Watched in 2022 – Week 2

Week two of the new year was much like week one for my film watching. I placed a heavy priority on making a dent in my personal Criterion collection that I have not yet watched. This will undoubtedly be an ongoing project as I have fallen quite behind on my watching. Additionally, with the final best of 2021 lists hitting this week, I spent supplemented my Criterion diet with a steady stream of 2021 films that the critics I follow suggested.

Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959, Dir. Alain Resnais)

Review: 'Hiroshima Mon Amour' - Chicago Tribune

Alain Resnais’s French New Wave feature is an exploration of the things in which all is fair: love and war. Emmanuelle Riva plays an unnamed French woman in Hiroshima to act in a movie that is using the location to tell a story of piece. In the last days of her shoot she meets a Japanese man – played by Eiji Okada – and the two fall instantly in love. From that set up, the film follows the two around the city for 24 hours as they discuss what Hiroshima, and the bomb, means to them along with their experiences in love and their longing to stay together. The film relies heavily on passion, not just between the characters but the passion that each actor is able to impart upon the role. The “will they won’t they” push and pull between the two creates stellar drama and is only capable of doing so because the film is so well acted.

Wings of Desire (1987, Dir. Wim Wenders)

Five visual themes in Wings of Desire – Wim Wenders' immortal film about  watching | BFI

Wings of Desire is a wonderful meditation on humanity from German auteur Wim Wenders. The story of an angel Damiel (Bruno Ganz) who so loves the humans that he observes as part of his angelic purpose that he choses to forfeit his immortality and live as one of them. The fallen angel story may be what the film ultimately builds to, but it makes up relatively little of the actual runtime. Instead Wenders spends the first three quarters of the film in Damiel’s angelic shoes watching humans and hearing their inner thoughts through voice over. This cinematic decision to spend so much time from a voyeuristic works perfectly for the medium of film and can even be seen as a loving tribute to the cinematic experience.

Bitter Rice (1949, Dir. Giuseppe De Santis)

Bitter Rice (1949) | The Criterion Collection

Giuseppe De Santis made an Italian film that felt at home with the output of Hollywood in his 1949 feature Bitter Rice. Leaning heavily on the noir sensibilities that were prominent at the time the film tells the story of Francesca (Doris Dowling) a woman who upon committing a burglary with her partner Walter (Vittorio Gassman) finds cover by joining the annual rice harvest done exclusively by women. It is there that she meets Silvana (Silvana Mangano) and the three of their futures become entangled. The setting of a women only provides a uniqueness to the crime story. It centers the story around female friendships and is the better for it.

The World to Come (2021, Dir. Mona Fastvold)

The World to Come' Review - Variety

The lesbian period drama is undeniably cliched by this point, but when they are done well, they can still be moving. The World to Come is a lesbian period drama done well. Much of that is due to the aft directorial hands of Mona Fastvold.  She focuses on the intense longing between Abigail (Katherine Waterston) and Tallie (Vanessa Kirby) rather than any of the physicality they experience. This results in a passionate forbidden love story that titillates the senses without exposing a single breast. The World to Come is one of the most emotionally riveting films of the last year.

Swan Song (2021, Dir. Todd Stephens)

Movie legend Udo Kier is a hairdresser on a quest in the trailer for Swan  Song | EW.com

Watching Udo Kier dance to Robyn’s “Dancing on My Own” is one of the most fun moments cinema in 2021 had to offer. In Swan Song, he plays Pat and aging, gay, retired hairdresser who is propositioned to come out of retirement for one last job doing a deceased woman’s hair for her funeral. This excuse to leave his nursing home sets Pat on a trip down memory lane as he regains his sense of self. Kier makes this movie as special as it is. In story and direction, the film may be unremarkable, but Kier’s performance elevates the film with his wonderful camp and charisma.

The Worst Person in the World (2021, Dir. Joachim Trier)

The Worst Person in the World

Julie – played miraculously by Renate Reinsve – is not the worst person in the world; in fact, she is no different than many 30-year-old millennials. She speaks out a little more than the older generations find comfortable, and she makes some questionable decisions. They just all come along with the uncertainty in life that this generation feels. Director Joachim Trier captures the listlessness of the quarterlife crises that has extended well past its appropriate end date. As the film progresses, it leans heavier on Reinsve. The emotions become stronger as her life becomes more complicated and Reinsve delivers at every moment.

All Light, Everywhere (2021, Dir. Theo Anthony)

All Light, Everywhere movie review (2021) | Roger Ebert

All Light, Everywhere is the new documentary by Theo Anthony examining human bias and blind spots specifically through the lens of police body cameras. The imperfections of the police body cameras are clearly stated by the film: the cameras are “watching what happened to them [the police officers] but not what they did”. This imperfection in the visual prophet obscures facts about events in ways that stack the deck for the police officers. The film waxes on philosophically about the nature of vision and captured image in between the moments more directly related to police observation, but the connection is at times nebulous, and the film comes across as rather naval gazey.

