1. “Museum Hours” (Cinema Guild)
The Film: “I’ve had my share of loud”, says Johann (Bobby Sommer) at the beginning of Jem Cohen’s marvellous “Museum Hours”, “and now I have my share of quiet”. Indeed, it’s a quiet film, full of looking and longing, thought and reflection. As seen through the eyes of one of its long-time guards, the Kunsthistorisches Art Museum in Vienna becomes a place of infinite wonder, where the guests roaming the halls are as fascinating to observe and consider as the great works draped across its walls.
The Disc: A fine transfer from the reliably great Cinema Guild make this appealing. But three rare short films by director Jem Cohen make this an essential purchase.
2. “Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project” (Criterion Collection)
The Film: From Senegal to Bengal to Morocco and beyond, the “World Cinema Project” headed up by Martin Scorsese has done invaluable work restoring and redistributing great films from countries the Western canon traditionally neglects. Hats off, then, to the fine people at Criterion, who have hereby inducted a half-dozen of Scorsese’s revival efforts into the collection with this stunning, essential box set: “Touki Bouki”, “Redes”, “A River Called Titas”, “Dry Summer”, “Trances” and “The Housemaid”. Here’s hoping a Volume 2 is forthcoming.
The Disc: This is one of those rare Criterion editions that justifies its purchase price on the significance of its own existence — but it helps that its transfers are superb, its package is deluxe, and as a collection it’s been so consummately put together.
3. “Man of Tai Chi” (Anchor Bay)
The Film: Perhaps the most surprising thing about Keanu Reeves’s directorial debut is that it’s actually quite well-directed: the beloved actor’s decades in front of the camera evidently served as film school on the fly, as he brings a rare command to bear for a first-timer. The material itself is fairly straightforward, of course — some Yakuza/cop action meets a bit of stylized kung-fu with nothing much else on its mind — but the execution is slick and stylish enough to elevate the film to a notch above serviceable.
The Disc: An excellent audio/visual transfer makes up for an overall lack of quality special features — but if you’re anything like me the central draw will be the commentary track from director and star Keanu Reeves.
4. “Berberian Sound Studio” (MPI)
The Film: “Blow-up” meets “Blow-Out” in this giallo deconstruction from British director Peter Strickland. A meek sound designer accustomed to making nature documentaries is whisked away to Italy to work on an Italian horror film, approximating beheadings by slicing up halves of lettuce heads and capturing the guts and slatter of the slasher by setting to work on a produce section with a mallet. It’s hard to look at fruits and veggies the same way again.
The Disc: Those hoping for the film in high-definition will need to resort to the British-released (and region-free) Bluray put out earlier this year, but it’s nonetheless good to see “Berberian” getting a home video release in this country in some capacity.
5. “Fast and Furious 6” (Universal)
The Film: The “Fast & Furious” franchise takes on a more tragic dimension in the wake of star Paul Walker’s recent passing, and the release of “Fast & Furious 6” this week thus seems a sadder occasion than it might have a month prior. What better way to pay tribute to the man than by watching his career-best effort?
The Disc: Home video aficionados will tell you that the “Fast & Furious 5” Bluray boasted one of the best lossless audio transfers in recent memory, and this new iteration’s no different: check that crystalline dialogue and, even better, those booming, blimp-sized car engines. Yes, it’s a reason to buy, but don’t stop there: It’s excuse enough to upgrade your sound system.
1. “White Reindeer” (Zach Clark)
Zach Clark, director of the new film “White Reindeer”, does quite a bit more than merely contend with Christmas — he embraces it, and fondly. Clark, shrugging off the protestations of his contemporaries, finds himself possessed of a deep affection for holiday tradition, and as a result “White Reindeer” is the first Christmas movie in years to regard the season as anything more than a pretense for satire and criticism. (Read the full review.)
2. “Prisoners” (Denis Villeneuve)
Denis Villeneuve’s sense of melodrama leans a bit too hard toward the histrionic — a quality amplified by his weakness for overlong running times and oversized ‘actorly’ performances — but damn if he doesn’t know how to choose a collaborator. “Prisoners” is made infinitely better by the contributors of musician Johann Johannsson and especially DP Roger Deakins, who delivers some of his best work to date here. Just don’t watch this on your damn phone
3. “All The Lights in the Sky” (Joe Swanberg)
Joe Swanberg has directed something like 78 movies since making “All the Lights in the Sky” some time last year, but this isn’t the first time the prolific mumblecore director has managed to outpace the vagaries of VOD release schedules. In any case, it’s good that this one in particular has finally found a platform, as it co-stars both Jane Adams and Sophia Takal — occasion for excitement if there ever were any.
4. “Some Velvet Morning” (Neil LaBute)
Ah, Neil LaBute: widely detested Mametian playwright, writer and director of several odd and seemingly incompatible films (from “Death at a Funeral” to “The Shape of Things”), and . . . the remake of “The Wicker Man”. This is a romantic comedy starring Stanley Tucci, so . . . okay then!
5. “The Hunt” (Thomas Vinterberg)
The feel-bad drama of the year.