As an supplement to our Recommended Discs weekly feature, Peter Labuza regularly highlights notable recent home video releases with expanded reviews. See this week’s selections below.
The American Friend (Criterion)
“What’s wrong with a cowboy in Hamburg?” Wim Wenders’ ode to American crime films of the ’50s remains his most idiosyncratic work, teetering between absurdist comedy and strained psycho-drama. Bruno Ganz stars as an art framer — a metaphor for the impossible boundaries he can no longer contain — tempted by the opportunity of earning money for murder, a profession he has no experience in. It’s hard to know when to take Wenders seriously — Ganz’s trip to Paris begins with a conspiracy-ridden doctor’s visit that sets up the film for more absurdist laughs than a “state of the continent” manifesto (the target is noted as an “American Jew”). But the film’s murder in a Paris metro shifts into serious conspiracy before swinging violently back as Dennis Hopper’s Tom Ripley — a character based on Patricia Highsmith’s novels that really only remains in name — joins the affairs.
Hopper bounces around, languishing under fluorescent lights and spreading his body across a pool table for his Polaroid selfies. When he (and a fake mustache) suddenly appears to aid a train-set murder, the film turns Hitchcock suspense into slapstick absurdity, the amateurism of the events piling on each other like a Jenga set ready to topple over.The events become more paranoid and yet less tangible as Hopper takes control of the narrative, a game of make-believe that’s always set in cinematic realism. Wenders’s camera relaxes amidst all this chaos — frames feel controlled but never specific. Reality bleeds onto the scenes through the film’s commitment to a European flavor without ever really cementing its specificity. It’s the eyes of a German looking at his own country through the lens of the Americans he loves (both Nicholas Ray and Sam Fuller appear). That it ends with both a deep nihilism alongside absurdist humor gets to the core of the film’s untangled, untethered sense of moviemaking — its rhythms are its own, its imaginative world only that of its mind.
Merry-Go-Round (Arrow Films)
A sister and a boyfriend suddenly meet in a hotel outside Paris, both searching for the woman that connects them. When their search finally takes them to a mysterious mansion, she informs the sister that their father, who died in a plane explosion 2 years ago, may still be alive and with a stolen $4 million. But then she’s kidnapped, leaving the two to find the stolen goods and recover the love. This noir set-up takes place in daylight casualness, for Jacques Rivette’s Merry-Go-Round fuels its conspiracy with emotional distrust. Originally conceived as part of a four-film series that spawned Duelle and Noroît – and would, in some sense, be completed with 2003’s The Story of Marie and Julien – Merry-Go-Round
Schneider and Wahrol icon Joe Dallesandro might not be the first performers to jag against the Rivette universe. However, they eventually find the rhythms and gestures to play the awkward dance of investigating the conspiracy — and, really, each other. Rivette’s magic is like no other — the film largely takes place in abandoned mansions, feeling authentic through the handheld camera’s circling, while slyly crafting every object on the wall and the placement of every rug. And while the music is non-diagetic, Rivette cuts in brief snippets documenting the recording of the film’s atonal bass-violin and clarinet score. When he turns to the fantastic, he manages to do it through the simplest means. The director cuts into the minds of Schneider and Dallesandro, each imagining the other chasing them through nature with murder on their mind — dogs, snakes, and a white knight. If these elements feel out of order, they mirror the violent swings of emotions that charge each moment. The leads may not be able to sell a playful sexual chemistry, but when the climax of the film sends both into emotional outrage, their screaming registers authentic pain. That the film ends with two cryptic, serene smiles shows Rivette balancing the events — not by resolving them, but making peace with what he cannot control.
When asked about their inclination for kidnapping comedies, Joel Coen recently told Variety, “I’m not sure why. They are all very different. We should probably give that a rest.” He and Ethan Coen are responsible for three of the finest kidnapping comedies ever made, and are perhaps adding a fourth to their résumé this weekend.
The addition of comedy into a crime story is hardly a new prospect, but the kidnapping comedy is a wonderfully specific little nook in this often darkly funny cinematic world. The Coens practically own this genre — if you can call it a genre –having covered and re-covered it in such uniquely different ways.
Their fourth kidnapping comedy (although I doubt they would refer to any of these films as such), Hail, Caesar!, follows a Hollywood studio fixer (Josh Brolin) whose work life begins to unravel after the kidnapping of one of his biggest stars, Baird Whitlock (George Clofumbledoney). This causes major turmoil, for Whitlock was midway through production on a big-budget sword-and-sandals picture titled (you guessed it) Hail, Caesar.
Inspired by the Coens’ fascination with this unofficial genre, we put together a list of the greatest kidnapping comedies ever made. From Paul Thomas Anderson to Martin Scorsese, and from Pixar to Vincent Gallo, this collection of films runs the gamut from crowd-pleasing to downright polarizing. We hope you enjoy, and feel free to recommend your own favorites in the comments.
Fargo (Joel and Ethan Coen)
The Coen brothers’ Academy Award-winning black comedy follows Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy), a bumbling car salesman who orchestrates the kidnapping of his own wife. It’s almost unfair to point out Lundegaard’s ineptitude, as he’s just one of a myriad of inept stooges in this story who contribute to the bloody and tragic conclusion. The only character who’s actually good at their job is Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand), a police detective investigating the murders connected to this kidnapping. Having spawned a silly and over-the-top TV show, it’s easy to forget the simple power of this film. Unlike the show, which employs digital blood splatters, the movie flaunts its analog gore, gleefully splashing Steve Buscemi‘s face with the consequences of these evil acts. Out of the entire cast of characters, it’s only young Scotty Lundegaard, a child who will lose one parent to murder and the other to prison, who even thinks to ask his father: “What if something goes wrong?” Indeed, something goes horribly wrong. Yet the Coens’ bleak humor shines through in every scene, underlining the situation’s mounting absurdity. One of the most subtle comedic moments comes when Marge and her husband watch a nature program about bark beetles. Just before the scene ends, we hear the TV narrator dryly proclaim: “Here it is throwing off a larval envelope.” Fargo is a profound masterpiece of macabre comedy whose nuances become all the more defined as the FX show continues on its inferior path.
The King of Comedy (Martin Scorsese)
Rupert Pupkin (Robert De Niro) never really intended to become a kidnapper. He dreamed of being a stand-up comedy star, sharing jocular chuckles with his TV hero, Jerry Langford (Jerry Lewis), on his favorite show. However, when confined to a life of banality and mediocrity, Pupkin’s puny mind snaps. He doesn’t want to go through with this kidnapping, but he knows it’s merely a means to an end. He envisions the kidnapping of Langford in the same way he thinks of pushing his awful comedy tape on Langford’s mercifully patient producers. He truly believes it could be good for his career. Networking is networking, even if you have a gun aimed at the other person. Pupkin’s delusional entitlement is so vast and unchained that he believes this felony will be worth it in the end. Tucked into ugly suits and sporting a feeble mustache, Scorsese‘s protagonist has no friends, save for a woman whose delusions are even deeper than his own. Marsha (Sandra Bernhard, in a career-best performance) isn’t shooting for the stars like Rupert. All she wants is one candle-lit night alone with her TV idol, a feat far easier to accomplish than her cohort’s unhinged master plan. Perhaps his plan does work. The final shot, which may take place entirely within Pupkin’s damaged mind, shows our protagonist returning to TV once more for a redemptive comeback performance. Smiling for a roaring crowd, Pupkin is vindicated and accepted — a legend in his own mind, at the very least.
Toy Story 2 (John Lasseter, Lee Unkrich, and Ash Brannon)
Looking back at Toy Story 2, arguably the weakest entry in a charming series, it’s easy to forget the nuts-and-bolts suspense that co-director John Lasseter achieves. As a kidnapping movie, it works splendidly. Woody has been stolen by an unscrupulous store owner, and Buzz Lightyear and the gang must head out on a daring rescue mission to save their friend. Revisiting the film today, it becomes clear that the technical capabilities of Pixar’s animation has greatly evolved over the years, as some of the human faces in the film occasionally feel as plastic as their toy counterparts. However, the narrative is as engaging as their best works, ratcheting up the tension with each colorful sequence. At separate moments, both Woody and Buzz are forcibly held against their will, a tense choice which endows the tone with a genuinely claustrophobic feel. There are even shades of espionage thrillers in the mix, complete with a fight in a working elevator shaft, and a thrilling Mission: Impossible-style climax on the outside of a moving jet. Pixar is equally adept in the comedy department, as they are often acclaimed, inspiring laughs in the young and old alike. Among many titters, I genuinely laughed out loud at Buzz looking upon his frozen toy-store counterpart and wondering aloud, “Am I really that fat?”
