Armchair Vacation: Five Films To Watch At Home This Weekend (May 3-5)

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The Summer movie season is officially underway as this weekend marks the debut of Marvel Studio’s latest cinematic outing, Iron Man 3. The film is not only one of the better blockbusters we’ve gotten in some time, but it is also the first in a line of what will likely be a few nearly billion dollar grossing pictures that will come out of this stacked 2013 blockbuster season. A week before Star Trek Into Darkness and only a few weeks prior to Man Of Steel, this is shaping up to be one hell of a year for fans of bigger, gaudier pictures. However, what about those who, well, aren’t. Here are a few films that should make this weekend worth its weight in celluloid, even if you aren’t on your way to your local multiplex.

5. Life of Oharu (Hulu)

One of many masterpieces from the legendary filmmaker Kenji Mizoguchi, Life Of Oharu is a breathtaking meditation on Japanese culture and the subjugation of women within that culture. Following the story of a “lady-in-waiting” who finds her life tossed into a downward spiral, the picture is one of the many attempts by Mizoguchi to weave a tale of a fallen women within Japan’s history. Set in the 17th Century, the film is a lusciously crafted character study featuring a startlingly great lead performance from Kinuyo Tanaka and some of the greatest direction this era of Japanese filmmaking has to offer. Arriving in stores via a new Criterion DVD/Blu-ray on July 9, this is as much a must own home video release as Criterion will have to offer us up to this point in 2013.

4. I Married A Witch (Hulu)

Speaking of pending Criterion releases, Hulu plus has another interesting film in its ranks, one that just recently got confirmed(?) as an upcoming Criterion Collection release. From director Rene Clair, I Married A Witch found itself fodder for a new “wacky drawing” in Criterion’s most recent newsletter, and in honor, I rewatched this gem of a comedy and I must say, it’s more than worthy of a Criterion release. A wonderfully charming comedy, the film is beautifully made and has enough skill behind the camera to stand the test of time. However, where does this hold a place within the Criterion Collection ranks? Yes, it’s quite charming and inventive visually, but it’s also slight and oddly one note. With another similar picture in the form of The Ghost Goes West on Hulu from Clair as well, one has to imagine that a box set of some sort will be on its way. And if so, is it a Criterion proper release, or is it a new Eclipse set? As far as a standalone release, this doesn’t seem like a perfect fit, but as long as this ends up getting a new restoration soon, we’ll all be better off.

3. Just Like Being There (Netflix)

Ever wonder who is behind your favorite poster? Well, thankfully, this documentary helps shed some light on just those very people. Taking a look at the people behind various beloved posters, with names like Tyler Stout and Olly Moss being some of today’s foremost voices in the world of high promotional art. While I’ve never been big on the rise of Mondo and their rather histrionic pieces of art, this film is a truly interesting look at some names who are trying to return movie and music posters back to their artistic glory days. The structure of the film itself leaves a bit to be desired, but for fans of art and film, and where those two happen to meet, this is a must-view bit of documentary.

2. “Busby Berkeley In 1933” (TCM Saturday, starting at 8pm EST)

TCM does it again. The name in making it extremely tough to go outside, the network will be honoring Busby Berkeley on Saturday as part of their Essentials series, looking at his work in the year 1933. With features Gold Diggers of 1933, Footlight Parade and 42nd Street, as well as a few shorts, this is a thrilling retrospective looking at one of musical cinema’s most important and influential names. Often many people’s introduction into the world of musical cinema, Berkeley’s pictures are some of the most intricately crafted and choreographed musicals ever made. I’m particularly partial to the Mervyn LeRoy film, Gold Diggers Of 1933, one of many films in that really fantastic musical series. It’s a fun film and the musical sequences are utterly unforgettable.

1. A Royal Affair (Netflix)

An Oscar nominee, this film is one of many foreign pictures that seemed to slip under the radar in 2012. A beautifully crafted historical drama from director Nikolaj Arcel, the film follows the story of a queen who finds herself in the middle of a torid love triangle. Starring the ever fantastic Alicia Vikander and the equally top-notch Mads Mikkelsen, the film is a beautifully crafted romantic drama that gets as much power out of its director as it does its great collection of actors. One of the overlooked gems of 2013, it’s far and away one of last year’s best unsung gems, and with its arrival on Netflix, should be seen right away by anyone with a penchant for foreign arthouse cinematic efforts.