Bullet Time

Sundance Institute

2nd Chance (2022)

Pacifists and advocates of non-lethal force will feel a headache coming on while watching "2nd Chance," a documentary by Ramin Bahrani telling the rise and fall of the Second Chance company of Michigan and its founder Richard Davis. In the aftermath of a 1970s attempted mugging of Mr. Davis that turned into a back-alley gun battle when he resisted ("I shot two men many times. Unfortunately I was fighting three.") the victim wondered whether a better, lighter bulletproof vest than the flak jackets on the market at the time might be possible. The answer was yes, and a design of woven nylon proved to have real commercial potential. With Second Chance in business as a supplier of vests, Mr. Davis developed a party piece to prove his product's effectiveness, wearing one and then shooting himself in the chest from a range of half an inch.

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Sex Education

Sundance Institute

Brainwashed: Sex-Camera-Power (2022)

Important questions need meaningful debate, which means passionate advocacy, which means polemics that present carefully angled opinions as facts without balance. This isn't the system failing, it might be the system working – as long as the person getting the lecture recognizes it for what it is: One set of views to be thrown into the intellectual mulching machine, grist for the mill between your ears, to be endorsed or modified or just given the boot. Nina Menkes's documentary "Brainwashed: Sex-Camera-Power" describes the way images of women in film have made direct and very negative alterations to way society (meaning men) treats women in real life, and presents that topic not as a question for debate but as an established fact. Which is entirely its right, even though the correct term in this contested territory must remain "opinion," no matter how firm the assertion in the title.

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Thicker Than Water

Sundance Institute

Nanny (2022)

Horror fiction can resonate with dark social undercurrents before the same tensions break out in mainstream venues; it's one of the qualities that keep the genre invigorating. Once those tensions are front-page news, though, using them in a horror film can be a Catch 22. Hammer them head-on with blood and violence and the hook just seems familiar; take an oblique sideways angle and you might not be giving the mood of the moment due weight. Nikyatu Jusu's "Nanny" does a little of both, a handsome and well-acted story of immigrant sadness and the spirits duly unleashed, appropriately angry at the indignities foisted onto working class mothers but not able to call down a thunderbolt to smash the situation.

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Electric Dreams

Joe Hunting/Sundance Institute

We Met in Virtual Reality (2022)

Scratch a modern innovation and something older, if not ancient, emerges. Virtual Reality was a term before anyone had even made a working transistor and some similar concepts occupied the Ancient Greeks, while no culture on the planet has failed to ponder the wet malfunctioning bag of gunk we have to cart around all the time, and wondered what the life of the mind might get up to if it wasn't held back by the life of the body. V.R. technology brings fresh perspectives on all this, and several positive viewpoints are available inside the online virtual community VRChat shown in Joe Hunting's documentary "We Met in Virtual Reality," perspectives offered up by enthusiastic Anime-inspired avatars of people who are undoubtedly being just as enthusiastic back at home.

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Nature or Nurture

Branko Starcevic/Focus Features

You Won't Be Alone (2022)

Mysterious portents and severe punishments abound in "You Won't Be Alone," Goran Stolevski's feminist fantasy that could be slotted into three different genre boxes without being fully at home in any of them. Entirely set in the lush leafy countryside of 19th Century Macedonia, an enchanted world where at least one of the creatures in local folk tales is constantly lurking just out of sight, the film's highly affected atmosphere and a languid breathy voice-over narration of knotted esoteric sound-bites will drive some viewers up the wall. So perhaps might its themes, not for their meaning so as much as for the chosen style of presentation, as if multiple different intentions had been squashed through the gene splicer.

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The Aged Civil Servant

Ross Ferguson/Number 9 Films

Living (2022)

The omnivorous remake culture in which we swim is fueled by many things, but you assume motivations for recycling "Ikiru" did not include mass public recognition of the original property, however high the regard for Akira Kurosawa's 1952 film in cineaste circles. That said, themes of elderly regret and the nature of a life worth living are universally poignant, as the funding proposal to Film4 and its production partners no doubt mentioned. In this case the deciding factor was quite probably the involvement of screenwriter Kazuo Ishiguro, whose story "The Remains of the Day" was about the drastic overhaul of Great Britain underway in the 1950s and the benefits of finding something to like about the present; exactly the setting and central concern that Mr. Ishiguro has brought into "Living."