Seven Psychopaths (Martin McDonagh)
Unlike the majority of the films on this list, Seven Psychopaths presents us with a rather unique type of kidnapper. Billy Bickle (Sam Rockwell at his most endearingly deranged) makes a not-so-healthy living kidnapping dogs and collecting the eventual rewards offered by the animal’s desperate owners. (“Dog-borrower!” Billy is quick to correct.) The dogs always make it home safe, but not without Billy and his cohort, Hans (Christopher Walken in a weirdly moving turn), making a quick buck. One day, Billy kidnaps the wrong dog and finds himself and his screenwriter buddy, Marty (Colin Farrell), pursued by the dog’s gangster owner. Meanwhile, Marty is writing a screenplay titled Seven Psychopaths, which he wants to be about peace and love… and seven psychopaths. Billy disagrees, insisting the film needs brutal violence, gory shootouts, and, of course, exploding heads. Half-Charlie-Kaufman-esque mind-trip and half-genre-infused morality tale, the film builds to a violent climax from an unusually pacifist point of view. In the end, Marty (named for writer-director Martin McDonagh, Oscar-winning creator of the masterpiece In Bruges) pulled it off. Seven Psychopaths is indeed a heartfelt film about peace and friendship. And it still manages to weave all the blood, guts, and bullets one could hope for into the tapestry in hilarious and clever ways.
Inherent Vice (Paul Thomas Anderson)
It should come as no surprise that the first Thomas Pynchon novel to be adapted into a film was initially met with some shrugged shoulders. The intentionally indecipherable narrative may or may not involve the kidnapping of Mickey Wolfman (Eric Roberts), a wealthy L.A. real-estate mogul who just so happens to be dating Shasta Fay Hepworth (Katherine Waterston), the ex-girlfriend of our protagonist, Doc Sportello, PI (a reliably watchable Joaquin Phoenix). There’s a lot to take in. P.T. Anderson weaves Doc into his strangely specific tapestry of Pynchon amidst the fading utopia of ’70s Los Angeles. It’s psychedelic psuedo-noir mixed in with a smattering of manically silly, Marx Brothers-esque comedy. Inherent Vice owes less to Altman’s The Long Goodbye than to Anderson’s other cinematic stepfather named Robert: Downey Sr., and films such as Putney Swope and Two Tons of Turquoise to Taos Tonight. At one point, Doc flashes back to a memory of his happier days with Shasta and playing with a Ouija board. Bizarrely, that happy-sad memory somehow leads him to the next piece of the puzzle. Indeed, the plot will conclude with Owen Wilson‘s character, a druggie musician caught up in a “vast” conspiracy. However, this ever-expanding mystery seems somehow hinged on Doc’s broken relationship with Shasta. No matter how it’s read, Inherent Vice is an enjoyably confounding riddle that pays loving tribute to Pynchon’s text while also delivering Anderson’s funniest film since Boogie Nights.
The Big Lebowski (Joel and Ethan Coen)
It struck me, revisiting The Big Lebowski after all these years, how far the film has seeped into contemporary pop culture. Jeff “The Dude” Lebowski (Jeff Bridges) is a pot-smoking bowler whose favorite rug is tragically urinated upon by two thugs who mistake him for someone else. One joint leads to another and the Dude finds himself a reluctant bagman in a kidnapping involving a young trophy wife and a wealthy businessman whose name also happens to be Jeffrey Lebowski. The plan goes awry, the hand-off botched, and the Dude suddenly has the seedy underbelly of L.A. creeping at his doorstep. Or perhaps there was no kidnapping? Perhaps the trophy wife kidnapped herself. The Dude is left to wander this neon landscape like a curious dog, carelessly sticking his nose into the crotch of a mystery he can barely comprehend. The film is a confirmed cult classic, a sleeper whose own fans can sometimes spoil the fun for the rest of us. Don’t get me wrong: I love the film, and can quote its memorable lines as much as anyone, but the culture which has sprung up surrounding The Big Lebowski strikes me as dangerously similar to that of Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville. Oddly enough, I doubt the Dude would approve of the dudebro-ization of the film. Think about that before you show up at the next Lebowski Fest or ironically pester a bartender for a White Russian.
“Don’t Judge a Book by Its Cover” is a proverb whose simple existence proves the fact impressionable souls will do so without fail. This monthly column focuses on the film industry’s willingness to capitalize on this truth, releasing one-sheets to serve as not representations of what audiences are to expect, but as propaganda to fill seats. Oftentimes they fail miserably.
What’s up with so few movies opening in theaters this February? I’m not complaining since it means a lot less posters to go through as well as perhaps a sign that less crap is being made. Remember when there was an event type atmosphere surrounding every new release because so much money and creativity went into it? Oh the days when there was more good cinema popping up on the marquee than clunkers.
This month sadly doesn’t look to go back to that trend. Along with some highly anticipated fare come a few January dump holdovers too. I guess we’ll just chalk the light schedule up to a lack of new independent releases and a desire on behalf of theaters to keep those Oscar contenders chugging along before the awards show bows on the 28th.
Gods, superheroes, and idiots—oh my!
February has so many characters hitting the big screen that the studios wanted to ensure we knew each one personally. If that means introducing us to cartoonish Gods Horus, Set, and Hathor; superheroes Colossus and Negasonic Teenage Warhead; or idiots Derek and Hansel, well, we will meet them in all their various forms of glory.
While the Gods from Gods of Egypt (opens February 26) and idiots from Zoolander 2 (opens February 12) seem to fold out as a way to detract from their films’ shortcomings, the superheroes know what’s up. The first positive for them is that the aforementioned two supes are merely tiny pieces of just one poster in Deadpool‘s (opens February 12) campaign. The second positive is how perfectly suited to the content Ten30 Studios has made their extensive library of advertising.
LA‘s work for Gods isn’t all obnoxious color, fire, and brood, though. While those are the ones we’ll probably be seeing at our local multiplex, the teases are much more effective. I love the gold and silver sheets with their computer-generated Gods in armor floating above a blocked title. They still looks cartoonish—a fact that worries me despite Alex Proyas‘ talent at the helm—but the metallic sheen adds something the brightness of the characters doesn’t.
I’m also a fan of the weird liquid metal splashes these two beasts in flight create with the third tease. I mean, I don’t love it on its own, but by comparison it delivers intrigue. There’s action and menace involved rather than pretty people posing for the camera with serious faces pretending their film isn’t going to be campy as hell.
Ryan Reynolds and Fox know and embrace their camp. That’s why you get sex jokes, parodies, and juvenile humor coming out Deadpool’s white eyeballs. The “Wait ‘Til You Get a Load of Me” sheet speaks for itself with its position of the gun; the “Ass” sheet recalls a steady stream of over the shoulder coy pin-up gaffs (the most recent to my mind being Baby Brent from Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs); and “Face” pretty much has animated eyelash bats with that pose.
The IMAX entry may embrace its comic aesthetic, but it’s probably the weakest of the bunch as its mocking of Drew Struzan-esque illustrations has it becoming one itself. The rest sprawl out and attempt to hit whatever funny bones the others didn’t. We get a heart for its Valentine’s weekend release and high school sweater for 40-Year Old Virgin fans. And if you want even more just do a Google search to find rom-com banners and testicular cancer PSAs. Move over Star Wars, Deadpool is literally everywhere right now.
As for Zoolander 2, let’s give credit to BLT Communications, LLC for doing character sheets right. They aren’t just taking the same portraits from the full one-sheet and isolating them against the exact same background (or barely changed) like the next section will show. Instead they give these weirdoes a venue to be as weird as possible. Let Owen Wilson wear his clueless stare with a naked lady. Give Ben Stiller a fur coat and Huskie so his empty face can portray his complete lack of irony in the juxtaposition. And definitely let Will Ferrell grimace in disgust like he is wont to do.
