Film Journal: August 2020

Bacurau

If you’re looking for something as nearly tuned into the modern world and its growing socio-economic divide as last year’s Parasite, have I got a new film for you. Bacurau, the latest from the Brazilian director of my second favorite movie of 2016, had a brief, mostly virtual digital cinema run just as COVID started shutting everything down earlier this year. Now available to stream on The Criterion Channel (and rent elsewhere), it’s a visionary take on an established genre (best not known going into it.) As it unfolds, a fervent chaos burrows deeper and deeper into both its narrative and moral code, surfacing in often thrilling ways: a drunken rant at a funeral, an unexpectedly brutal death, a certain ‘80s pop song appearing out of nowhere but recalibrating the mood perfectly. I’ve seen two new movies I’ve loved more in 2020, but won’t be surprised if a second viewing pushes this to the top.

In addition to continuing my Egoyan re-watch (The Adjuster, a leap forward in style/budget/concept, even if it’s hard to care about most of its quirky characters; Calendar, a formalist hoot and the type of low budget/experimental film I wish he made more of), I revisited for the first time in two decades Kiarostami’s “Koker Trilogy”, which was filmed in a rural Iranian village over about six or seven years. Not really conceived of as a trilogy, it nonetheless tracks his move from neorealism to meta-comment on narrative and filmmaking itself. He did the latter better elsewhere (Close-Up, Taste of Cherry), but the first of the three films, Where Is My Friend’s House? remains his peak regarding the former (and it also has what is still one of my favorite final shots ever.)

Apart from Bacurau, best first-time watches included my first Mia Hansen-Løve film (which takes its time but eventually arrives at a lovely place, in no small part due to Isabelle Huppert’s always reassuring presence), Shirley Valentine (Pauline Collins such a winning heroine in this) and Mr. SOUL!, a stellar doc about a forgotten early public television show/host you should know. Also liked Walk Hard (no one rips a sink outta a wall like John C. Reilly), Hollywood Shuffle (Robert Townsend could’ve been the black Christopher Guest), Cat On A Hot Tin Roof (young Paul Newman my god!) and Amy Seimetz’s first feature, which manages to be more Floridian than even The Florida Project.

Films viewed in August in chronological order, with director, year of release and my rating (out of 10)

Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga (David Dobkin, 2020) 5
Where Is My Friend’s House? (Abbas Kiarostami, 1987)* 10
Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story (Jake Kasdan, 2007) 7
Things To Come (Mia Hansen-Love 2016) 8
Cat On A Hot Tin Roof (Richard Brooks, 1958) 7
Bed and Board (Francois Truffaut, 1970) 6
Hollywood Shuffle (Robert Townsend, 1987) 7
Life, and Nothing More… (Kiarostami, 1992)* 9
Shirley Valentine (Lewis Gilbert, 1989) 8
Sun Don’t Shine (Amy Seimetz, 2012) 7
The Adjuster (Atom Egoyan, 1991)* 7
High Heels (Pedro Almodovar, 1991) 6
Picnic At Hanging Rock (Peter Weir, 1975)* 9
Lola (Jacques Demy, 1961) 7
Through the Olive Trees (Kiarostami, 1994)* 7
Leviathan (Lucien Castaing-Taylor, Véréna Paravel, 2012) 4
Bacurau (Kleber Mendonca Filho, Juliano Dornelles, 2019) 9
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Michel Gondry, 2004)* 8
I Used To Go Here (Kris Rey, 2020) 6
Calendar (Egoyan, 1993)* 8
Burning Ghost (Stephane Batut, 2019) 5
The Great Beauty (Paolo Sorrentino, 2013) 7
Safety Not Guaranteed (Colin Trevorrow, 2012)* 6
Epicentro (Hubert Sauper, 2020) 7
Mr. SOUL! (Sam Pollard, Melissa Haizlip, 2018) 8

250 Films

For this blog’s 250th post, here are 250 films I adore, in alphabetical order by title. All-time-favorite lists are always subject to change; it’s a good bet that I’ve forgotten a title or two more worthy of inclusion than a title or two here. I couldn’t even begin to rank all of these, but know that the directors with the most entries (five each) are Robert Altman and Paul Thomas Anderson–extra impressive for the latter, who has to date directed only eight features (and I would re-watch the three that didn’t make the list in a heartbeat.)

