Directed by Martin Scorsese
Silence, based on the 1966 novel of the same name by Shūsaku Endō, is an epic historical drama that follows two Jesuit priests who enter Japan in the seventeenth century. At a plodding 161 minutes, Silence would probably be more entertaining 30 or even 60 minutes shorter. But it isn’t entirely clear Scorsese is entirely or even primary concerned with the audience’s enjoyment of his film. Silence is an honest and fiery testament of sincerity, belief, pride, faith, and suffering. If nothing else, Silence is an experience, and, importantly, a film worth experiencing.
The Godfather Part II
Directed by Francis Ford Coppola
The Godfather Part II, partially based on Mario Puzo’s 1969 novel, The Godfather, is both a prequel and a sequel to Coppola’s 1972 film of the same name. The Godfather Part II has all of the well-crafted dialogue and well-framed shots of its predecessor, but lacks some of its tight pacing and thematic coherence. The prequel segments, particularly, tracking the rise of a young Vito Corleone, are not given enough time to fully develop as a meaningful complement to the film’s sequel narrative, following Vito’s son, Michael, and essentially end up being diversionary interruptions to the main story as a result.
Directed by Francis Ford Coppola
The Godfather, based on Mario Puzo’s 1969 novel of the same name, is a crime drama about a fictional American mafia family from 1945 to 1955. The Godfather is easy to follow despite its dense plotting and, given its 177 minute run time, is about as tightly paced as one could reasonably expect. The film is well-written and well-shot, with deservedly iconic lines and scenes, though the film’s themes are sometimes too on the nose.
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.
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.
The Lion King
Directed by Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff
The Lion King is an animated musical that loosely retells Shakespeare’s Hamlet with animals in Africa. The animation and music are impressive, but the dialogue is merely serviceable. The Lion King seems to have the ambition to be a slightly above average animated children’s movie, and, in that, it succeeds.
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.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Directed by J. J. Abrams
Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the seventh installment in the Star Wars series, is an epic space opera. The film is slickly well made with a retro aesthetic designed to provoke nostalgia for the original trilogy. The action is choppier than in the first three films, but Abrams still easily clears the low bar he set himself.