Inside Llewyn Davis
Directed by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen
Inside Llewyn Davis is a black comedy-drama about a struggling folk singer. Inside Llewyn Davis is a masterpiece. The cynicism occasionally grates, but the distress feels sincere. The music, the plot, and the writing are all nearly flawless; the film is deeply moving.
Directed by Akira Kurosawa
Based on Shūgorō Yamamoto’s book, Kisetsu no nai machi (“The Town Without Seasons”), Dodes’ka-den follows a variety of characters who live in a shantytown. Dodes’ka-den is quite possibly one of Akira Kurosawa’s worst films. Kurosawa is a talented director and many of his films are masterpieces. Most are at least worth watching; Dodes’ka-den is not. The film alternates between the strange and the tragic, but it is neither entertaining nor affecting.
Would not see.
Directed by Martin McDonagh
In Bruges is an English language black comedy set in Bruges. In Bruges is clever, but sometimes too clever. The jokes are consistently funny, but sometimes descend into mean-spiritedness, and the movie sometimes threatens to veer into nihilism.
Directed by Werner Herzog
Fitzcarraldo is a surreal drama, loosely based on a historical event, about an Irishman in Peru who attempts to move a steamship over a steep hill to finance the construction of an opera house. Herzog famously transported a 320-ton steamship over a hill in the production of the film (and received criticism for his often contentious relations with the local indigenous Peruvian population). The film is operatic and ambitious. Herzog takes strong positions on nature and art, but his understanding of self-destructive determination at times surpasses his apparent grasp of intercultural interaction and more prosaic human motivations.
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.
Directed by Wes Anderson
Bottle Rocket is a comedy about three small-time criminals in the American Southwest. The film has moments of inspiration and compassion for its characters, but it has the general feeling of a plot in search of a purpose. Bottle Rocket is directed by Wes Anderson, but it isn’t a Wes Anderson film. It lacks his later films’ unique aesthetic and their uncommon poignancy.
Directed by Sam Mendes
American Beauty follows a middle aged man in a midlife crisis. American Beauty’s carefully woven story of an American family is surprising, amusing, and, sometimes, insightful.
The Hateful Eight
Directed by Quentin Tarantino
The Hateful Eight, Quentin Tarantino’s eighth film, is a mystery Western that centers on a tense standoff between (mostly) strangers in a stagecoach stopover during in a blizzard in Wyoming some years after the Civil War. Released both in 70mm and digitally, The Hateful Eight is largely an homage to old cinema, and, like all of Tarantino’s films, is very cool. Continuing the trend from Inglorious Basterds and Django Unchained, The Hateful Eight has more of a political message than Tarantino’s earlier purely stylistic films. Despite its near perfect direction, acting, and pacing, The Hateful Eight is held back by its preference for style over substance and its intense nihilism.