60. Madonna, True Blue
Sure, some of the production choices on True Blue sound chintzy and dated in comparison to those on Madonnaâs other â80s releases, but thereâs no getting around the fact that five of the albumâs nine tracks are among the strongest individual singles of her career. More importantly, though, True Blue was the album on which it became readily apparent that Madonna was more than just a flash-in-the-pan pop star. Itâs when she began manipulating her imageâand her audienceâwith a real sense of clarity and purpose and made sure she had quality songs to back up her calculation and world-dominating ambition. Keefe
59. Elvis Costello and the Attractions, Imperial Bedroom
Imperial Bedroom can be a challenging listen at times, but the hooks and melodies are so beguiling and infectious that itâs about as close to pop as Costello has ever gotten. Thereâs a myriad of sounds and styles coalescing wonderfully throughout, and the quirky songwriter punctuates each of his sonic detours with jaunty badinage and pert observations. The album boasts some absolutely astonishing wordplay, with even its most personal harangues arriving veiled in clever allegories and razor-sharp double entendres. Despite its lackluster commercial performance, then, Imperial Bedroom affirms Costello as a poet laureate for the counterculture and a restless musical genius all in the space of 50 topsy-turvy minutes. Jones
58. Echo & the Bunnymen, Ocean Rain
Black-velvet rock with a distinct romantic bent, Echo & the Bunnymenâs fourth and best album, Ocean Rain, flirts with ridiculous excess but remains sturdily in check, anchored by Ian McCullochâs big, crooner-style voice. Never as silly as the gaudy goth luminaries that surrounded them, the band employs many of the same elements and flirts with similar deathly impulses, shaping a dreamy sound that utilizes a full orchestra to call up extravagant flourishes and explore pools of inky gloom, using tracks like âThe Yo-Yo Manâ to hint at dramatic excess without ever veering into outright theatricality. Cataldo
57. Bruce Springsteen, Nebraska
Strip the bombastic showmanship from Bruce Springsteenâs back-alley narratives, take away the E Street Band, and you get Nebraska, a fragmentary collection of four-track demos that ended up being viable all on its own. These embryonic shells place the lingering desperation that had always lied beneath the surface of his songs into sharp relief, from the killing spree of Charles Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate on the title track to the last-ditch liaison of âAtlantic City.â Incorporating such far-flung influences as Suicide, whose desperate whoops Springteen emulates on the grim, haunting âHighway Patrolman,â itâs a desolate sonic landscape thatâs leagues more progressive than anything he recorded before or after. Cataldo
56. Talk Talk, Spirit of Eden
Opener âThe Rainbow,â a deconstructed blues song splayed out over seven minutes, sets the perfect tone for Talk Talkâs Spirit of Eden, the songâs blown-out harmonica wheezing over barebones soft-jazz backing. The album presents a series of similarly deliberate excursions, whose sustained focus on individual elements, like the harmonica and rudimentary blues arrangement of that opening song, twists and transforms them. Despite the initial air of chilled-out simplicity, each of these songs is actually a twitching patchwork of carefully blended elements, with twinkling piano crawls that blossom into sustained electronic explosions, all bracketed by a mystical, quasi-religious style of lyrical wordplay. Cataldo
55. Kate Bush, The Sensual World
Itâs hard to pin down what makes Kate Bushâs music so completely infectious, but it probably has something to do with the reckless abandon with which she tackles what could otherwise be preposterous material. The topics on The Sensual World, ranging from a musical rendering of the epilogue of Ulysses to a love song directed at a computer program, are often wholeheartedly silly, and yet these songs never come off as anything less than totally and achingly believable. Blessed with one of musicâs most wildly expressive voices, Bush takes each song further than she has to, resulting in an album that forms its own unique world. Cataldo
54. 808 State, 90
If 90 was âPacific 202â and 30 minutes of tape noise, itâd still be a stone-cold classic. But 808 Stateâs signature song (here a truncated six minutes of sax, synth, and roiling, rubbery bass), is just the most successful condensation of the diverse sonic tendencies explored on 90. Paced like an excellent DJ set from guys whoâd spent enough time in the club to know, 90 doesnât build so much as it ebbs and flows between the assertively groovy and the totally blissed out. A thrilling expansion of the possibilities for acid house and arguably the best LP ever produced in the style, 90 shows that even a transient fad can be an impetus for world-making. Cole
53. Prince, Dirty Mind
Prince, unlike George Michael, doesnât feel the need to justify sex, that itâs natural, itâs good. Heâs content to let his dick do the talking, without apology. But Prince isnât simply shooting his dithering load on this 1980 breakthrough, heâs radically redefining sex, its expression and power. Just as the albumâs production is a succulently bouncy and interwoven tapestry of funk, pop, and rock, the wily Prince fearlessly and mischievously indulges fantasy and ambiguously adopts countless roles and personas, addressing throughout both his anima and animus. He will daydream of fucking some honey in his daddyâs car, getting head from another on her wedding day, but he will also sneak in glistening moments of doe-eyed romanticism, even a startlingly metaphoric commentary on race and class. This is liquid love in its purest and most thought-provoking form. Gonzalez
52. R.E.M., Lifes Rich Pageant
