One of the best films of 2020 — and the last one I’ll get to see in a theater for who knows how long — Kelly Reichardt’s “First Cow” (Lionsgate) sees the director once again turning to the American frontier to tell a story about America now. John Magaro and Orion Lee play two men in pioneer-era Oregon who go into business selling fried-dough “oilycakes” to homesick miners, but find themselves in the crosshairs of the plutocrat who owns the territory’s only source of fresh milk. It’s gorgeous, elegaic, witty, and powerful — and you’ll crave some funnel cakes.
Also available: Director James Sweeney, who also wrote and starred, makes an impressive feature debut with “Straight Up” (Strand Releasing), about a gay man whose lack of relationship success drives him to give women one last shot; two siblings try to fulfill their grandmother’s dying wish in the offbeat comedy “The Dancing Dogs of Dombrova” (Film Movement); “Beats” (Music Box Films) pays homage to 1990s rave culture in the UK; festival fave “Crshd” (Lightyear) follows a trio of college girls navigating sex and romance in the social-media era.
Writer-director-actor Aaron Fisher examines his experiences with bipolar disorder in “Inside the Rain” (MVD Visual); Jon Stewart’s campaign satire “Irresistible” (Universal Pictures Home Entertainment) makes it to physical media in time for Election Day; Coolio stars in “Two Thousand Dirty” (Corinth Films), a comedy about hapless mattress salesmen who find themselves caught up in a murder-for-hire scheme.
If Eliza Scanlen was the one member of Greta Gerwig’s “Little Women” ensemble you didn’t recognize, “Babyteeth” (IFC) is a great place to dig further into the filmography of this talented young actor. One of only two woman-directed films to play Venice 2019 in competition, the film stars Scanlen as a teenager whose relationship with her drug dealer winds up being more beneficial than anyone could have imagined. Directed by Shannon Murphy and co-starring Essie Davis and Ben Mendelsohn, “Babyteeth” is a vibrant Australian coming-of-age tale.
Also available: Courtroom drama “The Girl with a Bracelet” (Icarus Films Home Video) tackles larger issues alongside a crackling whodunit; five friends learn a lot about love — and each other — on one wild Lisbon New Year’s Eve in “Amor Amor” (IndiePix Films); Greek Oscar submission “Amerika Square” (Corinth Films) examines issues of immigration and xenophobia in its look at refugees and assimilation.
A diverse cross-section of passengers find themselves stuck on “A Tramway in Jerusalem” (Film Movement) in this Israeli ensemble dramedy; award-winner “Pilgrimage” (IndiePix Films) follows the travels of 16th-century explorer Fernao Mendes Pinto; female warriors slay the founder of the Persian empire in the historical epic “The Legend of Tomiris” (Well Go USA Entertainment); the acclaimed “El Calor Despues de la Lluvia” (“The Heat After the Rain”) (IndiePix Films) heralds a new wave of filmmakers from Costa Rica.
Whether it’s strip-mining mountains or flattening terrain to create a housing development, mankind is constantly wearing away at the “Earth” (KimStim), and it’s a process that documentarian Nikolaus Geyrhalter (“Our Daily Bread”) captures with both awe and terror. Spanning the globe and hanging back as crews use trucks, cranes, dynamite and any other means to reshape the landscape, Geyrhalter allows viewers to draw their own conclusions — are we to admire humanity’s ability wreak such radical changes upon our environment, or should we be concerned that whatever we do to the planet, she will do to us in return? “Earth” doesn’t spell out the answers, but it’s a stunning observation on, both literally and figuratively, matters of global impact.
Also available: It’s a bounteous month for fans of acclaimed Italian filmmaker Nanni Moretti, with the release of his latest, “Santiago, Italia” (Icarus Films Home Video), as well as the Blu-ray debut of his international breakthrough hit, “Caro Diario” (Film Movement Classics); named Best Documentary at Cannes, “The Cordillera of Dreams” (Icarus Films Home Video) is Patricio Guzman’s exploration of the interconnection between Chile’s landscape and its political history; a new digital restoration of the 1972 documentary “I Am a Dancer” (Film Movement Classics) captures the legendary Rudolf Nureyev in his prime.
