Win Win

Coolest extra: “In Conversation With Tom McCarthy And Paul Giamatti At Sundance 2011” featurette (DVD/Blu-ray)

Complex says: A little story really can go a very long way. One of the year’s best movies so far, despite our previous failure to acknowledge it as such (blame tardiness and stupidity), writer-director Tom McCarthy’s Win Win is also one of 2011’s least showy films, telling a humanist narrative with flawed, everyday characters and virtually no action in the wham-bam sense of the word. But, as he proved in his first two, equally strong efforts, 2003’s The Station Agent and 2008’s The Visitor, McCarthy’s power lies in his knack for potent characterization; he writes intricate roles for great actors that seem like non-colorful types on the surface, but, once his movies kick into gear, the characters’ multiple layers peel away in effective strokes.

Win Win is McCarthy’s funniest movie, with an especially on-point Paul Giamatti starring as Mike Flaherty, a financially strapped lawyer/high school wrestling coach who sneakily becomes a wealthy elder’s guardian strictly for the monthly checks. Mike’s new duty leads to he and his loving wife (Amy Ryan, showing off her underrated chops) having to take care of the old man’s rebellious runaway grandson, Kyle (newcomer Alex Shaffer, who’s highly impressive here), who just so happens to be a phenomenal wrestler. McCarthy’s touching script takes Mike and Kyle to some unexpected, emotional places, but it’s also consistently humorous, mining great laughs from Giamatti’s ability to hilariously squirm.

Even Win Win’s minor characters are richly developed and tightly played; Bobby Canavale supplies a few of the flick’s biggest laughs as Mike’s boisterous best friend, and New Zealand-born actress Melanie Lynskey gives her otherwise loathsome role, as Kyle's deadbeat mother, an undeniably heartbreaking vulnerability. Like every other character in the terrific Win Win, Lynskey’s flawed mommy seems familiar; she’s a lot like people we all know, yet, thanks to McCarthy’s skills, she’s also unlike most cinematic females of her type. We’re not exactly sure why the film’s called Win Win, but it’s as good a title as any for this victorious dramedy.

Buy it now: Win Win

 

The Beaver

Coolest extra: “Everything Is Going To Be O.K.” making-of featurette (DVD/Blu-ray)

Complex says: You have to feel bad for Jodie Foster. Even though she churned out her best directorial work to date with The Beaver, the film hit limited theaters on the heels of star Mel Gibson’s widely publicized meltdown. The bad timing didn’t exactly make Foster’s job—selling a bizarre dark comedy about a mentally deranged but well-intentioned father who connects with others by talking with an Australian accent through a hand puppet—any easier. After revealing himself to be a troubled, hate-filled loon, Gibson’s public image hit the crapper, meaning very few ticket-buyers were interested in the actor’s strangest film yet; subsequently, The Beaver tanked.

In due time, though, home video audiences will acknowledge The Beaver for what it truly is: a fascinating, wonderfully acted, and unconventionally told character study that represents one of the once-beloved Gibson’s all-time best performances. He’s quite brilliant in Foster’s quirky yet heartfelt flick, somehow making ridiculous images, such as a man having sex while his still-attached hand puppet looks on, feel oddly poignant and legitimately charming. Alongside Gibson, Anton Yelchin and Jennifer Lawrence, as Gibson’s son and the kid’s love interest, respectively, form one of the better, more believable teenage romances in recent film memory; their cutesy scenes together lack any hokey mush.

The Beaver does lapse into tonal misdirection at times; shifting back and forth from goofy comedy to heady, psychologically off-center drama, Foster’s pic never settles into a consistent groove. That’s part of The Beaver’s odd appeal, though: it’s problematic in its storytelling but also compelling in its individuality. One of these days, Mel Gibson’s haters will realize that for themselves.

Buy it now: The Beaver

 

Trollhunter

Coolest extra: “HDNet: A Look At Trollhunter” featurette (DVD/Blu-ray)

Complex says: Trollhunter, a Norwegian creature feature that’s one hell of a good time, is a fine example of flipping tired conventions into lively and refreshing oddities. Written and directed by first-timer André Øvredal, this gleeful, Jurassic Park-inspired action-fantasy hybrid is the latest entry into horror’s found-footage subgenre, the camcorder-friendly motif popularized in 1999 by The Blair Witch Project and since bastardized by countless flicks, both great ([REC]) and lame (Diary Of The Dead); Trollhunter, however, uses the medium to capture building-sized trolls in extremely awe-inspiring ways. And as for the folklore monsters themselves, they’re right out of the Godzilla/Cloverfield playbook, but Øvredal’s beasts are unlike anything we’ve seen before, not to mention more pristine-looking than Hollywood creations.

Knowing that the sight of giant trolls running amok is inherently amusing, Øvredal wisely keeps the film’s demeanor lighthearted throughout, occasionally milking a few tense set-ups’ pulsating vibes but mostly presenting his visually impressive and diverse antagonists as silly monstrosities. A good amount of humor is derived from the human participants, as well, particularly the titular hunter’s (Norwegian comedian Otto Jespersen) deadpan monologues about the trolls’ mythology, and a handful of clever ideas like “Slayed Troll Forms.” Both funny and thrilling, Trollhunter is a solid piece of bizarre entertainment that’s content with being nothing more than a time-killing hoot; it doesn’t reinvent any wheels, or linger in one’s thoughts long after its abrupt, slightly disappointing conclusion. But that’s cool: It’s still the best giant-trolls-in-the-woods movie ever made.

Buy it now: Trollhunter