Title Director Year
2001: A Space Odyssey Kubrick, Stanley 1968
25th Hour Lee, Spike 2002
3 Women Altman, Robert 1977
35 Shots of Rum Denis, Claire 2008
4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days Mungiu, Cristian 2007
49 Up Apted, Michael 2005
A Christmas Story Clark, Bob 1983
A Hard Day’s Night Lester, Richard 1964
A History of Violence Cronenberg, David 2005
A Matter of Life and Death Powell, Michael and Emeric Pressburger 1946
A Serious Man Coen, Joel and Ethan 2009
A Woman Under the Influence Cassavetes, John 1974
Ace in the Hole Wilder, Billy 1951
Airplane! Zucker, Abrahams, Zucker 1980
Ali: Fear Eats the Soul Fassbinder, Rainer Werner 1974
All About Eve Mankiewicz, Joseph L. 1950
All About My Mother Almodovar, Pedro 1999
All That Jazz Fosse, Bob 1979
All the President’s Men Pakula, Alan J. 1976
Amélie Jeunet, Jean-Pierre 2001
American Splendor Berman, Shari Springer and Robert Pulcini 2003
Annie Hall Allen, Woody 1977
Aquarius Filho, Kleber Mendonca 2016
Army of Shadows Melville, Jean-Pierre 1969
Au Hasard Balthazar Bresson, Robert 1966
Away from Her Polley, Sarah 2006
Back to the Future Zemeckis, Robert 1985
Beasts of the Southern Wild Zeitlin, Benh 2012
Beau Travail Denis, Claire 1999
Beetlejuice Burton, Tim 1988
Before Sunset Linklater, Richard 2004
Being John Malkovich Jonze, Spike 1999
Best in Show Guest, Christopher 2000
Best Worst Movie Stephenson, Michael Paul 2009
Bigger Than Life Ray, Nicholas 1956
Black Narcissus Powell, Michael and Emeric Pressburger 1947
Blue Velvet Lynch, David 1986
Bonnie and Clyde Penn, Arthur 1967
Boogie Nights Anderson, Paul Thomas 1997
Boyhood Linklater, Richard 2014
Brand Upon the Brain! Maddin, Guy 2006
Brazil Gilliam, Terry 1985
Brief Encounter Lean, David 1945
Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia Sam Peckinpah 1974
Bringing Up Baby Hawks, Howard 1938
Burning Lee, Chang-dong 2018
C.R.A.Z.Y. Vallee, Jean-Marc 2005
Cabaret Fosse, Bob 1972
Caché Haneke, Michael 2005
Call Me by Your Name Guadagnino, Luca 2017
Can You Ever Forgive Me? Heller, Marielle 2018
Carol Haynes, Todd 2015
Casablanca Curtiz, Michael 1942
Celine and Julie Go Boating Rivette, Jacques 1974
Cemetery of Splendour Weerasethakul, Apichatpong 2015
Children of Men Cuaron, Alfonso 2006
Clean Assayas, Olivier 2004
Close-Up Kiarostami, Abbas 1990
Clue Lynn, Jonathan 1985
Day for Night Truffaut, Francois 1973
Day Night Day Night Loktev, Julia 2006
Dig! Timoner, Ondi 2004
Do the Right Thing Lee, Spike 1989
Dogtooth Lanthimos, Yorgos 2009
Dogville Von Trier, Lars 2003
Donnie Darko Kelly, Richard 2001
Double Dare Micheli, Amanda 2004
Double Indemnity Wilder, Billy 1944
Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb Kubrick, Stanley 1964
Drive Refn, Nicholas Winding 2011
Duck Season Eimbcke, Fernando 2004
Duck Soup McCarey, Leo 1933
Ed Wood Burton, Tim 1994
Election Payne, Alexander 1999
End of the Century Castro, Lucio 2019
Exit Through the Gift Shop Banksy 2010
Exotica Egoyan, Atom 1994
F for Fake Welle, Orson 1973
Faces Places Varda, Agnes and JR 2017
Far from Heaven Haynes, Todd 2002
Fargo Coen, Joel and Ethan 1996
First Cow Reichardt, Kelly 2019
First Reformed Schrader, Paul 2017
Flirting with Disaster Russell, David O. 1996
Frances Ha Baumbach, Noah 2012
Freaks Browning, Tod 1932
Get Out Peele, Jordan 2017
Ghost World Zwigoff, Terry 2001
Gleaners and I, The Varda, Agnes 2000
Good Time Safdie, Benny and Josh 2017
GoodFellas Scorsese, Martin 1990
Gosford Park Altman, Robert 2001
Grey Gardens Maysles, Albert & David, Ellen Hovde and Muffie Meyer 1975
Grizzly Man Herzog, Werner 2005
Groundhog Day Ramis, Harold 1993
Hairspray Waters, John 1988
Happiness Solondz, Todd 1998
Harold and Maude Ashby, Hal 1971
Hedwig and the Angry Inch Mitchell, John Cameron 2001
High and Low Kurosawa, Akira 1963
High Hopes Leigh, Mike 1988
Holy Motors Carax, Leos 2012
House Obayashi, Nobuhiko 1977
How to Survive a Plague France, David 2012
I Killed My Mother Dolan, Xavier 2009
I Like Killing Flies Mahurin, Matt 2004
I’ve Heard the Mermaids Singing Rozema, Patricia 1987
Ikiru Kurosawa, Akira 1952
In the Loop Iannucci, Armando 2009
In the Mood for Love Kar-Wai, Wong 2000
Inside Llewyn Davis Coen, Joel and Ethan 2013
Judy Berlin Mendelsohn, Eric 1999
Knives Out Johnson, Rian 2019
Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter Zellner, David 2014
Laura Preminger, Otto 1944
Let the Right One In Alfredson, Tomas 2008
Life Is Sweet Leigh, Mike 1990
Limey, The Soderberg, Steven 1999
Living End, The Araki, Gregg 1992
Local Hero Forsyth, Bill 1983
Los Angeles Plays Itself Andersen, Thom 2003
Lost in Translation Coppola, Sofia 2003
Love Streams Cassavetes, John 1984
Magnolia Anderson, Paul Thomas 1999
Man on Wire Marsh, James 2008
Manhattan Allen, Woody 1979
Marwencol Malmberg, Jeff 2010
McCabe & Mrs. Miller Altman, Robert 1971
Me and You and Everyone We Know July, Miranda 2005
Melvin and Howard Demme, Jonathan 1980
Meshes of the Afternoon Deren, Maya, Alexander Hammid 1943
Metropolis Lang, Fritz 1927
Minding the Gap Liu, Bing 2018
Monty Python and the Holy Grail Gilliam, Terry and Terry Jones 1975
Moonlight Jenkins, Barry 2016
Moonrise Kingdom Anderson, Wes 2012
Morvern Callar Ramsay, Lynne 2002
Mulholland Drive Lynch, David 2001
My Winnipeg Maddin, Guy 2007
Mysterious Skin Araki, Gregg 2004
Nashville Altman, Robert 1975
Nine to Five Higgins, Colin 1980
North by Northwest Hitchcock, Alfred 1959
Not One Less Yimou, Zhang 1999
On the Waterfront Kazan, Elia 1954
Oslo, August 31st Trier, Joachim 2011
Our Song McKay, Jim 2000
Parasite Joon-ho, Bong 2019
Paris Is Burning Livingston, Jennie 1990
Paterson Jarmusch, Jim 2016
Peeping Tom Powell, Michael 1960
Persona Bergman, Ingmar 1966
Phantom of the Paradise De Palma, Brian 1974
Phantom Thread Anderson, Paul Thomas 2017
PlayTime Tati, Jacques 1967
Portrait of a Lady on Fire Sciamma, Celine 2019
Pulp Fiction Tarantino, Quentin 1994
Red Desert Antonioni, Michelangelo 1964
Reprise Trier, Joachim 2006
Roma Cuaron, Alfonso 2018
Rosemary’s Baby Polanski, Roman 1968
Rushmore Anderson, Wes 1998
Safe Haynes, Todd 1995
Salesman Maysles, Albert & David, Charlotte Zerwin 1969
Scenes from a Marriage Bergman, Ingmar 1974
Scorpio Rising Anger, Kenneth 1964
Sherman’s March McElwee, Ross 1985
Shoplifters Koreeda, Hirokazu 2018
Sideways Payne, Alexander 2004
Singin’ in the Rain Donen, Stanley, Gene Kelly 1952
Sleeper Allen, Woody 1973
Songs from the Second Floor Andersson, Roy 2000
Spirited Away Miyazaki, Hayao 2001
Stalker Tarkovsky, Andrei 1979
Staying Vertical Guiraudie, Alain 2016
Still Walking Koreeda, Hirokazu 2008
Stop Making Sense Demme, Jonathan 1984
Stories We Tell Polley, Sarah 2012
Stranger Than Paradise Jarmusch, Jim 1984
Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans Murnau, F.W. 1927
Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story Haynes, Todd 1988
Suspiria Argento, Dario 1977
Sword of Trust Shelton, Lynn 2019
Synecdoche, New York Kaufman, Charlie 2008
Talk to Her Almodovar, Pedro 2002
Targets Bogdanovich, Peter 1968
The 400 Blows Truffaut, Francois 1959
The Act of Killing Oppenheimer, Joshua 2012
The Apartment Wilder, Billy 1960
The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call – New Orleans Herzog, Werner 2009
The Best Years of Our Lives Wyler, William 1946
The Birds Hitchcock, Alfred 1963
The Case of the Grinning Cat Marker, Chris 2004
The Decalogue Kieslowski, Krzysztof 1989
The Duke of Burgundy Strickland, Peter 2014
The Garden Jarman, Derek 1990
The Godfather Coppola, Francis Ford 1972
The Graduate Nichols, Mike 1967
The Happiness of the Katakuris Miike, Takashi 2001
The Host Joon-ho, Bong 2006
The Hurt Locker Bigelow, Kathryn 2008
The Innocents Clayton, Jack 1961
The King of Comedy Scorsese, Martin 1982
The Last Days of Disco Stillman, Whit 1998
The Last of England Jarman, Derek 1987
The Last Picture Show Bogdanovich, Peter 1971
The Long Day Closes Davies, Terence 1992
The Long Goodbye Altman, Robert 1973
The Manchurian Candidate Frankenheimer, John 1962
The Master Anderson, Paul Thomas 2012
The Night of the Hunter Laughton, Charles 1955
The Passion of Joan of Arc Dreyer, Carl 1928
The Piano Campion, Jane 1993
The Red Shoes Powell, Michael and Emeric Pressburger 1948
The Return Zvyagintsev, Andrey 2003
The Royal Tenenbaums Anderson, Wes 2001
The Shining Kubrick, Stanley 1980
The Shop Around the Corner Lubitsch, Ernst 1940
The Squid and the Whale Baumbach, Noah 2005
The Sweet Hereafter Egoyan, Atom 1997
The Taking of Pelham One Two Three Sargent, Joseph 1974
The Thin Man Van Dyke, W.S. 1934
The Triplets of Belleville Chomet, Sylvain 2003
The Umbrellas of Cherbourg Demy, Jacques 1964
The Visitor McCarthy, Tom 2007
The Wind Will Carry Us Kiarostami, Abbas 1999
The Wizard of Oz Fleming, Victor 1939
There Will Be Blood Anderson, Paul Thomas 2007
Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould Girard, Francois 1993
This Is Spinal Tap Reiner, Rob 1984
To Be or Not to Be Lubitsch, Ernst 1942
To Kill a Mockingbird Mulligan, Robert 1962
To Live Yimou, Zhang 1994
Tokyo Story Ozu, Yasujiro 1953
Tootsie Pollack, Sydney 1982
Trainspotting Boyle, Danny 1996
Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives Weerasethakul, Apichatpong 2010
Under the Skin Glazer, Jonathan 2013
Vertigo Hitchcock, Alfred 1958
Volver Almodovar, Pedro 2006
Waiting for Guffman Guest, Christopher 1996
Waking Life Linklater, Richard 2001
What Time Is It There? Ming-Liang, Tsai 2001
Where Is My Friend’s House? Kiarostami, Abbas 1987
Wild Reeds Techine, Andre 1994
Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown Almodovar, Pedro 1988
Written on the Wind Sirk, Douglas 1956
Y Tu Mamá También Cuaron, Alfonso 2001
Yi Yi Yang, Edward 2000
Young Frankenstein Brooks, Mel 1974

