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Last updated: February 19, 2011
Copyright 2006 Michael R. Colford.
All rights reserved

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special awardsballot

20th Annual Awards, March 16, 2014

Best Movie

Le Passewinner!The Past - Like his previous Chlotrudis-Awards winning film, A SEPARATION, Asghar Farhadi's latest work, THE PAST features an extended family who are all trying to do the right thing, yet continue to make a tense situation all the worse.  With a taut screenplay, beautifully layered performances, and an assured directorial vision, Farhadi explores who the past can so powerfully dictate the future.  This domestic drama that plays out like a suspense film works on so many levels.  Farhadi is truly a filmmaker to watch, and I expect to see his films being nominated for years to come. --mrc

The Act of KillingThe Act of Killing - In Indonesia, 1965, death squads composed of gangsters-for-hire and various paramilitary groups slaughtered over two million communist citizens. Nearly 50 years later, instead of merely interviewing these men (none of whom were ever punished for their crimes), director Joshua Oppenheimer also asks them to make a movie of sorts recreating the various ways in which they killed their victims. While some of the recreations are startlingly realistic, most take a deliberately cinematic approach, playing out like bizarro-world versions of classic gangster noir and splashy, colorful MGM musicals. Are they meant to shock the audience in showing how brutal these acts could be? Or are they more for the killers' benefit, an attempt to get them (and by default, the society at large) to realize, decades removed, how immoral these acts were and what real implications they had on their victims? In THE ACT OF KILLING, the chasm between action and perception remains distressingly wide for many of these men; in that context, the elaborate, "humorous" and often chilling recreations must be seen to be believed. -- ck

Frances HaFrances Ha - What is the key to happiness?  If you ask that question, you may hear “Follow your passion!” or “Do what you love!”  But anyone who has tried to follow such advice could tell you that this is easier said than done. FRANCES HA addresses that conundrum as Frances pursues her dream to be a dancer in New York City.  But as she looks for that lucky break, she’s dealing with more day-to-day struggles like paying the rent.  This determination to follow her dream is tested when her best friend/roommate tells her that she is getting married and moving in with her fiancé.  At this point, Frances is forced to ask whether it is time to “grow up” or continue on her chosen path.  While this subject matter of following one’s dreams in the big city is not new, director Noah Baumbach’s shrewd choices make writer/actress Greta Gerwig’s story come across as fresh.  In one of the more memorable sequences of the film, Baumbach uses David Bowie’s 1980 classic “Modern Love” to capture Frances’s optimistic, bouncy nature that propels her outlook on life.  One can’t help but wonder if that part of her personality can be maintained if her life takes another path.  And as viewers, we can’t help but root for Frances and her quest to find her bliss. -- gc

The HuntThe Hunt - Thomas Vinterberg has made a masterpiece film, once again. THE HUNT is a film that centers on a man, Lucas, who is living alone after a divorce, and who takes comfort in the close relationships he has with friends around him and the children at the kindergarten where he works. The hunt brings the viewer into Lucas’ life, allows us to care about him and hope for his happiness, and then sideswipes us with the truth about human relationships, biases, and misperception. Every character in this film can be seen through more than one lens, from within their own point of view or through the eyes of Lucas. The biases and misperceptions and even intentional hostility that breaks through and infect the community are somehow forgiven because the characters are so well developed. The pace, perspective, and direction are impeccably created with patience, which gives the film authenticity. -- bca

Paradies: GlaubeParadise: Faith - PARADISE: FAITH, a film by Ulrich Seidl, is shocking in its authenticity. Seidl is a rare treasure of a director, chiefly because of his approach to narrative film. Many of the actors in the film were chosen, not because of their acting ability, but because they embody his vision of the person they play. In fact, many characters are not actors, but people Seidl has found in the community that compliment his vision. The film is also largely unscripted. With little dialogue, we are pulled deeply into the psyche of a woman who has become pathological in her Catholic faith. The viewer is able to see the breadth of this character’s burden for humanity along with her failure to recognize her own flaws. PARADISE: FAITH is brilliantly conceived, every moment drawing the viewer farther and deeper into the suffering soul of this faith-filled woman. -- bca

Short Term 12Short Term 12 - Grace (Alison Brie) is a young woman who works at a group home for at-risk teens. You instantly sense she’s an expert caregiver who can easily transition between nurturing and disciplining her charges.  She also conveys how her professional demeanor co-exists with her personal anxieties and concerns—both those she shares with her co-worker/long-term boyfriend and those she can’t bring herself to divulge, not to him or anyone else. In addition to being a great showcase for Brie’s talents, writer/director Dustin Cretton’s remarkable, cyclically-structured film also reinforces a notion rare in a medium where happy endings are the norm: some problems just aren’t fully solvable, so you learn to deal with them the best, most proactive way you possibly can.  -- ck

Buried Treasure

The Broken Circle Breakdownwinner!The Broken Circle Breakdown - THE BROKEN CIRCLE BREAKDOWN is a melodrama which could have been a disaster in lesser hands than that of director Felix Van Groeningen who interjects whimsy into a tale of romance and heartbreak.   The two wonderfully drawn main characters are Didier (Johan Heldengergh) and Elise (Veerle Baetens).  She runs a tattoo parlor in the local village and he lives on a farm and plays in a bluegrass band.  Bluegrass?  What do we know about Belgium?-- bk

ConcussionConcussion - After accidently getting hit in the head by a stray baseball, Abby (Robin Weigert) starts to re-evaluate where her life is going. On the surface, she has everything—a house in the suburbs, two kids, and a successful wife. But her growing restlessness eventually leads her to seek some type of release. After an awkward experience with a prostitute, she discovers she has a knack for gratification, and she becomes one herself.  Part of what makes CONCUSSION remarkable is the straightforward portrayal of a gay marriage every bit as tedious as any straight marriage. In years past, a gay character being married would be the focus of the story; here it’s just a given fact. But what’s truly impressive is the extraordinary performance of Robin Weigert. As a character actress, she has been stealing every scene she’s been in for years, and she is absolutely mesmerizing here, elevating something that could easily be dismissed as a lesbian BELLE DE JOUR into something truly transcendent. -- bt

Laurence AnywaysLaurence Anyways - Xavier Dolan, already a Chlotrudis Award-winner for his audacious debut, I Killed My Mother offers his third film, a visually resplendent epic about two young lovers, Laurence and Fred.  While Laurence is the title character, and it is his story - the desire fo become a woman - that propels the story, it is Fred, the woman Laurence loves, whose journey ks the more complex and compelling.  The two leads, Melvil Poupaud and Suzanne Clément are up to this elaborate task and deliver the highs and lows of their passionate and volatile relationship beautifully.  Yet in a film of triumphs, it is truly Dolan's maturity as a director and a visual artist that truly comes to the fore here.  -- mrc

