This film is well worth the longer runtime. When I finished it, I wanted to start it from the beginning and watch it again. It's deeply moving and Edward Yang's minimalist shooting style puts the audience in a room with these characters, not just in a room watching a movie about them. Even in a foreign language, the writing is almost overwhelmingly sensitive to each character's emotions. This film addresses pain in a way that is true to life, but arrives at a reassuring subtle optimism about the human condition.
The Host successfully keeps you on the edge of your seat with mounting stakes and suspense, but despite being a monster movie it never loses sight of the humanity of its main characters and the universality of the protagonist's mission to rescue his daughter, even if it means sacrificing himself. The creature sets in motion the events of the film, but at its core this story is about family. Social commentary is also seamlessly weaved into the fabric of this script, and all around The Host is a must-watch.
2018 Egypt, USA, Austria
Yomeddine beautifully captures the story of two overlooked characters who have lived most of their lives on the outskirts of society, and the film treats them with a dignity that they aren't afforded in the world of the story, and likely not in the real world either. This unlikely trio (including the donkey) are endlessly watchable together. The story is moving and entertaining as we become attached to these characters by laughing with them, and it becomes more important to watch how they live in the world than it does to watch how the world treats them.
Sympathy for Lady Vengeance
This stylistic meditation on revenge and forgiveness is an entertaining and fascinating counterpart to thematically-similar American fare like "Kill Bill". Park chan-Wook's approach gives the audience much more autonomy of thought and feeling in its at-times nontraditional cinematography. This film also leaves more room for the audience to make up their own mind about questions it poses, about whether one can truly begin anew. This viewing experience feels more active compared to Tarantino's maximization of coverage, which results in the image demanding all of the audience's attention rather than the theme or subject matter.
Man Like Mobeen
2017 United Kingdom
Former primary school teacher Guz Khan is just getting started in this hilarious show. It's bingeable with less than six half-hour episodes per season. Khan recreates a world and neighborhood he knows well, and it's impossible to tell how much is scripted and how much is improvised between the four main actors who have effortless comedic chemistry. Duaa Karim as Aqsa is unforgettable, and I hope that these are breakout roles for the entire cast.
2007 United Kingdom, France, USA
Atonement is one of those rare novel adaptations that is extraordinarily cinematic. The richness of the characters and the depth of the world they inhabit both signal a weighty source material, but the film is expertly adapted in that it emulates the spirit of the book and evokes the same emotions through a different narrative medium without employing a novelistic approach.
2015 United Kingdom
Screenwriter Alex Garland is right at home in his directorial debut set in the near future, and this film sets the tone, and the bar, for Annihilation and Devs. Each scene balances a deceptively simple dramatic dynamic as the protagonist's goals are clear and obstacles mount, but Garland situates the film's dramatic question within a web of complex ethical and existential questions. It's a delight to watch such continuity of vision from a novelist turned screenwriter who was clearly born to direct.
1994 Hong Kong
Unlike Wong Kar-Wai's "Happy Together," which has an unflinching camera and features moments that are as moving as they are difficult to watch, Chungking Express is immediately more familiar as a film, with an everyman protagonist and a mysterious woman donning a blonde wig, trench coat and sunglasses. The audience is drawn in through intrigue rather than exposition. But this film is anything but unoriginal, and the audience is treated to eccentric delights of human nature. Although heartbreak remains the linking through line, the second story is more joyful than it first seems.
2008 China, Hong Kong, Japan
24 City approaches loss and the passage of time with patient sensitivity. In the film, one woman describes her faith in her own work ethic and her imagination of the 24 City factory seems to represent a mythical narrative similar to the American Dream in its recognition of the possibility of upward mobility. The film doesn’t seem to have the same faith, though, in this narrative; the film places its faith in people.
Burning is an encompassing and enigmatic film that takes a novelistic approach to the narrative. It's nontraditional, but all the more interesting for its refusal to conform to any particular formula. No pun intended, this film is a slow burn well worth the watch.
In the Mood for Love
2000 Hong Kong, China
This film is incredibly moving not despite, but because the writing and performances are beautifully understated. But the costumes, and Mrs. Chan's dresses are as iconic as Grace Kelly's in Rear Window or Cecelia's green dress in Atonement.
A Fantastic Woman
2017 Chile, Germany, Spain
This film depicts realistic and heartbreaking aspects of the disrespect and dehumanization that Marina is subjected to, but never wavers from the deep deep kindness toward its protagonist that serves as the through-line for the movie.
Tokyo Story begins with a starkly naturalistic portrait of a family, and Ozu's camera is masterfully still throughout the entire film. The minimal number of shots is similar to Edward Yang's cinematic style in Yi Yi, and both directors cast such wonderfully watchable actors that it's a pleasure to just observe characters inhabit space.
