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40 Films to See This Summer

Written by The Film Stage, April 19, 2018 at 9:19 am 

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The summer movie season is upon us, which means a seemingly endless pile-up of superheroes, reboots, and sequels will crowd the multiplexes. While a very select few show some promise, we’ve set out to highlight a vast range of titles–40 in total–that will arrive over the next four months, many of which we’ve already given our stamp of approval.

There’s bound to be more late-summer announcements in the coming months, and a number of titles will arrive on VOD day-and-date, so follow us on Twitter for the latest updates. In the meantime, see our top 40 picks for what to watch this summer below, in chronological order, and let us know what you’re looking forward to most in the comments.

Manhunt (John Woo; May 4)

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John Woo’s return to the genre that made his career isn’t so much of a comeback as it is watching one of our best action directors become unleashed. This is a film of superlatives, where storylines and subplots pile on top of each other in the middle of action setpieces that astound in their absurdity. There are cover-ups, conspiracies, badass assassins, jetski chases, revenge plots, super soldiers and much, much more, with Woo orchestrating all of his madness into a giddy delirium while giving viewers a big ol’ self-reflexive wink. One of the most purely entertaining films of 2017, Manhunt is the exact kind of maximalist fun we need right now. – C.J. P.

RBG (Betsy West and Julie Cohen; May 4)

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RBG is an essential documentary for the adoring fans of Associate Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg aka The Notorious RBG, according to some millennials. They have created an entire mythology out of a quiet, brilliant women who rose to the rank of the court’s chief dissenter post Bush v. Gore. Directors Julie Cohen and Betsy West have crafted an engaging documentary to hold us over until she, like fellow pioneer of civil rights Thurgood Marshall, gets a biopic of her own later this year. – John F. (full review)

The Day After (Hong Sang-soo; May 11)

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Hindsight is a marvelous thing. To quote the lead character of a recent Hong Sang-soo film (and by recent we mean Claire’s Camera, the second of three the prolific director has premiered so far this year): “The only way to change things is to look back on them, slowly.” It’s a mantra Hong clearly lives by as a filmmaker, as do many of the people who inhabit his movies. Hong’s world is all about repetition, and while the cold domestic and workplace settings of his latest film, The Day After, are somewhat of a departure from the unfamiliar streets his character usually walk down, the majority of his signature ingredients are present and accounted for: sad, unfaithful men abusing positions of relative power; dialogue that meanders between the everyday and the sublime; his current muse, Kim Min-hee; and, of course, generous lashings of Soju. – Rory O. (full review)

Lu Over the Wall (Masaaki Yuasa; May 11)

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Japanese animation director Masaaki Yuasa, long a cult figure in the U.S., is getting new exposure this year. Following up on Netflix’s release of his series Devilman Crybaby, GKIDS has picked up three of his films for distribution this year. One of these, Lu Over the Wall, demonstrates everything that makes Yuasa one of the best contemporary anime filmmakers. It’s an energetic, frequently hilarious, always visually riveting ride. – Dan S. (full review)

Filmworker (Tony Zierra; May 11)

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A week before Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey gets a 50th anniversary theatrical release, featuring an unrestored 70mm print, a documentary that captures his right-hand man, Leon Vitali, will arrive. While it isn’t necessarily the most polished production, it’s still a worthy angle on a different side of Kubrick’s production process. Kyle Pletcher said in his review from NYFF, “Purely as a document and examination of Vitali’s tireless dedication to Kubrick’s vision and legacy, Filmworker is a sufficiently insightful and informative piece, bringing light to the auteur’s profoundly virtuosic filmmaking approach.” 

Sollers Point (Matthew Porterfield; May 11)

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With his small-scale, deeply felt, and wonderfully-realized dramas, Matthew Porterfield has carved out an impressive eye for a Baltimore we don’t often see on screen. After earning acclaim on the festival circuit and elsewhere with Putty Hill and I Used to Be Darker, the director returns this summer with Sollers Point. Premiering at San Sebastián International Film Festival last fall and touring around, Oscilloscope Laboratories will release it in a few weeks. The drama, starring Jim Belushi, McCaul Lombardi, and Zazie Beetz, follows a man under house arrest who must reacquaint himself with both his family and the community at large. – Jordan R.

First Reformed (Paul Schrader; May 18)

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Made with a kind of formal rigor that one would’ve assumed was long past Schrader after the “post-cinema” experimentations of The Canyons and Dog Eat DogFirst Reformed is first and foremost most admirable for its sustained mood. Shot in The Academy aspect ratio and maintaining a stillness and greyness that manages to seem utterly alien to the slow cinema standards of contemporary art films, one gets the sense of the director really having a genuine stake in the making of this picture. It seems the religious content is not so much an affect as a genuine late-in-life plea. – Ethan V. (full review)

On Chesil Beach (Dominic Cooke; May 18)

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It’s 1962. Florence Ponting (Saoirse Ronan) and Edward Mayhew (Billy Howle) have just been married. She’s from a wealthy family and he a provincial one; her desire to be active in world affairs beyond her status’ ambivalence and his hope to be accepted as an intellectual with the potential of outgrowing a brawler reputation placing them at odds with the environments that raised them to seek escape. And they are in love: a true, deep, and unstoppable love that allowed their differences to take a backseat as far as community and parentage was concerned. It’s propelled them towards a hotel honeymoon suite on the water, an isolating venue affording them the privacy such auspicious occasions crave and the stifling quiet able to intensify their utter lack of sexual experience and wealth of insecure awkwardness. – Jared M. (full review)

The Tale (Jennifer Fox; May 26)

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What does your life mean if the memories that have defined you are revealed to be false? What if the memories are tied to devastating trauma? For Jennifer Fox (Laura Dern), when letters are unearthed revealing more about a “relationship” when she was 13, she starts to not only investigate in the present-day, but excavates the memories that she’s repeated since the trauma and opens a dialogue with her younger self (Isabelle Nélisse). What she perceived as a relationship was, in fact, repeated rape. Directed by Fox herself, The Tale is an emotionally debilitating drama, the powerful kind that makes one want to scream rage at the events on the screen, but are choked by silence as the credits roll, comprehending the irrecoverable damage caused to the protagonist and the director, as the events are based on her own life. – Jordan R. (full review)

American Animals (Bart Layton; June 1)

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The rich genre of crime film in which dumbasses get themselves in way over their heads has a proud new entry with American Animals. Though premiering as part of Sundance’s U.S. Dramatic Competition, I’d strenuously argue that it is in fact a documentary that happens to be 90% reenactment. Hell, the movie itself even states in the opening chyron that it is a true story, not based on one. The real figures involved not only provide commentary but also shape the film itself, as conflicting testimonies will change a scene’s location or what a certain person is wearing. The conflict between differing points of view and retrospective perspective express the movie’s themes of shaping one’s reality by acting as though you’re in a different story than the one you think you’re living. – Dan S. (full review)

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Posterized April 2018: ‘You Were Never Really Here,’ ‘Disobedience,’ ‘Zama,’ and More

Written by Jared Mobarak, April 6, 2018 at 7:59 am 

“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.


Despite only having four Fridays, April is packed with new releases. It seems like all the studios are trying to get some traction for their smaller films before the summer months arrive and take over (even though Disney is continuing its early tracks for blockbusters with Avengers: Infinity War bowing April 27).

