$9.99 (R, 2008, Regency Releasing/E1 Entertainment)
Though it sort of centers a theme around a somewhat central character — Dave, a directionless, unemployed 28-year-old who orders a $10 book about the meaning of life and decides to share his epiphanic moment with anyone who will listen — “$9.99” never really settles on one thing that traditionally constitutes an A-to-B plot line. It meanders — a lot — and though its characters exist in Dave’s neighborhood, their worlds rarely and sometimes never intersect. These are big problems for a movie to have, and they’d probably sink “$9.99” if all the little things it does weren’t so ridiculously, near-perfectly wonderful. 78 minutes of stop-motion animated characters waxing randomly about different facets of existence could very easily have descended into a soulless, pretentious nightmare, but “$9.99” strikes and holds a shrewd balance between showing and telling. Poignance has its place, but so does irony and dark comedy, and the stories are full of minute surprises in spite of their familiar backdrops and setups. The quality of the design and animation, old technology or not, also is first-rate: It’s a superior fit for the film’s overall tone, and it captures certain moods and details in ways all that newfangled computer animation still can’t and probably never will. Samuel Johnson, Anthony LaPaglia and Geoffrey Rush, among others, lend their voices.
Extras: Two short films, “Crazy Glue” and “A Buck’s Worth.”
The Informant! (R, 2009, Warner Bros.)
“The Informant!” would almost be a pleasure to watch even if it had no central storyline whatsoever coursing through the sea of thoughts that continually invade the mind of Mark Whitacre (Matt Damon), a could-be corporate superstar who awkwardly stumbles into an agreement with the government to uncover a massive price-fixing scam that could devastate his employer. This isn’t to suggest the storyline doesn’t impress: To the contrary, “The Informant’s” ability to turn the prototypical whistleblower storyline on its head by injecting it with a dry, lively comic energy that doesn’t undermine the seriousness of the issue is as fantastic as it is overdue. But Whitacre’s mess of contradictory personality traits — well-meaning and sort of savvy, but also helplessly dishonest and supremely bumbling in how he carries himself — are what ultimately make this something special. And the clever way “The Informant” develops this character — though a continuous barrage of narrated non-sequiturs about the metric system, attractions to low-priced ties and an admiration for ants’ ability to capitalize on lucky breaks — is as effective as it often is funny. What happens to the company is of no small consequence, given that this is based on a true story, but it can’t help but finish a distant second when the fate of such a phenomenally constructed character also hangs in the balance. Scott Bakula, Joel McHale and Melanie Lynskey also star.
Extra: Deleted scenes.
The Damned United (R, 2009, Sony Pictures Classics)
There are good biopics that faithfully recreate their subjects, the impacts they left and the environments where those impacts were left. Then there are great biopics, like “The Damned United,” which don’t merely recreate these faces and moments so much as they absolutely revel in them. To be fair, “United” has a little help: This is the story of outspoken soccer manager Brian Clough, and his unlikely ascension to manager of England’s most celebrated soccer club — and what happens after he takes over the club that previously had been his most bitter rival — is surpassed in energy by only Clouth himself, who was to soccer managers what Muhammad Ali was to boxers. “United” maintains a persistent momentum by bouncing back and forth in time to simultaneously dramatize Clouth’s not-terribly-humble beginnings and what happens upon his securing the Leeds United job, and true to the source material, the film’s lively energy plays second only to Michael Sheen’s spot-on embodiment of Clouth. Sheen pretty well nailed Tony Blair and David Frost previously, and he nets the hat trick here with perhaps his best show yet. A stellar supporting cast (Colm Meaney, Timothy Spall, Jim Broadbent, Stephen Graham and Peter McDonald) more than pulls its weight as well.
Extras: Director/producer/Sheen commentary, deleted scenes, Cloughisms, four behind-the-scenes features.
