The Walk: One Good Scene Does Not A Good Movie Make

the walk

Why would the story of Philippe Petit’s criminal and magnificent wire-walk at the top of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center need to be told again when we already have James Marsh’s Oscar-winning documentary Man on Wire? The answer proposed by Robert Zemeckis’s The Walk is that a Hollywood studio budget can allow him to recreate the death-defying stunt in magnificent 3D. And truth be told, there is no denying that the movie’s wire-walking climax is a truly outstanding sequence. I’m particularly susceptible to heights (deathly afraid of them), but this 110 stories-high walk, as rendered by Zemeckis and his team, will provide enough tension to alarm even the bravest of daredevils. It’s truly a shame, then, that such an outstanding sequences would be surrounded by ninety minutes of unacceptably bad filmmaking.

According to its closing credits, The Walk is based exclusively on Petit’s autobiographical book To Reach the Clouds, which is ironic considering its structure is so similar to that of Man on Wire. It opens with Joseph Gordon-Levitt (who plays Petit) talking directly to the camera from atop the Statue of Liberty, a device that I suspect is meant to represent him warming up the audience like he would a group of people gathered to watch him perform on a street corner, but does feel an awful lot like documentary narration. Why stick so close to Man on Wire‘s aesthetics when you already have to convince people there is room in this world for two movies on the same subject?

I don’t think the similarities are fueled by any kind of insincere desire to mine elements that worked so well for the documentary, but by sheer incompetence. The Walk tells Petit’s story in the most -for the lack of a better term- basic way it possibly can. By the fifteen minute mark, the movie has already has allowed itself the three weakest story-telling devices a movie could possibly indulge in: framing device, narration, and flashback. Three devices that can certainly be used to great effect, but rarely are (a great example of framing device and narration working beautifully would be The Grand Budapest Hotel).

The Walk uses these devices in the most obvious ways imaginable. Truly, the reason why its first hour is so hard to sit through is the way it runs Petit’s fascination for the tightrope through the assembly line of inspirational stories about eccentric and passionate heroes, giving him a cute love interest (Charlotte Le Bon) and a stern and quirky mentor (Ben Kingsley). The story beats are so familiar you feel you’ve already seen this movie even as you’re watching it, and the aesthetics equally obvious. Zemeckis’s version of France is underscored by romantic French covers of American pop songs, and his New York by tough ’70s rock.

Zemeckis leaves no room for interpretation, everything that can be said will be said, and everything that is said should be taken at face value. This is most obvious in Philippe’s narration, which drains the life out of almost every visual choice based by the movie. There are some suggestive images whose beauty is simply ruined by the excessive over-explanation of the voice-over. The movie is so inelegant that at one point, the very same piece of information is given twice -once by a character, once by narration- within the span of literally one minute. Even the choices that are supposed to be subtle scream out their purpose.  When Philippe flies to New York to see the Twin Towers for the first time, for example, the soundtrack plays a song that goes “take me higher and higher”.

Zemeckis’s hand can only produce broad strokes. Thus, the element that could most probably have redeemed the enterprise ends up being the one that suffers the most in comparison to Man on Wire: the characterization of Petit himself. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a charismatic actor, and his French accent as Petit isn’t nearly as bad as some people would have you believe. The problem is that Petit himself is an incredibly oversized character, whose fervent way of speaking can only be pulled off by the man himself. The words that come off as poetic when spoken by the man himself in the documentary become pure nonsense when spoken by Gordon-Levitt. To be fair, I don’t think any actor could have succeeded at the task.

I’m not a huge Man on Wire fan, but that movie seems to have found exactly the right way to tell this story. Large part of the documentary’s appeal is discovering the extravagant character that is Petit, and realizing how uniquely obsessed he is with his stunts. There are certain characters whose charisma can’t be recreated. The Walk succeeds at capturing the death defying magic of Petit’s greatest stunt, but it fails to capture the essence of the man walking on the wire. For Petit, there was no reason to walk between the towers except that they were there. It’s this sense of freedom that The Walk, trapped by the constrictions of overly literal narrative cinema, simply can’t capture.

