Past Lives


Matt and Mara (2024)

There’s a huge difference in cinema between half-baked and uncooked. A film being largely improvised by its cast is fine, unless the improvisation is not built around a fixed plot. You can have all the talent in the world and the movie still won’t work if it isn’t sure of the story it is telling. “Matt and Mara” could have been delicious. But in this form we are not even being served the cookie dough. All that's here is some raw ingredients with the hope we'll mix them ourselves.

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Locked Down

Carole Bethuel

Suspended Time (2024)

As the longest year any of us ever lived recedes into memory, we all have a decision to make. Do we forget the way 2020 made us feel the way people who survived the Spanish flu did a century ago, or do we try to figure out how we can remember the most painful year of our lives (so far) without going completely crazy? It's an impossible question of course and everyone will have a different reaction to it; and certainly there are people who will not be able to bear “Suspended Time's” depiction of a lockdown year on principle, but it certainly helps that the version of the Covid pandemic shown here was suffering on the lowest possible setting.

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War of the Worlds

Tessalit Productions

L’Empire (2024)

Fun cinema fans will remember the sequence from “Notting Hill” where Hugh Grant crashes a junket held for Julia Roberts by pretending to be the film critic for Horse & Hound magazine. When he asks her about the horses in her new movie, she gently reminds him it is set in space. Clearly Bruno Dumont, director of “L'Empire,” saw this movie at some point and said to himself, "Challenge accepted. Can I make a ridiculous space Europudding involving horses and, while I’m at it, spaceships shaped like a palace and a cathedral? I can, and I will." And by Jove he did, and the result is perfectly ridiculous. This is not a complaint.

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Back to Life

Matteo Casilli/Indigo Film

Another End (2024)

Reanimating the dead in movies – such as in “All of Us Strangers” – is mainly done in order to provide emotional closure, of a kind, for the living. This is always seen from the point of view from those left behind, who want something from the dead that they are willing to go to any lengths to receive, and which appears to be catnip for audiences with their own dead to bury. But as “Another End” lumbers on you’ll have plenty of time to reflect on what this means for those people brought back, the ones who cannot rest in peace. It’s hard to think of something more horrific than the idea that your loved ones might attempt to keep your soul alive for their own purposes even after you’re gone. No one is supposed to think this is a metaphor for artificial intelligence that only tells you want you want to hear. No, this is supposed to be romantic! Or normal! But not every human longing ought to be fulfilled; and not every movie with a sharp aesthetic and a superb international cast ought to be supported.

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Kitchen Stories

Juan Pablo Ramírez/Filmadora

La Cocina (2024)

“La Cocina” is set in Times Square in New York, but was primarily filmed in Mexico City and you can't hardly tell the difference. That's possible because the workers in New York's restaurant kitchens are from all over the world, legal or not. The story takes place over one day in a colossal restaurant kitchen where everything’s about to snap. They nearly always are of course, movies about restaurants being what they are, not to mention "The Bear," but “La Cocina” captures big personalities and hair-trigger moods better than most.

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Do the Right Thing

Shane O’Connor

Small Things Like These (2024)

This year's Berlinale experienced protests before it began thanks to some thoughtless political posturing that goes against the festival's explicit antifascist ethos. It was a serious mistake, not least because what fascism boils down to is the negation of human empathy in exchange for rules and regulations designed to consolidate power in the hands of the chosen. That means the choice of “Small Things Like These” to open the festival is a doubly pointed reminder of the value of human kindness and the importance of empathy as a weapon.

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Force majeure


Cuckoo (2024)

The absolute worst audience reaction you can have for a horror film is silence. People are supposed to be reacting to the gore, experiencing the shocks of the plot twists in their own bodies, maybe even screaming. This is not something you can expect from “Cuckoo;” it’s awful but it’s true that the audience at the Berlinale watched it in stony silence. “Cuckoo” should have been an O.T.T. camp catastrophe/delight, but unfortunately it's just a rotten egg.

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Easy Prey

David Bolen/Sundance Institute

Thelma (2024)

Writer-director Josh Margolin has taken direct inspiration from the “Mission: Impossible” movies (Tom Cruise is thanked in the credits) to make an action movie starring an elderly woman which does not once patronize her. It takes the dual challenges of being old and caring for the elderly and turns them into riotous action sequences filmed by David Bolen with all the flash of a thriller, and with Simon Astall’s music hitting the same dramatic notes. Climbing two flights of stairs is no small achievement when your body is winding down, so it’s a completely fair comparison, and kind of surprising no one has done this before. This is also the first starring role of June Squibb’s film career, and considering her acting career has lasted over 70 years, better late than never – but oh, what a loss, because she’s wonderful. Funny, devious, charming and with a determination to assert herself that never turns to bitterness, Ms. Squibb’s Thelma is an absolute delight. From the Sundance Film Festival onwards, this will redefine crowd-pleaser.

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Acting the Maggot

Sundance Institute

Kneecap (2024)

Look, either you think it’s hilarious that a man shouts a well-known terrorist slogan at the point of orgasm, or you’re not going to enjoy “Kneecap.” But not enjoying this movie would be a big mistake. It is simply the best movie ever made about being young in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and a strong new addition to the canon of movies about disaffected youths finding their voices through rapping about sex and drugs. The fact their language is Irish means the movie, and the real-life band of the same name this is about, is a fresh new take on language preservation and so-called minority culture rights. It is the first ever Irish-language movie shown at the Sundance Film Festival, and made with a screaming sense of humor that is, from start to finish, a joy.

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Gerald Kerkletz/Sundance Institute

Veni Vidi Vici (2024)

As with “Love Me,” “Veni Vidi Vici” is another movie aimed at 13-year-old girls from the Sundance Film Festival that has not been marketed as such. The clue is in the age of the narrator, Paula Maynard (Olivia Goschler), the cosseted daughter of an Austrian gazillionaire who is learning what capitalism allows the privileged to get away with. And her family is indeed privileged. Her stepmother, Viktoria (Ursina Lardi), wants another baby, so is shopping for surrogate mothers – “your sperm, my egg, her stretch marks” – and her father, Amon (Laurence Rupp), a hugely successful businessman, murders people for fun.

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