• Blue

    Blue

    ★★★★½

    The Criterion Challenge 2023

    As personal and impactful as the medium of non-fiction filmmaking can be, Derek Jarman's final feature film, Blue, is a heartfelt portrait of life and vision, of spirituality and philosophy, of struggles and beauty. Words are spoken against a static blue screen – designed to replicate Jarman's own blindness in which he could only see shades of blue; stories of colour and daydreams intersperse among recounts of the day-to-day, memories, people, and health decline. The simplicity…

  • Malcolm X

    Malcolm X

    ★★★★

    The Criterion Challenge 2023

    A biopic of extraordinarily epic proportions, not falling too ill to genre formulas but is rather handled with great, considerate care. Commanding, moving, engrossing, and powerful is Malcolm X, easily one of Spike Lee's best joints. The casting and performance of Denzel Washington is nothing short of perfect – he was completely robbed of the Oscar that year. Acting aside, Spike's (co-)writing and directing is a sweeping and impassioned capture of Malcolm's essence and message, and…

  • The Sweet Hereafter

    The Sweet Hereafter

    ★★★★

    The Criterion Challenge 2023

    Following his 1994 masterpiece, Exotica, Atom Egoyan writes and directs another hyperlinked narrative of collective grief, this time adapting Russell Banks' novel, The Sweet Hereafter. Melancholic in the most painful of ways, flowing slowly and in fragments, reorganising its structure between past and present. A meditative lament of loss, of guilt, of living after facing a tragedy. Egoyan does many things well, from how he arranges the order of events to how he communicates and depicts trauma; while I definitely prefer his previous feature, I hold high praise for Egoyan's sensibilities.

  • Distant Voices, Still Lives

    Distant Voices, Still Lives

    ★★★★

    The Criterion Challenge 2023

    The emotional ambiguity of nostalgia, Terence Davies' loose autobiography is a deeply personal and nuanced portrayal of family. Time is dissected, the past and present overlap, as do moments of joy and sadness. The actions of the past affect the present – the trauma of domestic abuse lie within each family member's state, personhood, and relationships with others. Surrounded by musical expression, Distant Voices, Still Lives is a story of resonance told through a unique and powerful form.

  • The Innocents

    The Innocents

    ★★★★

    The Criterion Challenge 2023

    An ingenious psychological horror sculpting out gothic imagery and supernatural frights, Jack Clayton's The Innocents remains one of the best of its genre more than 60 years later. Genuinely terrifying, lurking in the darkness of the shadows, with impressive cinematography and a haunting score. Visually expressive and thematically layered, radiating a psychosexual frenzy moulded out of repression. Sinister and wicked, but simultaneously sophisticated and intricate – ghost stories can really work their magic.

  • Lady Snowblood

    Lady Snowblood

    ★★★★

    The Criterion Challenge 2023

    Bloody and action-packed, Toshiya Fujita's Lady Snowblood bursts with colour and fury. Adapted from the manga series, the visuals are the easy standout – from cinematography, to art design, to costume and makeup, the stylistic lineations are to die for. Violent yet poetic, with impressive martial arts choreography, a solid political backdrop, and Meiko Kaji as a force of nature in the titular role, this tale of revenge is enhanced by a fervid beauty.

  • Black Panthers

    Black Panthers

    ★★★★

    The Criterion Challenge 2023

    Such great political import and fervour is that which resides in Agnès Varda's short documentary about the Black Panther Party and the Free Huey protests. Something I have always and will always respect about Varda is her unique charm and personality which she places and expresses – both in narrative and non-narrative works – but she also knows when not to. She knows when to not insert herself at all, and when to completely rely on…

  • What Happened Was...

    What Happened Was...

    ★★★★½

    The Criterion Challenge 2023

    Hugely conversational and deeply tense, Tom Noonan's What Happened Was... is a superb piece of independent cinema and an understandable hit at Sundance. Written and directed by Noonan, basing it on his own play (and certainly feeling like a stage adaptation), succeeding as a profound dissection of loneliness and the inability to connect, but also probing its study with a surrealist dread that lingers throughout the course of the night. Extremely perceptive in both the overwhelming…

  • F for Fake

    F for Fake

    ★★★★½

    The Criterion Challenge 2023

    Incredibly inventive and masterfully multifaceted, Orson Welles' illusory docudrama film essay on truth and lies in art is equally a piercing examination as it is an absorbing appreciation of cinema's inherent deceitfulness. Comprising of magic, forgery, and hoaxes, commenting on authorship, authenticity, and expertise, F For Fake, in all of its grandiose inquiries into the nature of art, is devilishly playful, much thanks to Welles himself. Interwoven within his documentarial investigations is Welles' own metacommentary on…

  • Tiny Furniture

    Tiny Furniture

    ★★★

    The Criterion Challenge 2023

    As someone who is a fan of Girls, I probably had an upper hand in not being completely deterred by the immensely vapid, self-indulgent, and downright unlikeable characters of Lena Dunham's Tiny Furniture. Very much reflective of and appealing to a certain demographic, a certain age of young people who have gone through similar experiences to Aura – an age of aimlessness and unassuredness. But in that seemingly hollow and vulgar and egoistic type of storytelling…

  • Deep Cover

    Deep Cover

    ★★★★

    The Criterion Challenge 2023

    A Black neo-noir soaked in style and engulfed in existentialism, Bill Duke's Deep Cover has just about everything going for it. Sleazy in all the right ways, astute in its political anger, flashy yet effortless in its techniques. Excelling as both a gangster flick and a character study, intermixing crime and action with profound moral introspection. A character study of not only Russell/John – performed excellently by Laurence Fishburne – but also America. Looking intently at race and class, boldly peeling back the country's imbalanced systemic foundations.

  • For All Mankind

    For All Mankind

    ★★★★

    The Criterion Challenge 2023

    A tranquil reflection of Earth that seems to be only so intensely induced when gazing at it from millions of miles away in the great vastness of space. For All Mankind, Al Reinert's documentary about the Apollo Program, which sees the moon landings of Apollo 7 through 17 from 1968 to 1972, is a marvelous sight – absolutely (and quite literally) otherworldly footage, accompanied by Brian Eno's affecting score, Susan Korda's assembled editing, and the Apollo…