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by Steve Greene
February 17, 2012 12:24 PM
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Criticwire Picks: From Football Triumphs to Crime and Kisses, Critics Look at New Releases

While the first two months of the year may be the critical dumping ground for some of the major studios, it’s a time when many smaller films finally fulfill their year-long path to distribution. As such, reviews published long ago finally manage to reach audiences who can see the films. We looked through the Criticwire responses for this week’s releases to see what recommendations we could infer.

The Oscar-nominated "Bullhead."

“Putin’s Kiss” didn’t garner a tremendous amount of feedback out of Sundance this year, although it did win at IDFA late last year. But the tale of a young girl in modern-day Russia could find a comfy home with global-minded doc fans.

“On the Ice” has faced some critical disapproval (note the batch of critics clustered at the C- level). But Okpeaha MacLean’s crime tale, featuring young adult protagonists in Alaska, did gain some top recognition last year at Sundance and Berlin. On the heels of its jury success, there are those who think this new theatrical release might have something to offer for audiences. Ryland Aldrich of TwitchFilm wrote in his Park City review, “MacLean shows incredible maturity for a young writer/director. His characters are nuanced and his story very tight.”

Most of the feedback for the next film came when it still had the title “The Convincer” back in the early days of last year. Since that time, what’s now being shown as “Thin Ice” is a different cut, complete with a different score and other changes to go along with the new title. So, some of what critics may have liked 13 months ago may have retroactively become a nuisance, or vice versa. Variety’s Rob Nelson explains that “Stephen Mirrione's editing hits all the right beats, and [Dick] Pope's brilliantly composed widescreen images of the Wisconsin tundra are as bright as any noir's could be.” How audiences respond to the retooled version will be intriguing to watch.

A pair of Oscar nominees hit wider releases this weekend. “Undefeated,” a documentary chronicling the exploits of a Tennessee high school football team, which was showcased in Press Play’s “Should Win” video series as the rightful, deserving pick for Best Documentary at this year’s ceremony.

But Criticwire’s safest bet of the new releases this week, with a wider basis of critical response and arguably larger name-recognition, is the Oscar-nominated “Bullhead.” Distributed by Drafthouse Films, “Bullhead” received a steady stream of “B” grades from critics, with no major dissenters. While critics and the Academy don’t always see eye to eye, Criticwire members agree that this is one Oscar nominee worth your time this weekend.

Putin’s Kiss: B

On the Ice: B-

Thin Ice: C+

Undefeated: B-

Bullhead: B

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