There’s a Criterion Collection Flash Sale Going On! Here’s What You Should Be Buying

To save this dreadful Tuesday, the good folks over at The Criterion Collection have graced us with a special treat this afternoon. After announcing their spring releases a few weeks back, now they have graced us with a Flash Sale. Cue: cinephiles everywhere stopping whatever they’re doing, desparately scouring their dwindling bank statements and proclaiming, “But I will literally die without that Rohmer box set!”

So, from now until noon on Wednesday, all in-stock Blu-rays and DVDs are 50% off, and all you have to do is enter their code and voilà! I certainly understand that remembering what you wanted in the first place—let alone making a decision—is hard enough, so I’ve compiled the best Collectors Sets available on the site that you otherwise probably wouldn’t be able to shell out the money for. From American New Wave classics to German melodramas and everything in between, here’s a helpful reminder of what you should be purchasing today.

Eclipse Series 19: Chantal Ackerman in the Seventies

 Over the past four decades, Belgian director Chantal Akerman (Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles) has created one of cinema’s most distinctive bodies of work—formally daring, often autobiographical films about people and places, time and space. In this collection, we present the early films that put her on the map: intensely personal, modernist investigations of cities, history, family, and sexuality, made in the 1970s in the United States and Europe and strongly influenced by the New York experimental film scene. Bold and iconoclastic, these five films pushed boundaries in their day and continue to have a profound influence on filmmakers all over the world.

Three Colors Trilogy

This boldly cinematic trio of stories about love and loss, from Krzysztof Kieślowski was a defining event of the art-house boom of the 1990s. The films are named for the colors of the French flag and stand for the tenets of the French Revolution—liberty, equality, and fraternity—but that hardly begins to explain their enigmatic beauty and rich humanity. Set in Paris, Warsaw, and Geneva, and ranging from tragedy to comedy, Blue, White, and Red(Kieślowski’s final film) examine with artistic clarity a group of ambiguously interconnected people experiencing profound personal disruptions. Marked by intoxicating cinematography and stirring performances by such actors as Juliette Binoche, Julie Delpy, Irène Jacob, and Jean-Louis Trintignant, Kieślowski’s Three Colors is a benchmark of contemporary cinema.

Eclipse Series 12: Aki Kaurismäki’s Proletariat Trilogy

 The poignant, deadpan films of Aki Kaurismäki are pitched somewhere in the wintry nether lands between comedy and tragedy. And rarely in his body of work has the line separating those genres seemed thinner than in what is often identified as his “Proletariat Trilogy,” Shadows in Paradise, Ariel, andThe Match Factory Girl. In these three films, something like social-realist farces, Kaurismäki surveys the working-class outcasts of his native Finland with detached yet disarming amusement. Featuring commanding, off-key visual compositions and delightfully dour performances, the films in this triptych exemplify the talents of a unique and highly influential film artist.

David Lean Directs Noel Coward

 In the 1940s, the wit of playwright Noël Coward and the craft of filmmaker David Lean melded harmoniously in one of cinema’s greatest writer-director collaborations. With the wartime military drama sensation In Which We Serve,Coward and Lean (along with producing partners Ronald Neame and Anthony Havelock-Allan) embarked on a series of literate, socially engaged, and enormously entertaining pictures that ranged from domestic epic (This Happy Breed) to whimsical comedy (Blithe Spirit) to poignant romance (Brief Encounter). These films created a lasting testament to Coward’s artistic legacy and introduced Lean’s visionary talents to the world.

Eclipse Series 2: The Documentaries of Louis Malle

 Over the course of a nearly forty-year career, Louis Malle forged a reputation as one of the world’s most versatile cinematic storytellers, with such widely acclaimed, and wide-ranging, masterpieces as Elevator to the Gallows, My Dinner with Andre, and Au revoir les enfants. At the same time, however, with less fanfare, Malle was creating a parallel, even more personal body of work as a documentary filmmaker. With the discerning eye of a true artist and the investigatory skills of a great journalist, Malle takes us from a street corner in Paris to America’s heartland to the expanses of India in his astonishing epicPhantom India. These are some of the most engaging and fascinating nonfiction films ever made.

The BDR Trilogy

 By the age of thirty-four, German director Rainer Werner Fassbinder had directed already twenty-two feature films. In 1978, he embarked upon a project to trace the history of postwar Germany in a series of films told through the eyes of three remarkable women. Fassbinder’s The Marriage of Maria Braun, Lola, and Veronika Voss—the BRD (Bundesrepublik Deutschland) Trilogy—would garner him the international acclaim he had always yearned for and place his name foremost in the canon of New German Cinema.

Eclipse Seires 3: Late Ozu

 Master filmmaker Yasujiro Ozu directed fifty-three feature films over the course of his long career. Yet it was in the final decade of his life, his “old master” phase, that he entered his artistic prime. Centered more than ever on the modern sensibilities of the younger generation, these delicate family dramas are marked by an exquisite formal elegance and emotional sensitivity about birth and death, love and marriage, and all the accompanying joys and loneliness. Along with such better-known films as Floating Weeds and An Autumn Afternoon, these five works illustrate the worldly wisdom of one of cinema’s great artists at the height of his powers.

3 Silent Classics by Josef von Sternberg

 Vienna-born, New York–raised Josef von Sternberg directed some of the most influential, stylish dramas ever to come out of Hollywood. Though best known for his star-making collaborations with Marlene Dietrich, von Sternberg began his career during the final years of the silent era, dazzling audiences and critics with his films’ dark visions and innovative cinematography. The titles in this collection, made on the cusp of the sound age, are three of von Sternberg’s greatest works, gritty evocations of gangster life (Underworld), the Russian Revolution (The Last Command), and working-class desperation (The Docks of New York) made into shadowy movie spectacle. Criterion is proud to present these long unavailable classics of American cinema, each with two musical scores.

Frances Ha

Greta Gerwig is radiant as Frances, a woman in her late twenties in contemporary New York trying to sort out her ambitions, her finances, and, above all, her intimate but shifting bond with her best friend, Sophie (Mickey Sumner). Meticulously directed by Noah Baumbach with a free-and-easy vibe reminiscent of the French New Wave’s most spirited films, and written by Baumbach and Gerwig with an effortless combination of sweetness and wit,Frances Ha gets at both the frustrations and the joys of being young and unsure of where to go next. This wry and sparkling city romance is a testament to the ongoing vitality of independent American cinema.

Eclipse Series 8: Lubitsch Musicals

Renowned as a silent film pioneer and the man who refined Hollywood comedy with such masterpieces as Trouble in Paradise, The Shop Around the Corner, and To Be or Not to Be, Ernst Lubitsch also had another claim to fame: he helped invent the modern movie musical. With the advent of sound and audiences clamoring for “talkies,” Lubitsch combined his love of European operettas and his mastery of film to create this entirely new genre. These elegant, bawdy films, made before strict enforcement of the Hays morality code, feature some of the greatest stars of early Hollywood (Maurice Chevalier, Jeanette MacDonald, Claudette Colbert, Miriam Hopkins), as well as that elusive style of comedy that would thereafter be known as “the Lubitsch touch.”

Pierre Etaix

 A French comedy master whose films went unseen for decades as a result of legal tangles, director-actor Pierre Etaix is a treasure the cinematic world has rediscovered and embraced with relish. His work can be placed on the spectrum of classic physical comedy with that of Jacques Tati and Jerry Lewis, but it also stands alone in its good- natured delicacy. These films, influenced by Etaix’s experiences as a circus acrobat and clown and by the silent film comedies he adored, are elegantly deadpan, but as an on-screen presence, Etaix radiates warmth. This collection includes all of his films, five features, The Suitor,Yoyo, As Long as You’ve Got Your Health, Le grand amour, and Land of Milk and Honey—most of them collaborations with the great screenwriter Jean-Claude Carrière—and three shorts, Rupture, the Oscar-winning Happy Anniversary, and Feeling Good. Not one of these is anything less than a bracing and witty delight.

Eclipse Series 17: Nikkatsu Noir

From the late 1950s through the sixties, wild, idiosyncratic crime movies were the brutal and boisterous business of Nikkatsu, the oldest film studio in Japan. In an effort to attract youthful audiences growing increasingly accustomed to American and French big-screen imports, Nikkatsu began producing action potboilers (mukokuseki akushun, or “borderless action”) that incorporated elements of the western, comedy, gangster, and teen-rebel genres. This bruised and bloody collection represents a standout cross section of what Nikkatsu had to offer, from such prominent, stylistically daring directors as Seijun Suzuki, Toshio Masuda, and Takashi Nomura.

The Orphic Trilogy

 Decadent, subversive, and bristling with artistic invention, the myth-born cinema of Jean Cocteau disturbs as much as it charms. Cocteau was the most versatile of artists in prewar Paris. Poet, novelist, playwright, painter, celebrity, and maker of cinema—his many talents converged in bold, dreamlike films that continue to enthrall audiences around the world. In The Blood of a Poet, Orpheus, and Testament of Orpheus, Cocteau utilizes the Orphic myth to explore the complex relationships between the artist and his creations, reality and the imagination. The Criterion Collection is proud to present the DVD premiere of the Orphic Trilogy in a special limited-edition three-disc box set.

Eclipse Series 20: George Bernard Shaw on Film

 The hugely influential, Nobel Prize–winning critic and playwright George Bernard Shaw was notoriously reluctant to allow his writing to be adapted for the cinema. Yet thanks to the persistence of Hungarian producer Gabriel Pascal, Shaw finally agreed to collaborate on a series of screen versions of his witty, socially minded plays, starting with the Oscar-winning Pygmalion.The three other films that resulted from this famed alliance, Major Barbara, Caesar and Cleopatra, and Androcles and the Lion, long overshadowed by the sensation of Pygmalion, are gathered here for the first time on DVD. These clever, handsomely mounted entertainments star such luminaries of the big screen as Vivien Leigh, Claude Rains, Wendy Hiller, and Rex Harrison.

