Monthly Archives: August 2015

Review Roundup: EUFF, pt. 1 (Time Out)

I originally wrote the following reviews for Time Out Chicago back in March to coincide with theatrical screenings at the Siskel Center’s European Union Film Festival.

Eugene Green’s LA SAPIENZA – Rating: 8.9


Eugene Green creates a singular filmgoing experience with La Sapienza, the study of a middle-age Swiss architect, Alexandre (Fabrizio Rongione), who rekindles both his professional passion and his marriage while on a trip to Italy to study the work of his hero, the Baroque master Francesco Borromini. Much like Jem Cohen’s Museum Hours, however, the story here is a mere framework in which the director has enfolded a series of art history lessons. Green’s style is definitely not for all tastes. His sense of extreme compositional symmetry and perfectly calibrated camera movements outdo even the likes of Wes Anderson and the de-dramatized dialogue sequences play out according to a predictable but bizarre formal pattern: They begin with master shots, progress to over-the-shoulder reverse angles and, disorientingly, climax with P.O.V. shots in which the characters address both each other and the camera. Green’s rigorous approach to style creates a fascinating tension that is only relieved in the transcendental final scene, where the clichéd image of a kiss is re-infused with an awesome sense of mystery, romance and power. In other words, you may feel as though you are watching a screen kiss for the very first time.

Bruno Dumont’s L’IL QUINQUIN – Rating: 9.9


L’il Quinquin, an off-the-wall masterpiece by writer-director Bruno Dumont, bears the same relationship to small-town northern France that the stories of Flannery O’Connor do to the rural American south: both show a darkly comedic fascination with grotesque characters living in backwater climates of racial and religious intolerance. Dumont’s police procedural was originally seen as a miniseries on French television, but is being released here as a single 3-and-a-half-hour feature by distributor Kino/Lorber. Ingeniously, Li’l Quinquin’s murder-mystery plot unfolds not primarily from the perspective of the cop characters but rather through the eyes of the town’s children, specifically the titular character (Alane Delhaye), an altar boy who has a potty mouth, the face of a pugilist and a penchant for firecrackers. Don’t let the extended running time scare you: Li’l Quinquin is not only one of the best films in the EUFF, but seems destined to be one of the best films to play Chicago theaters this year.

Ann Fontaine’s GEMMA BOVERY – Rating: 8.5


Gemma Bovery is a uniquely French rom-com from veteran filmmaker Ann Fontaine. A huge improvement over her last film to be widely distributed in the U.S., the middling Audrey Tatou-starring biopic Coco Before Chanel, this modern-day feminist retelling of Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary is a complete delight from beginning to end. The premise is that Martin (Eric Rohmer favorite Fabrice Luchini), a baker in Normandy who is obsessed with classic literature, is amazed to find that his new English neighbors are named Charlie and Gemma Bovery. Martin soon becomes obsessed with Gemma (Gemma Arterton at her most achingly unattainable), a beautiful young woman whose life—in addition to her name—seems to bear an uncanny resemblance to Flaubert’s infamous heroine. As Martin tries to steer Gemma’s fate away from impending tragedy, Fontaine hilariously satirizes both the notion of the “male gaze” and the idea that one can love a work of art to the point that it becomes the primary lens through which he views the world. Unmissable for fans of Madame Bovary, Gemma Bovery has thankfully already been picked up for distribution by Chicago’s Music Box Films.

Carlos Vermut’s MAGICAL GIRL – Rating: 9.1


One of the great things about attending an international film festival is the opportunity to take a chance on films and filmmakers you’re unfamiliar with. The most pleasant surprise for me at this year’s E.U. Film Fest was discovering the new Spanish film Magical Girl by the young writer/director Carlos Vermut. The film effortlessly combines tragedy and black comedy with crime thriller conventions involving blackmail, prostitution and murder. This assured second feature creates a narrative web-of-life that ensnares a diverse group of characters including a 12-year-old girl with leukemia, the father who will do anything to help her dying wishes come true, a yuppie housewife with a masochistic streak and an elderly ex-con inexorably drawn back into a life of crime. Allegory abounds: the film’s major conflict arises between a retired math professor and a retired literature professor, literalizing Vermut’s central metaphor of Spain as an indecisive nation unsure of whether its essential character is primarily “rational” or “emotional,” and the best joke involves the housewife stashing money in a book about the Spanish Constitution in a public library (since no one will ever think to look there). What really makes Magical Girl special, though, is the daringly elliptical but utterly confident way its various story fragments unfurl into one another. As in the best work of David Lynch, this is a narrative jigsaw puzzle whose tantalizing power arises precisely because of the missing pieces: the viewer must collaborate with the filmmakers in creating the ultimate meaning.


Odds and Ends: Shaun the Sheep Movie / Straight Outta Compton


Yesterday I took in a perversely designed double feature of Shaun the Sheep Movie and Straight Outta Compton — with the idea that juxtaposing a G-rated family-friendly animation and a “hard-R” gangsta-rap epic might illustrate something about the “duality of man” (as Full Metal Jacket‘s Private Joker would say) — and found myself thoroughly enjoying and appreciating both precisely because of this juxtaposition.


