Don’t leave the couch

Five movies to catch up with over the holidays

It’s winter in Winnipeg. “Freezing” doesn’t even begin to describe what’s happening outside. You want to go to the theatre and catch some of the end-of-year prestige pictures, but the roads are icy and it’s so much easier to stay on the couch with your cat. Have no fear! 2014 was a great year for movies, and there are plenty of solid flicks available on DVD or VOD that you probably missed. Here are a few.

Only Lovers Left Alive

From indie auteur Jim Jarmusch (Dead Man, Broken Flowers), Only Lovers Left Alive stars Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton as a married couple who happen to be centuries-old vampires. After a lengthy separation, they’re reunited in crumbling Detroit, where they realize the human blood that’s kept them alive is now poisoning them. In addition to being shot with atmospheric malaise and anchored by great characters, Only Lovers also has the coolest music in any movie this year.

Tim’s Vermeer

Tim is an independently wealthy inventor. He’s obsessed with the 17th-century Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer. For centuries, art historians have wondered how Vermeer created photo-realistic paintings with 1600s technology. Tim thinks he’s figured out how, and concocts a harebrained scheme to prove his theory. He spends a year painstakingly recreating a Vermeer painting, by himself, despite the fact that he has no artistic talent. Directed by Teller (the mercifully silent half of magic duo Penn & Teller), this documentary is unambitious and unpretentious, but still entertaining and educational.

The Final Member

Another unexpectedly effective doc, The Final Member focuses on Sigurdur Hjartarson, an Icelandic intellectual who owns and operates the world’s only penis museum. The museum houses thousands of specimens from across the animal kingdom, preserved in formaldehyde for any who wish to peruse the phallic collection. However, Sigurdur still doesn’t have a human penis, and his collection will never be complete without one. Two men, an Icelandic adventurer and an American cowboy, compete to be his first entry. The Final Member isn’t raunchy or idiotic. It’s a weirdly moving film about obsession, and how men’s chronic preoccupation with their own genitalia can be pretty damaging. It’s like The King of Kong, but with dicks. The King of Dong? Okay, I’m done.

Alan Partridge

Released in the U.K. as Alpha Papa, this is the big-screen debut of Steve Coogan’s Alan Partridge character, who’s a genuine pop-culture phenomenon in Britain. I’ve still never seen the Alan Partridge TV shows or heard the radio programs. But they’re not necessary to enjoy this movie. I laughed more during this than any movie this year.

The Unknown Known

Have you ever wanted to look inside the mind of Donald Rumsfeld? What’s going on in that snake’s conniving brain? In The Unknown Known, master documentarian Errol Morris sits down with the former secretary of defense and gets the man’s candid, remorseless and infuriating take on his role in torture, the Watergate scandal and America’s weirdest war.

Published in Volume 69, Number 14 of The Uniter (December 3, 2014)

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