John Cassavetes: Five Films

John Cassavetes was a genius, a visionary, and the progenitor of American independent film, but that doesn’t begin to get at the generosity of his art. A former theater actor fascinated by the power of improvisation, Cassavetes brought his search for truth in performance to the screen. The five films in this collection—all of which the director maintained total control over by financing them himself and making them outside the studio system—are electrifying and compassionate creations, populated by all manner of humanity: beatniks, hippies, businessmen, actors, housewives, strippers, club owners, gangsters, children. Cassavetes has often been called an actor’s director, but this body of work—even greater than the sum of its extraordinary parts—shows him to be an audience’s director.

Six Moral Tales

The multifaceted, deeply personal dramatic universe of Eric Rohmer has had an effect on cinema unlike any other. One of the founding critics of the history-making Cahiers du cinéma, Rohmer began translating his written manifestos to film in the sixties, standing apart from his New Wave contemporaries, like François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard, with his patented brand of gently existential, hyperarticulate character studies set against vivid seasonal landscapes. This near genre unto itself was established with his audacious and wildly influential series “Six Moral Tales.” A succession of jousts between fragile men and the women who tempt them, the “Six Moral Tales” unleashed onto the film world a new voice, one that was at once sexy, philosophical, modern, daring, nonjudgmental, and liberating.

Eclipse Series 7: Postwar Kurosawa

Akira Kurosawa came into his own as a filmmaker directly following World War II, delving into the state of his devastated nation with a series of pensive, topical dramas. Amid Japan’s economic collapse and U.S. occupation, Kurosawa managed to find humor and redemption existing alongside despair and anxiety. In these five early films, which range from political epic to Capraesque whimsy to courtroom potboiler, Kurosawa revealed the artistic range and social acuity that would mark his career and make him the most popular Japanese director in the world.

La Jetée/ Sans Soleil

One of the most influential, radical science-fiction films ever made and a mind-bending free-form travelogue: La Jetée and Sans Soleil couldn’t seem more different—but they’re the twin pillars of an unparalleled and uncompromising career in cinema. A filmmaker, poet, novelist, photographer, editor, and now videographer and digital multimedia artist, Chris Marker has been challenging moviegoers, philosophers, and himself for years with his investigations of time, memory, and the rapid advancement of life on this planet. These two films—a tale of time travel told in still images and a journey to Africa and Japan—remain his best-loved and most widely seen.

By Brakgae: An Anthology, Volumes One and Two

Working outside the mainstream, the wildly prolific, visionary Stan Brakhage made more than 350 films over a half century. Challenging all taboos in his exploration of “birth, sex, death, and the search for God,” he turned his camera on explicit lovemaking, childbirth, even autopsy. Many of his most famous works pursue the nature of vision itself and transcend the act of filming. Some, including the legendary Mothlight, were created without using a camera at all, as he pioneered the art of making images directly on film, by drawing, painting, and scratching. With these two volumes, we present the definitive Brakhage collection—fifty-six of his works, from across his career, in high-definition digital transfers.

Nashville

This cornerstone of 1970s American moviemaking from Robert Altman is a panoramic view of the country’s political and cultural landscapes, set in the nation’s music capital. Nashville weaves the stories of twenty-four characters—from country star to wannabe to reporter to waitress—into a cinematic tapestry that is equal parts comedy, tragedy, and musical. Many members of the astonishing cast wrote their own songs and performed them live on location, which lends another layer to the film’s quirky authenticity. Altman’s ability to get to the heart of American life via its eccentric byways was never put to better use than in this grand, rollicking triumph, which barrels forward to an unforgettable conclusion.

Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project

Established by Martin Scorsese in 2007, the World Cinema Project expands the horizons of moviegoers everywhere. The mission of the WCP is to preserve and present marginalized and infrequently screened films from regions generally ill equipped to preserve their own cinema history. This collector’s set brings together six superb films from countries around the globe, including Senegal (Touki bouki), Mexico (Redes), India and Bangladesh (A River Called Titas), Turkey (Dry Summer), Morocco (Trances), and South Korea (The Housemaid). Each is a cinematic revelation, depicting a culture not often seen by outsiders on-screen.

American Lost and Found: The BBS Story

Like the rest of America, Hollywood was ripe for revolution in the late sixties. Cinema attendance was down; what had once worked seemed broken. Enter Bob Rafelson, Bert Schneider, and Steve Blauner, who knew that what Hollywood needed was new audiences—namely, young people—and that meant cultivating new talent and new ideas. Fueled by money from their invention of the superstar TV pop group the Monkees, they set off on a film-industry journey that would lead them to form BBS Productions, a company that was also a community. The innovative films produced by this team between 1968 and 1972 are collected in this box set—works that now range from the iconic (Easy Rider, Five Easy Pieces, The Last Picture Show) to the acclaimed (The King of Marvin Gardens) to the obscure (Head; Drive, He Said; A Safe Place), all created within the studio system but lifted right out of the countercultural id.

BlackBook’s 20 Favorite Films of 2013

As I find myself sitting on my knees typing away and thinking of the year behind and year ahead, I can’t help but wonder where the time has gone. Has it really been an entire year since I lamented over my least favorite films of 2012, or did I just blink a little too hard?But as 2013 draws the curtain on 2014, and for all of the myriad life changes, pleasures, heartbreaks, existential quandaries, and obsessions endured, a great deal of my emotional memory is centered around cinema. I can pinpoint my own state of being in correlation to the films I loved and the work that truly moved me. I look back on my absolute favorite film of the year, Shane Carruth’s confounding and beautiful Upstream Color and can remember precisely the person I was at that time and just what compelled me to see the film 23 times in a span of two months.

But whether it was 2013’s highly anticipated heavy hitters like Steve McQueen’s fearless 12 Years a Slave or hidden gems recently to have their premiere such as Paolo Sorrentino’s The Great Beauty, it’s safe to say that it’s been a pretty damn good year for film. From psychotropic teen nightmares and 90s dinner party-esque Shakespearean adaptations to transcontinental love stories and visceral documentaries, the films of 2013 surely offer a bit of something to please every cinematic appetite. So although I’ve  sadly yet to see some of the year end blockbusters—which I am sure they’re worth praising—I thought it still necessary to share my favorite films of the year, as well as a look back on our extensive interviews with the filmmakers behind the pictures. I’ve opted to not rank the films, as I believe they’re all vital and brilliant in their own right, but must  give away my personal Best Feature award to my favorite treasure of the year. Hope you enjoy.

***UPSTREAM COLOR, Shane Carruth***

With Upstream Color, Carruth has created a tactile film in which the sounds and textures engulf you in its layered and complex narrative that’s as much about the interdependence and madness of love as it is about our inescapable connection to nature and the world around us. There’s a poeticism to the film despite its rich sense of structure and science that allows it to possess a spiritual quality that hits the heart more so than the mind.

Upstream Color is a fractured story about broken people, shattering your notion of love’s conventions and what draws one person to another. It forces you to let go and immerse yourself in their world and the story Carruth has created in a way that you rarely feel compelled to with most contemporary cinema. You sink into the story and allow it to ripple over you with its subtle yet absolute approach, and although it may fall into the realm of the metaphysical, it remains emotionally tangible. And I will freely admit that this is not simply one of my favorite films of the year thus far, but perhaps one of the most incredible films I have ever seen. There are few things I cherish more than the physical act of watching a film, and the experience of sitting down for two hours and allowing myself to be overcome. From Upstream Color‘s first moment, something clicks inside of me and I’m hooked, mesmerized and embedded into the roots of its world.

Read out interview with Carruth HERE.

THE GREAT BEAUTY, Paolo Sorrentino 

Filled with striking cinematography and grandiose imagery that heightens everyday existence and existential quandaries into matters of personal faith, his work exposes a universal truth lying in his subjects. Whether he’s taking us on a perfectly scored journey through the vast open roads of the American landscape or through the hallowed halls and lamp lit streets of Rome, there’s a distinctly fantastic thrill, haunting charm, and absolute pleasure evoked from his sense of cinema.

And with his latest feature—both his personal best and one of my favorite films of the year—Sorrentino’s The Great Beauty is as ambitious as it is stunning. Starring the always captivating Toni Servillo—with a look that may be familiar but a freshness that enthralls—he and Sorrentino takes us into the world of Jep Gambardella (Servillo), a writer who has been drifting through a lavish lifestyle of parties and empty experiences since the success of his first and only novel. Examining the dichotomy between the history lingering in Rome’s landscape and psyche and the hollow artifice of modernity’s ephemeral charms, The Great Beauty studies Jep’s life as a “grand indictment of a man, and a society, that has lost its way.”

With an strange and oft grotesque hand—but one that’s always full of wonder—Sorrentino explores how we deal with love and loss, life and death, and the questions we must ask ourselves to give our existence meaning. “The great attraction of human beings, is that this beauty manifests itself in fleeting moments and thunders,” Sorrentino told me. “Exterior beauty is ephemeral, it comes and goes.” And it’s that sentiment which lingers throughout The Great Beauty,giving us a keen observation into the soul of both Jep and the Italy he strolls through night after night.

Read our interview with Sorrentino HERE.

FRANCES HA, Noah Baumbach

Frances Ha not only reflects what it means to simply exist at that time in life and in that universe, but shows the beauty in the mistakes made along the way, underscoring the idea that just because something isn’t working doesn’t mean it’s broken. Baumbach has crafted a film that feels refreshing and contemporary yet harkens back to to such European cinematic masters as Francois Truffaut, Eric Rohmer, and Jean-Luc Godard in its casual essence, reminding us of what we love so much about the filmmaking of days past.

