“2015 Oscar Shorts — Animated”: CGI takes a back seat for once


The “2015 Oscar Shorts — Animated” program is now playing at Sundance Cinemas. Not rated, 1:30, three stars out of four. 

Traditional hand-drawn animation may be on its last legs as far as feature films go, as the Studio Ghibli documentary “Kingdom of Dreams and Madness” seemed to suggest. But in the animated short, working with pen and paint seems to be seeing a resurgence.

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“2015 Oscar Shorts — Live Action”: Think globally, act briefly


The “2015 Oscar Shorts — Live Action” open Friday at Sundance Cinemas. Not rated, 1 hour 30 minutes. Three stars out of four. I’ll be doing a post show chat at Sundance after the 7 p.m. show on Tuesday, Feb. 3.

Of the three short-film categories at the Oscars, I always find the live action shorts hardest to predict. Do you pick the one you like best, or the one that you think Academy voters would warm to? Do you pick the one that’s most like a traditional Hollywood movie, or least like it? Funny, or serious?

From Belfast to Tibet, from London to Israel, the five short films nominated this year for an Academy Award for Best Live-Action Short are a mixed bag both geographically and dramatically. All five are now playing at Sundance (along the animation and documentary shorts), so you can decide for yourself.

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Sundance Film Festival: Three’s a crowd in the post-apocalyptic “Z for Zachariah”


What if you were the last man on earth?

Okay, now what if you were the second-to-last man on earth?

Craig Zobel’s “Z for Zachariah” is a fascinating film that I guess should be called science fiction, although there’s nothing futuristic, or even scientific, really, about it. Maybe the better term is “speculative fiction,” because it invites the viewer to speculate how they would react in a similar, extreme circumstance. What would I do? Who would I be?

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Sundance Film Festival: Education documentary “Most Likely To Succeed” doesn’t show its work


As a documentary about life in an alternative charter school in San Diego called High Tech High, Greg Whiteley’s documentary “Most Likely To Succeed” is fun and engaging. As a documentary about how America needs to talk about reinventing its education system to meet the demands of the 21st-century economy, it raises interesting points.

But when it suggests that state and federal governments shouldn’t be setting education standards? Show your work, movie.

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Sundance Film Festival: In “Digging For Fire,” some things in a marriage should stay buried


Why isn’t Joe Swanberg doing a TV show? I say this without intending the slightest dis whatsoever. Swanberg’s improv-heavy, character-driven stories, done quickly, seem to be perfect for the new Golden Age of television. I would so watch “Drinking Buddies” every Sunday night on Showtime.

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Sundance Film Festival: When Irish eyes are crying in poignant “Brooklyn”


“Brooklyn” is not what one would term a “Sundance movie” by any stretch of the imagination. It’s a good-looking historical drama based on a well-regarded novel by Colm Toibin, adapted by Nick Hornby, and featuring a terrific cast and strong production values. There isn’t a speck of millennial angst in the film.

But it is a wonderful film, and if it expands the definition of a Sundance movie, so be. So moving and keenly perceptive about life, faithful to its time in details but contemporary in its feelings, “Brooklyn” is a movie that should make a big splash once it leaves Park City. I was describing it later in the day to someone who hadn’t seen it. And I gave HER chills.

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Sundance Film Festival: A British soldier stuck deep in IRA territory in taut “71”


The tense thriller “71” is basically “Judgment Night” in Belfast, and I mean that as a mostly good thing.
While it’s set in Belfast at the height of the “Troubles” between Catholic and Protestants, Yann DeMange’s film most backgrounds the politics in favor of suspense, you-are-there verisimilitude and strong characterizations. Rather than take sides, the film presents Northern Ireland as a place where nobody’s hands are clean, and the most a good person can hope to do is survive.

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Sundance Film Festival: “Tig” shows that God doesn’t give us any more stand-up material than we can handle

Planned Parenthood Federation Of America's 2014 Gala Awards Dinner

I expected the documentary “Tig” to be a well-deserved victory lap for comedian Tig Notaro. Notaro famously took a barrage of personal tragedy (a debilitating digestive illness, the death of her mother, and breast cancer) and turned it into a historic live comedy show at Los Angeles’ Largo nightclub.

But “Tig” is much more honest and revealing than that. A 25-minute stand-up set did not solve all her problems, and though she is in complete remission thanks to a double mastectomy, there’s still a life to be lived for Notaro, in all its ups and downs.

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Sundance Film Festival: Fall down the rabbit hole of Guy Maddin’s “The Forbidden Room”


Can’t get into too many movies at this year’s Sundance Film Festival? Make time for Guy Maddin’s latest film, the wonderfully dense and strange “The Forbidden Room.” It’s like 20 movies in one, all put one inside the other like a series of Russian nesting dolls — dolls that have been binge-watching Turner Classic Movies all winter.

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