The Arbor: Roughly 700 films open theatrically in New York City. Philadelphia gets about a fourth of those. That means we miss some gems. One of the greatest casualties was Clio Barnard’s ingenious doc, which relates the short life of working-class English playwright Andrea Dunbar through a simple device: actors lip-synch to the audio interviews with those she left behind, including a half-Pakistani daughter who fell into drug use. It’s a striking and moving way to spice up documentary filmmaking’s usual talking heads-and-exposition approach.
Leap Year: Just as some people must carelessly rent the wrong Crash, chances are some of the five or six people seeking to rent Leap Year, the Amy Adams rom-com, instead wind up with Michael Rowe’s dark Mexican drama about a lonely sex addict who finally finds a partner who will join her in urolagnia and well, well beyond. Lead Monica del Carmen helps make an in-some-ways too tidy production as resonant emotionally as it is aesthetically.
Ong Bak 3: Video on Demand has made small/foreign genre films accessible to a wider audience, and that’s fantastic. But it still would have been nice to see the latest from Thai ass-kicker and elephant-enthusiast Tony Jaa old school: on a big screen with a whooping crowd.
Putty Hill: The most exciting American indie released this year, Matthew Porterfield’s city portrait offers a nonjudgmental look at young, low-income Baltimoreans in the wake of an OD, although most would rather hang out or play paintball than grieve. Porterfield casts mostly non-pros then interviews them in “character,” and the jostle between real and fiction proves thrilling.
Shit Year: The same year Ellen Barkin became a potty-mouthed Twitter star, she delivered one of the year’s finest performances. Cam Archer’s kaleidoscopic, B&W character study casts Barkin as an aging, Barkin-esque actress who retires. She shouldn’t follow suit.
To Die Like a Man: Now that Pedro Almodovar’s transsexuals are played by hot actresses, the torch is passed to Portuguese filmmaker João Pedro Rodrigues. The maker of the formally adventurous O Fantasma and Two Drifters slows down for this elegy to an aging, dying drag queen that’s alternately loopy, hypnotic and deeply melancholic.
"Pan" deserves the hook
Matt Damon delivers in "The Martian"