DID YOU READ

The Best Films to Go Direct to DVD in 2009

The Best Films to Go Direct to DVD in 2009 (photo)

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DVDs may be sooner or later drummed out of existence — by online downloads, at first, I’d guess, reducing movie “releases” to nothing more than press announcements of availability — but for now they’re still “things” you can buy or rent, physical manifestations of the art form, not just the opportunity for access. In the process, they’re continuing as our default B-movie distribution stream, offering up indies and foreign films and unforeseen archivals that had a snowball’s hellbound chance at finding theatrical screentime. These are still not eligible for any year-end toasts, absurdly enough, and so here’s my list of the best of the year’s straight-to-digi-vid, for which the only qualification is being entirely overlooked, this year or ever, by our theatrical distribution wimps, and being new to U.S. home video of any stripe.

12222009_Absurdistan.jpg15. “Absurdistan”
(Veit Helmer, Germany/Russia/Azerbaijan, 2008)

A bawdy Caucasus folktale, Helmer’s nutty yarn visits a tiny chunk of village wasteland no one wanted after the Soviet collapse, and which therefore has left to decay in the sun. It’s Rube Goldberg magical realism, cluttered with rockets fashioned from old propane tanks, herds of ineptly shorn sheep, rooftop tubs of rosewater, belly dancing bonfires and, gradually, scads of cowboy-&-gunslinger iconography. [First Run Features; read the original review here.]

12222009_Princess.jpg14. “Princess”
(Anders Morganthaler, Denmark, 2006)

One of three animated films on this list — huh — this Danish attack dog tackles the hot zone between the porn industry and children, and then rolls out into a revenge flick sans frontières. When the abused five-year-old orphan heroine musters the rage to finish off a sex industry punk with a tire iron, you know you’re in a no-safety zone. [Vivendi; read the original review here.]

12222009_gretchen.jpg13. “Gretchen”
(Steve Collins, US, 2006)

The creepiest funny-sad-sad-funny quasi-mumblecore indie farce of the decade. The titular high schooler is crippled by square-peg-ness, her Texas world is a squalid wasteland and the men she knows (“boyfriend,” “father”) are all the same obese, malevolent jerks. Still, every scene is a surprise, the rhythms are unique and still truthful, in a queasy kind of way, and Courtney Davis is an unblinking sphinx of discomfort. [Watchmaker Films]

12222009_SitaSingsTheBlues.jpg12. “Sita Sings the Blues”
(Nina Paley, US, 2008)

A one-woman, home-computer-fashioned animation that took years to make but may’ve cost nothing at all, Paley’s postmod dissection of the Ramayana, an Indian folktale about love and betrayal and mistrust, is decked out in over a half-dozen distinct drafting styles and with the accompaniment of 80-year-old Annette Hanshaw torch records. But it’s Paley’s restless eye that makes it happened — pay attention, and you’ll get hit with a fresh dollop of visual wit every 15 seconds or so. [IndiePix; read the original review here.]

12222009_DetectiveBureau.jpg11. “Detective Bureau 2-3: Go to Hell Bastards!”
(Seijun Suzuki, Japan, 1963)

This caringly titled, double-crossing gangster vs. feds thriller begins with a Pepsi truck’s wall of bottles shattered by gunfire; such is the pleasure awaiting us from the dozens of Suzukis we haven’t yet seen. Jo Shishido is back, of course, dashing from tommy-gun blasts in a sharkskin suit, never driving and stopping when he can speed and skid, and even getting roped into a campy nightclub song & dance — a Suzuki musical! [Kino; read the original review here.]

12222009_LosBastardos.jpg10. “Los Bastardos”
(Amat Escalante, Mexico/US, 2008)

Co-produced by Carlos Reygadas, Escalante’s film is a work of malevolent patience and queasy mystery. Mistake it for a liberal-issue movie at your peril, despite the opening passages with L.A. day laborers loitering on the fringes of Western civilization. From there, two inarticulate immigrants climb through a suburban window, and a pathological domestic face-off ensues, more through action and repression than dialogue. At no point does Escalante cue us what to expect — a closed-room triangulated melodrama, or a Haneke-style confrontation with violence, or Tsai Ming-liang-ish ellipses, or something else entirely. [Kino; read the original review here.]

12222009_AlvarezNow.jpg9. “He Who Hits First, Hits Twice: The Urgent Cinema of Santiago Alvarez”
(Santiago Alvarez, Cuba, 1965-73)

“Urgent” is the word — this collection of howling shorts, from Craig Baldwin’s renegade Other Cinema label, showcases the revolutionary, D.I.Y. found-footage creation of Alvarez, who in addition to making hundreds of ephemeral reports as the head of Communist Cuba’s newsreel company, made his own pioneering political statements on film, often using no more than a scrap of footage, a few magazine pages and a rumba record. Here are scalding montage assaults on American power that make most political filmmakers since look limp-wristed. Although in various circles, and in Cuba, Alvarez is kinda legendary, he’s unknown generally; still, he is the “reappropriationist” outsider-mentor to Baldwin (“Tribulation 99”) and an entire generation of radical “bricolage” artists to come after. [Other Cinema]

12222009_InLoveWeTrust.jpg8. “In Love We Trust”
(Wang Xiaoshuai, China, 2007)

An irresistible premise — a divorced couple, both remarried, discover their six-year-old has leukemia, and realize that her only chance for survival, a bone marrow match, is for them to have another child together, therein jeopardizing both of their marriages — but one Wang frontloads with eye-glue character work and sweet irony. Liu Weiwei, as the mother, won at the Berlin Film Festival, and if this film had found theaters, she would’ve won everything else, too. [Film Movement; read the original review here.]

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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. 

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number! 

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time. 

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by. 

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo. 

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim. 

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t? 

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?” 

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud. 

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.

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Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.

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Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.

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Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!

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Inter-not

Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.

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Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.

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If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.