In Review: Portrait of a Lady on Fire

Arresting the senses and stimulating the mind, Céline Sciamma has made one of the most breathtaking screen romances of the decade with Portrait of a Lady on Fire. After her powerful previous features, Girlhood and Tomboy, Sciamma pivots slightly into a new direction, one that expands upon her queer humanism into more formal approaches. The depth of feeling is still wondrous, but moreso than ever before, the auteur has crafted something quite intellectually rigorous and intuitive that further elevates her emotional naturalism. Here she makes something intellectual and expressionist, bent on removing the creative divides between person and object in matters of art and of love. By the end she leaves you dizzy, catching your breath in the passionate throws of the film’s formalist embrace.

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In Review: A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

“It’s good to talk.” So goes the old adage of Mr. Rogers and the new film that follows his teachings and unique impact on American society, Marielle Heller’s restorative A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. The film uses the simplicity and unassuming depth of those words to examine how learn and hold on to pain, certain that there is nothing more dramatic than two people connecting. The two people on the film’s mind are a journalist named Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys) and his subject, the incomparable Fred Rogers, played by Tom Hanks as no other performer could have. It’s largely, achingly, two men talking. Or sometimes, for one of them, struggling to talk.

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In Review!: “American Honey”

In her first America-set feature American Honey, Andrea Arnold paints the stateside landscape as a soul dying at the end of capitalism’s food chain. It’s fitting that the film is a road movie to nowhere, showcasing our current youth as looking for meaning in something, anything. But the film (even with its nearly three hour length) is anything but lethargic in its malaise, finding breathtakingly alive moments and the idiosyncratic in the sub-average. American Honey captures the feeling of being lost at sea, but the film is anything but.

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In the searching face of newcomer Sasha Lane as Star, America’s optimistic youthful heart is shown as more conflicted than any obvious metaphor could convey. We find her nonchalantly digging through a dumpster for food with her younger half-siblings, only to go home to a predatory father figure and absentee mother – the actual parentage and family unit being of Arnold’s many instances of vagueness becoming hyper-specific and illuminating about this view of rural poverty. When Star sees Jake (Shia LaBeouf) and his rowdy crew making a scene in K-Mart, her longing is ignited to the appropriately hopeful but faded sound of Rihanna’s “We Found Love” on the loudspeaker.

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filmmixtape’s Best Director of 2015

One of the reasons that helped 2015 be such a strong year for film is the strength of vision from a large number of directors. This was truly a director’s year and that was reflected both inside and outside of the studio system, with big gambles in approach being taken from The Revenant to Room, from Mad Max: Fury Road to Tangerine. Here are my choices for the directors crafting the strongest point of view:

Best Director

Lenny Abrahamson – Room

  • Crafted without sensationalism and with a distanced respect to moments of privacy, Abrahamson approaches Room with stunning emotional and visual intuition. The film’s two halves are distinct and different in style, yet the whole film remains cohesive. He makes the unbearable subject palatable without sacrificing honesty.

Todd Haynes – Carol

  • The film is fascinated with the unspoken and Haynes loads every frame with subtext that informs both character and circumstance. Crafting the film to a gradual swell of emotion, he turns Carol into an invigorating and cathartic experience not unlike falling in love. No one makes period look as natural as he does.

Spike Lee – Chi-Raq

  • A swift reminder that the filmmaker is one of the shrewdest at blending tones and finding hilarious humanity within larger social conflicts. The whole thing shouldn’t work but it does glouriously, as much a transplant of ancient Greek theatre as a music video. Welcome back, Spike.

George Miller – Mad Max: Fury Road

  • Not since Baz Luhrman’s Moulin Rouge has such a distinct directorial vision been given such a large scale to run amok. Miller throws so much on the screen visually and thematically, but has a refined sense of when to draw us in and when to hold back. That the film isn’t a complete mess is due to his complete control of his art.

Denis Villeneuve – Sicario

  • He corals every element behind and in front of the camera to serve his point of view and finds ambiguous depth in an already strong procedural script. His control of what’s happening on screen and to the audience borders on the fascistic. He’s becoming one of the best at challenging audiences in genre packages.

See the winner after the jump!

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