A far better movie, “Cutter’s Way” (released on Blu-ray by Twilight Time) is a classic hard-luck story. Although comparable to classic early ’70s downers like “Chinatown” and “The Long Goodbye,” this story of three post-hippie losers drawn by chance and paranoia into a sordid murder mystery was born too late and has never gotten the recognition it deserves.
Mr. Passer, an émigré from Czechoslovakia who came to America in the aftermath of the 1968 Soviet invasion, treats Jeffrey Alan Fiskin’s script with a mixture of humanist warmth, caustic humor and detached fatalism. The director is fond of his doomed characters and, as in his lone Czech production, the rueful comedy “Intimate Lighting” (1965), he does not judge so much as observe them.
As Mr. Fuller incorporates Cologne’s carnival revelry, Mr. Passer seizes on the surreal facade of the Old Spanish Days celebration in Santa Barbara, Calif. Rather than a salute to local history, the fiesta feels like a cover-up of fat-cat malfeasance. Jordan Cronenweth’s magic-hour cinematography distills the golden California sunlight into an atmosphere of malign ripeness. The movie’s gimlet-eyed mise-en-scène is exceeded only by the flamboyance of John Heard’s career performance as a raspy-voiced madman who lost an arm, a leg, an eye and possibly his mind in Vietnam.
Mr. Heard’s furious pinwheel of resentment is supported, if not stabilized, by Lisa Eichhorn’s self-effacing portrayal of his alcoholic wife and Jeff Bridges’s turn as their self-loathing best friend, an unenthusiastic boat salesman who moonlights as a penny-ante gigolo. The three might as well be occupying Santa Barbara as if it were Zuccotti Park.
Once intended as a vehicle for Dustin Hoffman, “Cutter’s Way” was a casualty of “Heaven’s Gate,” a costly Michael Cimino western blamed for fatally damaging its studio, United Artists. Mr. Passer’s budget was cut, and once his supporters at United Artists left, his film — originally titled “Cutter and Bone” — was dumped into release with only two hastily scheduled previews and minimal publicity. Panned by three New York City dailies as well as by local TV, the movie was yanked from theaters before the favorable notices from the weeklies arrived.
The Village Voice, where I was third-string film critic, was a particular champion. An initial enthusiastic review employing the newly minted term “neo noir” to characterize the movie’s attitude was followed by a second positive review, as well as a profile of Mr. Passer when “Cutter’s Way” reopened a few months later under its new title. Nothing helped.
Appearing at the dawn of Ronald Reagan’s “new morning,” Mr. Passer’s movie was a hopeless outlier. And so, despite intermittent shout-outs, it remains maudit, even as its anti-corporate populism is now in vogue.
ARABIAN NIGHTS Three films or one, Miguel Gomes’s tripartite portrait of contemporary Portugal can be seen as documented fantasy or fantastic documentary. The film’s stories are based on Scheherazade’s “Arabian Nights,” a method A.O. Scott described as “a conceit, a plaything and a structural principle” in his December 2015 review for The New York Times. Available on Blu-ray and DVD. (Kino Lorber)
CAROL Todd Haynes’s adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s novel “The Price of Salt” is a love story barely large enough to contain its star, Cate Blanchett; Rooney Mara is more reserved as the object of her affections.“At once ardent and analytical, cerebral and swooning, ‘Carol’ is a study in human magnetism,” Mr. Scott wrote in The Times in November 2015. On Blu-ray, DVD and Amazon Video. (Anchor Bay/Weinstein Company)
PHOENIX Many of the German director Christian Petzold’s films could be considered historical ghost stories, none more so than this tale of a German Jew who returns to Berlin as if from the ashes. Writing for The Times in July 2015, Mr. Scott compared the film to “Vertigo,” but “instead of Hitchcockian psychological puzzles, it explores unsolvable and perhaps unspeakable moral conundrums.” On Blu-ray, DVD and Amazon Video. (Criterion)
THE REVENANT Leonardo DiCaprio plays the ultimate survivor in Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s spectacular vision of the unspoiled West.“Filmmaking as swagger,” Manohla Dargis wrote in her review for The Times in December 2015. On Blu-ray, DVD and Amazon Video. (20th Century Fox)
SON OF SAUL Focusing on the situation of a Jewish sonderkommando at Auschwitz, the Hungarian filmmaker Laszlo Nemes created a film that, in its moral ambiguity and bravura technique, divided critics. In hisDecember 2015 review for The Times, Mr. Scott described a claustrophobia of “a degree that few fictional films have had the nerve to attempt.” On Blu-ray, DVD and Amazon Video. (Sony Pictures Classics)