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The Top 10 Films of 2016

Let’s not beat around the bush; 2016 was a shitshow. I don’t even know most of you and I can say that’s true without hesitation.

At least the movies were good. It is one of benefits of, to use the parlance of our subject matter, living in a world where roughly a thousand films get released annually. That number is just domestically too. Keeping up with what hits theatres allows no hesitation, for each weekend brings a South Korean pic, that Sundance gem people said was worthwhile, a sequel to a horror remake, a remake of that horror sequel and everything else you do and don’t want.

As for what you came to read, the best of the best, why hesitate and yammer on with even more words; here they are. The ten best films I saw this year.

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Always Shine

Two of the year’s most unsung performances come from this eerie, barely-seen thriller by director Sophia Takal and writer Lawrence Michael Lavine. Sitting alongside the women on the verge of a nervous breakdown yarns like Persona, 3 Women or Queen of Earth, Always Shine stars Caitlin FitzGerald and Mackenzie Davis as best friends and aspiring actresses. Davis has, thus far, found no success, while FitzGerald is finding consistent work in low-brow horror flicks littered with nudity. Minor work is better than none, and when the pair head off for a weekend of catching up, jealousy, false modesty and years of unsaid spites go from simmer to boil, with Takal’s lengthy, often close-up takes and Lavine’s vicious dialogue drugging up a great work.

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Kubo and the Two Strings

Laika’s masterpiece about storytelling, destiny, family and forgiveness is this year’s proof that breathless blockbuster cinema isn’t dead. Amidst an underwhelming parade of would-be wow-inducers (Dawn of Justice, Doctor Strange, Fantastic Beasts), the fourth feature by the finest animation studio working today comes via their CEO Travis Knight, who along with his cinematic magicians, summon images of towering skeletons, tsunamis sliced in two and an ending that is perfectly elegant, quiet and moving in its telling. That it does all of this with wit, surprise and an inventive array of action set-pieces is but the frosting on this scrumptious dessert.

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La La Land

An invigorating delight where dreamers ponder the stars and love in all of their conflicting glories, Damien Chazelle’s runs with the notion that heights mean nothing without the lows, and vice-versa. Riding the backs of the charm-bombs that go by the names of Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, the pair dance and sing along to breezy, catchy tunes, romance blossoms and does what it must, with challenges peeking their heads into sunrises and sunsets. A movie like this needs showstoppers; it has them. A movie like this needs surprises; it has them. A movie like this needs to end just right; boy, it does that.

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The Lobster

Courtship is hard. Weird as hell too. Two people, typically from entirely different backgrounds, trying to find a connection. At times it begins from a mutual passion. The physical attraction is always an option. Or perhaps both of you are prone to nosebleeds. For those unable to figure out how to make two become one, there is Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Lobster, an absurd, oh-so-dark comedy about coupling, society’s expectations of falling in love and literally turning the lonely into animals if they can’t get their shit together. Lanthimos excels in the bizarre by making it dry and uncomfortably relatable, and along with co-writer Efthymas Filippou, crafts a movie that allows Colin Farrell to be a glorious sadsack, Ben Whishaw to show new levels of desperate and lets Angeliki Papoulia develop unseen levels of wickedness.

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Manchester by the Sea

Most writers think and present grief as one thing; constant pain. There is a – false – notion that time simply heals all wounds and it’s nothing more than dealing with some misery before you’re hit with the epiphany. Kenneth Lonnergan knows better, and that depression isn’t devoid of other emotions while the suffering occurs. His Manchester by the Sea, in which Casey Affleck plays a man going from one horror to another, captures the absurdities along the way. There are those entirely comfortable with the sadsack. There are the instances where said sack recognizes how he’s viewed and just can’t help himself. In Manchester by the Sea, what you get is life in progress; horny teenagers, unexpected reunions, the triggers of yesterday’s troubles and everything else that the world shovels onto our plates.

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Moonlight

Raw yet thoroughly precise in its narrative movements, Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight is a bounty of things. ost impressive, to some degree, are what movements it doesn’t make. Characters come and go from the life of Chiron, a young, gay black boy who grows into a man. Jenkins knows he doesn’t need to detail where these people went, nor how those that remain in his life’s orbit changed. They merely have, as we all do. A decision here can lead to a spiral there. A decision there can be but one of many that transforms a confused teenager to a cook, a drug-dealer or any of a number of things. With a cast that steps every beat right, from the subtle to the shout, Jenkins has in Moonlight a lingerer, sticking in your brain and blood for the minutes, hours, day and weeks after its viewing, growing in resonance and appreciation with every detail that springs back to one’s memories.

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OJ: Made in America

Call it television, cinema or whatever the hell you want to call it. I’m going with towering. Ezra Edelman’s documentary on the life, and very much the times, of O.J. Simpson is a towering achievement, grandiose in scope and ambition that makes nearly eight-hours feel like two, as facts you knew get twisted and reframed, with race, fame and gender all getting new shades via a case from two decades ago. Of course, what Edelman artfully informs us is that no man, crime or celebrity is an island, and that years of decisions from the across the morality spectrum lead to their admiration or downfall. A piece of art that profoundly shows how far we’ve come and, somehow, just how much we have left to go.

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Only Yesterday

Studio Ghibli is on hiatus, so what’s a cinephile to wish for? How about old Ghibli works finally making it stateside? Yes please. Only Yesterday is a human, richly empathetic work by master Isao Takahata (Grave of the Fireflies, Pom Poko), originally made in 1991 and thankfully available to us in the U.S.A. now. Taeko is every adult whom is the last one to get their act together, not due to a life on the breaks, but a life of not wanting to settle. As she heads off for a job away from the city in a quaint countryside, Taeko ponders how things were in her formative years. With a plot that likely sounds a hodgepodge of dull and navel-gazing, Takahata’s adaptation of Hotaru Okamoto and Yuuko Tone’s manga is actually flush with the kind of details the finest novels offer. Plus, we get lush, hand-drawn animation that only emphasizes how genuinely ugly modern animation has become.

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The Treasure

Furthering the run of fine Romanian cinema of the 21st Century, Corneliu Porumboiu (Police, Adjective) has constructed a thriller…no a comedy….no a thriller-comedy thing with The Treasure, where the financially unsound hope to eek out luck from history. That history sits in the backyard of Adrian (Adrian Purcarescu), the neighbor of our kind, calm protagonist Costi (Toma Cuzin). To get the alleged riches, whatever they may be, of Adrian’s dead grandfather, Costi must provide funds upfront. And then there’s shady companies who they can hire. And the laws proclaiming certain riches must be declared. And the man who may or may not have any clue how to use the equipment. Each dig in the ground could be another waste of time or one inch closer to a life-changing wealth, in addition to relentless in-fighting between our crew. It’s a tasty brew of sensations that crescendos with an ending you’d never imagine.