Co-written with the film’s brilliant and versatile star, Greta Gerwig, Frances Ha is infused with a unique magic that comes from a true meeting of minds. If you look back on Baumbach and Gerwig’s early work, it’s evident that the two are cut from the same cloth—both sharing an affinity for a particular kind of character’s journey, dealing with a sense of malaise as they meander through life, yet filled with a yearning for more. And whereas many of Baumbach’s film’s tend to err on the side of the misanthropic,Frances Ha is a film that makes you want to go out and engage in life. It’s an inspired and intelligent love letter to cinema that never stops moving while we follow the endearingly strange Frances as she dances from life to life.

At its core, Frances Ha is both a journey of self-discovery and a love story between best friends. With Gerwig’s frank yet tender touch, we see a realistic look at a fractured female friendship and the mourning that comes from feeling as though you’ve lost a part of yourself to someone else.

Read our interview with Baumbach HERE and our interview with Gerwig HERE.

MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING, Joss Whedon  

Playing out as a love letter to Shakespeare’s comedic tale of a merry war betwixt two lovers, Much Ado is brimming with charisma and sensual thrill. You don’t need to be a scholar of the bard to find yourself captivated by the story, with its silky smooth and velvety jazz-filled atmosphere, you’re eased into the film in a way that’s far from intimidating. Whedon infuses a conversational style to the story that makes it more accessible than any other Shakespearean re-workings in recent memory, adding to a charm that’s heightened by its phenomenal cast of characters.

Filmed in his own home in Los Angeles, for the director best known for hit shows such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, or Hollywood blockbusters like The Avengers, Much Ado was a welcome surprise. The comedy feels like a breath of fresh air, a respite from major studio pictures that allows Whedon the freedom to let loose with a rapturous mix of refinement and playfulness. Much Ado may seem minimalistic in its production style, but that speaks nothing of the beauty with which it was shot and the wonderfully nuanced performances by its sprawling cast.

Read our interview with Alexis Denisof HERE.

THE ACT OF KILLING, Joshua Oppenheimer

 The brilliant Texas-born director’s latest film, The Act of Killing, exposes its frightening subjects with a generosity and candor that you’re at once drawn to, yet viscerally unable to wrestle with. What you’re hearing and seeing on screen so unnerving that it almost feels like fiction. Executive produced by documentary film legends Werner Herzog and Errol Morris, Oppenheimer’s work focuses on the perpetrators behind the Indonesian genocide that occurred in the mid-1960s, a mass murdering of communists and Chinese by the death squad leaders who ushered in a regime of fear over the nation. But rather than simply tell the overarching story of these heinous acts, he worked with these now aged and troubled leaders to recreate their crimes in a highly theatrical and shocking way. Having murdered over a million people, one of the men to lead in the atrocity was Anwar Congo, whom Oppenheimer’s documentary focuses in on.

In a groundbreaking and uniquely evocative way to approach the subject, they reenact their crimes, playing out like homages to the American films that these gangsters idealized. Having spent years working in Indonesia, hearing these men’s stories and the plight of the survivors, he gives a raw and extremely personal look into the imagination and psyche of Anwar and his contemporaries. The film exists in the dichotomy of pure evil without remorse and the denial of that villainy in order to survive, and the result is a brilliantly executed exploration into a horrifying truth never before uncovered.

Read our interview with Oppenheimer HERE.

SUN DON’T SHINE, Amy Seimetz 

Bursting onto the screen with frantic gasp of air, Amy Seimetz’s Sun Don’t Shine grabs you by the neck and holds you captive. From its fierce and emotionally-charged opening scene—a rough and muddy lover’s quarrel—to the dreamy back road driving sequence that follows, you’re entranced in the film’s hot and sticky world straightaway, teeming with tension, anxiety, and fear. With swampy earthy tones of the Everglades and rosy hues of passion, Seimetz’s directorial debut is both visceral and expressionistic, playing out through feeling and texture, guiding you with potent emotion as you follow a young couple on the run.

A character study that picks up after the act of murder, Sun Don’t Shine exists in the balance of what comes after, the post-crime delirium and limbo before consequence. Hazy voiceovers that harken back to memories of hopeful intimacy are woven throughout the unraveling and unnerving narrative, shedding light on the paranoid couple that ventures into the seedy tourist trappings of southern Florida with a dead man in the trunk. Kate Lyn Sheil and Kentucker Audley bring a frightening sense of life into Crystal and Leo, playing them with every nerve exposed and emotions seeping out and fusing into the sweat on their skin.

Read our interview with Seimetz HERE.

12 YEARS A SLAVE, Steve McQueen 

With only a handful of features under his belt, director Steve McQueen stands out like a beacon for modern filmmakers. The fearless and outspoken filmmaker whose work is as brutally human as it is viciously beautiful, has given us the Michael Fassbinder-led Hunger and Shame, and now the absolutely visceral and exquisite 12 Years a Slave. And not only is McQueen talented, but it’s his self-possessed and outspoken nature and his refusal to pander to Hollywood or hide from challenge that sets him above his contemporaries. ‘Right now I couldn’t do a better film than Shame,’ he said back in 2012. “I couldn’t do better, but I hope the next one that I do will be better. It will be better.”

And although Shame was an masterpiece of emotionally gutting intimate psychology in its own right, McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave has proved to surpass everyone’s expectations, and apparently, even his. As an unflinching and astounding director whose brilliance is evident in everything he touches, McQueen has delivered, what is sure to be, the year’s most epic film. With a passion and talent for exposing brutality with an honest and emotional eye, McQueen’s film showcases the work of a man who harbors an unwavering vision and an incredible ability to pull performances from the marrow of his actors. Without pandering to an audience, without trying to dull down the absolute horror of Solomon Northup’s story or the atrocity of slavery, McQueen’s film unravels you emotionally from its very start and leaves you with the sensation that you have truly just watched a film—that feeling you cannot shake even hours leaving the theater, that’s what cinema is about.

It may not be the first film about slavery, but it feels like the first to treat it with no filter, no safety net, no redemptive catharsis , but as an American holocaust, told entirely from the black perspective. To watch it with an audience is to participate in an act of communal, immersive exorcism, and the element that makes it not just bearable, but transcendent, is the pure, jaw-dropping artistry at every level of its production. The true life tale of Solomon Northup’s Kafkaesque nightmare—kidnapped from his free life and sold into brutal slavery—feels like a major step in healing the wounds of slavery’s past, by allowing us to take collective responsibility as we watch horror turned to exquisite art, without lessening any of its impact.  In a perfect world, it would win every Oscar hands down, but given the Academy’s predilection for unchallenging feel-good entertainment, it doesn’t stand a chance.  Fuck ‘em. It’s not just the best film of the year, but one of the best films ever made. And here’s a few of those superlatives to underline my point: Unmissable. Essential. Fearless. Profound. Unforgettable.’

SPRING BREAKERS, Harmony Korine

Sure, Spring Breakers has an easy allure: sex, drugs, violence, and gun-toting saccharine-sweet Disney stars in bikinis. But there’s more to Harmony Korine’s neon-fueled rite of passage tale than meets the bloodshot eye. Like a candy-coated nightmare, Korine gives a raw portrayal of what at first appears to be a fun and breezy ride filled with sparkles and the promise of escape from life’s mundane ennui, but Spring Breakers cuts deep and goes dark and filthy into places that frighten, mystify, tantalize, and thrill with a mix of pure pleasure and pain.

Getting his hands dirty in just about every medium, the 40-year-old auteur has been working for nearly two decades now, creating work that’s unapologetic and uncompromising, filled with morally ambiguous and socially maligned characters that exist in a very specific world on the fringes. Although Korine’s work breathes with a mise-en-scene of the hyper-real, there’s an element to his films that holds up a rusty, all too familiar mirror for ourselves in the most unexpected way. And with Spring Breakers, this is a new side to the director who has been warping our minds ever since the premiere of the Korine-penned Kids eighteen years ago.

Like a scratched album stuck on repeat, Spring Breakers follows four college girls (Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, Rachel Korine, and Ashley Benson) who rob a diner a in order to fulfill their escapist fantasies of heading down to St. Petersburg, Florida for a debaucherous once-in-a-lifetime vacation. But when their beer-soaked and sexually charged trip goes sour, it’s rapper and drug and arms dealer Alien (Jams Franco) that comes to their rescue. And that’s when the nefarious story really kicks in as the world becomes much more rough and dark. With the tone of a haunted pop song, the film evokes something physical, leaving you in a trance that’s both erotic and dangerously chilling. It’s entertainment with a bullet, cinema with a bite of fantasy—it’s fizzing and bursting to the surface with color and entirely intoxicating.

Read our interview with Korine HERE.

STORIES WE TELL, Sarah Polley

When a film intersperses its usual narrative with super 8 home movie footage, my mind tends to wander to movies like Paris, Texas and the ways in which these reels of images presented to us are not simply reminders of the past, but the physical manifestation of memory—an artifact lost to time. There’s a quality to our personal bank of recollections that’s fallable and always subjective, pitting itself against reality. And with her fourth directorial feature and first documentary, actress and filmmaker Sarah Polley’s Stories We Tell is by far her most stunning and human work to date.

As a personal essay about the hidden past of her family, the feature beautifully weaves together an incredibly well-constructed experiment in storytelling. In the film, there’s a line that reads: “When you’re in the middle of a story, it isn’t a story at all but only a confusion, a dark roaring, a blindness. It’s only afterwards that it becomes anything like a story when you’re telling it to yourself or anyone else.” And that sentiment plays out as the through-line for the feature, as Polley’s family and those close to it reveal familial secrets, shared truths, and show us the ways in which we create the own narrative of our lives.

Stories We Tell also confronts the challenges of love—be it romantic or maternal—while exposing the myriad ways our own memory can deceive us. There’s a delicacy and heartwarming touch in Polley’s style of filmmaking that shines through in all of her work but is never more present here. It’s absolutely enthralling and fascinating to watch but heartbreaking in its honesty—always leaving you hungry to discover more. The film works as a eulogy as much as it does a perfect vehicle for self-discovery, yet feels universal in its open-ended questions and speaks directly to your soul in way that’s both rare and tender.

