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Nebraska

Director: Alexander Payne
Cast: Bruce Dern, Will Forte, June Squibb, Stacy Keach, Bob Odenkirk

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June Squibb
Nebraska


You probably don’t recognize the name. After all, Ms. Squibb has appeared on both television, the stage, and in movies, and yet her most recognizable work may be her brief turn as Jack Nicholson’s late wife in Alexander Payne‘s About Schmidt. Reunited with the director here, the actress soars as the disapproving if loyal wife of Bruce Dern’s determined lottery “winner”. In her buttery black and white facade, in her controlled cadence and rural Montana mannerisms, she’s the sanity inside her slipping relationship, the bond branded between father and his forlorn son (Will Forte). At 84, she is comfortable in the role of mom, her Midwestern upbringing providing a solid foundation to deal with the decidedly odd men in her life. Bill Gibron


 

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Concussion

Director: Stacie Passon
Cast: Robin Weigert, Maggie Siff, Johnathan Tchaikovsky, Ben Shenkman, Janel Moloney, Emily Kinney, Laila Robins

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Robin Weigert
Concussion


By all rights, Stacie Passon’s Concussion, about a bored lesbian housewife who starts moonlighting as a prostitute in Manhattan after getting conked on the head, should have been a solid drag. Passon makes it a wittier piece of work than that synopsis would suggest. But Robin Weigert’s daffy, winning performance is one of the greatest reasons for seeking this film out. The film’s unspoken joke is that she’s suffering from some kind of personality-altering concussion and doesn’t quite understand the ramifications of what she’s doing. Weigert, previously seen as Calamity Jane on Deadwood, plays the comedy with an understated and wry verve that hits every note just right. Chris Barsanti


 

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Upstream Color

Director: Shane Caruth
Cast: Amy Seimetz, Shane Carruth, Andrew Sensenig, Thiago Martins

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Amy Seimetz
Upstream Color


At the beginning of Shane Carruth‘s Upstream Color, a sort of devil deceives Kris (Amy Seimetz). Her captor, known only as “Thief”, drugs her and robs her of her will. The story that follows is enigmatic. Sharing a theme with Carruth’s Primer, Upstream Color concerns the futility and/or danger of trying to control life’s narrative threads. Dialogue is of little importance in the film. It’s up to Seimetz to convey the tragedy of the plot mostly with her body and face. Seimetz plays Kris as a woman locked off—uncertain of the specifics of her trauma and determined not to lose herself again. When Kris meets Jeff (Carruth), she discovers an opportunity to unlock a mystery.


The film provides several variations on the concepts of harmony and discord, and Seimetz masterfully modulates Kris’s mood and its effects on the audience. Kris is caught in a cycle, reinforced by the repeated image of her swimming to the surface of a pool, falling, and rising again. Seimetz convinces us of the possibility of mastering forces beyond one’s control. Then suddenly, she reverses course, hurtling back into the confines of the unknown. Therefore, by the end of the film, Kris the deceived has become a deceiver, causing the audience to perceive a happy ending where there is no such thing. Thomas Britt


 

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American Hustle

Director: David O. Russell
Cast: Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Jennifer Lawrence

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Jennifer Lawrence
American Hustle


At first, she’s like a cartoon, a young actress’s idea of what a young New Jersey housewife circa 1979 would talk and act like. But then, as with all brilliant performances, everyone’s favorite tentpole anchor (she’s equally amazing in the Hunger Games films) moves directly into the depth her harried homemaker requires. When she walks into a room filled with wise guys, the rest of her merry band intimidated by their mob enforcer finery, she merely throws back her shoulders and goes in for the kill. Toward the end, when she’s explaining to her husband (Christian Bale) that all the bad she’s done was a way of “motivating” him to move forward, Lawrence has gone from laughable to legit to legendary. Bill Gibron


 

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In a World

Director: Lake Bell
Cast: Lake Bell, Fred Melamed, Demetri Martin, Michaela Watkins, Ken Marino, Rob Corddry, Nick Offerman, Tig Notaro

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Lake Bell
In a World


Lake Bell has appeared in more average to awful romantic comedies as a supporting player than any actress of record. She’s too funny, too quick, and too flat-out gorgeous to go unnoticed, and yet, for the most part, somehow she did. Until now. Bell’s directorial debut In a World also features her best performance as an actress. Bell’s sporadic, obliviously joyous demeanor is so likable she could be seen as playing herself, Her timing is spot on, though, making you think there’s more going on than meets the eye. It takes a master craftsman to play a character a notch slower than normal folk. Bell’s voice over artist Carol isn’t exactly slow—she’s just cruising under the radar a little longer than expected. Huh. I wonder where she came up with that? Ben Travers


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