Top 10 Films of 2019
Tied for 1st:
Tied for 2nd:
#5 – 10 in alphabetical order:
Ash Is Purest White (Jia Zhangke)
Atlantics (Mati Diop)
Parasite (Bong Joon Ho)
Us (Jordan Peele)
Vox Lux (Brady Corbet)
Where’d You Go, Bernadette? (Richard Linklater)
Top 10 TV Series of 2019
Barry (Season 2)
Broad City (The Final Season)
Catastrophe (The Final Season)
Easy (Final Season)
Fleabag (Season 2)
Killing Eve (Season 2)
Mrs. Fletcher (Season 1)
Succession (Season 2)
Veep (The Final Season)
Favorite Film-Going Experiences
9. Jaws, Coolidge Corner Theatre, Brookline, MA, July 2014
As a devotee of both American New Wave Cinema and Martha’s Vineyard, MA (where Jaws was filmed), I’ve seen this film more times than I can count. My favorite viewing to date was a sold-out screening of a 35mm print in Boston’s premiere art house, in the company of two friends whose devotion rivals my own, with Natty Light cans in hand.
8. All the President’s Men, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Beverly Hills, CA, November 2006
To attend any screening at the Academy’s in-house cinema is a treat for cinephiles; to see the 30th anniversary screening of one of my favorite films with the person most responsible for its creation, Robert Redford, there to present it was a cinephile’s dream. The gunshot effect of the typewriter keys in the opening scene has never seemed more commanding.
6-7. [tie] Lost Highway, The Prince Theater, Philadelphia, October 2014; Blue Velvet, Valhalla Cinema, Sydney, May 2002
It was fortuitous that my moving to Philadelphia in the fall of 2014 coincided with my favorite filmmaker’s return to his college town for a career retrospective, and the Lost Highway screening he presented at the elegantly restored Prince Theater was worth every minute of the two-plus hours I waited on line. Just as precious, if more personal, is the afternoon I spent at the now-closed Valhalla Cinema in Sydney’s Glebe neighborhood. It wasn’t my first viewing of Blue Velvet (as a teenager I’d snuck a VHS copy from the video store to watch illicitly), but it was my first time seeing it on the big screen. I can vividly recall emerging from the dark theater and even darker Lynchian world into that sunny, charming neighborhood that looked a little more sinister as a result.
5. Purple Rain, Midnight Sun Film Festival, Sodankylä, Finland, June 2015
While no one’s idea of a cinematic masterpiece, Prince’s autobiographical musical/promotional album tie-in is fabulously fun, especially when screened to a singalong crowd of inebriated, dancing Finns under a circus tent at the North Pole during the week of the Midnight Sun. Having attended this Prince love-fest one year before his death lends a special poignancy to the night that I wrote on in Issue 10 of The Itinerant Cinephile and recorded for posterity here.
4. Koyaanisqatsi, with live musical accompaniment by The Philip Glass Ensemble, Orpheum Theatre, Boston, September 2019
As if this film weren’t already mesmerizing beyond words (hence its needing no dialogue), add to it the exquisitely composed and collaboratively designed (with filmmaker Godfrey Reggio) score by Philip Glass, performed live to a sold-out audience (who says film-going is dead? instead it’s come full circle, bringing us back to the “silent” era of live musical accompaniment) at Boston’s historic, majestic Orpheum Theatre, with additional enhancement provided by a certain supplement recently legalized in the Commonwealth – all told, a revitalizing cinematic event as well as an anything-but-dated warning regarding “life out of balance.”
3. The Blair Witch Project, Sundance Film Festival, Park City, Utah, January 1999
No doubt this ranking is attributable in large part to my having been in attendance for its world premiere screening. As I wrote in Issue 4 of The Itinerant Cinephile, its midnight showing at Park City’s Eccles Theatre was sold-out and few if any film-goers knew for sure – even if we may have suspected – that the film’s found-footage conceit was just that, a fabrication. Though it’s been indisputably influential, it hasn’t proven as enduring for repeat viewings, hence why it ranks behind…
2. Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One, Hamptons International Film Festival, East Hampton, New York, October 1999
William Greaves’ long-lost 1968 experimental feature has finally received the plaudits it deserves (Criterion release, Soderbergh-funded sequel), but at the time I first saw it, it felt like a time-capsule discovery. I still remember my and (judging from the palpable buzz in the theatre) my fellow attendees’ giddy astonishment, carried along by Greaves’ post-screening discussion with fan/supporter Steve Buscemi. I went on to write two essays on Symbio… and its sequel, the first of which got me my first academic publication (in the journal Film History). That Symbio… was left off of Slate’s recent Black Film Canon list was a glaring, perplexing omission, but one at least partly remedied by its 2015 induction into the Library of Congress’s National Film Registry; watch that space for my essay on the film, coming soon.