A Woman Under the Influence (1974, Dir. John Cassavetes)

Find Cassavetes Confusing? Start Here - The New York Times

Mable (Gena Rowlands) is under many influences. These start superficially with her drunken escapades, but eventually the influences become more nebulous. Her roles as a mother and wife weigh down on her as does some good old fashioned mental illness. Rowlands plays this overwhelming break on her psyche over the top, but the performance never feels of camp. Instead, her performance feels like the only appropriate way to play her character’s ailment. It comes across as both exaggerated and grounded at the same time. The actions she is making may be extreme, but the emotion and fear behind them strike as true.

Mon Oncle (1958, Dir. Jacques Tati)

Mon Oncle (1958) directed by Jacques Tati • Reviews, film + cast •  Letterboxd

I am going to be honest, I do not really get the Monsieur Hulot films. They have their moments, and Mon Oncle is no different, but they just feel like low energy Charlie Chaplin films. Hulot as a protagonist is so passive that when funny things happen around him, they are often shrugged off with out really playing into the absurdity. This leads to a film that surely arouses some chuckles but never any uproarious laughter.

The Last Duel (2021, Dir. Ridley Scott)

The Last Duel' Ending, Explained - Was Marguerite Telling The Truth? | DMT

The first of two Ridley Scott films in 2021 tells the graphic story of two friends turned enemies who are set on a course to battle each other to the death in 14th century France. The film is told through the Rashômon trope of telling the same story through different viewpoints. That being of the two rivals, Sir Jean de Carrouges (Matt Damon) and Jacques Le Gris (Adam Driver) and Carrouges’s wife Marguerite (Jodie Comer). The Rashômon style adds a flare that the otherwise cut and dry period drama would be lacking and keeps the film’s pace up despite the two and a half hour runtime. It’s always a risk to directly compare your film to a classic, but it worked well for Scott in The Last Duel.

Watched in 2022 – Week 1

While in 2021 I attempted to, and succeeded in for half a year, watch and write about one film a day, I know that I’m not quite in the place to do that this year, so instead I’m going to attempt to watch one film a day but just write up a weekly report on what I watched. After a mad dash to watch as many 2021 films as I could in December, I decided that January would be something very different. There are dozens of Criterion films that I own but have not watched, and this month I am going to make a dent in that number. Though, while my 2021 movie binge for my year end list may be over, I make it a priority each year to see every film nominated for an Oscar, so I will be sneaking some newish releases in with my Criterion binge.

Léon Morin, Priest (1961, Dir. Jean-Pierre Melville)

Léon Morin, Priest (1961) | MUBI

Set in WWII occupied France, Léon Morin, Priest stars Emmanuelle Riva as Barny, an atheist woman who becomes ennamored with the local Catholic priest Léon Morin played by Jean-Paul Belmondo. The film includes some light slice of life moments for Barny as she works and raises her daughter, but once she meets Morin the film focuses almost entirely on the evening meetups between the two and the transformative effect it has on Barny. While religion plays a major role in the film and Morin quotes scripture at time, Léon Morin, Priest never feels preachy towards its audience. Rather than attempt to spread the gospel outwards, director Jean-Pierre Melville focuses on the relationship between the two leads.

Rosetta (1999, Dir. Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne)

Rosetta (1999) - IMDb

The Palme winning Rosetta from brother directors Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne is a masterclass in narrative cinéma vérité. The film follows Rosetta portrayed masterfully by Émilie Dequenne as she jumps from working class job to job in search of one that will keep her. Shot entirely handheld, the camera spends the entire runtime fixated on Rosetta. This shaky style imparts a level of urgency on the story as Rosetta struggles to find a lasting job to secure her housing. The Dardenne’s frequently focus their films on the trials of the working class, and their depiction of it has never seemed as desperate as it does in Rosetta.

Jane B. by Agnès V. (1988, Dir. Agnès Varda)

Jane B. par Agnes V.': Film Review – The Hollywood Reporter

Agnès Varda was one of the most unique documentarians to ever touch the medium and in Jane B. by Agnès V. she tackled the cinematic portrait for actress Jane Birkin. While most cinematic portraits are created largely in the editing room by borrowing from previous interviews and cinematic works, Varda decided to shoot everything new. This meant not only new interviews but shooting scenes from fake movies to fill the time. This distinctive choice blends well with the trademark of Varda’s documentaries: how she inserts herself as a character. In all her documentaries, Varda plays the audience surrogate seeking out knew knowledge with an eager disposition. This self-insertion would become more pronounced in her later documentaries, but it still shines through her.

All About Eve (1950, Dir. Joseph L. Mankiewicz)

All About Eve is a perfect feminist film – how did the play get it so  wrong? | Drama films | The Guardian

The best picture winner at the 1951 Academy Awards, All About Eve is filled with amazing performances – it received five acting Oscar nominations – but it is the man behind the scenes who deserves most of the credit. Joseph L. Mankiewicz penned one of the all-time great screenplays in addition to directing it masterfully. The character of Eve (Anne Baxter) is wonderfully duplicitous as she connives her way to fame all with a demure smile upon her face, and while Baxter does an amazing job, it’s Mankiewicz’s prose that truly elevates the film. All About Eve is a wonderful piece of classic Hollywood delivered by one of the most renowned writers.

