PHYSICAL MEDIA1. “Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion” (Elio Petri) 1970 // Criterion
The film: The head of Rome’s homicide division (Gian Maria Volonté) murders his mistress and does everything he can to be discovered, only for his slew of clues to be rationalized or ignored by colleagues. The resulting feature brutally, and prophetically, satirizes the Italian police force, which merely adapts fascism for democracy and creates excuses to crack down on anyone it holds it contempt.
The disc: In all honesty this is the second-best film Criterion is putting out today, but the package the label put together for this film serves as their semi-annual reminder of what it is Criterion does best. Apart from a gorgeous 4K restoration of the film itself, the disc loads on extras concerning not only the film but its director, a once-famous international director whose name has since fallen into obscurity. Feature-length documentaries about Petri and star Volonté, historical context of the film’s release and older interviews with Petri and Ennio Morricone make the case for this movie’s enduring legacy, and they encourage the viewer to check out the rest of the director’s work with all haste.
2. “Nashville” (Robert Altman) 1975 // Criterion
The film: The quintessential achievement of New Hollywood, Robert Altman’s “Nashville” is a sprawling but unflappably invigorating look at post-Nixon America by way of its country music industry. Impossible to summarize, the film has the feel of life itself even as so much of it takes on the trappings of allegory, as in the willful move to apolitical bliss of the country stars broken up by the campaigner circling the proceedings, unseen but always booming from speakers. Deeply pessimistic—it may be the only film in which the camera itself cannot bear to look at its characters by the end, it nevertheless remains one of the most expansive yet richly detailed epics of cinema.
The disc: A commentary track Altman recorded for the film’s 2000 DVD release has been licensed, and it is joined by interviews with the director, a new documentary about the film, production footage and a demo of Keith Carradine performing the film’s songs. Above all is the chance to see the film fully restored, affording the convenient excuse to approach Altman as the inventive, visually-oriented filmmaker as much as the improvisational, actor-oriented one.
3. “Pain & Gain: Special Edition” (Michael Bay) 2013 // Paramount
The film: I remain unconvinced that Michael Bay can extricate himself from his own status as the preeminent meathead misogynist of American cinema to satirize the same type. By the same token, I cannot deny being more entertained by “Pain & Gain” than the totality of Bay’s post-”The Rock” output combined. Mark Wahlberg plays to his strengths as a bodybuilder who toned every muscle except the one that helps him scheme, while supporting turns from a skittish Anthony Mackie, a gonzoid, born-again Duane Johnson and a too-proud Tony Shaloub all upstage him for sheer comic effect. The fact that Bay did not have to modify his style at all to make a joke of hypermasculine, thoughtlessly violent greed is revealing, but I cannot argue that it is, at least some of the time, effective.
The disc: Paramount appropriately puts the film on home video in a kind of “Before and After” pose, replacing its puny bare-bones Blu-Ray from a few months ago with an artificially enhanced package filled with behind-the-scenes material and closer looks at the people whose inexplicably real story informs the film’s narrative.
4. “Saturn 3” (Stanley Donen) 1980 // Shout!/Scream Factory
The film: In the mad dash to condemn George Lucas for infantilizing his own spacefaring saga, a film like “Saturn 3” offers a helpful reminder of how much worse it all could have been. The collision of talent on this picture makes the amateurish mess that resulted all the more compelling. (To learn more about the film’s insane production, read “Money,” the roman à clef penned by screenwriter and great author Martin Amis.) This film has it all, if by “all” you mean Kirk Douglas undergoing a senior crisis, Harvey Keitel pitched halfway between machine and man, and Farrah Fawcett putting on clothes just so she can take them off suggestively. Tack on the world’s least terrifying murderous robot and you have an outright piece of crap, albeit one you can’t take your eyes off of.
The disc: Given that the film already got a fairly exhaustive making-of in the form of one of the greatest English-language books of the last 30 years, one must wonder what else can be said about “Saturn 3.” But leave it to Shout! Factory to provide, frankly, more extras than anyone could reasonably ask, from a commentary track(!) to interviews and deleted scenes. Criterion may do right by its catalog picks, but Shout! so often does better than its selections deserve, and this is no exception.