Le TableauThe Painting - This French 2-D animated children’s film directed and co-written by Jean-Fran¬çois Laguionie is a charming fable about the “lives” of the inhabitants of an unfinished painting.  The characters  whose portraits have been completed (the Alldunns) consider themselves the superior class of subjects, shunning those who lack finishing details (Halfies), and cruelly hunting down those who are simple line-art drawings (Sketchies). Several of the characters escape the oppressive society of the Alldunns, going on a fantastic adventure through a jungle outside the castle walls, and eventually tumbling out of the frame of the painting and into the artist’s studio, where they hope to meet The Artist (their Creator) and plead for justice.  As with all fables, the story poses moral questions about prejudice vs  tolerance, and accepting one’s lot in life as inevitable/Fate (or divine indifference) vs breaking away from societal castes  to shape our own destinies. The animation and artwork is beautifully rendered, with visual references to the works of Post-Impressionist, Fauvist and Modern masters Chagall, Gauguin, Matisse, Cezanne, and Modigliani.-- kp

WrongWrong - While the root of WRONG, Quentin Dupieux's mesmerizing and offbeat follow-up to RUBBER, is how everything in Dolph's life goes decidedly wrong after his dog disappear's one morning, there is a delightful whimsy, rather than an ominous dread that usually goes hand-in-hand with the word 'wrong.'  What anchors this surreal film in reality is a terrific performance by Jack Plotnick as Dolph, an assured screenplay whish is also nominated for a Chlotrudis Award, and a deft and knowing directorial hand from Dupleux.  As a viewer, it's hard not to just sit back, enjoy the ride and let the wonder of it all simply wash over you.  -- mrc

Best Director

Asghar Farhadiwinner!Asghar Farhadi for The Past - If Asghar Farhadi’s breakthrough film A SEPARATION revealed him as a key figure of Iranian cinema, this follow-up establishes him as one of the world’s best contemporary filmmakers, regardless of ethnicity. Set in a Parisian suburb, THE PAST centers on three people, each of them hindered by events set in motion long ago that leave them unable to entirely move on with their lives. Although a little over two hours long, absolutely nothing in the film feels extraneous. As Farhadi guides his cast through a number of exquisitely placed twists and towards a conclusion as mysteriously elegant as anything in an Atom Egoyan film, he also proves himself a master of domestic drama. -- ck

Noah BaumbachNoah Baumbach for Frances Ha - Another collaborative effort from director Noah Baumbach and co-writer/actress Greta Gerwig in the title role, Frances Ha is the droll character study of a young dancer who, at the age of 27,  has yet to find her niche in the world.  The first few scenes quickly establish that Frances isn’t sufficiently talented to be selected as permanent member of a dance troupe, she isn’t quite confident enough in love (or cat-ownership) to move in with her boyfriend, and she doesn’t earn the money necessary to live on her own in New York City.   Her roommate (and willing partner in silly street scenes), Sophie, moves to an apartment with the new man in her life, leaving Frances in the lurch, financially and emotionally.  This amusing “coming-of-age-kinda-late” story was filmed in crisp black-and-white, lending sharp focus on a woman who has been living in a fuzzy, unfocused state all of her adult life. -- kp

Sarah Polley Sarah Polley for Stories We Tell - Sarah Polley has recently added to her fame as an actor with kudos for her directorial skills (AWAY FROM HER, TAKE THIS WALTZ).  Her latest, her debut as a documentarian, continues that streak.   Polley takes as her subject her own family’s story.  This is nothing unusual - lately every other new director does the same thing.  Granted, in this case Polley has a pretty amazing story to tell - but more importantly are the choices she makes to tell it.  These are the elements that stay with you, that get you to think about your family’s origin stories, folk tales and apocrypha; about unreliable narrators and the Heisenberg principle; about those times when you share a realization you’ve made about a family dynamic with your sibling who has no idea what you’re talking about.  To Polley’s credit, she is upfront about all the built-in bias and perception - she does not edit out those uncomfortable or challenging moments.  And she takes it even further, by hiring her father to read the voice-over narrative that she has written - and filming those looping scenes.  It sounds like too much meta to bear, but in the telling, all of that serves to layer the stories in a rich, dense tapestry of personal history and revelation.  This one will stay with you for days, and get you thinking about the stories you tell. --bcu

Ulrich SeidlUlrich Seidl for Paradise: Faith -  Austrian Ulrich Seidl is one of the most daring and exciting directors at work today.  The enthralling look and feel of PARADISE: FAITH is testimony not only to Seidl’s impeccable direction of actors but to his choices in pacing combined with an unforgettable mis-en-scène. -- bk

Thomas VinterbergThomas Vinterberg for The Hunt - Perhaps because he also wrote the screenplay, Thomas Vinterberg’s hand on THE HUNT feels palpable. If a director’s task is to ensure that the film encompass an entire world, its mood, its color, its sound, and to make whole the people who inhabit it, then Mr. Vinterberg has given us a masterpiece, for we are there, in his world because he has given it to us, whole. No shadow, no birdsong, no uttered line, no piece of action is out of place. For this we give Mr. Vinterberg credit, for his discrimination in choosing among the thousands of choices available those that would serve his story best. -- jp

Best Actress

Brie Larsonwinner!Brie Larson for the role of Grace in Short Term 12 - There’s no doubt that this winning gem of a film would falter if not for the amazing performance of its lead actress.  For in SHORT TERM 12, we are introduced to a foster care facility for troubled teenagers.  Brie Larson plays Grace, an employee at the facility who is responsible for working with the teens and getting them to find some solace in their daily lives.  Yet ironically, Grace finds that she has just as much difficulty in opening up to her longtime boyfriend, who is also her co-worker at the foster care facility.  It is the complexity of her character that represents the challenges that all of these teens face in learning who to trust or whether to trust.  Larson displays this complexity winningly.  Extremely likable at times and then broodingly formidable moments later, Larson portrays Grace as someone who appears to be so close to resolving her own personal demons yet whose past experiences prevent her from allowing herself to feel vulnerable.  If the actress couldn’t have nailed that detail, the film’s depth would have been lost.  Instead, we are celebrating her performance and the film among the best of the year. -- gc