Shaun the Sheep Movie (Mark Burton/Richard Starzak, UK, 2015) – Theatrical viewing / Rating: 8.0

Produced by the venerable Aardman Animation Studios, Shaun the Sheep Movie might be devoid of the explicit social criticism and full-blown surrealism that makes ostensible “kids films” like Gremlins 2: The New Batch and Babe: Pig in the City such subversive delights but it’s nonetheless within hailing distance of those crazy masterworks in its delightful premise of a cute critter plunked down in an imposing urban setting (in this case the titular sheep must venture into the generic “Big City” to rescue his amnesiac farmer/owner). In case you weren’t aware, Shaun is completely free of spoken dialogue for the entirety of its 86-minute running time and thus harks back to the days of silent cinema in its use of pure visual humor and image-based storytelling; the way a group of live sheep camouflage themselves against a large bus-terminal poster advertising a trip to the country is but one example of the film’s many splendid sight gags. Whenever the human characters do speak, their voices sound like gibberish — not unlike the adult characters in a Peanuts cartoon — and the Chicago Reader‘s Ben Sachs has convincingly argued that the wordless filmmaking that results recalls the majesty of silent landmarks like Sunrise and The Crowd. I ultimately found the lack of reliance on dialogue/verbal humor incredibly refreshing and would rate Shaun the Sheep Movie a close second to Inside Out as animated/family film of the year.

Straight Outta Compton (F. Gary Gray, USA, 2015) – Theatrical viewing / Rating: 8.5

Straight Outta Compton

Straight Outta Compton is the best superhero-origin film of recent years (even better than X-Men: First Class, dude) in the way that it charts the rise of rap supergroup N.W.A. by first introducing each of its individual members and then pitting them against the music-industry supervillains (i.e., Jerry Heller and Suge Knight) who threaten to tear the team apart. The fact that Compton has already become a cultural phenomenon must be seen as a testament to how hungry general audiences are for an alternative to Hollywood’s lily-white summer programming. While the film is ultimately a triumph of directing over screenwriting (it is, as its critics have noted, worse off for soft-pedaling N.W.A.’s misogyny), there are still a million reasons to go see this on the big screen. Chief among them: it’s the first post-Ferguson film to acknowledge America’s police brutality and racism problems and — even though they may be couched within the framework of a musical biopic and period piece — their unflinching depiction still feels monumentally important for this reason. Plus, from a cinematic perspective, the whole thing is beautifully realized by F. Gary Gray (Friday) who, along with the great D.P. Matty Libatique, makes the Compton-milieu of the late 1980s and early 1990s come thrillingly alive. Most surprising of all though is how emotional it all feels, teetering at times on the verge of turning into a full-fledged male-weepie, but always remaining anchored by Jason Mitchell’s charismatic-but-naturalistic star turn as Eric “Eazy-E” Wright. One question lingers: after Love and Mercy and now this, has it become a rule that musical biopics must cast Paul Giamatti as a sleazy character in a bad hairpiece?

The Last Ten Movies I Saw

1. Straight Outta Compton (Gray)
2. Shaun the Sheep Movie (Burton/Starzak)
3. The Diary of a Teenage Girl (Heller)
4. Borgman (Van Warmerdarm)
5. Cinevardaphoto (Varda)
6. Queen of Earth (Perry)
7. The Color of Lies (Chabrol)
8. Journey to Italy (Rossellini)
9. Slightly Scarlet (Dwan)
10. My Friend Victoria (Civeyrac)

Agnes Varda is Coming to Chicago

An edited version of this post recently appeared in Time Out Chicago:

imageAgnes Varda and Mos Def earlier this year

At 87 years old, Agnes Varda is one of the world’s greatest living filmmakers as well as one of the last living links to the heroic era known as the French New Wave. Although less well known than Nouvelle Vague counterparts like Francois Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard, Varda virtually kick-started the movement single-handedly in 1955 with La Pointe Courte, a film about a crumbling marriage told against the backdrop of life in a rural fishing village. In the 60 years since, Varda has alternated between (and occasionally blended) documentary and fiction techniques in a series of provocative films that have often showcased marginalized figures, and that always remain grounded in a feminist perspective. Among her masterpieces are Cleo from 5 to 7 (1962), Vagabond (1985) and The Gleaners and I (2000).

From October 8 to October 15, Varda will be at the University of Chicago to attend a career-spanning retrospective of her work. The exhibit, titled CinéVardaExpo: Agnès Varda in Chicago, includes a public lecture by Varda on October 9, a conversation between Varda and artist Jessica Stockholder on October 11, a public Q&A on October 15, and screenings of selected films throughout the week, many attended by Varda herself. The Logan Center Gallery will host an exhibition of Varda’s recent work, “Photographs Get Moving (potatoes and shells, too),” from September 11 to November 8.

Reservations are required for some events and can be made at In addition to the UChicago events, Varda will also present a Black Cinema House screening of The Gleaners and I on October 12 and a Music Box screening of Cleo from 5 to 7 on October 14.

My Student Tomato-Meter: 2015 Edition


I’m currently between Summer and Fall semesters, which means it’s now that time of year when I post my updated “student tomato-meter” showing the aggregated results of the ratings — on a scale from one-to-10 — that my students have given to every movie I’ve shown in my film studies classes dating back to the Spring 2009 semester. I’ve now taught 72 classes and shown a total of 309 unique movies. Below is a list of all the films I’ve screened to date, presented in chronological order by release date, along with the average ratings given by my students. Below that I’ve also included a list of the top 10 highest-rated films. My goal as a teacher is to now show at least one movie by every great director who ever lived. Please scan the list below and feel free tell me in the comments section who you think I might be missing.

