Horror and sci-fi fans of the 21st century may be underwhelmed by the original adaptation of the 1954 novel I AM LEGEND, but it’s worth sticking out the 90-minute runtime for a few genuinely good twists. Still, beware of the dialogue, which, combined with some clumsy audio dubbing, causes the film to undermine itself. Though I was bored during the first hour, I was engaged during the final act, and no matter how much snickering made it through (that’s on me!), I will say that I sat in silence a few minutes after it ended, mulling over the implications of the closing scene.
PARASITE is admirable for so many things: its pace, its humor, its symbolism, even its rewatchability. This feels like a film that will always be relevant, one that has more to offer with each new viewing. Money changes everything, and this film makes that abundantly clear the second the first justified — and even playful — con turns sinister.
BURNING is incredibly subtle in its seduction. The slow pace builds tension in the viewer, who can sense that something is not quite right but is left without a tangible reason why. Hae-mi is the film’s enigmatic empty center, and her interactions with the two love interests, complete foils of one another, drive the mystery forward.
2020 Denmark, Sweden, Netherlands
ANOTHER ROUND is as enjoyable as it is emotional. Initially, the film celebrates alcohol and the jubilance caused by even slight inebriation, but the story ultimately favors nuance. A great film that offers insight into the drinking culture in Denmark, one that has, up until now, gone fairly unrepresented on the big screen. But for moralizing, look elsewhere — this film defies all expectations to do so.
PAPRIKA uses the imagination — more specifically, the dream world — to show what animation can do. If the modern viewer is able to look past some off-putting fatphobia, they will be rewarded with striking colors and interesting characters, though I personally didn’t enjoy the director’s concerted attempts to tie up loose ends and provide almost an excessive amount of closure at the, well, closing. Still, if you assume animation is inherently childish, this film will show you how wrong you are.
35 Shots of Rum
2009 France, Germany
A modest and measured film that manages to convey many intricate emotions in few — very few — words.
2001 France, United States
MULHOLLAND DRIVE is a hyper-surreal neo-noir mystery with a nonlinear storyline and split characters — every element encourages confusion in the viewer. It’s the kind of film that demands you rewatch it (unless you’re renting it at $3.99 for 24 hours). I appreciate how Lynch left the ending ambiguous, refusing to explain “what it means,” hence opening the door for all the critical theories that currently circulate about and around the film.
2009 United Kingdom, United States
A coming-of-age film that made me keep hoping the main character would, well, “come of age” sooner. A teen girl races to grow up but lacks the maturity to realize she is effectively being groomed. Still, I appreciate how the film ultimately doesn’t victimize her and fade to black. Instead, she’s given a chance to retake control of her life (but maybe in a manner that is a bit too tidy for my liking).
1970 Italy, France, West Germany
A film that is often considered Bertolucci’s masterpiece, and for good reason. What seems to have stuck with viewers is Clerici’s quest for conventionality at a time when such conventions are fated to change, but I’m also intrigued by the queer themes that run throughout, and I wonder if they can stand up to harsh analysis. Still, this is a political yet emotional film about the desire to conform and the impulse to subvert that is very much worth viewing.
2015 United Kingdom
A psychological thriller with sci-fi elements and an ethical dilemma at the center? Sign me up. An exploration of men, the machines they create, and the consequences of that creation that holds your attention from beginning to end.
Between the disturbing children’s song and the incredible score by prog rock band Goblin, the sounds of this film stood out to me almost as much as the sights.
The Bird with the Crystal Plumage
1970 Italy, West Germany
A fun and suspenseful — if perhaps illogical — giallo with a memorable opening scene and a great twist at the end. But modern viewers (myself included) are more likely to consider this a comedy than a thriller, partially due to the over-the-top acting that, at times, borders on camp.
“Why do all psycho-thrillers made in Japan turn out that way?” This is a line from the film that director Satoshi Kon himself tries to subvert. An incredible and genuinely terrifying psychological thriller that I actually can’t believe is less than 90 minutes long.