Shall We Kiss? (NR, 2007, Music Box Films)
“Shall We Kiss?” begins with an extremely fortuitous chance encounter between Gabriel (Michaël Cohen) and Émilie (Julie Gayet), and were one to watch the first five minutes and not a moment more, one might assume this meeting (and where it leads) forms the narrative backbone for the 97 minutes that remain. But more than the story of Gabriel and Émile, “Kiss” is the story of Nicolas (Emmanuel Mouret) and Judith (Virginie Ledoyen), two friends who resort to rather awkward and unconventional means to diagnose the source of some troubling emotional issues one of them is experiencing. “Kiss” doesn’t try anything fancy with its basic premise, and seasoned movie watchers feasibly could tally up much of the film’s final score before it is even halfway finished. But the amusingly, painfully, authentically awkward way “Kiss” dresses down its characters and their plights is dense with pleasantly surprising little details and moments to such a degree that the slight predictability of the overall picture ceases to be a major issue. This isn’t a movie about what happens so much as what happens while it’s happening, and “Kiss'” ability to keep these pleasant surprises coming while staying grounded in convention is no small achievement. In French with English subtitles. Content of extras not available at press time.
Nurse Jackie: Season One (NR, 2009, Showtime/Lions Gate)
Stories about high-level professionals who achieve even higher levels of personal ineptitude have become excessively common in the last several years, and one wouldn’t be foolish to assume, at least early on, that New York nurse Jackie Peyton (Edie Falco) and the show that bears her name are headed down the same highway. Those assumptions are validated to a point, and once the first episode peels away a couple of revelations that won’t be spoiled here, “Nurse Jackie” leaves no doubt that its namesake has some mental housekeeping to do. But that first episode also gifts Jackie with a comparatively helpless but entirely sharply constructed cast of doctors (Eve Best, Peter Facinelli), administrators (Gloria Akalitus), pharmacists (Paul Schulze), nurses (Mohammed de la Cruz and occasional show-stealer Merritt Wever), relatives and patients. Falco plays the personal mess with skill, but she’s even more fun to watch as the show’s rock, and the way “Jackie” weaves between the two positions — and pushes out a medical comedy-drama that somehow feels different than the glut of other medical shows already out there — makes it easy to recommend.
Contents: 12 episodes, plus commentary, nurse stories and three behind-the-scenes features.
Eleven Minutes (R, 2008, E1 Entertainment)
Bystanders who had no way of knowing better assumed that when Jay McCarroll won the first season of “Project Runway,” he would remain in safe hands up to and possibly beyond his promised showing at New York Fashion Week. But beyond the guarantee of a slot, McCarroll was left completely to his own devices and budget. Fortunately, one of those devices was this documentary, which McCarroll commissioned as a way to earn some extra cash and also set the record straight about his post-“Runway” foray into the ridiculously unforgiving world of fashion design. “Eleven Minutes” absolutely succeeds at painting an unflatteringly honest picture of that pressure, and it’s something of a wonder to watch McCarroll hang onto his sanity while banking years of dreaming, planning and preparation into an 11-minute presentation that could sink the whole ship. But perhaps the best thing about “Minutes” is how democratic it is in distributing the flatter-free images: The industry looks harsh through this lens, but McCarroll, who occasionally comes off as ungrateful and entitled beyond his rights, often fares no better. Given his involvement at least in the early stages of “Minutes'” realization, the objective slant is commendable and something of a pleasant surprise.
Extras: Deleted scenes, interviews with McCarroll and the directors.
Superjail! Season One (NR, 2007, Adult Swim)
Yes, “Superjail!” is about a super jail, but a premise may never mean less to a show than it does to this one. Because more than being a show about a jail, each 11-minute episode of “Superjail” is an 11-minute animated fever dream that travels such wild roads as to make its perfectly crazy Adult Swim contemporaries look straight and sane by comparison. Setting and character titles aside, this could be a show about supermarket employees or a bowling league and most of the episodes could still find a way to their completely bizarre conclusions without too much trouble. That’s a talent, by the way, and it’s one “Superjail” masterfully succeeds at for those who like their cartoons to be dizzyingly unpredictable from moment to moment. The caveat, of course, is that this in no way is for everyone by any means whatsoever. “Superjail’s” endgame isn’t to tell a terrific story or even (it seems) make viewers laugh, but instead to cram as much animated insanity into an episode as possible without losing the right to classify as a show with settings and characters. It accomplishes that feat, but the terms on which it does so are completely unwavering, so don’t say you weren’t warned.
Contents: 10 episodes, plus the pilot episode, animatics and a music video.