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (Wiene, Germany, 1920) – 6.6
The Golem (Wegener/Boese, Germany, 1920) – 6.0
The Phantom Carriage (Sjostrom, Sweden, 1921) – 7.3
Nosferatu (Murnau, Germany, 1922) – 6.5
Our Hospitality (Keaton, USA, 1923) – 8.3
Sherlock Jr. (Keaton, USA, 1924) – 8.0
The Hands of Orlac (Wiene, Germany, 1924) – 6.2
Waxworks (Leni, Germany, 1924) – 5.1
The Freshman (Newmeyer/Taylor, USA, 1925) – 8.3
Seven Chances (Keaton, USA, 1925) – 8.2
The Navigator (Keaton, USA, 1925) – 8.1
The Gold Rush (Chaplin, USA, 1925) – 8.0
The Last Laugh (Murnau, Germany, 1925) – 6.5
Battleship Potemkin (Eisenstein, Russia, 1925) – 5.1
The General (Keaton, USA, 1926) – 8.4
Faust (Murnau, Germany, 1926) – 7.0
Sunrise (Murnau, USA, 1926) – 6.9
Metropolis (Lang, Germany, 1927) – 6.6
The End of St. Petersburg (Pudovkin, Russia, 1927) – 5.0
The Fall of the Romanov Dynasty (Shub, Russia, 1927) – 4.0
The Docks of New York (Von Sternberg, USA, 1928) – 8.4
The Passion of Joan of Arc (Dreyer, France, 1928) – 7.2
Lonesome (Fejos, USA, 1928) – 6.7
A Cottage on Dartmoor (Asquith, UK, 1929) – 8.3
Asphalt (May, Germany, 1929) – 6.8
Man with the Movie Camera (Vertov, Russia, 1929) – 6.1
City Girl (Murnau, USA, 1930) – 6.7
L’age d’Or (Bunuel, France, 1930) – 6.6
Earth (Dovzhenko, Ukraine, 1930) – 3.6
City Lights (Chaplin, USA, 1931) – 8.5
M (Lang, Germany, 1931) – 8.1
Madchen in Uniform (Sagan/Froelich, Germany, 1931) – 7.1
Freaks (Browning, USA, 1932) – 7.1
Vampyr (Dreyer, Denmark/Germany, 1932) – 6.9
Duck Soup (McCarey, USA, 1933) – 6.8
L’atalante (Vigo, France, 1934) – 6.7
Top Hat (Sandrich, USA, 1935) – 8.6
My Man Godfrey (La Cava, USA, 1936) – 8.5
Modern Times (Chaplin, USA, 1936) – 8.0
Redes (Muriel/Zinneman, Mexico, 1936) – 6.9
The Awful Truth (McCarey, USA, 1937) – 8.4
Grand Illusion (Renoir, France, 1937) – 7.0
Bringing Up Baby (Hawks, USA, 1938) – 8.3
Alexander Nevsky (Eisenstein, Russia, 1938) – 5.0
Only Angels Have Wings (Hawks, USA, 1939) – 8.2
The Rules of the Game (Renoir, France, 1939) – 7.1
Stagecoach (Ford, USA, 1939) – 7.7
The Roaring Twenties (Walsh, USA, 1939) – 8.4
The Shop Around the Corner (Lubitsch, USA, 1940) – 7.4
Citizen Kane (Welles, USA, 1941) – 8.2
The Lady Eve (Sturges, USA, 1941) – 8.1
The Strawberry Blonde (Walsh, USA, 1941) – 7.6
The Maltese Falcon (Huston, USA, 1941) – 6.9
How Green Was My Valley (Ford, USA, 1941) – 6.8
Casablanca (Curtiz, USA, 1942) – 7.6
The Palm Beach Story (Sturges, USA, 1942) – 7.5
Aniki Bobo (De Oliveira, Portugal, 1942) – 7.2
Cat People (Tourneur, USA, 1942) – 5.6
The More the Merrier (Stevens, USA, 1943) – 8.2
I Walked with a Zombie (Tourneur, USA, 1943) – 6.0
Ossessione (Visconti, Italy, 1943) – 5.2
Double Indemnity (Wilder, USA, 1944) – 8.1
The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek (Sturges, USA, 1944) – 8.0
To Have and Have Not (Hawks, USA, 1944) – 7.5
Brief Encounter (Lean, UK, 1945) – 8.0
Rome, Open City (Rossellini, Italy, 1945) – 7.2
Detour (Ulmer, USA, 1945) – 7.2
Notorious (Hitchcock, USA, 1946) – 8.5
The Best Years of Our Lives (Wyler, USA, 1946) – 8.4
My Darling Clementine (Ford, USA, 1946) – 7.3
The Big Sleep (Hawks, USA, 1946) – 6.0
Dead Reckoning (Cromwell, USA, 1947) – 8.2
The Lady from Shanghai (Welles, USA, 1947) – 7.9
Out of the Past (Tourneur, USA, 1947) – 7.6
Body and Soul (Rossen, USA, 1947) – 7.6
Pursued (Walsh, USA, 1947) – 7.1
Letter from an Unknown Woman (Ophuls, USA, 1948) – 8.8
Germany Year Zero (Rossellini, Italy/Germany, 1948) – 7.6
Fort Apache (Ford, USA, 1948) – 7.5
Rope (Hitchcock, USA, 1948) – 8.7
The Red Shoes (Powell/Pressburger, UK, 1948) – 8.3
Bicycle Thieves (de Sica, Italy 1948) – 8.0
A Letter to Three Wives (Mankiewicz, USA, 1949) – 8.4
White Heat (Walsh, USA, 1949) – 8.3
The Third Man (Reed, UK, 1949) – 8.0
Sunset Boulevard (Wilder, USA, 1950) – 8.8
Los Olvidados (Bunuel, Mexico, 1950) – 7.5
Devil’s Doorway (Mann, USA, 1950) – 7.3
The African Queen (Huston, USA, 1951) – 8.3
Singin’ in the Rain (Donen/Kelly, USA, 1952) – 8.8
Umberto D. (De Sica, Italy, 1952) – 6.8
Pickup on South Street (Fuller, USA, 1953) – 8.2
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (Hawks, USA, 1953) – 8.2
Mr. Hulot’s Holiday (Tati, France, 1953) – 8.1
The Band Wagon (Minnelli, USA, 1953) – 7.9
Strangers on a Train (Hitchcock, USA, 1953) – 7.8
The Hitch-Hiker (Lupino, USA, 1953) – 7.7
The Naked Spur (Mann, USA, 1953) – 7.0
Ugetsu (Mizoguchi, Japan, 1953) – 6.7
Tokyo Story (Ozu, Japan, 1953) – 6.7
Rear Window (Hitchcock, USA, 1954) – 8.9
Seven Samurai (Kurosawa, Japan, 1954) – 8.3