In which the college (rock) kids graduate and head into the real world, ready to take over. And, in R.E.M.âs case, they came pretty close to doing just that. Lifes Rich Pageant stands as a nearly seamless transition between the bandâs formative period and their commercial dominance. The ragged, frenetic energy of R.E.M.âs early work is captured on âJust a Touchâ and âThese Days,â while âFall On Meâ and their cover of the Cliqueâs âSupermanâ showcase a newfound emphasis on pop hooks. In striking that balance, Lifes Rich Pageant is a template for how the âalternativeâ music the band was largely responsible for originating would, less than a decade later, become the dominant narrative in the music industry. Keefe
51. The Smiths, The Smiths
Thereâs no reason why a mordant, sexually frustrated disciple of Oscar Wilde who loved punk but crooned like a malfunctioning Sinatra shouldâve teamed up with a fabulously inventive guitarist whose influences were so diffuse that it could be hard to hear them at all and formed one of the greatest songwriting duos of the â80s. On classics like âHand in Gloveâ (which had Morrissey outing himself before anyone had even thought to speculate about this sexuality) and âThis Charming Man,â Morrissey says a lot but always insinuates more. Though thatâs not the case on âSuffer Little Children,â a ghoulish retelling of a real-life tragedy in which five children were sexually abused and murdered. Its unforgettable refrain finds Morrissey channeling the ghosts of Britpopâs sacred city: âManchester, so much to answer for.â Cole
50. Nine Inch Nails, Pretty Hate Machine
Ever look back at your old junior high school yearbooks and see, with a shock, the last picture the kid voted âMost Likely to Shoot the Rest of Us Dead at Graduationâ took before encasing himself inside that filthy, black trench coat? The last one he took with his natural hair color? The last one in which his eyes that would later reflect only cataracts of the soul still glinted with the hint of something obscene? Thatâs what itâs like to listen now to Trent Reznor scowl, âIâd rather die than give you control!â in âHead Like a Hole.â Before attempting suicide in The Downward Spiral and living with the wrist scars in The Fragile, Pretty Hate Machine sent out sleek, danceable warning shots. Henderson
49. Tracy Chapman, Tracy Chapman
Both the pop music landscape and political climate of the â80s were defined by a me-first sense of opulence and entitlement, nearly a full decade of the haves flaunting their wares and promising the have-nots that, someday, those wares would trickle down to them too. Tracy Chapmanâs unassuming, self-titled debut laid bare the fundamental injustice and dishonesty behind the prevailing policies of the day; she wasnât just âTalkinâ About a Revolution,â she aimed to start one. But what makes Tracy Chapman more than just a leftist course-correction or an antidote to hair metal are Chapmanâs unabashed sincerity and empathy and the robust quality of her songwriting, which make songs like âFast Carâ and âBaby Can I Hold Youâ no less powerful or moving today. Keefe
48. Michael Jackson, Bad
Michael Jacksonâs Bad, perhaps the most highly anticipated album of all time, took the multi-format approach of 1982âs Thriller and magnified it to larger-than-life proportions. The pop was poppier, the rock was rockier, the dance was dancier. (Notably, R&B took the form of carefully placed elements as opposed to the bedrock of the songs.) The album was sonically more adventurous than its predecessor, resulting in more missteps, but perhaps even more rewards. Bad found Jackson taking more creative control, composing the majority of the songs on his own, making the breadth of albumâs variety all the more impressive and solidifying many of the artistic and personal quirks and preoccupations that would come to define him in the last two decades of his life. Cinquemani
47. Eurythmics, Touch
If Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This) proved that the Eurhythmics had mastered the new wave genreâs icy detachment and ironic distance better than just about anyone, Annie Lennox and Dave Stewartâs follow-up, Touch, found them ready to move on to greater challenges. The album may not be as song-for-song consistent as Sweet Dreams, but itâs far more diverse in its style, leaning heavily on the soulfulness of Lennoxâs performances to keep its synth-pop aesthetic grounded in palpably human emotions. To that end, standout cuts like âWhoâs That Girlâ and the defiant âAquaâ confirm Lennoxâs status as one of pop musicâs most gifted, singular vocalists. Keefe
46. SinĂ©ad OâConnor, The Lion and the Cobra
The title of SinĂ©ad OâConnorâs debut was culled from Psalm 91, in which God promises to protect his people from the lion and the snakeâsymbols of bold and sly danger, respectively. OâConnor is more lion than snake, of course; she purrs like a kitten youâre fully aware is capable of lunging for your throat at any moment, and she often doesâshrieking at dead lovers, admonishing her countryâs leaders. The Lion and the Cobra is regal, majestic, and allegorical, an album rife with images of war, slain dragons, and ghosts, and itâs one of the most electrifying debuts in rock history. Cinquemani
45. Roxy Music, Avalon
Itâs not that the most common criticisms of Roxy Musicâs final album, Avalon, donât have merit: Itâs absolutely fair to acknowledge that itâs divorced from the truly progressive aesthetic that made the bandâs â70s-era output so vital and influential, and that the few members of the original lineup who still remained by the early â80s were so marginalized in the recording that the album plays more like a Bryan Ferry solo project. What those criticisms fail to account for is that the actual music on Avalon, taken on its own merits, is nearly perfect. The meticulous, spit-shined polish of the production canât mask some of Ferryâs finest pop melodies, nor can it hide the lived-in worldliness that makes Avalon so much cooler and more knowing than the countless New Romantics imitators it spawned. Keefe
44. Laurie Anderson, Big Science