Film Journal: July 2020

Speaking Parts

With The Criterion Channel now streaming Atom Egoyan’s first seven features (plus an eighth, actually his eleventh), I decided to start rewatching them in order—my first viewings of all except for Exotica and The Sweet Hereafter in over twenty years. So far, Next of Kin is as unique and assured a debut as I remember, Family Viewing a more ambitious but less resonant follow-up (before this rewatch, I barely recalled anything about it) and Speaking Parts less frustrating and infinitely more layered this time around. Having a blast doing this, so expect more deep chronological dives into directors’ filmographies in the future.

Got to see two early Miranda July shorts on Criterion as well (in July! That didn’t occur to me until after the fact.) Both are inessential compared to her first feature, Me and You and Everyone We Know (which could also use a rewatch) although it’s genuinely interesting to see July run through numerous ideas (particularly in Nest of Tens) that she would fully realize (albeit in mutated forms) in Me and You…

My highest rating of the month goes to The Living End, which I hadn’t seen since 1997 when it nearly changed my life in terms of queer depiction/representation, its frank approach to gay sex and desire and Araki’s DIY spirit. It holds up far better than expected thanks to how well it captures an ultra-specific zeitgeist and also for its daring, humanizing ending. Also revisited My Own Private Idaho, an invaluable record of River Phoenix’s presence (and Gus Van Sant’s talent before he pivoted to the mainstream) and The Age of Innocence, one of Scorsese’s most improbable, successful adaptations.

As for new movies, I checked out two at PIFF’s reimagined-for-streaming edition of their annual festival. Black Bear is, in some ways, a riff on Mulholland Drive-style duality without David Lynch’s genius or flair for the bizarre, but it becomes its own thing by the end, with Aubrey Plaza here nearly as good as Naomi Watts was there. Stage Mother is far more conventional and sentimental, but entertaining and affecting thanks to great work from Jacki Weaver.

Got to a few things that were on my watchlist forever: The Sheltering Sky (as odd as you’d expect from a Bertolucci/Malkovich/Winger pairing), Kramer Vs. Kramer (Hoffman’s iconic, but I prefer Baumbach’s homage/update Marriage Story), Gaslight (the best Bergman?), two from Godard’s peak period (neither of which compel like Band of Outsiders or Pierrot le Fou) and Jacques Demy’s Model Shop, a provocative time capsule of Los Angeles, 1968 reflecting back a metropolis both tarnished and sinister even a year before the Manson Murders.

