Rentals offer variety in Oscar-winning and overlooked picks

There is no better time than spring break to relax and catch up on movie rentals. Certainly plenty of movies have been released on DVD while students have been buried in stacks of books all semester. And while many went to theaters to see big hits like “American Gangster” and “Beowulf,” students will undoubtedly be looking for something beyond the mainstream to fill up those hours where there is still nothing on TV.

A good place to start scanning the shelves would be the Oscar winning films that are released. Tilda Swinton won Best Supporting Actress for her role in “Michael Clayton,” but it is George Clooney’s Oscar-nominated performance that makes this legal thriller one of the more popular choices.

There is also “La Vie en Rose,” which won Best Leading Actress for Marion Cotillard’s performance as French singer Edith Piaf. Following the Oscars’ recognition for musical films is the independent movie “Once,” which won Best Original Song for “Falling Slowly.”

Finally, the winner of the Best Picture of the Year, “No Country for Old Men,” will be released on March 11, just in time to be enjoyed during the break. Viewers will be captivated by Javier Bardem’s unsettling performance as a psychopathic killer throughout the desolate Texas desert landscape.

Speaking of musicals, “Across the Universe” is an innovative film about the chaos of the ’60s told entirely in Beatles songs. Director Julie Taymor (“Frida,” “Titus”) is most famous for her stage work on Broadway with Disney’s “The Lion King” (for which she won two Tony’s). Her background in puppetry, costume and staging serves her well. There are some fantastic dream-like sequences that display that influence to great effect. Her unique artistic vision is well worth a watch, whether viewers are fans of musicals or not.

Another film that might have been overlooked is “The Invisible.” A remake of a Swedish film, this movie is incredibly well-written. Part ghost story and part love story, the plot will keep audiences’ attention with a few unexpected twists and turns. It has beautiful cinematography sprinkled throughout and great acting from relatively unknown actors like Justin Chatwin (“War of the Worlds,” “Taking Lives”). One thing to note, though, is that this is not really a thriller. The original previews advertised it as such and lost a lot of viewers due to disappointment. Don’t pass this one by on that fact alone. “The Invisible” is a surprisingly well-done film.

There’s also the British comedy “Death at a Funeral” that didn’t receive a lot of attention during its brief stint in the theaters. Directed by Frank Oz (“Bowfinger,” “The Muppets Take Manhattan”) – yes, that Frank Oz – the film is quite funny. It’s an ensemble comedy of errors that works incredibly well with all the actors that get involved. There are several recognizable British actors like Matthew Macfadyen (“Middletown,” “Pride & Prejudice”), as well as a few American actors like Alan Tudyk (“Knocked Up,” “Serenity”). Despite some minor moments of comedic predictability, even viewers who aren’t fond of English culture will find this movie amusing.

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For students looking for romance, “Dan in Real Life” or “The Jane Austen Book Club” might do. But if something a little more serious is desired, then “Becoming Jane” will work perfectly. Since the Jane Austen craze has kicked into high gear yet again, this is the perfect fix for fans. It’s a fictional yet quite realistic look at Austen’s real life and what might have happened that will touch viewers’ hearts. There are amazing performances by Anne Hathaway (“The Devil Wears Prada,” “Brokeback Mountain”) and James McAvoy (“Atonement,” “The Last King of Scotland”) in the leading roles, but the supporting cast will leave an impression as well.

For a movie that is a little more light-hearted, “Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium,” which hits DVD on March 4, would be a perfect pick. Despite the previews that make this film look cheesy, this movie has an incredibly sweet plot with amazing special effects. The plot might not be the freshest in the genre, but it’s the little moments in this film that really make it special. There are cameos, toys coming to life and well-known actors embracing the innocence of childhood to play like kids once again. Throw in a reference to Shakespeare and this film really does have a little something for the young and old alike.

And certainly the same can be said for the video-rental stores. Whether it’s a western like “3:10 to Yuma” or a thriller like “30 Days of Night,” there is bound to be something on the shelves to please every movie lover.