Grade: 5 out of 10.

NYFF Diary Part Two: Life, Death, the Past, the Future, and a Magnificent Lobster

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Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz in Yorgos Lanthimos’s ‘The Lobster’.

Second week of press screenings for the New York Film Festival, and in broad terms, this week was considerably more exciting then the first. This is the diary were I keep my overall thoughts on the films I’m seeing there. Click here for Part One, keep reading for part two…

Wednesday, September 23

Heaven Can Wait (directed by Ernst Lubitsch)
This new (and beautiful looking) restoration by Schawn Belston and the people over at 20th Century Fox is my first encounter with Lubitsch’s work, and a pretty fantastic place to start. If you know anything about classic Hollywood, you’ve undoubtedly heard about the elusive “Lubitsch touch”, a term whose origins might be rooted strictly in early Hollywood branding, but has extended to represent the brilliance of one of history’s most beloved directors.

The “Lubitsch touch” is an esoteric term, that can’t really be defined, but watching Heaven Can Wait -a comedy that recounts a man’s life in order to decide whether or not he deserves to spend eternity in hell- I could sense some of the magic people had found in Lubitsch. My knowledge of his work is limited, but a first encounter leads me to believe the so-called “touch” might be something different to everyone who watches his movies. In my case, I felt sparks rolling down my spine as I saw the cast -led by Don Ameche, Gene Tierney and Charles Coburn, all fantastic- break the boundaries of traditional classic Hollywood acting and indulge in a line-reading, facial gesture, or body movement that goes beyond imitating life and becomes a story all its own.

But those moments, however powerful and meaningful, are relatively brief in a movie brimming with truly hilarious observations and satirical detours.

Microbe and Gasoline (directed by Michel Gondry)
Outside of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mindcritics and audiences haven’t been particularly receptive to Michel Gondry’s career as a film director. Case in point, Microbe and Gasoline was greeted with so little fanfare when it premiered in France earlier this summer that it seemed destined to be forgotten. In an unlikely turn of events, it was selected for the main slate of this year’s New York Film Festival, and thank God it did.

This coming-of-age tale about two fourteen year-olds going on an unlikely road-trip sprinkles bits of Gondry’s idiosyncratic quirk onto one of the most enjoyable movies I’ve seen so far this year. Not only is the story of these two tween outcasts very funny (and often audacious in its comedy), but it shines with a sense of truthfulness that isn’t always captured in this type of movies. Having been a fourteen year-old boy myself, I recognized the truthful ups and downs of this friendship in a way that made me think this movie might be some sort of male equivalent to Lukas Moodysson’s wonderful We Are the Best! 

Thursday, September 24

Don’t Blink – Robert Frank (directed by Laura Israel)
I guess one could call Laura Israel’s portrait of her friend and sometimes collaborator a well-made film in certain regards, but it is also aggressively not the kind of movie I enjoy. Robert Frank is a photographer and avant-garde filmmaking. Based on the glimpses we get in this movie Frank’s work looks like the kind of experimental film that I don’t usually enjoy. I certainly didn’t enjoy watching Don’t Blink, which uses a loose, non-linear, free association-type style to paint a portrait of Frank as an artist and as a person, but fails -like many lackluster experimental films- to deliver any kind of clear message or emotion. Maybe that’s the point and I’m not sophisticated enough, but I wen into this movie knowing very little about its subject, and walked out somehow knowing less. It didn’t tell me any facts about Frank’s career as an artist, nor did it show me an interesting or insightful side of him as a person.

Friday, September 25

The Forbidden Room (directed by Guy Maddin, Evan Johnson)
Guy Maddin’s latest movie (co-directed by Evan Johnson) is a two-strip technicolor pastiche of epic proportions. A gigantic storytelling odyssey, where every character’s dreams, tales, and desires gain existences of their own and take us down a seemingly infinite rabbit hole of B-movie fantasies. It’s chaotic, overwhelming, and somewhat sluggish in its middle section, but it’s definitely inspiring. Like the best of Maddin’s work, watching this movie is like injecting your veins with a shot of pure cinema.

