Picks For Feb 23-25, From Oscar Nominees To Film Festivals

by Stranger Things To Do Staff

Before the 89th Academy Awards (and first-time host Jimmy Kimmel) honor the best films of 2016 on Sunday, head to the movies this weekend to see one of our critics' picks. You can catch nominees (noted with * below) like the deep and powerful documentary I Am Not Your Negro or the wordless, animated, Studio Ghibli production The Red Turtle, or avoid the Academy and instead watch picks you can't find anywhere else, like the films featured in the Seattle Asian American Film Festival. Tap on a link below to open a new web browser page with movie times and trailers.


1. Daughters of the Dust
Julie Dash is a black female director, and the fingers on one hand can count all of the major black female directors in the history of American cinema without depletion: Dash, Kasi Lemmons, and Ava DuVernay. Dash, in my opinion, is the most talented of the big three, and I base this opinion on the lyrical greatness of Daughters of the Dust, a film set in a strange time (1902) on a strange island (Georgia's St. Helena Island), and negotiates a strange cultural zone (between black Africa and black America) with a poetry that, though romantic, has anthropological sophistication. Black women are the stars of this work, which has a profoundly (if not surprisingly) American ending. You must watch Daughters because you will not find a film like it anywhere. It's like some rare bird that's not only striking because of its unusual colors but because of the perfection of its form. You must also watch Daughters if you have plans to watch Raul Peck's Oscar-nominated doc, I Am Not Your Negro. CHARLES MUDEDE
Northwest Film Forum

2. Fire at Sea*
Eritrean-Italian filmmaker Gianfranco Rosi shot his fifth documentary, Fire at Sea (Fuocoammare), with such care that it often feels more like a narrative feature than a nonfiction film (Rosi also served as cinematographer and sound man). Then again, there's something alien and strange about the rocky terrain of Lampedusa, an Italian island 70 kilometers from the African coast that has admitted more than 400,000 refugees. Like the Cuban exiles who have sunk beneath the waves while rafting toward the American dream, 15,000 refugees have perished over 20 years while attempting to cross the Strait of Sicily. KATHY FENNESSY
Grand Illusion
*(Oscar Nominee: Documentary Feature)

3. Rings
Cinematic magic tricks rarely benefit from repetition, even when they involve a dead girl crawling out of an appliance. Rings' plot follows a woman (Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz) who becomes concerned when her boyfriend’s Skype transmissions from college start to get a little... funky. Investigating, she stumbles into an underground attempt to reboot the old VHS curse for the #viral #video #generation. Vincent D’Onofrio shows up as a blind priest, which is something that most horror movies could use. Unfortunately, the jump scares and plot twists begin to pile up as things progress, culminating in a remarkably weak justification for further movies down the road. Still, even if there are few surprises for fans of the series, the first half of Rings does locate enough of that uneasy nexus between technology and the supernatural to warrant a matinee. ANDREW WRIGHT
Meridian 16

4. The Room
Tommy Wiseau's (writer/director/producer/lead actor/distributor) PSA about sleeping with your best friend's girl. Best consumed under the influence of something or other.
Central Cinema

5. Take Shelter
Take Shelter sucks you inside the stuttering consciousness of the taciturn, tense Curtis (Michael Shannon), a 35-year-old blue-collar worker in small-town Ohio who starts having some pretty goddamn intense dreams. Writer/director Jeff Nichols has a clever, merciless eye for what'll most effectively poke at and twist an audience; if nothing else, Take Shelter is a convincing trip into the head of someone who may or may not be going insane. In chunks, Curtis's challenges seem manageable; in total, they're devastating. Some distracting CG aside, Nichols renders Curtis's fragmenting life in a way that's jarring, wearying, and heartbreakingly realistic. ERIK HENRIKSEN
Scarecrow Video


6. Akira
This dystopian 1988 cyberpunk classic melds together body horror, moto gangs, telekinesis, and Godzilla-style creature feature in a fever dream of animation and taiko drums.
Central Cinema


7. Manchester by the Sea*
In Manchester, Lee Chandler (Affleck) seems content to shovel walkways and unclog toilets for a living in Boston, until word comes that his older brother Joe (Kyle Chandler, seen in flashbacks) has died of a heart attack. Joe’s will stipulates that he wants Lee to move back to his titular hometown and become Patrick’s guardian. Lee, however, is haunted by past events and resists, with a toddler’s tenacity, every effort by the people around him to help him come to terms. I feel for the guy, and you will too, but after two hours, I wanted to grab him by the collar and tell him to buck up. After all, he’s at least going to get an Oscar nomination out of it. MARC MOHAN
Meridian 16
*(Oscar Nominee: Best Picture, Directing, Original Screenplay, Leading Actor, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress)