These things are hilarious—Kristen Wiig‘s collagen-filled lips channeling the Real Housewives of the fashion world can’t be ignored either. Even more, BLT also delivers a few one-offs with more humor than that initial static group shot above. Using the “No. 2” perfume gimmick is pure genius and it’s in full effect with Derek’s black and white pursed lips. The cell phone selfie duo is boring by comparison, but the moped garners a giggle. Penélope Cruz looks stiffer than a mannequin and it’s great.
Romans, single ladies, zombies, and thieves—OH MY!
What was I saying about character sheets done wrong? Oh, these ones. All four of the following—Hail, Caesar! (opens February 5), How to Be Single (opens February 12), Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (opens February 5), and Triple 9 (opens February 26)—are atrociously lazy: isolated actors copied into identical template frames.
It’s too bad about The Posterhouse‘s Hail, Caesar! because I do like the main sheet. It’s nothing special with its boxes of celebrities, but I like the border motif and eccentric title block. The font is somewhat different with its angled vertical edges and even though the comma is floating outside the main letters, it works. To just double down and use the same format with larger portraits is completely uninspired.
Not as uninspired as WORKS ADV‘s characters from How to Be Single, though. You’re just putting airbrushed actresses against bright gradients of color? Yawn. I can’t even give cold open credit for the final sheet either since it’s as boring. Not only that, but the firm pretty much recycled the same layout they used on Drinking Buddies. Add the fact that Dakota Johnson already acted in a film that also ripped this design off (Date and Switch) and the whole endeavor is badly cannibalistic.
While Posterhouse redeems itself with their exacting send-up of Zombies‘ book cover (I guess we should applaud the designer of it rather than them), they fall back into lame practices of ho-hum templates with their characters. The backgrounds change marginally as far as what building sits behind their respective hoard of flesh-eating monsters, but the sky is the same. I do like the off-center positioning of the actors, though. Not all is lost.
It’s Ignition who does the material justice with their melted painting and atmospheric mound of dead bodies. That second one recalls Mark W. Carroll‘s Far From the Madding Crowd, but warped by its own horror elements.
On the whole, though, I dislike the title block in all as it makes me think about Harry Potter. There’s a strangely off-putting humorous lilt to it that doesn’t quite mesh with the subject matter. And the red silhouette collage? It just doesn’t do it for me much like Macbeth didn’t last year.
Unfortunately it’s AllCity‘s Triple 9 that loses me most. Talk about the kitchen sink: these character sheets are overflowing with visual stimuli. We’ve got the high contrast portrait, the inverted title against grungy paint spray, and faceless criminals with automatic weapons that we have no idea whether the person highlighted above is for or against.
They’re like two posters in one. The studio liked the mood from Art Machine, A Trailer Park Company‘s main design so much that they wanted it retained. So AllCity is forced to bisect the page in a way that makes the actor an afterthought. Why do them at all?
I will say this: Art Machine’s sheet does prove effective. The red tint is a nice touch to complement the smoke and the redacted lines are intriguing despite being nothing more than stylistic flourish. They don’t actually cover anything, instead serving as elongated bullet points. I dig it.
With over 70 films covered, a number of interviews and more coverage from the Sundance Film Festival, it’s time to wrap up the first major cinema event in 2016. We already got the official jury and audience winners (here) and now it’s time to highlight our favorites, as well as complete coverage from the festival.
One will find our top fifteen favorites (in alphabetical order), followed by the rest of our reviews (from best to worst, including previously premiered features), then interviews. Check out everything below and stay tuned to our site, and specifically Twitter, for acquisition and release date news on the below films in the coming months.
Cameraperson (Kirsten Johnson)
Kirsten Johnson has been a cinematographer and / or camera operator on documentary films for 20 years. This has taken her all over the world and led her to meet all kinds of people. She’s been in Bosnia, interviewing survivors of the genocide. She’s observed Nigerian midwives in action. She watched Edward Snowden deliver his revelations about NSA surveillance practices to Laura Poitras and Glenn Greenwald. She has over 60 camerawork-related credits to her name on IMDb, and she’s not slowing down any time soon. Cameraperson is her self-described “memoir,” an album of her life as expressed through her life’s work. Dan S. (full review)
Captain Fantastic (Matt Ross)
A common trope at Sundance is the star-led indie, painted top-to-toe with eccentricities that are meant to represent/replace both story and character development. Relatively straightforward narratives that stand out thanks to shock-and-awe details that usually fade not too long after the well-regarded premiere. Captain Fantastic, written and directed by Matt Ross (28 Hotel Rooms), threatens to reinforce the expectation, before rising above and standing on its own. Much of the credit goes to Viggo Mortensen, who remains a singularly dominant on-screen presence, in a role here that feels deigned by the movie gods. Dan M. (full review)
Certain Women (Kelly Reichardt)
The cinema of Kelly Reichardt lives in quiet, tender observations with deeply rooted characters and location. Even when adding a thriller element as with her last feature, the overlooked Night Moves, her style is never compromised. Her latest feature, Certain Women, is a loosely connected three-part drama adapted from the short stories of Maile Meloy. It’s perhaps the purest distillation of her sensibilities yet as she patiently explores the longing for human connection in a world where men too often get prioritized. – Jordan R. full review)
Dark Night (Tim Sutton)
In many ways, writer-director Tim Sutton‘s third feature, Dark Night, exists in the same world as his first two films, Pavilion and Memphis. As we follow a collection of young men and women drifting through a long day in the American suburbs, many of the themes from his earlier work shine through — boredom as punctuated by anger, lust, and artistic ambition, to name a few. Where the day will end we already know, thanks to the film’s blunt title, a not-so-subtle reference to the 2012 shooting at a showing of The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora, Colorado. Dan M. (full review)
The Eagle Huntress (Otto Bell)
For seven generations, the men of Nurgaiv’s family have mastered the art of eagle hunting, a tradition in western Mongolia that goes back some 2,000 years. For the Kazakh people of the Altai region, it is a practice that is not only crucial to their survival in the remote area, but also a badge of honor and expertise in the long-held tradition. Inspired by her father, Nurgaiv’s daughter Aisholpan has taken an avid interest in the craft with hopes of tearing down the boundaries of cultural sexism and becoming the titular, first-ever The Eagle Huntress. In capturing her passion, her family’s encouragement, and the societal roadblocks ahead of her to overcome, director Otto Bell has created an empowering, gorgeously shot documentary. – Jordan R. (full review)
The Fits (Anna Rose Holmer)
An exploration of movement, motion, liminality, childhood and racial politics, The Fits is a fascinating psychological study of Toni (fearlessly played by Royalty Hightower), an 11-year0old living in Cincinnati’s West End. Set almost entirely within the walls of the neighborhood Lincoln Rec Center, we first find Toni taking up boxing, trained by older brother Jermaine (Da’Sean Minor). Abandoning the rigor of the boxing — requiring sprints across an overpass after hitting the speed-bag — Toni finds herself drawn to the dance troop practicing across the hall, where what she finds is nothing short of her voice. – John F. (full review)
Frank & Lola (Matthew M. Ross)
Frank & Lola, a noirish erotic thriller from journalist-turned-director Matthew M. Ross, finds leads Michael Shannon and Imogen Poots in top form. They excel as lovers in this tightly-wound psychosexual love story that has elements of the best of Eyes Wide Shut. Frank (Shannon) is a high-flying chef working in top-end restaurants in Las Vegas. At the bar of his establishment he meets Poots’ Lola as she glides into his bar, and director Ross sets the scene by opening the film on the ensuing sex, a moody awkward sequence that heightens a sense of menace behind these beautiful starlets. – Ed F. (full review)
Indignation (James Schamus)
After helping filmmakers such as Todd Haynes, Ang Lee, and Todd Solondz shape their careers, James Schamus has finally made the leap from producer to director with an adaptation of Philip Roth‘s 2008 novel Indignation. The 1951-set feature follows Marcus Messner (Logan Lerman), a Newark-bred Jewish teenager heading to his first semester at a Lutheran college in Ohio. In doing so, he avoids the draft for the Korean War, which is claiming extended family and friends as victims. While a morally sound, eloquent, and confident individual, at college he grapples with sexuality and a distinct indignation, primarily inflicted by Dean Caudwell (Tracy Letts). – Jordan R. (full review)
Kate Plays Christine (Robert Greene)
Actors put themselves in others’ skins — or they put others’ heads inside their own. Television journalists adopt a persona and try to deliver important information. Women erect calculated fronts to navigate environments not built for them. Many people suffering mental illness do their best to maintain a semblance of “nothing’s wrong.” Film directors orchestrate elaborate works of emotional manipulation. Documentary film directors do so with factual material. Such performances often overlap in the course of life and work; all of them intersect in Kate Plays Christine. – Dan S. (full review)
Love & Friendship (Whit Stillman)
Master of poisonous tongues and vicious schemes in the world of the rich and the poor, Love & Friendship is perhaps writer/director Whit Stillman‘s most potent mix of comedy and social commentary. He’s got Jane Austen to thank, whose novella ‘Lady Susan’ serves as the inspiration for this tale of Lady Susan Vernon (a pitch-perfect Kate Beckinsale), a widow with a flirtatious reputation, determined to well re-marry well at whatever the cost. Often laugh-out-loud funny and downright mean at the same time, Stillman is in top form here. Planned for a spring release, keep your eyes peeled for this one, and for a slightly more reserved take check out our full review. – Dan M.
