The FOCUS FEATURES SPOTLIGHT COLLECTION Showcases 16 Years of Prestige Drama

One of America’s prestige distributors collects ten favorites in an impressive and affordable new Blu-ray box set

The Focus Features 10-Film Spotlight Collection is now available on Blu-ray.

As the more independent and art-house-focused distribution arm of Universal Pictures, Focus Features has been a champion of diverse, eclectic storytelling and lavish prestige drama since 2002. As part of its recent collections including the Blumhouse of Horrors, the Dreamworks and Illumination Animation Collections, and the Alfred Hitchcock 4-Film 4K Collection, Universal has issued the Focus Features Spotlight Collection, bringing together 10 of the label’s most acclaimed titles in an impressive and affordable Blu-ray centerpiece (at $69.99 MSRP.)

The set includes Joe Wright romantic twofer Pride & Prejudice and Atonement; the inspiring biopics The Theory of Everything, On the Basis of Sex, and Harriet; the wholly underrated Coen Brothers conspiracy comedy Burn After Reading; Wes Anderson’s heartbreaking and hilarious coming-of-age tale Moonrise Kingdom; and a hat trick of deserving screenplay Oscar-winning films with Lost in Translation, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and Brokeback Mountain. While the overall reach of some of these included films may exceed their grasp, they all remain true to the Focus ethos in ambitiously tackling topical and human stories that are each worth the intense conversation they’ve developed over the years.

Pride & Prejudice and Atonement — Two Timeless Romances by Joe Wright

Lavish production design and cinematography aside, what immediately draws me in to Wright’s films are his unceasing attempts to bring the past to life. Especially so in Pride & Prejudice, the director refuses to see the past as something stricken by the trappings of cobweb-ridden decorum. A costume ball is presented as the wild social event it really is, electric with the possibilities of a fleeting dalliance or the latest society rumors.

On the flip side, a suffocatingly-hot day in an isolated country estate crackles with the tension of both romance and war. And between Atonement’s unreliable narrators and Pride & Prejudice’s careful parceling-out of repressed feelings via pastoral gossip, it’s irresistible to revel in Wright’s love of how his characters emotions and realities become just as dizzyingly interlinked. As such, history becomes an unflinchingly living thing, full of both joy and heartbreak in equal measure, rich with conflicting, conflicted views on just how to process it all before the cold, impartial truth of history can make its indelible mark.

They’re Out To Get Us — The Caper Comedies in Burn After Reading and Moonrise Kingdom

If there’s something that can be said about the Coen Brothers and Wes Anderson, it’s that their distinct styles can easily be picked out of any cinematic lineup — but it can be extremely unpredictable to guess what their next films could possibly be like.

I remember Burn After Reading’s reception to be oddly chilly in the wake of the Coens’ success with No Country for Old Men, and that audiences didn’t quite know what to make of using a rogues’ gallery of prestige talent to make a Bush-era screwball comedy about the rampant obliviousness potentially underlying the machismo of current national security policy.

Moonrise Kingdom, on the other hand, felt to me like Wes Anderson’s first period piece might see him dive headfirst into his passion for New Wave influences and ’60s Kitsch with not too much to show for the effort.

But after watching both films, neither impression could be further from the truth. Burn After Reading is totally hilarious–all of its stars revel in the opportunity to either play up or wholly subvert what audiences expect of them. None more so than Brad Pitt and George Clooney, both playing lovable buffoons who bounce along the spectrum of the Dunning-Kruger effect like a ride at Disneyland. It’s a conspiracy comedy without a conspiracy at all — just a bunch of well-meaning, easily corruptible idiots who can’t help but think there’s larger forces at play…and the Coens pull it off without a hitch.

Moonrise Kingdom reckons with similar, all-too-real forces — here well-meaning adults jaded by their own adulthood — with an unexpected amount of sincerity and tenderness. Sam and Suzy’s lovestruck escape into the woods of New Penzance is the dream stuff of all childhood romances — and as brief as the adventure may be, it’s such a joy to see how the experience grows to transform the adults who are dead-set on bringing their children to safety, even if it means separating them. While other Wes Anderson movies tackle similar coming-of-age themes, even when the adults are more like grown-up children, Moonrise Kingdom is the first of his films to be tempered with this striking sense of melancholy. There’s the kitsch and whimsy, but it feels like it can’t last forever — but like first love, that’s partially why it’s worth pursuing in the first place.

