Here’s a look at a trio of recent Academy Award-winning films now available on the Blu-ray format.
Nomadland (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, Rated R, 2.39:1 aspect ratio, 108 minutes, $29.99) — Winner of Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actress at this year’s Academy Awards, Chloe Zhao’s cinematic adaptation of Jessica Bruder’s nonfiction novel debuts in high definition.
Frances McDormand stars as Fern, coping with the death of her husband and loss of a job at an extinct gypsum plant in Empire Nevada, she decides to live and sleep in a modest van (nicknamed Vanguard) and travel across America in a nomadic lifestyle looking for piecemeal work and appreciating the country.
Melding a documentary and fictional narrative style, the film revels in expressing the emotional positives and very few negatives associated with leading this freer, more rugged lifestyle while exploring the American West much like in the spirit of early pioneers.
Although Miss McDormand deserved the award for her honest and relaxed human approach to Fern, the real nomads — including Charlene Swankie, Linda May, Bob Wells, Linda May and Derek Enders — were the true stars of the film and could have held their own in a pure documentary format.
The Blu-ray format shines with a visual clarity and color warmth delivered in the numerous outdoor scenes captured by cinematographer Joshua James Richards.
He brings desert and rocky landscape alive from Arizona to South Dakota at all hours of the day, making the panoramic visuals with a pastel brilliance an equal partner in the storytelling.
Best extras: Viewers get a 15-minute, question-and-answer session with Miss McDormand, Miss Zhao and a few of the real nomads after the drive-in premiere of “Nomadland” at the Rose Bowl Stadium in Pasadena, California, during the Telluride Film Festival on Sept. 11, 2020.
It’s too short to be very informative, but an additional 14-minute production featurette helps supplement the event’s session and further explores the movie’s background, now with help from Mr. Richards and the original author, Miss Bruder.
Judas and the Black Messiah (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment, Rated R, 2.39:1 aspect ratio, 126 minutes, $35.99) — Director Shaka King’s historical drama covering the betrayal and subsequent death of a prominent leader of the Black Panthers in 1969 scored an Academy Award this year for actor Daniel Kaluuya as the ill-fated Fred Hampton.
His tragic rise and fall come to light through petty thief turned FBI informant Bill O’Neil (Lakieth Stanfield) as he infiltrates the Illinois faction of the militant party and must turn on his new friends to stay out of jail while ultimately assisting in a government-orchestrated killing.
The potent lead performances overshadow most all of the supporting cast, though Dominique Fishback as Hampton’s girlfriend Deborah Johnson stands out as well as Martin Sheen as a near demonic and obsessed J. Edgar Hoover.
The political, culturally charged and violent period piece takes another painful look at a time when America was caught in the precipice of a race war that one might feel could easily be ripped out of today’s headlines.
Strangely, as much as the high definition release looks good, one wonders what happened to the ultra-high definition version of the film seen recently on HBO Max. Hopefully, it’s not a negative trend for studios to stop offering 4K discs for home theater connoisseurs.
Best extras: A pair of short production featurettes (roughly 17 minutes in total) — one devoted to Fred Hampton and one to Bill O’Neill — offers a historical perspective and legacy of each supplemented by interviews with the director, cast and crew.
The Hampton segment also features words from his son Fred Jr. while the O’Neill piece has Mr. Stanfield delivering an appreciative and passionate speech about getting to work on the movie, spoken at the end of his shoot.
Promising Young Woman (Universal Studio Home Entertainment, Rated R, 2.39:1 aspect ratio, 113 minutes, $34.98) — The creative force on the BBC’s “Killing Eve,” Emerald Fennell further extends her dark comedic roots by writing and directing a revenge thriller that won her an Academy Award this year for Best Original Screenplay.
Viewers meet Cassie Thomas (Carey Mulligan), a damaged lost soul living with her parents and haunted by the suicide of best friend Nina, raped by another student while they were in medical school. She finds solace in pretending to be drunk and then shaming men trying to take advantage of her.
Life escalates after she dates former classmate Ryan Cooper (Bo Burnham), and his presence reminds her of those who were involved in covering up the crime. Cassie’s new purpose in life is to exact clever revenge on those involved in covering up Nina’s rape.
However, love eventually trumps revenge, but audiences will have a sinking feeling as life starts to get better and then much worse for Cassie.
Miss Mulligan skillfully executes a gamut of emotions as she plays a sociopath as easily as a loving girlfriend, enraged enforcer and an emotionally crushed, heartbroken human.
Her complex performance gets supplemented by Alfred Molina as a repentant defense attorney, Alison Brie as former classmate Madison McPhee, and Clancy Brown and Jennifer Coolidge as Cassie’s supportive parents.
Best extras: Miss Fennell offers an optional commentary from her London office during the COVID-19 lockdown, and the audio reception is marginal, Zoom quality.
She offers lots of gushing about brilliantly funny actors and amazing crew members as she touches on casting choices, her fascination with audience reactions, themes of consent, song choices, laughter on the set, Cassie’s various club pickup characters and creating the pacing of a thriller.
However, despite having the director/writer offering commentary, she tries hard to explain motivations when not rambling, this is a case where the movie as a whole pounds home its point, well, brilliantly, and far outweighs any necessary extra explanation or introspection.
So enjoy Miss Fennell for her entertainment value, but watching the movie again, without her track, is just as satisfying.
Also included are three featurettes (roughly 11 minutes in total) covering Miss Fennell’s vision, Miss Mulligan’s performance, the tone of the film, and more gushing from the cast and crew.