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Staff & contributors

When asked about starring in First Reformed, Ethan Hawke said it’s the kind of role he would have never dared to audition for 10 years ago. This is coming from the same goatee icon who did Gattaca 22 years ago, and Training Day 18 years ago. 

Needless to say that his performance in this movie is exceptional, and we hope that it will be rewarded with an Oscar. The film centers around his character, a reverend of a church in New York, who is trying to help a couple with marital issues (deciding the fate of a pregnancy). Instead, he uncovers a deeper story and becomes unexpectedly involved. 

Religion intersects with ethical questions on activism, abortion, and environmental issues. I know that sounds like a lot, but First Reformed delivers on everything. The writing by Paul Schrader is delicate yet ensures that the movie keeps a gripping pace.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Amanda Seyfried, Bill Hoag, Cedric the Entertainer, Christopher Dylan White, Elanna White, Eric Lockley, Erica Fae, Ethan Hawke, Frank Rodriguez, Gary Lee Mahmoud, Ingrid Kullberg-Bendz, Jon Rua, Ken Forman, Kristin Villanueva, Krystina Alabado, Mark Havlis, Miah Issabella Velasquez, Michael Gaston, Natalie Woolams-Torres, Philip Ettinger, Prudence Wright Holmes, Ramon Nuñez, Ronald Peet, Sue Jean Kim, Tyler Bourke, Van Hansis, Victoria Hill

Director: Paul Schrader

The concepts of roads not taken and domino effects have received plenty of cinematic attention in their showier forms by way of multiverse comic book movies and dimension-hopping films like Everything Everywhere All At Once. But, though there’s no hint of sci-fi in Past Lives, Celine Song’s gentle film can count itself as one of the best treatments of that universe-spawning question: “what if?”

When her family moves from Seoul to Canada, teenage Na Young bids a loaded farewell to classmate Hae Sung and changes her name to Nora. Years later, they reconnect online and discover the spark still burns between them. This is no idealistic romance, though: Past Lives is told with sober candor. Song acknowledges real obstacles standing in the way of a relationship between the two — those pragmatic (distance) and, more painfully, personal (evolving personalities, American husbands).

Those two threads — unrealized romance and the transmutation of identity that so often takes place after migrating — are expertly entwined in Past Lives to produce a sublime, aching meditation on memory and time, practical love and idealistic romance, and all the complex contradictions that exist in between. That Song communicates so much and so delicately in only her first film makes Past Lives all the more stunning.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: An Min-yeong, Chang Ki-ha, Chase Sui Wonders, Choi Won-young, Emily Cass McDonnell, Federico Rodriguez, Greta Lee, Hwang Seung-eon, Isaac Powell, Jack Alberts, Jane Yubin Kim, John Magaro, Jojo T. Gibbs, Kristen Sieh, Moon Seung-a, Moon Seung-ah, Seo Yeon-woo, Teo Yoo, Yim Seung-min, Yoon Ji-hye

Director: Celine Song

Rating: PG-13

Kimberly Peirce's first–out of only three—film was a smashing success, mostly due to her dedication to the subject matter. Peirce spent years researching the life and tragic death of Brandon Teena after reading an article about him in The Village Voice. She felt a particular kind of kinship as a queer person herself, and wanted to construct a story out of real facts that would put the spotlight on love and the desire for connection, and not that much on the violence which dominated the public discourse. In Falls City, Nebraska, the director conducted interviews with Lana Tisdale (Brandon's girlfriend) and her mother, while attending the ongoing trial. She took years to cast the lead and from hundreds of cis women, lesbians, and trans people, she chose the unknown actress Hilary Swank, who went on to win the Best Actress Academy Award (and the irony of that is not lost on us). The film features fantastic performances aplenty and very raw storytelling, visualized by neorealist style and low lighting. Direct references were the films of Martin Scorcese and John Cassavetes, but Boys Don't Cry has its own blend of beauty and cruelty to take pride in.

