By Leonard Maltin
The Oscars are history for another year, but they continue to be part of the conversation when it comes to foreign-language films released in the U.S. In a more perfect world, Vincent Cassel--now familiar to millions of Americans because of his role as Natalie Portman's ballet master in Black Swan--would have been in contention for Best Actor for his sensational work in the two-part French gangster saga Mesrine. That oversight shouldn't stop anyone from seeing his remarkable performance, which I'm touting once again now that the film has been released on home video.
Similarly, some observers--like me--thought the French import Of Gods and Men, which won the Grand Prix at last year's Cannes Film Festival, would be a shoo-in to be nominated for Best Foreign Language Film by the Academy. Again, it was not to be... but the movie remains a must-see.
Two of this month's selections have been released on DVD, while another is available exclusively through Video on Demand until the end of this month: it's the first documentary credit for its filmmaking partners, Deborah Morales and a fellow you may have heard of in a different context, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
OF GODS AND MEN
Although it is based on a real-life incident from the 1990s, Xavier Beauvois' remarkable film doesn't deal in facts as much as faith. It's the story of an order of Trappist monks who live in a rural village in Algeria, serving the local Muslim people, but neither the Army nor the Islamic terrorists who roam the countryside accept their vow of neutrality. Click HERE to read my full review.
Josh Radnor is best known as the costar of the hit sitcom How I Met Your Mother, but he makes a creditable writing and directing debut with this small-scale indie feature about three couples facing crossroads in their relationships. The writing is uneven, but Radnor is good in the leading role, and provides a fine showcase for Malin Akerman as his best friend.
ON THE SHOULDERS OF GIANTS (available on Video on Demand)
The subtitle of this disarming documentary says it all: "The Story of the Greatest Basketball Team You Never Heard Of." They are the Harlem Renaissance, America's first all-black professional team, and their story--which serves as both a mirror and microcosm of race in 20th century America--is compellingly told by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and a galaxy of high-profile interviewees. To read my complete review click HERE.
Vincent Cassel delivers an extraordinarily visceral performance as the real-life French crime kingpin who ran roughshod over "the rules of the game," repeatedly changed his appearance, manipulated the media, and broke out of prison more than once. Jean-François Richet's two-part movie may not be high art, but it's compulsively watchable entertainment. To find out more about Mesrine click HERE.
THE TILLMAN STORY (available on DVD)
If, like me, you hesitated to watch this fine documentary because you felt you knew the story (about football star Pat Tillman's tragic death in Afghanistan) or wanted to dodge the feelings of anger and frustration it might stir in you, please reconsider. There is much more to the saga than headlines or a short synopsis could convey. I've come away from Amir Bar-Lev's film with new respect for Pat Tillman and his family.
Click HERE to learn more about The Tillman Story.