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Cinema Chat: The best films from Sundance, 'Who We Are,' and more

Michigan Theater
Wikipedia Media Commons

We're digging out of a lot of snow today. But there are a lot of great movies waiting on the other side. WEMU's David Fair gets together with Michigan Theater Foundation executive director Russ Collins to chat about the latest movie news and all of the flicks arriving on the big screen this weekend.

“Cha Cha Real Smooth,” the sophomore effort from 24-year-old filmmaker Cooper Raiff, dominated the survey in the categories of Best Film, Best Director, and Best Screenplay. The movie marks Raiff’s second in two years, following his 2020 debut “Shithouse,” which won the Grand Jury Prize at SXSW. In “Cha Cha Real Smooth,” Raiff stars as a bar and bat mitzvah party-starter adrift in life when he develops a complicated friendship with a young mother (Dakota Johnson) and her teen daughter (Vanessa Burghardt). The movie secured a $15 million distribution deal with Apple during the festival.

Notably, another big winner in this year’s survey landed a major deal early in the festival. Sara Dosa’s “Fire of Love,” which premiered on Sundance’s opening night, sold to National Geographic for an undisclosed seven-figure sum after a fierce bidding war. The story of married volcanologists Katia and Maurice Krafft, who died while observing an eruption in Japan in 1991, pulls from years of unseen footage that the couple shot while traveling to volcanoes all over the world.

The winner of Best First Film was another opening night selection, Midnight entry “Fresh.” Acquired by Searchlight Pictures for an exclusive Hulu streaming deal ahead of the festival, “Fresh” marks the directorial debut of filmmaker Mimi Cave, and stars Daisy Edgar-Jones as a woman whose date with a mysterious man (Sebastian Stan) goes very wrong when he turns out to be a psychopath. “Fresh” also came in second place in the overall Best Film category, while Cave was the runner-up for Best Director and Katy Brand was runner-up for Best Screenplay.

Best Film

  1. “Cha Cha Real Smooth”
  2. “Fresh”
  3. “Living”
  4. “Good Luck to You, Leo Grande”
  5. “Emily the Criminal”
  6. “Emergency”
  7. “Resurrection”
  8. “You Won’t Be Alone”
  9. “Nanny”/Am I Okay?”

 Best Documentary

  1. “Fire of Love”
  2. “Navalny”
  3. “Lucy and Desi”
  4. “Riotsville, USA”
  5. “Descendant”

 Best First Film

  1. "Fresh”
  2. “Emily the Criminal”
  3. “Utama”
  4. “Nanny”
  5. “God’s Country”


TICKETS NOW ON SALE THROUGH TICKETMASTER! Anaïs Mitchell is on tour is and coming to Ann Arbor’s Michigan Theater on February 7, 2022. She'll be performing with a band (including JT Bates on drums and Michael Lewis on bass) and will play brand new music alongside older favorites including selections from "Hadestown." Bonny Light Horseman, Anais’s band with Josh Kaufman and Eric Johnson, will open! Tickets available now at TicketMaster.


"Who We Are: A Chronicle of Racism in America" -- OPENS FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 4 AT THE MICHIGAN

A selection of the SXSW Film Festival. Interweaving lecture, personal anecdotes, interviews, and shocking revelations, criminal defense/civil rights lawyer (and former ACLU deputy legal director) Jeffery Robinson draws a stark timeline of anti-Black racism in the United States, from slavery to the modern myth of a post-racial America. This moving documentary is released as the US stands on the precipice of significant deterioration in historical education. Founder of the Who We Are project Jeffrey Robinson has spent the last decade lecturing about anti-black racism and white supremacy in America.

Emily Kunstler (Producer/Director/Editor) and Sarah Kunstler(Producer/Director) are the founders of Off Center Media, a documentary production company dedicated to racial justice and social change. Their film, "William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe" (Sundance '09, POV/PBS), was shortlisted for the Best Documentary Academy Award. The film is an examination of their father’s life and choices, tracing his career as a civil rights lawyer and fighter for racial justice, as well his representation of society’s most despised. Other Off Center Media films have contributed to campaigns to stay executions, convince decision makers to reopen cases, and exonerate the wrongfully convicted.


Coming on Valentine's Day

Free for Michigan Theater members, but all are invited for this romantic evening. Have your sweetheart choose:

Late Nights at the Michigan

Korean Cinema NOW 

Sidney Poitier Memorial Retrospective Series (at the Michigan)


"Parallel Mothers"

A 2021 Spanish drama film written and directed by Pedro Almodóvar. The film stars Penélope Cruz.

