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10 movies you can't miss at this year's "Film Comment Selects"

By
David Ehrlich
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Every February, Film Society of Lincoln Center hands over the reins to the editors of Film Comment, the institution’s storied bimonthly magazine. The 15th edition of the series (which kicks off tonight and runs through March 5) promises to be just as idiosyncratically programmed as ever, mixing an array of eccentric new gems with a seemingly random menu of obscure repertory gold, a tribute to the gloriously cheesy Cannon Films and a retrospective of films by underappreciated Danish master Nils Malmros. Tickets range from $8–$14, but discount packages are available, and $99 nets you an all access pass. Visit the Film Comment Selects site for more information.

Here are our picks for the 10 most exciting titles on the lineup:

Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films It’s a good thing that this year’s opening-night selection is preceded by a cocktail party, because Electric Boogaloo is the perfect film to watch with a slight buzz. A lovingly ridiculous look back at some lovably ridiculous films, Mark Hartley’s doc is a nostalgic oral history about the two wild Israeli producers who made 1980s Hollywood a magical place where anything could happen. Fri 20 at 8:30pm.

Faults Riley Stearns, the man behind “Cub,” one of the best shorts in recent years, is back with his feature debut. A hit at last year’s SXSW, this off-kilter dark comedy follows a mind-control expert as he tries to deprogram a young woman (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) who’s been recently freed from the grip of a religious cult. Mon 23 at 8:30pm.

Fires on the Plain Kon Ichikawa’s 1959 Fires on the Plain certainly seems like a definitive adaptation of Ooka Shohei’s unsparing antiwar novel, but the five decades of fighting that followed suggest that the message didn’t really take. Less of a remake than a new riff on the source material, Shinya Tsukamoto’s version tells the same story: A soldier wanders away from his unit and toward a series of horrifying encounters with the living detritus he finds strewn about the battlefield. But the multitalented Tsukamoto (who produced, wrote, directed, shot, edited and stars in the film) commits to making his take both more colorful and more hollowed by despair. Sat 21 at 5:15pm.

The Fortune There are a few damning reasons why nobody talks about Mike Nichols’s 1975 jazz-era farce, yet as far as midcareer curiosities go, The Fortune has a lot to offer. Chief among its charms is a breakthrough performance by Stockard Channing as a loaded heiress who hits the road with Warren Beatty and Jack Nicholson, the three of them getting into all manner of trouble. Thu 5 at 6:30pm.

Gremlins (Preview Cut) Credit Joe Dante, a veteran of Roger Corman’s B-picture team, for turning this 1984 fantasy-comedy about kids ’n’ cuddly creatures into more than just a Spielberg-lite romp. Rather, it's a unique creature feature that holds up nicely. But there would have to be something special about this screening for it to pass muster with "Film Comment Selects," and indeed there is: They’ll be showing the rare test-preview cut on 35mm, which runs five minutes longer than the theatrical edition and contains two excised scenes of unadulterated Judge Reinhold magic. Sun 22 at 1pm.

It Follows David Robert Mitchell follows his soft and sensitive The Myth of the American Sleepover by perverting that film’s gentle aesthetic into something truly horrifying. Essentially a horror movie about a killer STD, It Follows tweaks an already grim reality, clarifying the paranoia of disease and the loneliness of catching it. Wed 25 at 9:40pm.

Ninja III: The Domination The spirit of an evil ninja possesses an aerobics instructor (!) in this prime slice of ‘80s gouda, which is as pure a distillation of Cannon Films’ greatness as anything they ever churned out. You may never get another chance to see this one on the big screen, so buy a ticket and be ready to laugh. Fri 20 at 10:45pm.

Phoenix After Barbara, the fifth collaboration between director Christian Petzold and actor Nina Hoss, it was undeniably clear that they were one of the world’s most dynamic and exciting filmmaking teams. Phoenix is their sixth and it might be their best. A post-war Vertigo riff with pulpy undertones and a devastating emotional core, the movie follows a disfigured woman (Hoss) as she survives the Holocaust, receives brilliant plastic surgery and returns to the husband who doesn’t recognize her in order to confirm her suspicion that he betrayed her to the Nazis. The unforgettable last scene is worth the price of admission. Sat 28 at 8:30pm.

Spring The elevator pitch for Justin Benson and Aaron Moorehead’s Spring is that it’s “Before Sunrise meets An American Werewolf in London.” What else need be said? Sat 21 at 10:30pm, Sun 22 at 5:45pm.

Tree of Knowledge Arguably the highlight of the "Film Comment Selects" sidebar tribute to Nils Malmros, this rhapsodically autobiographical coming-of-age story from 1981 revisits the director’s junior high school experience as an adolescent in Denmark circa 1950. Don’t be put off by the gravitas of the title and its evocation of Terrence Malick. Tree of Knowledge is a sweet and broadly enjoyable introduction to a filmmaker you’ll be happy to meet. Sat 28 at 3:15pm.

The World of Kanako To make a comparison that’s as helpful as it is reductive, Tetsuya Nakashima is the David Fincher of Japan. An extreme stylist with ice-cold control over his morbid and smirking portraits of his country’s dark psychic interior, Nakashima’s Memories of Matsuko (2006) and Confessions (2010) brought the subversive punk spirit of Nagisa Oshima to the Internet age. The World of Kanako, which follows an ex-cop as he tries to find his missing 17-year-old daughter, might be an uncharacteristically messy step backwards for one of Asian cinema’s most promising auteurs, but it’s still a compelling enough advertisement for his previous work. Thu 5 at 8pm. 

The Yakuza If you’ve never seen a Japanese gangster film, you’ll probably get a kick out of Robert Mitchum and Ken Takakura rampaging throughout the Tokyo underworld. And if you’ve seen them all, you might have even more fun. Sun 22 at 3:15pm.

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