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Cobra Kai — Season 3

Whether you are a critic, a fan, or something in-between, you have no doubt experienced the delicious pleasure of discovering a show or a band or a film before it breaks out. You have also no doubt shared that the glum experience of watching that personal favorite lose something of its appeal as it seeks and finds a larger audience. Cobra Kai on YouTube was a quirky, clever, nostalgic favorite that avoided the extremes of deconstruction and imitation. It wasn’t simply a repeat of the Ka

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Accidental Courtesy: Daryl Davis, Race & America (Ornstein, 2016)

When someone he has befriended leaves the Ku Klux Klan, he often gives Daryl Davis the robe he wore as a member of that group. Over the years, Davis, by his own account, has amassed dozens of these retired jerseys of hate. Accidental Courtesy: Daryl Davis, Race & America, which premiered this week at SXSW, chronicles Davis’s attempts to impact America by changing the hearts and minds of one racist at a time. Daryl goes to Klan rallies. He has invited Klansmen to his home and visited them

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Love Sarah (Schroeder 2020)

Love Sarah begins immediately after the death of the titular character, whom we are told was a world class chef. Sarah’s partner reluctantly agrees to sell the restaurant space, and her daughter meets Sarah’s estranged mother because she has nowhere to live. I would like you to stop for a moment and predict three things you might expect to happen in a movie with the set up described above. Go ahead, I’ll wait… If you actually did the above exercise and are still reading, you might make

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2020 Arts & Faith Ecumenical Jury

For the seventh year in a row, members and friends of the Arts & Faith forum attempted to bring attention to films specifically recommended to a Christian audience.  The Arts & Faith Ecumenical Jury is not affiliated with Interfilm -- best known for forming an Ecumenical Jury at various world film festivals, especially Cannes. The Arts & Faith groups was created in 2014 after Christianity Today discontinued its annual lists of critics choices and "most redemptive" films. Althoug

2020 Top Ten

The year that has just completed has been unlike any other, both in the imaginary worlds of film and the real world from which theaters so often provide relief. Yes, every year, every moment of time, is unique. But by the time one is half way through one’s sixth decade living, one has grown accustomed to those moments bearing at least a striking resemblance to memorable ones that have preceded it. The global pandemic and the turmoil surrounding the American political landscape were not unprecede

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News of the World (Greengrass, 2020)

The Civil War has ended, but the country’s wounds are still fresh. This is obvious to Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd (Tom Hanks). He sees the divide, firsthand, as he rides through Texas towns delivering current events at public hearings. The clink of dimes falling into his tin cup pays his humble lifestyle. He spends the night in the local inn then moves on to the next town. One day, the Captain stumbles upon a ransacked wagon. The only thing remaining is Johanna (Helena Zengel) — a young orph

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Modern Persuasion (Appel & Lisecki, 2020)

Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice had a working title of First Impressions. Although she did not ultimately use that title for any of her novels, it remained a running theme throughout much of her fiction. The dangers of forming judgments too quickly and based on too little evidence are displayed again and again in the Austenverse. My first impression on hearing that Alex Appel and Jonathan Lisecki had made a loose adaptation of Austen’s last (and in some ways most mature) novel was to gr

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Another Round (Vinterberg, 2020)

The beginning and ending of Another Round are very strong. Thomas Vinterberg’s portrait of an alcoholic culture is quite effective at varying its tone — demonstrating the highs as well as the lows of using drink as a mood enhancer. The film’s opener is a depiction of a secondary school tradition — a team race around a lake with mandated drinking at each checkpoint. The friends who participate in it grow up to be teachers at the school and witness their own students acquire the habits of dr

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Arts & Faith Top 100 Spiritually Significant Films -- 2020 List

Ordet (1955) Andrei Rublev (1966) The Tree of Life (2011) Babette's Feast (1987) Of Gods and Men (2010) Silence (2016) The Kid With a Bike (2011) Do the Right Thing (1989) Ikiru (1952) Diary of a Country Priest (1951) First Reformed (2017) 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) The Miracle Maker (2000) The Gospel According to St. Matthew (1964) Into Great Silence (2005) The Flowers of St. Francis (1950

Billie (Erskine, 2020)

James Erskine’s Billie is a little gem of a documentary, more oral history than biography. That is arrives streaming this week with little fanfare is mildly surprising but entirely shocking. Even in non-pandemic years, the vagaries of awards campaigns are many. In the documentary field, it is hard for even a well-financed and distributed film to get much attention. But that’s not the whole story. Billie had a festival run, as many documentaries do. Early responses that I read were muted

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The Croods: A New Age (Crawford, 2020)