Sansho the Bailiff (Mizoguchi, Japan, 1954) – 7.0
All That Heaven Allows (Sirk, USA, 1955) – 8.1
Kiss Me Deadly (Aldrich, USA, 1955) – 7.2
Pather Panchali (Ray, India, 1955) – 6.4
A Man Escaped (Bresson, France, 1956) – 8.1
The Searchers (John Ford, USA, 1956) – 7.4
Bigger Than Life (Ray, USA, 1956) – 6.8
Aparajito (Ray, India, 1956) – 6.6
An Affair to Remember (McCarey, USA, 1957) – 8.0
Vertigo (Hitchcock, USA, 1958) – 8.8
Some Came Running (Minnelli, USA, 1958) – 7.9
Touch of Evil (Welles, USA, 1958) – 7.6
Big Deal on Madonna Street (Monicelli, Italy, 1958) – 7.5
The 400 Blows (Truffaut, France, 1959) – 8.8
North By Northwest (Hitchcock, USA, 1959) – 8.6
Rio Bravo (Hawks, USA, 1959) – 8.0
Pickpocket (Bresson, France, 1959) – 7.3
Hiroshima Mon Amour (Resnais, France, 1959) – 6.8
Some Like It Hot (Wilder, USA, 1959) – 9.2
Psycho (Hitchcock, USA, 1960) – 8.8
When a Woman Ascends the Stairs (Naruse, Japan, 1960) – 8.1
Les Bonnes Femmes (Chabrol, France, 1960) – 8.0
Breathless (Godard, France, 1960) – 7.8
L’avventura (Antonioni, Italy, 1960) – 7.4
The Housemaid (Kim, S. Korea, 1960) – 7.1
Last Year at Marienbad (Resnais, France, 1961) – 6.8
Viridiana (Bunuel, Spain, 1961) – 5.8
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (Ford, USA, 1962) – 8.3
Cleo from 5 to 7 (Varda, France, 1962) – 7.4
Vivre sa Vie (Godard, France, 1962) – 7.2
Le Doulos (Melville, France, 1962) – 7.1
Jules and Jim (Truffaut, France, 1962) – 5.5
Shock Corridor (Fuller, USA, 1963) – 8.4
Contempt (Godard, France, 1963) – 8.3
Black Sabbath (Bava, Italy, 1963) – 7.1
8 1/2 (Fellini, Italy, 1963) – 6.5
The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (Demy, France, 1964) – 8.2
Onibaba (Shindo, Japan, 1964) – 8.0
Pierrot le Fou (Godard, France, 1965) – 8.3
Alphaville (Godard, France, 1965) – 6.0
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (Leone, Italy, 1966) – 8.8
Point Blank (Boorman, USA, 1966) – 7.0
The Pornographers (Imamura, Japan, 1966) – 6.9
Persona (Bergman, Sweden, 1966) – 6.6
The Graduate (Nichols, USA, 1967) – 8.8
Play Time (Tati, France, 1967) – 8.2
Le Samourai (Melville, France, 1967) – 8.0
Bonnie and Clyde (Penn, USA, 1967) – 7.5
David Holzman’s Diary (McBride, USA, 1967) – 6.9
2001: A Space Odyssey (Kubrick, USA, 1968) – 7.6
The Wild Bunch (Peckinpah, USA, 1969) – 8.1
My Night at Maud’s (Rohmer, France, 1969) – 7.8
Le Boucher (Chabrol, France, 1970) – 7.5
A New Leaf (May, USA, 1971) – 8.0
Two-Lane Blacktop (Hellman, USA, 1971) – 7.7
McCabe and Mrs. Miller (Altman, USA, 1971) – 7.0
Minnie and Moskowitz (Cassavetes, USA, 1971) – 5.2
Love in the Afternoon (Rohmer, France, 1972) – 8.6
Solaris (Tarkovsky, Russia, 1972) – 6.9
The Exorcist (Friedkin, USA, 1973) – 8.1
The Long Goodbye (Altman, USA, 1973) – 7.8
Badlands (Malick, USA, 1973) – 7.6
The Mother and the Whore (Eustache, France, 1973) – 7.4
The Spirit of the Beehive (Erice, Spain, 1973) – 7.4
Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (Fassbinder, Germany, 1973) – 7.1
Touki Bouki (Mambety, Senegal, 1973) – 6.2
Blazing Saddles (Brooks, USA, 1974) – 8.4
Chinatown (Polanski, USA, 1974) – 8.2
Black Christmas (Clark, Canada, 1974) – 8.2
Young Frankenstein (Brooks, USA, 1974) – 7.6
Cooley High (Schultz, USA, 1975) – 8.6
The Irony of Fate: Or Enjoy Your Bath! (Ryazanov, Russia, 1975) – 8.5
Night Moves (Penn, USA, 1975) – 8.1
Taxi Driver (Scorsese, USA, 1976) – 8.8
Mikey and Nicky (May, USA, 1976) – 6.4
Annie Hall (Allen, USA, 1977) – 6.6
House (Obayashi, Japan, 1977) – 6.4
One Way Boogie Woogie (Benning, USA, 1977) – 5.1
Halloween (Carpenter, USA, 1978) – 8.3
Days of Heaven (Malick, USA, 1978) – 7.3
Killer of Sheep (Burnett, USA, 1979) – 7.8
Raging Bull (Scorsese, USA, 1980) – 8.3
The Shining (Kubrick, USA, 1980) – 8.2
Popeye (Altman, USA, 1980) – 5.2
An American Werewolf in London (Landis, USA/UK, 1981) – 8.5
The Road Warrior (Miller, Australia, 1981) – 7.4
Trances (El Maanouni, Morocco, 1981) – 6.1
The Thing (Carpenter, USA, 1982) – 8.3
Blade Runner (Scott, USA, 1982) – 7.6
The Slumber Party Massacre (Jones, USA, 1982) – 6.8
Rock in Reykjavik (Fridriksson, Iceland, 1982) – 6.3
Sans Soleil (Marker, France, 1983) – 6.2
Stranger Than Paradise (Jarmusch, USA, 1984) – 6.2
Vagabond (Varda, France, 1985) – 7.6
After Hours (Scorsese, USA, 1985) – 6.7
Bad Blood (Carax, France, 1986) – 7.1
The Fly (Cronenberg, Canada/USA, 1986) – 6.7
The Dead (Huston, USA/UK, 1987) – 7.8
A Short Film About Love (Kieslowski, Poland, 1988) – 8.4
The Thin Blue Line (Morris, USA, 1988) – 7.9
Time of the Gypsies (Kusturica, Yugoslavia, 1988) – 7.0
A Short Film About Killing (Kieslowski, Poland, 1988) – 6.9