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The Witch

Hope, hypocrisy and religion; three friends that have hung together for centuries. Robert Eggers The Witch explores the complicated tapestry the trio make as his 17th century New England folktale hangs in the horror if it all, with child performances that have no right to be this outstanding and cinematography by Jarin Blaschke that turns the terrors we witness into the type of images that would go in the museum of our nightmares. A staggering debut feature.

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The 10 Best Films of the Century

The BBC has come out with a list of the greatest films of the 21st Century, compiled from top tens collected from numerous critics worldwide. Analyzing the modern movies that will sooner or later be called masterpieces is a subject matter I admit to finding highly intriguing.

More so, such documents are teaching tools, working as a map for budding cinephiles and those interested in something outside the usual Hollywood mediocrity. Top tens/hundreds/thousands are where I first read about Ozu and Kiarostami, amongst countless others. With BBC having no clue who I am, which I can handle, I promise, it remained a point of personal interest to collect my own brigade of the ten best films of the 21st Century.

And yes, for you loyal readers, the ten will actually be ranked as they were done in the BBC polls. So, here comes…

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10. The Royal Tenenbaums : Not the first Wes Anderson release to make me say wow and not the last, this feature has, for my money, Anderson’s finest blend of comedy and heart, with a mesmerizing Gene Hackman as the prickly, happy-to-lie lead that finally learns the damage he’s done to those that love him.

9. Spirited Away : The master may have retired in this century, though not before Miyazaki gave fans a few more great pieces of art. Spirited Away has boundless creativity and a sympathetic heart bundled up in this Alice in Wonderland-esque classic.

8. Inside Llewyn Davis : How to pick a favorite Coen film for a decade is tough, let alone closer to two. No Country for Old Men, A Serious Man and a few others could make anyone’s top ten and I wouldn’t bat an eye. Why Llewyn Davis? It’s just so damn earnest with how much of a fuck-up and asshole our oh-so-talented protagonist stands as, with Oscar Isaac in a performance that turned so many heads people are still counting them up to this day. 

7. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind : A lot of films can be called high concept. What makes Eternal so special is how it digs into every nook and cranny to explore the motivations and outcomes of erasing the memories of true love gone wrong.

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6. Mad Max: Fury Road : Thematically rich. Symphonically infectious. Visually beyond words. George Miller’s return to a character we never thought we’d actually see again defied all reasonable expectations and stands, even after a few dozens viewings, as exciting as the first time.

5. Carol : In this adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s groundbreaking, daring work, director Todd Haynes paints a romance between two women as passionate, invigorating, hopeful, and due to the times then and now, dangerous. 

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4. Moulin Rouge! : As boisterous, joyous and heartbreaking as they come, Baz Luhrmann’s masterpiece of a musical is gaudy done great. From the editing to the cinematography to those beautiful songs, be they original or via Elton John/The Police/etc, Moulin Rouge! remains either too hyper in tone for you or the magical dream one never imagined would actual hit theatres

3. 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days : Cristian Mungui’s film may still be known to some as “That Romanian Abortion Movie,” as if that’s a bad thing. Not all pictures need to be rosy, nor should they be. What’s here is a frank, frightening and unforgettable look at the choices that were necessary in the recent past, and hopefully ones that will remain that way.

2. The Son : The Dardenne Brothers know how to bring raw emotion out of a viewer with the skill few have ever achieved. Their yarn of a quiet, simple man confronting the person that, unknowingly, changed his life forever is a picture of pure grace, preaching comfort and forgiveness, while wrestling with the complications of those same feelings at every turn.

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1. Before Sunset : Linklater has made more daring films. More devastating. More amusing. He hasn’t and may never make one more note perfect as his tale of two lovers who reconnect after spending years wondering what if and now, finally, coming face to face with what next.

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The Top 10 Most Anticipated Films of 2016

I’m not supposed to say that I haven’t seen a film. Let alone a classic. Let alone a film by a noted foreign filmmaker. Let alone basically anything. With the barrage of new films that come out on a weekly basis, it can be tough to make time to reach back to the past while keeping up with the present.

All of this is a preamble to saying; I have some catching up to do. What follows are the ten, sort of twelve, films I’m dedicated to finally giving the time of day.

The Apu Trilogy

Last year I selected Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali, the initial entry in the trilogy, as one to watch. Various factors prevented that from being completed, but I believe there was a rather good one as Ray’s works were restored and re-released late in 2015 under the good ol’ Criterion banner. Time to go all Pokemon and catch ‘em all.

Ali: Fear Eats the Soul

Rainer Werner Fassbinder is generally considered one of Germany’s finest filmmakers, yet I here sit, having not seen a single work by the man. Over a lengthy career that spans many genres and times, his romance between an elderly woman and much younger immigrant is typically cited as his best. Seems a fine place as any to start.

Ashes of Time

I’m a bit of a Wong Kar Wai fanboy, though not to the extent that you’ll be seeing any essays on My Blueberry Nights. I particularly love the director’s melancholic, emotionally complex work of the 90s. The one blindspot to me is Ashes of Time, the sole film of this era to not be set in relatively modern times. Hit-men using swords under the eye of a director at his peek sounds fun to me.

The Assassin

Not every picture on this list is from decades ago. The Assassin only hit U.S. theatres a few months back and it’s limited run was unfortunately missed by yours truly. Any and every movie by Hou Hsiao-Hsien (The Flight of the Red Balloon, Flowers of Shanghai) is worth being excited for, and those that have seen it have almost uniformly ranked it as one of the premiere works of the decade.

The Holy Mountain

I have spent far more time reading about cult favorite Alejandro Jodorowsky than I have actually viewing his filmography, with El Topo as the sole pic I’ve consumed. The Holy Mountain has always sounded compellingly strange, with its topics of immortality and sacrilege a point of particular interest.

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Ordet

Long considered one of the all-time great films, Carl Theodor Dreyer’s is said to be beautifully shot and play out as a powerful, smart meditation on religion and how it grips some tighter than others. Yes please.

Sátántangó

With each new year, my love for Bela Tarr grows deeper. The Werckmeister Harmonies made this list last year and was one of the richest experiences of 2015. What can I say, I enjoy miserable movies about humanity’s darker nature and how individuals react to it. So, seven-plus hours of such, I’m down to give it a shot.

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg

Also weighty, if probably less morose, Jacques Demy’s wartime set musical with the always magical Catherine Deneuve has always been one I’ve meant to have an evening side-by-side with.

Where is the Friend’s Home?

The opening chapter of Abbas Kiarostami’s legendary “Koker Trilogy” is also the only chapter in which I’m unfamiliar. The masterful Iranian director’s story of a boy trying to return a friend’s book, sounds right in tune with his other projects, where the simple day-to-day moments of life get lingered on and seen for something significantly more.