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Spies Like Him

Nicola Dove/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

No Time to Die (2021)

Danny Boyle could easily have been installed as honorary co-monarch of the United Kingdom by a grateful populace in 2012 after his efforts to bolster the national morale via the Olympics opening ceremony, five minutes of which involved him directing Daniel Craig as James Bond for a quick cutaway gag. Since 2012 the United Kingdom has fallen to bits like a clown car and deep-sea divers continue to hunt for the national morale; but James Bond himself has carried right on, fixed on the course set by "Skyfall" that same fateful year, and which reaches its final destination in "No Time to Die." Mr. Boyle was due to reunite with both Mr. Craig and 007 as director of the new film, before being replaced by Cary Fukunaga. It seems a safe bet that disagreements over that destination played a part.

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The God, the Bad and the Ugly

Courtesy photo

Mad God (2021)

Humanity is moldy on the inside and ugly on the outside, which isn’t news to anyone. Phil Tippett’s “Mad God” has plenty of both mold and ugliness, plus blood and viscera and the contents of the digestive tract, lovingly rendered through the full resources of the animator’s craft. Mr. Tippett’s Stygian odyssey, a film that has been in the works for decades, employs models and some C.G.I. and a smattering of live action; but mainly tells its story through stop-motion animation, the venerable field in which Mr. Tippett’s skills are nonpareil in Hollywood. Propelled by unseen hands, a cast of critters long of fang and foul of breath prowl the circles of “Mad God’s” post-human hell in that slightly jerky over-cranked gait that always conveys the infinite patience of the animator and the fragile mortality of the puppet character, stop-motion’s mix of divinity and disgust. And drollery, since the heavyweight visuals and colossal suffering don’t stop the film cracking a few sprightly jokes from the pit, a distinctly American rather than European damnation.

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A Bug's Life

Magnet Releasing

Mandibles (2021)

When Quentin Dupieux pitches a film, the producers get what they were promised. “Mandibles,” as the people who paid for it were no doubt happy to find, really is about two amiable French layabouts who discover a genuine giant red-eyed fly the size of a 10-year-old child in the trunk of a stolen car and who immediately consider training it to go and fetch things from the shops, rather than asking why the fabric of reality has sustained major damage. But reality is always a bit threadbare in Mr. Dupieux's tales, with their bleached daylight and vivid nonsense. His last film, “Deerskin,” steered the director's absurdist style into a darker lane, as a psychotic Jean Dujardin discovered his life's purpose in basic narcissism. The two guileless goons in “Mandibles” don't have a narcissistic thought in their heads, or indeed much else. They’re a blithe underclass, abandoned by the materialist world before and after something amazing happens. They're dumb and dumbeur.

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Necronomicon Air

NonStop Entertainment

Color Out of Space (2020)

If you’re going to return to making feature films after 27 years away, you might as well pick up where you left off. The opening credits of “Color Out of Space” have Lavinia (Madeleine Arthur) carrying out a Wicca ritual, appealing to the angels to take care of her mother, and the words "Directed by Richard Stanley" appear over a close-up of the antique compass in her hand. Back in 1992 Mr. Stanley’s previous feature, "Dust Devil," started with another pilgrim looking at a hand-held totem; but then the figure was a supernatural serial killer and the item was a pocket watch going backwards. And back before that, the credits of “Hardware” ended with a post-apocalyptic scavenger dressed in the very 1990 boho-gothic style of Carl McCoy from the band Fields of the Nephilim (for it was he) holding another battered compass in equal close-up, although the credits on-screen at that exact instant are the freighted names of Bob and Harvey Weinstein. Three films, three nomads, looking at three antique analogue icons for some signal from a cosmos that shows every sign of being otherwise engaged.

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