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Fruitvale Station

Director: Ryan Coogler
Cast: Michael B. Jordan, Octavia Spencer, Melonie Diaz, Kevin Durand, Ahna O’Reilly

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Fruitvale Station
The Weinstein Company


Like most of us, Oscar Grant celebrated December 31, 2008 with close friends and family. Unlike most of us, Oscar Grant didn’t live to see what 2009 would bring. Fruitvale Station is a powerful recreation of Grant’s (Michael B. Jordan) last day before he was innocently gunned down by a police officer on New Year’s Eve. The film is tough to watch, but viewers are rewarded with three terrific performances by Jordan as Oscar, Melonie Diaz as Oscar’s girlfriend Sophina, and Octavia Spencer as Oscar’s mother Wanda. In addition, we are given a beautifully rendered glimpse into the life of a deeply flawed but ultimately human man whose life ended much sooner than it should have. Jon Lisi


 

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Nebraska

Director: Alexander Payne
Cast: Bruce Dern, Will Forte, June Squibb, Bob Odenkirk, Stacy Keach, Rance Howard, Mary Louise Wilson, Angela McEwan

14


Nebraska
Paramount


Much of Nebraska will feel familiar to anyone who’s seen a couple of Alexander Payne movies: it’s set in the Midwest, it centers on a shambling road trip, and it courts the annoyance of many film critics by daring to deal in caricature for some of its laughs (which, as we all know, is completely unheard of in comedy). But this black and white movie about a mentally ailing father (Bruce Dern) whose son (Will Forte) indulges his fantasy that he may have already won a million dollars also feels like a pared-down mastering of what he’s done well before. Payne mixes hard truths with tiny victories, and the result is lovely, sad, and very funny. Jesse Hassenger


 

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American Hustle

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

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American Hustle
Sony


Like a boulder rolling downhill, slowly picking up speed and eventually smashing everything in its path, David O. Russell‘s resplendent American Hustle is unavoidable. It’s also an amazing motion picture. It’s big and ambitious, wild and unruly, living as much by its wit and clockwork plotting as it does its decade defining (lack of) fashion. Damn, did we really look this bad 35 years ago? Leisure suits and bell bottoms were one thing, but this greasy gigolo by way of three martini businessman whore couture is like a trip into a parallel universe. Russell makes the most of our unfamiliarity, allowing his details to wash over us like the lightshow at a dive bar discotheque. As the soundtrack mashes up genres and release dates, we get a wholly immersive experience, albeit one increasingly aided by the acting onscreen. Bill Gibron


 

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Blue Is the Warmest Color (La vie d’Adèle: Chapitres 1 & 2)

Director: Abdellatif Kechiche
Cast: Léa Seydoux, Adèle Exarchopoulos, Salim Kechiouche, Jérémie Laheurte, Catherine Salée

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Blue is the Warmest Color (La vie d’Adèle: Chapitres 1 & 2)
Sundance Selects


Much has already been written about Blue Is the Warmest Color and its undeserved controversy. If the film’s initial reception has taught us anything, it’s that some people refuse to face the fact that other people have sex. This is a shame, because director Abdellatif Kechiche has created a beautiful coming-of-age film that deals with love, sex, and identity in startlingly original ways. Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux are fiercely committed to their roles as two young women who develop a deep, passionate attraction to one another. The film takes its time to introduce the world in which Adele (Exarchopoulos) inhabits before she meets Emma (Seydoux), and this makes Emma’s impact on Adele’s ordinary life all the more powerful. Emma saves Adele, but as with most intense romances, she also causes her downfall. Blue Is the Warmest Color is a profound film for anyone who has ever been in love. Jon Lisi


 

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The World’s End

Director: Edgar Wright
Cast: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Martin Freeman, Paddy Considine, Eddie Marsan, Rosamund Pike

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The World’s End
Focus Features


The third feature film collaboration between director Edgar Wright and comic actors Simon Pegg and Nick Frost synthesizes and extends the themes of the English trio’s much-loved previous efforts. The film tells the tale of an unrehabilitated 30-something party animal (Pegg) who ropes his former high school friends into a pub crawl in their hometown, where something much more uncanny and sinister than mere recreational alcoholism is going on. The World’s End makes up for its underlying rote nonconformist tendencies with bursts of geeky wit and genre-lampooning satirical energy. Ultimately, Wright, Pegg, and Frost present a heartening defense of warts-and-all humanity and our sacred sovereign right to do what we want, even if that means repeated failure. The World’s End is this case’s Exhibit A. Ross Langager


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