Genre: Crime, Drama

Actor: Alicia Goranson, Alison Folland, Brendan Sexton III, Caitlin Wehrle, Cheyenne Rushing, Chloe Sevigny, Craig Erickson, Gabriel Horn, Gail Cronauer, Guilford Adams, Hilary Swank, Jackson D. Kane, Jeannetta Arnette, Jerry Haynes, Josh Ridgway, Libby Villari, Lisa Renee Wilson, Lou Perryman, Matt McGrath, Paige Carl Griggs, Peter Sarsgaard, Rob Campbell, Robert Prentiss, Shana McClendon

Director: Kimberly Peirce

Rating: R

, 1995

Something is wrong with Carol White. She’s a well-off housewife living in the picturesque suburbs of Los Angeles. Her husband’s job is going well, her step-son is pleasant, and her social life consists of boutique lunches, fruit-filled diets, and lavishly pink baby showers—all is well on this side of the white picket fence.

Until Carol starts sneezing. Then she begins coughing, and she experiences a violent asthma attack while driving on the freeway. Afterward, Carol’s nose won’t stop bleeding. She starts having seizures. Struggling to breathe, Carol winds up in the hospital, seeing doctors and psychologists trying to diagnose what’s wrong and whether her mystery illness is physiological or psychological.

Todd Haynes’ Safe is an unnerving examination at our relationship with the environment—and in an increasingly modernized world, how much we can tolerate of what we create: white noise, toxins, busy work, everyday poisons, monotonous obligations. It’s also a complicated reflection on the ways in which women’s pain is disregarded and minimized, and what the loss of invisible agency looks like when it begins to manifest outward.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Allan Wasserman, April Grace, Beth Grant, Brandon Cruz, Cassy Friel, Chauncey Leopardi, Dean Norris, Eleanor Graham, Elinor O. Caplan, Francesca P. Roberts, James Le Gros, James Lyons, Janel Moloney, Jean St. James, Jessica Harper, Jodie Markell, John Apicella, Julianne Moore, Kate McGregor-Stewart, Lorna Scott, Martha Velez, Mary Carver, Peter Crombie, Peter Friedman, Rio Hackford, Ronnie Farer, Saachiko, Sarah Scott Davis, Steven Gilborn, Susan Norman, Tim Gardner, Tricia Dong, Wendy Haynes, Xander Berkeley

Director: Todd Haynes

I’m Not There is an unusual biopic in that it never refers to its subject, Bob Dylan, by name. Instead, Todd Haynes’ portrait of the singer mimics his constant reinvention by casting six separate actors to play as many reincarnations of the same soul. It’s an ingenious spin on a usually stale genre, one that liberates the film from the humdrum restrictions of a literal retelling of Dylan's life.

If there’s anyone who warrants such an inventive approach to biography, it’s Dylan, whose public and private personas are so numerous that it’s only by angling six different mirrors at him that Haynes can hope to catch some of his essence. Impressionistic editing toggles freely between these vignettes, each visually distinct: from the 11-year-old Woody Guthrie-obsessive (Marcus Carl Franklin) and the black-and-white Super 16mm-shot poet (Ben Whishaw) to the aging cowboy outlaw (Richard Gere), all by way of Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, and Cate Blanchett’s incarnations. To be sure, this is a somewhat challenging film, reflecting, in places, the enigmatic surrealism of Dylan’s lyrics and his refusal to be pinned down to one thing. But, as Blanchett’s embodiment says, “Mystery is a traditional fact,” and that’s no more true than of Dylan, making Haynes’ film a fascinatingly fitting spiritual biopic.