Films viewed in July in chronological order, with director, year of release and my rating (out of 10)

David Holzman’s Diary (Jim McBride, 1967) 6
Golden Eighties (Chantal Akerman, 1986) 8
Next Of Kin (Atom Egoyan, 1984)* 8
The Queen of Versailles (Lauren Greenfield, 2012)* 7
Disclosure (Sam Feder, 2020) 6
The Amateurist (Miranda July, 1998) 5
The Sheltering Sky (Bernardo Bertolucci, 1990) 8
The Living End (Gregg Araki, 1992)* 9
Mucho Mucho Amor (Kareem Tabsch, Cristina Costantini, 2020) 7
The Married Woman (Jean-Luc Godard, 1964) 7
Edie (Simon Hunter, 2017) 6
Nostalgia For The Light (Patricio Guzman, 2010) 6
Family Viewing (Egoyan, 1987)* 7
The Boy With Green Hair (Joseph Losey, 1948) 6
Stage Mother (Thom Fitzgerald, 2020) 7
Black Bear (Lawrence Michael Levine, 2020) 8
Kramer Vs. Kramer (Robert Benton, 1979) 7
Nest of Tens (July, 2000) 6
My Own Private Idaho (Gus Van Sant, 1991)* 8
Gaslight (George Cukor, 1944) 7
Yes, God, Yes (Karen Maine, 2019) 7
A.C.O.D. (Stuart Zicherman, 2013) 4
The Age of Innocence (Martin Scorsese, 1993)* 8
Made In U.S.A (Godard, 1966) 6
Tchoupitoulas (Turner Ross, Bill Ross IV, 2012) 7
Speaking Parts (Egoyan, 1989)* 8
Model Shop (Jacques Demy, 1969) 8

Film Journal: June 2020

“Think Pink!” from The Garden

This month, I decided I’d tackle all five of the Martin Scorsese shorts just made available for streaming on The Criterion Channel; viewing one per week, “Marty Mondays” became one of my few constants in this uncertain time. Italianamerican is far and away the standout of the five, thanks primarily to the charisma and moxie of Marty’s mother (a given if you’ve ever seen Goodfellas), with American Boy (an extended interview with a real character) and The Big Shave (brief, experimental Vietnam protest) also worth a look.

In fact, 2/3 of the titles below are from Criterion Channel, which certainly makes streaming more fun in the time of COVID. I can only imagine what I could’ve gotten out of it had it existed 22 years ago when I was a film student and renting 4-6 tapes a week from the Allston Videosmith. Why, I wouldn’t have had to wait decades to see that one Gregg Araki feature that didn’t seem to be available anywhere (maybe due to that title?) or The United States of America, which finally proved to me that Structuralist Cinema need not always be boring but is occasionally breathtaking.

On Criterion, I also checked out two works by previously-unknown-to-me Khalik Allah, whom, while not always as riveting as you wish he could be, is doing something unlike any other filmmaker right now. I was less taken with Chloe Zhao’s first feature and recent European arthouse flicks such as Synonyms and Zombi Child than I was by Mark Cousins’ sweet coda to his epic The Story of Film series, one of two decent Orson Welles docs I took in. Also, I’m beginning to think Luis Bunuel just isn’t my thing (apart from loving Belle Du Jour when I saw it decades ago.)

Not too many new films: I was annoyed while watching Josephine Decker’s Shirley, which initially felt stilted and precocious until I got to the end and understood the full scope of what she was doing, subverting the biopic in a way I hadn’t seen before; it might end up on my year-end top ten list. Tommaso certainly won’t, despite another intricate Willem Dafoe performance (Ferrara destroys most of the goodwill Dafoe accumulates with a batshit insane last ten minutes.) Leslie Woodhead’s Ella Fitzgerald doc won’t make a best-of list either, but any fan of its subject will find a lot to love in it.

This month’s re-watches provided my highest ratings: what remains my favorite Fassbinder film, what could end up my favorite Soderbergh film, and The Garden, one of three Jarman features I wrote my master’s thesis on. Unavailable digitally in the US until last year, I hadn’t seen it in nearly twenty. It’s challenging and imperfect but also wildly inventive and aesthetically pure—rarely has a filmmaker ever put so much of himself onscreen without censorship or pretense. So happy my fellow Americans can now see it without having to seek out a VHS copy.

Films viewed in June in chronological order, with director, year of release and my rating (out of 10)

What’s A Nice Girl Like You Doing In A Place Like This? (Martin Scorsese, 1963) 6
The United States of America (Bette Gordon and James Benning, 1975) 9
Songs My Brothers Taught Me (Chloe Zhao, 2015) 6
They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead (Morgan Neville, 2018) 7
Totally Fucked Up (Gregg Araki, 1993) 8
Shirley (Josephine Decker, 2020) 8
Tommaso (Abel Ferrara, 2019) 5
The Watermelon Woman (Cheryl Dunne, 1996) 7
It’s Not Just You, Murray! (Scorsese, 1964) 5
Urban Rashomon (Khalik Allah, 2013) 8
Tristana (Luis Bunuel, 1970) 6
Synonyms (Nadav Lapid, 2019) 6
Ali: Fear Eats The Soul (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1974)* 10
The Garden (Derek Jarman, 1990)* 10
Bonjour Tristesse (Otto Preminger, 1958) 7
The Big Shave (Scorsese, 1967) 7
Field Niggas (Allah, 2015) 7
Phase IV (Saul Bass, 1974) 5
Ninja III: The Domination (Sam Firstenberg, 1984) 6
Zombi Child (Bertrand Bonello, 2019) 5
Da 5 Bloods (Spike Lee, 2020) 7
Italianamerican (Scorsese, 1974) 8
L’Age d’Or (Bunuel, 1930) 6
The Eyes Of Orson Welles (Mark Cousins, 2018) 8
The Land Of Steady Habits (Nicole Holofcener, 2018) 6
Blow The Man Down (Daniel Krudy and Bridget Savage Cole, 2019) 6
Ella Fitzgerald: Just One Of Those Things (Leslie Woodhead, 2019) 7
The Limey (Steven Soderbergh, 1999)* 9
American Boy: A Profile of Steven Prince (Scorsese, 1978) 7
Valley of The Dolls (Mark Robson, 1967)* 5

Film Journal: May 2020

High and Low

Cinemas remain closed, but there’s no shortage of new movies available to stream online, whether through Netflix or Hulu or your local indie theatre’s website (like this one.) I saw a number of titles this way that might’ve had a traditional theatrical release, pre-pandemic. The best included Driveways, an earnest but whip-smart coming-of-age film featuring Brian Dennehy’s last performance (start the posthumous Oscar campaign now—it’s a superb farewell); Straight Up, which puts a novel, modern, undeniably queer spin on the screwball rom-com; and The Painter and The Thief, a documentary about an unlikely friendship, assembled like a gradually completed puzzle.

