‘Million Dollar Baby’ (Nov. 30)
Clint Eastwood won his second Academy Award for best director (and his second for best picture) with this lean, mean boxing drama, adapted from a short story by the sportswriter F.X. Toole. Hilary Swank likewise won her second Oscar for her leading work as Maggie Fitzgerald, a tough tomboy from the wrong side of the tracks who persuades the old-timer Frankie Dunn (Eastwood) to manage her — with considerable resistance, since Frankie insists, “I don’t train girls.” The film is old-fashioned in its style, recalling the fight melodramas of Hollywood’s golden era. But it is contemporary in its storytelling, particularly when Frankie and Maggie’s bond is put to an unimaginable test.
‘Pineapple Express’ (Nov. 30)
The “Freaks and Geeks” co-stars Seth Rogen and James Franco reunited for this uproariously funny stoner action comedy, penned by Rogen and his “Superbad” co-writer, Evan Goldberg, and directed by David Gordon Green, then best known for modest indie dramas like “George Washington.” That odd combination of backgrounds and specialties could’ve made for a real mess, but Rogen and Goldberg’s script is wry and witty, Green’s direction is sure-handed, and Rogen and Franco are a pitch-perfect team, their opposites-attract chemistry recalling ’80s buddy movies like “48 HRS” and “Midnight Run.” Bonus laughs come from a pre-“Eastbound and Down” Danny McBride, who all but steals the film as a trigger-happy third wheel.
‘Richard Pryor: Live in Concert’ (Nov. 30)
In December of 1978, Richard Pryor took the stage of the Terrace Theater in Long Beach, Calif., and delivered what may still be the greatest recorded stand-up comedy performance in history. It captures the comic at his zenith; his insights are razor-sharp, his physical gifts are peerless, and his powers of personification are remarkable as he gives thought and voice to household pets, woodland creatures, deflating tires and uncooperative parts of his own body. But as with the best of Pryor’s stage work, what’s most striking is his vulnerability. In sharing his own struggles with health, relationships, sex and masculinity, Pryor was forging a path to the kind of unapologetic candor that defines so much of contemporary comedy.
‘School of Rock’ (Nov. 30)
Before the miniboom of decidedly adult-oriented filmmakers trying their hands at family entertainment (Martin Scorsese’s “Hugo,” Wes Anderson’s “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” Todd Haynes’s “Wonderstruck”), the “Dazed and Confused” director, Richard Linklater, and the “Enlightened” creator, Mike White, joined forces to tell this story of a slacker musician who uses his prep-school substitute teaching gig to turn a class of fourth-graders into a rock band. White’s script is clever without being cute, and Linklater’s direction is engaged but unobtrusive. The biggest draw, though, is Jack Black in the starring role, one seemingly designed to show off his simultaneous gifts for broad comedy and hard rocking. It’s a warm, winning, endlessly funny performance.