Maddin gave a press conference after the screening, and the story behind the making of the movie might actually be even more interesting than the film itself. Maddin conceived of this as a sort of “internet seance” that tries to summon the lost movies of the past. The Forbidden Room is a companion to this project, which should hit the web early in 2016.

Needless to say, I’m aggressively looking forward to the unveiling of the full project, and The Forbidden Room has only strengthen my anticipation, which doesn’t mean the movie isn’t great on its own. If you want to get an idea of what goes on in this movie, I see it as the other side of The Grand Budapest Hotels coin. If Wes Anderson is an obsessive perfectionist, Maddin is an absolute anarchist; meaning that the nesting dolls of this movie’s structure don’t long for a forgotten past as much as they mock a hegemonic future.

Mia Madre (directed by Nanni Moretti)
The most traumatic and heart-wrenching elements of this story about a filmmaker (Margherita Buy) trying to finish a movie while taking care of her dying mother are kept to a minimum, which is much appreciated. In my experience, the long road toward a relative’s death is not the incessantly loud cry that many movies choose to portray, but something closer to the doubtful whispers Mia Madre‘s protagonist goes through. She does snap at one point, becasue Moretti is not afraid of earned emotion, but it’s mostly a modest and honest movie. To put it simply, you feel this movie knows what it’s talking about.

That being said, it’s not the most original or originally executed piece of cinema of this festival by far. It actually stands out among the main slate selection by being so straight-forward in its narrative. Mia Madre is not flashy. It aims at a modest target and, for the most part, hits the mark. The comedy (courtesy of an improvisational John Turturro) work charmingly, and at the end, the movie is moving when it needs to be.

Saturday, September 26

The Walk (directed by Robert Zemeckis)
This is the big opening film of the festival. It should have its gala premiere minutes after this write-up is posted. The big selling point is Zemeckis’s rendering of Philippe Petit’s 1974 wire-walk between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, and in 3D! The scene in question is undoubtedly spectacular. It’s as tense and exciting as you would want it it be, so it’s incredibly sad that the movie around it is kind of a complete turd.

I plan to write a full review of The Walk later tonight, in case you want to read some more of my thoughts about it.

The Lobster (directed by Yorgos Lanthimos)
If you’re single, you’re taken to a resort where you have forty-five days to find yourself a partner. If you don’t, you’re transformed into an animal of your choosing and released to the wild. That’s the premise of Yorgos Lanthimos’s brilliant third feature, which is clearly the stand-out of the festival so far. With the aide of a cast led by Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, John C. Reilly, Ben Whishaw, and Lea Seydoux, Lanthimos seamlessly transitions into his first English-language movie without losing the sharpness of his Greek movies.

You will be hard-pressed to find a movie that blends eeriness, morbidity, and hilarity as seamlessly as The Lobster. The highly stylized world inhabited by these characters seems like something taken out of Buñuel or Kafka, but behind the ridiculous exterior you will find a wistful meditation on the nature of love. I’m still working through the movie’s themes, but I suspect Lanthimos is trying to explore the relationship between our inner and outer lives when it comes to falling and -more crucially- staying in love. Sadly, a relationship is never just about two people.

Sicario’s amazing filmmaking overcomes its weaknesses

Sicario

Based on title and subject matter alone, I was already picturing a version of Sicario that would have seen me trying to punch my fist through a wall. An ultraviolent treatment of the “war on drugs” from the American perspective? This material was ripe for promoting horrendous perspectives and insulting politics. But while the movie’s weaknesses are evident, they are relatively easy to ignore when faced with the unmistakable quality of its filmmaking. I am unfamiliar with director Denis Villeneuve’s previous work, but if nothing else, Sicario is one well made movie.

Let’s address the bad parts first. Sicario stars Emily Blunt as an FBI agent who enlists in a mysterious mission -led by a relaxed Josh Brolin and an enigmatic Benicio Del Toro- designed to capture one of the biggest drug-lords currently operating south of the border. Most of the movie closely follows Blunt’s character, and does so with determined strength, but it does occasionally veer into other perspectives, which tend to produce its most deficient moments.