Genre: Drama, Music

Actor: Alison Folland, Andrew Shaver, Andrew Simms, Angela Galuppo, Arthur Holden, Ben Whishaw, Benz Antoine, Bill Croft, Bob Dylan, Brett Watson, Bruce Greenwood, Cate Blanchett, Catherine Colvey, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Christian Bale, Craig Thomas, Danny Blanco Hall, David Cross, David Gow, Dennis St John, Dominic James, Don Francks, Emmanuel Schwartz, Eric Newsome, Eugene Brotto, Fanny La Croix, Garth Gilker, Gordon Masten, Graham Cuthbertson, Greg Kramer, Heath Ledger, Holly Uloth, Ivan Freud, Jane Gilchrist, Jane Wheeler, Jason Cavalier, Jennifer Rae Westley, Jesse Todd, Jessica Kardos, Jim James, Jodie Resther, Joe Cobden, John Koensgen, Julianne Moore, Kathleen Fee, Kim Gordon, Kim Roberts, Kris Kristofferson, Kristen Hager, Kyle Gatehouse, Kyle Switzer, Larry Day, Leif Anderson, Leigh Ann Taylor, Lina Roessler, Lisa Bronwyn Moore, Lorne Brass, Maggie Castle, Marcus Carl Franklin, Marie-Julie Rivest, Mark Camacho, Matt Holland, Matthew Boylan, Matthew Harbour, Melantha Blackthorne, Michelle Williams, Nathalie Girard, Noel Burton, Patrick Costello, Paul Cagelet, Paul Johnston, Paul Spence, Pauline Little, Peter Friedman, Phyllis Gooden, Pier Paquette, Pierre Leblanc, Pierre-Alexandre Fortin, Richard Gere, Richard Jutras, Richard Robitaille, Richie Havens, Rob Burns, Roc LaFortune, Sharlene Royer, Shawn Baichoo, Steve Godin, Susan Glover, Terry Haig, Thiéry Dubé, Tim Post, Trevor Hayes, Tyrone Benskin, Vito DeFilippo, Wyatt Bowen, Yolonda Ross

Director: Todd Haynes

Rating: R

Mark Ruffalo, Anne Hathaway, and Tim Robbins star in this well-executed and eye-opening drama based on a true story. Robert Bilott (Ruffalo) is a successful corporate lawyer in New York. He is visited by a distressed farmer from his hometown in Cincinnati whose cows have been developing strange behaviors and diseases. Robert decides to take on this case in what will become one of the biggest class-action lawsuits in the country: the use of cancerous chemicals by the company that commercializes Teflon (the stuff in pans). Excellent acting in an incredibly frustrating but necessary story that will trouble you more than any other legal thriller you have watched in the past: prepare to be outraged (and throw away your pans).

Genre: Drama, History, Thriller

Actor: Abi Van Andel, Aidan Brogan, Amy Morse, Amy Warner, Angel Kerns, Anita Farmer Bergman, Anne Hathaway, Barry G. Bernson, Barry Mulholland, Bill Camp, Bill Pullman, Bret Aaron Knower, Brian Gallagher, Buz Davis, Caleb Dwayne Tucker, Carly Tamborski, Chaney Morrow, Clara Harris, Courtney DeCosky, Daniel R. Hill, David Fultz, David Myers Gregory, Denise Dal Vera, Elizabeth Marvel, Geoff Falk, Glen Yrigoyen, Greg Violand, Jason M. Griggs, Jeffrey Grover, Jim Laprelle, Joanne Popolin, John Newberg, John W. Harden, Jon Osbeck, Karen Koester, Kathleen Ellerman, Keating P. Sharp, Kelly Mengelkoch, Kevin Crowley, Lea Hutton Beasmore, Louisa Krause, Lyman Chen, Marcia Dangerfield, Mare Winningham, Mark Ruffalo, Matt Hudson, Michael Joseph Thomas Ward, Michael King, Mike Seely, Ming Wang, Ramona Schwalbach, Richard Hagerman, Robert Gerding, Scarlett Hicks, Sheryl Annette Colley, Steven Schraub, Teri Clark, Tim Robbins, Victor Garber, William "Bucky" Bailey, William Jackson Harper, Wynn Reichert

Director: Todd Haynes

Rating: PG-13

Anyone who's seen All That Heaven Allows will naturally be skeptical that a movie claiming to be an homage to Douglas Sirk’s sumptuous masterpiece will live up to the heights of its inspiration. It’s a ballsy move, molding your film so closely to a peerless classic, but Todd Haynes transcends thin pastiche to be a genuinely great film of its own. Where Sirk’s movie charts the social scandal caused by an upper-class widow (Jane Wyman) falling in love with her gardener (Rock Hudson), Haynes sharpens the conflict by recasting the couple as an interracial one (played by Julianne Moore and Dennis Haysbert). What’s more, Haynes brings her husband back from the dead and into the closet to give Far From Heaven another angle through which to tackle the repression and stigma and explore the characters' rocky pursuit of happiness. If that sounds like the stuff of melodrama, it is — Far From Heaven is proudly of that genre, cracking through the veneer of suburban perfection to find roiling tension and repressed desire underneath.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Barbara Garrick, Betsy Aidem, Bette Henritze, Brian Delate, C.C. Loveheart, Celia Weston, Chance Kelly, Declan Baldwin, Dennis Haysbert, Dennis Quaid, Duane McLaughlin, Ernest Rayford, Geraldine Bartlett, J.B. Adams, James Rebhorn, Joe Holt, Johnathan McClain, Jordan Nia Elizabeth, Julianne Moore, June Squibb, Kevin Carrigan, Michael Gaston, Mylika Davis, Olivia Birkelund, Patricia Clarkson, Ryan Ward, Stevie Ray Dallimore, Susan Willis, Ted Neustadt, Viola Davis, Virl Andrick