In his 1969 short film 3 American LP’s, the 24-year-old Wim Wenders, in the kind of feat of earnestness that can befit a young man, attempts to match his two greatest interests” America’s landscapes and its rock-and-roll music. If we’re to pick perhaps the most endearing eye-roller from this “rockist” mission statement, one can look no further than Wenders describing a Creedence Clearwater Revival album as being “like chocolate.”
But this isn’t necessarily an atypical moment in his filmography, as Wenders has always skirted the line of, for lack of a better word, corniness — if not just telegraphing his influences to at-times-obnoxious degrees, also with a kind of sentimentality both formally and politically speaking. Consider Wings of Desire‘s glossy look, which could so easily be reconfigured into a perfume-commercial aesthetic, or even just the title of one of his later, forgotten films; The End of Violence.
Yet the fight between a cool modernist and open-hearted classicist is reflective of his home nation’s identity crisis in the wake of World War II: Germany split in two, and Wenders divided between it and the lure of all things American. This tension is certainly most explicit in his first decade as a filmmaker; his road trilogy came situated at a do-or-die artistic point, as even after making a film as assured as The Goalie’s Anxiety at The Penalty Kick, a sly neo-noir that one could easily see as an influence on the genre exercises of uber-hip American indie icons Jim Jarmusch and Hal Hartley, he began to feel the weight of his influences. Coming off a disastrous experience making an adaptation of The Scarlet Letter and feeling pressured to quit filmmaking after having not established his own voice, these films asserted his international reputation through drawing on the art in his life and the often-overwhelming melancholy that surrounds just the act of liking and trying to replicate it.
Alice in the Cities
While a low-budget feature shot in black-and-white on 16mm, the first installment of the trilogy contains a kind of sprawl not afforded to many today, filming on-location in New York, South Carolina, Germany, and the Netherlands. Yet this is wholly appropriate for the subject of a German photojournalist, Philip — played by Rudiger Vogler, who stars in every film of the trilogy — assigned with capturing America. Being past his deadline, there’s a palpable frustration over the dwindling romanticism of his trek: spending too much of his time in cheap hotel rooms watching television, at one point early in the film taking to destroying his set — even if it’s John Ford’s Young Mr. Lincoln gracing the screen. This predates a later sentiment by Wenders in his 1985 documentary Tokyo-Ga, on his own journey to capture a foreign land that inspired him so, that “every shitty television set has become the center of the world.”
The function of an artist character always makes it easy for critics and audiences to read into either the loaded gesture of “biography,” or at the very least the “surrogate” / “stand-in” for the director. In this case, having Wenders’ aesthetic and thematic interests firmly in mind, it may come off as too blunt a statement of an artistic predicament.
Yet when meaning to return to Germany, Philip comes grounded in New York due to an airline strike, the bureaucratic, trapped process of traveling by plane perhaps being the first reminder of how romantic the open road actually is. At the airport he meets a single mother, Lisa (Lisa Kreuzer), and her nine-year old child, the titular Alice (Yella Rottländer). Needing to head back to the Netherlands, but also stuck in America, they strike up a friendship. Lisa, facing despair but repeatedly stating, “Everything will be fine” (itself the title of Wenders’ most recent narrative feature), shortly disappears from the film, leaving Alice in Philip’s care and coming to predate the adult-child relationship at the center of Wenders’ most acclaimed and accessible feature, Paris, Texas.
From here, the film departs from any more potential “navel-gazing” for narrative as they seek to find Alice’s grandmother in Amsterdam. But even with a goal and place firmly in mind, the film still has patience for the “detour”: stopping to see Chuck Berry in concert (the footage borrowed from Wenders’ friend D.A. Pennebaker), only to have him in a clearly weathered state, the rock god of the ’50s starting to show his age. Yet broken and still onstage — beat-down but still searching the long and winding road, the artist falling in love and out, over and over again — only speaks to Alice in the City’s complicated optimism.
The middle film in the trilogy differentiates itself from the bookends with far less nostalgia, being shot in color, extensively referencing European instead of American art (nods to Flaubert and a Straub/Huillet film on television instead of Ford), and set on a narrative path far more directed towards ambiguity and despair. Whereas Alice in the Cities set a first-act example with retaliation against a television set, Wrong Move’s own violent act — its lead, Wilhelm (Vogler, again), smashing a window within the first few minutes of the film, all while listening to a rock-and-roll record — in one swift, cruel move rejects Wenders’ own sentimentality and fandom.
Though, to compare Wilhelm and Philip’s respective gestures, the seasoned latter’s artistic crisis is of being deadened by process, while the novice former’s is rather of a need to “feel something” (later in the film literally writing in his own blood). If Alice in the Cities was positioned as a rejuvenation of artistic intent for both Wenders and his onscreen surrogate, Wrong Move proves — at least if you’re willing to read further shades of autobiography — that he hasn’t completely moved on from his self-doubt.
Wilhelm, wanting to be a writer but lacking in both life experience and actual perspective, departs his small-town home as well as his domineering mother (one doesn’t have to make great leaps to read metaphor for a divided Germany), for the city of Bonn. He makes his voyage by train, a setting that’s benefited both Hitchcock and Tourneur (as well as various Bond films) for its simultaneous sense of both movement and confinement — an excellent excuse for suspense. And suspicions do arise about his fellow passengers, Laertes (Hans Christian Blech), a former Olympian with memories of Nazi Germany; his juggler companion, Mignon (an uncomfortably sexualized 13-year old Nastassja Kinski); as well as Therese (Fassbinder muse Hanna Schygulla), an aspiring actress who Wilhelm has a romantic connection with.
Forming essentially Germany’s past, present, and future, this uneasy collision would make one expect this to be another noir exercise for Wenders. Yet once they get off the train, his “plotless” tendencies kick in, our band of outsiders wandering around urban sections of West Germany and ensuing vignettes, taking in a new member like a portly, depressed poet, or stumbling into the bourgeois nightmare of a failed suicide (a bit of dark comedy that comes off as another evocation of Fassbinder).
Though if no matter how much we feel a collective angst amongst the group, the film is still situated in Wilhelm’s alienation — Wenders making statements about his home country and still, at the end of the day, speaking to himself. Not down the road, but in circles.
Kings of the Road
Speaking to a milieu far more marginalized — Western Germany’s farmlands and small towns, and the cinemas they house — the final entry in the trilogy could be considered Wenders’ answer to The Last Picture Show. But whereas Bogdanovich’s film was a transition between old and new Hollywood dressed as a period piece, Wenders’ situates itself quite firmly in the present.
This is evidenced in its opening scene, as two men from opposite sides of Germany’s most notorious period — Bruno (yes, Vogler), a cinema projectionist and repairman speaking to an elderly man with a background in performing accompanying music for silent films such as Fritz Lang’s Die Nublingen and Ben-Hur (the 1922 original), in the years just pre-dating the rise of Nazism — have a conversation. Yet while certainly a wistful remembrance of cinema long past, the underlying idea is a de-romanticization, chiefly through labor. Unlike the previous two films, we’re forced to identify with a technician and not an artist. Even the physical qualities present throughout, be it the weight of a film canister or the spools of celluloid, add a hint of working-class reality to Wenders’ dreamy travelogues.
