Four-star reviews by the Globe

A scene from the 2015 documentary film IN JACKSON HEIGHTS, directed by Frederick Wiseman.

Courtesy of Zipporah Films

“In Jackson Heights” by Frederick Wiseman

Films given four-star reviews by Globe critics Ty Burr, Janice Page, and Peter Keough and the former Globe critic Wesley Morris since 2012.


In ‘Jackson Heights,’ Wiseman finds models of diversity and greed

In Jackson Heights Fredrick Wiseman has now made 40 documentaries, all alike in their detached lucidity and acute observation, all different in their details, unforgettable faces, and insights into the dynamics of groups. Here he looks at Jackson Heights, Queens, a model of cultural diversity, now threatened by corporate greed. In English, Spanish, Arabic, and Hindi, with subtitles. — Peter Keough

Superb ‘Spotlight’ tells the story of journalists who investigated clergy sex abuse scandal

One of the reasons that “Spotlight” is so deeply, absurdly satisfying is that it doesn’t turn journalists into heroes. It just lets them do their jobs, as tedious and critical as those are, with a realism that grips an audience almost in spite of itself. — Ty Burr

‘Room’ addresses trauma and wonderment


Room Actress Brie Larson comes into her own as a mother rearing her son (the translucent Jacob Tremblay) in captivity and then freedom. It sounds grueling, but the movie’s beautiful in the playing, touching on the mysteries of perception and the most primal of human bonds. Directed by Lenny Abrahamson and adapted by Emma Donoghue from her novel. With Joan Allen. — Ty Burr

The devil at the door is Michael Shannon in ‘99 Homes’

In Ramin Bahrani’s quietly blistering drama, Michael Shannon plays a Florida real estate operator specializing in home evictions and house flips; he’s the embodiment of evil and you can’t take your eyes off him. Andrew Garfield plays a young working-class dad seduced into Shannon’s orbit, and the movie plays out as a taut, damning moral thriller. — Ty Burr

Zhang Yimou returns to top form in ‘Coming Home’

Zhang Yimou, one of the world’s great directors, returns to form in this emotionally and metaphorically rich melodrama. The inimitable Gong Li plays a woman who waits for her husband to return from prison. But an injury has made her amnesiac, so that when he returns she doesn’t recognize him. — Peter Keough

Exploring lust and love in ‘The Diary of a Teenage Girl’

A raunchy, wrenching, funny, and moving coming of age story, adapted from comic artist Phoebe Gloeckner’s 2002 graphic novel of the same name and starring British actress Bel Powley in a breakout performance as a randy 15-year-old in 1976 San Francisco. First-time writer-director Marielle Heller doesn’t put a foot wrong. — Ty Burr

‘Listen to Me Marlon’

British filmmaker Stevan Riley has availed himself of hours of private audio recordings made by Marlon Brando over the course of his life, and he has edited these together with films clips, news reports, archival footage, and the occasional random image. The result is something that feels fresh, even revelatory — a work of elegiac bio-doc impressionism. “Listen to Me Marlon” gets under the skin of the most mysterious performer of the 20th century and forces us to recalibrate all our feelings about him. — Ty Burr

Love, optimism, and aspiration in ‘The World of Apu’

In each Apu film, love, optimism, and aspiration vie against a world that ultimately takes all those things away. In each film, trains represent a means to escape the inevitability of loss, appearing at times in images of astonishing beauty. In the final scene of this last film, the train has shrunken into an abandoned child’s toy, and Apu can at last enter the world. So does Satyajit Ray, as one of the greats of world cinema. — Peter Keough

Mad Max: Fury Road

“Mad Max: Fury Road” isn’t a reboot, it’s a power-up — an outrageously kinetic, visually inventive, dramatically satisfying demolition derby that pits the matriarchy against the patriarchy while standing as the action film to beat for the rest of the summer, possibly the decade. It may be the best thing Miller has ever done. — Ty Burr

Tom Hardy in the 2015 film MAD MAX: FURY ROAD, directed by George Miller. 15Max

Jasin Boland/Warner Bros. Pictures

Tom Hardy in “Mad Max: Fury Road”


A tough, heart-stoppingly beautiful drama about teenage girls in the high-rise slums of Paris.

Goodbye to Language

Giving Jean-Luc Godard a 3-D camera is like sitting Pablo Picasso down in front of a computer running Photoshop: Whatever happens, it’ll be way outside the box.