As such there are a few posters I couldn’t fit into any sections below including the fun self-own quote-centric sheet for Godard Mon Amour (limited April 20), the attractively illustrative collage for Lowlife (limited April 6), and the breathtaking artwork used to advertise the Chinese animation Big Fish & Begonia (limited April 6). These are stunning works in their own right and shouldn’t be forgotten amongst the rest.


Quick turnaround

The film is named Spinning Man (limited April 6). The designers think, “How do we show spinning in two-dimensional print media?” The answer is duplication. Use blurring, multiple vantage points, and cropping to make it appear as though your subject is moving despite it obviously not being able to do so. But this works when you have one subject. It works if you have some view of it from the backside as well since spinning means 360-degrees. Kustom Creative decided a weird shimmer would be enough.

There’s so much wrong with this thing. Why couldn’t they have used an image of Minnie Driver facing the same direction as her co-stars? Why are the actors cropped with straight lines and masked to their contours simultaneously as though they are being folded in front of backdrops of themselves? This is less spinning than disappearing. And why are only two of the four “Ns” in the title “moving”?

What’s worse is that the poster is pretty much exactly what Blood & Chocolate did with Before I Go to Sleep. But that one worked because the effect looked like shutters. It was about trust and façades and the fact that we could peer behind those surfaces to see the person’s true intent. Spinning Man‘s design is the low budget, cardboard cutout, “sweded” version without any recognition as to what the other was doing.

B O N D created a nice graphic teaser for Chappaquiddick (April 6). There was satire (American Flag symbolism juxtaposed with murder) and minimalism (not one floating head to be seen). The title is synonymous with Ted Kennedy’s infamous evening and so one look at that overturned car drowning in water is all we need to know what’s up. Short, sweet, and effective.

So why did they go to the John Curran well when creating the final sheet? The similarity to Curran’s previous film Stone (designed by The Refinery) is too close for coincidence. It’s as though the firm thought putting the title beneath the actors instead of around the actors would be enough to render it unique. They were wrong.

Not only that, though, it’s utterly boring. Those overlapping Photoshop faces are way too distracting to let the scene of the car below possess any drama. The “image” seen through the letters of the text makes it seem less like added texture than empty ink cartridge losing paper coverage. And the line-up of tilted glasses lend a comedic bent that even the film’s surprisingly comedic bent can’t quite survive.

Borg Vs. McEnroe (April 13) and The Posterhouse’s Submergence (limited April 13) see their studios deciding to go cliché with the always-unchallenging two-hander back-to-back ad. Have two leads that earn equal billing? Put both faces on the poster, but have them looking away from each other because “Drama!” No one can complain except those forced to gaze upon the uninspiring portraiture.

Let’s be honest: the former is laughable. The way Sverrir Gudnason and Shia LaBeouf are positioned makes them look like the stars of a Stuck On You sequel. Either that or McEnroe is literally a monkey on Borg’s back. Or maybe this monstrosity is trying out for the role of Zaphod Beeblebrox in a new Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy film.

I don’t love the second poster for the film either, but at least it creates a scene with its actors. It shows the way they display their anger (stoic frustration against animated verbal abuse) with an interesting composition. It also adds the “Vs.” that wasn’t there at the beginning nor wanted now.

As for Submergence, I don’t necessarily hate what Posterhouse did with the layout. It very directly bisects the page with the title to create two distinct windows so the former film’s two-headed monster issue is avoided. And it has them looking in opposite diagonal directions. This creates a sense of movement that them looking right and left wouldn’t. We can read the title down while also witnessing their respective emotional woes.

It’s much better than the badly faked torn page diptych and The Robot Eye’s floating translucent heads in the sky. The latter removes Alicia Vikander’s emotion for an empty, vacant expression as though she is an angel rather than person. What a weird aesthetic choice in extreme contrast to the others.


Depth of field

Shallow focus doesn’t have to be handled “artistically” to be effective. Just look at Krystal (limited April 13). This could have been Rosario Dawson in the middle of the frame, but then we wouldn’t get the context that leaving Nick Robinson at left delivers. Rather than portrait, this is conversation. We don’t need to know who he is, only that he is one of the “boys” alluded to in the tagline. Is this poster winning any awards? No. But it isn’t ignoring its own conventions either. It has a plan and it succeeds.

Aardvark (limited April 13) takes this idea further. It pretends to be more “artistic” even though it is just as straightforward as the last one. In fact, it may be even more boring because it is less about a scene and action than providing a sense of hierarchy in relationship. Without knowing anything about this film I can sense that Jenny Slate is the object, Jon Hamm is her supposed “protector,” and Zachary Quinto is the predator/stalker always in the background. What’s interesting is that the latter is in focus. She may be his object, but he is ours. This is his story.

Again, though, just because we can read the poster doesn’t mean it is attractive or unique. It too had a plan and enforced it with success. Its one flourish is the typography: a nice sharp serif italicized for movement yet contained within a box. You could say it is a metaphor for either Quinto or Slate’s character. It’s a person trying to escape the world that has refused to give him/her true freedom.

Disobedience (limited April 27) by InSync Plus isn’t as overt as these other two and therefore is much more artistic. The whole is soft to the point of its sole crisp imagery being the wisps of hair washed out to white between Rachel Weisz and Rachel McAdams. The softness is a nod to the grainy texture of film as opposed to digital, the warmth of the colors more about mood than reality. And the way the vantage augments the contrast between light and shadows ensures our eyes move to Weisz’s open mouth.

The image is provocative and effective—a real world application of a similar layout with Love from a few years back. Sadly the text does it no favors. Why is the tagline where it is? Why have it distract from the sightline of their eyes by refusing to let us see their loving gaze unfettered? Why is the cast list perfectly aligned with the left edge of the tag to create an invisible line between them that more or less tries to erase the kiss altogether by skipping over it? This is a perfect example of how great photography can be ruined by bad design.

And by combining the strengths of these three posters, Indika Entertainment Advertising achieves the best of the bunch with Where is Kyra? (limited April 6). That’s not to say it doesn’t have its own problems (giant title, giant actor names, distracting quotes boxing in Michele Pfeiffer’s face), only that it utilizes its focus to direct our eyes while also embracing composition to create memorable artistry.

The whole might have worked without Kiefer Sutherland’s face—perhaps just a shadow instead. Like with Krystal, though, it allows for conversation. He gives us a reason for her expression. He makes us pause and wonder about the sadness in her eyes whereas only malice might have existed without him there. It’s this mix of feelings that capitalizes on the title’s question. It’s her performance that draws us in to discover its answer.

Remove the quotes, shrink the text below, and watch how she steals every bit of attention you have with only half a face in view. If this is any indication of the film itself, the universal praise Pfeiffer has earned thus far might actually be selling her short.

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Recommended New Books on Filmmaking: ‘The Shape of Water,’ Jean-Luc Godard, Yuletide Terror, and More

Written by Christopher Schobert, March 10, 2018 at 10:20 am 

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Our latest deep-dive into recent books on cinema is heavy on 2017 follow-ups. But there’s also a unique look at late Godard, a romp through holiday horror, and a visually inventive stroll through 101 memorable movies. Let’s march on, starting with every cinephile’s buddy, Guillermo del Toro.

Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water: Creating a Fairy Tale for Troubled Times by Gina McIntyre (Insight Editions)

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Guillermo del Toro’s fairy tale romance The Shape of Water was heralded by some as one of 2017’s finest (I’m in that camp) or as 2017’s The Artist (boo). Wherever one stands in this debate, its aesthetic beauty is undeniable. In other words, Shape is more than deserving of the Insight Editions treatment. The book is a gorgeous concoction, filled with del Toro’s endearing sketches, effects tests, film stills, and, best of all, accompanying text that is smart and entertaining; del Toro’s  lengthy character bios are especially fun. (del Toro on Octavia Spencer’s Zelda Fuller: “IS VIEWED AS: Funny but a little loud.”) The book is a reminder, if one was needed, that The Shape of Water is deserving of its praise. And if you’re a Torontonian or Toronto International Film Fest veteran, there is frame-worthy spread of del Toro with stars Sally Hawkins and Doug Jones in the great Elgin Theatre. What more could a Shape fan want?

Godard and Sound: Acoustic Innovation in the Late Films of Jean-Luc Godard by Albertine Fox (I.B. Taurus)

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The most wholly original book in this month’s rundown is surely Godard and Sound, written with deep insight by University of Bristol lecturer Albertine Fox. This analysis of soundscapes in the “late” period of Jean-Luc Godard’s career — from 1979’s Sauve qui peut (la vie) (Every Man for Himself) to 2014’s Adieu au Langage (Goodbye to Language) — is uniquely insightful. The questions Fox asks (“How does one begin to think and write about film sounds when it defies categorization as ‘film music,’ ‘dialogue’ or ‘sound effects’?”) are relevant to all of cinema. But the focus on Godard’s most daring and structurally bold period makes this text particularly important. Understanding his use of sound deepens our understanding of “difficult” works like Film socialisme. “The image of the cruise ship in Film socialisme,” Fox writes, “comes to figure as a forbidding container haunted by a cinema of the past.” That’s beautiful writing, and Godard and Sound is a stunning book.

Yuletide Terror: Christmas Horror on Film and Televisionedited by Paul Corupe and Kier-La Janisse (Spectacular Optical)

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Yuletide Terror is a deliciously nasty delight for horror junkies. The obvious Christmastime horror flicks are here — the likes of Black Christmas and Silent Night, Deadly Night — but what’s most fascinating are the studies of less-obvious films like Hammer’s Cash on Demand and even 2007 flop P2. There’s even an analysis of 1951’s A Christmas Carol starring Alastair Sim, the finest and most genuinely terrifying big-screen adaptation of Dickens’s tale. And, best of all, Eyes Wide Shut takes its proper place among holiday nightmare tales.

Books inspired by Star Wars: The Last Jedi

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It’s been three months after the release of Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi, and the conversation around the film has barely diminished. Some has been negative, but for the film’s supporters (right here), its rich storylines and bold choices continue to excite. Anyone who continues to ponder Jedi will adore four noteworthy books inspired by the film. At the top of the list — as usual — is an entry from Lucasfilm’s Pablo Hidalgo. Star Wars: The Last Jedi — The Visual Dictionary (DK) is as successful as DK’s other Star Wars visual dictionaries. Here, up-close and with Hidalgo’s always-impressive background details, are porglets, Ahch-to caretakers, Canto Bight big-shots, and, yes, Snoke’s slippers. The Art of Star Wars: The Last Jedi (Abrams) is the latest behind-the-scenes stunner from Phil Szostak, whose texts on Jedi, The Force Awakens, and Rogue One are must-owns. The book offers the best account yet of Rian Johnson’s approach to creating episode eight. Consider this quote from costume designer Michael  Kaplan: “We’re waving goodbye to the legacy that is the original films and the prequels, even to The Force Awakens … It’s definitely a place that we haven’t been before.” Meanwhile, Star Wars: The Last Jedi — Incredible Cross-sections (DK) by Jason Fry takes us inside ships like Snoke’s Supremacy and the Resistance bomber. Lastly is one of the more unique entries in the recent Star Wars literary canon, Canto Bight (Del Rey). This collection of four novellas — written by Saladin Ahmed, Rae Carson, Mira Grant, and John Jackson Miller — is set during one night on the casino planet memorably visited by Finn and Rose.

101 Movies to Watch Before You Die by Ricardo Cavolo (Nobrow Press)

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Artist Ricardo Cavolo’s work is an explosion of color and creativity, and 101 Movies to Watch Before You Die is a fine example. Framed as his movie diary, 101 Movies is a joy to behold. Cavolo’s studies of films like Buffalo ’66 and Drive are almost as delightful as the films themselves. Also fun is his rundown of “eight people from the movie world I wish were my friends,” highlighted by his question for Hitchcock: “I need to ask Alfred how I can throw all my fears and obsessions into my work, just as he did.” Whether Cavolo realizes it or not, he pulls off the obsession angle in this wonderful collection.

Justice League: The Art of the Film by Abbie Bernstein (Titan Books)

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Is it possible that Justice League: The Art of the Film is more interesting than Justice League the film? Indeed, it is. However, this is not because the concept art, costumes, and film stills are so memorable; they are adequate, at best. Rather, it’s because Art of the Film offers a slight glimpse into Zack Snyder’s plans for Justice League. This includes a  slightly different look for Steppenwolf, a.k.a., the worst villain in modern comic book cinema, not to mention stills from a few deleted scenes. For a behind-the-scenes book, Art of the Film has very little text. But there is plenty to ponder here, and, it might be enough to make one want to revisit the film. Maybe … maybe not.

Lego Star Wars Build Your Own Adventure (DK)

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One of the favorite pastimes of my seven-year-old and I is playing with Legos together. OK, he leads, and I follow. That means Lego Star Wars Build Your Own Adventure is a perfect textual companion. It offers handy, easy-to-follow guides to creating mini Slaves 1s and wee tauntaun hitching posts out of whatever Legos one has handy. Now, making a perfect match is tricky. But that’s part of the fun. Build even comes with a Rebel pilot minifigure and Y-wing starfighter. Evan Schobert appreciates that, and so do I.

See more recommended books on filmmaking.

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Posterized March 2018: ‘Gemini,’ ‘Isle of Dogs,’ ‘Foxtrot,’ and More

Written by Jared Mobarak, March 2, 2018 at 8:59 am 

“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.


In a five Friday month, March 2018 doesn’t disappoint with way too many releases to even begin to touch upon the artwork of all. The fact that every wide release from Death Wish (March 2) to Gringo (March 9), Pacific Rim: Uprising (March 23), Sherlock Gnomes (March 23) and Ready Player One (March 29) has multiple, uninspired character sheets doesn’t help. (Sorry, this means I won’t be bringing up the poor perspective-induced stilt leg on the latter—link.)

I can thankfully afford to ignore them all because the indie and foreign slate is both expansive and (mostly) attractive in print. What’s truly surprising among them, however, is my ability to make three distinct groups based around a single aesthetic/aspect within. The design hive mind is in full effect with certain poster tropes proving effective in the past and therefore highly mimicked for better or worse.


The Outliers

This is not one of those sections as these four have very little in common.

The first for The Leisure Seeker (limited March 9) isn’t even a poster I particularly like. Its image is nice with a dynamic crop of actors in character, but what’s with the lined frame as route for the tiny RV? Why was it deemed more important than keeping the leading between “The” and “Leisure” manageable as two parts of a three-part whole? I don’t even want to hear the reasoning.

I’ve included it hear as a placeholder for the weirdly captivating illustrative posters from the Pacific. Why this film about an aging (and tragically ailing) couple traveling the United States caught the attention of Spin Destiny to release these two pairs of colorful artwork is beyond me, but here we are.

I’m a fan of the first coupling with their imperfect portraiture that look nothing like Donald Sutherland and Helen Mirren while also looking exactly like them. A bit of soft focus collage enters to give some insight on their roles with pills, booze, books, and ice cream and the result is nothing if not worth a turn of the head.