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The Western genre is never one I’ve been a die-hard for my whole life. However, it’s a vital one to this country’s cinematic legacy. With that in mind, I’ve always tried to make sure the most treasured ones at least get seen to understand their place and hopefully develop a deeper appreciation. Anthony Mann’s Winchester ’73 has been stamped as one of the preeminent members of the gang and probably the last of the “Great Westerns” that have escaped my eyesight.

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2015 – The Top 10 Uniques

As the army of Top 10s comes to a close, it’s time for the annual look at what was actually unique on the lists. Sure, we can all put Mad Max: Fury Road or Brooklyn on a list, but what about those films only one of us seemed to love that extra bit more.

What follows is a collection of works from some of Seattle’s finest critics, featuring the title or titles that he or she alone selected for the particular rundown. Some of these are clearly off the beaten path, while others are the proverbial bridesmaids to the rest of us. To read their full descriptions and the rest of each top ten, just click on their name.

Sara Michelle Fetters of Moviefreak

  • Cinderella

“Disney and Kenneth Branagh join forces to prove that, just because a story is familiar, just because you don’t do anything particularly groundbreaking with it, that doesn’t mean you can’t craft a masterpiece. There isn’t a lot of reinvention as it pertains to Cinderella, the filmmaker and the studio more than content to let the classic fairy tale speak loudly for itself.”

  • 45 Years

“Based on a short story by David Constantine, writer/director Andrew Haigh’s 45 Years is a multilayered, memorably evocative two-person drama revolving around a longtime married couple dealing with unexpected, life-changing news on the eve of their 45th wedding anniversary. While not a ton happens, the full extent of the journey the two end up going on is massive nonetheless, what the movie has to say about love, loss and companionship a deeply personal tone poem ranking as one of the finest the silver screen has seen in ages. Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay are superb.”

  • Bone Tomahawk

“If Howard Hawks, John Ford, Douglas Sirk and Stephen King ever joined forces on a Western, it’s likely it would look an awful lot like writer/director S. Craig Zahler’s stupendous Bone Tomahawk.”

Tim Hall of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer

  • The Big Short

“It’s rare that a movie can make you feel sad, angry, and fascinated at the same time. Based on a true story, The Big Short retells the housing credit bubble in the mid-2000s that destroyed the economy. Adam McKay, who is known for his comedy, uses the year’s best ensemble performances (lead by Steve Carell and Christian Bale) to tell one the best dramatic stories in recent years.”

Matt Oakes of Silver Screen Riot

  • The End of the Tour

“Cinema is most often characterized by films meant to entertain and those meant to educate. The End of the Tour has no intention of sermonizing, instructing or aggrandizing. It muses. And its musings strike to the core.”

Drew Powell of Drew’s Movie Blog

  • Cartel Land

“Heinman has balls of steel as he imbeds himself in the midst of the chaos, capturing this messy conflict with startling immediacy. “Cartel Land” is a thrilling piece of documentary filmmaking and provides a new, fascinating perspective on the U.S/Mexican border drug war.”

  • The Gift

“The movie is cold and meticulously constructed; it feels both mundane and menacing. It’s a slow burn up until the final minutes but what a stressful slow burn! The picture engages you on a deeper, psychological level; it stays just on the cusp of exploding into over-the-top B horror.”

Jason Roestel of Examiner

  • Heaven Knows What
  • “Avant garde barely scratches the surface as far as Heaven Knows What is concerned. The tone of the film has two gears, catatonia and conniption. There may be a few SAG card carrying actors among this cast, but these are mostly street kids playing themselves. A fact made abundantly clear when during some scenes in the movie what can only be actual New Yorkers dive out of the way of our characters as they air their dirty laundry out in open public. The greatness of Heaven Knows What is its uncompromising authenticity melded with Isao Tomita and Ariel Pink’s lush synth score for the film. This movie may ground us in terrible reality, but the music dares to reach out and touch the cosmos.”
  • Kingsman: The Secret Service

“Kingsman: The Secret Service sets a cavalier tone early in the film. From its socially conscious, lispy villain, Valentine (Samuel L. rocks it in this role) to its Oscar Pistorius knock-off, Gazelle, (a henchman who takes the tag ‘Blade Runner’ to the ultimate conclusion) to its street urchin hero, Eggsy, who understands that saving the world has very real fringe benefits, (namely… ass) the truth is Kingsman isn’t so obnoxious and rotten as the intelligentsia would care for you to believe.”

  • Mistress America

“The story here is an old one. A young arrival explores the seemingly limitless size and energy of The Big Apple. Think of Mistress America as The Catcher In The Rye and The Great Gatsby dancing to the drum-machine of 80’s John Hughes. Baumbach’s new film.”

Erik Samdahl of Film Jabber

  • The Hateful Eight

“Full of deliciously sharp dialogue–and we mean full, as the movie clocks in at a way-too-long three hours–and some incredibly fun performances by Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell and Walton Goggins, The Hateful Eight is hard to hate.”

  • Love & Mercy

“Good vibrations pulsate through this Beach Boys drama, which explores the psychological deterioration of singer/songwriter Brian Wilson. Both Paul Dano and John Cusack deliver great performances as the musical genius, who suffered from auditory hallucinations.”

  • The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

“This stylish, retro action-comedy from Guy Ritchie has no right being as fun as it, but The Man From U.N.C.L.E. delivers on all fronts. While its plot is admittedly routine, the deliciously witty dialogue combined with the energetic dynamic between the three leads–Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer and Alicia Vikander–makes this flick a satisfying and underappreciated treat.:

Brian Taibl of KOMO Newsradio, Star 101.5 and Much More.

  • Straight Outta Compton

“With this flick you’ll witness the strength and influence of street knowledge in Director F. Gary Gray’s masterful and fascinatingly raw depiction of N.W.A. and their meteoric and legacy-leaving rise to stardom.”

  • Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation

“Its action is stylistically slick, its humor relaxingly disarming and its suspense boils over with all the fervor of an unwatched, $150 million-budgeted pot.  Let the haters hate, Tom Cruise and company once again deliver the goods!”

  • Bridge of Spies

“This fish-out-of-water, Capra-esque potboiler may purposely lack the flash of past Spielberg/Hanks projects, but still stands dutifully tall alongside box office brethren like Saving Private Ryan and Catch Me If You Can.”

  • The Martian

With its ample amounts of head smarts, heart and humor, The Martian, proves to be one of 2015’s big screen, popcorn-munching delights.  It’s an accessible, deep space, MacGyver-on-Mars offering that incorporates upbeat and refreshingly sincere themes on perseverance, ingenuity, communications, problem-solving and teamwork.

Mike Ward of Should I See It

  • Amy

“The film is an unflinching and blunt exposé. We see the highs and lows and the distress when a world caves in all around her. Winehouse was infectious, trusting to a fault, compulsive, defiant, manipulative, but also kind-hearted, hilarious, witty, and close to a genius when it came to writing and arranging lyric and melody.”

