Baltimore City Paper

Poetry, Red State, The Housemaid, The Bill Hicks Story, Uncle Boonmee, and more.

Next year this list could consist

entirely of downloads or streams. But for now, the physical basis of DVDs and Blu-rays still makes sense. With actual screen time in a theater dwindling for anything not in 3D and the number of simultaneous on-demand releases growing, this may be the first year this category appears in the paper (as opposed to online, where it’s lived for a few Decembers now)



the last. Either way, even though most of these missed local theaters, you’ll miss something if you miss them. (Lee Gardner)


1 Poetry

(Kino Lorber)

It takes serious chutzpah to call your film



, in director Lee Chang-dong’s native Korean—but Lee earns it with his 2010 film. Mija (Yoon Jeong-hee) is exactly the kind of older lady who escapes notice in almost any society: quiet, polite, favors dowdy flower prints. But Lee’s story of her reach for inspiration, a line or two of transcendence, as everything else in her life falls to ruin around her is both one of the most heartbreaking and one of the most fiercely unsentimental films in recent memory. See it, seriously. (LG)



Red State

(Lions Gate)

Kevin Smith delivered the most thorough cinematic middle finger in a long time. Independently produced and distributed,

Red State

offers veteran character Michael Parks the cherry role of a charismatic doomsaying preacher/cult leader who runs afoul of the FBI when a trio of horny teens ends up in his clutches. The plot straddles the absurd and the plausible, and Smith expertly maintains a contemporary horror’s pseudo-documentary style. What makes it so affecting is how Smith leaves nobody off the hook: right or left, believers or non, city dwellers or country folks, etc., Red State lays the blame for the country’s political DMZ at the feet of



. Bravo. (Bret McCabe)

3 The Housemaid


A very different film from South Korea,

The Housemaid

at first blush resembles a Pacific Rim take on a typical Skinemax erotic thriller as a broke young woman (Yeon Do-youn) goes to work for a smirking young mogul (Lee Jung-jae) and his pampered wife (Seo Woo) and finds herself seduced and abandoned and worse. But this isn’t a simple melodrama. Director Im Sang-soo’s characters are too finely observed (especially Yun Yeo-jeong’s older housemaid), the plotting is too tight, the subtext too knotty, and the climax too flamingly brutal. This is a film about class, and a classic in the making. (LG)



American: The Bill Hicks Story

(BBC Worldwide)

This made-for-British-television documentary isn’t great, but given that the late American comic Bill Hicks remains an underappreciated and sometimes unknown voice, it’s worth seeing. Like George Carlin, Hicks was less joke teller than acute observer of the folly of human consciousness, and, for him, laughter was the only way to stare oblivion in the face. Cancer claimed him at 32 in 1994, but from the early 1980s on to his death his riffs on politics, drugs, America, advertising, and the farce of existence made faces hurt from laughing too much. And in the case of his observations about the (first) Gulf War, Republicans, and Christians, he still hits bull’s-eyes. (BM)

5 Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives



The latest languorous puzzle box from Thai auteur Apichatpong Weerasethakul all but demands a big-screen viewing, with its sumptuous footage of twilight jungles and glittering caves. But see it you should, even if in letterbox format. As the titular relative (Thanapat Saisaymar) retires to his rural retreat to wait out the final days of a terminal illness, his peace is invaded by lost relatives in the form of glowing-eyed monkey ghosts, late ex-wives, and visions of past lives that manifest themselves in amorous catfish and mysterious family spelunking. It doesn’t exactly “add up,” in the typical sense, but it doesn’t really matter that it doesn’t. Beautiful. (LG)

6 Helena From the Wedding

(Film Movement)

Alex and Alice (the superb duo of Lee Tergesen and Melanie Lynskey) throw a New Year’s Eve party at their upstate New York cabin for their coupled late 30ish/early 40ish friends. Along for the ride is the single Helena (Gillian Jacobs), a friend of a friend, whose very youth becomes a catalyst for domestic discord and masculine anxiety. Sure, director Joseph Infantolino’s

Helena From the Wedding

is a bit like a wintry Woody Allen flick in the woods, but it’s a strongly written and superbly acted wintry Allen flick in the woods. (BM)


7 Santa Sangre


It wasn’t long ago that Alejandro Jodorowsky’s legendary ’70s mind-blow cult epics

El Topo


The Holy Mountain


returned to legit circulation after decades as bootlegs. Now Jodorowsky’s 1989 followup to those films reappears for the first time in nearly 20 years thanks to Severin Films. A young Mexican circus performer is institutionalized after a horrific family incident (like, really, yikes). Released years later, Fenix (Axel Jodorowsky, the director’s son) returns to performing—as his armless mother’s hands (complete with nail polish) in their joint circus act. Things only get stranger from there, but the director’s unerring sense of spectacle (e.g., a circus elephant’s funeral) still dazzles. (LG)



(Oscilloscope Laboratories)

Just another example of that age-old story: Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy makes flame-throwing muscle car. Writer/director Evan Glodell’s



is an eye-grabbing micro-indie love story with a serious dose of gearhead oomph. Glodell stars as a twentysomething everydude who customizes cars with his best mate (Tyler Dawson); along comes Milly (Jessie Wiseman), who threatens to short circuit the bromance. What transpires next is what might’ve happened if


’s annoyingly moony Max Fischer went to college, finally got the beating he deserved, and then consumed a steady diet of Monte Hellman and Don Siegel flicks. (BM)

9 Point Blank


Samuel (Gilles Lellouche) is just an ordinary guy who works as a nurse’s aide in a Paris hospital. His wife (Elena Anaya) is expecting their first child. All he wants to do is take care of her and study to be a nurse proper—all of which becomes imperiled when somebody kidnaps his wife and forces him to help a patient escape from the hospital. Writer/director Fred Cavay has a great eye for gritty details and kinetic action pacing, and


Point Blank

opens at a sprint and rarely slows down. Even better, in its universe there aren’t good guys and bad guys, there are good guys and worse guys—on both sides of the law. (BM)


Rolling Thunder

(MGM Limited Edition Collection)

The ultimate grindhouse masterpiece? Decide for yourself now that MGM has finally made journeyman director John Flynn’s 1977 film available as a burned-on-demand DVD, exclusively via Amazon. William Devane was born to play Maj. Charles Rane, an Air Force fighter pilot home in San Antonio at last after years in a Vietnamese POW camp. Nothing much rattles Rane—not when his son doesn’t know him, not when his wife leaves him for a local deputy, not when a band of cross-border thugs jams his hand in a running garbage disposal. Rane just sharpens his new prosthetic hook, loads his shotgun, grabs a fellow ex-prisoner (a baby Tommy Lee Jones) and goes back to war, where he belongs. Unshowy, but just about perfect. (LG)