Our Time (2018)

Our Time / Carlos Reygadas / 2018 / twostar

Active Ingredients: Beautiful natural cinematography
Side Effects: Obsessive, circular emotions


[Our Time plays this April at Boston MFA’s New Cinema from Mexico festival.]

With Our Time, Mexican auteur Carlos Reygadas combines themes and visual elements of his previous two features (2007’s Silent Light and 2012’s Post Tenebras Lux) into a quiet, slowly-unfolding rumination on love, jealousy and individuality within a relationship. Starring the director himself, his wife and film editor Natalia López, and their children, the film plays as a strange mix of self-serving and self-immolating, wading through messy emotions that feel cathartic for the director and claustrophobic and obsessive for the audience. Read more…

The Wild Pear Tree (2019)

The Wild Pear Tree / Nuri Bilge Ceylan / 2019 / fourstar

Active Ingredients: Striking, colorful cinematography; Mysterious pacing
Side Effects: Episodic structure feels repetitive


[The Wild Pear Tree plays at MFA Boston this April]

Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s The Wild Pear Tree is a film about the incremental, hard-won wisdom of experience, and the conscious and unconscious sacrifices we make to gain them. Sinan, played with arrogance and simmering scorn by Aydın Doğu Demirkol, is a young college grad returned home to his village in Turkey to find his father buried further into humiliating debt, his friends mostly gone in search of work and the same small-minded people who meet his derision all around him. He’s an aspiring writer, and by all accounts a talented one, but Sinan has that painfully familiar combination of high-minded youthful idealism and entitled laziness. He’s Holden Caulfield mixed with Antoine Doinel. Read more…

Infinite Football (2018)

Infinite Football / Corneliu Porumboiu / 2018 / threestar

Active Ingredients: Droll humor; Subtle thematic resonance
Side Effects: Slow pace; Visual flatness


[Infinite Football plays throughout March at Boston’s MFA.]

Corneliu Porumboiu’s Infinite Football is a curious little documentary character study about a curious man. Like its subject Laurențiu Ginghină, the film is unassuming, earnest, and even-keeled. Ginghină is a mild-mannered bureaucrat by day, but his real passion is to reinvent soccer, to “revolutionize sports” as he puts it, drawing a connection between himself and Clark Kent’s considerably grander calling as Superman. Porumboiu follows Ginghină over the course of a droll, unhurried 70 minutes listening quizzically and unconvinced as he attempts to explain the motivations behind his rule changes and vision for a slower version of the beautiful game. Read more…

The Image Book (2019)

The Image Book / Jean-Luc Godard / 2019 / fourstar

Active Ingredients: Striking manipulation of color and contrast
Side Effects: Unresolved themes


[The Image Book plays throughout March at Boston’s MFA.]

Jean-Luc Godard’s latest film—depending on how you count, just shy of the cinematic giant’s 50th feature—is structured around the image of the human hand. Early on an index finger from classical art points skyward; late in the film we see the fiver fingers of an outstretched hand. Between these two visual touchstones, The Image Book counts off five distinct sections of a discursive, thrilling, frustrating, unresolved cinematic essay-poem, one for each finger. Read more…

The Best Performances and Scenes of 2018


I recently shared my Top 20 films of the year, and there’s still time to look back at 2018 once more to name my favorite lead and supporting performances, along with my favorite scenes of the year and “The Year in Miscellaneous Superlatives.”

Read more…

The Top 20 Films of 2018


If Beale Street Could Talk

The Netflix-ization of film culture, great movies about the black American experience, and a lot of Rachel Weisz are just a few of the themes of my Top 20 films of 2018. What are your favo(u)rites?

Special Mention: The Other Side of the Wind
Regrets: Burning; Hale County This Morning, This Evening; 24 Frames

A list of all 2018 releases I’ve seen is available on Letterboxd here, with short reviews and thoughts on each one. Read more…

Shoplifters (2018)

Shoplifters / Hirozaku Kore-eda / 2018 / fourstar

Active Ingredients: Flawless cast; Subtle family drama
Side Effects: High-concept machinations


[Shoplifters plays throughout February at the MFA’s Boston Festival of Films from Japan.]

This year’s Palme D’Or winner at the Cannes Film Festival, Shoplifters feels like both an anomaly in director Hirokazu Kore-eda’s filmography and another of the subtle, well-observed humanist dramas he’s known for. That’s likely because Shoplifters chronicles the everyday pains and pleasures that come with the bonds of family, but this time it’s a makeshift family, a collection of isolated souls living on the fringes of society. This tension between their individual pasts and the shared connection that makes them a family is what animates the film. Read more…

The Other Side of the Wind

The Other Side of the Wind / Orson Welles / 2018 via 1970-1976 / fivestar

Active Ingredients: Metatextual playfulness; Daring visual style
Side Effects: Lack of direction to the central party sequence


The Other Side of the Wind is a metatextual masterpiece, a troubled production about a troubled production whose troubled production is itself the text of the film. That Orson Welles’ disorganized and unfinished project was ever released at all is a small miracle, yet both in spite of and because of its reputation The Other Side of the Wind actually feels remarkably cogent artistically. Welles met chaos with chaos, and this is a record of the encounter rescued from the ashes. Read more…

Monrovia, Indiana (2018)

Monrovia, Indiana / Frederick Wiseman / 2018 / 

Active Ingredients: Rural landscapes; Portrait of everyday life
Side Effects: Lack of a unifying theme or institution

[Monrovia, Indiana plays this month at Boston’s MFA.]

Nearly every year like clockwork, it seems, master documentarian Frederick Wiseman releases another great film examining a particular location, community, or institution. His methods are rigorous and his eye is unerring, making his body of work one of the most consistent and important in American cinema. If you’ve seen Ex Libris or In Jackson Heights, or indeed any of his other nearly 50 feature films, you’re familiar with the way he works, the way he constructs detailed portraits from discrete moments like mosaics. But Wiseman’s new empathetic look at small town Middle America shows that each of his films reveals its own unique insights. Read more…

Ex Libris – The New York Public Library (2017)

Ex Libris – The New York Public Library / Frederick Wiseman / 2017 / 

Active Ingredients: Incisive editing linking ideas
Side Effects: Occasionally too swift despite runtime

Copyright – The New York Public Library

[Ex Libris – The New York Public Library screens at Boston’s MFA from October 1 to October 18.]

The pace and structure of Frederick Wiseman’s latest in-depth exploration of an American institution will be familiar to those who have seen his recent work, or indeed any of his nearly 50 films in as many years. With patience, curiosity and an unerring sense of rhythm, Ex Libris documents the people that come and go through the New York Public Library’s many branches and outreach efforts, from high-profile speakers to local community organizers, from board members shaping the entity’s mission to workers sorting book returns in the bowels of the library. All are components of the same whole, Wiseman shows us, just as he has with London’s National Gallery, or Berkeley University, or the streets of Jackson Heights. But the familiar pace and structure of Wiseman’s films shouldn’t blind us to his indispensable brilliance. Each of these works are masterpieces of the poetry and politics of the everyday, and Ex Libris is no less incisive and revelatory. Read more…