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The year is just about half way through and with three film festivals under the belt, it seems appropriate to recount what have been the best of the year to date. We know there’s six more months of cinema coming down the drain and a lot of late arrivals usually have significant dominion over our end of year Top Ten list but we want to take the time to acknowledge what has already come and gone, to celebrate 25 marvelous films which unfortunately most people probably haven’t seen. Some of these have only played festivals and will get a wide release later in the year so keep your eyes peeled while others are already ready and waiting on Blu-Ray or DVD for your viewing enjoyment. Do yourself a favor and look into a few of them, won’t you?

10 Cloverfield Lane

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“Bizarre by traditional sequel standards, ’10 Cloverfield Lane’ is nonetheless an immaculate  work of genre craftsmanship,  a bustling coup de grace of wit, intensity and phenomenal performances with John Goodman perhaps giving the best of his already standout career. A real “bucket” of winning.” [Full review]

Anomalisa

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“Charlie Kaufman finds new ways to stretch the imagination with stop-motion character study ‘Anomalisa’. A tender piece on insecurity and the mundanity of human relations, Kaufman’s latest mind-trip is as thought-provoking as it is tragic and hilarious.” [Full Review]

The Birth of a Nation

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“Nate Parker’s ‘The Birth of a Nation’ is a stormily crafted character piece with faint structural limitations. Writing, directing, producing and starring as preacher-turned-revolutionary Nat Turner, Parker lights an artful powder keg sure to turn audience’s into mushy sympathizers raging for blood.”  [Full Review]

Captain Fantastic

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“Captain Fantastic’ is the anarchist’s cookbook of indie road movies; a cherry bomb of heart and good humor that blissfully ignores the virtues of normalcy for the ecstasy of experimentation. Viggo Mortensen is a powerhouse as a dad living off the land with his six more-than-competent children even when the narrative proves a hint preachy.” [Full review] [Interview with Viggo Mortensen and director Matt Ross]

Demolition

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“Led by soaring performances from Gyllenhaal and Watts and an emotionally exploratory script from Bryan Sipe, ‘Demolition’ is an oddball destructo-drama that measures the invoice of grief against the constructs of self-reinvention. Jean-Marc Vallée’s whip-smart, heart-rending and thoroughly hysterical feature threatens to alienate some audiences with its cut-and-dry views on life and love but works wonders under the right conditions.” [Full review]

Don’t Breathe

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“Riveting, horrifying and unwaveringly f*cked up, ‘Don’t Breathe’ is one of the most breathless, relentlessly intense horror movies to ever open in the American territories. Not unlike ‘Martyrs’ or ‘Inside’,  Fede Alvarez’s disturbing triumph of high-pitched tension and fanatical bad taste is as much an absolute must for hardcore horror fans as it is sure to horrify any and every mother on planet Earth.” [Full review]

Don’t Think Twice

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“Improv is about following the germ of an idea until it’s reach its most preposterous conclusion and with emotionally honest and rib-tickling seriocomedy Don’t Think Twice, Mike Birbiglia has also bloomed into himself as a director. His comedy manifesto has always tilted at harvesting truth over triviality and his framing of lifelong relationships splintering and fraternal bonds fracturing creates a heartrending account of the invoice of self-interest.” [Full review]

Everybody Wants Some!!

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“In the pantheon of Richard Linklater’s accomplished filmography, Everybody Wants Some is a relative softball, but even his minor work is essential viewing. A laid-back daydream of primetime golden years that speaks to Linklater’s immutable ability to craft immensely watchable party movies that sparkle with character.”  [Full review]

Green Room

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Jeremy Saulnier’s grotesquely violent ‘Green Room’ pits a hapless punk band against a group of militant Neo Nazis in almost pornographically gruesome fashion. That there isn’t too much to the film beyond the bloodbath keeps it from broaching true greatness but it’s still a finely tuned, well-acted violent venture for those compelled to see such material. [Full review] [Interview with director Jeremy Saulnier]

Hunt for the Wilderpeople

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“Taika Waititi spreads his wings with ‘Hunt for the Wilderpeople’, a genuinely hilarious and emotionally engaging tale of a naughty foster child and his surrogate uncle who venture off into the bush. Sam Neill and Julian Dennison have uncommon comic chemistry in front of the camera while behind it, Waititi shows off some newfound directorial tricks.” [Full review]

Indignation

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“Delicate and hard-hitting, James Schamus’ Indignation is a dramatic and philosophical examination of Korean War-era American values bolstered by wordy comic zest, romantic aches and a challenging moral imperative. Logan Lerman has never been better.” [Full review]

Krisha

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“Backed by a spine-tingling score, ‘Krisha’ is a powerful journey through the dingy bowels of addiction and family secrets. Krisha Fairchild is masterful in a breakout role for the ages just as first-time director Trey Edwards Shults proves himself a powerful emerging voice with a debut that won’t soon be forgotten.” [Full review]