1. 2001: A Space Odyssey, Il Cinema Ritrovato, Piazza Maggiore, Bologna, Italy, July 2015
The highlight of last summer’s fellowship-funded journey across Europe, as chronicled in Issue 11 of The Itinerant Cinephile, also ranks as my greatest film-going experience of all time, at least for the time being. It’s going to be a hard one to beat: an extraordinary work of cinematic spectacle and one for which big-screen viewing is absolutely essential, enjoyed among a crowd of 5,000 cinephiles sitting outside on a balmy summer evening, drinking proseco and eating gelato under a full moon. Perfetto!
Favorite 5 Films of 2018
(in order of preference)
Zimna wojna (Cold War, Pawel Pawlikowski, 2018) An impeccably crafted, emotionally restrained yet still heart-rending roundelay spanning 15 years and four countries in just 91 minutes of screen time. Captivating performances by Tomaz Kot and, in a breakout role, Joanna Kulig. Also the year’s best trailer.
Support the Girls (Andrew Bujalski, 2018) Stephen Metcalf of Slate’s Culture Gabfest said it best in calling it “a parable about a black woman…holding the universe together while a white guy walks away with the profits.” Regina Hall is a marvel. Bujalski’s best since Beeswax.
First Reformed (Paul Schrader, 2017) Somehow simultaneously despairing and hopeful, Schrader’s meditation on keeping the faith at the end of days captures environmental and emotional devastation with equal power though the respective canvases of wintry upstate New York and Ethan Hawke’s face. I’m still wrestling with Schrader’s choice to cut into the sober realism with transcendental sequences at mid-point and film’s end, but I commend the bravery.
Western (Valeska Grisebach, 2017) The genre’s archetypal standoffs – between community and outsiders, the individual and the group, tradition and progress – are recast for a world assailed by globalization and xenophobia, underscored by its woman director’s knowing but not judgmental appraisal of masculinity’s codes. Like Support the Girls, a quietly forceful reminder that (as a wise woman once said) we are stronger together.
MATANGI / MAYA | M.I.A. (Steve Loveridge, 2018) This infectious, propulsive portrait of an artist-musician-activist whose penchant for performance resulted in the archival treasure trove of personal footage that compiles this documentary. As several reviewers noted, in vindicating M.I.A., this film talks back on behalf of one of many women lately derided and belittled for baring their conscience and speaking their mind.
Favorite 5 Film Scenes of 2018
(in alphabetical order)
Watching sunset/Hae-Mi’s dance in Beoning (Burning, Lee Chang-dong, 2018)
The dance to “Rock Around the Clock” in Cold War
Juliette Binoche’s Isabelle hearing her fortune read as the credits roll in the last shot of Un beau soleil interior (Let the Sunshine In, Claire Denis, 2017)
Cleo’s childbirth in Roma (Alfonso Cuarón, 2018)
On the roof in the final scene of Support the Girls; in critic Anne Cohen’s incisive observation, it’s “both a release and a call to arms — and don’t we all need that right now?”
