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February 2022

What Ever Happened to Baby Ben?

Wyatt Garfield/Sundance Institute

Resurrection (2022)

At first glance, “Resurrection” looks to be a thriller about a woman confronting the reappearance of her former abuser. The film calls her sanity into question in a misogynistic manner, then boasts a conceited genre-shifting climax that is more noxious than clever. Following “Here Before,” “Encounter,” “False Positive” et al., this gaslighting-as-narrative-device trope is now a very troublesome trend.

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Doing the Right Thing

Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Emergency (2022)

“Emergency” is one of those one-crazy-night movies (“Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle,” “Superbad,” “Dazed and Confused” et al.), about two college kids attempting to make history as the first Black students ever to complete a tour of every Greek party on campus in one evening – but the plan derails with their discovery of an unknown white girl passed out in their living room. They try to do the right thing and get her help, mindful that they are risking their lives because of the optics – strangers presume their guilt in this scenario based on skin color. Indeed, this well-trodden trope takes on a sense of somberness and urgency in the age of Black Lives Matter.

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Displaced Youth

BFI Distribution

La Mif (2022)

Teenagers are the worst: sensation seeking, narcissistic, moody, impulsive, melodramatic, incapable of thinking long-term at the best of times. Foster care is not the best of times. So how do you live well and happily after the catastrophe that landed you in care? Kids in foster care are not in prison, and are supposed to be able to grow up as normally as possible. Is it possible both to keep them safe and prevent them from paying for adults’ mistakes? These are the central questions of “La Mif (The Fam),” set in a group foster home in Switzerland, but this movie is too smart to offer easy answers. Instead this is an examination of what it means to live with damage and whether that’s possible without causing damage yourself.

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I'm Like a Bird

IFC Midnight

Hatching (2022)

“Hatching” functions like the hybrid of a dark fairy tale and an adolescent horror. It’s utterly implausible, yet it isn’t explicitly sci-fi or supernatural. It falls into the body horror subgenre somewhat, but it’s more gross than it is scary.

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Scenes From a Marriage

Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Lucy and Desi (2022)

Those vexed by the revisionist history in Aaron Sorkin’s “Being the Ricardos” may be looking forward to Amy Poehler’s documentary “Lucy and Desi” – both films focusing on the off-screen relationship between Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, stars of the storied 1950s CBS sitcom “I Love Lucy,” and released three months apart by Amazon Studios/Prime Video. The good: “Lucy and Desi” is built around Ball and Arnaz’s own words culled from cassette tapes in the private collection of their daughter, Lucie Arnaz Luckinbill. The bad: Her involvement does kind of place the documentary’s objectivity in doubt. One can’t shake the feeling that she’s pushing her own narrative about her parents.

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Study Hell

Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Master (2022)

The opening scene in “Master” crosscuts between an older Black woman and a younger Black woman both moving into a residence hall. The reason for the juxtaposition is not readily apparent. Is the older one experiencing déjà vu as she moves in? Are there parallels to be gleaned from this montage?

It’s not revealed until a bit later that the younger woman isn’t in a flashback and that their moves are in fact contemporaneous. Professor Gail Bishop (Regina Hall) is the first Black woman to assume the position of master at the Belleville House on the Ancaster College campus, where Jasmine Moore (Zoe Renee) is the lone Black incoming freshman. What ensues is akin to a supercut compilation of Microaggression’s Greatest Hits.

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Pregnant Pause

IFC Films

Happening (2022)

Something at which French cinema excels is the feeling of living inside a body. It’s the slow accretion of details: people putting coins into a phone box, ordering beers at the bar of a sweaty student dance, or frowning over their books in the park as their friends chatter around them. Audrey Diwan’s “Happening” is about only the physical experience of being pregnant when you don’t want to be, and somehow is a tactile experience. It won the Golden Lion at the 2021 Venice Film Festival, Ms. Diwan herself has been nominated for a BAFTA, and all these awards are incredibly well deserved. A young woman trying to regain control of her body from an indifferent world is proven here to be something extraordinary.

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Losing Her Religion

Andrew Catlin/Sundance Institute

Nothing Compares (2022)

In January 2022 Sinead O’Connor’s 17-year-old son, Shane, committed suicide. This hideous fact will no doubt color the reception of Kathryn Ferguson’s fine documentary “Nothing Compares.” Any praise seems callow in the face of her grief and any criticism feels like twisting the knife. This is especially due to the upsetting public display of Ms. O’Connor’s private grief, part of her tendency to live her every thought out loud, which has been at the heart of her public persona since she began gigging in Dublin as a teenager. This blurring of the personal and the professional is different when a musician does it. A similarly confessional artist like Tracey Emin does can blur the lines because her fame is limited and therefore the reaction more controllable. But Ms. O’Connor’s fame and her notoriety are global, and she ripped up her global career when she ripped up a photo of the Pope on “Saturday Night Live” in 1992. “Nothing Compares” limits its focus to the years of her global rise and sudden fall, from 1987 to 1993. If you think of this documentary as a package of the greatest hits, that makes sense. But as with any compilation album, a lot of nuances are lost.

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Growing Apart

Emily Knecht/Sundance Institute

Am I OK? (2022)

It’s a Hollywood adage that putting a question mark in a movie title is bad luck. For a movie that centers on anxiety, the question mark in “Am I OK?” is a surprising choice. But that’s the only old adage codirectors Tig Notaro and Stephanie Allynne, directing Lauren Pomerantz’s script, have ignored. This is a glossy movie, in the tradition of Claudia Weill’s “Girlfriends” and Noah Baumbach’s “Frances Ha,” about how underemployed female best friends maintain their closeness as adulthood pulls them in separate directions. It looks modern, but it’s nothing new. Not even its exploration of coming out as portrayed by the most sexually bold actress of her generation contains anything like a surprise.

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Family Obligation

Isabel Castro/Sundance Institute

Mija (2022)

There are two documentaries in “Mija” fighting for dominance. One is about a young woman’s attempts to make it as the manager of various up-and-coming musical acts in the Southern California scene. The other shows how the only documented members of undocumented immigrant families face incredible personal pressure in their professional lives, as well-paid jobs mean money for immigration lawyers and the chance to regulate everyone’s status. Both of these separate stories have one center: Doris Muñoz, the self-made music talent manager who opened her home and family secrets to director Isabel Castro. Doris is so endearing you are pretty much automatically on her side; as a subject she was a real find (“Mija” is the name of her company). The trouble is Ms. Castro doesn’t quite know how to manage the multitude of stories Ms. Muñoz’s life contains.

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