The Stanford Prison Experiment (dir. Kyle Patrick Alvarez)
The influential 1971 experiment wherein a groups of students volunteered for a psychological study about behavior, were divided into groups, prisoners and guards, and placed into a mock prison has been studied, discussed at length and even made into two different dramatic films. But even knowing how this story plays out the film is a tense, engaging, provocative and highly relevant political statement without even a whiff of preachiness. But most important it's an example of superb crafty filmmaking. Alvarez channels the cold precision of David Fincher procedurals and a dash of his dry sense of humour. Even if you know where the story is going Alvarez ratchets up the film to sky high levels of tension.
Unexpected (dir. Kris Swanberg)
The highs and lows of pregnancy told through dual stories of a 30-year old teacher (Cobie Smulders) and a 17-year old student (Gail Bean) both of whom received news of their pregnancies unexpectedly. As the nine months go by Smulders and Bean's characters bond over their insecurities and fear and for Smulders in particular the dual journey becomes an extended mentorship of the young student outside the classroom. We're all familiar with movie pregnancies and Swanberg's treatment is refreshingly organic and honest avoiding familiar comic ground already treaded by broader films such as Knocked Up. Unfortunately, the honest and decent approach means a palpable lack of conflict threatens to soften the picture to the point of understated boredom, but the respect for the inherent drama and power of the miracle of life carries us through.
Listen to Me Marlon (dir. Stevan Riley)
The enigmatic life, career and personality of the famed method actor gets the full biography treatment but told with a mesmerizing poetic and languid visual and aural aesthetic. The story of Brando's life is well known, his education in acting from Stella Adler in New York, his early triumphs on stage and screen, his lulls in the 60's, his introduction to Tahiti and his new family in the South Pacific, the triumph of his civil rights causes and the tragedy of the deaths in his family. Riley admirably lays down connective tissues between all of these aspects of his life and career to his enigmatic personality traits. As told through Brando's own self recordings the form even connects to his ruminating self styled performance in Apocalypse Now. The effect is hypnotic, lyrical and ethereal, the best kind of treatment for such an interesting man.