Vivian Mair was a French-American photographer whose art, like many of the greats, only gained widespread success after her death. Most of her life was spent working as a maid for families in Chicago. Her masterpieces were only introduced to the world when the director of this documentary purchased a box of her negatives. This movie is about him trying to put together the pieces and retrace her life by interviewing the people that knew her.
And right from the beginning of this documentary her photos will have you in awe. They gave me chills and made me feel exactly what I needed to feel to understand each photo. Cue Vivian’s unexpected dark side along with really messed up backstory, I was completely absorbed. Interviews, along with Vivian’s own photos and home videos show the complexity and mystery of the artist.
An instant classic, Beast of No Nation is a unique and uniquely-paced war drama which ranges in patterns from explosive visual storytelling to calm character studies. A child joins a rebel group consisting almost entirely of children and led by a charismatic leader credited as Commandant. As you get to witness the conflict through the child’s eyes, his own development and his commander’s, the film unfolds as an exploration of the never ending, pathetic state of war in Africa. From there it takes you to varying conclusions, most of which you will have trouble admitting you’ve reached.
As Commandant, Idris Elba is transfixing, proving once more that he is one of the best actors of our time. The whole cast of almost entirely non-actors, as well as the deeply authentic staging by True Detective and Sin Nombre director Cary Fukunaga, are both mesmerizing. So, while undeniably a tough watch, on a scale of 1 to go watch this movie immediately, this film ranks a million.
What happens when Banksy, one of the most famous ambassadors of street art, meets Mr. Brainwash, an egocentric aspiring French artist? Well, one of the funniest, most interesting and most exciting documentaries ever made about art, commercialism and the apparent gulf between them. But is it really a documentary? This confident and zany film will leave you guessing.
Based on a beautiful premise, sprinkled with artistic vision, it is an intelligent man’s sit back and relax movie. The film explores the life and times of Nemo Nobody, the last mortal man on earth, as he reflects on important choices he took. Each of these choices are presented as branching pathways of what could have been, utilizing innovative non-linear cinematography. In addition to the film’s winning structure, its soundtrack is considered a masterpiece, perfectly fitting the plot via looping and trilling melodies. The film garnered 6 Margaritte awards, and has slowly been developing into an indie cult classic.
Twinsters is a documentary about a young Asian American actress, Samantha Futerman (also co-director), who is contacted over the internet by a young French-Asian woman, Anaïs Bordier, who has been shown a video of Samantha on the internet — and cannot believe their remarkably similar physical appearance. After initial perplexity and uncertaintiy, Samantha and Anaïs are soon embroiled in excited correspondence and travel to meet one another in their respective countries — eventually confirming via DNA testing that they are in fact long-lost twin sisters given up for adoption 25 years earlier in South Korea. A remarkable true story with a wonderfully beating heart, Twinsters does a lovely job of not just spelling out the amazing story of the sisters’ unlikely connection, but also finding and exploring the growing love and affection between both the two girls, as well as their extended families and groups of friends. A truly touching and humanistic film-viewing experience.
“As fragile as she was strong, as vulnerable as she was dynamic, she was African royalty. How does royalty stomp around in the mud and still walk with grace?”. What Happened, Miss Simone? will teach you and surprise you no matter how much you think you know the soul singer, not only in its exploration of Nina Simone’s personal life and complexities, but by being both a personal and political documentary. As you get to discover an original singer with talents that reach all the way to performance art, you will also learn about a Civil Rights activist’s journey and an unstable woman’s struggle. The documentary is not about answering the question of what happened, Miss Simone? – it’s an exploration of why that question is so important.
Watching Carol is like reading a really interesting book while relaxing on a Sunday afternoon. It is one of those movies that you probably heard about during its Oscar run, and have since delayed actually viewing it. Well now that it is on Netflix and other streaming services you have no excuse! It’s refreshingly unique, incredibly charming, and features a kind of story that hasn’t been told very often – a love story between two women. Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara play the women, both of their characters attempt to live true to their own principles while facing unjust yet severe backlash from society. If you are open to it, the love story in this will stay with you forever.