A legendary contemporary sculptor gets a moment on the pedestal in “Ursula Von Rydingsvard: Into Her Own” (Icarus Films Home Video); “Nail in the Coffin: The Fall & Rise of Vampiro” (Dread/Epic) follows the one-of-a-kind career of the pro wrestling legend; in “1275 Days” (MVD Visual), a teenager and his single mom take on the American system of crime and punishment.
It’s a great month for box sets — see “New Classic,” below — and whether you’re looking to stay entertained for Halloween or to stuff a horror buff’s stocking for Christmas, Blumhouse of Horrors: 10-Movie Collection (Universal Pictures Home Entertainment) offers up some of the best from one of this generation’s leading scary-centric production entities. As with most such collections, it’s a bit of a mixed bag, but the hits far outweigh the dudes in this compendium, featuring Oscar-winner “Get Out” as well as “The Purge,” “Ouija,” “Split,” “The Visit,” “Unfriended,” “Truth or Dare,” “The Boy Next Door,” “Happy Death Day,” and “Ma.”
Also offering plenty of bang for your horror buck this month are the Rob Zombie Trilogy (Lionsgate) set, featuring “House of 1000 Corpses,” “The Devil’s Rejects,” and “3 From Hell,” and
Stephen King: 5-Movie Collection (Paramount Home Entertainment), offering up “The Dead Zone,” “Pet Sematary” (both the 1989 and 2019 versions), “Silver Bullet,” and “The Stand.”
Also available: David Naughton (“An American Werewolf in London”) leads a cast of genre all-stars in the moviemaking satire “Brutal Massacre: A Comedy” (Mena Films); the late Rutger Hauer’s “Split Second” (MVD Rewind) puts him on the trail of a serial killer in a future dystopian London; in “Blood Quantum” (Shudder/RLJE), a reserve of indigenous people discovers it’s immune to a zombie plague — but still not safe from undead marauders; an underground rave gets real gory in “Pit Stop” (MVD Visual).
Martial-arts cult fave Bolo Yeung does his thing on the double-feature disc “Bloodfight”/”Ironheart” (MVD Rewind); distraught parents take in an “Evil Boy” (Well Go USA Entertainment) who starts resembling their own missing child more and more; no relation to the legendary political thriller, “Z” (Shudder/RLJE) is about a kid’s imaginary friend who does unimaginable things; a gamer must defeat a cursed cartridge in the action comedy “Max Reload and the Nether Blasters” (MVD Visual).
Just because TV commercials have stopped intoning phrases like “in these times” and “especially now,” it doesn’t mean we’re not still “in these times” and needing some form of escape “especially now.” “Roman Holiday” (Paramount Presents) would fit the bill purely for its delightful travelogue aspects, but throw in a delightful rom-com story with American expat reporter Gregory Peck (never lighter) wooing undercover-princess Audrey Hepburn (in her Oscar-winning role), and the results are guaranteed to catapult you out of your pandemic blues, at least for a while. This first-ever Blu-ray release features lots of terrific extras, from Leonard Maltin talking about director William Wyler to featurettes about costumer Edith Head and screenwriter Dalton Trumbo.
Also available: In just a few years, David Lynch made the leap from midnight-movie king to Academy Award contender with the haunting and grotesquely beautiful “The Elephant Man” (The Criterion Collection); before becoming an acclaimed memoirist (and one of the funniest people on Twitter), Mara Wilson was a beloved child star in vehicles like “Thomas and the Magic Railroad” (Shout Kids), celebrating its 20th anniversary; also making its Blu debut is the underrated “Five Corners” (MVD Marquee), featuring a pre-“Moonstruck” screenplay by John Patrick Shanley.
While his choice of subject matter was controversial, Hayao Miyazaki’s mastery of animation is on full display with his final feature (to date), “The Wind Rises” (Studio Ghibli/GKIDS); after years of choppy and unattractive video transfers, Claire Denis’ acclaimed “Beau Travail” (The Criterion Collection) gets a full digital restoration; most of the films to get 4K physical releases so far have been big, crunching action epics, so it’s interesting that Sony Pictures Home Entertainment has given the 4K treatment to a movie like “Whiplash,” which is intense in an entirely different way.