8. Captain Fantastic*
In Captain Fantastic, this alternative family has to leave their little compound to attend a funeral, and in the outside world, we get to observe their smug disconnection from society alongside their admirably thoughtful, sustainable, and creative approach to life. Any audience would have a hard time not laughing out loud at the quick, complex jokes—but liberal, thoughtful Seattleites will get an extra kick when they recognize themselves in the characters. The mood shifts constantly, so that at any given moment the family’s lifestyle seems either ideal or like a mild form of child abuse. JULIA RABAN
Scarecrow Video
*(Oscar Nominee: Leading Actor)


9. 20th Century Women*
"We are a generation of men raised by women,” sneered Fight Club’s Tyler Durden. To which Mike Mills would probably reply, “I know! Awesome, right?” Mills’s new movie is called 20th Century Women, and it’s just as much a celebration of female wisdom, power, and complexity as the title suggests. It’s set in 1979 Santa Barbara, and told mostly from the perspective of 15-year-old Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann), who’s being raised by his middle-aged single mom, Dorothea. If that setup makes you worry for a moment that this is another story about women from a male perspective, you’re not alone. But thanks to a ferocious, textured performance from Annette Bening as Dorothea, and Mills’s digressive, empathetic script, the movie works. MARC MOHAN
Guild 45th
*(Oscar Nominee: Original Screenplay)

10. Arrival*
Arrival is an ominous, thrumming, beautiful thing that starts out being about aliens who need a decoder ring. It ends up being about something quite different. Arrival is about Big Things—and the manner in which Villeneuve gets to them, as his camera slowly traces structures and landscapes both familiar and strange, can’t help but surprise and impress. Visually and aurally remarkable, Arrival sometimes unfolds like a clever puzzle and other times like a raw-nerve thriller; throughout, with heart and wit, Heisserer and Villeneuve never lose sight of the film’s characters—creatures in a situation that’s weird and mournful, exciting and threatening. ERIK HENRIKSEN
Meridian 16
*(Oscar Nominee: Best Picture, Directing, Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography, Film Editing, Production Design, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing)

11. A Cure for Wellness
I’m here to tell you that—no matter how it may first appear—A Cure for Wellness is not a horror movie. Don’t get me wrong—the synopsis certainly makes it seem like one! Callow young stockbroker Lockhart (Dane DeHaan) is dispatched on an errand by his employers to a mysterious geriatric clinic in an extremely sinister Swiss castle. Said clinic is run by an unsettlingly European doctor (Jason Isaacs), who also may or may not be a Dracula. As one might expect, bad things happen. But as one might not expect, each of A Cure for Wellness’ apparently disparate components—stockbroker, old people, Dracula castle—is given equal attention. So yes, maybe there are hundreds of creepy eels lurking beneath the surface of the clinic’s pond. But there are also a lot of water-aerobics scenes. BEN COLEMAN
Meridian 16, Pacific Place, & Sundance Cinemas

12. Get Out
Get Out is a feature-length version of the not-quite-joking sentiment among African Americans that the suburbs, with their overwhelming whiteness and cultural homogeneity, are eerie twilight zones for Black people. Far from being a one-joke movie, however, Jordan Peele’s directorial debut is both a clever, consistently funny racial satire and a horror film, one that mocks white liberal cluelessness and finds humor in—but doesn’t dismiss—Black people’s fears. ERIC D. SNIDER
Various locations

13. Hidden Figures*
The function of white ideology is to place the blame of black poverty on black people themselves. They are not smart enough, they are lazy, they are like children—therefore they live in the projects, they are on welfare, they perform poorly academically. But the golden bowl of this logic gets a crack whenever a person or an event makes the truth visible: Blacks are as stupid or as smart as any other group of people. This is why a movie like Hidden Figures is so important—a film about a black mathematician, Katherine Johnson (played by Taraji P. Henson), who worked for NASA and participated in its key projects in the 1960s. The mathematician was also a woman, and so she challenged not only white ideology but also male ideology. She had to be hidden twice. The movie also stars Janelle Monáe, who made her mark in the best movie of 2016, Moonlight. CHARLES MUDEDE
Various locations
*(Oscar Nominee: Best Picture, Adapted Screenplay, Supporting Actress)

