The world of competitive birdwatching forms the unlikely backdrop for comedy The Big Year. Jack Black, Steve Martin and Owen Wilson star as three overly obsessed twitchers each undertaking their “big year” — a contest to see the most species around North America in a 12-month period. Their quest takes them to all corners of the continent to spot black-footed albatrosses, oriental greenfinches, rustic buntings, speckled eiders, bald eagles, pink-footed geese, snowcocks and hundreds more exotic-sounding species, maxing out credit cards, gambling their careers and neglecting their families in the process. Based on a book by journalist Mark Obmascik, it’s packaged as a big knockabout comedy but — Wilson’s preening and swaggering aside — never fully embraces the baroque absurdity of its premise, instead preferring to mix in dramatic moments that beg for more realistic treatment. In short, it doesn’t work. And yet... embracing obsessive behavior, human emotion, the wonders of nature and a gentle sense of humor, it’s not as dislikable as you might think.
Formal experimentation has marked the career of Catalan director Jaime Rosales. In Solitary Fragments (2007), he examined split-screen filmmaking; in Bullet in the Head (2008) he explored the possibilities of dispensing with dialogue. His latest, Sueño y silencio, is no less adventurous. Filmed predominantly in black and white, and using non-professional actors, it was all shot on the first take, with no scene repeated, and tells the story of a Spanish family living in Paris whose lives are transformed after a fatal car accident in the Ebro delta.
Also featuring a cast of newcomers, Project X follows two high-school students looking to become more popular by organizing an unforgettable house party, only for things to spiral way out of control. Shot in the style of a home video by first-time director Nima Nourizadeh, it’s produced by Todd Phillips (The Hangover).
Set in Paris in the 1960s, The Women on the Sixth Floor is a French movie with a Spanish twist. Carmen Maura, Natalia Verbeke and Lola Dueñas are among the group of fun-loving Spanish maids who light up the life of bored family man Fabrice Luchini.
British romantic rock comedy You Instead stars Luke Treadaway (Attack the Block) as an indie music star who arrives to perform at a festival, only to find himself handcuffed to Natalia Tena (Harry Potter), the lead singer of a punk girl band. Unable to get free, their frustration turns to acceptance and affection in David Mackenzie’s movie, which was shot on the fly over five days at Scotland’s T in the Park festival.