My love affair with Laurie Anderson began with her recent Homeland, an album perfectly and succinctly described by Robert Christgau as a collection of âvery scary stories whose endings nobody knows.â But this metropolitan performance artist and borderline cat lady was scaring us as far back as Big Science, on which she asks, âWhat is behind the curtain?â Then and now, her humor is lacerating, her fondness for BPMs cheekily abstract, but most fetching are her articulations of powerlessnessâthat even she doesnât know whatâs behind the curtain. Her experiments in syntax and sound eerily echo her concerns with the irreversible tides of change, most spectacularly on her finest song and only sorta-hit, âO Superman,â an attack on American military might that begins almost sensibly with a mother leaving an embarrassing, existentially fraught message on her childâs answering machine. Like progress, Andersonâs music resists resistance. Gonzalez
43. Janet Jackson, Janet Jacksonâs Rhythm Nation 1814
âDonât get me in here acting all silly now.â Nice try, Janet, but with Rhythm Nation, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis got you in here acting all sober now. At least for three or four songs, anyway. The follow-up to Controlâs redux debut is in equal measure self-enlightened, self-defining, and self-pleasuring. The title track and âThe Knowledgeâ lean heavy on new-jack beats, while âAlrightâ and âEscapadeâ radiate the Minneapolis sound at its warmest (she mustâve recorded them the one week it didnât snow there). And with seven hits (the final of which reached number one almost a year and a half after the album was released), it was one of the decadeâs biggest chartbusting juggernauts. Get the point? Good. Henderson
42. New Order, Movement
In Tibetan Buddhism, âbardoâ is the intermediate space in between death and rebirth. It would have made an appropriate debut album title for the remaining members of Joy Division, reincarnated as New Order, following the suicide of frontman Ian Curtis. âMovement,â however, works just as well, evoking the fluidity of Bernard Sumner and companyâs still-evolving sound. âDreams Never Endâ is an apt opener; itâs the only song on the album with a traditional live-rock arrangement, featuring vocals by bassist Peter Hook, whose voice sounds closer in tone and cadence to Curtisâs than Sumnerâs does. The rest of Movement exists almost exactly in between Joy Divisionâs post-punk sound and the synth-pop style that would come to define New Order and influence pop music for decades. Cinquemani
41. Peter Gabriel, So
Home to the colossuses âRed Rain,â âSledgehammer,â âIn Your Eyes,â and âBig Time,â So is Peter Gabrielâs most accessible yet ambitious work. A chronicle of political, emotional, and artistic exploration, the album finds the Genesis co-founder attempting to balance standard pop orthodoxy with his still-rumbling desire for sonic experimentation. When Gabriel strikes that balance, the results are nothing less than sublime, such as when the untamed vocals of Youssou NâDour join in on the melodious climax of âIn Your Eyes.â Notwithstanding its successful expansion of Gabrielâs sound, So succeeds on quirky offerings alone: Whatâs not to love about an album that features a duet with Kate Bush and a shakuhachi solo? Liedel
New York Film Festival 2020
Thereâs something equal parts twisted and romantic about the left-for-dead format of the drive-in theater uniting with theater-killing streaming technology to preserve the institution of the film festival.
Film festivals, like the rest of us, are still adapting to the unique challenges posed by the Covid pandemic, with major ones drastically scaling back their lineups or devising a hybrid physical-virtual screening schedules. The 58th New York Film Festival will kick off on September 17 with simultaneous screenings of Steve McQueenâs Lovers Rock at two drive-in theaters in Brooklyn and Queens (the festival will also be using another drive-in in the Bronx for further screenings). Lovers Rock is the first episode of McQueenâs five-part Small Axe miniseries, set among Londonâs West Indian community; the âfilm,â along with two others in the anthology (Mangrove and Red, White And Blue) will also be available to ticket-holders for designated four-hour windows online. After the cancellation of this yearâs Cannes Film Festival, itâs been encouraging to see so many festivals coping with the impacts of the pandemic, even if it seems somewhat antithetical for a film festival like this one to be effectively dispersed across the globe rather than concentrated in a single communal event.
The festivalâs socially minded main slate features a wealth of new works from master documentarians like Fredrick Wiseman (City Hall), Jia Zhang-ke (Swimming Out Till the Sea Turns Blue), and Gianfranco Rossi (Notturno). And particularly notable among the works of nonfiction in this yearâs slate is Garrett Bradleyâs Time, a stirring look at 21 years in the life of a family thatâs been irrevocably altered by the prison-industrial complex. On the fiction side, the lineup is no less auteur-friendly, with the festival presenting the latest works by Christian Petzold (Undine), Tsai Ming-Liang (Days), Hong Sang-soo (The Woman Who Ran), Cristi Puiu (Malmkrog), and more. And this yearâs much-anticipated centerpiece selection is ChloĂ© Zhaoâs follow-up to The Rider, Nomadland, about a woman (played by Frances MacDormand) who lost everything in the Great Recession and travels the country in a camper in the wake of her husbandâs death.
This mix of socio-politically engaged documentaries and auteurist cinema also marks the festivalâs Spotlight section. There, youâll find new films by Pedro AlmodĂłvar (the short drama The Human Voice starring Tilda Swinton), Sofia Coppola (On the Rocks), and the prolific-in-death Orson Welles (Hopper/Welles), as well as David Dufresneâs The Monopoly of Violence, about police violence in France, and Lisa Cortes and Liz Garbusâs All In: The Fight for Democracy, which is concerned with the history and current activism against voter suppression and is based around interviews with American politician Stacey Abrams.
