20th Century Women (2016)
Written & Directed by Mike Mills
Jamie is fifteen years old in 1979, living in a crumbling manor in Santa Barbara with his older mother, Dorothea. Residing as renters in Dorothea’s large home are Abbie, a twentysomething photographer & cervical cancer survivor and William, a carpenter/mechanic who is helping renovate the house. Jamie is desperately in love with his long-time best friend Julie, who refuses to have sex with him because she believes it would ruin their friendship. Dorothea becomes increasingly convinced that the generation gap is so vast that she cannot connect with Jamie any longer and solicits the help of Abbie and Julie in raising him into being a good man. What follows is a series of episodes where Jamie begins to develop a better understanding of women and what kind of man he wants to be. Dorothea also begins to learn about how differently women are defined in the late 1970s, considering herself a Bohemian but learning how much more open and progressive times have become.
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First Reformed (2017)
Written & Directed by Paul Schrader
Reverend Ernst Toller is dying. He doesn’t know what is killing him yet, but he knows he only has a short time to live. He is the head of The First Reformed Church in upstate New York, which has become a tourist attraction because of its pre-Revolutionary construction and role in the Underground Railroad. The only thing keeping First Reformed afloat is the megachurch Abundant Life, headed by Pastor Jeffers. After a service, Toller is approached by Mary, a young pregnant woman who is worried about her husband, Michael. Michael is a radical environmentalist who is falling into darkness over what he sees is the inevitable destruction of the planet. Toller is spun into a crisis of faith after speaking with Michael, trying to grapple with the actions of the system that keeps his church operating and what is being done to God’s creation.
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American Honey (2016)
Written & Directed by Andrea Arnold
Star lives in the sunburnt concrete dregs of Oklahoma, taking care of two children (not her own) while seeking something more from her life. She crosses paths with a crew of teenagers selling magazines door to door across the south and midwest and decides to join them. It’s not the job opportunity that lures Star rather her immediate attraction to Jake, one of the young men in the group. Star eventually meets Krystal, the slightly older woman in charge of the sales group. She pairs Star with Jake to learn the trade, and this affords the two an opportunity to develop their relationship further. However, Star finds this lifestyle increasingly empty and seeks another new path.
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Heaven Knows What (2014)
Written by Arielle Holmes, Josh Safdie & Ronald Bronstein
Directed by Benny & Josh Safdie
Harley has sunk deep into the heroin junkie community of New York City. Almost worse than her drug addiction is her obsession with the sadistic Ilya, a fellow homeless user that continually antagonizes and abuses Harley. In the opening scene of the film, her emotional overload leads Harley to slit her wrists in the middle of a park. After a few days in a psychiatric hospital, she wanders through life clinging to different destructive men who fail to help her escape this addiction. The rest of the film is a descent into the nightmare world of heroin addiction, a hazy exodus of repetition and remaining in stasis.
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Eighth Grade (2018)
Written & Directed by Bo Burnham
It’s the last week of eighth grade for Kayla, and this whole middle school experience has not worked out how she imagined it would. She’s voted most quiet, has no real close friends, and gets awkwardly invited to a pool party where she’s not wanted. When Kayla is alone in her bedroom, she records videos for her YouTube channel on topics like “Being yourself” and “Putting yourself out there,” creating a super confident persona that profoundly contrasts to what she is like in real life. Kayla’s dad has given her space to explore and figure out who she is, but this young woman is having a genuine crisis of confidence on the precipice of high school. She’s afraid that the bright, happy, gregarious person she wants so badly to be is ending up just a fantasy that she can never fulfill.
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Sea of Trees (2016)
Written by Chris Sparling
Directed by Gus Van Sant
Arthur Brennan is a distraught man who books a one-way ticket to Japan and finds himself about to commit suicide in the beautiful and notorious Aokigahara or Sea of Trees. He is stopped in the middle of his act by Takumi, a Japanese man who stumbles through the forest, bruised and bloodied, saying he is trying to find a way out. Arthur can’t stomach letting this man wander until he dies and decides to lead him to the path before returning to his original intent in the woods. However, the track isn’t where Arthur remembers it, and he and Takumi get lost deeper and deeper into the Sea of Trees.
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Morris From America (2016)
Written & Directed by Chad Hartigan
13-year-old Morris is an African-American young man living in Germany. His dad is a soccer coach, former player, and his mom passed away a few years prior. Morris did not grow up in Germany, and he is having trouble adjusting to the different culture. His Germany teacher, Inka, suggests he spend time at a community center practicing his language skills and meeting kids his age. Morris reluctantly agrees and immediately becomes infatuated with Katrin, an older girl who teasingly befriends him. Morris doesn’t seem to be meshing with the culture around him, despite his best efforts to explore and absorb. His father also struggles in determining where the line between discipline and freedom lies for his son.
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