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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Life After Death

Paulo Menezes

Cidade Rabat (2023)

Cidade Rabat is the neighborhood in Lisbon where Helena (Raquel Castro) was born and reared. She is a film producer, which means her life involves solving other people's problems, most of which they have also created, obviously. But after the death of her mother (Paula Bárcia), Helena begins to feel like she can truly chart her own course for the first time. The mistakes she makes, at last, will be wholly her own.

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Occupational Hazard

Jacob Kohl

Nuclear Nomads (2023)

This depressing documentary by Kilian Armando Friedrich and Tizian Stromp Zargari follows some specialist employees of France’s electricity companies. France’s power grid relies on nuclear power, and that power relies on workers who are willing to risk their long-term health to do the maintenance work needed for the plants to operate safely. Messrs. Friedrich and Zargari wisely allow the subject matter to make its own political points, which allows the movie a breathing space most polemics don’t have.

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No Country for Young Women

I Love You Chingos LLC

Hummingbirds (2023)

The recent “Cusp,” another documentary about rowdy Texan teenagers, was directed by adults, and the focus ended up being how sexual violence shapes young lives. In “Hummingbirds,” the directors, Silvia Del Carmen Castaños and Estefanía “Beba” Contreras, are also the stars; and the movie follows them around their adventures in Laredo, Texas, in the summer of 2019. The primary force shaping their lives is the pressure of living in the borderlands, of feeling pulled between nationalities (one of the directors was undocumented at the time of filming) and being more radical politically than many of the neighbors. “Cusp” was told from the outside. “Hummingbirds” is told from the inside, with the decision made to keep the imperfections in; and its considerable charm is due to that rawness.

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The Free World

Courtesy photo

Absence (2023)

As an exercise in nihilism, the scene where a lobster is cooked alive on a grill by being steamed under a silver serving bowl while someone sings "it may seem like utter despair" takes some beating. Unfortunately this nasty little sequence is the best thing about “Absence,” a grotty Chinese movie about second chances, how a lack of housing warps lives and the different forms betrayal can take. Its concern with affordable housing and the weather brought it to the Berlinale, but unfortunately it doesn’t know how to answer any of its own questions.

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Children of Destiny

Hype Studios

The Cage Is Looking for a Bird (2023)

Who knew Chechen cinema was as impressionistic and in love with the natural world as anything by Terrence Malick? This tale of teenage dreams and hard reality is set in a farm valley in Ingushetia, where there are plenty of hills for energetic teenage girls to roam, but limited options for how to live your life. The title gives a clear idea of what the choices are, but writer-director Malika Musaeva is smart enough not to need to show the limits. Instead, they are felt.

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