BLUE JASMINE, WOODY ALLEN

With his latest summer film, Blue Jasmine, Allen delivers his weightiest film in years—putting to bed the shallow, slight nature of his previous work, To Rome With Love. Whereas my main argument with the latter rests heavily in his flimsy, two-dimensional portrayal of female characters, with Blue Jasmine, Allen has written a character ferocious and full of force, allowing Cate Blanchett to deliver one of the best performances of her career. From her opening line of dialogue spoken to a kind, elderly stranger on a flight to San Francisco, you see Blanchett has completely vaporized into the skin of Jasmine—tear-stained eyes, anxious cadence, and all—fully sunken into the character’s fractured psyche. In the way that you felt exhausted—both physically and emotionally—after seeing Joaquin Phoenix’s performance as Freddie Quell in Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master—the actor’s stamina in the role a marvel to watch—I left my screening of Blue Jasmine feeling more shaky and distressed than when I entered, my own anxiety and emotions unraveled by Blanchett’s bewitching performance.

Like a destructive force of nature that waltzes in and sucks the air out of the room, Blue Jasmine tells the story of a woman completely in the throws of a nervous breakdown. After losing her husband, her fortune, and any sense of security, Jasmine goes out west to San Francisco to move in with her adopted sister, Ginger (played brilliantly by Sally Hawkins). As a broken-down New York socialite cast into a middle-class world populated with “losers” she doesn’t find worthy of her time, Jasmine attempts to assimilate to circumstances but finds herself trapped by her own fantasies. After changing her name from Jeanette to Jasmine in college, she re-imagined a life for herself, elevating her place in society and relying on the kindness of rich men to aide in her fantastical delusions.

With a supporting cast of Andrew Dice Clay (as the tough blue-collar ex-husband of Ginger), Louis CK (as the seemingly romantic side-jawn of Ginger), Bobby Cannavale (the brutish yet vulnerable boyfriend of Ginger), and Peter Sarasgaard (Jasmine’s unsuspecting and ambitious boyfriend), the film lacks Allen’s typical sense of romantic flair and swaps it for a substantial and darker sense of emotion. There’s no fourth wall breaking, no slapstick, no giddy romance—even the romances in the film seem slight and tragic in comparison to the greater weight of existential and psychological unrest. It’s a colder, bitterer pill of a film from Allen than we’ve seen in recent years, and as it cuts back and forth from Jasmine’s fruitful past to her desolate present, we see how one person’s life can spiral down into oblivion as the agent of her own disaster and that of those around her.

Read our interview with the Blanchett, CK, and Clay HERE.

BEFORE MIDNIGHT, Richard Linklater

At one point in Before Sunrise, Jesse begins to admit that in the months leading up to his wedding, he couldn’t stop thinking of Celine. He would see her everywhere, all the time, always in New York—especially once folding up an umbrella and entering a deli on 13th and Broadway. But she was off living in Europe somewhere, so he knew he was crazy. And of course, Celine then tells him that she was actually living in New York at that time—on 11th and Broadway.  It’s a small moment but an absolutely heartbreaking one—knowing that their lives could have been entirely different had he just glanced out of the car window again to see if it was her, knowing that this person whom he met once, yet possessed him so completely as an intangible longing inside him, was in fact right under his nose— and he never knew it. They never knew it.

But yes, that’s is just one of many painfully wonderful and sob-inducing moments in Richard Linklater’s transcontinental love trilogy. And since Before Sunrise‘s premiere in 1994, Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke have been our Celine and Jesse, playing out the epitome of rare requited love thwarted by time and space. You watch these films, and for all the tears you cannot help but shed, you’re always left with the pangs of hopefulness. It excites something in you and tickles your heart to know that somewhere on a tram in Europe, your ideal soulmate could be pensively starring out a window wondering if there’s something he’s missing.

But in the words of Anne Sexton, “To love another is something like prayer and can’t be planned, you just fall into its arms because your belief undoes your disbelief.” When it comes to matters of the heart, we’re often powerless to our desires, consumed by emotion over our will and no matter the time or distance, feel inextricably linked to the soul of another. And almost two decades ago, Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy first simultaneously ignited our hearts and ripped them apart with Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise, only to do it all over again nine years later with Before Sunset.

But fast forward into the future with Before Midnight, we’re brought into the life shared between our Jesse and Celine—and it isn’t all romantic walks and silent longing that speaks to our hearts, but the way in which Linklater and his cast exposes what it truly means to love someone, and the struggles of a shared existence. Although still incomparably romantic, there’s a maturity and candidness about Before Midnight that’s mesmerizing and complex.

SOMETHING IN THE AIR, Olivier Assayas 

Opening with the Blaise Pascal quote: “Between us and heaven and hell there is only life which is the frailest thing in the world,” Olivier Assayas’ Something in the Air takes us into a world of youth committed to the present. Going back to the year 1971, which he first explored with the poetic Cold Water (1994)—a film about the emotions of being a teenager—Assayas draws direct parallels between the two, yet where the former dealt in the abstract, Something is a more direct autobiographical look at his own memory of coming of age in that time. Paying tribute to those who inspired his own sensibilities as an artist, the film merges the person with the political, exploring the identity of youth in the aftermath of the May ’68 and the choices that inform our maturation into adulthood.

It’s a film about the intersection of creative passion and ideological inclination, where self-discovery for the teenagers in the film, comes through their devouring of films, books, music, and art of the time—from the poetry of Gregory Corso to the music of Syd Barrett. As representation of his own youth, Something in the Air tells the story of Gilles (played by Clément Métayer), a high school student in Paris who finds himself swept up in the political fever of the times. However, his passion really lies in his art—painting, drawing, filmmaking—which becomes a struggle with the others around him. Heavily embedded in the countercultural movement, we follow Gilles through his various muses/love interests Laure and Christine (played by Carole Combes and Lola Créton), and the evolution of his maturity. And as Assayas is a believer that cinema is a place “where what’s lost may be found, where the world can be saved,” he recaptures his idealistic outlook on the world that he sought to be a part of.

Originally titled Après mai, or After May, the film exists in the echoes of chaos, yet feels idyllic and gorgeously cinematic—but without over-sentimentalization or nostalgia. Rather, Something in the Air exposes the “places and emotions that exist in the daylight,” showing an arcane world slowing unraveling as a youth countercultural rebellion take precedence.

Read our interview with Assayas HERE.

LAURENCE ANYWAYS, Xavier Dolan

Spanning the course of an entire decade, Laurence Anyways tells the story of two people passionately and deeply in love with one another who are forced to confront their own notions of love and acceptance when the fabric of their relationship turns inside out. For Fred and Laurence, played brilliantly by Suzanne Clément and Melvil Poupaud, their romance is forced to change when Laurence reveals to Fred that he is becoming a woman. Together, they’re forced to examine not only the prejudices and fears of those they know and the society around them, but that which they unconsciously harbor within themselves. For ten years, Fred and Laurence find themselves breaking apart and coming together, ripping out their own hearts and that of each other, and dealing with the ultimate expression of dedication to another person and what it means to truly love unconditionally. Whether they’re physically together or apart, Fred and Laurence share an inescapable connection that is as volatile and potent as it is beautifully delicate and tender.

With his first feature, I Killed My Mother, Dolan crafted an artful yet minimalistic feature that bared the mark of his youth aesthetically but emotionally held an incredible amount of weight. And in his second feature, Heartbeats, he opted for ambitious style and gorgeous mis-en-scene over narrative complexity. But with Laurence Anyways, Dolan has melded the best qualities from his previous work into a film that is both absolutely stunning and wholly fantastic, yet hits that psychological and emotional sweet spot we so long for in a cinematic experience. And as his films are all wont to be, Laurence is impeccably scored with music that echoes the period of the film (the 1990s), utilizing the songs to reflect the interior of its characters and entwine us that much deeper into Fred and Laurence’s story.

Read our interview with Dolan HERE.

LEVIATHAN,  Lucien Castaing-Taylor, Verena Paravel

 After watching Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Véréna Paravel’s collaborative documentary, Leviathan, there was no question as to how I was feeling. There was no other way to experience their film, that leaves you bruised from its wholly immersive and visceral cinematic ride that feels more like you’re looking in through a keyhole on frightening and isolated world beyond our reality, than to feel both exhausted and absolutely in awe.

More easily comparable to the anxiety provoking and emotionally stimulating sensations of looking at the work of Francis Bacon or Edvard Munch while listening to a dark, metallic piece of music filled with pleasure and fright,Leviathan is almost inarticulate in its possession. As a sensory ethnographic investigation that leads you through the world of commercial fishing, the sum of the film is far more than one might expect. Having first premiered in competition at the 2012 Locarno Film Festival, Castaing-Taylor and Paravel‘s film has been entrancing audiences’ since with its entirely unique wordless wonder and gives the perspective of the fishermen but also echoes their own haunting experience out at sea through the interminable sense of unease. But this anxious perspective is matched by the most striking cinematography that’s shocking in its beauty as it casts a light on every perspective of the boat and blends colors like an impressionist painting being thrown against the waves.

Read our interview with Castaing-Taylor and Paravel HERE.

STOKER, Park Chan-wook 

As deliciously evil and thrilling as it is visually-rich and haunting, Park Chan-wook’s fantastical gothic thriller Stoker plays out like an erotic waltz with sinister intentions. As his first English-language film, the acclaimed Korean director has crafted a quiet kind of suspense that shows the graceful unraveling of an isolated American family.

Stoker tells the tale of a highly intelligent girl, India (played by Mia Wasikowska), after her father dies in an auto accident on her 18th birthday. Following his death, her mysterious yet absolutely charming Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode) comes to stay with her and her unstable mother (Nicole Kidman). India’s questions arise as to the nature of Charlie’s appearance in their lives and although sensing his dark ulterior motives, she becomes infatuated with him, inexplicably drawn to this dark figure who has crept his way into her world.