Greta GerwigGreta Gerwig for the role of Frances Halliday in Frances Ha - Dubbed by Film Comment the "indie it-girl," Greta Gerwig enjoyed a spectacular personal success with FRANCES HA, as much for her finely nuanced performance as the title character, as for the carefully observed screenplay she co-wrote with director Noah Baumbach. From the opening moments of Frances and her best friend Sophie running through the streets of New York, to the closing enigmatic smile of Frances asserting a semblance of settled contentment with an ill-fitting apartment label, Gerwig takes us on an epic voyage into the mind of a 27-year-old who desires nothing more than sharing an apartment with Sophie and dancing with a minor NYC dance company. At almost every step of the way, life as it is lived, as opposed to imagined, intrudes. Despite clear stylistic homage to the films of François Truffaut through music by his longtime collaborator Georges Delerue, and even though some scenes are set in Sacramento and Paris, this is one of the great films about New York City -- as iconic in its way as Woody Allen's ANNIE HALL (1977), Greta Gerwig's Frances as memorable as Diane Keaton's Annie. -- kr

Danai GuriraDanai Gurira for the role of Adenike Balogun in Mother of George - Danai Gurira delivers a superb performance, playing Adenike Balogun in MOTHER OF GEORGE. What makes this actor's performance so excellent is that she is able to convey deeply conflicting feelings even with the very subtle pace and direction of the film. She is able to demonstrate firm regard for traditional values and her desire to meet the expectations of her family. Ultimately, the importance of these things leads her into a crisis of conscience from which she is unable to escape. Danai Gurira plays this character in a convincing way, allowing the audience to experience her crisis with heartfelt empathy.  -- bca

Rachel MwanzaRachel Mwanza for the role of Komona in War Witch - Discovered by director Kim Nguyen as a young teen fending for herself in the streets of Kinshasa, Rachel Mwanza offers a beautifully natural performance in the role of Komona, a 12-year old girl abducted from her small village and trained as a soldier in a rebel army.  Eventually deployed as a War Witch, when the rebel leader discovers that under the effects of “magic milk” (hallucinogenic potion) she can see ghosts who warn her of enemy soldiers and snipers hiding in the jungle, Mwanza is utterly convincing as the confused and terrified child witnessing brutal acts of war, enduring physical abuse and threatened with death at nearly every turn.   She offers beautifully shaded glimpses into the heart of her character in scene after scene:  when forced, sobbing and shaking,  into the Solomonic choice of shooting her parents or watching them be savagely killed; in her slyly playful rejection  and demands while being wooed by a fellow teen-soldier;  and when plotting her ghastly revenge on the rebel commander who enslaved her.-- kp

Barbara SukowaBarbara Sukowa for the role of Hannah Arendt in Hannah Arendt - Director Margarethe von Trotta defined HANNAH ARENDT's central challenge as how to make a film about a thinker. The intellectual life of author, philosopher and political theorist Hannah Arendt, centering on the period of her 1960s book about the trial of Adolf Eichmann, is the subject of one of the major films of the year. Ignoring social niceties, plunging into the middle of conversations, confronting head-on the idea of evil, spending quiet contemplative moments or reading piles of manuscripts in semi-darkness smoking cigarettes, making enemies while single-mindedly pursuing uncompromising theoretical rigors, actress Barbara Sukowa finds every insight into the complex character of Hannah Arendt. The rarity of cinematic investigations into the processes of thinking and writing makes the achievement of this film and the details of Barbara Sukowa's inspiring performance almost unprecedented. Unleashing a flood of emotion during a climactic lecture explaining the profound problem of "the banality of evil" -- Arendt's signature contribution to Holocaust thought -- is a not-to-be-missed marvel of the art of acting.  -- kr

Shailene WoodleyShailene Woodley for the role of Aimee in The Spectacular Now - Some of the most difficult roles for actors to play are characters that don't demand or unwittingly attract attention. Think Laura in THE GLASS MENAGERIE or Ben in THE GRADUATE. Shailene Woodley has a similar struggle playing Aimee, new girlfriend and supporter of the troubled lead character in THE SPECTACULAR NOW. Woodley deftly turns out a sensitive, non-showy performance of a charming, competent young woman whose self-worth begins to become more and more attached to an emotionally damaged extrovert. Her sacrifice, self-denial, and love are heartbreaking through much of the film, but only become evidently necessary to the hero's journey in the last third of the film. After many years of television roles and a promising small role in THE DESCENDANTS, THE SPECTACULAR NOW marks a delightful turn in Woodley's career that should attract Chlotrudis attention well into the future. -- sc

Best Actor

Mads Mikkelsenwinner!Mads Mikkelsen for the role of Lucas in The Hunt - Mads Mikkelsen offers a finely nuanced performance in his role as Lucas, a kindergarten teacher who is  recently divorced, and struggling with his ex-wife over custody of their son.  We see him drawn into the games with the children in the schoolyard, physically affectionate but gentle, and obviously a favorite with all of the students – until he is accused of sexual impropriety by one of the little girls (who is also the daughter of a close friend and neighbor).  Mikkelsen’s face is a brittle reflection of the humiliation and anguish he suffers through this false accusation – losing not only his job but the faith and support of his friends, he is shunned at church, and at a local store where he is verbally and physically assaulted. His outbursts of anger at a situation he cannot control, and the tender moments he shares with his son (one of the few who believes in his innocence) are utterly believable and natural; Mikkelsen delivers the truth of this tragedy in every line, in every gesture, in every scene.-- kp

Gael García BernalGael García Bernal for the role of René Saavedra in No - Bernal has twice been nominated by Chlotrudis for Best Actor, in Alfonso Cuarón's Y TU MAMÁ TAMBIÉN (2001) and Michel Gondry's THE SCIENCE OF SLEEP (2006), and won for Pedro Almodóvar's BAD EDUCATION (2004). The first Mexican student accepted at London's Central School of Speech and Drama, Bernal became an international sensation on Y TU MAMÁ TAMBIÉN with his expressive eyes, easy sexuality, and emotional vulnerability. Instead of pursuing a "heartthrob" career available to him, Bernal elected to choose offbeat character roles and to work with prominent directors of international independent cinema. Other projects are Walter Salles' THE MOTORCYCLE DIARIES, Alejandro González Iñarritu's BABEL, and Julia Loktev's THE LONELIEST PLANET. With actor friend Diego Luna, Bernal formed a production company to focus on Mexican and Latin American feature films dealing with issues of social justice. One of these is the taut political thriller NO, in which Bernal has his finest role as an advertising executive planning a campaign to overthrow Chilean Dictator Augusto Pinochet, while attempting to maintain a semblance of normality in his family life. -- kr

Paul EenhornPaul Eenhoorn for the role of Martin Bonner in This is Martin Bonner - Paul Eenhoorn plays Martin, a post-Christianity, Christian everyman seeking mooring in Reno, Nevada. He’s on the rebound, it seems, from a crisis of faith. He is humble and honest, earnest and sincere. He’s also sad, resigned to his small fate, to inevitable aging and death. And yet, he’s not immune to pleasure. He persists in contributing to the better good. He continues to learn. He loves his grown children. He doesn’t mind being tossed on the horns of a dilemma. Martin, who, at a mere glance, appears inconsequential, is revealed in all his complexity. He is a man of worth, a man who merits consideration. We only know about Martin from watching Paul, who grows into and inhabits Martin, gives him a soul. Eenhorn knows his own face intimately, and he uses every crag, every wrinkle, every sag, to bring this man to life. His acting is subtle but alive. His is one of the finest roles of the year. -- jp

