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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

If you're a fan of the Beach Boys' legacy, or you want to find out more about Wilson, the person, this movie will give you what you need. It has been widely praised as being true to the facts – even by Bryan Wilson himself. But thanks, in part, to the incredible writing by Oscar-nominated Oren Moverman and the work of director Bill Pohlad, this is much more than a fact-based fictionalization of a famous musician's biography. It is a singularly convincing account of the artistic process and the effects of mental illness.

Love and Mercy tells the tale of two Bryan Wilsons: the first of a young and slightly square-looking musical pioneer in the 1960s, when Wilson was working on Pet Sounds, the Beach Boys' most ambitious and ground-breaking album. Paul Dano's performance here is nothing short of perfect. And, second, the tale of the tormented, middle-aged Bryan Wilson, played by John Cusack, during a time when he was under treatment for his deteriorating mental health in the late 1980s. The juxtaposition of these two very different people and the brilliant performances of Cusack and Dano will completely absorb you and change the way you look at things. A unique and beautiful film!

Genre: Drama, History, Music

Actor: Bill Camp, Brett Davern, Brian Wilson, Carolyn Stotesbery, Dee Wallace, Diana Maria Riva, Dylan Kenin, Elizabeth Banks, Erica Jenkins, Erik Eidem, Erin Darke, Fred Cross, Gary Griffin, Graham Rogers, Haylee Roderick, Jake Abel, Jeff Galfer, Jeff Meacham, Joanna Going, John Cusack, Johnny Sneed, Kenny Wormald, Max Schneider, Misha Hamilton, Nick Gehlfuss, Paul Dano, Paul Giamatti, Ragon Miller, Tyson Ritter, Wayne Bastrup

Director: Bill Pohlad

Rating: PG-13

Orcas killing people? Saving whales? There was indeed a time when these issues were frontpage news and that might be the reason why this sounds like a 90s cliché to you. You might agree that this issue should be staunchly dealt with once you've watched Gabriela Cowperthwaite's 2013 documentary. Orcas still being held captive by marine parks like SeaWorld to perform stunts and to parade around swimming pools to entertain ticket-buying families. Blackfish is the story of one of them in particular: a bull Orca named Tilikum, who has killed several people as a result of their immoral imprisonment. Similar incidents tend to be covered up by the parks' operators and management. They are, however, attributable to the fact that the animals are quiet simply driven mad by the unnatural conditions they are subjected to. They are not born as killers, they are turned into them. First-hand accounts by former whale trainers and experts deliver fascinating truths about Tilikum and the species as whole, elaborating on their remarkable intelligence and social behaviors. For those unaware of this, this passionate documentary makes for a chilling watch.

Genre: Documentary, Drama

Actor: Anderson Cooper, Carol Ray, Dean Gomersall, Gabriela Cowperthwaite, James Earl Jones, John Hargrove, John Jett, John Sillick, Mark Simmons, Mercedes Martinez, Nadien Kallen, Samantha Berg, Tamarie Tollison, Thomas Tobin, Tilikum, Whoopi Goldberg

Director: Gabriela Cowperthwaite

Rating: PG-13

Based on Fredrick Backman's 2012 best-selling book of the same name, this Swedish hit comedy-drama introduces us to Ove, an elderly man who feels like his life is over. After losing his wife, the short-fused retiree spends his days grumpily enforcing block association rules in his neighborhood. He is your typical unhappy, old neighbor, somebody you would try to avoid. One new family does not give up and befriends Ove, played by an impeccable Rolf Lassgård, despite his best intentions to put them off. As the plot unfolds, however, you learn more about the story behind the man, and, in classic walk-a-mile-in-his-shoes fashion, start to find him rather loveable. After all, nobody is born grumpy and cynical. Naturally, this is a sweet and sentimental film. But an amazing lead performance and a charming, darkly funny script rescue it from drifting too far off the shore. The result is a wholesome, fun, and thoughtful dramedy with a beautiful message.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Anna Granath, Bahar Pars, Borje Lundberg, Chatarina Larsson, Christoffer Nordenrot, Erik Ståhlberg, Filip Berg, Fredrik Evers, Ida Engvoll, Jerker Fahlström, Jessica Olsson, Johan Friberg, Johan Widerberg, Karin de Frumerie, Klas Wiljergard, Magnus Sundberg, Maja Rung, Poyan Karimi, Rolf Lassgård, Simon Edenroth, Simon Reithner, Sofie Gällerspång, Stefan Godicke, Tobias Almborg

