3 Best Movies Written By Todd Haynes

Staff & contributors

, 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

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