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Four-star reviews by the Globe

”The Act of Killing”

Drafthouse Films

”The Act of Killing”

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

2014

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

“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

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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

Boyhood

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

2013

Her

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“‘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

“Before Midnight.”

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

Reality

“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

Amour

“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

2012

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”

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

Frankenweenie

“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”

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”

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

Polisse

“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”

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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