  • 3 ½ Minutes, 10 Bullets

“3 1/2 Minutes, Ten Bullets is a film that is dense, investigatory, seamlessly edited and presented, and laser-focused on giving the Davis family and their son’s story proper and necessary amplification. Silver opts for scarcity when it comes to spoon-feeding his viewers – requiring us to listen to the film as intently as an investigator should.”

 

The Top 10 Films of 2015

Here is the part where I am supposed to say whether or not 2015 was a good year for movies. Of course it was. Every year is a good year for movies. It’s just that seems year have to dig a little more to find the stuff worth admiring.

These twelve months actually required less foraging then many have claimed. Despite October being a month of – relative – financials bombs and other quality pictures disappointing in the box-office all year, mainstream cinema offered worthwhile choices. That people skipped Meryl Streep tearing it down in Ricki and the Flash, Michael Fassbender mesmerizing once more in Steve Jobs or ignored a second helping of The Kings of Tampa with Magic Mike XXL isn’t the same as those movies being lackluster.

The best of the best is what is the name of the game today; a silly task as ever. The way one feels about a film may improve or fall, that is variable. However, the exact minutiae that forms to decipher which great movie is greater than another is constant. These ten won’t be the same in a month. I guarantee. I will like something a smidge better come February to bump one of these off the list. Additionally, I will catch some release I either hadn’t had time to see or even heard of in the weeks to come too. This is a fool’s errand. But it’s the errand we will be participating in each and every December.

Let us begin in the obvious spot, at number one, the only specific ranking I make….

 

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Or not.

 

 

 

Fuck it. I’m doing a tie.

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Carol & Mad Max: Fury Road

Ties are for cowards, idiots or both. Fine by me. I have no interest in pretending I know which film is better, even by these arbitrary matters we hold to. I know this though; Carol and Fury Road swim in my head like no other movies this year. Both have that rare magic that enchant and beg to be re-watched immediately upon their conclusion. 

Fury Road was my favorite film of the year until the past few days. It might be again in a few days. It’s the action movie done to perfection, with shocking amounts of emotional and thematic depth. George Miller, frankly, embarrasses nearly every other director working in the genre, as he composes insane shots and fluid madness without sacrificing character along the way. The images have already been burnt into my brain, be it of the last seconds of life of a fallen comrade or the throes of ecstasy of hope rising to the skies above.

Carol is oddly similar. Sure, there are a few less car chases. Nonetheless, it too has hours to mine under its rather obvious surface of two women trying to love one another in a world not fond of that idea. Both films are built on glances and nods, with words rarely needed, baring the powerhouse duos of Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron charging through Valhalla in the former and Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara venturing towards the Midwest in the latter. There is also the monster that is one’s past chasing each of our pairs. The present can’t be had with any bit of happiness without overcoming that beast, and as evil as Miller makes his demon, Carol director Todd Haynes shades his as abstruse. For as symbolic as Fury Road manages to be, it is not life in the manner it is for Carol. In our world today, the daily obstacles can’t exactly be run-over. This trouble pushes Blanchett and Mara through their days, both difficult and dreamy.

Shot with precision. An ensemble with few peers. Directed with originality and a call to the past. Carol and Mad Max: Fury Road are the answer to why I go to the cinema. What else could be number one with these two trouncing about?

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Brooklyn

John Crowley’s Brooklyn is effortless character work on screen, with a mighty ensemble that you love to cheer on, hate and fall for. Leading that cast is Saoirse Ronan in a performance of pure emotion. Her depiction of our titular heroine is honest; a stunning display of joy, anguish and intelligence clashing with one another. It all springs from Colm Toibin’s novel, with fellow novelist Nick Hornby’s words and structuring giving it all a cinematic life. A film I will be delighted to watch over and over again, memorizing its rich dialogue and weeping fresh tears.

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Clouds of Sils Maria

Age ain’t nothing but a number. And that number says you’re too old. This is one of the main themes and concepts Juliette Binoche’s Maria Enders confronts in the new Olivier Assayas piece of genius Clouds of Sils Maria. With a career defined and launched by a part she played decades ago, Maria finds her self tied to that role once more as she deals with a world, particularly but not solely a cinematic one, that views her as an “older actress.” Debating and discussing what that contains with her assistant Valentine (a terrific Kristen Stewart), Binoche gives a performances for the ages, which is nothing new for her, with master filmmaker Assayas placing the right pacing, words and mood down for her to play with.

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Cobain: Montage of Heck

Blending animation, interviews and raw footage of a life struggled through, Brett Morgen’s documentary of the musician that defined a generation, or at least a white-hot era, is in many ways a horror film. We don’t just see the warts of Kurt Cobain’s life, Morgen lets the track marks and ramblings take center stage. Alongside it though are the conflicted ethics, moral stances and musical genius. Too many of these kind of projects are a series of talking heads spouting, “That man/woman was a one of a kind talent,” in fifty different ways, as the actual person gets lost. Morgen gives us the man.

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Far From the Madding Crowd

Funny, romantic and brimming with quality drama, Far from the Madding Crowd is the best movie of 2015 that seems to have no fan-base. People liked it. Thought it was well acted. Then forgot it. For a movie with this stirring of a group of actors, led by a never-been-better Carey Mulligan, this is bewildering. Vinterberg stages his adaptation of the Thomas Hardy novel with a well-worn grit that never reaches to be taken as a reinterpretation. It is what it is; period filmmaking done right.

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The Look of Silence

In following up his monumental dive into the killers who took over Indonesia and have ruled it since, director Joshua Oppenheimer has turned his view askew. Those that committed this infamous genocide still take up space in the frame, but this time the focus gets specific. Oppenheimer hones in on one family’s loss, how it happened, how it affects them to this day, as well as those same things from the vantage point of who committed the atrocity. This isn’t just gripping. It’s a blunt stare into the darker recesses of humanity’s nature and the compromises we make to justify them to get onto the next day.

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Magic Mike XXL

A film of basically unbridled joy and energy, Magic Mike XXL provides the same kind of blissful excitement one would get from the great musicals. That it happens to be about male strippers heading to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina; oh well. Channing Tatum and the boys return sans Steven Soderbergh, who is still providing his typically perfect, thriving cinematography. At the helm is Gregory Jacobs, who doubles down on the spectacle and embraces the sensuality in a manner the first picture only played with for a moment here or there. This is a movie that knows a complex narrative or even stakes aren’t necessary when characters are this fun and the vibe thrives.

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Phoenix

A woman survives being taken to a concentration camp and having her face destroyed, only to find that life’s most astonishing troubles are still ahead. This is the beginning of Christian Petzold’s haunting and tense Phoenix. Strapped to the back of a towering piece of acting by Nina Hoss, the movie weaves an artful melodrama of betrayal, confusion and blind love, with Petzold making the unbelievable powerfully potent.

