best film: The Card Counter from Paul Schrader tops the list for 2021. Schrader has always been an intellectual. He wrote “Transcendental Style in Film” on Dreyer, Ozu and his main source of inspiration- Bresson. But Schrader has also always leaned into sensationalism as well and he seems to have found the right balance at this point in his career. The Card Player is largely minimalistic—but there are this ripe little opportunities for sweeps of style and visual flourishes. Isaac’s character is rich with depth and complexity. He is a savant at card playing- but he is also an ex-con and ex-soldier.
best film: I’m Thinking of Ending Things from Charlie Kaufman is the best film of 2020. In an undeniably down year for cinema, it is Kaufman's work that stands above the rest. This is an intimidating film to try to say anything about with one viewing. It is a work of almost infinite creativity. Charlie Kaufman’s skills as a writer are matched by the visual artist in this effort. Like his films that have proceeded it, it is densely layered, sprawling, and intelligent. Kaufman is clearly a singular artistic voice and genius. The opening montage
best film: Midsommar from Ari Aster Ari Aster is a genius and Midsommar does feel like the most cinematically ambitious film of 2019. He makes formal stylistic choices like the winter/summer lighting (paired with the upside down camera flip) that marry the style to the narrative and characters. The film features one of the best uses of camera movement from 2019 (the harrowing tracking shot suicide/murder sequence) and countless stunningly arranged mise-en-scene/décor frames. Aster goes often to perfectly symmetrical arrangements (tied to the unease and horror of this community) with reoccurring overhead shots. Dani (played phenomenally by Florence Pugh) is
best film: Roma from Alfonso Cuaron Cuaron is a proven master who already had a top 100 of all-time film under his belt (Children of Men in 2006) coming into 2018. Roma is jaw-dropping from beginning to end- 65mm black and white, big canvasses of carefully designed mise-en-scene. Roma feels like another film destined for the top 100 of all-time so it is the choice here even if the films from Pawlikowski and Lanthimos will make you pause and think about it. It is almost daunting to know where to begin with Roma. Here Cuaron serves as his own director of photography
best film: Dunkirk from Christopher Nolan Dunkirk is a watershed film in the history of film editing. Nolan not only handles the three narratives in a completely distinctive and inventive way (here it may not be Rashomon or Pulp Fiction exactly but in the same class) but Dunkirk is also edited masterfully in-scene (with countless wonderful manipulations of space and time) as well as any film for maximum dramatic effect. Throw in as a bonus that it is all handsomely mounted on gorgeous 70mm photography-- resulting in a giant capital M- Masterpiece. There is tangible impact of the large
best film: La La Land from Damien Chazelle 2016 was struggling a little until La La Land came along (debuted at Venice). Chazelle’s Whiplash is brilliant- but it was impossible to see this stylistic sonic boom coming. Peter Travers said it best- Chazelle’s La La Land has a “passion for cinema that radiates every frame”. https://www.rollingstone.com/movies/movie-reviews/la-la-land-review-magical-modern-day-musical-will-sweep-you-off-your-feet-106357/ This is a major achievement- Chazelle is throwing fastballs here and nothing fails to land. There are hints of Jacques Demy with the primary colors and the genre. There are also elements of I Am Cuba (or Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights) with the camera tracking through the
best film: The Revenant from Alejandro González Iñárritu The Revenant gives Inarritu back to back best films of the year which is close to unfathomable. However, 2015 is not a year with a clear winner in this category- George Miller's Mad Max: Fury Road feels like a virtual tie. But still, there is no harm in celebrating and appreciating The Revenant. A masterpiece of staggering beauty and cinematic awe Opens with a dream montage – incredible imagery, and then the cinematic gauntlet is thrown down with the hunting scene starting with the camera aimed down at the stream and capturing
best film: Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) from Alejandro González Iñárritu Birdman’s bold camerawork and visual high-wire act transcends a film that already had superior writing and acting. Like all of Iñárritu's work, the multiple narratives (usually three characters) are intertwined. . With his long take work here, Iñárritu puts himself in the company of his countryman Cuaron, Hitchcock (Rope), Welles (Touch of Evil) Godard (Weekend), Scorsese, Murnau, Ophuls and Renoir. He even borrows from I Am Cuba and Kalatozov in terms of how actors are framed- this is a stunning achievement. Utterly astonishing cinematography in the Bordwell
best film: Ida from Paweł Pawlikowski Pawlikowski's photographical accomplish in Ida ranks among the best of the decade Arri Alexa 35mm, 1.37: 1 box aspect ratio- influences Paul Schrader’s First Reformed among others Crisp monochrome - austere, stark another Pawlikowski trademark- his 80-90 minute running time Silent montage opening with nuns at the convent—Pawlikowski arranges objects in the frame wondrously—often with the subject/object in the lower plane the film deserves a frame by frame, composition by composition, examination and appreciation Gorgeous rural road with trees overhanging Actors framed in the doorway The jazz club scene
best film: The Master from Paul Thomas Anderson There many be no other film that rewards multiple viewings more. Paul Thomas Anderson's work has an almost unparalleled tendency (maybe Kubrick, or Tarkovsky) towards cinematic layering—or formal layering. The two lead characters are point and counterpoint, mirrors, polar opposites and theme and variation. Both characters are lost, both needing each other and both in search of answers (sex and “the cause” is where they end up-- and neither happy about it). It makes for a tremendous pairing with There Will Be Blood. The film has clout…it thumps… and it haunts. The ending
best film: The Tree of Life from Terrence Malick Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life makes otherwise beautiful films seem unbeautiful by comparison. The Tree of Life opens with Sean Penn’s character Jack (character names are meaningless here and hardly, if ever, referenced – so I will be using the actor’s name here for the most part) praying/talking to his brother. The angelic Jessica Chastain takes the reins of the voice-over (before passing it to others) early, as, through her, Malick explains the duality that he has meditating on his entire five film and nearly forty-year career: grace and nature.
best film: Inception from Christopher Nolan There are many ways to attempt to tackle Christopher Nolan’s Inception. It is one of the boldest films of the 21st century. Nolan pushes the conceptual and visual boundaries—he disorients, then reracks and compiles often through his greatest weapon: parallel editing. Hans Zimmer’s hammering score helps open the film—throwing down the gauntlet early (along with the breathtaking visuals of Saito’s (Ken Watanabe) place) for this elaborate work of cinema. Zimmer will mirror Nolan’s intricate narrative by marrying this score to Edith Piaf ‘s “Non, Je ne regrette rien” – pure genius https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YB-wuKo9rW0 . Inception is undoubtedly auteur cinema.