Elsewhere, 59 films with a more experimental bent, interweaving fiction and nonfiction, will screen as part of the Currents program. Of particular note is the latest from NicolĂĄs Pereda (Fauna) and another dispatch from beyond the grave by RaĂșl Ruiz (The Tango of the Widower and Its Distorting Mirror, co-directed by his widow and collaborator, Valeria Sarmiento). And among the notable titles slotted in the Revivals section, which “connects cinemaâs rich past to its dynamic present through an eclectic assortment of new restorations,” are BĂ©la Tarrâs Damnation, Hou Hsiao-hsienâs Flowers of Shanghai, and Jean Vigoâs Zero for Conduct.
Right now, even the films most engaged with reality can feel out of date if they happen to have been shot more than eight months ago; seeing everyday people on screen shaking hands or standing in lines can have an uncanny effect. But then, watching art flicks at a drive-in might serve as a constant reminder to festivalgoers how much stranger the world has gotten than last yearâs already-unnerving status quo. Thereâs something equal parts twisted and romantic about the left-for-dead format of the drive-in theater uniting with theater-killing streaming technology to preserve the institution of the film festival. Itâs like temporal streams have been crossed, the mid-20th-century society of the auto hybridized with the 21st-century society of the mobile phone. The erstwhile downsides of these formatsâthe isolation of the home theater or hermetically sealed family carâturn out to be their primary advantages in our current context. Pat Brown
For a complete schedule of films, screening times, and ticket information, visit Film at Lincoln Center. Capsule reviews of films in the main slate appear below; check back as more titles are added, with links to full reviews.
Beginning (Dea Kulumbegashvili)
Dea Kulumbegashviliâs Beginning centers around a Jehovahâs Witness missionary, Yana (Ia Sukhitashvili), who lives with her husband, David (Rati Oneli), and young son in a remote village in the mountains outside of Tbilisi. The close-knit community they tend to faces extreme prejudice and persecution from the local Orthodox Christian majority, as illustrated in the filmâs startling opening. Foreshadowing another shocking event late in the film, one that shows the imperceptible force of religious scripture weighing on the characters, this openingâs blurring of boundaries between spiritual imagination and reality reveals itself to be a key theme of the narrative. Though a strictly minimalist approach means that her visual motifs emerge organically from the action, Kulumbegashvili makes a few unexpected, rather Hanekian compositional choices that break with the filmâs sense of naturalism to more explicitly wring allegorical significance from certain sequences. Demonstrating the extent of Yanaâs resilience in facing the most extreme and personal tests of faith, and her willingness to sacrifice everything for her community, Kulumbegashvili vividly imagines powerlessness and despair being transformed into a supernatural, redemptive force. David Robb
The Calming (Song Fang)
The meticulousness and control of Song Fangâs feature-length directorial debut, Memories Look at Me, gave the film a specific conceptual focus. The Chinese actress and filmmakerâs follow-up feature, The Calming, places a similar emphasis on technique, but its scrupulously shot and staged compositions tend to suck the life out of every frame. The narrative is simple, and again loosely autobiographical: Song surrogate Lin Tong (Qi Xi), a documentary filmmaker who we learn early on has recently been through a breakup, drifts between Japan, China, and Hong Kongâlocations with stated sentimental value to Song, who drew on her memories of visiting them during the film festival run of Memories Look at Me. That sense of personal meaning is meant to be conveyed through a filmâs worth of immaculate long takes of Lin inhabiting different spaces, from bustling cityscapes to minimally furnished apartments, to lush, sprawling natural environments. But as a result of Songâs seeming unwillingness to give us much understanding of this character and her limited formalist vocabulary, The Calming is left unable to connect angst to anything significantly deeper. Sam C. Mac
City Hall (Frederick Wiseman)
Frederick Wiseman never steps in the same river twice, though the methods of this prolific, preeminent documentarian are, with rare exception, unchanging. So it is with City Hall, Wisemanâs formidable and incisive exploration of local government in Boston, Massachusetts. Non-diegetic score and identifying on-screen titles are eschewed throughout, while the filmâs duration is well past the feature-length normâin this case, four-and-a-half engrossing hours. The camerawork, courtesy of Wisemanâs longtime collaborator John Davey, is mostly fly-on-the-wall, swish-panning between or settling for extended periods on a given sceneâs subjects. Mundanities that many other artists would turn away from are manna to Wiseman. He gets as much poetic and provocative mileage out of a budget meeting that projects the fiscal year to come as he does a glass skyscraper reflecting a magic-hour sunset. The filmâs provocations can seem savage at a glance, but they emerge from an observational tranquility that is uniquely Wisemanâs own, and which leave room for individual interpretation. What each of us sees is what each of us gets. But how do we arrive at our respective ideological terminus? City Hall isnât an incitement, so much as an invitation to serenely reflect on and think through systems of power that are, like the people who labor within them, constantly evolvingâfor better and for worse. Keith Uhlich
Days (Tsai Ming-liang)
Centered on the quotidian lives of two unnamed men (played by Lee Kang-sheng and Anong Houngheuangsy), Days finds Taiwanese auteur Tsai Ming-liang reflecting once again on peopleâs unspeakable loneliness and alienation in a world lacking in reciprocity. In a series of tableaux vivants, where the camera remains mostly still and sound is entirely diegetic, the uneventful days of the two men unfold, or, considering the filmâs meticulous attention to such elements as water and fire, you could say that they burn slowly. Indeed, the younger man (Houngheuangsy) stokes the embers of a fire so he can methodically make his lunch, washing vegetables and fish in buckets inside his bathroom and concocting a makeshift stove by placing a pot on top of the other one containing the embers. The older man (Lee), in turn, is seen taking a bath, stretching his sore body in the woods, and staring out a window for what feels like an entire afternoon, as he listens to the sound of water. Were Lee facing the lens, the sequence would belong to the same documentary universe of Wang Xiaoshuai or Sergei Loznitsaâof evidence through dogged visual persistence. Diego Semerene