It’s a story about he inherent nature of evil, as well as the sexual awakening of a young girl when first tempted by the desirable. India’s coming-of-age is the undercurrent for this bone-chilling and stunning feature from Chan-wook and writer-actor Wentworth Miller. Staying true to Park’s strong affinity for character-driven tales and his arresting visual style, Stoker is also enhanced by its biting and beautiful soundtrack from Clint Mansell that acts as its own character in the film.

Read our interview with Park Chan-wook HERE.

SIMON KILLER, Antonio Campos

As one third of Borderline Films—alongside Sean Durkin and Josh Mond—Campos produced Durkin’s Martha Macy May Marelene, just as Durkin had his hand in producing Campos’s latest feature, the brooding and visceral Simon Killer. The film tells the story of a lonely, heartbroken, dangerous, and horny college grad who heads to Paris, where he becomes involved with a prostitute (played wonderfully by Mati Diop), Simon Killer is an entrancing waltz with destructive impulse led by star Brady Corbet. As interesting as he is talented, the 24-year-old gives a haunting performance, playing Simon with utmost complexity—vacillating between evil boldness and desperate vulnerability.

Simon Killer goes deeper into Campos’s affinity for the disturbed male psyche with a film that’s rich in texture, tone, and color. It’s a dance between passionate aggression and emotional isolation that’s primal and fiercely enjoyable in its discomfort. Filled with stunning visual interludes like psychological cues that bring you closer into Simon’s sociopathic, music-fueled, and violently sexual world, the film is an optically and emotionally stimulating character study that packs a punch. No stranger to portraying morally unsound characters that walk the line between tantalizing and creepy, Corbet carries out Campos’s vision with a frightening possession.

Read our interview with Campos HERE.

AFTER TILLER, Martha Shane and Lana Wilson

Abstaining from the harsh, political bent of most documentaries focused on the subject of abortion, Lana Wilson and Martha Shane’s After Tiller takes a tremendously emotional and controversial subject and endows it with warmth and humility. Providing an illuminating and wholly important look at the power of personal choice, the film leaves the floor open for discussion—both giving insight into the intricacies of late-term abortion and the incredibly challenging lives of those who provide them. Dr. George Tiller, the leading physician to provide third-trimester abortions, as well as a strongly religious and loving family man, was assassinated in his church in 2009 by a pro-life extremist. And it’s in the wake of the tragedy of his death, where After Tiller picks up.

Focusing on the four doctors across the country that still provide these services to women in crisis across the world—Susan Robinson, LeRoy Carhart, Warren Hern, and Shelley Sella—the film gives us personal look into the day-to-day lives of these doctors, allowing them a stage to voice their opinions and knowledge, while giving a compelling look at the exceptional challenges the women who seek their care must face. And after feeling both confused and shocked when learning about Dr. Tiller’s death, and seeing the way in which the news coverage of the tragedy failed to focus on who he was as a person, Wilson and Shane set out to make a feature that examined the intimate details of these physicians who are at the center of a debate that continues to rage on. And as an extremely moving portrait with unprecedented access into these clinics, through the lens of After Tiller, we bear witness to first-hand accounts of the women undergoing these abortions, the reasons why they’ve made their decision, and the immense weight of that on their lives.

Read our interview with Shane and Wilson HERE.

THE BROKEN CIRCLE BREAKDOWN, Felix Van Groeningen

With his latest film, the absolutely devastating and remarkably wonderful The Broken Circle Breakdown, he explores the complex ways in which we deal with loss, how grief can fracture even the most solid foundations, and the way in which love may never be enough. Telling the story of Elise (Veerle Baetens) a beautiful and full-of-life tattoo artist and Didier (Johan Heldenbergh) a strong and passionate blue grass musician, The Broken Circle Breakdown follows their relationship from the instantaneous bond and fiery romance of love’s first flames, to the disintegration of that connection and the despair that ravages their lives.

Adapted from the theatre play of the same title written by Heldenbergh, the film comes alive through its musical interludes that play like cue cards for our emotions, guiding us further into the story and allowing us to take a step back from the intensity of the narrative and slip into the visceral feeling living between the characters. And although the original stage play was a bare bones and simple expression construction—with only two characters narrating their tale between musical numbers—van Groeningen has managed to convey that same rawness and immediacy onto the screen. By telling the tragic and novel-esque drama with a non-linear structure, we’re forced to dive head first into the potent heart of the film, while Elise and Didier’s most sorrowful and blissful moments are presented side by side, giving even more weight to each unfolding moment. There’s a natural beauty and honestness to the film and in the performances of its brilliant cast that invites you in gently, entrances you, and then holds you in its tight grasp—digging itself down deep under your skin and into your veins.

Read our interview with  Van Groeningen HERE.

ONLY GOD FORGIVES, Nicolas Winding Refn

Set in the neon-lit back alleys and seedier parts of Bangkok, Only God Forgives is Refn’s penetrating and evocative take on the Western. It’s a film so dark—both aesthetically and tonally—that when I first arrived to see the film fifteen minutes late, I found myself sitting in the isles because there wasn’t a shred of light emanating from the screen with which to find a seat. The revenge story about the connection between mother and sons, the struggle for morality, and the fear of submission plays out like a psychotropic nightmare, aided by a brilliantly visceral score from Cliff Martinez.

Starring Gosling, Kristin Scott Thomas, and Vithaya Pansringarm, Only God Forgives is a shot to the arm of pure id Refn. He employs the close-fisted anxious aggression of his pre-Drive days while taking his visual cues from a post-Drive world, completely blanketing us in the violent underbelly of Bangkok and putting a sword to our throat. Although the film is riddled with silence and languidly glides through darkened moments, Refn manages to hold us captive with his always-present sense of ecstatic desire. He plays on the dichotomy of what’s in and out of frame as well as what we do and not know is stirring in the characters’ psyche. It’s a film that warrants multiple viewings, but only because there’s a real pleasure in the experience of disappearing into his neon dreams and bloody obsessions, and as he says: that’s where the fun is.

Read out interview with Refn HERE.

LIKE SOMEONE IN LOVE, Abbas Kiarostami

…I think giving away too much information is being disrespectful to the viewerʼs intelligence and own personality. I think I’ve always believed that spectators are just as creative as filmmakers. Filmmakers happen to have been in touch with a camera and production and so they’ve made something, but it doesn’t mean that people who are there to see the film have nothing to think or nothing to say or donʼt have their own creativity. So I just pay tribute to this creativity, not giving too much information. I have my loyalty to real life and in real life we never say anything to the other and we let the other also bring their own information and their own experience of life in the relationship that have with us, so why should it be different in film because you are sitting in a theater in front of a screen? Do you have to leave your curiosity and your own thinking aside and be fed by the film? Whenever I have the opportunity to see the people who are sitting in a theater after seeing one of my films, I look at their faces and I look at the features of the faces and I suddenly feel responsible and say well, these people look intelligent and thoughtful, they have plenty of things to say and so thereʼs no reason why I should be the one who tells them, they have things to tell me. So I create but then I need their creation back.

…this again is only loyalty to the real complex nature of human beings. I think even painters in classic paintings, they tried to show the soul of the portrait, of the human beings that they were drawing or painting because they realized that human beings were not uni-dimensional. So there was no reason why they couldn’t try and give something to this complexity of this plain character, this fool character. So in cinema, we have moving images, we have three dimensional images and why should we show people just as blind characters. Of course they are complex, and this complexity and even this secretiveness is part of human nature. Your soul dictates you not to reveal yourself immediately and not to appear naked and to have your own complexity, your own intelligence. So this intelligence should be considered. It has been in art and paintings so it definitely should be in filmmaking too.

Read our interview with Kiarostami HERE.

BlackBook’s Super Fabulous Holiday Gift Guide

The holiday season has officially begun and what better way to get into the spirit than buying gifts for those you love—and let’s be honest, a few for yourself. So to make your shopping a little easier, from now until the end of the month we’ll be sharing with you our curated list of picks for the best gifts this season. Check back here daily, peruse our selections, and enjoy!

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Bionda Castana x Vassilisa Heels

Shoes and jewels are undoubtedly the first things on my Want list, whether it’s near the holidays or not. Bionda Castana is giving that wanting feeling an extra nudge toward her Daphne heels, a product of a collaboration with Vassilisa, better known for their sumptuous silk scarves. The chain print silk shoes bring the jewelry and heels together with this limited-edition collaboration. $747 on biondacastana.comByredoHolidayCandles

Byredo Holiday Candles

We’ve had a hard time keeping our noses out of these candles since they arrived on our desks, specifically Byredo’s Bibliothèque, which smells like the ultimate book and leather filled private enclave, with just a hint of fruit (in a bowl on the side table, of course). Though Byredo’s packaging is pretty fantastic anyway, the limited-edition holiday glasses lend  a serving of chic minimalism to whichever nightstand, coffee table, or stack of books they’re placed.

