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Featuring real, in-the-moment footage of operations to rescue young queer individuals from the continuing anti-gay purges in the Chechen Republic, Welcome to Chechnya makes for a demanding but essential call to action. There's a genuine sense of fear that pervades the documentary, not just for those being rescued after being forcibly outed, beaten, and trapped by the people around them, but for the filmmakers themselves, whose operations are built on meager resources and desperate, spur-of-the-moment decisions. It's a remarkably courageous film—one that also presents new ways of keeping sensitive subjects safe through the thoughtful use of deepfake technology, keeping their identities hidden while allowing them to freely express themselves.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Ramzan Kadyrov, Vladimir Putin, Zelim Bakaev

Director: David France

The shiver-inducing talents of Stephen King, David Cronenberg, and Christopher Walken meld to produce this supremely chilly supernatural thriller adaptation. Schoolteacher Johnny’s (Walken) perfect life is overturned when a horrific car accident puts him in a coma that robs him of five years of his life — and with them, his job and girlfriend Sarah (Brooke Adams), who moves on with someone else.

For anyone familiar with Cronenberg’s films, the director’s involvement might lead you to expect results from this premise as idiosyncratic as Crash or Videodrome’s, but The Dead Zone takes a decidedly more mainstream path than those works. In the place of graphic body horror is more palatable — but no less affecting — emotional bleakness, as Johnny contends with losing Sarah and a reality-warping new ability: he now has the power to see into the future of anyone he touches. While being forewarned about house fires and nuclear war might be a blessing for those whose lives he saves, Johnny struggles with the emotional burden of being responsible for preventing these future tragedies. More than any of the chilling setpieces — a frantic hunt for a serial killer, the attempted assassination of a demagogue — it’s Johnny’s grappling with this gift-slash-curse that gives The Dead Zone its fierce intensity.

Genre: Horror, Science Fiction, Thriller

Actor: Anthony Zerbe, Barry Flatman, Brooke Adams, Chapelle Jaffe, Christopher Walken, Cindy Hinds, Claude Rae, Colleen Dewhurst, David Rigby, Géza Kovács, Hardee T. Lineham, Helene Udy, Herbert Lom, Jackie Burroughs, James Bearden, John Koensgen, Ken Pogue, Leslie Carlson, Martin Sheen, Nicholas Campbell, Peter Dvorsky, Ramon Estevez, Roberta Weiss, Roger Dunn, Sean Sullivan, Tom Skerritt, William B. Davis

Director: David Cronenberg

Rating: R

Many people lament the decline of the mid-budget drama with Hollywood A-listers in the lead roles, and for good reason: when the charms of an inspirational, feel-good true story work, they really work. The Burial seems to have been made with this same, unabashedly sentimental attitude, and it makes for an endlessly watchable courtroom underdog tale. The film moves with real energy between its more comedic asides and its more urgent themes of underprivileged people being taken advantage of by wealthy companies. And while it still would've probably been effective as just a straightforward legal drama, the movie makes the effort to seek out a bigger picture—deepening its own title by grounding all its characters against complicated race relations in Mississippi.

Director and co-writer Maggie Betts doesn't stray too far from the template that these kinds of films operate with (perhaps to a fault, especially during its climactic moments), but the cast she's assembled is unimpeachable. Jamie Foxx turns in the kind of funny, energetic, deeply felt star performance that earned him an Oscar almost 20 years ago, while Tommy Lee Jones brings a powerful sense of modesty and centeredness to a role that could've easily taken a back seat to his flashier co-lead. Supporting turns from Jurnee Smollett and Alan Ruck round out a uniformly great ensemble that gives this small movie a commanding air of prestige.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, History

