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Staff & contributors

Every once in a while there are movies that expand the definition of quality film-making. This is one of those movies.

Here is an incredible, yet delicate film that follows three children from poor families who are stuck living in subpar motels. Their lives and friendships are portrayed with honesty and precise aesthetics. It’s a story that at first seems as plot-free as life itself.

It succeeds in capturing an innocence that is usually reserved to a child’s imagination: a precarious living condition full of adventures and fun. It’s hard to describe it beyond that; it’s the kind of film that must be seen to be fully understood.

And it ends on a very high note.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Aiden Malik, Andrew Romano, Bria Vinaite, Brooklynn Prince, Caleb Landry Jones, Cecilia Quinan, Christopher Rivera, Edward Pagan, Gary B. Gross, Giovanni Rodriguez, Hannah Peterson, Jim R. Coleman, Josie Olivo, Karren Karagulian, Lauren O'Quinn, Macon Blair, Marisol Rivera, Mela Murder, Sabina Friedman-Seitz, Shih-Ching Tsou, Valeria Cotto, Willem Dafoe

Director: Sean Baker

Rating: R

A powerful but quiet movie directed by Paul Dano and based on a novel of the same name by Richard Ford. It stars Carey Mulligan and Jake Gyllenhaal as a couple who move to a new town with their only child during the 1960s. Their relationship transforms after Gyllenhaal's character loses his job as a butler and chooses to leave for a more dangerous profession, firefighting. This movie is about his wife's response to this event and the implications of both parents' behavior on their kid. There are no twists or turns, exciting action or plot; but Wildlife doesn't need any of that. This moving story about a decaying family unit is portrayed in the sadness that comes with such events. The only joy comes from watching the outstanding (but expected) performances of the cast.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Avery Bagenstos, Bill Camp, Blaine Maye, Carey Mulligan, Darryl Cox, Ed Oxenbould, Ginger Gilmartin, J. Alan Davidson, Jake Gyllenhaal, Jay Dee, John Walpole, JR Hatchett, Kaye Brownlee-France, Laurie Cummings, Lexi Anastasia, Marshall Virden, Michael Gibbons, Mollie Milligan, Paul Dano, Richard L. Olsen, Tom Huston Orr, Travis W Bruyer, Zoe Colletti

Director: Paul Dano

Rating: PG-13

When Mikey Saber’s porn career takes a dip in California, he returns to an estranged wife in Texas, where he meets new and old friends alike and attempts to rebuild his life through a couple of odd jobs. Though Mikey eventually earns his keep, his vanity and eagerness to succeed at all costs threaten to get the best of him.

All this happens against a vibrant backdrop of local sights, beautifully lit and framed by director Sean Baker (The Florida Project, Tangerine). Quaint, naturalistic, and ever-so-subtly political, Red Rocket is another great entry into Baker’s impressions of the vexed American Dream.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Bree Elrod, Ethan Darbone, Karren Karagulian, Shih-Ching Tsou, Simon Rex, Suzanna Son

Director: Sean Baker

It’s best not to overthink the details of No Hard Feelings, an uproarious comedy that benefits from the lead actors’ physicality. It’s meant to be enjoyed as it happens, at the moment, with Lawrence lighting up every scene with full-bodied commitment and Feldman, a worthy co-lead, delighting at every turn. They’re playing stock characters, and the script doesn’t give much beyond the usual backstories, but Lawrence and Feldman play them with so much heart and gusto, knocking every scene they’re in out of the park. Everything else plays second fiddle to their two-hander show. The cameos are star-studded but forgettable (except for Kyle Mooney, who I wished was onscreen more as Percy’s male nanny), the character development is heartwarming but predictable, and though it bills itself as a sex comedy, the film never really touches past third base. But all that is water under the bridge when you’re watching Maddie and Percy flirt and fumble their way through the film.  

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Alysia Joy Powell, Amalia Yoo, Andrew Barth Feldman, Ari Frenkel, Brian Calì, Ebon Moss-Bachrach, Hasan Minhaj, Jennifer Lawrence, Jordan Mendoza, Kyle Mooney, Laura Benanti, Luca Padovan, Madison McBride, Matt Walton, Matthew Broderick, Matthew Noszka, Melissa Lehman, Natalie Morales, Quincy Dunn-Baker, Scott MacArthur, Victor Verhaeghe, Zahn McClarnon

Director: Gene Stupnitsky

Rating: R

An interesting premise quickly sputters out in Fool’s Paradise, writer-star Charlie Day’s misfire of a directorial debut. Day plays a down-and-out Charlie Chaplin-esque mute who happens to be a dead ringer for a difficult method actor (also Day) who’s stalling production on a Billy the Kid remake — and so he’s brought in by the movie’s producer (Ray Liotta) to star instead. 

The rest of Fool’s Paradise follows in this vein, as things just happen to Latte Pronto (as he comes to be named). There’s wry satirical potential in this set-up: a lot can be revealed about someone (in this case, the self-serving stars, agents, and directors of Hollywood) by what they project onto a blank slate like Latte. The problem, however, is twofold: Fool’s Paradise doesn’t have anything especially sharp to say about the biz — and, in the absence of clever or indeed funny writing, the film’s weak center is exposed. Day’s wordless performance is understated to a fatal degree; presumably designed to highlight the ridiculousness of the Hollywood players he’s surrounded by, it only shows up the weakness of the material and the unfocusedness of some of the key supporting performances. Maybe the movie would’ve fared better had some of its other characters been silent instead.

Genre: Comedy

Actor: Adrien Brody, Aixa Maldonado, Alanna Ubach, Allison Paige, Andre Hyland, Andrew Leeds, Andrew Santino, Artemis Pebdani, Austin Zajur, Benito Martinez, Brett Wagner, Charles Grisham, Charlie Day, Christine Horn, Common, David Hornsby, Dean Norris, Drew Droege, Edie Falco, Eliza Coleman, Eric VanArsdale, George Lopez, Glenn Howerton, Harry Yi, Helen Geller, Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis, Jeremy Chu, Jillian Bell, Jimmi Simpson, John Ales, John Malkovich, Julia Cho, June Carryl, Kate Beckinsale, Katherine McNamara, Ken Jeong, Lance Barber, Leandra Terrazzano, Leonora Pitts, Lindsay Musil, Lisa Schwartz, Luvh Rakhe, Lyndon Smith, Marilyn Giacomazzi, Mary Elizabeth Ellis, Moses Storm, Peter MacKenzie, Ray Liotta, Ricky Wang, Robert Belushi, Romel de Silva, Roy Jenkins, Scott Allen Perry, Scott Pitts, Shane Paul McGhie, Steve Coulter, Steve DeCastro, Talia Tabin, Thomas Vu, Tom Beyer

Director: Charlie Day

Rating: R