Top 10 TV Series of 2018
The Bisexual Season 1 (Channel 4/Hulu)
Casual Season 4 (Hulu)
The Girlfriend Experience Season 2 (Starz)
Glow Season 2 (Netflix)
High Maintenance Season 2 (HBO)
Killing Eve Season 1 (BBC America)
Love Season 3 (Netflix)
Sally4Ever Season 1 (HBO)
Search Party Season 2 (TBS)
Succession Season 1 (HBO)
Best finale: Barry Season 1 (HBO)
Top 10 TV of 2017
(in alphabetical order)
Better Things Season 2 (FX)
Big Little Lies (HBO)
Catastrophe Season 3 (Amazon)
Curb Your Enthusiasm Season 9 (HBO)
Girls Season 6 (HBO)
Glow Season 1 (Netflix)
The Good Place Season 2 (NBC)
I Love Dick Season 1 (Amazon)
Top of the Lake: China Girl (Sundance/Hulu)
Transparent Season 4 (Amazon)
Most surprisingly great performance: Rosie O’Donnell in SMILF Season 1 (Showtime)
Biggest disappointment that I hope I’ll change my mind about in time: Twin Peaks: The Return (Showtime)
Honorable Mention: Broad City Season 4 (Comedy Central), Casual Season 3 (Hulu), Insecure Season 2 (HBO), Love Season 2 (Netflix), One Mississippi Season 2 (Amazon), Orange Is the New Black Season 5 (Netflix), SMILF Season 1 (Showtime)
Contenders still to see: Easy Season 2 (Netflix), The Girlfriend Experience Season 2 (Starz), Search Party Season 2 (TBS)
Favorite films of 2017
(with some leftovers from 2016), in alphabetical order:
20th Century Women (Mike Mills, 2016)
Aquarius (Kleber Mendonça Filho, 2016)
Call Me by Your Name (Luca Guadagnino, 2017)
The Florida Project (Sean Baker, 2017)
Get Out (Jordan Peele, 2017)
Toni Erdmann (Maren Ade, 2016)
Bacalaureat (Graduation, Cristian Mungiu, 2016)
Colossal (Nacho Vigalondo, 2016)
Columbus (Kogonada, 2017)
The Hero (Brett Haley, 2017)
Ladybird (Greta Gerwig, 2017)
Landline (Gillian Robespierre, 2017)
Personal Shopper (Olivier Assayas, 2016)
Contenders still to be seen: Bamui haebyun-eoseo honja (On the Beach at Night Alone, Hong Sang-soo, 2017), Un beau soleil intérieur (Let the Sun Shine In, Claire Denis, 2017), La fille inconnue (The Unknown Girl, Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, 2016), The Killing of a Sacred Deer (Yorgos Lanthimos, 2017), Una Mujer Fantástica (A Fantastic Woman, Sebastián Lelio, 2017), The Square (Ruben Östlund, 2017), You Were Never Really Here (Lynne Ramsay, 2017)
Most highly anticipated of 2018: Disobedience (Sebastián Lelio, 2018), Everybody Knows (Asghar Farhadi, 2018), Happy End (Michael Haneke, 2018), High Life (Claire Denis, 2018), The Miseducation of Cameron Post (Desiree Akhavan, 2018), The Souvenir: Part One (Joanna Hogg, 2018), Zama (Lucrecia Martel, 2018)
Favorite TV Series of 2016
(in alphabetical order)
Hit or miss early on and too often uncannily echoing collaborator Louie C.K.’s voice, it surprisingly took a while for Pamela Adlon’s considerable charms to win me over – and even longer for the question I was frustrated by all season to finally be addressed, in the sublime final scene.
Another one I resisted early on but grew to enjoy and admire, if not full-tilt embrace, for its (occasionally too broad) Brit wit and that of its creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge, a tart-tongued screwball heroine coping with loss through sexual self-destructiveness.
Indignant that Bee should have been thrust from the Daily Show throne to TBS, I was delighted to see her having, and getting, the last laugh. The sharpest take-down of the past year’s political meltdown, bar none.
Not only did my most anticipated series of the year not let me down in the shift from web short to HBO half-hour, it ingeniously adapted its format to still greater effect. Episode 3: “Grandpa,” shot from the perspective of a Goldendoodle named Gatsby, is the sure standout and a sweetly poignant riff on Au Hasard Balthazar and White God.
Another web series-to-HBO success, Issa Rae’s semi-autobiographical adventuring in being young, insecure, and black takes off on her luminous charisma and that of co-stars Yvonne Orji as lawyer/best friend Molly and Jay Ellis as soulful boyfriend-on-the-rocks Lawrence.
It was a stroke of genius to construct this season around the “what if?” conceit of Maron falling off the wagon, surpassed in poignancy only by the final scene of the season finale – since announced by Maron himself to be the series’ end, it proved a sweetly satisfying note to go out on.
Also heading into a fourth season, Masters and Johnson found their own clever way to revive flagging desire by daring to play up the deviousness that has always darkened the edges of Mrs. Johnson’s ambition – and fortunately, the chemistry between the show’s leads remains reliably scorching.
In yet another fourth season resurgence, OITNB got off to a hobbling start, burdened by the weight of its newfound virtues of treating the ever-expanding ensemble cast equally rather than subordinating them to Piper, all the while still delving into back stories. By mid-season, its gripping resonance with real-life events and searing critique of for-profit prisons provide the much-needed shot in the arm yet pave the way for the penultimate episode’s devastating tragedy.