As for the rest of the new: cult French auteur/techno musician Quentin Dupieux returns with Deerskin, another transgressive weird-o-rama, but it has an ace in the hole with lead Jean Dujardin fully committing to such absurdity; On A Magical Night (a much different French film) is somehow simultaneously enchanting and irritating whenever it’s not boring. Alan Yang’s Tigertail is half a great picture (specifically, the flashbacks) with cinematography I would’ve liked to have seen in a theatre (these days, wouldn’t we all?) but less dull than docs that are well-intended (A Secret Love) or entertaining if wildly misshapen (This One’s For The Ladies.)

Two masterworks viewed for the first time: High and Low, an Akira Kurosawa kidnapping thriller that cannily spends its first hour in a single setting, then gradually expands both its physical and emotional spheres until it culminates in one of the most exciting extended sequences I’ve ever seen (even more so than the admirable, silent, thirty-minute heist in Rififi); and The Best Years Of Our Lives, as much a film about the year it was made as you’re ever likely to find in classic Hollywood, and made immortal by non-professional actor Harold Russell’s genuine, endearing performance.

Other great discoveries: It’s Always Fair Weather, which deserves to be as well-known as On The Town (if not Singin’ In The Rain); Taipei Story, an earlier film from the director of Yi Yi and a rare acting showcase for fellow Taiwanese auteur Hou Hsiao-hsien; and Targets, Peter Bogdanovich’s first feature and startling in how ahead of its time it was, and also in how perfectly it captured it.

As for re-watches, Images holds up about as well as Mauvais Sang, both of ‘em benefiting from their leads; slightly better than either is Orlando, which might still be the quintessential Tilda Swinton vehicle. As for Moonrise Kingdom, it remains Wes Anderson’s best of the past decade-and-a-half (we’ll see how The French Dispatch measures up, hopefully this October.)

Films viewed in May in chronological order, with director, year of release and my rating (out of 10); starred titles are re-watches.

The Out-of-Towners (Arthur Hiller, 1970)* 7
A Secret Love (Chris Bolan, 2020) 6
Tigertail (Alan Yang, 2020) 7
Targets (Peter Bogdanovich, 1968) 9
This One’s For The Ladies (Gene Graham, 2018) 5
Taipei Story (Edward Yang, 1985) 8
Tomboy (Celine Sciamma, 2011) 9
49th Parallel (Michael Powell, 1941) 8
Johnny Guitar (Nicholas Ray, 1954)* 9
Deerskin (Quentin Dupieux, 2019) 7
It’s Always Fair Weather (Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly, 1955) 9
Private Life (Tamara Jenkins, 2018) 8
Orlando (Sally Potter, 1992)* 8
High and Low (Akira Kurosawa, 1963) 10
Straight Up (James Sweeney, 2019) 8
It Felt Like Love (Eliza Hittman, 2013) 6
Driveways (Andrew Ahn, 2019) 8
Rififi (Jules Dassin, 1955) 7
Stolen Kisses (Francois Truffaut, 1968) 7
Images (Robert Altman, 1972)* 7
On A Magical Night (Christophe Honore, 2019) 6
Losing Ground (Kathleen Collins, 1982) 8
Moonrise Kingdom (Wes Anderson, 2012)* 10
Waiting For Guffman (Christopher Guest, 1996)* 9
Mauvais Sang (Leos Carax, 1986)* 7
The Painter and The Thief (Benjamin Ree, 2020) 8
The Best Years Of Our Lives (William Wyler, 1946) 10
Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story (Alexandra Dean, 2017) 7

Film Journal: April 2020

Day For Night

Honestly, few films I’ve viewed in this second month of quarantine have provided as much pleasure as the first two seasons of Succession, which I binged after HBO made it and a few other shows temporarily free to non-subscribers. Epic, hilarious, nasty and blatantly (and effectively) Shakespearean, it’s both a balm to and a mirror of these times.

Still, as I work through my various streaming queues, a few close contenders emerge. Day For Night, the first post-Jules and Jim Truffaut I’ve seen is one of the great movies-about-movies in part because it delves so deeply into process without seeming too inside-baseball; it also reactivated my interest in the Antoine Doinel films, so Antoine and Colette, the first one after The 400 Blows is a trifle by design (thirty minutes, part of a multi-director anthology), but Truffaut’s perfectly suited for crafting trifles with heft and weight.

Also pretty good: that long-unreleased Orson Welles film on Netflix, which is a mess at first but eventually stumbles upon the genius you’d expect from the man; a Mike Leigh short that neatly condenses material for a feature-length film into a compact frame; Fleck/Boden’s best effort since Half-Nelson; Beineix’s ultra-stylish-and-just-as-moving early ‘80s thriller (which I tried watching once years before but must’ve dozed off pretty early into it, because I didn’t remember a thing about it); and, a relatively late Powell/Pressburger flick that’s unlike anything else they did and, simultaneously, something that could come from no one else.

I last saw Scenes From A Marriage more than two decades ago in a film class and it remains my favorite Bergman (television origins and all) for its surgical focus, wringing so much thought and emotion out of such bare essentials. Stories We Tell, which I rewatched for a work project, also remains the most innovative documentary from the past decade, while Klute also holds up nicely though this time I was more in thrall to Gordon Willis’ cinematography than Jane Fonda’s admittedly iconic performance.

Biggest letdowns included Hale County This Morning This Evening, especially after all the raves it received at the end of 2018 (“Pretty but aimless” is my three-word review) and Kinetta, an early film from the director of Dogtooth and The Favourite (a case of not-quite-there-yet.) As for most notable What-Did-I-Just-Watch titles, Greener Grass is silly but almost enchantingly weird at times for its commitment to such weirdness, while Bunny Lake Is Missing starts off as Hitchcock before turning into proto-Haneke in the last half hour—if you think of Keir Dullea as something of an automaton based on 2001: A Space Odyssey, well, this will irrevocably change that.