Toby JonesToby Jones for the role of Gilderoy in Berberian Sound Studio - Playing Gilderoy, a frumpy, middle-aged mama’s boy, but also a genius sound engineer and foley artist, Toby Jones is too passive to be any kind of hero. Gilderoy is a bizarre fish out of water character, played not for laughs, but to creep you out. Funny weird, not ha-ha. Suffering the whims of an Argento-ish Italian auteur and his malevolent staff, he strives to maintain his professional standards, while fending off emotional sideswipes at every turn. It is fun to watch Toby Jones as Gilderoy, craftsman that he is, conscientiously doing his work and coming gradually unbuttoned, a slow moving masterpiece of inevitable disaster. -- jp

Daniel RadcliffeDaniel Radcliffe for the role of Allen Ginsberg in Kill Your Darlings - Young Radcliff can act, and always has been able to . I saw him on Broadway in “Equus” in 2008, and he was electrifiying. And since leaving his Boy Wizard days behind, Radcliffe has racked up an impressive series of roles which continue to redefine him as an actor. His thought-provoking, self-discovering turn as collegiate beat poet Allan Ginsburg in “Kill Your Darlings” had him playing off two more of the greatest young actors working today, Dane DeHaan and Ben Foster, and more than holding his own, and holding our interest as well. The chemistry was electric, the performance was mesmerizing, and showed that the more diverse roles Radcliffe takes, the more stunning his work as a versatile actor is becoming. -- tck

Miles TellerMiles Teller for the role of Sutter in The Spectacular Now - It's hard to believe that Miles Teller is the same person nominated by Chlotrudis for best supporting actor in 2011 for his performance as Jason in RABBIT HOLE in comparison to a much more extroverted role as Sutter Keeley in THE SPECTACULAR NOW.  As Sutter, Miles takes what on the surface people might see as an unlikeable, obnoxious frat boy to a truly likeable human being that you want to watch flaws and all.  Miles shows that he is hiding secrets like being a young alcoholic, yearning to see his absent father for who he is, and expressing intimacy with his love interests in both his delivery of lines and physical chemistry on screen with his facial and body expressions.  By presenting Sutter as both charismatic and sincere, we want to see hia character succeed and make the right choices connecting with him even when he makes the wrong choices and he realizes the consequences of his actions.  -- tp.

Best Supporting Actress

June Squibbwinner!June Squibb for the role of Kate Grant in Nebraska - It is impossible to imagine NEBRASKA without June Squibb, else it would be a one note samba or, worse, an empty shell.  Her spectacular performance both anchors and spices up the film by giving it an essential perspective.  What a joy to sit in a theater anxiously awaiting a character to return to the screen. -- bk

Sally HawkinsSally Hawkins for the role of Ginger in Blue Jasmine - While Cate Blanchett has been receiving the lion’s share of attention for the title role in Blue Jasmine, it should be noted that Sally Hawkins matched Blanchett in every scene that they shared.  In her performance as hard-luck, working-class Ginger, Hawkins represents everything that fallen socialite Jasmine is trying to escape – cramped living quarters, low-paying jobs and boyfriends with questionable character.  And as we listen to Blanchett’s Jasmine provide constructive criticism to Ginger while Jasmine’s own life is falling apart from her own questionable choices, we get to watch Ginger grasp with containing her outage while still being a supportive sister.  Needless to say, BBLUE JASMINE would not have come together if not for Hawkins. -- gc

Allison Janney Allison Janney for the role of Betty in The Way Way Back - THE WAY WAY BACK proved to be one of the more crowd-pleasing movies of the year.  The film portrays the coming-of-age story of 14-year-old Duncan, who finds a support group among the water park employees in a coastal Massachusetts town. The film succeeds in balancing the tone between drama and comedy and, unsurprisingly, Allison Janney, provides just the right touch to accentuate the comedy in her role as Betty, the next-door neighbor who embraces the relaxed nature of the summer season. Like an all-star relief pitcher who is brought in to seal the victory, Janney is a pro in portraying this character as someone who has experienced her share of heartbreak but who isn’t going to let those experiences affect how she raises her children.  Her blunt, shameless comments steal every scene she is in and remind us why she is one of our favorite actresses. -- gc

Janet McTeerJanet McTeer for the role of Mary McCarthy in Hannah Arendt - Some of the unavoidable tension in Margarethe von Trotta's HANNAH ARENDT is leavened by the delicate friendship between Hannah Arendt and Mary McCarthy lasting from 1950 to Arendt's death in 1975. Virtually every moment of Janet McTeer's exquisitely modulated performance presents a threat to steal the movie from Barbara Sukowa. The intimacy of their friendship is clearly established at the film's beginning with a discussion about the difficulty of successful romantic relationships. During a party scene, McCarthy denounces Ernest Hemingway by saying, "As a writer he was nothing more than the premature ejaculator of the 20th century!" During a spirited game of pool, Arendt and McCarthy engage in a passionate discussion about Holocaust interpretation. Most tellingly, McCarthy rises to furious advocacy of Arendt in defense against a group of smugly arrogant male colleagues denouncing Arendt for the idea of a terrible grey area between resistance and complicity. -- kr

Molly ParkerMolly Parker for the role of Donna Cantwell in The Playroom - It’s horrible to love a performance in a film without liking the film all that much. The killer performance in THE PLAYROOM is that of Molly Parker who pulls out all the stops as a bored alcoholic housewife hell-bent on destroying her family.  Parker alone makes this film worth viewing. -- bk

Best Supporting Actor

Jared Letowinner!Jared Leto for the role of Rayon in Dallas Buyers Club - In DALLAS BUYERS CLUB, Jared Leto delivers a remarkable performance as Rayon, a cross-gender transsexual with AIDS, who becomes the unlikely partner (business, at first) of Ron Woodruff (played magnificently by Matthew McConaughey), a homophobic Texas electrician who ia diagnosed with AIDS and given  30 days to live. After the two meet in the hospital, they join forces in a battle to fight the medical establishment and a quest to find alternative treatments and distribute them for fellow AIDS patients for a fee (in the Dallas Buyers Club).  Rayon could have been a caricature, but in Leto’s hand, she is anything but. Leto does not miss a step, having perfect Rayon’s voice, walk and dialect.  In his most heart wrenching scene, Rayon puts on a suit to visit his wealthy father to ask for money and to tell him he has AIDS.  Leto creates a memorable character that follows the viewer out of the theater. -- vo

