Hey gang, the Oscars are over, and thank God for that, huh? With any luck, we won’t have to think about that flaming toilet fire for another few months, and can instead just focus on some good little movies that are wandering amiably into your art house over the next few weeks — most of them holdovers from last year’s festival circuit that weren’t deemed quite capital-I Important enough for awards season. Spoiler: They’re worth seeing anyway.
RELEASE DATE:March 1 DIRECTOR: Christian Petzold CAST: Franz Rogowski, Paula Beer, Godehard Giese
With his last film, Phoenix, writer/director Petzold proved he could make a riveting and challenging WWII period picture. He undertakes a bold experiment with this adaptation of Anna Seghers’ 1942 war novel: he tells her story, of fear and escape from the encroaching Germans during the war, but does so in contemporary settings, costumes, etc. It’s a peculiar choice that tracks intellectually but not always emotionally, and some viewers just might not be able to get past it. But those who do will find a quietly enthralling piece of work, filled with fine performances and moments of unexpected warmth, and some welcome French New Wave touches (particularly in its narration). And watch out for that ending; it’s a whammo.
RELEASE DATE: March 8 DIRECTOR: Sebastián Lelio CAST: Julianne Moore, John Turturro, Michael Cera, Sean Astin
Lelio’s English-language remake of his 2013 Chilean film hews very closely to the source material, but it does offer one significant virtue: the presence of Moore in the leading role of a divorcée who’s just out there doing her best, a woman so unassuming, she ends her voicemail messages to her kids with “It’s your mother.” Lelio tells her story via a series of abrupt but accumulating scenes, little sketches of the moments in her day, and some of his dialogue is a tad strained (the language barrier, perhaps). But he feels at home in her world of yoga classes and semi-depressing older singles disco nights, and the performances are marvels — not just Moore (who’s terrific, as ever), but a low-key Cera as her son and the undervalued natural resource of Mr. Turturro, who makes you see why she’d fall for him, and what she’d miss until it was too late.
The Eyes of Orson Welles
RELEASE DATE: March 15 DIRECTOR: Mark Cousins CAST: Documentary
“Can we look at you anew, Orson?” asks Cousins (The Story of Film), early in this essay film on the great filmmaker, actor, and raconteur. “Can we tell your story anew? Can we?” It’s a pressing question, because this is a figure who has not exactly gone unexplored by documentarians through the years; hell, there was a new one just last year. But Cousins has a unique entry point — he’s granted access to the archives of Welles’ artwork, which he uses as a way to examine the distinctive visual style of those films, and the way Welles saw the world. He also narrates as a sprawling, thoughtful letter to the filmmaker, an approach that renders it personal and inquisitive, which works (much as it did in Martin Scorsese’s Elia Kazan exploration A Letter to Elia), though I’m not entirely sure that the closing section of imagined response was such a hot idea. Nonetheless, this is an enlightening and informative movie, with something new to say and show.
Ash is Purest White
RELEASE DATE: March 15 DIRECTOR: Jia Zhangke CAST: Zhao Tao, Liao Fan
The shifting media and aspect ratios in the opening sections of the latest by Jia Zhangke (Mountains May Depart) are an appropriate bit of table setting, as this is a story that changes styles and timeframes throughout its duration, yet never leaves the viewer adrift. His frequent collaborator (and wife) Zhao Tao is Oiao, the lady love of a jianghu gangster (Liao Fan), who wields a gun to save his life and is sent to prison for the crime. When she’s released five years later, her man has moved on, and she’s left to live by her wits — and discovers she’s pretty good at it. Tao is, as ever, a riveting presence, sympathetic and scorching, while Liao navigates his character’s tricky turns with grace. It’s a deeply moving film (with a dry sense of humor), borrowing freely from crime drama and romantic melodrama, and fusing those elements into its own, wonderful thing.