Films viewed in April in chronological order, with director, year of release and my rating (out of 10.)

The Booksellers (D.W. Young, 2019) 6
Hale County This Morning, This Evening (RaMell Ross, 2018) 4
Welcome To L.A. (Alan Rudolph, 1976) 5
The Small Back Room (Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, 1949) 8
Trixie Mattel: Moving Parts (Nicholas Zeig-Owens, 2019) 7
The Short & Curlies (Mike Leigh, 1987) 8
The Hunger (Tony Scott, 1983) 7
Day For Night (Francois Truffaut, 1973) 9
The Queen (Frank Simon, 1968) 6
Isn’t It Romantic (Todd Strauss-Schulson, 2019) 5
Mississippi Grind (Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden, 2015) 8
Scenes From A Marriage (Ingmar Bergman, 1974)* 10
Sissy-Boy Slap-Party (Guy Maddin, 2004)* 8
Stories We Tell (Sarah Polley, 2012)* 10
The Wonders (Alice Rohrwacher, 2014) 6
The Last Waltz (Martin Scorsese, 1978) 7
Kinetta (Yorgos Lanthimos, 2005) 5
Klute (Alan J. Pakula, 1971)* 8
The Sapphires (Wayne Blair, 2012) 6
Cinema Verite (Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini, 2011) 5
Bunny Lake Is Missing (Otto Preminger, 1965) 8
Antoine and Colette (Truffaut, 1962) 7
The Other Side Of The Wind (Orson Welles, 2018) 8
Circus of Books (Rachel Mason, 2019) 6
Hector and The Search For Happiness (Peter Chelsom, 2014) 3
Diva (Jean-Jacques Beineix, 1981) 8
Greener Grass (Jocelyn DeBoer and Dawn Luebbe, 2019) 6

Film Journal: March 2020

First Cow

I used to post monthly reports collecting thoughts (no matter how succinct) about every film I watched. While I still write individual reviews (which can be found on Letterboxd), I thought I’d start doing a monthly summation here as well—at least as long as the COVID-19 pandemic continues and I have time to watch close to twice as much stuff as usual.

Four of the first ten titles here were viewed for Chlotrudis Awards (where I managed to see all but four of the nominated films.) The keeper in this bunch was The Art of Self-Defense, a love-it-or-hate-it indie whose dry, bordering on absurd humor was right up my alley (see also Lemon.) Thankfully, First Cow was one of the last movies I got to see in a theatre before the mass shutdowns (snuck in to the second-to-last screening—full disclosure, I work at an indie cinema); more than a month on, I’m so grateful for this, as Kelly Reichardt’s latest might be her best: applying considerably high narrative/emotional stakes to such richly detailed “slow” filmmaking, it’s also a fine portrait of friendship between two men (a concept still very much a rarity in 2020.)

Most of what follows was viewed on The Criterion Channel, Hulu and Amazon Prime, though not everything—most notably, The Green Fog, which is streaming for free on Vimeo and essential for fans of Guy Maddin and Vertigo (a guaranteed crossover?). Criterion, in particular is an invaluable resource for filling in the cracks in my extensive moviegoing, from Malle’s wistful but never foolish depiction of an anachronism in a changing world to the delightfully anarchic but compulsively watchable Daisies. Also revisited The Swimmer, which I absolutely hated sixteen years ago. Now, in my mid-40s and having consumed seven seasons of Mad Men, I sort of get it, admiring its innate weirdness rather than being repulsed by it.

Also nice to finally see a proper presentation of Teorema (first viewing long ago was a poorly dubbed 16mm print-to-VHS), A Place In The Sun (on my watchlist forever, and maybe my favorite Clift performance, if not the best film he was ever in), first features from the directors of Toni Erdmann and It Follows, and most of all, Glitterbug, a montage of Jarman’s Super 8 work I’ve owned for over a decade (as part of the Glitterbox set) but never got around to seeing until now. Thank you, pandemic?

Films viewed in March in chronological order, with director, year of release and my rating (out of 10.) *Denotes I’ve seen this title before.

Emma. (Autumn de Wilde, 2020) 6
Auggie (Matt Kane, 2019) 3
Wendy (Benh Zeitlin, 2020) 4
The Art of Self-Defense (Riley Stearns, 2019) 8
Horse Girl (Jeff Baena, 2020) 5
A Moment In Love (Shirley Jackson, 1956) 7
The Times of Bill Cunningham (Mark Bozek, 2018) 5
First Cow (Kelly Reichardt, 2019) 9
Little Woods (Nia DaCosta, 2018) 7
Rafiki (Wanuri Kahiu, 2018) 6
Atlantic City (Louis Malle, 1980) 8
Teorema (Pier Paolo Pasolini, 1968)* 8
The Myth of the American Sleepover (David Robert Mitchell, 2010) 7
Le Bonheur (Agnes Varda, 1965) 8
Bullfight (Jackson, 1955) 6
The Green Fog (Evan Johnson, Galen Johnson, Guy Maddin, 2017) 8
The Swimmer (Frank Perry, 1968)* 7
Cold Case Hammerskjold (Mads Brugger, 2019) 7
Ad Astra (James Gray, 2019) 6
The Forest For The Trees (Maren Ade, 2003) 8
The Falling (Carol Morley, 2014) 6
A Place In The Sun (George Stevens, 1951) 8
The Skeleton Twins (Craig Johnson, 2014)* 7
Daisies (Vera Chytilova, 1966) 9
Bisbee ’17 (Robert Greene, 2018) 8
Glitterbug (Derek Jarman, 1994) 9

Best Films of the ’10s: #10-1

10. BOYHOOD
Richard Linklater’s best films dissect how the passage of time shapes our perception of narrative (Dazed and Confused,The Before Trilogy, Slacker); this is arguably more ambitious than all of them, and even more blatantly driven by a gimmick. But the cumulative effect of Boyhood is unprecedented, realizing a new way of seeing and storytelling only possible via the moving image; through his deft use of this structure, Linklater enables us to witness something both so singular and universal.

