39 Contributions by: Igor Fishman (Page 3)

Staff & contributors

Gunda offers an empathetic look at the lives of farm animals with its minimalist approach to the nature doc. Director Victor Kossakosvsky films without a sentimental score or voice-over narration, and shoots in a sparse yet striking black and white. This decision gives the film an intimacy often missing from more traditional modes. 

We watch a sow named Gunda, her piglets, and a few other animals through their daily routines. Long natural sequences allow the viewer to sink into the zen of the animals’ natural rhythms. The result is an astounding and bittersweet film that hints at the brutalities of factory farming without ever stepping foot in a slaughterhouse.

A young Steve Buscemi leads this wry farce about a calamitous film set where nothing goes right. The sardonic script skewers the ins and outs of low budget film production and the various personalities on set from belligerent directors, pretentious cinematographers, and egotistic actors. 

A playful three-act structure and trips into dream sequences keep things light, while a strong supporting cast, including a cheeky appearance by Peter Dinklage and the fantastic Catherine Keener, gives the film the backbone it needs. 

The Safdie Brothers spent over a decade making films before their mainstream breakout with Good Time and Uncut Gems. Their rich backlog captures New York City in its raw vibrant glory. Daddy Longlegs is the sardonic semi-autobiographical portrait of the Safdies’ childhood spent with their father after their parents' divorce. 

Lenny (Ronald Bronstein) is an awful dad whose parenting style ranges from the wildly irresponsible to the criminally negligent. While his behavior is often detestable and has few if any redeeming traits, the Safdies’ puncture through his demeanor and craft a sensitive portrait of fatherhood imbued with affection and feeling that could only originate from the well of a child’s capacity for forgiveness and love.

 

This stirring peek into the final days of a shuttering Las Vegas dive might be one of the finest odes to American bar culture yet. It also serves as a powerful portrait of a particular moment deep into the disastrous Trump years, yet right before the pandemic struck.

Directors Bill and Turner Ross capture the good, bad, and ugly, allowing conversations to unfold naturally. The colorful hues of the bar create a cinematic canvas for the patrons, who awash with booze and nostalgia, uncertainty, fear, and love, spend their last day together. If there was ever a film for those who miss the rough and tumble nightlife of the pre-Covid world, this is it. 

Spike Lee’s adaptation of Richard Price’s novel might appear lesser next to his best work, but it still a gorgeous showcase for all of his talents as a director. Its case is further bolstered by a stacked cast including Delroy Lindo, Harvey Keitel, Mekhi Pfifer, Isaiah Washington, and John Turturro. 

Clockers is set in the world of small-time drug-dealers during the crack epidemic, and much like The Wire (which Price would go on to write for) applies a multifaceted lens to the material. Lee’s uncompromising and emphatic direction lends a gorgeous gravity to the taut drama while top-notch performances fuel the emotional furnace at its core.

 

A portrait of an Alabama high school wrestling team springboards from a sports documentary into an encompassing exploration of the American working class and institutional racism. The film operates on both levels as it zooms in on the lives of four students and their friendly yet overbearing coach. From the opening moments, Coach Sribner makes it clear that the State Championship is about much more than sport. A failing and underfunded school system all but ensures that a sports scholarship is one of the few chances for these youth to have access to higher education and a path out of poverty. 

This is further exacerbated by the racial dynamics at play, as we watch these mostly Black youth experience casual racism as well as institutional harassment from the police. Even their well-meaning coach is not exempt, he at once can acknowledge his white privilege but is not above baselessly accusing one of the boys of stealing his sunglasses. Herbert’s up close and personal style is immersive and passionate and builds to an exciting sports film climax while maintaining a piercing awareness of the severe economic realities that hollow out any victory on the mat.

Ben du Toit (Donald Sutherland) is a patriarch of an upper-class white family insulated from the roiling protests and violence in their suburban household outside of Johannesburg. When his gardener’s son is arrested, du Toit’s complacency is tested and he becomes embroiled in the devastating political reality outside the comforts of his gated world. 

Although it falls into the somewhat blemished category of films that center white protagonists when covering Black struggle, it does so with a piercing critical lens that confronts white denial and complicity. Euzhan Palcy’s direction is striking, depicting racism and violence with uncompromised clarity, while her unfettered dedication to getting this made even brought Marlon Brando out of retirement. Keep an eye out for him playing a beleaguered civil rights attorney - a role which notched him his final Academy Award nomination. 

It’s easy enough to pitch Moonstruck with the promise of Cher and a young Nicolas Cage getting hot and heavy in 80s New York, but it’s so much more than its two outsized leads. Loretta (Cher) is on track to marry Johnny (Danny Aiello) when he tasks her with inviting his brother Ronny (Nicolas Cage) to their wedding. Before long Loretta and Ronny are having a whirlwind affair that threatens to derail everything. 

Despite the somewhat risque premise, Moonstruck is a lighthearted, sentimental, romance fit for the holidays. A big cast playing the warm-hearted family rounds things out, and some of the best moments are digressions that explore the romantic entanglements outside of the central couple.  At times Moonstruck feels a bit too big, too over-the-top, too cheesy, but it’s a New York slice cheesy, it’s a ‘That’s Amore’ cheesy, it’s a cheesy that tucks you in at night after a  helping of manicotti and a big bottle of wine.

The disturbing conceit of a housewife swallowing inanimate objects may push some away, but those that can stomach it will find a searing exploration of patriarchal control over women’s bodies - an issue more relevant than ever in the US, as anti-choice zealots push closer to overturning abortion rights nationwide. 

An odd twist towards the end, and a tone-deaf bit about a Syrian refugee, make the film uneven. But, the edge of the seat suspense, sumptuously colorful cinematography, and Haley Bennet’s resonant performance make this worth seeing nonetheless.