The Gold Rush (1925, Dir. Charles Chaplin)

On This Day | The Jethro Tull Forum

One of the classic Charlie Chaplin films, The Gold Rush delivers some of the best physical comedy that the acclaimed actor director would ever produce.While not the most culturally relevant film Chaplin would make The Gold Rush is arguably one of the funniest films that he would. Moments like Chaplin and Big Jim McKay (Mack Swain) eating away at Chaplin’s shoe (and Chaplin’s character going without a right shoe the rest of the film because of it) or the two of them trying desperately not to fall out of the house which has found itself precariously perched over a mountain bring plenty of laughs.

Veronika Voss (1982, Dir. Rainer Werner Fassbinder)

Veronika Voss in Vancouver | Current | The Criterion Collection

Part of Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s BRD Trilogy exploring post war Germany, Veronika Voss does so more by allegory than anything direct. Rosel Zech plays the titular Veronika, a movie star who had a thriving career during the war years but has since fallen on hard times. Fassbinder’s direction compares Voss’s struggles to that of the German people. Her struggles with addiction as Dr Katz (Annemarie Düringer) takes advantage of her reflects how the German people who were not guilty of war crimes must have felt during that period. Outside of the Allegory, Veronika Voss works as an effective noir film with Robert (Hilmar Thate) as sports journalist playing the detective role. The mystery of Voss’s predicament and the way in which it quickly accelerates makes for riveting filmmaking.

Being the Ricardos (2021, Dir. Aaron Sorkin)

Being the Ricardos' examines why we love Lucille Ball (and Nicole Kidman) |  Star Tribune

In the new offering by Aaron Sorkin, he uses the week of I Love Lucy rehearsals after Lucille Ball was interviewed under suspicion of being a communist to tell the story of the acclaimed actor’s life. Nicole Kidman plays Ball in a performance that is the clear highlight of the film. Kidman is transformative in her portrayal of the 50s icon. This acting performance is held back by a rare weak screenplay from the Oscar winner. The non-linear aspects to the story and the intercuts to older versions of characters explaining what the film just or would show causes the flow of the film to come to an abrupt halt at multiple times.

Top 25 Films of 2021

This was an odd year for my movie viewing. I started the year by making it nearly 6 months of watching and reviewing one movie a day. SIFF 2021 was a huge highlight seeing me watch and review 30 films through the 10-day festival. Near the midpoint of the year, however, depression hit hard, and I went months without even watching a film and spent 7 weeks in a partial hospitalization program. In the past couple of months, I have been able to start watching movies again, but writing has still escaped me. My hope is that with this list I can get back on the writing train; maybe not everyday like I was last year, but at least more often than never.

As far as this list goes, I’m going to be honest. I did not fall in love with many films this year. Because of that, this list is going to be a little on the weird side. I have many films in my top 10 that most sites do not have anywhere on their list, but I liked what I liked this year, and I am not going to change my list to better match the critical consensus. A few caveats of films that I was unable to see but could likely have made this list: Cyrano, Memoria, Red Rocket, West Side Story, and The Worst Person in the World. With all that under consideration, this is what I think were the best films of the year in 2021.

25. Mass (Dir. Fran Kranz)

Mass' Understands the Longevity of Trauma - The Atlantic

An acting tour de force, Mass tells the story of a pair of couples who confront each other for a very emotional conversation. While the film is mostly unremarkable visually, the devastating performances from each of the four co-leads carry it onto this list. Martha Plimpton and Ann Dowd in particular standout delivering some of the best performances of the year. If the Oscars were better, they would find room for both leading ladies in their nomination process, but as Mass went largely unseen it will be lucky to see a nod for either.

24. The Hand of God (Dir. Paolo Sorrentino)

Review: Paolo Sorrentino's 'The Hand of God' - Awardsdaily - The Oscars,  the Films and everything in between.

Paolo Sorrentino’s most recent feature plays out like two distinct halves that work together to create a complete coming-of-age story. The first half is a familial comedy film as the young Fabietto (Filippo Scotti) navigates the outrageous cast of characters that make up his large extended family. This is then abruptly changed by the death of Fabietto’s parents forcing the football obsessed young man to confront his future a little earlier than he hoped. Even as the film confronts death, it maintains an amount of levity throughout that ties everything together and makes the film a joy to watch.

23. Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn (Dir. Radu Jude)

Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn - Official Trailer - YouTube

With the award for the most ridiculous film title comes an equally ridiculous film. Contemplating the real-world conundrum of to what extent schoolteachers have a right to their private lives, Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn is also a humorous contemplation of Romanian life. Consisting of three extremely unique parts, the film builds up to the most farcical PTO meeting in all of cinema. Funny and provocative, though decidedly unsexy (despite beginning with non-simulated amateur porn), Radu Jude’s most recent film is a fully singular viewing experience.

22. Azor (Dir. Andreas Fontana)

Azor movie review & film summary (2021) | Roger Ebert

One of many slow burns to make the list, Azor does a lot to make the insanely rich seem subtly dangerous. Following Swiss banker Ivan de Wiel (Fabrizio Rongione) and his wife Inès (Stéphanie Cléau) as they meet with potential clients in Argentina, Azor jumps from afternoon luncheons at lavish estates to the stables at the racetracks and other locations unavailable to the general public. While much of this feels banal, the underlying rumors of Ivan’s partner’s disappearance provide just enough tension to keep the film moving. It is only with the final scene that the reality of Ivan and his partner’s scenario is made apparent delivering on the constant building apprehension.

