Based on the true story of a free black man kidnapped and enslaved just before the Civil War, Steve McQueen’s film is not only about the horrors of slavery but also the toll that “peculiar institution” takes on those who practice it. Brilliant perfs from Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender and Lupita Nyong’o.
Adele Exarchopoulous, 19, gives one of the greatest screen performances of all time as a French high school girl who falls hopelessly and totally in love with an older woman (Lea Seydoux). Abdellatif Kechiche’s film has been knocked in some quarters for its graphic sex scenes – but that’s 12 minutes in a three-hour movie that follows a young woman’s life over several years in astonishingly psychological detail.
Writer/director Nicole Holofcener is the master of the modern relationship film. In this wise, witty and wonderful comedy a divorced mom (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) finds herself befriending a trendy poet (Catherine Keener) while falling for the poet’s scruffy but loveable ex (the late James Gandolfini). It’s a charming look at late love filled with juicy dialogue, dead-on performances and gentle social satire.
A young black man’s 2009 death at the hands of police on an Oakland train platform becomes the story of the entire American underclass in Ryan Coogler‘s stunning writing/directing debut. The film, which follows Oscar Grant (a sublime Michael B. Jordan) over his last 24 hours, doesn’t whitewash his faults. But it also embraces his humanity – and that of the others who inhabit his world.
In the near future a lonely man (Joaquin Phoenix) falls in love with his Siri-like “female” computer operating system. And who’s to say that “Samantha” (terrifically voiced by Scarlett Johannson) isn’t a sentient being? I’d classify writer/director Spike Jonze’s latest as sci-fi…except that we’re already there. (Opens in KC in January.)
Vastly better than the similarly-themed “Captain Phillips,” Tobias Lindholm’s Danish film over many months follows the negotiations to free the crew of a freighter captured by Somali pirates. There’s an almost perfect three-way balance here between the ship’s cook (Pilou Asbaek), the manipulative Somali spokesman demanding a huge ransom (Abdihakin Asgar), and the Danish shipping official (Soren Malling) determined to bring his crew home safely.
The Coen Brothers’ latest does for the early ‘60s NYC folk scene what they did for roots country in “O Brother…” Moody, bitterly funny, dead-on accurate in its recreation of a time and place…I’d love it even more if the title character wasn’t such a total dick. But then it would no longer be a Cohen Brothers movie.
Matthew McConaughey continues his late-breaking string of great performances in the latest effort from Jeff Nichols, the Shakespeare of modern Southern gothic. McConaughey portrays Mud, a love-struck petty crook – perhaps a few cards short of a deck – who uses a couple of boys as his go-between in contacting his lady fair (Reese Witherspoon). The resulting white trash tragedy is about both hopeless romance and a child’s groping toward adulthood.
Acting vet Bruce Dern blows us away as a crabby codger who believes (or wants to) that he’s won a magazine-subscription sweepstakes; now he’s determined to travel to Nebraska to pick up his $1 million prize. “SNL” alum Will Forte is the sad-sack son who accompanies him on the journey. Alexander Payne’s comedy both satirizes and celebrates rural middle America, a place of big hearts and questionable sense.
Actress Sarah Polly delivers a devastating documentary about her relationship with her father (actor Michael Polley), her charismatic deceased mother (seen in old footage and re-enactments), and the discovery that she is the illegitimate offspring of her mother’s affair with a Canadian film producer. Polley keeps a low profile, appearing on screen only briefly. She wants to learn about herself through the stories of others – and, boy, does she.