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.

The Intouchables

The Intouchables

Directed by Olivier Nakache and Éric Toledano

2011

Based loosely on real events, The Intouchables is a French-language film about the friendship between a wealthy white quadriplegic and his poor black live-in caregiver. The Intouchables is a textbook example of a film that preaches against racism but is itself deeply racist. The film’s flailing attempts at comedy fail to leaven the tin-eared melodrama.

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.

La La Land

La La Land

Directed by Damien Chazelle

2016

La La Land is a romantic musical about a jazz musician and an aspiring actress who fall in love in Los Angeles. La La Land is a stirring defense of unjustified objects of condescension: musicals, nostalgia, and Jazz. The film is unreservedly romantic and unabashedly confident in the fragile, weak, transcendent power of art. La La Land, with ebullient bravura, basks in deep feeling and looks back with wistful longing.

Must see.

Moonrise Kingdom

Moonrise Kingdom

Directed by Wes Anderson

2012

Moonrise Kingdom is a coming-of-age film that follows a boy and girl who run away in 1965 New England. Moonrise Kingdom is an endlessly charming film. It ineffably captures the effervescent beauty of childhood. Wes Anderson’s style is mildly divisive, but it ought not be. Nothing in Moonrise Kingdom is frivolous affectation; the style invariably contributes to the substance. The film is meticulously crafted, but it is suffused with expansive feelings and casual insight.

Must see.

Almost Famous

Almost Famous

Directed by Cameron Crowe

2000

Almost Famous is a semi-autobiographical comedy-drama about a teenage journalist writing for Rolling Stone. The film’s approach to music is both pretentious and unimpressive. The characters are one-note, the plot points are predictable, and the tone shifts between comedy and saccharine every couple minutes, making Almost Famous feel like a feature-length sitcom.

Would not see.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Directed by Michel Gondry

2004

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a science fiction film about a man, a woman, and a company that erases memories. The film’s eloquent, complicated writing and ambitious directing easily survive the uneven acting to result in a film that is both heartfelt and intelligent.

Would see.

The Big Short

The Big Short

Directed by Adam McKay

2015

The Big Short, based on Michael Lewis’s 2010 book, The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine, is a biographical comedy-drama that follows investors who short the housing market in the financial crisis of 2007-2008. The Big Short impressively navigates a tricky balance between information and entertainment, but its political message, though often incisive, at times threatens to subsume the many-threaded story.

Would see.

Don’t Think Twice

Don’t Think Twice

Directed by Mike Birbiglia

2016

Don’t Think Twice is a comedy-drama that follows an improve troupe in New York City. Don’t Think Twice aims to be funny and poignant, and the the film’s clever dialogue, talented case, and well-balanced tone go a long way towards those ends, but the problems inherent in moving improv scenes from a live audience to a movie theater and the needlessly obvious machinations of the plot leave one with the nagging feeling the film was thought out too much by half.

Would see.