The Croods: A New Age unfolds like an American football game where a perennial 5-11 team (I’m looking at you, Washington) grabs a first quarter lead. For a short while, fans hold out hope that the familiar patterns will be avoided. By the end, things revert to normal, and one finds oneself thinking of what might have been rather than celebrating what one actually saw. The sorta fresh twist is that the Croods meet the Bettermans, a more…evolved…family that sleep in separate rooms, practice pe

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Crazy, Not Insane (Gibney, 2020)

Alex Gibney is the rare documentarian who usually ends up convincing me regardless of whether or not I start on the same side of his arguments. Taxi to the Dark Side and Going Clear are powerful indictments of the U.S. military presence in Iraq and the Church of Scientology, but one hardly needs to be a latter-day Clarence Darrow to earn my assent about such subjects. In Zero Days, he argues that the Obama administration and Israel were the ultimate authors of the Stuxnet virus — a form of

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The Last Vermeer (Friedkin, 2020)

Like its protagonists, Han Van Meegeren and Joseph Piller, The Last Vermeer is unassuming. Its subject — the looting of European art by the Nazis — was covered more dramatically in Monuments Men and Woman in Gold. Add to that the fact that Van Meegeren was a historical figure, and the outcome of its mystery will be known to many of the viewers from the outset. Was Van Meegeren (Guy Pearce) a collaborator who helped Nazis plunder Dutch cultural treasures, or was he a subversive forger who tr

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Joan of Arc (Dumont, 2019)

Joan of Arc is titled Jeanne in its French release, and for the first thirty seconds or so, I thought I had popped in a screener for Dumont’s 2017 (I-don’t-know-what-else-to-call-it-except-maybe-a-cult-classic) Jeannette: The Childhood of Joan of Arc. It has the same sandy patch of land serving as a location, the same dry cleaned and pressed banners and blue nun’s robes that look so very, very, 15th century, and, of course, the same jarringly anachronistic soundtrack. Joan is a couple years

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Leap of Faith: William Friedkin on The Exorcist (Phillipe, 2019)

Leap of Faith: William Friedkin on The Exorcist is an engaging and interesting film even if you are not a horror aficionado. I’m not a horror fan, but The Exorcist is one of those rare films that transcends its genre. Participating in one distinct thread of the Gothic horror tradition, the film presents supernatural evil as a part of our real world. It doesn’t explain away the supernatural at the end, rather it argues that the world is full of unexplained phenomena. Only in recent centuri

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Hillbilly Elegy (Howard, 2020)

In a video discussion provided to critics with the advanced screener of Hillbilly Elegy, director Ron Howard admitted to having trouble finding the through story in J. D. Vance’s popular memoir. Howard added that he was somewhat skittish about the book’s sociopolitical angle but wanted to film it because the people in it acted like his own extended family. That stance is certainly understandable, but it’s unfortunate because it moves away from the primary reason most people were interested i

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One Night in Miami (King, 2020)

At several moments during Regina King’s One Night in Miami, I found myself thinking the film was working better than I expected. I kept waiting for its rickety structure of dramatic monologues stitched together to collapse, but it never did. “Worked better than it should” is, of course, a critical cliché, and a pretentious one at that. What I mean by it is that I don’t typically appreciate movies where characters are mouthpieces for socio-political arguments and the plot is largely limited

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Babylon Berlin

Although 2020 has seen a limited number of theatrical film releases, it has nevertheless provided cinephiles with many options for DVD and streaming experiences. For fans of Tom Tykwer, Kino Lorber’s new box set of Babylon Berlin is one of the year’s highlights. Seasons 1 and 2 are available now, with a separate set of Season Three discs coming in November. Tykwer’s filmography includes high-energy thrillers like Run Lola Run and The International as well as more somber, pensive fare such as

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Nomadland (Zhao, 2020)

It is admittedly difficult these days to separate the pleasure of having any new movie to watch from the pleasures induced by a particular film. That caveat aside, I could not have asked for a better choice than Chloe Zhao’s Nomadland as my first theatrical film experience in over six months. While theaters in North Carolina just reopened this month, spikes in COVID-19 have discouraged me from heading to them. It has only been with the opening of a new drive-in theater in connection with Cha

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Harry Chapin: When in Doubt, Do Something (Korn, 2020)

The singular thing about Harry Chapin is not that he promoted causes in and through his musical performances but that he managed to do so in a way that endeared rather than alienated him from most listeners. Perhaps that is a consequence of the fact that the cause about which he was most outspoken – world hunger – is viewed as non-partisan. But Chapin still talked about wealth and class disparities with the sort of rhetoric that would most likely receive pushback from some segments of the co

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