Tony Kaye might be a name you don’t recognize, but it wouldn’t be for lack of trying. After having his career all but buried by the post-production fiasco that was 1998′s American History X (still young star Edward Norton locked Kaye out of editing and recut the film and the studio released it as he saw fit, only for Kaye to take out an ad ripping the star and the film a new one in Hollywood trade papers), Kaye all but disappeared. Now, he’s back with one of the very best films of the year…which nobody saw. Released in February on Video on Demand and in extremely limited runs in New York and LA, Kaye’s latest stars Adrien Brody, in what might be his best performance to date (yes, better even than The Pianist or Summer of Sam) as a depressed substitute teacher who is determined to avoid getting attached to the students in his charge, the faculty around him, or anyone else as he takes on an assignment at a Long Island high school. However, he soon finds out how hard that is. Further, the faculty (including Marcia Gay Harden, Tim Blake Nelson, Lucy Liu, William Petersen, James Caan, Blythe Danner, Bryan Cranston and Christina Hendricks of Mad Men) all have their own issues, as do the students (including the director’s daughter, debuting actress Betty Kaye as a depressed artistic soul) and hangers-on (including Sami Gayle as a young prostitute he takes off the street) he encounters. The subject matter could scarcely be more fraught or more timely, but the treatment shakes you to your very core. Seek this out.
Lars von Trier’s Melancholia is the Danish provocateur’s much-anticipated (and surprisingly well-received) follow-up to his polarizing Antichrist (one of 2009′s best). This time he directs Kirsten Dunst in a Cannes Film Festival Best Actress award-winning performance as, ahem, melancholy newlywed Justine who spends part I (roughly the first hour) enduring the aftermath of her wedding at the sprawling and gorgeous home of her sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg, continuing her emotionally brutal collaboration with von Trier; she won Best Actress at Cannes for their previous film) and her brother-in-law (Kiefer Sutherland). What should be the happiest day of Justine’s life feels uncannily like the end of her world; groom Alexander Skarsgard picks up on this. In part II, the sense of impending doom is amplified as Melancholia, a bright blue planet, enters Earth’s atmosphere and threatens to plummet on a deliberately-paced collision course. Von Trier watches as first Justine and then Claire are virtually crippled by feelings of helplessness and despair – but not fear. It is certainly the most visually stunning depiction of apocalyptic horror this year – and there was competition.