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Edge of your seat, heart in your mouth

A Trifecta of the Week’s Best Films on the Box
Published: 
Sunday, January 18, 2015
BC on TV
Scarlett Johansson pulled off an impressive performance in the R-rated sci-fi movie Under the Skin.

The New Year resolution of cable and DirecTV to show excellent films continues into the third weekend of the year, longer than most New Year resolutions would.

Today’s Also Rans include the 2013 Best Foreign Film Oscar-winner that would have been picked if it started earlier and BC on TV could be sure of English subtitles (Amour, 10.30 pm FxCl BEST FILM OF THE WEEK) a brace of high end B-movies as good as youth-aimed Hollywood martial arts flicks will ever get, which would both have been picked if the first started earlier (The Karate Kid, 6 am, The Karate Kid II, 8.15 am HBO), an old Hitchcock that, though dated, still chills to the bone (The Birds, 11 am FxCl), a new Brit nick flick that will surely be picked in the future (Starred Up, 9.35 pm MaxP), a strong Bruce Dern vehicle that nearly drove him to the Best Actor Oscar (Nebraska, 5.10 pm Max) and a pre-implants Jane Fonda liberal anti-war Vietnam vehicle that isn’t slowed down by having Jon Voight also in the front seat (Coming Home, 9 pm FxCl). Any airheads angered by so much quality film today can let it all go (ie, all that grey matter) tomorrow with the latest really distasteful-but-firetrucking hilarious Johnny Knoxville excess (Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa, 9 pm FoxCom).

Today’s best film:

Groundhog Day (Harold Ramis/1993/USA/Comedy/102 mins/ PG-13), 10 pm today and again 5.05 pm tomorrow Turner Classic Movies. Watch this if you liked The Truman Show, Forrest Gump or Hugo. Groundhog Day was the turning point in Bill Murray’s career, the first time audiences could see the stinging talent for character acting that led to his magical performances in the offbeat The Life Aquatic and the otherwise boring Lost in Translation. Groundhog Day is far, far better than either of those. Buddhists revere it and even Hollywood critics concede it is an intelligent, penetrating comedy with more than a little to say on the human condition; and the belly laughs are there in abundance. Murray is amazing and the rest of the cast uniformly excellent. This, their sixth collaboration, was Murray’s last film with Ramis; if neither has gone on to top it, it is because it reached so high. Unstintingly recommended.


Today and rest of the week:

Sideways (Alexander Payne/2004/USA/Rom-Comedy/126 mins/R for language, some strong sexual content and nudity), 10.45 am Fox Comedy. Watch this if you liked The Social Network, Little Miss Sunshine or He’s Just Not That Into You. The film that took Paul Giamatti from oddball main (American Splendour) or oddball minor (Planet of the Apes, Man on the Moon) roles into strong dramatic and comedic leads, and a contender for the best romantic comedy ever made, is based on a smart script, perfect casting and seamless, seemingly effortless direction. The guffaw per scene rate is high; if you like wine, it’s even better.

Under the Skin (Jonathan Glazer/2013/UK-USA-Switzerland/Thriller-Sci-fi-Drama-Art house/ 108 mins/R for graphic nudity, sexual content, some violence and language), 9 pm tomorrow Cinemax. Watch this if you liked The Double, The Machine or Melancholia. The first frames reveal the same director who made both Radiohead’s Karma Police music video and the Ben Kingsley masterpiece, Sexy Beast: this is a visually striking, beautiful-even-when-depicting-something-ugly film that starts with you at the edge of the seat and ends with your heart in your mouth. A strange, menacing tale of aliens masquerading as humans in Scotland is as enthralling for the genuine cinephile as it would be bewildering for the average viewer seeking distraction rather than engagement. Could have missed, the way Glazer’s own ambitious Birth miscarried, but hits big.

*Starred films have been chosen in the last three months. Scheduled Internet times often vary on the day, particularly around month-end.

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