Ben Sachs, Chicago Reader

  1. The Attack 2013 Screenwriters Ziad Doueiri and Joelle Touma pull quite a few punches here, making the doctor improbably naive about Israeli-Palestinian tensions so that his transformation seems profound. full review
  2. Augustine 2013 The psychosexual drama plays out beneath the surface -- the movie is so understated it sometimes feels inert. full review
  3. The Big Wedding 2013 Barring a few off-color jokes, though, the movie feels like a Carol Burnett sketch dragged out to feature length. full review
  4. Blackfish 2013 Unfortunately, this feels like a ten-minute news segment blown up to theatrical proportions. full review
  5. Computer Chess 2013 A breakthrough -- not just for indie writer-director Andrew Bujalski, but for American movie comedy. full review
  6. Crystal Fairy 2013 Silva based the story on a personal experience from his early 20s, which he realizes with vivid detail and wry, humane observation; the humor is sweet and lingers in the memory. full review
  7. Drug War 2013 Few other working filmmakers display this degree of visual sophistication and old-school craftsmanship. full review
  8. Europa Report 2013 I'm not qualified to judge the accuracy of the scientific detail, though the filmmakers convey a genuine respect for hard science instead of the cursory interest shown by most science fiction movies. full review
  9. Frances Ha 2013 The dialogue and editing are zippy and generally charming, combining with the tart observations of 20-something culture to create a nice frisson. full review
  10. Gimme The Loot 2013 Small but bursting with energy. full review
  11. Graceland 2013 The film feels increasingly exploitative as it becomes more overtly political, illustrating various forms of injustice with blunt, sensationalistic imagery. full review
  12. The Grandmaster 2013 The action choreography (by the great Yuen Woo-ping) feels oddly rhythmless; likewise, Wong's depictions of the larger-than-life characters achieve little emotional resonance. full review
  13. The Iceman 2013 This biopic sounds like a perfect vehicle for Shannon, who's come to specialize in playing psychopaths, but it doesn't give him much to work with. full review
  14. In the Fog 2013 Director Sergei Loznitsa often employs dreamy, intricately choreographed long-takes reminiscent of Russian filmmakers Andrei Tarkovsky, Aleksei Guerman, and Aleksandr Sokurov. full review
  15. The Last Days On Mars 2013 Alas, the film quickly loses its offbeat charm and devolves into a routine monster movie. full review
  16. LUV 2013 his contains plenty of incidental pleasures, including some vibrant images of contemporary Baltimore and fun character turns from Charles S. Dutton, Danny Glover, and Dennis Haysbert. full review
  17. Man of Tai Chi 2013 Reeves gets plenty of mileage from this premise, using it to comment on globalization, cinema in the Internet age, and the moral cost of selling out. full review
  18. Movie 43 2013 Despite all the gross-out humor, the most offensive thing about this is the lazy filmmaking; every shot feels like a first take, and the haphazard editing precludes any comic timing. full review
  19. Newlyweeds 2013 Shaka King's low-budget debut feature is slim on plot but rich in attitude and on-the-ground detail of New York neighborhood life. full review
  20. No Place On Earth 2013 The movie is engaging but appallingly superficial when it considers the larger history of the Holocaust. full review
  21. Paradise: Faith 2013 Even at his most thematically reductive, Ulrich Seidl exhibits one of the richest pictorial sensibilities in contemporary movies. full review
  22. Paradise: Love 2013 The striking compositions mingle childlike curiosity with adult decadence -- and natural beauty with garish consumer culture -- to provocative, even profound effect. full review
  23. Peeples 2013 Writer-director Tina Gordon Chism implies that people should accept each other for who they are, but with no genuine insight to back up this moral, it feels hollow. full review
  24. Prince Avalanche 2013 David Gordon Green somehow brings together the poetic sensibility of his independent art movies and the humorous lowbrow non sequiturs of his studio comedies; the results are one of a kind and often weirdly moving. full review
  25. Salinger 2013 Any insights the film has to impart about the writing process are delivered in embarrassingly literal fashion. full review
  26. Short Term 12 2013 Set in a foster-care facility outside of San Francisco, this independent drama is vivid and heartfelt in its depiction of social work, at times recalling some of Frederick Wiseman's great documentary portraits. full review
  27. Sightseers 2013 Wheatley is strikingly effective in his manipulation of tone, establishing a queasy intimacy that only intensifies as the movie progresses. full review
  28. Somebody Up There Likes Me 2013 Bob Byington's imaginative indie comedy recalls some of Richard Lester's 60s films in its freewheeling narrative structure and cartoonish sight gags, though the humor is more often peculiar than laugh-out-loud funny. full review
  29. Somm 2013 The subjects are arrogant, anal retentive, and self-regarding, yet for some reason Wise wants us to identify with them. full review
  30. The Summit 2013 There's something unsettling about a real-life tragedy presented as an action film; that the filmmakers never acknowledge this is more unsettling yet. full review
  31. War Witch 2013 Canadian writer-director Kim Nguyen spent nearly a decade researching this docudrama about child soldiers in Africa, and the film feels as authoritative as a first-hand account. full review
  32. We Are What We Are 2013 The original was nothing special, but at least it had a sense of humor and a modicum of social insight. full review
  33. Arbitrage 2012 This isn't very effective as a thriller, though it's a provocative fable about our ambivalent feelings toward financial elites. full review
  34. Marvel's The Avengers 2012 Every now and then, director Joss Whedon executes a quirky camera set-up to assert that the film was created by him and not a team of marketing executives. full review
