Here are 10 new and old movies or TV shows I’ve seen in the past year that are now available on DVD and Blu-ray, and probably Netflix, etc. They’re all top-notch, but I’ve listed them in order of highest recommendation to least-highest recommendation. If your tastes are close to mine, you might enjoy them.
#1: Band of Brothers is a 10-part HBO mini-series that follows a bunch of guys through basic training during WWII, their deployment on D-Day and all the battles they went through until the end of the war in Europe. It’s intense, and for me, educational. It made the soldier’s perspective on the war more vivid than anything I’ve seen before. I felt scared for them. It reminded me of William Wharton‘s novel, A Midnight Clear. It’s about the everyday experiences of soldiers in the trenches (and thankfully not an excuse to wave the US flag in our faces). I would have been a Section 8 after D-Day. Don’t let the first episode with “Ross” from TV’s “Friends” turn you off. He leaves and it only gets better after that. (The following-up series, The Pacific has similar production values and is worth a look, but it’s not essential viewing like “Band of Brothers.”)
THE SERIES ISN’T NEARLY AS MELODRAMATIC AS THE TRAILER.
#2: A Serious Man, directed by the Coen Brothers, is about a physics professor in 1967 who’s life is going down the toilet one piece at a time. Everything in the movie is so well done — the look, the feel, the acting — any random 2 minutes of “A Serious Man” is more interesting, intelligent and entertaining than most entire movies I’ve seen in the past year. This is filmmaking. And it’s fun, not cruel or bizarre like some Coen Brothers movies can be.
#3: Léolo is an odd movie that’s charming and tragic and beautiful all at once. It’s a nostalgic / anti-nostalgic look at a boy growing up with his strange family in Montréal. I’ll just quote Roger Ebert: “Leolo is an enchanting, disgusting, romantic, depressing, hilarious, tragic movie, and it is quite original… I have never seen one like it before. It cannot be assigned a category, or described in terms of other films. I felt alive when I was watching it. If you are one of those lonely film lovers who used to attend foreign films, who used to seek out the offbeat and the challenging, and who has given up on movies because they all seem the same, crawl out of your bunker and go to see this one. It will remind you that movies can be wonderful.”
#4: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a Swedish thriller about a reporter who’s hired to investigate the mystery of a girl who went missing 40 years ago. With the help from a girl with a dragon tattoo, he uncovers some seriously sinister happenings. Anyone disturbed by something as light as “Silence of the Lambs” might want to steer clear of this one. It contains more than a few unpleasant scenes that are unsettling because they seem so plausible. But the mystery is well-plotted and engaging because the clues aren’t just a bunch of red herrings that could lead to anything. The movie builds to a finale that’s worth the wait. Well done.
#4: Life is more or less the sequel to the BBC series Planet Earth and almost just a good and still worth watching. One or two episodes are sort of ho-hum, but most of it will blow your mind. (Referring to the original UK version narrated by David Attenborough, not the what-were-they-thinking US version narrated by Oprah Winfrey.)
#5: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid may not be a great movie, but it’s a fun and playful western that’s well-directed, well-acted and looks great. Robert Redford and Paul Newman are a couple of wise-cracking train & bank robbers who end up spending half the movie running from a posse, trying not to get killed or arrested. It’s not fast-paced, the soundtrack is dated and the story is pointless, but there’s lots of swashbuckling fist fights, gun fights, explosions and chase scenes on horseback — what the old folks call a delightful entertainment. The dialogue and chemistry between Newman and Redford keeps it all afloat.
#6: On the Waterfront has Marlon Brando playing a washed up boxer working on the docks, a tough guy but a good guy who wants to do the right thing, but doing the right thing means he’ll get the crap beat out of him by the guys in the corrupt longshoremans union. Excellent performances and a compelling story. The kind of movie that can be viewed every couple years and get better with each viewing.
#7: The Last Station with Christopher Plummer playing an eccentric Leo Tolstoy during the last months of his life is not a flawless movie, but strong performances and a potent final scene make it worth the ride. Makes you want to read some Tolstoy too.
#8: Fantastic Mr. Fox directed by Wes Anderson. Although I don’t love every minute of it, it’s worth watching more than once (like most of Wes Anderson’s movies) because there’s nothing out there like it. The stop-motion animation is fantastic. All the animals are perfectly voiced; they establish more character in the first few lines of each character than most movies do in an hour. I don’t know if it’s a kids movie, but it’s funny. And the DVD bonus material is fun and fascinating too.
#9: Something, Something, Something Dark Side is the Family Guy’s not-made-for-TV spoof of “The Empire Strikes Back.” I recommend it for people who enjoy “The Family Guy” TV show but don’t bother watching it every week. I sat there at times and didn’t know how to react to the weirdness I was watching, but when did laugh, I had to press the pause button because I was laughing so hard. (It doesn’t hurt to be familiar with the original movie.)
#10: Anvil! The Story of Anvil is in the same class as The King of Kong. It’s a documentary that tells an entertaining and touching story about a subject that most viewers probably would never care about but will once they get to know the people in it. I laughed out loud through much of it, but was equally moved as the story unfolded. Think This is Spinal Tap but for real.
I also watched the BBC comedy shows “Peep Show” and “Spaced” and laughed hilariously through most of the episodes. I laughed because I relate to most of the main characters. It’s anti-social, on the edge humour that I recommend only for people like me who think Larry David on “Curb Your Enthusiasm” makes perfect sense most of the time.