A Separation If any film has the power to re-inject life into an entire national cinema, it's this searing, cerebral drama by writer-director Asghar Farhadi that won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film this year. It's about a couple whose 14-year marriage has hit a snag. Unable to divorce in their home country, Iran, they begin a trial separation during which one tragic incident leads to another, and the film plunges into a moral morass of he-said, she-said courtroom squabbles, debunking as it goes the kind of black-and-white thinking that 12 Angry Men taught us to wait out. Simultaneously specific and universal, Farhadi's documentary-style aesthetic and mastery of suggestion help to qualify this as a truly great work of art. (available now)
Special Features: audio commentary, filmmaker Q&A, featurette
Bernie Jack Black gives his career-best performance in this true-life dark comedy from director Richard Linklater, playing the titular Texas mortician and habitual people-pleaser Bernie. After he gains the confidence and companionship of a wealthy, toxically unlikable octogenarian (Shirley MacLaine), Bernie's life quickly becomes one of unencumbered leisure – on one hand, he gets to follow his new friend on cruises and fly his own plane; on the other hand, she's so overbearing that caring for this reviled woman sucks the fun out of anything. Things take a bizarre turn when Bernie, fed up, murders her – only to find that the town he so joyously performed "76 Trombones" for not so long ago actually supports him all the way. Linklater incorporates jaw-dropping interviews with real people from Bernie's life, most of whom can attest to his saintliness. So where does that leave the murder rap? It's a question that makes for one surreally funny movie. (available now)
Special Features: featurettes, deleted scenes
Weekend: Criterion Collection Andrew Haigh's meditative Weekend is so stunning for its neo-realist atmosphere that it's easy to overlook the specificity of its stars' performances, like seeing the trees for the forest rather than vice versa. Tom Cullen, an eminently empathetic presence, plays a stoner lifeguard who, in a fit of boredom, hooks up with a slightly more aggressive man (Chris New) in a club, has a one-night stand and learns the next morning that not only is this person completely lovable, but that he's heading out of town after the weekend … for a couple of years. Against their better judgment, they opt to soak each other in while they can. Until that Monday train pulls into the station, though, Haigh treats viewers to an immensely pleasurable eavesdropping session. (available now)
Special Features: behind-the-scenes footage, interviews, short films, video essay
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