14. I Am Not Your Negro*
Sixteen years after Lumumba, Raoul Peck, who is Haitian, has directed I Am Not Your Negro, a documentary about one of the greatest writers of 20th-century America, James Baldwin. Now, it's easy to make a great film about Baldwin, because, like Muhammad Ali, there's tons of cool footage of his public and private moments, and, also like Ali, he had a fascinating face: the odd shape of his head, the triangle of hair that defined his forehead, and his froggy eyes. Just show him doing his thing and your film will do just fine. But Peck blended footage of Baldwin with dusky and dreamy images of contemporary America. These images say: Ain't a damn thing changed from the days of Baldwin and the Civil Rights Movement. But they say this with a very deep insight about the nature of time. CHARLES MUDEDE
Ark Lodge Cinema, SIFF Cinema Uptown, & Sundance Cinemas
*(Oscar Nominee: Documentary Feature)

15. John Wick Chapter 2
As with the first John Wick, each action sequence—and there are a lot of them—aims to entertain, surprise, and deliver the sort of thrill that can only come from a hyper-stylized, perfectly orchestrated shoot-out. Or car chase. Or fistfight. Even if it doesn’t have the freshness of the original, Chapter 2 offers plenty: It never stops being Looney Tunes funny, but it’s also baroque, dark, and weird, moving at a burning-rubber pace. John Wick: Chapter 2 does not disappoint, and it’s a welcome reminder of how fun and exciting a well-crafted action movie can be. If Buster Keaton were alive today and saw John Wick in action... well, he’d probably be disgusted and horrified at how violent movies are now. But once he got over that, he'd probably clap pretty hard. ERIK HENRIKSEN
Pacific Place, Meridian 16 & Sundance Cinemas

16. La La Land*
You guys, I LOVED La La Land, and you will too. Don’t be afraid of it just because it’s a musical about a struggling actress (Emma Stone) and a pretentious jazz musician (Ryan Gosling) who meet and fall in love and sing and dance in a romanticized, cartoony LA. Yeah, it’s splashy and grandiose and full of hazy violet Southern California sunsets, but its emotional core is genuine. Take it from shriveled-hearted me, the Unearned Sentiment Police: La La Land is a grand, over-the-top, razzly-dazzly love story that won’t make you puke one bit. It might even help you forget the horrors of reality, however momentarily—and after the year we’ve had, that practically makes La La Land a public service. MEGAN BURBANK
Various locations
*(Oscar Nominee: Best Picture, Directing, Original Screenplay, Leading Actress, Leading Actor, Original Score, Cinematography, Film Editing, Production Design, Costume Design, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing)

17. The LEGO Batman Movie
Let's start with the good: There’s finally a Batman movie you can take the kids to! The Lego Batman Movie follows up 2014’s surprisingly wonderful The Lego Movie by focusing on that cinematic universe’s version of Batman, a growling, too-cool-for-school badass voiced by Will Arnett. With a blend of computer animation and actual Lego bricks, the dizzying Lego Batman bursts at the edges of the screen. Now for the bad: The Lego Batman Movie may be geared a little too much toward kids. Sure, there are plenty of wisecracks and throwaway gags for eagle-eyed grownups and Batman nuts, but the movie grinds to a halt several times so Batman can learn A Very Important Life Lesson. For a movie that contains this much pure silliness, it’s too bad it thinks it needs to talk down to kids. NED LANNAMANN
Various locations

18. Lion*
Based on Saroo Brierley’s memoir A Long Way Home, the film, an inspiring drama that earns tears without jerking them, begins with five-year-old Saroo (played by a bouncing ball of energy named Sunny Pawar) becoming separated from his mother and brother and ending up a thousand miles away in Calcutta. Saroo’s path may be unclear, but Lion’s isn’t: Like the train that took him away in the first place, the film moves steadily toward its tearful destination, propelled by sincere performances and Volker Bertelmann and Dustin O’Halloran’s gently urgent musical score. Kidman shows great tenderness as the adoptive mother, underscoring the theme of “family” not being limited by biology, and Patel is serious-minded and haunted. But it’s little dynamo Sunny Pawar that you’ll remember best, his infectious cheery optimism encapsulating the film’s hopeful tone. ERIC D. SNIDER
Sundance Cinemas, Meridian 16, & Admiral
*(Oscar Nominee: Best Picture, Adapted Screenplay, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress, Original Score, Cinematography)

19. Moonlight*
Moonlight is a film that has all of the major film critics in the country singing the loudest praises, and is already breaking box-office records, and happens to be a coming-of-age tale of a black American male. But I want to make this clear: The director of Moonlight, Barry Jenkins, did not come out of nowhere. He also directed and wrote one of the best films of the previous decade, Medicine for Melancholy (2008). The wonder is that it took him so long to make his second feature, which will most likely make a big splash at the next Oscars. Expect Jenkins to be one of the few black Americans to win the award for best director. CHARLES MUDEDE
Meridian 16 & Sundance Cinemas
*(Oscar Nominee: Best Picture, Directing, Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography, Supporting Actress, Supporting Actor, Original Score, Film Editing)

