Academy Award winning filmmaker Pedro Almodovar knows how to get touching, powerful and vulnerable performances out of his actors, especially when said actor is Penélope Cruz. "Parallel Mothers" ("Madres paralelas") is their SEVENTH film collaboration, and Cruz gives one of the year's best performances, helped tremendously by the fact that Almodovar's astute script is nothing short of enthralling. It might just land him his second Academy Award for screenwriting (he previously won in 2003 for "Talk to Her") as well as a fourth total nomination for Cruz.
Review: 'Drive My Car' a profound reminder of the importance of the journey rather than the destination
A surprising title has been popping up on more than one year-end "Best of" lists: "Drive My Car." It's only "surprising" because as a Japanese film, it isn't a film that many Americans have even heard of, but it stops becoming a surprise for any who have seen it.
That's because "Drive My Car" deserves all the hype it's been getting. A nearly three-hour long drama that speeds by and pulls you in, featuring some powerful performances and complexities not often found, quite frankly, in many domestic films. A year-end list that does not include "Drive My Car" can be taken as an admission that the film wasn't seen by that particular critic (which explains why it doesn't appear on my Best of 2021 list), because it's truly one of the best, most impactful films of the year (it's also Japan's selection and entry for Best International Feature at this year's Academy Awards).
Iranian director Asghar Farhadi is simply one of the greatest filmmakers of his generation. His 2011 film, "A Separation" stands out as one of the very best films of the past several decades...and that's no understatement. You can always count on tense, deeply personal moral conflicts in a Farhadi film, served without any judgment or bias. His latest effort, "A Hero," is no different, and is a deeply compelling film that offers no easy answers...just the way that Farhadi likes it.
Olivia Colman is a great actress, who in "The Lost Daughter," has never been better. She plays Leda Caruso, an academic who is vacationing in Greece, alone. It's a deeply compelling character study of not just this woman, but of all women, who face societal pressures to not only become mothers, but the best mothers that they can be. Existing solely for the sake of others is perhaps the most selfless act in the world, but it doesn't leave a lot of room for personal - or what some may consider "selfish" - happiness.
Directed and adapted by actress Maggie Gyllenhaal - in this her directorial debut - "The Lost Daughter" bucks conventions to become one of the few films of 2021 that is simply impossible to forget.
The real tragedy of "The Tragedy of Macbeth" is that it will be a challenge to get people to see it...the works of William Shakespeare while classic, are not exactly accessible.
But for those willing to let it in, or who are fans of Shakespeare, will find "The Tragedy of Macbeth" to be one of the most effective, spell-binding takes on the famous play ever committed to screen.
There is a slang meaning for "red rocket" that I won't go in to (Google it if you must). but its an appropriate title for the latest film from Sean Baker. Baker has been on an upward trajectory himself, first making waves with the 2015 indie hit "Tangerine" (shot completely on an iPhone) and then following that up with his highly-regarded 2017 film, "The Florida Project," which landed an Oscar nomination for one of its stars, Willem Dafoe.
Baker has an uncanny knack for shining light into corners of rural, lower class America that rarely get attention, and the "deplorables" that populate these overlooked areas. "Red Rocket" fits in perfectly - thematically - with "The Florida Project" and "Tangerine" and features one of the most surprising comeback performances of this or any year.
Yes, Simon Rex - who once went by the rap name Dirt Nasty, who was a famous MTV VJ in the mid-90s and who dabbled as an actor in pornography - gives one of the year's best performances in "Red Rocket," against all odds, playing a washed-up ex-porn star. Go figure.
You can tell that "The Tender Bar" might have worked better on the page as it was intended, for those that are into inspirational, personal, coming-of-age stories. But the memoir - by Pulitzer Prize-winning author, J.R. Moehringer - becomes a sloshy, melodramatic snooze-fest as adapted by director George Clooney, with a screenplay by Academy Award winning scribe, William Monahan ("The Departed").
There are usually two types of critiques of a Paul Thomas Anderson film: The film is either a masterpiece, or it is a masterpiece that you just do not understand.
I tend to be told the latter half by those that swoon over everything P.T. Anderson touches. You see, P.T. Anderson films are inherently great because he made them. got it? And if you don't like one, well, you just MISSED its greatness, because it's all in there.
In other words, if you don't like a P.T. Anderson movie, it's not his fault...you're the problem.
There is low-brow science-fiction ("Starship Troopers" and similar) and then there is more intellectually-challenging high-brow science-fiction (the recent "Ex Machina" or "Possessor" comes to mind).
"Swan Song" is a fantastic, thoughtful, emotionally-charged drama dealing with cloning, where it asks a simple question: If you could spare your loved ones from the hurt of ever losing you or experiencing any grief, what would you be willing to sacrifice?
American film audiences aren't exposed to as many foreign films as they perhaps should be, but if they do come across an Italian import in recent years, there's a good chance that it was made by Paolo Sorrentino. The highly-lauded writer/director is responsible for the gems "Il Divo" and "The Great Beauty," and is also the creator of the HBO series "The Young Pope." His last American-language film, "Youth," was one of the best films of that year.
His most recent film, "The Hand of God," (now available to stream on Netflix) may not be his best or most effective film, but it is definitely his most personal. It's an autobiographical tale about a young boy and his colorful upbringing in 1980s Tuscany, Italy, that leads him to a life of film...a fate that he may never have had a chance to escape from.
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