Written & Directed by Jim Jarmusch
I first encountered William Carlos Williams and Jim Jarmusch in college. The former was reading “This is Just to Say” in an English II class and the latter was through the film Coffee & Cigarettes. I loved both but just haven’t done a good enough job continuing to explore the work of either artist. Paterson is a perfect merger of both creators’ sensibilities. There is no plot, no conflict, just life being lived by a full-time poet, a part-time bus driver in Paterson, New Jersey. The result is a movie that is entirely sublime, the spotlight on Adam Driver as the lead who walks through life in a measured, observant manner. No film will thoroughly chill you out like Paterson.
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Personal Shopper (2016)
Written & Directed by Olivier Assayas
When they were children, Maureen and her twin brother Lewis made a promise that whichever one died first would send a message from the afterlife. Now in her mid-twenties, Maureen has come to France where her brother succumbed to their shared genetic heart condition. She works a day job as the personal shopper for a demanding model named Kyra and spends her evenings in Lewis’ old house hoping to make contact with him. One night a presence makes itself known to her, something angry and raging. The following morning she begins to receive text messages on her phone from a blocked number. The person on the other end of the phone appears to know a lot about Maureen, and she begins to lose her grip on her insanity.
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The Love Witch (2016)
Written & Directed by Anna Biller
We find Elaine speeding down a California coastal highway, running away from the death of her ex-husband Larry. She starts a new life in Arcata, taking an apartment her friend Barbara used to live in, still decked out in the witchy paraphernalia that links these two women. Elaine has one focus in life, the attainment of the love of a man. Using magic, she begins seducing local men who end up overwhelmed by the feelings that bubble up inside them. Unable to process all of this love they meet their ultimate fate and Elaine shrugs it off and move onto the next guy. However, the police are investigating, and it’s only a matter of time until this witch is caught for her crimes.
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Certain Women (2016)
Written & Directed by Kelly Reichardt
I was drawn the short story form in college. I think what excited me about this mode of storytelling was the urgency of the moment and way this specific event reveals a profound depth to a character. Authors I enjoyed when first discovering the short story were Raymond Carver, Andre Dubus, Steven Millhauser, among others. Today I still get no better satisfaction than from a well crafted short story collection, leaning more into fantastical writers of horror and magic-realism. However, if the stories don’t center on character, then they lose any potential magic. Filmmaker Kelly Reichardt loved the short stories of writer Maile Meloy and has taken three of them to weave into a meditation on a variety of women in complicated situations.
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Love & Friendship (2016)
Written & Directed by Whit Stillman
Whit Stillman has made a career of writing and directing comedy of manners films, so it feels like an inevitable match to have him adapt one of Jane Austen’s novels. The book is Lady Susan, a lesser known tome, and Stillman strips away the romantic notions associated with Austen and focuses in on the social manipulation and interactions. In movies like Metropolitan and The Last Days of Disco, Stillman spends large chunks of times on characters in conversation, and these exchanges are packed with wit and suspense. You may find yourself unsteady in the opening scenes, but once you get your footing and see the flow of the dialogue, you cannot help but find yourself cracking up.
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Written by Noah Oppenheim
Directed by Pablo Larrain
Jack was the third person Jackie had lost during her marriage. Two children, one stillborn and another passing two days after birth marked her journey to this ultimate tragedy, the one death that would resonantly define Jacqueline Kennedy for the remainder of her life. In this unique biopic, we follow the first lady through the four days after her husband was assassinated, focusing on her inner turmoil and the decisions around how she would send her husband off into the collective memory of America. There was a huge chance this film would diverge into empty melodrama; however, director Pablo Larrain chooses to not shy away from the darker, angrier aspects of this moment in Jackie’s life.
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My Life as a Zucchini (2016)
Written by Céline Sciamma (with contributions from Germano Zullo, Claude Barras, & Morgan Navarro)
Directed by Claude Barras
Icare, nicknamed Zucchini by his mother, lives in the wake of his father’s abandonment of the family. She has taken to binge drinking to self-medicate her increasing depression. Things get bad at home and Zucchini is picked up by a police officer, Raymond, who has deep empathy for the rough situation the boy is in. He delivers him to an orphanage where Zucchini meets kids who have ended up in this place due to parents being deported, arrested, succumbing to drug addiction, and physically abusing them. Despite their hardships, they form a makeshift family and learn how to feel empathy for each other and recognize the differences and strengths of each other.
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Things to Come (2016)
Written & Directed by Mia Hansen-Løve
What we expect is not what we will get. This is a lesson for both the protagonist Nathalie and the audience. Life unfolds with surprises that are not necessarily earth-shaking but create ripples out through your day to day choices. After twenty-five years of marriage, Nathalie learns her husband is having an affair, and it’s decided with little bombast that they are divorcing. In the year that follows she has to deal with a mother that has severe depression and anxiety, her daughter gives birth to the first grandchild of the family, she struggles with her career as a philosophy professor, and reconnects with a former student.
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Written & Directed by Kleber Mendonça Filho
In 1980, Clara had survived breast cancer and celebrates her aunt’s birthday with her family in her home in the Aquarius apartment building. Her home in Recife, Brazil overlooks the beautiful beach, and she feels at peace with her husband, her children, and this renewed life she has having conquered cancer. Over thirty years later, she is a widow, still living in the same apartment with only her housekeeper as a regular companion. A developing company is attempting to buy Clara out so they can demolish the building and construct office high rises. Clara refuses and has become the only resident left in the Aquarius. We follow the aging woman for the next few months as the company, who already owns the remaining apartments, tries to drive her out and how Clara reflects on her life.
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Written by David Birke and Philippe Djan
Directed by Paul Verhoeven
Elle is a deceptively simple film, jolting its audience by opening on the ending of a brutal assault and rape inside the home of Michele, an upper middle class older single woman. The rapist, his face covered in a ski mask, flees and Michele with almost mechanical automaticity takes a bath, puts makeup over her black eye, and goes about her day and the next with no reaction. It’s only the following evening at dinner with friends and her ex-husband that she casually reveals, trying to laugh it off, that she was raped. The viewer is meant to be unsettled by how cold Michele is through all of this with her friends and family acting as our stand-ins, utterly shocked at what happened.
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