21. The Lost Daughter (Dir. Maggie Gyllenhaal)

The Lost Daughter' review: Maggie Gyllenhaal's directorial debut a searing  portrait of motherhood - nj.com

The last film I watched this year had to make the best of list. Maggie Gyllenhaal’s directorial debut is a dark story of a woman whose summer vacation sours when she is forced to confront her past relationship with her children. Olivia Colman and Jessie Buckley co-play Leda in the two different eras with Colman taking the lead and delivering the most memorable performance. Her flirtation with madness upon taking note of a young girl on the beach in which she’s spending her vacation highlights the film, and her borderline psychopathic secret betrays a woman with serious baggage.

20. The Father (Dir. Florian Zeller)

The Father' Sets New Release Date - Variety

While eligible for the Oscars last year, The Father did not officially release until February 2021 so it makes the list this year. Anthony Hopkins delivers a performance worthy of the Oscar he won as Anthony a man slowly coming untethered from reality as his dementia worsens. Filled with creative editing to warp the viewers sense of time, the drama plays almost as a thriller at times. Anthony’s desperation to understand his surroundings becomes increasingly horrific as the film progresses. This combined with a stellar supporting performance from Olivia Colman creates one of the most memorable films of the year.

19. The Green Knight (Dir. Dabid Lowery)

The Green Knight review roundup: why critics are raving about Dev Patel's  new movie | GamesRadar+

Taken straight from Arthurian legend, The Green Knight is a faithful retelling of the 14th-century poem yet is anything but a traditional fantasy film. Instead, the film feels very much a product of its production company A24. Dev Patel plays Sir Gawain and understands his role for the film that is being made. Staying largely silent he imbues his character with the depth required of him. Beautifully spacious, the cinematography is the hallmark for the epic. Each shot is crisp and with colors saturated to create the fantastical edge to the northern England woods.

18. The Beatles: Get Back (Dir. Peter Jackson)

The world owes Yoko an apology! 10 things we learned from The Beatles: Get  Back | The Beatles | The Guardian

If O.J. Made in America (2016, Dir. Ezra Edelman) counts as a movie, so does The Beatles: Get Back. At least that is the logic I am using. The Peter Jackson documentary taps into something extremely special in telling the story of The Beatles – four men whose story has been told many times before. The documentary consists primarily of candid moments during The Beatles’ Let It Be sessions. This captures both the creative process but also the personal moments between each of the four. Experiencing the geniuses as they were is unprecedented and makes for engrossing watching even for the lengthy eight hour run time.

17. Annette (dir. Leos Carax)

Annette (2021) - IMDb

In a year with quite a few blockbuster musicals, the best one was also the weirdest. The combination of writing by the Ron and Russell Mael, better known as the musical group Sparks, with Leos Carax directing resulted in something with just the right amount of surrealist absurdity to captive while still delivering an emotional melodramatic story. Adam Driver stands out as comedian Henry McHenry. Frequently acting beside a puppet infant, he delivers a memorably charged performance. While not a flawless film, it makes up for that by being memorable and unique.

16. Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy (Dir. Ryûsuke Hamaguchi)

WHEEL OF FORTUNE AND FANTASY Trailer - YouTube

The first appearance on this list of director Ryûsuke Hamaguchi who had an amazing year, Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy consists of three thematically connected short stories about women and relationships. Each 40-minute short tells a complete story about one or more women and the choices that they made in relationships to differing results. Despite Hamaguchi frequently working with longer running times, each succinct story feels complete and builds great emotional complexity and depth. While there are no direct connections between the three stories, they combine for a singular emotional arc in the viewer that outshines many traditional narratives from the year.

15. Pig (Dir. Michael Sarnoski)

Pig (2021) Review | Movie - Empire

The anti-John Wick, Pig starts from a similar inciting incident – just replace a killed dog with a stolen pig – but delivers a completely different type of film. While often in film violence begets more violence, Nic Cage’s Rob takes a different approach to righting the wrong committed against him. Cage’s undeniable charisma sells the story and is what makes Pig excel the way that it does. While speaking very minimally throughout the film, Cage brings a lot of heart to the former chef turned truffle hunter.

14. The Souvenir Part II (Dir. Joanna Hogg)

The Souvenir Part II movie review (2021) | Roger Ebert

While the sequel to my favorite film of 2019 does not quite live up to its predecessor, The Souvenir Part II was still one of the best films of the year. Taking place in the aftermath of the first film, Joanna Hogg’s semi-autobiographical feature continues with many of the same themes. Julie (Honor Swinton Byrne) struggles to cope with the circumstances that have become her life, but between the support of her mother (played by the actress’s real life mother Tilda Swinton) and the outlet of her passion of filmmaking she persists. The film is a testament to the power we have to recover when guided by those things and people we love.