It’s disaster movie true to the guidelines of the genre, and yet with a little Korean twist it manages to be refreshingly thrilling. While a father tries to take his daughter from Seoul to Busan, the second largest city in Korea, a zombie virus breaks out. Together with other passengers they try to survive until Busan, with news coming in that it’s a safe zone untouched by the virus. The acting is spot on, the set pieces are well choreographed, and most importantly it makes you care about the characters through the father’s struggle to keep the governing principals of humanity in the bleakest of scenarios.
John Carney who directed Begin Again, and before that the critically and commercially successful Once, may be the world’s best captor of charm. Begin Again tells the story of a brokenhearted singer who gets discovered by a failed showbiz executive. Their ideas and love for music are all they have to face their failures and bring their creativity to life. The original songs are charming and from Keira Knightley and Mark Ruffalo to Yasiin Bey (Mos Def), Adam Levine, and Cee-Lo Green, the cast generate sparkling chemistry and portray the story beautifully. Begin again is sweet and an effortless watch, yet very far from being your classic rom-com.
Donnie Darko is a cult film by director Richard Kelly, starring Jake Gyllenhaal. It’s about the troubled teenager Donnie who lives in a suburb and suddenly faces a person in a giant rabbit costume who tells him that the world is going to end in 28 days. If that didn’t make sense to you, don’t worry – it’s not about making sense. The film is a gorgeous exploration of a bizarre chain of events, a deep rabbit-hole of meaning and expression, fate and acceptance that practically begs for a second, third, or fourth watching.
Shot in black and white to be the best dialogue-driven, character-study film it can be; Blue Jay stars Sarah Paulson and Mark Duplass in a cozy, slow-burning film. Their characters, respectively Amanda and Jim, are former high-school sweethearts who run into each other in their hometowns 20 years later. They talk, then get coffee, and then beer and jelly beans, until they move to Jim’s mother’s house. As they talk, and the movie moves forward, it abandons its romantic chops to become a truly heartfelt and real film. A revelation of a movie.
Icarus starts with its director Bryan Fogel deciding to inject himself with doping substances and participate in a biking race undetected. By accident, he ends up in contact with a Russian scientist. This man transforms the movie from a personal experiment to a highly relevant political thriller. Called Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov, the scientist seems to be at the center of accusations to Russia of a virtually impossible state-sponsored doping scheme. With links to the Russian president Putin himself, the movie keeps getting more and more interesting as the relationship between Fogel and Rodchenkov develops. And aside from all the madness that unfolds, Rodchenkov’s likeable personality makes the story more relatable and humane, and gives an insight into the pressures of working in the regulatory body in a country like Russia. You will be astonished by how much material this movie has. A must-watch.
Francois Cluzet, who you may remember from The Intouchable, plays a man whose wife is killed and is afterwards accused of murdering her. To make matters even more confusing, signs that his wife is actually still alive surface. This well thought out thriller is at all times the furthest thing from boring and has, among other great components, well crafted chase scenes as the protagonist looks for 8 years of unanswered questions.
One of the many good movies from director Edgar Wright. If you loved Shaun of the Dead, then this Buddy-Cop Homage will make you double over (and question humanity – or lack, thereof) just as much. Sandford is a small English village with the lowest crime and murder rates, so when overachieving police Nicholas Angel (Simon Pegg) gets sent there because he was so good he apparently intimidated those around him, he just about lost it. From car-chasing, bone-thrilling, head-blowing action, he graduates to swan-calling, thrill-seeking, sleep-inducing madness. But all that’s about to change – for the worse? For the better? You decide.
An obscenely funny flick that has an intriguing plot and an even greater set of characters, Hot Fuzz wasn’t named the best film of the Cornetto trilogy for nothing, clearly cementing Pegg and Nick Frost as the ultimate action duo of the genre.
Robyn Davidson decided to cross 1,700 miles in the Australian desert with four camels and her trusty dog, and this film recounts her real-life journey. In many ways this is a companion piece to Reese Witherspoon’s Wild, also released in theaters in 2014. While I enjoyed Wild, it went out of its way to make the protagonist’s journey understood to audiences. While Tracks gives Robyn some shading and backstory, it focuses almost solely on her journey to cross the desert. And what a desert it is! The scenery is shot beautifully and we feel as though we are truly on this daring journey with Robyn, traveling alien landscapes with little to depend on beyond our animal companions and our wits. We know the outcome (since this is a true story) but we are still thrilled to see how it unfolds. What does it all mean, and what was the journey’s purpose? Thankfully, in the end, the answer is left as enigmatic as the heroine herself.