Of course a Russian Orthodox blogger has called “Leviathan” a “filthy libel”; of course the country’s Minister of Culture, Vladimir Medinsky, detests the movie and has called for new state guidelines to ban films that “defile” Russia and her culture. Actually, that may be the best way to praise [Andrey] Zvyagintsev’s achievement. “Leviathan” is a magnificent defilement, a movie that takes down what it loves with mournful outrage and novelistic sweep. — Ty Burr

‘Two Days, One Night’

This is a small, compassionate gem of a movie, one that’s rooted in details of people and place but that keeps opening up onto the universal. The directors are the Dardenne brothers, Jean-Pierre and Luc, who habitually film in their hometown of Liège, among the underclass and the marginalized, yet whose movies are entirely free of cant. They specialize in the drama of the ordinary, and they impart to their characters a dignity that often eludes them in life. — Ty Burr

Fabrizio Rongione and Marion Cotillard in the 2014 Belgian film TWO DAYS, ONE NIGHT, directed by Luc Dardenne and Jean-Pierre Dardenne. Copyright Christine Plenus. A Sundance Selects release.

Sundance Selects

Fabrizio Rongione and Marion Cotillard in “Two Days, One Night.”

‘Mr. Turner’

If the past is a foreign country, then “Mr. Turner” is one of the most rhapsodic foreign films you may ever see. The care and conviction with which writer-director Mike Leigh (“Secrets and Lies”) and his band of artisans have re-created Victorian England is a reward in itself, a visual banquet at its most sumptuous. But the movie’s after much more than that, even if it sometimes looks like less. — Ty Burr

Timothy Spall in the 2014 film MR. TURNER, directed by Mike Leigh.

Simon Mein/Sony Pictures Classics

Timothy Spall in the film ”Mr. Turner,” directed by Mike Leigh.


‘The Overnighters’

Not since Jeff Malmberg’s “Marwencol” (2010) has a documentary taken so many astonishing, unexpected twists, and in so doing revealed such depths of humanity, as in “The Overnighters.” Through patience, skill, discretion, and trust, Jesse Moss has taken a seemingly small town story and turned it into both a microcosm of today’s most urgent issues and a portrait of a single suffering soul. — Peter Keough


“Citizenfour” is a documentary about the National Security Agency systems administrator-turned-leaker Edward Snowden at the exact moment he leaked, alerting America and the world to the spies in our midst. The movie was made by Laura Poitras as she and fellow journalist Glenn Greenwald met with Snowden in Hong Kong; since all three are not exactly viewed with affection by the US government, the film seems intended as insurance as much as evidence. — Ty Burr

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

“Birdman” — full title “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance),” for reasons that become sort of, kind of, all right, not really clear — is a jaw-dropping stylistic wow that spins, pirouettes, turns inside out, and miraculously stays aloft for two hours. Director Alejandro González Iñárritu’s previous movies (“Amores Perros,” “21 Grams, “Babel,” “Biutiful”) have been dazzlers, too, but weighed down with philosophical concerns that can turn pompous. “Birdman” finds Iñárritu in the mood for play, and with a mighty cast that fields every pitch he throws. — Ty Burr


“Whiplash” begins with the steady tap-tap-tap of a drumstick on a snare and ends, one hour and 45 minutes later, with an apocalypse of percussion. In between, a young star comes of age, a much-loved character actor grabs the gold ring, and an up-and-coming filmmaker stakes his claim for greatness. I first saw the film in January [2014] at the Sundance Film Festival — maybe the only time I’ve seen an audience explode in cheers when a movie ended — and recently revisited it with trepidation. Was it that good? Oh, yes. It’s that good. — Ty Burr

Manuscripts Don’t Burn

Not since Bernardo Bertolucci’s “The Conformist” (1970) has a film captured the spiritual, psychological, and physical torture of a tyrannical regime the way that “Manuscripts Don’t Burn” manages to do. And none since Roberto Rossellini’s “Rome, Open City” (1945) has been made under such trying circumstances. — Peter Keough