The second is more Photoshop filter chic with ornate framing than true illustration, but they still have style. I guess 72 and 82 are the new 22 and 32 out west. I’d definitely rather see character sheets of these two with actual history on their faces than the airbrushed smoothness of those A-listers who are just beginning.

This next one proves I didn’t ignore all the behemoth releases this month. I just couldn’t leave this spirograph collage for A Wrinkle in Time (March 9) off the docket. BLT Communications, LLC could have just done the usual heads upon heads or that popular irregular grid of boxed heads, but they instead came up with this colorfully layered work at the convergence of art and commerce.

The line that cuts the page in half diagonally doesn’t seem to break-up the content in any meaningful way (I haven’t seen the film or read the book) because the designers decided on a visually radial transition rather than linear. Our eyes go to the center title and spiral out through the warm oranges to cool blue-greens. I like that Reese Witherspoon’s hair becomes part of the palette and how color itself is stripped away as we move closer to the edges (save Michael Peña’s glowing eye). There’s a lot happening here formally than you would initially assume.

InSync Plus’ curtain teaser is another effective part of the film’s campaign and if I’m being honest the other collage sheet is too (it uses prism fracturing to isolate different heads instead of the aforementioned irregular boxes). And you have to like the character sheets in close-up with magic and glitter. LA doesn’t feel pressured to put names on them because they know the images speak for themselves. That isn’t Reese, Oprah, and Mindy. It’s Mrs. Whatsit, Which, and Who.

For The China Hustle (limited March 30), faces aren’t even necessary. P+A takes a page out of Headhunters‘ book with a suited man adjusting his tie. Rather than rubber gloves sparking interest, however, this one is all about the pins: an American flag on the lapel and a Chinese flag on the cuff. It smells like corruption to me, the visual helped along by a tagline about “No good guys in this story” and mention of the Enron documentary.

The whole is a nice piece with symmetry broken by those parts that tell its story. The title is simple sans augmented by color and “$,” the text almost too small to read everywhere else. Those pins really are the draw. And let’s face it: anything with those two countries together under the umbrella of “hustle” will raise eyebrows.

I finish this mishmash of styles with Claire’s Camera (limited March 9). This is a poster that should by all accounts make me look away real quick, but something about it works. The color is bold, the circles arbitrary, the cutout dog staring at us as though hit wrote the pull quote is beyond quirky, and that cursive font above the circular window of actors makes me think of a diner sign. Yet here I am thinking, “Yeah, but it’s kind of cool.” C’est la vie.


Double Vision

There are many ways to do the double exposure trick in design. They don’t all work.

I Can Only Imagine (March 16) goes the safe route with a close-up and long shot. The former is to provide a focal point: the star of the film. The latter is the give us an established setting: in this case the relationship between the star and another. There’s nothing exciting about what’s going on here, though. If anything its staid aesthetic walks into what appears to be a spiritual direction as the actor looks towards God while the two of them walk towards a light of hope in faith. It’s therefore very generic and yet probably extremely successful in beckoning its target demographic closer.

Outside In (limited March 30) goes the bad route. I really don’t think any explanation can make this poster better. It takes its two leads and gives them equal weight with medium shots from their torsos up. It then plays with translucency until they have no choice but to compete for our attention. Where this could be a good thing where our gaze moves back and forth, the act of placing them on top of each other only means frustration. We are forced look at both simultaneously and neither in the confusion.

Gemini (limited March 30) shows us the “good way.” Its actors are on even footing, but merged in a way that allows them to be seen together and separately. Their dark hair becomes a convergence point, the two forming what might be a mirror, depiction of multiple personalities, or just two friends. The third image of trees adds another layer of reflection, it being upside alluding to a car window passing by. There is friction in their looking away, mystery in the dramatic purple, and intrigue in the tiny gun easily forgotten at bottom.

Ismael’s Ghosts (limited March 23) proves a beautiful hybrid of everything that works in the previous three. It deals in a close-up and medium shot with one solid and the over almost transparent. Marion Cotillard becomes a complement to Charlotte Gainsbourg rather than competition or even equal. Their imagery works in tandem to build a relationship between hemispheres and color—both of which become intentionally divided by the designer. Cotillard is the same subdued color as the critics’ quotes, fading into the background. Gainsbourg is the same high contrast white as the title and cast list, popping them above the darker wall below. The sheet provides two disparate halves deftly made into one cohesive whole.

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The Best Films at the 2018 Berlin International Film Festival

Written by The Film Stage, February 27, 2018 at 8:42 am 

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With the 2018 Berlin International Film Festival wrapped, we’ve highlighted our favorite films from the festival. Make sure to stay tuned in the coming months as we learn about distribution news for the titles. Check out our favorites below.

An Elephant Sitting Still (Bo Hu)

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The trick to getting the most out of the Berlin Film Festival is to dig deep into its stupendous program spanning 400 films across a multitude of sidebars. Premiering in the Forum section which traditionally favors more experimental/radical forms of filmmaking, Chinese writer/director Bo Hu’s feature debut An Elephant Sitting Still is the work of raw, intimidating talent driven by a creative fury that would likely daunt most competition titles. Unmissable for anyone craving the gritty realism and independent spirit of pre-00’s Chinese cinema. Fair warning: this is decidedly not the feel-good movie of the year. – Zhuo-Ning Su (full review)

Grass (Hong Sang-soo)

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If you happen to be in need of motivation, take a moment to consider that South Korean filmmaker Hong Sang-soo has released fourteen feature-length movies this decade thus far, and four of them have premiered within the past year. As levels of cinematic productivity go that’s up there with the Rainer Werner Fassbinders of this world. Similar to that late, great German, one of the reasons he is able to achieve such metrics is that he continuously works with roughly the same recurring cast. Hong’s filmmaking style–that of reworking the same elements again and again–means that, unlike Fassbinder perhaps, there is a temptation to compare each concurrent release. Given that the last few years have offered high watermarks such as Right Now, Wrong Then and On the Beach at Night Alone, it might be easy to judge his latest film (a medium-length black-and-white feature called Grass) as being small in scope, even unambitious perhaps. But it is nothing of the sort. – Rory O. (full review)

Infinite Football (Corneliu Porumboiu)

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In Romania at the end of the 1980’s–the autumn years of the Ceausescu regime–Adrian Porumboiu worked as a professional referee for the national football league (or however it was referred to at the time). His son Corneliu (born in 1975) would grow up to become a significant filmmaker in the so-called Romanian New Wave of the mid ’00s. In 2014, Corneliu made a movie about his dad called The Second Game in which he narrated over a full 90-minute match that his father had refereed. Through the ever-politicized veil of sport the director was able to talk about the realities of those times. He returns to the beautiful game in 2018 with Infinite Football, a contemporary portrait of a man who suffered a bad injury before his career—at least in his eyes–had the chance to take off. – Rory O. (full review)

In the Realm of Perfection (Julien Faraut)

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From the years 1973 to 1981 the great film critic Serge Daney held the position of editor of Cahiers du cinéma, that most revered and storied of film journals. He also wrote a tennis column. That idea of a shared symbiotic passion for the worlds of cinema and sport—and how the two might be connected—provides the basis for Julien Faraut’s experimental documentary In the Realm of Perfection, a witty and contagiously impassioned ethnographical study of the game and, in particular, the 1985 finals at Roland Garros. – Rory O. (full review)

Isle of Dogs (Wes Anderson)