From the quirky deadpan of Michael Showalter comes this existential mystery/subtle satire featuring a Harriet the Spy-esque heroine (the great Alia Shawkat) and her gang of insufferable millennials in search of a missing quasi-friend within a painfully hipster Brooklyn. As surprising as its from-out-of-nowhere appearance and indie royalty cameos (Parker Posey!) is the end-of-season diversion into the real consequences of superficial living.
This “still exciting and all too rare” story of “well-adjusted lesbians,” as Slate’s June Thomas describes it, takes a note from just about every species of sitcom (couples, neighbors, struggling comics, up-and-coming Angelenos) but still manages to seem fresh – doubtlessly because of the real-life romantic/comic energy between partner-creators Rhea Butcher and Carmen Esposito.
I’m undecided about whether this is the best season yet, but definitely it’s the one in which the scarily prescient world of Selina Meyer and team was finally surpassed in absurdist dysfunction by our real political shitshow. At least we’ll be able to mentally replay all the most savagely killing bits when the apocalypse comes.
A sci-fi/western about men behaving badly falls vastly afield of my wheelhouse, so it’s testament to how riveting this debut season was that I became immediately and thoroughly hooked. The lavishly cinematic production values and stellar cast kept things compelling even after the plot convolutions threatened to go the way of Lost.
Best Scene: Laurie Metcalf’s 9 minute monologue in episode 3 of Horace and Pete (LouisCK.net) is a bravura piece of acting and the most transfixing scene of erotic reminiscence since Bergman’s Persona.
Best Episode: “Art and Life,” Easy Season 1 (Netflix)
Mumblecore maestro Joe Swanberg’s anthology series of eight interlocking episodes had too much annoying hipster navel-gazing to warrant placement above, the exception being this exquisitely crafted half-hour featuring Marc Maron and Jane Adams.
Best Performer: Kate McKinnon
My indignation at its taking this long for everyone to get on the Kate McKinnon train I’ve been touting for ages (yep, patting myself on the back here) is tempered by its finally happening – thanks to the “Glove Lunch” parody as well as her shimmying SNL impersonation of Hillary that peaked with her devastating post-election cold open rendition of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah.
Best Ending: Transparent Season 3
An otherwise lackluster season comparatively, it ended on a high note with Shelley Pfefferman (Judith Light) striding out from the wings (where her family and the show too often banish her) to deliver a show-stopping rendition of Alanis Morissette’s “Hand in My Pocket.”
Most Anticipated Series of 2017:
Desiree Akhavan’s The Bisexual (U.K. Channel 4)
Jill Soloway’s I Love Dick (Amazon)
And, of course, Twin Peaks (Showtime)
Favorite 6 Films of 2016
An atrocious year politically, the cinematic landscape didn’t provide nearly as engulfing a refuge as Peak TV, making for a diminutive list on my part. Though given that every film likely to garner award nominations and “best of” entries seemed to drop in December, my favorites could grow considerably after I finally manage to catch the contenders listed below.
Finding all three of these loosely interlocking vignettes of Montana women living lives of quiet desperation equally shattering, I concede to the consensus favoring the final third insofar as it is predicated on a simple yet ingenious change to the Maile Meloy short story Reichardt adapted.
Though not as tautly composed as You Can Count on Me nor as exhilaratingly majestic as Margaret, Lonergan’s third feature incorporates comedy and tragedy in a way that seems endearingly true to life but no less crushing.
Gloria’s Paulina García and irresistible newcomer Michael Barbieri are the standouts among an excellent ensemble cast in this unsentimental but moving story of neighboring families entangled in one another’s lives in gentrifying Brooklyn.
From its arresting opening use of direct address to its confounding close, this piercing treatment of female relationships in the spirit of Persona and 3 Women features a mesmerizing performance by Mackenzie Davis.
Mumblecore lives on with this largely improvised depiction of former high school sweethearts (Mark Duplass and Sarah Paulson) reliving their youth over the course of a night that builds slowly but surely to an entirely satisfying, devastating revelation.
Both are set on the Sicilian island of Lampedusa and are importantly informed by the migrant crisis underway there, though in drastically contrasting yet dramatically affecting ways.
