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.
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.
Carol (2015) Written by Phyllis Nagy Directed by Todd Haynes
As a gay person, Todd Haynes is always looking back to those times when his sexuality was not given a space to exist in the light much less even acknowledged as legitimate. He’s gone back to the turning point of the 1970s with the glam rock scene of Velvet Goldmine, explored the horrors across time of discovering one’s sexuality in Poison and with Carol he seems to have found a place where joy can be found yet still constrained by the mores of the period. Carol is an exploration of two women’s love affair yet should connect with all members of the audience who have found themselves caught up in their passions and were a complex mix of happiness and anxiety. This is a film about the effervescence of love, the frustrating intangibility of connecting with another.
12 Years a Slave (2013) Written by John Ridley Directed by Steve McQueen
In 1841, freeman Solomon Northrup, a resident of Saratoga Springs, New York was tricked by two white men into joining them as a traveling violinist. With his wife and children away for work for three weeks, Northrup sees an excellent opportunity to make a little money on the side and travel. Instead, his companions drug the man and sell him to a slave ring. A journey begins that brings Northrup to New Orleans and into the ownership of a plantation owner where our protagonist experiences just a taste of the hell that his life will become. From there he ends up at the cotton plantation of Epps, a drunkard and a brute who sexually abuses one slave in particular, Patsey. Northrup tries to keep his hope alive while watching those around him become brutalized and eventually murdered in some instances. Eventually, he will be free again but forever changed, terrors and evils scarred into his mind that he will never forget.
Silver Linings Playbook (2012) Written & Directed by David O. Russell
Pat Solitano’s mom picks him up from a mental hospital in Baltimore, despite the doctors saying he’s not ready yet. Eight months earlier, Pat came home to find his wife in the shower with a co-worker which sent Pat into a frenzy. He’s been diagnosed with bipolar disorder but believes he doesn’t need meds or a psychiatrist; Pat requires positive thinking. His dad, Pat Sr. shows all the signs of OCD and likely has some undiagnosed issues himself, and he thinks the time he devoted to the elder sibling is what led to his younger son becoming so volatile. Through an acquaintance, Pat meets Tiffany, a widow who has very similar challenges with social cues as Pat does. The duo verbally spars, and there is the spark of an attraction, but Pat is convinced he can get his wife back if he stays on his path of self-improvement. Tiffany sees his wife regularly and promises she’ll deliver a letter to her if Pat pledges to be her dance partner in an upcoming competition. This was an event her late husband would never do with her, and it has become Tiffany’s primary focus. Pat hesitantly agrees with hopes he’ll end up reunited with his former bride.
Big Little Lies (HBO) Season 1, Episode 1 – “Somebody’s Dead” Written by David E. Kelly Directed by Jean-Marc Vallée
There is so much television I hear I should watch and with 24/7 streaming services abounding it can quickly become overwhelming. To finally get a taste of all these great shows I will start doing TV Tryouts. Each month I will watch a couple of pilot episodes of series I have been hearing rave reviews about and see if that first episode can hook me to keep watching. Now, an argument you might make is that you have to view the first six or entire first season before a show “gets good.” To that, I say, “I just don’t have the time.” A television series should have strong enough writing that its characters, dialogue, and plot naturally compel me to keep watching. If it doesn’t then that’s ok, plenty of shows for everyone.
The Wife (2018) Written by Jane Anderson Directed by Bjorn Runge
Elderly writer Joseph Castleman receives the call many artists dream about. He is being awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, being told that he has made a significant contribution to the realm of writing in ways that will resound for generations beyond. His ever-loyal wife Joan listens on the phone extension and then prepares to care for and navigate her husband through the gauntlet of press and meetings to come. There is a secret behind her attentiveness to Joseph. They travel with their adult son to Stockholm where a week of formalities follows related to the prize. Tensions build when Nathaniel Bone, a journalist shows up and tells Joan he plans on writing an expose about Castleman, that he knows how Joan is tied to his success that he wants her to be the one to come forward first, on the record.