Richmond ArquetteRichmond Arquette for the role of Travis Holloway in This is Martin Bonner - As the title states, this is not primarily a film about Travis Holloway, who has just finished serving a twelve-year prison sentence; the key figure is Martin Bonner (Paul Eenhorn), Travis’ advisor in a prison rehabilitation program that helps inmates adjust to life on the outside. Still, without Travis’ presence (and Arquette’s unflashy performance, steeped in silence and reflection), the film might not have made the same impact it does, for Martin and Travis’ growing bond is one of the all-too-rare insightful depictions of male friendship onscreen. The screenplay also allows Arquette a few powerful moments of his own—take particular note of the simple but profound 360-degree tracking shot where Travis, standing a motel parking lot next to a highway, takes in his surroundings, ruminating on what his life has come to. --ck

Matthew McConaugheyMatthew McConaughey for the role of Mud in Mud - It took me a long time to warm up to McConaghey as an actor. For years, he toiled away in bit parts before moving on to a series of “chick flick” leading man roles that left me totally cold. But then, something changed, and McConaghey began trying his hand at some serious roles and suddenly he was fully on my radar screen again. He blew my mind with his turn as the title character in the terrifying yet utterly hilarious black comedy KILLER JOE in 2012, and this year, as the title character in the coming of age drama MUD, McConaghey is both likeable and scary, pleasant and potentially
dangerous at the same time, and provides the perfect foil for rising young
actor Tye Sheridan’s performance alongside his own without ever overshadowing him. McConaghey has move into that rarest of all areas in his trade – he has joined peers like Robert Mitchum, Humphrey Bogart, Dustin Hoffman, and Nicolas Cage among others as an “actor’s actor” And he couldn’t be more deserving of the honor either. -- tck

Tahar RahimTahar Rahim for the role of Samir in The Past - Tahar Rahim’s role in THE PAST is complicated.  He is the object of affection for one character and an object of repulsion for another.  Rahim makes both aspects of his character totally convincing in his pivotal role.  -- bk

Sam RockwellSam Rockwell for the role of Owen in The Way Way Back - Sam Rockwell plays the manager of a local waterpark, a man who has been working the Peter Pan thing a little overlong.  In a role that could have easily been just a Bill Murray in Stripes rip-off with an AfterSchool Special resolution, Rockwell manages to wrest more of a character arc out of the words given him.  His Owen is a man going at half-speed in his life, no matter how fast he rips his one-liners.  As he interacts more with the lost teenager who has adopted him as his role model, Rockwell lets you see Owen’s own growing awareness of who he is, could be and might want to be.   Yet all of this is done without schmaltz and while retaining the comic light touch that the film desperately needs to balance the broad slapstick of the watermark with the more serious emotion and tension of the beach house.    It’s a high-wire act, hidden in plain sight, and once again Rockwell manages to make the feat look easy.  -- bcu

Ernst UmhauerErnst Umhauer for the role of Claude Garcia in In the House - Consider the word, “support.” There is the cinematic meaning, assisting in the performance, seconding the lead. But support also means to supply the necessities of existence. That is how Ernst Umhauer’s character, Claude, supports the movie, his story provides the reason for its existence. And yet, he is the supporting actor. Although his actions drive the plot, he can never, in his supporting role, upstage the lead. He must always be overshadowed. Mr. Umhauer walks this line well. He’s unremarkable in his generic school clothes, he’s pale and thin with a quiet smile that hints at wheels spinning. He’s evasive, which only makes him intriguing, to his lead, and to us, and so we follow wherever he goes, and that is how he brings this movie to life. -- jp

Best Original Screenplay

Asghar Farhadiwinner!The Past, screenplay by Asghar Farhadi - In THE PAST, the character Ahmad returns to France to finalize his divorce from his wife so that she can marry her boyfriend. While his wife and her two daughters appear to have moved on without him, Ahmad soon finds that he needs to resolve some issues before he can truly dissolve his marriage. What makes Asghar Farhadi’s screenplay brilliant is that it doesn’t follow the standard format of following one or two characters and having their story supported by the other characters.  Instead, the screenplay shifts in different directions by moving the focus to the supporting characters and their conflicts.  In doing so, the viewer is drawn into the lives of the characters and the overall story becomes more interesting and more realistic. Like Ahmad, the viewer seeks a resolution to the characters’ conflicts.  But as Ahmad soon learns, the resolution does not come so easily, as the characters’ problems are more complex than originally perceived. -- gc

Nicole HolofcenerEnough Said, screenplay by Nicole Holofcener - If you want to spend some time with funny, concerned, preoccupied, frantic, determined... real women, just watch a film by Nicole Holofcener.  There's no one who can write women who are natural and funny at the same time.  I often feel like I'm just hanging out with real people.  In Enough Said, Eva, played with humorous ease by Julia Louis-Dreyfus, is dealing with a potential new romance, a preoccupied best friend, the anxiety of sending her only daughter off to college, and a deception she is trying to keep hidden even though she knows she is wrong.  It all ends up being a little madcap, but it also sounds like what we all deal with every single day of our lives.  Seeing a film written by Nicole Holofcener is comforting; I always know that I'm going to spend some time with fun and interesting people.  -- mrc

Greta Gerwig & Noah BaumbachFrances Ha, screenplay by Noah Baumbach & Greta Gerwig - Beautifully balancing between loveable sweetness and excutiating awkwardness, director Baumbach, and star, Gerwig have created an exquisite portrait of a woman who continually makes the wrong choice, yet somehow manages to keep moving.  The urge to help Frances is irrepressible.  Frances is a reminder that many people have to march through life to their own cadence, not the one we might choose for them.  -- mrc/bk

Tobias Lindholm; Thomas VinterbergThe Hunt, screenplay by Tomas Vinterberg; Tobias Lindholm - THE HUNT finds Lucas, magnificently portrayed by Mads Mikkelsen, recovering from a divorce and rebuilding his life as a kindergarten teacher.  Just when things begin to look up for him, Lucas becomes the victim of an allegation of sexual abuse from a young girl and the community against him.  The screenplay, written by the director, is based on his personal experiences with a child psychologist who was studying repressed memory. Its subject matter is very serious and thought provoking. The film’s dialogue is often direct and not complex, allowing the sensitive scenario to unfold.  Little by little, details pile up until the tension builds so that it practically jumps off the screen and throws the viewer into the Lucas’ nightmare.  Eventually Lucas is cleared of the accusation, but the ending leaves one with the feeling that Lucas may never stop looking over his shoulder. -- vo