Director: Hannes Holm

Rating: PG-13

In a stunning and vivid (re-) introduction to the Black intellectual, author, and social critic, James Baldwin, this movie digs very deep into the American subconscious and racial history. It tells the story of America by telling the story of “the negro” in America, based on a book Baldwin started to write, which would have studied the famous assassinations of three of Baldwin's friends: Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King, Jr. He wrote about 30 pages before he passed away in 1987. Haitian director and activist Raoul Peck picked up the project and made it into a movie, earning him an Academy Award nomination. Narrated by none other than Samuel L. Jackson, I Am Not Your Negro highlights, at the same time, Baldwin's genius, his unique eloquence, and the beauty of his soul as a human being. It is a sad truth that Baldwin's denouncements feel as relevant today as they did 50 years ago. As such, this movie serves as a sobering reminder of how far America still has to go. A mesmerizing experience!

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Bob Dylan, Dick Cavett, H. Rap Brown, Harry Belafonte, James Baldwin, Joey Starr, Malcolm X, Marlon Brando, Martin Luther King, Martin Luther King Jr., Medgar Evers, Paul Weiss, Ray Charles, Robert F. Kennedy, Samuel L. Jackson, Sidney Poitier

Director: Raoul Peck

Rating: PG-13

Autobiographical in nature, 120 BPM is French screenwriter Robin Campillo's first feature film. It revolves around the Parisian chapter of the AIDS advocacy group ACT UP, which Campillo was a member of in the early 1990s, and the love between Nathan, the group's newest member, who is HIV negative, and Sean, one of its founding and more radical members, who is positive and suffers the consequences of contracting AIDS. Using fake blood and spectacular direct action, ACT UP advocated more and better research of treatment, prevention, and awareness. This was at a time when many, implicitly or explicitly, viewed AIDS as a gay disease, even as a punishment for the gay community's propensity to pleasure and partying. The latter is reflected by the film's title, 120 bpm being the average number of beats per minute of a house track. Arnaud Rebotini's original score echoes the ecstasy-driven house music hedonism of the time with some effective original cuts, albeit with a melancholic streak. Because, for all the love, friendship, and emotion of the ACT UP crew that BPM so passionately portrays, anger and sadness pervade the lives of these young people as the lack of effective treatment threatens to claim the lives of their loved ones.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Adèle Haenel, Aloïse Sauvage, Antoine Reinartz, Arnaud Valois, Caroline Piette, Catherine Vinatier, Coralie Russier, Emmanuel Ménard, Félix Maritaud, François Rabette, Marco Horanieh, Naëlle Dariya, Nahuel Pérez Biscayart, Pascal Tantot, Saadia Bentaïeb, Sabrina Aliane, Samuel Churin, Simon Guélat, Théophile Ray, Yves Heck

Director: Robin Campillo

Rating: Not Rated

Not only is this multi-award-winning drama seriously star-studded, Robert Downey Jr., Rosario Dawson, Channing Tatum, and Shia LaBeouf also deliver superb performances. With two Sundance Awards and many other nominations in its pocket, A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints is based on the eponymous memoir by author, director, and musician, Dito Montiel, who recalls his violent childhood on the mean streets of Queens in the 1980s (LaBeouf plays the young Dito), as he visits his ailing father after 15 years away in Los Angeles (Downey Jr. plays present-day Dito). It is also real-life Dito's directorial debut, recalling the loose, improvisational style of 70s cinema a'la Scorcese. The powerful plot is told through flashbacks and fourth-wall bending monologues, while the eccentric directing style makes for a raw and immediate experience. The energy of this coming-of-age drama is off the charts!

