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Understated in budget but lavished with praise, this semi-autobiographical drama by Daniel Destin Cretton flings its audience into the chaotic lives and personal crises of at-risk youths and the passionate social workers that aid them. In his first feature film, the young director draws the viewers into the storm of events and the emotional ups-and-downs of social work in America, going from uplifting to depressing and back – and every emotion in-between.

Set in the real-life and eponymous group home Short Term 12, devoted but troubled foster-care worker Grace is played by Brie Larson, whose shining performance in her first leading role was lauded by critics. Fans will also recognize the supporting actors Lakeith Stanfield and Rami Malek, who broke out in this movie. Short Term 12 is now considered one of the most important movies of 2013 – some say of the decade – owing to its immaculate writing, intimate camerawork, and gripping performances.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Alex Calloway, Angelina Assereto, Brie Larson, Diana Maria Riva, Frantz Turner, Harold Cannon, Joel P. West, John Gallagher Jr., Kaitlyn Dever, Keith Stanfield, Kevin Hernandez, Lakeith Stanfield, Lydia Du Veaux, Melora Walters, Michelle Nordahl, Mohammad Shiravi, Rami Malek, Silvia Curiel, Stephanie Beatriz

Director: Destin Cretton, Destin Daniel Cretton

Rating: R

Directed by Taika Waititi, who also gave us Boy (2010) and co-produced What We Do in the Shadows (2014), Hunt for the Wilderpeople is the quirky and magical buddy movie you want if you’re in need of an antidote to a bad day or a steady diet of sad movies.

It tells the off-kilter adventure story of misfit, rap-loving city kid Ricky Baker and his crusty and cantankerous foster parent ‘Uncle’ Hec, played by Sam Neill. ‘Very bad egg’ Ricky has been bounced out of more foster families than he cares to remember and is given one last chance of living with a couple out on a farm in rural New Zealand. After tragedy strikes early in the film, the unlikely pair gets lost in the wilderness and becomes subject to a nationwide manhunt.

Full of dead-pan humor and warm-hearted mockery, this audience favorite fuses visual gags delivered by a charming cast with sweeping shots of spectacular scenery!

Genre: Adventure, Comedy, Drama

Actor: Cohen Holloway, Hamish Parkinson, Julian Dennison, Lloyd Scott, Mabelle Dennison, Mike Minogue, Mike Minouge, Oscar Kightley, Rachel House, Rhys Darby, Rima Te Wiata, Sam Neill, Sonia Spyve, Stan Walker, Taika Waititi, Tioreore Ngatai-Melbourne, Troy Kingi

Director: Taika Waititi

Rating: PG-13

The film opens with Julie in her early twenties, longing to pursue a career in medical school. But after briefly testing the waters, she switches over to psychology, only to drop completely out of school and transform her hobby of photography into a professional career. This indecisiveness carries over in most aspects of her life, including and especially in romance, where impulse and desire drive her to run after what she believes to be love. The movie follows Julie as she navigates adulthood in modern Oslo—at once a specific yet universally relatable story about the growing pains of growing up.

With The Worst Person in the World, Joachim Trier scores again with another life-changing Norwegian drama about longing, love, grief, and finding your place in the world. His films can be quite sad but amidst all the drama, moments of happiness and hope are scattered throughout, as it is in real life.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Anders Danielsen Lie, Anna Dworak, Gisle Tveito, Hans Olav Brenner, Herbert Nordrum, Ine Jansen, Maria Grazia Di Meo, Marianne Krogh, Renate Reinsve, Ruby Dagnall, Sofia Schandy Bloch, Thea Stabell, Vidar Sandem

Director: Joachim Trier

The Great Beauty is a film of superlatives! Originally titled La Grande Bellezza, this movie by Italian star director Paolo Sorrentino is so replete with lush, opulent cinematography, it sometimes borders on sensory overload. Having won Best Foreign Language Film at the 86th Academy Awards, as well as the Golden Globe, and the BAFTA award in the same category, The Great Beauty is also a critics' darling and an award-show sweeper – in addition to being hailed as Paolo Sorrentino's greatest work to date.