13. Titane (Dir. Julia Ducournau)

Titane review – Agathe Rousselle is extraordinary in Palme d'Or-winning  body horror | Movies | The Guardian

The Palm d’Or winning feature from director Julia Ducournau (Raw 2016) is one of the more challenging cinematic offerings of the year, but for those willing to follow Ducournau’s vision, Titane offered a lot to enjoy. A movie highlighted by its numerous moments of dancing; it maintains a kinetic energy that drives the absurdity of the plot. Agathe Rousselle’s transformation throughout the film is captivating and despite her character’s significant flaws Rousselle manages to portray a sympathetic heroine. From sexy scenes of women on cars, to graphic violence, to touching father son moments, Titane delivers a unique and worthwhile viewing experience.

12. The Power of the Dog (Dir. Jane Campion)

The Power of the Dog' Ending Explained

Director Jane Campion’s long-awaited return to filmmaking uses the western – one of the most traditionally masculine genres – to deconstruct masculinity. Benedict Cumberbatch plays Phil a man who plays into his assigned roll of cowboy with little question. It is only when his brother George (Jesse Plemons) marries introducing Rose (Kirsten Dunst) and Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee) into his life that the well covered cracks begin to show. The Power of the Dog is a slow character study highlighted by an amazing Jonny Greenwood score and strong performances for each of the principal cast. Dunst is particularly phenomenal and should finally get the Oscar nomination she’s deserved.

11. The Card Counter (Dir. Paul Schrader)

The Card Counter,” Reviewed: Paul Schrader's Furious Vision of American  Corruption | The New Yorker

Following up the critically adored First Reformed (2018), Paul Schrader’s most recent film flew mostly under the radar. The Card Counter sees Schrader following in the footsteps of his last film with his lead characters – William Tell played by Oscar Isaac in the later film – confronting their own private oblivion. The character study is contemplative in tone as Isaac’s character travels from casino to casino making enough counting cards to get by. When his routine is changed Isaac stretches his acting chops by capturing the miniscule changes that happen to his character who is so tightly regulated.

10. Benedetta (Dir. PaulVerhoeven)

Benedetta movie review & film summary (2021) | Roger Ebert

While not quite the sordid exploitation film that the marketing promised, Benedetta still delivers plenty of titillating moments while maintaining a gripping story that outshines even the alure of sex. Virginie Efira plays the titular nun who wants nothing but to serve her lord until Bartolomea (Daphne Patakia) arrives and offers a new temptation. Both women play their parts miraculously creating a necessary passion between the two while Efira balances this obvious urge with her piety. The push and pull between the religions and the secular feels genuine and creates a the driving tension for the film.

9. Last Night in Soho (Dir. Edgar Wright)

Edgar Wright Shares How the Mirror Shots in LAST NIGHT IN SOHO Were  Inspired by POLTERGEIST III — GeekTyrant

Edgar Wright’s most earnest foray into traditional horror may borrow from the fashion and culture of the 1960s, but the filmmaking owes everything to the horror masters of the 1970s; most notably the film is filled with homages to Dario Argento’s Suspiria (1977). Like the Argento masterpiece, Last Night in Soho very much believes that “style over substance” can be used as genuine praise. The film is bathed in a neon glow, and visual transitions between reality for Eloise (Thomasin McKenzie) and her dream alter-ego Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy) are seamless. The blending of worlds is a highlight of the film.

8. Lamb (Dir. Valdimar Jóhannsson)

Lamb' Review: Oh No, Not My Baby! - The New York Times

This film has been labeled by some as the most A24 film ever, and that is not necessarily a bad way to describe it. The absolute definition of a slow burn, Lamb spends its entire runtime building up to minimal payoffs. For what feels like hours the adopted lamb is hidden from the screen excepting its head. The body is always wrapped in blankets or obscured by a bassinet. Something is obviously amiss, but the film takes its time constantly building tension. Even after the lamb’s secret is exposed, director Valdimar Jóhannsson is unrelenting in his anxiety building. The film is all build and no payoff, but the technical prowess with which the build is executed makes Lamb worth this high a spot on the list.

7. Spencer (Dir. Pablo Larraín)

Spencer Trailer: Kristen Stewart as Princess Diana Shocks | IndieWire

I have said it many times before, but I will say it again: “Kristen Stewart is the best actress of her generation”. Her portrayal of Princess Diana is poignant, as she captures the agony and unrest that Diana was undergoing while contemplating divorcing Prince Charles. While Larraín’s direction is magnificent, and the costuming and production design enhance the film, Stewart’s performance is the reason to watch Spencer. Much like with Jackie (2016) and Natalie Portman, Larraín does just enough to let his lead actress convey the breadth of emotions during a trying time.

6. Bergman Island (Dir. Mia Hansen-Løve)

Is Bergman Island on Netflix, HBO Max, Hulu, or Prime?

In her latest outing, director Mia Hansen-Løve delivers another superb picture featuring her strength of capturing interpersonal relationships. Like in all her previous pictures, she creates characters with an emotional depth that is front and center to the story. Bergman Island chooses to explore this complexity by utilizing the titular stunt location as well as a movie-within-a-movie trope.  Both feed into her story seamlessly, build upon the wonderful character depth. The film is subtle and warm in its depiction of love and the complexities of relationships and honest in its focus on the creative process.

