If we want cinema to look forward, and not merely function as a diagnostic tool for our zeitgeist-focused selves, we must ask it to conceive of contemporary life both beyond the present and with a clear view of the past. Such is Nikolaus Geyrhalter’s achievement in Homo Sapiens, a futuristic-seeming document of dilapidated vistas from across the globe that forgoes time stamps, title cards, and explanations of any sort. Stripped of speech and even the presence of a single human being, the film gradually becomes a meditative sanctuary for the spectator to contemplate her place within the increasingly unwelcoming Anthropocene. By paying homage to Hollis Frampton’s Zorns Lemma with a concluding image of a blizzard that gradually whites out the frame, Geyrhalter acknowledges his film’s structuralist dedication to grasping the strangeness of human activity, including its amnesiac pursuit of deleterious forms of newness, through experimental visual means. Dillard
The Illinois Parables
At a time when America’s marginalized once again face an uncertain future, Deborah Stratman’s wise, rueful essay The Illinois Parables serves as a timely reminder that history has always pressed hardest on the disenfranchised. Stratman’s approach is akin to a precise archeological excavation performed on the oft-ravishing landscapes of the Prairie State that pepper her film, as layer upon layer of thick Midwestern soil is removed to reveal the whole strata of suffering and displacement beneath. Yet while the testimonies linked to punishing Native American treks, Icarian repression, and tornado devastation heard in voiceover are frequently grueling, the film itself never succumbs to doom and gloom, with the airy heterogeneity of the material unearthed setting a tone that veers between the serene, the shocking, the surreal, and the elegiac. And it’s the latter tonality that comes to dominate and ultimately convey the weight of Stratman’s endeavor: to erect a glorious monument to all those cast by the wayside. James Lattimer
Love & Friendship
Whit Stillman’s films use the romantic-comedy format to, like Jane Austen’s novels, ironically scrutinize the bizarre social rituals and pitiless economic codes of the upper class. So it was in some ways inevitable that Stillman would eventually turn directly to Austen’s work. A perfect marriage of source material and directorial vision, Stillman’s Love & Friendship is a sumptuously designed depiction of Georgian England that employs its extravagant costumes and opulent settings to comment on the massive economic stakes at play beneath the plot’s surface melodrama. Lady Susan Vernon (Kate Beckinsale) might appear to be in control of her complex web of romantic entanglements, but Stillman understands that the only tool she really has at her disposal (besides her ephemeral beauty) is her wit, while the men she hopes to manipulate into marriage have the wealth of the world’s greatest empire at their fingertips. In this Machiavellian society where wordplay opens the door to status and power, Lady Susan is a social assassin that wields bon mots as weapons on the battlefield of love. Oleg Ivanov
Everybody Wants Some!!
Richard Linklater is a free and exacting talent, but he can be awfully smug and precious. In Everybody Wants Some!!, the filmmaker rediscovers his greatest gift as an artist: an awareness of an individual’s poetry of being. He riffs on the structure of his Dazed and Confused, following another scruffy, sexy assortment of young and entitled American hedonists over the course of a compact time, but 23 years has passed and Linklater has mellowed out. The snide-ness of Dazed and Confused has washed away, leaving a bruised empathy that’s counterbalanced by a remarkable sense of rowdy comedic force. Linklater can still swing, his sweeping camera pirouetting around his large ensemble in fashions that simultaneously bring to mind the fluidity of Max Ophüls and Howard Hawks. Mounting a semi-sweet parody of masculine force, Linklater grants himself permission to play again, in the process making one of his greatest and most resonant films. Chuck Bowen
Kelly Reichardt’s Certain Women is a modern exploration of the role of feminine certitude within the context of the dyed-in-the-wool codes and attitudes of the American West. Three strivers embodying gradients of progressive womanhood—a headstrong lawyer (Laura Dern), an eco-conscious homebuilder (Michelle Williams) managing her own husband, and a solitary rancher (Lily Gladstone, in a breakout performance) harboring inchoate lesbian longings—all carry the titular quality, and yet the film dramatizes, in Reichardt’s characteristically sobering manner, the clash of that conviction against obstacles that invariably thwart the fulfillment of desire. The film is thus a delicate rejoinder to the all-American bromide of self-sufficiency and will power as routes to fulfillment, the defining thematic constellation of the western in its classical form. That Reichardt emulates the genre’s components just cannily enough (expansive landscape photography, a climactic horse ride) while also subtly defamiliarizing them (plentiful dead air, unnervingly detuned ambient sound) makes her persuasions—her certainty—that much more revelatory. Carson Lund