But what makes Kings of the Road the best film in the trilogy is that it’s the one that most complicates the concept of nostalgia, and not simply the way Wrong Move provided a darker “counterpoint” to Alice in the Cities. Rather, it seems the one the most concerned with actually moving on: Bruno from job to job, town to town, and the passenger he picks up, Robert (Hanns Zischler), from the despair of a failed marriage that led him to try to take his own life.
While over the course of its three-hour length it can make time for Bruno’s thwarted romance with a cinema cashier (it doesn’t end in murder, like Wenders’ 1972 feature), the film’s central relationship between Bruno and Robert certainly has a homoerotic pull reminiscent of Nicholas Ray’s tragic melodrama The Lusty Men, which is outwardly stated as an influence in Wenders’ 1980 collaborative doc Lightning Over Water. While Wenders would do Ray proud in producing a male weepie that mines pathos from making a living in the midst of the death of the west, Kings of the Road shares, in hindsight, with The Lusty Men a kind of auteurist goldmine of self-realization. As, after all, the last film Wenders made before almost exclusively becoming a figure of international co-productions, Kings of the Road doesn’t just seem like the final film in a trilogy, but even the work of a separate filmmaker — one who finally came to the end of his journey.
TIFF’s Wim Wenders retrospective begins tonight and continues through March 6. See more details here.
Comprising a considerable amount of our top 50 films of last year, Sundance Film Festival has proven to yield the first genuine look at what the year in cinema will bring. Now in its 38th iteration, we’ll be heading back to Park City this week, but before we do, it’s time to highlight the films we’re most looking forward to, including documentaries and narrative features from all around the world.
While much of the joy found in the festival comes from surprises throughout the event, below one will find our 25 most-anticipated titles off the bat, which doesn’t include some of the ones we’ve already seen and admired, notably Cemetery of Splendour, The Lobster and Rams. Check out everything below and for updates straight from the festival, make sure to follow us on Twitter (@TheFilmStage, @jpraup, @djmecca and @DanSchindel), and stay tuned to all of our coverage here.
25. Sing Street (John Carney)
After breaking out with the lovely, Oscar-winning Once, director John Carney found his Hollywood feature with Begin Again. Hopefully returning to his roots at this year’s Sundance he’ll be premiering his new musical Sing Street. Following a group of kids in 1980s Dublin that attempt to be part of the music scene, a new trailer hints at a more tender drama from Carney, and one that The Weinstein Company will release hopefully soon after the festival.
24. The Fundamentals of Caring (Rob Burnett)
Closing out the Sundance Film Festival this year is The Fundamentals of Caring, a new drama which teams Paul Rudd, Craig Roberts, and Selena Gomez. Following the road trip between a caregiver and a teenager with muscular dystrophy, we’re looking forward to see the comedic chemistry between Rudd and Roberts, two actors who have impressed at the festival before. Direction comes from Rob Burnett, a longtime producer of the Late Show with David Letterman.
23. Frank & Lola (Matthew M. Ross)
While we’ll cover another Michael Shannon film later on in this feature, he’ll also be stopping by Sundance with Frank & Lola, a new drama which pairs him with Imogen Poots. The noir love story follows Shannon as Frank, a chef in Las Vegas who begins a volatile relationship with Lola (Poots) and questions of trust soon arise. Coming from journalist-turned-director Matthew Ross, hopefully it’s one of the many impressive debuts at the festival.
22. Swiss Army Man (Daniel Kwan, Daniel Scheinert)
Considering genre-tinged films don’t often show up in the U.S. Dramatic competition slate at Sundance, it always piques our interest when one makes it through. Such is the case with Swiss Army Man, coming from music video directors Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan. Starring Paul Dano, Daniel Radcliffe, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead, the film follows a man on a deserted island who takes a newly discovered dead body on an adventure. Based on the curious premise alone, we’re mightily intrigued.
21. The Free World (Jason Lew)
Considering her recent track record, Elisabeth Moss‘ credit in a film is reason enough to seek it out. She’ll return to Sundance this year with the drama The Free World opposite Boyd Holbrook. Directed by Jason Lew and described as a neo-Southern Gothic tale, it follows a man recently released from prison attempting to return to a normal life. He soon meets a woman that might make this change difficult. The directorial debut from Lew, who wrote Gus Van Sant’s Restless, hopefully it’ll be a stand-out in the U.S. Dramatic competition slate.
20. Ali & Nino (Asif Kapadia)
Coming off one of the most successful documentaries of all-time, Amy, director Asif Kapadia returns to the narrative side this year with Ali & Nino. Premiering at Sundance next week, it follows the relationship between a Muslim man and Christian woman on the cusp of World War I. Considering how effective his documentary work is, we hope Kapadia’s latest packs the same emotional wallop with this sweeping love story.
19. Dark Night (Tim Sutton)
After helming one of our favorite films of Sundance a few years back with Memphis, director Tim Sutton returns with Dark Night, depicting the moments before a mass shooting in a suburban theater. While not much more is known about the feature, with Sutton’s touch, we are hoping it’s something as artistically impressive and emotionally devastating as Elephant.
18. Becoming Mike Nichols (Douglas McGrath)
Leaving behind a wealth of iconic work and a brand of filmmaking that is already missed, Mike Nichols was simply one of Hollywood’s finest storytellers. It’s only right that we get a hopefully definitive documentary on The Graduate director, who passed away in 2014. Set to air on HBO on February 22nd, one won’t have to wait long to see Becoming Mike Nichols following its Sundance premiere.
17. Operation Avalanche (Matt Johnson)
After premiering The Dirties at Slamdance a few years ago, director Matt Johnson is back in Park City, but this time he’ll be headed to Sundance. His new film Operation Avalanche depicts an undercover mission during the Cold War in which young CIA agents pose as documentary filmmakers to uncover a potential Russian mole inside NASA. Already picked up by Lionsgate, hopefully audiences not at the festival will be able to see it soon after.
The great Charlie Kaufman has made his first foray into the world of animation with the critically praised Anomalisa, which we named one of the best films of 2015. Finally expanding over the next few weeks, to celebrate, we’ve decided to look back at some of the finest animated films that one might not want to show the entire family.
Who said cartoons were just for kids? As this week’s list will demonstrate, some of the finest weren’t necessarily designed with undiscerning young audiences in mind. Crossing genres and styles, these fifteen amazing features should probably be watched after this kids have been put to bed. Of course, there are many great examples beyond these, so please suggest your own favorites in the comments.
Watership Down / The Plague Dogs (Martin Rosen)
Martin Rosen‘s dark adaptations of Richard Adams‘s classic novels, Watership Down and The Plague Dogs, often feel like horror films told from the point of view of defenseless animals. The menacing psycho-killer antagonist is always us, mankind in our stumbling quest to expand our reach and conquer our environment. Treating their talking-animal protagonists with an utter lack of sentimentality, Rosen’s films beautifully mythologize the real-life plights of the little creatures living around us. In Watership Down, we follow a burrow of rabbits who run away in search of a new home following a ghastly premonition of doom. For many children, it was a sobering and important lesson in the sometimes violent psychology of animals. The Plague Dogs is an even bleaker portrayal, following two dogs who escape from an animal-testing facility and are mistaken for carriers of the bubonic plague. Ruled a public-health emergency, the dogs are chased across the country by men whom they believe will take them back to the cursed test facility. One of the most gut-wrenching scenes comes when one of the dogs encounters a kindly man who seems genuinely concerned about the animal’s safety. What plays out is so bone-chilling and horrible as to border on hopeless nihilism. Stunningly written and animated, the cinematic world of Richard Adams is dark, but painfully authentic.