Cities of Last Things
2018 Taiwan, China, France
This film makes me think that maybe nonlinear narratives aren’t for me. It took me a while to get invested, since I didn’t know what was going on in the beginning — by the director’s own design — but the final third really taps into the emotions. Be patient, and maybe you’ll find the payoff rewarding like I did.
2020 United Kingdom
Complex, emotional, heart-breaking. When the credits roll, you’ll think, “Wait!” Still, this film is full of energy and authenticity from beginning to end, partly thanks to the stellar cast of teens.
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night
2014 Iran, United States
A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT is truly unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. I was pleasantly surprised by its deadpan humor, and the minimalistic dialogue suits the setting and the film’s “Western” vibe well. As critics say, its style really stands out, but it’s unfair — and inaccurate — to label the film “without substance” when there’s so much propelling it forward. If you’re an attentive viewer, you’ll be rewarded for your time.
Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance
Well-made and engrossing but above all, stressful. I think I had my hand over my mouth for most of it. Park doesn’t coddle the viewer, instead leaving some things unsaid and others just unclear. Still, if you’re looking for a film that makes you feel something, this is the one — with the caveat that you probably won’t like what you feel.
For much of its runtime, AUDITION has a distinct rom-com feel, which makes the final torture scene all the more jarring. Its early scenes are fairly quiet and reserved, demure like the film’s antagonist (anti-hero?) Asami, up until Miike’s ultimate — and unabashed — display of visual excess. He seems to wonder just how much he can rattle viewers, always going “deeper, deeper, deeper” into their nerves while they sit as paralyzed as Aoyama, the unfortunate but not unfeeling widower. Through his portrait of Asami, Miike shows that victimhood and villainy are inextricably tied; still, it’s hard to be sympathetic when she smiles down at that wire saw. A relatively slow burn with a huge payoff.
Qallunaat! Why White People Are Funny
Documentaries don’t usually make me snort, but this one did. A very effective parody of the otherism rampant in documentaries about Indigenous peoples. Mark Sandiford flips the script and gathers Inuit perspectives of all the ways white Westerners are “funny” (an epithet argued very convincingly!).
Schultze Gets the Blues
Ultimately a very sweet and endearing film that may have wrung a few tears out of me by the end. Between Schultze’s amiable near-silence and the zydeco-style accordion music he plays (much to the chagrin of his traditional music club), caring about Schultze and what happens to him is easy. He’s a lovable guy. Contrary to some critics, I found the slow speed appropriate and more than tolerable. “You have all the time in the world,” everyone tells Schultze after he is forced into early retirement, left with nothing but a salt lamp and a hacking cough. They mean it as a good thing, but staring all this time in the face makes its recipient uneasy. Restlessness on the viewer’s part feels pointed, purposeful — it’s built into the film itself.
Have a Nice Day
HAVE A NICE DAY has a lot to say despite its conservative runtime, an unusual feature for a neo-noir, a genre film that tends to glamorize its own complexity. But don’t worry, the plot is more than complex enough, clearly inspired by the likes of the Coen brothers and Quentin Tarantino. The reluctant inhabitants of Liu Jian’s modern Chinese city are full of dreams but strapped for cash. Many want to escape the dismal neon landscape, constantly under construction, to the idyllic countryside that has never seen a bulldozer — if only they had the funding. The story quickly moves beyond Xiao Zhang and even the cash itself, instead zeroing in on a cast of characters with one thing in common: greed. An inventive and interesting film with more political undercurrents than I was expecting — in a good way.
A genuinely terrifying horror film full of tension and visceral scares. Dario Argento’s artistry comes through even during the more grisly scenes. If you find all the action onscreen too scary — which is likely! — you can at least appreciate (or distract yourself with) the mise en scène.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
2017 United Kingdom, United States
I’m honestly not sure why this film is so highly rated. I was prepared for a Coen brothers-esque tragicomedy, so I had high hopes, but they were quickly dashed. My main issues are the film’s caricatured portrayal of rural America and its half-assed attempts to address racism. I think it could have been as effective and emotional as promised if it focused only on a mother’s grief and how that grief often turns into rage. Instead, that feature is overshadowed by a terribly developed redemption plot and a few lines that make it clear the writers thought far too highly of what they were doing (since they were actually doing nothing). It’s odd to say that a movie from 2017 hasn’t aged well in 2021, but that rings true here.
