We usually use this space to recommend the week’s five best new releases streaming and on disc, but some weeks that’s just not enough — and this is one of those weeks. Making their debuts are two of last year’s most entertaining flicks, fresh off of big wins on Oscar night; one of 2014’s best documentaries (and a surprising exclusion from that category); and three terrific catalog titles with spiffy new Blu-ray upgrades.
The Overnighters : Jesse Moss’ quiet, thoughtful documentary tells the story of Pastor Jay Reinke, whose Concordia Lutheran Church in Williston, North Dakota offers help and temporary housing for waves of men flooding into their town looking for work in the flourishing oil industry. But their presence causes tension with neighbors and the community, who are wary of these out-of-towners. Moss’ camera captures some extraordinarily candid moments, up to and including a closing bombshell that pretty much reframes everything that’s come before it. But most importantly, he carefully considers, in a way that’s seldom seen in American film, exactly what it is to be a Christian — not just to say it, but to be it — and the implications of living one’s life accordingly.
Big Hero 6 : On paper, the latest feature from Disney sounds like some kind of a Pixar mixtape: it’s a superhero group story (The Incredibles) with a lovable robot (WALL-E) and a heartbreaking family death as its inciting action (Up). But it transcends the formula, thanks to a giddy, gee-whiz spirit, some legitimately exciting action beats, a surplus of gorgeous images and inventive compositions, and a welcome sense of self-awareness. Oh, and it’s got the most lovable animated protagonist in many a moon, the soft-spoken marshmallow robot Baymax, who gets both the film’s sweetest (his closing scene) and funniest (when his battery is low, he’s a wobbly drunk) moments. (Includes featurettes, deleted scenes, outtakes, and the animated short “Feast” — also a winner Sunday night.)
Whiplash : J.K. Simmons picked up a well-deserved Best Supporting Actor trophy for his terrifying turn as the tyrannical music teacher who drives his students to perfection — at a cost. It’s a visceral, harrowing, and decidedly thoughtful take on a moldy old trope, questioning with great emotional force the kind of conclusions we usually draw from these stories. Miles Teller continues to cultivate a distinctive, almost roughneck charm, and Paul Reiser is quietly great as his father, but this is Simmons’ show all the way; he provides the roaring narrative engine for a nerve-wracking but ultimately rewarding picture that leaves as much blood on the skins as its protagonist. (Includes featurettes, audio commentary with Simmons and writer/director Damien Chazelle, deleted scene, and the original short film.)
Eat Drink Man Woman : Ang Lee directs and co-writes this warm, wonderful family comedy/drama with a generous helping of food porn thrown into the mix. The story of a beloved chef and his three adult daughters, it revels in the complexities of their interactions (with their father and each other) while expertly juggling their individual stories in a way that feels organic rather than schematic. A big family dinner provides the expected climax, one that’s both dramatic and comic, but the subsequent, seemingly mundane image of a father and daughter simply eating some soup packs the real emotional punch for this very special film.
Fellini Satyricon : Federico Fellini’s 1969 drama gets the Criterion treatment — and imperial Rome gets the Fellini treatment, as the provocative Italian master drops sexual slavery, cross-dressing, bath houses, flatulence, and behandings in the first ten minutes alone. This is no mere toga movie; Fellini brings along his usual assortment of winking, tongue-wagging eccentrics, underscoring the pageant of gluttony, consumption, and brutality with themes of artists vs. patrons. His style here is presentational, with scenes often framed from a distance, almost as if through a proscenium; the imagery is surrealistic and disturbing (even by Fellini’s standards), and he keeps escalating the bizarreness to the point where even its bananas ending is all but inevitable. (Includes audio commentary, new and archival documentaries, new and archival interviews, and more.)
The Night They Raided Minsky’s : Director William Friedkin and co-writer/producer Norman Lear tell the story of “this real religious girl” who “accidentally invented the striptease” in this 1968 tribute to the burlesque houses of yore. There’s little plot to speak of, which you can’t really hold against it, considering the subject matter; Friedkin’s got the right kind of rough-and-tumble energy, aided greatly by editor Ralph Rosenbum’s slam-bang cutting. It’s so atmospheric that the smell of greasepaint and cigar smoke all but wafts from the screen, and for all of its leering, it ultimately boasts a fairly laudable message of sexual agency. Rowdy, charming fun.