Richard Linklater’s “Boyhood” may be why the movies were invented. Twelve years in the making, the film is simply a fictional record of one average American boy as he ages from 6 to 18. Of course, there’s nothing simple about this. The boy is named Mason and he’s played by a Texas kid named Ellar Coltrane. He’s a baby-cheeked dreamer when “Boyhood” begins and when it ends — the better part of three hours and more than a decade later — he has matured into a rangy, self-possessed adult on the verge of his own life. — Ty Burr

Life Itself

“As Ebert himself would appreciate, this is simply a great story — a cantankerous young newspaperman who became a passionate and tireless cheerleader for an art form, a lonely soul transformed by love late in life, a cancer victim whose sufferings seemed only to purify him.” — Ty Burr



“‘Her’ is a love story about a man and his computer, and while it could have been a horror movie, a farce, a sermon, or a disaster, it is none of those things. It is a love story. Also a profoundly metaphysical meditation on what it means to be human. Also one of the more touchingly relevant movies to the ways we actually live and may soon live. Oh, and the [2013]’s best film, or at least the one that may stick with you until its story line comes true.” — Ty Burr

Diego Star

“Ships have taken on metaphorical cargo in such recent films as “Captain Phillips” and “All Is Lost.” In both they represent the economic toll on people caused by the leviathan known as globalization. Such is the case in Quebec director Frédérick Pelletier’s impressive debut feature, a stark, touching tale about the common humanity that connects people from alien backgrounds, and the institutionalized inhumanity that drives them apart.” — Peter Keough

12 Years a Slave

“12 Years a Slave” is to the “peculiar institution” what “Schindler’s List” was to the Holocaust: a work that, finally, asks a mainstream audience to confront the worst of what humanity can do to itself. If there’s no Oskar Schindler here, that’s partly the point.” — Ty Burr

All Is Lost

“The movie’s a nearly perfect thing: Economic, elegant, and elemental, it’s a cleanly observed tale of one man coping with incremental disaster and trying, decision by decision, action by action, to keep the odds going in his favor. You can supply your own allegory here if you want, but it’s not necessary. “All Is Lost” works quite brilliantly on its most basic narrative level.” — Ty Burr

Enough Said

“’Enough Said’ deserves our thanks for showcasing the late, great James Gandolfini in a performance of immense tenderness and charm. This is one of two films the actor had in the can when he died of a heart attack at 51 in June (the other, a crime drama called “Animal Rescue,” will be released next year). It’s one for which he deserves to be remembered. — Ty Burr

The Act of Killing

“See this movie. I can’t be more direct. “The Act of Killing” is one of the most extraordinary films you’ll ever encounter, not to mention one of the craziest filmmaking concepts anywhere, and that includes the whole Bollywood thing.” — Janice Page

20 Feet From Stardom

“The movie’s the latest rock-archeology documentary project, where the spotlight gets cast, finally, on artists you don’t know but should. It’s a rich genre, and recently it has delivered affecting human stories like last year’s Oscar-winning art-house hit “Searching for Sugar Man,” which made a long overdue star of singer-songwriter Rodriguez.” — Ty Burr

Despina Spyrou/Sony Pictures Classics

“Before Midnight.”

Before Midnight

“Like the others, “Before Midnight” is full of talk, much of it funny or touching or both, but it’s a mature work, as befits a story about people in their 40s (and shot by a director in his 50s). The first film was about discovery, the second about re-discovery. The third is about what happens when lovers have discovered everything they can about each other and then feel the night moving in.” — Ty Burr


“To really believe that all the world’s a stage — is that our big chance or a tragic mistake? The further back we stand from this movie’s concentric circles of reality, the more they appear to have been hand-drawn by Dante.” — Ty Burr

The Gatekeepers

“While they confess — sometimes grudgingly — to misdeeds and miscalculations, to blood on their hands both guilty and innocent, they mourn Israel’s gradual turn away from a two-state solution and toward brute force and oppression. These are aging warriors of realpolitik who’ve grown weary of carrying secrets.” — Ty Burr


“The movie avoids melodrama; instead, it’s just extraordinarily intimate, with touches of visual poetry like the pigeon that gets into the apartment and won’t leave, an image of our own heedless tenacity. We sense the long arc of a relationship here, its ending a painful reminder of its prime.” — Ty Burr

Zero Dark Thirty

“Like the most ambitious movies of 2012 — “Lincoln,” “Argo” — this one’s concerned with process rather than personalities. Chastain doesn’t give a star performance but something braver and less ego-driven. Maya’s a heroic functionary, struggling to see the long game and retain her ideals (which include patriotism) while navigating a mapless post-9/11 universe.” — Ty Burr


