Vier Minuten

Two women, one piano.

Set in a dreary prison, this transcendent tale pits a tightly-wound taskmaster against a convicted murder with serious anger issues.

Making an auspicious debut, Hannah Herzsprung blisters as the battered prisoner, a woman whose tentative connection with her teacher is built on a mutual loathing of everyone else.

I dig the film’s refusal to slip into a maudlin story of a “bad” girl changed by the power of music, and an uptight teacher mellowing.

Two hours aren’t enough time for all wounds to heal, and there are no fake happy endings.

But there is hope.

Married Life

Alfred Hitchcock would approve.

I think the Master of Suspense would have enjoyed this stylish, ’40s-set tale of marital strife and possible homicide.

Subtle, intriguing work, nailed by a first-rate cast, it keeps us guessing where it’s going, before surprising us more than once along the twisted path it walks.

You get a love triangle with best friends Chris Cooper and Pierce Brosnan both pursuing a radiant Rachel McAdams, double-crosses galore, and impeccably-handled back-stabbings, all done with a real sense of style.

Deft and delightful, it pays tribute to old-school thrillers while also staking out its own ground.

How refreshing.

The Heart of the Game

The female Hoop Dreams.

That’s the quickest way to describe this powerful doc, but it can more than stand on its own merits.

Following the Seattle-based Roosevelt High School girls basketball squad over the course of six years, it has everything filmmakers want.

A scrappy coach with unconventional ways, who shakes everyone up.

A star player chasing athletic success while dealing with real-world issues.

And, of course, a long-gestating bid for state title glory.

Like the other basketball film referenced above, this will endure as a bittersweet ode to the extreme highs and lows to be found in prep sports.

Kickin’ it Old Skool

Live your dream.

Even if it means coming out of a 20-year coma and thinking you can recapture your ’80s breakdancing glory.

There are two ways to look at this mostly-forgotten 2007 comedy.

One, it’s stupid times twenty. Or, two, it’s stupid times twenty, but in a really-endearing way.

I choose the latter, embracing the often-lovable goofiness in what is essentially a time-travel story.

The film, like its lead actor, Jamie Kennedy, just wants to be loved and works hard for our approval.

Plus, Maria Menounos is a freakin’ ray of sunshine in whatever she does, so there’s that, too.

 

Mulan (2020)

No Mushu, no biggie.

While Eddie Murphy’s fast-talking mini-dragon rules the animated version, this live-action remake is much more in the vein of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

Director Niki Caro unleashes all the stunt people Disney’s money can buy, with action scenes galore, both epic and intimate.

Every frame pops with color in one of the best-looking films of 2020, with lead actress Liu Yifei delivering nicely-understated work opposite a who’s-who of genre stars ranging from Gong Li to Jet Li.

I’m not generally a huge fan of the House of Mouse remaking all their films, but this one has zing.