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March 2010

Steinway or the Highway

Highly Strung/You Will Be Mine (2009)

Little Stone Distribution

With an English-language title like “Highly Strung,” one expects Sophie Laloy’s film to have either a tennis or a string-quartet setting. It’s actually about Marie (Judith Davis, no relation to Judy), a pianist who must move in with Emma (Isild Le Besco), a family acquaintance her own age, in order to afford her university studies. Marie is disorganized but intensely committed to her studies, and soon — to her surprise — these include a sexual awakening. This awakening is without direction until the night Emma rescues Marie from a violent man in a club. Marie is very grateful, but Emma wants more. One thing leads to another, pretty much as you’d expect.

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Hate in a Cold Climate

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2009)

Knut Koivisto/Music Box Films

An epic-length murder mystery that takes in sexual abuse, serial killing, Nazism and incest does not sound like a barrel of laughs, and "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" is indeed no picnic. Based on the famous bestseller by Stieg Larsson, it's a locked-room detective story worthy of Agatha Christie, transplanted to the chilly Swedish countryside and goosed into life by one singular and incendiary character.

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Bait and Switch in a Marriage Trap

Chloe (2010)

Rafy/Sony Pictures Classics

"Chloe" is a slick, accomplished erotic thriller, made with a rich cinematic eye and flair for visual storytelling. Coming from director Atom Egoyan, a master stylist bestowed with a textbook comprehension of the language of film, that comes as no surprise.

Yet, the picture marks something of a departure for the Canadian auteur. It's the first feature he's directed from a script not his own — the writer is Erin Cressida Wilson ("Secretary") — and in it he adheres to a straightforward, accessible linear template that avoids the fractured abstractions of a film such as "Adoration" or "The Sweet Hereafter."

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Roller With the Punches

Whip It (2009)

Darren Michaels/
Fox Searchlight Pictures

Drew Barrymore clearly remembers what it is like to be 13. She knows how difficult it is at that age to balance the wishes of your parents — who want the best for you but still treat you like a baby — with your own interests, your desires and your friends. She knows that teenage girls worry about growing up; and who they are; and how they think they are not ready for all the changes coming their way. She understands it’s scary not feeling like you fit in at school; or having to work a loser job; or having a fight with your mom.

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Hey Jude, Don’t Make It Worse

Repo Men (2010)

Kerry Hayes/Universal Studios

The modus operandi of “Repo Men” preys on the ignorance of moviegoers, in terms of both ripping off other movies and glossing over gaping plot holes. Jude Law and Forest Whitaker are the eponymous main characters, except this is supposedly our dystopian future where they repossess artificial organ transplants from those who can’t pay.

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Unlocking the Hurt

Green Zone (2010)

Jasin Boland/Universal Studios

In one sequence in “Green Zone,” Paul Greengrass’s latest shaky-cam thriller, U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller (Matt Damon) and his men carry out a dangerous mission inside the urban hot zone of Baghdad circa March 2003. After storming through the familiar crowded, dusty city streets lined with geometrically designed buildings of clay and stone, interrupting a meeting of former Baath Party big shots and coming away with a notebook of valuable information, their convoy enters a very different world.

It’s the Green Zone, the home of the Coalition Provisional Authority which oversaw the country in the heady early days of the occupation. Minutes after completing their mission, Miller finds himself in a meeting with a C.I.A. bigwig (Brendan Gleeson) by a luxury swimming pool outside Saddam’s former Republican Palace, with bikini-clad women, shirtless men sipping drinks and a general atmosphere more Las Vegas than ongoing war. Swarmed with diplomats that dodge piles of rubble as they ascend ornamental marble staircases and hold strategy conferences in lavish Byzantine rooms, it’s a surreal, provocative setting that perfectly symbolizes the hubris in the face of confusion that’s defined what “The Daily Show” deemed “Mess O'Potamia.”

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Entering the Twilight Zone

Remember Me (2010)

Nicole Rivelli/Summit Entertainment

For the most part, “Remember Me” retreads the tiresome story of boy meets girl; they fall in love; girl’s daddy interferes; some lame misunderstanding involving girl’s daddy threatens to wreck the romance; boy eventually wins girl back, etc. In other words, the film is for the most part indistinguishable from all the Nicholas Sparks movie adaptations, save for the fact that Robert Pattinson is in it.

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Jogging Memories of Murder

Magnolia Pictures

Coming of age as a Yonsei University sociology major during South Korea's turbulent struggle for democracy surely contributed to director Bong Joon-ho's unique ability to transform domestic issues and contradictions into allegory. As a young cinephile, Mr. Bong was exposed to the auteurs of the region through the university cine club. He directed three short films before his feature-length debut and box-office flop, "Barking Dogs Never Bite" in 2000. But "Memories of Murder" (2003) was critically and commercially successful at home and abroad, putting his name alongside other local filmmaking wunderkinds, most notably Park Chan-wook. His next release, "The Host" (2005), an allegory of the U.S. occupation and the changing Korean family in the guise of a retro monster film, remains the top-grossing South Korean film of all time. Subsequent short film "Shaking Tokyo" in "Tokyo!" was easily the best installment in the overall uneven omnibus production featuring co-contributors Leos Carax and Michel Gondry. Finally, with recent masterwork "Mother," Mr. Bong proves that — unlike Mr. Park's latest over-stylized disappointments — his films only become richer and more intricate in their form and content. Here, Mr. Bong addresses the casting choices, cinematic influences and characters in "Mother."

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Pulling the Apron Strings

Mother (2009)

Magnolia Pictures

The intense and ultimately violent struggle one mother takes to keep her family together is at the heart of Bong Joon-ho's latest masterwork, "Mother." Wringing from the tale high melodrama, dark humor and taut suspense reminiscent of Hitchcock's best murder mysteries, Mr. Bong continues his trademark deft manipulation of multiple genres while narrowing his focus from vast national and societal issues to that of one woman on a mission.

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Lore of the Claddagh Rings

The Secret of Kells (2009)


“The Secret of Kells” shocked the punditry and just about everyone else when it earned a 2009 Best Animated Feature Oscar nomination alongside “Up,” “Fantastic Mr. Fox” and other better-known counterparts. Yet, this small, independent, hand-drawn film from co-directors Tomm Moore and Nora Twomey might be the most evocative movie of the bunch, a picture that relies on a potpourri of cubist and impressionistic sensibilities to tell a standard coming-of-age story in a way it’s not been told before.

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