(Welcome to The Streamer’s Guide, a new monthly feature recommending at-home viewing options from filmmakers with new movies arriving in theaters this month.)
You may recognize this column name from its appearances surrounding the Sundance, Toronto and New York film festivals over the last two years. Festivals provide an important opportunity to assess filmmakers releasing new works and contextualizing them within their previous projects. They’re often useful for cinephiles and writers looking for growth or an auteurist stamp.
But … why limit it to just festivals? Each month offers a fresh crop of new releases, many of which are culminations or further explorations of elements from those creative teams’ prior work. So we’ve now expanded this feature to encompass each month’s new releases, and believe it or not, there are even things to look at in the barren terrain of January – Hollywood’s traditional graveyard for ominous-looking releases.
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There came a point early on in Karim Aïnouz’s drama of separated sisters, Invisible Life, where I wondered if the way he depicted a scene veered a little too sharply into the melodramatic and borderline hysterical. Then I remembered how the poster billed the film: a tropical melodrama. Once I reset my bearings a bit, I found the narrative quite engrossing and the story rather moving.
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(This article is part of our Best of the Decade series.)
A lot can change in a lifetime, so said the meme-able tagline for The Irishman this year. But it doesn’t even take a full life to observe a radical change in the trajectory of a life, as shown by the many artists who changed the course of their careers during the 2010s. It’s one thing to stage a comeback when you’re down and out in the public eye – after all, who doesn’t love an underdog story? – and another to successfully execute a 180-degree shift when things are going fairly smoothly.
This list pays tribute to those in the industry who pulled off pivots that caught us off-guard but did their job of redefining an already established star image. You might notice a running theme in this list: it’s disproportionately male, white and straight, unfortunately. This indicates that there is still room for the industry to improve in the 2020s and allow more opportunities for women, people of color and LGBTQ+ artists to spread their wings and avoid becoming pigeonholed into a single identity. But given the breadth of artists reshaping a well-known persona in this decade, they have many great playbooks to run.
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The missing girl. She’s the center of many an American narrative. Yet for Jennifer Reeder, this figure is merely the beginning of a narrative that fades into the background of her film Knives and Skin. The real drama and intrigue of her “genre adjacent” work, as she describes the film, comes from watching how the disappearance of Carolyn Harper spirals outwards and deepens the grief of a small town mired in the quiet misery of suburbia.
Knives and Skin had a long festival run in 2019 from Berlin to Tribeca, Fantasia Festival to Fantastic Fest, and now finally arrives in theaters and on VOD courtesy of IFC Midnight. On the eve of release, I caught up with Reeder to discuss her unique work. Our conversation covered everything from her stylish, colorful aesthetic to the deadpan acting style as well as the heaviness of the material she covers.
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If you filtered a classic character-driven film like The Last Picture Show through a giallo color palette and infused it with impending dread of a horror flick, you’d get something that looked a lot like Jennifer Reeder’s Knives and Skin. The writer-director begins her film with a missing girl, the inciting incident for any number of genres, and lets it spiral away outwards organically. It’s a thriller, a bit of noir, a lot of coming-of-age tale, always small-town domestic drama. To Reeder’s immense credit, her film glides forward with an aura of mystery but never feels like genre mix-and-match.
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Whither David Fincher? Make room, Paul Thomas Anderson? There’s a (somewhat) new filmmaker on the world stage, Austrian writer/director Jessica Hausner, drawing comparisons to Stanley Kubrick. Her latest film, Little Joe, might be tough to categorize as it incorporates elements from genres like sci-fi and horror while also maintaining an auteurist stamp. But one thing that’s never in doubt is her command of the medium and her control of the story.
The plot itself may sound familiar: a working single mother, Emily Beecham’s Alice, feels torn between duties to her teenage son and her laboratory work. As a plant breeder, she’s on the cusp of a breakthrough on engineering a plant that can chemically induce happiness in its owner. However, her creation might be altering people in a more insidious and imperceptible way à la Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Where the film really excels is in her execution, which is both impressive and eerie in its remarkable precision.
Upon the occasion of a career retrospective at New York’s Film at Lincoln Center, I sat down with Hausner to discuss her exacting visuals and methodical approach to filmmaking. Read More »
Maybe it’s the success of TV’s Black Mirror, maybe it’s just the general state of the world, but it feels a bit like we need our high-concept science fiction delivered to us in purely dystopian form. Technological advances are inherently suspicious, the conventional wisdom seems to suggest. Our humanity alone might not be enough to save us. It’s oddly comforting, strange as it sounds, to come across a film like Jessica Hausner’s Little Joe, which takes the form of an Invasion of the Body Snatchers-style horror film but dares to suggest that perhaps the things we fear aren’t quite as ominous as they appear.
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It’s been difficult for me to describe what exactly happens in Waves to friends of mine who know that I love the film but want to know why. Trey Edward Shults’ third film, which is now playing in select theaters and will expand over the coming weeks, finds moving and deeply human drama in the twinned stories of teenaged siblings Tyler (Kelvin Harrison, Jr.) and Emily Williams (Taylor Russell). But the film’s moments of grace come less from what the story is and more from how Shults chooses to tell it, particularly in the ways that the two narratives play off each other.
There’s so much to dig into with Emily’s story in the film, particularly her budding romance with classmate Luke (Lucas Hedges). But in order to discuss their journeys with any level of detail, the conversation has to go into spoiler territory and divulge a major plot point in Waves. Luckily for us, Trey Edward Shults was willing to go there.
Only read past this point if you’ve seen Waves – and if you haven’t, bookmark this page and return to this interview after seeing the film so you can absorb Shults’ wisdom and insight. Spoilers begin now.
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Cool Posts From Around the Web:
Her films might not blare “it’s the economy, stupid,” but make no bones about it – Kelly Reichardt’s cinema frequently obsesses over how the mechanics of commercial arrangements affect interpersonal relationships. Though micro in scale, her films are macro in mindset. Her latest look at the subject, First Cow, goes all the way back to the fledgling days of American capitalism. The film finds an effective and ultimately touching contrast between the friendships born of enterprising businessmen and the ruthlessness of competing with entrenched elites.
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Edward Norton’s adaptation of Jonathan Lethem‘s novel took over twenty years to bring to the screen. But while delays like this are traditionally to a film’s detriment, it actually works in favor of Motherless Brooklyn. The distance allowed by this time in development leads to a movie that is likely significantly more mature and thematically rich than what Norton would have made in 1999. Read More »