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One does not necessarily have to be fond of canines in order to love Isle of Dogs, but it helps. It may also help to have a fondness for the meticulous craft of stop-motion animation itself or, even more interestingly perhaps, for Japanese cinema. It is a delightful, exquisitely-detailed production that sees Wes Anderson return to animated filmmaking for the first time since Fantastic Mr. Fox, and it’s clear, as he has admitted, that his biggest influences were not the works of Laika or Aardman, but rather Akira Kurosawa. – Rory O. (full review)

Transit (Christian Petzold)

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Migration isn’t just a hot-button issue in the political arena. It’s a hot topic in your local arthouse theater, too. At Berlin’s film festival, the subject is everywhere–from Wolfgang Fischer’s Styx and documentaries like Central Airport THF–perhaps natural for the capital of a country now home to more than a million recent asylum-seekers from the middle east and Africa. Local boy Christian Petzold’s audacious retelling of Anna Seghers’s World War II-set novel about refugees escaping Nazi-controlled France is a strange, beguiling creation that will be hard to beat in the competition line-up, and ranks as a rare period piece that utterly gets under the skin of contemporary concerns. It’s an engrossing, uncanny and somewhat disturbing film, and completes something of a trio of historical melodramas after Barbara and his worldwide hit Phoenix, but develops the themes of those in an adventurous, if oblique, way. – Ed F. (full review)

U – July 22 (Erik Poppe)

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How do you make a film about Utøya? Veteran Norwegian helmer Erik Poppe’s latest feature will revive discussions about the justification of making movies about recent historical tragedies, just as Paul Greengrass suffered the wrath of the Twitterati when it was announced he, too, was making a movie about the 2011 Norway attacks for Netflix. It’s been six-and-a-half years since right-wing terrorist Anders Behring Breivik killed 77 in the worst attack in Norway since the Second World War. This grueling, pulsating, in-your-face film–almost to a fault–has ferocious power, but it’s going to divide like a fissure. – Ed F. (full review)

Unsane (Steven Soderbergh)

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The term “post-prime Federer” has recently come into the sporting lexicon as a way to describe the great Swiss tennis star’s career in the years since his supposed peak ended in 2010; the rub here being that this unique entity has actually won more Grand Slam titles than Andy Murray, to take one example. Similar innocuous comparisons could soon be made for the prolificacy of “post-retirement Steven Soderbergh.” Indeed, it was never going to be easy for the director of Sex, Lies and Videotape to step away from the camera — his finger has always been too close to the pulse to ignore it, his inputs too wired to the cultural zeitgeist. Despite being shot months before the New York Times and New Yorker aired Weinstein’s dirty laundry, his latest effort, Unsane — which is essentially a b-movie in many respects — is arguably the first psychological horror of the #MeToo era. – Ed F. (full review)

The Rest

Damsel (B+)
Madeline’s Madeline (B+)

Cross My Heart (B)
Daughter of Mine (B)
Museum (B)
Touch Me Not (B)
Xiao Mei (B)

Dovlatov (B-)

Cobain (C+)
Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot (C+)

Generation Wealth (C)

Eva (C-)

See our complete Berlin 2018 coverage.

‘The Breakfast Club’: John Hughes’ Pain-Fueled Rebellion Comes to Criterion

Written by Eli F., January 29, 2018 at 8:31 am 

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Not a moment too soon for the wave of 80s nostalgia still sweeping America’s culture industry, this month The Criterion Collection released John Hughes’s era-iconic ode to teen rebellion, The Breakfast Club. Sharing as much with the existentialist theatre of Sartre or Camus as with other teen movies of the era, Hughes’s auteur work – instructively simple in premise, sets, images and dialogue – tracks five teenage protagonists of seemingly irreconcilable differences through an unexpected journey of self-discovery in the grey, silent purgatory of Saturday detention. The latent theme of much popular media about adolescence is here rendered bare, as the mythic imagery of the American suburban high school becomes a prism in which the artifice of socially-imposed identity is amplified and shattered.

the-breakfast-club-posterUnited in punishment under the yoke of a sneering authoritarian teacher, the five young adults each lurch back and forth between simmering conflict and frank introspection as they come to recognize a shared trauma inflicted upon them by the rigid expectations of adults. In contrast to the sneering callousness of Ferris Bueller – a subsequent Hughes creation – the cast of The Breakfast Club lead a rebellion fueled largely by pain, as they gradually reveal themselves as nakedly vulnerable beings, too malleable and complicated for the restrictive roles imposed by peers, families, teachers, and Hollywood. The psychological violence they inflict on themselves and each other tragically reflect that which adults – children’s first and primary model of understanding the world – inflict upon them.

Hughes distinguishes the film from other teen comedies, then and now, with his stylistic restraint: scenes are steadily paced and dialogue-driven; a soundtrack of period rock is used sparingly, typically in expressionistic flourishes seizing control of all sound to highlight climactic peaks in a character’s emotional arc. Above all, Hughes stands out here – and has no doubt won the hearts of countless young viewers – for his unhesitant willingness to validate the emotional struggles of middle-class adolescence with absolutely earnest, bittersweet pathos. In addition to the newly restored film, the Criterion Blu-Ray release includes a wealth of archival footage, featurettes and interviews with the cast and crew, including the late director Hughes, as well as new retrospective material featuring actors Molly Ringwald, Ally Sheedy and Judd Nelson.

The Breakfast Club is now available on The Criterion Collection

Jared Mobarak’s Top 10 Films of 2017

Written by Jared Mobarak, January 3, 2018 at 8:55 am 

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We pretty much knew last year’s Best Picture Oscars race was coming down to La La Land and Moonlight right after the completion of the Toronto International Film Festival in September. But while there’s something to be said about the strength of films able to ascend to frontrunner position, I can’t help loving the idea of heading into March without a clue as to who might win. Ask ten different critics what their favorite of 2017 is and I’d estimate hearing at least eight unique titles. There’s a level of excitement to this reality that we frankly haven’t had in quite some time. It’s anyone’s game.

Unlike past years where the safe nominees were lacking that sense of out-of-nowhere creativity and pathos beyond tried-and-true molds, 2017’s field is inspiring in its diversity. And those twenty or so films with a real chance at a nomination are legitimately good. I remember there being years where my top ten was devoid of even one true Oscar contender and now I could feasibly see five or more of the following fifteen films making it to the show.

There are seasoned veterans, debuting newcomers, genre flicks, female-led narratives, LGBT-led narratives, women directors, and POC directors all worthy of inclusion. Whether or not the ones that do get honored ultimately reflect this deep talent pool, know that many will stand the test of time as modern classics regardless. Molds are being broken and audiences are gradually embracing the new voices leading the charge. It’s been a true joy to both watch it happen and remain optimistic it will continue from here.

Notable films I sadly missed: Phantom Thread, Foxtrot, Song to Song, My Happy Family, All the Money in the World, God’s Own Country, Loveless

Honorable Mentions

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10. Thelma (Joachim Trier)

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Joachim Trier delivers one of the most startlingly bleak openings in recent memory as Thelma‘s glimpse at difficult revelations yet to come tightens its vice-like grip. While the resulting coming-of-age tale proves supernatural in aesthetic, its resonant look at an adolescent breaking free of prejudiced constraints contains universally authentic themes. Nature and nurture collide as the power of embracing one’s own identity potently defeats the suppression through conformity ideal forced upon them. Whether a result of religion, race, gender, or sexuality, society will imprison psychologically with fear and hate. To realize you’re not the cancer in your own life is to therefore render those prisons into chrysalises and augment your escape with the strength to change the world.