9. THE MASTER
As innovative as Kubrick and enigmatic as Malick, The Master builds on the sharp turn Paul Thomas Anderson took with There Will Be Blood, scrutinizing post-World War II America while often playing like a fever dream come down to earth. Joaquin Phoenix’s meticulous, intriguing performance is but one of many he gave this decade, so look to one of the last great ones from the late Philip Seymour Hoffman—his L. Ron Hubbard-esque figure perhaps the key to this film’s slippery, near-unknowable soul.

8. SHOPLIFTERS
As with his great forebear Yasujiro Ozu, Hirokazu Kore-eda returns to familiar, familial themes across his discography with a rare consistency. So, place this well-deserved Cannes Palme D’or winner about a family of sorts up there with Nobody Knows and Still Walking and admire his ever-present humanism and kindhearted but fair depiction of what ordinary, flawed people do in order to survive while also seeking solace in each other (whether they’re able or even willing to reciprocate.)

7. THE DUKE OF BURGUNDY
Peter Strickland’s strange, arresting film is not just a kinky parade of verbal abuse, face-sitting, being tied and locked up and other unmentionables alluded to behind closed doors; it’s also a profound, intriguing, complicated love story. Come for the dizzying homage to Italian horror and soft-core erotica and stay for a fascinating, eloquent exploration of what it means to play a role in a loving, sexual relationship—and how not fulfilling your partner’s expectations throws everything out of whack.

6. OSLO, AUGUST 31
This film follows a man on a one-day leave from rehab. We see him drift through a city (and traces of a former existence) teeming with life and pleasures running the gamut from the mundane to the sublime. And yet, director Joachim Trier never makes light of the conundrum of addiction and how effusively it colors both one’s surroundings and perceptions. Cold and unsentimental, yet affirmative and at times unexpectedly buoyant, Oslo, August 31 is a one-of-a-kind meditation on life itself.

5. STORIES WE TELL
Anyone can make a documentary about one’s own family; for her first nonfiction feature, actress/filmmaker Sarah Polley does just that, but she also explores how such a story can be told, considering differing points of view from each family member, the abundance (or absence) of found documentation available and how all that information is shaped into a narrative (what’s emphasized, what’s left out). As these details accumulate and overlap, Polley crafts a hybrid that does nothing less than open up and redefine what the genre’s capable of.

4. PARASITE
What more is there to say about Parasite? That it genuinely lives up to all the hype and then some? That it’s so well-constructed, you believe every facet of it even as it threatens to spiral out of control? Is it a class-conscious satire, a race-against-the-clock thriller or a revenge-driven horror story? Why not all of these things, and simultaneously at that? I won’t be surprised when I revisit this in another five or ten years if it feels more like a definitive record of its time than any documentary.

3. FRANCES HA
At first glance, Frances Ha shouldn’t work. It’s full of precious anachronisms like black-and-white cinematography, deliberately old-fashioned opening titles and a jarring soundtrack. Besides, the world did not need another tale of a single 27-year-old white woman in New York. And yet, for all of its quirks, actor Greta Gerwig (prefiguring her subsequent work as a filmmaker) and director Noah Baumbach’s collaboration is an utter delight—especially whenever Frances/Gerwig is paired with Sophie (Mickey Sumner), transforming the film into a closely observed study of female friendship.

2. CALL ME BY YOUR NAME
Reining in the excess that sometimes cheapened his earlier work while retaining his passion and drive, director Luca Guadagnino crafts almost an embarrassment of riches, from a monologue for the ages for the great character actor Michael Stuhlbarg to the exquisite modern classical/Sufjan Stevens score to Armie Hammer’s solid presence to Timothée Chalamet, whose breakthrough here is iconic as, if nothing at all like Dustin Hoffman’s in The Graduate. Beyond that, however, this film locates something vital and deeply affecting at the core of giving yourself completely over to love, and also loss.

1. CEMETERY OF SPLENDOUR
I’ve loved all of Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s films since Tropical Malady, but none have stayed with me like this one. Set in a military hospital in the director’s rural hometown, which he positions as a sort of purgatorial waystation for sleep-prone soldiers, it’s another magical realist mood piece. He draws connections between psychic mediums, ghosts, mythic sites and dreams, feeling both familiar and otherworldly. The film practically glides from scene to scene, concerned with such ephemera as the light in the sky or the unusual therapy provided by symmetrical rows of glowing neon tubes at the foot of the soldiers’ beds. Seductive and inscrutable in equal measure, it’s like nothing else I saw this decade.

Best Films of the ’10s: #20-11

20. MINDING THE GAP
A documentary rife with all the euphoria and turmoil (and every emotion in between) of day-to-day life via three young male skateboarders in Rockford, Illinois; one of them is director Bing Liu, whose editing and cinematography are both exceptional for a film of this scale and budget. Building to a powerful finale without calculation, this could serve as a definitive portrait of its time and place in the decades ahead.

19. STAYING VERTICAL
A drifter stumbles into a variety of not-so-pithy (and sometimes life-altering) situations, among them cruising, fatherhood, screenwriting and holistic medicine. Destitution, sheepherding and loud, vintage progressive rock also play into it, along with a birth, a death and a whole lot of sex (after those three things, what more could one want?) Like an Antonioni film scripted by Hal Hartley, it’s quirky for sure, but also hypnotic and transformative.

18. ROMA
Concerning a middle class family in early ’70s Mexico City as filtered through the perspective of its maid, Cleo, this draws heavily from director Alfonso Cuaron’s own life. Although individual scenes register as slice-of-life vignettes, their order and procession is key, for they lead towards something both heartbreaking and life-affirming. When Cleo says to a co-worker and friend, “I have so much to tell you,” it could be Cuaron’s own epitaph.

17. MOONLIGHT
In following three life stages (child, teen and adult) of a black man from a rough Miami neighborhood, Moonlight could have easily succumbed to its potentially gimmicky structure or turned out an Issue Picture about how an outsider never truly escapes his confining environment. Instead, the end result is uncommonly lyrical in its fluid pace (and camera movement), often gorgeous imagery and narrative/structural leaps—not to mention the rare intimacy it also achieves.

16. DRIVE
We go to movies for the seductive thrill of entering a world that, no matter how relatable, exists apart from reality; Drive not only does this but proudly, blatantly references other films to a degree that would shame even Quentin Tarantino. And yet, it never seems derivative or empty because it’s so gleefully, compellingly drunk on its own allure, crafting a Los Angeles tableau full of gripping chase sequences, brutal (but rarely gratuitous) violence and magnetic, minimalist cool.

