an education

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The Basics:  An Oxford-bound schoolgirl comes of age in the arms of a charming con artist.

The Bottom Line:  Written by Nick Hornby (if you don’t know who that is, get to loving him pronto), this was Carey Mulligan’s first [luminous] star-making turn.  Based on the young life of a British journalist, the swirling, sweeping sensation of lovestruck ignorance gives way to a very wise, understandably shocked woman.

Rating:  8 (of 10).

a simple plan

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The Basics:  Three simple, hard working men discover ill-gotten treasure and sink into greedy corruption.

The Bottom Line:  The Minnesota winter and plot conventions make this feel like a Coen Brothers film – actually, most like the excellent Fargo TV series - and it’s hard not to wonder what it would be in their hands.  The opening credits and shooting style are painfully dated, but the story is solid and discomforting.

Pointlessness laps over the proceedings, echoing the sentiment humans can be foul creatures.

Rating:  7 (of 10).

life itself

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The Basics:  A touching document of Roger Ebert’s life and impact.

The Bottom Line:  I spent a lot of Saturday mornings with Roger, and from that standpoint there was no way I’d get through this without bawling.  Parts are immensely uncomfortable – particularly, the unflinching on-screen medical interventions – but moreover, I was hit by an overwhelming sense I’m missing a friend.  A beautiful, sentimental tribute and an outstanding story.

Rating:  9 (of 10).

bowling for columbine

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The Basics:  Michael Moore won the Academy Award for his look into gun violence in America.

The Bottom Line:  I’d seen (and enjoyed) this so long ago I felt the need to revisit it as the points it made were slipping from my memory.  It’s still as potent, funny, head-scratching and heart-rending as it was directly post-9/11.  Sadly, Moore’s persona (and Oscar speech) overpower some of its legacy and conspire for some backlash – its points inspire reflection that desperately needs to continue.

Rating:  8 (of 10).

drew: the man behind the poster

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The Basics:  The artist behind the most iconic movie posters (and album covers) of our era is the subject of this touching, insightful documentary.

The Bottom Line:  Also streaming on Netflix (you can tell I’m on a doc kick), it’s thrilling to see the progression of work that keeps our favorite movies alive.  Seriously:

If you can’t see the lasting works of this humble man and be touched – or at least get choked up at the fond memories of Jim Henson – you must not have the same cultural touchstones as many of us.

Rating:  8 (of 10).

the thin blue line

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The Basics:  1998 Errol Morris documentary about a prisoner wrongly accused of murder.

The Bottom Line:  Often cited as one of the must-see documentaries of all time, The Thin Blue Line also has the benefit of streaming on Netflix so it’s an excellent time to see it.  It’s almost more important for the conversation it inspires.  To quote Randall Dale Adams, who was later released, “The fact that it took 12 and a half years and a movie to prove my innocence should scare the hell out of everyone in this room and, if it doesn’t, then that scares the hell out of me.”

Rating:  8 (of 10).

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