• The Tragedy of Macbeth

    The Tragedy of Macbeth

    ★★★★

    Joel Coen’s Shakespeare adaptation assumes a high level of familiarity with the Scottish play, as he doesn’t go out of his way to make the text more accessible or easy to parse for a modern first-time viewer — the performances are energetic and passionate, but not particularly articulate or physically-oriented to maximize our understanding of the narrative and themes beyond the Bard’s dialogue. It’s like a hypertalented cover band mumbling the lyrics to songs we’ve heard a thousand times. Instead,…

  • Encanto

    Encanto

    ★★★½

    On second viewing, it’s even clearer that this is a much bigger thematic success than a narrative or emotional one. All the ideas surrounding the pressures and expectations of performance within a family are fantastic, but the climactic scene at the river really doesn’t give the aha-moment of catharsis that should make everything click into place — the music is pretty, but the sequence barely reveals anything that the main character doesn’t already know, so its significance and her sudden shift…

  • Jerry Maguire

    Jerry Maguire

    ★★★★★

    Comedian Diana Jordan was supposed to play Bonnie Hunt’s role in this movie, only to be reduced to a smaller part that was eventually edited down into oblivion. For the 25th anniversary of the movie, I interviewed her about her experience and got a lot more than I bargained for.

    Read the full profile here!

  • The Quick and the Dead

    The Quick and the Dead

    ★★★★

    Sam Raimi’s Sharon Stone vehicle follows in the footsteps of Sergio Leone’s Dollars films by maximizing all the exciting elements of Westerns and leaving out anything that could make a cowboy movie drag. It’s all bloody action and wacky, morally-grey characters — there’s no romanticism or nostalgia in this film’s vision of the Old West. It’s literally just a tournament of duels between memorable characters competing for power, respect, and vengeance, and Raimi makes every battle as exhilarating as possible. There…

  • Little Caesar

    Little Caesar

    ★★★

    This early gangster film establishes so many of the genre’s conventions, but doesn’t execute any of them nearly as well as the subsequent movies it inspired.

  • Scarface

    Scarface

    ★★★★

    A classic rise-and-fall gangster story with great visuals courtesy of Howard Hawks and a staggering amount of murder by machine gun. The opening scene is killer.

  • A Girl's Own Story

    A Girl's Own Story

    ★★★★

    This short feels like the point at which Jane Campion graduated into the filmmaker we know today. It introduces some of the thematic fixations she’s mastered over the years — dark sexuality, coming-of-age, and tense family dynamics all rear their heads in this angst-ridden 25-minute project. Campion stuffs it full of dry humor and striking visuals that make up for some of the less-than-stellar performances. It could pair nicely with almost any of her later features.

  • Passionless Moments

    Passionless Moments

    ★★★★½

    A string of well-observed slice-of-life vignettes with funny narration and an abundance of striking visuals, maximizing the artistry and entertainment value of the most boring moments imaginable. Easily my favorite of Jane Campion’s early shorts.

  • An Exercise in Discipline: Peel

    An Exercise in Discipline: Peel

    ★★★½

    It’s kinda genius to set a tiny domestic drama in a fraught family car trip — such universally consistent tension in such a confined space. The performances are a little stiff, but the editing and visual compositions are much stronger than you’d expect from a debut short.

  • 2 Friends

    2 Friends

    ★★★

    Solid, sweet slice-of-life story about adolescent female friendship that marks Jane Campion’s quasi-debut (it was a TV movie). It moves backward chronologically, which is both its boldest and most underutilized creative decision. I’d love to see how Campion would approach a project this low-key at this point in her career.

  • The Nowhere Inn

    The Nowhere Inn

    ★★

    I love St. Vincent but this is a weirdly empty movie. There’s a 15-minute stretch near the end that leans heavily on surreal visuals and has almost no dialogue interrupting the music, and it’s a very intense and symbolically-rich 15 minutes that would have made a great extended music video project. The preceding hour is largely meritless, though, meditating very clunkily on the idea that artistry and showmanship is a performance. It’s not a particularly original idea to base a…

  • The Future

    The Future

    ★★★★

    Miranda July’s darkest film work to date, effectively wondering if humanity’s search for meaning and cosmic signs is the thing impeding our happiness. It’s filled with psychological angst about relational commitment, and humorously and poignantly rejects the very idea of cause and effect — characters would rather freeze time than embrace its linearity. Like July’s other films, it’s concerned with what it means to be a human living on this planet in the 21st century, desperately trying to make sense…