SHUT UP & SING -- The Weinstein Co. / $28.95
"Shut Up & Sing" is what many country fans told the Dixie Chicks after lead singer Natalie Maines proclaimed, on the eve of the Iraq war, that she was ashamed that President Bush came from Texas.
But Barbara Kopple and Cecilia Peck's movie about the group's subsequent three-year journey from country-music limbo to Taking the Long Way, their five-Grammy-winning album, could be called Awake and Sing. It makes you feel the way AM-radio addicts did when folk singers slid into rock and every music category exploded. It's both electric and unplugged.
This 93-minute eruption of passion, conflict and imagination is not just one of 2006's best documentaries, it's also one of the year's best music films and its most detailed, vivid exploration of creativity in show business.
It depicts sisters Emily Robison and Martie Maguire and their pal Maines as performers, wives, mothers and friends, then traces all their joys and agonies filtering into their art.
And it also shows the valor of the managerial allies who with varying savvy try to salvage the group's career -- though none are as smart as Maines herself, who wonders why the Chicks can't define themselves the way Dylan and Springsteen did instead of going on every TV talk show that will have them.
The movie is informal in tone, brilliant in construction. It roves among continents and time-frames a lot more easily and vividly than Babel, as the filmmakers jump back and forth between the Dixie Chicks' tense 2003 tour to them working in an L.A. studio two years later while raising or giving birth to kids and keeping husbands involved and happy.
Kopple and Peck bring out the potent autobiography behind "The Long Way Around" and "Not Ready to Make Nice" without diluting the songs' musical power.
Their movie is a paean to women building art from traumas (including political boycotts and infertility treatments), yet maintaining a humorous perspective on their own fame and infamy, sometimes with group readings of the sleazy celebrity press.
There are no special features on the DVD. There's just the joy of seeing musicians who, in an era of short cuts, dare to take the long way around.
MAN OF THE YEAR --Universal / $29.98
Barry Levinson's Man of the Year played better with hip audiences last fall than it did with chic reviewers. Because of its twin demands for decency in politics and transparency in our newly computerized election process, it may be even more relevant with the ramping up of the presidential race than it was before the 2006 mid-term election.
The movie weds a cautionary tale about a software-company whistleblower named Eleanor (Laura Linney) to the comic story of a Jon Stewart-like comedian, Tom Dobbs (Robin Williams), who gets elected to our highest office.
The combination doesn't always click, but when it does, it's sensational. When Eleanor's bosses brutally discredit her, the director conjures a jolt that, at one screening, lifted viewers straight out of their seats -- and he still managed to follow it with a devastating laugh.
The two featurettes on this DVD are overly modest and conventional. But they do illuminate Levinson's method of "controlled freedom" and bring up a controversial model for this movie, Elia Kazan's 1957 A Face in the Crowd, the story of a hobo (Andy Griffith) who becomes a TV star and a demagogue -- also an inspiration for Spike Lee's 2000 film Bamboozled and the subject of a provocative re-examination by James Wolcott in the current Hollywood issue of Vanity Fair.