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March 2022

Final Frontier

Sundance Institute

The Territory (2022)

The Uru-eu-wau-wau people, indigenous to Brazil’s rainforest, have seen their land and their population decimated since the 1980s when miners made first contact in the region. Now farmers brazenly show up with chainsaws and tractors to engage in a free-for-all land grab with no governmental oversight or interference, and they are not above resorting to violence and even murder. Worse, far-right politicians such as President Jair Bolsonaro run on platforms promising a legal path to the encroachment. This fight between the Uru-eu-wau-wau and intruding farmers is the subject of “The Territory,” 2022 Sundance winner of the Audience Award for World Cinema Documentary and Special Jury Award for Documentary Craft.

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Millennium Mambo

Charlotte Croft

Pirates (2021)

In 1999, when it was first heard as part of a hidden infomercial track on early pressings of Britney Spears’s “. . . Baby One More Time,” would anyone have guessed that The Backstreet Boys’ “I Want It That Way” would become a deathless classic? The answer is no. And yet, when young Terrell (Jordan Peters) is attempting to apologize to the fearsome Kelly (Rebekah Murrell) for their breakup, which may or may not have happened because he faked being in a coma to go on holiday with his mates, he recites the lyrics to her like a poem. If only the other people in the record shop where she works didn’t recognize the song. As a gimmick it’s pure silliness: Would any teenage MC from North London, one-third of the Ice Cold Crew, a rap group good enough to get play on the city’s cutthroat pirate radio stations, really be listening to the Backstreet Boys? Also no. But in Reggie Yates’s adorable “Pirates,” shown as part of this year’s SXSW Film Festival, the song both grounds the movie in its time, and sets the cheerful, childish tone.

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Space Oddity


Apollo 10 1/2: A Space Age Childhood (2022)

Memory is a funny thing, isn’t it. Looking back, especially at your own family, often you remember only the best parts, and certainly you focus on what you want to see. In the summer of 1969, while the future Kenneth Branagh was in Belfast going to the cinema to admire Raquel Welch with his family, the future Richard Linklater was in a suburb of Houston also going to the cinema to admire Raquel Welch with his brothers, but more often to watch movies about space. Practically everyone in the Houston area was involved in the space race, including young Stan (voiced by Milo Coy). Believe it or not, his kickball skills brought him to NASA’s attention, since – due to a minor math mishap – one of the space modules had been built at half size. So while his family thought he had a summer camp scholarship, Stan endured months of training to become the first boy to walk on the moon.

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The Italian Jobs

Sean McElwee

Spin Me Round (2022)

The Jeff Baena strolling players, Aubrey Plaza first among equals, return for “Spin Me Round,” a dark screwball farce screened at SXSW in which rich people are always the ones having all the fun. Mr. Baena also returns to Tuscany, where he put Ms. Plaza into a 14th Century convent for “The Little Hours” without changing her comedy one bit; and to black comedy, after 2020’s “Horse Girl” used the director’s same basic style to be serious about mental health and trauma. But the course correction to swap these destinations back and forth in Mr. Baena’s cosmos of unnerving, petulant characters simmering with eccentricity might be only an inch or two.

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Bad Old Days


Gone in the Night (2022)

Starting off as an indie drama before sliding over into thriller territory and then getting slightly fantastical on top, “Gone in the Night” doesn’t have the voltage to jolt any of those departments into vivid life, although it stitches them together with the best of intentions. It hinges on middle-aged characters feeling fragile and insecure in the face of their mortality when confronted by the vigorous young; a solid theme slightly dented by the casting of Winona Ryder and Dermot Mulroney, both of them carrying the quarter-century since they dated in “How to Make an American Quilt” with ease and apparently holding up splendidly.

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The Art of the Steal

Scott Grossman

The Thief Collector (2022)

No one really knows what their neighbors are getting up to, which used to be proof of life’s rich tapestry but these days is another hot coal of paranoia in our overheating stove of unhappiness. There were some rich tapestries in the New Mexico home of deceased elderly couple Jerry and Rita Alter when their house was cleared in 2017, plus artifacts from a life of world travel and a lot of Jerry’s own fairly average art and writings. And also Willem de Kooning’s 1955 painting “Woman-Ochre,” brazenly stolen 32 years earlier from the University of Arizona and found hanging out of sight in the Alter’s bedroom behind the door, like a $160-million private joke. Allison Otto’s frothy and initially amiable documentary “The Thief Collector,” screened at SXSW, grapples with the question of what the Alters may or may not have done to get the painting there. But since there’s an unavoidable Alter-shaped hole at the middle of the story, some of the historical shadows being cast over them might be coming from a more recent cultural feeling: that eccentricity must be just the visible sign of something worse.

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Unlucky Numbers


To Leslie (2022)

There's a section in critic James Monaco’s old book “American Film Now” where he goes out on a shaky limb and plots the then-superstars of movie acting on a diagram of distinct personality types. This comes to mind every time Andrea Riseborough acts in a film and is immediately, defiantly, unclassifiable. Michael Morris’s “To Leslie” catches Ms. Riseborough still barreling forward on the momentum of 2020, the year of Prime Video’s series “ZeroZeroZero” for which they might have melted down a few of the TV acting trophies into one statue just for her. “To Leslie,” written by Ryan Binaco, might garner her a few more plaudits, although this is a showier turn with plenty of awardable elbow room: an English actor charging at full-scale West Texas alcoholic destitution.

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Breaking Awaits

Beth Garrabrant/Sundance Institute

When You Finish Saving the World (2022)

With “When You Finish Saving the World,” it feels as though actor-turned-filmmaker Jesse Eisenberg has created what seems like an entire universe populated with Mark Zuckerbergs – at least his own take on the tech titan memorialized for posterity in “The Social Network.”

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