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William Basinski’s “The Disintegration Loops” Box Set
For over twenty years now, avant-garde electronic composer William Basinski has been creating stunning sonic worlds that awaken our senses and transport us into another world. His highly-acclaimed and celebrated release The Disintegration Loops lives as one of our most beloved pieces of music, as well as one of the most stunning works ever recorded on tape. His melancholic loops drone on and on,  floating through you and capturing you in the essence of a place beyond articulation. And now, after the 10 year anniversary of The Disintegration Loops you can purchase the massive limited-edition box set that includes: four historic volumes, previously unreleased live orchestral performances from the Met and the 54th Venice Biennale (both pressed onto vinyl), remastered recordings on five CDs, and a 148-page full-color coffee table book with rare photos and liner notes by Basinski, Antony, and David Tibet—to name a few. $80.00 temporaryresidence.com

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The Criterion Collection’s Dual Format DVD/Blu-Ray Frances Ha
Last May, we all fell helplessly in love with Noah Baumbach’s intensely charming new feature Frances Ha. Co-written with the film’s brilliant and versatile star Greta Gerwig, the film is a wonderful ode to cinema of days past—as Gerwig’s emotionally intelligent, witty, and thoughtful touch elevate Baumbach’s filmmaking to new heights. Its anachronistic feel is not only played out in its black-and-white aesthetic, but in its sense of hopefulness as we bear witness to a 28-year-old modern dancer, unsure what to make of her life. And thanks to the Criterion Collection you can get a special edition of the film that features: a conversation between filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich and Baumbach, a new conversation between actor and filmmaker Sarah Polley and Gerwig, , one Blu-ray and one DVD, a booklet featuring an essay by playwright Annie Baker—and more. $31.96 criterion.com

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Le Poisson Rouge Classic Fish Membership

When it comes to venues in New York City, there’s certainly no shortage of places to enjoy live music. But for us, there’s no finer spot than the dark spaces of Le Poisson Rouge. As a multimedia art cabaret founded by musicians, the space offers a wonderful mix of popular and art cultures—featuring events in music, theater, dance, and fine art. So whether you’re enjoying their house orchestra playing with such acclaimed artists as Nico Muhly and Max Richer, reveling in one of their weekly dance parties, or perusing their gallery space, you could fill out our entire month’s itinerary simply from their jam-packed calendar. And with their Classic Fish Membership you can enjoy a number of perks, including: free admission for yourself and a guest to LPR Member Shows, 20% discount on party packages, a “members table” reserved for the use of members and their guests before all seated events, front-of-line access for you and your guests to LPR late-night events, and more.
$300 lepoissonrouge.com

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Bruce Weber: The Film Collection – 1987-2008

A legend of both photography and film, Bruce Weber has been stunning us for decades now. An icon known for his evocative fashion photos and fascinating films, his work has become ingrained in our cultural landscape, his images seen everywhere from the pages of Vogue and London’s Victoria and Albert Museum to Paris’ Museum of Modern Art and our most coveted cinema screens. And if you missed Film Foroum’s recent retrospective of his film oeuvre, never fear: the The Bruce Weber Film Collection Box Set has you covered. The four-disc box set includes: his most celebrated documentaries (Let’s Get Lost, A Letter to True, Chop Suey, and Broken Noses),  a 32-page collectible booklet of Weber’s photography, and Weber’s literary and art journal series, All-American Volume 13 Born Ready. Before purchasing, you can also check out our wonderful interview with Weber HERE.
$47.07 barnesandnoble.com 

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Nirvana “Nevermind” (20th Anniversary Remastered 180g) 4LP

We all remember where we were (and who we were) when we first heard “Smells like Teen Spirit” or “Come As You Are,” “Lithium,” or “Drain You”—the songs that would go on to become not only brilliant hits but landmarks of a time in cultural history. And if it seems like forever ago, it has been. Now, over two decades since Nirvana released their album Nevermind—the landmark record that solidified their iconic status, Universal has put out a massive box set to commemorate the anniversary of the band that burst and bloomed right before our eyes and change the shape of music forever. The set is a 4 x LP collection that includes: the remastered version of the original album, takes from The Smart Studio Sessions, The Boombox Rehearsals, and many never before releases BBC Sessions.
$79.99 turntablelab.com 

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The Row Carryall

Traveling brings the best out of my closet and the worst out of my personality, at least when packing. I have a feeling all those problems would melt away with the addition of this gorgeous navy carryall from The Row – possibly the most decadent and at the same time minimal bag you’ll find. Perfect for throwing in a weekend’s light essentials, or to be carried about town upon arrival, this is one of those gifts that if it found its way to me, my sartorial heart would be the giver’s forever. $2850 at Neiman Marcus.

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Spiaggia Sand-Repellant Beach Towel

For some lucky travelers on holiday, Christmas and New Years means heading to the beach, and what better gift to give than a beautiful and practical beach towel? Oversized towels are wonderful for staking an oversized plot of sand – but this towel from Kassatex has something extra – a sand resistant back face perfect for easily shaking away any wayward granules. $50 www.kassatex.com

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Monique Péan Fossilized Woolly Mammoth 18 ct. Gold Cufflinks 

Cufflinks may seem like the easy answer, but for the man who already has everything (including cufflinks galore) there’s a good chance he doesn’t yet have a pair made of fossilized woolly mammoth tooth root. (Read it again if you have to.) Factor in Monique Péan’s careful 18 carat recycled white gold setting, and you’ve got yourself a very rare, very extinct adornment. $12,330. Available at Jeffrey New York.

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Indian Bazaar Luggage Tassels 

When traveling, there’s always a nagging thought in my mind – how will I know my bag from the other travelers’, and more importantly, how will they know not to take mine? Tying on ribbons is always an option, but certainly others will have thought of the same. A better option: these beaded luggage tassels from Shop Latitude’s Indian Bazaar, sourced from the bazaars themselves, and more unique and personal than a silk satin bow. It’s the perfect gift for the well-traveled friend. $25 on ShopLatitude.

 

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Tom Ford For Men Intensive Purifying Mask

For the man who truly has it all, including a bevy of pocket squares and custom shirts from the likes of Tom Ford, the obvious next step in closet/counter domination would be a line of skincare products from Mr. Ford himself. Enter the discerning designer’s grooming line, FOR MEN, of course, including this mud mask, and out just in time for the holidays. What better way for a man to purify his face than while luxuriating in a Tom Ford world? $60 at Bergdorf Goodman.

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Sjal Saphir Face Oil

If you haven’t delved into the world of face oil yet, Sjal’s sapphire infused concentrate is a good place to start. It’s a luxurious experience, from precious gem-infused start to heavenly smelling finish.  $175 at Barneys.

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Otter Wax Leather Care Kit

For the guy with a closet full of leather shoes and a perfectly patina-ed bag or two. $28, Otterwax.com 

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NICOLINO Satin Cocktail Blazer

What better gift to give – to yourself or someone else – than one that can be worn all holiday season long? $595 at NICOLINO.

cover_ju_hadid_updated_1309041546_id_714104Hadid. Complete Works 1979–2013

If you’re looking to give a gift that’s both aesthetically pleasing and culturally insightful, Taschen’s new Hadid. Complete Works has you covered. As a celebration of iconic and controversial architect Zaha Hadid, the book explores the entirety of her work over the past 30 years, giving us an overview of her radical and futuristic world that has given life to some of the most astounding buildings in the modern world. This massive Taschen tome tracks the evolution of her inspiring career—from her interior design, furniture, and buildings—with in-depth texts, drawings, and photos. $49.99 taschen.com 

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The Crosley Traveler Turntable 

No matter how good modern technology may be, music never sounds better than when played through the crackling sounds of a record player. Whether you’re listening to the classic songs of Otis Redding or the latest hit record, you’re about to feel the music in a totally different way and make the listening experience so much more pleasurable. And this holiday season, spice up your collection with The Crosley Traveler Turntable. Built into the perfect suitcase for being on the road, with the Crosley you can take your favorite tunes with you wherever you travel this season. A favorite amongst those looking to imbue the world with the sounds of the past, the record played is a three speed belt driven turntable, that still includes the modernity of a diamond stylus needle and full range stereo speakers. And if you’ve been eyeing the remastered Nevermind collection (located above) this is certainly the ideal companion.  $129.95 crosleyradio.com

 

14_Wedding Blanket_9141Moroccan Wedding Blanket

‘Tis the season to cozy up – whether you’re fireplace adjacent or desk side daydreaming about a pillow fort – nothing sounds better this time of year than a really great blanket. What’s even better? If it’s beautiful, it’ll look just as great draped over the sofa as it’ll feel draped around your shoulders. $650 on Shop Latitude.

 

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It’s been a year of re appropriating pearls – from punk-ish at Simone Rocha to bedroom at Thakoon. This iteration from Saskia Diez doesn’t connect on top – giving the ring the feeling of a piercing – and there’s nothing traditional about that.  $650 from Saskia Diez. 

 

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Lillet Apéritif Wine

If you’re looking to add a little glamour to your holiday feast, why not indulge with the Lillet Apéritif? As a pre-dinner tradition that’s been immortalized in the smooth sippings of everyone from Parisian artists to the crème de la crème of society, this delicious treat is such to spice up any fête.  $19.99 lillet.com

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Pacific All Risk Insurance T-Shirt from Extension 765

Although he may be “retired” from making movies, Steven Soderbergh is doing just about everything else. So when not making HBO mini series, writing a Twitter novel, or logging every film, book, and play he ingested over the year, the strange and bizarre genius is selling a series of t-shirts on his site Extension 765 that not only give a nod to films he loves but test your movie trivia. We’re still holding out for one that simply says: Mayonnaise. $38 extension765.com

TataHaper_ResurfacingMask_open2Tata Harper Limited Edition Plum Resurfacing Mask

Whatever 20 minutes you have is usually best spent with a mask, and in my book, none is better than Tata Harper’s resurfacing iteration – it gives you instant glow – and nothing’s better than that. The fact that it’s 100% natural means you can feel even better about slathering it on, or gifting it to someone else to do the same. $55 from Tata Harper.

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Nicholas Kirkwood Black Calf Leather Oxfords

Classic with a white piping twist, these Nicholas Kirkwood oxfords will subtly punch up a look for any man in your life. $850 at Nicholas Kirkwood, 807 Washington Street, New York

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Maison Martin Margiela x Atelier Swarovski Collaboration Brooch

This white resin and crystal fusion ‘Crystalactite’ brooch crosses Swarovski’s dazzling crystals with Margiela’s slightly cheeky braininess to form a standout asymmetrical piece worth holding on to. Perfect for the Margiela lover on your list who could use a little bling this season. $1900 in store.

