Directed by Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson
Anomalisa follows a deeply unhappy self-help author and a woman he meets in Cincinnati. The film is original, quirky, sincere, sometimes funny, and almost always bleak, obsessed with loneliness, self-pity, and the stubborn distance that can’t be bridged by conversation.
Harold and Maude
Directed by Hal Ashby
Harold and Maude is a romantic dark comedy about a young man and an elderly woman. The film’s music, by Cat Stevens, is excellent and well-suited, but the film’s visuals are flat and disappointing. Harold and Maude is original, often unexpected, and occasionally moving, but the writing, acting, and tone are uneven, and much of the film is more cloying than insightful.
When Harry Met Sally…
Directed by Rob Reiner
When Harry Met Sally… is a romantic comedy starring Billy Crystal as Harry and Meg Ryan as Sally. The writing is a little uneven, but the film is funny and charming despite its clichés and lack of purpose.
The Tale of Princess Kaguya
Directed by Isao Takahata
The Tale of Princess Kaguya is an animated film based on the folktale The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter. The film is stunningly animated, even by the high standards of Studio Ghibli. Unlike some Ghibli films, it is better seen subtitled than dubbed into English due to lackluster English voice acting. The Tale of Princess Kaguya’s lyrical images, well-crafted score, close attention to emotional detail, and strong thematic voice allow the film to effortlessly transcend its expectations.
Directed by Isao Takahata
Only Yesterday is an animated film that follows its protagonist, Taeko, both as a 27-year-old traveling from Tokyo to the countryside in the present and as a child in 1966 through her memories. The film didn’t receive an English dub until 2016, but given the quality of the English voice acting, it would be better off without one. Only Yesterday meanders and, at times, drags and wanders, but in a charming way, and with an uncommon sincerity.
Directed by Woody Allen
Match Point is a rare drama by Woody Allen, and, like his earlier Crimes and Misdemeanors, it evinces thematic influences from Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment. Match Point sees Allen generally forgoing comedy, but even in his dramas he doesn’t abandon clever plotting. Match Point isn’t quite a serious drama, but it’s amusing and generally thoughtful. Allen tends to pursue his themes best through comedy, despite his unease about this, and the funnier Crimes and Misdemeanors is also far better and harder hitting than the comparatively slight Match Point.
Directed by Changfu Chang
Ricki’s Promise is a documentary that follows an 18-year-old adoptee from the United States visiting her birth family in China for a summer. The film is thoughtful in its consideration of identity, but carless in its consideration of style and structure. Ricki’s Promise is informative and even moving, but it struggles to be good film.
The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou
Directed by Wes Anderson
The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou follows the eponymous oceanographer on a quest of revenge against a jaguar shark that ate his friend, Esteban. The film, like most Anderson, has a meticulous aesthetic and an intentional distance. Like all the best Anderson, beneath the highly crafted visuals, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou is filled with a strong core of human emotion.
The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara
Directed by Errol Morris
The Fog of War is a documentary about, and largely and interview with, Robert S. McNamara. The film’s structure is innovative and effective, the music by Philip Glass is excellent, and McNamara is eloquent, fascinating, and hard to place. The Fog of War is the rare documentary exceptional in both substance and style. It is an entertaining film with rare insight.
Directed by Dariush Mehrjui
The Cow is a Farsi-language film about a middle-aged Iranian, the rural village he lives in, and his cow. The film is both detailed in its depiction of village life and unexpected in its capacity for the surreal. The Cow threatens to veer into irrelevant absurdity, but is grounded by well-drawn characters and a clear sense of place.