Matthew McConnaughey in Bernie – DVD.
I was happy to that see the New York Film Critics Circle awarded Matthew McConaughey their Best Supporting Actor award of 2012 not just for Steven Soderbergh’s surprise hit Magic Mike but also for Richard Linklater’s less commercially successful — and criminally underrated — Bernie. Ever since I saw it (and capsule reviewed it) last summer, Bernie has only grown in my esteem; it’s the American film I’ve thought about the most this year and it will be the highest rated American movie on my forthcoming Top Ten Films of 2012 list. It wasn’t until I recently revisited Bernie on DVD, however, that I came to truly appreciate the slyness and subtlety of McConaughey’s crucial supporting turn. When viewers are first introduced to McConaughey’s character, small town District Attorney Danny “Buck” Davidson, it seems as though McConaughey is hamming it up unmercifully with his use of “air quotations” and his whispering of the phrase “closet homosexuals.” As the film progresses though, we start to see that it is Danny Buck (whose modus operandi includes outrageous P.R. stunts in order to capture wanted criminals) who is the ham. Notice the difference between Danny Buck’s demeanor in the faux-documentary scenes where he is directly addressing the camera versus the more objective scenes where he is interacting with the citizens of Carthage, Texas, to see how carefully modulated McConaughey’s performance is. The real highpoint of the performance comes later though; once the film shifts from a black comedy about a small town murder into an electrifying courtroom drama, McConaughey, like Jimmy Stewart in Anatomy of a Murder, suggests that his character’s folksy persona is something of a put-on in order to successfully manipulate the jury. Danny Buck intentionally mispronounces “Les Miserables” and then goads Jack Black’s title murderer into acknowledging that white wine pairs well with fish. Bernie ends up coming off as a pretentious aesthete in front of a jury of hicks and we, the audience, realize that this yokel D.A. is, well, really kind of brilliant, after all. Just like the movie.
The Color Wheel (Perry, USA) – On Demand / Rating: 8.0
This character-driven road trip/comedy, about a pair of constantly bickering siblings, has more genuine laughs than any American indie I’ve seen in years. J.R. (Carlen Altman) is an aspiring television news anchor who convinces her estranged younger brother Colin (director Alex Ross Perry) to accompany her on a short road trip to help her retrieve some belongings after she is dumped by her college professor/boyfriend. The humor in the witty and verbose script (co-written by Altman and Perry) consistently hinges on social awkwardness and embarrassment, featuring behavior that ranges from the unpleasant to the downright nasty. The chemistry between the leads is consistently amusing — think golden age of Hollywood screwball comedy by way of Perry’s acknowledged hero Phillip Roth — even as the tone radically shifts from the broadly farcical to the more subtle and naturalistic. In a lean 83 minutes, Perry proves to not only be a smart filmmaker but also one of uncommon ambition; this was shot on good old-fashioned, grainy, black-and-white 16mm film stock and the nearly 10-minute long-take climax struck me as both unexpectedly devastating and, in its emotional violence, worthy of John Cassavetes. I cracked up throughout the film and then the end somehow made me feel like crying. My hat is off to you, Mr. Perry and Ms. Altman. If there were any justice, The Color Wheel would be nominated not just for Independent Spirit Awards but Oscars. But there isn’t and so it won’t be.