GLO SOLO

GLO Solo Whitening Kit

Given the weather and the season, everyone around us (myself included) is at an all time intake high on coffee and red wine. We need the caffeine (and the alcohol) but we also need to look our best. That’s where the GLO Solo system comes in – you literally paint on the gel, wait about 30 seconds, and go. Nothing else to it.  $45 at Sephora.

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B&O PLAY by Bang & Olufsen Headphones Sponsored by B&O Play by Bang & Olufsen

Perfect for holiday travel, the B&O Play blocks out all the noise we need blocked out this time of year. And it’ll help you, (or the lucky recipient) look good while doing it. I’d go for that gorgeous agave green. For a chance to win this gift, tweet at us @blackbook and #bbookgiftaway. Tell us why you need ’em. $399 at B&O Play.

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Amber, Guinevere & Kate Photographed by Craig McDean

The next best things to inviting your favorite models over for a drink would have to be thumbing through Craig McDean’s photographs of some of his favorites while comfortably nestled into your favorite chair, hot beverage of choice in hand. Any fashion fan would be inclined to agree. $100 from Rizzoli.

 

Fornasetti Profumi - Scented Candle - Silencio reverseFornasetti Profumi Silenzio Scented Candle

Beautiful scents don’t hurt, but cheeky Fornasetti fills any room with a whole lotta’ sass and sparkle.  $165 at Barney’s. 

 

BlackBook Giveaway: Enter to Enjoy ‘Frances Ha’ For Free

Last May, we all fell helplessly in love with Noah Baumbach’s intensely charming new feature Frances Ha. Co-written with the film’s brilliant and versatile star Greta Gerwig, the film is a wonderfully awkward black-and-white character study that takes the tired convention of post-collegiate ennui and exposes it in a fresh light that grows on you more and more with every viewing.  We noted that Frances Ha:

“…not only reflects what it means to simply exist at that time in life and in that universe, but shows the beauty in the mistakes made along the way, underscoring the idea that just because something isn’t working doesn’t mean it’s broken. Baumbach has crafted a film that feels refreshing and contemporary yet harkens back to to such European cinematic masters as Francois Truffaut, Eric Rohmer, and Jean-Luc Godard in its casual essence, reminding us of what we love so much about the filmmaking of days past. And whereas many of Baumbach’s film’s tend to err on the side of the misanthropic, Frances Ha is a film that makes you want to go out and engage in life. It’s an inspired and intelligent love letter to cinema that never stops moving while we follow the endearingly strange Frances as she dances from life to life.
At its core, Frances Ha is both a journey of self-discovery and a love story between best friends. With Gerwig’s frank yet tender touch, we see a realistic look at a fractured female friendship and the mourning that comes from feeling as though you’ve lost a part of yourself to someone else. “We’re like the same person but with different hair,” says Frances of her best friend Sophie, who begins to drift apart after getting involved in a serious relationship. We see Frances caught in the wake of their relationship, but her spirited self never diminishes, only dulls for a moment before realizing her ambitions as a modern dancer and choreographer. As we wander with her through her days from Brooklyn to Chinatown to Paris, we begin to admire her boldness and realize that Baumbach cast a spell on us, making us fall in love with his star just as he did behind the camera.”

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So now, with the film’s DVD and Criterion release, we’re giving you the chance to enjoy the film for free online courtsey of SundanceNow and IFC. Just follow us on Twitter and tweet at us and say why you want to win this #FrancesHa giveaway, or you can also email us (editorial@bbook.com) and tell us why you’re interested—whether just you’ve can’t get enough of the film, or haven’t gotten the chance to see it yet. And for more, check out our interview with Baumbach HERE, as well as our interview with Gerwig and co-star Mickey Sumner HERE.

*Note: To access the streaming platform, you must be located in the US.*

From Spike Jonze to Claire Denis, Here’s What You Should Be Seeing This Weekend in New York

Sundays may be a "wan, stuff shadow of a robust Saturday" or a day of "forced leisure for folks who have no aptitude for leisure," according to Tom Robbins, but a weekend is still a weekend. The pleasure of a Friday night, the knowing the burdens of work week have a brief respite carry themselves into the following two days of leisure, and what better way to indulge in that leisure than heading to the cinema.  

And this weekend, there are more than enough wonderful films showing around New York for you to disappear into. Whether it’s your favorite Claire Denis, Roman Polanski, David Lynch, or the latest NYFF premieres from Jim Jarmusch, Spike Jonze, and the Coen Brothers, there’s surely something to satisfy every cinematic appetite. I’ve founded up the best of what’s playing around the city, so peruse our list, and enjoy.  

IFC Center

The Last Picture Show
Bottle Rocket
Escape From Tomorrow
Design Is One: The Vignellis
Blue Caprice
Dracula 3D
I Used to Be Darker
Frances Ha
Alien (1979)
Gahan Wilson: Born Dead, Still Weird
Mulholland Drive
Muscle Shoals
A Touch of Sin
Una Noche
Wicker Man: The Final Cut

Film Forum

Un Chambre En Ville
Let the Fire Burn
Russian Ark
Model Shop
The Pied Piper
Donkey Skin
Shall We Dance

MoMA

An Evening With Bruce Dern:
Smile Arabian Nights
I Am Suzanne!
Whistle Down the Wind
Requiem NN
Nightmare Alley
Kundun
Hangover Square
Goha
The Aviator
10 Rillngton Place
Hugo

Landmark Sunshine

A.C.O.D.
The Summit
We Are What We Are
In a World…
Short Term 12
Army of Darkness

Film Linc

Blue is the Warmest Color
Afternoon of a Faun: Le Clercq
NYFF Live: David V. Picker
Inside Llewyn Davis
Sam in the Snow
Weekend
Hail Mary
Her
Nebraska
On Cinema: James Gray
Only Lovers Left Alive
Protecting Arizona
The Senate Speaks
Bastards

Museum of the Moving Image

Beau Travail
His Girl Friday
Red River
Ball of Fire
Sergeant York
A Song is Born

BAM

Trouble Every Day
Enough Said
Gravity 3D

Nitehawk

House of the Devil
Vampire Lovers
Don Jon
Machete Kills
We Are What We Are
Devil and Daniel Johnston
Rosemary’s Baby

Check Out Quentin Tarantino’s Favorite Films of 2013

Back in the summer, we ranked our top favorite films of 2013 six months into the year. Upstream Color, Frances Ha, Something in the Air, and Before Midnight fell highest on our list, with an updated version a few weeks ago, adding Stories We Tell, Blue Jasmine, and a few notable others to the list. Our next iteration will most definitely include Steve McQueen’s brilliant 12 Years a Slave, but in the meantime, Quentin Tarantino has provided his favorite films of 2013 for everyone to enjoy—and it’s a mixed bag. In alphabetical order his list goes as follows:

1. Afternoon Delight (Jill Soloway)

2. Before Midnight (Richard Linklater)

3. Blue Jasmine (Woody Allen)

4. The Conjuring (James Wan)
5. Drinking Buddies (Joe Swanberg)

6. Frances Ha (Noah Baumbach)

7. Gravity (Alfonso Cuarón)

8. Kick Ass 2 (Jeff Wadlow)

9. The Lone Ranger (Gore Verbinski)

10. This Is The End (Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg)  

But if that list doesn’t satisfy you, check out Tarantino discussing his favorite films from 1992 to 2002 HERE.

From David Lynch to John Cassavetes, Here’s What You Should Be Seeing This Weekend in New York

Sundays may be a "wan, stuff shadow of a robust Saturday" or a day of "forced leisure for folks who have no aptitude for leisure," according to Tom Robbins, but a weekend is still a weekend. The pleasure of a Friday night, the knowing the burdens of work week have a brief respite carry themselves into the following two days of leisure, and what better way to indulge in that leisure than heading to the cinema.  

And this weekend, there are more than enough wonderful films showing around New York for you to disappear into. Whether it’s your favorite Cassavetes or Lynch, the best of NYFF, or some of the most stunning new releases, there’s surely something to satisfy every cinematic appetite. I’ve founded up the best of what’s playing around the city, so peruse our list, and enjoy.  

 

IFC Center

Mulholland Drive
Ain’t Them Bodies Saints
Blue Caprice
Frances Ha
Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean
Dario Argento’s Dracula 3D
Muscle Shoals
The Getaway
I Used to be Darker
A River Changes Course
A Touch of Sin
Una ncohe
Walter
The Big Lebowski

BAM

The Killing of a Chinese Bookie
Enough Said
Gravity
Blue Jasmine
Opening Night
A Woman Under the Influence

Landmark Sunshine

A.C.O.D.
We Are What We Are
In a World…
Short Term 12
The Summit
Monty Python
The Room

Film Forum

The Young Girls of Rochefort
Newlyweeds
After Tiller
Let the Fire Burn
Une chambre en ville
Lola
West Side Story

Nitehawk

Deliverance
Don Jon 
In a World… 
Legend
Bloodsucking Freaks
Muscle Shoals
Brazil

Film Linc

Inside Llewyn Davis
Burning Bush 
The Wind Rises
American Promise  
NYFF Live: Claire Denis
L’Age D’Or
The Lusty Men
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
They Live By Night
About Time
Abuse of Weakness
Bastards
Gloria
Jimmy P.
Written on the Wind
The Immigrant

Museum of the Moving Image

All Cats Are Brilliant
Man’s Favorite Sport?
Tiger Shark
Today We Live
Hello Anatolia
One Step Ahead
The Tree and the Swing
Kiss the Children

MoMA

An Autumn Afternoon
The Dead Man and Being Happy
The Garden of the Finzi-Continis
Casino
The Night in Varennes
Shutter Island
Hugo
The Name of the Rose

The December Criterion Lineup Has Arrived

Ah yes, it’s yet again the time of month when The Criterion Collection announces their upcoming set of releases. We all flock to check our funds and make sure we’ll have enough for our most desire and start savoring for those on our wish list. With films like Slacker, La Notte, Frances Ha, and Tokyo Story being released in October and November, we now have Criterion’s picks for December. Here’s what they’ll be releasing on Blu-Ray and DVD. Get excited.

