November's 10 Best DVD and Streaming Releases
10. Step Up: Revolution — I sneaked Step Up: Revolution — which, as all the Step Up movies do, had fantastic dance sequences and the plot of a bad porn movie — into the number ten spot just to prove a point about how bad two of the bigger films released on DVD this month were: MIB III and Expendables 2. Step Up: Revolution is more enjoyable to watch, as I wrote in my review: “There’s just enough plot development to provide an excuse for the flash mobs, which begin as disruptive performance art, morph into hypnotizing protest art, and culminate in a energetic, frenetic crowd-pleasing performance piece designed to win over the masses. That the storyline falls almost illogically into place, that the dialogue is laughable, and that the decisions made by the characters are beyond stupid doesn’t even matter: It’s about the dance sequences, and they are a thrilling, mind-blowing marvel.”
9. Pearl Jam Twenty — I think it’s been a full year since I first saw Cameron Crowe’s documentary on PBS, so it’s strange it’s just coming out on DVD. It’s a great film for a certain age bracket, if you’re aching for some nostalgia. “As music documentaries go, this Twenty might do a number on you if you came of age in a certain period of time, and it does a masterful job of framing that nostalgia, constructing context around it, and feeding it back to us through the lens of older band members capable of providing a wizened perspective.It doesn’t have the sensationalized fervor of the rise and fall of Motley Crue, nor can it document a revolving door of band-member changes or bouts and drug and alcohol dependency, as the Foo Fighters doc did earlier this year; it is, instead, a heartfelt and entertaining chronicling of the lone surviving band of the grunge era.”
8. Brave — Cute story. I took my five year old to see Brave, and he was clearly too young for it. The bear scenes terrified him, and upon noticing a theater full of people, upon leaving my son turned to me and said, “Daddy, why are there so many people here? You were really bad at your job.” Agent Bedhead was likewise unimpressed with Brave: “Pixar has long since claimed the unmatchable ability to blend technical prowess with storytelling and end up with a product superior to any other in its medium. Until last summer, the studio consistently managed to offer up a commercialized product that not only pleased crowds but delved into deep themes within its family-friendly subject matter. With the studio’s assumed return to superiority in both subject matter and quality, however, Brave falters. It’s a film that you’d expect from Disney but not Pixar. It’s yet another princess story, and while this one presumably contains a twist, it’s not an innovative one. That’s the main problem — Brave lacks the Pixar brand of innovation, choosing instead to explore old, well-worn tropes, which almost defeats the purpose of being the first Pixar film to feature a female protagonist.”
7. The Amazing Spider-Man — My opinion on the Amazing Spider-Man is that, if it’d come before the Sam Raimi films, it’d have been the best of the four. As it is, it feels like a marginally improved rerun, although I will echo Dan’s sentiments that Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone are the best actors the franchise has seen in the lead roles: “That’s the issue plaguing the entire film: It feels not quite finished, not quite whole. It’s more like a very well-made fan project than a movie with the heft and weight you’d want from something trying to sell you a new version of a story you just watched a couple years ago. The whole thing would wreck if it weren’t for the sizable charisma of Garfield and Stone, who feel more human than Raimi’s heroes ever did. Garfield’s sarcastic, edged portrayal of Spider-Man is often wonderful: his banter with bad guys actually feels like taunting from a kid grown bigger than he’d ever dreamed of being. Stone is great, too, and she’s more restrained here than usual. She and Garfield are endearingly sweet together, and their relationship is consistently the best part of the film. Ifans holds his own in a thankless role in which almost every word out of his mouth is a recap of what we’ve just seen or another explanation of his evil plans.”
6. The Campaign — A far more amusing political comedy than it had any right to be, thanks to the goofy, off-the-wall splattering absurdity of Galifianakis and Ferrell: “The Campaign is brimming with hilarious moments, Ferrell and Galafianakis make a great comedy duo, and Jason Sudeikis — who plays Brady’s campaign manager — adds an extra few jolts of waggish hilarity. Still, it’s not quite the success of Anchorman or even The Other Guys. The Campaign doesn’t really hold together as a movie inasmuch as a skillfully pieced together a series of dumb jokes, but they are dumb jokes that work most of the time. It might have been more felicitous during a political year if The Campaign had made a more subtle attempt to skewer modern politics, but if it had, it wouldn’t have produced as many pants-shittingly funny moments. The Campaign doesn’t aspire to much more than deliciously raunchy juvenilia, but in that at least, it’s a huge success.”
