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Top 10 - 2014

Posted by Jonathan Leithold-Patt on January 16, 2015 at 10:00 AM Comments comments (0)





The Oscar nominations were announced yesterday, but you needn’t look at them to know what the greatest cinematic accomplishments of 2014 were (as if the Academy would tell you, anyway). Listed below are my Top 10 films of the year, ranked in general order of preference, with runners-up and honorable mentions.

A quick note on the year before we get down to it: like any other year, 2014 had plenty to offer in the way of diverse, compelling, thought-provoking, and artistically and culturally prodigious cinema. If it seems to somewhat pale in comparison to 2013, at least for me, that’s because there were fewer films I unabashedly loved, and decidedly none I would deem masterpieces. In other words, there was no Inside Llewyn Davis. I awarded only one film all year the full four stars, although a few others came close. But in the absence of undeniable knockout punches, there was a lot to like.

Notable films I regrettably missed or couldn’t see in time for this list: Nightcrawler, Goodbye to LanguageThe LEGO Movie, Manakamana, Leviathan, American Sniper, Still Alice, National Gallery, The Tale of the Princess KaguyaTwo Days, One Night.



10. Selma / Ava DuVernay

Nothing really more needs to be said about this film's staggering social resonance with current events. It's all there, and you know it long before Common mentions Ferguson in the stirring closing credits tune. DuVernay's film, a "biopic" about Martin Luther King Jr. and the seminal march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, is a hard-hitting and politically astute film that trades embalmed history for raw, jagged modern rhythms. With its digital cinematography and askew camera angles showing us sides (literally) of the Civil Rights Movement we've never seen before, it's a startling and surprisingly distinctive window into a horribly recent past. As King, David Oyelowo is brilliant, and DuVernay's shrewdest move is in not letting him absorb the picture, because she knows no movement is brought upon by one person, no change instigated by a few. In this refreshingly modest portrait of an outsize hero as in history itself, it takes many. King was the one, but he didn't do it alone.

9. Edge of Tomorrow / Doug Liman

The most exciting and satisfying summer release of 2014 was also one of the year's most narratively innovative pictures, mainstream or otherwise. Working off a fiendishly clever and impressively structured script, itself an adaptation of a Japanese manga, Liman takes gonzo sci-fi action trappings and video game logic to throw Tom Cruise and viewers into a looping narrative machine that reveals and elides crucial information in tirelessly cunning ways. Thanks to pin-sharp editing from James Herbert and Laura Jennings, each repeating episode feeds viscerally and wittily into the next, the ceaseless accumulation of experience and knowledge acquiring tense dramatic friction as time keeps resetting physical progress. Never before has the concept of an alien invasion been so cannily distilled in terms so singularly cinematic.

8. Pride / Matthew Warchus

"There is power in a union," sings Billy Bragg over the soundtrack at the end of Pride, a film whose timely and timeless sociopolitical import is matched in every way by its heart-swelling exuberance. There is power, indeed, and director Matthew Warchus, screenwriter Stephen Beresford, and one of the most infectious and uniformly developed ensemble casts of the year use that power to tell of the 1984 alliance between gay and lesbian activists and Britain's striking miners, an unlikely relationship promulgating the world's most useful virtues: compassion, empathy, and solidarity. Yet nothing about the film is didactic or pandering - this is as purely humanistic as cinema gets, a fervent paean to understanding and gay rights, to equality and community, to charity and to the seismic social and moral profit of collective action. Bringing one of the pivotal events in Britain's LGBT rights movement to bustling life while intimately detailing the individual arcs of his lovingly portrayed characters, Warchus and his team do their real life heroes proud. Solidarity forever.

7. Foxcatcher / Bennett Miller

In Bennett Miller's unsettlingly fastidious drama, a queasily bizarre true story is used as the groundwork for an unblinking study of the perverted American ethos. But the true horror comes not necessarily from what was done - Miller and screenwriters Frye and Futterman indulge in inevitable speculation, even as they underplay or omit some of the most disturbing details - but why it was done and what cultural conditions let it happen. The picture that is painted is one of an ethos gone awry, aspirations and claims to exceptionalism stunted by psychology and economy and sublimated into impulses both capitalistic and animalistic. It's all carried out by one of the most impressive combined acting feats of 2014, with Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, and Mark Ruffalo providing three very different but intertwined visions of masculinity, determination, and pursuit, all caught up in a very American mire.