Destin CrettonShort Term 12, screenplay by Destin Cretton - Short Term 12 is a drama about Grace, a twenty-something supervisor at a foster-care facility for at-risk youth. As evidenced by its Chlotrudis nomination for ensemble cast, the story is as much about the staff and residents of the facility as it is about Grace. All the characters are well-drawn,  flawed human beings rather than caricatures. In an institutional setting, one could easily portray a sort of guards vs. inmates dynamic. Instead, the film develops almost parallel storylines, with the staff’s past experiences reflecting the current issues the youth are grappling with. The film balances tones nicely, never maudlin or sentimental, and while delving into dark places of the human psyche, retains a sense of humor, optimism, and ultimately faith in the human spirit. -- pe

Quention DupieuxWrong screenplay by Quentin Dupieux - With its well-defined characters and scenarios that make it such a brilliantly unique film Wrong transcends its quirky vibe with an elegant screenplay.  Lead character Dolph Springer continues to go to work every day even though he was been fired, it rains inside his workplace each day, and people work as if nothing odd is going on,  yet his boss’ office remains completely dry.  Dolph lost his dog and then meets with characters along the way that are equally bizarre as he is, like the pizza delivery rep who listens to his life story on the phone, Master Chang with his mystical messages, and the detective hired to find and spiritually bring his dog back (even to the point of analyzing his dog’s turd).  At the same time, Dolph has a friend that calls from time to time driving to the end of the world. You have to see, Wrong, to believe this all works but the script is the glue that brings it all together. As crazy as it sounds Dupieux's screenplay is both non-linear and yet cohesive acting as the spine that allows its characters to explore the nature of absurdity.-- tp

Best Adapted Screenplay

James Francowinner!As I Lay Dying, screenplay by James Franco and Matt Rager, based on the novel by William Faulkner - This adaptation of William Faulkner’s  As I Lay Dying captures the dream-like and confusing rhythms of a story told from the perspective of multiple narrators.  Overlapping voices, internal dialogs, and even the thoughts of a corpse reveal the moral turpitude and personal failings of the characters.  The stream of consciousness narrative effect is heightened by unusual split-screen visuals, and indirect references to the demons that haunt this family, as they struggle to honor their mother’s vengeful deathbed wish. -- kp

Don CoscarelliJohn Dies at the End, screenplay by Don Coscarelli, based on the novel by David Wong - Based on the internet serial and 2007 novel by Jason Pargin (published under the recursive pseudonym of protagonist/narrator David Wong), JOHN DIES AT THE END is a tale of a living addictive substance nicknamed "soy sauce" that allows ordinary slackers to see invading demonic creatures from an alternate plane of existence. The episodic, hyperbolic, and cynical nature of the novel should render any attempt at adaptation as futile as capturing Lolita on screen. (We can have that argument later.) Yet, filmmaker Don Coscarelli mysteriously succeeds, choosing just the right comedic episodes, trimming down the first-person-heavy narration, and cleverly showing more than he tells. John will do what he does at the end, but it's a hell of a ride to get there. -- sc

Steve Coogan & Jeff PopePhilomena, screenplay by Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope, based on the book by Martin Sixsmith - The story of the Magdalene Laundries has been told before in other films, but this time, the filmmakers decided to tell a very personal story about one woman whose life was forever changed by her experience as a resident in one of their facitlities -  the true story of Philomena Lee and her search for the son she gave up for adoption when she was a teenager. Her story
attracted the attention of BBC journalist Martin Sixsmith, and together they worked to find an answer to Philomena's questions. Now, Philomena's story has been brought to the bigscreen in a marvelous way by screenwriters Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope, with Coogan playing Sixsmith and Dame Judi Dench as Philomena Lee. Her story will touch your heart, and Coogan and Pope's adaptation of Sixsmith's book The Lost Child of Philomena Lee is done with a deft touch, with bits of humor and pathos in just the right amounts. So much so that the real Philomena Lee very much approves of the film...and so
will everyone else. -- tck

David Gordon GreenPrince Avalance, screenplay by David Gordon Green based on the movie by Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurðsson - I positively loathe the term "chick flick”, but when it’s used, it’s usually used accurately. So what exactly does one call a “chick flick” that’s made for men? “Machismo Movie”? Not perfect, but it’s an accurate description of director/screenwriter David Gordon Green’s deliciously intense, smartly written, humor laced script for PRINCE AVALANCHE,  which he adapted from Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurdsson’s
2011 Icelandic film EITHER WAY. With only two characters on screen for
about 85% of the film, it’s a hard row to hoe to make the film thoughtful,
humorous, and insightful. But Green, returning to his indie roots after
dabbling with studio comedies for a few years, has done exactly that. The
prickly relationship between two young men - uptight 30ish Alvin and his
prospective brother-in-law, the 20-something freewheeling slacker Lance – as they repaint lines on a Texas highway recently ravaged by fire circa 1988 goes through twists of melancholy, turns of hilarity, and even some deep introspection and self discovery. With a film such as this, the screenplay has to be as precise as the chemistry needed to pull it off, and Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch are the perfect pair to give life to Green’s dialogue as they try to figure out each other, women, and life in general. And it works on every level thanks to Green’s attention to detail.  It really IS a “chick flick” made for guys. And I loved every second of it. -- tck

Scott Neustadter and Michael H. WeberThe Spectacular Now, screenplay by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, based on the novel by Tim Tharp - It is not often a film captures so perfectly the nuances of behavioral problems - such as teenage alcoholism and disenfranchisement - while allowing the viewer to empathize. This coming of age story has been beautifully adapted from Tim Tharp’s novel of the same name. -- bk

Best Cinematography

Bradford Youngwinner!Bradford Young for Mother of George - Swathes of nearly every shot in MOTHER OF GEORGE are smudged, only hinting at the objects the camera has captured. The parts that are not lie in stark relief, leading us to focus on them. Frequently, they are some small part of the scene, a foot or a hand, a person against the crowd. From these elements, we glean the story, we learn the storytellers’ emphasis. The film’s palette is impressionist, full of hue and bits of bejeweled light. Its world is lush with color, set against the story’s stark realities, which renders the story yet more tragic. Every part of Mother of George is beautiful, even a mundane sink full of unwashed dishes. This is how a picture tells a story. -- jp

Luca BigazziLuca Bigazzi, for The Great Beauty - The Great Beauty in its cinematography captures the wild world of the nights and days of Rome in a love letter to the city from the world of its main character, former novelist and celebrated art critic, Jep Gambardella.  From its sensual side via night clubs, shots of lavish homes, and parties, to its view of old architecture and the pomp and circumstance of the Roman Catholic church the films weaves together a wonderfully surreal mix of old and modern Rome.  The images and colors are a fabulous mix of both magic and realism in the various episodes that the film consists of over time, with visuals in that match the intense sounds and score of the film.  -- tp