The Trailblazers — The Theory of Everything, On the Basis of Sex, and Harriet

These three biopics feature more of the ambitious themes as the set’s fictional counterparts, with each featuring the inspiring stories of women and men who overcame insurmountable odds to defy expectations and change the worlds around them.

The Theory of Everything, following the life of Stephen Hawking, has Oscar-winning Eddie Redmayne dive deep into exploring the striking transformation — and even more complex legacy of one of the world’s most well-known physicists. On the Basis of Sex follows Redmayne’s Theory co-star as Ruth Bader Ginsburg in the formative years of the future Supreme Court Justice, as she finds and pursues a novel way to tackle the unconstitutionality of sex-based discrimination in the workplace. Finally, a powerhouse Cynthia Erivo fuels a more mythic take on abolitionist freedom fighter Harriet Tubman in Harriet.

The challenge of the biopic is to bring history to life while still telling an engaging, cinematic story. It’s far easier said than done: most films either veer too much into the gravity well of overly-reverential hagiography or cut away their subject’s complexity to fit a standard overcoming-all-obstacles framework.

For the most part, though, each of these three films manage to subvert these dreadful expectations. Much of The Theory of Everything devotes its focus to the relationship between Hawking and his wife, Jane. It’s a story of a passionate couple who grows to drift apart, yet still retain a selflessness and devotion to one another despite how they may change physically and emotionally.

On the Basis of Sex doesn’t seek to document Ginsburg’s straightforward path to her (rightfully acclaimed) position in the Supreme Court, but instead tracks how one woman’s persistent dedication to changing a seemingly set-in-stone system had a hell of a ripple effect on men and women everywhere. Both films feature unexpectedly nuanced portrayals of their lead subjects where others would have no problem leaning into their greatest hits of history — challenging the audience to accept these figures as more human than heroic.

On the other hand, Kasi Lemmons’ choice to wholly lean into the more mythic aspects of Harriet Tubman is a bold if sometimes uneven choice. Each of Tubman’s journeys back into slavery-enforced Confederate territory takes on its own Odysseyan nature, as a dynamite Cynthia Erivo meanders through forests and jungles to guide others towards deserved freedom, occasionally aided by her own spectral visions of the past and future. Harriet also earnestly explores Tubman’s own complex motivations for her bravery–initially motivated by rescuing a separated husband who later spurns her, Erivo and Lemmons turn Tubman’s continued gambling with her freedom into preventing other families from befalling the same fate. Where the other real-life figures in this set overcome their personal hardships to achieve their dreams, Harriet follows a woman who pushes beyond her personal pain in order to achieve a greater freedom and safety for others. It’s a biopic that, while veering into the sanctity of its protagonist, finds something transcendent in devoting one’s live to a cause far greater than themselves.

Golden Romances — The Oscar-Winning Screenplays of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Lost in Translation, and Brokeback Mountain

From fleeting fishing trips in the country, to stolen moments of connection in the streets of Tokyo, to the disappearing memories of a love worth fighting for, these three films are by far the crown jewels in this already-impressive set, and are likely the films that define Focus Features’ approach to innovative and heartfelt storytelling.

With its reality-defying script by Charlie Kaufman and handcrafted visual wizardry by director Michel Gondry, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind captures the chaos of romance in a way little other films have–tempering moments of bitter heartbreak with gasps of levity, and dreamy moments of romance with pangs of dread and inevitability.

Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation finds a similar, yet far more subdued hilarity in the unfamiliar, as Bill Murray’s washed-up film star and graduate-in-crisis Scarlett Johansson escape the suffocating obligations that brought them to Tokyo to find moments worth living for. In far contrast to the tidal wave of people and neon surrounding Bob and Charlotte, Lost in Translation is a sparse, quiet film–making those smaller, tender moments between its two leads leap off the screen when they feel bold enough to let each other know how they might really feel.