2018 United States
I love this movie no matter how many times Kayla makes me want to hide my face in my hands. The sheer number of cringe-inducing moments is probably the best indicator that this is a real, honest representation of what it feels like to be in eighth grade, especially in the (unforgiving) internet age. Films about teen girls tend to be more critical than accurate, but Bo Burnham gets it right — exactly, painfully, unfortunately right.
Pride & Prejudice
2005 France, United Kingdom, United States
A film I’ve watched at least three times in a genre I tend to avoid. The chemistry between Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen is irresistible, even for me. An enjoyable and witty adaptation, which, as we’ve learned from less successful films, is hard to pull off.
2007 United Kingdom, France, United States
An emotional watch that really immerses you in the world of the characters and the many consequences of their actions, beginning and ending — rightly so — with Briony’s perspective. The weight that our words carry, even as children, follows us into adulthood, as this film makes tragically clear. How can you right a wrong when you don’t even realize it’s a wrong until it’s too late? Statements, especially of the accusatory sort, cannot be retracted so easily, a powerful realization that stuck with me as it stuck to Briony.
2018 United Kingdom, United States
A sci-fi horror film with an ample amount of well-made and well-acted scenes that stick with you, even when you’d rather they didn’t, and not always for their graphic content. I would watch an ANNIHILATION sequel in a heartbeat, but tragically, Alex Garland is determined to avoid the franchise track. A thrilling, if frustrating, mind-bender.
A film I’m very glad to have watched — and watched alone, especially. The story is told in three fairly clean segments that all draw from and add upon the last, and their separation helps the viewer maintain sight of the film’s many threads, even as they criss-cross over each other. Some of the violence feels sudden and disjointed, as do the sex scenes, but THE HANDMAIDEN clearly holds Park Chan-wook’s signature.
2015 United Kingdom, United States
An immersive and melancholy film featuring two very capable actors and a memorable 1950s set design. Maybe too much fluff (read: slow!) for some viewers, but I respect the detail and thought that Todd Haynes put into each shot, though I think the film relies heavily on its aesthetic appeal.
2007 United Kingdom, India
A surprising, if slow-moving, drama that tells an old story in a new way. The politics of the film feel almost secondary to Nazneen’s crisis of self, which holds the film together from beginning to end. A three-dimensional heroine is always admirable, but maybe her emotional depth could be better connected to the historical events that shape her personal life.
Gentle, aching, lyrical — the critics say it best. Mija is tested, first by her diagnosis, then by her grandson’s immorality (in addition to his immaturity). She faces both with dignity and grace, and her efforts to find beauty in the ugliest places are admirable, even if her pace is agonizing.
The Red Turtle
2016 France, Belgium, Japan
A simple and beautiful story about the cycle of life. The absence of dialogue is noticed but not missed; the sound design more than sufficiently fills the space. Don’t think too hard about the plot itself, and you may even shed a few tears.
2020 United Kingdom
A unique take on the “haunted house” horror blended — a bit clumsily, at times — with the little-spoken realities of the refugee experience. The plot twist is unexpected and lasting, but the film's scares resonate more with the brain than the body.
Eyes Without a Face
1960 France, Italy
A pretty suspenseful and visually shocking horror for 1960. I appreciated the modest runtime but think the side characters could have been pushed a bit more to the, well, side, in favor of the doctor and his daughter.
Promising Young Woman
2020 United Kingdom, United States
To me, this film felt kind of flat and unfunny, with limp, 2D characters and an equally limp, 2D "message." The film's villainous "nice guys" especially gave hammy and tepid performances that distracted me from the wit in the script that most critics are quick to praise. But it's hard to say how much of this was intentional, and I'd love to get behind the reconfiguration of the rape-revenge genre -- for now, though, maybe just in theory.