No Country for Old Men
Saturday September 1, 9:25pm
In Joel and Ethan Coen's masterfully tense and arresting drama, a Texan hunter's simple decision – to retrieve money from a botched narcotics transaction – spirals out of control, unleashing a violent pursuit where the hinterland between life and death is reduced to stark moments. Josh Brolin is the obstinate Texan, with Javier Bardem memorably controlled as the assassin who calmly liquidates friend and foe alike and Tommy Lee Jones as the ageing sheriff pursuing answers. The latter two, representing light and dark, illuminate this fine adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's novel, with a spiritual melancholy accompanying the precisely plotted set-pieces.
Saturday September 8, 9:30pm
In co-writer/director Debra Granik's Winter's Bone, an old before her time 17-year-old trying to protect her incapacitated mother and younger siblings, Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence), must discover what happened to her father, a methamphetamine cook, before the family home is lost. She ventures into a hitherto unseen world of violent clans, crippling rural poverty and horrific expectations in the rural Ozarks, proving to be a resilient and brave detective in the face of threats from her own blood. Ree's sombre quest acquires a mythic resonance, and her only ally is the family member she fears most, an uncle who calmly lives in a haze of murderous violence played by John Hawkes.
Saturday September 15, 9:30pm
Turning on notions of cultural identification and addiction, Ryan Fleck's Half Nelson boasts a shuddering, soulful lead performance from Ryan Gosling as Dan Dunne, an inner-city high school teacher in Brooklyn who tries to extend the boundaries of his students' lives while destroying his own through an addiction to crack cocaine. It's a fierce, detailed performance – Gosling never expects sympathy for Dan – and the film illustrates his situation through the watchful Drey (Shareeka Epps), a student who finds herself being enticed towards a life providing people like her teacher with his poison. The death of idealism has rarely been told with such searing intensity.
Saturday September 22, 9:30pm
A fairytale of brutal proportions, Lee Daniels' Precious is the story of an overweight and illiterate Harlem teenager, Claireece or 'Precious' (Gabourey Sidibe), who is both a mother to a baby and sexually abused in turn by her own mother and father. From such horrifying beginnings, Daniels alternates grim realism and bursts of liberating fantasy, with Precious taking the first steps towards freedom and an education with the help of a teacher and social worker (Paula Patton and an almost unrecognisable Mariah Carey respectively). But the performance that endures, like hellfire, is that of comedian Mo'Nique as Precious' mother, Mary. She transcends mere nightmare.