A Serious Man Applying Jewish mysticism, suburban ennui and plain bad luck to their usual loopy storytelling, the Coen brothers (Raising Arizona) are at their most impenetrable in this fascinating tale starring big-screen unknown Michael Stuhlbarg in a bravura performance as a man at the end of his rope. Faced with bribery, divorce, his son's drunken bar mitzvah and countless other calamities, Stuhlbarg's Larry Gopnik searches for answers where there are none. As painful as it is to watch Larry suffer, the sheer mind-bending joy of watching the Coens inflict it was one of last year's great experiences.
Bronson It takes somebody pretty badass to not only steal Charles "Death Wish" Bronson's moniker but to wear it even badder. That's exactly what Brit actor Tom Hardy pulled off in 2008's Bronson, the story of a real-life career prisoner who caused so much trouble for guards that he spent most of his life in solitary confinement. Proving that a charismatic leader can be dangerous in any environment, Bronson incorporates showmanship into his extremely violent nature and eventually raises his brutal torment of prison guards to performance-art level, at one point taking one of them hostage, shoving an apple in his mouth and painting his face while he's tied to a pole. Did I mention the film is kind of funny?
Revanche Boy, you know you made your movie right when its DVD premiere is on Criterion. That's the case with this breakthrough by Austrian filmmaker Götz Spielmann (whose previous work I haven't seen yet), a film about an ex-con, the hooker he's in love with and their plan to run away from it all, which goes wrong in ways they'll never fully understand. There are rare moments at the movies when you nearly step outside yourself and think, "By Odin's beard, I am into this movie!" (Just me with the Odin thing?) The excitability that a well-told tale conjures feels primal and urgent. That feeling lies in every frame of Revanche. Too bad the coolest feature on this DVD is the "improved English subtitles." Geeky!
Troubled Water When you set up a redemption movie by showing, in the first scenes, your main character kidnapping a toddler, is it brave or self-defeating? In the case of this Norwegian mood piece, in which a man newly released from prison and seeking a new beginning meets the mother of the child he took, it's the latter. Besides the overly obvious symbolism — really? You're gonna have him play the Simon and Garfunkel song on the church organ, guys? — Troubled Water is a quiet triumph with fantastic performances. And yes, the American remake is already on its way.
Zombieland Is a zombie movie a zombie movie when it's clear that its makers couldn't give two shits about zombie movies? What if, when confronted in interviews about their lack of genre knowledge, they beg off with, "It's not really a zombie movie," or, when challenged that their film doesn't really have much to say, they chalk it up to being "just a zombie movie!" (Most of that double-talk comes from the screen-writers, bullshit reality-show vets Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick.) Well, it sure makes you want to run through the filmmakers with a blood-crusted chainsaw, but that still leaves the movie to consider. Is it stupid? Oh, yes. Fun? You bet. Strangely engrossing? I forgot my point. Zombieland firstname.lastname@example.org