|Adam Bakri and Leem Lubany in Hany Abu Assad’s Omar|
Non-Stop (Collet-Serra, 2014, B) (review)
Nothing original or substantial distinguishes Non-Stop from the previous installments in the ‘Liam Neeson as Action Hero’ franchise, but measuring it against them in terms of the sheer fun value, Non-Stop is at the top of the crop.
Cléo From 5 to 7 (Varda, 1962, A) (review)
An exquisite feat of directorial experimentation and a revolutionary landmark of feminist cinema, Varda’s film is as emotionally powerful as it is technically impressive. A provocative success on every level.
Tehran is the Capital of Iran (Shirdel, 1966, A-)
Somewhat more straightforward than his two earlier films, Shirdel’s is more noticeably angry and less polished. Still, the emotional punch of his message never allows the audience to slump into a lull.
Fortress/Women’s Prison (Shirdel, 1965, A+)
Though not even half an hour long put together, these two short documentaries are among the best films Iranian cinema has ever produced. Socially conscious, emotionally rich and technically innovative, Shirdel’s poetic look at the lower rungs of society in pre-revolutionary Tehran still pulses with energy vitality and energy today.
Omar (Abu Assad, 2014, B+) (review)
A tense, twisted and riveting thriller that is politically passionate as it is objective. Abu Assad explores the long term social consequences of the occupation with an assured voice and gets uniformly strong performances from his ensemble.
The Palm (Taghvai, 1969, B-)
A rather straightforward, educational look at the palm fields in Southern Iran, Taghvai’s film illuminates the camaraderie that existed between date-farmers in the heat of Khuzestan, but it lacks the poetry of his better known works.
The Sorcerer’s Wind (Taghvai, 1969, A)
Exposing the rarely studied, African-inspired, tribal rituals of the Iranian South, Taghvai’s soothingly lyrical approach creates an incantatory, is-it-true-is-it-nottext in stark contrast with the rugged beauty of the subject of exorcism.
Blue Jasmine (Allen, 2013, B)
In subtle ways that only reveal themselves upon a second screening, Jasmine is one of Allen’s most artfully curated films, with an array of knockout performances. Still, it remains more vindictive of its characters than inquisitive.
The Lego Movie* (Lord/Miller, 2014, B+)
Even funnier than the first time around and revealing whole new layers of cleverness. Two screenings have already established this film as an endlessly re-watchable marvel.
For No Eyes Only (Barde, 2014, C+) (thoughts)
A hyper-digitalized retelling of Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window, this German film lacks the thematic richness of its predecessor and misses an opportunity for any sort of commentary on our current struggle with privacy in the face of easy-access web cameras.
I Learn America (Dissard/Peng, 2014, B-) (thoughts)
Perceptive, moving and occasionally heartbreaking, this documentary about immigrant kids attending an international school in Lafayette explores the difficulties of immigration both for the kids and the system that tries to assimilate and embrace them at once.
Girl on a Bicycle (Leven, 2014, D) (review)
For the most part, this enterprise is charmless, humorless, clichéd and vapid; this is the absolute lowest common denominator of rom-coms, with the added displeasure of national stereotypes.
The Lego Movie (Lord/Miller, 2014, B)
Everything is awesome!
The Savages (Jenkins, 2007, B)
Featuring one of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s most subtle and heart-wrenching performances, Tamara Jenkins’s film is a quiet gem, slowly building a wealth of emotional and intellectual insight into family dynamics.
Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead (Lumet, 2007, A-)
One of Sidney Lumet’s best films, directed in his typically muscular fashion and with a uniformly stellar cast; Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead is a morally complex drama that thrills from start to finish.
Charlie Wilson’s War (Nichols, 2007, C-)
Philip Seymour Hoffman’s electric turn as the whip-smart, temperamental intelligence agent almost single-handedly saves Charlie Wilson’s War from its predictable, prosaic and jingoistic self.
Synecdoche, New York (Kauffman, 2008, C)
Burdened by the grandiosity and sheer abundance of its ideas, Kauffman’s script boasts as many intellectual challenges as the ones he wrote for Gondry and Jonze, but he doesn’t have the directorial ability to make them cohere. Hoffman is the film’s thunderously beating human heart though.
Punch-Drunk Love (Anderson, 2002, A-)
“Few directors have enough control over their films to synchronize the score with lens flares,” as a friend of mine recently put it. Punch-Drunk Love appears to be Anderson’s easiest film. Do not be fooled!