It had its premiere as the opening film of the 78th Venice International Film Festival on 1 September 2021 where Penélope Cruz was awarded the Volpi Cup for Best Actress.. It was the closing film of the 2021 New York Film Festival. Two women, Janis and Ana, coincide in a hospital room where they are going to give birth. Both are single and became pregnant by accident. Janis, middle-aged, doesn't regret it and she is exultant. The other, Ana, an adolescent, is scared, repentant and traumatized. Janis tries to encourage her while they move like sleepwalkers along the hospital corridors. The few words they exchange in these hours will create a very close link between the two, which by chance develops and complicates, and changes their lives in a decisive way.


An animated documentary film directed by Jonas Poher Rasmussen. It follows the story of a man named Amin Nawabi, who shares his hidden past for the first time, of fleeing his country. The film had its world premiere at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival on January 28, 2021 It received unanimous acclaim from film festivals and critics, with critical praise for animation, story, thematic content, and subject matter; winning numerous awards. It was selected as the Danish entry for the Academy Award for Best International Feature Film and was shortlisted for Best Documentary Feature. Flee tells the story of Amin Nawabi as he grapples with a painful secret he has kept hidden for 20 years, one that threatens to derail the life he has built for himself and his soon to be husband. Recounted mostly through animation to director Jonas Poher Rasmussen, he tells for the first time the story of his extraordinary journey as a child refugee from Afghanistan.

"The Velvet Queen" 

In the heart of the Tibetan highlands, multi-award-winning nature photographerVincent Munier guides writer Sylvain Tesson on his quest to document the infamously elusive snow leopard. Munier introduces Tesson to the subtle art of waiting from a blind spot, tracking animals, and finding the patience to catch sight of the beasts. Through their journey in the Tibetan peaks, inhabited by invisible presences, the two men ponder humankind's place amongst the magnificent creatures and glorious landscapes they encounter along the way.

"Drive My Car"

Winner of three prizes at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival, including Best Screenplay. Chosen as the Japanese entry for the Best International Feature Film Oscar. Wone the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film.

Two years after his wife's unexpected death, Yusuke Kafuku (Hidetoshi Nishijima), a renowned stage actor and director, receives an offer to direct a production of Uncle Vanya at a theater festival in Hiroshima. There, he meets Misaki Watari (Toko Miura), a taciturn young woman assigned by the festival to chauffeur him in his beloved red Saab 900. As the production's premiere approaches, tensions mount amongst the cast and crew, not least between Yusuke and Koji Takatsuki, a handsome TV star who shares an unwelcome connection to Yusuke's late wife. Forced to confront painful truths raised from his past, Yusuke begins -- with the help of his driver -- to face the haunting mysteries his wife left behind. Adapted from Haruki Murakami's short story, Ryusuke Hamaguchi's film is a haunting road movie traveling a path of love, loss, acceptance, and peace. Winner of three prizes at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival, including Best Screenplay.


An American slasher film directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett and written by James Vanderbiltand Guy Busick. It is the fifth installment in the "Scream film" series. Though billed as a relaunch of the film series, the film is a direct sequel to "Scream 4" (2011), and the first in the series not to be directed by Wes Craven, who died in 2015. The film is dedicated to Craven at the beginning of the closing credits. The film stars Melissa BarreraMason GoodingJenna Ortega, and Jack Quaid, alongside Marley SheltonCourteney CoxDavid Arquette, and Neve Campbell, who reprise their roles from previous installments. Twenty-five years after a streak of brutal murders shocked the quiet town of Woodsboro, Calif., a new killer dons the Ghostface mask and begins targeting a group of teenagers to resurrect secrets from the town's deadly past.

"Licorice Pizza"

This film is a 2021 American coming-of-age comedy-drama film written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson ("Phantom Thread," "There Will Be Blood," "Boogie Nights"). The film stars Alana HaimCooper HoffmanSean PennTom WaitsBradley CooperMaya Rudolph, and Benny Safdie. The film received acclaim from critics and received three awards from the National Board of Review, including Best Film. It was also named one of the best films of 2021 by the American Film Institute and received four nominations at the 79th Golden Globe Awards, including Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy, along with eight nominations at the 27th Critics' Choice Awards, including Best Picture. The story of Alana Kane (Alana Haim) and Gary Valentine (Cooper Hoffman) growing up, running around and going through the treacherous navigation of first love in the San Fernando Valley, 1973. 

