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Under the radar: The NYPL, indie grit and women filmmakers

Milstein Reading Room at the New York Public Library from Frederick Wiseman’s film, “EX LIBRIS - Th
The Milstein Reading Room at the New York Public Library from the documentary “Ex Libris: The New York Public Library.”
(Zipporah Films)

Our annual compilation of overlooked films. Each reviewer chose five films to highlight.

“Ex Libris: The New York Public Library”: Our greatest living filmmaker – never mind just documentarian — is Frederick Wiseman, so for him a subject like New York’s Public Library is about how we continue processing the world. It’s people with tools extending civilization, passing on knowledge, however they can. Humane, fascinating, and beautifully resonant.

“Good Time”: This nerve-jangling New York crime movie is like a great boxer: out-of-nowhere jabs, fleet, colorful, and a tad crazy. Robert Pattinson erased whatever “Twilight” crumbs were left in him, playing an ambitious low-life for indie kings the Safdie Brothers, but the whole tilt-a-whirl around him thrills too.

“Beach Rats”: Eliza Hittman followed up her acclaimed adolescent drama “It Felt Like Love” with this sensitive, attuned, emotionally suspenseful character study of a closeted Brooklyn teen (a magnetic Harris Dickinson) hiding in a pack of muscled delinquents. Universe, let Hittman make whatever she wants.

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“Harmonium”: As the cracks widen in this patiently fracturing family tragedy, triggered by a mysterious stranger’s visit, Japanese director Koji Fukada turns everything into tension: meals, strolls, a getaway, a friendly chat. The stifled air of secrets, faith and hidden passion paints an unforgettable picture of domestic discontent.

“Strong Island”: In the realm of personal documentary, Yance Ford’s re-examination of his brother’s shooting death 25 years ago outside a Long Island auto repair shop sets a high bar. Stylistically composed but bone-deep about issues of regret, injustice, race, and the reclamation of a family member’s life, it’s a quietly harrowing journey.

Movie review: “Beachrats”
Harris Dickinson, center, in the film “Beach Rats” by Eliza Hittman.
(Tayarisha Poe / Sundance Institute / TNS )

Yes, please: Female filmmakers. Women calling the shots on movies. Not-men behind the camera. (How else can I say this?) Movie-loving girls in cinema houses everywhere, seeing names like theirs after “Directed by,” and getting inspired.

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No more: Biopic filmmakers, how about refraining from real footage of your subject over the closing credits — for the actors who worked so hard to suspend disbelief, it’s like a bubble bursting. Let their portrayals be what audiences walk away remembering.

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