Shane CarruthShane Carruth for Upstream Color - This is the first feature since 2004’s PRIMER from writer/director/actor/editor/composer (and yes, cinematographer) Shane Carruth. Whether due to a larger budget or perhaps just advances in digital video technology in the past nine years, it looks absolutely gorgeous compared to the previous film. Although the labyrinthine plot will deter some, Carruth lets the imagery ebb and flow at a highly structured but agreeable pace, allowing the viewer to be swept away by the pure emotions of what he’s conveying, rather than get boggled down in logistics of a fractured story that, in a roundabout way mostly works because the actors onscreen are also trying to piece together what’s happening to them. And everything from a suitably grimy pig farm to a nearly luminescent pitcher of ice water takes on a meditative, poetic tint as seen through Carruth’s lens. -- ck

Philippe Le SourdPhilippe Le Sourd for The Grandmaster - Bringing to life another time and place is the duty of a film’s cinematographer.  They must surround the audience with the feel of the universe in which the characters dwell – and this year nobody excelled at that task better than Philippe Le Sourd.  His work on the martial arts epic THE GRANDMASTER is both sweeping and intimate, taking us through both sumptuous halls and homes laid to waste by the destruction of war.  Le Sourd’s touch is that of an painter, and the screen becomes his glittering canvas.-- kb

Phedon PapamichaelPhedon Papamichael for Nebraska - Director Alexander Payne had wanted to make the film for over a decade, and in black and white, finally having an opportunity to do so after the success of The Descendants. Cinematographer Phedon Papamichael captures the bleak yet beautiful landscapes and decaying architecture of the American Great Plains which set the tone for the film.  But more than the setting is the people who populate it, most notably Bruce Dern. Papamichael seems to capture every crag and crease in Dern’s time-worn face (his daughter Laura Dern remarked that nobody had ever captured her father that way before). The camera is even used to accentuate the
trademark Payne humor, such as a shot of the family stoically gathered around the television to watch a football game, almost a tongue-in cheek version of American Gothic.  Nebraska is a compelling visual portrayal of the austere people and landscapes of its namesake.  -- pe

Best Production Design

Blancanieveswinner!Alain Bainée for Blancanieves - BLANCANIEVES is more obligated than most to tell its story using creative production design chiefly because it is a silent, black-and-white film. Thus, images, perspective, musical score, make-up, costumes, and cinematography are essential in weaving the tapestry of experience for the viewer. Undoubtedly, BLANCANIEVES succeeds brilliantly in these respects. Using every artistic tool for visual expression, this film ignites the senses of the viewer as it tells its story without the advantage of script, dialogue, or sound. All elements of visual design are outrageously beautiful, the score assists in conveying emotional direction without being burdensome or obtrusive, and the design of every scene, from corner-to-corner, is crafted perfectly, down to even the most discrete shadows -- bca

RenoirBenoît Barouh for Renoir - To capture both the ambiance and depth of feeling in this coming of age story set in the south of France, the romantic and seductive production design shares equal billing with the actors themselves.  RENOIR is the story of how Jean Renoir became a filmmaker while having an affair with his father’s model during convalescence from a WWI war injury. -- bk

Berberian Sound StudioJennifer Kernke for Berberian Sound Studio - As a film about filmmaking, BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO sets high hurdles for itself. Set amidst the cheap, but artistically daring 1970's world of giallo films, the film follows a British sound engineer who takes a job in Italy to produce Foley effects for an extremely colorful, disturbing, and gruesome horror film. As he becomes overtaxed with the language barrier, working conditions, and homesickness, the engineer's mind deteriorates, finally blending horror film effects (both visual and auditory) with the quotidian experiences of his existence. While many filmmakers such as Brian De Palma and Takashi Miike have honored the giallo genre visually as this film does, no films have ever successfully highlighted the sound design that is so essential in disturbing audiences beyond imagining. -- sc

NoEstefania Larrain for No - Documenting the ad campaign that brought down a dictatorship, NO carries the audience back to the TV world of the late 80's so effectively that original "No" campaign ads blend seamlessly with the new footage for the film. Jumping off from the Director of Photography's decision to use rebuilt Sony U-Matic video cameras to shoot the film, the design is obsessively interested in recreating the ugliness and kitsch of that time through all aspects of its production design. Through the washed-out image, muddy sound and impeccable set and costumes, the film depicts a non-glamorized version of the era, intentionally holding the drama in check so that the events and chronology can speak for itself, without the use of nostalgia or the usual rose-colored glasses films use to recreate the past.  -- im

Mother of GeorgeLucio Seixas for Mother of George - Andrew Dosumnu’s film has been draped, shaped, couched and colored by production designer Lucio Seixas  as a moving mural of a Nigerian émigré’s integration into modern American (New York City) culture.  In the opening scene, a wedding party dances in brilliant blue and peach traditional robes and head-wraps, with accents of burnished gold playing against the mundane backdrop of a hotel banquet hall, staged with cheap vinyl chairs and tired chandeliers.  The newlywed’s apartment is a mélange of geometric prints and patterns infused with warm soft light, contrasted against the fluorescent lighting, stark white walls, and stainless steel counters of the  restaurant in which the groom and his brother work.  The bride is repeatedly depicted as a vivid but fragile blossom stranded in street scenes littered in grimy greys, graffiti and trash, struggling to adapt and grow in the new environment while maintaining a grasp on her cultural identity and values. -- kp

Best Performance by an Ensemble Cast

As I Lay Dyingwinner!As I Lay Dying featring James Franco, Beth Grant, Logan Marshall-Green, Danny McBride, Tim Blake Nelson, Ahna O'Reilly, Jim Parrack, Brady Permenter - James Franco did a lot of wonderful things in his adaptation of Henry James' novel AS I LAY DYING, not the least of which was to assemble an outstanding ensemble cast to play this down-in-its luck Southern family trying to bury its matriarch.  Each of the actors playing the bundren siblings, James himself, Ahna O'Reilly, Jim Parrack, Logan Marshall Green, and Brady Permenter, convey their individual stories beautifully without pulling away from the larger story.  Tim Blake Nelson is somehow dour and impish at the same time as the toothless patriarch.  And Beth Grant, gazing directly at the camera from her deathbed, is compelling as the dying matriarch, and even from beyond the grave.  An amibitous film that could have easily faltered if not for this talented cast. -- mrc

Much Ado About Nothing.Much Ado About Nothing - You and all your friends hanging out at your boss’s place in LA making a Shakespeare movie? Awesome dude, party time! That’s the way this ensemble plays it, as a good time. It is a comedy, sure, but moreover, they all realize there’s not much at stake so they don’t feel the need to treat the material with anything like reverence. Nor should they. It’s a romp, a frolic. Not that the cast don’t nail their lines, they all do. But they’re relaxed, natural, unforced. There is camaraderie among them. They make us laugh. In their variety, they bring us their world, and in its wholeness, the ensemble makes that world real. -- jp

