Danish Blue

Christian Geisnaes/Magnolia Pictures

Nymphomaniac (2014)

Upholding the tradition by which Lars von Trier spooks the massed ranks of the tabloids with talk of pornography before then unveiling films that prove as arousing as a kick in the knee, the four-hour, two-volume "Nymphomaniac" is merciless and hilarious in close proximity. The story skips between an intellectual investigation of a woman's insatiable libido and a stylized erotic farce, threatening to cast its vote against optimism altogether and decide that no peace between the sexes is possible or perhaps advisable. Along the way, Volume I — with its droll laughs at regular intervals — becomes Volume II, which plunges into darkness headfirst. Large themes are invoked; large genitalia are inspected. Large theories are inevitable.

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Coming of Age on the Scrap Heap

The Selfish Giant (2013)

Agatha A. Nitecka/57th BFI London Film Festival

"The Selfish Giant" claims to be inspired by an Oscar Wilde short story, but only the title appears to be. Arbor (Conner Chapman) is 12 and almost out of control. He lives with his overwhelmed mother (Rebecca Manley) and a drug-dealing older brother (Elliott Tittensor) who cannot be stopped from selling his A.D.H.D. medication. They sleep on the living room sofas, but their house is much nicer than that of Arbor’s best friend Swifty (Shaun Thomas), whose parents are settled Travelers (i.e. Gypsies) with no money and far too many children. Swifty is good with horses, which brings the boys to the attention of Kitten (Sean Gilder, well known from the British version of "Shameless"), a scrap dealer who also organizes illegal horse-and-trap races and the significant bets which are placed on them. Both Arbor’s and Swifty’s mothers are desperate for money, and both boys feel that they are useless in school. One thing pretty much leads to another.

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Dead Ringers

The Double (2013)


Sometimes the scheduling at film festivals and the sheer volume and variety of consumed material causes some unlikely connections and comparisons to emerge that would otherwise pass unnoticed. “The Double” received its 57th BFI London Film Festival press screening directly after Terry Gilliam’s latest, “The Zero Theorem,” and for the first half an hour it felt like we’d been left stranded in Mr. Gilliam’s universe. Both films are notionally very different, but the opening act of Richard Ayoade’s second feature will draw comparisons with “Brazil” in the way it posits its hero amidst an unforgiving and absurdist bureaucratic nightmare.

In fact, “The Double” recalls several films visually and tonally, notably some works of Roman Polanski’s and Orson Welles’s “The Trial” in particular. Some may be surprised by Mr. Ayoade’s cine-literacy and visual expressiveness, certainly in comparison with his first film, “Submarine,” which was generally rooted in the humble origins of small-scale British comic drama, despite its lush cinematography and Wes Anderson-esque flourishes. This redoubling of cinematic flamboyance from the former comedian and actor may raise some eyebrows in Britain; while not being as incongruous a cultural rebirth as Takeshi Kitano’s was to Japanese audiences, it’s still roughly akin to Americans imagining, say, that Aziz Ansari had directed a film like “Black Swan.”

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Life Swap

Like Father, Like Son (2013)

Sundance Selects

Family lies at the center of much of Hirokazu Kore-eda’s work. It’s at once the most personal and familiar subject matter, but is one that is riddled with nuance and unbounded complexity. Nature versus nurture is a story as old as the hills, but rarely has it been told with such heartfelt craft as in Mr. Kore-eda’s latest picture, “Like Father, Like Son.”

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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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A Psychedelic Trip, Down History Lane

A Field in England (2013)

Dean Rogers/Picturehouse Entertainment

Ben Wheatley has steadily established himself as a director of considerable craft, boundless diversity and unabashed ambition; seemingly as comfortable helming an occultist horror thriller (“Kill List”) as he is a pitch-black comedy (“Sightseers”). For his fourth full feature, Mr. Wheatley turns his hand to 17th-century English Civil War psychedelia with “A Field in England,” a baffling but brave sojourn into the fantastical.

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The Dying Game

Byzantium (2013)

Patrick Redmond/Studiocanal

Neil Jordan's taste for merging Celtic blood lust with languid fairy tales has sparked life into supernatural stories before, especially the sprawling canvas and drenching atmosphere of "Interview With the Vampire" nearly two decades ago. "Byzantium" works on a smaller scale. It's at least as interested in the position of women in both civilian and secret societies as it is in the consequences of immortality, and concludes that life is no picnic in either camp. Livened up more than strictly necessary by Mr. Jordan's eye for detail and the endlessly fascinating face of Saoirse Ronan, "Byzantium" holds its own against the expectations raised by this director returning to this particular arena, as well as the inconvenient fact that vampires have been overexposed to death on screens large and small since he was last here.

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The Shape of Flings

Some Velvet Morning (2013)

Rogier Stoffers/2013 Tribeca Film Festival

After working as a director-for-hire on a couple of Hollywood productions, Neil LaBute is back to the playwright-turned-filmmaker niche he carved out for himself 16 years ago with “In the Company of Men.” A two-player chamber piece, “Some Velvet Morning” is indeed very theatrical — perhaps more so than all eight of his previous film efforts. In what some – though perhaps not all – will find a welcome move, he’s returning to the provocative and foul battle-of-the-sexes arena that is his wheelhouse.

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24-Carat Party People

The Look of Love (2013)

Charlie Gray/Studiocanal

Paul Raymond, not just a name to conjure with but the name to conjure with if any of your teenage years coincided with 1970s Soho, withstands most of the attempts made by Michael Winterbottom's "The Look of Love" to unpick his inner workings with outer shell safely intact. As incisive inquisitions go, Mr. Winterbottom opts to attack his subject with a soft cushion. Raymond's many supposed sins against British good taste and more certain crimes against his own family are presented as-is, side effects of a northern lad's uninhibited progress through the big city. Even the vast cultural upheavals happening in his country and on his doorstep — some with fuses lit by Raymond himself — can only vaguely be heard rumbling somewhere off in the distance, exploding out of sight and around the corner.

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The French-Canadian Connection

All Is Bright (2013)

Niko Tavernise/2013 Tribeca Film Festival

Phil Morrison made an auspicious directorial debut in 2005 with “Junebug.” Eschewing easy stereotypes, it masterfully painted a portrait of a sleepy American South haunted by a painful legacy and its people’s resignation to lives unfulfilled. The film also garnered the then-unknown Amy Adams an Oscar nomination and propelled her to overnight stardom. Given the eight years in between, expectations are naturally high for Mr. Morrison’s sophomore effort, “All Is Bright.” Regrettably, it falls short in every way imaginable.

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