Saturday, May 3, 2014

More Great Movies You Probably Haven't Seen

Life's too short for stupid movies. Here are some intelligent ones you might have missed. All of these are rentable from Netflix.

Blue is the Warmest Color (Abdellatif Kechiche), 2013. A stunning, smart, complex, realistic, beautiful, erotic film--and also the best cinematic love story of this century, so far. Love on the border of adulthood has never before been so intelligently dramatized on film.

Bigger Than Life (Nicholas Ray), 1956. One year after Rebel Without A Cause, Nick Ray made this undeservedly obscure study of an American high school teacher who undergoes a frightening change. Attentive viewers will see parallels with the series Breaking Bad. (The water heater in James Mason's kitchen, for example, looks like the same one Walter White replaced in season two.) The Criterion disc features an excellent brief discussion by writer Jonathan Lethem.

Jeanne Dielman (Chantal Akerman), 1975. This long, deliberately static and repetitive film is a slow, sustained assault upon the viewer. Stick with it and it will take you to a place beyond boredom. It also contains one of the most shockingly unexpected denouements I have ever seen.

Anatomy of Hell (Catherine Breillat), 2004. A very, very French erotic film. Imagine Eric Rohmer, Marguerite Duras and Georges Bataille collaborating on an extremely disturbing feminist erotic fairy tale. The dialogue sometimes slips into dry intellectual discourse, but the film's cinematic intelligence overcomes this flaw. It's one of the smartest erotic films ever made.

Examined Life (Astra Taylor), 2008. Speaking of smart, here's a film that consists of a handful of very smart people speaking. It's a collection of brief, cleverly filmed monologues by philosophers and critical theorists (Peter Singer, Martha Nussbaum, Slavoj Zizek, Avital Ronell, Cornel West, several others). Taylor films and edits the piece like a long jazz composition in which each philosopher takes a highly intellectual solo.

Over Your Cities Grass Will Grow (Sophie Fiennes), 2010. An amazing documentary on the recent work of German artist Anselm Kiefer--who is, in my opinion, the only living artist to whom the word 'great' can be unhesitatingly applied.

Patriotism (Yukio Mishima), 1966. Kudos to the Criterion Collection for releasing Yukio Mishima's notorious 1966 short film. This 27-minute silent film is a work of sublime and almost unbearably violent cinema.

Poison (Todd Haynes), 1991. Todd Haynes' early masterpiece of Queer Cinema remains his most formally original feature, dialectically intercutting three independent narratives that implicitly comment upon one another. It's an affecting, campy, bizarre and unforgettable work.

House of Pleasures (Bertrand Bonello), 2011. An impressively realistic look at life in a fin de si├Ęcle Parisian brothel as seen from the prostitute's point-of-view. This is the feminist flip-side of traditional, hedonistic, customer-centered depictions of upscale prostitution.

Satantango (Bela Tarr), 1994. Bela Tarr's 7-hour epic of rural Hungary in the 1980s (based on a novel by Laszlo Krasznahorkai) is a film you will either love, hate or turn off after two hours. On my third try, I made it all the way through and fell in love with it. Forget everything you think you know about cinema and allow yourself to drift into the total immersion experience of Satantango. Yes, it's deliberately static, but most of those static shots are as beautifully composed as 19th-century paintings.

Certified Copy (Abbas Kiarostami), 2010. This recent film is the kind of movie that made me fall in love with European art films of the period 1955-75. It's Kiarostami's homage to Eric Rohmer, Alain Resnais, Jean-Luc Godard. But more than that, it's an original, highly-intelligent and always challenging exploration of art and authenticity, performance and reality.

Summer Hours (Olivier Assayas), 2008. Another brilliant French art film in the Rohmer tradition (a tradition that now includes the three Before films of American director Richard Linklater), this one plays contemporary globalized capitalist reality against an older, more aesthetic, pastoral vision represented by two Corot paintings in the home of a family matriarch played by veteran French actress Edith Scob.

Margaret (Kenneth Lonergan), 2011. One of the best American films of recent years. Its release was delayed for several years while everyone involved sued everyone else, a controversy that sadly overshadowed the movie. Forget about that and watch the film. Scene by scene, performance by performance, it's absolutely wonderful.

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