Drugstore Cowboy (Van Sant, USA, 1989) – 8.2
Do the Right Thing (Lee, USA, 1989) – 7.6
Goodfellas (Scorsese, USA, 1990) – 9.2
The Lovers on the Bridge (Carax, France, 1991) – 8.0
Close-Up (Kiarostami, Iran, 1991) – 7.6
Slacker (Linklater, USA, 1991) – 7.0
Unforgiven (Eastwood, USA, 1992) – 8.6
Deep Cover (Duke, USA, 1992) – 8.5
The Player (Altman, USA, 1992) – 8.2
The Piano (Campion, New Zealand, 1993) – 8.4
Dazed and Confused (Linklater, USA, 1993) – 8.2
Groundhog Day (Ramis, USA, 1993) – 8.1
Menace II Society (Hughes/Hughes, USA, 1993) – 8.0
Naked (Leigh, UK, 1993) – 6.3
The Bride With White Hair (Yu, Hong Kong, 1993) – 5.1
Chungking Express (Wong, Hong Kong, 1994) – 8.0
The Last Seduction (Dahl, USA, 1994) – 7.2
Ed Wood (Burton, USA, 1994) – 6.8
The Bridges of Madison County (Eastwood, USA, 1995) – 8.2
Devil in a Blue Dress (Franklin, USA, 1995) – 8.2
Dead Man (Jarmsuch, USA, 1995) – 8.1
A Moment of Innocence (Makhmalbaf, Iran, 1996) – 5.8
L.A. Confidential (Hanson, USA, 1997) – 8.8
Taste of Cherry (Kiarostami, Iran, 1997) – 7.2
The Mirror (Panahi, Iran, 1997) – 5.1
The Big Lebowski (Cohen/Cohen, USA, 1998) – 8.8
The Bird People in China (Miike, Japan, 1998) – 6.6
Ravenous (Bird, UK, 1999) – 8.0
Nowhere to Hide (Lee, S. Korea, 1999) – 7.5
Audition (Miike, Japan, 1999) – 7.5
Beau Travail (Denis, France/Djibouti, 1999) – 5.4
JSA: Joint Security Area (Park, S. Korea, 2000) – 8.4
Yi Yi (Yang, Taiwan, 2000) – 8.4
Dancer in the Dark (Von Trier, Denmark/Sweden, 2000) – 8.0
Failan (Song, S. Korea, 2000) – 7.9
The Day I Became a Woman (Meshkini, Iran, 2000) – 7.5
In the Mood for Love (Wong, Hong Kong, 2000) – 7.4
Needing You (To/Wai, Hong Kong, 2000) – 7.1
Sexy Beast (Glazer, UK, 2000) – 6.9
Italian for Beginners (Scherfig, Denmark, 2000) – 6.4
The Devil’s Backbone (Del Toro, Spain/Mexico, 2001) – 8.6
Mulholland Drive (Lynch, USA, 2001) – 8.1
Avalon (Oshii, Japan/Poland, 2001) – 7.8
The Tracker (De Heer, Australia, 2002) – 7.9
Infernal Affairs (Lau/Mak, Hong Kong, 2002) – 7.8
Bollywood/Hollywood (Mehta, Canada/India, 2002) – 7.6
Far From Heaven (Haynes, USA, 2002) – 7.5
Memories of Murder (Bong, S. Korea, 2003) – 8.8
Oldboy (Park, S. Korea, 2003) – 8.6
Save the Green Planet (Jang, S. Korea, 2003) – 6.9
Before Sunset (Linklater, USA/France, 2004) – 9.0
3-Iron (Kim, S. Korea, 2004) – 8.8
Moolade (Sembene, Senegal, 2004) – 8.2
The Island of Black Mor (Laguionie, France, 2004) – 8.1
Dumplings (Chan, Hong Kong, 2004) – 6.4
The Holy Girl (Martel, Argentina, 2005) – 6.9
A History of Violence (Cronenberg, Canada/USA, 2005) – 8.3
Grizzly Man (Herzog, USA, 2005) – 8.1
The Proposition (Hillcoat, Australia, 2005) – 8.1
Three Times (Hou, Taiwan, 2005) – 7.5
The Host (Bong, S. Korea, 2006) 8.9
Once (Carney, UK, 2006) – 8.8
Offside (Panahi, Iran, 2006) – 8.1
A Scanner Darkly (Linklater, USA, 2006) – 8.0
Zodiac (Fincher, USA, 2007) – 9.1
Me and Orson Welles (Linklater, USA, 2008) – 7.9
The Headless Woman (Martel, Argentina, 2008) – 6.1
The House of the Devil (West, USA, 2009) – 8.1
Shutter Island (Scorsese, USA, 2010) – 9.5
The Social Network (Fincher, USA, 2010) – 8.5
Certified Copy (Kiarostami, Italy/France, 2010) – 8.5
The Ghost Writer (Polanski, Germany/France, 2010) – 8.0
The Hunter (Pitts, Iran, 2010) – 6.8
Bernie (Linklater, USA, 2011) – 8.9
Drive (Refn, USA, 2011) – 8.1
Life Without Principle (To, Hong Kong, 2011) – 7.9
Sleeping Sickness (Kohler, Germany, 2011) – 6.6
Zero Dark Thirty (Bigelow, USA, 2012) – 8.9
Silver Linings Playbook (Russell, USA, 2012) – 8.4
Spring Breakers (Korine, USA, 2012) – 8.3
Holy Motors (Carax, France, 2012) – 8.2
Empire Builder (Swanberg, USA, 2012) – 7.7
The Master (Anderson, USA, 2012) – 7.6
Cosmopolis (Cronenberg, Canada/Germany, 2012) – 7.0
The Unspeakable Act (Sallit, USA, 2012) – 6.9
Shoals (Bass, USA, 2012) – 5.7
Nymphomaniac (Von Trier, Denmark/Germany, 2013) – 8.5
The Grandmaster (Wong, Hong Kong/China, 2013) – 8.2
Upstream Color (Carruth, USA, 2013) – 8.1
A Touch of Sin (Jia, China, 2013) – 7.9
Before Midnight (Linklater, USA, 2013) – 7.8
The Wind Rises (Miyazaki, Japan, 2013) – 7.8
Jimmy P. (Desplechin, France/USA, 2013) – 7.7
Under the Skin (Glazer, UK, 2013) – 7.3
Gloria (Lelio, Chile, 2013) – 7.2
Double Play: James Benning and Richard Linklater (Klinger, USA, 2013) – 6.9
Only Lovers Left Alive (Jarmusch, USA, 2013) – 6.3
The Girls on Liberty Street (Rangel, USA, 2013) – 5.5
Boyhood (Linklater, USA, 2014) – 9.5
The Grand Budapest Hotel (Anderson, USA, 2014) – 8.9
The Babadook (Kent, Australia, 2014) – 8.1
Goodbye to Language (Godard, France, 2014) – 7.6

