DVDs 05.08.2011

The Queen (2006) PICK
Gangs of New York (2002) PASS
Chocolat (2000)PASS
The Cider House Rules (1999) PASS
Life Is Beautiful (1997)PICK
Emma (1996)PICK
Enchanted April (1992)


Miramax gives prestige treatment to a number of their acclaimed films from past years in new “Academy Award Collection” Blu-ray and DVD editions — some worthwhile, others not so much.

Among the worthwhile entries: Stephen Frears’ The Queen, with Helen Mirren’s Oscar-winning turn as Queen Elizabeth II, is an intriguing behind-the-scenes speculative drama about the aftermath of Princess Diana’s death and the cultural crisis occasioned by the royal family’s public silence on what was, by traditional standards, the death of a private citizen.

Roberto Benigni’s Best Picture winner Life Is Beautiful brings Chaplinesque pathos to a fable-like tale of love and grief under Nazism. Benigni stars as a flamboyant Italian waiter who courts a pretty schoolteacher (Nicoletta Braschi) in the first act, then in the second act seeks to buffer their young son Giosue from the horrors of the Nazi camps. It was screened privately at the Vatican for Pope John Paul II with Benigni in attendance.

Gwyneth Paltrow is a delightful Emma in Douglas McGrath’s lighthearted Jane Austen adaptation, and Jeremy Northam is an aptly named Mr. Knightley. Highlighted by an Oscar-winning score, it’s a romantic fairy tale in a genteel world of parties and picnics in which few things worse than a cold or a tiresome conversation ever happen and more or less everyone is eventually destined to happiness.

Mike Newell’s Enchanted April is a charming, cathartic period piece about four down-in-the-dumps London women (Joan Plowright, Miranda Richardson, Josie Lawrence and Polly Walker) who experience a renewal when they impulsively decide to spend a month in Italy in a rented medieval castle. (It’s a stretch for the “Academy Award Collection,” though, with three nominations but no wins.)

Among “Academy Award Collection” entries worth skipping: With 10 nominations but no wins, Gangs of New York exudes writer-director Martin Scorsese’s fascination with 19th-century New York’s wild and wooly Five Points neighborhood, with its religious and ethnic gang warfare, but the strong violent and sexual content are adrift in a story with no narrative or moral center.

Finally, a pair of morally offensive dramas from Swedish director Lasse Hallström: Best Picture winner The Cider House Rules puts a kind, gentle face on abortion providers, while Chocolat went Oscarless with its smarmily anti-Catholic fable about a single mother opening a chocolate shop in a village in 1950s’ France.

Content advisory: The Queen: Limited profanity and a few crass expressions. Life Is Beautiful: Mild sexual references; depictions of a concentration camp. Might be okay for teens. Emma: Romantic complications; limited profanity. Fine family viewing. Enchanted April: Very mild innuendo. Teens and up.