1. MUSEUM HOURS
When I pitch this film to friends, I can see their eyes glaze over with descriptions of “slow and quiet,” “lots of shots of artwork,” “a friendship instead of a romance.” I wish I could more succinctly capture why I love this exquisitely wrought, distinctively wise film so dearly. It is sturdy in its stillness and unearths humanity so delicately. The two leads, Mary Margaret O’Hara and Bobby Sommer, are pure grace and soul. Writer/director Jem Cohen has created a gift of a film. “It is bluer than I could tell.”
2. TO THE WONDER
Love begins to describe it. The familiar and alien as two sides of the same undulating ribbon. “…in a dream you can’t make mistakes.” I know now what it is to have my life flash before my eyes–a beautiful, tear-inducing (and, yes, religious) experience. God bless you, Terrence Malick.
3. LIKE SOMEONE IN LOVE
Punishing, pure, poetic. Mungiu is a piercingly keen observer of humanity’s weaknesses. Breathtaking compositions. Heart-rending storytelling. A crucible. A mirror. A painting.
5. THE ACT OF KILLING
The most revealing “selfie” ever. Of Anwar. Of humankind.
6. POST TENEBRAS LUX
“I could feel every blade.” Thank you, Mr. Reygadas. You made a The Tree of Life that I could embrace wholeheartedly. The theme? I think Michael Sicinski described it best: “…the need to defend the family against all potential threats, foreign and domestic.” Many complain of the choice to shoot with an almost constant “tilt shift” focus, but I found it powerful. It creates the closest replication of what a first-person POV, personal memory “looks like” to me. And those first several minutes are some of the most gorgeous I’ve ever experienced in a darkened theater.
7. COMPUTER CHESS
“Everything is not everything.” Artifacts on a collision course. Kubrickian moves in miniature. What a screenplay. What a delight.
8. YOU AIN’T SEEN NOTHIN’ YET
Romantic, quixotic, intoxicating. A gambit of the heart, a song for the soul. Resnais and his stellar cast conjure magic.
9. THE GREAT BEAUTY
“What’s wrong with feeling nostalgic?” Indulgently sweeping, sweetly fleeting. A lush reminder of what cinema can do. Bravo, Sorrentino and Servillo.
Jeff Nichols does America proud with a Huck Finn tale that knots a handsome, homespun fable out of rope, dust, silt and spit. One great performance after another with dialogue as lived-in as decade-old dungarees.
“I was there.” So plainly American. Like drinking from a stream or recognizing the pinch of a bruise. Dern and Forte are surprisingly strong sparring partners.
12. THE PAST
It wasn’t this film’s plot or dialogue that fascinated me, but all the delicately observed details–from visual metaphors tucked around the decaying house to gut-punches delivered in the smallest gestures. Farhadi is a master storyteller.
13. THE COUNSELOR
It’s an honor to be the quarry when Ridley and Cormac are killing it. Elegant, brutal, philosophical, romantic and dead sexy.
What a thrill to soak up the spoils of director Chan-wook Park’s lush visual imagination. Thrumming with an electric love of the delicious dark. Ever-so-grimly comic at its core with a florid fascination with what lures the female heart, mind and desire–potential weapons all.
15. BLUE JASMINE
I don’t remember Woody ever feeling this relaxed. Just tremendous. Cate wrings herself out and it’s a thrill to watch her operate.
16. SIDE EFFECTS
A sly thriller teeming with sharp social commentary. Vividly captures the tightrope walk of maintaining one’s security and reputation in modern life. It seems all manner of manipulation is breathtaking in Soderbergh’s hands. Jude Law gives one of the best performances of the year as a man who is crumbling in the face of scandal. I went unusually long on this film over on my Letterboxd.com post.
17. MOTHER OF GEORGE
Shots so gorgeous, you can feel them in your molars. A satisfyingly assured command of what to leave out. Director Andrew Dosunmu and DP Bradford Young weave true beauty.
18. NOBODY’S DAUGHTER HAEWON
Limited exposure to Hong made me think I’d always find his films maddening, but this pleasant drift (aka FRANCES HA-EWON) grew on me steadily in the 48 hours after seeing it. I was especially impressed by the film’s examination of the currency of “pretty,” which is done off-handedly, but powerfully. Jeong Eun-Chae’s performance gradually won me over too. Hopefully this film will get a U.S. release, but I’m including it here just in case it doesn’t.
19. WHITE HOUSE DOWN
A total blast. The most fun I’ve had at an action film in a loooong while. Tatum and Clarke delighted me. Surprisingly visually plush for the genre. Felt like putting on cashmere.
20. FRANCES HA
A very sweet, pleasant diversion that has become my latest go-to hang-out film. I’ll just stream it on Netflix in the background to enjoy glimpses of glimpses and sound bites of that charming dialogue. Refreshing to see Baumbach play it loose. Gerwig is a special kind of sunshine.
