Whether at the mall or the multiplex, crowds are not my thing. I'm the kind of woman who celebrates Black Friday by sleeping late and having leftover pumpkin pie for breakfast while watching Turner Classic Movies. (And, by the way, TCM really knows what to do with a Black Friday: this year, they served up a fantastic day full of Hitchcock classics, including Strangers on a Train and North by Northwest.)
At this time of year, the movie theaters are as packed as the shopping centers, and it's worth the time and hassle to see many of the big, serious awards-courting films like Lincoln. But if you, like me, need an occasional break from the holiday crowds - and you have access to Video On Demand services - there are some good movies you can enjoy without so much as getting up from the couch.
May I recommend:
Sound of My Voice: You can tell right away that this thriller was shot on a budget approximating a shred of a shoestring, but that only enhances its creepily engrossing vibe. A pair of journalists (Christopher Denham and Nicole Vicius), who are romantically as well as professionally paired, infiltrate a cult with the intention of exposing its lies in a secretly filmed documentary. But the dividing line between reality and sham soon begins to fall away for Denham as he succumbs to the charismatic manipulations of the cult's ethereal leader (Brit Marling, who also co-wrote with director Zal Batmanglij). More than that I will not give away; the ensuing, increasingly disorienting layers of revelation will be best experienced when you're not prepared for them. Although the writing could be tighter in places, Batmanglij and his cast effectly create one tantalizingly ambiguous scene after another in which our perceptions of what is truth and what is falsehood can shift back and forth in a single moment.
Price Check: Parkey Posey is working in her sweet spot here, playing the kind of insanely driven, laser-focused, bipolar bitch role at which she excels. (Think of her searching for the Busy Bee dog toy in Best of Show or screaming about her lost Tic Tacs in the stalled elevator scene of You've Got Mail.) In Price Check, she's the boss from Hell, newly assigned to the administrative offices of a struggling supermarket chain. She bursts onto the scene with a armload of 'strategies' for increasing the chain's market share and takes an attractive, underachieving middle manager (Eric Mabius) under her wing, insinuating herself into his family and private life. (She invites herself to his son's pre-school Halloween party, showing up in a short, skintight Pocahontas costume, a dream catcher dangling over her bare midriff). The film starts squarely in the same territory as TV's The Office - an outrageous workplace comedy that bears little resemblance to the world where most of us actually work. But it gradually evolves into a something a bit deeper and closer to most people's work and economic realities, and ultimately gives Posey's character some depth without imposing any gooey softening on her manic edge.
The Loneliest Planet: Julia Loktev's spare and unnerving film does not so much tell a story as it just quietly observes the shifts in the relationship between two young Americans as they backpack through the mountains of Georgia (the former Soviet state, not the American one). The couple (played by Gael Garcia Bernal and Hani Furstenberg) radiate an innocent, admirable openness to adventure and other cultures, spiked with an unsettling undercurrent of naivete. Midway through the film, something shocking happens - I won't reveal what - which immediately changes not only their relationship, but their interactions with their guide (Bidzina Gujabidze) as well. Loktev includes lots of wide, long shots of the mountains to remind us of how alone and isolated these travelers are, and underscores them with string music just discordant enough to create a subtle, but not oppressive, sense of foreboding. Meanwhile, Furstenberg plays every possible nuance of her character's reckless playfulness in a manner that adds another layer of unease. Loktev and her actors orchestrate the emotional shifts among the three characters with great skill and clarity, and although nothing much happens here in the purest narrative sense, there's a lot going on just beneath the surface.