Not To Be Forgotton

Dec 9, 2013

Today, our film commentator Rob Edelman discusses some movies out on DVD that should be given a look during Oscar season.

‘Tis the season for the release to movie theaters of high-profile Academy Award hopefuls and big-ticket sequels.

Any movie directed by Martin Scorsese is sure to have cineastes of all stripes anxiously awaiting its release date. Surely, his latest-- The Wolf Of Wall Street-- will make a nice holiday gift for Scorsese buffs.

Any movie with Meryl Streep will have cineastes speculating if this beloved and, yes, now-legendary star will come away with what must be her thousandth Academy Award nomination. This season’s hot Streep ticket is August: Osage County.

There’s also a new Alexander Payne film. Its title: Nebraska. There’s also a new Coen brothers film. Its title: Inside Llewyn Davis. There’s also a new David O. Russell film. Its title: American Hustle. There’s a second high-profile Tom Hanks film, following Captain Phillips. Its title is Saving Mr. Banks and here, Hanks plays, of all people, Walt Disney! There’s yet another black empowerment biopic which follows three films released earlier in the year. First came 42. Next came LEE DANIELS’ THE BUTLER. The most recent is 12 Years A Slave. The latest is titled MANDELA: LONG WALK TO FREEDOM.

Meanwhile, the Hunger Games sequel, which will win no Best Picture Oscars but is not at all bad as sequels go, is raking in oodles of publicity and big box office bucks. And so it goes.

Lost in all the hype and hustle, however, are quite a few high-quality films from earlier in the year that now may be seen and savored on DVD. These praiseworthy films should not be forgotten just because they came to theaters last spring or summer. In other words, not all the year’s best films are those that were released theatrically after Labor Day.

Heading this list is Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine. In recent years-- no, in recent decades-- Allen’s films mostly have been downright annoying. So seemingly out of nowhere, he’s come up with this deep, thoughtful drama about a seriously deluded woman, who is superlatively played by Cate Blanchett. Who woulda thunk it!

This season, Matthew McConaughey has earned much praise for his Oscar-caliber performance as an AIDS-afflicted activist in Dallas Buyers Club. Yet this is not McConaughey’s lone ten-best-list-quality title. In MUD, McConaughey is equally impressive as a shadowy drifter who lives on an isolated island on the Mississippi River and impacts the lives of the two young boys who come upon him.

The Place Beyond The Pines is a tale of fathers and sons, and what fathers do or do not do for their offspring. This riveting film drew me in from its very first shot and kept me engrossed throughout.

The Sapphires, a delight from Australia, is “inspired by a true story.” This tune-filled, smile-inducing film is set in the late 1960s and spotlights four Aboriginal girls who form a singing group and end up entertaining American soldiers in Vietnam.

Before Midnight re-introduces us to the couple played previously by Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy in BEFORE SUNRISE and BEFORE SUNSET. They now are living together and are the parents of twin girls. Is this a great film? Well, no. But it is a rare contemporary film in that its true star is conversation. As the various characters talk, the issues that are explored include the passage of time, the fleetingness of life, growing up and growing older, negotiating relationships and, finally, the barriers between people and what allows them to overcome those barriers.

Stories We Tell is the best of many fine 2013 documentaries. It is a revealing, brutally honest biographical film which is actress-filmmaker Sarah Polley’s effort to keep her late mother alive, to keep her in memory, and also to explore and bring to the surface a deeply-hidden family secret. 

(I also would be remiss if I failed to mention a second documentary, one whose subject is straight out of today’s headlines. It is the aptly-titled Inequality For All, which spotlights Robert Reich, the U.S. Labor Secretary during the Clinton administration. In this must-see film, the ever-charming and likable Reich examines the expanding gap between the wealthy and poor, which is resulting in the marginalization of America’s middle-class.) 

Rob Edelman teaches Film History at the University at Albany. He has written several books on film and television, and is an Associate Editor of Leonard Maltin's Movie and Video Guide...