9. Wonderstruck (Todd Haynes)

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You may not peg Todd Haynes as a children’s film director—and the box office shows few parents did—but Wonderstruck quickly reveals itself as a perfect vehicle for the auteur. This adaptation of Brian Selznick’s Scholastic book is ultimately a culmination of Haynes’ career with formal eccentricity (two-thirds is a silent film), period aesthetic (half takes place in the 20s and half the 70s), and a stop-motion animated sequence depicting flashbacks. It’s about family and identity, history and “the movies.” Bring your kids to ease them into silent era classics and stay for its parallel, heartfelt (and fantastical) adventures towards independence, inclusion, and closure.

8. A Quiet Passion (Terence Davies)

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Terence Davies’ A Quiet Passion spans decades and yet feels less like an Emily Dickinson biopic than a portrait for gallery exhibit. Its series of personal vignettes is accompanied by her poetry, each glimpse packed with emotion, intelligence, and a hint of despair. The visuals are beautiful period reenactment lit with delicate drama, the performances deeply human and complex despite their aristocratic machinations. Davies paints Dickinson with a brush of honesty—a virtue her character holds above all others, a vice turning her coldly pessimistic as the world outside her physical and psychological exile of home becomes ruled by selfishness. And Cynthia Nixon shines with regality, wit, and authenticity, fearlessly portraying this legend’s faults as equally important to her strengths.

7. It Comes at Night (Trey Edward Shults)

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There’s nothing scarier than mankind’s potential to destroy itself. This is the message behind Trey Edward Shults’ It Comes at Night—an intelligent slow burn of a post-apocalyptic thriller revealing how a high-concept danger lurking outside is never more potent than the monster lying within. Fear makes us unpredictable as survival hardens us beyond repair. You can live knowing death waits because life itself must be stifled to prolong that fate. Hope is therefore a weapon that softens vigilance, dismantles trust, and makes way for an evil we barely hold at bay. Life can become a gift we no longer deserve to keep.

6. Lady Macbeth (William Oldroyd)

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As gorgeous as any period film, William Oldroyd’s Lady Macbeth is also ten times more brutal. Gone are ballroom dances and awkward smiles of growing love because there’s no need to dress up an era of overt patriarchy and human property with romanticism. He provides reality’s harshness instead through the empowerment of a woman wresting back her freedom before inevitably seeing her position as victim corrupted into one of oppressor. It’s a chillingly bold depiction of souls weighed by a system erected by men rather than Gods. Innocence is lost to darkness as an unforgettable performance from Florence Pugh psychologically scars us in its drama like few horror films ever could.

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The Codes of Film Noir in Béla Tarr and Ágnes Hranitzky’s ‘The Man from London’

Written by Jesse Cumming, January 1, 2018 at 2:42 pm 

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Looking back on this still-young century makes clear that 2007 was a major time for cinematic happenings — and, on the basis of this retrospective, one we’re not quite through with ten years on. One’s mind might quickly flash to a few big titles that will be represented, but it is the plurality of both festival and theatrical premieres that truly surprises: late works from old masters, debuts from filmmakers who’ve since become some of our most-respected artists, and mid-career turning points that didn’t necessarily announce themselves as such at the time. Join us as an assembled team, many of whom were coming of age that year, takes on their favorites.

Upon the release of The Man from London, one might have been hard-pressed to consider Béla Tarr and his co-director Ágnes Hranitzky genre filmmakers beyond the broad designation of “European art house cinema.” While still fitting snugly under that banner (particularly as the first of Tarr/Hranitsky’s films to premiere at the art house mecca that is Cannes), The Man from London marked a more explicit engagement with the codes of film noir — perhaps an obvious turn for filmmakers known for their for their profound darkness of spirit and imagery.

Adapted from George Simonen’s 1934 novel of the same name, itself adapted into films in 1943 and 1947, the film concerns the railway pointsman Maloin. After witnessing a murder from his tower, he retrieves the briefcase full of British pounds that falls into the pier, setting off a series of events involving him, his wife (Tilda Swinton), and his daughter (Erika Bók), as well as the proper culprit (János Derzsi) and an English detective (István Lénárt).

In principle, the pairing of Tarr and noir makes sense — several stylistic and thematic genre tenets were present in Tarr’s oeuvre up to that point, including his signature high-contrast black and white cinematography, femme fatales (Damnation), webs of secrets and treachery (Sátántangó), and mysterious strangers (Werckmeister Harmonies). Money, that classic noir mechanism, remains as a key plot device in The Man from London. Through a driving force in earlier Tarr pictures as well, here the plot mechanics aren’t set forth from a desire to acquire money, but the Dostoyevskian repercussions of what happens after its been acquired. It’s here that one might begin to identify to the film’s potential shortcomings: for a filmmaker whose body of work is so grounded in themes of desperation, the need to reorient and build tension is hobbled when that desperation is diffused early on.

As with Werckmeister Harmonies and The Turin Horse, Tarr shares a directing credit with his wife and editor, Ágnes Hranitzky, a creative collaboration that continues to be too often discredited and overlooked. Adapting a screenplay from the Simonen’s novel marked the first time since Damnation that the filmmaker hadn’t worked with source material from novelist László Krasznahorkai, though Krasznahorkai was credited as the film’s secondary writer. With familiar contributions by director of photography Fred Keleman and composer Mihaly Vig, whose ghostly score carries the film through several of the extended, expertly choreographed traveling shots, it retains the look and feel of a Tarr effort.

And its locations will be familiar to anyone who has spent time with Tarr’s films: ascetic offices and domestic spaces, damp bars, and rainy alleyways. The variations come in the forms of the exteriors, which recall the foggy ports that would have been familiar to the French poetic realists of the ’30s and ’40s, even though these were shot in Corsica.

If the settings and production produce an uncanny effect when watching The Man from London, it’s doubled through the oft-criticized approach to casting and dubbing. “The shoot took place in our own languages, which was as chaotic as the Tower of Babel,” says Tarr in a DVD extra. The Man from London wasn’t Tarr’s first experience working with foreign performers (German actors Lars Rudolph and Hanna Schygulla were dubbed for their roles in Werckmeister Harmonies) but the maladroit dubbing of Swinton into Hungarian is one of several moments that forestall the immersion Tarr and Hranitzky work to foster. “Just don’t bother with the subs,” says Tarr in that same interview, suggesting the visuals are the films superlative element, a request perhaps more easily followed in films not adapted from plotty noirs.

Case in point: Tarr and Hranitzky’s minimal The Turin Horse, their only feature since The Man from London, and one that had been designated to be the last before Tarr decided to produce new work for his exhibition at Amsterdam’s EYE Film Museum in 2017. The exhibition, which in part offered a retrospective look at the filmmakers’ body of work, provided an opportunity to examine Tarr’s legacy as a whole.

An additional, complex relationship with genre emerges when examining the The Man from London with the distance of a decade: most notably the idea of a “slow cinema” movement, popularized at a cohesive, distinct movement-cum-genre in the late-2000s but retroactively applied to Tarr’s work as well as progenitors, such as Tarr’s statesman Miklós Jancsó. While an outlier in Tarr’s oeuvre, if anything the idiosyncrasies of the awkward (through still-respectable) The Man from London might serve to further reveal and reify such codes of slow or contemplative cinema and its frequent efforts to trouble traditional narrative — whether through documentary impulses or elongated takes. By working outside of his familiar context, the tensions at work in The Man from London  between atmosphere and plot, between realism and impressionism — perhaps reveal the mechanics of the filmmaker, his team, and cinematic realm more clearly than the masterworks. A true mouton noir.

