This week on DVD/Blu-ray: The surprise front-runner to snag this year’s Best Picture Oscar; Joe Wright’s radical take on a Russian classic; a crowd-pleasing retro-musical set in Russia; one of Marlon Brando’s best films; and a creepy horror film from the makers of “Insidious.”
“Argo,” the surprise last-minute front-runner to win this Sunday’s Best Picture prize at the Academy Awards following its DGA, PGA, SAG and Golden Globe wins (despite not netting a Best Director nomination for Ben Affleck), lands on DVD/Blu-ray just in time to catch it before the big show. Based on the true story of a 1979 joint CIA-Canadian secret operation to extract six fugitive American diplomatic personnel out of revolutionary Iran, “Argo” stars a solemn Affleck as CIA ‘exfiltration’ specialist Tony Mendez, who devises a plan so zany it inspired journalist Joshuah Bearman to document it in depth for a 2007 article in Wired, leading to Chris Terrio’s thrilling script for the film. The film is up for seven golden statues, including picture, editing, adapted screenplay and supporing actor (Alan Arkin).
Extras: The rather remarkable “Picture in Picture: Eyewitness Account” option allows you to watch “Argo” with interviews from folks like Antonio Mendez, President Jimmy Carter, Bob Anders and more, who all provide their first-hand accounts of the events depicted in the film. Elsewhere, there’s an audio commentary by Affleck and Terrio; a 17-minute featurette on the true story behind “Argo”; an 11-featurette on Affleck’s effort to stay true to the period; and the 47-minute documentary “Escape From Iran: The Hollywood Option.”
#2. “Anna Karenina”
The third epic collaboration between Joe Wright and Keira Knightley following “Atonement” and “Pride & Prejudice,” finds the pair offering their inspired take on Leo Tolstoy’s Russian epic “Anna Karenina.” While their two previous films together were straight up film adaptations of their source novels, “Anna Karenina” finds Wright performing a highwire act by setting much of the Russian epic (adapted for the screen by Tom Stoppard) on an actual stage. The film is up for four Oscars this Sunday: best cinematography, best production design, best original music and best costumes.
Extras: Audio commentary by Wright; 13-minutes of deleted scenes; a 5-minute featurette on Stoppard’s process of adapting the novel; a brief featurette on the staging of the film; short interviews with Knightley; and some time-lapse photography that breaks down the construction of the film’s primary set.
Set in Moscow circa 1955, “Hipsters” centers on a band of jazz and fashion lovers (aka hipsters), hounded by shock troops despite Stalin’s death. Stocked full of lavish retro-musical numbers and cinematography that parodies the style of Soviet realism, “Hipsters” is a fun ride with plenty of satirical bite.
#4. “On the Waterfront: Criterion Collection”
Marlon Brando gives what is arguably the performance of his career (and that’s saying a lot) as the tough prizefighter-turned-longshoreman Terry Malloy in this masterpiece directed by Elia Kazan, available for the first time on Blu-ray via The Criterion Collection. “On the Waterfront” follows Terry’s deepening moral crisis as he must decide whether to remain loyal to the mob-connected union boss Johnny Friendly (Lee J. Cobb) and Johnny’s right-hand man, Terry’s brother, Charley (Rod Steiger), as the authorities close in on them. The drama was an instant sensation, winning eight Oscars, including for best picture, director, actor, supporting actress (Eva Marie Saint), and screenplay.
Extras: Audio commentary by authors Richard Schickel and Jeff Young; a new conversation between filmmaker Martin Scorsese and critic Kent Jones; “Elia Kazan: Outsider (1982),” an hour-long documentary; a new documentary on the making of the film, featuring interviews with scholar Leo Braudy, critic David Thomson, and others; a new interview with actor Eva Marie Saint; an interview with Kazan from 2001; “Contender: Mastering the Method,” a 2001 documentary on the film’s most famous scene; a new interview with longshoreman Thomas Hanley, an actor in the film; a new interview with author James T. Fisher about the real-life people and places behind the film; a visual essay on Leonard Bernstein’s score; a visual essay on the aspect ratio; the trailer; plus a booklet featuring an essay by filmmaker Michael Almereyda, Kazan’s 1952 defense of his House Un-American Activities Committee testimony, one of the 1948 Malcolm Johnson articles that inspired the film, and a 1953 piece by screenwriter Budd Schulberg.
From the producer of “Paranormal Activity” and “Insidious,” comes the downright terrifying new horror film “Sinister,” starring Ethan Hawke as a true crime writer desperate to replicate the success of his first book. To do so, he moves his family into a home where the previous occupants were brutally executed and a child disappeared, hoping to find inspiration in the crime scene. Once all moved in, he discovers a cache of terrifying home movies and unwittingly opens the door into a nightmarish mystery. Don’t watch this one alone.
Extras: Audio commentary with director Scott Derrickson; audio commentary with Derrickson and C. Robert Cargill; “Living in a House of Death” featurette; “True Crime Authors” featurette; deleted scenes with optional audio commentary with Derrickson