The 5 Best Movies to Buy or Stream This Week: ‘Denial,’ ‘Operation Avalanche’


It’s another sleepy week for home media, the inevitable byproduct of the post-holiday season, as most big titles were pumped out as gift possibilities over the past couple of months. But we’ve got three very good 2016 indies on disc and Prime, plus an old favorite on Netflix and a new edition of a ‘90s classic.


Boogie Nights : Paul Thomas Anderson’s explosively funny, gleefully bawdy, horrifically violent, sensitively acted, and surprisingly warm 1997 breakthrough film is a frequent addition and subtraction from the Netflix streaming library, so its reappearance on the service isn’t a giant deal. But this rich mosaic of the San Fernando Valley porn industry from the late ‘70s to early ‘80s includes, among its many bravura set pieces, a shattering New Year’s Eve party sequence, in which William H. Macy (two-thirds mark spoiler!) murders his wife and her lover before blowing his own brains out. It’s a devastating scene on its own; at this moment in time, it feels like the most accurate possible summary of the conclusion of 2016.


Gleason : Steve Gleason was a small but tough linebacker for the New Orleans Saints who became a key figure during that team’s (and that city’s) comeback after Hurricane Katrina. He retired from football in 2008; three years later, he was diagnosed with ALS (aka Lou Gehrig’s Disease), and given two to five years to live. Six weeks later, his wife Michel found out she was pregnant. The raw materials of Clay Tweel’s documentary are the My Life-style videos Gleason made for his unborn son, “to pass on as much of who I am to you,” but they’re amply supplemented by Tweel’s own footage of Gleason’s journey over those years, when his activism increased as his own symptoms began to show themselves, and take him over. It sounds like some sort of sad trudge though a terminal illness, but quite the contrary – it’s bursting with life, and laughs, and joy. But it will certainly destroy you too, in its moments of heart-wrenching candor and unimaginable pain, as we see what this disease does to his vibrant marriage and his relationship with his son. Powerful and moving, this is a must-see.


Operation Avalanche : Matt Johnson’s found-footage conspiracy thriller jumps off from a delicious premise: these archival images were shot by the CIA’s A/V team, a group initially sent to NASA in the guise of a documentary film crew to find a Russian mole in the midst of the race to the moon, only to play a hand in the everyone’s favorite conspiracy: the faking of the moon landing. It’s a clever idea, beautifully executed — the footage is convincingly period, and the scenes of them working through the specifics (creating and fixing the iconic images, workshopping Armstrong’s first line) are a hoot. But Johnson also isn’t content to stop at an ingenious gimmick; his script creates real conflicts, relationships, and tension, and pays them all off. (Includes audio commentaries, deleted scenes, and featurettes.)


Denial : This account of the true story of historian Deborah Lipstadt (a dodgily-accented Rachel Weisz) and the libel suit brought against her by Holocaust denier David Irving (Timothy Spall) is rather by-the-numbers in style, but there’s trickiness under its courtroom-procedural surface. Screenwriter David Hare and director Mick Jackson break down that procedure, considering its nuts and bolts, in a way film and television seldom does – particularly in the tension between Lipstadt and her lawyers, led by Tom Wilkinson (immediately projecting bristling intelligence and cynicism), who must tackle this particular and distasteful “burden of proof.” This tricky telling acknowledges their legal intelligence while allowing the questioning of their moral/ethical responsibility. And Spall is dead-on, displaying the brio and certainty, casually revealing the unapologetic darkness that fuels it. “I am not a racist,” he insists, under oath. You know what? They never think they are. (Includes featurette and trailer.)


Jerry Maguire (20th Anniversary Edition) : No movie can make this much money, and penetrate popular culture as loudly (no less than three ubiquitous catchphrases), without eventually generating a backlash, and there are plenty of voices out there who’ll tell you who phony, false, and generally corrupt Cameron Crowe’s 1996 critical and commercial smash is. But your film editor is not one of them; from its initial release, I’ve admired the complexity of the romance at the center of this story, of how Jerry Maguire and Dorothy Boyd’s courtship and marriage is not a matter of falling in love and living happily ever after, but falling in love with the idea of someone, and then embarking on the very hard work of translating that into a long-term relationship. Plus, Cuba Gooding Jr. is a blast, Regina King is fierce, and Bonnie Hunt is the stand-out of a deep bench of ace supporting players. (Includes new retrospective featurettes and deleted/extended scenes, plus archival commentary, rehearsal footage, deleted scenes, featurette, trailer, and music video.)