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Elio Petri’s Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion
"The provocative Italian filmmaker Elio Petri’s most internationally acclaimed work is this remarkable, visceral, Oscar-winning thriller. Petri maintains a tricky balance between absurdity and realism in telling the Kafkaesque tale of a Roman police inspector (Gian Maria Volonté, in a commanding performance) investigating a heinous crime—which he committed himself. Both a penetrating character study and a disturbing commentary on the draconian crackdowns by the Italian government in the late 1960s and early ’70s, Petri’s kinetic portrait of surreal bureaucracy is a perversely pleasurable rendering of controlled chaos."

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Robert Altman’s Nashville
"This cornerstone of 1970s American moviemaking from Robert Altman is a panoramic view of the country’s political and entertainment landscapes, set in the nation’s music capital. Nashville weaves the stories of twenty-four characters—from country star to wannabe to reporter to waitress—into a cinematic tapestry that is equal parts comedy, tragedy, and musical. Many members of the astonishing cast wrote and performed their own songs live on location, which lends another layer to the film’s quirky authenticity. Altman’s ability to get to the heart of American life via its eccentric byways was never put to better use than in this grand, rollicking triumph, which barrels forward to an unforgettable conclusion."

 

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Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project
Established by Martin Scorsese in 2007, the World Cinema Project expands the horizons of moviegoers everywhere. The mission of the WCP is to preserve and present marginalized and infrequently screened films from regions of the world ill equipped to provide funding for major restorations. This collector’s set brings together six superb films from various countries, including Bangladesh/India (A River Called Titas), Mexico (Redes), Morocco (Trances), Senegal (Touki bouki), South Korea (The Housemaid), and Turkey (Dry Summer); each is a cinematic revelation, depicting a culture not often seen by outsiders.

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Albert and David Maysles’ Grey Gardens
Meet Big and Little Edie Beale: mother and daughter, high-society dropouts, and reclusive cousins of Jackie Onassis. The two manage to thrive together amid the decay and disorder of their East Hampton, New York, mansion, making for an eerily ramshackle echo of the American Camelot. An impossibly intimate portrait, this 1976 documentary by Albert and David Maysles, codirected by Ellen Hovde and Muffie Meyer, quickly became a cult classic and established Little Edie as a fashion icon and philosopher queen. The Blu-ray edition features the 2006 follow-up to the film, The Beales of Grey Gardens, constructed from hours of extra footage in the filmmakers’ vaults.

Top 10 Films of 2013 So Far

Ignore the 12 month calendar, when it comes to movies, the year is divided into two seasons: before the fall, and after the fall. We get mid-level genre fare from January until May, along with a couple of second-tier blockbusters. Summer brings out the big franchise sequels, and a few well-reviewed indies as counter-programming. But any studio—large or small—that has a promising movie made with artistry and intelligence, usually holds it back till the unofficial beginning of Oscar season, heralded by three festivals (Venice, Telluride, and Toronto) that take place in early September.

In Hollywood wisdom, this is where anything aimed at adults begins the four month race toward Academy Award nominations—without which, box office prospects are considered severely impaired. So, what this means for moviegoers, is that for right months we bemoan the lack of anything good in cinemas, catch up on all the quality cable TV shows, then find ourselves scurrying to catch up with a sudden embarrassment of riches, many of which get lost in the hustle. It’s a sad state of affairs, but it’s the way things are, and hey, at least we get a few months when loving movies is not a zero sum game.  

And yet, 2013 has been a schizophrenic year. On the one hand, the multiplexes have been filled with the usual bloated lowest-common-denominator dreck, but on the other, indie movies have been much stronger than usual, and I can count at least 10 films released thus far that I would heartily recommend without reservation. So, without further ado, my personal best of 2013, at the unofficial half-way point before the quality onslaught begins.  

Honorable Mentions: Pacific Rim was dumb as a brick, and yet, a movie aimed at 12-year-old boys that made me feel (and cheer) like one. The Great Gatsby was an over-stylized mess, and yet a bold and unique interpretation of a classic text. Spring Breakers‘s hallucinatory fever dream eventually fizzled, and yet contained a balls-out brilliant performance by James Franco. World War Z was instantly forgettable, robbed of the novel’s socio-political satire, and yet an undeniably exciting thrill ride with some fantastically realized set pieces.  

10. Stories We Tell

While I wasn’t a fan of Sarah Polley’s first two directorial outings, there’s no denying the emotional power and skilled construction of her very personal documentary essay—which interweaves an entire family’s memories and secrets into a fascinating rumination on the various facets of  so-called "shared truths" and the different ways people construct narratives from the seen and unseen events of their lives.   

 

9. Mud

Though not as transcendent or mind-blowing as Take Shelter, Jeff Nichols’ third feature is a well-told, laid-back Southern yarn, that blends Twain and Dickens for a sweet yet unsentimental coming of age story set in the swamplands of the Bayou, as a young boy’s chance encounter with an ex-con brings his ideas and notions about love crashing into reality.  

 

8. Frances Ha

Like an episode of Girls directed by Woody Allen, Noah Baumbach makes his best movie since Squid and the Whale, with this rarest of beasts—a romantic comedy with no romance. Greta Gerwig creates a vivid, completely unique character, whose growth and maturation has, refreshingly, absolutely nothing to do with finding a man.  

 

7. The East

Brit Marling writes herself a great role in this smart, complex thriller set in a grass roots eco-terrorist cell. The moral nuances are embraced, the characters are believable and fully realized, the pace is exciting, and the themes urgent and relevant without ever being preachy.  

 

6. Blue Jasmine

Woody’s best movie since Vickiy Cristina Barcelona is a searing indictment of 1% entitlement, and in Cate Blanchett’s performance, contains the best special effect of the year. Her performance is a thing to be amazed by—a slow motion breakdown that is never less than utterly hypnotic, and no matter how despicable, still manages to somehow, strangely retain our sympathies due to its unavoidable, messy humanity.

   

5. The World’s End

Edgar Wright’s third and final film in the loosely connected "Cornetto Trilogy" (`after Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz) is hysterically funny, riotously entertaining, mind-bogglingly ambitious, and actually, genuinely about something: the dead end nature of nostalgia, the corporatization of culture, the effect of time on friendships, and the self-destructive yet utterly unique nature of the human ego, that sets us apart from all other species, animal or alien. Like Invasion of the Body Snatchers beating up the The Big Chill after a dozen pints at a stand-up comedy night, The World’s End is two completely different films unapologetically smushed together to make something brilliant and unique, and the final ten minute epilogue is the most brazenly left-field and inspired ending I’ve seen this decade.  

 

4. Short Term 12

Depicting the lives of a young couple as they navigate a roster of damaged, abused kids in a foster care facility, this absolute gem navigates truly treacherous terrain and somehow manages to avoid cheap sentiment and predictability, achieving its own kind of clear-eyed grace without ever hitting a false note. Brie Larson is a revelation as a woman whose no-bullshit  compassion with her young charges conflicts with her struggles to heal her own past, but the entire cast does stand-out work in this hard-hitting, deeply humane, genuinely important film about the actual skill it takes to love others, and ourselves.

   

3. Upstream Color

Shane Carruth’s second feature after the Sundance-winning Primer, is one of the boldest American art films of this young century, that practically invents its own cinematic language. There are elements of plot, there are characters, but the narrative follows the logic of dreams and emotions, which, if you surrender to their flow, provide a truly unforgettable trip (in all senses of the word). I’m not sure I can tell you what it all means—it involves identity-theft, fear of intimacy, alienation, love, and ur… pigs—but it made sense to me at a deeply sub-conscious level, and there are images and scenes forever burned into my brain, that still have me in awe. An uncompromised work of art by a true visionary auteur—this is the future of independently financed, independently made, independently distributed film, that breaks the mold of all pre-existing cinema within the prevailing, and failing, current system. A one-of-a-kind masterpiece, pure and simple.

   

2. Before Midnight

The perfect end to a perfect trilogy. Richard Linklater’s third and final rumination on romance is one of the most mature, realistic, yet deliciously enthralling depictions of a long term relationship, beyond its characters’ fantasies and idealized expectations of what love should be. Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke are mesmerizing in their conversational dance around each other’s alter egos, who, after 20 years and sojourns in three European countries, reveal layers and complexities that most films daren’t even attempt. Before Midnight works as a great stand alone movie, but as the third part of a larger whole, completes one of the strangest and genuinely romantic cinematic experiments of all time.

   

1. The Grandmaster

Absolutely avoid the dumbed-down butchered version currently screening in US cinemas, head down to Chinatown or `yes.asia.com’, and buy the full, uncut, 130 minute Chinese version, in all its overstuffed, culturally specific glory. This jaw-droppingly beautiful movie is like Dr. Zhivago with martial arts, an elegiac tone poem for the honor-bound, highly coded world of kung fu before it spread its reach to the outer world. Ostensibly a biopic of Bruce Lee’s teacher, Ip Man, it is above all, another masterpiece from Wong Kar-wai, and like the rest of his oeuvre,  a highly stylized, achingly romantic mood mosaic about beautiful, heartbroken smokers, with the added bonus of the most hands down awesome fight sequences since Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.  

 

 

And that’s it for the first eight months. The rest of the year begins with a bang now, as I head down to the Toronto film festival. Stay tuned for thoughts on Gravity, 12 Years a Slave, The Past, Prisoners,  and many, many more, as we collectively forget the calamities on most studios’ slates, believe in a world where art and commerce happily co-exist, and let the fall feast of films begin.  

Daniel Hardy lives in a cabin in the woods, watches a lot of movies, and occasionally writes screenplays for a living.