Contenders still to be seen: 20th Century Women (Mike Mills, 2016), American Honey (Andrea Arnold, 2016), Bacalaureat (Graduation, Cristian Mungiu, 2016), Elle (Paul Verhoeven, 2016), La fille inconnue (The Unknown Girl, Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, 2016), Kate Plays Christine (Robert Greene, 2016), Lovesong (So Yong Kim, 2016), Paterson (Jim Jarmusch, 2016), Personal Shopper (Olivier Assayas, 2016), Rester vertical (Staying Vertical, Alain Guiraudie, 2016), Sieranevada (Cristi Puiu, 2016), Toni Erdmann (Maren Ade, 2016)
Favorite 15 of the First 15 (2000-2015)[In alphabetical order]
Reminiscent of Ozu, this quietly devastating family drama about a father and daughter loosening ties is Denis’s most touching film. Every relationship is heartbreaking and every performer exquisite, but the “Night Moves” scene at film’s center is, for me, among the most rapturous sequences in all of cinema.
A most self-assured debut and, along with Andrew Haigh’s Weekend (see below), my vote for best queer film of the 21st century thus far. Irreverently funny even as it’s palpating the agony of heartbreak, this is one of those endlessly rewatchable indie romcoms (like Walking and Talking and 2 Days in Paris) a gal can dose herself with during rough times.[tie] Before Sunset and Before Midnight (Richard Linklater, 2004 and 2013)
The second and third, but hopefully not last, entries in the most romantic (and lowest grossing) trilogy of all time. So true-to-life do they seem, Julie Delpy’s Céline and Ethan Hawke’s Jesse overtake other characters they’ve played and even the actors themselves. The ability of their love to transcend time is echoed by these films, unfolding in real time (or close to it) and at increasingly protracted seeming intervals of nine years, doing the same.
It’s tempting to use Shelley Duvall’s term “transplendent” to describe this film, by turns subtly charming and majestically moving, in which Juliette Binoche and Kristen Stewart run lines and (joined by Chloë Grace Moretz) play mind games amid the Swiss Alps. As discussed in Shonni Enelow’s illuminating essay, Assayas’s masterwork is a meditation on authorship, performance, the male gaze, and aging that above all is an ode to Binoche.
Caché (2005) gets more love from Haneke devotees, but for me it’s narrowly beaten out by his other intimate epic of contemporary European life. Beginning with its bravura eight minute opening shot, in which the first in a crushing series of moral quandaries is detonated, we are confronted by the undeniable interdependency that challenges our attempts at social and political isolation. Leveling a frank yet hopeful look at how our actions have consequences, it’s an unsettlingly prescient cri de coeur regarding Europe’s cultural and generational clashes.
Weird Greek Wave MVP Lanthimos’s breakout film is as polished and chilling as the hermetically sealed family fortress that confines three siblings to obliviousness of the outside world – until its walls are breached, and patriarchal authority undermined, as a result of some renegade videotapes. Dry and funny yet terrifying in its meditation on how (as I wrote in In Media Res) we make sense of movies and of the world, and the dangers we risk if we cannot.
A deliriously mind-bending, sublimely romantic film that ponders the philosophy of love and relationships alongside memory and morality (see Christopher Grau’s insightful essay on the latter), made perfect by an ingeniously crafted script by Charlie Kaufman combined with Gondry’s visual inventiveness and career-best performances by Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet.
The most accessible film by the self-proclaimed “pariah of French cinema” is no less provocative than her other work, but in treating the titular adolescent protagonist’s relationship to her beautiful older sister with poignancy and humor, Breillat shapes her most defiantly feminist rendering yet of female solidarity and sexuality.
This enigmatic, Antonioni-esque film about a traumatized woman’s response to a tragic accident confronts Argentina’s political past and socioeconomic divide alongside women’s role in patriarchal society, probing questions of collective memory, complicity, and guilt as indecipherable as enthralling lead María Onetto’s visage.
I could never do this film the justice that Paul Arthur did in his review, but suffice it to say that I too feel as though I’ve carried on a love affair with this emotionally wrenching, heart-stoppingly beautiful portrayal of unconsummated love between a smoldering Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung, regal in a glorious array of ao dai.
What more can be said about this film that hasn’t already? Quite a bit, undoubtedly, given how it reveals additional layers upon each reviewing. Lynch’s achievement is all the more stunning given that he conjured it from the ashes of an ABC-annihilated TV project and gave Naomi Watts, about to give up on acting, the breakout role in which she is, simply, astonishing. Lynch at his very best, showing Hollywood at its very worst.
