Reichardt uses a journey to a natural hot spring in Oregon to reveal the sad, inarticulable weirdness of a friendship in transition. Trusting her actors with the sparest of dialogue, she lets us map the gulf between them with what goes unsaid, so the tiniest efforts to bridge it feel heroic.
After watching Criterion movies from 41 different countries, I’m going back to Italy for a timely story of an old man with a fever desperately trying to get his government benefits so his landlady doesn’t evict him! It co-stars one of the best movie dogs of all time, and this stubborn couple just about wrecked me.
A widow brings her son to her late husband’s childhood home in search of a clean slate. As the doofy mechanic following her around like a puppy dog, PARASITE’s Song Kang-ho is a perfect counterpoint to Jeon Do-yeon, one of those rare actors with such raw emotional access that you almost need to look away. She taps into the indignity of trying to cope with debilitating grief in public, as well as the limits of forgiveness.
Wrongfully institutionalized for eight years when her crippling shyness is mistaken for schizophrenia, Janet Frame survives to write what critics will call New Zealand’s first great novel. Frame captured the tranquility and horrors around her in rich detail, and director Jane Campion treats all of those colors with equal care, while Kerry Fox’s heartbreaking vulnerability powers the story.
Toggling between wrenching melodrama and local squabbles in a village of fisher-folk, Ritwik Ghatak shows that while we’re distracted by everyday pettiness, profound threats to our very way of life can be moving against us. In a movie full of vivid personalities, Rosy Samad, erupting with righteous fury, is truly devastating.
We live in a weak and corrupt society where it’s every man for himself. Even
imagination is suspect, yet it is required to solve the problems of our planet.
A pacifist opposition movement is met with blatant political violence. Watching a government scramble to cover for its leaders with inexhaustible depths of shamelessness might sound too on the nose for the moment, but Costa-Gavras’s thriller is galvanizing.
My verses serve no purpose in this world. In vain have they seen the light of day.
So why do we poets busy ourselves among men with our unattainable dreams?
As we all look for direction at this fraught moment, I found this story of a boy with the soul of a poet but bred to be an instrument of vengeance oddly moving. This collaboration of a Kazakh director and a Korean-Russian writer forced its audience to confront the plight of a million displaced people.
By showing us post-revolutionary Havana through the lens of a disaffected writer, Tomás Gutiérrez Alea subtly highlights the limitations of the intellectual class. His narrator dismisses those around him as “underdeveloped,” but the character’s impotent pity takes no ownership of his own role in his country’s struggles.
Annie Baker inspired this pick. Like Annie, Chantal Akerman details human behavior with endless patience and rigor. As household chores and errands accrue meaning, she opens a portal into a vast, startling inner life.
A father tries to marry off the daughter who’d rather stay to care for him, as they struggle to reconcile traditional duty with modern individualism. Despite the American Occupation’s censors, Ozu gently underscores the tension in a country reckoning with its identity.
As a rudderless med student races for a train to Warsaw, we see three radically different courses his life could take if he caught or missed it. In each timeline, he gets swept along with the people he meets, prioritizing party loyalty, political resistance, or domesticity in a search for direction. As much as he tries to exert control, random events have unexpected consequences.
ANNA: Why don’t you just kill us?
PAUL: Don’t forget the entertainment value. You’d deprive us all of our pleasure.
Haneke exposes our hunger for tidy entertainments where we watch violence from a safe distance. Extending that impulse to its logical, horrible conclusion, he rubs our face in the real human cost, and asks us to take ownership of what we really want to see.
As a band of villagers runs sheep across the mine-ridden Turkish-Syrian border, one smuggler is torn between what he owes his community, his son, and himself as a man. Akad champions education as a means to a better future while mourning the loss of a simpler past, as a modernizing, greedy system makes good men into outlaws.
Costa paces his portrait of a dilapidated Lisbon slum to match the despondent characters drifting through it. A girl who treats suicide attempts and her infant with equal apathy; the father who contemplates selling it. Overcoming their inertia with the smallest kindness registers as a great feat of willpower.
The mother’s injuries are to be handed down to the daughter.
In 90 minutes, the legendary Ingrid Bergman and Liv Ullmann make us feel we’ve known this mother and daughter for their entire lives. When they watch each other play piano, you see a lifetime of unspoken strife in their eyes. When they finally let loose, they fight from the very bottom of their souls.
The maneuvers in 22-year-old Mário Peixoto’s first and only film still feel revolutionary today. He captures our hallucinating castaways by sticking the camera in the dirt, swinging it around wildly on a rickety rooftop, and shooting such extreme close-ups that a spool of thread becomes threatening.
I think Claire Denis made the best movie last year, and this one cements her as one of my favorite directors. Isabelle Hupert gives a brutally honest performance in this clear-eyed indictment of the ongoing repercussions of blood money and colonialism.
An unlikely band of loyalists unite to protect the family of a deposed general from an evil order of martial-artist eunuchs. Hu infuses the combat with such wit and detail that the taunts and egos become as thrilling as the choreography.
Spend the holiday with a courtesan and Jack the Ripper in Frank Wedekind’s story of a vaudevillian irresistible to men and women alike, whose actions come to a head on Christmas Eve. Louise Brooks’s Lulu is so vibrant and infectious that we root for her even as those around her crumble.
Astride a motorcycle with a bull-horned skull for handlebars, a young couple tools around Dakar, looking for their meal ticket to Paris. Mambéty pays tribute to the too-cool rebels of BREATHLESS, but creates his own wild, completely unique style of visual narrative.
A Syrian refugee seeking asylum in Helsinki falls in with a restaurateur and his bumbling staff. Despite its deadpan comedy and the occasional moment of generosity, the film ultimately refuses to minimize the repercussions of war amid a cruel and indifferent system.
The circle is not round.
A monk exiled for sheltering a fugitive; an editor in a crumbling marriage; a grizzled photojournalist returning to a lost love. Three love stories seep into each other in this reflection on great beauty in the face of cyclical violence.
Insiang tries to wrest back control of her life from her spiteful mother, her mother’s predatory boyfriend, and her own deadbeat suitors. Brocka grounds the melodrama with a stark portrayal of everyday life in Manilla’s slums, making Insiang’s desperation and resolve tangible.
On the surface, Lucrecia Martel’s unsettling portrait of a family watching their summer estate rot relies on no discernible plot machinations. But as her characters subtly torture each other, the mysterious undertow of her invisible storytelling mesmerized me.
An all-time classic I finally caught. Apu’s beleaguered mother struggles to care for his aspiring-playwright dad, rebellious sister, and ancient, impish aunt. We take in the village through the boy’s eyes, and Ray’s keenly observed, beautifully shot, tiny moments of revelation.
The Bri-terion Collection
I’m loving the Criterion Channel streaming service, so every week I’m going to share my favorite new find.