A Serious Man

A Serious Man

Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen

2009

A Serious Man is a comedy-drama about a Jewish man in Minnesota. A Serious Man is the Coen brothers at their funniest and most profound. The film succeeds both as comedy and moral drama. It is a rare achievement.

Must see.

 

Dazed and Confused

Dazed and Confused

Directed by Richard Linklater

1993

Dazed and Confused is a comedy about teenagers in Texas in 1976. Dazed and Confused, skillfully shot and directed, is specific in its evocation of time and place and is committed to its ambivalent nostalgia. The unmoored aimlessness of the characters, though, seems to have seeped, at times, into the production.

Would see.

Moana

Moana

Directed by Ron Clements and John Musker

2016

Moana is a computer-animated musical about the eponymous daughter of a Polynesian chief and Maui, the Polynesian mythological figure. Everything about Moana – the music, the plot, the animation – is slick and polished, but while the song lyrics, written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, Opetaia Foa’i, and Mark Mancina, are sometimes clever, the story is rote and the animation sports a sheen of dead-eyed flawlessness. The movie is depressingly watchable.

Would not see.

The Third Man

The Third Man

Directed by Carol Reed

1949

The Third Man is a British film noir set in post-World-War-II Vienna. The Third Man is entertaining – and Orson Welles’s acting is memorable – but the film never really escapes the conventions of the genre.

Would see.

The Royal Tenenbaums

The Royal Tenenbaums

Directed by Wes Anderson

2001

The Royal Tenenbaums is a comedy-drama about the fictional Tenenbaum family. The Royal Tenenbaums is deftly funny and deeply moving. Wes Anderson directs the film with all of his usual precision and detail – and with a sincerity and ambition not all of his other films match.

Must see.

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans

Directed by Werner Herzog

2009

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans is a black comedy that shares a title, a producer (Edward R. Pressman), a corrupt police officer as the central character, and nothing else with Abel Ferrara’s 1992 film Bad Lieutenant. The film, though not the greatest movie ever, is a nearly sublime subversion of action movies and police procedurals. Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans is as weird as its ungainly title suggests (and as fantastic as a movie directed by Werner Herzog and starring Nicolas Cage promises to be). Herzog’s direction and Cage’s acting are fearless and original, and the film easily transcends its genre.

Would see.

20th Century Women

20th Century Women

Directed by Mike Mills

2016

20th Century Women is a comedy-drama about a 15-year-old boy, three women, and a man who live in Southern California in 1979. Every accusation of pretension and hollow style baselessly levied against Wes Anderson’s films would accurately describe 20th Century Women. 20th Century Women goes through all the motions of saying something meaningful without ever actually saying anything at all. It’s saccharine, unfocused, and painful to watch.

Would not see.

Dunkirk

Dunkirk

Directed by Christopher Nolan

2017

Dunkirk is a war drama that portrays the eponymous World War II evacuation. Deftly paced and expertly shot, Dunkirk is easily Christopher Nolan’s best film. Nolan expresses himself through Dunkirk’s visuals with seeming effortlessness; the film, perhaps not coincidentally, has a maximum of Hans Zimmer’s score and a minimum of Nolan’s dialogue.

Would see.

A Ghost Story

A Ghost Story

Directed by David Lowery

2017

A Ghost Story is a supernatural drama; the title is literally fitting (the protagonist is a ghost), but misleading (A Ghost Story is never very scary and most ghost stories are actually better the less the ghost appears).Though little is said, the ghost is portrayed by a man wearing a sheet, and there is not much plot to speak of, A Ghost Story unfolds softly but powerfully.  A Ghost Story is at times almost pretentious, but it is saved from this by its genuine emotional force, its skillful storytelling, and its (surprisingly) even keeled philosophizing.

Would see.

Bound for Glory

Bound for Glory

Directed by Hal Ashby

1976

Bound for Glory is a biopic that takes its name and main character (and little else) from Woody Guthrie’s 1943 autobiography. Bound for Glory intermittently understands Woody Guthrie’s greatness. His songs are well integrated, but there could be more of them. The film benefits by not covering his whole life, but it fulfills almost every other cliché of the genre.

Would see.