Upon first viewing I turned off Arnold’s first feature, so unintelligible were its characters’ Scottish brogues. Thankful I am that I tried again, availing myself of the subtitling option this time, for this story of a CCTV official stalking a just-released felon is an astounding tale of revenge turned redemption.[tie] Weekend and 45 Years (Andrew Haigh, 2011 and 2015)
Ranking both at the top of their respective year’s Favorite Films lists, I’m enraptured by Haigh’s melancholic, romantic sensibility as evidenced by his portrayals of two surprisingly consonant couplings – one a would-be one night stand between young gay men, the other a decades-strong but far from invincible marriage. To think that he’s already given us the dearly (and too soon) departed Looking (HBO, 2014-2015), as well.
It’s telling that the only documentary to make my list takes a highly hybridized approach to telling Polley’s family history. The gravitas she possesses as an actor, even when a child, is even more evident in her three directorial efforts thus far, with Stories We Tell hitting hardest in interrogating how we (re)construct identity through collective, and selective, memories.
Following (at length) his harrowing first two features Sexy Beast (2000) and Birth (2004), Glazer’s third outing is as terrifying as a horror film but far more unsettling for how it shifts focus to its protagonist’s metamorphosis, embodied by an unforgettable Scarlett Johansson, from monstrous to human(e).
Honorable Mentions: 25th Hour; 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days; Beeswax; Brokeback Mountain; Force Majeure; Frances Ha; A History of Violence; In the Cut; Lost in Translation; Margaret; Morvern Callar; Oslo, August 31; Tiny Furniture; Wendy and Lucy; Volver.
20 Favorite TV Shows of 2015
(in alphabetical order)
20 Favorite Films of 2015
The second time in a half-decade that Haigh has topped my year’s list (Weekend was my Best Film of 2011), his latest is every bit as devastating and redeeming a depiction of an intimate relationship’s power to endure. Equally truthful and moving, though about breakup and heartache, Akhavan’s pitch-perfect, deadpan debut feature (released via VOD in early 2015) is Annie Hall reimagined by a Persian-American bisexual woman – i.e. less uneasily feminist, infinitely more queer and ethnically-attuned, but still endlessly clever and rewatchable.
Darbareye Elly/About Elly (Asghar Farhadi, 2009) Following on the success of 2011’s A Separation, Farhadi’s fourth feature received an overdue theatrical release in 2014 to become my favorite of his films and even, perhaps, of Iranian cinema overall. Inventively invoking Antonioni’s L’Avventura to scrutinize social mores and how people respond to crisis, About Elly offers at once a knowing portrayal of human interaction generally alongside sensitively rendered insight into the specific experience of women living within a conservative society.
Deux jours, une nuit/Two Days, One Night (Jean-Pierre Dardenne & Luc Dardenne, 2014) Aided by a searing lead performance by Marion Cotillard, the Dardennes depict the lowly late capitalist worker’s existence as one of utter vulnerability and desperation. An exceptionally affecting cinematic depiction of the cruelties of capitalism, how it makes decent people act inhumanely, but how interpersonal interaction can sometimes persevere to get people to do the right thing.
Fidelio, l’odyssée d’Alice/Fidelio, Alice’s Odyssey (Lucie Borleteau, 2014) A luminous Ariane Labed (Attenberg) plays a ship engineer whose long hauls at sea compromise her commitment to her boyfriend; her claim to sexual independence is neither condemned nor is it relieved of all contrition. Despite some regrettable racial Othering, Borleteau’s intimate epic constitutes a formidable feature debut.
A Most Violent Year (J.C. Chandor, 2014) Chandor’s clear-eyed assessment of a striving husband-wife team forced to confront their moral compass when their business and family are threatened provides as sharp a take-down of capitalism as Two Days, One Night (see above). Leads Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain are magnetic, and Chastain’s wardrobe is swoon-inducing.
Phoenix (Christian Petzold, 2014) Petzold’s sixth collaboration with muse Nina Hoss is his most cinematically inspired meditation yet on Germany’s traumatic past and collective reinvention, skillfully merging Hitchcockian melodrama with political allegory while remaining human-scaled and deeply affecting, and culminating in an astounding, unforgettable mic-drop moment of film music magic.