A countdown of the top 10 highest-rated films:

10. The Grand Budapest Hotel (Anderson, USA, 2014) – 8.9
9. Bernie (Linklater, USA, 2011) – 8.9
8. The Host (Bong, S. Korea, 2006) – 8.9
7. Singin’ in the Rain (Donen/Kelly, USA, 1952) – 9.0
6. Before Sunset (Linklater, USA/France, 2004) – 9.0
5. Zodiac (Fincher, USA, 2007) – 9.1
4. Goodfellas (Scorsese, USA, 1990) – 9.2
3. Some Like It Hot (Wilder, USA, 1959) – 9.2
2. Shutter Island (Scorsese, USA, 2010) – 9.4
1. Boyhood (Linklater, USA, 2014) – 9.8


Filmmaker Interview: Alex Ross Perry

Alex Ross Perry is a prodigiously talented writer/director who, having completely four feature films, already has an estimable body of work under his belt at just 31-years-old. Coming out of the microbudget independent American filmmaking scene, each of Perry’s movies has been more ambitious and complex than the last. Following 2013’s excellent Jason Schwartzman-starring Listen Up Philip, a lot of critics thought they had the young filmmaker pegged as a creator of highly literate, acerbic comedies but Perry surprised many when his latest, Queen of Earth, debuted at the Berlin International Film Festival in January. It’s old-school psychological art-horror that echoes Polanski’s Repulsion and Bergman’s Persona in its story of childhood friends (Elisabeth Moss and Katherine Waterston) who find their relationship tested when they vacation together at a lakeside retreat. I recently spoke to Perry about the film by phone.