Genre: Crime, Drama

Actor: Adam Scarimbolo, Chance Kelly, Channing Tatum, Chazz Palminteri, Dianne Wiest, Eléonore Hendricks, Eric Roberts, Federico Castelluccio, Gilbert Cruz, Jermel Wilson, Laila Liliana Garro, Martin Compston, Melonie Diaz, Olga Merediz, Peter Anthony Tambakis, Robert Downey Jr., Rosario Dawson, Scott Michael Campbell, Shia LaBeouf

Director: Dito Montiel

Rating: R

The original Swedish mystery thriller that was later remade by David Fincher. It's the same story of a wealthy man hiring a journalist and scrappy hacker to solver a murder, but told better. This version is slower, has more attention to detail and pace. In casting, authenticity triumphs over good looks. In staging, aesthetics are given as much importance as thrills. And in the story, intelligence wins over plot. This gives the main character of Lisbeth Salander (played by Noomi Rapace) better space to deploy her full mysticism and enigmatic nature. Danish director Niels Arden Oplev masterfully brings everything together to make for a movie that will forever be remembered.

Genre: Crime, Drama, Mystery, Thriller

Actor: Alexandra Pascalidou, Annika Hallin, Barbro Enberg, Bjorn Granath, Christian Fiedler, Daniel Abreu, David Dencik, Emil Almén, Ewa Fröling, Fredrik Ohlsson, Georgi Staykov, Gösta Bredefeldt, Gunnel Lindblom, Henrik Knutsson, Henrik Kvarnlöt, Ingvar Hirdwall, Jacob Ericksson, Jan Mybrand, Jannike Grut, Julia Sporre, Kalled Mustonen, Karl Oscar Törnros, Lena Endre, Lennart R. Svensson, Lisbeth Åkerman, Louise Ryme, Margareta Stone, Marika Lagercrantz, Michael Nyqvist, Michalis Koutsogiannakis, Mikael Rahm, Nina Norén, Noomi Rapace, Pale Olofsson, Peter Andersson, Peter Haber, Reuben Sallmander, Shaun R.L. King, Sofia Ledarp, Sovi Rydén, Stefan Sauk, Sven-Bertil Taube, Tehilla Blad, Tomas Köhler, Willie Andréason, Yasmine Garbi

Director: Niels Arden Oplev

Rating: R

This surprising documentary follows Jiro, an 85 year old Japanese chef, his Michelin-starred restaurant in the Tokyo underground, and his eager sons. While ostensibly about sushi – and believe me, you’ll learn about sushi and see absolutely gorgeous images of the raw-fish creations – the film’s dramatic impetus is carried by the weight of tradition, the beauty of a labor of love, obsession, and the relationship between father and son. Truly a must-watch.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Daisuke Nakazama, David Gelb, Hachiro Mizutani, Harutaki Takahashi, Jiro Ono, Masuhiro Yamamoto, Yoshikazu Ono

Director: David Gelb

Rating: PG

, 2012

Goon is funny, violent, and sweet as hell. You’ll be surprised by how nasty it is but at the same time you won’t care. What you will want to do, on the other hand, is rip through the screen, and hug the main character. It is also a great example of a feel-good movie that isn’t solely focused on being a feel-good movie. It’s also great love story, with all its absurdities and highly emotional load. The story shines a light on the players who join hockey teams not for the game but for the fights that may erupt. They are called goons. Doug Glatt (Seann William Scott) is a new goon and this movie is his journey towards success both on the ice and off.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Ali Hassan, Alison Pill, Amy Groening, Andrew Degryse, Aron Tager, Brandy Jaques, Bryan Clark, Christian Fraser, Christian Lalonde, Darren Ross, David Lawrence, David Paetkau, Don Carmody, Ellen David, Eugene Levy, Gabriel Daniels, George Tchortov, Georges Laraque, Howard Jerome, Jacob Klick, James Durham, Jay Baruchel, Jeff Strome, Jeff Wahl, Jodi Stecyk, John Paul Tremblay, Jonathan Cherry, Kalyn Bomback, Karl Graboshas, Ken St. Mars, Kim Coates, Lance Cartwright, Larry Woo, Liev Schreiber, Lorrie Papadopoulos, Marc-André Grondin, Mark Dann, Michael Dowse, Mike Bell, Mitchell Kummen, Nicholas Campbell, Richard Clarkin, Ricky Mabe, Robb Wells, Sarah Scheffer, Sean Skene, Seann William Scott, Sidney Leeder, Terry Ray, Tom Anniko

Director: Michael Dowse

Rating: R

Ryan Gosling plays a Jewish Neo-Nazi in this extremely riveting window into the definition of inner conflict. It is a prime example of how character development should be done and it put Gosling on the map for me. He starts out as an exemplary student in Hebrew school until he starts questioning his teachings and exploring alternative ideologies, leading him to the neo-Nazi movement. Won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance

