Introduced by an on-screen quotation from Abraham Lincoln and an Indiana 1817 notation, "The Better Angels" follows its central character with a flowing camera, intermittent voiceover narration, and a series of instructive lessons. But this dreamlike film never explicitly identifies its illustrious central character--Lincoln as a boy shaped by his loving, indulgent stepmother and his taciturn, strict father.
Among ice hockey's legendary players, Vyacheslav Fetisov proves, in "Red Army," that he's also one of the most fascinating and irascible individuals to interview. In producer/director Gabe Polsky's documentary, the tough as nails Slava, as he's known, catalogs numerous, amazing achievements. But Polsky also captures, unexpectedly, Slava's intense emotions including passionate patriotism, deep friendship, and painful betrayal.
Desperate, protective mother Die channels her anger and defensiveness into hostile verbal and physical behavior in "Mommy." Violent outbursts of her volatile, psychologically unstable teenage son Steve trigger her dysfunctional interactions with just about everyone, including Steve. A widow, Die dotes on Steve, whom she is called to collect from a home because of sociopathic tendencies.
It's not news that monstrous corruption infects Russia, but as dramatized in director Andrey Zvyagintsev's "Leviathan," it overwhelms a small fishing community with devastating consequences. Auto mechanic Nikolai lives and works on a spit of land, two-thirds an acre. Vadim, mayor of this incestuous northwest Russian town, has seized Nikolai's home so he can demolish it and develop the area.
The film "McFarland, USA" takes place in the title town, a community of Mexican-American pickers in California's San Joaquin Valley. To its high school in 1987 comes coach Jim White, recently fired from a Boise school after losing his temper, injuring a football player. Relieved again of football duties, White starts a cross-country team with seven reluctant students.
Directors Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard's "20,000 Days on Earth" explores the creative process of the exceptional, Australian-born musician Nick Cave. The occasion for this revealing exploration is Cave beginning the recording of his album Push the Sky Away. On the first day of production, Cave had lived, as the film's title signals, 20,000 days on Earth.
Directors Sam Cullman and Jennifer Grausman create a deft balancing act in their documentary "Art and Craft." They follow and listen non-judgmentally to accomplished art forger Mark Landis, a "philanthropist" who has donated at least 47 fraudulent paintings to 46 different American museums. In a parallel story, Matt Leininger, Cincinnati Art Museum's ex-chief registrar, works obsessively to expose Landis' deception.
An intriguing, curious documentary, "Teenage" scrutinizes the cultural transformation of those 'tween years between childhood and adult status. Pursuing ideas detailed in Jon Savage's book "Teenage: The Creation of Youth Culture 1875-1945," writer/director Matt Wolf draws extensively on archival footage to animate the social milieu in England, Germany and America through film, photographs, diary entries, and more.
Anyone familiar with novelist Thomas Pynchon will not expect a conventional film in "Inherent Vice," adapted from Pynchon's 2009 novel. Moreover, with screenwriter/director Paul Thomas Anderson guiding this cinematic adaptation through its illogical paces, linear progression is abandoned. As in "There Will Be Blood," "The Master" and "Punch Drunk Love," Anderson presents his stories from a distinctive, idiosyncratic perspective.
Director Ava DuVernay's "Selma" delivers a poignant portrayal of events leading up to and immediately after the 1965 Selma to Montgomery, Alabama march for civil rights. Restrained, dignified and multi-layered, "Selma" suggests many parallels to today's racial struggles here and across the U.S. without ever succumbing to heavy-handed moralizing. In this film, facts speak eloquently for themselves.