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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.

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The Salt of the Earth is a 2014 biographical documentary about famed Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado. Directed and narrated by Wim Wenders in collaboration with Salgado’s son, Juliano, the film tells Salgado’s life story from his childhood in northern Brazil, his early career as an economist, and ultimately the shift to photography that would lead him to over 120 countries as a world-renowned photojournalist. Shot in stunning black and white by Juliano and Hugo Barbier, The Salt of the Earth is a mesmerizing exhibition of one man’s lifelong dedication to capturing humanity and nature in remarkable states of peril, compromise and elegance. From the Brazilian gold mine of Serra Pelada to the Yali Tribe of Papua New Guinea to the war-ravaged people of Rwanda (to name just a few), the film follows Salgado’s career through his photography, accompanied by his personal accounts of his many encounters and impressions. It’s Salgado’s grace, empathy and kindness that shine the brightest—remarkable for a man who has seen (and photographed) the worst of humanity over the course of his lifetime. It’s an utterly enthralling experience, upsetting at times in its frank display of war and death, but it ultimately serves as an exemplary presentation of Salgado’s work and his intimate reflections upon a career dedicated to truth, awareness and beauty.

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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.

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There are movies that make you a bit more mature when you watch them. This movie is one of them. They took very hard and controversial topic, but presented in so you do understand both sides and agree with them. Winner of an Academy Award and a Golden Globe, it tells the true story of a man who spent 28 years campaigning for the right to end his own life. Now you get why I said it was a hard topic, right? It’s a heart-wrenching watch to say the least, but thanks to a perfect performance from Javier Bardem the complex story gains such a big grasp that it ends up having uplifting and even funny moments.

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A couple decides to raise their six children in the wilderness of the Pacific Northwest, far from modern culture. They teach them how to raise and kill their own food, how to live in nature, but also give them classes on literature, politics, and music. The family drills boot camp-like workouts and climbs rock faces to create physical endurance. Then the wilderness adventure comes to an abrupt halt with a telephone call, and the family enters the world — with hilarious and sorrowful results. Emotionally raw and honest, with terrific performances by Viggo Mortensen, George MacKay and the entire cast of “children.”

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Written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan (Manchester by the Sea) and featuring the ever-reliable Mark Ruffalo as well as a fantastic performance from Laura Linney, You Can Count on Me is a beautiful and beautifully told story of siblings growing apart and later finding each other again. Sammy (Linney) helped raise her younger brother Terry (Ruffalo) after they were orphaned at an early age. Now a single mother, her life turns around when Terry comes back after a long time of being absent, with the two having become almost completely different people in between. Such an honest, genuine exploration of unconditional love, think of it as much more hopeful The Skeleton Twins.

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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.”

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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.

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In The Salesman, Oscar-winning director Asghar Farhadi (A Separation, About Elly), tells the story of a happily married couple who live in Tehran: Emad (Shahab Hosseini) and Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti). When they are forced to move to a new apartment, something about the previous tenant causes a sudden eruption of violence that turns their lives upside down, causing strain on their relationship. Farhadi does what he does best here: deliver on complex issues that characterize his society through ordinary events. Every scene is a privileged look into Iran’s collective consciousness. And even with all that aside, the film still stands as an extraordinary drama, with a tense plot and amazing performances across the board.