Spotlight (Tom McCarthy, 2015) Deftly and subtly acted by its ensemble cast, this gripping depiction of the Boston Globe investigative journalists who exposed the local Catholic Archdiocese’s acts of child molestation and their cover-up does not hit a wrong note, with its unromanticized portrayal of the journalistic process second only to All the President’s Men.
Tangerine (Sean Baker, 2015) Baker’s much anticipated (by me) follow-up to 2012’s Starlet, this frantically unfurling day-in-the-life of a fierce twosome, shot on an iPhone amid Hollywood’s dingiest strip malls, humanizes without condescending to its characters, trans sex workers and their clients. Not unlike my favorite film of last year, The Clouds of Sils Maria (Olivier Assayas, 2015), at its core Tangerine is a film about two women supporting one another within a profession that objectifies and exploits them.
Plemya/The Tribe (Miroslav Slaboshpitsky, 2014) 130 minutes in the un-translated sign language-communicating company of a brutal student gang at a Ukrainian school for the deaf, with the most wrenching abortion scene ever committed to celluloid, The Tribe is one of those films so excruciating to watch that I hope never to have to endure another viewing even as I remain grateful for the humbling spectatorial experience that translates for us its characters’ struggles to be heard and seen, and to survive.
Runners-up: Bande de filles/Girlhood (Céline Sciamma, 2014), Bob and the Trees (Diego Ongaro, 2015), Grandma (Paul Weitz, 2015), I’ll See You in My Dreams (Brett Haley, 2015), La meraviglie/The Wonders (Alice Rohrwacher, 2014), Mistress America (Noah Baumbach, 2015), Une nouvelle amie/The New Girlfriend (François Ozon, 2014), Party Girl (Marie Amachoukeli, Claire Burger, and Samuel Theis, 2014), Results (Andrew Bujalski, 2015), Viaje (Paz Fabrega, 2015).
20 Favorite Films of 2014
1) The Clouds of Sils Maria (Olivier Assayas, 2015) Officially opening mid-2015, it was my most entrancing cinematic experience of last year. A poignant meditation on art as well as a delightful female buddy comedy with sublime performances by its three female leads.
2) Under the Skin (Jonathan Glazer, 2013) With the Internet flooded by fan adoration and scholarly analyses already shooting down the pipeline, I’ll confine myself to calling this a unique, and uniquely terrifying, cinematic vision in every way.
3) Joanna Hogg trilogy: Unrelated (2007), Archipelago (2010), Exhibition (2013) Finally available to U.S. viewers via Netflix streaming, Hogg’s work to date is quietly revelatory. A Mike Leigh of the haute bourgeoisie.
4) Force Majeure (Ruben Östlund, 2014) A near-disaster and its aftermath beget a crisis of faith for two vacationing couples, whose increasingly desperate attempts to address what happened are (despite a florid final act) nothing short of mesmerizing.
5) Love Is Strange (Ira Sachs, 2014) John Lithgow and Alfred Molina as a decades-old but just-married gay couple confronting the cruel new world of too-high Manhattan rents and reluctant family support. Simultaneously heartening and heartbreaking.
6) Boyhood (Richard Linklater, 2014) Less enthused than most (the Before trilogy remaining, for me, Linklater’s crowning achievement), I felt deflated by both kids becoming less interesting with each passing year. Yet Arquette’s and Hawke’s performances were touching, and the combination of epic span and mico-drama impressive.
7) Obvious Child (Gillian Robespierre, 2014) Highly gratifying for being Jenny Slate’s much-deserved breakout, for giving bathroom humor feminist inflection, and for providing the abortion comedy antidote to Juno.
8) Me and You (Bernard Bertolucci, 2012) A late gem from the 73-year-old master who still manages to shock, though here by not delivering the expected incest between half-siblings sharing a hideout. The Italian-language version of Bowie’s “Space Oddity” that accompanies their climactic encounter is a transcendent moment of film music.
9-10) [tie] Land Ho! (Aaron Katz and Martha Stephens, 2014) and The Trip to Italy (Michael Witterbottom, 2014) Both feature a rascal-straight man duo living large in an exotic milieu, with droll discussions and imitations respectively alongside trenchant observations on male friendship and aging.
11) The One I Love (Charlie McDowell, 2014) A Charlie Kaufman-esque entry into the “sci-feelings” genre of trippy contemplations about modern love. Its discomforting suggestions about what men and women look for in their mates, plus slyly shifting performances by Mark Duplass and Elisabeth Moss, make it the anti-Gone Girl.