5. Your Sister’s Sister — It was another big year for the under appreciated Mark Duplass, who starred in this film, “The League,” the number one film on this list, and next month’s Zero Dark Thirty, as well as directing Jeff, Who Lives at Home, and Your Sister’s Sister — like most mumblecore films — lives and dies by its cast, and this one had a great one with Duplass, Emily Blunt, and the radiant Rosemarie Deweitt. As I wrote in my review, “Your Sister’s Sister is a small, low-key reminder of why so many of us love the movies: Aside from the spectacle, and aside from the countless origins stories we apparently can’t get enough of, and aside from the millions of iterations on the same stories we’ve been watching since Bambi, it’s the characters that populate those stories, and our ability to see ourselves within them, that ultimately matter the most. Emily Blunt, Mark Duplass, and Rosemarie Dewitt have brought these wonderful characters to life, and make Your Sister’s Sister soar with humor, sweetness, and poignancy.
4. Lawless — Lawless kind of came and went without much notice, despite a terrific cast top lined by Tom Hardy, Guy Pearce, and Shia LaBeouf and Jessica Chastain. It was too good to be ignored the way it was, and gave us another phenomenal score from Nick Cave (The Assassination of Jesse James). Dan was a huge fan, as well: “It’s not just an exercise, or a bored genre riff. Lawless is a moving, insidious crime drama that shows the real cost of the lifestyle, as well as the emotional toll of throwing off the shackles of society and telling yourself that the best way to enforce the law is to beat someone to death with it. It’s an accessible, smart movie that plays to solid character moments and even makes room for (admittedly dark) humor from time to time. Forrest is all brute strength and no introspection, and Hardy’s probably the only actor who could bring so much emotion to such a monosyllabic role. LaBeouf’s surprisingly strong, too, precisely because he’s not afraid to be so weak. Jack’s a hothead, but he’s also a lot smaller than his brothers, and he spends most of the movie getting his ass handed squarely to him. When he has his first run-in with Rakes, he isn’t sarcastic or even quietly defiant. Rather, he suffers the beating as best he can, eventually crying “No more,” dripping tears and blood onto the grass. There’s no honor here, just a raw exposed wound on the soul of the world, and Hillcoat isn’t afraid to look at it.”
Did I mention Jessica Chastain is in this?
3. Natural Selection — I haven’t yet seen Natural Selection, but it’s placement here is so high because TK effused about it, calling it the best movie to come out of SXSW a couple of years ago: “Natural Selection was, cinematically speaking, the best split-second decision I’ve ever made. It (rightfully so) won SXSW’s Best Narrative Feature Award, and it’s not hard to figure out why. It’s simultaneously hilarious, tragic, and exhilarating, with richly rendered characters that, despite its ludicrous-sounding story, is ultimately one of the more engrossing and entertaining films I’ve seen in a long time.”
2. Ruby Sparks — Likewise, I haven’t gotten to Ruby Sparks yet (but I will). However, TK was also an immense fan of this movie, despite it being the kind of film he would typically despite: “Ruby Sparks is so much smarter than it looks from the surface. It’s not the conventional tale one suspects, and it’s as much a critical shot at the Manic Pixie Dream Girl and inherent authorial laziness of the creation as it is a clever and charming love story — that has some deep, treacherous pitfalls along the way. As adorable as it is scathing, the film creates an immersive, enjoyable experience that successfully blends reality and fantasy while laying bare the risks of confusing the two.”
1. Safety Not Guaranteed — One of my favorite films of the year, and a huge hit with anyone who has seen it. It was so good, in fact, it put its freshman director, Colin Trevorrow, on a list of people rumored to be considered to take over the Star Wars franchise. Dan was likewise impressed: “Safety Not Guaranteed isn’t what you’d expect it to be. It’s a bittersweet comedy that flirts with time travel, but it’s not straight science-fiction or rom-com. It resolutely refuses to tie up a couple of its plot lines, yet the story is still satisfying and full. Most rewardingly, it’s a dramatic comedy built on relationships that feel earned, nuanced, occasionally uncomfortable, and completely relatable. Director Colin Trevorrow, in his first feature, mines a series of relationships for small-scale humor and poignancy, and the script from Derek Connolly (also his first feature) has some wonderful moments that reflect the awkwardness of young adulthood and the way we all eventually have to reckon with the choices that we make. The film is light and often breezy, but it’s anything but insubstantial.”