MudMud - MUD had been on my radar since Cannes 2012, and I was anxious to see it from the beginning because of it’s top notch cast. Headed up by young rising star Tye Sheridan as Ellis, a 14 year old dealing with life, first love, and the mysterious stranger that had come into the lives of himself and  his best friend Neckbone (exactly WHAT is that a nickname for, anyway). With newcomer Jacob Lofland as Neckbone, Matthew McConaghey as the aforementioned mysterious stranger known as Mud, Reese Witherspoon as the love of Mud’s life, Juniper, and smaller supporting roles for Michael Shannon, Joe Don Baker,  Sarah Paulson, Paul Sparks, Bonnie Studivant, and two of my favorite character actors on the planet, Sam Shepard and Ray McKinnon, this movie moves from moment to moment without ever losing a beat, and the work by the excellent cast is why this movie will stand up as one of the best coming of age films of all time, at least in my book.  --tck

Short Term 12Short Term 12 - Short Term 12 hits all of the right notes in the chemistry of its ensemble cast.  Brie Larson's Grace works in a residential treatment facility where she is the rock that keeps the staff and children together.  She also needs the love back from its staff and residents at times to keep herself together. Other members of the staff include: John Gallagher Jr. playing Mason, Grace’s boyfriend and second in command and new staffer on the block, Nate, played by Rami Malek who is afraid of the home but grows up over the course of the film. Its residents include older and newer members like Jayden who is dealing with being molested by her father and is not trusting of anyone played by Kaitlyn Dever and the oldest resident having to prepare to leave the center, Marcus, played by Keith Stanfield.  Even the smallest roles like the well played bureaucrat, Jack, Grace’s boss, played by Frantz Turner, has impact to the story creating believable and powerful world of a treatment facility in its triumphs and struggles and a place some call home. -- tp

The Way Way BackThe Way Way Back - THE WAY WAY BACK is a coming of age story with heart thanks to its fine ensemble cast working off an entertaining script.  Liam James plays Duncan, a bashful teenager who is taken on vacation by his recently divorced mother, Pam, (Toni Collette) and her most irritating and condescending boyfriend, Trent, (Steve Carrell).  Carell is the perfect bully and Collette is convincingly agitated. Their next door neighbor, Betty ( Allison Janney) has some of the best lines in the film.  When Duncan finds a part time job at the local water park, he is befriended by Owen (Sam Rockwell), the somewhat smart -mouthed, eccentric manager who becomes Duncan’s much needed father figure.  Rockwell could not be better — he is both funny and empathetic.  As a result of this unlikely friendship, Duncan does gain self-confidence and begins to socialize — and come of age. -- vo

Best Documentary

The Act of Killingwinner!The Act of Killing - In a year noteworthy for outstanding documentaries, Joshua Oppenheimer's THE ACT OF KILLING stands out for its significant contribution to the cinema of genocide. In the aftermath of the 1965-1966 military overthrow of the Indonesian government and consequent mass killings of more than a million of the population -- including ethnic Chinese, communists, intellectuals, workers, families, and friends -- by petty gangsters army-promoted to professional executioners, the killers live openly among their fellow citizens as prosperous local heroes, business leaders and respected politicians. The word "gangster" is used repeatedly to identify "a free man" and the efficient methods of extermination are described in proud civic detail. This bone-chilling journey into an almost incomprehensible heart of darkness includes the killers making a movie to commemorate their mass murder of fellow citizens, complete with excessive makeup, bad acting, and outrageous costumes. Lurking among the outrages are observations such as: "If you feel guilty, your defenses collapse" and "War crimes are defined by the winners" and "The proof is, we murdered people and were never punished." -- kr

20 Feet From Stardom20 Feet From Stardom - We’ve heard their voices in concert and on recordings and now we know more about backup singers thanks to the entertaining, but honest documentary, TWENTY FEET FROM STARDOM. The film focuses on three of the most famous singers and one up and comer ( who coincidentally appeared on “The Voice”). They are all talented and true professionals and yet, we discover that it hasn’t always been an easy career path for any of them.  Neville, the director, makes them all good through the use of interviews, archival performance footage and studio clips.  We leave the theater humming familiar tunes, happy to have finally met these previously unsung musical artists close up. -- vo

56 Up56 Up - Since 1963, this landmark British series has interviewed the same dozen or so people every seven years as they all age together, from 7 to 14 to 21 and so on. At 56, the participants are at a transitory place—well into middle age, but not yet senior citizens. Since we last saw them at 49, the most significant changes are fiduciary as we see a few subjects reeling from the 2008 worldwide financial crisis; there’s also the surprise return of Peter, who dropped out after 28 UP. As with previous films in the series, viewing 56 UP is like spending an afternoon catching up with old friends, only with the rare, insightful opportunity to compare and contrast each one throughout various points over a lifetime. -- ck

The Punk SingerThe Punk Singer - The Punk Singer is a documentary that manages to be about three big topics, all of which could have stood alone as the film’s focus. Sometimes when this happens, the result is a meandering, unfocused film. Or it winds up being frustrating, a filmic tease - just when you’re interested in the first idea, the movie shifts onto a new subject. Rarely, the movie unfolds the various parts before you and becomes much more than the sum of them.   Such is the case here - for those who know of her, the film tells you whatever happened to Kathleen Hanna.  For those wondering what exactly is meant by Punk Singer, the film is a great introduction to the riotgrrl movement in the 90’s.   And for everyone, this is a film about the intersection of pain, creativity and identity, as it is experienced for this one female punk singer. Fortunately for us, Kathleen Hanna has the singular gift of communicating that personal knowledge into universal insights and kickass songs.  -- bcu

Stories We TellStories We Tell - Sarah Polley has recently added to her fame as an actor with kudos for her directorial skills (AWAY FROM HER, TAKE THIS WALTZ).  Her latest, her debut as a documentarian, continues that streak.   Polley takes as her subject her own family’s story.  This is nothing unusual - lately every other new director does the same thing.  Granted, in this case Polley has a pretty amazing story to tell - but more importantly are the choices she makes to tell it.  These are the elements that stay with you, that get you to think about your family’s origin stories, folk tales and apocrypha; about unreliable narrators and the Heisenberg principle; about those times when you share a realization you’ve made about a family dynamic with your sibling who has no idea what you’re talking about.  To Polley’s credit, she is upfront about all the built-in bias and perception - she does not edit out those uncomfortable or challenging moments.  And she takes it even further, by hiring her father to read the voice-over narrative that she has written - and filming those looping scenes.  It sounds like too much meta to bear, but in the telling, all of that serves to layer the stories in a rich, dense tapestry of personal history and revelation.  This one will stay with you for days, and get you thinking about the stories you tell. --bcu