• “Restrepo” — Few films capture the gut-level jolts of panic, fear, exhilaration, macho humor and numbing boredom that informs this stunning documentary which charts a year with one American military platoon posted in Afghanistan's deadliest valley. Writer Sebastian Junger (author of “The Perfect Storm”) skips the politics of the war and concentrates on the daily grind of the combat soldier. The result is harrowing and enlightening in a way that makes us think about the war viscerally, without the petty fog of punditry.
• “Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work” — Comedienne Joan Rivers — acerbic, opinionated and strident — is not everyone's cup of tea. But in this nakedly revealing documentary she emerges as both a savvy and vulnerable survivor, a tough woman with a grinding work ethic and an endless (some would say crass) hunger for celebrity. It parts the curtain of celebrity culture, and what it shows us isn't always pretty but is always funny and thought-provoking.
• “Red” — This is how you make a formula action blockbuster (with a savvy AARP vibe). Surrounding the droll Bruce Willis with a nicely aged supporting cast — Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich, Richard Dreyfuss, Ernest Borgnine — this swift, engaging spy romp expends loads of bullets and bombs in service of pure popcorn entertainment and makes other blockbusters seem puny and pompous by comparison.
• “Inside Job” — No one will confuse this pithy piece of documentary journalism with popcorn entertainment. But as an exhaustive and infuriating look into the darkest heart of Wall Street greed, it's a movie that should not be missed by Average Joes with paltry bank accounts and 401(k) retirement plans. Amoral financial “insiders' have pushed the country to the brink of ruin while padding their pockets with obscene profits, and director Charles Ferguson's film brings home with chilling clarity the enormity and tragedy of our badly broken banking system.
• “A Film Unfinished” — Media's capacity to sell “the big lie” was never so profoundly and disturbingly demonstrated than in this potent documentary built around Nazi archival film supposedly depicting the daily lives of happy and well-off Jews in the Warsaw ghetto. Director Yael Hersonki reassembles all of the SS propaganda footage (the film unfinished) and contrasts it with recollections of Holocaust survivors and a chastened SS cameraman to create a vivid, horrific portrait of genocide unfolding.
Dennis King blogs about movies at blog.wimgo.com/projections.