A labyrinthine descent into the grotesque extremes of a Disneyfied society, "Escape From Tomorrow" is surreal for many reasons and wholly original because of them. It's also a daring attempt to literally assail Disney World from the inside out. This loosely constructed, starkly black-and-white directorial debut of Randy Moore, which follows a family on their twisted final day of vacation in Disney World, takes place throughout the theme park behemoth and appears to have come together without an iota of permission. Moore portrays Disney World as the ultimate horror show -- and gets the point across in nearly every scene. Read more here.
Moments after New Years Day 2009, 22-year-old Bay Area resident Oscar Grant was shot by a police officer at the Fruitvale BART station in an altercation that didn't call for it. The officer, whose actions were captured on numerous cell phone videos, claimed he mistook his gun for his taser and eventually went to jail -- but the damage was done. Grant, the father of a four-year-old attempting to get his life together, died the next morning. His death led to protests in the area and national discussion, but the particulars of the life lost in the scuffle received less scrutiny. Read more here.
"The Gatekeepers," a startling exposé of Israeli intelligence agency Shin Bet, delivers an unequivocal indictment. The handful of former Shin Bet heads who deliver candid accounts of their reasoning for various destructive assaults in the constant horn-locking with their Palestinian neighbors initially come across as unsympathetic war-mongerers. However, director Dror Moreh allows the movie to exclusively unfold through their voices, humanizing them to the point where their logic and humanity fall into distinct categories. For every shocking justification of murder, there's another moment where they confess frustration and regret, resulting in a refreshingly even-handed portrait. Read more here.
"The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete"
Director George Tillman Jr.'s filmography includes star-studded studio projects like "Men of Honor" and "Notorious," but you wouldn't guess it from the ultra-sincere "The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete," an earnest tale of two lower class kids spending the summer on their own in the Brooklyn projects. The movie hails from a tradition of sentimental, character-driven indies largely based around the strengths of a handful of performances not typically represented in current cinema. To that end, it succeeds, and owes much to the investment of its young leads. But while it contains many earnest ingredients, "Mister and Pete" never obtains the tidy balance of its rhyming title. Read more here.
"Interior. Leather Bar"
William Friedkin's 1980 East Village crime drama "Cruising," in which Al Pacino memorably goes undercover as a gay leather enthusiast to apprehend a killer, remains as divisive and controversial as it was upon its initial release. "Interior. Leather Bar," a 60-minute collaboration between queer filmmaker Travis Mathews ("I Want Your Love") and James Franco, aims to reenact the 40 minutes Friedkin cut from the film in order to secure an R rating, footage that was subsequently lost. In doing so, it also attempts to provoke strong reactions from the audience, but with far greater intellectual finesse. Instead of merely presenting imagery bound to titillate and create unease in equal measures, "Interior. Leather Bar" takes the form of a behind-the-scenes peek at the production to question the societal forces that engender the material's contentious nature. As a fleeting essay on sexual biases, it encourages a thoughtful debate, but leaves too many questions dangling to solidify into much beyond a dashed experiment. Read more here.
"I Used To Be Darker"
Matthew Porterfield's sleeper hit "Putty Hill" was heralded for its keen melding of documentary and narrative traditions into a poetic exploration of a small Baltimore community impacted by a young man's sudden death. The movie drifted effortlessly from one environment to another, constructing a sense of place through a collage of emotions, offhand exchanges and occasionally breaking the fourth wall. Porterfield's follow-up "I Used to Be Darker" similarly weaves realism and a rigid storytelling structure together with affecting results, even though it adheres more closely to familiar patterns in its perceptive examination of a deteriorating American family. Not your typical divorce drama, "I Used to Be Darker" stings harder than most. Read more here.
The first scene of "jOBS" plays like an Apple commercial. Set in 2001 at an Apple town hall meeting, the introductory sequence finds company visionary Steve Jobs (Ashton Kutcher) addressing staffers by revealing the first edition of the iPod. With John Debney's symphonic score emboldening Jobs' optimistic delivery, the man describes the iPod as "a tool for the heart" and the room applauds. The lack of irony borders on the creepy. Read more here.
Linda Boreman, née Linda Lovelace, took the porn world by the storm with her breakthrough performance in 1972's seminal blue movie "Deep Throat," but few audience members cared about her life offscreen. That's technically the focus of "Lovelace," a tame look at the actress' rise and the abuse she faced from husband Charlie Traynor behind the camera. The very existence of the project suggests most people don't know the whole story. But many do, thanks to Lovelace's tell-all memoir "Ordeal," the publication of which arrives at the climax. Like the public narrative of Linda Lovelace at the height of her fame, the movie lives in a fantasy where it has something important to say. Read more here.
It's always something of a gamble when filmmakers operate outside of their safety nets, but Sebastián Silva's movies have never played it safe. Both "Old Cats" and "The Maid" took the mold of family dramas and transcended them with a mixture of dark humor, physical violence and miscommunication. The tricky balance paid off, but with "Magic Magic," Silva hits a wall. More formally ambitious than "Crystal Fairy," one of two movies directed by Silva and co-starring Cera that premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, "Magic Magic" takes the form of a serious-minded thriller but lacks a reason to care for any of its characters. Cera, playing against type in a stony-faced role, sends this project further out of whack, a shame given the caliber of talent associated with its creators. Read more here.
"May in the Summer"
Cherien Dabis' 2009 directorial debut "Amreeka" followed a family of Palestinian immigrants trying to make do with life in suburban America. Her follow-up, the substantially more polished and enjoyable "May in the Summer," tackles the inverse premise: A high-minded New Yorker dealing with a vastly different world while visiting her family in Jordan. Unlike "Amreeka," however, "May in the Summer" focuses less on culture clashes than the universal cycles of familiar problems that transcend cultural specifics. With its pre-wedding jitters plot, the movie hails from a well-worn tradition, but Dabis manages to shake up conventions with her fresh setting while sticking to familiar ground. Read more here.