News of the World

Alex Takats, left; and Carl Juste

Endangered (2022)

“Endangered” follows four journalists of the liberal press going about their trade in four geographically separate but equally unsettled parts of the world, running into all the dangers that the trade has always encountered plus the ones brewed up in our current tense period. Dire as these are, sometimes they don’t seem so novel. Governments have always threatened reporters and the cops have always fired tear gas at them and people who mark their ballots in a different place have always been angry. When the film arrives at its natural destination with the Jan. 6, 2021, Washington riot and the abuse of journalists there, it seems one item on a continuum rather than a rogue data point. Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady’s HBO film puts its journalists on another continuum, the honorable one leading back to The Washington Post and Watergate, and further back to clips from a 1960s U.S. TV program about the strength of a free press and the roaring print lines churning it out. Whether this is a road map to rescue or a last lament is less clear.

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Mr. Robot

Tribeca Festival

Sophia (2022)

Documentaries about tech entrepreneurs take off when the visionary spins a convincing vision, or bump along the runway when the vision is more myopic than they realize. “Sophia,” by Jon Kasbe and Crystal Moselle, finds a not entirely comfortable third path by following David Hanson and the humanoid female robot he and Hanson Robotics are developing, which lends its name to the film. When Mr. Hanson speaks of his creation as a marker on the path to true artificial intelligence his earnestness speaks for itself; but the film doesn’t put Sophia into any context as a point on the arc from here to there, not least since a lot of the running time is taken up by Sophia not actually working very well. The android’s body is not much more than functional anyway, but what its brain is capable of and the seismic impact that its creator predicts can’t really cohere while the company pit crew are under the hood with the jump leads.

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About a Goy

Søren Kirkegaard

Attachment (2022)

Incongruous openings win immediate bonus points, and “Attachment” starts with a chance encounter between an elf princess and a mysterious commoner who perhaps has a curse on her while an uptempo synth beat bounces on the soundtrack, as if the film was about to be the hit meet-cute queer comedy of 1985. Since the setting is clearly a library in present-day Denmark and the elf princess is an actor in costume recreating her TV character for some kids who are bored horizontal, the hidden layers of the set-up are left for you to register later, while “Attachment” skips deftly on into a serious supernatural drama about religion and tradition, lesbian love and culture clash.

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The Italian Jobs

Sean McElwee

Spin Me Round (2022)

The Jeff Baena strolling players, Aubrey Plaza first among equals, return for “Spin Me Round,” a dark screwball farce screened at SXSW in which rich people are always the ones having all the fun. Mr. Baena also returns to Tuscany, where he put Ms. Plaza into a 14th Century convent for “The Little Hours” without changing her comedy one bit; and to black comedy, after 2020’s “Horse Girl” used the director’s same basic style to be serious about mental health and trauma. But the course correction to swap these destinations back and forth in Mr. Baena’s cosmos of unnerving, petulant characters simmering with eccentricity might be only an inch or two.

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Bad Old Days


Gone in the Night (2022)

Starting off as an indie drama before sliding over into thriller territory and then getting slightly fantastical on top, “Gone in the Night” doesn’t have the voltage to jolt any of those departments into vivid life, although it stitches them together with the best of intentions. It hinges on middle-aged characters feeling fragile and insecure in the face of their mortality when confronted by the vigorous young; a solid theme slightly dented by the casting of Winona Ryder and Dermot Mulroney, both of them carrying the quarter-century since they dated in “How to Make an American Quilt” with ease and apparently holding up splendidly.

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The Art of the Steal

Scott Grossman

The Thief Collector (2022)

No one really knows what their neighbors are getting up to, which used to be proof of life’s rich tapestry but these days is another hot coal of paranoia in our overheating stove of unhappiness. There were some rich tapestries in the New Mexico home of deceased elderly couple Jerry and Rita Alter when their house was cleared in 2017, plus artifacts from a life of world travel and a lot of Jerry’s own fairly average art and writings. And also Willem de Kooning’s 1955 painting “Woman-Ochre,” brazenly stolen 32 years earlier from the University of Arizona and found hanging out of sight in the Alter’s bedroom behind the door, like a $160-million private joke. Allison Otto’s frothy and initially amiable documentary “The Thief Collector,” screened at SXSW, grapples with the question of what the Alters may or may not have done to get the painting there. But since there’s an unavoidable Alter-shaped hole at the middle of the story, some of the historical shadows being cast over them might be coming from a more recent cultural feeling: that eccentricity must be just the visible sign of something worse.

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Unlucky Numbers


To Leslie (2022)

There's a section in critic James Monaco’s old book “American Film Now” where he goes out on a shaky limb and plots the then-superstars of movie acting on a diagram of distinct personality types. This comes to mind every time Andrea Riseborough acts in a film and is immediately, defiantly, unclassifiable. Michael Morris’s “To Leslie” catches Ms. Riseborough still barreling forward on the momentum of 2020, the year of Prime Video’s series “ZeroZeroZero” for which they might have melted down a few of the TV acting trophies into one statue just for her. “To Leslie,” written by Ryan Binaco, might garner her a few more plaudits, although this is a showier turn with plenty of awardable elbow room: an English actor charging at full-scale West Texas alcoholic destitution.

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Thick as Thieves

Low Spark Films

Emily the Criminal (2022)

The U.S. economy looks all set to claim another scalp in "Emily the Criminal," when it forces Emily (Aubrey Plaza) to turn to crime as a way to unblock her cash flow crisis. Already hassled and disrespected in the low-waged catering trade, her interviews for other employment are tripped up by a prior conviction for aggravated assault: hide it and the interview ends badly, own up and there's hardly an interview at all. More profitable, and precarious, opportunities come her way via a syndicate of well organized Middle Eastern gentleman and their fake-credit-card operation. Suitably trained, Emily becomes expert at the art of buying something expensive on a dodgy card and getting out before the alarms go off.

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Body Double

Sundance Institute

Dual (2022)

"Dual" is a darkly funny entry in doppelganger cinema that could have been titled "Dead Ringers" or "Enemy" or "Black Swan," since there are some limits to the themes that get tackled in this area. But "The Clone Wars" would be ideal. Set in an imprecise nowhere of coniferous forest and pinched English accents – and actually made in Tampere, Finland – the seemingly prosaic society in Riley Stearns's film can offer you a clone of yourself. Useful should you, say, be suffering from a terminal illness and want it to take your place, or if you just fancy committing suicide. The new you can be rustled up in the lab in an hour, like knocking together a casserole.

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Herd Ingenuity

Inti Briones/Sundance Institute

The Cow Who Sang a Song Into the Future (2022)

The natural world rebels under the negligent care of humans in Francisca Alegria's "The Cow Who Sang a Song Into the Future," a low-key magic realist drama of bereavement and renewal set around and eventually under the waters of Chile's Cruces River. Several anxieties mingle in the plot, although the tone is languid and contemplative and the soundtrack occupied by roughly as much silence as dialogue. But cows do sing and a corpse does walk, in a film whose air of mildly mystic evocation comes from artistic restraint, poetic intent, and perhaps Covid-19 inconvenience.

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