Gunda (Viktor Kossakovsky)
On paper, Victor Kossakovskyâs Gunda, a wordless documentary about the everyday life of a few farm animals may suggest a quiet idyll in the vein of the goatherding sequences from Michelangelo Frammartinoâs Le Quattro Volte. But with its stark, forbidding black-and-white cinematography and dense, unsettling sound design, the film resembles nothing so much as Eraserhead. The newborn piglets in the film, whose faces look surprisingly alien-like in extreme close-up and whose aching squeals can be rather unnerving, even at times resemble the baby from David Lynchâs cult classic. By eschewing the Disneyfied anthropomorphism of Luc Jacquetâs March of the Penguins and the tidy narrativizing of the Planet Earth series, Kossakovsky refuses to resort to the old clichĂ© that animals are âjust like us.â Theyâre not, really. And in Gunda, common farm animals have rarely seemed so un-human. Which isnât to say that we donât form a relationship with these creatures. Relying heavily on shallow-focus shots often positioned near ground levelâand thus close to its subjectsâ eyelineâthe film gives us something of the experience of being a farm animal: of grazing in a field, caring for a newborn, and aimelessly roaming around a farm. And by the time the credits roll on the film, we realize weâve been watching not so much a sketch of the lives of farm animals as a threnody for their deaths. Keith Watson
Isabella (MatĂas PiĂ±eiro)
MatĂas PiĂ±eiroâs Isabella, a cubist riddle composed of elliptical scenes that hint at conflict, finds the Argentine writer-director sliding further into abstraction than ever before. The film cloaks its muted, wispy narrative in symbolic digressions and repetitive formal gestures that imply some grand design just beyond comprehensionâa fitting analogy given the recurring presence of an overhead shot of hands arranging a puzzle consisting only of differently shaded notecards. PiĂ±eiro remains a superlative director of actors and a careful modulator of rhythm, and part of the filmâs longueurs have to do with an effort to provide respite from just how fast everyone talks and walks. But the drama of external turbulence and internal reckoning being sketched in the film, particularly as it relates to emerging motherhood, feels emotionally distinct from the amorous entanglements that PiĂ±eiro was reveling in just half a decade ago, and if heâs indeed entering a phase of middle-aged concerns, itâs easy to feel primed for something deeply moving to come next. If thatâs the case, then Isabella feels like a stylistic and thematic trial run. Carson Lund
Lovers Rock (Steve McQueen)
One of three episodes from his upcoming miniseries, Small Axe, that will world premiere at the New York Film Festival, Steve McQueenâs Lovers Rock is nothing if not a mood piece. For McQueen, whoâs of Grenadian and Trinidadian descent, the series is his most personal project to date, weaving together various stories within Londonâs West Indian community in the 1980s. Set largely over one night at a house party and gently tracing the growing attraction between Martha (Amarah-Jae St. Aubyn) and the mysterious Franklyn (Micheal Ward), Lovers Rock lovingly captures the sense of community thatâs fostered within the house right out the gate, as the musicians set up the sound system and the jolly cooks in the kitchen start banging out curry goat and ackee and saltfish. The filmâs centerpiece, set to Janet Kayâs lovers rock hit âSilly Games,â plays out across a sea of polyester, beautiful Black bodies rapturously entwined. The social world that McQueen envisions is lived-in, tactile, and especially wondrous across scenes that fixate on the temperature of a song (from Carl Douglasâs âKung Fu Fightingâ to the Revolutionaries âKunta Kinteâ) turning the dial up on peopleâs libidos. Luckily thatâs the better part of Lovers Rockâs 70-minute runtime, because whenever it follows Martha out of the house and puts her in the crosshairs of a potential threat or generally catches her in a moment of confusion about some incident that feels every bit as alien to us, itâs difficult to not see the filmâs episodic roots. Ed Gonzalez
Isabella (MatĂas PiĂ±eiro)
MatĂas PiĂ±eiroâs Isabella, a cubist riddle composed of elliptical scenes that hint at conflict, finds the Argentine writer-director sliding further into abstraction than ever before. The film cloaks its muted, wispy narrative in symbolic digressions and repetitive formal gestures that imply some grand design just beyond comprehensionâa fitting analogy given the recurring presence of an overhead shot of hands arranging a puzzle consisting only of differently shaded notecards. PiĂ±eiro remains a superlative director of actors and a careful modulator of rhythm, and part of the filmâs longueurs have to do with an effort to provide respite from just how fast everyone talks and walks. But the drama of external turbulence and internal reckoning being sketched in the film, particularly as it relates to emerging motherhood, feels emotionally distinct from the amorous entanglements that PiĂ±eiro was reveling in just half a decade ago, and if heâs indeed entering a phase of middle-aged concerns, itâs easy to feel primed for something deeply moving to come next. If thatâs the case, then Isabella feels like a stylistic and thematic trial run. Ed Gonzalez
Malmkrog (Cristi Puiu)
Cristi Puiuâs Malmkrog is based on 19th-century Russian philosopher and mystic Vladimir Solovyovâs prophetic Three Conversations, which, through a series of dialectical maneuvers, addresses such topics as economic materialism, nationalism, and abstract moralism. The film takes place on a snow-covered hillside, where a large pastel-pink mansion sits and Puiu turns the philosophical into drama. Sheltered in the mansionâs walls are a small group of aristocrats that includes a politician, a general and his wife, and a young countess. It all has the makings of a game of Clue, but the mysteries here are linguistic. A Christmas gathering stretches on in what seems to be real time, as the partyâs high-minded philosophical and political chatter takes on an increasingly strained air. That tension is heightened by the obstacles that Puiu uses to discombobulate his audience. Malmkrog is the Transylvanian village where the film takes place, yet the characters, who speak primarily in French, talk of being in Russia. And as they discuss imminent war and the potential outcomes of violence, itâs as if the film appears to exist outside of time and place. Ben Flanagan
MLK/FBI (Sam Pollard)
