60. Mr. Turner (2014, Mike Leigh, UK/France/Germany)
Mike Leigh’s period pictures are my flavor of both Mike Leigh and period pictures specifically because of how they have no time to entertain the idea that said period is deserving of great affinity and respect on default. In fact, our past is just as vulgar and coarse as our own time with no small hypocrisy. In Timothy Spall’s performance of the great painter J.M.W. Turner, we are provided a representative of all that aggressive repulsive of the 1800s in the way he carries himself and treats his fellow humans. And yet there is fruit out of such irritation that we tolerate from this fascinating character, the visual recognition of his artistic talent and how he is able to see a more pleasant world beyond what we are trapped with here (and how Dick Pope’s cinematography tries to match up with that captivated wonder). A painterly picture that also lets us know exactly where that painterliness comes from.
59. The Missing Picture (2013, Rithy Panh, Cambodia/France)
I may or may not have mentioned in this blog that one of my favorite effects of cinema’s form is to represent memory in a variety of ways and frankly it is one thing to have that representation to apply to fiction or even auto-fiction, but another for it to be performed on a real person’s memory. And then it is another thing further for the process of reconstructing and recollecting those memories to be captured and communicated, as done for Rithy Panh’s time under the rule of the Khmer Rouge. The utilization of figures and dioramas to recreate events is anything but playful, being an extension of Panh’s ashamed confession towards forgetting the pieces lost between the documentary footage and trying to struggle in reclaiming traumatic memories that he now feels are necessary to maintain. Cinema of the healing sort, even if it takes a lot of on-screen pain to do so.
58. Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (2011, Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Turkey/Bosnia and Herzegovina)
I don’t know what happened to Nuri Bilge Ceylan that made him lose such an excellent grasp on duration as a storytelling tool after Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (although given that his very next film won the Palme d’Or, it’s safe to say the film community disagrees with me), but at least we have this one masterpiece to admire with enough to chew on for multiple rewatches. For its long 157 minutes, we grow tired and weary with the characters that barely have names, which open us up to learn more and more about their philosophies towards morality and life in nicely winding dialogues, and then we watch how that applies to the procedural case they are frustratingly forced to spend the night tethered to and how the case in fact shakes their principles all around. All the better to surprise us with how much we are reconsidering what the characters have done or said, leaving us to muse if there’s any true rhyme or logic towards humans in the world.
57. Under the Skin (2013, Jonathan Glazer, UK/USA/Switzerland)
My last rewatch of this movie two months ago had me overspilling my ideas on letterboxd so hopefully I can keep it concise this time: this is a movie where Jonathan Glazer really let loose on all the expectations that the science fiction (and horror) genre bring out of a viewer. Whether it is the manner by which most of the movie feels like a travelogue of Scotland as we watch our nameless protagonist on the hunt, the manner in which the gender and sexuality they use as a disguise makes us reconsider the role between predator and prey, the complete refusal to give us any clear and direct answers as to what its alien characters are doing and why, and how this all culminates in a tone poem (with many actual tones defined by Mica Levi’s incredible debut as a film composer) to muse upon what it is to be human and act accordingly while witnessing the world and its beauties and cruelties.
56. Parasite (2019, Bong Joon-ho, South Korea)
Yes, resentful as I am to admit it, Parasite IS a superior movie to Snowpiercer in nearly every regard. But I’m not too resentful of that fact, because there is an undeniable pleasure in watching a filmmaker you’ve admired and loved for over a decade now finally flex every muscle he’s developed in his career to this point: the wonderful mixing of tones and genres, the excellent visual representation of class via the geometry of its production design and cinematography, and the thrilling tension within every new corner through which this story of deceit twists. On top of all that, it is an effortless crowdpleaser (I’m confident that its landmark win of the Best Picture Oscar reinforces this fact), one in which I haven’t heard anybody feel strongly negative towards, so what better gateway drug to get everyone hooked on the Bong?
55. Personal Shopper (2016, Olivier Assayas, France/Germany/Czech Republic/Belgium)
It’s pretty evident at this point – given the appearance of Under the Skin and Haywire on this list and others I’m probably forgetting – that I’m fascinated by anti-genre stuff and Olivier Assayas’ ostensible ghost story is exactly the kind of impish holding-back from the generic raison d’etre that I am tickled by. For one thing, that plays extremely well with Kristen Stewart’s performance style as her emotional muteness now gets to be another layer of this movie’s deflections, which overall culminate in a character study about somebody surrounded by death trying to find ways to deal with it – whether she does so by chasing text messages apparently from a ghost, distracting herself in the lavish attire she purchases for her boss, or talking to an apparently empty room.
