01.21.11

Prepping for the Oscars on DVD

From The Social Network to The Kids Are All Right, Marlow Stern brings you five Oscar hopefuls you can watch at home before Tuesday’s nominations.

1. THE SOCIAL NETWORK

Film: Although it may play loose with the facts and come off as a Luddite response to social networking, this riveting, fiercely intelligent film is the 21st century Cain and Abel. An origin story of Facebook, The Social Network follows Harvard undergrad Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg), a detached kid who, spurned by his ex (Rooney Mara), comes to create the world’s preeminent social network–but not before joining forces with Mephistophelean visionary Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake), as well as screwing over his original partner and friend, Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield), and the Winklevoss twins (both played by Armie Hammer), who claim Zuckerberg stole their idea. The film is a masterpiece, and “has understandably been compared to Citizen Kane in its depiction of a man who changes society through bending an emergent technology to his will,” according to critic Ann Hornaday of The Washington Post. Eschewing his propensity for visual dynamism–from his MTV music video days–this is a lean, more locked-in-than-usual David Fincher in the director’s chair, and TV writer-God Aaron Sorkin’s rapid-fire screenplay is a wonder to behold. The film’s already won a slew of critical accolades, including the Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture Drama, making it the frontrunner for the Best Picture Oscar.

DVD Extras: There’s a treasure trove of extras on this DVD, but the crown jewel is the 90 minute, four-part documentary, How Did They Ever Make a Movie of Facebook?, that, although somewhat self-indulgent, reveals some interesting behind-the-scenes stuff. For instance, you learn that the opening scene was shot in a whopping 99 takes (Fincher is a methodical director with a Kubrick-like attention to detail); Sorkin admitting “I’m very weak when it comes to plot;” Fincher cursing out Harvard University for not letting them film there; how Fincher went home, and Sorkin–much to his delight – took the director’s chair for the last shot of filming, and was the one who got to say, “That’s a wrap!;” and how Armie Hammer played both of the Winklevoss twins, using CGI trickery, superimposing his head on model-actor Josh Pence. Although some castmembers express remorse over Pence being cut out of the film, Eisenberg did not, saying, “At the same time, I don’t pity him for a second. He can cry over sex.”

2. TOY STORY 3

Film: The latest tour de force from Pixar Animation Studios, the third installment in the Toy Story franchise was, without question, the biggest tearjerker of 2010. Directed by Lee Unkrich, who co-directed Toy Story 2 and Finding Nemo, the plot focuses on the (mis)adventures of Woody (voiced by Tom Hanks), Buzz Lightyear (voiced by Tim Allen), and the rest of the toy gang, as they wrestle with their uncertain future when their longtime owner, Andy, prepares to go off to college. The film stunned skeptics who questioned the 11-year gap between Toy Story films, and even warmed the heart of gun-happy filmmaker Quentin Tarantino, who named it his best movie of the year. Screenwriter Michael Arndt, who won an Oscar for penning Little Miss Sunshine, imbues the film with plenty of heart and soul, transforming the adventures of a bunch of toys into “a long, melancholy meditation on loss, impermanence and that noble, stubborn, foolish thing called love,” wrote critic A.O. Scott of The New York Times. “We all know money can’t buy it, except sometimes, for the price of a plastic figurine or a movie ticket.” And it will, in the words of the Rolling Stones, “make a grown man cry.”

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DVD Extras: Like any DVD from the Pixar dream factory, this one houses plenty of extras. Among the many featurettes, there’s Day & Night--no, not the Tom Cruise action vehicle, but an intriguing six-minute Pixar animated short that provides a fun juxtaposition between the two times of day via a pair of tussling ghost figures with day and night scenes superimposed on their bodies. Paths to Pixar: Editorial offers an interesting summary of not just the editorial process, but the apprenticeship system at Pixar, whereby editors work their way up to filmmakers (like Unrich, who was editor of the first Toy Story). The best extra is The Gang’s All Here, a 10-minute featurette about how all the voice talent from the original film–and some new additions–returned, with the exception of Jim Varney (best know for the Ernest films), who voiced Slinky-Dog, and passed away following Toy Story 2. Seeing Don Rickles go nuts making grunting and cackling noises in the voice booth is truly a sight to behold.

3. EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP

Film: In a year that saw questionable documentaries on the rise with films like Catfish, and Joaquin Phoenix’s piece of gonzo performance art, I’m Still Here, celebrated street artist Banksy’s Exit Through the Gift Shop was the cream of the crop. It’s the tale of Thierry Guetta, a French immigrant in L.A. who documents his every move on camera, and who, after a random encounter with his cousin, the graffiti artist Invader, as well as other street artists like Shepard Fairey and Banksy, assumes the identity of Mr. Brainwash, and becomes a famous street artist in his own right. Ever since the film’s premiere at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival, where several new Banksy works sprung up on the streets of Park City, Utah, there has been fierce speculation as to whether or not the highly ambiguous, captivating film is one big put-on by the elusive graffiti artist. Regardless, the film has been shortlisted for the 2011 Best Documentary Oscar, and “widespread speculation that Exit Through the Gift Shop is a hoax only adds to its fascination,” according to famed film critic Roger Ebert.