Actor: Alan Ruck, Amanda Warren, Andrea Frankle, B.J. Clinkscales, Bill Camp, Billy Slaughter, Christopher Winchester, David Alexander, David Maldonado, David Shae, Donna DuPlantier, Dorian Missick, Doug Spearman, Eric Mendenhall, Erika Robel, Evan Brinkman, Fracaswell Hyman, George Ketsios, Gralen Bryant Banks, Jalene Mack, Jamie Foxx, Jason Bayle, Jim Klock, Jurnee Smollett, Keith Jefferson, Lance E. Nichols, Logan Macrae, Lorna Street Dopson, Mamoudou Athie, Mike Harkins, Olivia Brody, Pamela Reed, Sam Malone, Summer Selby, Teisha Speight, Tommy Lee Jones, Tywayne Wheatt, Vince Pisani

Director: Margaret Betts

Rating: R

Just like with his mentor and contemporary, Fred Rogers, there are no dark secrets to Ernest Coombs' earnest belief in giving children the space to be gentle and creative. Even with relatively little "drama" throughout the life of the man called Mr. Dressup, it's still profoundly moving to see him put in the work to make the world a kinder place. Director Robert McCallum keeps this documentary exactly as straightforward as it needs to be, moving through Coombs's life with total reverence but plenty of modesty—making sure not to inflate the idea of Mr. Dressup into something Coombs himself would have disagreed with.

In its act of honoring this person with an everyman personality and a trunk full of quaint costumes, the film also serves as a tribute to low budget educational television. Working within a very small studio, with simple puppets and no strict script to follow, Coombs and his friends found any way possible to stick to their original idea of teaching very young kids that being kind and communicating one's feelings clearly were the best things one could achieve. Behind Mr. Dressup's softness is a remarkable work ethic, a deep respect for children, and a commitment to thoughtful, universal values.

Genre: Documentary, Family

Actor: Andrew Phung, Bif Naked, Bruce McCulloch, Catherine Tait, Ed Robertson, Eric McCormack, Ernie Coombs, Fred Rogers, Graham Greene, Jim Creeggan, Jim Parker, Jonathan Torrens, Judith Lawrence, Kevin Hearn, Lynn Coombs, Michael J. Fox, Paul Sun-Hyung Lee, Peter Mansbridge, Scott Thompson, Terry McManus, Trina McQueen, Tyler Stewart, Yannick Bisson

Director: Robert McCallum

Saying that the program I Love Lucy paved the way for television would be an understatement. Lucille Ball inspired a generation of female comedians, Desi Arnez blazed a trail for Latinos making it in America, and the show that they starred in broke records upon records, redefining what sitcoms could be at a time when no one took them seriously. 

Millions tuned into their love story as Lucy and Rick, but their real-life relationship as Lucy and Desi was just as compelling. It was complicated by jealousy, race, gender, and class, but it was also solidly grounded in true, enduring love. This documentary, directed by Amy Poehler, does well to tell us the couple’s truth without sensationalizing it. Instead of blowing things out of gossipy proportions, she zeroes in on the messy facts and weaves them into a nuanced, enlightening tale about marriage, celebrity, and fame. Thanks to Poehler, the story about Lucy and Desi is just as riveting as their legendary show. 

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Bette Midler, Carol Burnett, Charo, Desi Arnaz, Desi Arnaz Jr., Dick Cavett, Johnny Carson, Lucie Arnaz, Lucille Ball, Norman Lear, Preston Foster, Vivian Vance

Director: Amy Poehler

Rating: PG

, 2018

Present-day Mexico City—Ariela comes from a Jewish family that insists on getting married only to people of the same religion. This rule is complicated when Ariela falls in love with the non-Jewish Iván. She is then faced with the dilemma of choosing herself or her family, who for all their severity, she still loves deeply.

Leona’s modern-day retelling of Romeo and Juliet recalls the likes of Crazy Rich Asians and The Big Sick, but unlike those big-budgeted movies, this intimate Spanish-language film exchanges melodrama for restraint, and it’s all the better for it. Leona is a quietly moving story that’s easy to relate to, despite the specificity of its premise.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Adriana Llabrés, Carlos Aragón, Carolina Politi, Christian Vazquez, Margarita Sanz, Naian González Norvind, Rodrigo Corea

Director: Isaac Cherem

Rating: R

This coming-of-age drama set near Sept-Îles in Quebec, Canada is about two indigenous Innu best friends who grow up together. One day, one of them meets a white guy and starts planning a life with him, which is seen by both her best friend and her community as a rupture with them.

