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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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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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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Captive Audience

Chris Witt/Sundance Institute

Breaking (2022)

John Boyega channels both the defiance of Denzel Washington and the pathos of Michael B. Jordan as the beating heart of “Breaking,” an upsetting dramatization of the true story of an Atlanta bank hold-up in 2017. It is a silent protest at the militarization of the American police and a howl of injustice at the way American veterans are treated by the system they served. It takes care to show just how a good and decent man can be pushed too far. And it takes even more care in showing how the American systems which were meant to serve and protect are now bulldozers, crushing everything in their path. Make no mistake, this is a horror movie. It’s about the horror of existing inside a society where violence is the only answer, no matter what the question. The people within the society are trying their best to be kind and empathetic, but when there’s a gun to your head or a bomb in a bag it’s impossible to relax. Safety is an illusion, and if you start the downward slide – whether or not it’s your fault – no one will do the right thing.

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Rock the Kasbah

Rita Baghdadi/Sundance Institute

Sirens (2022)

“Sirens” is pitched as a documentary about a year in the life of Slave to Sirens, Lebanon’s only all-girl heavy metal band. What “Sirens” is actually about is the difficulty of being gay in a society where gayness isn’t widely accepted. The ensuring drama both experienced and created by band members who are also lesbians is completely fascinating, but it reduces three of the band’s five members to mere window dressing. Their names are barely even mentioned, and that’s just not fair. But this is what happens when drama takes over: the attention follows. We just can’t help it.

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Let's Talk About Sex

Nick Wall/Sundance Institute

Good Luck to You, Leo Grande (2022)

The optics aren’t great. Here we have a movie about a mixed-race Irish sex worker teaching a posh white British woman about her capacity for physical pleasure in which race is not mentioned once. The major concern expressed by the woman is for the man’s relationship with his family, who do not know that he does sex work, which you would not think would be brought up so much, but that is a red herring to distract from the more obviously uncomfortable issues. So with difficulty, we’ll set the temptation to use the word “colonizer” to describe Emma Thompson’s character aside, and assess the movie on its own terms. “Good Luck to You, Leo Grande” is a two-hander between one of the best actresses of our lifetimes and a total unknown (unless you watch the Irish soaps) who burns through the screen with the impact of a new Marlon Brando. It’s about a former teacher who has waited for her husband to die before she begins the exploration of her own body. She pays for the privilege, of course, but with her privilege she thinks it will only cost her money. Leo, the handsome young man she hires (Daryl McCormack), will have to teach her more than one lesson.

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