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Queen of Earth

As the saying goes, we hurt the ones we love the most. In writer-director Alex Ross Perry’s latest, this thought gets center stage as two friends hit rock-bottom in back-to-back summers and aren’t exactly there for one another. Those two would be played by Elisabeth Moss and Katherine Waterston in arguably the year’s best pairing, which is saying something with all that’s been given to us in 2015. Moss is mesmerizing as a woman slowly losing her grips on sanity after the worst year of her life, but let’s not forget Waterston’s work as the fed-up and bewildered friend trying to deal with it all. Perry presents this almost cruelly, with a frigidity that requires an ice-pick to properly penetrate. It’s an endeavor worth digging at. 

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Top 10 Films of 2005 : The Revisit

2005 was not the first year I loved movies. It was, however, the first one where theatres showing something beyond the mainstream were within my grasp. This makes it no surprise to me that it was the first time my annual top ten wasn’t filled to the brim with Oscar bait, which makes for a personally interesting look back.

As I do every year on the cusp of Oscar season, I like to take a gander back a decade see what movies hit me hardest and made my own list. It’s to approach those stressed over top tens with fresh eyes, no longer swept up in the awards chatter and having to figure how a film you saw two days ago compared to one eight months ago. Plus, there’s the bonus of being able to catch up on stuff you either missed for years, or just happened to get the slow roll-out treatment.

That latter is apparent on my 2005 list, originally posted on good old Livejournal. Brokeback Mountain, probably the most talked about film of that year, didn’t open at my semi-local (75 minute drive) art-house until mid-January of 2006. The same goes for Match Point, another 2005 film that would have surely cracked my collection if I had seen it weeks earlier. So, how did that rundown look? Well, let’s take a peek.

10. Capote

9. Jarhead

8. Murderball

7. The Constant Gardener

6. Broken Flowers

5. Junebug

4. Pride and Prejudice

3. The Squid and the Whale

2. A History of Violence

1. Howl’s Moving Castle

On first glance, this bunch definitely befits my headset of the time. I was just becoming a Jim Jarmusch fan, and his Broken Flowers is a lovely Bill Murray picture, with melancholy wit for days and a collection of outstanding actresses (Julie Delpy, Tilda Swinton, Frances McDormand). Hayao Miyazaki is my personal favorite filmmaker, so no shock occurs that one of his films would top any year.

What’s compelling to me are the directors who were in the infancy of their careers. Pride and Prejudice was Joe Wright’s first feature, a terrific adaptation of the Jane Austen novel that lives in its time period and trapping in a manner many period pieces struggle to surrounded by the costumes. While Wright’s films haven’t all been great, his name bares a certain ambition or quality that makes his every release notable. Capote came from Bennett Miller, who followed up that somber pseudo-biopic with the highly praised Moneyball and equally admired, if not as successful, Foxcatcher. The Constant Gardener found Fernando Meirelles his last shred of acclaim. Coming off City of God, Meirelles looked to be a voice of note, yet has disappeared from screens after a string of poorly received pictures (Blindness, 360).

Then there is Noah Baumbach, who made his first film in eight years with The Squid and the Whale. His debut Kicking and Screaming in 1995 was quickly cooled off by a pair of releases that were tepidly received. Nearly a decade later, Baumbach came back and basically began the career he has now, following up the award-winning Squid with Margot at the Wedding, Greenberg, Frances Ha and more.

Of course, part of the fun of a project like this is seeing what grew with the years, which movies faded and how many greats did I miss at the time. Jarhead and The Constant Gardener are still fine films in my estimation, if less fantastic than I felt at the time. Each film has a sheen of stuffiness, asking to be taken seriously via mood rather than context, making for uneven affairs That each movie’s script wobbles and wanders doesn’t help matters either. I’m actually most surprised by an omission, though; King Kong. I recalled loving the film, even with reservations, and was a Peter Jackson fanboy. Hell, I bought the DVD of King Kong’s production diaries, which were released simultaneously with the movie. Many a dollar would’ve been bet that it cracked my ten somewhere, but alas, it stands nowhere to be found. It shouldn’t be in there either, as a recent revisit proved. Though the scenes with the titular ape are wow-inducing, emotionally and visually, that is only half of the movie. Sans Watts or Kong, Jackson’s remake labors along with stilted comedic bits and a performance by Jack Black that never finds its tonal footing.

So what now? A decade of catching up, fine-tuning and the like leads to the following, fresh Top 10 of 2005. There are things I just happened to miss by weeks and others I hadn’t even heard of at the time. Let’s begin at number ten.

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  1. Downfall

Before it became an internet meme, Downfall was a terrific depiction of the last days of the Third Reich. Oliver Hirschbiegel’s film narrows in on Hitler’s final flailings to keep his power; pathetic and as human as the man could be. Far from a glowing portrait of the figure, Downfall depicts Hitler plainly. He is desperate to survive, angry and terrified of his reign coming to a close and yet still more than a frothing at the mouth monster. Confined largely to the bunker Hitler and his closest, well, allies resided, Hirschbiegel’s vision is a tense one that makes history vivid, where World War II is often depicted as if ensconed in amber.

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  1. Howl’s Moving Castle

Here lies a movie that is lost by many due to the talent of its creator. Howl’s Moving Castle followed up Hayao Miyazaki’s true American breakthroughs and biggest hits Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away. It is easily in the lower tier of his filmography. It is also a treasure to watch, with the kind of glowing warmth and imagination that only Miyazaki was able to exude so effortlessly. This tale of a young woman cursed with an appearance glides along with insane twists, an array of goofy, lovable characters and frame after frame of breathtaking images. Howl’s is a wild, yet elegantly told dream brought into the waking world.

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  1. Oldboy

For a movie that prominently features incest, imprisonment and brutal, self-inflicted violence, Park Chan-wook’s Oldboy sure managed to find a following stateside. This adaptation of the Nobuaki Minegishi manga follows a drunken man who is seemingly captured at random, only to find himself free and out for revenge after fifteen years of confinement. What follows is bloody and brutal, with Choi Min-sik’s Oh Dae-Su searching for answers, struggling with madness and most famously taking on a hallway full of baddies with a hammer. A rightful cult classic.

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  1. Kings and Queen

The complex emotions of day-to-day life and the harrowing troubles it inevitably brings to all are at the center of writer-director Arnaud Desplechin’s fantastic Kings and Queen. These feelings are superbly on display of the two leads; Emmanuelle Devos and Mathieu Amalric. As two former lovers, each is traversing the worlds their past decisions have built for them. Devos finds herself juggling the difficulties of raising a child and losing a father, as Amalric sees himself in the clutches of a mental hospital he may or not be fit for. As is common for Desplechin, the melodrama and comedy dance together, each informing the other’s best moments. Kings and Queen isn’t interested in the dourness of one’s existence, even if the melancholy of it is always under investigation.

