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Five Best Picture Winner Blu-ray Review: Four Must-Owns and 'Crash'

Five Best Picture winners in one Blu-ray collection with no shortage of special features is a pretty good deal… if you like the movies. Because I’m a fan of four out five of the titles, this was a real find.

The English Patient (1996)

Director Anthony Minghella’s sweeping WWII romance ranked as #24 in my countdown of the greatest left-wing films of all time:

Filled with poetic dialogue, lush cinematography, some truly extraordinary scenes — such as the sandstorm sequence where Katharine and Laszlo fall in love — and a charming subplot involving the short-lived but sincere romance between Binoche’s Canadian nurse and Kip (“Lost’s” Naveen Andrews), a brave Indian who defuses bombs, you almost will yourself not to notice the film’s depraved and shockingly selfish philosophy. The film is seductive, though, and you want to give into it, but in the end the only moral outcome would be to have the cast of “Inglorious Basterds” storm in and beat Laszlo to death with a baseball bat.

If you don’t mind being manipulated by an ingeniously crafted and immoral piece of propaganda (and I don’t), another bonus is the look of the film (the cinematography won an Oscar), which is a jaw-dropper on Blu-ray.

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Shakespeare in Love (1998)

Many will never forgive the fact that director John Madden’s fictionalized account of a passionate but ill-fated love affair between a young, struggling William Shakespeare (Joseph Fiennes) and the beautiful young woman (Gwyneth Paltrow) who inspires some of his greatest work, beat out Steven Spielberg’s “Saving Private Ryan” for that year’s top Oscar prize.

This might be heresy, but I think the best film won.

Thanks to one of the best screenplays ever written, “Shakespeare In Love” is also one of the most original films to come out of the 1990s. Paltrow is luminous, and the supporting cast — which includes Tom Wilkinson, Geoffrey Rush, Judi Dench (who along with Paltrow would win an Oscar for her work here), Simon Callow, and Ben Affleck — are all outstanding, thanks to their own talents and how well each character is individually defined. Some of story’s best moments come from the development of the Wilkinson and Affleck characters as Shakespeare’s talent and art overcomes their own personal agendas.

The story is at its most effective, though, in pushing the buttons a romance is supposed to push. You want this young couple to find a way be together, and you’re a little heartsick when you think about the possibility of them not making it.

Acted with great energy and humor and photographed in vibrant colors, this is an intelligent crowd-pleaser that looks gorgeous in high definition.

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Chicago (2002)

Director Rob Marshall pretty much revived (for a while, anyway) the musical genre with this age-old tale of murder and fame set in 1920s Chicago. Rene Zellweger might be the film’s star, but she’s completely blown off the screen by Catherine Zeta-Jones (who won a supporting Oscar) and a surprisingly game Richard Gere (who should’ve won a supporting Oscar).

The musical numbers are a little too choppy for my taste, and every one of them is staged as though it’s a finale, but the story is engaging and a few of the numbers are legitimate show-stoppers. Everyone’s obviously having a good time, and it’s more than a little infectious.

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Crash (2004)

There are all kinds of movies I dislike, ignore, dismiss and am even disgusted by. This is one of the rare titles I absolutely loath. This overwrought, melodramatic, piece of pretentious crap reeks of a left-wing superiority that emanates from the Hollywood Hills and looks down its oh-so-superior nose on the “little people” of Los Angeles. Sanctimony is its theme, superiority its muse, and smearing its goal. It’s an abomination of a film that reveals nothing about the good people of the Southland, who live and work and worship together in complete harmony, and everything about the self-serving elites who created and championed it.

My suggestion is that while you’re enjoying the other four Blu-rays, you use this one as a coaster for your Pabst Blue Ribbon.

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No Country For Old Men (2007)

An excerpt from my 2007 review, which, unfortunately, is no longer online:

The “country” in “No Country For Old Men” is a bleak, sun-bleached West Texas, not far from the Rio Grande circa 1980. Why 1980, is never explained. Maybe to get away with Chigurh’s haircut, a villain soon to become as iconic as Hannibal Lecter. But the barren landscapes, flares of dry lightning, and burgeoning towns just a few years away from being Applebee’d, perfectly symbolize a flat, hopeless, forbidding vastness offering nowhere to run and nowhere to hide from that thing that’s so spooked our Sheriff Bell.

The first one hundred minutes of “Old Men” are dynamite. The story is simply set up in act one with act two being its own symphony of unnerving tension as Chigurh and Moss play out their respective roles of unrelenting cat and crafty mouse. Nothing’s contrived to bring these two together and no superhuman acts are performed by either. All the action and suspense comes from entirely believable situations, which only adds to the unyielding tension as it becomes more and more clear Moss will never escape.

The only super power on display is that of the Coen brothers’ direction, the actors’ performances, the cinematography and editing. Each scene is ingenious in how it creates its own suspense, but also in how it builds on the knot tightening in your gut. The camera’s always in the right place, revealing a precise piece of information; even the removal of a pair of socks lifts your antennae. The editing is a work of art that utilizes timing, camera angles, and individual shots for maximum unease.

To the film’s further credit, just as no absurd coincidences or super human feats are contrived to move the plot, nobody does anything unrealistically stupid, either. It’s fascinating to watch the minds of Chigurh and Moss at work as each tries to get a step ahead of the other using whatever’s available to them. These aren’t MacGyvers turning paperclips into getaway cars; these are intelligent, very determined men thinking things through in a way we can relate to in their use of duct tape, wire hangers, phone bills, and compressed air to get what they want. …

The acting is first-rate, and in an era where lazy stars are continually caught coasting with lazy accents, everyone in “Old Men” hits it perfect. As I mentioned in my “Gone Baby Gone” review (another film with well-done accents), the key isn’t so much getting the accent perfect, the key is creating a believable accent that — and this is most important — the audience doesn’t notice. Even Scottish Kelly McDonald manages to convince and Woody Harrelson to not annoy. No small thing. One fine bit of casting is Tess Harper as Sheriff Bell’s wife. Her role here bookends beautifully with her memorable turn as Robert Duvall’s calming influence in “Tender Mercies.”

I close that review unsure about the film’s ending. At the time, I was dissatisfied that so much had been put into building up to a confrontation that never arrived.

In the five years since, that’s no longer a problem. This is one of the best films of the decade by a wide margin,, and repeated viewings only confirm that. The depth of the themes at work here make return visits even more satisfying, and the high-definition transfer of the landscapes, towns, light and shadow that the Coens shot so meticulously really come to life, as does a sound design that helps to immerse you into the landscape and feel every round fired.

There are some great films in this collection, but only one bona fide cinematic masterpiece, and this is it.

‘5 Bext Picture Collection’ is available today at Amazon.com.

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