54. The John Wick trilogy (2014-’19, Chad Stahelski & David Leitch, USA)
Oh fuck yeah, you knew this was coming. And you especially knew that I wasn’t just going to be able to pick just one. Something tells me that David Leitch is mostly responsible for the unexpected psychological richness of the first John Wick represented in the black and blue visuals that also gave root to Keanu Reeves’ career best performance (which just gets better and better with each installment), because once he left the second film to instead work on Atomic Blonde… all that was left was ambitious cod-arthouse sleekness for Chapter 2. The way that the bloody violence just feels like a reflective and shallow dance for us to admire simply because it is entertainment. And then Chad Stahelski – returning for the third time – goes and removes the training wheels to give us this globe-spanning extended chase where everybody wants a piece of Reeves’ exhausted hitman and he’s just getting more and more pissed off with each combatant to our pleasure. Consistently inventive in its fight scenes (whether a pounding nightclub shootout, a non-stop tumble down a flight of stairs, or a bunch of men realizing they’re surrounded by knives and trying to chuck whatever they can grab), a loving window to the art film affinities of its directors, and constantly humorous and fun without undermining the toll this is taking on one man who just wanted some peace and quiet with which to mourn his wife, I cannot wait to see what Stahelski and company come up with in the next chapter. Every time I feel like they’ve hit the bar’s limit, they bust that ceiling wide open.
53. Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019, Quentin Tarantino, USA/UK/China)
Man oh man, how far this movie has come – from being one of the most releases I was most apprehensive about to being something that confirmed that apprehension in quiet ways to being something I was willing to return to and found a lot of the way I remember my nostalgia and see my friends. It is uncharacteristically amicable of Quentin Tarantino (in fact, a friend of mine who I didn’t expect to like this movie at all stated their surprise that it was so different when we saw it), relaxed and willing to just hang around a time period he barely got to experience as a child. And while he is willing to betray the flaws of 1969 as an era (and inadvertently betrays his own flaws as a person, I feel, in how he handles certain material), it all just feels of the same human portrait of what made Tarantino fall in love with movies and Los Angeles to begin with and in turn reflects the comforts we look for and find in our favorite art, people, or places if we’re just willing to stop being in a rush.
52. Meek’s Cutoff (2010, Kelly Reichardt, USA)
A western all about just how inglorious and frustrating it is to actually live out in a western, particularly for women and cursorily for the indigenous as well but definitively for everyone unlucky to be alive at that time. Reichardt does her trademark thing of keeping us stranded in a place and letting all of the sounds and textures of it (considerably giving us possibly the most tangible Western representation in cinema since Once Upon a Time in the West) just surround us until the apparent lack of destination drives us crazy. And I know I make it sound like an unappealing chore of a movie – indeed it took me some time to warm up to it – but at some point I just find myself really impressed by the pure transportive quality of the film on the merit of its consuming and comprehensive atmosphere and its bone-dry narrative.
51. Roma (2018, Alfonso Cuarón, Mexico/USA)
It is fascinating to me that something can effectively represent a personal memory to its author as Roma does to Cuarón and still be as distanced and chilly as Roma feels (largely thanks to its gorgeous cinematography). And it pretty much works for me, despite that contradiction. I think the credit is to how Cuarón recognizes that there is more to the moment than just what it means to him as a person, but also what its place is in history and in terms of family and community and society. And that’s what necessitates the way that these tableaux-esque wide-shot pans provide a third-person perspective to what is otherwise a first-person story. This is also clearly something that also rubs off on Yalitza Aparicio’s magnificent performance – fitting into the schematic of what Cleo is observing but also recognizing its affect on her personally and how her feelings towards the family that she lives with are shaped. Probably the biggest non-generosity I gave to Roma when I first saw it (and still loved it!) can be fixed here: it is definitely at the end of the day aware of the sociopolitical elements of its character’s relationships and how they don’t mix with their personal feelings towards each other, which makes it all the more impressive that the climax can feel so sincere with that awareness and reconciliation.