First Cow Review

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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Motherless Brooklyn review

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 »

New York Film Festival Main Slate 2019

I’ve heard from many a festival-goer that it’s possible to work through the entire New York Film Festival lineup – or at least its premier section, the Main Slate – given how the event spreads out manageably over the course of seventeen days all at Lincoln Center. But with schedule conflicts or lack of interest in certain titles, it’s a feat seldom seen or accomplished. Or, maybe given how gluttonous I feel after having done this myself, people choose not to brag about it if they do manage to pull it off.

While battling fatigue as well as exhaustion, plus countless instances of doubting if this was something I actually wanted to do, I managed to see all 29 films programmed in this year’s NYFF Main Slate. (If you’re the ranking type, I did just that over on Letterboxd.) I learned plenty about myself and some masochistic moviegoing habits after subjecting myself to this marathon of viewing contemporary cinema, but that’s a subject for another piece. It’s impossible to watch this incredible selection of films from across the globe and not have some larger takeaways about trends, patterns and parallels. Here are ten lessons from surveying the Main Slate in its entirety. Read More »

Wasp Network Review

French maestro Olivier Assayas did not cement his status as a cinephile favorite over the last quarter-century through the mechanics of his film’s plots. Rather, he’s become a festival darling because of the singular sensation left lingering from watching his work. What happens in an Assayas film is never as important as how it happens – the technique, the intellection, the panache.

Assayas must have had his reasons for taking on a project like Wasp Network, a tale of espionage and counterterrorism. Whatever they were, however, do not come through clearly. The film offers few pleasures beyond the crossing of wires in its tale of tangled alliances in post-Cold War Cuba. Assayas becomes so subservient to the sheer volume of events and information he must bring to life that the film completely subsumes any sense of personal style or voice. The producers could have put any workman studio director’s name over the closing credits, and I would not have bat an eyelid.

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The Moneychanger Review

If you’re going to open your film with a sequence straight out of the Bible, you had better not come to play. That’s the gambit Uruguayan director Federico Veiroj lays out at the beginning of The Moneychanger as the film’s titular financier, Daniel Hendler’s Humberto Brause, connects himself to the very profession that Jesus singled out for criticism at the temple. Connecting his story to such weighty history sets up a story with big stakes, and yet those are largely absent in the film.

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Varda by Agnès Review

Inspiration, creation, sharing. As the late Agnès Varda put it herself, these are the three key tenets of her filmmaking process. Varda’s final film, an encapsulation of her decades-spanning career through the lens of her masterclass seminars, brilliantly distills her ethos into a documentary. Despite being made with clear knowledge of her own mortality, Varda by Agnès never feels like a somber mausoleum for her talents. It’s a living, breathing document that keeps her spirit and creativity accessible as well as present.

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Young Ahmed Review

Belgian neorealist master filmmakers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne make films that might focus primarily on individuals, but they always echo back to some larger trend occurring in society. Similarly, there’s usually a divide in their movies between what happens in the plot and what their stories are truly about. Until their latest film, Young Ahmed, the Dardennes always made film that did not feel like the themes were the starting point – they were an organic outgrowth of their deeply human tales.

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Liberte Review

Ever wondered what the nexus of slow cinema and the fetish section of PornHub would look like? For a few thousand people, enter Albert Serra’s Liberté. His film of graphic detail following the libidinous exploits of men exiled from the court of the last French monarch provides painstaking details in his documentation of a night-long forest orgy. If you aren’t willing to watch people urinate, fornicate and masturbate, don’t bother even starting the film.

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New York Film Festival 2019

In my six years of attending the New York Film Festival, I’ve grown increasingly appreciative of the unique position its organizers have carved out in the fall festival landscape. Ideally timed between the premiere frenzy of late August/early September and the mad dash for awards of November and December, NYFF keeps its focus solely on the films and their creators. For 17 days, the newly-branded Film at Lincoln Center invites New Yorkers to partake in a manageable, curated slate of favorites from across the global festival circuit. The 2019 edition of NYFF casts a particularly wide net, too — apart from the festival’s three big Friday night galas, the Main Slate features only one English-language feature.

But if you’re not going to be in New York to see these films, why not use the time to catch up on the back catalogues of the directors in the NYFF selection? This year’s Main Slate features both emerging international voices and widely recognized masters alike, presenting a unique opportunity to broaden your cinematic horizons. Below are ten films playing at the festival (some of which I’ve been fortunate enough to see prior to NYFF’s official kickoff) and ten films you can watch to prepare yourself from the comfort of your own home. Read More »

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TIFF 2019 Unsung Gems

The festival scene rolls on past Toronto, with Fantastic Fest kicking off this week and New York Film Festival gearing up for next week. It’s easy to focus on the big winners – Joker, Jojo Rabbit – and the losers – The Goldfinch, Lucy in the Sky – and completely lose sight of why these festivals exist in the first place. In a crowded media environment, film festivals represent one of the last bastions that provide platforms to emerging or under-the-radar filmmakers. They are a spot where a film, freighted with few expectations, can come out of nowhere and surprise unsuspecting viewers.

The following three films represent some of the best of this side of TIFF. Their journeys do not end at the festival, either. Unlike well-funded studio projects using TIFF as a launch pad for release, these films are all seeking U.S. distribution and will likely continue touring the worldwide festival circuit. Keep an eye out for them if they arrive at a fest near you.

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