Director: Todd Haynes

Rating: PG-13

, 2015

Watching Carol is like reading a really interesting book while relaxing on a Sunday afternoon. It is one of those movies that you probably heard about during its Oscar run, and have since delayed actually viewing it. Well now that it is on Netflix and other streaming services you have no excuse! It’s refreshingly unique, incredibly charming, and features a kind of story that hasn’t been told very often – a love story between two women. Both characters played by Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara attempt to live true to their own principles while facing unjust yet severe backlash from society. If you are open to it, the love story in this will stay with you forever.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Amy Warner, Anita Farmer Bergman, Annie Kalahurka, Carrie Brownstein, Cate Blanchett, Chelsea Carnder, Christine Dye, Cory Michael Smith, Deb G. Girdler, Douglas Scott Sorenson, Giedre Bond, Greg Violand, Jake Lacy, John Magaro, Ken Strunk, Kevin Crowley, Kk Heim, Kyle Chandler, Michael Haney, Michael Joseph Thomas Ward, Mike Dennis, Nik Pajic, Rooney Mara, Ryan Wesley Gilreath, Sadie Heim, Sarah Paulson, Tanya Smith, Taylor Marie Frey, Todd Haynes, William Cross

Director: Todd Haynes

Rating: R

The colloquial phrase "May-December" refers to romantic partners with a large age gap, but leave it to Todd Haynes to craft a poetic and unsettling world out of this (slightly troubling) banality of life. His new film is loosely based on the real case of Mary Kay Letourneau, who in 1997 was convicted as a sex offender after being caught having a relationship with a minor, a student of hers, 12 years old (22 years her junior). May December begins twenty years after the tabloid scandal surrounding the marriage of Joe and Gracie has died down. Elizabeth, an actress, is conducting research in preparation to play Gracie in a film production, but she doesn't know what to expect. Alongside her, we are welcomed into the family home, meet their teenage children, sit through their family dinners, marvelling at the levity and nonchalant atmosphere in the air. Something is missing, or at least that's what Elizabeth suspects. A psychological drama-thriller-black comedy, May December is impossible to pin down. A profound film on human confusion, identities, and past traumas, it unites two of the best Hollywood stars, Julianne Moore and Natalie Portman, in a delightfully eerie play of doubling and revelations.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Allie McCulloch, Andrea Frankle, Charles Green, Charles Melton, Chris Tenzis, Cory Michael Smith, D.W. Moffett, Drew Scheid, Elizabeth Yu, Gabriel Chung, Hailey Wist, Hans Obma, Joan Reilly, Jocelyn Shelfo, Julianne Moore, Julie Ivey, Kelvin Han Yee, Lawrence Arancio, Natalie Portman, Piper Curda, Zachary Branch

Director: Todd Haynes

Rating: R

Directed by Todd Haynes (I’m Not There, Carol), The Velvet Underground takes an avant-garde approach to tell the story of the 1960s rock band. Like their music, nothing about this documentary is linear and expected. Screens are split to show two different things at once, seemingly unrelated clips are stitched to create a patchwork of feelings, and strobes of light flash multiple times onscreen. It's like an art installation come to life.

The film is dynamic and dazzling, infused with the same underground atmosphere as their early performances. If you’re looking to know more about the band, this film might not be for you. But if you’re looking to experience the band, to feel and see and hear what it was like to catch them at their peak, then this is for you.

