1. “Big Bad Wolves” (Aaron Keshales and Navot Papushado)
Boosted by Quentin Tarantino, Israeli black-comic thriller “Big Bad Wolves” concerns a vigilante cop trying to find a serial killer responsible for some gruesome murders, his own crusade executed so extrajudicially that he is pulled further and further from the law. Generally popular with critics (check out our review), the film looks like one of the few bright spots of an otherwise dull January.
2. “The Trials of Muhammad Ali” (Bill Siegel)
Muhammad Ali remains the most entrancing athlete of all time, with a wit as fast as his punches and a commitment to his beliefs that made the best argument for the social relevance of athletes. “The Trials of Muhammad Ali” focuses on the latter aspect of his life, how his anti-war stance cost him dearly but also secured a legacy outside of boxing. Ali is one of precious few people sufficiently riveting that yet another collection of archival material and appreciative talking heads is still worth seeking out solely for the pleasure of his poetic braggadocio and the fire of his faith.
3. Enemies Closer (Peter Hyams)
John Hyams single-hanedly restored Jean-Claude Van Damme to relevance with his ambitious, well-executed updates of the forgettable “Universal Soldier” franchise, but “Enemies Closer” finds Van Damme re-teaming with Hyams’ decidedly less gifted father, Peter. (Hyams Jr., however, is credited as editor.) Nonetheless, JCVD has been on a minor roll lately, and has been more entertaining in these smaller, retro action flicks than his peers have been in chasing their fading superstar status. If nothing else, the thought of Van Damme and Orlando Jones(?!) as longstanding foes bound together by circumstances is too utterly weird to pass up.
4. “The Kings of Summer” (Jordan Vogt-Roberts)
Billed by its accompanying iTunes review as a modern “Stand by Me,” “The Kings of Summer” is a coming-of-age tale about a trio of teenagers who decide to run away from home and living out in the woods. An impressive cast of comic ringers (Nick Offerman and Megan Mullally, Alison Brie, Mary Lynn Rajskub) rounds out the young leads, who themselves have garnered praise from critics, particularly Moisés Arias.
5. “Afternoon Delight” (Jill Soloway)
Veteran comedy writer Jill Soloway won the directing award at Sundance for her feature debut, “Afternoon Delight,” a satire of the cocooned, privileged life of a L.A. housewife. That the lead is played by Kathryn Hahn, one of the best comic character actresses around and long overdue for a showcase, is incentive enough to watch, but the inclusion of the also-underrated Juno Temple makes this even more irresistible.