MGS: Queen of Earth is being described as a “left turn” for you. Was it born from a desire to do something different from what people might expect or are you not that self-conscious about it while you’re doing it?

ARP: I’m sure I would be if I felt the need to be for a minute but, basically, what we’re doing is just about how to keep the collaborators that I enjoy working with stimulated. And giving them something to do that, for me, as a fan of their work . . . I want to see these people whose work I think is the best do things that I haven’t seen them do before. So a lot of it kind of starts from there.

MGS: Robert Altman was a director I thought of while watching Queen of Earth. Not that it reminds me of anything he did specifically but there’s a sense that, when he was making all those great films in the 1970s, each film was his own highly personal and perversely revisionist take on a different genre. When I saw Queen of Earth I thought “This is an amazing psychological thriller. I could see this guy making a musical or a film noir or a western.” Would you ever be interested in making your version of, say, a western?

ARP: Ideally, I would eventually come up with an exciting and relevant and unique-to-me idea for every genre that I like. I’ve never even had a glimpse of an idea for something like that that was remotely personal to me or unique. Of course, at some point I would love to have that idea. We were talking about Robert Altman’s Images when we were making this movie as this great example of a bizarre left turn for a director that’s sort of derided at the time and that over the years grows in reputation to the point that it’s elevated alongside that other work. And, you know, of course the similarities really reveal themselves as the years pass and the filmography gets more and more rich. And then, you know, there was a Robert Altman series here in New York in December and January right when I was in the middle of editing this. That really is a director who you can’t talk about detached from the large group of repeating collaborators and the fact that each movie — including the myriad unsuccessful movies that he made that are clearly just from a point of exploring something different and getting all of his favorite actors together — he clearly had a lot of his favorite actors always ready to come and just do something for a few weeks and then seeing what they’ll go for. And most of the time it’s not very interesting and some of the time it’s very good and then once in a while it’s one of the greatest films ever made. It’s a pretty good thing to aspire to and he’s kind of the king of that — for Americans at least.


MGS: Elisabeth Moss is phenomenal in this. How much do you think the effectiveness of her performance is the result of the fact that you two had collaborated before?

ARP: If you asked her she would say a lot or almost entirely. She’s been making movies and acting in television since she was five or six-years-old but this was the first time that she’s made a second movie with the same director. Obviously she worked with a lot of repeat directors for various other projects. But this was the first ever theatrical film that was made with someone who she’s done that with before. And it was something she’d never done in terms of the performance and the character and the tone of the movie. And I think there’s just a lot of protection against embarrassment and failure on both of our parts. Which is what I feel having made four films with the same cinematographer (Sean Price Williams) and many other key crew members: she’s now welcomed into that kind of fraternity of, you know, just the whole thing about wanting to impress these people. Nobody wants to say “We made this one movie. It was great and we all were really happy and then we made another one and it just wasn’t there that time. So it was clearly a fluke and not a lifelong collaboration.” No one ever wants to feel that way. And she doesn’t want to be saying “We made a movie and then immediately we made another one and I didn’t deliver and then we never made a third one because you were wrong about how far outside of my own comfort zone I could go. I’m sorry that this one didn’t work out.” So it becomes this fun challenge of just wanting to impress and please and entertain these collaborators who you respect. And, you know, I would’ve felt very ridiculous asking a performer who I had less familiarity with to bear with me and explore some of the ideas that were in this movie. And I don’t know if that performer would’ve felt comfortable delivering that. She was very adamant that a lot of the things in this movie she just would’ve felt very embarrassed if she were doing them not only for a director who she hadn’t already had a successful collaboration with but in front of a cameraman and a crew that she didn’t already know by their first names and enjoy laughing with and going out to dinner with. We all sort of had that dynamic, which was really helpful.

MGS: In terms of having her go to places that are maybe more emotionally raw?

ARP: Yeah, and just freer. Emotionally raw is of course the nature of this film but mostly it’s just this sort of uninhibited sense of discovery and exploration that we were all able to bring together. That was definitely my idea in making the movie. I learned on Listen Up Philip what value these wonderful professional actors can bring and how many ideas they have about what they’re doing and it became very important to make sure that this film was structured in a way that there was breathing room for all of those moments to be brought in by the performers at all times.


MGS: Katherine Waterston is also really excellent. This is her first film since Inherent Vice so I feel like I have to ask: were you nervous at all about being the first person to direct her after Paul Thomas Anderson?