Fritz the Cat (Ralph Bakshi)
While disowned by Robert Crumb, the character’s own creator, Ralph Bakshi‘s Fritz the Cat is a seminal example of the adult animation genre. The X-rated film captured the culture’s attention immediately, grossing a whopping $90 million worldwide. Even today, Fritz the Cat is a must-see rite of passage for young movie fans, whom eventually find Fritz after Garfield’s novelty has become worn. I can even recall the night from my thirteenth year, in which I stayed up late to catch Fritz the Cat on cable, expecting a groundbreaking experience — one that promised to be not only hilarious, but sexy. I tuned in and found it to be… well, neither, yet its kitschy charm held me in a groping embrace until the goofy climax. If Fritz fails to live up to the source material, it’s no shocker. The blame can be laid on Bakshi’s creative sensibilities, which, as politically charged as they may be, fail to reach the festering level of subversion that Crumb’s voice attains.
Persepolis (Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud)
The critically acclaimed Persepolis is a young girl’s sincere coming-of-age story set against the violent backdrop of the Iranian revolution. It’s heartbreaking yet warmly funny, based on Marjane Satrapi‘s autobiographical graphic novel, which beautifully portrays the life of a woman grappling with the struggles of cultural identity. Rendered in a charming black-and-white color pallete, we see Marjane navigating the universal pitfalls of teenage life as she finds herself a terrified witness to the horrors of the ensuing revolution. It isn’t long before her home becomes too dangerous, and her parents send her away to live a better life in Vienna. All the while, the guilt inside Marjane builds, spared of a terrible and torturous fate that her family must still endure. Sobering and insightful, Persepolis is heartfelt proof that, as Marjane says, freedom has its price.
Mary and Max (Adam Elliot)
The most uplifting and hopeful entry on this list follows Mary, a lonely Australian child who strikes up a long-distance friendship with Max, a socially fragile, obese, middle-aged New Yorker. Written and directed by Harvie Krumet creator Adam Elliot, the film may not be entirely appropriate for kids, due to some mild language and sexual innuendos, but thematically it’s perhaps the most essential movie on this list for an impressionable young viewer. The life of a social outcast is handled with remarkable tenderness and realism, despite the oddly disjointed world they inhabit. Victims of teasing and bullying by peers because of their looks or social standing, these occasionally pitiful characters carry on in spite of their pain and solitude. Complete with nearly unrecognizable vocal performances from Philip Seymour Hoffman and Toni Collette, Mary and Max is an utterly unexpected and life-affirming stop-motion classic.
South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut / Team America: World Police (Trey Parker)
It’s easy to forget the cultural tidal wave that was South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut, a primitively animated and crudely profane R-rated comedy that brought everyone’s favorite Colorado children to the big screen. While the animation might not be cutting-edge, Matt Stone and Trey Parker‘s stinging and insightful comedy is always offensively top notch. Their cinematic follow up, Team America: World Police, irreverently skewered America’s action filmmaking and culturally corrosive political environment of the time. Indeed, Stone and Parker are two of the most prolific contemporary comedic minds as they continue to shell out hilarious and intelligent comedy on a weekly basis on Comedy Central. There is often a short shelf life for jokes to which the South Park creators seem immune, as their material remains as funny today as ever. Unlike a couple entries on this list (I’m looking at you, Fritz!) the power of Stone and Parker’s comedy will surely endure.
After highlighting 50 films that are most certainly worth seeing this year, it’s time we venture into the unknown. While a multitude of 2016 previews simply regurgitate a list of dated releases, we’ve set out to focus on 100 films we’re genuinely looking forward to, regardless of their marketing budgets. While some might not have a release date — let alone any confirmed festival premiere — most have wrapped production and will likely debut at some point in 2016, so make sure to check back for updates over the next twelve months and beyond.
It should be noted that there are a number of films we’re greatly looking forward to, but whose release we aren’t confident about, including the next features from Claire Denis and Michael Haneke. (Rest assured, however, that we’ll have updates as they come in.)
Lastly, despite not coming out last year, as was planned, Orson Welles‘ unseen final film The Other Side of the Wind might finally debut in 2016, and in that case it should certainly be at the top of this list — but, unfortunately, we don’t have enough details yet. Regardless, be sure to keep the following one-hundred films on your radar (with release dates, where applicable). If you want to see how we did with our picks last year, head on over here.
100. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (Gareth Edwards; Dec. 16th)
Bringing a sense of vision and directorial control all but absent in the current state of blockbuster filmmaking (save for last summer’s Fury Road), Gareth Edwards‘ Godzilla was an incredibly staged spectacle. With his follow-up we sincerely hope he brings the same level of detail, even if it’s difficult to muster up a great deal of excitement for a relatively narrow-minded prequel story. With a wonderfully varied cast (including Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Riz Ahmed, Ben Mendelsohn, Donnie Yen, Forest Whitaker, and Mads Mikkelsen) we’re curious to see what the Star Wars franchise’s best director (at least until Rian Johnson) can deliver. – Jordan R.
99. Triple 9 (John Hillcoat; Feb. 26th)
The screenplay for Triple 9 ended up on the 2010 Black List and has been on my radar ever since. With John Hillcoat at the helm, the film looks to enhance the grimy, sweat-stained and raw feel he is known for in this cops-and-robbers merry-go-round. Not only does the film seem extremely complex to pull off, juggling eight main characters and their stories, but it has an energy and speed that we haven’t seen from Hillcoat before. It will be interesting to see how Hillcoat’s past films (Lawless, The Road, and The Proposition) influence his style this time around. Regardless, a February release of a Black List film with the likes of Casey Affleck, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Anthony Mackie, Aaron Paul, Norman Reedus, Woody Harrelson, Kate Winslet, Clifton Collins, Jr., and more should definitely be on your radar. – Bill G.
98. Passengers (Morten Tyldum; Dec. 21st)
If a late December release of a science-fiction drama starring Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt isn’t enough to anticipate, how about having Rodrigo Prieto (The Wolf of Wall Street, Brokeback Mountain) behind the camera? This is yet another strong Black List screenplay (from Jon Spaihts) that should be bolstered by the humanity and charm of Pratt, along with Michael Sheen. With director Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game and Headhunters) at the helm, the film is sure to balance high drama with a slick presentation and sly sense of humor. – Bill G.
97. Morgan (Luke Scott)
Backed by Ridley Scott, his son Luke Scott made his feature directorial debut with Morgan last year, hopefully set for a theatrical release soon. Starring Kate Mara, Anya Taylor-Joy (who is fantastic in the Sundance hit The Witch), Paul Giamatti, Toby Jones, and Boyd Holbrook, the Fox project follows a corporate risk-management consultant who is summoned to a remote research lab to determine whether or not to terminate an at-risk artificial being. Hopefully more Ex Machina than Transcendence, it’s written by Seth Owen, who earned a spot on the Black List for the script. – Jordan R.
96. Creepy (Kiyoshi Kurosawa)
Even though we were among the few who liked both Real and Journey to the Shore, a modern master of horror returning to the grounds he’s trod so well is very welcome news. Kurosawa’s feature appears to live up to its name, likely a self-aware turn from someone whose trajectory, much like the films themselves, can never be predicted exactly. – Nick N.
95. HHHH (Cédric Jimenez)
While we wouldn’t be surprised if friendlier title arises before it makes its way to theaters, the WWII drama HHHH is worth noting for its cast alone. Led by Jason Clarke, Rosamund Pike, Jack O’Connell, Mia Wasikowska, and Jack Reynor, the film directed by Cedric Jimenez (The Connection) follows the rise and fall of Reinhard Heydrich (Clarke) in Nazi Germany and his assassination thanks to a pair of resistance paratroopers (O’Connell and Reynor). Based on Laurent Binet’s novel, the Gone Girl star plays Heydrich’s wife, who had a major influence on his rise to power, and Wasikowska is a Czech resistance fighter. With the director getting some acclaim for his recent crime drama, hopefully Weinsteins have a hit in their hands. – Jordan R.
94. The Woods (Adam Wingard)
Over the past few years, director Adam Wingard and his long-time writing partner, Simon Barrett, crafted two masterful takes on modern horror conventions, the intruder romp You’re Next and the woefully underrated thriller The Guest. Based on early reports, it seems their next release, The Woods, will continue their fascination with the genre. The limited plot description teases a familiar set-up – a group of campers confronted with an unknown terror – but unfortunately, no additional information has surfaced since the project was announced last February. The film is believed to be completed, so hopefully more details will soon emerge. Until then, we’ll have to be confident that Wingard and Barrett will have a few clever tricks up their sleeves beyond the usual blood and gore. – Amanda W.