And about those box sets — they make a good cornerstone to any home library, and they make a great stocking stuffer for fans of particular genres (from international arthouse to family animation), and there are quite a few to choose from this month:
Focus Features 10-Movie Spotlight Collection (“Lost in Translation,” “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” “Pride & Prejudice,” “Brokeback Mountain,” “Atonement,” “Burn After Reading,” “Moonrise Kingdom,” “The Theory of Everything,” “On the Basis of Sex,” “Harriet”); Illumination Presents 10-Movie Collection (“Despicable Me” 1-3, “The Secret Life of Pets” 1-2, “Minions,” “Hop,” “Sing,” “Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax,” “Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch”); DreamWorks 10-Movie Collection (“Shrek,” “Madagascar,” “Home,” “Spirit: Stallion of Cimarron,” “How to Train Your Dragon,” “The Croods,” “Kung Fu Panda,” “Boss Baby,” “Abominable,” “Trolls”); and The Alfred Hitchcock Classics Collection (“Rear Window,” “Vertigo,” “Psycho,” “The Birds,” all in 4K), all from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment. The Criterion Collection offers Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project #3, including Humberto Solas’ “Lucia,” Usmar Ismail’s “After the Curfew,” Hector Babenco’s “Pixote,” Juan Bustillo Oro’s “Dos Monjes,” Med Hondo’s “Soleil O,” and Bahram Beyazie’s “Downpour,” while Abkco’s Alejandro Jodorowsky set features 4K restorations of “Fando y Lis,” “El Topo,” “The Holy Mountain,” “and Psychomagic: A Healing Art.”
There are some careers that can’t be contained by a single box set, but “The Best of Cher” (TimeLife) takes a pretty good crack at it. Nine discs pretty much just scratch the surface of this American legend, but this new collection features bounty for super-fans and casual observers alike, including ten episodes of her post-Sonny & Cher variety show, two 1970s TV specials (including the one where she does a “West Side Story” medley and sings ALL the parts), two Vegas concerts, documentaries, featurettes, new interviews with the likes of Lily Tomlin, Bob Mackie, and the lady herself. Throw some sequins on your shelter-in-place.
Also available: He’s a star of Broadway and the silver screen, but one of Hugh Jackman’s finest performances was in HBO’s darkly funny, based-on-a-true-story “Bad Education” (HBO/WB); get all six episodes of the essential music doc “Hip-Hop: The Songs That Shook America” (AMC/RLJE) plus an exclusive extra 30 minutes of content in this physical-media version; the real-life horrors of L.A.’s history dovetail with supernatural ones in “Penny Dreadful: City of Angels” (Showtime/CBS/Paramount); a good twin fights for survival in the creepy and atmospheric “Sanctuary” (Sundance Now).
The “Genesis II”/”Planet Earth” (Warner Archive Collection) disc collects a pair of post-“Star Trek” TV movies from the mind of Gene Roddenberry; speaking of “Star Trek,” “The Good Fight”: Season Four (CBS/Paramount) reminds us that CBS All Access isn’t relying entirely on the “Picard” crowd; so much intrigue and so little homework on “Riverdale”: The Complete Fourth Season (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment); more time travel and more passion on “Outlander”: Season Five (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)
Its protagonists may be shilling potato chips, but “Rick and Morty”: Season 4 (Adult Swim/WB) remains both very popular and very divisive; Villanelle and Eve continue their dance ’round each other on “Killing Eve,” Season 3 (AMC/RLJE); the powerful Sanders clan continue their intramural, internecine battles over the family dynasty in “A House Divided”: Season 2 (AMC/UMC); “Seachange: Paradise Reclaimed” (Acorn TV) reboots a popular Australian drama, mixing original cast members and newcomers.
Grizz, Panda, and Ice are ready for their close-ups in “We Bare Bears: The Movie” (Cartoon Network/WB); with “Young Sheldon”: The Complete Third Season (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment), this prequel sitcom has now lasted 25% as long as the show it precedes; Emmy winner and Twitter face “Succession”: The Complete Second Season (HBO/WB) lets fans relive the familial machinations.
And finally, kudos to the braintrust behind the DC Comics TV series, which always feel like they’ve been written and designed by people who genuinely love the originals: the latest batch of offerings includes “Supergirl”: The Complete Fifth Season, “DC’s Stargirl”: The Complete First Season, and “DC’s Legends of Tomorrow”: The Complete Fifth Season (all DC/WB).