Sam Pollardâs MLK/FBI is an impressive reassessment of an American icon, approaching sensational material in forthright terms and without devolving into sensationalism. Based largely on Pulitzer Prize-winning historian David Garrowâs 2015 book The FBI and Martin Luther King, Jr.: From âSoloâ to Memphis, this knotty and compelling documentary threads together the story of the F.B.I.âs obsession with finding compromising secrets about King with an unusually frank accounting of what some of those secrets were. When Garrow published a blockbuster story in 2019 alleging that King had witnessed or potentially even taken part in a 1964 rape at a hotel, it caused a brief flutter but was largely overlooked in the mainstream media. Pollard handles this explosive issue with restraint and intelligence. The film shows no illusions about the extent of Kingâs affairs. But it also refrains from any dubious moral calculations by giving his personal deceptions the same weight as his public morality. Pollard also deals carefully with Garrowâs most damning allegation, giving the thinly documented charge its due but carving out space around it for uncertainty. While the film doesnât try to elevate Kingâs pedestal any higher, it also doesnât try to knock him off of it. Chris Barsanti
Night of the Kings (Philippe LacĂŽte)
Inside the La MACA prison in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, a newly arrived prisoner (Bakary KonĂ©) becomes a âRoman,â a storyteller tasked with spinning yarns as entertainment, with the threat of being hung on an iron hook if he fails to hold everyoneâs attention. This unlucky Scheherazade-like character thus finds himself at the center of an explosion of activity as the other prisoners prepare for this ritualistic evening. The most striking aspect of Night of the Kings is the way in which the prisoners begin to act out Romanâs story, voicing characters and even engaging in interpretive song and dance as if possessed by the spirit to act. The camera regularly shifts away from Roman to move in lockstep with the prisonersâ contortions and twirling movements, resulting in a poetry of motion that illuminates his improvised tale better than the actual depictions of it. Despite its bleak context, the film is a celebration of oral traditions as a means of giving purpose to even the most hopeless of lives. That a film so frequently harrowing can so often feel joyous without every trivializing the state of its charactersâ imprisonment is a testament to the way that writer-director Philippe LacĂŽte resolutely finds the meaning embedded within ritual, and how the activities of the inmates, however strange, constitute routines every bit as normalizing as the daily tasks of those living their lives outside the walls of the prison. Jake Cole
Nomadland (ChloĂ© Zhao)
âIâm not homeless,â Fern (Frances McDormand) says in response to the concerned query of an old friend in ChloĂ© Zhaoâs Nomadland. âIâm just houseless.â And she says it in a distinctly sharp, guarded, and prideful tone that McDormand expertly deploys throughout the film. Iâm fine, her voice and slightly narrowed eyes say, but donât come any closer. Her standoffishness points to the pride of a van-dwelling and only occasionally employed woman who spurns pity while trying to carve out a place for herself in a society that doesnât leave space for people not defined by steady careers or well-rooted homes. Using a minimal and improvised-feeling script that emphasizes interaction and happenstance over story, Zhao places Fern and the gorgeous landscapes she travels through at the forefront of the film. There are times when Joshua James Richardsâs sweeping cinematography and Ludovico Einaudiâs gently emotive music point to a far more romantic vision than that suggested by Fernâs hard-bitten attitude. But by juxtaposing beautiful vistas filled with promise, a rotted social safety net, and the scrappy itinerant workers navigating the space in between, Zhao generates a gradually swelling tension underneath her filmâs somewhat placid surface. In the end, whether Fern roams the desert or returns to housed life, the unfulfilled promise of America will keep pushing her back to the horizon. Barsanti
Notturno (Gianfranco Rosi)
The common understanding of documentaries is that theyâre intended to inform in particular ways: candid footage often complemented by explanatory text and graphics, testimony of witnesses and experts who frame and flesh out the events in question, contemplative pans across archival evidence, and, in the age of reality TV, extended interviews with the subjects themselves in close-up, providing a kind of running interior monologue. Gianfranco Rosiâs documentaries, though they take on topics of great socio-political import, eschew virtually all of these conventions and thus demand a different kind of engagementâone rooted in empathy for the experiences of his essentially anonymous human subjects. His refusal to firmly place the segments of life that he captures within an explicit broader framework might be seen as an effort to keep his images resolutely in the present. The unpredictable power outages and food shortages in major cities, the unsettling presence of foreign armies, the mental and physical suffering of children whose families and neighbors have been slaughtered by ISISâthe dreadful beauty of Notturnoâs experiential approach to cinema emphasizes that these arenât impersonal events on a timeline, but the current life as lived by millions in the Near East. Brown
The Salt of Tears (Philippe Garrel)
Despite so much identification, and despite the fact that some of the best films ever made, from Scenes from a Marriage to A Summerâs Tale, are precisely about masculine cowardliness and feminine despair, why is it that The Salt of Tears makes no room for genuine emotion to emerge? Which is peculiar given that Philippe Garrel so recently, with In the Shadow of Women and Lover for a Day, documented the impossibility of monogamy with not only a no-nonsense sensibility but also profound gravitas. Maybe the failure of the film is in Garrelâs use of melodramatic music during transitional scenes, a device at odds with the detached style of the rest of the film. Maybe itâs in the overtly fable-like structure that reduces the characters to not just archetypes, but cutouts. Maybe itâs in the omniscient voiceover narration that punctuates the film with such disaffection and irregularity. Garrel illustrates the absurdity behind the myth of the complementary couple with the same cynicism that permeates his previous work but none of the humor or wit. He thus elevates The Salt of Tears to the status of a work to be enjoyed only intellectually, as if, like Luc (Logann Antuofermo), he, too, had learned to foreclose feeling for the sake of some fantasy of self-preservation or pride. Semerene
