You Can Count On Me (directed by Kenneth Lonergan)
From my review: Lonergan isn’t interested in judging his characters are giving them closure but putting them in situations and watching how they react. Sammy is given a new boss who is seemingly resentful of getting a position in a small town in the Catskills but also demands a level of professionalism that cuts through the humanity of his workers. Sammy is trying to be an orderly professional, but she’s also human. It would have been easy to write her as the stuck up/by the book sibling; however, Sammy just has things a little more together than Terry. She makes some pretty significant mistakes at her job, and the film doesn’t really wrap things up neatly. She doesn’t lose her job, but it’s clear that the bank’s environment is going to be different going forward.
Shadow of the Vampire (directed by E. Elias Merhige)
Shadow of the Vampire is a criminally overlooked metafictional film that imagines a different making of the classic silent horror film Nosferatu. In this version, director F.W. Murnau (John Malkovich) is intent on making his unauthorized version of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. He obfuscates the truth about his lead actor, one Max Orlock (Willem Dafoe), to his crew until the first day of shooting on location in Czechoslovakia. Orlock will only be filmed at night and never breaks character which leads to the realization that he may actually be a real vampire. Shadow of the Vampire is a funny, poignant film about movie making and obsession. It’s such a strange piece of cinema, to expected from Merhige who is a very esoteric director. If you are looking for something odd then you should seek this one out.
O Brother, Where Art Thou? (directed by Joel Coen)
From my review: In the body of the Coens’ work, I think O Brother works alongside pictures like Raising Arizona or Intolerable Cruelty. It’s a light farce, evoking the name of Preston Sturges. In fact, O Brother Where Art Thou is the movie that the protagonist in Sullivan’s Travels is planning to direct. The Coens mused that they thought of this as the very movie that would have been made, and some scenes evoke that older picture. A chain gang is marched into a theater to watch the film as a reward, just like the Black church scene in Sullivan’s. I don’t think O Brother is as funny as Sturges’s best work, but it is a beautiful tribute.
Sexy Beast (directed by Jonathan Glazer)
From my review: Sexy Beast is a gorgeous mood piece. The characters are incredibly well-written, but what makes the film are the stylistic flourishes Glazer adds on. The entire movie, despite some intense and violent moments, is overflowing with passion and love. Gal is whole-heartedly devoted to DeeDee, a fact that Don Logan knows and attempts to undermine by digging up sordid details of DeeDee’s past. She has already shared these with Gal, and his pain is less about the besmirching of his honor but knowing how much it must hurt for DeeDee to be reminded of regrettable choices.
Memento (directed by Christopher Nolan)
This introduced the world to filmmaker Christopher Nolan which has turned out to be a mixed bag, to say the least. My opinions of Nolan have changed over the years but Memento is still an incredibly solid neo-noir film that plays with narrative structure in all the right ways. Because we see the story with conflicting directions the audience believes they understand who the antagonist is and then in the final act we have our understand turned on its head. Our film is guided by an unreliable narrator who makes us feel very confident, to an extent. His disability puts us just as in the dark as himself and so we end up relying on someone who ultimately cannot rely on himself.
Dancer in the Dark (directed Lars von Trier)
My wife never cries at movies but told me she sobbed like a baby when she watched Dancer in the Dark for the first time. I admit that I have wept while watching this picture. Lars von Trier is not someone you would associate with musicals, so of course, this is not like many other musicals. Bjork plays Selma, a Czech immigrant living in the United States and working in a factory. Selma is losing her eyesight and is saving up to pay for her son to receive an operation that will keep that from ever happening to him. Selma’s one indulgence is going to the movies with a friend who describes the musicals they watch while Selma imagines herself in a world where she can burst into song. This is a genuinely heartbreaking movie that doesn’t end in the way Selma’s musicals finish, which is very intentional. It’s a beautiful movie and one that will linger with you for a long time after the screen fades to black.
American Psycho (directed by Mary Harron)
From my review: Most male filmmakers would attempt to find some sort of likeability or redeemable quality in a figure like Patrick Bateman. You’re taught as a screenwriter that your protagonist must have some kind of charisma that causes your audience to identify with and like this character. Harron and Turner had no interest in seeking out the positive qualities of Bateman. Instead, he is framed as ultimately pathetic and powerless. In social interactions, Bateman exemplifies everything the audience would find cringe-inducing and so do the male figures around him. When they attempt to exposit on contemporary issues they muddle around so many disparate ideas they come across as buffoons. Bateman ends up a sweating mess when confronted with a slightly better business card than his. His explosions of violence are less exhibitions of masculine power than they are over-exaggerated childish tantrums.
Unbreakable (directed by M. Night Shyamalan)
From my review: What struck me the most on this viewing was how measured and quiet the film was. This was a couple of years before Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man would shift the movie superhero paradigm and the late 1990s were very unkind to the genre. There is a deliberate sense of grounding the fantastic, but not in a way that disparages their roots. Comic books are lauded through the picture, but the conceit of the film is these four-color tales are exaggerations of a more sedate reality. Yes, David Dunn is incredibly strong but that means he can lift around 400 lbs, not an entire jet airliner. The super-heroics of Unbreakable are not global or against alien hordes. The evil that is being pointed out is racism, rape culture, sociopathic violence.
In The Mood For Love (directed by Wong Kar-wai)
From my review: The film’s simple musical theme (a longing tune played on violin) is used repeatedly in scenes where Chow and So are navigating past each other, both physically and emotionally. The camera peeks around door frames, into crowded rooms of neighbors gathered to play cards. We see Chow and So separated by these people who are caught up in raucous laughter, and the tension bleeds off the screen. […] The film is able to convey the conservative social pressures of the time. Chow and So meet in his bedroom, merely to share food and must be cautious of Chow’s landlord. They are unable to touch, made clear in a scene where So reaches for Chow’s hand after being caught up in a rare moment of happiness and then quickly withdraws. The film is greatly concerned with absence: the absence of the spouses, the absence of companionship or love, the absence of the spouse’s full identities. A title card that introduces the film reads “the past was something he could see but not touch”, a phrase that sums up what this lush film is all about.