New York, NY
Inside Llewyn Davis
The Coen Brothers’ tale of a folk singer drop-out never-was (not even a has-been, a never-was) has plenty to recommend it – aces acting, catchy jams, a rambling story, a vividly remade New York City, a bunch of cats – but what stuck with me many months after first seeing it was the slow-simmering sadness lurking just below the surface. Oscar Isaac’s big heartbreak isn’t that he’s not going to make it at this singing racket, it’s that he no longer has a partner to share that pain with, as his old pal Mike Timlin heaved himself off the George Washington Bridge some time prior. Llewyn might fight on, but it’s out of stubbornness, not a search for salvation. Oh, and it’s also funny (I swear).
If you could somehow bottle joy and exuberance and fun and youth and then throw that mixture on to the big screen, you might have some sense of how damn delightful Noah Baumbach’s Greta Gerwig-starring coming-of-age comedy is. Like Inside Llewyn Davis, the heart of the film is about friendships (and friendships that come and go), but when Gerwig’s Frances is tasked with breaking free of her broken best friendship, she excels. Fine, she stumbles and trips and spends way too much money, but she eventually soars in the sweetest way possible. If you can’t smile after seeing Frances Ha, I am fairly certain we can’t be friends (please smile after seeing Frances Ha).
Yes, Spike Jonze’s latest romance is about a man who falls in love with his operating system and yes, that sounds like some sort of commentary on society, but what’s most striking about the film is that, well, it’s not. Her is actually sort of timeless, because it doesn’t matter that Joaquin Phoenix is in love with his AI-influenced computer, voiced by Scarlett Johansson, because the struggles the duo face in their relationship can easily translate to human-only romances. Put it this way – you could be a technophobe who is afraid of Apple products, but as long as you’ve struggled to make things work with someone you love, Her will still strike a chord with you.
12 Years a Slave
Steve McQueen’s powerful period piece is must-see entertainment, an important historical artifact that also serves as a showcase to his craft and the commitment of his talented actors. The film is no easy watch, but it’s a fulfilling one, rich with the kind of details and emotions we don’t often see.
Blue Is the Warmest Color
If the only thing you know about Blue Is the Warmest Color is that the three-hour-plus epic has a mess of graphic sex scenes in it, well, that’s the pretty much the main thing that most people know about the film, and we can’t blame you for that. But while the film does have plenty of erotic interludes, Abdellatif Kechiche’s bold production is much more satisfying when it comes to emotions. Adele Exarchopoulos turns in a staggering, starmaking performance as young Adele, who blossoms and crumbles repeatedly before our very eyes.