Not too many years ago, an acquaintance criticized my penchant for unsparing critique. "Go a little easier on everyone," he advised, "and what's more, you're so feminine. Can't you just choose one gender and stick to it?" After nodding and stroking my chin in mock contemplation, I smiled, we laughed together and I shoved the impudent churl from the railway platform. Peradventure his counsel was well-intentioned and in some part sound, but who is he to judge me, who so ably judges others? Nonetheless, I don't want to be thought an unswerving malcontent, so here's a listing of great works new to me this year. Enjoy!
Nicol Williamson's frenzied, incomparable turn as the embodiment of indecision churns the lifeblood of Tony Richardson's thrilling, cunningly twisted (albeit underproduced) screen adaptation of his hit stage production. Anthony Hopkins, Judy Parfitt and Mark Dignam also shine in this antidote to overblown Hollywood treatments of The Bard's classics.
See the full review, "Point to Contagion".
Shades of H. G. Wells shadow Priest's exceptional Victorian saga, in which two masterful competing stage magicians astonish and terrorize one another until one realizes their crucial shared finale with a technique more extraordinary than its result, cursing both men and their descendants...
See the full review, "Science (fiction) as magic explained".
Escaped jailbirds Rutger Hauer and Mimi Rogers dare not stray beyond 100 yards from one another, lest their explosive prison collars decapitate them both! Hateful nebbish Stephen Tobolowsky and adorable femme fatale Joan Chen give chase in one of the most exciting and hilarious B-flicks you'll ever watch.
Peter Jackson's domestic zombie massacre proceeds akin to a John Romero scenario by frantic mode of early Sam Raimi, though it evidences more gore and vigor than anything either ever turned out! For enthusiasts of the living dead subgenre, this is required viewing.
Even the toughest audience is likely to come away shaken by the claustrophobic misery of Lukas Moodysson's harrowing, semi-fictional account of European sex trafficking. Lovely Oksana Akinshina expertly engages a piteous characterization as a perpetual victim of exploitation and abuse in one of the very best films of the godforsaken aughts.
More cute, thoughtful anthropomorphic adventure from Studio Ghibli, here directed by veteran animator Hiroyuki Morita under Hayao Miyazaki's guidance. Absolute fun from launch to resolution, this couldn't better befit lovers of cats and anime alike!
George Roy Hill concluded his decade-long winning streak with this precious delight. Two bright teens (American bookworm Diane Lane and Parisian cineast Thelonious Bernard) abscond to Venice with the aid of charming con man Laurence Olivier to realize true love by dint of a dubious legend.
Something akin to '70s giallo, early Raimi, Jodorowsky, Scooby-Doo, an immersive psychotic episode...this first of many Nobuhiko Obayashi features disregards convention, taste and sanity entirely. Hilarious horror hijinks are realized with lavish set pieces, berserk editing, exquisite photography, deliberately unreal SFX and a gorgeous distaff cast. A ludicrous smash!
Cheapened by neither sentiment nor tragedy, this unromantic character study of a struggling working-class teenager is a micro-production of uncommon verisimilitude. In her first screen role, Émilie Dequenne's tough, uncompromising portrayal of the titular lead earned her a successful and enduring film career.
Not too many years before Scorsese adapted his criminal career to an exemplar of period cinema, Nicholas Pileggi introduced the world to the most storied, candid, charismatic mafia outsider to ever exchange the freedom of his few surviving cohorts for his own and live to tell his extravagant tales of egregious mob exploits.
Contemporary interviews with P. Floyd, Alan Parsons, mix supervisor Chris Thomas, Hipgnosis cover designer Storm Thorgerson, former Capitol/EMI CEO Bhaskar Menon and a few music journalists; photos and footage of concerts (including Live at Pompeii), studio sessions and music videos; demonstrative early-aughts performances by Waters, Gilmour and Wright of every track on PF's breakthrough album are all incorporated in this exhaustive, briskly paced and slickly edited documentary that tracks the '70s most famed pop music statement from song conception to studio production to retail marketing.
Shatner tackles pop songs, classic dramas and original poetry in his manic spoken debut album, modernity's first great model of bombastic recital. Get this: The Shat recognized and parodied '60s kitsch when it was happening, man.
Ecological concerns are relegated to a subtext in Miyazaki's precious reworking of The Little Mermaid, in which a magical goldfish aspires to human life and form! Technically exceptional even by Ghibli standards, sophisticated and simple techniques coalesce seamlessly here to realize a great story defiant of expectation.
In interwar Italy, a porcine WWI air force veteran turned bounty hunter confounds skybound pirates for profit and competes with an obnoxious American ace pilot while dodging Fascisti special police. As always, Studio Ghibli's outstanding animation and exquisite color and sound design furnish Miyazaki's thrilling, heartfelt and hilarious sixth theatrical feature with production values second to none.
Revealing interviews, unnerving sound recordings, Eleanor Coppola's extensive footage shot on location and Orson Welles' phenomenal radio broadcast reading of Heart of Darkness are incorporated in this comprehensive account of Francis Ford Coppola's hellish, extended Apocalypse Now shoot.
One magical temple exchanges the bodies of two personable high-schoolers. This hackneyed premise is elevated to prime genre fare by Obayashi's expert direction, extraordinary lead performances and beautiful coastal photography in this coming-of-age fantasy. You'll seldom view a more heartfelt entertainment.
See the full review, "Shohei Imamura Meets John Hughes".
Shelved for nearly forty years until Hunter S. Thompson's second surge of mainstream popularity encouraged him to see it published, this early novel is a vicious, lusty, heartfelt memento of his brief stint as a reporter in San Juan.
See the full review, "Better late than never".
Essentially the Hearts of Darkness to Fitzcarraldo's Apocalypse Now, yet Les Blank's account of Herzog's famously troubled production is more artfully crafted than the Coppola/Hickenlooper/Bahr documentary, and tells a far more fascinating story. Ordinary filmmakers would have crumbled under the monumental hindrances that Herzog constantly suffered while shooting his Amazonian epic - circumstances in which the resolute Teutonic genius obviously thrives.
James Lileks does all he can to mitigate more heinous meals prepared for inter- and postwar mass consumption (and presumably, collective disgorgement) with his trademark snot-nosed humor, and succeeds. Nonetheless, the excerpted content of this book will make you sick.
See the full review, "CAUTION: DO NOT EAT WHILE READING THIS".
The success of Paul Newman's first directorial effort was assured by another in a string of great performances by his wife of a half-century, Joanne Woodward. Her verisimilitude in the role of a desperately lonely schoolmistress is a virtuoso feat of singular ability.
See the full review, "Whatever You Wish For".
Evocative of both its source text and silent era classics, this wondrous low-budget adaptation of Lovecraft's most popular story is a treat for both expressionist cinephiles and readers of Providence's famed grue-author.
See the full review, "Eldritch Lore Unearthed".
It's nothing in comparison to Carpenter's classic of two genres, but on its own merits, this a rarity: a prequel that's worth seeing. Good performances and a quality production lift this at least a notch above the usual opportunistic revivals of cult hits.
See the full review, "Three days before...".
Struggling with disloyalty and disappointment, can veteran cosmetologist Angèle (Nathalie Baye) believe in love, or ever find it? Her suitors, flings, clients and occupational associates reflect her sorrow and pleasure in this charming, occasionally penetrative tale concerning the vicissitudes of adoration.