You can start your Academy Award catch-up at home this weekend.
Best picture nominees Mad Max: Fury Road and The Martian have been released on digital/DVD in recent weeks and both, in their distinct ways, are easy to recommend.
And another, Steven Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies, is out this week. The Cold War thriller’s supporting actor Mark Rylance justifiably won an Academy Award this week, although the film has much more going for it beyond his wonderful performance.
As a side note, Spielberg’s films have now earned 128 Oscar nominations, yet Rylance is only the second actor from one of them to win (the other being Lincoln’s Daniel Day-Lewis; incredibly, Schindler’s List’s Ralph Fiennes was beaten by The Fugitive’s Tommy Lee Jones in 1994 and, less surprisingly, Liam Neeson by Philadelphia’s Tom Hanks).
Hanks is brilliant too in Bridge of Spies, cowritten by Ethan and Joel Chen. It reinforces Hanks’s status as a modern Gary Cooper, the upstanding, relatable American who doesn’t play bad guys. The comparison fits in this old-school entertainment based on negotiations by a minor American lawyer (Hanks’s James Donovan) used by the US government to conclude an exchange of spies while “defending” a captured Soviet spy, Rylance’s Rudolf Abel.
Bridge of Spies (M, Fox, min, $29.99) has been damned with some faint praise because it lacks Spielberg’s bells and whistles. Yet it’s a rarity in being one of Spielberg’s acting showcases. And every other component fits beautifully in this very sturdy, entertaining film.
The other Academy Award nominees released this week are documentaries The Look of Silence and Cartel Land (MA15+, Madman, 100 min, $29.99). The latter is a captivating and somewhat nihilistic look at the vigilante battles, in the US and Mexico, against major drug cartels.
Director Matthew Heineman scores unbelievable and bracing access to a paramilitary group, the Arizona Border Recon, taking defence into its own hands, and, most compellingly, to a citizen group called the Autodefensas, led by doctor Jose Mireles, that successfully pushes out of the Mexican state of Michoacan, town by town, the Knights Templar drug cartel.
This is real cinema vigilantism, not Dirty Harry, and it will have you squirming at the brutality and odd justice of it and revelling in its victories before the disastrous fatalism of the Mexican state’s corruption overwhelms everything.
Heineman’s position on all this seems questionable too; he seems happily gung-ho as part of the chase and a free-marketeer who sort of agrees with the right to bear arms when your state lets you down. It’s unfortunate that this particular theme is propagated in a very good documentary.