Essentially a tragicomedy, it is both a study and a celebration of the hedonism and decadence of its main protagonist – the bon-vivant and modern-day Roman socialite Jep Gambardella (played by an electrifying Toni Servillo). Instead of honing the craft of writing, Gambardella at some point decides to become the self-proclaimed “king of high life” of Rome. After his 65th birthday, he experiences a shock that changes him for good, prompting him to look past the parties and the nightclubs and to discover the sublime beauty of his hometown, the eternal city. In this way, The Great Beauty is a meditation on art, regret, and pleasure – and Sorrentino's love letter to Rome.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Aldo Ralli, Alessia Bellotto, Anita Kravos, Anna Della Rosa, Annaluisa Capasa, Carlo Buccirosso, Carlo Verdone, Dario Cantarelli, Elisabetta Ventura, Fanny Ardant, Francesca Amodio, Francesca Golia, Franco Graziosi, Gabriella Belisario, Galatea Ranzi, Gianpiero Cognoli, Giorgia Ferrero, Giorgio Pasotti, Giovanna Vignola, Giulia Di Quilio, Giulia Maulucci, Giulia Rinallo, Giulio Brogi, Giusi Merli, Iaia Forte, Isabella Ferrari, Ivan Franěk, Leo Mantovani, Lillo Petrolo, Luca Marinelli, Luciano Virgilio, Ludovico Caldarera, Manuela Gatti, Margherita Cornali, Maria Laura Rondanini, Maria Lovetti, Massimo De Francovich, Massimo Popolizio, Melania Fiore, Mirko Frezza, Monica Piseddu, Pamela Villoresi, Paolo Mazzarelli, Piero Gimondo, Roberto Herlitzka, Sabrina Ferilli, Serena Grandi, Sonia Gessner, Stefania Barca, Stefano Fregni, Toni Servillo, Vernon Dobtcheff, Yohana Allen

Director: Paolo Sorrentino

Rating: Not Rated

American folk singer Sixto Diaz Rodriguez recorded two albums in Detroit in the 1970s, which he played live across the city, but never to critical acclaim or commercial success. Disappointed, he soon quit his musical career, bought a run-down house in the Motor City, and lived a simple life working in construction. So far, this sounds like the biography of many musicians that never quite made it, talented or otherwise.

However, a strange thing happened. By the mid-1970s, his albums were getting significant airplay in countries like Australia, Zimbabwe, and Apartheid-era South Africa, where he was soon considered a musical voice on par with the Beatles. While living a reclusive life in Detroit, Michigan, he unwittingly became a star on the other side of the globe. This engaged and visually appealing documentary by the late Swedish director Malik Bendjelloul tells his story and spells out a fascinating footnote of global music history.

Genre: Documentary, Music

Actor: Clarence Avant, Craig Bartholomew Strydom, Dan DiMaggio, Dennis Coffey, Eva Rodriguez, Malik Bendjelloul, Mike Theodore, Regan Rodriguez, Rodriguez, Sandra Rodriguez-Kennedy, Sixto Rodriguez, Stephen 'Sugar' Segerman, Stephen 'Sugar' Segerman, Stephen Segerman, Steve Rowland, Steve Segerman

Director: Malik Bendjelloul

Rating: PG-13

In both documentaries and films, adoptees meeting their biological parents for the first time is an event often painted in a sweet light. Never mind the child’s mixed feelings about it or the tragic reality that caused the split in the first place—it’s a reunion between family members, so it must be unequivocally special. In Return to Seoul, director Davy Chou doesn’t just debunk that myth, he subverts it by making the adoptee, Freddie, as unapologetically complex and emotionally enigmatic as possible. She resists affection but wallows in loneliness. She craves reinvention but stays in the same place for years. She’s in constant motion while being absolutely stuck in life. In other words, she’s a realistic embodiment of a person struggling to find some semblance of home. Chou displays an intimate understanding of the foreign experience, and he couples it with captivating cinematography, a rousing soundtrack, and fantastic performances across the board to make a daring, inventive, and thoroughly exciting film. 

