It's a Fox Searchlight special on DVD this week, as the indie division releases three of its Fall 2006 success stories: The Last King of Scotland, Notes on a Scandal and The History Boys. Just so happens we like Scotland, scandal and history, though not necessarily in that order. And then there's also Swank. Hilary Swank.

The Last King of ScotlandThe Last King of Scotland
In similar fashion to the way Jamie Foxx's freakishly good Ray Charles impersonation was received in 2004, Forest Whitaker became an instant favorite to win the Oscar when The Last King of Scotland debuted at festivals last fall. And really the only way this year's Oscar race would've been interesting was if they combined the lead actor categories for a King-Queen showdown (who would you vote for?). The general critical consensus on Last King is that there's an exceptional performance to be seen in a just-decent film. I'd beg to differ. Whitaker's turn as Ugandan dictator Idi Amin was hands-down the performance of the year, but I found the film surprisingly more intense and compelling than most. James McAvoy, as a young Scottish doctor who travels to Uganda to help people (and get a healthy dose of booty on the side) is stellar. His character never actually existed, which lessened the impact of the film for some folks, but as a piece of historical fiction the film works incredibly well. Amin adopts the young chap as a doctor-turned-adviser, and of course doc soon becomes unwitting accomplice to very bad things, those prickly moral conflicts driving the film's narrative. But what makes Whitaker's performance so amazing? You can practically feel it in your bones every time he explodes. His penetrating stare is beyond fearsome. Not even his closest adviser is safe from his wrath, and watching this film, it really feels like you aren't, either. -- KP
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The History BoysThe History Boys
Movies set in British secondary schools are a hard sell on these shores, unless the students are wizards and witches. It's no surprise, then, that The History Boys wasn't much of a blip on anyone's radar last year -- which is a shame, since the film proved every bit as smart and engaging as the multiple-Tony-winning play on which it was based. In the movie, which features the entire original cast, the students find themselves torn between two teachers: the gentle, much-loved, almost buffoonish Hector (the excellent Richard Griffiths), who instills his students with a love of poetry and clumsily gropes them on the back of his motorbike; and the ambitious Tom Irwin (Stephen Campbell Moore), a dynamic ringer brought in to help the boys pass their Oxford and Cambridge entrance exams. Thoughtful, witty, and exquisitely heartbreaking, The History Boys is one film that shouldn't be relegated to the dustbin of history. -- Patricia Chui
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