One of this year’s best-reviewed indies of the year hits Netflix November 22, and is streaming on Amazon Prime right now. Pawel Pawlikowski’s powerful “Ida” — which led this week’s Criticwire Survey as the movie you have to watch before making a Top 10 list for 2014 — is a welcome return-to-form for the director, whose previous film, “The Woman in the Fifth,” was a disappointment after his 2004 breakthrough “My Summer of Love.” The film follows a young nun who learns from her heavy-drinking aunt, a judge and former Stalinist prosecutor, that she is actually Jewish, and that her parents were murdered during the war. The film recalls Bergman, Bresson and Andrzej Wajda, among other European masters, but it never feels like it’s merely borrowing from the past, and its utilization of space (in academy ratio, no less!) makes for some of the most gorgeous photography of the year.
Other releases on Netflix this week can’t quite match “Ida’s” acclaim, but there are a handful of sleepers worth checking out. November 23 brings Joe Swanberg’s latest film, “Happy Christmas,” starring Anna Kendrick. November 25, meanwhile, sees the Netflix premiere of the indie drama “War Story” and a pair of documentaries: “Beyond the Edge,” about Sir Edmund Hillary’s scaling of Mt. Everest, and “Running from Crazy,” about “Manhattan” actress Mariel Hemingway dealing with the specter of mental illness and suicide that hangs over her family (most notably her grandfather, writer Ernest Hemingway). Movies on Demand, meanwhile, premieres the indie romcom and previous Criticwire Sleeper “What If” on the 25th.
More thoughts from the Criticwire Network:
Keith Uhlich, Time Out New York
Greg Cwik, Indiewire
Shot in Bergman-approved 4:3, Pawel Pawlikowski’s gorgeously bleak “Ida” is a keen retrograde study of classic European cinema that simultaneously feels timeless. It reaches back to the advent of the Eastern European art film in its rhetorical musings, but it doesn’t succumb to the cute conventions of a period piece, which make its setting difficult to pin down. But with its elegant imagery and a story that follows suit, the film has a genuine feel and demands to be taken seriously. Read more.
Criticwire Average: B
Anne-Katrin Titze, Eye for Film
A revealing portrait of an American family in the public eye is exposed. Barbara Kopple’s “Running From Crazy” is less interested in the myth than the traumas, fears and internal demons that haunt the clan. Read more.
Serena Donadoni, The Village Voice
Scott Tobias, The Dissolve
At a time when the once-dominant romantic comedy is an endangered species, “What If” proves the formulas can still work, under the right circumstances, and without really needing to tweak the recipe much. Creating bright, agreeable characters and casting them well will get a film halfway there, and avoiding phony, contrived obstacles takes it the rest of the way. Read more.