Berlin-based filmmaker Eva Trobisch’s debut feature, All Is Good, explores the subject of rape from a different perspective – by telling the story of a woman who refuses to be a victim after being sexually assaulted by her boss’ brother-in-law and doing her best to carry on with her life.
The film is realistic (or naturalistic) and character driven, ably sustained by actress Aenne Schwarz’s lead performance. It’s also quite focused, exploring the moments before, during and after the traumatic event but also revealing of everyday moments that give a fuller portrayal of the situation than usual.
While it may immediately seem dry, it is remarkably different from the usual films exploring similar subjects that readily place the women in the role of the victim. Made in the heat of the #MeeToo movement, All Is Good is (disappointingly) one of the few films of this era that actually actively works to alter the dominant storytelling conventions and is all the more empowering for it.
The Nightmare Before Christmas Directed by Henry Selick USA
The Nightmare Before Christmas is an “unlikely” holiday classic from the gothic mind of Tim Burton, who came up with its story. It is also regarded as a landmark of stop-motion animation filmmaking.
The film is a perfect balance of whacky and dark. It tells the Grinch-like story of the King of Halloweentown, Jack Skellington, who sets out to become a Santa Claus to oversee the Christmas festivities his own way.
Directed by Henry Selick – whose works recall the spirit of Lotte Reiniger’s The Adventures of Prince Achmed – The Nightmare Before Chrismas is complemented not only by a soundtrack full of memorable tunes but also a dark sense of humor that makes it equally palatable for kids and grown-ups.
Released seven years after The Thin Red Line, The New World is an operatic, meditative film that draws inspiration from the epic romance of Pocahontas and Captain John Smith but turns it into the basis of a reflection on love and loss that is at once melancholic and full of excitement for the future.
Far exceeding its original material, Terrence Malick once again juxtaposes the intimate with the universal – which is the thing that arguably most differentiates from other directors. Here, the central love story is just as much a meditation on the love shared between two people as it is both an elegy for an America of the past and a celebration of the potential of the America of the future.
The New World is a snapshot of a specific historical moment in the lives of two people and in the history of mankind. Aside from Badlands, it may also be his most linear and accessible film. However, its linearity is deceitful: the film carries a lot of philosophical depth, which translates perfectly via the director’s sensibilities, equally excited by the sight of the spectacular landscape of his film’s setting as he is by the landscape of the quiet glances exchanged by his characters.
After getting caught red-handed, a con man and his seductive partner are forced to collaborate with an FBI man in an investigation that involves corrupt politicians, Jersey’s powerbrokers and the mafia.
American Hustle takes place in the ’70s, during the time of post-disco and flashy, colorful clothes – the perfect setting and background to the ludicrousness, imperfections and almost comical childishness of organized crime that the film indulges in. However, despite the coating of satire and black comedy, the melodrama that runs through its plot and the many intricate romantic storylines add intensity to it all and that, in the end, is what really lights it up.
David O. Russell’s stylish and frantic pace is openly inspired by that of earlier Martin Scorsese films. The elaborate cinematography inevitably recalls films like Goodfellas and Casino. A top-rate cast featuring some of the biggest and most respected movie stars of the time – Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Renner, Jennifer Lawrence and a show-stealing Amy Adams – completes the picture of a top-rate production.
Light Thereafter Directed by Konstantin Bojanov Bulgaria, Belgium
Konstantin Bojanov’s film, Light Thereafter, is a coming-of-age drama about an autistic 16-year-old kid, Pavel (Barry Keoghan) who travels from London to France to meet his hero, the famous painter Arnaud (Kim Bodnia).
The movie follows a road movie structure and focuses on the experiences Pavel makes along the way. It also moves backward, via a series of chapters. This is a device that encourages a more contemplative interaction with the spectator and a different way to ponder on the film’s many themes, including musings on art, nationality, identity, sexuality, family, culture, etc.
The autistic card is never overplayed, much to the credit of Keoghan. Nevertheless, it is another device that distinguishes Light Thereafter from similar movies; his dominating perspective offers a fresh perspective on the world, contemplated by Nenad Boroevich’s polished and empathetic cinematography.
Spalovač mrtvol Directed by Juraj Herz Czechoslovakia
The portrait of a cremator, Karel Kopfrkingl, who believes himself a type of godlike creature with powers to liberate the souls of the dead. A haunting depiction of obsession and delusion, The Cremator was predictably banned by Communist authorities after its premiere in 1969 and stayed banned until 1989. Today, it is widely celebrated as a highlight title of the Czechoslovak New Wave.
