The Kings of Summer (Jordan Vogt-Roberts)
This coming-of-age story is charming and sweet but rooted in genuine characters and motivations. Three boys set out to run away from their restrictive homes in rural Ohio for an even more rural oasis of Lord of the Flies freedom, if not with the horror or high stakes of that story. Nick Robinson, in his film debut, is a strong and handsome lead as Joe Toy. Gabriel Basso (from Super 8 and TV’s The Big C) is excellent as Patrick, Joe’s best friend. But Moises Arias (TV’s Hannah Montana and Wizards of Waverly Place) is a scene-stealing maniac as Biaggio, a loner pipsqueak who interlopes with the two boys. This kid is going to have a huge career.
Before Midnight (Richard Linklater)
When we first met Jesse and Celine (Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy) on a train to Vienna in Before Sunrise, they were in their early 20s and engagingly young and vibrant. Meeting up again in Paris nine years later for Before Sunset, they were grown but not grown up. In Before Midnight, the two are together with twin girls, but not married. On a vacation in Greece the two are weathered, their relationship beaten by the years and by Celine’s desire for a new job while Jesse is being pulled back to the U.S. wanting to be nearer to his son. Despite the talky nature of the Before movies, they are genuine and rooted in real-world and real relationships and the 18-year investment we’ve had with these characters is rich and identifiable.
Stories We Tell (Sarah Polley)
Actress and director Sarah Polley (Go, Away From Her) astonishes in this documentary of her family, exquisitely blending fact and fiction in this investigation into her family’s past, primarily her mother’s death and Polley’s very own search for her lineage. As facts begin to unravel and Polley finds out that her father may not be her biological father the mission of the documentary changes and we see, through modern-day interviews and family home video, a narrative form that is as gripping as any family drama can be. A stunning revelation by the filmmaker in the final third turns the genre on its head and makes this one of the best films of the year.
Leviathan (Lucien Castaing-Taylor, Verena Paravel)
This unflinching, avant-garde documentary of a fishing boat off the coast of Massachusetts is less The Perfect Storm and more Fitzcarraldo. It’s riveting even in its banality. Poor lighting at night practically forces you to move forward in your seat, hoping to glimpse and understand what you’re seeing more clearly. It’s a clever and devious move by directors Castaing-Taylor and Paravel, but the payoff is extraordinary when you get to witness the chaos of the job along with the almost poetic and robotic nature of the fishermen and their work.
Frances Ha (Noah Baumbach)
Greta Gerwig (Damsels in Distress) co-writes this girl in the city story with Baumbach (Margot at the Wedding, The Squid and the Whale) and what we get is a Girls-era self-absorption that is spry and exciting. Frenetic editing presents itself the way Frances (Gerwig) sees herself and lives her life, on the edge of financial and emotional cliffs, barely being rescued but running right back to that edge. This is easily Gerwig’s best role and performance to date, carefully balancing Frances’s sometimes incredible social awkwardness with loner realities that are as honest as they are cringeworthy. The script is sharp and astute, the music choices fun and the humor biting and hilarious. One of Baumbach’s best films.