You wouldn’t guess it from his casual farmhand demeanor, his expert ability to rope a horse or his ruggedly handsome appearance, but Buck Brannaman, the subject of this majestic and touching documentary, is like the cowboy version of Oprah. In 1995, Nicholas Evans’ novel The Horse Whisperer mined gold out of the uniquely gentle training methods of Brannaman and his mentor, Ray Hunt. (Robert Redford, the film adaptation’s director and star, appears here and seems genuinely appreciative of his time with Brannaman.) Now Buck’s heartbreaking and inspiring story – he was brutally abused by his father until a heroic football coach and the town sheriff got involved – is not only told but demonstrated in Buck, since the whisperer’s childhood informs his (mostly) hands-off approach. While the film can seem suspiciously like a well-shot ad for Brannaman’s seminars, frankly, it’s worth it. His skills are unquestionable, and his methods often reveal more about the horse’s owner than the horse. To watch his customers realize that fact (they often cry as hard as they would with a therapist) is to become a true believer. (available now)
Special Features: Deleted scenes, audio commentary
Nicholas Winding Refn can keep his auto-erotic tone poems; for my money, this year’s cinematic grand marshal is director Justin Lin, who made a splash with Better Luck Tomorrow in 2002, and spent the last five years elevating the Fast and the Furious franchise to vehicular ballet. From Tokyo Drift, which was no less than a Broadway musical on wheels, to this winkingly beefy, expertly executed fifth installment, Lin and his “oh just kiss already” go-to couple, Vin Diesel and Paul Walker, have delivered full-throttle each time. This edition finds Dom and crew running from the FBI while attempting to rob the richest man in Rio. (Wait til you see the outrageous vault sequence.) Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson hops aboard the phony express this time, and his infectious fandom for the franchise is welcome. Take away my critic card if you must, but these things are great heaping piles of fun. (available now)
Special Features: Deleted scenes, gag reel, featurettes, audio commentary
This thoughtful, emotion-filled story based on the Joe Dunthorne novel and adapted and directed by Richard Ayoade (The Mighty Boosh, The IT Crowd) is far more original and heartfelt than its oh-so-twee, Rushmore-baiting ad campaign would have you believe. Craig Roberts is fantastic as Oliver Tate, a Holden Caulfield in the making who’s reeling from (he’s convinced) his mother’s impending affair, cruel classmates and his hard-to-pin-down new girlfriend (Yasmin Paige). Unlike Caulfield, or really most other angsty teen portrayals, Oliver is determined to make things right again, and his thoughtful devotion to his respectful parents’ well-being is something akin to revolutionary within Submarine’s genre. Yes, it’s Andersonian at times, but that’s a crutch leaned on for transitions; the meat of the film, meanwhile, is simply beautiful.
Special Features: Deleted scenes, featurette