I was pleasantly surprised at how much I liked this film. I’ll be honest and say I did not really expect much given that it starred Jesse McCartney in the title role. Nevertheless, he managed to really surprise me. McCartney and Harnois have excellent chemistry as Keith and Natalie and you find yourself rooting for them to end up together. The film does a great job at building up their relationship and emotional connection, and it will definitely succeed in pulling at your heartstrings. If you enjoy films in the vein of A Walk to Remember, I think you will like to check this one out!
A documentary that is immediate and plays out like a thriller. Beautifully shot in Virunga National Park in the Eastern Congo, the story focuses on the struggles between Park Rangers and a list of adversaries including poachers, oil company goons, and an Islamic revolutionary army. The stories of the endangered gorillas and the people who struggle to protect them will break your heart and at the same time give you hope in humanity. On top of this, the editing is superb and gives the film an intensity that rivals any recent thriller.
This surprising documentary follows Jiro, an 85 year old Japanese chef, his Michelin-starred restaurant in the Tokyo underground, and his eager sons. While ostensibly about sushi – and believe me, you’ll learn about sushi and see absolutely gorgeous images of the raw-fish creations – the film’s dramatic impetus is carried by the weight of tradition, the beauty of a labor of love, obsession, and the oft-fraught relationships between fathers and sons. Truly a must-watch.
A striking and revelatory documentary focused on captive Killer Whales and their treatment and behavior within SeaWorld and other theme parks around the world. At the center of the story is Tilikum, a bull orca whale that has been responsible for the death of three individuals, and the legal and ethical challenges that have arisen from apparent cover-ups by officials. What happened to Tilikum to make him adopt such behavior, and more simply, what are Killer Whales? First-hand accounts by former whale trainers and experts deliver fascinating truths about Tilikum and the species as whole, with particular attention on their remarkable intelligence and advanced social behaviors. Blackfish will undoubtedly change your perspective on whale captivity indefinitely. It’s certainly not to be missed by anyone who appreciates top-notch documentary film-making as honest historical record.
In 1980s Dublin, a young Irish catholic-school boy, whose family is facing financial problems starts his own band with the sole objective of impressing a mysterious femme fatale. The film will take you on a beautiful and witty journey through the band’s path to success and our protagonist’s quest of conquering his love all to the rhythm of some of the biggest 80’s pop-rock hits and the band’s own original soundtrack. Without a doubt this film is the culmination of John Carney’s work (Once, Begin Again) as a filmmaker and dare I say his long awaited passion project.
Memento is a right of passage movie – the kind of movie 19 year olds watch and decide, “holy hell, cinema is cool.” Call it the most cinematic mainstream film or the most mainstream serious film of the last 20 years, Memento also marks the beginning of the reign of Christopher Nolan. A deep and gripping meditation on forgetting helmed by a technical virtuoso, Memento is a puzzling emotional trip.
The Reader is a German-American drama from 2008, based on the best-selling novel of the same name by author Bernhard Schlink. The storyline begins with adult Michael (Ralph Fiennes) reminiscing about his adolescence in post-World War II Berlin and his fateful relationship with an older woman named Hannah (Kate Winslet). 15-year old Michael is beset by Scarlet Fever and helped off the street one day by the unknown Hannah after a bout of sickness. Taken into her care, Michael soon begins a passionate affair with his enigmatic benefactor, quickly forsaking family and friends for every opportunity to ensconce himself in her world of lust and desire. As their time together progresses, Hannah begins urging Michael to read to her daily—to which he draws from many classic novels and delights in their rich interchange. Hannah suddenly disappears from Michael’s life, however, only reappearing several years later when young law student Michael is stunned to find her facing a World War II war-crimes tribunal. Tied to a real-life series of trials against former Auschwitz employees from 1963 to 1965, The Reader is a provocative tale of passion, ethical ambiguity and human maturation in the face of difficult reconciliation. Directed by British screen stalwart Stephen Daldry (Billy Elliot, The Hours), The Reader is a strikingly original and exceptionally well-made film that is recommended to those who appreciate sophisticated, emotionally mannered cinema.