Oslo, August 31

“‘Oslo’ is filled with a variety of voices, in fact — the murmurs of the title city’s denizens and outcasts, captured with some of the same soulfulness as the overheard prayers in “Wings of Desire.” As Berlin was in Wim Wenders’s classic, Oslo is itself a character here — the source of childhood memories, the failed or compromised promise of adulthood. “I remember how free I felt,” says one of Anders’s fellow addicts of arriving in the city as a youth, “and then I realized how small Oslo is.” The movie is alive to the curious grace with which we treasure our disappointments.” — Ty Burr

“Beasts of the Southern Wild”

Beasts of the Southern Wild

“Rather than tell a straightforward story, “Beasts” steeps us in a place and its people: the Bathtub, a small hamlet clinging to the edge of coastal Louisiana. It’s more a state of human entropy than an actual village. The houses are nailed together from driftwood and tin scraps; dirt roads are carved out of overgrowth; there’s no difference between what’s useful and what’s junk. It’s chaos and it’s a community.” — Ty Burr


“Is it really for kids? Oh my, yes — kids 8 and up or so, and their parents and grandparents and cousins. “Frankenweenie” is scary, but then it’s funny, and, finally, it’s moving, both in its foolproof boy-meets-dog sentimentality and in the ease with which Burton connects the dots of his own history and that of the movies he cherishes.” — Ty Burr

“Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry”

Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry

“Alison Klayman’s documentary is one of the most engagingly powerful movies of the year almost completely on the strength of Ai’s rumpled charisma and the confusion it creates in the bureaucratic mindset of the Chinese Communist Party...The film captures the events of 2010 and early 2011, when Ai’s stubborn insistence on being heard — on the right of every Chinese man and woman to be heard — was gathering force and making him an icon both in China and internationally.” — Ty Burr

The Kid With a Bike

“The movie, a grand jury prize winner at last year’s Cannes film festival, sounds unbearably sad in outline, and the Dardennes film it in their usual quasi-documentary style. And yet “The Kid With A Bike’’ is, remarkably, about hope - about the connections people forge when the ones they’ve been given desert them.” — Ty Burr

“This is Not a Film”

This is Not a Film

“What is it, then? One day in the life of a bored and stymied 50-year-old man who can’t leave his house. A deflected plea for the freedom to speak, to create, to live. An attempt to tell the story of the movie the Iranian government won’t let him make. A portrait of an imploding country as seen from a Tehran balcony. In short, “This Is Not a Film” is the world within an apartment, and it is quietly devastating.” — Ty Burr

A Separation

“This is a trenchant emotional thriller that you watch in dread, awe, and amazing aggravation. It’s entirely predicated upon the outcome of bad decisions - and it is not a comedy. The situation that unfolds approaches the absurdity of farce but denies the relief and release of humor. It’s a tragic farce.” — Wesley Morris


“The entire movie is pitched at a scream. But the screaming is more Janis Joplin, Axl Rose, or Mary J. Blige than Jamie Lee Curtis. All the tears I shed were hard-earned. So were all the laughing and clapping and eye-covering. In each case, it was involuntary. The movie’s power comes from a combination of tremendous graphic bluntness in the interrogation scenes and the unsparing way the men and women on the force talk to each other.” — Wesley Morris

“Moonrise Kingdom”

Moonrise Kingdom

“Anderson seems to enjoy the opportunity to tell a story – and edit it – as crisply as he can. He and Coppola have devised a collection of characters who only loosely feel like types. You can feel even a part like a handsome scout nicknamed Redford become something slightly more than a throwaway villain.” — Wesley Morris

The Master

“The gamble of a movie like this, a film that takes it upon itself to question the limits and possible emptiness of belief, is that it, too, could be dull and meaningless. But Anderson knows what he’s doing. Nothing as big and strange and right as “The Master” should feel as effortless as it does.” — Wesley Morris

How to Survive a Plague

“The director David France and his crew have sculpted years of old broadcast-news stories and home videos into a narrative that is impressionistic in its scope but coherent in its feeling. It seems passionately remembered. This movie is alive — hot, really — with the political seething at the federal government’s failure to help combat the spread of AIDS with effective medical treatments.” — Wesley Morris

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