Follow our complete retrospective on the best films of 2007.

The Film Stage’s Top 50 Films of 2017

Written by The Film Stage, December 30, 2017 at 12:39 pm 

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For our most comprehensive year-end feature, we’re providing a cumulative look at The Film Stage’s favorite films of 2017. We’ve asked our contributors to compile ten-best lists with five honorable mentions — those personal lists will be shared in the coming days — and, after tallying the votes, a top 50 has been assembled. (For the first time ever, our #1 overall pick wasn’t #1 on anyone’s personal list, showing how collective of a choice it truly was.)

It should be noted that, unlike our previous year-end features, we placed no requirement on a selection being a U.S theatrical release, so you may see some repeats from last year and a few we’ll certainly be discussing more during the next. So, without further ado, check out our rundown of 2017 below, our complete year-end coverage here (including where to stream many of the below picks), and return in the coming weeks as we look towards 2018. One can also follow the below list on Letterboxd.

50. Uncertain (Ewan McNicol and Anna Sandilands)

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Located on the border of Louisiana and Texas, Uncertain (Population: 94) looks like the sort of place dreamed up in a novel, but directors Ewan McNicol and Anna Sandilands dig past the town’s quirky surface to find a series of rich and engrossing stories underneath. Profiling three different generations of men (a 21-year-old fighting addiction to gain independence; a middle-aged hunter trying to move on from his dark past; and a 74-year-old widower wanting to live out the twilight of his life in peace) living in town, Uncertain weaves their stories together, highlighting what they have in common while showing how much their place in life influences their own philosophies and attitudes. It’s an effective method that McNicol and Sandilands structure around an environmental crisis involving an invasive weed, a perfect symbol for the struggles these men face in their lives. Uncertain, much like the town itself, went largely unnoticed after its small, self-distributed release earlier this year, but it’s a film well worth seeking out, and the true definition of a hidden gem. – C.J. P.

49. Good Luck (Ben Russell)

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Ben Russell’s latest is an experiential document of contemporary gold mining practices and a transcendental ode to the valiant men who still carry out this arduous, anachronistic and seemingly absurd profession. Traveling from Serbia to Suriname, the film takes occasional detours into the sublime – for instance: to spectate an accordion rendition of Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold” performed in the deep, dark bowels of the Earth. – Giovanni M.C.

48. The Other Side of Hope (Aki Kaurismäki)

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What Kiarostami is to the front seats of a car and Bresson is to the prison, so Aki Kaurismäki is to the perennial mid-80s Helsinki; that dark, pastel-colored nowhere where everyone smokes and drinks and wears cheap suits. One of the many interesting things about The Other Side of Hope — a poignantly contemporaneous deadpan comedy, surely among the greatest of his 20-or-so features — is that the auteur plants a Syrian refugee named Khaled (Sherwan Haji) into the center of that backwards world, as if he were a walking anachronism. Hope is as contemporary and vital a film as you’re likely to find in 2017, but it’s also one of the funniest and most classically (not to mention beautifully) cinematic too. – Rory O.

47. In This Corner of the World (Sunao Katabuchi)

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Occupying a lyrical middle ground between social and magical realism, Sunao Katabuchi’s elegiac anime epic In This Corner of The World meditates on life during World War II-era Japan through the perspective of a young woman on the homefront. This is far from another misrerabilist time capsule, though. Buoyed by a spectacular art style that blends together Chibi-influenced character design, muted watercolor backgrounds, and exhaustive digital details, it’s a hypnotizing film as concerned with mundane routines and idyllic daydreams as the endless daily bombing evacuations. – Michael S.

46. Nathan for You: Finding Frances (Nathan Fielder)

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Wherein an opportunistic — some might cut deeper and just say “sadistic” — TV host uses his mind-bogglingly vast resources to help a friend, thus unwittingly or not (and I really have zero idea) unfurling the fabric of a four-season-long constructed reality. Complete with a song-and-dance number I’ll never forgot, much as I’ve tried. “Well, the years go by.” “They do.” “In the snap of a finger, they go by.” – Nick N.

45. The Untamed (Amat Escalante)

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There’s something dark and wonderful lurking in The Untamed, the brilliant, frightening, hyper-real erotic mystery from the mind of Mexican auteur Amat Escalante, whose Heli ruffled plenty of feathers at Cannes a few years back. Is the 37-year-old merely a provocateur? On the evidence of his latest film, clearly not. The plot (a strange extraterrestrial being that lurks in the woods grants ultimate pleasure) sounds like a schlocky drive-in science fiction flick, but the director heightens things immeasurably by expertly cultivating the visceral, aesthetic nowhere of a drug trip, as if the characters involved (and perhaps the viewer) are participating in some sort of communal high. – Rory O.

44. Raw (Julia Ducournau)

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It’s unfortunate that the marketing for a unique introspective coming of age film focused on the more horrific aspects of Raw. That’s the difficulty of a dark comedic tone that the film takes with appealing to a broader audience. Raw follows a young woman’s journey through veterinarian school in France where she is often lovingly tormented by her older, upperclassmen sister. It’s here where a taste for flesh is awakened in the young vegan and her life starts to spiral as she deals with balancing her burgeoning sex drive, studying, and fitting in along with an omnipresent school that more closely resembles a fortress. It’s a unique film with a lot of heart and a curious sense of humor that shouldn’t be missed this year. – Bill G.

43. Milla (Valérie Massadian)

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What is living a life? If life is a refraction of specific moments and repetition than the beauty of being given a body is in the loop of breath and how it changes as days pass. Valeria Massadian’s Milla is a stunning portrait of the quotidian nature of life and how it gives birth to larger or more staggering moments. In her film we get a sense of who Milla is and how her everyday decisions impact her life, at first a hazy recollection on the timelessness of romance bursts apart when cause and effect bring motherhood, death and music. Cinema as humanity. – Willow M.

42. Loveless (Andrey Zvyagintsev)

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Like Andrey Zvyagintsev’s last movie, Leviathan, his latest takes headlines for another excoriating look at contemporary Russia and the simmering resentment beneath its imperious, corrupt social structures. True and relevant as that is, it’s not what makes Loveless another masterpiece. The director’s pitiless gaze at the ruinous breakdown of a marriage and the disappearance of a child concerns more with the moral pit of modern humanity, run riot at want of things – sex, money, fashion, power – but not of love. Filmed with icy precision in cold, anonymous Moscow, with some of the year’s best cinematography – by Zvyagintsev regular Mikhail Krichman – the film is upfront, provocative and, in its bitterly satirical testimony of the decay of Russian cultural life, according to some critics blunt. But it’s in that vein that Zvyagintsev so powerfully confronts the domestic terror of the central missing-child drama. Really, Loveless is the great horror film of the year. – Ed F.

41. Western (Valeska Grisebach)

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Valeska Grisebach’s Western is this year’s Toni Erdmann. Both are third features by alumnae of the so-called, ever-fruitful Berlin School, both were snubbed by their respective Cannes juries despite easily outclassing most of the films they were up against, and both have emerged as year-end critical favorites across the globe. Oh yeah, one more parallel: they are both knock-out feats of filmmaking that will reignite your faith in cinema. – Giovanni M.C.

