The 8 Best Movies to Buy or Stream This Week: Pixar Shorts, ‘School Daze’

Plus ‘Ex Libris,’ ‘Brewster McCloud,’ ‘Nothing Sacred,’ ‘Made for Each Other,’ ‘The Gingerbread Man,’ and ‘Take It Out in Trade.’

It’s a very low-voltage week for new releases (aside from the latest Frederick Wiseman documentary and a new collection of Pixar treats), so let’s dive into some catalogue titles, and we’ve got a real variety to choose from — and by “real variety,” I mean, “would you prefer a ‘30s screwball comedy or a ‘70s softcore flick?”

ON KANOPY

Ex Libris: The New York Public Library: The legendary documentarian Frederick Wiseman has spent the better part of a half-century exploring the ins and outs of worthy institutions, so he’s a natural fit for a peek behind the scenes of the NYPL. But the ideal match of reporter and subject goes beyond that — he seems to be interested in literally everything, and that’s what this library offers. It’s not just a repository for books; it houses art and information, hosts public talks and private events, and functions as a valuable community center in neighborhoods rich and poor. Throughout the (as usual, leisurely) film, there are wonderful cuts that indicate the breadth of what this organization provides, from, for example, a piano recital at the Lincoln Center branch to a jobs expo at the Bronx Library Center. This library wants to provide both of those things to its patrons; Wiseman’s exquisite film sees the value of that mission, and shares it. (And so, yes, it’s appropriate that you can now watch it on Kanopy, the excellent streaming service available via most libraries.)

ON BLU-RAY / DVD / VOD

Pixar Short Films Collection Volume 3: The latest collection of animated shorts, which accompanied theatrical and/or home releases of the past six years of Pixar and Disney features, includes the Oscar-winning Piper, the delightful Sanjay’s Super Team, and the weirdly divisive Lava (hot take: it’s fine). It’s hit and miss, as these things always are — I’m not sure anyone was clamoring for another way to see an episode of a Cars spin-off series — but hey, that’s what the “short selection” screen is for. And at their best, these shorts are unbeatable, offering new approaches, unique stories, and the chance to watch promising new directors flourish. (Includes filmmaker intros, featurettes, and “mini-movies.”)

ON BLU-RAY / PRIME VIDEO

Brewster McCloud: In 1970, Robert Altman followed up his breakthrough film (and, ultimately, his biggest hit) M*A*S*H by doing the most Robert Altman thing imaginable: by making a borderline-impenetrable, wildly uncommercial, surrealist gonzo comedy about a meek young man (Bud Cort) who lives in the Huston Astrodome and dreams of flying. But as is so often the case with Altman, the plot is utterly incidental; he’s more interested in tossing a cast of insane characters into a blender together and pressing “puree.” Cort (later of Harold and Maude), Sally Kellerman, and Shelley Duvall all shine, but the scene-stealer is Michael Murphy as a typical movie cop whose subplot takes a decidedly atypical turn. (Also streaming on Amazon Prime Video.)

Nothing Sacred/ Made for Each Other: For some time now, the KL Studio Classics imprint has taken on a noble mission: doing full-on, gorgeous restorations of great movies that fell into public domain, resulting in a market flooded with shoddy dupes for low prices (or streaming for free). Put simply, these movies are overdue for the lavish treatment KL bestows upon them, and that certainly holds true for this pair of delicious rom-coms starring the one and only Carole Lombard. Nothing Sacred is an absolute blast, with Lombard in top form as a small-town girl who is misdiagnosed with radium poisoning — but she’s not going to let a corrected prognosis keep her from enjoying a trip to New York City on a big-city newspaper’s dime. Made for Each Other, a chronicle of a quickie marriage, is a bit more uneven (it’s third act turn into full-on melodrama lands with a thud), but Lombard and co-star James Stewart are marvelous together, sexy and sharp and sweet, and the picture’s portrait of marital stress is convincing — you can see Stewart trying out some of the beats he’d play to the hilt in It’s a Wonderful Life. (Both include new audio commentaries and trailers.) (Nothing Sacred and Made for Each Other are both also streaming on Amazon Prime Video, though not in these restorations.)

ON BLU-RAY

School Daze: A week after the splashy Blu-ray release of Spike Lee’s latest, we’re finally getting a proper upgrade for Lee’s sophomore effort, a wildly ambitious and unsurprisingly button-pushing examination of political, gender, and interracial dynamics at an all-black college. As with his debut picture, She’s Gotta Have It, some of this has aged into hashtag-problematic territory, but there’s still much to recommend: early (and memorable) performances by the likes of Laurence Fishburne, Giancarlo Esposito, and Samuel L. Jackson; brilliant cinematography from the great Ernest R. Dickerson; and jaw-dropping musical numbers, particularly the still-controversial “Straight and Nappy.” (Includes commentaries, featurettes, music videos, and new Q&A.)

The Gingerbread Man: So there was this weird moment in the 1990s when several ‘70s auteurs just threw up their hands, said “to hell with it, gotta eat,” and made John Grisham movies, resulting in Sydney Pollack’s The Firm, Alan J. Pakula’s The Pelican Brief, and Francis Ford Coppola’s The Rainmaker. All were commercially successful (some massively so); of course, the one that feels least like Grisham and the most like its director is the one that didn’t make money. And Robert Altman, the ‘70s filmmaker least interested in plot, was indeed a strange choice to adapt such a plot-driven novelist, though at least he had the luxury of an unpublished Grisham work, so no one knew how much he was choosing to ignore. Make no mistake, this is not one of Altman’s best. But it’s awfully good, full of crackerjack performances (Kenneth Branagh is quite good in the lead, Robert Downey Jr. provides wickedly entertaining support, and Robert Duvall turns in one of his old-cootiest turns, which is saying something), quotable dialogue, and swampy atmosphere. (Includes audio commentary and trailer.)

Take It Out in Trade: The thing Tim Burton’s Ed Wood biopic really got — and which viewers most connected with — was the filmmaker’s never-say-die spirit. Edward Wood was going to keep making movies, no matter how, and no matter how low he had to go! And so it probably shouldn’t come as a surprise that he closed out his career working in erotica like this long-thought-lost 1970 effort, a glorified nudie-cutie which scotch-tapes a ridiculous private-eye plot onto many sense of our “hero” peering through windows and house plants at sleazy couplings. It is not, to be crystal clear, a good movie, but it’s a fascinating find for bad movie aficionados, because so much of Wood’s “style” remained intact: inept photography and sound, wooden acting, laughable dialogue, and nonsensical buffalo and thunderclap cutaways replaced by nonsensical naked girl cutaways. Again, this is not for casual viewers. But people who love this very specific kind of twisted thing won’t want to miss it. (Includes commentary, 70 minutes of outtakes, and full feature The Love Feast, co-starring Wood.)