Shot in black and white to be the best dialogue-driven, character-study film it can be; Blue Jay stars Sarah Paulson and Mark Duplass in a cozy, slow-burning film. Their characters, respectively Amanda and Jim, are former high-school sweethearts who run into each other in their hometowns 20 years later. They talk, then get coffee, and then beer and jelly beans, until they move to Jim’s mother’s house. As they talk, and the movie moves forward, it abandons its romantic chops to become a truly heartfelt and real film. A revelation of a movie.
On par with the best documentaries of the 21st Century thus far, “Requiem for the American Dream” is essential viewing for the discerning viewer in search of a more complete understanding of how American society has evolved to such a dramatic point of polarization, and how both politics and big business have played such an inextricably role in this process. In his introductory remarks to the film, celebrated intellectual and linguistics professor Noam Chomsky expounds: “Inequality has highly negative consequences on society as a whole, because the very fact of inequality has a corrosive, harmful effect on democracy.” At his rational and coherent best, Chomsky spells out his perspective regarding the modern political machine and the downfall of democracy, with a keen eye to the historical decisions and influences that have sabotaged the “common good” and shaped America’s current political, financial and social landscape.
The White Helmets, the 2016 Academy Award for Best Documentary Short Subject, is a concise but riveting documentation of the titular rescue organization that formed in Syria in 2012. Set primarily in the war-torn city of Aleppo, the film captures the day-to-day efforts of the White Helmet volunteers as they respond to the sites of airstrikes and bombings in order to remove survivors and victims from demolished buildings. Director Orlando von Einsiedel (Virunga) clearly put himself in harms way in order to capture remarkable footage of war and ruination, illuminating the unimaginable destruction and death beset upon the Syrian people over the course of nearly 6 years of civil war. It’s a remarkable effort, highlighted in particular by profound one-on-one interviews with members of The White Helmets. They each express their heartfelt desire to save the lives of other human beings, even as they yearn for peace and the safety of their own families and friends. Indeed their official credo from The Quran, as explained in the film, reads “Whoever saves one life, saves all of humanity.”
Incredible footage combined with an incredible soundtrack will keep you frozen in your seat until global warming melts you off (so to speak). Chasing Ice is about a National Geographic photographer who tries to capture a complete overview of what climate change is doing to our planet. Consequently this movie took years to make and countless technical issues had to be dealt with in order to record amazing time-lapse videos. The result is mesmerizing, and something that has never been caught on camera before. This movie is evidence of what our planet is going through that everyone will understand. Be prepared to be charmed and saddened at the same time.
As ivory became appreciated in the Chinese middle-class, demand for it has skyrocketed in the past few years. This brought elephants to a dire outlook: extinction in as early as the next 15 years. “Traders in ivory actually want extension in elephants, the less elephants there are the more the price rises” as one of the commentators in the film says. To bring awareness to this threat, filmmakers went undercover for 16 months and followed the ivory from where it was stolen until it hits the shelves of Hong Kong. The result is a genuine thriller, far more gripping than you’d expect from a documentary. It portrays the brave and hopeful men and women trying to combat these atrocities, the battle they may be losing, and all the obstacles they face. An extremely important watch.
On the way out of a nightclub Victoria runs into four raucous German men who convince her to hang out with them. She is from Spain and has been temporarily living in Berlin. Her German isn’t very good, but her English is passable. She shares some drinks with her new friends, and strikes up a flirtation with one of them. But what starts out as light-hearted hijinks at 4:30am eventually swerves into darker and more dangerous territory, as Victoria is coerced into participating in her German companions’ dangerous plans. While the plot may sound like your standard issue crime drama, Victoria turns out to be something a little different, due to the thrilling and unusual way it was filmed – in a single shot.
In 1980s Dublin, a young Irish catholic-school boy, whose family is facing financial problems starts his own band with the sole objective of impressing a mysterious femme fatale. The film will take you on a beautiful and witty journey through the band’s path to success and our protagonist’s quest of conquering his love all to the rhythm of some of the biggest 80’s pop-rock hits and the band’s own original soundtrack. Without a doubt this film is the culmination of John Carney’s work (Once, Begin Again) as a filmmaker and dare I say his long awaited passion project.
Five orphaned sister are put under house arrest by their uncle and grandmother after they are seen horsing around with some local boys from school. While their actions were purely innocent, their behavior is viewed as scandalous and shameful by the more conservative elders in their small Turkish village. After this incident, their grandmother turns her attention towards marrying off her granddaughters. Each of the five sisters rebel in their own way, but it is the youngest and rowdiest sister, Lale, who is the central protagonist of the film. She watches helplessly as each of her older sisters is married off with an increasing sense of dread and desperation. While this may sound hopelessly depressing, the movie is equal parts beautiful and tragic, and floats across the screen in a dreamlike manner. Not all of the sisters may escape their oppressive surroundings or their assigned fate, but the message is clear: it’s crucial to try.
The true story of Oscar Grant III, a 22-year-old black man on the last day of 2008, where his will to change is challenged by his past, surroundings, and the police. You’ve probably read and heard a lot about young black men’s sad recent encounters with the police, and for this reason you might feel like skipping this film. Don’t.
Produced by Academy Award winner Forest Whitaker, it is so compassionate and powerfully told, that it surpasses the sadness of its subject matter to almost be a celebration of life. It is an extraordinary and important watch.