“If everybody did the same thing you’re doing, we wouldn’t exist,” her friend tells her. Kuessipan is about that intersection between friends growing apart and indigenous identity, all set in the backdrop of Canadian reserve life. Won the Grand Prix at the Québec City Film Festival.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Brigitte Poupart, Étienne Galloy, Katinen Grégoire-Fontaine

Director: Myriam Verreault

Judy Blume, the author behind enduring classics like Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret, Superfudge, and Forever, gifts us with her comforting presence and precise insight in Judy Blume Forever, a delightful documentary about a delightful woman.

Here, Blume looks back and lets us in on the eventful private life that inspired her prolific work life. Each book has a behind-the-scenes story, which the documentary pairs with commentary from well-known fans like Molly Ringwald, Lena Dunham, and Samantha Bee. Additionally (and most memorably), the documentary also features the years-old correspondence Blume has kept with the children who wrote and confided in her. Whether or not you’ve read her work, watching this film is a heartwarming experience that will soon have you grabbing the nearest Blume classic.

Genre: Documentary, Drama

Actor: Anna Konkle, Caitlin Kinnunen, Cecily von Ziegesar, Judy Blume, Lawrence Blume, Lena Dunham, Molly Ringwald, Samantha Bee, Tayari Jones

Director: Davina Pardo, Leah Wolchok

Rating: 16

This lovely comedy-romance from Ireland is about a closeted gay teen and his lesbian schoolmate who pretend to be in a relationship to avoid being bullied at their school.

This premise makes Dating Amber an original story in a genre in which that's increasingly rare. This is added to the setting, in 1995 rural Ireland, which is executed to gorgeous perfection in everything from the clothes to the music. 

Dating Amber ends up being more coming-of-age than a comedy-romance. It's a tale of friendship and self-acceptance.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Ally Ni Chiarain, Anastasia Blake, Arian Nik, Art Campion, Barry Ward, Corey Millar, Emma Willis, Eva O'Connor, Evan O'Connor, Fionn O'Shea, Fionn O'Shea, Ian O'Reilly, Ian O'Reilly, Karl Rice, Lauryn Canny, Lola Petticrew, Peter Campion, Sharon Horgan, Shauna Higgins, Simone Kirby, Tara Flynn

Director: David Freyne

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Produced by Eminem, Bodied is like if the rap battles of 8 Miles lasted a whole movie, and that movie was a comedy. Adam is a white poetry major who studies battle rap and believes they represent the most modern form of poetry. His fascination leads him to participate and win in a battle and subsequently enter that world. But this is anything but an underdog story - Bodied is more of a satire of what Adam represents and how his college entourage reacts to his offensive lyrics. This is a funny movie and an interesting commentary on what it means to be offensive nowadays.

Genre: Comedy

Actor: Calum Worthy, Jackie Long, Rory Uphold

Director: Joseph Kahn

Rating: R

, 2022

Till is a very political film. It’s charged with the kind of rage and electricity that enables thousands to mobilize for a cause. But before it explodes into something grand, it begins with the small details of everyday life. A mother admires her son as he dances to his favorite song. She buys him a new wallet and goes over the things they’ll do over the summer. These things seem trivial, but they reveal the humanity that sometimes goes overlooked in telling epic stories such as these.

To be sure, Till is a necessarily brutal film about grief and justice, but it’s also about how political movements are borne out of small and personal devastation. This nuance, along with a jaw-dropping performance by Danielle Deadwyler, makes Till a standout: a powerful entry in a long line of social-issue dramas.

