As a group, the big-name movies of the Oscar season are a little light this year. Which of these – “The Descendants,” The Artist,” “The Help,” “War Horse,” “Midnight in Paris” – will anyone be talking about five years from now? Not that many, I’d guess.
There are alternatives. A handful of 2011 movies that were pretty good but nowhere near Oscar territory are out on DVD. “The Guard,” with Brendan Gleeson and Don Cheadle is crude but clever and funny, in the vein of Guy Ritchie’s profane and hilarious “Rock’n’Rolla,” which I have to admit is a favorite of mine. “The Guard” tries to be an anti-buddy movie, but it doesn’t try very hard, and that’s more or less the point. Good times, flying lead, justice.
I cannot think of the first or last movie with Will Ferrell that I ever liked that much, but “Everything Must Go,” was a surprising turn for him. It’s more dark and sad than funny, but its moments of reflection work. Rebecca Hall even shows up, good as always.
The bigger surprise was “The Lincoln Lawyer,” a movie my teenage son dragged me to but that turned out to be less formulaic than you’d expect. It’s one thing to play a sleazy character and another to get the audience to really identify with him, and Matthew McConaughey pulls off the additional feat of mostly making us forget that he’s Matthew McConaughey (also known as the Owen Wilson syndrome). There’s also a fine supporting cast, including Michael Pena, Marissa Tomei, William H. Macy, Ryan Phillippe and – get this – country music singer Trace Adkins as a motorcycle gang leader. Who knew?
If you just want a feel-good movie with some depth and complexity, grab “Win Win,” with Paul Giamatti leading a nice cast in a complicated family drama. Be advised: This might on the surface seem like one for the whole family, but there’s a fair amount of strong language and bit of violence.
One more: “Margin Call” came with a bit of hype and hope about really getting to the story of the financial storm of 2008, but it didn’t quite make it. (Check out “Company Men” for a truer telling of the fallout.) But “Margin Call” has its moments. Stanley Tucci telling the story of building a bridge, in contrast to everything else going on, is poignant. Not bad to rent if you’re spending the evening in.
We do have a treat coming up next weekend. The Tivoli in Westport next weekend plans to show the short films – animated and live-action – nominated for the Oscars. Assuming they stick with the usual pattern, you buy one ticket per category, and you can usually watch them in less time than a feature-length movie. Always good stuff.