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  • Mr. Turner

    Mr. Turner 2014

    ★★★★ Added 1

    Mike Leigh’s brilliant, quasi-secretive methods of constructing his unique brand of cinema — his completed screenplays apparently grow out of intensive improv-workshops with his actors — always yield spontaneous and dynamic results but there is something particularly fascinating about seeing his style applied to period pieces (as in Vera Drake, Topsy Turvy and now this); Leigh has a way of making the past feel less mummified than other directors. Mr. Turner is a biopic of 19th-century British painter J.M.W. Turner,…

  • Top Five

    Top Five 2014

    ★★★½ Added

    Though I’ve long admired his stand-up comedy, Top Five is the first film I’ve seen that was actually directed by Chris Rock (it’s his third feature). There are occasional tonal inconsistencies — there almost always are when anyone other than Jean Renoir tries to meld comedy and drama — but this is, on the whole, a smart, raunchy and very funny satire of celebrity and black life in 21st century America. As a cinematic vehicle, it is worthy of Rock’s…

  • The Cannibals

    The Cannibals 1988

    ★★★★½ Added

    Director Manoel de Oliveira wrote the screenplay based on a novel by the Portuguese writer Álvaro Carvalhal and then had a contemporary classical composer, João Paes, write the music and the libretto. The plot concerns Marguerite (Silveira), a high-society woman who marries a wealthy Viscount (Luis Miguel Cintra, Oliveira’s favorite leading man) over the objections of her jealous ex-lover, Don Juan (Diogo Doria). On their wedding night, the Viscount reveals to Marguerite his darkest secret, which leads to a devilish, uproariously funny climax that you have to see to believe.

    From my "Celluloid Flashback" review: whitecitycinema.com/2014/12/01/celluloid-flashback-the-cannibals/

  • Goodbye to Language 3D

    Goodbye to Language 3D 2014

    ★★★★★ Added

    In an era when independent American and foreign-language movies are receiving ever-quicker assignments to the “Video On Demand” graveyard, Goodbye to Language feels like a form of protest (whether conscious on the director’s part or not). By creating an “art film” that can only be properly experienced in palaces devoted to mainstream “entertainment,” Godard has exposed the increasingly large gulf between such silly concepts and made a movie whose true viewership would seem to be some imaginary but more enlightened audience of the future.

    whitecitycinema.com/2014/11/17/2014-the-year-of-the-jlg/

  • Fort Tilden

    Fort Tilden 2014

    ★★ Added

    This microbudget feature debut comedy by co-writers/directors Charles Rogers and Sarah Violet-Bliss plotlessly examines the lives of two vapid, twenty-something rich girls in Williamsburg (Bridey Elliott and Clare McNulty) as they spend a needlessly difficult day trying to meet up with two boys at a beach near their home. Fort Tilden inspires some lascivious chuckles but, even if you disagree with the notion that satirizing hipsters is past its sell-by date, there’s no denying it’s also visually sloppy and tonally…

  • The Midnight After

    The Midnight After 2014

    ★★½ Added

    Of the two misfires I caught at this year’s CIFF (Fort Tilden being the other), this one was particularly painful because of my investment in its director and cast: the once-worthy Fruit Chan (Made in Hong Kong) adapts a sci-fi/comedy novel by someone named “PIZZA” about a bus full of characters played by several generations of HK movie stars (Kara Hui, Simon Yam, Lam Suet, Sam Lee, etc.) crossing into an alternate-reality universe that resembles our own but which is…

  • Winter Sleep

    Winter Sleep 2014

    ★★★★ Added

    Nuri Bilge Ceylan follows up his 2011 masterpiece Once Upon a Time in Anatolia with this impressive near-companion piece, which is focused on dialogue-driven interior scenes as much as the earlier film was on its majestically filmed journey through the barren Turkish landscape. The central figure here is Aydin (Haluk Bilginer), a retired actor who runs a hotel in Anatolia with his pretty young wife, Nihal (Melisa Sözen), and his combative sister Necla (Demet Akbag). The verbal sparring with which…

  • Land Ho!

    Land Ho! 2014

    ★★★★ Added

    I don’t want to oversell it — because the virtues of this low-key comedy are modest by design — but I enjoyed the hell out of every one of Land Ho!‘s breezy 94 minutes and left the theater wondering why I can’t see a new indie movie like this every week. This is the first film I’ve encountered from either of its two chief architects, Aaron Katz and Martha Stevens (a pair of American independents who have previously only worked…

  • Timbuktu

    Timbuktu 2014

    ★★★★★ Added

    Mauritanian filmmaker Abderrahmane Sissako follows up Bamako, his great 2006 indictment of the World Bank and western capitalism, with an equally damning indictment of third-world religious extremism. This lightning-in-a-bottle masterpiece, based on real events that occurred in 2012 but which seem even more prescient following the rise of ISIS, concerns the occupation of the Malian city of Timbuktu by militant Islamist rebels. Sissako’s eye-opening film intertwines several narratives, all of which dramatize the clash between foreign “jihadists” and the moderate…

  • The Babadook

    The Babadook 2014

    ★★★★½ Added

    Amelia (Essie Davis), a young nursing-home employee, is tragically widowed in a car accident when her husband drives her to the hospital so she can give birth to their first child. Six years later, she can’t help but associate her troubled son Samuel (Noah Wiseman) with her beloved husband’s death. Amelia is frustrated by Samuel’s seemingly delusional belief that their household is being menaced by a shadowy monster named “Mr. Babadook,” a belief that is given credence by the mysterious…

  • The Way He Looks

    The Way He Looks 2014

    ★★★½ Added 1

    This winning debut feature from writer/director Daniel Ribeiro puts an original spin on the tried-and-true coming-of-age genre: in the opening scene, the 15-year-old protagonist, Leonardo (Ghilherme Lobo), and his best friend, Giovana (Tess Amorim), commiserate poolside over the fact that they’ve never been kissed. Think you know where this is going? Think again. Leonardo is a blind and closeted gay kid, who is only gradually brought out of his shell after the arrival at his school of another gay kid,…

  • The Iron Ministry

    The Iron Ministry 2014

    ★★★★ Added

    Harvard Sensory Ethnography Lab alum J.P. Sniadecki spent three years filming passengers on commuter trains in China before whittling his nonfiction footage down to this extremely impressive 82-minute feature. Although Sniadecki never takes his camera or microphone outside the train — and serves up sights and sounds that impart a remarkable “you are there effect” (particularly during a stunning sequence of trash being swept up in close-up) — this is hardly a minimalist exercise like the SEL’s riveting Manakamana. Instead,…