ARP: Well, no, I hadn’t seen the movie yet so I had no sense of what it would be like. I was excited and clearly it made me feel like there was a certain sense of unification of, you know, the kind of performer that you understand why it’s accessible to be so excited about them and to be so excited about what they’re doing. But, yeah, we wrapped about five days before the premiere of Inherent Vice at the New York Film Festival. So I went and saw it there after we had made this movie. I felt very excited then. It was kind of a joke that I was making so that everyone else felt a little bit comfortable. We were shooting the movie right before the New York Film Festival. Patrick Fugit was in Opening Night with Gone Girl and she was in the Centerpiece with Inherent Vice. The fact that we had these two actors on set who were going right from our movie to promoting Fincher and Paul Thomas Anderson films that they were very well represented in and ultimately received very good reviews for — it was very funny that these two actors worked with these kind of titans. And then me and Lizzie made our own little movie. She has no movie with a titan. She has Listen Up Philip and then these other performers had their Fincher and PTA movies . . . I made a lot of jokes at my own expense about that. And, you know, it’s just all part of the process. The fun thing about that is that actors like that can go the distance and when Katherine goes and does the Sorkin Steve Jobs movie, there’s just a different amount of leeway with what you can do with the script on a movie like that than what we were able to offer. And that’s why I think a lot of actors enjoy coming to do movies like this. It’s not the only thing anybody wants to do but it’s a fun way to satisfy a different set of creative urges than would be satisfied on something like a Fincher or a Sorkin movie.

MGS: Because they have more freedom or they’re allowed to stretch a little bit more if they’re in a film like yours?

ARP: I think so. I mean, I’m sure if you’re a great actor you stretch in everything you feel passionate about. But it’s just less intense. It feels less like going to work, I would imagine, because we don’t have any sense of professional decorum. There’s really nowhere for anyone to go so everyone’s just kind of hanging out. The crew is only about a dozen people and we’re all just going to the same diner every night together and having a meal after we wrap. So that kind of low-stakes camaraderie does tend to inspire actors to get a little bit more liberated with some of their ideas — because this is a film where both actresses could say to me “Hey, I’ve got a really out-of-left-field idea of something to do in this scene. Do you want me to tell you it or do you just want to see it while we’re filming?” And that’s not a question you can ask on most movie sets. And my answer to that is always “Yeah, I’ll just see it, don’t tell me it.” And I think just being able to even be in a working environment where that question is not only welcome but encouraged is really a liberating place for actors to be in.


MGS: That’s really interesting. Can you think of an example on Queen of Earth where you were surprised in a good way during a take that ended up in the finished film?

ARP: Um, at this point it would be hard for me to remember exactly what we planned and what I was surprised by but . . . one moment in the script, it just says “Catherine is in bed zoning out and we sit with her for a minute.” And that’s probably all that was written. And we did it a few times with like a 50-second zoom, moving the whole time, getting tighter and tighter. And then it wasn’t even until the fourth or fifth time I watched the footage that I was like “She doesn’t blink in any of these takes.” We did this three times and that’s three times where she doesn’t blink for a minute. That was a pretty astonishing surprise. There’s a lot of stuff like that. The surprises are less in the footage because I was right there while we were filming but, working with Elisabeth before, I know there’s a lot of tiny modulations in her performance, that even if you’re in the room they don’t necessarily register because she’s acting for the camera. She’s giving little tidbits of performance to the camera that don’t even really register if you’re not as close to her as the lens is. And then discovering that in the footage and then making sure it’s well represented in the film is really the fun of working with her.

MGS: I’d like to ask you about the production design, which was my favorite aspect of the film. It’s hard to tell when the film is taking place because everything about the sets and the props and the clothing makes it seem like it could be taking place at any point between the 1970s and the present day. For example, the cordless phone has an obvious narrative function but it has an aesthetic function as well. What was your intention in creating this feeling of timelessness?

ARP: Well, a version of that is what we’ve done on every movie now. The cordless phone on this was kind of an improvement on the technology in Listen Up Philip where the phones are not even cordless. Having a giant, blocky cordless phone was our step into the modern age. But you’d be surprised about the mileage you can get from stripping all the modern stuff out of a room and replacing it with the sort of stuff that recalls whatever era you grew up in. Because it’s really not that complicated. It’s certainly easier than creating an accurate, up-to-date modern aesthetic. Unless you’re shooting in the Apple store. And then it sort of easily and efficiently conveys a sense of timelessness that, combined with a shooting style of shooting on film, really just gives people a lot to hold onto. This just comes from having made a handful of small movies where you’re very limited by what resources you actually have access to. So it’s easier to come into a house and get rid of the television and get rid of the internet router and get rid of the computer than it is to go in the other direction. And if you leave a television there, then it looks like nothing. It looks like a house. And if you get rid of it, then everyone who pays attention says what you just said. And now you’ve created a displaced sense of time that leaves people wondering during the movie a lot of the right questions, such as “Does it matter when this is taking place?” or, more accurately, “What am I supposed to be feeling about the fact that I don’t really know that?”


Queen of Earth opens in theaters and On Demand on August 26. Chicagoans can catch a preview at Elevated Films’ rooftop screening this Wednesday, August 12, after which Perry will participate in a Skype Q&A.

The Last Ten Movies I Saw

1. Stromboli (Rossellini)
2. People Places Things (Strouse)
3. Inspector Lavardin (Chabrol)
4. The Color of Lies (Chabrol)
5. Here is Your Life (Troell)
6. Journey to Italy (Rossellini)
7. The Machine That Kills Bad People (Rossellini)
8. Black Magic (Ratoff/Welles)
9. Pet Sematary (Lambert)
10. Nightcap (Chabrol)

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