Awards season may finally, finallybe over, as the last two stragglers from this year’s prestige picture crop finally make their way onto disc and demand. Plus, we’ve got a forgotten gem of silent comedy, and a pair of last fall’s strongest dramas on your streaming platforms. Take a look:
Una: “I was never one of them,” Ray (Ben Mendelsohn) insists, and he says it so firmly, you almost believe him. By “them” he means pedophiles, and he is one; years ago, he had sex with a 13-year-old neighbor, and she thought it was love. And now here she is, an adult (played, with her remarkable combination of poise and brittleness, by Rooney Mara), showing up at the place where he works – under a new name – to make him answer for what he did back then, and the life she’s lived since. Throw in that this is a theatrical adaptation, and you can see how easily it could’ve gone wrong: staginess, melodrama, clumsy handling of sensitive subject matter. And yet somehow, it doesn’t; the rendering is cinematic, the staging is clever, and the performances are stunning.
ON AMAZON PRIME
The Florida Project: Director Sean Baker’s follow-up to the heartfelt, funny, and fabulous Tangerine focuses on a handful of wild, goofy kids, spending the summer at a Disney World-adjacent cheapo motel – getting by, hustling, and making their own fun. Little Brooklynn Prince is staggeringly good as Moonee, the spirited little girl at the story’s center, while newcomer Bria Vinaite deftly navigates the tricky morality of Moonee’s mom. But the stand-out performer here is Willem Dafoe, at the top of his game as the motel manager, a good-hearted, live-and-let-live type who is ultimately just looking out for these kids. It’s funny and high-spirited, but not as rudderless at it seems; it sneaks up on you, this movie, and its closing passages are emotionally wrecking.
ON BLU-RAY / DVD / VOD
Phantom Thread:Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest is one of his strangest – and that’s saying something – a deliciously baroque and frequently funny period piece concerning a brilliant but cruel mid-century British fashion designer (Daniel Day-Lewis) and the woman (Vicky Krieps) who breaks him. What seems, initially, like yet another story of the Troubled Male Genius veers, unexpectedly, into something far more eccentric and elegiac; it also displays Anderson at the absolute peak of his craft, solidifying a style in which formal precision and narrative idiosyncrasy can cozily co-exist. It’s a masterful piece of work, and those who feel it somehow endorses toxic masculinity should have their movie-watching privileges revoked. (Includes deleted scenes, “fashions how,” behind-the-scenes photos, and camera tests with audio commentary.)
Molly’s Game:The greatest pleasure of Aaron Sorkin’s scripts is the screwball snap of his dialogue, full of repetitions and interruptions and jazzy rhythms, and his directorial debut has that same charge – while simultaneously finding the visual equivalent to his words in short, staccato bursts of image and sound. He’s telling the true story of the savvy young woman who ran a private poker game for very high rollers, crafting it into a deliciously twisty narrative that’s told from the inside – both in Molly’s card games (she notes, of one regular, “He was playing poker, and the others were gambling,” and it’s a movie that knows the difference) and her drug problem (which Sorkin seems to connect to his own). The bloom has come off Sorkin’s rose a bit in recent years, often for good reason. But this chatty, snazzy, savvy picture is a welcome reminder of what he does well. (Includes featurette.)
Manhandled: If you only know Gloria Swanson as the faded silent diva of Sunset Boulevard, this 1924 comedy from director Alan Dwan – new on Blu from Kino Lorber, alongside their later collaboration Stage Struck– should fix that. Swanson is an absolute firecracker, equal parts silly and sexy, as Tessie McGuire, a dissatisfied shopgirl who penetrates the New York social scene by masquerading as the mysterious Russian “Countess Offernutski.” That stuff is well and good, but the high point comes early, in a set piece on a hilariously cramped subway car that’s a little masterpiece of physical comedy; it’s like something Harold Lloyd would have done, and I don’t think he’d have done it any better. (Includes audio commentary.)