A couple of years ago I went to the exhibition of Sergey Andriaka’s works, one of Russia’s famous modern watercolor artists. It was like getting into summer in the middle of winter – his stunning bouquets of lilacs, peonies, chrysanthemums, landscapes and still lifes immediately made you forget about the cold wind and snow outside and carried you away to green meadows and forests full of beautiful flowers. I was really impressed by his works and I still remember how his pictures filled me with joy – it was like enjoying the first sunny day, even though it was indoors.
S. Andriaka, Volga Landscape, 2008
S. Andriaka, A Vase of Orchids, 2005
Olga is a translator in Moscow and a frequent traveler to Italy and the United States.
Here is a story on the opening of the exhibition, and Andriaka’s unique watercolor technique.
#1 Thursday Till Sunday
The predawn light, tinted blue. A sensible car, hatchback agape. A sleep-heavy child, lugged from bed. These opening scene details in Chilean writer/director Dominga Sotomayor’s yet-unreleased feature film debut, Thursday Till Sunday, herald the arrival of one to watch. This is a young filmmaker with an uncannily precise sense of observation and an undeniably keen eye for composition.
That sensible car is soon toting a family of four on a long road trip that looks to be their last, as the parents are considering a separation. Somehow turning the claustrophobic setting of a mid-sized vehicle into one beautifully framed shot after another, Sotomayor elegantly delineates the great divide that separates the driver’s seat of adulthood from the dependents who are literally and figuratively taking the back seat in their parents’ personal crisis.
While stops along the road provide some expository elaborations, there is always an intoxicating artlessness afoot in the way the film looks, feels and sounds. In knowing exactly what to leave out, Sotomayor’s evocative minimalism feels like a curative. I can’t wait to see what she does next.
#2 Moonrise Kingdom
I’ve been a Wes Anderson fan from the early days of his career and have consistently found whimsical magic in the intricate worlds he crafts. Exploring broken families, innocent love and true forgiveness,Moonrise Kingdom sustains thematic chords from Anderson’s oeuvre beautifully.
While winsome and witty, the film’s heart is shot through with melancholy, telling the tale of an orphaned boy scout and his star-crossed love—both of whom are only 12 years old.
Shot in 16mm and resembling the faded turquoise, orange and yellow of vintage Polaroid photos, the film perfectly evokes a very particular time and place: 1965 on an island off the coast of New England, to be exact. Unfortunately, but entertainingly, the adults roaming about in this nostalgic tale are stiffly sad, consistently uniformed and stubbornly determined to keep Suzy and Sam, the youthful love birds in question, from pursuing their romance.
In one of a trio of movingly frank scenes in the center of the film, Suzy’s mother and father talk in their darkened bedroom. The conversation is simply stated and quietly performed, but despite its unassuming air, it represents an emotional milestone in Anderson’s work. No punches are pulled. No winking punchlines are detonated. It’s just two seasoned actors (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand) speaking on behalf of filmmaking’s eternal boy scout, but this time by way of a newfound, profound maturity. Wonder badge earned, Mr. Anderson.
#3 Damsels in Distress
Much has been made of writer/director Whit Stillman’s long absence from filmmaking. While Damsels in Distress arrived fashionably late, it’s a wry and pretty delight. As a comedy, it may seem prim at first, but it’s no goody-two-shoes. It aims and sinks its arrows neatly, making withering observations about society and human nature as it simultaneously charms.
Shining through in the majority of scenes, Greta Gerwig hits perfect notes as Violet, a college student who longs to make the world a better place, one person at a time. It’s her character who unexpectedly becomes the beating heart of Damsels in Distress, as she finds herself as lost and lonely as her protégés.
With his signature wit and empathetic warmth, Stillman has polished up a sweet little gem of a film that’s got much wisdom to share. Why, it even has a healthy dose of optimism, plus characters dancing at the drop of a hat and an irresistible soundtrack to match. Whit is it!
#4 Miss Bala
Mexican writer/director Gerardo Naranjo wanted to test that the film he had in his head would work, especially since he was casting an inexperienced actress in the lead. So he test-shot the whole thing on video before he shot the actual film. The whole thing. It seems like an insanely demanding step to add to pre-pro, but Naranjo credits Miss Bala’s seamlessness to it.
Starring the very striking Stephanie Sigman as a poor young woman who dreams of beauty queen status, Miss Bala quickly raises the stakes by becoming enmeshed in the brutally violent world of drug cartels.
The spare sleekness of Miss Bala, and the sense that the filmmaker is observing more than editorializing, makes the indictment of systemic sickness something the audience can process on their own terms. The film itself moves like sliding pressure panels and is jarringly perforated by the pop-pop-pop of gunplay. As humble as it is mighty, Miss Balafeels like an indie movie in the best way possible: created on a shoestring, but as fierce as a locomotive.
Inspired to build a movie around mixed martial artist Gina Carano, Soderbergh picked up the phone and told collaborator Lem Dobbs to write it. The result is a tidily constructed, tensely coiled, tight little action/thriller flick that tells the story of a black ops super soldier left to fend for herself when she’s betrayed.
Adding to the sparks are entertaining turns by Ewan McGregor, Michael Fassbender, Channing Tatum, Antonio Banderas and Michael Douglas as men who get in our heroine’s way, in one way or another. The jazz-infused soundtrack is as saucy as hell, setting a perfect rhythm for the hold-your-breath action.