5. “The Wolverine” (James Mangold) 2013 // 20th Century Fox
The film: Overpraised for managing the exceptional feat of merely not being as bad as the first Logan-centric outing, “The Wolverine” nevertheless helped to produce a curious kind of nostalgia for turn-of-the-millennium blockbusters that still had some wisp of scale to them. In this case, that’s often a detriment, with the relentlessly personalized story never connecting believably to the action setpieces, but a generally competent execution of said scenes, and a still-game Hugh Jackman, help elevate the picture at least nominally over some of its peers.
The disc: All discs come with an hour-long feature on the film’s comic roots, an alternate ending and a set tour of the upcoming “Days of Future Past.” Shell out for the 3D version and you can get an extended cut and commentary.
1. “The Attack” (Ziad Doueiri) 2013
A Palestinian surgeon living comfortably in Tel Aviv has his world turned upside down when police inform them that his wife was responsible for a suicide bomb that killed more than a dozen people. Bizarrely not submitted by Lebanon as its candidate for the Foreign Language Oscar, “The Attack” nevertheless stands as one of the most acclaimed foreign films of the year and should be of interest to anyone looking to get in last-minute viewing for end-of-year consideration.
2. “Hannah Arendt” (Margarethe von Trotta) 2013
The concept of the “banality of evil” has now become so disseminated that its intense controversy has been somewhat lost. “Hannah Arendt” focuses on the New Yorker writer covering the Adolf Eichmann trial that prompted her to coin the famous term, as well as the criticism her coverage of the trial received. As biopics tend to be an act of simplification, the mere fact that “Hannah Arendt” would seek to complicate a commonly accepted notion by investigating the complex individual who thought of it make it worthy of attention. The best biopics are never really about the lives of their subjects, and here is a subject whose life conveniently remains in the public consciousness for an idea.
3. “The Punk Singer” (Sini Anderson) 2013
Kathleen Hanna is one of the most influential and enduringly relevant artists of the ‘90s, the frontwoman for Bikini Kill and de facto head of the riot grrrl movement. Like most punks, Hanna has cooled somewhat over the years, but this has usually taken the form of autocritique over selling out, not renouncing her youthful piss ‘n vinegar stances but replacing inchoate rage with more thoughtful, multivalent views. Her own honesty makes a film about her long overdue, and if “The Punk Singer” errs, like most docs about musical icons, toward hagiography, Hanna’s own tendency to check herself should place this a cut above its peers.
4. “Yellow Submarine” (George Dunning) 1968
As is the case with most great art and artists, the cheeky humor of the Beatles is often lost to the museum-enshrined talk of historical importance and innovation. George Dunning’s Pop Art ode to the Beatles understood their silliness so well that the Fab Four, having refused to participate in or even sanction the project, loved the result. The film strikes such a precarious balance of its elements, juggling a family-friendly story (its villainous Meanies could so easily be the subject of a lesson in a children’s show), modernist animation and music all with the same glib comedy of the Beatles’ official films. In the rush to catch up with all the year’s releases before December 31, “Yellow Submarine” is as great a way as any to just sit back and relax from the grind of end-of-year viewing.
5. “Superman 6 Film Collection” (various) 1978-2006
Skip the third and fourth entries unless you’re in dire need to see how films ought not be made, but the other three installments of the Superman franchise (four, if you count the Donner cut of “Superman II” separately) have aged better than the great majority of superhero films. They are works of unflappable optimism and only occasionally overbearing whimsy, so convincing in their fundamental goodness that the relentless misery of Zack Snyder’s latest update looks even more faddish and instantly dated in comparison. None is a great film—Donner’s films are held back by a touch too much groanworthy comedy, while Bryan Singer’s reboot/sequel aspires to poetry it does not quite earn—but they accomplish things that most comic book movies these days sadly do not even try to do.