Twelve years ago, Richard Linklater started production on a movie following the development of a child from the age of seven through the end of his teenage years. If there was ever project that demanded to be informed by the history of its making, "Boyhood" is it. Epic in scope yet unassuming throughout, Linklater's incredibly involving chronicle marks an unprecedented achievement in fictional storytelling — the closest point of comparison, Michael Apted's "Up" documentaries, don't represent the same singularity of vision. Shot over the course of 39 days spread across more than a decade, "Boyhood" is an entirely fluid work that puts the process of maturity under the microscope and analyzes its nuances with remarkable detail. Read more here.
“I think there’s too much talk about sins and not enough talk about virtues," Father James says in director John Michael McDonagh’s second film “Calvary,” an Irish mystery-comedy hybrid. Echoing Montgomery Clift's Father Logan in Alfred Hitchcock's 1953 thriller "I Confess," the vested protagonist exists in a fine tradition. Played with a serious face by sophomore McDonagh collaborator Brendan Gleeson, the virtuous Father James represents a dramatic shift not only from the paradigm of leading men in current cinema; his story also diverges from the pigeonhole dug for the director by the smashing success of McDonagh’s first film "The Guard," which premiered at Sundance in 2011 to great fanfare. Read more here.
Michael Fassbender spends the majority of Lenny Abrahamson's irreverent comedy "Frank" buried underneath a giant plastic head, but the honesty of his performance is on full display. As the titular musician at odds with his real identity, Fassbender's Frank faces a legitimate creative crisis in a world as bafflingly offbeat as his prevalent mask. Abramson's risky decision to keep his main character covered up provides an ideal metaphor for a movie that hides its real ideas within a superficially quirky exterior. Though more in love with its silliness than the insights buried inside them, "Frank" works to amusingly irreverent effect when combining the two. Read more here.
"Based on a true story that hasn’t happened yet." These words preface David Cross's directorial debut, “Hits,” a savage film of pungent humor forecasting a grim trajectory for the state of fame-addled American society. Cross, the comedian best known for his role on “Arrested Development,” throws his cast of uniformly unlikeable characters into a chaotic whirlwind of YouTube-fueled scandal and ugly fame. Timely as it is, the movie's critique of Brooklyn hipsters and ultra-conservative Middle America can't obscure the superficial treatment that “Hits” affords to its characters. Read more here.
Writer-director Mike Cahill's 2012 science fiction debut "Another Earth" was a breakout Sundance hit that ultimately irked nearly as many people as it thrilled. Cahill's sappy narrative of soul-searching conundrums revolved around the sudden appearance of a planet identical to our own hanging in the sky, leading to gratingly self-serious conversations about identity and aspirations that held back an undeniably intriguing premise from reaching its full potential. But at its best, "Another Earth" had the appeal of a "Twilight Zone" episode, infusing its ridiculous premise with allegorical depth. Read more here.
Since making her Sundance debut with "Humpday" in 2009, writer-director Lynn Shelton's steady output of work has accumulated into a distinctive brand. Always set in and around Seattle and starring either Mark Duplass ("Humpday") or Rosemary Dewitt ("Touchy Feely")—or, at her best, both of them ("Your Sister's Sister")—Shelton's films are distinguished by their improvisational style and a tone that lies somewhere between laid back and extremely uncomfortable. Her latest film, "Laggies," marks the first time she’s directed a film whose script she didn't personally pen. Although the story by Andrea Seigel is more tightly constructed (and much more neatly wrapped up) than Shelton's own improvised scripts, the story of arrested development in extremis fits neatly into the director's oeuvre. Read more here.
“Little Accidents" takes its time, but Holbrook’s confident performance makes his story riveting throughout, reflecting both the gravity of his situation and the enormous consequences his choice will have on the entire town — certain individuals in particular. Colangelo conveys to great effect the sense that everyone in the town is holding their breath ,watching Amos’s every move, and Holbrook has such a powerful presence that the audience is compelled to do the same. Read more here.
"Love Is Strange"
New York filmmaker Ira Sachs' best work is steeped in understatement and introspective characters, from the disgruntled music producer played by Rip Torn in "Forty Shades of Blue" to the troubled gay couple in "Keep the Lights On." In between those two projects, Sachs took an uneasy step into more traditional big budget filmmaking with the quasi-Hitchcockian "Married Life." Like that movie, Sachs' new work "Love Is Strange" features name actors and a polished look, but it remains remarkably faithful to the strongest ingredients in his other work: Featuring extraordinarily sensitive turns by John Lithgow and Alfred Molina as an aging married couple forced to vacate their Manhattan apartment, "Love Is Strange" is a sophisticated take on contemporary urbanity infused with romantic ideals and the tragedy of their dissolution. Read more here.