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  1. The New World

At some point talking about loving Terrence Malick became choosing a side. Few filmmakers have received the kind of praise Malick has and yet been as off-handedly dismissed. The New World seemed to be the beginning of this. Malick’s comfortably pacing and frequent cuts to characters traversing the wilderness began to be seen by some as a crutch. Though his films may not click with all, outright mocking of Malick is a fool’s errand. The New World is one of his many great pieces; elegant, beautiful and disturbing. This depiction of the almost mythical interactions that emerged between the settlers of 1607 Jamestown and the native people of that land plays out with muck, confusion and wonder. It may not be fact. It is print-worthy legend.

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  1. Memories of Murder

Before The Host or Snowpiercer brought his name to those outside of Southeast Asia, Bong Joon-ho made this eerie, intelligent crime-drama based on the true-story of South Korea’s first documented serial killer. David Fincher’s Zodiac is an easy, accurate comparison, with both movies featuring start-stop investigations that struggle when facts, theories and mistakes lead to no easy answers. Joon-ho handles the material with grace, bluntly displaying the horrors of the matter without tipping into exploitation. He also stages arguably the scariest moment of the century amidst one woman’s unfortunate nighttime walk home.

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  1. Brokeback Mountain

What new can be said about Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain? The acting is sensational, with Heath Ledger’s performance only gaining extra poignancy due to his untimely death. The ending is still a gut-wrenching, if subtle, wallop. The script never steps a foot wrong. Gustavo Santaolalla’s score is utter perfection. That Brokeback Mountain lost out to that-which-will-not-be-named at the Oscars is a shame. That gay romances are still something on the fringes of Hollywood is a more significant, troubling one.

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  1. The Squid and the Whale

Acidic and confidently unpleasant, Baumbach’s The Squid and the Whale is a tightly drawn depiction of one family falling to pieces as its members try to grow individually. It isn’t that this foursome don’t care about the others or are purely selfish, they simply haven’t figured out how to balance their own happiness with that of others, some more so than others. Laura Linney and Jeff Daniels as the parents, the latter of which relentlessly pokes and prods to prove his own intellect, are a joy to watch combat. Jesse Eisenberg is amazing, the clear child of his folks, with all of their faults and positives laid bare in his behavior. Little Owen Kline, son of Kevin, hasn’t been seen since. Too bad for his work as the younger, just entering puberty son is stark and uniquely riveting. Baumbach has made other great movies. For my money, his bite has never been as on-point and unwavering as it is here.

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  1. Cache

Terrifying and troubling, Cache almost feels like Michael Haneke showing off. It’s as if he thought, “I know how to really fuck with people.” Baring an opening that tricks you with what you think you’re watching, Haneke pulls the rug out so harshly that one never feels at ease again. With outstanding work by Juliette Binoche (of course) and Daniel Auteuil, Haneke unfurls this yarn of a married couple that begins finding strange videotapes on their doorstep, along with the eerie history behind their creation. Home invasion stories have been done before. Here, Haneke finds an alternate entrance, messing within the minds and lives of a home’s inhabitants without ever actually stepping foot within the premises.

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  1.  A History of Violence

If A History of Violence is a step away from the David Cronenberg’s body-horror obsession, it nevertheless shows the horrors one person can enact on another. Viggo Mortensen stars and amazes as Tom Stall, the kind-hearted husband/dad/diner-owner who finds himself confronting some seedier sides of humanity after he courageously and ferociously stops a pair of criminals while working. As the title suggests, there is a grander history to Tom’s deeds, as well as those around him. Cronenberg pulls back the veil of innocence and what people often really want to do when the world presents its harshest scenarios, with all of the unflinching guts to go alongside it. With additional powerful acting by Maria Bello, William Hurt and Ed Harris, Cronenberg’s movie remains a stunner; slick and cut entirely to the bone. You can debate whether or not it’s the director’s finest achievement. I’m not sure how to debate it isn’t.

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My 10 Favorite Directors Working Today: 3-1

This is the third and final part in a short-series where I, probably foolishly, try to determine who my favorite director is at this time and place. Take a read of part one here to see why I’m doing this and my thoughts on 10-8, and then part two for 7-4. As a catch-up, those are.

10. David Fincher

9. Mike Leigh

8. Michael Haneke

7. Olivier Asssayas

6. Wes Anderson

5. Richard Linklater

4. Paul Thomas Anderon 

Now to the final three aka Not the Ones You Want.

3. Pedro Almodovar

Notable Filmography – Talk to Her, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, Volver, The Skin I Live In, Bad Education, Law of Desire

Personal Favorite – All About My Mother

The master of the modern melodrama, Pedro Almodovar has been shaping absurd stories, flawed characters and lushly shot pictures for several decades now. In a time where even the slightest hint of eroticism is fumbled over, Almodovar has a comfortably sexy palette, talking about the physicality of love and all it entails in a manner that’s occasionally coy, sometimes direct and always engaging.

His narratives can seem absurd. Volver focuses on a mother who has killed her husband and is confronting her mother’s ghost. The Skin I Live In deals with the evolution of a person’s body and how it’s shaped by those around us via a Frankenstein-esque plot. Talk to Her dares to find a source of empathy for a person that has committed a horrifying, deplorable action against a woman. Each of these is a remarkable success, for Almodovar is able to bring the best out of any actor or actress he works with. He’s able to reach into the heart of an emotion to pull out its raw essence.

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For me, that’s best displayed in All About My Mother, where tragedy and emotional transcendence go hand-in-hand. On the back of a excellent cast, Almodovar presents an elegant story with a complex visual presentation that explores who we reach out for in a tragedy and the ways we evolve amidst it. The picture is rich in surprises, Almodovar lining each one up to achieve their greatest effect.

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2. Ethan and Joel Coen

Notable Filmography – Fargo, Inside Llewyn Davis, No Country for Old Men, Miller’s Crossing, True Grit, Blood Simple, O Brother, Where Art Thou?

Personal Favorite – The Big Lebowski

Frequently amazing, funny and thrilling, brothers Ethan and Joel Coen just keep humming along and releasing classics. Since Blood Simple gave us the Coens in 1984, they’ve made an absurd yarn about wannabe parents (Raising Arizona), buffoons looking for treasure (O Brother, Where Art Thou) and an innocent, naive businessman (The Hudsucker Proxy). Each one perfect or bordering on it. And that’s just the comedies.

We’ve also seen them deal with a pregnant cop out to solve a killing spree (Fargo), a blackmailing barber (The Man Who Wasn’t There) and a musician too out of his time and too much a prick to be a success (Inside Llewyn Davis) Each one perfect or bordering on it. And that’s just the dark-comedy/drama-comedy hybrids.

Coens have been able to go to the Old West (True Grit) and the eerie new one (No Country for Old Men) too. All along the way they’ve had a knack for finding the extra gag out of nowhere to underline a scene, been able to unleash truly scary individuals on the viewing public and present an ability to pinpoint the saddest of sad-sacks.

