This week, there is a cornucopia of new DVDs hitting stores (and Netflix), many of which have enjoyed a lot of buzz. In addition to the titles I'm recommending below, you can also check out Freedom Writers, an inspirational teacher-in-the-'hood flick, or The History Boys for a British inspirational teacher-in-the-neighbourhood flick. Or Smokin' Aces if you're feeling lazy.
The Last King of Scotland
If you haven't caught Forest Whitaker in his Oscar-winning turn, hurry to your Netflix queue and add The Last King of Scotland, stat. Whitaker plays Idi Amin, president of Uganda in the early 1970s, who takes a shine to idealistic Scottish doctor Nicholas Garrigan (James McAvoy) and gives him a high position in the nation's health department. Also serving as one of Amin's close advisers, Garrigan observes Amin's gradual descent into madness and brutal dictatorship. The Scottish doctor soon has to figure out how to escape the leader's control. Whitaker won the Oscar for Best Actor for his careful humanization of an otherwise monstrous character.
Two more greats, so
Not Just the Best of the Larry Sanders Show
Before "The Sopranos" and "Entourage," there was "The Larry Sanders Show" — easily one of the best series that HBO has ever produced. Garry Shandling was pitch-perfect as an egotistic late-night host, but the supporting cast — including Janeane Garafalo as the talent booker, Jeffrey Tambor as the sidekick, Jeremy Piven as a writer, and Rip Torn as the unhinged producer — really made the show brilliant. Sadly, the entire series has yet to make it to DVD, but this collection includes standout episodes as well as great extras like a feature-length making of documentary and full interviews with Larry's guests. Really, this show should be required viewing for pop-culture junkies.
Notes on a Scandal
Nominated for several Oscars, including Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress, Notes on a Scandal is an actor-driven movie and would simply not be as good if Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett were not involved. The suspenseful story focuses on the relationship between young idealistic teacher Sheba Hart (Blanchett) and her superior, Barbara Covett (Dench). Sheba confides in Barbara about her tryst with a 15-year-old student (Andrew Simpson), and as Barbara's affection for Sheba turns into obsession, she uses this confidential information to keep Sheba in her grasp. If you can get past the overbearing Philip Glass score, it's worth it to see these two phenomenal actresses share the screen.