#1 Thursday Till Sunday
The predawn light, tinted blue. A sensible car, hatchback agape. A sleep-heavy child, lugged from bed. These opening scene details in Chilean writer/director Dominga Sotomayor’s yet-unreleased feature film debut, Thursday Till Sunday, herald the arrival of one to watch. This is a young filmmaker with an uncannily precise sense of observation and an undeniably keen eye for composition.
That sensible car is soon toting a family of four on a long road trip that looks to be their last, as the parents are considering a separation. Somehow turning the claustrophobic setting of a mid-sized vehicle into one beautifully framed shot after another, Sotomayor elegantly delineates the great divide that separates the driver’s seat of adulthood from the dependents who are literally and figuratively taking the back seat in their parents’ personal crisis.
While stops along the road provide some expository elaborations, there is always an intoxicating artlessness afoot in the way the film looks, feels and sounds. In knowing exactly what to leave out, Sotomayor’s evocative minimalism feels like a curative. I can’t wait to see what she does next.
#2 Moonrise Kingdom
I’ve been a Wes Anderson fan from the early days of his career and have consistently found whimsical magic in the intricate worlds he crafts. Exploring broken families, innocent love and true forgiveness,Moonrise Kingdom sustains thematic chords from Anderson’s oeuvre beautifully.
While winsome and witty, the film’s heart is shot through with melancholy, telling the tale of an orphaned boy scout and his star-crossed love—both of whom are only 12 years old.
Shot in 16mm and resembling the faded turquoise, orange and yellow of vintage Polaroid photos, the film perfectly evokes a very particular time and place: 1965 on an island off the coast of New England, to be exact. Unfortunately, but entertainingly, the adults roaming about in this nostalgic tale are stiffly sad, consistently uniformed and stubbornly determined to keep Suzy and Sam, the youthful love birds in question, from pursuing their romance.
In one of a trio of movingly frank scenes in the center of the film, Suzy’s mother and father talk in their darkened bedroom. The conversation is simply stated and quietly performed, but despite its unassuming air, it represents an emotional milestone in Anderson’s work. No punches are pulled. No winking punchlines are detonated. It’s just two seasoned actors (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand) speaking on behalf of filmmaking’s eternal boy scout, but this time by way of a newfound, profound maturity. Wonder badge earned, Mr. Anderson.
#3 Damsels in Distress
Much has been made of writer/director Whit Stillman’s long absence from filmmaking. While Damsels in Distress arrived fashionably late, it’s a wry and pretty delight. As a comedy, it may seem prim at first, but it’s no goody-two-shoes. It aims and sinks its arrows neatly, making withering observations about society and human nature as it simultaneously charms.
Shining through in the majority of scenes, Greta Gerwig hits perfect notes as Violet, a college student who longs to make the world a better place, one person at a time. It’s her character who unexpectedly becomes the beating heart of Damsels in Distress, as she finds herself as lost and lonely as her protégés.
With his signature wit and empathetic warmth, Stillman has polished up a sweet little gem of a film that’s got much wisdom to share. Why, it even has a healthy dose of optimism, plus characters dancing at the drop of a hat and an irresistible soundtrack to match. Whit is it!
#4 Miss Bala
Mexican writer/director Gerardo Naranjo wanted to test that the film he had in his head would work, especially since he was casting an inexperienced actress in the lead. So he test-shot the whole thing on video before he shot the actual film. The whole thing. It seems like an insanely demanding step to add to pre-pro, but Naranjo credits Miss Bala’s seamlessness to it.
Starring the very striking Stephanie Sigman as a poor young woman who dreams of beauty queen status, Miss Bala quickly raises the stakes by becoming enmeshed in the brutally violent world of drug cartels.
The spare sleekness of Miss Bala, and the sense that the filmmaker is observing more than editorializing, makes the indictment of systemic sickness something the audience can process on their own terms. The film itself moves like sliding pressure panels and is jarringly perforated by the pop-pop-pop of gunplay. As humble as it is mighty, Miss Balafeels like an indie movie in the best way possible: created on a shoestring, but as fierce as a locomotive.
Inspired to build a movie around mixed martial artist Gina Carano, Soderbergh picked up the phone and told collaborator Lem Dobbs to write it. The result is a tidily constructed, tensely coiled, tight little action/thriller flick that tells the story of a black ops super soldier left to fend for herself when she’s betrayed.
Adding to the sparks are entertaining turns by Ewan McGregor, Michael Fassbender, Channing Tatum, Antonio Banderas and Michael Douglas as men who get in our heroine’s way, in one way or another. The jazz-infused soundtrack is as saucy as hell, setting a perfect rhythm for the hold-your-breath action.
While Carano’s acting chops are the only weak thing about her, she turns in a performance that serves its purpose sturdily. And after you’ve seen her mop the floor with an adversary, you won’t really care if a line reading isn’t perfect. She is an undeniable femme fatale and her star vehicle, HAYWIRE, packs a delicious punch. Please don’t retire, Stevie.
Nictate plays a Peggy Olson type by day, working as a copywriter in advertising. Movies have always been a passion of hers, but it’s only been since joining Twitter in 2007 that her cinephile thirst has grown exponentially. Interacting with critics and fellow enthusiasts online has deepened her understanding of and passion for film and the quest to learn more feels (pleasantly) never-ending. You can follow nictate on twitter at www.twitter.com/nictate