6. Force Majeure / Ruben Östlund

A sharp, uncompromising dissection of marriage, gender roles, social expectations and assumptions, and the sanctity of the family unit, Ruben Östlund's pitch-black relationship drama makes a great companion piece to that other domestic nightmare from 2014, David Fincher's Gone Girl. But don't get the wrong idea: like Fincher's film, Force Majeure weaves a mordant streak of humor through its heavy themes, surveying moments of social behavior in deliciously awkward and scathingly funny detail. Östlund's rigorous formal control, meanwhile, imbues ski slopes, restaurants, and hotel corridors with a discomfiting stillness, as if the ideals and false facades of this already shaky relationship could shatter with the slightest of movements. Watching the fallout and the tireless ensuing dialogue - philosophical, sociological - is a reminder, both scary and absurd, of how tenuously the equilibrium of a relationship can be set, and how much we invest to keep it and ourselves stable.

5. The Grand Budapest Hotel / Wes Anderson

Giddily delightful and effervescent but with a considerable melancholic undertow, The Grand Budapest Hotel is the indie king of quirk's version of a war-time historical drama. In other words, it's a carnival-esque confection of impossibly rich colors, dioramic architecture, and stylized olde-worlde fashion playing host to a story of the decline of civilization. Anderson has always incorporated the dark, wistful, and caustic in his quaint dollhouse universes (Moonrise Kingdom, my favorite of his until this point, does so with a coming-of-age narrative), but here he takes it a few steps further, crafting what is his most physically, emotionally, and thematically robust work yet, a madcap period caper as snappy as an Ernst Lubitsch comedy and as suspenseful and politically pointed as 1930s Hitchcock. The tremendous, multi-tiered script underlines the poignancy: what we're seeing is so long gone, or perhaps so imaginary, it can only be told through multiple levels of mediation.

4. Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) / Alejandro González Iñárritu

Pulling off a truly astonishing technical gambit with incomparable verve and unwavering confidence, Alejandro González Iñárritu and DP Emmanuel Lubezki make the illusion of Birdman a dazzling cinematic accomplishment unto itself. But it's hardly an empty showboating magic trick: the (nearly) single-take premise is visceral and heady and immersive, but it's just as much the film's galvanizing aesthetic identity as it is the story's - and the film's - raison d'être. That's because Birdman is preoccupied with illusion, simulation, and the line between authenticity and artifice in the digital era, and so Lubezki's snaking camera captures all of those disorienting permutations of reality on a single plane. Here, nothing is to be taken at face value: movies are reality, characters are real people (a notion helped out by some brilliant casting), and reality and ego are all informed, and formed by, a media culture that has devoured and replaced daily life. Part sizzling backstage showbiz dramedy, all weird, wonderful meta-commentary, Birdman is a one-of-a-kind plunge into the hyperreal.

3. Inherent Vice / Paul Thomas Anderson

Inherent Vice is a cinephile's dream movie, and stands out in particular as a striking example of the kind of audacious and atmosphere-heavy American cinema that seems to be in short order today. It's also, blessedly, shot on film, and every frame of it is cinematic euphoria: this is the type of movie you can fall into and explore from the inside. Hazily nostalgic for an idealistic era before the visible encroachment of government corruption, political recuperation, and conservative hegemony, Anderson locates his magnificently meandering story on the precipice of a disillusioned cultural transition, weaving a deliberately and absurdly convoluted tale of conspiracy around a stoned hippie P.I. longing for more than just weed. Following him around Anderson's marvelously rich and expansive world is a loosey-goosey pleasure; he doesn't know where he's headed, and neither do we, and that's half the fun. The rest comes from Anderson's tongue-in-cheek direction of Pynchon's baroque prose, and his truly inimitable ability to craft this lavish noir homage as alternately silly and serious, lackadaisical and scrupulous, flippant and ambling but always committed to emotional sincerity and lucid narrative control. Sun-baked and just plain baked, it's a vision of a lost LA that belongs only to the movies.