Kopfrkingl is interpreted by actor Rudolph Hrusinsky, whose presence is at once slimy and vicious, pathetic and dangerous. His performance is at the center of this character-driven film, directed by Juraj Herz, whose surrealist style is complemented by excellent black and white photography, wide angled lenses and bizarre viewpoints and a Kafkaesque sense of humor.
Though The Cremator is set in Prague in the ’30s, with Czechoslovakia on the verge of Nazi German occupation, it is an exploration of the political radicalization of Europe of the 20th century in general – which is why it was banned in its home country.
Things to Come Directed by William Cameron Menzies UK
Things to Come is a haunting, philosophical film examining human nature and its violent, recurring cycles of war and peace. Based on The Shape of Things to Come by H.G. Wells, who also scripted it, the movie was released in 1936 and prophetized the horrors of the bloody world war that was just around the corner.
Things to Come was the most expensive sci-fi production of the ’30s and marked the feature directorial debut of William Cameron Menzies, one of the most celebrated art directors in cinema history and the first to ever be credited as “production designer.” The majestic sets of the film are a highlight, blurring the line between set design and visual effects, particularly in the spectacular vision of the future of its third part.
Menzies would return to the science fiction genre in 1953 with Invaders from Mars. However, Things to Come remains his best directorial effort. Influenced by Fritz Lang’s Metropolis from nearly a decade prior, it is regarded in its own right as one of the genre’s best works.
For many, there’s a place in hell for that smooth, lush genre of music known as soft rock. I nurture no such prejudices. In fact, I must admit to even liking some tunes that are regularly openly criticized as cheesy and at best considered as guilty pleasures.
Peter Frampton, formerly of Humble Pie, was for a while the genre’s biggest exponent. Frampton Comes Alive, released in 1976, peaked the charts for many weeks and is one of the best-selling live albums ever. To me, there’s nothing strange about the fact that he was, at one point, the biggest music star in the world. What is interesting is that the music he played was aimed at a younger audience, whereas today, it would be considered “adult contemporary.”
There’s nothing cool about Frampton nor “Baby, I Love Your Way,” a song that is dull and with bland, uninspired lyrics about, perhaps, living in the moment and promoting casual sex. What is interesting about this song is that it seems to have perfectly coincided with a moment in popular culture that possibly only people who lived it truly understand. It is for this reason that Nick Hornby used it for a pivotal moment in High Fidelity, where the heartbroken protagonist bursts into tears.
“Clouds are stalking islands in the sun / I wish I could buy one, out of season / But don’t hesitate, ’cause your love won’t wait.”
L’Enfant Sauvage Directed by Francois Truffaut France
The Wild Child fits well into the category of Francois Truffaut’s “vanity projects.” The aim of this particular one was to promote discussion about children’s rights – a topic he remained passionate about throughout his whole life.
The film takes place at the turn of the 20th century and is based on the true events regarding child Victor of Aveyron, who grew in the wild, as reported in the journals of physician Jean Marc Gaspard Itard. Truffaut himself decided to play the role of the latter so that he could control the child actor’s performance (which could easily have gotten out of hand) without the need of another actor as intermediary.
As it turns out, nothing in The Wild Child is overstated. Even the melodrama is subtle, though present and meaningful. This is possibly as close as Truffaut would ever get to documentary filmmaking, and a testimony to the French filmmaker’s confidence in versatility. Furthermore, whether directly or indirectly, the use of silent film techniques and black and white photography expresses his desire to remain independent from the mainstream.
With Slacker, Richard Linklater became a spokesperson for the directionless, angry and lost souls in their twenties of his hometown of Austin, Texas – and possibly many other cities across the globes.
Drifting through the city and its inhabitants, the film is defined by constant motion. Taking place over the course of a full 24-hour period, it may lack a rewarding, traditional narrative, instead offering a comprehensible depiction of a time and a place – almost like a series of postcards. Despite this documentary-like quality, the rambling of its many characters is full of ideas and creativity.
The appeal of this low-budget, independent film has only grown as time has gone by and it has become clearer that Slacker has become both representative of a past generation and very relatable to today’s youth. The anger, mental illness and penchant for conspiracy theory, for example, is still there and the depth of the movie is visible, underneath its patina of comedy, to anyone who wants to see it.