Perhaps one of last year's biggest Academy Award shockers was when this much-touted Civil War epic failed to get a Best Picture nomination. My guess is that it was a little too rough-and-tumble for the average Academy voter, a film not afraid to be violent and ugly. Jude Law and Nicole Kidman are both excellent as two people who come together during the worst of times. In one of the year's most underappreciated performances, Natalie Portman is devastating as a widowed mother longing for companionship in her lonely wilderness home. Renee Zellweger, perhaps one of the film's weaker elements, took home an Oscar for her scenery chewing, while Portman was denied a nomination. The journey of Law's character as he fights in the war than travels back to Kidman's side is handled with tremendous style by director Anthony Minghella. The violence is often shocking, so this one isn't recommended for those who like their war epics whitewashed.
Special Features: An excellent 74-minute documentary covers all aspects of the filmmaking, and all of the principal actors and crew members participate. The two-disc set also includes a commentary from Minghella and a look into the strong soundtrack. Deleted scenes and storyboard comparisons help to make this a package worthy of the picture.
To be honest, I had a hard time detecting the new footage in this nastier version of the nastiest Christmas movie ever made. Billy Bob Thornton stars as an alcoholic department-store Santa who robs a new employer every holiday season with the help of his little friend (the always-funny Tony Cox). It's a continuous cavalcade of blissful obscenity, and the film now gets unrated status with the addition of seven never-before-seen minutes. Well, those minutes just blend into the film, and you possess one hell of an eagle eye if you can pick them out. Thornton, who recently confessed to being intoxicated for some of the filming, is a scream. His interactions with children are the stuff of genius. Make this one a companion piece with this year's upcoming release of Elf, and you'll have one nutty Christmas.
Special Features: Well, the features aren't worthy of the film, that's for sure. No commentaries (Come on, Billy! I wanted to hear about the various alcoholic beverages coursing through your veins!) and the outtakes are useless. But really, the film is all you need.
Sure, most of the reality shows (with the exception of Survivor) suck. All of the dating and marrying ones make me sick, as do the ones in which everybody resides in the same house, grumbling at one another. But I had a good time watching this reality show, but that's because it was actually a fake. An unsuspecting contestant (Matthew Kennedy Gould) gets placed in a house full of actors, and they throw every reality show cliché in the book at him. The contestant remains in the dark until the very end, and his inability to detect the big lie is often hilarious. The season finale, in which Gould proves himself good natured beyond belief, is great television. Season 2 is currently underway on Spike TV.
Special Features: All eight episodes are contained on three discs. The pig in me is appreciative of the uncensored Chocolate Covered Model sequence. Cast interviews, deleted scenes and a commentary (with Gould) on the season finale are all worthwhile.
I'm not what you would call a huge fan of director Robert Altman. I think his "Say, let's turn the camera on and see what happens with no real script!" directing style has resulted in some deadly boring and overrated stuff (Gosford Park and Ready to Wear almost killed me). Nevertheless, I did love Short Cuts, reasonably enjoyed Popeye and somewhat liked The Player. His latest, a study of ballet dancers, features Neve Campbell as a struggling dancer of enormous talent. When Campbell dances, it's reason enough to recommend the film. She's incredibly gifted, and it doesn't hurt that the performance she delivers off the dance stage is easily her best. The movie falls into some of the usual sloppy Altman pitfalls, but the dance sequences make it worthwhile.
Special Features: Altman and Campbell deliver a fun audio commentary that offers decent insight into the dance sequences and the difficulties of the production. The disc also features behind-the-scenes peeks and isolated dance sequences.