2. Mr. Turner / Mike Leigh

Strangely, Mike Leigh's unusual and intensely human biopic of English painter J.M.W. Turner has quite a bit in common with Inherent Vice, which helps explain why I fell so hard for both of them. Where Anderson fleshed out an immersive and tactile 1970 LA brimming with character and mood, Leigh brings to magisterial life 19th-century England, populated with artists, aristocrats, innkeepers, patrons and critics. Anderson's film was about an individual caught in the unremitting tides of a rapidly changing culture; Leigh's is as well. Focusing only on the last few decades of Turner's life, Mr. Turner's greatest success is not in detailing the specifics of an artist's process, but in showing the artist interacting with and responding to the world around him, its overwhelming beauty and equally overpowering sadness channeled into art considered both rapturous and vile. There are no bullet points or earth-shattering events to be found here, only a graceful, meditative, and resoundingly full-hearted portrait of a man and a world capable of running the gamut from benevolence to hostility. Timothy Spall masterfully embodies the contradictory emotions of an artist in love with that world and yet ambivalent to it, understanding of it and yet misunderstood by it. It's the year's greatest performance in one of the year's most deeply felt and observed films.

1. Nabat / Elchin Musaoglu

I wrestled with including this film at all, as it has not been released theatrically and, as far as I can tell, has no imminent distribution plans. But I saw it as part of the 2014 Chicago International Film Festival, and the country that made it, Azerbaijan, did choose it as its 2014 submission for the Academy Awards, so I decided I would go for it. If you object to its inclusion, feel free to disregard it altogether and hold the rest of the list as is.

Nabat, about an elderly woman who refuses to leave her village in Azerbaijan's Nagorno-Karabakh region after everyone else has evacuated due to war, is an astoundingly enveloping audio-visual experience and a serene, gravely moving portrait of a woman and a nation braving ravages both natural and horrifyingly man-made. Every element has been paid meticulous attention to here: from the irreproachable elegance of long dollies and tracking shots to the precise fluctuations of weather and character disposition that they capture, Musaoglu commands the frame and everything that takes place inside and outside of it. In some of the most breathtaking long traveling shots this side of Dreyer or Angelopoulos, he follows his steadfast protagonist as she withstands isolation and hunger, observing her waning resilience as the tempest of nature convenes around her. Images and sounds haunt us, so tangible we can feel, smell, and hear them as if they were right next to us: mud under our feet during a downpour; mist on our faces; the wet hide of a cow; the howl of a wolf or a gust of wind through a creaking door. Nabat is not a happy watch - it's exceedingly somber and sobering - but it is an enriching, plangently powerful one that honors the entwined suffering and strength of a land and its people.


And the great runners-up:


BOYHOOD by Richard Linklater

DEAR WHITE PEOPLE by Justin Simien

GETT, THE TRIAL OF VIVIANE AMSALEM by Ronit and Shlomi Elkabetz

GONE GIRL by David Fincher

A MOST VIOLENT YEAR by J.C. Chandor


NOTE: I didn't mention Lukas Moodysson's ebullient WE ARE THE BEST! or Jim Jarmusch's languidly romantic ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE because I consider them 2013 films, but if we're going purely by 2014 US release dates go ahead and add them to the above.


Honorable mentions (films I really liked in some significant way):


IDA by Paweł Pawlikowski

THE IMITATION GAME by Morten Tyldum

INTERSTELLAR by Christopher Nolan

INTO THE WOODS by Rob Marshall

SOMETHING MUST BREAK by Ester Martin Bergsmark


I liked them, but they're not that great:


UNDER THE SKIN by Jonathan Glazer

WHIPLASH by Damien Chazelle

"I shall cogitate upon it."