93. Una (Benedict Andrews)
Teaming two of our best actors, Rooney Mara and Ben Mendelsohn, Una is described as a provocative love story that unfolds like a thriller about two people forced to revisit a passionate yet illicit relationship they had years ago. Coming from Australian theater director Benedict Andrews, we imagine the drama, also starring Riz Ahmed and Tara Fitzgerald, will find its debut on the fall festival circuit. – Jordan R.
92. American Pastoral (Ewan McGregor)
How does one adapt Philip Roth‘s seminal, Pulitzer Prize-winning novel? We didn’t think it would be Ewan McGregor — making his directorial debut, no less — but we’ll find out this year. Scripted by John Romano (The Lincoln Lawyer), the ’60s-set story follows Seymour “the Swede” Levov, an idealistic American do-gooder whose family is torn apart when his rebellious teenage daughter commits a heinous crime in protest of the Vietnam War. With Jennifer Connelly, Dakota Fanning, Rupert Evans, David Strathairn, and more in the cast, we can see this going either way, but we’ll certainly be watching. – Jordan R.
91. Assassin’s Creed (Justin Kurzel; Dec. 21st)
Considering their track record in Hollywood, it’s safe to not build up much anticipation for the next videogame adaptation. However, this year will bring one that seems to have perhaps the most promising elements yet. Reteaming after the jaw-droppingly beautiful Macbeth, director Justin Kurzel and stars Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard recently completed production on Assassin’s Creed. If Kurzel can bring the level of visual scope of his previous features with at least a decent script, this could clear the low-hanging videogame adaptation bar and prove with the right team, there is something to mine from the field. – Jordan R.
All caught up with our top 50 films of 2015? It’s now time to look to the new year, and, ahead of our 100 most-anticipated films, we’re highlighting 50 titles we’ve enjoyed on the festival circuit this last year (and beyond) that will likely see a release in 2016. While the first batch have confirmed dates all the way through the summer, we’ve also included a handful that are awaiting a date and some we’re hopeful will get a release by year’s end pending acquisition. U.S. distributors: take note!
We’ve stuck to just 50 here, but we’ve also seen many other notable releases over the next twelve months that we were more mixed on (or worse). There’s The Benefactor, Mojave, Southbound, Remember, and Too Late this winter, as well as Hello, My Name is Doris, Green Room, Miles Ahead, I Saw the Light, The Bronze, Evolution, and Louder Than Bombs this spring. We also imagine The Sea of Trees, Equals, Man Down, Hardcore, The Program, Colonia, Our Little Sister, Kill Your Friends, Queen of the Desert, Tale of Tales, Chevalier, Suite Française, and London Road will find their way to theaters sometime this year.
Check out our 50 recommendations below and let us know what you’re most looking forward to.
The Treasure (Corneliu Porumboiu; Jan. 8th)
Though regularly grouped with the directors that comprise the Romanian New Wave, Corneliu Porumboiu’s brand of social realism is all his own. Dispensing with the shaky cam so popular amongst his peers, his fictional features capture the world through contemplative long takes, their duration and frequent immobility allowing for careful observations of the subjects’ relationship to their environment, which is always reflective of wider-reaching concerns. The Treasure, his fifth feature and the winner of this year’s Un Certain Talent Prize, is the latest gem in the director’s exquisite filmography — another tightly focused, minimalist and enchantingly humane story of individual struggle within the broader social reality of contemporary Romania. – Giovanni M.C. (full review)
In the Shadow of Women (Philippe Garrel; Jan 15th)
While fitting snugly in the overall cohesiveness of Philippe Garrel’s filmography, In the Shadow of Women nevertheless feels like a companion piece to its predecessor, the 2013 critical hit Jealousy. Garrel’s latest is also shot in black-and-white, kept within a similarly svelte running time (73 minutes), and its pared-down story of marital infidelity again takes the jealousy intrinsic to adult relationships as its primary theme. In the Shadow of Women revolves around Pierre (Stanislas Merhar) and Manon (Clotilde Courau), a married couple living in a run-down Parisian apartment and struggling along as documentary filmmakers. The strain in their relationship is apparent from the outset and both soon embark on individual affairs. The contrast in their respective motivations – Pierre’s is physical; Manon’s is emotional – and reactions upon learning of the other’s unfaithfulness – Manon is understanding; Pierre is seething – lays bare the asymmetries in their marriage, forcing a confrontation with truths hitherto swept under the carpet. – Giovanni M.C. (full review)
Eisenstein in Guanajuato (Peter Greenaway; Jan. 15th)
“Ostensibly, Eisenstein in Guanajuato is a chronicle of Sergei Eisenstein’s ill-fated endeavor to shoot a film in Mexico at the age of 33. However, not only is Eisenstein never shown shooting a single scene, but anyone without prior knowledge of the Soviet master is unlikely to come out of the film much wiser about his life or place in film history. Rather, in paying homage to one of his heroes, Greenaway delves into the director’s personality, offering an interpretation radically different from the customarily-held image of Eisenstein as a solemn and cerebral revolutionary genius. The biographical focus, unsurprisingly, is on Eisenstein’s sexuality, whereas his groundbreaking film techniques and theory are explored visually through a conflation of Eisenstein’s method and Greenaway’s own.” – Giovanni M.C. (full review)
The Clan (Pablo Trapero; Jan. 29th)
Who says there’s no place for meaty, gritty thrillers at A-list film festivals? Argentinian director Pablo Trapero’s El Clan (The Clan) is exactly the kind of cross between high drama and genre exercise that should have no problem pleasing steak-eating critics and audiences everywhere. Perhaps not lofty enough in its aim and too gung-ho with its approach to win award favors, this is nonetheless a solid piece of storytelling served with just the right amount of sauce. – Zhuo-Ning Su (full review)
Rabin, the Last Day (Amos Gitai; Jan. 29th)
Why You Should See It: One of the films we quite liked at Venice last year, about which we said, “It isn’t quite an Israeli version of JFK, but Rabin, the Last Day rivals Oliver Stone’s film in seeking to pose questions that official studies have refused to explore. In JFK, the events were after the Warren Commission; here Gitai frames the actions within the official Shamgar Commission into security and intelligence failing behind assassination. The commission was denied the chance to investigate the political and social climate around the actions – something Gitai tries to rectify.” – Ed F. (full review)
Rams (Grímur Hákonarson; Feb. 3rd)
Following his 2010 debut, Summerland, Rams marks the second feature film from Icelandic director Grimur Hakonarson. Premiering as part of Cannes’ Un Certain Regard line-up, the film chronicles the tale of two brothers, Gummi (Sigurdur Sigurjonsson) and Kiddi (Theodor Juliusson), in a rural Icelandic valley who both make a living as farmers raising sheep and rams. In fact, they are the sole two breeders of a special stock of rams that are renowned for their excellent and sought-after qualities. However, the two brothers are not on speaking terms, quite literally for the last forty years, due to a divisive incident in the past. A breakout of a degenerative neurological disease which affects sheep, scrapies, affects both brothers in the valley. The government decides that all the flocks in the affected valley must be culled in order to eradicate the outbreak. So begins the central story, as we see how the two brothers must learn to move on from the past in order to salvage whatever little remains of their future. – Raphael D. (full review)
The Club (Pablo Larraín; Feb. 5th)
With his exceptional trilogy on the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship – Tony Manero (2008), Post Mortem (2010) and No (2012) –Chilean director Pablo Larraín proved himself a trenchant commentator on his country’s problematic past. He turns his attention to the problematic present in The Club, a scathing j’accuse directed at the institution of the Catholic Church that represents his most uncompromising and vociferous film to date. – Giovanni M.C. (full review)
Mountains May Depart (Jia Zhangke; Feb. 12th)
Though vastly more moderate than its predecessor, the ultra-violent A Touch of Sin, Jia Zhangke’s Mountains May Depart continues the director’s move away from the extremely measured, observational style that characterized much of his earlier work. Even as his narratives have become more charged, however, Jia’s thematic focus has remained constant and Mountains May Depart offers his latest reflection on the momentous societal changes that have swept over China as a result of its entry and ascension in the globalized world economy. If A Touch of Sin expressed Jia’s rage at the contemporary impact of capitalist progress on Chinese society, Mountains May Depart is his lament over the direction in which it is headed. – Giovanni M.C. (full review)
Embrace of the Serpent (Ciro Guerra; Feb. 17th)
I have a weakness for heart-of-darkness films, and Embrace of the Serpent ranks amongst the best (and most gorgeous) I’ve seen. It’s also the only one I can think of that successfully adopts a native perspective in charting the white man’s journey down the river, thus offering a moving elegy to the myriad cultures that were destroyed in the process instead of just probing into humanity’s vilest instincts. – Giovanni M.C.