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DVD Extras: In true Banksy fashion, the DVD comes in 80 percent recycled folded cardboard packaging with collectible paper sunglasses modeled after Banksy's iconic rat image, two window decals, and two picture postcards–one by Banksy, and one by Mr. Brainwash. The on-disc DVD extras include several deleted scenes, as well as a series of compelling featurettes. There’s “A Star is Born,” a seven-minute look at the Cans Festival in 2008, where Banksy invited 40 street artists–including MBW–to a collective, serving as an important starting point for when MBW began to be more manager than artist, having other artists create works for him; there’s a 15-minute “Lawyer’s Cut”–edited down from an hour and a half–of Guetta’s mind-numbing ADD film, Life Remote Control. It features interviews with Malcolm McLaren (creator of The Sex Pistols) and artist Ron English, and is short enough to preserve any speculation that this is an elaborate ruse. Best of all though is “B Movie,” a 13-minute documentary about the rise of Banksy from little-known street artist to one of the most highly coveted artists in the world, with even the late Dennis Hopper, a countercultural icon himself, extolling his virtues.

4. THE TOWN

Film: Following his thrilling directorial debut Gone Baby Gone, Ben Affleck has decided to do triple-duty on his next film, serving as director, co-writer, and star of The Town. An adaptation of Chuck Hogan’s novel Prince of Thieves, the film centers on Doug MacRay (Affleck), a former top hockey prospect who descends from a long line of bank robbers in the bank robbery capital of America, Charlestown, Massachusetts. He, along with his loyal, hothead sidekick, Jem (Jeremy Renner), are members of an elite group of criminals. Doug soon falls for Claire (Rebecca Hall), a bank manager whom the group takes hostage during the film’s opening heist, much to the chagrin of Jem, and Doug’s oxy-addicted former flame, Krista (Blake Lively). With FBI agent Frawley (Jon Hamm) closing in, Doug wants to go straight, but is forced by his employer to pull off two more jobs before he does. Although The Town doesn’t approach the moral complexity and rawness of Gone Baby Gone, the film boasts several brilliantly executed heist scenes–most notably the finale at Fenway Park; The Hurt Locker’s Renner chewing up scenery; and another in a long line of brilliantly understated performances by Vicky Cristina Barcelona’s Hall. And it’s a solid bet for a Best Picture nod… “Get that in your f---in’ head!”

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DVD Extras: In addition to insightful feature-length commentary from writer-director-star Affleck on this DVD, there’s a series of six featurettes entitled Ben’s Boston which shows the cast and crew–Affleck, in particular–talking about the scene setting, and the motivation for certain elements that appear in the film. For example, the initial bank robbery is based on a famous armored truck robbery that occurred in Cambridge’s Harvard Square, and the creepy skeleton masks were lifted from an FBI video of a heist. The commentary also provides some interesting context on Charlestown, a picturesque place with beautiful cobblestone streets that sent more people to WWII per square mile than anywhere in the country, yet became a hotbed of crime after a maximum security prison opened there. Families would move to Charlestown to be closer to the incarcerated, creating a cycle of crime. Other fun facts: Affleck also cast several Charlestown “persons of interest” as cops and FBI agents in the film, directed certain portions of the bank robbery scenes while wearing his bank robbery masks, and they shot the bank robbery scene at Fenway Park during a two-week window in the middle of the baseball season while the Red Sox were on a road swing and used between 8,000-10,000 rounds of ammo. 

5. THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT

Film: This Prop 8-challenging film, co-written and directed by Lisa Cholodenko, concerns Jules (Julianne Moore) and Nic (Annette Bening), a lesbian couple living in California, who each gave birth to a child using the same anonymous sperm donor. When their eldest, the cerebral Joni (Mia Wasikowska) turns 18, she and her confused brother, Laser (Josh Hutcherson), contact the sperm bank to seek out their biological father, Paul (Mark Ruffalo). Though Jules and Nic appear to be happy, their relationship has lost its spark; doctor Nic is the rigid family breadwinner who runs the household with an iron fist, while Jules is a carefree housewife of sorts, who wishes to pursue a landscaping career. Complications arise when Jules engages in some casual sex with Paul, blurring the familial lines for all parties involved. The profound performances are so natural as to seem casual. Julianne Moore is solid as the conflicted housewife; Bening delivers a bravura performance as a more natural, three-dimensional version of her pessimistic character in Mother and Child; and Wasikowska is, as usual, a revelation. It’s “The movie we've been waiting for all year: a comedy that doesn't take cheap shots, a drama that doesn't manipulate, a movie of ideas that doesn't preach. It's a rich, layered, juicy film, with quiet revelations punctuated by big laughs,” wrote Slate critic Dana Stevens. And pundits see the Best Actress Oscar as a two-horse race between Bening, and Black Swan star Natalie Portman.

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DVD Extras: Though not packed with too many extras (the film does speak for itself), the DVD includes a series of three short featurettes, the most interesting of which is titled “The Writer’s Process,” which reveals how co-writers Lisa Cholodenko and Stuart Blumberg ran into each other at the 101 Café on Franklin Ave. in Los Angeles and started talking about the script. Blumberg mentioned he had been a sperm donor in college, and they were off and running from there. And, in the feature-length commentary from Cholodenko, she talks about how Ruffalo’s sex partner/co-worker Tanya was supposed to be played by Erykah Badu, but she eventually backed out (and was replaced by America’s Next Top Model contestant, Yaya DaCosta); how the MPAA made Cholodenko cut scenes of gay porn–which made The Daily Beast’s list of the best lesbian movie sex scenes (the cutting was a “frustrating” process, Cholodenko says); and, although co-writer/director Cholodenko looks–and sounds– exactly like Annette Bening’s character in the film, Julianne Moore told Cholodenko that she actually based her character in Kids on facets of Cholodenko’s freewheeling persona.

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Marlow Stern works for The Daily Beast and is a masters degree recipient from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. He has served in the editorial dept. of Blender Magazine, as an editor at Amplifier Magazine, and, since 2007, editor of Manhattan Movie Magazine.