15. PORTRAIT OF A LADY ON FIRE
Celine Sciamma’s exquisite 18th century romance gains so much from the barest essentials, deploying all of its accoutrements sparingly, letting the connection between its two leads develop organically so that when it reaches a crescendo in the astonishing feast scene midway through, one can’t help but be fully engaged in their fate. One feels and absorbs the mad rush of emotions practically emanating from the screen that culminates in a simple but profound final shot.

14. THE ACT OF KILLING / THE LOOK OF SILENCE
This two-pronged examination of Indonesia’s 1965 genocide of over two million Communist citizens focuses on the perpetrators (The Act of Killing) and their victims (The Look of Silence). The first film’s somewhat more effective as cinema, swerving fluidly between riotous absurdity and appalling horror as these men are asked to recreate the various ways in which they committed their acts. However, the second film is nearly as essential in its attempt to start a necessary dialogue about something that’s still verboten in this culture.

13. KUMIKO, THE TREASURE HUNTER
Built around a reference to Fargo (the movie, not the TV series), this wondrous mash-up of David Lynch and Jim Jarmusch traverses from Tokyo to Minnesota and features a singularly odd protagonist who has a noodle-eating pet rabbit named Bunzo. Rinko Kikuchi, best known for Babel and The Brothers Bloom, brilliantly portrays the stubbornly insular misfit while filmmaking team the Zellner Brothers survey a structure that allows for both rigid symmetry and inspired surrealism.

12. HOLY MOTORS
Mr. Oscar (Denis Lavant) mysteriously travels in his stretch limo around Paris to a series of appointments where he slips from one role to the next, ranging from a heavily-costumed actor on a motion-capture soundstage to a foul, gibberish-sprouting sewer creature. Writer/director Leos Carax offers no explanation or rationale for why Mr. Oscar is hired to do what he does, only exploring to absurd heights what it means to inhabit a role and assume an identity.

11. MARWENCOL
A masterful illustration of art-as-therapy but also a riveting profile of Mark Hogenkamp, who deals with his trauma by constructing an ever-more elaborate facsimile of a World War II Belgian village populated with dolls he then photographs. Serious and contemplative rather than kitschy and flippant, he creates great art—as does director Jeff Malmberg, who carefully reveals the hidden layers of Hogenkamp’s story one by one without any exploitative slant.

Best Films of the ’10s: #30-21

30. AQUARIUS
Sonia Braga delivers a career-best performance as a woman pressured by developers trying to force her out of the titular apartment building she has resided in for decades. While yet another story of one person determinedly holding on to a way of life in the face of gentrification, Aquarius is elegiac, not nostalgic, driven by mystique instead of melodrama and it masterfully builds towards a shocking, gloriously cathartic finale.

29. CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME?
Director Marielle Heller translates Lee Israel’s own memoir about her brief career in literary forgery as if it were a living, breathing, sincere re-creation of a now forgotten Manhattan. The top-notch work from Melissa McCarthy as Israel and Richard E. Grant as an aging hustler and her cohort-in-crime feels so well-drawn and rich with nuance, that, despite being despicable, unapologetic misanthropists, you’re almost compelled to root for them anyway.

28. GOOD TIME
Wipes away any doubts you ever had about Robert Pattinson as an actor—in accent, haircut and overall demeanor here, he’s scarcely the pin-up vampire he once was. But the Safdie Brothers, whose work I’ve admired since their not-mumblecore debut The Pleasure of Being Robbed, have also evolved in sensibility and scope, drawing as much from Scorsese as they do from Cassavetes, only making it all their own thing.

27. PHANTOM THREAD
The retired (for now) Daniel Day-Lewis is predictably great here, as is Lesley Manville, Jonny Greenwood’s score and the insane attention-to-detail (from costuming to period breakfast food.) And yet, what launches this into the upper tier of Paul Thomas Anderson’s work is both the odd confluence of tones he absolutely masters and the arresting Vicky Krieps, who is every bit DDL’s equal, her Alma far shrewder than you’re first led to believe.

26. MOONRISE KINGDOM
In his first explicit period piece, Wes Anderson doesn’t exactly absolve himself of those quirks that all but define him, but in his total commitment to recreating an era and fully realizing a setting’s rich potential, he suddenly feels vital again. The extended sequence where his young protagonists run off together hits a crescendo of feeling and warmth that carries over to the delicate and lovely note the film goes out on.

25. FACES PLACES
As 89-year-old Agnès Varda and her co-director, 34-year-old performance artist JR (whose giant portraits plastered onto buildings drive this essay film’s narrative) travel around France, we see them as nothing less than kindred spirits. Ruminating on her illustrious past and contemplating her own mortality, this last major work from the Godmother of the French New Wave carries a wistful undercurrent in step with her affection for both art and the human spirit.

24. EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP
I initially fully bought this screwball account of a doofus who captured nearly an entire artistic movement with his video camera, which he then turned on its head by becoming its most celebrated participant. Banksy’s film exhilarates via its ingenuous construction and shrewd critique of art’s inevitable commoditization; whether it’s all real or just a hoax is less a cheat than a fascinating study of what an audience will take at face value.

23. UNDER THE SKIN
As an alien (Scarlett Johansson) visits Earth, adapting herself to a strange new world, director Jonathan Glazer encourages the viewer to follow the exact same process where the entire film is concerned—in time, the inscrutable gradually, effectively becomes relatable. A decade on from Lost in Translation, Johansson is a revelation, and so is the film, driven by startling imagery, an intricate sound design and the sustained excitement of continually leaping into the unknown.

22. FIRST REFORMED
The ridiculous and the sublime remain inseparable (as they should) in Paul Schrader’s late-career miracle about a priest (a never-better Ethan Hawke) troubled by climate change, alcoholism, religion-as-business—all the big stuff. From its austere, slow-track, zoom-in opening credits to an absolutely nutty ending, Schrader conducts a wild ride through the dark night of the soul; at last, he achieves the transcendence so favored by his longtime heroes Carl Dreyer and Robert Bresson.

21. CAROL
As Todd Haynes films go, what distinguishes Carol’s early ‘50s lesbian relationship apart from Far From Heaven’s heterosexual interracial dalliance (set a few years later) is the love story itself. As expected, Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara are both terrific and the meticulous evocation of so particular a world is top-notch; still, it’s all in service of a brave, slow-building screenplay that resonates all the way to its absolutely perfect final scene.