Genre: Drama, History

Actor: Al Mitchell, Bradley King, Brandon P. Bell, Brendan Patrick Connor, Carol J. Mckenith, Danielle Deadwyler, David Caprita, Ed Amatrudo, Elizabeth Youman, Eric Whitten, Euseph Messiah, Frankie Faison, Haley Bennett, J.P. Edwards, Jackson Beals, Jalyn Hall, Jamie Renell, Jaylin Webb, Jayme Lawson, John Douglas Thompson, Jonathan D. Williams, Josh Ventura, Keisha Tillis, Kevin Carroll, Lee Spencer, Maurice Johnson, Mike Dolphy, Njema Williams, Phil Biedron, Princess Elmore, Richard Nash, Roger Guenveur Smith, Sean Michael Weber, Sean Patrick Thomas, Summer Rain Menkee, Tim Ware, Torey Adkins, Tosin Cole, Whoopi Goldberg

Director: Chinonye Chukwu

Rating: PG-13

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Silver Dollar Road isn’t a new story– it’s one of many that comes as a consequence of systematic Black land loss that continues to happen to this day. Director Raoul Peck tells it in a new way, completely focusing on the Reels family and hearing their story entirely, from the initial confusion to two of the homeowners’ incarceration, and remembering the good old days when they used to enjoy the land. The land dispute has escalated to years of harassment, imprisonment, and being taken advantage of from opportunistic legal counsel. While it could have benefitted from from detailed legal proceedings, Silver Dollar Road still powerfully depicts an intimate family story that outlines the systemic racism enabling Black land loss today.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Kim Renee Duhon, Mamie Reels Ellison

Director: Raoul Peck

Rating: PG

While it might not be the most inspired story featuring the titular caped crusader—nor is it a particularly Christmas-y tale—Merry Little Batman still stands out just for how bright and warm its versions of these characters are. In this Gotham, crime is literally pushed aside for once, and that odd sense of holiday isolation takes over for the heroes and villains of the city. It's all pretty silly when you give it more thought, but the film wholeheartedly embraces its tone, resulting in a Home Alone-esque adventure that moves briskly and is loaded with great visual gags and throwaways zingers. It could stand to have a more substantial emotional center, but for what it is, this is consistently entertaining holiday viewing for all ages.

Genre: Action, Animation, Comedy, Family

Actor: Brian George, Bumper Robinson, Chris Sullivan, Courtenay Taylor, Cynthia Kaye McWilliams, David Hornsby, Dolph Adomian, Fred Tatasciore, James Cromwell, Keith Ferguson, Luke Wilson, Michael Fielding, Natalie Palamides, Reid Scott, Roger Craig Smith, Yonas Kibreab

Director: Mike Roth

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Chinese artist Ai Weiwei directs his attention towards the ongoing refugee crisis, the biggest displacement of people since World War II. His documentary is apolitical and tries to focus on the human side of the picture. It's not a news report or a commentary on the causes of the situation. Instead, it's a combination of heartfelt stories spanning 23 countries that showcase people's battle for dignity and basic rights. A truly epic movie complemented by impressive drone footage that's as impressive as it is sad.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Fadi Abou Akleh, Hiba Abed, Israa Abboud, Marin Din Kajdomcaj, Rami Abu Sondos

Director: Ai Weiwei, Weiwei Ai

Rating: PG-13

Frida Kahlo is an iconic Mexican painter, not just because of her outstanding art, but also because of her outlook in life, despite her ill health and tragic accident. Because of this, she has been talked about in multiple books, movies, and exhibitions, but a new documentary has popped up, this time from her own words. Carla Gutierrez’s directorial debut is a revelation, voiced primarily in Frida’s native Spanish and paired with key archival footage, vivid animations of her paintings, and an excellent acoustic score plucked from classical guitar. Being a biographical documentary, fans of the artist would, of course, be familiar with her life events, but Gutierrez’s approach is still worth watching, mostly because it’s Frida’s own words driving the film.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Frida Kahlo

Director: Carla Gutierrez

Rating: R

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