Iranian auteur Asghar Farhadi is not the first director to do such (Ozu, Rohmer) but his 2021 entry A Hero not only feels like a companion piece to a previous work (2011’s A Separation in particular)- but his two films are even named as though they two parts of whole. Farhadi has seemingly an unmatched gift for creating moral tales that are both domestic dramas and white-knuckle intense thrillers. Perhaps only fellow realists- The Dardenne Brothers- deserve comparison to Farhadi (a compliment to them both). This is Farhadi’s return to his native Iran after 2018’s Everybody Knows in Spain.
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.
Dustin Hoffman not only stars as parolee ex-con Max Dembo- but this was a passion project for Hoffman (a major player in 1978 of course) and he was actually planning to get behind the camera himself before Ulu Grosbard was ultimately chosen to direct. The source material is Edward Bunker’s novel and it not only a gripping character study and crime film- but a sort of expose on the treatment of ex-cons. Bunker's debut novel was "No Beast So Fierce" and if elements of the film feel authentic (and they do)- Bunker was an actual ex-con and wrote from
“A Midsummer Night's Dream” from Shakespeare is the inspiration for Ingmar Bergman here- but so too is Jean Renoir’s The Rules of the Game (1939) as members of the upper class and their servants chase each other around (gathered in one house for much of the running time) in equal fits of lust, romance, and jealousy. Bergman is still vacillating between comedy and drama here during this period in his career and trying to show off his range. Though not often remembered amongst his best films overall, Smiles of a Summer Night is often cited (along with pieces of
Despite being remembered as a novelist- this is Crichton’s third film as director- and he occasionally would direct films he did not write as well. This one though, The Great Train Robbery, is from his novel. Sean Connery plays the affable Pierce- and his voiceover sets the scene. This is a heist film as the title would indicate- and it is a procedural- step by step as Pierce and Agar (an able Donald Sutherland) put together the details (including getting the four keys for the safe, one by wax impression, etc). With a timer they plot out the 75
Director William Wellman (Wings, The Public Enemy, The Ox-Box Incident) sets out to make a black and white film- but in color. Track of the Cat attempts this and succeeds. This is Wellman’s greatest work. Shot in the National Park in Washington State using CinemaScope The film’s titles start this dedication to a specific color design aesthetic. Wellman uses black colored titles against the white snow backdrop. This is Robert Mitchum’s snow western film- and one of his films sporting a beard. This is Mitchum in his prime- this is after Out of the Past and just one year
What Do We See When We Look at the Sky? is a 150-minute Georgian fairy tale from director (and writer, and editor) Aleksandre Koberidze. There is a chance meeting on a street- Giorgi and Lisa fall in love but a spell is cast upon them- and they separate. Koberidze opens with a camera zoom in on a spot on the ground. The zoom in is the first shot after the credits and you see the legs (and then voice) of Lisa and Giorgi. This is a variation on Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train. The omniscient narration is
Michael Crichton is best remembered as the juggernaut author of popular books like “Jurassic Park”, “The Andromeda Strain”, “Congo”, “Rising Sun”- but he had a solid career as film director as well, and Westworld is his debut. Crichton was just 31-years old at the time. Crichton is an important science fiction figure- and even at a young age in 1973 he already had his work on The Andromeda Strain (a superior work- directed by Robert Wise in 1971) under his belt. Westworld is an adult-themed amusement park. It serves as a futuristic escape for vacationers. At the park there
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
Chariots of Fire is best known for the brilliant Vangelis synthesizer musical score- and for being the film that upset Warren Beatty’s epic juggernaut Reds for best picture in 1981. The film centers on two British track athletes as they converge upon the 1924 Olympics. Ben Cross plays Harold Abrahams- a Jewish man with a monomaniacal focus. Ian Charleson plays Eric Liddell- a devout Christian. Charleson and Cross were unknown actors, but Chariots of Fire shrewdly casts veteran talents like John Gielgud and Ian Holm (marvelous here) in support. There is a very small role Richard Griffiths (Withnail &
Ingmar Bergman’s Dreams opens with a bold formal choice. There is a five-minute shot that is without dialogue- it is just silence and sound design. One can almost see Bergman sketching here for his later work, the superior 1963 The Silence - which on top of being about God's silence, is, largely without dialogue. In Dreams, Susanne (Eva Dahlbeck) is a photographer and Doris (Harriet Andersson) is a model. Dreams is the story of these two women over the period of just one day. Susanne has a lover (he is married) and she daydreams and follows him. There is
Avalon is the third film in Barry Levinson’s Baltimore trilogy (which became more than a trilogy when he added 1999’s Liberty Heights). Levinson was coming off of Rain Man in 1988 and had the juice to make just about whatever he wanted. The name of the film is their family home in Baltimore. Armin Mueller-Stahl plays Sam Krichinsky- the family patriarch- “I came to America in 1914” in voiceover. The story has the detailed specificity of good autofiction. This is a family of immigrants who are wallpaper hangers. There is a fair amount of family drama and bickering in