Genre: Documentary, Drama, Music

Actor: Allen Ginsberg, Amy Taubin, Andy Warhol, Bill Graham, Billy Name, Cass Elliot, Danny Fields, David Bowie, Frank Zappa, Jackson Browne, John Cale, John Waters, Jonas Mekas, Jonathan Richman, Lou Reed, Marian Zazeela, Mary Woronov, Nico, Sterling Morrison

Director: Todd Haynes

With the powerful duo of queer aesthetics and rock n roll, Hedwig and the Angry Inch questions the duality between genders, lovers, and everything in between. Like the 1998 stage musical, the film follows the titular Hedwig and her band as they navigate the music scene for fame and love. The adaptation gives justice to their performances, giving the vibe of 70s glam rock music videos. The film is not without its flaws. Hedwig’s relationship with the younger Tommy Gnosis remains controversial. However, while Hedwig may not be a perfect representation of the trans experience– after all, she only chooses gender reassignment purely to leave East Germany– this cult film still remains a landmark for queer representation.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Music

Actor: Alan Mandell, Alberta Watson, Andrea Martin, Ben Mayer-Goodman, Ermes Blarasin, Gene Pyrz, John Cameron Mitchell, Karen Hines, Maggie Moore, Mary Krohnert, Maurice Dean Wint, Michael Aronov, Michael Pitt, Michael Stevens, Miriam Shor, Rob Campbell, Rosie O'Donnell, Sook-Yin Lee, Stephen Trask, Taylor Abrahamse, Thérèse DePrez

Director: John Cameron Mitchell

Happiness is a difficult, disturbing watch. Unlike films that claim to be brave, Happiness actually goes there and shows us just how deep, dark, and perverse our urges can get. But far from being controversial for the sake of it, this fearless film has important things to say about the facade of happiness, the urgency of loneliness, and the futility of feigning ignorance about both. And it does so with an impressively wry humor delivered by a talented cast that includes Philip Seymour Hoffman, Lara Flynn Boyle, and Dylan Baker. They play their complicated characters so well, they'll have you thinking about the strange ways you can, in fact, relate to them on some level, long after the credits roll. 

This isn't a film you'll want to revisit often, but you will have to see it at least once in a lifetime—if anything, for the kind of painful honesty you’ll rarely find anywhere else.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Ann Harada, Anne Bobby, Arthur J. Nascarella, Ben Gazzara, Bina Sharif, Camryn Manheim, Cynthia Stevenson, Dan Moran, Diane Tyler, Douglas McGrath, Dylan Baker, Elizabeth Ashley, Gerry Becker, Jane Adams, Jared Harris, Joe Lisi, Johann Carlo, Jon Lovitz, José Rabelo, Justin Elvin, Lara Flynn Boyle, Lisa Louise Langford, Louise Lasser, Marina Gayzidorskaya, Marla Maples, Matt Malloy, Molly Shannon, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Rufus Read, Socorro Santiago, Todd Solondz, Wai Ching Ho

Director: Todd Solondz

Rating: NC-17

Playing the lead in an addiction drama has long been shorthand for “I’m a serious actor,” but that’s not something Florence Pugh needs to convince us of, especially not when the drama is as contrived as A Good Person is. Though it has a solid foundation from which to explore worthy subjects — Pugh’s character Allison begins abusing painkillers after accidentally causing the death of two people in a car accident —  writer-director Zach Braff overstuffs the film with too many distractingly histrionic happenings for a compelling reflection on guilt and forgiveness to really emerge.

What’s more, any potential A Good Person has is squandered by the film’s frequent and bizarre tonal swerves from tearjerking sincerity to generational comedy, a jarring effect mimicked by the soundtrack’s wild veering from moody melodies to bright piano music in a single cut. Though Pugh does her customary excellent work here, she’s ultimately undermined by all the overlong, transparently manufactured, and downright whiplash-inducing melodrama around her.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Alex Wolff, Brian Rojas, Celeste O'Connor, Chinaza Uche, Drew Gehling, Florence Pugh, Ignacio Diaz-Silverio, Jackie Hoffman, Jessie Mueller, Lauren Yaffe, Molly Shannon, Morgan Freeman, Nichelle Hines, Oli Green, Ryann Redmond, Sydney Morton, Toby Onwumere, Victor Cruz, Zoe Lister-Jones

Director: Zach Braff