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Orange Is the New Black, The Selfish Giant, The Best Offer 

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click to enlarge Orange is the New Black: Season 1

Orange is the New Black: Season 1 (NR)

Lionsgate

Weeds creator Jenji Kohan and her diverse writing staff adapt Piper Kerman's memoir of the privileged white journalist's year in prison in this acclaimed Netflix drama that compels even as it frustrates. Taylor Schilling, thin as a rail but carrying surprising gravitas, stars as Piper, who bids an anxious farewell to her dopey husband (Jason Biggs) then gets locked up with a fractious sorority of prisoners. The ladies all have teased-out backstories, most of which pay off big, but the focus is on the political and emotional maneuvering. This is where the show is most satisfying, but it's a guilty pleasure: These scenes can give off the feeling that prison is a particularly drab student union, a collection of appealingly wacky personalities occupying their time with class projects. As maddening as that may be, Kohan's knack for suspense always shines through. She drops narrative bombs and cliffhangers with the best of them. — Justin Strout

click to enlarge The Selfish Giant

The Selfish Giant (NR)

Sundance Selects

If you consider Ken Loach's British working-class yarns a hoot, you'll find The Selfish Giant to be a downright knee-slapper. I'm being facetious, of course. But bringing to mind many of Loach's bleak and unyielding dramas, director Clio Barnard admirably channels that depressing, rueful spirit to a tee, depicting a dog-eat-dog, practically post-apocalyptic modern Britain. Hyperactive Arbor is an angry kid growing up in poverty, filled with nothing but disdain for authority and a penchant for conniving his next dollar. Teaming up with his shy pal Swifty, they look for ways to escape their life but only find one tragic turn after another, reaffirming that this is their horrific life and always will be. Complete with a heartbreakingly shocking ending that will ruin just about anyone's day, Giant is a masterwork of realistic pain and strife that will kill off any hope for the future you might have had. — Louis Fowler

click to enlarge The Best Offer

The Best Offer (R)

IFC Films

Geoffrey Rush delivers a tour de force performance as Virgil Oldman, a famous art appraiser and auctioneer whose power in the antiquities biz is just a large as his unscrupulous ego. When a mysterious woman who never appears in public starts calling him, asking to have her parents' goods valued, he starts a whirlwind romance that is never quite what it seems. But The Best Offer is no rom-com — it's a straight thriller with emphasis on the word thrill, with twists and reveals that will leave even the most seasoned viewer guessing until the end. Directed by Giuseppe Tornatore (he of Cinema Paradiso fame), the choice to cast Rush in the lead was a true stroke of genius, crafting a morally complex character that, by the end of the film, we sympathize with and actually weep for, having grown to love this man and seen his cold heart thaw out under the most painful of circumstances.— Louis Fowler

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