20. 2017 Oscar Nominated Shorts*
Prepare for the Academy Awards this Sunday by watching short films nominated in three categories. SIFF Cinema Uptown and Guild 45th will play the animated and live action nominees, and (on Thursday only) Sundance Cinemas will play the documentary nominees.
Various locations
*(Oscar Nominees: Animated, Live Action, and Documentary Shorts)

21. The Red Turtle*
The Red Turtle is a simple, wordless fable, drawn in a style that mixes character design straight from Tintin creator Hergé and landscapes reminiscent of the 19th-century woodcut artist Hokusai. The main character—a sort of Robinson Crusoe-meets-Sisyphus type—washes up on the shore of a deserted island in the opening scene, and struggles to survive and escape thereafter. Each time he manages to construct a big enough raft from the local flora, though, it’s smashed to pieces by an unseen force before he can get too far out to sea. That force turns out to be the titular turtle, which, in turn, is revealed to be much more than a mere meddling reptile. To give more away would spoil the story’s magic, but The Red Turtle eventually becomes a decades-spanning saga with poignant things to say about life, love, family, and death. MARC MOHAN
Sundance Cinemas
*(Oscar Nominee: Animated Feature Film)

22. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story*
This is one of the darkest films in the Star Wars series. In Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, the theology of that faraway galaxy with its Force takes a backseat, and the troubled soul of the rebellion is at the controls. The Empire is not a joke. Its economic and military power is immense, and the power of its uniformity is almost unstoppable. To challenge it, you need more than just the Force. A rebel must, above all, feel that the realization of the ideal future—here in the form of a harmonious, heterogeneous galactic society—far surpasses (1) the evils of war and (2) the self. If you miss this point, the sacrifices of a revolution, then you will not understand the greatness of Rogue One. CHARLES MUDEDE
Pacific Place
*(Oscar Nominee: Sound Mixing, Visual Effects)

23. Seattle Asian American Film Festival
The SAAFF will screen fictional and documentary stories of Asian American journeys, families, artistic innovations, and more—plus music videos and shorts, some of which are free to see. Help them begin with a bang at their opening night party, which will follow a screening of a documentary on Chinatown-ID food (A Taste of Home) and fill up SIFF Cinema Egyptian with live music and food. Other highlights: LBGTQ shorts, a 15-year anniversary screening of Justin Lin's Better Luck Tomorrow, a documentary on the painter Tyrus Wong who died last year at 106, and more. Get your season pass here. See our festival guide here.
Various locations

24. Toni Erdmann*
Toni Erdmann, the character, is a death clown, a life coach, and a big, hairy Bulgarian monster. Toni Erdmann, the Oscar-nominated film from German filmmaker Maren Ade, is a farce, a tearjerker, and a bonkers take on globalization and its discontents. It begins with a shaggy German music teacher, Winfried (Austrian theater vet Peter Simonischek, soulful and impish), who likes to play practical jokes no one appreciates. When his daughter, Ines (the wondrous Sandra Hüller), drops by for a short visit, she spends most of the time making work calls. Later, Winfried decides to visit Ines in Bucharest where his attempts to make her laugh—involving a set of false teeth and a cheese grater—fall flat, so he reemerges as Toni Erdmann, a goofy gent who pops up at the most inopportune times. If the 162-minute film threatens to wear out its welcome, director Ade brings everything home with a humanist's light, loving touch. KATHY FENNESSY
SIFF Cinema Uptown
*(Oscar Nominee: Foreign Language Film, Germany)

25. A United Kingdom
What made Botswana a success and its next-door neighbor Zimbabwe a complete disaster? A part of the answer can be found in the new and excellent movie A United Kingdom, directed by one of the few working black female directors in the world, Amma Asante. The film is about the founder of modern Botswana, Seretse Khama, played by David Oyelowo (Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma). Though Kingdom's plot is centered on how Khama, a black African aristocrat, met, romanced, and married a middle-class British white woman, Ruth Williams (Rosamund Pike), it also shows how their interracial relationship was a diplomatic mess for the UK government, which still had close economic and political ties with a country, South Africa, that made racial separation (apartheid) official around the time the Khama/Williams romance began (the late 1940s). CHARLES MUDEDE
Guild 45th & Pacific Place

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