The same trepidation has decades-spanning consequences in Brokeback Mountain, as ranchers Ennis and Jack (Heath Ledger & Jake Gyllenhaal) enjoy a brief, then-taboo romance which they quickly bury as they find lives distant and apart from one-another. Full of exquisite moments of longing, Ang Lee mines Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana’s screenplay for as much anguished silence as possible–infusing one of America’s most machismo-driven professions with a beautiful and subversive queerness, one that refuses to accept being silenced as being nuanced or subtle.

In tackling these unforgettable romances with an equally unique and compelling mode of storytelling, all three of these films create a long-lasting emotional impact on their audiences.

While the set’s ten selections are all worth their individual praise, I did wonder why these titles in particular were chosen out of Focus’ large body of work to represent the studio. Similarly-acclaimed titles, like BlackKklansman, In Bruges, and The Constant Gardener are conspicuously absent, as are potential more inspired choices like Paranorman for Animation, Jeff Nichols’ Loving, or Iñárritu’s 21 Grams. The discs themselves are not new transfers or given new special features, either. Rather, they’re previous iterations of past retail discs–some of which, most notably Moonrise Kingdom, have even received more extensive transfers or reappraisals in the years since these discs were first published.

None of the above, though, should be seen as a slight at all against this set. For beginning or economic collectors, the value in this set is tremendous. Even with my own collection, I was eager to upgrade or finally acquire some titles that have long-deserved a spot on the shelf. Each disc is still packed with the impressive array of special features listed below, and picture and audio quality receives top marks across the board. The Focus Features Spotlight Collection can be appraised as a heady crash-course in the crown jewels of one of America’s best art house studios–and the diversity of the films presented here ensures that fans of one or two will soon discover new favorites to treasure in the same regard.

Lost in Translation Special Features

  • Deleted Scenes
  • A Conversation with Bill Murray and Sofia Coppola
  • Lost on Location
  • Matthew’s Best Hit TV
  • City Girl music video
  • On the Set of Somewhere
  • Trailers for Somewhere and Lost in Translation.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind Special Features

  • Audio Commentary by director Michel Gondry and writer Charlie Kaufman
  • Deleted Scenes
  • A Look Inside Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
  • A Conversation with Jim Carrey and Michel Gondry
  • A Conversation with Kate Winslet and Michel Gondry
  • Inside the Mind of Michel Gondry
  • Anatomy of a Scene–Saratoga Avenue
  • Lacuna Infomercial
  • Light and Day Music Video

Pride and Prejudice Special Features

  • Audio Commentary by director Joe Wright
  • Conversations with the Cast
  • Jane Austen–Ahead of Her Time
  • A Bennett Family Portrait
  • HBO First Look–Pride & Prejudice
  • The Politics of 18th Century Dating
  • The Stately Homes of Pride & Prejudice

Brokeback Mountain Special Features

  • A Groundbreaking Success
  • Music from the Mountain
  • From Script to Screen–Interviews with Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana
  • On Being a Cowboy
  • Directing from the Heart–Ang Lee
  • Still Photo Montage
  • Sharing the Story–The Making of Brokeback Mountain

Atonement Special Features

  • Audio Commentary by director Joe Wright.
  • Deleted Scenes
  • Bringing the Past to Life — The Making of Atonement
  • From Novel to Screen — Adapting a Classic

Burn After Reading Special Features

  • Finding the Burn
  • DC Insiders Run Amok
  • Welcome Back, George

Moonrise Kingdom Special Features

  • A Look Inside Moonrise Kingdom
  • Welcome to the Island of New Penzance
  • Set Tour with Bill Murray

The Theory of Everything Special Features

  • Audio Commentary with director James Marsh.
  • Deleted Scenes with optional commentary by director James Marsh.
  • Becoming the Hawkings
  • Trailers for Dallas Buyers Club, Hyde Park on Hudson, Moonrise Kingdom, Promised Land, Beginners, and Being Flynn.

On the Basis of Sex Special Features

  • A Supreme Team–The Making of On the Basis of Sex
  • Legacy of Justice
  • Martin and Ruth–A Loving Partnership

Harriet Special Features

  • Audio Commentary by director Kasi Lemmons
  • Deleted Scenes
  • Her Story
  • Becoming Harriet

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