Swimming Out Till the Sea Turns Blue (Jia Zhang-ke)
Divided into 18 titled chapters, Jia Zhang-keâs documentary Swimming Out Till the Sea Turns Blue is a quietly reflective, intermittently rambling rumination on an explosively momentous period in history. In the film, a 2019 literary festival in Jiaâs home province of Shanxi is the springboard for three writersâ takes on how China has been transformed since the 1940s. Although the style and manner of the writers vary widely, they each describe a time of radical change, particularly how small villages like Jiaâs were rocked by the tumult of the Communist Party takeover in 1949, then the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s, and then the turbo-charged urbanization of the new millennium. Taking a quieter and less barbed approach to addressing the state of modern China than fans of his work are likely used to from such politically pointed dramas as A Touch of Sin, Jia refers to the documentary as a âsymphony.â As such, it features discrete movements and some repeated themes, like the beautiful interludes in which farm workers recite short snippets from the books being discussed. What it doesnât have, however, is much of a crescendo. Barsanti
Time (Garrett Bradley)
In 1997, Robert Richardson was convicted along with his wife, Sibil, of robbing a credit union in Shreveport, Louisiana. At the time, the couple had four sons, and Sibil was pregnant with twin boys. Considering her situation, Sibil took a plea bargain and was sentenced to 12 years, though she was out on parole after only three-and-a-half. Meanwhile, Robert was sentenced to 65 years without parole. Time doesnât, and perhaps doesnât need to, trot out statistics to make the case that Robertâs draconian sentence represents a perpetuation of anti-Black racism. Thatâs because director Garrett Bradley has the receipts: years of home-video diaries that Sibil recorded for Robert as she worked tirelessly to support her family while also trying to secure legal motions for his re-sentencing. The filmâs title evokes âdoing time,â but we donât see Robert actually serving his sentence; instead, we feel its duration in the gap itâs left in his familyâs life, and in their words weâre offered an oblique commentary on the history of Black incarceration. Bradleyâs film is about feeling time, about conveying some idea of what 21 years feels like to someone else. Far more than a polemic against the prison-industrial complex, Time reminds us in eminently cinematic ways that behind the numbers and procedures of a court case are actual lives existing in actual, human time. Brown
The Truffle Hunters (Michael Dweck and Gregory Kershaw)
Clearly identifying with and celebrating the expertise of their subjectsâa handful of elderly men from Piedmont, Italy, who pursue precious white alba truffles in the forests of the countryâs northern regionâand their resistance to nosy profiteers, The Truffle Hunters seems driven by a desire to enshrine the men in a timeless tableaux. Directors Michael Dweck and Gregory Kershaw establish a leisurely movement between the filmâs different threads, presenting each in the same handsome, methodical manner so as to encourage viewers to draw their own conclusions about the ethics of the buyer-supplier dynamic. The sequences devoted to the highbrow arena of truffle auctions, where enthusiasts come to sniff and evaluate samples of the earthy substance, are no less detailed in their observation than the passages in the forests and at country homes. But what eventually becomes self-evident is the warmth, self-sufficiency, and camaraderie of the hunters compared to the businesslike aloofness of those on the receiving end of their laborâinsatiable careerists who, in a handful of scenes, are shown to barely even evince much pleasure for the food itself. This reminder of the fragility of agrarian traditions in the face of a merciless profit motive is a welcome one delivered with tact and subtlety, but Dweck and Kershaw occasionally deliver it at the expense of their titular subjects. Lund
Undine (Christian Petzold)
Throughout his increasingly formidable oeuvre, Christian Petzold has nested stories of doomed love in surveys of his home nationâs reaction to economic or historical upheavals. Though at once lighter and stranger than any of his earlier work, Undine makes the melodramatic trappings of the directorâs previous films its explicit subject, questioning the fixed nature of human behavior in a world whose borders are constantly shifting. Itâs ironic and puzzling, then, that Undineâs eponymous character (Paula Beer) is both human and a water sprite. As this typically compact but deceptively rich film moves along, flashes of dislocation proliferate, undermining its seemingly contemporary setting and leaving us to wonder whether love and logic are compatible. As Petzold ushers his lovers toward doom, the film almost seems to rewind, revisiting most of its settings and turning sites of passion into mausoleums of aching and regret. âForm follows function,â Undine says at one point, and with minor alterations in framing and presentation Petzold fundamentally shifts our sense of these locations. Apparently the first in a trilogy of modern stories based on fables, Undine is a striking change of pace that sacrifices none of the directorâs intellect or ambition. Christopher Gray
The Woman Who Ran (Hong Sang-soo)
Hong Sang-sooâs The Woman Who Ran is defined by absences: by who isnât in the frame and by what isnât said throughout conversations that appear to be determinedly trivial. Returning to Seoul after years away, Gam-hee (Kim Min-hee) reconnects with a trio of female friends, and they talk of the food they eat and indulge in local gossip, repeating observations with a fervor that feels obsessive and mindless, as if these women have gotten too calcified in their own lives to utter anything but mantras. Yet Hong and his actors communicate the disappointment and sadness thatâs being suppressed by well-practiced politeness, offering anecdotes that abound in pointed loose ends. Throughout, you may recall that audacious sequence in Grass in which a woman repeatedly went up and down a flight of stairs, as Hong fashions a similar yet subtler portrait of stasis with his latest. Many Hong films examine romantic pressures from the POV of a surrogate for the director himself, while The Woman Who Ran suggests Hongâs fantasy of how women discuss him when heâs not around. Chuck Bowen
Every Song on Taylor Swift’s Folklore Ranked
We’ve ranked all 17 songs from the singer-songwriter’s watershed eighth album.