5. Flee (Dir. Jonas Poher Rasmussen)

Flee' Animated Doc Finds Inventive Ways to Tell Emotional True Story – The  Hollywood Reporter

This animated documentary tops my list for both categories as one of the more imaginative films of the year. While animation may be a seldom used medium for non-fiction storytelling, it is hard to imagine Flee any other way. Telling the true story of Amin, a gay man who fled Afghanistan as a boy, Flee creates some of the tensest moments of the year in cinema purely by animating Amin’s life. Amin’s hesitancy in telling his story provides the film with a lot of power. His past obviously troubled Amin and the telling it to his friend, director Jonas Poher Rasmussen, skirts the line between painful and cathartic.

4. Parallel Mothers (Dir. Pedro Almodóvar)

Parallel Mothers movie review (2021) | Roger Ebert

The new Almodóvar film leans heavily into his melodramatic roots to deliver a film that could be a season long plotline for soap opera but was also effectively emotional. Almodóvar continues to be a master of his craft as every second of the film has his fingerprints on them. Actresses Penélope Cruz and Milena Smit are wonderful as Janis and Ana two women who become entangled after giving birth on the same day. Their interplay helps to temper the absurdity of the screen play and deliver something emotionally devastating and believable.

3. Drive My Car (Dir. Ryûsuke Hamaguchi)

Drive My Car, Ryusuke Hamaguchi's voyage of initiation - Festival de Cannes

The three hour, Japanese, slow burn narrative may be a hard sell to many, but the film is an example of the lasting impact that cinema can have on a person. After the lengthy prologue (the opening credits appear at the forty-minute mark), the film settles into its pattern for the remainder of the film. Yûsuke Kafuku (Hidetoshi Nishijima) attends practice for the play he is directing and then rides in the car contemplating life while Misaki (Tôko Miura) drives him. This may not seem like much especially considering the length of the film, but the repetitive nature of these moments allows the audience to share in Yûsuke’s reflections and develop a strong bond with each character.

2. Shiva Baby (Dir. Emma Seligman)

Shiva Baby' Review: It's Complicated - The New York Times

The first feature of director Emma Seligman spent most of the year at my number one slot and for good reason. The comedy balances being genuinely funny with being one of the tensest watches of the year. Highlighted by a disconcerting score by Ariel Marx, Shiva Baby captures to suffocating feeling that family functions can have, especially when one has a secret to keep. While the tension can flirt with uncomfortable levels at times, the absurdity of Danielle’s (Rachel Sennott) situation and a reliable joke line from her father adds just the right amount of humor and levity to the stressful circumstances.

1. Licorice Pizza (Dir. Paul Thomas Anderson)

Surprise, PT Anderson Just Dropped His New Movie Title, And There's Already  A Trailer | Cinemablend

The closest to a perfect film that 2021 had to offer, the newest work by auteur Paul Thomas Anderson is an unconventional love story between two people who really should not be in love. The episodic style of the film serves the romance between Gary (Cooper Hoffman) and Alana (Alana Haim) well. It allows it to develop gradually. In addition to being a sweet story of first love, Licorice Pizza is an extremely funny film. Most of Anderson’s films have a level of humor to them, but it is in the forefront here more than any of his other films.

Eternals: Quiet in a Loud Genre

Where Chloé Zhao filmed Marvel's Eternals: the locations that stood in for  the Amazon rainforest, Alaska and ancient Babylon | South China Morning Post

Eternals, the most recent film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, is proving to be one of the most divisive in the series. Much of the divide amongst both critics and audience alike can be attributable to Academy Award Winning director Chloé Zhao’s quieter sensibilities. Her penchant for tone poems may have made her a peculiar choice for the action heavy genre, but her more subdued style is a welcome breath of air for a genre that can be frantic at times.

While the film is inherently plot driven, with countless action scenes as Marvel requires in all their films, Chloé Zhao keeps an emotional arch at the center of her film.  By the start of the movie, Sersi (Gemma Chan), Ikaris (Richard Madden) and the rest of the Eternals have lived for millennia. In that time, they have experienced countless lifetimes of emotion; they’ve experienced both endless joy and heartbreak. Sersi and Ikaris have spent eons in a loving relationship, and just as much time hurtfully apart. This baggage weighs heavily on Sersi as she begins a new emotional journey with a mortal, Dane (Kit Harington). When the deviants, the creatures the Eternals were sent on Earth to destroy, return, Ikaris and Sersi are thrust back together forcing Sersi to process her emotional baggage so she can fully commit to a relationship with Dane. This is the emotional core that Zhao relies upon to bring something personal and relatable to the loud franchise.

The strongest parts of the film for building these characters are the extensive flashbacks. In these, each of the Eternals in turn experiences a defining moment of their long lives. These often don’t come in battle, but in helping the humans progress and live fuller lives. For example, sitting down with a mortal cooking a simple dinner imbues Sirsi with empathy that guides her life for the centuries to come. These moments are where Zhao’s voice comes through the loudest. She enables her characters to evolve on their own without plot dictating what they should become. While it is still much more restrained version of Zhao’s other work, her auteurial signature pushes through, nonetheless.

