Inside Llewyn Davis

Inside Llewyn Davis

Directed by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen

2013

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.

Must see.

Dodes’ka-den

Dodes’ka-den

Directed by Akira Kurosawa

1970

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.

In Bruges

In Bruges

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.

Would see.

Fitzcarraldo

Fitzcarraldo

Directed by Werner Herzog

1982

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.

Would see.

Anomalisa

Anomalisa

Directed by Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson

2015

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.

Would see.

Harold and Maude

Harold and Maude

Directed by Hal Ashby

1971

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.

Would see.

Bottle Rocket

Bottle Rocket

Directed by Wes Anderson

1996

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.

Would see.

The Hateful Eight

The Hateful Eight

Directed by Quentin Tarantino

2015

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.

Would see.