1. Born To Be Blue
As Miles Davis once argued, “The thing to judge in any jazz artist is, does the man project and does he have ideas.” That’s a terrifying prospect to consider, the idea that you can’t just go out there and perform, you have to go out there and give yourself, and that self better be fucking worth it. Robert Budreau and Ethan Hawke wrestle with that theme and conquer it with a rousing climax that should get under the skin of anyone who’s ever felt passionate about anything. By then, it’s less about Baker and more about what Baker represented: an artist whose love for the craft superseded any and all facets of life. As such, Born to Be Blue serves as an honest and heartfelt ode to not only Chet Baker, but those who revel in the occasional highs and neverending lows that overwhelm the pursuit of art.
Score : A
2. Hunter Gatherer
Hunter Gatherer is by no means perfect, but it leaves an impression that will linger for days to come, as images of Ashley and Jeremy continue to haunt the mind. Hunter Gatherer is that rare film that sneaks around the corner and smashes headlong into the viewer. With his controlled, intimate direction, Joshua Locy depicts a world where all its citizens are one day away from a cold bed in an alleyway. And it all begins with Andre Royo’s face, those carved lines. We may not get all the details but, for a short time, we walk in another man’s shoes. We know him. Maybe that’s enough.
Score : A-
3. Beware The Slenderman
Irene Taylor Brodsky’s absorbing documentary chronicles the case itself, the legend and online origins of Slenderman, and the court’s decision as to whether or not the girls should be tried as adults or juveniles. Far less sensational than the subject matter might imply, the film eschews simplistic conclusions – “The Internet is not the enemy here,” Brodsky’s said in interviews – for a balanced and graceful examination of youth, mental illness, and mythology as it’s evolved in the Internet age. Brodsky isn’t condemning the idea of Slenderman in the way that Tipper Gore did with hip-hop or Hillary Clinton did with video games; rather, she’s using Slenderman as a symbol of the web’s influence on a damaged or underdeveloped mind and how parents are still struggling with how to regulate it for their children when iPads are becoming an essential part of education.
Score : B
Hush is already drawing numerous comparisons to 1967’s Wait Until Dark, and rightfully so. Both films are home-invasion thrillers where a female protagonist uses her handicap to fight back against her attacker. In this case, the blindness of Audrey Hepburn’s Susy gets traded out for the inability to hear or speak. Likewise, the story swaps Wait Until Dark‘s New York City apartment with a remote cabin in the woods of Alabama. But once you get past the similar elevator pitches, Hush stands apart from its predecessor and most horror movies in general, Blumhouse or otherwise, as the hero and the villain face each other down very early on in the runtime.
Score : A-
This unique blend of docudrama, action movie, and cartoon immerses the viewer in a way that wouldn’t be possible in a more traditional film. For instance, the stylized animation — reminiscent of Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly, both directed by Maitland’s Texas brethren Richard Linklater — amplifies the emotional jolt that occurs when violence strikes on an otherwise beautiful day. Minnow Mountain renders the campus landscape in bright tones — the yellow sunlight that pours through the window during an afternoon chess game; the green foliage drifting by while a boy goes on his paper route — only to strip them away whenever someone approaches the tower. As McCoy and the other officers close in on the school, the color disappears, as if sucked out of the animation cells by a vacuum, now portraying the oncoming violence in stark black and white.
Score : B+
6. Miss Sharon Jones
The most compelling sections of Miss Sharon Jones are still her leaps in physical and creative strength. If Jones can move from mortal woman to musical superhero in the space of a few moments, if she can convert the despair within her ravaged body into energy, then so can the rest of us in our times of weakness. There’s always the chance that we can backpedal, of course. There’s always the chance that the cancer will return, that our bodies will ultimately give out on us. But as Barbara Kopple and Jones prove, the struggle itself can be just as inspiring as survival.
Score : B+
7. Pee-Wee’s Big Holiday
Thirty-one years after he lost and reclaimed his bike, Paul Reubens returns to his landmark role in Pee-wee’s Big Holiday. Directed by Wonder Showzen mastermind John Lee, produced by 21st century comedy godfather Judd Apatow, and written by Love creator Paul Rust, the latest adventure finds our hipster-in-gray taking a vacation by hitting the open road toward the Big Apple. So yes, it’s essentially a remake of Tim Burton’s classic debut, only with a less consequential MacGuffin (he’s going to attend Joe Manganiello’s big birthday bash) and a less stylistic director (Lee has chops, but he’s no Burton). Still, the through-line isn’t vital; it’s the vignettes in between, not to mention watching Reubens shine, and that’s where this film delivers.
Score : B
8. Sausage Party
Try to imagine the most disgusting, foul-mouthed, and disturbing Pixar film ever put to celluloid, and you’ll probably land somewhere near Sausage Party. But not too close. Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg — in addition to screenwriters Ariel Shaffir and Kyle Hunter and directors Greg Tiernan and Conrad Vernon — have taken the awe and wonder of those early off-shoot Mouse House blockbusters and brought it down to “our level,” subverting the innocent medium with lewd dialogue, stereotypes galore, and a brand of sexual depravity that would bother regulars at Pornhub. It’s unlike anything else.
9. Thank You Del : The Story Of The Del Close Marathon
Any student of improvisational comedy should know the name Del Close. For the uninitiated, Del Close might just be the funniest person you’ve never heard of, despite the fact that his subversive genius helped spawn the careers of Tina Fey, Bill Murray, Harold Ramis, Chris Farley, John Belushi, and scores of renowned comedians who continue to champion Close’s groundbreaking work. Whether his name rings familiar or not, Thank You Del: The Story of the Del Close Marathon is an engrossing and surprisingly moving documentary that commands respect for the man who elevated improv into a dynamic new form – The Harold – thereby enhancing comedy worldwide.
10. Operation Avalanche
Even in its weaker moments, however, Operation Avalanche feels like something we haven’t seen before. Because the filmmakers essentially play themselves and did some elaborate legal tap-dancing to film at NASA (actual members of the space program are interviewed in the film), the lines between truth and fiction become intriguingly blurred. That’s a cliche saying in itself, but an apt one when considering the subject matter. Operation Avalanche isn’t just about the thrill of making movies — it’s about the thrill of making history.