If you hated Hitchcock, The Girl is a mite better.
According to one Oscar blog, director Sacha Gervasi responded to criticism of his largely fabricated Hitchcock with that most useful of stock answers: “It’s a MOVIE.” Which in this case translates to: “We just made shit up.” It’s not as though HBO’s The Girl paints a rosy picture of the Master of Suspense; it concerns his alleged sexual harassment of Tippi Hedren during the filming of The Birds. But the movie at least demonstrates some respect for Hitchcock’s artistry, as well as a genuine interest in how the auteur interacted with others. As Hitch, Toby Jones performs as well as anyone could in the role of a man too distinctive to impersonate. Available on HBO on Demand.—Ben Kenigsberg
If you paid for The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn—Part 2, now watch Vamps.
Who knows how much money was spent advertising Twilight, but one of the shames of the year has been Anchor Bay’s indifference to Amy Heckerling’s Vamps. A sprightly comedy about vampire roommates Goody (Alicia Silverstone) and Stacy (Krysten Ritter), the movie received token runs on the coasts and was otherwise relegated to VOD and DVD. You’d think a reunion of this director with her Clueless star had buzz potential—particularly since Vamps often recaptures the wit of the earlier film. Using Goody’s cinephilia as thematic glue, the film doubles as a not-at-all-subtle ode to cinema’s power to immortalize. Available on VOD.—BK
If you were unfazed by Compliance, Michael may stun you.
Craig Zobel’s prank-call-from-hell provocation looks uplifting compared to Michael, the first feature from Haneke disciple Markus Schleinzer. Named for its protagonist, a soft-spoken office drone who keeps a ten-year-old boy locked in his basement, the film imparts some pretty banal lessons. (Evil is mundane; pedophiles are people, too, etc.) But it’s still weirdly gripping, playing out as a series of nerve-racking close calls; as in Psycho, much of the suspense derives from whether this human monster will get away with his crime. Toss in a strain of midnight-black humor, and it’s not shocking Schleinzer’s nasty Austrian import bypassed Chicago theaters. Available on iTunes, Netflix Watch Instantly and VUDU.—A.A. Dowd
If you loved Holy Motors, Shit Year is just as crazy.
The former is a kaleidoscopic pageant of oddball disguises and outlandish situations. The latter is a melancholy b&w character study. At a glance, they have little in common. Yet both are portraits of an aging performer worn down by a lifetime of transformations. Shit Year is arguably the stranger of the two, bounding between a Warholian Sunset Blvd. gloss and visions of a THX 1138–style dystopian future. Ellen Barkin’s turn as a fading Hollywood star is almost as riveting—and just as brave—as Denis Lavant’s shape-shifting Motors performance, with no costume changes required. Available on Amazon Instant Video and (as S**t Year) iTunes.—AAD
If you’re excited for West of Memphis, Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory covers similar ground.
Produced by Peter Jackson, West of Memphis chronicles the 18-year imprisonment and belated release of a trio of young men convicted of killing three boys in May 1993. It’s a compelling topic for a documentary—so compelling, in fact, that another set of filmmakers got there earlier. Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky’s Paradise Lost trilogy, which aired as three feature-length HBO installments between 1996 and 2012, includes a great deal of the same information. And the recent Purgatory offers a better summary of the two-decade story. There’s enough new evidence in West of Memphis to make it worth a look—the film opens theatrically January 18—but those seeking a primer on this famous miscarriage of justice should seek out the trailblazing docs that preceded it. The trilogy is available on HBO on Demand.—AAD
If you can’t wait for Amour, try 4:44 Last Day on Earth.
Here are two visions of spending your last days isolated with a loved one. But while Michael Haneke’s Amour watches a man care for his deteriorating wife, Abel Ferrara’s 4:44 Last Day on Earth unfolds mere hours before the apocalypse. Most filmmakers would treat global cataclysm as an occasion for bombast, but Ferrara goes cerebral, setting the movie mostly within the confines of a New York apartment shared by an actor (Willem Dafoe) and his painter girlfriend (Shanyn Leigh). TV news is the outside’s main intrusion; the specter of 9/11 is powerfully evoked. It’s hard to think of another film that makes finality seem so anticlimactic. Available on Amazon Instant Video, Google Play and iTunes.—BK