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Danger Zone

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Operation Valentine (2024)

“Fighter” was the Hindi-language response of “Top Gun: Maverick;” and now we have “Operation Valentine,” the Telugu-language equivalent. It's about the same real-life incidents from 2019 also referenced in “Fighter,” but “Operation Valentine” is much the worse movie for two reasons. Firstly, director Shakti Pratap Singh chose to use footage of the real-life funerals which followed the 2019 attacks, which is desperately inappropriate. Secondly, it reduces the entire history of hostilities between two nations into one man's struggle with himself. It's a breathtaking achievement but perhaps not the intended one.

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Spider Sense: Far From Home

Larry Horricks/Netflix

Spaceman (2024)

After “Gravity” came out, Tina Fey famously quipped that it’s about how George Clooney would rather die in the blackness of space than spend time with a woman his own age. Along those lines, “Spaceman” is about how Adam Sandler would rather die in the blackness of space than spend time with his pregnant wife. Deep space is a long way to go to learn that your wife’s feelings are just as valid as your career; and a talking space spider is one hell of a therapist, but hey, whatever works.

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Air Show

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Fighter (2024)

“Fighter” is much, much more interesting than its topline, a.k.a. the Indian answer to “Top Gun: Maverick” and “Born to Fly.” The influence of American war movies and all their cheery flyboys is strong, but “Fighter” is much more pointed than either of the American and Chinese celebration of their armed forces in that it has a clear conflict and enemy: Kashmir, and terrorists who commit crimes against Indian citizens while finding shelter in Pakistan. This specificity is very unusual in recent worldwide blockbusters and means that the relentless patriotism, such as a poem about how no coffin is more beautiful than one draped with an Indian flag, is way more meaningful.

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The Long Goodbye

Eric Zachanowich/Searchlight Pictures

Suncoast (2024)

End-of-life care becomes an issue on almost everyone's plate one way or another. The dilemma faced by the family in "Suncoast" as they place Max (Cree Kawa), a young man dying of brain cancer, into a hospice will resonate a little or a lot with most people; for this is the art and craft of the medical drama, to which few are fully immune. In this one premiering at the Sundance Film Festival, writer-director Laura Chinn gives the mother of the patient, Kristine (Laura Linney), and her other child, Doris (Nico Parker, daughter of Thandiwe Newton and with some of her mother's wary watchfulness), equal focus in their shared but different grief. So the film is about one parent's agonies and one young woman's coming-of-age at the same time, two films for the price of one. And there's a political dimension, since Ms. Chinn sets her story in 2005 at the same hospice where Terri Schiavo is receiving care, the real-life right-to-die case playing out in the background on all news channels. The tact and delicacy of the film will have much to do with all this being based on experience: the film maker has fictionalized things for narrative purposes, but Ms. Chinn's brother did die in that hospice; it was at that time; and she was that sister.

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Art Attacks

Leo Matiz/Sundance Institute

Frida (2024)

Carla Gutiérrez's documentary about Frida Kahlo wants to focus on the artist as a person and a woman, rather than get dragged into the higher showbiz orbit of the cultural presence, Madonna-influencer and biopic subject also called Frida Kahlo, famous enough that her unibrow is enough to spark recognition. The result could be termed back-to-basics. In the absence of any third-party commentary, "Frida" uses Kahlo's own letters and diaries, alongside other contemporary texts written by lovers and friends, all read in voiceover by actors. Meanwhile the screen shows still photos, clippings and newsreel footage, plus views of Kahlo paintings. The film, premiering at Sundance on its way to audiences via Amazon, is after authenticity, fact rather than legend, although Ms. Gutiérrez is an editor by trade and knows that assembling a montage is as much of an active manipulation as a dramatized narrative can be.

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Eye for an Eye, Captain

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Captain Miller (2024)

While it feels like a western and looks like a war epic, “Captain Miller” manages to have its cake and eat it. The movie preaches a message of antiviolence while amassing a body count in the thousands. Five bomb and fire experts are thanked in the credits, which understates how many explosions take place and how much stunt work must have been necessary. But despite the extraordinary amount of mayhem, the overall message is one of disgust for violence and the unjust systems which make violence inescapable.

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About Face


A Different Man (2024)

“A Different Man” reunites filmmaker Aaron Schimberg with his “Chained for Life” leading man, Adam Pearson. If you think deeply about it, the new film, premiering at the Sundance Film Festival, is actually incredibly sweet in its attempt to normalize the actor’s deformity caused by neurofibromatosis type 1. For the uninitiated, though, it’s more like some mashup of “Face/Off,” “The Elephant Man” and “Beauty and the Beast.” It may look like body horror, but it’s a comedy . . . maybe?

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Attack of the Killer Lesbians

Anna Kooris/A24

Love Lies Bleeding (2024)

“Saint Maud” auteur Rose Glass returns with something more deliberately A24-y, a gonzo pulp fully in the mode of ’70s grindhouse and its ’90s Quentin Tarantino-led renaissance. Ms. Glass disclosed at the Sundance Film Festival premiere of “Love Lies Bleeding” that she originally set it in Scotland, but the story just makes much more sense in the States. She ain’t wrong. This toxic mix of unhinged bloodlust and sleazy softcore is basically cinematic apple pie.

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The Help

Tobin Yelland/Focus Features

The American Society of Magical Negroes (2024)

Spotlighted by Spike Lee in the early aughts, Magical Negro is a well-worn narrative trope involving Black supporting characters whose entire raison d’être is to selflessly serve the white protagonists. We’ve been told this story time and again, in popular movies such as “The Shawshank Redemption,” “The Green Mile,” “The Legend of Bagger Vance” and “Green Book,” to name a few. While now well-known and widely accepted in cinema studies, the academic jargon still makes many a white editor uncomfortable and prone to excise it almost instinctively as if it’s unfit for polite conversation. Unfortunately, this time they won’t be able to cop out and strike it from the title of “The American Society of Magical Negroes.”

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The Nightmare Before Christmas

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Merry Christmas (2024)

“Merry Christmas” absolutely captures end-of-year melancholy, with its lonely lead characters surprising themselves with the sudden importance of their chance encounter. This movie deeply knows the difficulty of living with your choices and how a spur-of-the-moment impulse can shape your entire life. But while it does less well with creating a coherent and believable plot, it does an exceptional job of building a mood.

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