Ellar Coltrane was observed once a year for 12 years in Richard Linklater's "Boyhood." Credit: IFC Films
Some of the films playing at BAMcinemaFest, like the Amy Poehler-Paul Rudd rom-com parody “They Came Together,” will hit theatrical release soon. Others, like three Les Blank films and the 25th anniversary screening of “Do the Right Thing,” came out long ago. But the rest are a mix between hotly anticipated indies/art house and films that have yet to land a distributor (plus one South Korean big budgeter). Here are nine you should definitely see:
The struggle to find alternative routes towards education is explored in the fly-on-the-wall "Approaching the Elephant." Credit: Amanda Rose Wilder
‘Approaching the Elephant’ A retro fly-on-the-wall documentary right down to the square-shaped B&W (digital) images, Amanda Rose Wilder’s documentary hangs back at New Jersey’s Teddy McArdle Free School to observe the struggle to maintain order at an institution trying to find alternative ways of imparting lessons. The joint is chaotic even before a clash between two students forces the stressed teachers to make hard decisions.
‘Boyhood’ The opening night film, Richard Linklater’s latest may out-gimmick his “Before” saga: it’s a drama about a kid (Ellar Coltrane) shot piecemeal over 12 years. As he goes from frumpy six-year-old to a cynical 18, the movie gains more and more power, snowballing into a sobering comment on time’s rapid passing.
Allison Torem tries to avoid a stalker in "Ellie Lumme." Credit: Ignatiy Vishnevetsky
‘Ellie Lumme’ Only 40 minutes long, film critic Ignatiy Vishnevetsky’s short is an assured study of a 22-year-old woman pursued by a slightly older man. What starts out arch and highly quotable confidently slides into something frightening — a coming-of-age tale where the lesson learned is that, for women more than sometimes casually unhinged men, the world is a particularly unsafe place.
Lena Dunham and Anna Kendrick hang with a kid in Joe Swanberg's "Happy Christmas." Credit: Magnolia Pictures
‘Happy Christmas’ Having “gone electric” (that is, found a tripod, name actors and a clean plot) with last year’s “Drinking Buddies,” longtime “mumblecore” aesthete Joe Swanberg does it again, with Anna Kendrick returning as an irresponsible dumpee who crashes and both destroys and enlivens her brother’s (Swanberg) suburban existence. The improv isn’t always tight, but the performances — especially Melanie Lynskey as a wallflower blooming ever slightly — are better in other ways.
John Gallagher Jr. is on the hunt for love in "The Heart Machine." Credit: Zachary Wigon
‘The Heart Machine’ “The Newsroom”’s John Gallagher Jr. plays a scruffy Bushwickian whose latent sociopathic urges come out when he suspects his Skype girlfriend (Kate Lyn Sheil) from Berlin may actually live in the Village. This is the latest condemnation of how social media is ruining us all, yet it has the clinical tone of a monster movie, getting under the skin through formalism and two tightly wound performances alone.
Rinko Kikuchi is on the hunt for "Fargo" treasure in "Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter." Credit: David Zellner
'Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter' Here's a quirky premise: A shy Japanese woman (Rinko Kikuchi) thinks the hidden loot from the Coen brothers' "Fargo" is real and travels to Minnesota to find it. But filmmakers David and Nathan Zellner treat this with a disarming mix of absurdism and spacey seriousness, following their hero to the far side of her delusions. It’s “Nebraska” as told from Bruce Dern’s side, if Bruce Dern was a young Japanese woman who wants to divorce herself from society.
Tilda Swinton, with granny glasses and fake teeth, lords over "Snowpiercer." Credit: RADiUS_TWC
‘Snowpiercer’ A crazed blockbuster from an alternate dimension (or just South Korea), Bong Joon-ho’s dystopian thriller strands a mostly Western cast (including Captain America himself, Chris Evans, plus Tilda Swinton with false teeth) in a train holding the remainder of humanity, with the poor trying to fight their way to the rich front. Social commentary is rarely this fun, funny or brutal.
Ashley Shelton plays a woman escaping her suburban future in "Something, Anything." Credit: Paul Harrill
‘Something, Anything’ After a miscarriage, a young woman (Ashley Shelton) finds herself cooling on her programmatic suburban life, ditching her douchebag husband, quitting her job, selling her possessions and who knows what else. It’s not clear how far she’ll go, or what she wants, and this gentle, melancholy number uses the language of old melodramas to explore alternative living.
Paul Rudd and Amy Poehler send up rom-com cliches in "They Came Together." Credit: Lionsgate
‘They Came Together’ Most rom-coms are already self-parodies, so the genre hardly needs a lampoon. It got one anyway, and thankfully from "Wet Hot American Summer"'s reliably loopy David Wain. As Amy Poehler and Paul Rudd work through a "You've Got Mail" situation — only with more convict boyfriends and swords — Wain never exactly cuts to the bone. But he definitely brings the funny, even if it never reaches the heights of "Summer"'s day-on-the-town-turned-heroin-jag.