I am referring, in particular, to a series of cut-aways to a number of scenes depicting the life of a working class Mexican family that seems to have little relation to the movie’s main storyline (outside of maybe thematic ideas) until policeman father Silvio (Maximiliano Hernandez) plays a slightly bigger role in the third act. Even then, knowing Silvio’s background doesn’t particularly heighten the drama. On the contrary, the overwhelmingly solemn depiction of Silvio and his family make these sequences feel insincere. The last scene of the movie in particular left a bad taste in my mouth, and I suspect not in the way the director intended.

The exhausting solemnity of these sequences seems to have been a reactionary measure to the possibility of backlash at the movie’s depiction of Mexico as nothing but a chaotically violent hellhole. Backlash that might well still be valid. To wit, when our protagonists cross the border into Ciudad Juarez, they are greeted with four decapitated bodies hanging from a bridge. By trying to be as crude as possible in the depiction of the violence inflicted by the cartel, the movie does go to certain places so ridiculous they didn’t harrow as much as they induced some serious eye-rolling.

That being said, these moments only come occasionally, and surprisingly enough, the movie does a pretty remarkable job of handling its violence. Any movie of this kind always brings to mind Truffaut’s old saying that “all war movies are pro-war movies” (because whether they want to or not, they always make war look cool), so one of the highest compliments I can pay the makers of Sicario is that I feared in anticipation of its next violent move. Outside of a third-act sequence focusing on Benicio Del Toro, which does go a little into “look how cool this guy is” territory, I was too tense to want anything violent to happen.

If I did get any pleasure out of Sicario‘s more violent and tense moments, it was in retrospect, as I tried to figure out the inner workings of its incredibly effective filmmaking. The key players in building the movie’s suspense are the cinematography, editing, and sound. We feel like there is something intentionally off about the framing of master Roger Deakins’s static camera. The close-ups are uncomfortably close, and large parts of the long shots are devoted to shadows and empty walls. The editing doesn’t adopt the rhythms of an action thriller, but those of an arthouse movie, which surprisingly makes the movie more suspenseful. It’s the quietness of the pace, and the silence in the sound mixing that makes you shrink in your seat as you fearfully anticipate the violence, which always comes with a loud and hollow bang.

At the center of it all is Blunt, who seems to be playing a little bit with her recently acquired image as a badass action star -thanks to strong roles in Looper and Edge of TomorrowShe is introduced, and the audience recognizes her as a tough FBI agent, but it is quickly clear that she is out of her depth, that she has virtually no control in this terrible situation. This doesn’t mean she is playing a weak character. Blunt, as is typical of her work, shows relentless commitment to the role, which in retrospect emerges as an allegorical figure. The symbol of American ideals, of order, of values. A symbol that -without trying to spoil anything- will be obsolete by the end of the movie.

Sicario‘s ending -not its very last scene, but what comes right before- is as bleak as a movie like this could get. It is also the most appropriate conclusion this could’ve had. One can’t expect a movie that tries to deal with the crushing violence of the drug war to be subtle, and it isn’t. One can only hope that it has something to say, and that it won’t betray the pragmatic darkness of the situation. Sicario does reach a little too far at moments, but thanks to a fabulous group of craftsmen behind the camera, the moments that work do so with the appropriate amount of fury.

Grade: I go between giving this a 7 or 8 out of 10, but the bottom line is it is well worth watching.

NYFF Diary Part One: Asian Mediations on Death, Portuguese Politics, and Perverse American Legends

Cemetery of Splendor

A scene from ‘Cemetery of Splendor’, the latest by Thai auteur Apichatpong ‘Joe’ Weerasethakul

The New York Film Festival doesn’t officially begin until a couple of week from now, but the press screenings started this Tuesday. I tried to go to as many screenings as I could fit in my schedule, and will use this diary as a way of sharing some brief and hopefully helpful thoughts on the movies I’m seeing. This entry covers the first three days of screenings, and if there is a recurring theme to the festival so far, it’s slow-paced movies with elements of magical realism.

