Everyone involved in this gem (on disc Jan. 17) deserves an Oscar nomination: Angus MacLachlan for a script (about a North Carolina boy's homecoming) as finely wrought as a Truman Capote story; Phil Morrison for direction perfectly poised between down-home comedy and poignance; and every perfectly cast cast member. You've got Amy Adams as a nutty bundle of abundantly pregnant Southern comfort; The OC's Ben McKenzie in his movie debut as her surly white-trash husband; Alessandro Nivola as her high-achieving brother visiting from Chicago; Embeth Davidtz as her potential new sister-in-law, a highbrow art dealer; Celia Weston as her tyrannically matriarchal maw-in-law; and Scott Wilson as her eloquently inarticulate father-in-law. Every scene is a lesson in absolute mastery, starting with the sexy credit sequence featuring the Nivola and Davidtz characters' first clinch at the art gallery, set to the bounciest, hookiest movie tune of 2005. Good luck getting Yo La Tengo's original and yet-untitled, yet-unreleased soundtrack tune, or the movie, out of your head.
The 10 deleted scenes and making-of micro-featurette on the DVD aren't much, but it's a privilege to see the long casting sessions of McKenzie and Adams (even cuter in the audition than after she gained weight for the role). And the audio commentary by Adams and Davidtz offers penetrating insights into the performances and the director's painstaking method. Davidtz's performance gained from her being the last cast, with no time to prepare—she sometimes overprepares. We also learn that during shooting, Nivola forgot he had to sing the traditional hymn "Softly and Tenderly, Jesus Is Calling" with two other actors, and his actual apprehension is just what the character feels in the film's most spine-tinglingly sweet moment.
Jan. 10 Sees Hustle & Flow debut on DVD, which may help Terrence Howard to an Oscar nomination himself. Also look for Red Eye, Transporter 2, The Chumbscrubber, Ingmar Bergman's Saraband, and reissues of Good Morning, Vietnam and Dead Poets Society, both with new extras. Civil rights documentaries include Unfinished Business and A Time for Burning. From HBO, the drama Yesterday concerns a young South African mother with AIDS. The Constant Gardener was one of our 10-best films of 2005. Criterion offers Kurosawa's The Bad Sleep Well and John Ford's Young Mr. Lincoln. Also from the vault: The Return of the Pink Panther, Cabin in the Sky, a collection of Sam Peckinpah Westerns, and the great The Magnificent Seven, on two discs.