Films of the week: The uncertainty principle gets the Coens' touch

 

Film choice: A Serious Man

10pm BBC2

(Joen & Ethan Coen, 2009) This is a thoughtful, precise comedy of manners set in a Jewish enclave of a late-Sixties Midwestern suburb, about physics professor Michael Stuhlbarg. A moral but ineffectual man, he's buffeted by the Coen brothers' unpredictable plot twists, desperate but unable to discern an underlying meaning to the random pattern his life takes after his wife asks for a divorce. Richard Kind and Aaron Wolff (both below) also star.

Soul Power

9pm & 3.10am Sky Arts 1

(Jeffrey Levy-Hinte, 2008) Assembled from previously unseen footage by the editor of When We Were Kings, this is a verité record of Zaire 74, the three-day festival of African and black American music that was staged alongside Muhammad Ali's Rumble in the Jungle. It doesn't have much story but the footage is terrific and the performances – by BB King, James Brown (above) and Bill Withers – are knockout.

This Happy Breed

1.05pm Channel 4

(David Lean, 1944) Robert Newton and Celia Johnson play the heads of an ordinary extended family in an eloquent, ironic melodrama – from a Noël Coward play – that spans the two decades between the wars and celebrates the enduring British spirit, and people of good stock in general. It's a little episodic and schematic, perhaps, but lovingly told, nicely played and completely charming. John Mills (above) also stars.

The Thin Red Line

7pm Sky Movies Select

(Terrence Malick, 1998) Terrence Malick's first film after a 20-year gap was nominated for seven Oscars, but lost out to another Second World War drama, Saving Private Ryan. A starry ensemble cast that includes George Clooney and Sean Penn (above) plays out the human drama of bloodied, dirty and weary men fighting for their lives amid an entirely indifferent but beautifully filmed natural landscape.

Young Adult

5.45pm Sky Movies Select

(Jason Reitman, 2011) Charlize Theron (above) gives a pitch-perfect performance as an alcoholic former prom queen, self-obsessed to the point of sociopathy, liable to say the most hilariously inappropriate things, and set on breaking up her high-school sweetheart's marriage. She neither asks for nor inspires pity – merely a gruesome fascination – which makes Diablo Cody's comedy deceptively subversive.

Inglourious Basterds

10.45pm Film4

(Quentin Tarantino, 2009) The titular bloodthirsty Jewish-American commandos are only one-dimensional ciphers for derring-do – but then they only have supporting roles. And what Quentin Tarantino's Second World War film lacks in action, it makes up for with things that had lately been missing from his previous excursions into genre cinema: well-written characters, suspense and plot. Brad Pitt (above) stars.

The Deer Hunter

10.35pm ITV

(Michael Cimino, 1978) Michael Cimino's film about the lives of a group of Pennsylvanian steel workers before, during and after their tour of duty in Vietnam, is a rare and bold bit of film-making made up of stunning set-pieces and violent but controlled shifts in tone. Robert De Niro (above) was the only established star among a cast (Christopher Walken, Meryl Streep) who later proved to be greats.

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