The Witch (Robert Eggers, Feb. 19th)
“We will conquer this wilderness. It will not consume us,” foreshadows our patriarch in the first act of The Witch, a delightfully insane bit of 17th century devilish fun. As if Ingmar Bergman and Ken Russell co-directed Kill List, Robert Eggers’ directorial debut follows a God-fearing Puritan family banished from their settlement in a colonial New England, only to have their deep sense of faith uprooted when our title character has her way with their fate. – Jordan R. (full review)
Emmanuel “Chivo” Lubezki is a brilliant cinematographer whose work has helped shape the landscape of modern cinematic photography. During his 32-year career, Lubezki has worked with such greats as Mike Nichols, Joel and Ethan Coen, Terrence Malick, and Michael Mann, as well as technology-defying directors such as Alfonso Cuarón and Alejandro González Iñárritu. He even worked alongside Martin Scorsese as a camera operator on The Rolling Stones documentary Shine a Light, alongside Robert Richardson.
Lubezki’s latest project reunites him with Iñárritu for a brooding, intense historical epic about fur trapper Hugo Glass. Although the movie itself receives a somewhat mixed reception, Lubezki’s photography alone is worth the price of admission, as we noted in our yearly cinematography wrap-up. Before checking out The Revenant when it opens wide this Friday, we’ve selected some of our favorites in his illustrious filmography, each exquisite in their own unique ways. Please enjoy below, and suggest your own favorites in the comments.
Like Water For Chocolate (Alfonso Arau)
A lively adaptation of the popular Mexican novel, Like Water For Chocolate flaunts its bewitching visuals and charming narrative diversions, reveling in a dream-like sense of wonder. Sharing thematic sensibilities with Lubezki’s later work on Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, we follow Tita (Bottle Rocket‘s Lumi Cavazos), a young Mexican woman living under the imposed rule of her mother. Tita is forbidden to marry Pedro, the man of her dreams, who instead weds Tita’s sister. She’s left to remain a humble cook and servant, taking care of her domineering mother until her death. On her sister’s wedding day, Tita weeps into the cake batter, which causes those who eat it to fall under a sudden spell of melancholia. It isn’t long before Tita realizes the depths of the powers she can wield with her supernatural cooking. This is a warm and hopeful film, and Lubezki’s cinematography mirrors these uplifting emotions, bestowing events with a golden, sunset-like color palette.
Reality Bites (Ben Stiller)
Lubezki’s first taste of Hollywood was Ben Stiller‘s directorial debut, Reality Bites, which follows four directionless twenty-somethings fumbling through their first year of adulthood. As dated as the surface details of its early-90s setting may seem, the film cleverly taps into the chaos and fear of the world of post-academia. Working with Stiller was a unique and tricky experience for the cinematographer. Lubezki admits in a Hitfix Oral History of the film that he did not find the script particularly funny. Looking back, the strongest and most resonant comedic moments arise from the charismatic performances of its leads, who together share a warm onscreen chemistry. Lubezki’s visual approach to dry comedy was relatively simple: “I never like comedies that are lit to be funny. It’s not the light that is funny.” Mixing lo-fi video footage with ethereally hazy shots of Houston, Texas allowed Lubezki to capture the essence of those times. Though this wasn’t a period film upon its release, it certainly is now, thus cementing Reality Bites as a truthful snapshot of ’90s culture.
The Birdcage (Mike Nichols)
Following his more frequent collaborations with Alfonso Cuarón and Alfonso Arau, The Birdcage might seem like a mainstream diversion for Lubezki. With Reality Bites under his belt, Lubezki’s second brush with Hollywood was a more assured and confident work. The film opens with a long sweeping shot moving across Miami’s South Beach and into the titular club, where the camera moves through the dance floor and even onto the stage for close ups. Not necessarily as accomplished as the infamous Goodfellas Copacabana dolly, but Nichols and Lubezki’s visual ambitions are towering ones. The shot consisted of three separate takes, with cuts digitally hidden — a technique Lubezki still employs as recently as in Birdman and The Revenant. It’s truly thrilling to see each successive attempt at this technique improve its sophistication, the subtleties and complexities deepening with each passing film.
Sleepy Hollow (Tim Burton)
Working with a visual auteur such as Tim Burton must be like a gift to a cinematographer, gaining the chance to lovingly explore moody and atmospheric landscapes dripping with rich detail. Lubezki paints the film in a ghostly gray pallor, each citizen of Sleepy Hollow pale white and cloaked in a thick layer of fog. Ever-present iconography of the damned — picturesque scarecrows, jack-o’-lanterns, and various other spooky, antiquated artifacts of Halloween — subtly blanket the film. Every inch of Sleepy Hollow feels steeped in Gothic aura and dread as Ichabod Crane attempts to solve the mystery of the Headless Horseman. Crane’s numerous flashback dream sequences are the most gorgeous in the film, eye-catching excuses for Lubezki and Burton to crank up the visual flourishes all the way to eleven. It’s an impressively made film, which has surprisingly aged rather well.
The Assassination of Richard Nixon (Niels Mueller)
The doomed assassination attempt on Richard Nixon by a man named Sam Byck (spelled Bicke in the movie) is an oft-forgotten chapter in U.S. history. It’s another story of a lone assassin who seemed so normal to his oblivious friends and neighbors. Mueller‘s 2004 film feels as relevant today as it ever did. The disenfranchised little guy hellbent on capturing the American dream at any violent cost remains an ever-present archetype in contemporary society. Lubezki’s camera continually catches Bicke (Sean Penn, in a tortured and mournful performance) in close-up, always underlining the protagonist’s carelessness and ineptitude. Like witnessing a car wreck in slow motion, the film’s impending violence feels as foreboding and cautionary as anything I’ve ever seen. Bicke is as out of his depth as a father as he is as a salesman or political assassin, the horizon ever unsteady as Lubezki’s hand-held camera catches his downcast eyes and menacing expression.
Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events (Brad Silberling)
A cheerfully morbid and irreverent adaptation of Daniel Handler‘s macabre fairy tale series invokes the same magical tones as Like Water For Chocolate and Sleepy Hollow, yet adds a goofy, playful edge to the material. After a grisly fire takes the lives of their loving parents, the Baudelaire children become wealthy orphans, transferred into the care of the possibly murderous Count Olaf, played by a deliriously unhinged Jim Carrey. Hungry for their inheritance, Olaf concocts one horrific plan after another, attempting to kill these children once and for all. It’s a fine rejoinder to the belief that cinematography cannot add to comedy, for the film continually surprises us with lovingly executed sight gags that enhance its colorful and vividly depicted world.It’s almost a shame that the film’s core audience is likely too young to fully appreciate Lubezki’s work in all of its nuances.
Burn After Reading (Joel and Ethan Coen)
Notable as one of the few films from Joel and Ethan Coen not photographed by their longtime collaborator Roger Deakins, Burn After Reading provided a huge opportunity for Lubezki. Working on the Coen brothers’ first original comedy since O Brother Where Art Thou? allowed Lubezki a chance to closely collaborate with incredible comedic performers at the top of their game. The film is a satire of both bureaucratic CIA politics and tragically vain fitness instructors, featuring gleefully over-the-top turns from Frances McDormand, John Malkovich, and Tilda Swinton. The Washington Monument and other towering symbols of government creep in the background, firmly anchoring these protagonists in this stifling landscape. Lubezki frames the film as if it were The Bourne Identity, only without all that silly action and suspense. Perhaps not the finest work of the brothers’ career, but a minor Coen film is still far greater than a vast majority of contemporary cinematic fare.