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In that deep array of masterpieces, The Big Lebowski is the gem I admire most. Dense with jokes in a way that can only be unearthed after the third or fourth viewing, it’s endlessly quotable (“Leads?!) and features a performance by Jeff Bridges that earns it’s every ounce of iconography. A cult classic of which I gladly pay dues.

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1. Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne

Notable Filmography – L’enfant, The Kid With a Bike, Rosetta, La Promeese, The Silence of Lorna, Two Days, One Night

Personal Favorite – The Son

The most troubling and incorrect misnomer about Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne’s movies is that they’re miserable. Poor people porn for the classes above them. It’s a ridiculous notion that can only be read if one hasn’t actually spent anytime with their work. From the time they reworked their storytelling manner with 1996’s La Promesse, the Dardennes have drawn dramatic features of cinematic grace. Those that inhabit their releases may be in dire straits in the beginning or even end of the stories, but they are not the same people by the credits.

L’enfant contains a man willing to sell his newborn child in order to help his extremely meager situation. By its closure, we’re shown a person that has finally recognized the many misdeeds in life, at last growing up. The acts and misdeeds have shattered his life, though not without transforming him. Two Days, One Night works with the complicated the day-to-day tribulations of depression and the world economy. While doing so it walked past villainy into the truth; no two people’s circumstances are the same.

These are done with what it’s often referred to as the “Neo-neo realism” style. The approach is distinctly minimal, usually handheld shots of men and women engaging with one another from a grounded, human level. There are no grand camera movements. There is almost never any music. There is no need. What’s there are magnificent, impeccable scripts, of which they write, and acting that never, ever steps a foot wrong.

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This approach is sublimely represented in The Son. The picture almost plays out as if it were a mysterious thriller. We’re introduced to an older gentleman who teaches woodshop to wayward youths, many of which have criminal histories. One such kid catches his eye and we don’t know why. There is a hush to it all as the Dardennes patiently reveal every inch of their narrative. Action develops their characters and then vice versa. I’m not one to care about spoilers. That said, to give away where The Son goes is to deprive a person of an unparalleled experience. Roger Ebert said of The Son, “It is as assured and flawless a telling of sadness and joy as I have ever seen.”

There is misery one has to trek through when watching something by the Dardennes. You will come out the other side feeling bolder, with fresh eyes to the world. You will think you understand what makes the world tick a bit more.

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My 10 Favorite Directors Working Today: 7-4

This is the second part in a short-series where I, probably foolishly, try to determine who my favorite director is at this time and place. Take a read of part one here to see why I’m doing this and my thoughts on 10-8, which for those just joining me, are – in descending order – David Fincher, Mike Leigh and Michael Haneke. Now, onto my 7-4. 

7. Olivier Assays

Notable Filmography – Clouds of Sils Maria, Clean, demonlover, Irma Vep, Carlos, Something in the Air, Boarding Gate

Personal Favorite – Summer Hours

One of cinema’s great chameleons, Olivier Assayas brings a human scale voice to his movies that, no matter how different the subject matters or stories, makes them quite remarkable. Be it the story of a revolutionary (Carlos), a woman struggling with sobriety (Clean) or a contract killer (Boarding Gate), Assayas in both his writing and directing never goes for easy melodrama. His characters bare a history in their movements that give their actions density.

This is not to imply that an Assayas picture is dry or stuck in neo-realism. Irma Vep is playful, skipping between narratives and the film within a film. Something in the Air is romantic and comfortably dangerous, a narrative about rebellious youth that is as enigmatic as the radicals upon which it’s focusing.

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A favorite is hard to select, particularly for a filmmaker with as diverse a collection of projects. Summer Hours is the one I think of most though, a look at a wealthy family’s dealing with one another, death and art. If it wasn’t so damn perfect, one might be able to lob a misguided claim of snobbery its way, but this would be a fool’s errand. With flawless acting, Assayas stages scenes of sibling disagreements that feel achingly true and tender, all with an ease that never begs for seriousness.

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6Wes Anderson

Notable Filmography – The Grand Budapest Hotel, Rushmore, Moonrise Kingdom, Bottle Rocket, The Fantastic Mr. Fox

Personal Favorite – The Royal Tenenbaums

Now that we’ve come to accept Wes Anderson for what he is, it’s all the easier to love him. Around the time of The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and The Darjeeling Limited many of us, myself included, lost the forest for the trees. Anderson’s visual style, diorama-esque concoctions with a certain leveled perfect symmetry and whimsy, was too much the focus. Anderson makes comedies with slight, if significant, degrees of quirk. To expect different because they appear to lack weight is silly.

For one thing, Anderson’s films have always had an emotional bent to them. Back in the beginning it was a desperate attempt to find a path in life (Bottle Rocket). In his most recent endeavor (The Grand Budapest Hotel), it was too find some source of decency in it. Along the way there have been various familial quibbles, sons and daughters yearning for parental guidance and a stream of laughs via wry dialogue or clever visual cues that are often imitated, never replicated.

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Perhaps the finest example of this is still The Royal Tenenbaums. Its dollhouse nature is certainly apparent on the outside, but the heart inside it beats loudly. Watching Gene Hackman’s titular Royal come to terms with what a horrific dad he’s been to his three children weaves great musical beats (his go-carting through city streets with grandsons) and simply shown tragedy (Richie’s suicide attempt). As pure a comedic masterpiece as there is in this century.

Director, screenwriter and producer Linklater attends a press conference to promote the movie "Boyhood" during the 64th Berlinale International Film Festival in Berlin

5. Richard Linklater

Notable Filmography – Boyhood, Dazed and Confused, Before Midnight, Before Sunrise Slacker, School of Rock, Bernie, A Scanner Darkly

Personal Favorite – Before Sunset

After Boyhood, it’s hard to call Richard Linklater an underappreciated director. Yet, I run into people all of the time who haven’t seen a single film in the Before trilogy. Oh well.

Over twenty-five years, Linklater has notched to his belt a tale of love that is unmatched. Before Sunrise is as sweet and enticing as the first blooms of desire. Before Sunset mines panging for what could’ve been with precision and passion, with an ending that might as well be the definition of perfect. Closing it up, for now, is Before Midnight, rummaging around in the day-to-day of two people being together for a lifetime.

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Linklater has built a career on relatable people and the ways they talk to one another, skipping past the self-aware zingers or rat-tat-tat banter for something that resembles how Americans actually speak. This isn’t all Linklater knows how to do. His eye for what’s funny is remarkable, even when shooting for the family audience (School of Rock). He can make a paranoid thriller that pushes technology (A Scanner Darkly) or grand nod towards an industry and the guts inside it that make it function (Fast Food Nation). It’ll be a delight to see what else is in store.

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4. Paul Thomas Anderson

Notable Filmography – Boogie Nights, The Master, Magnolia, Inherent Vice, Punch Drunk Love, Hard Eight

Personal Favorite – There Will Be Blood

Seven films into his career, Paul Thomas Anderson has made seven great films. That’s certainly promising.

