A Most Wanted Man

Slow-paced, semi-static, and simmering, as washed-out as its hero is burnt-out, A Most Wanted Man is a contemporary tale of terrorism and patient collection of information; a film of gathering interest rather than throttling suspense; and an unglamorous depiction of governmental grunt work. Crackling with a jigsaw-puzzle intelligence, it’s a crackerjack thriller, claustrophobic, brooding, and unbearably tense.

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Frank

Adorably askew and zestily zany, Frank is an odd, offbeat, oddball surprise; a functioning, charmingly honest fable of artistic angst and aspiration; and a funny, whimsical tale with an underlying layer of deep melancholy about the fragility of art and the human psyche.

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2011 Retrospective

Following the strongest 12-month period in years, 2011 was destined to be a disappointment. The “year of sequels,” it sorely lacked originality and relied on microwaved ideas to keep the box office humming. As always, however, there were jewels to be found, with an unusually-strong Berlin premiering 3 of my top 8 and old and new directors delivering world-class work. Here are my thoughts on a year that said goodbye to Harry Potter and Béla Tarr and hello to Iranian cinema.

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Pina

Exuberant, sparkling, and wondrously surreal, Pina is a spectacular show of stagecraft; a richly cinematic homage to modern dance and one of its premier authors; and an inspired simulacrum – a jewel-box that contains more of choreographer Pina Bausch’s kinetic soul than film has any right to. Lively and haunting, it’s filmmaking as glorious music.

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This Is Not a Film

Humble, clandestine, refreshingly modest, and truly extraordinary in its own quiet way, This Is Not a Film is a courageous act of documentary provocation; a poke in the eye of political oppression; and a small but extremely significant message-in-a-bottle from a restless, persecuted artist.

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Calvary

Trenchant, puckish, and ruminative, Calvary is a wonderfully uncomfortable blend of high drama and dark humour; a wicked, gimlet-eyed revelation of Catholic dogma; and a compact and biting tale of a righteous man being tested by his peers and his predicament. Too ghastly in its flippancy to be simply comedy, it’s a bruising beauty of a film that earns its sour stripes.

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Elena

Spare, somber, gripping, and acutely observed, Elena is a slow-boil Russian noir; a grim, effective allegory of the daily whirl in Putinland; and an acidic portrait of an unhappy marriage in contemporary Moscow. It’s Russian New Wave cinema at its best.

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