  35. Ballplayer: Pelotero 2012 [The] Directors...try to soften...ugly truths with sentimental stories of teenagers getting signed and pulling their families out of poverty, but the portrait of widespread exploitation overwhelms the intended effect...[ END HERE ]of these subplots full review
  36. Blue Like Jazz 2012 An uncommon thoughtfulness about spiritual issues distinguishes this otherwise generic coming-of-age story. full review
  37. Brooklyn Castle 2012 The message is that chess can motivate working-class kids to become better students, and though that's nice to know, the movie doesn't illustrate this theme in much depth. full review
  38. Cirque Du Soleil: Worlds Away 2012 This big-screen vehicle for the popular performance troupe would be more bearable if the exhibitors passed out earplugs along with the 3-D glasses. full review
  39. Fat Kid Rules the World 2012 The depiction of high school band life rings true at every turn, bringing a sense of authenticity to the familiar teenage drama. full review
  40. For Greater Glory 2012 As generic as the title, this historical drama spares no cliche in depicting Mexico's Cristero War of the late 1920. full review
  41. Headhunters 2012 The scenes of graphic violence are drawn out to the point where they overwhelm the story. full review
  42. Holy Motors 2012 As cryptic and unpredictable as that premise might suggest. full review
  43. The Hunger Games 2012 Director Gary Ross generally avoids the elaborate exterior shots and special effects that dominate high-concept blockbusters. full review
  44. Jack Reacher 2012 This is brisk, attention-grabbing, and generally unpretentious -- basically an old noir programmer inflated to blockbuster proportions. full review
  45. Kill List 2012 Wheatly aims for something like moral complexity by having one of the killers believe in God and the other aspire to be a good husband and father, but once the graphic violence starts, it upstages everything else. full review
  46. L!fe Happens 2012 Set in Los Angeles, this unfunny comedy succeeds only in perpetuating the worst stereotypes about that city. full review
  47. Natural Selection 2012 However gritty this indie comedy may look (cinematographer Steve Calitri seems to be aping William Eggleston's photographs of the American south), it isn't all that different from an Adam Sandler vehicle. full review
  48. Nobody Walks 2012 This dreary independent drama is essentially an art-world soap opera, but without the melodramatic verve that makes some soap operas interesting. full review
  49. North Sea Texas 2012 This debut feature by noted short-film director Bavo Defurne emphasizes ambiance over storytelling, but that ambiance is so flavorsome you might not mind. full review
  50. The Other Dream Team 2012 The movie sticks to the basic facts and patronizes viewers with plentiful music cues and other emotional pointers; you'd be better off learning this story from an old issue of Sports Illustrated. full review
  51. The Possession 2012 Director Ole Bornedal doesn't add a single idea of his own. full review
  52. Samsara 2012 Any sincerity inherent in the project is overwhelmed by the manufactured awe of its godawful New Age score. full review
  53. Seeking Justice 2012 There's plenty to enjoy in this old-fashioned exploitation movie. full review
  54. The Snowtown Murders 2012 Your appreciation of this Australian horror movie will depend on whether you think its artistry justifies its unrelenting ugliness. full review
  55. Starlet 2012 This is confident, engrossing storytelling, and the actors are terrific. full review
  56. We Have a Pope 2012 Though skeptical, the film isn't at all mean-spirited. full review
  57. The Woman in the Fifth 2012 The movie casts such a seductive air of mystery that the resolution feels anticlimactic, yet there's plenty to enjoy along the way, particularly Hawke's nuanced lead performance as a quiet man with secrets of his own. full review
  58. About Sunny 2011 This often feels like a European art movie in its naturalistic detail and propulsive editing, though writer-director Bryan Wizemann localizes this style with resourceful location work and sharp, idiomatic dialogue. full review
  59. Crime After Crime 2011 Deeply flawed. full review
  60. Gerhard Richter Painting 2011 The works in question express a delicate balance between spontaneity and rigid formal control -- seeing Richter at work is a bit like watching a great trapeze artist. full review
  61. House of Pleasures 2011 It emphasizes setting over character and plot; and it casts a mood that's both eerie and entrancing. full review
  62. The Kid with a Bike 2011 Makes a powerful statement about the plight of unwanted children. But it also incorporates elements of melodrama, film noir, and even the fairy tale that engage our empathy and confirm the Dardennes' great compassion. full review
  63. Make Believe 2011 This tension between self-expression and professional advancement is fascinating material, but first-time director-editor J. Clay Tweel avoids the nuance that might have brought it to life. full review
  64. Polisse 2011 Rarely does one see a movie so knowing in some respects and so clueless in others. full review
  65. Stake Land 2011 Mickle's observation of a devastated working-class America is so sharp that the horror elements, though effectively handled, come to feel like an afterthought. full review
  66. This Must Be The Place 2011 Writer-director Paolo Sorrentino handles the story with surprising thoughtfulness. full review
  67. Cave of Forgotten Dreams 2010 This is one of the few films to use the [3D] format for intellectual, even philosophical ends: the added depth parallels the deeper understanding of humanity that the paintings inspire. full review
  68. Centurion 2010 Auteur cinema of a very narrow stripe, this personalizes a familiar genre to advance a singularly pessimistic view of humanity. full review
  69. Senna 2010 Most interesting for the way its construction builds on the inherent austerity of auto racing. full review
  70. The Whistleblower 2010 Larysa Kondracki's first feature successfully avoids the major pitfalls of the activist docudrama: the main character's heroism never overshadows the larger issue at hand, nor does exposition gum up the storytelling. full review

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