February is usually seen as a burial ground for movies. But look past the studio offerings and you'll find a slew of high quality indies, and foreign-language films that are definitely worth a trip to your local art house.
From Jafar Panahi and Bela Tarr to Ben Wheatley and Joshua Marston, check out Indiewire‘s picks for the seven best options, and then check out the full calendar; there’s many worthy films that didn’t make this list.
1. This is Not a Film (February 29, Palisades Tartan)
What's The Deal? In December of 2010, renowned Iranian director Jafar Panahi received a 6-year prison sentence and a 20-year ban from filmmaking due to his open support of the opposition party in Iran's 2009 election. In "This is Not a Film," which was secretly shot on an iPhone and a digital camera by Panahi's close friend Mojtaba Mirtahmasb and smuggled into France in a cake for a last-minute submission to Cannes, Panahi shares his story ideas for a new film, as well as his day-to-day life, as he waits for a decision on his appeal. It's a powerful must-see which turns censorship into art.
What Do Critics Think? "This is Not a Film" has a A- average on its Criticwire page.
2. Kill List (February 3, IFC Films)
What's The Deal? British director Ben Wheatley follows up the well received "Down Terrance" with the even more well received "Kill List." The film follows a professional killer who becomes a pawn in a supernatural mystery when he accepts an assignment from some "shadowy" clients. Indiewire's Eric Kohn called it a "brutally unsettling masterpiece that you have to see twice." If feeling unsettled is something that you want from a film, then clearly "Kill List" is for you.
What Do Critics Think? "Kill List" has a B average on its Criticwire page.
3. The Turin Horse (February 10, Cinema Guild)
What's The Deal? Hungarian cinema master Bela Tarr is clearly not for everyone, but fans of the director are calling "The Turin Horse" a career high. Tarr has said the film is about the "heaviness of human existence," as it recalls the whipping of a horse which is rumoured to have caused the mental breakdown of philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. The film is in black-and-white, shot in only 30 long takes, and depicts the repetitive daily lives of the horse and its owner. It's an ambitious 146 minutes for any filmgoer to take on, but it's well worth it for those with the patience to take it all in.
What Do Critics Think? "The Turin Horse" has a B+ average on its Criticwire page.
4. Rampart (February 10, Millennium)
What's The Deal? Woody Harrelson plays a very, very bad cop in Oren Moverman's follow-up to "The Messenger" (which also starred Harrelson). In the midst of the fallout from the Rampart scandal of the 1990s, LAPD veteran "Date Rape" Dave Brown (Harrelson) is forced to face up to the consequences of his questionable career. Also starring Ice Cube, Anne Heche, Cynthia Nixon, Sigourney Weaver, Steve Buscemi, Indiewire's Eric Kohn gave the film a very strong review, noting how it inadvertedly addresses the police brutality in the Occupy movement.
What Do Critics Think? "Rampart" has a C+ average on its Criticwire page.
5. The Forgiveness of Blood (February 24, Sundance Selects)
What's The Deal? Like "The Turin Horse," Joshua Marston's follow-up to "Maria Full of Grace" — "The Forgiveness of Blood" — premiered at last year's Berlin International Film Festival (which happens to be happening again next week). It won the Silver Bear for best screenplay at the fest, and was originally submitted as the Albanian entry for this year's Oscars until the Academy disqualified it largely because Marston himself is American. But that shouldn't disqualify the film – which deals with the issues of an Albanian family feud – from your "to see" lists.
What Do Critics Think? "Blood" has a B average on its Criticwire page.
6. Michael (February 15, Strand Releasing)
What's The Deal? Causing a considerable stir at last year's Cannes Film Festival, Markus Schleinzer's "Michael" depicts the life of a pedophile. Indiewire's Eric Kohn called it "a triumph of uneasy cinema." "Not since Todd Solondz's 'Happiness,'" he writes, "has a movie portrayed pedophilia in such uncomfortable detail. With an unorthodox level of restraint, the Austrian director tells the story of a dull office drone who keeps a kidnapped young boy locked in his house, where he continually subjects the child to sexual abuse. Despite its subversive edge, 'Michael' successfully drains the shock out of a frightening premise and instead delivers a keen observational thriller."
What Do Critics Think? "Michael" has a B average on its Criticwire page.
7. In Darkness (February 10, Sony Pictures Classics)
What's The Deal? An Academy Award nominee for best foreign language film this year, Agnieszka Holland's "In Darkness" marks another highlight in the 40 year career of one of Poland's greatest cinematic exports. Telling the true story of a sewer worker and petty thief in Nazi-occupied Lvov, Poland, the film is also another powerful entry into the canon of World War II cinema.
What Do Critics Think? "Darkness" has a B average on its Criticwire page.