New on DVD & Blu-ray: December 18, 2013

December often feels less like an occasion for gift-getting than madcap catch-up on 2013’s more overlooked films. This week’s DVD/Blu-Ray lineup couldn’t offer a more seasoned buffet in that department, filled top-to-bottom with films you’ve likely overlooked or passed by unawares earlier this year. Luckily we’re here to guide you past the disposable fodder of Kick-Ass 2 and Elysium to the real silver and gold.

Top 5 Releases

Prisoners5. Prisoners (2013; Dir. Denis Villeneuve)

Roger Deakins may well be this film’s only honoree on Oscar nominations morning, which is quite fitting as he remains the film’s most distinct takeaway. As one often repulsed by Denis Villeneuve’s unabashed symbolism, I found this mystery’s component parts often more compelling than their whole. Hugh Jackman joins the catalog of performances unnervingly similar to my father, Viola Davis and Maria Bello inflict intense pain with their shattering empathy, and the makeup work is underpraised for its Mgut-wrenching qualities. Admittedly it’s less Deakins’ work overall that entrances – at times his work caramelizes into the background – as it is his work in one final scene that almost literally sets fire to the night rain. It’s one of the few moments of true movie magic I’ve experienced this year, in an otherwise lacking and meandering film, no less. For those component pieces, Prisoners is a must. (Also available on iTunes/Amazon Rental)

Ain't Them Bodies Saints4. Ain’t Them Bodies Saints (2013; Dir. David Lowery)

Of the more exciting debuts of Sundance this year, I’m curious how Ain’t Them Bodies Saints got lost somewhere along the way. Perhaps it’s that the film seems like a revelation on paper, but in practice was more of an appreciable, though not astonishing, accomplishment. That’s not to downsize it, since it carries two confident and affectionate leads in Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara, but is carried by Bradford Young’s gorgeously textured, lovingly patient cinematography. The film certainly looks the part, even if it doesn’t totally feel it. (Also Available on Amazon Rental)

Museum Hours3. Museum Hours (2013; Dir. Jem Cohen)

I only caught up with Jem Cohen’s universally lovely art piece – in both style and narrative – last week, and if I’m still struggling to wrap my head around its imagery, it’s because there’s a lot of it. This is an immense buffet of beauty in both art and life, two areas which overlap and fuse together as an Austrian museum guard (Bobby Sommer) and a Canadian (Mary Margaret O’Hara) visiting an ailing, little known cousin bond in subtle, respectful ways. It never blooms into a romance for reasons made refreshingly clear early on, but it doesn’t have to in order to convey life’s bountiful offering of joy and melancholy. Fans of such european day-walking fare as Certified Copy would find their 2013s incomplete without it. (Also available on iTunes)

The Lone Ranger2. The Lone Ranger (2013; Dir. Gore Verbinski)

The summer’s most accomplished blockbuster offering made my list of 2013’s Best Movie Music Moments by the skin of its chipped and yellowed teeth, but don’t think this is just some one-trick pony. It’s not merely the flashy set-pieces that excite, but the earnest and eccentric performances of its male leads Armie Hammer and Johnny Depp. Depp’s is a weirdly maligned treasure, not steeped in silliness for its own sake, but the brand of old-fashioned quirk popularized well by Buster Keaton. There’s an underpraised sense of historical loss that penetrates the film and “dumb fun” behind as lazy in comparison. The Lone Ranger is an incredible delight that I’m still somewhat surprised was so easily discarded upon its release. It also has probably the most resonant post-credits scene of the year.

Our Children1. Our Children (2013; Dir. Joachim Lafosse)

This may still be tough to seek out, as it was during its sparse theatrical distribution. Trust me when I say the effort is worth it, as I’m still struggling to shake off Joachim Lafosse’s harrowing account of a marriage deteriorating dramatically under the weight of its everyday domestic compromises. Tahar Rahim and Niels Arestrup reunite after A Prophet, but more as a cohesive body of male oppression, leaving Emilie Dequennes to withstand the intense might of their crude expectations. All three are astonishing, but Dequennes is something radically beyond that, delivering the most shattered and shattering performance of either this or last year, depending on where it was first witnessed. You’d be remiss in forestalling it any further.

ElysiumAlso New on DVD/Blu-Ray

The list of worthwhile home viewing excursions runs dry at five, as it often does. The rest is quite the embarrassment of embarrassments, with Kick-Ass 2 resting at the top in that respect. The 2nd installment in the Mark Miller adapted orgy of all things giddily revolting, but our feelings remain more of revulsion than giddiness. If Luc Besson’s The Family appeared possibly fun from a distance, its arrival came with a thud of uninspired humor and flatlined charisma. We’ll see anything for the hope of a rejuvenated Michelle Pfeiffer, but these days it’s putting us through more groans than pleasures.

If you’re looking for some of the old familiar, Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters has you certainly covered, existing more or less as this franchises’ equivalent to Chamber of Secrets. Still, it’s not nearly the letdown Elysium was, Neill Blomkamp’s promising District 9 follow-up failing hard at the box office and even harder with critics. My feelings on the film may have even degenerated since I handed it a C- grade. Here’s hoping Blomkamp discovers some fresh inspiration for his next outing. Topping off the rest of this week’s releases on a relative high-note, a pitch which is prevalent in One Direction: This Is Us, either the despairing Morgan Spurlock’s last ditch attempt to hit it with mainstream audiences or an enjoyable concert concession to diehard fans of the band.

Streaming Pick of the Week

Berberian Sound StudioBerberian Sound Studio (2013; Peter Strickland)

Instantly streaming via Netflix

Squeezing out on DVD/Blu-Ray last week, I couldn’t let Berberian Sound Studio – by all accounts one of the most ingenious craft displays of 2013 – slip by unnoticed. This won’t be the last time you hear me wax on praise to Peter Strickland’s bravura 2nd feature, but it may be the first time you hear it for yourself. By turns hypnotic and jarring, narratively simple and unapologetically anti-narrative, fans of meta-horror fare like Cabin in the Woods should be astonished, if in a decidedly more sensory manner. It’s easily amongst the most rewarding new additions to Netflix, and essential viewing in your year-end marathon scramble.

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