Film critic, Editor in Chief AWFJ.org
|The Trial of the Chicago 7
|The Power of the Dog
|I'm Your Man
|Promising Young Woman
Vicious satire about American politics/culture. Clever, creative. Well-crafted.
The Trial of the Chicago 7
Thoroughly engaging and enraging truth-based political courtroom drama that reminds Americans of the flaws in our justice system.
Celine Sciamma's enthralling and mysterious family drama Petite Maman is a meditative and loving ghost story unlike any other. Performances by not-quite-tween twin sisters Josephine and Gabrielle Sanz are perfectly nuanced and indelibly haunting. And cinematographer Claire Mathon's powerfully sensitive up close and wide angle cinematography is to die for. Discover the brilliance and enjoy!
Andrea Arnold's remarkably intimate documentary is a moment to moment purely observational chronicle of the daily life of two females of an animal species other than our own: cows. The bovines' slow-paced story is an invitation to meditation, and we humans may actually have something to learn not only about, but also from them. Cinematographer Magda Kowalczyk's absolutely stunning up-close-and-personal camerawork (how in the world did she ever get those shots!?) and brilliant editing by Nicholas Chauderuge, Rebecca Lloyd and Jacob Secher Schulsinger make this uniquely enthralling documentary a masterpiece. The film leads to a very important and moving contemplation about how other creatures experience their life when it is controlled by the human species.
Lisa Hurwitz's documentary, The Automat, will whet your appetite for a stroll down nostalgia lane and, at the same time, make you crave a slice of apple pie. The Automat is, of course, Horn & Hardart, one of the most popular and successful restaurant chains in US history and, alas, no longer in business to provide high quality, deliciously prepared and amazingly affordable food to 500,000 patrons per day.
The Power of the Dog
The Power of the Dog is a sprawling western thriller set in 1920s Montana, but shot on Campion's home turf in New Zealand. The story is a mysteriously dark and twisted tale of family discord and dysfunction with a myriad of subtle and surprising clues that keep you enthralled and guessing what will come next until the film's stunning conclusion. And, at the conclusion, when the pieces of the panoramic puzzle are in place, you'll be ready to watch the film again because you know there are foreshadowing hints that you missed when first viewing it. The precise and brilliant cinematography draws you into each scene, inviting you to meditate on the rich details you soak up as an absorbed observer – rather than setting up visuals that pounce at you from the screen, pummelling your senses to make your heart beat way too hard for empty effects. Performances by Benedict Cumberbatch, Kirsten Dunst, Jesse Plemons and the ensemble are simply magnificent although there's nothing simple about them. My bottom line thoughts: this is a masterpiece that movie lovers will want to watch over and over again and that will be a steady subject in film studies classes.
Rebecca Hall's beautifully realized directorial debut -- written, produced, and directed by Hall -- is an adaptation of Nella Larsen's 1929 eponymous novel about two Black women who were best friends during their childhood days in Harlem and who, after having gone their separate ways for decades, are accidentally reunited in the tea room of a downtown NYC hotel. The film quietly and with compassion reveals the fraught circumstances impacting the lives of women of color. Performances by Ruth Negga and Tessa Thompson are brilliant.
I'm Your Man
Maria Shrader's thoroughly entertaining sci fi dramedy is about a young and highly independent academic who reluctantly takes on the task of testing a male robot (malebot?) that (who?) has been designed and programmed to be her ideal mate with face and physique, attitudes and moods selected to ideally meet her every need and bring her bliss. They're scheduled to live together for three weeks, enough time for her to evaluate him -- and form a genuine (albeit artificial) relationship. The film is breezy and amusing, but also touches on serious and easily relatable concerns about loneliness, ambition, emotional authenticity and, to some degree, self medication. I'm Your Man is a very satisfying genre-defying cross between Her and Ex Machina and any Kate Hepburn romantic comedy -- but from a decidedly feminist point of view. No spoilers. Just enjoy the ride!
Language Lessons is a pandemic-inspired zoom-tech two-character, two-location, two-screen dramedy that's thoroughly refreshing, emotionally engaging and, ultimately, utterly charming. Directed by Natalie Morales (who also stars and co-wrote the project with co-star Mark Duplass), the film follows the burgeoning understanding and growing friendship between Carino, a for-hire internet Spanish language teacher and her client, Adam, an affluent and bored white guy who has his regular daily routine and some social and emotional issues. One of the best 'of necessity' projects to be born of the pandemic and sure to become a classic in the realm of virtual filmmaking.
Promising Young Woman
Promising Young Woman is a gutsy and beautifully-crafted first feature from actress-turned-writer/director Emerald Fennell. The film stars Carey Mulligan as Cassie, a med school drop out who is determined to punish men who sexually abuse women who've had too much to drink -- and especially the gang of male med school peers who raped her best friend. Clever and believable plot twists keep you thoroughly engaged and Carey Mulligan rules.
I'm interested in seeing how many female-directed films -- classic and contemporary -- land on this list. Not to browbeat, but there are way too many superb female-directed films that are underrecognised. I hope this doesn't happen here.