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DVDs In Brief: January 13, 2010

When the A.V. Club film writers put together their consensus Top 20 list for 2009, only one title (the No. 1 choice) appeared on all five ballots: Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker (Summit), which overcame the stigma of Iraq War docudramas by offering a stunningly visceral treatment of bomb squads at work. Until a minor subplot surfaces in the late going, the film is an admirably plotless study of the day-to-day tensions and trauma shouldered by men who bravely—and at times recklessly—put themselves in harm’s way… 

The directorial debut of The Wrestler screenwriter (and former Onion editor) Robert Siegel, Big Fan takes a radically different tack on the usual pro forma sports uplift movie. When a New York Giants-loving loner (Patton Oswalt) runs violently afoul of his favorite player, he gets a rare chance to actually have an effect on his favorite sports team, but it comes at a price to his own fragile dignity. Siegel’s script sells the message—about the sense of connectedness sports can bring to otherwise unconnected people—without spelling anything out, and Oswalt’s internal, slow-burn performance makes the last half of the movie increasingly tense, as viewers try to get into his mind and determine whether he’s finding his lost equilibrium, or going tragically over the edge…

Moon ( Sony) is a rare creature: an honest-to-God science-fiction movie, rather than a space fantasy, space Western, or space slasher. It opens with Sam Rockwell eking out the last days before the end of his three-year shift as a lunar mining-system operator; he’s up there alone, save for a surprisingly sympathetic, clunky robot voiced by Kevin Spacey. First-time director Duncan Jones (David Bowie’s son) conducts the story as a low-key, almost-funny character study. And then strange things happen, changing the situation, but not the quiet, internal tone. It’s a bit of a mindfuck movie, but of an unusually intelligent and somber sort, and it speaks well of Jones’ talent and taste, if not his future in an industry that prefers killer aliens, explosions, and exploding killer aliens…

The phrase “Strangelove-esque” gets thrown around far too promiscuously these days, but it absolutely suits In The Loop (MPI), the fiendishly smart, lightning-fast satirical spin-off of the British cult television comedy The Thick Of It. The film casts a scathing eye at the build-up and maneuvering on both sides of the pond as the United States and Great Britain gear up for war in the Middle East. It’s a cavalcade of wit and verbal virtuosity, highlighted by some of the most inspired use of profanity this side of David Mamet…

The latest spin-off of the 1980 film hit of the same name, the glammed-up remake Fame (MGM) made a minor profit at the box office, but nowhere near what its makers were no doubt hoping, after a summer of pouring the new version of the theme song into young ears. Which is a pity, in a way. It’s a retread, full of paper-thin characters dealing with paper-thin plots as they go through four years at an arts academy, but most of the dance numbers and performances are terrific, which is about all the first one had going for it anyway.