Day One: 

Journey to the Shore (directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa)
The first screening of the festival was this Japanese drama, which debuted at the Un Certain Regard competition at Cannes earlier this year, where it won the “direction” award for Kurosawa. It’s the story of a woman (Eri Fukatsu) whose life has been deeply affected by the death of her husband (Tadanobu Asano), and will be even more deeply affected when the husband returns in the form of a spirit. The film establishes itself early on as a road trip movie, with the couple visiting different small villages through which the husband wandered as a newly dead spirit before reconnecting with his wife.

Kurosawa uses image and sound to create a number of very evocative, and sometimes moving images. Expressionistic lighting is used to emphasize certain elements of the frame, and sound is used to either contrast or overwhelm the images (as is the case with the sentimental score and the thundering sound of a waterfall). Sadly, sitting through this movie is a huge slog. I am not an enemy of measured pacing, but the lack of specificity in the main characters’ personality and their relationship results in a disconnect between the story and the audience’s interest. The images are beautiful, but the emotions ring hollow.

Day Two:

Arabian Nights: Volume 1 – The Restless One (Directed by Miguel Gomes)
I saw two movies on Wednesday, and a couple of thematic similarities between the movies became clear pretty quickly. For example, both were curiously interested in erections. More significantly, though, both of these are movies that find their directors trying to paint a specific portrait about their countries while populating them with all kinds of re-imagined sounds and visuals based as much on folk traditions as in sheer weird originality.

The first of these movies is Miguel Gomes’s epic re-interpretation of the Arabian Nights as a three volume, six hours plus philosophical treatise on contemporary Portugal and the austerity measures that have deeply impoverished the country. Gomes feels strongly about the subject, making the movie as much of an angry protest as it is a melancholy love letter for his country. Due to scheduling problems, I will only be able to watch the first volume of the three, and thus feel a little awkward commenting on a movie that is only actually just a third of a movie, so I will only share a few short thoughts:

As most movies comprised of specific segments, some are better than others. Arabian Nights opens with a meta-filmic prologue that presents us with testimonies by the Portuguese working class before Gomes presents himself as the Sherezhade of his own movie. From there (roughly 20 minutes in) we jump into the “actual” stories. Like I said, some are better than others, and Volume One has the misfortune of being front-loaded with its best segment (the one that features the aforementioned erections). The two segments that follow have their own strengths, but neither feels as tightly constructed or as biting as the first one.

I will admit that Volume One made me curious to see the whole of Gomes’s thesis, but six hours of my time might be too much to ask for a movie whose first volume already felt longer than it should’ve been.

Cemetery of Splendor (Directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul)
The second movie of the day wasn’t quite as ambitious, but it was equally idiosyncratic. Weerasethakul is the director behind some of the most celebrated movies of recent years, including the Palm D’Or winning Uncle Boonme Who Can Recall His Past Lives. This was my first experience with a Weerasethakul movie, and I fear it may not have been the ideal introduction.

This a movie with a deliberately measured pace, as it follows a middle-aged woman (Jenjira Pongpas) who spends her time caring for injured soldiers in a small town hospital and talking to spirits… I think. I’m entirely sure what the paranormal aspects of the film are or represent, but I am most certain they are there. The main character is one of the film’s biggest strengths, thanks to Pongpas matter-of-fact sense of humor, and Weerasethakul’s kooky scenes. The more humorous scenes in the movie are quite remarkable, and stand out as one of the festival’s highlights so far.

The connection, however, didn’t extend to the more dramatic moments, as I couldn’t reach the movie’s emotional core. A pivotal scene featuring a scar shook me, but I didn’t quite get the nature and importance of the main relationship. A re-watch might be needed in order to fully appreciate the film. Or maybe I should start looking into the rest of Weerasethakul’s work. I will say this: Cemetery of Splendor is good enough that I will certainly do the latter.

