Baltimore City Paper



1. Shoah (the Criterion Collection DVD and Blu-ray) This is what people should be binge-watching. Claude Lanzmann filmed his nine-and-a-half-hour documentary on the Holocaust in the late ’70s, when it was still a living memory for the middle-aged survivors and Nazi officials he interviews at length, and when little had changed the stretches of rural Europe once belted by prisoner trains and concentration camps. Thus Shoah captures Hitler’s genocide in the past continuous tense, something that is part of recent history but not removed to the safe entombment of musty pages or scratched archival footage. An unforgettable experience.

2. Wake in Fright (Drafthouse DVD, Blu-ray, and streaming) Just when it seems the grindhouse vaults must have been emptied of treasures, out comes this Australian fever dream from 1971 about a mild-mannered schoolteacher (Gary Bond) who goes off the rails in a sweaty, alcoholic Outback hamlet. Feared lost forever until the negative turned up in a warehouse in Pittsburgh, Wake in Fright mixes a potent cocktail of exploitation ick (a gruesome kangaroo hunt) and existential dread.

3. Badlands (the Criterion Collection DVD and Blu-ray; non-Criterion transfers available for streaming) A film about the ’50s made in the ’70s has no right to feel so contemporary. Terrence Malick’s newly restored calling card turns the inspired-by-actual-events story of teenage high-plains thrill killers into visual poetry, imbued with the literal poetry of Sissy Spacek’s voiceover, one of the most provocative approximations of a young woman’s psyche ever put onscreen.

4. 5 Broken Cameras (Kino Lorber DVD and streaming) A couple of the title cameras stopped working because they caught bullets while their operator, Palestinian villager Emad Burnat, was filming. That should give you some idea of the intimacy and personal costs of this gripping home-video portrait of workaday protests and skirmishes between Palestinians and the Israeli army. Even amid a rich patch of battleground docs, this one stands out.

5. Orange Is the New Black (streaming) Netflix’s expansion into bespoke content this year terrified old-media executives while it delighted subscribers, and never more than with its second original series. The essential premise of Waspy yuppie Piper (Taylor Schilling) adapting to life in a women’s prison offered little innovation, but the way the short-run season delved into the interactions and backstories of an outsized company of characters unlike anything seen on any form of TV both surprised and gratified.

6. Dredd (Lionsgate DVD, Blu-ray, and streaming) This year’s pick for Overachieving B Movie goes to this cinematic reboot of the hallowed British comic character. In addition to getting Karl Urban’s title futuristic lawman right (no hugging, no learning, no taking off your helmet), director Pete Travis deploys a colorful cast of villains and a suitable level of brutality. This is exactly the kind of lowball but deft action flick that will enliven your couch, and possibly outlast it.

7. Room 237 (MPI DVD, Blu-ray, and streaming) Didn’t you know that director Stanley Kubrick made The Shining to secretly confess his role in faking the Apollo 11 moon landing? Or, possibly, to atone for the European genocide of the American Indian? What better medium for director Rodney Ascher’s obsessive catalog of conspiracy theories relating to Kubrick’s endlessly scrutable horror puzzle than home video, where you can watch his documentary over and over and over and over and over. . . .

8. The Fall (Acorn DVD and streaming) Bingers looking for their next BBC fix would do well to look up this familiar-feeling series with a generic name. The X-Files’ Gillian Anderson returns to the small screen as a British police detective dispatched to Northern Ireland to crack the case of a serial killer (Jamie Dornan) working out his sexual kinks on dead young women. In outline, it’s nothing you haven’t seen a zillion times, but the tensions extracted from the detective’s formidable no-nonsense manner and sexual forthrightness, and from the killer’s relatively sympathetic family-man guise, leaves you little choice but to fiend for Season 2.

9. The Blue Angel (Kino Lorber DVD and Blu-ray) This is always hyped as Marlene Dietrich’s film, since it made her a star in 1930 and set her on the path to icon status. But Emil Jannings is the reason you should see this new restoration, issued with all the trimmings. As the middle-aged schoolteacher unexpectedly besotted by Dietrich’s nightclub performer, Jannings radiates defeat and shame from his very pores. It feels almost like a vestigial silent performance, in a style that was lost not long after sound came in and actors fully adapted to it. Maybe it’s one of the reasons the film feels so modern.

10. Gummo (Warner Archive DVD) Spring Breakers got all the attention this year, and rightly so, but the return of Harmony Korine’s directorial debut to home video through the Warner Archive program is worth attending to as well. Even though we’ve finally caught up to much of its aesthetics (the hesher metal on the soundtrack), his idyll in Midwestern white-trash purgatory still provokes and still feels like a vision of a possible end time we haven’t quite reached yet.