Much has already been said of Alexander Payne's masterpiece of familial drama – that happens when a low-budget film about land rights in which the catalyst for change is a coma ends up making more than $80 million, racks up five Oscar nominations including Best Picture, and wins for screenplay – so let this serve as your last call. If you haven't yet been captivated by George Clooney's emotional trapeze walk or breakthrough actress Shailene Woodley's underwater breaking point or felt the cathartic exhilaration of Payne's road-trip air-out in the second act or been brought to tears by any number of its moving scenes, then now's your chance. And yes, you might have been burned by this year's Best Picture nominees – The Tree of Life was too meaty, The Artist too lean, the others too in love with themselves – but trust us: This is the Goldilocks of the bunch. (available now)
Special Features: Deleted scenes, featurettes, music videos
French director Bertrand Bonello has made a career out of tweaking his homeland critics – especially at the Cannes Film Festival, where he's been accused of "cruelty porn" – and that instigator mentality blossoms in House of Pleasures, a rich tapestry of sex, commerce, complex motivations and simple horrors. Set in a Parisian brothel in the early 1900s, Bonello calls to mind images of prostitutes both modern (tattoos, R&B) and bygone (Victorian costumes, death by clap) to evoke a timeless frame with which to view the oldest profession. This claustrophobic film, set almost entirely within one embattled brothel, is willfully dull a lot of the time (that's true of a prostitute's daily life, Bonello makes clear), but it's also dotted with outbursts of shocking violence, dizzying indulgence (was that a panther in the parlor room?!) and heartbreaking camaraderie, all of which adds up to one of the most sensual and long-lasting movies of the year – two adjectives not easily associated with the titular house. (available now)
Special Features: Featurettes
While T.S. Eliot famously wrote that the world ends not with a bang but with a whimper, director Lars von Trier, another controversial poet accused of anti-Semitism, wants it both ways. As sisters facing the apocalypse in very different frames of mind, Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourg give some of the best performances of their careers. Dunst plays Justine, a newlywed with a building tide of issues threatening to capsize her own lavish wedding, if the onrushing planet called Melancholia doesn't do it for her. As if she were rooting for (perhaps even willing) the devastator toward its impact, Dunst's Justine takes comfort in the idea of Earth's obliteration. Gainsbourg's Claire, meanwhile, hits the panic button for all-too-rational reasons: She likes humanity, especially her own kids. While Justine's character rings familiar from von Trier's canon, little else here feels recycled; rather, the director's beautiful and nihilistic worldview is matched by the jaw-dropping quality of images presented here. Enjoying (or even viewing) Melancholia isn't easy, but neither is anything in the film. (available now)
Special Features: Featurettes
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