Where Zhao’s influence is felt the least is unfortunately in the entire third act during which all character nuance is disregarded so that an overblown fight can take place. This fight sequence could fit in just fine with any other film in the Marvel library, but Zhao was building to something more. Her film deserved a more emotionally driven climax as part of the action. Instead, the film falls prey to the same soulless fight sequences that fans of Marvel fans have seen dozens of times before.

Eternals more than any other Marvel film allowed the distinct voice of its director to shine through the standard formula. Her use of flashbacks allowed her the slower pacing she uses so well to ensure that her characters develop organically. However, a completely disconnected third act leaves the film feeling like two separate entities. Zhao’s influence comes back for the film’s resolution and is strong enough throughout to warrant a recommendation. It would just be nice to see Marvel trust their directors with complete control of a film rather than micromanage all the action sequences.

Bergman Island

Bergman Island' Movie Streaming Review: Stream It or Skip It?

Perennial festival darling Mia Hansen-Løve returns for another film that is destined to receive plenty of critical acclaim if not much commercia success. Bergman Island like all Hansen-Løve films focuses on mastering the intimate to tell a story that is both incredibly specific and eminently relatable at the same time.

Bergman Island tells the story of Chris (Vicky Krieps) who follows her husband Tony (Tim Roth) to the titular Bergman Island to work on her next film while her husband teaches a series of masterclasses. After a prolonged bout with writer’s block, she takes inspiration from her surroundings and writes most of her next project. The second half of the movie cuts between the movie’s reality and the Chris’s eventual film within the film starring Mia Wasikowska as Amy and Anders Danielsen Lie as Joseph.

Set on the isle of Fårö, Bergman Island leans heavily on the rich cinematic history of its setting. Hansen-Løve fills her camera with iconic imagery whenever possible but does not let the film turn into a simple travel brochure. Everything is in subservience of her characters. Chris, Tony, and Amy are all filmmakers, so their connection to the island and its famous locations provides a reason for the shots of Bergman’s legacy. The balance of utilizing her setting and but not letting the setting use her is a real strength Hansen-Løve shows throughout the film.

The film’s genius shines through the most in the second half when telling of Chris’s in progress movie leads to a blend of reality. Amy and Joseph while creations of Chris’s work also serve as proxies for the married couple. Hansen-Løve is a master of character work, and these doppelgangers allow her to flex those muscles. Chris and Tony’s relationship and life circumstances are dissimilar from that of Amy and Joseph and yet Hansen-Løve finds the through lines and creates a rich tapestry of human emotions and relations for the viewer to sample.

In her latest outing, director Mia Hansen-Løve delivers another superb picture featuring her strength of capturing interpersonal relationships. Her lead characters that the complexities of their emotions are front and center to the story. The stunt location decision feeds into her story seamlessly without becoming a distraction, and the decision to utilize a film within a film builds wonderful character depth. Bergman Island is a wonderful specimen of quiet yet deeply personal storytelling.

A 2021 Film Journey: Day 270

I don’t know what to say, but mental health is really hard. The way that my depression shows itself is by making me unable to participate in the things that I love. And I love film. Today I set out to start getting back in the habit by sitting down and forcing myself to watch something. It felt like more of a chore than I would have liked but getting back in the habit is worth it.

The Night of the Hunter (1955, Dir. Charles Laughton)

The Night of the Hunter | The Film Noir Report

I return to this project by checking off a huge blind spot. While The Night of the Hunter may not have been released to immediate critical acclaim – the film received zero Oscar nominations – in the 65 years that have followed Charles Laughton’s only directorial outing has become revered as one of cinema’s all-time greats. The morbid story of two children whose parents are both killed over a large sum of money and the crazed priest who stocks had a lasting impact. The tension that was built is all encompassing.

Much of that tension comes from the performance of Robert Mitchum as the priest and former convict Harry Powell. He builds a convincing argument as a stable preacher who can be trusted with the raising of two children. The second he is alone with the kids he turns his performance into a man to be feared. This dual faced performance is the clear highlight of the film, and his hymnal singing in the middle of the night is a lasting, haunting moment.

A 2021 Film Journey: Day 245

It was difficult to choose a film to watch today that would work with the soundtrack from yesterday’s film still ringing in my ears. While I couldn’t think of anything to watch that would match the eccentricity of Annette, one film did stick out in my mind as an apt follow up for different reasons. After two and a half hours highlighted by some of Marion Cotillard’s singing, I decided to visit the acting, and singing, performance for which she has her Oscar.

La Vie En Rose (2007, Dir. Olivier Dahan)

La Vie en Rose (2007) directed by Olivier Dahan • Reviews, film + cast •  Letterboxd

I am going to be honest; I do not have much to say about this movie. I have spent many of these daily entries talking about the pitfalls of the standard Biopic. La Vie En Rose falls for each and every one of them. By attempting to tell the entire life story of Édith Piaf, the film is an unwieldy 140 minutes, yet no part of the signer’s life is given adequate screen time. The film is left feeling both bloated and slight at the same time. Jumping back and forth between eras doesn’t do the film any benefits and leads to more confusion. This is a technique that can work well for Biopics that choose to focus on exactly two times in the character’s life, but since La Vien En Rose is all encompassing, this technique just muddles plot points, especially as the age difference between Ediths diminishes.