Posted by Jonathan Leithold-Patt on January 3, 2015 at 10:50 PM Comments comments (0)




Yes, it's that time of year again. January means two very important things in the movie universe: Oscar nominations, and the annual compilation of my Top 10 list comprised of the very best films from the previous year. Most critics have already turned in their lists, but as always I am fashionably tardy with quite a few films left to see and re-see. It'll be impossible to see everything I want to by the time I make the list (I'm miffed how many things I missed in theaters), but because I vow to have it out by mid-January at the latest, I must make compromises. But a Top 10 there shall be, and it shall be a mighty fine one. Look out for it sometime within the next few weeks. Timothy Spall is already doing so!

A Most Violent Year

Posted by Jonathan Leithold-Patt on December 31, 2014 at 5:00 PM Comments comments (0)



A MOST VIOLENT YEAR  ***1/2

J.C. Chandor

2014

 

 

IDEA:  In a violent, corrupted 1981 New York City, an immigrant entrepreneur attempts to expand his heating-oil empire - and retain his morals - as criminal competition threatens to vitiate his progress.


BLURB:  A Most Violent Year is a lean, sophisticated, often exquisitely understated piece of genre filmmaking. Taking after the coolheaded precision of its main character, a dogged entrepreneur played with low key intensity by Oscar Isaac, J.C. Chandor crafts his film with deliberate, almost imperceptibly building force, always moving fastidiously forward. This concentrated approach is key to the film’s eerily naturalistic effect: never flashy or melodramatic, it plays like a classic 70s crime drama that’s been entirely stripped of its sensationalism. Here, bullets and fists make sudden, incontrovertible impacts. A chase scene may be thrilling, but the overwhelming feeling is one of exhaustion. Despite the title, Chandor rarely displays violent acts on screen, and when he does, they land with a brutal, shocking weight befitting real life. Most of the time, however, the violence is what is threatened and what is elided, what lurks beneath the becalmed surfaces of capitalism and domesticity but what must be constantly muffled or negotiated with. In making his protagonist about the most virtuous, straight-laced capitalist you could imagine, Chandor mounts his crime film like something of an anti-crime crime film, never allowing us to take pleasure in noxious impulses that are typically part and parcel of the genre’s appeal. Romanticism has no place here – a familiar notion A Most Violent Year makes hauntingly clear.

Wild

Posted by Jonathan Leithold-Patt on December 24, 2014 at 3:25 PM Comments comments (0)



WILD  **1/2

Jean-Marc Vallée

2014



IDEA:  An account of Cheryl Strayed, who sought to heal her personal demons and rebuild herself by hiking the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mexico border to Canada.


BLURB:  It’s so refreshing to see a modern, tough-minded mainstream movie centered around a strong female perspective, one is inclined to overlook or at least mentally diminish some of Wild’s more considerable problems. After all, Jean-Marc Vallée’s film is not without its merits: formally ambitious and sufficiently moving, with an impassioned performance from Reese Witherspoon, it is clearly a work into which much thought and care went. And while its motivational story retains traces of teary platitudinous moments, it is enlivened and complicated by a nonlinear narrative approach that enmeshes past and present in a swirling tapestry of image and sound. That impressionistic gambit, unfortunately, is both the film’s greatest asset and its most troublesome one, as genuinely poignant and evocative montage comes up against juxtapositions that seem strained and programmatic, either obviously telegraphing an emotion or else pushing ideas blatantly to the surface. Vallée and screenwriter Nick Hornby commit admirably to their sense memory, free-associative structure, but the effect is only intermittently successful, never clicking into gear in a sustained way. Still, Witherspoon is a worthy and compelling lead, and the editing by McMurphy and Pensa – not to mention terrific sound design that incorporates Leonard Cohen and Simon & Garfunkel into haunted physical and psychological spaces – keep things on course even as the bumpy narrative threatens to throw us off.

Force Majeure

Posted by Jonathan Leithold-Patt on December 20, 2014 at 5:55 PM Comments comments (0)



FORCE MAJEURE  ***1/2

Ruben Östlund

2014

 

 

IDEA:  Husband and father Tomas makes a dubious split-second decision when an avalanche seems to be headed toward him and his family. Nobody is physically harmed, but the emotional fallout begins to send shockwaves through a seemingly idyllic relationship.


