Fittingly enough, July is named after Julius Caesar, another entity that came to a sticky end. The faint, rumbling reverberations of giant, mechanized robots doing damage to one another in inter-galactic battles you hear emanating from the multiplex might steer you clear of the theaters for while — a wise choice. In their stead, here are some home-viewing options that you can take advantage of just whenever you feel the need.
Title: 12 Angry Men (1957)
One-sentence Breakdown: In a hot, highly-charged jury room, a dozen men argue and deliberate over a murder case they have to resolve.
What’s the Rumpus? A veritable showcase for standout male actors (the cast includes Henry Fonda, Lee J. Cobb, E.G. Marshall, Jack Warden, and a young(ish) Jack Klugman, amongst others), the film is also a testament to the fine direction skills of the late Sidney Lumet, who managed to make what is essentially a one-room set filled with men doing little more than arguing, absolutely engrossing. Reginald Rose’s superb, nuanced script is also on full display.
Netflix Streaming Link: 12 Angry Men
Title: City of God
One-sentence Breakdown: Two young friends growing up in a slum in Rio take different life paths with dramatically different results.
What’s the Rumpus? It might sound hokey, like some sort of police/criminal melodrama, but Fernando Meirelles and Kátia Lund’s careful, provocative film is anything but predictable and trite. Instead, it’s a devastating portrait of the living conditions and impossible choices of children living under the threat of constant upheaval and violence.
Netflix Streaming Link: City of God
Title: The Master (2012)
One-sentence Breakdown: A distraught and disturbed young man just out of the war gets enmeshed with a powerful orator, who plans a new religious philosophy.
What’s the Rumpus? There were plenty of people who found Paul Thomas Anderson’s murky, off-beat film dull and incomprehensible. Don’t be one of those people: to begin with, you have in Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, and the late, brilliant Philip Seymour Hoffman, three absolute powerhouse actors at the very top of their game. While Anderson can be nebulous and unconventional, he’s also a genius of a filmmaker, and this character study — very loosely based on the beginnings of the Scientology movement — is absolutely searing. For our money, it was the best film of 2012.
Netflix Streaming Link: The Master (available 7/14/14)
Title: Primal Fear
One-sentence Breakdown: A wildly successful defense attorney gets embroiled in a difficult case involving a shy alter boy accused of murder.
What’s the Rumpus? The film that helped make the career of Edward Norton, Gregory Hoblit’s eminently entertaining crime thriller offers us Richard Gere in yet another role as a dislikable hotshot, only in this case, his arrogance is turned against him. Norton, as battered and sad alterboy Aaron is absolutely captivating, and he and Gere have excellent chemistry together. Also noteworthy, a twist ending that really and truly works — a rare commodity in this particular genre.
Netflix Streaming Link: Primal Fear
Title: Dead Man Walking
One-sentence Breakdown: A resilient nun helps counsel a young man convicted of a brutal rape and murder and waiting on death row.
What’s the Rumpus? It might sound utterly didactic — especially given that it stars Sean Penn as the unrepentant criminal — but Tim Robbins’ (directing his then beau Susan Sarandon) film is much more heartfelt and moving than you might expect. Penn plays his low-brow southern trash character with a perfect mix of ignorance, pathos and bravado, and Sarandon is absolutely breathtaking as the real-life nun Helen Prejean, upon whose non-fiction book the film is based. The ending might lay it on a bit thick, but the performances throughout are nothing less than sterling.
Netflix Streaming Link: Dead Man Walking