Day 3: 

De Palma (Directed by Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow)
I kind of cringed at the idea of this movie, since documentaries about living directors tend to be pretty disposable. One recent example of this would be Jodorowsky’s Dunewhich is overwhelmed by adulation for its subject and fails to say anything worthwhile. Having recently rediscovered Noah Baumbach’s work, I had trust in the director to make something worthwhile out of this project, and while De Palma isn’t quite outstanding, it is considerably better than movies of its kind tend to be.

The movie is basically 90 minutes of De Palma talking about himself and his movies. He takes us through his career in relatively detail and without skipping any of his movies -no matter if they’re flops or hits. The fact that this is just De Palma talking and reflecting on his own work is what makes the movie valuable. If you’re the kind of person who would have any kind of interest to spend a couple hours in conversation with Brian De Palma, then you’re the kind of person who would enjoy this movie.

2015 New York Film Festival Announcement

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Hello readers, this post is meant to inform you I am one of the seven fortunate souls to have selected for the 2015 New York Film Festival’s Critics Academy program. A program “designed to nurture promising film critics and journalists as they attend and cover screenings and events at this year’s festival.”

You may or may not know that, besides taking part on this program, I am also a full-time college student, which means I will be incredibly busy for the next month or so, and I won’t be posting at my regular frequency (I know I have already slowed down in the last couple weeks and for that I apologize!). The program starts on September 14 and goes until the end of the NYFF around October 8.

Rest assured, there will be lots of writing involved during the program. I will try to chime in with my thoughts in the form of a diary that you will be able to find HERE. At the very least will link to whatever online location will host my writing about the festival.

Needless to say, I am very excited about this opportunity, which wouldn’t have been possible if readers like you didn’t keep me thinking this whole blog thing was a good idea. Thank you, and I will be back to write about new releases and the movies of the year 2000 in October!

The Best Movies of 1995

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This is the official end of the 1995 Project, which became the third year, after 1992 and 2005, in my quest to find out what is the best movie of my lifetime.

I was three years old in ’95, which means I did most of my movie watching at home. I do remember having seen Pocahontas and Toy Story, and The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers Movie in the theater. A revision of the year was in order. People don’t talk about ’95 as a great year for film, but I found it to be stronger than the two previous years in this project, especially when it comes to American film. There seems to have been something in the air, as the last days of Generation X cynicism mixed with a younger, more optimistic generation. Some of the very best movies of the nineties came out this year, and they’re represented in the following list…

Top Ten Best Movies of 1995

Safe951. Safe
(dir. Todd Haynes / 119 min. / USA)
A masterpiece. One of the few movies I would call perfect. There is hardly an element of the production I couldn’t rave about. Be it the tight focused script, the rigorous cinematography by Alex Nepomniaschy, the measured editing, the eerie score, the outstanding lead performance by Julianne Moore, or the thing that holds all of them together: the masterful direction by Todd Haynes. This is a tight character study on the darkest scariest aspects of contemporary life. The true horrors that are so mundane you don’t realize how sickening they are until you look closer. Haynes provides the perfect metaphor. He gets us as close to his lead character as he possibly can.

toystory952. Toy Story
(dir. John Lasseter / 81 min. / USA)
A game-changing movie if there’s ever been one. A new technical medium came to the mainstream, and even though the asinine imitators could bring anyone to pronounce themselves against the medium, one can’t argue against the brilliance of this original. The key, as with all the best Pixar, is in the story, which takes one of the most essential questions of childhood: “are my toys secretly alive?”, and takes it to the animation stratosphere. Two existential sequels followed. They’re both great, and they owe that greatness to this more than sturdy foundation.

deadman953. Dead Man
(dir. Jim Jarmusch / 121 min. / USA)
What does this darkly hilarious anti-western about a Cleveland accountant’s westward march toward death have to say about America? It’s hard to tell, but there is no question that the beautiful black and white photography, the quirky cavalcade of supporting characters, and the poetic allusions to religious and Romantic literature are all meant to paint a portrait of a land where manifest destiny is always moving, where settling down is a mistake, and where all roads lead to a grave.