BLURB:  Force Majeure belongs to a tradition of formally rigorous art films that create atmospheres so eerily becalmed the most ordinary image becomes imbued with an insinuating dread. There’s always the feeling that fragile personal and social equilibriums are being held barely intact beneath a glassy façade, problems held at bay only until the slightest of pressures sends everything crashing to the ground. Collapse is always imminent; as Östlund maintains his fastidiously presented exterior, the people behind it are imploding with astonishing efficiency. Across two agonizing, spectacularly uncomfortable hours, we watch as a family unit’s precarious foundation visibly cracks underneath them, their assumptions, expectations, and insecurities – imposed by gender and self-perception – brought excruciatingly to the fore. Östlund gives neither us nor them anywhere to hide: the false, perhaps untenable ideals that underpin a relationship are dissected and scrutinized unblinkingly, long takes, wide shots, and stifling silences placing human interaction under an anthropological microscope. It’s grueling stuff, and perhaps a mite too studied for its own good, but Östlund’s formal shrewdness, eye for social behavior, and sneaky black humor keep the film’s personal and ethical quandaries alive and smoldering. Best of all, he leaves judgment up to us. The characters may at times be selfish, cowardly, accusatory, or myopic, but their problems, even if we’d like to think otherwise, could emerge at any moment as our own.

Foxcatcher

Posted by Jonathan Leithold-Patt on November 26, 2014 at 10:25 PM Comments comments (0)


FOXCATCHER  ***1/2
Bennett Miller
2014



IDEA:  John du Pont, heir to one of the US's largest fortunes, invites Olympic wrestling champion Mark Schultz and the rest of the American team to come train on his expansive estate, where things head toward inexorable tragedy.

BLURB:  The real life story of an Olympic wrestler and his relationship with a sociopathic multimillionaire becomes the grounds for a dissection of the curdled American ethos in Bennett Miller’s Foxcatcher. Though perhaps somewhat dubious in its ascribing of determinants to a person who was likely mentally ill, as well as in its construing of these true events as a broader cultural statement, Miller’s film is never so conclusive as to read as disingenuous. Instead, he takes a critical look at a truly bizarre and shocking true story and mines it for all its (possible, probable) sociological and psychological implications, leaving the dazed viewer with just enough information to try to make sense of it all. Loyalty to facts or not, what is clear is this: Foxcatcher is quietly mesmerizing, a perpetually simmering portrait of souls lost and corroded on their way to perceived greatness that doesn’t have a hair out of place. With its sensationally able cast – Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, and Mark Ruffalo, among them channeling a spectrum of distressed physical states – it puts into place a roiling fabric of power relations that point up a cultural condition predicated on exploitation, violence, and delusion. Miller and ace DP Greig Fraser train an uncompromising, almost anthropological eye on masculinity, alternately wounded and inflamed, and the milieu that sublimates aggressive impulses into capitalism and privilege. It may be lots of speculation pertaining to ultimately inscrutable events, but that it seems so unnervingly plausible testifies to Foxcatcher's bruising emotional veracity.

Dear White People

Posted by Jonathan Leithold-Patt on November 14, 2014 at 6:15 PM Comments comments (0)



DEAR WHITE PEOPLE  ***1/2

Justin Simien

2014



IDEA:  The lives of four black students at a predominantly white Ivy League school come under the fire of prejudice, identity politics, and institutional racism as the administration's randomized housing act threatens to dissolve the school's only black residence.


