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Short Term 12

Director: Destin Daniel Cretton
Cast: Brie Larson, John Gallagher Jr., Kaitlyn Dever, Rami Malek, Keith Stanfield, Kevin Hernandez

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Short Term 12
Cinedigm


Writer/director Destin Daniel Cretton was inspired to create Short Term 12 after working at a group home for teenagers. When interviewed for the Washington Post about the film, Cretton said, “The biggest thing I learned while I was working there is that there isn’t a huge difference, at least in my experience, between… the people in charge and the people that are supposed to be being cared for.” Indeed, the through-line of the film might be described as “everybody hurts,” and the well-meaning protagonist of the film, Brie Larson’s “Grace”, is nearly undone by the dramatic conditions of her own life and the crises in the lives of those around her. The many conflicts of Short Term 12 occur among counselors, patients, and good and bad parents. A remarkable cast holds nothing back in conveying the characters’ pain. Yet ultimately the film is a model for compassion, as it inspires and uplifts with hope, healing, and forgiveness. Thomas Britt


 

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The Act of Killing

Director: Joshua Oppenheimer
Cast: Anwar Congo, Herman Koto, Adi Zulkadry, Syamsul Arifin, Haji Anif

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The Act of Killing
Drafthouse Films


When bad things happen in faraway lands, the normal response for the nonfiction filmmaker is to show up, tell the story, and marvel sadly at the tragedy. For Joshua Oppenheimer’s daring investigation of the death squads who massacred hundreds of thousands in Indonesia after the 1965 coup, he took a different approach: Have the accused (a stunning number of whom still walk around free) reenact their crimes in whatever cinematic genre they liked. The result is initially tasteless, seemingly allowing these butchers to glory in their past crimes, but ultimately revelatory in what it shows about evil and whether justice is ever truly possible. Chris Barsanti


 

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Inside Llewyn Davis

Director: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Cast: Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, Justin Timberlake, Ethan Phillips, Max Casella, Adam Driver, John Goodman, Garrett Hedlund

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Inside Llewyn Davis
CBS Films

Some movies are easy to like. Other films are virtually unwatchable despite being impeccably designed. Inside Llewyn Davis, the latest artistic endeavor from Joel and Ethan Coen, falls somewhere in between these two categories—yet it’s also their best movie since No Country For Old Men. The most likable element by far is the film’s soundtrack, a sonically masterful collection of folk songs from Oscar-winning music producer T Bone Burnett. The most unlikable is none other than the film’s “protagonist,” a selfish, depressed lost soul portrayed in a star-making turn by Oscar Isaac. Somehow the two combine to form a film that sticks with you, and somewhere in that gray middle ground the Coens have found greatness. Again. Ben Travers


 

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Her

Director: Spike Jonze
Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Rooney Mara, Olivia Wilde, Chris Pratt, Matt Letscher, Scarlett Johansson

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Her
Warner Bros.


The beauty lies in the basics of Spike Jonze’s slightly futuristic, slightly sci-fi, wholly brilliant romantic study of our modern, tech-fueled society. Jonze, who also wrote the screenplay, tells a story of artificial intelligence interacting with human intelligence, artificial emotions, human dependency, and the line drawn between reality and perception. The results bring up more issues than even your most philosophical friend could dream up, and Jonze presents each one within the compelling context of his characters. Aided by a clean, colorful production design by long-time Jonze collaborator K.K. Barrett and another new face from Joaquin Phoenix, Her is as emotionally engaging as it is intellectually stimulating—a balance often impossible to strike and one worthy of our highest admirations. Ben Travers


 

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Frances Ha

Director: Noah Baumbach
Cast: Greta Gerwig, Mickey Sumner, Adam Driver, Micahel Zegan, Grace Gummer, Josh Hamilton

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Frances Ha
IFC Films


Along with Nebraska and Computer Chess, Frances Ha is part of a miniature black-and-white renaissance in American movies, and Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig’s comedy may be the most purely luminous of the bunch, both visually and in its all-around high spirits. That’s not to say that Frances Ha, a decades-later companion piece of sorts to Baumbach’s wonderful Kicking and Screaming, is pure unfettered optimism. Rather, it chronicles the bumpy romance of living as a twentysomething in New York with a perfect mix of humor (the dialogue is both snappy and spot-on) and quarterlife-crisis pathos. Jesse Hassenger


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