Side By Side
The mere fact that producer Keanu Reeves and director Christopher Kenneally sought names ranging from James Cameron to Lars von Trier should say enough. Side By Side tries to traverse all avenues of a topic which any film lover ought to have some major investment in: the fight between making film with traditional, much-beloved celluloid or the cheaper, faster digital format. Kenneally and Reeves explore these territories with people on the very forefront of the revolution. Along with the fun of David Lynch constantly referring to his interviewee by their first name — or Christopher Nolan sucking the loving air out of the room — this documentary also takes an informative, well-researched, but never pedantic look at both the history of digital film and the complicated process involved in developing celluloid. You get a little bit of everything here; better yet that it’s all worthwhile. – Nick N.
While The Raid seemed to steal its foreign action thunder around the same time, this French thriller packs a much better story and more tension. This twist on Die Hard-in-a-night-club features Tomer Sisley (who should be moments away from breaking out into Hollywood action stardom) as he attempts to get his son back. With a stellar sense of space and an unexpected brutality to the choreography, this one outdid pretty much every summer blockbuster in thrills. In any case, catch up before Warner Bros. puts out its remake in the near future. – Jordan R.
Sleepwalk with Me
“I’m going to tell you a story, and it’s true….I always have to tell people that,” begins Mike Birbiglia in the opening of this autobiographically derived feature debut. A comedian in other aspects of his life, Birbiglia draws upon the power of wit and honest truths to remind us how captivating and important personal storytelling is in this impressive directorial debut. – Kristen C.
I saw Justin Kurzel’s blistering debut back in early February, and the frosty shock of the film’s depiction of violence — both gruesomely physical and soul-crushingly psychological — has yet to leave the forefront of my mind. One of these days, I’ll get around to watching it again, because the disciplined filmmaking is too good not to merit revisits. In fact, were it not for the explosively humane performances — ranging from Daniel Henshall’s terrorizing father figure to Louise Harris’ desperate single mother — it’s possible that Kurzel would’ve sucked the life right out of us. – Danny K.
Sound of My Voice
Certainly my favorite low-budget film of the year, Zal Batmanglij’s Sound of My Voice is the perfect example on how to deliver character-based high-concept by any (little) means necessary. Brit Marling is captivating as we question the validity of her futuristic claims. While many seemed perturbed at the ending, it provides much to discuss as we pick up this young directors’ clues along the way. – Jordan R.
This is Not a Film
Artistic cry, self-reflexive narrative, political statement — although This Is Not a Film manages to be all of those things, limiting it to some three options feels nearly criminal. Jafar Panahi — along with his co-director, Mojtaba Mirtahmasb — saw a government order as something of a dare, taking the former’s nightmarish scenario and turning it into one of the most important films (and acts of filmmaking ) to emerge in this young millennium. It doesn’t hurt that Film is also supremely entertaining, providing a master class in the emphasis of geographic space and temporal frameworks. - Nick N.
The Turin Horse
That Hungarian auteur Béla Tarr has announced The Turin Horse as his final film is a fact both gratifying and depressing. As far as swan songs are concerned, you could hardly ask for a send-out message as accomplished as this one. Running a punishing 146 minutes and structurally characterized by an ongoing repetition of grueling long-takes, the film is nothing if not evocative of Tarr’s idiosyncratic talent. But it’s such a deeply felt formal exercise — both Fred Kelemen’s black-and-white cinematography and Mihály Vig’s wrenching score underlie the day-to-day action with broodingly throbbing meaning — that, despite the grimness, you come out craving more. But it looks like we’ll have to settle for revisits, which isn’t nearly as disheartening as I’m making it out to be. – Danny K.
It’s usually rare for Oscars to actually get it right, but this Best Documentary winner is indeed one of the strongest of the year. Following Bill Courtney’s emotional, inspiring journey of wrangling together a struggling football team in inner-city Memphis, this story is bound to move anyone. As someone whose football viewing is reserved for occasional glances in between Super Bowl commercials, I can assure you this isn’t strictly for sports fans — and perhaps you’ll also shed a tear (or many). – Jordan R.
Your Sister’s Sister
As with her previous film Humpday, director Lynn Shelton is able to explore the complexities of love and emotion, using fun and witty dialogue to make the ride worthwile. However, this film also has heavier undertones, in which the characters are trying to find resolution from difficult life events such as the death of a brother/friend, and the end of a seven-year relationship. Shelton provides this careful balance that allows us to experience to lows with the highs, fostering an authentic emotional experience. – Kristen C.
Did you favorite films of the year so far make the cut? What did you enjoy most thus far?
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