complaints, but credit where due: director Scott Derrickson at least cares enough about imprinting this product to make Strange, well, strange. He fills the cast with weirdos (including Tilda Swinton and Mads Mikkelsen), throws in plenty of throwaway laugh lines, and goes full-on trippy in its dimension-bending special effects sequences. And while this viewer is no fan of 3D, those scenes made the film worth seeking out in theaters; if you missed it, the 3D Blu-ray is unquestionably worth the extra coin. (Includes audio commentary, featurettes, deleted scenes, and gag reel.)
Allied: This surprisingly robust and energetic WWII spy thriller is taut and thrilling, assembled with smooth professionalism by director Robert Zemeckis. Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard smolder convincingly (in a series of divine costumes) as a pair of spooks who meet on the job and fall for each other, in spite of their best intentions to do otherwise; the early scenes, in which she’s teaching him how to seem in love with her, burn with both playful eroticism and a winking actor/director subtext. And the third act, which invests its breathless set pieces with urgent themes of trust and intimacy, verges on Hitchcock-level tension. Zemeckis can’t reach those heights, of course (few can), but he winds up with his best picture in years, faint praise though that may be. (Includes featurettes.)
The Before Trilogy: When Richard Linklater cast Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy in his 1995 romantic comedy/drama Before Sunrise, none of them expected they were embarking on an 18-year journey; they just thought they were making a gentle, charming little two-hander about two strangers who meet on a train, hop off, and spend the night walking and talking through Vienna. But that film was so cherished and championed by indie fans and romantics that nine years later, they reteamed for one of the most unlikely sequels in all of cinema, Before Sunset – and then they did it again, nine years later, for Before Midnight. Taken together, in this luminous new Blu-ray and DVD box from Criterion, the three films luxuriate in Linklater’s signature fascination with film’s ability to capture the passage of time, and how that concern can reflect an artist’s growth and maturity; the simple flirtations and desires of Sunrise give way to the sticky complexities of Sunset, which give way to the compromises of Midnight. But subtextually, the films also celebrate collaboration and artistic investment – Linklater brought on his stars as co-writers of the second and third films, merging their characters’ personalities and concerns with their own, capturing the unique way that their stories had become inseparable. All of that, plus one of the great closing moments of any movie, ever: Celine’s Nina Simone-infused assurance, “Baby, you are gonna miss that plane.” (Includes discussion with Linklater, Delpy, and Hawke; archival behind-the-scenes footage and interviews; Before Midnight audio commentary and making-of documentary; feature-length Richard Linklater: Dream is Destiny documentary; discussion of Linklater’s work; Fresh Air interview; and video essay.)