12) Only Lovers Left Alive (Jim Jarmusch, 2013) The best vampire film to come along in ages. Tom Hiddleston’s Luddite recluse skulks around Detroit while his older lover, dreadlocked polymath Tilda Swinton, stalks around Morocco. They reunite, Mia Wasikowska arrives, things get bloody. Ineffably cool.
13) Happy Christmas (Joe Swanberg, 2014) Post-Mumblecore, Swanberg still makes “small” movies that are anything but. The largely improvised, intimate conversations among leads Anna Kendrick, Melanie Lynskey, and Lena Dunham are effervescent even as they convey the underlying sadness, guilt, and awkwardness involved in negotiating adulthood and family.
14) Vic + Flo Saw a Bear (Denis Côté, 2013) Two women, just released ex-cons and lovers, shack up together in the woods but find their domestic harmony under siege. An ambiguous, surreal, and terrifying story of their love and battle for its survival.
15) Age of Panic (Justine Triet, 2013) Occasionally exhausting but never boring, this first feature thrusts us into the midst of a scene of ex-marital discord unfurling against the backdrop of a divided France awaiting the results of the May 2012 presidential election. The sequences shot among the protesting throngs around Rue de Solférino are electrifying.
16) Le Week-end (Roger Michell, 2013) A slight but irresistible film about a twilight-years couple’s trip back to Paris in remembrance of another taken long ago, and their inevitable failure to recapture its youthful magic. Buoyed by Jeff Goldblum’s performance and a touching recreation of the Madison from Bande à part.
17) The Rover (David Michôd, 2014) Michôd’s sophomore effort still displays a too casual approach to violence; the unconscionable killing by Guy Pearce’s hero in act one is the film’s fatal flaw. Nonetheless this post-apocalyptic tale of vengeance and loyalty, and the surprising, touching perfection of its ending, stays with you.
18) Like Father, Like Son (Hirokazu Koreeda, 2013) Two families, upon discovering their sons were switched at birth, work through the dilemma of whether, and how, to act, becoming increasingly integrated into each other’s lives in the process. Acutely observant in its assessment of class difference and notions about fatherhood in contemporary Japanese culture.
19) Night Moves (Kelly Reichardt, 2013) A somber, dread-infused eco-thriller about the execution and after-effects by a misfit trio of radical environmentalists to destroy a dam in the Pacific Northwest, its watchful sizing up of the blindness of fanaticism regrettably rises to a disappointingly overdramatic denouement.
20) Abuse of Weakness (Catherine Breillat, 2013) A welcome return by Breillat, whose autobiographical experience of being stroke-impaired and swindled by a thuggish con man is a variation on Breillat’s ritual obsessions with female embodiment and masochism. Isabelle Huppert one-ups Amour’s Emmanuelle Riva in her excruciating enactment of disability.
Favorite 14 Television Shows of 2014
13) High Maintenance
Best episode: Masters of Sex, “Fight”
Favorite 10 Albums of 2014
10) Ex Hex, Rips
8) Tycho, Awake
Best Track of 2014: Röyksopp & Robyn, “Monument”
Favorite 10 Albums of 2013
10) Glasser, Ring
Best Track of 2013: “Song for Zula” Phosphorescent
Best Music Performance of 2013: “Afterlife” Arcade Fire
Favorite 13 Films of 2013
Honorable Mention: The Lifeguard (Liz Garcia, U.S.)
Best Opening Sequence: Post Tenebras Lux (Carlos Reygadas, Mexico)
For the dog days of summer, my Best Summer Movies list:
In memorial for the tragedy in my favorite city this Patriots’ Day, my top 10 Boston films:
10) Next Stop Wonderland (Brad Anderson, 1998)
9) The Spanish Prisoner (David Mamet, 1997)
8) Between the Lines (Joan Micklin Silver, 1977)
7) The Fighter (David O. Russell, 2010)
6) Good Will Hunting (Gus Van Sant, 1997)
5) Monument Ave. (Ted Demme, 1998)
4) The Departed (Martin Scorsese, 2006)
3) Funny Ha Ha (Andrew Bujalski, 2002)
2) The Verdict (Sidney Lumet, 1982)
1) The Friends of Eddie Coyle (Peter Yates, 1973)
My top 12 of 2012
Honorable Mention: Sister (Ursula Meier, France)
My Top 11 of ’11