For all my misgivings about La Vie En Rose, I can not begrudge it the Oscars that it won. Marion Cotillard is brilliant in the lead performance, and her voice carries the film through its many musical moments. Similarly, the makeup department winning makes a lot of sense. Cotillard plays Piaf from the young age of 19 (Cotillard was 32 at the time) to age 47 where Piaf suffering from serious liver damage looked twice as old. The makeup department was responsible for this range to be possible.

A 2021 Film Journey: Day 244

Sorry for missing a few days again. I had to deal with a personal emergency of which the details I will keep to myself. I’m doing my best to distract myself by returning to normal with these reviews, but I may miss a day or two when the pain is stronger. Sad news aside, today I returned to 2021 releases for one of the films that I’ve been looking forward to the most.

Annette (2021, Dir. Leos Carax)

Annette: New Trailer Reveals Release Date for Upcoming Musical

9 years after creating the masterpiece Holy Motors, Leos Carax returns to the world of cinema to create Annette, a similarly ambitious film that’s slightly more grounded in plot with significantly more singing. Carax once again leans much more into spectacle than substance, and while that made for a masterpiece in his prior film, the slightly more conventional Annette gets occasionally lost in the outrageous style.

Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard star as Henry and Ann two highly successful artists working in very different mediums – Henry a comedian and Ann an opera singer – who are in love. They eventually marry and give birth to Annette, a very peculiar child. Not long after, disaster strikes, and Annette is bestowed a gift/curse. The plot of Annette is rather basic and not deserving of the 140-minute runtime, but the plot is not really the point. Annette lives and dies by its near constant musical pieces written by the Sparks brothers. These pieces fill in the holes in the film’s plot and create a cohesive whole worthy of the extended length.

It is easy to get lost in the simplicity of the story being told in Annette but doing so would be a disservice to the film. The Sparks brothers’ musical talents are on full display throughout the film starting with ‘So May We Start’ the opening song which also happens to be the film’s catchiest. While no other song lives up to that first number, the music is appropriate considering the rest of the film and still appealing enough to put the soundtrack on repeat for this reviewer.

In addition to the musical elements, Carax creates a unique viewing experience through creative editing, heightened production design, and uncompromised vision. The film has an almost enchanting quality to it as one is easily sucked up into the world that Carax is spinning. It leaves a viewer with a haunting afterglow that lasts well into the next day.

A 2021 Film Journey: Day 240

In continuance of my Spencer hype, today I watched another recent Kristen Stewart vehicle. I never really need an excuse to visit her filmography – something which many of my friends who only know her for the Twilight films find baffling – but having the reason allows me to visit some of her less critically acclaimed films.

Underwater (2020, Dir. William Eubank)

Underwater (2020) - IMDb

Underwater is another in a long line of films paying heavy homage – some might say ripping off – Ridley Scott’s masterpiece Alien (1979). It is a tried-and-true formula for a reason as the dimly lit corridors combined with terrifying monster design preys heavily on the psyche of viewers. Even as the archetype is copied into the ground, a strong execution of the Alien setup will deliver a satisfactory horror film and Underwater is just that.

Set miles below the surface, Underwater stars Kristen Stewart as a mechanical engineer working on a deep-sea drilling rig. When the drilling results in an earthquake critically damaging the rig and forcing a small group of survivors to make the trek via ocean floor to another facility with working rescue pods. Unfortunately, the earthquake brought something up from the depths which gets in their way.

Underwater is a fully adequate Alien clone with a great lead performance at its center. The film does very little special but still delivers an effective albeit conventional horror film. The monsters are horrific, and the film knows to keep them mostly hidden for greatest effect. Keeping Kristen Stewart front and center always helps the film succeed as she elevates the Ripley proxy into similarly captivating protagonist. While the film does not live up to the more experimental takes on the horror genre that A24 has been putting out in recent years, Underwater is still a solid watch for the horror connoisseur.

A 2021 Film Journey: Day 239

Today, hopefully, marks the return to this project. I have graduated from my PHP program and am back to spending my days largely at home. In full disclosure I did watch The Green Knight (2021, Dir. David Lowery) which I genuinely loved, but I found very difficult to write about. I recommend it, if you go in expecting a Lowery film and not a classic work of Arthurian legend. Instead of writing about that film from a few days ago, I’m taking inspiration from the Spencer teaser which just dropped and watching another Kristen Stewart helmed biopic.

Seberg (2019, Dir. Benedict Andrews)

Seberg (2019) - IMDb

Seberg had the pieces to be a success. It avoids the common pitfall of most biopics by focusing on a specific moment in Jean Seberg’s life rather than the entirety of it, and it is headlined by a performance from the always amazing Kristen Stewart. Yet despite these strengths the film does not cohere into a film befitting of Stewart’s performance.

The film’s flaws are most apparent when examining the message that the filmmakers want to share, and the supporting cast around Stewart. Second billing is Jack O’Connell as FBI agent Jack Solomon. This character creates a level of dissonance throughout the rest of the film. He is ostensibly cast as the good cop in the otherwise corrupt FBI. By having a good cop, it completely diminishes Jean’s story. The film loses it’s power by taking the focus away from Seberg’s story and Stewart’s performance