Roll Red Roll
RELEASE DATE: March 22 DIRECTOR: Nancy Schwartzman CAST: Documentary
She got a picture the next day, and the accompanying text was simple: “I think this is you.” It was August of 2012, and the story of the rape in Steubenville, Ohio became much more than a local one — because so much of it was documented by those responsible. Those materials are crisply and concisely assembled by director Schwartzman, who creates a tick-tock of the night in question via interrogation tapes, texts, pictures, and social media. She comes up with a disturbing portrait of rape culture (try and get the giggles on the video out of your head, or the “lol”s and “bro”s in their text messages), and of how small towns circle the wagons around their athletes, no matter what their crimes. It’s an unsurprisingly upsetting movie, but not without hope; women and allies find a cause in this case, and the footage of a local rally, with stories told to the world, feels like a formative #MeToo moment.
RELEASE DATE: March 22 DIRECTOR: Joel Potrykus CAST: Joshua Burge, David Dastmalchian, Andre Hyland
The films of Mr. Potrykus (which also include Buzzard and The Alchemist Cookbook) are something of an all-or-nothing proposition, and I’ll admit to having trouble syncing up with their heartbeat. But there’s something undeniably affecting about his latest, an art-house gross-out movie set on the eve of Y2K, in which a do-nothing is challenged by his brother to remain on their couch until he can beat a Nintendo Pac-Man game. It’s a bit of a challenge to the audience as well, testing their endurance through the sweat and grime of the scenario. But Potrykus is uniquely himself, and he gets a real assist from long-suffering star Burge, whose resemblance to Buster Keaton is surely not a coincidence here.
Slut in a Good Way
RELEASE DATE: March 22 DIRECTOR: Sophie Lorain CAST: Marguerite Bouchard, Romane Denis, Rose Adam
This sly examination of sexual double-standards from writer Catherine Léger and director Sophie Lorain concerns a trio of French-Canadian teenagers whose new jobs immerse them in a world of sexy boys and disappearing inhibitions. It plays as both an art-house riff on the workplace teen sex comedy and something of a post-modern John Hughes flick — our heroines fit into types without coming off as stereotypes, thanks primarily to the picture’s matter-of-fact tone and approach to its subject matter. The good times/bad times arc and third-act conflicts are a bit boilerplate, and the tied-up-with-a-big-bow happy ending for all betrays the admirable messiness of what’s come before. But for much of its running time, it’s a wise and witty treat.
RELEASE DATE: March 29 DIRECTOR: Kent Jones CAST: Mary Kay Place, Jake Lacy, Estelle Parsons
Diane is just a nice retired lady in a nice little town upstate who spends her days going around doing her part: trading casseroles (and borrowed dishes), visiting sick relatives, scooping out mac and cheese during dinnertime at the shelter. But there’s darkness in her day-to-day; whenever anyone asks how her twentysomething son is doing, there’s a hesitancy in their voice, and everyone knows why. Writer/director Kent Jones tells her story in short, simple scenes, snapshots of this seemingly ordinary life — and then he digs deeper, with a reminder that even someone like Diane had younger, wilder days, and maybe she’s not some folksy saint after all. Mary Kay Place is marvelous in the leading role, and her screen presence is so warm and comforting, we think we know her. Jones uses that familiarity, brilliantly.
RELEASE DATE: March 29 DIRECTOR: Julia Hart CAST: Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Saniyya Sidney, Lorraine Toussaint
You can keep your endless Spider-Man and Batman reboots; this, friends, is a real superhero origin story. Like the best of them (including Unbreakable, its clearest influence), Fast Color is less interested in effects and iconography than personality and relationships, here in the form of three generations of women with “abilities,” trying to work through how to use (or not use) them in a world of post-apocalyptic draught. Mbatha-Rawis as charismatic and magnetic as ever, while Sidney makes quite an impression as her daughter. But the most memorable work is from Toussaint as the matriarch of this family of special women, and her big climactic scenes are a straight-up barnburner. Julia Hart’s direction is both focused and free; this is one of the best movies of the young year.