Anderson’s vision seems to know no bounds. His shot composure is second-to-none. His mastery of tone is supreme, whether it’s in drama (The Master), comedy (Inherent Vice) or the surreal (Magnolia). Comfortable in ensembles or even Adam Sandler (Punch Drunk Love), Anderson’s movies sink their teeth into the American Dream. With Boogie Nights he looked at its frantic underbelly. In The Master, the Dream’s openness comes to light and the various webs that come from such a vast society are under the microscope.

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There Will Be Blood tackles – arguably – America’s two biggest tent-poles; oil and religion. With towering imagery, the film ventures to unearth these icons sordid past, our dependence on them and the manipulations that burst forth when bowed to them. In a lesser director’s hands the commentary would read as easy or cynical. Via Anderson, the themes flow freely and astutely.

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My 10 Favorite Directors Working Today : 10-8

For years, when some asked me who my favorite director working today was I had an answer; Hayao Miyazaki. From probably 2005 on, after I finally dove into the director’s full filmography, Miyazaki was the end all, be all. Dozens of other directors I’d fly a flag for from dawn to dusk, just not any with the intensity as I would the man behind My Neighbor Totoro, Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away.

Then Miyazaki retired. Sure, he’s sort of done this a couple of times, but the fact is with 2013’s The Wind Rises it seems truer than ever. A good friend of mine knew this and then asked, “Who’s number one now?” I’ve kind of been tossing that around my brain since. It’s a ridiculous, arbitrary notion to have a favorite. Then again, it isn’t. I have a favorite movie, band, television show and the like. Why wouldn’t I have a favorite director?

So, I decided to dig down and not just pick a favorite, but a top ten. Ten filmmakers that are pillars of what I care about in cinema today. Directors that make a picture and I immediately get antsy, excited and begin counting the days. This isn’t a definitive list of the Top 10 Living Directors. A lot of the judgment here is upon – fairly – recent work. As such, for someone like Spielberg I don’t really take something like Jaws to heart when I notice his latest is coming out. Additionally, there’s the Lynch factor. A new Lynch film would easily be my most anticipated film of any given year. However, he also hasn’t made a feature in nearly a decade, and only two in the past seventeen-years. So…no Lynch. It’s too hard and strange to compare a rarity like Lynch to a constant in the vein of Almodovar or even Cuaron.

Oddly enough, it wasn’t hard to make a short-list for this. It was narrowing that down to ten that nearly gave me an ulcer. So, here it goes.

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10David Fincher

Notable Filmography – Gone Girl, Fight Club, Se7en, The Social Network, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Personal Favorite – Zodiac

Even though he doesn’t write his films, Fincher gets one thing about dramas most filmmakers don’t’; they can be funny. Even his most gruesome pictures tend to be rooted in some level of dark comedy. This gives his work a tenor that is radical to most things pumped out by Hollywood these days. That the man has crafted a handful of serial killer movies and not only made them distinctly different but amusing is a wondrous, ridiculous feat.

As far as directors working with major movie stars and significant budgets, Fincher probably tops them all right now. His pictures have a pace and rhythm that make them supremely re-watchable. Zodiac is hypnotic, a nearly three-hour trip down the investigation and obsessions of the infamous “Zodiac” killer of the late 60s, early 70s that ends with no resolution, just as it did in real life. Fincher knows when to slowly elevate suspense (the daytime murder in Zodiac), let the characters verbally tear into one another (the break-up of The Social Network) or go thoroughly bonkers (the bedroom scene of Gone Girl).

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The only thing keeping him from ranking higher is the sneaky truth that he’s always hit and then miss, even if the misses are slight. Fight Club is great, Panic Room is fine. The Social Network is masterful. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is alright. While he has no outright duds since his debut with Alien3, he somehow hasn’t made two great films in a row. Still, he has a handful of practically perfect pictures to his name so far and he just hit 50.

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9. Mike Leigh

Notable Filmography – Secrets & Lies, Topsy-Turvy, Mr. Turner, Another Year, Vera Drake, Naked

Personal Favorite – Happy-Go-Lucky

The master of the modern kitchen-sink drama, Mike Leigh makes small movies that feel huge via tightly established characters, stunningly assembled ensembles and an ear for humanity like few others in recent decades. Another Year delves into a married couple and those closest to them, and within two hours, they feel like family. Naked focuses on a bitter mess of a man, spiteful to a world he’s convinced he’s superior to. In this, Leigh steps back and still makes him a human. Secrets & Lies deals with high emotions, race, class and regret, doing so with an elegance that belies it’s rather humble stagings.

Of course, Leigh can paint larger. Sure, he’s not one to go for an action epic, nor would that fit his nature. Topsy-Turvy shows an eye for the musical and lavish looks, as Mr. Turner is lushly drawn and tells a tale over a lengthy swathe of time without losing those at the center of his story. Many filmmakers struggle with period pieces or yarns of those in the lower class. Leigh never has, knowing that the way in is via the people inhabiting the pictures.

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It’s Happy-Go-Lucky that warms my heart the most. A yarn so basic and free or dramatic stakes that it could almost be viewed as a small bit of whimsy. Sally Hawkins portrays a supremely nice woman, content with her life and joyous to the extent it can put some off. We spend a little time with her day-to-day interactions with the world, look at her askew and through that end up loving the character’s genuine kindness.

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8. Michael Haneke

Notable Filmography – Amour, The White Ribbon, Funny Games, Code Unknown, Time of the Wolf, The Piano Teacher

Personal Favorite – Cache

There’s a bluntness to Michael Haneke’s movies that make them supremely scary and unnerving. This is true when he wants to creep you out, as he did in Time of the Wolf when a child is standing alone in a field with nothing but a torch and in the distance a second source of light suddenly appears. It’s equally relevant when he’s pointing out the limits of humanity, be it our nature to rationalize our faults (Code Unknown) or the physical limitations that inevitably arrive with age (Amour).

Since moving away from a seeming obsession with how people related to their cinema and media (Benny’s Video, Funny Games), Haneke has nicely dug into the harsher truths of mankind’s psyche. The White Ribbon delved into how the past is shaped and thus shapes the future, with The Piano Teacher lingering on the oddities and obsessions of sex and love. Some would argue that his films are too morose and compelled by the worst in people. I tend to view him more as a director concerned with how the individual, in addition to the masses, confront the harshest, most shocking moments of their life.

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Cache covers this stunningly, as Haneke’s camera continually blurs the lines between what we’re watching. An opening appears to be a lengthy, static shot of a Parisian residence. We wait for the movement and the actors to arrive, only to find they too are watching the scene unfurl for it was their own home being recorded. Unease bubbles, fingers are pointed as characters are confronted with their own mistakes. The tension grows from an uneasy empathy.My