Life, Animated

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“Framing Owen’s relationships – with family members, his girlfriend Emily and some very special friends – in such a way that rejuvenates our collective faith in humanity, William’s picture is an objective triumph, one that shines a light on a misunderstood population, that weaves triumph from tragedy and crafts a moving portrait of perseverance. It’s a tribute to an uncommon hero and is truly something special.” [Full review]

Love & Friendship

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“Whit Stillman’s ‘Love & Friendship’ is a savvy anecdote to the stuffy Victorian costume drama. Hysterical and unpretentious, Stillman’s adaptation of Jane Austen’s work would make the author proud. Additionally, Kate Beckinsale proves that a career spent amongst CGI creations is a monumental waste of her awesome talent as she crafts an unforgettably shrewd feminist heroine in Lady Susan Vernon.” [Full review]

Manchester by the Sea

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“‘Manchester By the Sea’ is a thoughtfully rendered, grief-loaded New England character study salt-washed in bathos and poised to break hearts. Writer/director Kenneth Lonergan masterful commands the drama while Casey Affleck gives the performance of his lifetime.” [Full review]

Midnight Special

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“Jeff Nichols’ ‘Midnight Special’ feels like some recently discovered 80’s B-movie. Purring with metaphysical musings and its own cryptic internal mythology,  the sci-fi chase movie asks more questions than it answers but razor wire tension and silky smooth performances from the likes of Michael Shannon, Kirsten Dunst and Joel Edgerton allow it to ascend its nominal genre trappings.” [Full review] [Interview with director Jeff Nichols]

The Nice Guys

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“‘The Nice Guys’ is a nearly flawless seminar in action comedy as Shane Black schools the industry with righteous aplomb, paying lip service to its weathered idolatry with a sardonic smile. Crafting a rare and unceasingly hilarious film filled with rich, equally uproarious characters, played to perfection by Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe, Black challenges the conventions of buddy cop films at every wise-cracking turn and the audience is all the richer for it.” [Full review]

Rams

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“It may take a while to decide whether one should laugh or cry at this darkly comic Icelandic import from Grímur Hákonarson about two sheep-raising brothers with a life-long competitive streak but doing a little of both is probably the correct reaction. Poignant, tender and utterly unique, ‘Rams’ takes its audience through a soulful legal battle that ends with such unexpectedly gusto, your being deeply moved is inevitable.”

Sing Street

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“Big-hearted, shamelessly cheerful and joyous beyond measure, ‘Sing Street’ is an upbeat victory for director John Carney. Brimming with laughs and a surprising amount of tears, ‘Sing Street’ is rarely seen uplift cinema sure to inspire an embarrassingly wide grin from start to finish, suffused with dreadfully catchy tunes to boot.” [Full review]

Swiss Army Man

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“One of the most bizarre and bizarrely beautiful films to grace the Sundance Dramatic Competition in quite some time, ‘Swiss Army Man’ is not a film to be puzzled out in one go but that’s ok. It’s mightily entertaining, features two standout performances and has enough raw originality coursing through its veins to make it truly stand in a league of its own.” [Full review]

Tickled

517988b0-f860-0133-803d-001David Farrier and David Starr unearth an unthinkably bizarre rabbit hole when they stumble upon underground competitive endurance tickling videos. Soon, Farrier is embroiled in harassment from the video’s shadowy publisher – who relinquish verbal abuse about his sexuality. Soon links to former death threats, a string of ruined lives and a nefarious despot with seemingly limitless resources emerge and the experience is as mind-boggling as it is unsettling. Tickled is investigative journalism at its most absolutely unusual and the ongoing behind-the-scenes publicity makes it all the more strange and arresting.”

Transpecos

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“Greg Kwedar’s debut film ‘Transpecos’ is a potent border fiction that matches high tension thrills with significant characters, played to perfection by Johnny Simmons, Clifton Collins Jr. and Gabriel Luna. Gritty and grim, Kwedar’s first makes a bold statement and showcases a filmmaker well on his way to breaking out big time.” [Full review] [Interview with director Greg Kwedar]

Under the Shadow

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“With Under the Shadow, Babak Anvari has his finger on the pulse of what we want, and deserve, from an independent horror movie. A potent location in 1980s missile-wary Tehran, a compelling lead in Narges Rashidi who grapples with cultural and professional oppression in addition to her family being with powerful scares when they least expect it. ” [Full review]

The Witch

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“Beneath the dirt-stained, leather-bound waistcoats, the perfumed, toity language of the New World, the white bonnets and constrictive girdles, The Witch has a vicious, illicit and suspicious center and though admittedly scaled back on typical horror movie “scares” is deeply atmospheric, deeply disturbing and deeply great.” [Full review] [Interview with director Robert Eggers]

Zootopia

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“2016 has yet to produce an animated film that tops Zootopia. Big-hearted, endlessly clever and culturally poignant, what is ostensibly a children’s movie parries adult thematic material in with sharp pop culture references all through adorable, upbeat characters and sidesplitting situational comedy. As a hard-boiled buddy cop noir, Zootopia is geared towards the adults in the audience but acknowledges kid’s needs with a gorgeous visual tapestry and a number of fun set pieces.”

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