Genre: Drama

Actor: A.D. Miles, Billy Zane, Chuck Ardezzone, David Bailey, Dean Strober, Ebon Moss-Bachrach, Elizabeth Reaser, Garret Dillahunt, Glenn Fitzgerald, Heather Goldenhersh, Henry Bean, Joel Garland, Joel Marsh Garland, Jordan Lage, Joshua Harto, Kris Eivers, Lucille Patton, Michael Marcus, Michael Port, Peter Meadows, Ronald Guttman, Ryan Gosling, Sascha Knopf, Sig Libowitz, Summer Phoenix, Theresa Russell, Tibor Feldman, Tommy Nohilly

Director: Henry Bean

Rating: R

The self destructive, substance abusing history teacher Dan (Ryan Gosling) works in a Brooklyn middle-school and is constantly at odds with the curriculum, preferring to teach 13 year old kids Marxist theory in class. Meanwhile, his student Drey (Shareeka Epps) has to go through struggles of her own, her brother being in jail on drug charges and her single mother having to work long hours to make ends meet. Slowly, an unlikely and tender friendship between teacher and student evolves, in which it becomes less and less clear who of them is the adult part. Steering away from cliches, Half Neslon is not your typical social drama. Its intelligent plot twists, great cast (with outstanding performances by both Gossling and Epps) and slow, non dramatic storytelling makes this a highly underestimated movie that, although treating depressive topics without any easy relief for the viewer, will leave with an inner smile, albeit a sad one.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Adepero Oduye, Anthony Mackie, Collins Pennie, Deborah Rush, Deidre Goodwin, Denis O'Hare, Eleanor Hutchins, Jay O. Sanders, Jeff Lima, Karen Chilton, Katie Nehra, Leslie Eva Glaser, Matt Kerr, Monique Gabriela Curnen, Nathan Corbett, Nicole Vicius, Raymond Anthony Thomas, Ron Cephas Jones, Ryan Gosling, Sebastian Sozzi, Shareeka Epps, Sharon Washington, Starla Benford, Stephanie Bast, Thaddeus Daniels, Tina Holmes, Tristan Mack Wilds, Tyra Kwao-Vovo

Director: Ryan Fleck

Rating: R

A wacky viral story — the kind that gets played for laughs at the end of news broadcasts — gets uncommonly deep consideration in this documentary gem. That’s not to say that Finders Keepers ignores the surreal comedy of the situation that John Wood and Shannon Whisnant, two star-crossed North Carolina men, found themselves in in 2007: battling over the custody rights of John’s mummified amputated leg. The humor in this bizarre tale and all the myriad eccentricities of its real-life characters is never left untapped, but to simply focus on that would add nothing new to the way the story had been told thus far. 

Unlike the many clips from news segments and reality TV that we see in the film, Finders Keepers instead looks beyond the low-hanging fruit and finds deep pathos simmering under the surface of this wacky tale. What emerges is a complex, often tragic, and very American picture of the way traumas shape our lives, the addictive pull of drugs and attention, and fate’s habit of twisting nightmares into blessings and vice versa. It’s the kind of film that makes you wonder how many other unexpectedly poignant stories have been short-changed by our impulse to be flippant.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: John Wood, Shannon Whisnant

Director: Bryan Carberry, J. Clay Tweel

Rating: R

A beautifully intertwined love story showing the ups and downs of a father, his ex-wife, and their children experiencing love. The film weaves the three love stories of the different generations seamlessly and leaves you caring deeply about the characters. It has an amazing soundtrack added to fantastic acting that will make you feel as though you are living the same experiences as the quirky, screwed up family. It's a movie for anyone in the mood for a romantic comedy with a little more substance than your average rom com.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Alex ter Avest, Barbara Weetman, David Carzell, Glen Powell, Greg Kinnear, Jennifer Connelly, Josh Boone, Kristen Bell, Liana Liberato, Lily Collins, Logan Lerman, Michael Goodwin, Nat Wolff, Patrick Schwarzenegger, Rusty Joiner, Spencer Breslin, Stephen King, Zeeko Zaki

Director: Josh Boone

Rating: R