Short Term 12 is exactly like being injured in a part of your body where you didn't think it was possible to get injured before. It will hurt but it will make you care. Natural and understated by budget and by purpose, it is powered by perfect performances that will take you on an emotional roller coaster ride you will never forget. It is at times sweet, at times depressing and at times hilarious. The thing is, without even taking into consideration its small budget or the importance of the issues it talks about - we would still consider Short Term 12 as one of the best movies of the past 20 years.
It's often said that trying to make a comedy movie featuring a character with cancer is just a bad idea. And while there may be a good share of failed attempts in that category, 50/50 is not one of them. In a movie that comes closer to a believable real life situation than most, 50/50 manages to mine humor, pathos and simple honesty from a dark and traditional situation. Starring Seth Rogan and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, this film isn't afraid to 'go there' but you'll enjoy the journey.
This is the first film directed by actor Macon Blair (so good in both Blue Ruin and Green Room), and while it is shaggy and tonally all over the place, there is a lot to recommend here. First off, I’m a huge fan of the (underrated) Melanie Lynskey, so I was primed to like this movie from the get-go. After Ruth’s (Lynskey) home is broken into, she seeks revenge against the perpetrators with help from her martial arts obsessed neighbor Tony (Elijah Wood, sporting an impressive rat-tail). What starts out as an empowering journey for Ruth & Tony quickly teeters into dangerous and increasingly violent territory. This movie is probably not for everyone, but if you’re a fan of 90s indie films and don’t mind some violence mixed in with your dark humor, then you will enjoy this small, well-acted film.
The Siege of Jadotville is a different kind of war movie. It doesn’t recount famous battles or portray renowned heroes - instead, it’s about heroes and events that went completely unnoticed. Namely, the Irish 35 Battalion ‘A’ Company - a group of youngsters who are sent out on a U.N mission to the Congo. What was supposed to be a simple positioning quickly becomes one of the most sought-after locations and the battalion of 150 ‘war-virgins” find themselves up against 3000 mercenaries led by experienced French commandants. And what a tribute this film is: it’s well-paced, powerfully shot, and the acting, led by Jamie Dornan on one side and Guillaume Canet on the other, is absolutely perfect.
Kilo Two Bravo (Originally named Kajaki) is a must-watch for anyone who likes war dramas. It tells the true story of British soldiers in the Afghanistan war who find themselves trapped in a minefield during a mission, with their rescue team coming in a helicopter that might set off mines if it lands. It's a slow, dialogue driven film that is interested in taking you to the war zone more than it cares about entertaining you. Ultimately, it becomes an essay on the horrors of war, and an anti-war war film. Because of this and given the blood and gore, this movie is definitely not for those who would feel nauseated at sight of blood. Great setting, good cinematography, realistic acting and script all do justice to the true story. It's a film that will grip your senses and keep you at the edge of the seat throughout.
This is the follow-up film by the director of the (also) excellent and intense Blue Ruin. Like that film, Green Room often subverts genre expectations. The basic premise: a lefty punk band winds up taking a show at a skinhead club because they are desperate for cash. The show goes well, but afterward the band accidentally witnesses something they shouldn’t have and are trapped in the club’s green room. This film is brutal and intense, especially because you actually care about what happens to the characters. Bonus: Sir Patrick Stewart plays the leader of the skinhead organization, and gives a subtle yet effectively sinister performance. While some truly horrific acts of violence occur (especially in the back-half of the film) they really do serve the story. Still, there are a handful of scenes that may require more sensitive viewers to cover their eyes. You have been warned.
A heart-breaking examination of a decaying shell of a once-bright marriage, this sad yet erotic-seeming story mixes happy flashbacks of attraction and desire with the grim reality of a dull life. It boosts an electrifying performance from Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling, who seamlessly combine tenderness, rage, lust and sadness. This is a guaranteed tear-jerker, so make sure you've brought your Kleenexes!
A documentary that is immediate and plays out like a thriller. Beautifully shot in Virunga National Park in the Eastern Congo, the story focuses on the struggles between Park Rangers and a list of adversaries including poachers, oil company goons, and an Islamic revolutionary army. The stories of the endangered gorillas and the people who struggle to protect them will break your heart and at the same time give you hope in humanity. On top of this, the editing is superb and gives the film an intensity that rivals any recent thriller.
Based off the real life experiences of the film's writer, Jack Asser, Starred Up is a gritty crime drama set within a violent offenses prison in the UK. The film's name references a youthful offender who, by virtue of his crimes, is sent to an adult facility. The film hums along like a taut bit of wire, keeping the viewer on the edge of their seat as the enormity of the prison subculture is unfolded in front of them. Unlike many other prison dramas, this film isn't afraid to break cliches and explore new ground, and is populated with disturbingly real character studies, slices of dark and broken humanity.
Winner of an Oscar and a Golden Globe among endless accolades, A Separation is a movie about an Iranian couple faced with the decision of leaving the country for better opportunities or staying to take care of a sick parent. If you’ve ever been curious about the humans of Iran beyond the politics, and by cultural extension, humans of Middle-Eastern countries, watch A Separation. But hold it, “An interesting foreign movie” is not how A Separation should be viewed (it’s not Slumdog Millionaire). As someone who grew up in a middle-class Muslim family, this film may be the only one to thoroughly portray many integral aspects of my upbringing. It perfectly depicts the delicate interaction between high moral standards and the realities of underdevelopment: how many bad people are only good people running out of options, and how parents raise their children in a shell of protection from the outside world while struggling to also introduce them to it. On a separate level, it also portrays how people live ready to have every privilege they have ever had revoked and how the constant need to “man up” transforms people, as well as the role of religion in all this. A Separation is my movie, and so I am asking you to watch this film the same way I’d want you to come visit and get to know my home country.