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Under the radar: A South African neo-western, politically charged documentaries and idiosyncratic animation

Under the radar: A South African neo-western, politically charged documentaries and idiosyncratic animation
Vuyo Dabula in the film “Five Fingers for Marseilles.” (Graham Bartholomew / Uncork’d Entertainment)

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

“Five Fingers for Marseilles”: A methodical neo-western that crackles with energy as it wends its way toward an explosive conclusion. Writer Sean Drummond and director Michael Matthews demonstrate both the durability and elasticity of the genre, while creating something stylishly original steeped in the seldom-seen rural and tribal cultures of South Africa. VOD

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“Letter From Masanjia”: What begins as an unusual “message in a bottle” story builds to a powerful tale of human suffering, compassion and perseverance in this documentary directed by Leon Lee. Deserving of a broader audience, the amazing tale of a Chinese political prisoner and the Oregon woman who found his missive hidden in a Halloween decoration is a bracing reminder of our sometimes blindered approach to globalization and the effects of simple actions. VOD

“Moynihan”: This crisp, engaging documentary, directed by Joseph Dorman and Toby Perl Freilich, paints a picture of the dapper, erudite Democrat Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who died in 2003, as a series of dichotomies that merged to create one of the staunchest defenders of the poor that America has ever seen. Coming soon to streaming and DVD

“Ruben Brandt, Collector”: Art, cinema and pop culture references high and low come crashing together in 66-year-old Milorad Krstić’s rollicking animated feature debut. Distinctive filmmaking for grown-ups, this breakneck thriller rewards and delights with multiple viewings. Opens Feb. 22

“Lost Child”: A psychically wounded vet reluctantly bonding with a child may sound like something you’ve seen before, but you haven’t seen this slow-burning thriller directed by Ramaa Mosley. Grounded in a breakout performance by Leven Rambin, the film walks a fine line, balancing elements of psychological drama and the supernatural, with a surging undercurrent of social commentary that sneaks up on you. VOD

More, please: Intelligent, human-guided curation. We are awash in great cinema. Let’s do better in helping audiences find it.

Enough already: Fix the release calendar. It’s an annual complaint, but far too many terrific movies get lost in the fall-holiday glut, and it’s only getting worse. Three of the above titles opened in Los Angeles the same week in September alongside 37 (!?!) other movies. That’s crazy.

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