"Nick Offerman: American Ham"
Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts, whose “Kings of Summer” played at last year’s Sundance, filmed “Nick Offerman: American Ham” over two shows during the same night. Each time, Offerman entered New York’s historic Town Hall Theater shirtless, his American flag button-down trailing like John Wayne’s do-rag. He promised minor nudity, but didn’t clarify it’d be of the hairy, plumpy midriff sort. “You didn’t know life could be this delicious,” he seduced the crowd. At first glance, Offerman might look as though he's auditioning for a spot on the Blue Collar Comedy Tour. But as "American Ham" makes clear, Offerman contains more Stephen Colbert in his comedic DNA than Larry the Cable Guy. Read more here.
"The Raid 2"
When the Indonesian martial arts movie "The Raid: Redemption" began making the rounds at film festivals back in 2011, it gained instant popularity for its frenetic choreography, becoming an impressive calling card for Welsh director Gareth Evans. Simultaneously bruising and taut, it was always going to be a tough act to follow — making it all the more beguiling that its sequel, "The Raid 2" (internationally titled "Berandal"), is grander and superior in every conceivable way. While its predecessor used John Carpenter's "Assault on Precinct 13" as a reference point, "The Raid 2" pulsates with countless other influences — "Yojimbo," "The Godfather," "Infernal Affairs" – and contains a finale that not so much mirrors but perfects Bruce Lee's unfinished masterpiece "Game of Death." This is a feat that raises the bar for modern action filmmaking, and while claims of its stature as greatest action film of all time might sound premature, they aren't unwarranted. Read more here.
"They Came Together"
David Wayne's goofy, playful filmmaking approach was first successful with "Hot American Summer," but despite solid work on television ("Childrens Hospital"), he hasn’t made a film that hits that sweet spot of mirthful humor since "Role Models." Fortunately, he more or less returns to form with "They Came Together," a takedown of romantic comedy traditions of chaotic, irreverent proportions. Reuniting with "Wet Hot American Summer" alums Amy Poehler and Paul Rudd along with co-writer Michael Showalter, Wain has shot a comedy that hits the ceiling of silliness and bursts through the plaster for a view of the upper floor. Every romantic comedy trope is roasted here, mocked and emulated with a wink; the only thing they’re missing to complete this maniacal medley is Kate Hudson. Read more here.
"The Voices," the new horroresque dark comedy from celebrated "Persepolis" director Marjane Satrapi, ought to be a major career moment for star Ryan Reynolds. He plays Jerry Hickfang, an apparently normal man who works in a bathtub factory in a charming little town called Milton. Jerry lives in an apartment over a bowling alley with his cat, Mr. Whiskers, and his dog, Bosco. He’s got a crush on Fiona (Gemma Arterton), the pretty British girl who works in accounting, and he meets regularly with a sweet and understanding therapist (Jacki Weaver). In other words, he seems like an average guy. Read more here.
"White Bird in a Blizzard"
By now, devoted cinephiles likely know what to expect going into a Gregg Araki movie: sex-crazed teens, an overabundance of nudity (sometimes pretty, sometimes not), a dream-like story wrapped snugly in a nightmare and a killer soundtrack. However, it would be lazy for someone to call it trash cinema—there’s a lot of feeling in his films (please watch "Mysterious Skin" now). Araki is a brilliant director who finds a great deal of meaning in stories of teenage angst and sexual desire, and is perhaps the finest example of coming-of-rage cinema. His latest film, "White Bird in a Blizzard," is his most grownup film to date, but never deviates far from his comfort zone. Read more here.
"Wish I Was Here"
"Garden State" instigated immediate cult-like worship followed by the inevitable backlash to its capricious humor in the ensuing years. Yet while that movie was an easy target for cynical takedowns, "Wish I Was Here" is begging for it in a different way: While it generated several months' worth of headlines about Braff's crowdfunding approach, the resulting movie is far more forgettable than its production history. Littered with delicate pop songs, goofy one-liners and broad caricatures, "Wish I Was Here" stars Braff as struggling actor and deadbeat dad Aidan Bloom, a one-note Woody Allen knock-off adrift in a sea of sitcom clichés: While his good-natured wife (Kate Hudson) urges him to find a real job and struggles with her own soulless office job, Aiden copes with the news that smarmy father (Mandy Patinkin) has cancer and can no longer afford to pay his grandkids' Jewish school tuition. Read more here.
Not as much concerned with the specifics of what created this bleak landscape (filmed on location in South Africa), “Young Ones” is a post-apocalyptic movie where the biggest featured destruction is the dissolution of a family. The way it reaches to find the humanity in a place devoid of hope shows admirable attempt at a singular vision. But Paltrow overestimates the timeless nature of the story. Nathan Johnson’s stirring, sweeping, string-laden score is the ideal soundtrack for the epic tale the film strives to be, but ultimately falls short of. Read more here.