It wasn’t nominated for Best Documentary, but Steve James’ sensitive “Life Itself” remains one of the most moving films of the last year, and it hits Netflix on Thursday, March 19. Based on the autobiography of the late critic Roger Ebert, the film looks at his life, career, passion for movies and death with an unflinching eye, giving as much attention to his low points (alcoholism, ego) as his highs. It also features one of the best love stories of the past few years, showing Ebert and his wife Chaz as they support each other through the slow, painful cancer that took his life. Lest ye think that it’s a dirge, “Life Itself” is a celebration as well as a eulogy of one of the world’s most beloved critics.
Also newly added to Netflix is “Force Majeure,” Ruben Östlund’s pitch-black comedy about a marriage thrown into disarray by a brush with trauma. It may not have been nominated for an Oscar — making this the week to showcase the Academy’s most baffling 2014 oversights — but it landed in a respectable 14th place in Indiewire’s 2014 critics poll.
Other highlights: Sunday, March 15’s new titles include the second season of Sundance’s harrowing drama “Rectify,” the complete series of the “Cosby Show” spinoff “A Different World,” and the first four “Saw” movies, for anyone with a taste for grand guignol and cruddy-looking desaturated visual palettes. March 20, meanwhile, brings both the first season of the Netflix original series “Bloodline” and “God’s Not Dead,” the latest hit Christian melodrama that’ll be streamed by both evangelicals and hate-watchers everywhere.
Sam Fragoso, Film School Rejects
This is not a matter of many colors; this line of thinking (which can hardly be defined as thinking) is starkly painted in black and white. It’s a crime to strip away one’s ability to think for themselves. It’s a crime to act with ignorance and not listen to those with differing opinions. It’s a crime to believe that if you’re not a Christian, you are inherently an inferior human being unable to bring happiness into this universe. Above all, it’s a crime that this film was made and distributed into theaters. Read more.
No two-hour documentary can comprehensively cover the legacy of the world’s most famous film critic, a Pulitzer Prize winner who made careers and helped shape the public discourse about cinema. But “Life Itself” is a noble attempt, funny and touching, with plenty of insightful reflections on this giant of the industry. It helps that the movie has been directed—nay, orchestrated—by Steve James, the Chicago native and non-fiction figurehead whose “Hoop Dreams” remains a gold standard in condensing years and years of footage into a meaningful and manageable whole. Read more.
Criticwire Average: A-
Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune
Ostlund has a sly way of emphasizing the soundscape of the ski resort: the grinding of the chairlift machinery, the controlled explosions near and far. The acting is splendid throughout. In its evocation of a family (before and after the near-crisis) that is neither close nor distant but, rather, somewhere in the wide, ambiguous middle, “Force Majeure” is both funny and sad, often in the same glance-averted instant. See it with someone you’d trust to stick around in an avalanche. It’s one of the highlights of 2014. Read more.