BLURB:  For a topic still as incendiary as race relations in America, bringing it up at all is often enough to ignite a fire. It’s a double-edged sword: talk about the issue too much, and you’re exacerbating its presence; don’t talk about it enough, and you risk losing sight of it or denying the problem altogether. Thankfully, Justin Simien’s Dear White People is here to take the perilous walk along the blade, and it (mostly) does so with formidable and intrepid aplomb. Dialectical in a way too rarely seen in today’s cinema, Simien’s film is charged, prudent ideological filmmaking, daring to tackle pressing real world social issues in a way that accounts for all of their facets without pretending they’re actually reconcilable. The approach is highly effective, confrontational but not didactic: tracking multiple, often contradictory 21st century black perspectives, he manages to create a multilayered portrait of young black identities that never feels as if it’s picking sides or chastising. These characters represent the spectrum, and Simien allows them all to be seen and heard in equal measure. Even better, he creates a space for them that’s warm, witty, and equipped with wonderfully preemptive strikes against anyone who dares submit that centuries of entrenched racism have somehow vanished in Obama’s America. At the very least, Dear White People promulgates a sage discourse that ensures such inanity isn’t easily let off the hook.

Whiplash

Posted by Jonathan Leithold-Patt on November 5, 2014 at 8:25 PM Comments comments (0)



WHIPLASH  ***

Damien Chazelle

2014


 

IDEA:  An aspring jazz drummer comes to a prestigious music conservatory, where he is subjected to the cruel, authoritarian mentorship of his ruthless instructor.


BLURB:  Rarely has giving blood, sweat and tears to your art been depicted as literally as in Whiplash, Damien Chazelle’s blistering, somatically exhausting portrait of unrelenting artistic pursuit. Through Sharone Meir’s dread-soaked cinematography and Tom Cross’s frenzied editing, the mastery of music becomes not only beautiful but potentially deadly, the act of drumming a visceral display of masculine violence that requires as much in the way of precision and elegance as in animal fury. In the combustible relationship between J.K. Simmons’ virulent instructor and Miles Teller’s increasingly fevered protégé, written and performed with great complexity, Chazelle finds a highly unnerving representation of the artist as sadomasochist, driving himself toward destruction while justifying internal and external abuse as necessary motivators. The dynamic is deliciously multifaceted, never settling for an easy mentor/mentee dialectic but shifting, in increasingly disturbing ways, the negotiation of power and dominance between the two and the dangerously symbiotic exchange of influences that reinforces the beliefs of both. Unfortunately, Chazelle often loses his thread of logic – the world he’s set up is rather ill-defined, both realistic and heightened, often veering into outlandishness – but any depiction of all-consuming artistic obsession that dares venture into territory this dark and provocative is one that can get away with spiraling out of control every now and then.

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Posted by Jonathan Leithold-Patt on October 30, 2014 at 9:05 PM Comments comments (0)



BIRDMAN OR (THE UNEXPECTED VIRTUE OF IGNORANCE)  ***1/2

Alejandro González Iñárritu

2014


 

IDEA:  Riggan Thomson, a fading movie star made famous for his Birdman superhero films but unable to move beyond them, mounts a big Broadway play in the hopes of winning back his relevance.


BLURB:  Films about show business have always been among Hollywood’s specialties, dual celebrations and invectives of an insular, narcissistic culture made by and largely for people from within that very culture. Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) carries on the tradition, mobilizing distinctly 21st century idioms to show what happens when that world of illusion and delusion enters into the realm of the hyperreal. Though in many ways a recitation of the backstage drama recipe with additional razzle dazzle, Birdman rises above the fray through its astonishing formal daring, a conceit that, far from mere showboating (although it is that, too), is the film’s raison d’être. González Iñárritu and Lubezki’s flabbergasting work is more than a neat trick; the camera’s uninterrupted simulation of verisimilitude and artifice is the discombobulating point, serving to push all of Birdman’s nested realities onto the same heady plane. Toying liberally with diegesis and audience perception/recognition, we are forced into a nebulous universe of endlessly mirroring quotations and associations as life and art, authenticity and performance, become absolutely enmeshed. Many films have had fun with the meta-textuality afforded cinema, but Birdman, in its deliberate navel-gazing and hypertrophic self-awareness, takes it all just a hair further. This is cinema as ouroboros, as simulacrum, referential of everything and yet nothing but itself.

