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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Easy Prey

David Bolen/Sundance Institute

Thelma (2024)

Writer-director Josh Margolin has taken direct inspiration from the “Mission: Impossible” movies (Tom Cruise is thanked in the credits) to make an action movie starring an elderly woman which does not once patronize her. It takes the dual challenges of being old and caring for the elderly and turns them into riotous action sequences filmed by David Bolen with all the flash of a thriller, and with Simon Astall’s music hitting the same dramatic notes. Climbing two flights of stairs is no small achievement when your body is winding down, so it’s a completely fair comparison, and kind of surprising no one has done this before. This is also the first starring role of June Squibb’s film career, and considering her acting career has lasted over 70 years, better late than never – but oh, what a loss, because she’s wonderful. Funny, devious, charming and with a determination to assert herself that never turns to bitterness, Ms. Squibb’s Thelma is an absolute delight. From the Sundance Film Festival onwards, this will redefine crowd-pleaser.

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Acting the Maggot

Sundance Institute

Kneecap (2024)

Look, either you think it’s hilarious that a man shouts a well-known terrorist slogan at the point of orgasm, or you’re not going to enjoy “Kneecap.” But not enjoying this movie would be a big mistake. It is simply the best movie ever made about being young in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and a strong new addition to the canon of movies about disaffected youths finding their voices through rapping about sex and drugs. The fact their language is Irish means the movie, and the real-life band of the same name this is about, is a fresh new take on language preservation and so-called minority culture rights. It is the first ever Irish-language movie shown at the Sundance Film Festival, and made with a screaming sense of humor that is, from start to finish, a joy.

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Gerald Kerkletz/Sundance Institute

Veni Vidi Vici (2024)

As with “Love Me,” “Veni Vidi Vici” is another movie aimed at 13-year-old girls from the Sundance Film Festival that has not been marketed as such. The clue is in the age of the narrator, Paula Maynard (Olivia Goschler), the cosseted daughter of an Austrian gazillionaire who is learning what capitalism allows the privileged to get away with. And her family is indeed privileged. Her stepmother, Viktoria (Ursina Lardi), wants another baby, so is shopping for surrogate mothers – “your sperm, my egg, her stretch marks” – and her father, Amon (Laurence Rupp), a hugely successful businessman, murders people for fun.

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The Stolen Children

Emily Kassie/Sundance Institute

Sugarcane (2024)

One of the worst things about adulthood is realizing there’s no worst story out there. Someone will tell you about a story about rape, torture, child abuse, exploitation, or being sold by their drunk mother for beer money; and you never get to think “this is the worst story I will ever hear.” But the greatest thing about adulthood is that you have power and agency which children are denied; and the greatest thing about great adults is that they use their agency and power to improve things, if not only for themselves, then for other former children. Canada has some dark, shaming history in its treatment of its children, most notably the “scoop” – its practice of forcing indigenous children into residential schools where their connection to their language and culture was tortured out of them. It bears repeating that one residential school had its own electric chair. But the best thing about Canada is that it is finally beginning to face up to those horrible, horrifying wrongs. “Sugarcane” is about one family and several communities’ attempts to address the awful things that happened at one residential school: St. Joseph’s Mission in British Columbia. This is an important documentary about courage and the different ways people seek justice, but be warned, it also contains some of the worst stories you could ever hear.

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Sunshine and Rainbows

Arun Bhattarai/Sundance Institute

Agent of Happiness (2024)

Bhutan has made itself famous for its happiness index, for which 75 people criss-cross the nation asking the people they encounter around 150 questions about their personal happiness out of a scale from zero to 10. The survey is mainly in English, which is a surprise, and the king uses it as a base for developmental decisions around the nation. “Agent of Happiness” follows several of the surveyors as they complete their work before focusing in on Amber Kumar Gurung, who is a charming man in his early 40s who cares for his mother and is in a tricky personal position. He is ethnically Nepali; and his family was stripped of their citizenship when he was a toddler, meaning his entire life has been shaped by his statelessness. No full-time work, no wife and family, and only limited hope for the future. Directors Arun Bhattarai and Dorottya Zurbó undertake in-depth filming with the most interesting interviewees Mr. Gurung comes across, but also had the sense to follow Mr. Gurung as he searches for happiness for himself.

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Writer's Tricks

Sundance Institute

Sebastian (2024)

The young writer at the heart of “Sebastian,” Max Williamson (an astounding Ruaridh Mollica), doesn’t seem to know how lucky he is. As many queer authors in London can tell you (ahem), it’s not usual to find a literary agent based on short stories written in university, nor for your first book to get such rave prerelease reviews that you’re personally profiled in the newspapers, complete with a professional photoshoot. If you have a job freelancing for a serious monthly magazine there’s no way you’d dismiss even the most boring advertorial as beneath your talent, when that writing work affords a London rent. And even if you were the most gilded literary talent in your city, your peers in your creative writing workshop will never, ever applaud your work. They’d nitpick out of jealousy. But having said all that, the device of the ongoing deconstruction of Max’s writing is clever meta-critique of the plot of “Sebastian,” in which this young man with such obvious talent decides to risk it all by delving into sex work. Gay sex work, no less. It’s a tremendous high wire act; and it’s a testament to the bravery and skill of everyone involved that the movie succeeds completely.

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