That's Amour

Agatha A. Nitecka

45 Years (2015)

After "Weekend" cast a nonjudgmental eye over the couplings of people savoring their early decades on Earth, "45 Years" looks with equal tolerance at a married couple hovering around their seventh — in the process confirming Andrew Haigh as one of current British cinema's rarely-spotted authentic humanists. With the domestic industry's choices too often amounting to use of the heritage card, indulgence in histrionic aggro or a swing the other way into micromanaged oxygen starvation, Mr. Haigh once again proves to be one of those searching for a fourth way.

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Bad Hair Day

Graeme Hunter

The Legend of Barney Thomson (2015)

Robert Carlyle gets a bad case of the accidental serial-killer blues in "The Legend of Barney Thomson," playing a sad-sack Glasgow barber with an unfortunate tendency to stab people with the styling shears. Poorly suited to employment burnishing other mens' self-image and tied to the apron strings of a potty-mouth mother whose manner could alarm the horses, Barney's impotent frustration with life's unfairness leads him into a new sideline as what looks like Scotland's least ingenious murderer. Unfortunately for him, another — rather more skillful — one of those is on the prowl already, sending victims' severed body parts through the post and confounding a police force of Keystone-level uselessness.

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A Dread & Two Noughts

Roadside Attractions

The Skeleton Twins (2014)

Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig's comic rapport is the foundation of "The Skeleton Twins," a bittersweet comedy which lets the two of them bounce off each other for an amiable 90 minutes without actually breaking a sweat — or any new ground, for that matter.

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Amazon Prime

Eduardo Moreno/Open Road Films

The Green Inferno (2014)

Eli Roth's latest think piece on international relations is a gleefully nasty culture clash between youthful Western arrogance and a simple tribal lifestyle, somewhere down a crazy river. In "The Green Inferno" a group of handsome white-bread students — naive dim bulbs to a man and led by an out-and-out creep — set about protesting against rain-forest deforestation in the Amazon, and end up on the receiving end of a cannibal holocaust. At first it's all high-fives and banter and chaining themselves to bulldozers; but then later there's running and screaming and explosive diarrhea.

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Spies Like Them

Kerry Brown/Roadside Attractions

A Most Wanted Man (2014)

Anton Corbijn and John le Carré apparently got on like a house on fire producing "A Most Wanted Man," but make an odd-couple pairing. The best le Carré adaptations — assuming you buy that films can capture the author's Olympian monotony of civil-service espionage in the first place — rely on the innate thrill of a great actor in a bad suit retrieving a folder from a cabinet and returning to the desk. Mr. Corbijn likes to film the rites of tradesmen doing their thing, although for the most part seems keener on the poses they strike while doing so than the dirt under their fingernails. Between them, these two not-quite opposing instincts build a reasonable facsimile of the author's tale, and then pretty much admire each other to a standstill.

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Fully Steamed Ahead


Snowpiercer (2014)

Anyone coming to "Snowpiercer" as a fan of Jacques Lob and Jean-Marc Rochette's graphic novels may be in for an attack of sugar rush. Bong Joon-ho's film — less an adaptation than a parallel-universe tribute act — strips out the dour Holocaust-haunted imagery and discursive chat of the original in favor of broad sci-fi pastiche, night-vision axe fights and Tilda Swinton's comedy teeth.

The result loses something in translation, but gains a few thousand watts in the caboose. Question much (or any) of the logic behind the last of humankind riding a vast train around an uninhabitable ice-bound Earth, and it crumbles in your hands. Instead the film would prefer you to grasp its grand parable, restated at regular intervals: that political revolution requires the seizing of the proverbial engine car from the gilded layabouts in first class, something Curtis (Chris Evans) and his fellow peasants from the slum carriages at the back of the train set about doing.

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Friends Without Benefits

Magic Magic (2013)

Andrés Gachón/2013 Sundance Film Festival

Sebastián Silva's "Magic Magic" starts off as it means to go on, in a very affected state of agitation. The camera hovers nervously around characters at waist height or below, apparently unable to look them in the eye; a brusque title card flashes on screen for a nanosecond before the camera returns to bothering someone's Skechers. Notionally a horror film, "Magic Magic" lays on the visual alienation tactics in large dollops, nearly turning into something potentially more interesting: a story built of nothing but constant fret and friction between a group of acquaintances (clearly not friends) on a Chilean road trip, where the internal stresses reach such a pitch that even the strongest of them shows signs of climbing the walls. By that point the weakest has already gone round the bend.

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Take It to the Streets

Centro histórico (2012)

International Film Festival Rotterdam

"I have been involved in this kind of thing before. It never works." Ahead of the Edinburgh screening of "Centro histórico," Pedro Costa's comment could have been about the dubious nature of portmanteau films; in this case four stories set in the Portuguese city of Guimarães by Aki Kaurismäki, Mr. Costa, Victor Erice and Manoel de Oliveira. Afterward, and filtered through an idiosyncratic Q. & A. with the director, it could just as easily have been a sign of Mr. Costa's professed wish to keep faith with an uncompromisingly political cinema and reach audiences who may not be receptive to his methods. Either way, it surely echoed the sentiments of the film's backers, who having commissioned it to promote the city's status as a 2012 European Capital of Culture and received a work deemed unreleasable, have now cast it onto the waters of the world's film festivals while hoping for the best.

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Rhode Island Dead

The Conjuring (2013)

Michael Tackett/Warner Brothers Pictures

To say that things go bump in the night in "The Conjuring" does an injustice to the volume of the film's audio mix, which has been calibrated to loosen your dental fillings. And to say that there isn't an unpredictable second in the film doesn't make it sound as much fun as it actually is, given the lengths that director James Wan goes to in keeping this particular haunted-house caper barreling forwards. Downplaying the Sam Raimi-flavor pastiche that tends to gum up this kind of exercise — at least until the end — it's a straightforward piece of mostly gore-lite atmospheric scaremongering, in which several fine actors make one another jump out of their skins while a punch-up breaks out in the orchestra.

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Loath Thy Neighbor

The Complex (2013)


Presumably by choice, "The Complex" finds Hideo Nakata retrenching so firmly onto more comfortable territory after the misfire of "Chatroom" that the whole enterprise seems distressingly familiar. Mr. Nakata had a big hand in forging a flavor of J-horror with solid international appeal when he made "Ringu" back in 1998; but that tone and style (and visual shorthand, and volume level) have become a rigid template, and "The Complex" opts not to rock the boat. Rigidity also brings the risk of incidental humor: This film features the most useless screen exorcism ever, a protracted ceremony of wailing, chanting and food preparation that produces no discernible reaction from the evil spirit infesting a haunted apartment building, but which could easily prize a guffaw from an audience.

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