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The Best Performances of 2017

Written by The Film Stage, December 29, 2017 at 11:27 am 

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Around this time of year we usually post our breakthrough performances of the past twelve months, but looking at a preliminary list, we realized just about every selection could also contend for being one of the best performances of 2017, period. So, we expanded our usual count and today we present the 35 best performances in what is more strictly defined as cinema (sorry in advance, Kyle MacLachlan and the rest of the Twin Peaks cast.). Check out our selections below and let us know your favorites in the comments.

35. Ahn Seo-Hyun (Okja)

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A contender for the best ensemble of the year, Bong Joon-ho’s Okja features a can’t-believe-what-I’m-seeing hilarious Jake Gyllenhaal, another twintastic turn by Tilda Swinton, the cheekily liberal activist group made up of Paul Dano, Steven Yeun, and Lily Collins, and more. The buoyant, beating heart that ties them all together is newcomer Ahn Seo-hyun, who plays Mija, a South Korea farmgirl that takes a globe-trotting journey to save her super pig. Bong’s wildly entertaining tonal shifts might have proven unwieldily if Ahn’s grounded, emotionally-piercing connection with the titular character didn’t burst through every frame. – Jordan R.

34. Jennifer Lawrence (mother!)

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Playing a symbol isn’t easy, and yet in a movie that’s nothing but filled with metaphors Jennifer Lawrence grounds the toughest one of all in her most nuanced performance to date. The unnamed character she plays in Darren Aronofsky’s mother! is everything at once: Mother Nature, the perfect wife, a representation of the Virgin Mary, a passive aggressive host, the muse, the heart. But in a world built by men and for men, she’s also nothing. Watching her go from young bride mode into full on Medea is to watch the transformation of an actor who doesn’t always get her due credit. Sure, she’s won every award out there, but she is often praised for being a star more than an actor. In mother! she relies on her incredible instincts; her big J. Law laugh completely absent, she does magic with her eyes, a change of tone in a line reading, the tossing of a lighter. Even though her character is unsure as to what awaits her at every turn, the actor playing her is completely in control. She sets the screen on fire. Pun completely intended. – Jose S.

33. Hiroshi Abe (After the Storm)

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Yôko Maki’s mournful line, “This isn’t how it was supposed to turn out,” is the most potent encapsulation of Hirokazu Kore-eda’s unexpectedly harrowing and expertly rendered family drama, After the Storm. But it’s lead Hiroshi Abe’s shambling and frustratingly human performance as a sludgy gumshoe/errant father Ryôta Shinoda, who leaves the most lingering impression. A vapor of a man who hasn’t and may never find his place in the world, Abe and Kor-eda together conjure one of the most bittersweet and fully realized losers of the year. – Michael S.

32. Harris Dickinson (Beach Rats)

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The East London-born actor Harris Dickinson convincingly sports a Brooklyn accent, as well as the emotion impenetrability as formed by societal norms, in his break-out role in Beach Rats. His restrained blankness as he cruises never turns into physical delight, which renders accurate for a man who still inflicted with repression. – Jordan R.

31. Jason Mitchell (Mudbound)

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Dee Rees’ Mudbound is a film both enamored with and disgusted by American’s obsession with legacies – whether it’s the country’s deep-seated racial toxicity or the cycle of fathers and sons who die working for an empire of dirt. With its criss-crossing timelines, and perspectives, Rees builds a version of the Delta that feels both poetic in its potential and completely hollow in practice. But it’s Jason Mitchell’s radiantly idealistic Ronsel Jackson, who imbues the film with a emotional reality. A soldier suffering silently from PTSD, and trapped in a world where he’s unappreciated, Mitchell’s character and his elegiac performance repeatedly magnify the film’s interests from hundreds of years of family history to single individuals in the here and now. – Michael S.

30. Lois Smith (Marjorie Prime)

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Smith plays two roles in this film — first a woman with dementia, and then later a holographic projection of the same woman. Since the projection is working with incomplete information on the woman’s life, it often appears more like a dementia patient than a self-assured individual. It acts calm and confident, even as it adjusts to incorporate new “memories” on what “she” is supposed to be like, from the smallest habit to the greatest revelation of tragedy. In both roles, Smith is a reactor. As the mentally adrift Marjorie, she seizes onto whatever stimulus plants her back firmly on the ground of her identity, whether it’s something from the past or present. As Marjorie Prime, she is not a person but a physical (or, well, visual) embodiment of the past hanging over her family, their interactions with her making concrete the mental exercises we play when considering our pasts and what we have said, would say, or wish we would or could or could have said to our loved ones. – Dan S.

29. Lesley Manville (Phantom Thread)

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The casting of Lesley Manville in Phantom Thread led some to believe Paul Thomas Anderson might be taking on a sprawling, character-filled Mike Leigh-esque look on London society, with a touch of inspiration from his mentor Robert Altman. However, his latest film quickly reveals itself to be a chamber drama (or comedy) and a more minor, but no less integral part of the three-way triangle is Manville’s Cyril Woodcock. Sister to Day-Lewis’ Reynolds, through no more than a few words and a penetrating glare, the true relational hierarchy reveals itself in cunning ways thanks to Manville’s icy cool. – Jordan R.

28. Adam Sandler (The Meyerowitz Stories)

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Adam Sandler has already proved himself as a dramatic actor in works such as Punch-Drunk Love, but his turn in Noah Baumbach’s The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) is absolutely wonderful, largely because of its unassuming nature. As a father of a daughter about to enter college, he shines with a genuine sense of intimacy and lightness, which only makes his conflicts with and resentment of his own pompous father and distant brother more resonant. – Ryan S.

27. Salma Hayek (Beatriz at Dinner)

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Scripted by Miguel Arteta collaborator Mike White, Beatriz at Dinner is not so much a comedy of manners, but a drama of classism with seemingly polite degradation turning into something more menacing. Salma Hayek weathers it all in one of her better performances in some time, providing a genuine horror and fury as the various atrocities of her foe come to light. – Jordan R.

26. Teresa Palmer (Berlin Syndrome)

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Teresa Palmer, with her sullen eyes, gives a miraculous performance in Berlin Syndrome, weaving between a layered emotional spectrum of outright physical hostility to veiled acceptance in hopes for an escape. Often unable to articulate the horrors of the situation, her subtle glances and gestures speak volumes to her determination for freedom by any means necessary. It’s no easy task for an actor to give range when inflicted by dominating hideousness for nearly two hours, but Palmer is thoroughly mesmerizing in conveying both her emotional and physical pain. – Jordan R.

25. Jessie Pinnick (Princess Cyd)

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Stephen Cone’s protagonists are often defined by an inquisitiveness, whether it pertains to faith, sexuality or maturation in general. In Princess Cyd, Jessica Pinnick captivatingly embodies these concern as her Cyd is the ying to the yang of her aunt Miranda, played by Rebecca Spence in an equally great performance. As the two delicately spar during a warm Chicago summer, Cone has carefully crafted another world bursting with humanity that any viewer would want to live in. – Jordan R.

24. Willem Dafoe (The Florida Project)

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The subtle genius of Willem Dafoe’s performance in The Florida Project is precisely what he doesn’t bring to it. Known for his rather exuberantly theatrical characters throughout his varied career, Sean Baker understood that no one on screen could match the energy of his young ensemble. Rather, hotel manager Bobby Hicks is an upright character figure defined by exhaustion. He’s certainly not the best in the world at his job, but he does his duties–including being a de facto parental figure–with a determination and open-heartedness that is impossible not to conjure sympathy with any viewer. – Jordan R.

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