"Spider-Man: No Way Home"

This is a 2021 American superhero film, the sequel to "Spider-Man: Homecoming" (2017) and "Spider-Man: Far From Home" (2019). It is the 27th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The film is directed by Jon Watts, written by Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers, and stars Tom Holland as Peter Parker / Spider-Man alongside ZendayaBenedict CumberbatchJacob BatalonJon Favreau, and Marisa Tomei. In this film, Parker asks Dr. Stephen Strange (Cumberbatch) to make his identity as Spider-Man a secret again with magic, but Strange's spell goes awry, breaking open the multiverse and allowing supervillains from alternate realities to enter the MCU. This marks the first time in the cinematic history of Spider-Man, our friendly neighborhood hero's identity is revealed, bringing his Super Hero responsibilities into conflict with his normal life and putting those he cares about most at risk. Now, Peter will have to overcome his greatest challenge yet, which will not only forever alter his own future, but the future of the Multiverse.

"House of Gucci"

This is a 2021 American biographical crime drama film directed by Ridley Scott, based on the 2001 book "The House of Gucci: A Sensational Story of Murder, Madness, Glamour, and Greed" by Sara Gay Forden. The film stars Lady Gaga as Patrizia Reggiani, the wife of Maurizio Gucci (Adam Driver), as their romance transforms into a fight for control of the fashion brand Gucci; Jared LetoJeremy IronsSalma Hayek, and Al Pacino also star.

Ridley Scott had wanted to do a film about the Gucci dynasty since acquiring the rights to Forden's book in the early 2000s. The project languished for several years and went through a handful of directors and rumored actors before Scott and Gaga were confirmed as attached in November 2019. Much of the rest of the cast joined the following summer, and filming began in Italy in February 2021, lasting through May.

The film is inspired by the shocking true story of the family behind the Italian fashion empire. When Patrizia Reggiani (Lady Gaga), an outsider from humble beginnings, marries into the Gucci family, her unbridled ambition begins to unravel the family legacy and triggers a reckless spiral of betrayal, decadence, revenge, and ultimately... murder.

"The French Dispatch"

A 2021 American comedy-drama anthology film written, directed, and produced byWes Andersonfrom a story he conceived with Roman CoppolaHugo Guinness, andJason Schwartzman. The film stars an ensemble cast featuring Benicio del Toro,Adrien BrodyTilda SwintonLéa SeydouxFrances McDormandTimothée ChalametLyna KhoudriJeffrey WrightMathieu AmalricStephen ParkBill Murray, and Owen Wilson. Its plot follows three different storylines, as the French foreign bureau of a fictional Kansas newspaper creates its final issue. Filming took place between November 2018 and March 2019, with cinematographer Robert Yeoman, in the city of Angoulême, France. Following a delay, the film had its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival on July 12, 2021.



Kenneth Branaghdirects and stars as Belgian sleuth Hercule Poirot, whose Egyptian vacation aboard a glamorous river steamer turns into a terrifying search for a murderer when a picture-perfect couple's idyllic honeymoon is tragically cut short.

"The Worst Person in the World" -- OPENS FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 18

This film concludes Joachim Trier's Oslo Trilogy with a romantic comedy that delightfully subverts the genre's well-worn tropes. It is a modern dramedy about the quest for love and meaning in contemporary Oslo. It chronicles four years in the life of Julie (Renate Reinsve), a young woman who navigates the troubled waters of her love life and struggles to find her career path, leading her to take a realistic look at who she really is.


Animated, Short Fiction Film, Short Documentary


Award-winning director Joe Wright envelops moviegoers in a symphony of emotions with music, romance, and beauty in this re-imagining the timeless tale of a heartbreaking love triangle. A man ahead of his time, Cyrano de Bergerac (played by Peter Dinklage) dazzles whether with ferocious wordplay at a verbal joust or with brilliant swordplay in a duel. But, convinced that his appearance renders him unworthy of the love of a devoted friend, the luminous Roxanne (Haley Bennett), Cyrano has yet to declare his feelings for her -- and Roxanne has fallen in love, at first sight, with Christian (Kelvin Harrison, Jr.).


The Riddler plays a deadly game of cat and mouse with Batman (Robert Pattinson) and Commissioner Gordon in Gotham City. Director:Matt Reeves


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— David Fair is the WEMU News Director and host of Morning Edition on WEMU.  You can contact David at734.487.3363, on twitter @DavidFairWEMU, or email him at dfair@emich.edu

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