Don't Drink the Water (Woody Allen, 1994) = 3.5/5
Surprisingly, it's one of Allen's funniest works. This made-for-TV movie was made in a hit-and-miss period of Allen's career, yet the humour is reminiscent of Allen's early, farcical films. It works because Allen does not awkwardly strive for earnestness. It's pure chaotic fun. It didn't take long for the characters to grow on me.
Short Term 12 (Destin Daniel Cretton, 2013) = 3.5/5
The heavy subject matter does not drag this film into morose territory. Its disposition is always as sunny as the scene depicted on its poster. Scenes of quiet domesticity are interspersed with moments of raw emotion. It's a solid, character-driven work that may not be as provocative as other films about youth in crisis, but it's this subtlety that wins us over. Brie Larson is great and I can't wait to see her in more things.
Gone Girl (David Fincher, 2014) = 4.5/5
A haunting film about the intricacies of marriage, emotional entrapment, and infidelity. This is moody and ceaselessly absorbing filmmaking. I've always thought that, of all my favourite directors, Fincher is the one who least adheres to the auteur theory. However, with each new film, a distinctive style is beginning to come to the fore. It's best to go into this blind.
Melinda and Melinda (Woody Allen, 2004) = 3/5
The dialogue is sharp and flows effortlessly, but the direction is just too loose. A film without a backbone. I once again found myself thinking, "Why in the world does Will Ferrell NOT do more serious (or semi-serious) roles?"
Secrets & Lies (Mike Leigh, 1996) = 3.5/5
Overlong and maybe even overacted, but there's no denying the honest script and the intimacy we feel with the characters as their lives unspool. I'm just waiting to see another Mike Leigh film that moves me the way Naked did.
The Tenant (Roman Polanski, 1976) = 4/5
Its strangeness is emotionally jarring at times, but this gorgeously shot film is nightmarishly vivid. It may not be as frightening as Polanski's two other "Apartment Trilogy" films—REPULSION and ROSEMARY'S BABY. But what it lacks in scares, it makes up for with slow-burning suspense.
Stoker (Park Chan-wook, 2013) = 3.5/5
A mysterious psychosexual thriller that feels like a romp through the pages of a macabre storybook. The film falters slightly due to a discord between narrative exposition and aesthetic abstractness during the third act. I was lulled into a dreamy atmosphere, but abruptly shaken out of it when the great plot reveal was unveiled.
That Cold Day in the Park (Robert Altman, 1969) = 3.5/5
Beyond its amateurish direction and implausible plot, this early Altman film impressed me with its calculated suspense and enigmatic characters. I really wish I had the privilege of viewing the Region A Blu-ray; alas, I had to endure a very average DVD release.
Grey Gardens (Albert & David Maysles, 1975) = 3.5/5
A fly (or is that flea?)-on-the-wall doco that finds the beauty in dysfunction and dilapidation. Some scenes languished to the point of tedium (far too many scenes devoted to Big Edie singing). But you've got to commend the Maysles brothers for not suffusing the film with their subjective opinions. It adds to the feeling that the Beales are welcoming you into their home, and not that two directors are giving you a tour of another family's home.
Shutter Island (Martin Scorsese, 2010) = 3/5
A riddle within an enigma that is visually impeccable and atmospheric, but emotionally opaque. Relies too heavily on its twist.
River's Edge (Tim Hunter, 1986) = 4/5
A criminally underrated/underseen (I blame its generic poster) film that dissects the mythic quality of machismo, the polarising effect of tragedy, and the consequences of parental neglect. Frederick Elmes' homely cinematography immerses us in this bizarre town that's teeming with misfit characters. It fascinates in the same way as Picnic at Hanging Rock or The Virgin Suicides, where one shocking incident garners an air of melancholic ambiguity and serves to uproot a group of youths from their idle, carefree existences. Please endeavour to check this one out!
Cannibal Holocaust (Ruggero Deodato, 1980) = 2.5/5
A repugnant piece of ethnographic exploitation cinema about the redundancy of the xenophobic mindset. You can look at other cultures and condemn them for their supposedly "primitive" practices, but you must realise they are only that way because such rituals are ingrained in their culture, and you would be behaving like them if you didn't have the privilege of being born into a convenient Western lifestyle. No humans were harmed in the making of the film; however, the animal killings are legitimate and these scenes make for the most uncomfortable parts of Cannibal Holocaust. I'll never look at a turtle in the same way again.
All the Boys Love Mandy Lane (Jonathan Levine, 2006) = 2/5
Its aesthetic sensibilities echo B-grade horrors of the 70s/80s, and that's where my praise for this film ends. The longer this film went on, the more I found myself consumed by apathy. Sloppy editing, an abundance of clichés, and bland characters drag this film into forgettable territory. I'm not sure how Jonathan Levine walked away from this project and churned out two brilliant films in The Wackness and 50/50, but I'm totally okay with the prospect of him never directing horror again. Warm, human stories are his specialty, not people getting hacked to bits.
Zazie dans le métro (Louis Malle, 1960) = 3.5/5
Imagine Amélie Poulain as a child, and you have Zazie dans le métro. Sheer pandemonium from start to finish. Dazzling colours saturate this playful film that was ahead of its time. Eventually, the action unfolds at a pace that is way too quick to keep up with, and we concede defeat to Malle's technical mastery and just enjoy the visual splendour of the sprawling urban playground he has created.
Dark Horse (Todd Solondz, 2011) = 3.5/5
Genuinely touching tragicomedy that hits many raw nerves. It forced me to look my insecurities dead in the eye. I was a bit disappointed by the abrupt, ambiguous ending, but everything that comes before well and truly atones for it. Solondz's best film since HAPPINESS.
Enemy (Denis Villeneuve, 2013) = 3/5
Imagine you're watching a movie one night when something in the frame catches your eye. You notice one of the characters (essentially an extra) looks exactly like you. This is what happens to Adam Bell (Jake Gyllenhaal) in Enemy. When Adam endeavours to track down his doppelganger, he runs into all sorts of complications. The film's Hitchcockian premise fails to materialise as a taut thriller, but Enemy is a real head-scratcher of a mystery. The last film I saw with an ending that shocked me so intensely was Sleepaway Camp.
In Summary - The Must-See Films (4.5 or 5 Stars)
* Gone Girl