CIFF 2014: Wrapping Up

Posted by Jonathan Leithold-Patt on October 24, 2014 at 6:10 PM Comments comments (0)





So, that's it. The 50th Chicago International Film Festival has come to a close, and it was a mighty good one, if I may say so myself. Out of the twenty or so movies I saw (I regret it couldn't have been more), many of them are sure to stay with me for years to come, (most) because they had something about them that stood out as exemplary. Even movies I had somewhat mixed feelings about - Speed Walking, for instance - had elements that left a distinct impression. I wasn't able to write blurbs for all of the movies I screened, so I will post the outstanding films here with some brief comments, in general order of preference. (Longer review blurbs can be found elsewhere on the site.)


Gett, The Trial of Viviane Amsalem (Shlomi Elkabetz and Ronit Elkabetz) ***1/2

A justifiably incensed look at the hidebound Israeli legal system and its refusal to recognize the individuality of women, Gett is like a barely concealed scream, a courtroom drama that doubles as polemical chamber piece. Never leaving the confines of the courthouse, its depiction of its embattled lead character's struggle with the relentlessly patriarchal religious court is appropriately exhausting, but also plangently moving. There may be few performances this year better than Ronit Elkabetz's, who channels, with acute, aching gravity, both extraordinary dignity and the utterly consuming frustration of being victim to lawful injustice.

Of Horses and Men (Benedikt Erlingsson) ***

A 2013 Icelandic release, Benedikt Erlingsson's delightfully odd and majestic dark comedy is a fable of frustrated sexuality, communal disunity, human folly, and the spiritual connections between man, horse, and land that illustrate our most primal urges. Crystalline cinematography and beautiful animals. Often startling and gruesome, but beguilingly balanced out by its droll, jovial tone.

In Order of Disappearance (Hans Petter Moland) ***

A prickly, mordant, increasingly clever genre exercise buoyed by slick Nordic humor. Like a cross between the Coen brothers and Sidney Lumet, with ample gangster posturing and reams of absurdist, self-aware dialogue. Rather disappointing visually, and the characters rarely register as more than cartoons, but it's a blast, with one highly effective narrative device.



Futuro Beach (Karim Aïnouz) **1/2

Undercooked in the narrative department and limp in emotion, but often evocatively moody and atmospheric. Good use of the elements - in particular water - as resonant motifs.

The Third One (Rodrigo Guerrero) **1/2

A movie that gets better as it goes, beginning fairly tediously but blossoming by the end into a disarming and very sweet portrait of acceptance and belonging. Sexually charged and explicit, but never without serving its compassionate message.

A Girl at My Door (July Jung) **1/2

Two fiercely moving performances from Bae Doona and Kim Sae-ron anchor this heavy-handed but affecting drama. Gauche handling of plot and social commentary. Human and relatable all the same.


Paris of the North (Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurðsson) **1/2

Perfectly pleasant, wry character drama, also minor and not particularly memorable. Still, fine utilization of yawning Icelandic landscape with exuberant pop soundtrack.

Beloved Sisters (Dominik Graf) **

Sweeping historical drama without much sweep, focused on a real-life ménage à trois that's far less interesting than the film thinks and disappointingly separated from its volatile historical context. Performances strong from two leading ladies, but Stetter miscast and directorial devices awkward.

Red Rose (Sepidah Farsi) **

Politically conscious and even, in the end, pleasingly adventurous in form and content, but it fails to come together through its stilted performances.

Low Down (Jeff Preiss) **

Fanning and Close powerful. Hawkes okay. Hazy, era-specific cinematography great. Script and direction diffuse. A musical biopic with the right mood but lacking severely in energy and biographic detail.



No Thank You (Samuli Valkama) **

Basically romance novel-level stuff, with some periodic insights into marriage and aging and a couple of well-earned laughs. Mostly banal.

Zurich (Frederik Steiner) *

Gratuitously manipulative and maudlin. Liv Lisa Fries committed and convincing, but movie around her alternately soggy, mendacious, and visually and thematically impaired.

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About the Author


Jonathan Leithold-Patt is a 23-year-old student of film. Besides watching lots and lots of films and writing about them, he is an avid painter.

Contact at cinematiclife@yahoo.com.

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