Freaks and Geeks
Linda Cardellini, John Francis Daley, Becky Ann Baker, Joe Flaherty, James Franco, Samm Levine, Seth Rogen, Jason Segel
(NBC; US: 25 Sep 1999)
As far as indispensable DVDs go, it’s impossible to leave out the newly back-in-print Freaks and Geeks: Yearbook Edition. Without a doubt, Freaks and Geeks is a series that I return to over and over again. Its lasting power lies in its ability to straddle the line between teenage angst and drama and innumerable cringe-worthy high school moments without ever going over the top. From Nick’s repeatedly embarrassing attempts to woo Lindsay, to Kim’s dysfunctional family, to Bill coming to terms with his mother dating his gym teacher, all the stories are told with sincerity, humor, and a great deal of affection for the characters.
Freaks and Geeks focused on the kids who existed on the fringes of high school society, the outcasts. Any series that manages to create seven distinct characters that don’t fall into the usual tropes of one-dimensional jocks, nerds, or popular kids, as well as tell their individual stories over the course of only one season, deserves high praise indeed. Even when making fools of themselves or trying too hard to fit in, there’s always an element of real relatability to the characters that further sets the show apart from other teen-centered stories. For all the poignant moments, there were equal parts humor, and balancing the two without overreaching was what the show did best. And really, is there anything more hilarious than Nick’s transparent ode to Lindsay, “Lady L”?
The already crammed-with-extras regular DVD set is given an even fuller treatment in the yearbook edition. Aside from almost 30 commentary tracks for 18 episodes (that range from standard writers, directors, and cast members to Freaks and Geeks fans and some of the cast’s parents), tons of deleted scenes and alternate takes, and behind-the-scenes footage, this edition comes packaged as a McKinley High School yearbook complete with authentic yearbook doodles and dedications by all the characters, as well as essays, photographs, and an extra two discs of material that include table reads, auditions, and raw footage. The episodes alone would make it impossible to ever tire of the show, but when combined with the perfect packaging and enough extras to keep any fan coming back for more, the Freaks and Geeks: Yearbook Edition is, without a doubt, indispensable. Jessica Suarez
You Can Count on Me
Laura Linney, Mark Ruffalo, Rory Culkin, Matthew Broderick, Jon Tenney, Gaby Hoffmann
Director: Kenneth Lonergan
Though I’m a lifelong cinema obsessive, I have a laughably small DVD collection. Probably 15 movies, tops, as well as a smattering of music DVDs. The movies I own tend to betray my classicist love for mid-century Hollywood: Casablanca, Rebel Without a Cause, and Touch of Evil will always be there on the shelf. Still, the film in my collection I’ve watched more than any other—indeed, when options are slight and plans are cancelled, I reach for it—is You Can Count on Me, Kenneth Lonergan’s 2000 directorial debut. (Eight years later, it remains his only commercially released full-length film.)
Like many people, I was initially drawn to this film by Mark Ruffalo’s performance as the rudderless and occasionally estranged Terry Prescott, who returns home to upstate New York to borrow money from his sister, Sammy (Laura Linney). As Terry, Ruffalo is magnetic and almost casually self-destructive, an unreasonable and unfailingly human pulse that alternates between warm congeniality and the martyred pouting of the forsaken—Terry’s enough of a well-intentioned screw-up that he can take his young nephew fishing in the morning, and then take him to see his deadbeat father in the afternoon (and proceed to punch him out). It’s my favorite performance of the aughts so far, one that Ruffalo has yet to top since.
But Ruffalo/Terry isn’t the only thing You Can Count on Me has got going. Linney throws down as the more “normal” sibling by socially accepted standards, though she’s just as damaged and prone to erring on a fundamentally human level. And beyond its centerpiece performances, You Can Count on Me is a humble yet resonant depiction of the stickiness of close-knit relationships, shot pragmatically by Lonergan in a style that contradicts the wham-bam ostentation of his better-known contemporaries.
It’s about falling out of touch and reconnecting, about relying on people and sometimes being let down, about how mistakes and forgiveness are odd but constant bedfellows. And after all the normal storminess that Terry and Sammy find themselves weathering, this is ultimately a comforting picture, open-ended and still looking forward to increasingly positive things. Zeth Lundy
Nicole Kidman, Ewan McGregor, John Leguizamo, Jim Broadbent, Richard Roxburgh, Kylie Minogue
(20th Century Fox)
Director: Baz Luhrmann
Visionary director Baz Luhrmann, who brought us Strictly Ballroom and William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet, achieved perfection of vision and art in his 2001 release, Moulin Rouge. It is a story about love—it is a feast for the soul. The film stars an incredibly talented cast: Nicole Kidman, Ewan McGregor, John Leguizamo, Jim Broadbent, and Richard Roxburgh, to name a few.
Set in the time of Toulouse Lautrec in Bohemian Paris, it takes the viewer on a non-stop journey and you are instantly drawn into this new and exciting world of wonderment and reverie. It’s a dazzling portrayal of what it was like to be a “child of the revolution” during the Bohemian movement of the 19th century. It exhibits the basic tenets of Bohemian ideals: truth, beauty, freedom, and above all things, love.
The totality captures the essence of the legendary Moulin Rouge. Christian (Ewan McGregor), a penniless young poet, travels to Paris to experience life, and satiate his “ridiculous obsession with love.” Upon arriving in Montmartre, he is befriended by Lautrec (John Leguizamo), and through this association, he is introduced to Satine (Nicole Kidman), a courtesan at the Moulin Rouge. Christian is employed to help create a stage production for which Satine will star in. The two fall in love, and carry on a love affair in which they face difficulties until ultimately, they meet with tragic circumstances.
This is an indispensable film. What Lurhmann achieves through use of music is extraordinary, using current music to comment on another time period, and the best part is that it works. The music, along with the fantastic dance sequences, create a brilliant musical. The film showcases songs from some of the most beloved musicians, among them the Beatles, the Police, Elton John, and Queen, and these famous pieces, such as Marilyn Monroe’s “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend” and the Police’s “Roxanne”, are reconfigured in ways that work beyond one’s wildest imagination.
Moulin Rouge enraptures the viewer from beginning to end. It is a film for anyone who appreciates beauty and artistry. Never has such a love story been so hauntingly depicted by superb acting and the haunting effect of music. The viewer is left wanting more, and more importantly, a sense that, “the greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love, and be loved in return.” Katrina Wheeler