In rural Korea a policeman starts to investigate peculiar and violent events that most of the people in his village attribute to the arrival of a new Japanese resident. As the occurrences keep multiplying, and different perspectives in the film are shown, you start to lose touch with reality in the face of what can only be described as genius film-making. As critic Jada Yuan puts it, the film operates on a level “that makes most American cinema seem clunky and unimaginative”. For this reason, and while The Wailing is a true horror flick with a great premise, it’s also more than just that: it boosts a mind-boggling, interesting plot that will have you thinking about it long after the credits roll. Protip: grab the person next to you and make them watch this movie with you so you can have someone to discuss it with after!
It’s been acclaimed as one the best Kung Fu movies ever made. You are probably wondering why this contemporary movie made that short list when its genre had its peak decades ago: it is visually striking and at the same time surprisingly story-oriented. As you would expect of course, there is quite a fair amount of action scenes, but the characters are also brilliant which is very uncommon in this type of movie. It is a very exciting movie, very worthy of any compliment or good rating it may get.
Death is a weird and scary concept. Ironically, however, the only way movies have been successful in covering it was through humor (Sunshine Cleaning and Beginners are other great examples). Departures gives this trend a new home, Japan. By doing so it almost never saw the light of day, since at first many distributors refused to release it given the taboos against people who deal with death. Eventually however it received so many accolades, including an Academy Award, that well-deserved attention was directed towards it. It’s one of those rare movies that will take you through all emotions: it will move from making you laugh, to making you cry, then happy, and finally highly interested in its subject matter. It’s a beautiful, funny, and compelling movie.
Full of twists on classic horror themes, this hilarious and gory comedy will have your sides aching, and still you’ll want more. The plot centers on two rednecks who are trying to have a good time while fixing up a summer home. True to horror movie form, a group of college kids set up camp nearby, and naturally evil begins to happen. This well-written, entertaining story even has some heart to it.
On his daughter’s birthday, Oh Dae-su gets drunk and soon he’s arrested by the police. His friend bails him out of jail and while he is making a phone call Oh Dae-su disappears. Oh Dae-su is held by unknown captors, in a room for 15 years only to see the outside world through a television. But one day he’s released. That’s all that can be revealed, without actually revealing too much of this intense and twisted film. All I can add, and this is precisely how I recommend Oldboy to new viewers: “You’re welcome & I’m sorry.” It is truly a twisted film, one that is so mesmerizing in it’s directing, acting, and plot, all of which will stay with you whether you would like it to or not.
Five orphaned sister are put under house arrest by their uncle and grandmother after they are seen horsing around with some local boys from school. While their actions were purely innocent, their behavior is viewed as scandalous and shameful by the more conservative elders in their small Turkish village. After this incident, their grandmother turns her attention towards marrying off her granddaughters. Each of the five sisters rebel in their own way, but it is the youngest and rowdiest sister, Lale, who is the central protagonist of the film. She watches helplessly as each of her older sisters is married off with an increasing sense of dread and desperation. While this may sound hopelessly depressing, the movie is equal parts beautiful and tragic, and floats across the screen in a dreamlike manner. Not all of the sisters may escape their oppressive surroundings or their assigned fate, but the message is clear: it’s crucial to try.
This movie at first confuses you as to what is going on with a feud involving the two magicians (played by Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale), but it then grips you with the plot. The unveiling of the mystery will leave you in awe, however it is the storytelling and the process that Christopher Nolan puts together so beautifully that is the greatest thing about this movie.
Once again, Mads Mikkelsen gives us an unforgettable performance in this Danish thriller. Lucas is a new teacher in a small town. He is just starting a new life after a divorce and the loss of his last job. One day, a child from the class he is teaching accuses him of an unforgivable act. The lie will spread throughout the small community and will tear Lucas’ life apart. The Hunt, or “Jagten” in its original version, is one of those rare thrillers that will haunt you for days, and make you question everything in its aftermath. Extraordinary!