Variety Critics’ Choice 

  • Above and Below Nahoře a dole / Above and Below
    Directed by: Nicolas Steiner
    Switzerland, Germany, 2015, 124 min

    A not-quite-documentary probing the damaged psyches of five characters floating on the margins of American society, whom the director filmed in their frequently shocking environments over a number of years. Unconcerned with sensationalism, the film presents a focused study that reveals its creator’s deft hand at social anthropology.

  • A Blast Výbuch / A Blast
    Directed by: Syllas Tzoumerkas
    Greece, Germany, Netherlands, 2014, 83 min

    This harrowing story of a young mother’s manic nervous breakdown in the face of financial ruin is coupled with a bristling socioeconomic critique that takes in the disillusionment of today’s thirtysomething generation and their resulting radicalization. Marie declares war on her family, society, and herself as she tries to find a way out of the cycle of dependence.

  • The Ecstasy of Wilko Johnson Extáze Wilka Johnsona / The Ecstasy of Wilko Johnson
    Directed by: Julien Temple
    United Kingdom, 2015, 92 min

    Onetime enfant terrible of the British punk scene Julien Temple has shot a remarkably optimistic and energetic film on historied rock guitarist Wilko Johnson, who fairly glows with his mellow good mood. All the more remarkable because Johnson has been diagnosed with inoperable pancreatic cancer and has less than a year to live.

  • Fidelio: Alice’s Journey Fidelio - Alicina odysea / Fidelio, l’odyssée d’Alice
    Directed by: Lucie Borleteau
    France, 2014, 95 min

    Alice’s voyage on a cargo ship populated by an all-male crew transforms into a young woman’s journey toward self-awareness, with a nod to self-confident womanhood. In no way a treatise on feminism, the film captivates with its bracing tone, unique setting, and edgy performance by its female lead.

  • Goodnight Mommy Dobrou, mámo / Ich seh Ich seh
    Directed by: Veronika Franz, Severin Fiala
    Austria, 2014, 99 min

    This psychologically unnerving thriller with a thoroughly bizarre plot plays out within the four cramped walls of a remote house. Twin boys begin to suspect that their mother, whose face is wrapped entirely in bandages, is not actually who she claims to be. As their waking moments morph into nightmare, a plot twist forces audiences to reconsider everything that came before.

  • The Lesson Lekce / Urok
    Directed by: Kristina Grozeva, Petar Valchanov
    Bulgaria, Greece, 2014, 105 min

    The Lesson is a stripped-to-essentials drama about a provincial Bulgarian schoolteacher who is slowly, inexorably driven to the edge by crushing debt. In her frantic, even thrilling rush to keep herself afloat, lead actress Margita Gosheva overshadows everyone else onscreen as a woman who only gradually reveals herself as fully capable of going to extremes.

  • The Reaper Sklizeň / Kosac
    Directed by: Zvonimir Jurić
    Croatia, Slovenia, 2014, 98 min

    A humanistic drama with a strong moral subtext that unfolds over a single summer night during which Ivo offers a lift to a woman stranded on an abandoned road. His attempt to help unleashes an avalanche of unfortunate events because the man, once accused of rape, has been defined and isolated by his crime, just as the region in which he lives is still trapped in the thrall of war.

  • The Summer of Sangaile Sangaïlé / Sangaïlé
    Directed by: Alanté Kavaïté
    Lithuania, France, Netherlands, 2015, 88 min

    A fragile and hesitant teenage girl marveles at the stunt airplanes cartwheeling overhead, but they’re not the only things to soar and plummet in this sensuous and sensitive teen romance. The director has achieved a heartfelt and impressionistic snapshot of adolescence, roller-coaster emotions, and self-discovery.

  • Sworn Virgin Navždy pannou / Vergine giurata
    Directed by: Laura Bispuri
    Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Albania, Kosovo, 2015, 90 min

    In a compelling tale, Alba Rohrwacher takes on the role of an Albanian countrywoman who, following a local tradition, opted to live as a man. But after 14 years she is determined, against convention, to take back her original identity. Giving up a man’s rights, however, is no easy task.

  • Vincent Vincent / Vincent n’a pas d’écailles
    Directed by: Thomas Salvador
    France, 2014, 78 min

    At first glance this directorial debut seems like just another flick about invincible, fear-inducing superheroes. But the friendly and unassuming Vincent can only display his superpowers in water. For once, the notion that we needn’t fear what makes us distinctive is not buried under Everests of bombast and effects that lose sight of why such themes matter.


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