1. Author: The JT LeRoy Story
Laura Albert is a writer, and a liar, and a fraud, and possibly, as people have certainly tried to argue, a sociopath. She’s also a mesmerizing subject for a documentary, which Author: The JT LeRoy Story director Jeff Feuerzeig understands very well. He plunks Albert in front of a backdrop of blown-up text from one of the novels she published under the name JT LeRoy. She then narrates her own tale of acquiring literary fame and a collection of even more famous friends by pretending to be a waifish young West Virginia man whose background included abuse, drug addiction, poverty, and sex work. At the height of LeRoy’s early-’00s fame — with Albert’s sister-in-law Savannah Knoop taking on LeRoy’s in-person appearances — he was swanning around with the likes of Winona Ryder, Billy Corgan, Gus Van Sant, and Bono, many of whom are heard in the film, in the form of the tapes Albert made of all her phone calls.
Author: The JT LeRoy Story is, among other things, an incredible peek at celebrities at their most unguarded, thanks to its queasy sampling of conversations with people who didn’t know they were being recorded. Albert craved the spotlight, craved recognition, and displays an amoral and genuinely genius understanding of stardom as a commodity that’s anointed and spread and can be traded on. She created a character whose tragedies, which for a time also included HIV, were intriguing, even romantic to the audience she pulled in, providing an authenticity and glamour that she — thirtysomething, overweight, a sidekick in her own rise — didn’t think was available to her. Feuerzeig doesn’t ever challenge Albert as she describes LeRoy not as an act of calculation but as something closer to an alternate personality arising within her, revealing a rough background of her own. It’s a risky choice, but by the end of the movie, Albert has woven a defense so enthralling that, whether you buy it or not, will make it difficult to scoff at the gullibility of those who fell for her well-crafted narrative the first time around.
How to see it: Author: The JT LeRoy Story is playing in select theaters around the country — you can find a list of cities here.
Cinematographer Kirsten Johnson works on documentaries — like Gini Reticker’s 2008 look at Liberia’s women’s peace movement, Kirby Dick’s 2012 investigation into sexual assault in the military, Laura Poitras’s Oscar-winning 2014 film centered on Edward Snowden, and dozens more. Cameraperson, Johnson’s remarkable debut as a director, weaves together footage from these shoots and more into a singular meditation on the act of filming and the relationship between the person behind the camera and those in front of it.
An interview framed to obscure the face of someone getting an abortion breaks down so that the audibly weeping subject can be reassured that an unintended pregnancy is just that — not a sign of moral failure. Kids on a Bosnian farm frolic around an axe while Johnson murmurs her concern, wondering if she should intervene. Michael Moore worries over an interview subject potentially getting in trouble for participation in his film. And Johnson’s twins and her late mother, who had Alzheimer’s, join the subjects onscreen, providing a personal angle on the documentation and the power of an image to linger when memory can warp and change. Photography may not be objective, but there’s no arguing its power.
How to see it: Cameraperson is playing in select theaters around the country — you can find a list of cities here.
Demon is a movie about a haunting that’s itself haunted by darkness — its director, Marcin Wrona, killed himself last year, not long after his film had its festival premiere. It was the loss of a promising talent — Demon is a dark, clever movie about possession by a dybbuk, an evil spirit out of Jewish mythology, but it’s also a movie about how the past can’t be buried and ignored, no matter how much more comfortable it may seem to do so. It’s also a movie about a wedding, because who doesn’t like a good, boozed matrimonial celebration with added ghosts?
Israeli actor Itay Tiran plays Piotr, the groom, who’s fallen in love with a Polish woman named Zaneta (Agnieszka Zulewska) and has moved from London to her small hometown, where they plan to get married in the barn next to the family house they’re going to live in. The night before the wedding, Piotr uncovers what look like human bones in the ground, and the next day is…off. His behavior gets more and more erratic as the ceremony escalates into a drunken night and some older attendees start to reminisce about the Jewish neighbors who vanished during the war, the Holocaust emerging as grim history others would prefer to pretend never happened. “The whole country’s built on corpses,” one says dismissively, not realizing that he’s in a horror film, and that there are always consequences to living on top of a burial ground.
How to see it: Demon is playing in select theaters around the country — you can find a list of cities here.
4. The Dressmaker
Kate Winslet taking revenge on her small-minded outback burg using the power of fashion is no longer just a fabulous dream I once had — it’s now a movie. Specifically, The Dressmaker, a comedy-drama from Jocelyn Moorhouse that was a huge hit in its native Australia but which seems prime to bewilder audiences here with its swinging tonal shifts. But Winslet is a pleasure as Tilly Dunnage, who was exiled from her town as a girl after being blamed for the death of the councillor’s son. Now fully grown and possessed of masterful sewing skills from a stint in Paris, Tilly’s determined to care for her mother (Judy Davis) and to have a reckoning with the community of Dungatar, who may or may not be interested in cooperating.
It’s very silly and very satisfying, reminiscent of ’90s Aussie imports like The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and Strictly Ballroom. Liam Hemsworth turns up as Tilly’s suitor Teddy McSwiney, having apparently been given the sole direction to melt panties, which is a plus. But in the end, it’s the images of the dresses that make the movie, gorgeous gowns worn in the middle of dusty, unpaved roads, rural settings no reason not to indulge in a little couture.
How to see it: The Dressmaker is playing in select theaters around the country — you can find a list of cities here.
5. Long Way North
In an age of dazzling computer graphics, seeking out traditional animation like Long Way North can feel like opting for vinyl in a Spotify era. But this French film, directed by Rémi Chayé (who worked on the Oscar-nominated The Secret of Kells), has no snobby pretensions — it’s an old-fashioned adventure movie with a pleasantly strong-willed heroine. Sasha (Christa Théret) is a 15-year-old born into an aristocratic Russian family. Her parents are considering her marriage prospects, while she yearns to track down her explorer grandfather, whose ship was lost on an Arctic voyage. When she uncovers evidence that may indicate where he was headed, she impulsively runs away — a choice the sheltered, coddled Sasha doesn’t make lightly. Her journey brings her to the ends of the earth, but also demands she change and grow.
How to see it: Long Way North is playing in select theaters around the country — you can find a list of cities here.
6. Miss Stevens
Lily Rabe has always been a scene-stealer on American Horror Story, but the wistful dramedy Miss Stevens offers a chance to see her in a quieter mode. And man, is she good. As the title character, a high school English teacher chaperoning three students to a weekend drama contest, Rabe captures a woman struggling mightily to be the responsible adult at a time when personal troubles have her longing for someone else to take charge. Director Julia Hart maintains a delicate tone, as Miss Stevens (first name Rachel) deals with the controlling overachiever Margot (Lili Reinhart), the gay and exploring Sam (YouTube sensation Anthony Quintal), and the talented but troubled Billy (Timothée Chalamet), who gets closer to his teacher than she was prepared for. It’s a miniature marvel set in the always slightly surreal confines of a competitive school circuit, its characters’ miseries and joys playing out in hotel hallways and conference rooms.
How to see it: Miss Stevens is playing in select theaters around the country. It’s also on VOD.