2016 United Kingdom
Fleabag is enthralling from start to finish, it is wildly original and profoundly moving as well as laugh out loud hilarious. It's so well suited for television despite being adapted from Phoebe Waller-Bridge's stage play, and it is such a deep character study in just six half-hour episodes per season.
Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom
2013 United Kingdom, South Africa, France
Idris Elba and Naomie Harris both give moving performances in this film, which impressively spans most of Mandela's life. The film feels at times more concerned with benchmarks in Mandela's life and the passage of time than it does the particular emotional beats of the story, but overall this biopic is successful in telling the story it sets out to tell.
1997 Hong Kong, Japan, Korea
This film is as masterfully executed as Wong Kar-wai's "In the Mood for Love", but it examines love through a much harsher lens and with unforgiving proximity. Wong's unparalleled attention to detail makes this film feel true to life, even if some scenes are difficult to watch. The symbolism of the tango shows that Wong has his finger right on the pulse of this relationship, which is characterized by kinetic energy and antagonism. This film is visually striking, and deeply moving.
I completely agree that the pace of this film is perfect, and it does have a distinct rhythm that feels as if it can only be achieved by a master of cinema such as Bong Joon-ho. I'm equally in awe of the tone if this film, which reminds me of the delicate balance of consequence and humor in "The Host". As always, the world of this story is rich with detail and the entire cast delivers pitch-perfect performances.
Normal People is a wonderfully sensitive adaptation. The main characters find each other an unparalleled match for their intellect, but their chemistry and physical compatibility is just as beautifully captured as their exchanges of wit. Comparisons to Call Me By Your Name are apt, but the world of this story is bigger, and encapsulates tragedy that Luca Guadagnino left his film intentionally untouched by. There is a realism in this show that separates it from many other love stories that exist in idyllic worlds that may as well be dreamscapes.
This film uses perspective to strategically situate the audience either at a distance from the characters or within close proximity to them so by the time the film reaches its climax, the audience is thoroughly entrenched in the perspective of Miriam and Julian, and we feel everything they feel, as if we are inhabiting the same space that they are.
A Bigger Splash
2015 Italy, France
Tilda Swinton gives one of her best performances as a music artist on vocal rest who cannot speak. This does not detract from her character's active participation in the drama of this dysfunctional quartet, however. Luca Guadagnino works best with a set number of characters and the events that unfold as they inhabit a residence.
The Riot Club
2014 United Kingdom
This film takes on a bit too much between the ensemble cast and the romantic side plot, and it doesn't live up to the potential of the premise to deliver both a realistic insight into what happens behind closed doors in rooms many of us will never be invited into as well as thoughtful social commentary. As far as a realistic depiction, however, many actors as well as the writer/director said that former members of the club which the fictitious Riot Club was based on said that events of the film are actually understated as opposed to real life events.
It's a delight to watch Ozu's frequent collaborators in an ensemble film, and the young actors playing the two boys are excellent. This film is lighter than other Ozu films, and it approaches intergenerational conflicts and differences with humor rather than seriousness.
This is a wonderfully delicate film with rich subtext, although what lies beneath the surface is often left there, undisturbed. The depth of the experiences depicted in this film isn't fully explored, but it does represent adolescence as excruciatingly confusing in a realistic way.
2017 Korea, USA
I hesitate to describe a film about the cruelty of the livestock industry as delightful, but as Bong Joon Ho leans fully into the absurd, this film is as entertaining as any film can be. The performances are pitch perfect, with particular stand-out work from Paul Dano and Jake Gyllenhaal. Stephen Yeun is downright fantastic as well, and it's always exciting to see Tilda Swinton transform for a role. This film takes on its subject matter with an attention to detail and unique tone that it feels like only Bong Joon Ho can achieve. It's serious when it needs to be, but every scene makes room for character-driven humor. The richness of the world of this story is engrossing, and it stands on its own while making clear and explicit connections to the world around us. This may be my favorite Bong Joon Ho film, but it is perhaps tied with The Host because of the directorial balancing act that both films demonstrate.
Ikiru is a criminally overlooked Kurosawa film. It's stylistically striking and philosophical, and surprisingly life-affirming although it begins with the morbid premise of a dying man. Kurosawa captures a transforming postwar Japan as astutely as Ozu.
Like Father, Like Son
Lily Franky is endlessly watchable, and the paternal mischief that he brought to and perfected in Shoplifters seems to have originated in this wonderful film. Kore-eda has said that in writing he finds himself preoccupied by the question, "What makes a family?" and this film explores that question with great depth and thoughtfulness while focusing on the insular worlds of the two families at its center, whereas Shoplifters is primarily concerned with the relationship of the family unit and each member to the outside world. Kore-eda again gets incredible performances from child actors, performances that greatly enhance the film.