While Carano’s acting chops are the only weak thing about her, she turns in a performance that serves its purpose sturdily. And after you’ve seen her mop the floor with an adversary, you won’t really care if a line reading isn’t perfect. She is an undeniable femme fatale and her star vehicle, HAYWIRE, packs a delicious punch. Please don’t retire, Stevie.
Nictate plays a Peggy Olson type by day, working as a copywriter in advertising. Movies have always been a passion of hers, but it’s only been since joining Twitter in 2007 that her cinephile thirst has grown exponentially. Interacting with critics and fellow enthusiasts online has deepened her understanding of and passion for film and the quest to learn more feels (pleasantly) never-ending. You can follow nictate on twitter at www.twitter.com/nictate
My long time friend, Drew Davis, asked that I submit a favorite painting for discussion on his art blog. I am pleased and honored to do so. As a former art teacher, choosing one piece of art was difficult. My comments below are a reaction to seeing this particular painting for the first time in a gallery. There is, by the way, no substitute for seeing the actual art work.
Wheat Field with Crows by Vincent van Gogh
I saw ‘Wheat Field with Crows’ for the first time at the St Louis Art Museum, during a special Vincent van Gogh exhibit. As I entered the room and looked to my left, I saw this breathtakingly beautiful painting, ‘Wheat Field with Crows’ by Vincent van Gogh.
The wheat field glowed with light and warmth. It was lovely and vibrant like a sunny garden after the rain and gave me a sense of joy. The color of the field was so rich and intense that the crows flying directly at the viewer and the hovering storm clouds – were of no consequence to me. The beauty of the picture seemed to overpower the agitation and symbolism in the sky. For me, the crows and clouds seem to frame the picture and punctuate the vibrancy and life of the painting.
‘Wheat Field with Crows’ was painted during the last weeks of van Gogh’s life, a life that ended sadly from suicide. One can only speculate on his frame of mind and the relationship of this picture to his final days and final decision. Had a turbulent storm in his life just passed and raindrops intensified the color or was the storm brewing?
Vincent van Gogh was a brilliant and visionary artist. He saw the world differently. He saw people, things and nature teeming with energy, passion and great beauty. Van Gogh was uniquely gifted in being able to share his vision and its beauty with the world.
Margo McNeil is the Missouri State Representative for District 78. She is an artist, a former Art Teacher and the play group mom for my 1980 playgroup.
1) The Separation, the deserved winner of the Oscar for Best Foreign-Language Film and the work I consider the best film of 2011 (though it opened here in 2012, thus qualifying for this list).
3) Moonrise Kingdom, an especially winning example of Wes Anderson’s melancholic whimsy.
4) The Deep Blue Sea, the latest masterpiece from Terence Davies, a filmmaker whom I’ve long admired and whose The Long Day Closes ranks among my Top 10 all time.
5) Footnote, an Israeli film that manages to mine surprising comedy and drama from Talmudic scholarship.
Cliff Froehlich is the director of Cinema St. Louis. Cinema St. Louis organizes film competitions throughout the year and the St. Louis Film Festival.
1. “Moorise Kingdom” Wes Andeson has a ceertain spunk and verve when it comes to appreciating his movies. “Moonrise Kingdom” was no different. Fun, albiet quirky and very dry and witty, this tale involved an AWOL Khaki Scout and his love for a young redheaded girl.
2. “Marvel’s The Avengers” Everyting a comic book movie should be and more, writer-director Joss Whedon managed to squeeze a plethora of actors into an enjoyable, fun yarn — especially since the majority of characters were in their own seperate storylines. He blended the action sequences flawlessly with plenty of time for the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Captain America (Chris Evans), Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansen), Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner).
3. “Thin Ice” The art of the con was full on in this tale of an everyman, an insurance adjuster (Greg Kinnear) who stumbles onto an elderly man (Alan Arkin) who also owns a pricless violin. Enter in Billy Crudup as a jack-of-all trades whose involvment thows a monkey wrench into his plans.
4. “Battleship” Although this one arrived d.o.a. at the box office, director Peter Berg (“The Rundown,” “The Kingdom”) threw in an outlandish story that resulted in smiles aplenty by film’s end. What is cool is that it had a disabled vet as one of the heroes in the movie.
5. “Safe House” Ryan Reynolds owed me a good one from last year, considering his two summer spectacles with the lifeless “Green Lantern” and the mess tht was the buddy-buddy body switching comedy “The Change-Up,” resulted in just a mish mash of ideas that might have looked great on paper, with a dull thud on delivery. In this one, Reynolds stars as CIA operative Matt Weston, who has a thankless job working as a peon at that safe house incape Town. Denzel Washington costars asTobin Frost, a former villain with a checkered past in the agency.
Also worthy of mentiom are “The Hunger Games,” “Prometheus,” “The Raid: Redemption” and “Contraband”
“The movie guru” Ricky Miller is a professional Film Critic in the Dallas/ Fort Worth Metroplex. His website is http://movieguru.bravehost.com