Genre: Drama

Actor: Guka Han, Heo Jin, Hur Jin, Kim Dong-seok, Kim Sun-young, Louis-Do de Lencquesaing, Oh Gwang-rok, Oh Kwang-rok, Yoann Zimmer

Director: Davy Chou

Rating: R

Dorky kid Greg Gaines (played by the brilliant and unlikely named Thomas Mann) has severe issues with closeness (he calls his best friend a “co-worker”) and is instructed by his mother to befriend Rachel (Olivia Cooke), a girl recently diagnosed with cancer. Far from being an indie tear-jerker, though, “this isn't a touching romantic story”, as Greg's narration reminds us. This is not least to the quirky nature of the film and the third titular character Earl, Greg's closest co-worker, who acts as the moral glue between Greg and Rachel.

In addition to hilarious writing and amazing performances, the film is laced with pop-cultural references by way of the movies that Greg and his Earl shoot in their spare time – spoofy takes on cult movies with titles like Sockwork Orange. Moving without being melodramatic, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is a charmingly off-kilter fish-out-of-water plot about making friends, dealing with death, and enjoying life best as one can.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, Bobb'e J. Thompson, Chelsea Zhang, Connie Britton, Etta Cox, Hugh Jackman, Jeremy Long, Joe Fishel, Jon Bernthal, Katherine Hughes, Masam Holden, Matt Bennett, Molly Shannon, Nick Offerman, Olivia Cooke, RJ Cyler, Thomas Mann

Director: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon

Rating: PG-13

Revealing the gaps in the social safety net, I, Daniel Blake, is a tale centered around a blue collar worker navigating the welfare system in England. At a time where class and social mobility could not be more politically salient, this film calls into question the notion of the “citizen” and exposes the inaccessibility to the social protections in which one presumes entitlement. At the forefront of this, is a heart-warming parable of paternal companionship between Daniel (played by Dave Johns) and a single mother – Katie – (played by Hayley Squires) who is wading through similar terrain. The acting in the film is unfathomably raw which cultivates the deepest source of gut wrenching compassion. Ken Loach has created a film that exposes the true power of empathy, leaving you feeling helplessly human.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Briana Shann, Dan Li, Dave Johns, Dave Turner, David Murray, Dylan McKiernan, Hayley Squires, Kate Rutter, Kema Sikazwe, Ken Loach, Li Dan, Malcolm Shields, Mickey Hutton, Micky McGregor, Natalie Ann Jamieson, Rob Kirtley, Sammy T. Dobson, Sharon Percy, Shaun Prendergast, Stephen Clegg, Steven Richens, Viktoria Kay

Director: Ken Loach

Rating: R

Former activists Ben Cash (Viggo Mortensen) and his wife Leslie drop out from modern consumerist society to raise their six children in the wilderness of the Pacific Northwest. They teach them how to raise and kill their own food, to survive in nature through boot-camp-like workouts, and homeschool them in literature, music, and left-wing philosophy. Instead of Christmas, they celebrate Noam Chomsky's birthday. Then, one day, this unusual family life is shaken by a phone call and they are forced to leave their life of adventure to reintegrate into American life.

Directed by Matt Ross, who also brought you Good Night, and Good Luck, the film offers a poignant look at alternative living, the effects of modern technology, and the nature of good parenting. Viggo Mortensen is indeed fantastic as the grizzled father and was rightly nominated for a Golden Globe and the Academy Award for Best Actor. George MacKay and the entire cast of “children” also deliver terrific performances. As emotionally raw and thought-provoking as it is funny, Captain Fantastic will have the viewer decide if Ben Cash is the best father in the world or the worst.