2013 United Kingdom
Peaky Blinders is masterfully directed every season, and since season 2 showrunner Stephen Knight and producer Caryn Mandabach select one director to tackle all six episode of the upcoming season. This makes for stark consistency in the visuals, so the most noticeable voice and perspective throughout all five seasons remains that of Thomas Shelby, its embattled and fiercely ambitious protagonist. Cillian Murphy gives a career best performance leading this show, and all of the supporting cast give similarly remarkable performances. Watching the world of the story expand season after season as the Peaky Blinders business interests expand and grow is a richly rewarding audience experience seldom found in television shows.
2016 Chile, France, USA
This film is a fascinating case study in making a film almost entirely about the life and presence of a person who the audience doesn't often see. The sparse visual presence of JFK in this film may have been both a writing and directing strategy, so the audience could focus on Natalie Portman's Jackie rather than on JFK and the actor's resemblance, voice, etc., all of which may have been distracting. One of the most masterful aspects of Portman's performance is the way she balances Jackie's duty to JFK's legacy while experiencing a visceral grief that is distinctive from the country's grief: while everyone lost their President, she lost her husband.
2014 United Kingdom, USA
This film at first seems far from what we think of when we discuss cinematic experiments, but it takes a bold risk and surmounts many challenges as it takes place mostly in real time and (save for the opening shots) entirely in the protagonist's car. Tom Hardy is as watchable as ever, and this film gives much to look forward to in Stephen Knight's future directorial endeavors.
2014 Germany, United Kingdom
Although this movie is pretty predictable, it features a wonderful cast and is an enjoyable watch for anyone who loves Sam Claflin or Lily Collins. I wouldn't say it's a stand-out romantic comedy, but it won't disappoint on movie night.
2013 United Kingdom
About Time was a go-to comfort film of mine, but I have been especially grateful that it has remained on Netflix throughout this time. Despite the element of time travel, this delightful film seems to be more grounded in reality than the average romantic dramedy. Domnhall Gleeson and Bill Nighy give incredible performances, and have a rare father/son chemistry that is as emotionally close as it is playful and competitive (when it comes to table tennis, that is).
Kore-eda stated in an interview about Shoplifters that he wanted to further explore the question that prompted his previous film Like Father, Like Son. That question was: What makes a family? It seems that that question permeates all of Kore-eda's films, even this one, which precedes both aforementioned works. This film is delicate and masterfully acted. It is incredibly compelling without venturing into melodrama.
Raise the Red Lantern
1991 China, Hong Kong
This is a brilliant film with a main cast of women with Shakespearean agendas amidst cutthroat interpersonal politics. This is a must-watch with great performances, spectacular cinematography, and breathtaking production design.
1961 Italy, France
This film is an interesting study of the dissolution of a marriage, but is neither as melodramatic nor as overtly thoughtful as more modern takes on the subject. The performances of the two lead actresses are compelling, but overall the film doesn't commit to a a point of attack and instead feels sprawling in the way it traverses many settings and moods.
Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives
2010 Thailand, United Kingdom, France
This film thoughtfully addresses death and faith, and masterfully traverses genres while tracing a throughline, but not quite reaching a thesis. In its realistic moments, it depicts life as we live it and doesn’t try to artificially make small moments and familial bonds more moving or meaningful than the individual audience member will inevitably find them
2016 France, Germany, USA
This film seems to me to be the antithesis to a Hollywood "star vehicle", although it is carried by Adam Driver in the lead role. Both Jarmusch's writing and Driver's performance are thoughtful and understated, both executed with the utmost confidence that the human condition is layered and interesting enough to hold the audience's attention. And SQURL contributes a wonderful score that grounds the film.
2015 United Kingdom, Canada, Ireland
Every performance in this film is pitch perfect, and the screenplay is incredibly well-balanced with just enough joy and just enough sorrow to make the viewing experience captivating and rewarding.
You Were Never Really Here
2017 United Kingdom, France, USA
This film is as near perfect as any I've seen — Ramsay's command of both screenwriting and directing is exemplary. This film is enthralling without being convoluted, and it is certainly dark, but it rewards the audience for endurance. A career-best performance from Joaquin Phoenix, and it's incredibly disappointing that this film hasn't received the same longstanding acclaim that tonally similar films directed by men have.
The Delinquent Season
The depth that Cillian Murphy and Andrew Scott bring to roles so starkly different from their best-known TV likenesses makes this a worthwhile watch on its own, but the writing and directing of this film manages the difficult task of capturing the fantastical nature of an affair that seemingly lives outside the real world while still ensuring that the consequences live in the minds of the characters and thus the audience member.
A Most Violent Year
2014 United Arab Emirates, USA
This stylish film excels in evoking both the time and place in which it is set, and it feels like such a privilege to watch Jessica Chastain and Oscar Isaac anchor a film together. I only wish that J.C. Chandor got the opportunity to make more films that are tonally similar to this one.