By Eric Kohn | Indiewire January 28, 2013 at 9:38AM
With his last two features, "Tony Manero" and "Post Mortem," Chilean director Pablo Larraín quickly established himself as the preeminent chronicler of his country's lingering demons from its years of oppression under the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. For his third and most accomplished work, "No," Larraín has traded the allegorical track for the real thing, delivering a lively, mesmerizing drama about a national call to action during the 1988 referendum on Pinochet's presidency. With a full-bodied turn by Gael Garcia Bernal as its anchor, "No" broadens Larraín's range by replicating historical events in engrossing detail. Read more here.
David Gordon Green's career since his acclaimed 2000 debut "George Washington" has taken one of the more bizarre paths of contemporary American filmmakers. At first heralded as an emerging Malickian poet of southern life -- a quality that continued with follow-ups "All the Real Girls," "Undertow" and the stirring "Snow Angels" -- he then took a sharp turn into studio comedies. While Green's take on the vulgar man-child stories popularized by Judd Apatow were more naughtily unhinged than most, only "Pineapple Express" generated some appreciative fans. "Your Highness" and "The Sitter" left many wondering if the elegant craftsman behind Green's first four movies was gone for good. Read more here.
British filmmaker Ben Wheatley has earned a following on the genre film festival circuit for a pair of distinctive movies with two very different moods. His 2009 debut "Down Terrace" followed a family of criminals through a series of amusing misadventures, suggesting Wheatley's proclivity for enlivening dreary circumstances with an odd sense of play. However, 2010's grave "Kill List," in which a jaded hit man struggles with marriage problems, went great lengths to expand his range. With the arrival of "Sightseers," Wheatley's aesthetic strengths finally start to fall into place. This hugely entertaining tale of serial killers in love neatly merges the neurotic black comedy of "Down Terrace" with the morbid twists of "Kill List," inching close to defining the director's overall style. Read more here.
South Korean auteur Park Chan-wook's filmmaking always dances a fine line between sublime and absurd genre ingredients. "Stoker," his first American-set, English language picture, is no exception. It's tempting to resist describing the movie in terms of the cinematic traditions it calls to mind: Alfred Hitchcock's "Shadow of a Doubt" meets "Heathers," Park's creepy tale of a peculiar family wrapped up in murderous antics continues the twisted pleasures that define the director's filmography. Read more here.
"Stories We Tell"
Sarah Polley's efforts behind the camera have showcased tender performances attuned to nuanced fluctuations in shared screen chemistry. Both her Oscar-nominated 2006 directorial debut "Away from Her" and the recent "Take This Waltz" explore the deterioration of relationships in minute detail. While her third feature, "Stories We Tell," marks a shift to nonfiction for the filmmaker, it similarly foregrounds the subtleties of human expression and the secrets embedded within it. A blatantly personal account of her Toronto-based family's rocky developments, "Stories We Tell" marks the finest of Polley's filmmaking skills by blending intimacy and intrigue to remarkable effect. Read more here.
Last year's anthology horror production "V/H/S" was a revelation mainly because it took the overly familiar found-footage genre and exploited it to the fullest extent. The sequel, "S-VHS," achieves a similar goal with more frightening extremes. Containing only four spectacularly gory shorts directed by emerging genre filmmakers, along with an equally unsettling wraparound tale, "S-VHS" lacks some of the original's subtleties but delivers a nearly unbroken series of visceral shocks. The last movie was a wild ride with several stops along the way; "S-VHS," once again produced by the Bloody Disgusting production team known as The Collective, pushes full throttle ahead the whole way through. Read more here.
Shane Carruth's 2004 time travel drama "Primer" provoked endless scrutiny for its heavy reliance on tech speak that the director refused to dumb down. His long-awaited followup, "Upstream Color," also maintains a seriously cryptic progression that's nearly impossible to comprehend in precise terms, but its confounding ingredients take on more abstract dimensions. An advanced cinematic collage of ideas involving the slipperiness of human experience, Carruth's polished, highly expressionistic work bears little comparison to his previous feature aside from the constant mental stimulation it provides for its audience. This stunningly labyrinthine assortment of murky events amount to a riddle with no firm solution. Read more here.
"The Way, Way Back"
If there's one positive result from distributor Fox Searchlight's decision at the Sundance Film Festival to pay nearly $10 million for "The Way, Way Back," it should be this: It will remind people about "Adventureland," a far superior movie about an awkward, frustrated teen spending his summer working at an amusement park. Read more here.
"We Are What We Are"
Writer-director Jim Mickle has steadily established himself as a horror filmmaker that treats the art of shock value with rare maturity. In his feature-length debut "Mulberry Street," he funneled a cheesy monster movie into a metaphor for gentrification and urban decay; in his follow-up, "Stake Land," he imagined a B-movie universe of vampires versus humans with soft-spoken exchanges and lyrical imagery that instantly called to mind Terrence Malick. "We Are What We Are," Mickle's loose remake of Jorge Michel Grau's 2009 Mexican cannibal tale, brings the filmmaker's distinct blend of the elegant and the macabre to its ultimate realization. Outdoing the original by a long shot, Mickle's slow-burn take on the story is poetic, creepy and, finally, satisfyingly gross. Read more here.