Genre: Adventure, Comedy, Drama

Actor: Alan Humphrey, Ann Dowd, Annalise Basso, Charlie Shotwell, Elena Stecca, Elijah Stevenson, Erin Moriarty, Frank Langella, George MacKay, Greg Crooks, Hannah Horton, Kathryn Hahn, Matt Ross, Mike Miller, Missi Pyle, Nicholas Hamilton, Rex Young, Richard Beal, Samantha Isler, Shree Crooks, Steve Zahn, Teddy Van Ee, Trin Miller, Viggo Mortensen

Director: Matt Ross

Rating: R

Legend has it that director Derek Cianfrance had the co-stars and co-executive producers Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling live together in the same house for a month in preparation of their roles. The fictional couple they play in Blue Valentine lived in the same house. True or not, this created the harsh proximity, intensity, and claustrophobia that is a hallmark of this production. Blue Valentine brings us painfully close to the couple's attraction as well as their agony.

In this way, Blue Valentine is a heart-breaking examination of the decaying shell of a once-bright marriage. As sad as it is sexy, it mixes intense flashbacks of past desire with the grim reality of married life's monotony. It boasts an electrifying performance from Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling, who seamlessly combine tenderness and lust, rage and sadness. This is a guaranteed tear-jerker, so make sure you've brought your Kleenexes!

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Alan Malkin, Ashley Gurnari, Barbara Troy, Ben Shenkman, Carey Westbrook, Enid Graham, Faith Wladyka, Ian Bonner, James Benatti, Jen Jones, John Doman, Joseph Basile, Mark Benginia, Marshall Johnson, Maryann Plunkett, Michelle Williams, Mike Vogel, Robert Russell, Ryan Gosling, Tamara Torres

Director: Derek Cianfrance

Rating: R

Phenomenal and heartbreaking, Wind River is a true masterpiece by Taylor Sheridan, the man behind Sicario and Hell or High Water. In a Native American Reservation, a local girl is found dead and a young detective (Elizabeth Olsen) tries to uncover the mystery. She is accompanied by a tracker (Jeremy Renner) with his own dark history in the community. It’s not a very rewarding movie at first, so don’t expect an incredibly fast-paced story from the get-go. However, when everything unfolds, it’s not only action-packed, its reflections on indigenous communities are deep and poignant. How this remains a relatively known movie is shocking, it has to be one of the best mysteries of the past 20 years.

Genre: Crime, Drama, Mystery, Thriller

Actor: Althea Sam, Apesanahkwat, Austin R. Grant, Blake Robbins, Chris Romrell, Dallin Tusieseina, Devin Hansen, Duy Beck, Elizabeth Olsen, Eric Lange, Gabe Casdorph, Gabriel Casdorph, Gil Birmingham, Graham Greene, Gus Sheridan, Hugh Dillon, Ian Bohen, Ian Roylance, James Jordan, Jeremy Renner, Jon Bernthal, Julia Jones, Kelsey Asbille, Martin Sensmeier, Mason D. Davis, Mason Davis, Matthew Del Negro, Norman Lehnert, Tantoo Cardinal, Tara Karsian, Taylor Sheridan, Teo Briones, Teresa Duran-Norvick, Tokala Black Elk

Director: Taylor Sheridan

Rating: R

Simply titled The Imposter, this film by English documentary maker Bart Layton tells an unbelievable tale. Any plot summary doing this film justice has to err on the side of brevity, which is why it will be only one line long: this is the story of Frederic Bourdin, a serial imposter nicknamed “The Chameleon”, who at one time claimed to be the missing son of a family from Texas. The film is so well-shot that it is hard to tell fact from fiction at times and it will force you to remind yourself that this is in fact real life. Expect twists and turns at every corner and brilliant storytelling from real people. If Christopher Nolan created a 48-hour story, it would pale in comparison to this film.

Genre: Crime, Documentary, Mystery

Actor: Adam O'Brian, Adam O' Brian, Adam O'Brian, Alan Teichman, Anna Ruben, Carey Gibson, Cathy Dresbach, Charlie Parker, Frederic Bourdin, Ivan Villanueva, Ken Appledorn, María Jesús Hoyos, Mary Twala, Nicholas Barclay

Director: Bart Layton

Rating: R