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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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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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