whiteballoon954. The White Balloon
(dir. Jafar Panahi / 85 min. / Iran)
Panahi’s debut feature -written by cinematic master Abbas Kiarostami- is the story of a little girl who wants to buy a goldfish. The perspective is fixated on the girl as the movie unfolds like a children’s picture book that episodically introduces us to the fixtures of her Tehran neighborhood. The title is a question until the end, after the movie has revealed an intricate and humane society, and uses its final shot to ask the answer one last essential question. A triumph of simplicity, a little story that says more with a whisper than most movies do with a howl.

babe955. Babe
(dir. Chris Noonan / 91 min. / Australia)
A staple of my childhood. The pacing is more frenetic and the direction not quite as attuned as I remembered, but the magic is still there. There are a few key reasons why this is one of the best family movies ever made. For the children, it’s the fact that the movie traffics in some of the most primal fears and essential questions of discovering the world around you (which in this case, is a whimsical farm beautifully designed by Roger Ford). For the adults, it’s the bittersweet and touching relationship between a stern farmer (James Cromwell) and an unusual little pig.

seven956. Se7en
(dir. David Fincher / 127 min. / USA)
Notable as the first time Fincher got to marry his iconic style to a movie that shares his own dark philosophy. I don’t always love Fincher, but his technical prowess and innate talent for filmmaking is undeniable. His movies are always well-made, it is up to the richness of the script and the marriage between director and material whether or not they’ll be great. This is the first great movie Fincher ever made. A handsomely crafted thriller worthy of the talent behind it and the clearest omen for the masterpieces that were yet to come.

before sunrise7. Before Sunrise
(dir. Richard Linklater / 105 min. / USA)
One of the best trilogies in film history gets off to a pretty great start. It’s true that the movie retroactively gains a lot of power from its sequels, but that doesn’t mean that there is no power here. Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy are as charming as ever as two young lovers who meet on a Vienna-bound train, as the true magic of this movie is in the way Linklater and his cast manage to capture a magic moment while remaining truthful to a generation, human nature, and most importantly, two beautiful characters.

kickingandscreaming958. Kicking and Screaming
(dir. Noah Baumbach / 96 min. / USA)
Ignored during its initial release, Baumbach’s first feature is much stronger than people gave it credit for, and better than most of the arrested development twentysomething comedies it was compared to. Unlike the weaker entries in that genre, Baumbach’s film knows how to delve into the unsympathetic aspects of its characters while still being funny. Like the director’s best, a mix of empathy and nastiness turns this into a truthful and worthy movie.

sense and sensibility 959. Sense and Sensibility
(dir. Ang Lee / 131 min. / UK)
1995 was the year of the Jane Austen renaissance, and with good reason. This collaboration between the amazing Emma Thompson’s freshly modern screenplay and Ang Lee’s modest and meticulous direction results in the best entry in the long list of nineties prestige literary adaptations. The secret? This is not a movie about literature, costumes, or the past. It’s a story about people, passions, and the present. The impeccable work by a game ensemble makes this as immediate a story as the loudest and edgiest contemporary story ’95 could have produced.

10. Clueless
(dir. Amy Heckerling / 97 min. / USA)
Like I said above, this was the year of Jane Austen, and Amy Heckerling’s retelling of Emma takes the cake for being as much a tribute to the author as it is one of the decade’s most defining movies. Cultural relevance and greatness don’t always go hand in hand, but they are one and the same when it comes to Clueless, one of the most winning and optimistic movies ever made. A love-letter to friendliness, and the idea that the politically-minded cynicism of Generation X and the sunny optimism of the Millennial are not only capable of coexisting, but of becoming a love story.

Honorable Mentions: A Close Shave, A Little Princess, Apollo 13, Fallen Angelsand ShowgirlsI limited the honorable mentions to five, but I could’ve gone on and on listing worthy movies from this year. Even the most average movies seem to have had one or more extraordinary elements to offer.

That’s the list! Thanks for reading, and stay tuned. The next year I’ll be revisiting is 2000.