130. The Witch (2015, Robert Eggers, USA/Canada)
For his first feature, Robert Eggers went and delivered a period film that actively transports us into the 17th century by a combination of scripting, performance, design, and sound. I daresay it succeeded magnificently with a central ensemble chamber drama that felt so dreadful in atmosphere that it didn’t even need the witches to become horrifying, but I’m glad it brought the strong genre goods once it was time to collect. The tyrannical puritan treatment of the matter is more than enough to chill any viewer.
129. The Duke of Burgundy (2014, Peter Strickland, UK)
And in we go from one of the purest soundscapes in the past decade to another, utilizing that tool to express unseen elements of a sensual BDSM lesbian picture. The result is something psychologically potent in examining what each side is expecting and what they receive in a context that’s already complex and often misrepresented in cinema. Strickland avoids that misrepresentation while still gladly taking hold of the pleasant luridness regarding the material and the examination of power dynamics within a deep, doomed central romance.
128. Ida (2013, Paweł Pawlikowski, Poland/Denmark/France/UK)
A dual character study that remains sobering no matter which side you decide to focus on. Naturally the title and premise favors the cold and confused examination of secrets and identity at the most important turn of your life that Agata Trezbuchowska’s Anna represents but then there’s still Agata Kulesza’s Wanda to flash-forward to the future with a curdled bitterness regarding certain paths taken. That Pawlikowski could decide to basically ape from the go-to styles of European Art Cinema would be considered lazy if it didn’t add so much stateliness and focus to the two performances at the center, defining the universe those characters are facing while we watch their decisions made.
127. Two Days, One Night (2014, Jean-Luc & Pierre Dardenne, Belgium/France/Italy)
A movie about the hardships of capitalism pressing down against your mental well-being, your relationships with others, and your livelihood that is made as watchable as such a stressful scenario possibly can be. Part of that can be credited to the Dardennes’ treatment of the matter in such a movie-drama way with the titular timeframe playing as a ticking clock, but that also has to be credited to the outstanding cast they’ve put together supporting the familiar face of Marion Cotillard. That we recognize the movie star makes her immediately rootable even beyond her position but that we see an entire community of people that are torn and struggling and still mostly desiring to do the right thing is what makes this a rich and optimistically human story on top of its social observations.
126. The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears (2013, Hélène Cattet & Bruno Forzani, Belgium/France/Luxembourg)
I personally find Cattet & Forzani to be relationship goals: a married couple who courted each other by making their own homegrown giallo and spaghetti western pictures to watch, particularly the way they show obsession with the cut’s meanings as literal and psychological in cinema. The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears is not the best feature they’ve made yet but it is the wildest and that kaleidoscopic and dizzying presentation of the titular colors while a man investigates a disappearance in circles maintains the sort of gleeful loss of control that I consider the best of giallo to have. The incomprehensibility, the nauseating showcase of violent close-ups, and the shallow psychosexual elements that are only there to combine the most ridiculous violence with visual pleasure – these are clearly things that maintain a marriage.
125. Weathering with You (2019, Shinkai Makoto, Japan)
Shinkai Makoto was essentially hedging his bets by writing a story that appeals to all his best strengths as an animator, but it works. Lovely work in the intersection between the beams of sunlight cutting through the sky, the precision of the surrounding rainscape, and the shimmering speeding trains for yet another fantastical tale of young kids on the cusp of the new adventure of life. If you’re in the bag for Shinkai as I was when I first saw it, he knows exactly what got you on-board and will gladly provide it.
124. The Homesman (2014, Tommy Lee Jones, USA/France)
A movie that I at first rejected on impulse based on the way its late direction blindsided me when I first saw it at Cannes. Took me a few months to recognize what a successful structural gambit that happened to be and especially how it reinforced the way that this film posits itself as a dry account on how cruel and harsh the Old West truly was. Jones and Hilary Swank as co-leads do a particularly excellent job as opposite types trying to face that cruelty in each other’s own ways, but it wouldn’t be quite as well without Jones’ weathered directing and the way that dryness seeps into the cinematography and Marco Beltrami’s incredible score.
123. Cheatin’ (2013, Bill Plympton, USA)
Bill Plympton’s famous overexaggerated style with pencilsketch and watercolor are now utilized for a fantastical story about the messiness of emotions and the worst possible scenarios for those emotions to come into place, bending and twisting for all the expressiveness that such a heightened emotional state demands. Given how spare that Plympton’s story is, it expresses a trust in the audience to pull all of their knowledge from the warped imagery in itself and it pays off magnificently with a weepy and raw tale of basic heartbreak.
122. Embrace of the Serpent (2016, Ciro Guerra, Colombia/Venezuela/Argentina)
The structure presents us with two very distant times, whether in orientation to us or to each other. But the form – the modern style of the cinematography, the modern style of the performances (particularly the two men who play Karamakate), the complete symmetry in the modernization thereof – are of the sort that make them blend together like a formless dream. The unspoken ways in which Guerra manipulates the presentation so that we sift in and out of this story about two different generations of colonialism from the perspective of one indigenous witness, leavened by that witness’ sense of humor and intelligence over the white man he’s guiding along and the calm and present visuals of the Amazon-that-was as a long-gone yet still haunting ghost.
121. The Lego Movie (2014, Phil Lord & Christopher Miller, USA/Denmark/Australia)
Remains the crown jewel of Lord & Miller’s irreverent and creative style of filmmaking, pulling out as many possible visual gags as would be appropriate to the movie’s ethos and aesthetic, indulging in various camera movements and compositions that only the animated camera can allow, and building to the sort of story that encourages a limitlessness in imagination the same way that the titular toys this movie was nakedly meant to just be a commercial for brought out in us as a kid. It may be a corporate product, but Lord and Miller gave this a beating heart and a sprawling vision that no journeyman filmmaker could have.