Girlhood

Bold, brawling, beautifully observed, and acted with wonderful conviction, Girlhood is a blast of oxygen to the coming-of-age genre; an energetic, hugely uplifting, and fascinatingly textured film that’s both a lament for sweetness lost and a celebration of wisdom and identity gained, often at the very same moment.

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Moneyball

Bracingly brainy and viscerally exciting, Moneyball is a highly detailed, fascinating slice of baseball history; a solid, bustling social comedy at the 130-IQ level; and a warm, agreeable character study about the pratfalls of athletic institutions and the willingness to think outside the box. Tasteful and soulful, slick and good-looking, it’s a rousing, subtle, extraordinary hybrid of a film that lives and breathes the game; a crowd-pleasing baseball movie for people who don’t like baseball movies.

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Timbuktu

Elegantly artful, gracefully assembled, and ultimately disquieting, Timbuktu is a bitter cry from the heart; a quiet work of savage truth; and a timely film with a powerful message. Patient, restrained, and heartbreaking, it’s a breathing, bleeding reaction to a genuine human rights crisis; a response, a supplement, and a protest to the horrors that flash by on the news.

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A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night

Precocious, faux-primitive, and bracingly post-punk, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is a glorious pastiche of styles; a haunting love story between two misfits; a joyful mash-up of genre, archetype, and iconography; and a refreshing take on one of the oldest legends in existence. Sly, slick, slinky, and fearlessly subversive, it’s a wholly original work without a single unique thought or idea.

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A Most Violent Year

Agreeably hellish, pleasingly pulpy, and antiseptically tight, A Most Violent Year is a treacherous, exacting anti-thriller with a rich sense of time and place; a nocturnal fantasy that confounds the mobster mould; and a sterling essay in inner strength. Beautifully, almost stubbornly understated and overflowing with a heightened sense of reality, it drifts breezily and never feels rushed.

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American Sniper

Incurious and hyper-macho, stilted and scandalously blinkered, American Sniper is a solidly-staged, unexceptional picture, crammed with action, heart-pounding moments, and familiar dramatic situations. It’s a gripping, straightforward character study that could have been so much more.

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Selma

Measured, earnest, and levelheaded, Selma is an overdue tribute to a revered icon; a stately, sober depiction of the 1960s American civil rights movement; and a solid, if unspectacular, look at the gruntwork of activism. It’s vital correspondence with an impassioned and reverberating message.

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