Over the course of the four releases preceding Folklore, Taylor Swift developed a model of pop album that was seemingly machine-calibrated to please just about everyone. For each fan-favorite deep cut (âAll Too Well,â âNew Romanticsâ) there was an equal and opposite radio hit (â22,â âShake It Offâ). The conflict inherent in this structure came to a head on last yearâs Lover, which produced pop-centric, radio-friendly singles like âME!â and âYou Need to Calm Down,â as well as the rootsier title track and the lilting âAfterglow.â
Folklore, by contrast, finds Swift at her most masterful and consistent, which makes comparing its songs all the more challenging. None of these songs reach overtly for the theatrics or immediate pop appeal of earlier singles such as âLook What You Made Me Do.â Instead, Swift foregrounds her narrative sensibility and her eye for detail, reminding us ofâin case we somehow forgotâher voice-of-a-generation status. See below for our ranking of every song on the singerâs watershed eighth album.
Itâs commendable that Swift would take a moment on an otherwise introspective album to pay tribute to essential workers and to remind her listeners to wear a mask. The conciseness with which she draws a parallel between medical professionals and soldiers is persuasive, but the deviceâs neatness and sincerity can feel a bit simple. Still, on such a consistent album, last place isnât so much a slight as it is a credit to the rest of the albumâs songs.
For a song about a conventionally comfy piece of clothing, âCardiganâ is surprisingly slinky, its swaying melody and Swiftâs gasping vocals elaborating nicely on the dark pop of 2017âs Reputation. The songâs protracted central metaphor, fairy-tale imagery, and idealistic mentions of scars and tattoos risk being uncomplicatedly wide-eyed, but itâs Swiftâs established style to employ childlike concepts with a sense of irony. âCardiganâ avoids becoming saccharine when Swift allows it to be sensual, possibly name-dropping one of Rihannaâs steamiest singles (âKiss It Betterâ) to seal the whole thing with a kiss.
15. âMad Womanâ
Swiftâs most credible expressions of resentment are typically couched in a tangible conflict (âMeanâ) or balanced against self-examination (âInnocentâ), but âMad Womanâ is a declaration of anger justified mostly by an interrogation of gender norms. Its lyrics about the weaponization of internalized misogyny signal that Swift has grown since she wrote âYou Belong with Meâ and âBetter Than Revenge,â but her best songs are even more nuanced and tangible than this.
14. âThe Lakesâ
Folkloreâs tender, self-referential bonus track reveals an important element of the albumâs ethos, namely that Swift aims to be remembered as a poet. She seeks to do so here through meta-poetics, naming writerly forms (âIs it romantic how all my elegies eulogize me?â) and building puns around great writersâ names (âIâve come too far to watch some namedropping sleaze/Tell me what are my words worthâ). The song might skew capital-R romantic (âA red rose grew up out of ice-frozen ground/With no one around to tweet itâ), but itâs an affectionately detailed testament to the fact that readers can become writers, and writers can become icons.
13. âThis Is Me Tryingâ
This is one of a small handful of tracks on Folklore that feel less like distinct story beats and more like summations of the albumâs broader emotional arc. In fact, âThis Is Me Tryingâ is a fitting coda to Swiftâs entire discography, mining both her vulnerability and her ability to do harm on a serene mid-album respite from the lyrical density of âSevenâ and âAugust.â The image of a salt-rusted Swift downing a shot of whiskey between ruminations on her very public youth is jarring next to her self-titled debut, but it feels like an honest comedown from Loverâs shine.
12. âMy Tears Ricochetâ
Like âMad Woman,â âMy Tears Ricochetâ tells one of Folkloreâs most straightforwardly resentful stories, this time grounded narratively in the idea of a toxic lover showing up at their exâs funeral. Jack Antonoffâs production touches are stirring: The sharp beats of strings on the chorus recall the bridges of early-2010s Swift songs, and the warm echo of Swift âscreaming at the skyâ on the bridge evokes the thrill of âHe looks up, grinning like a devil.â
11. âThe 1â
As one of Folkloreâs peppiest tracks, âThe 1â is a fitting opener and a smooth transition from Loverâs effervescence. It tells us immediately that Swiftâs preoccupation with regret has lasted since Fearless and Speak Now, but sheâs got the age and experience to reassure her lover (and herself), that âitâs all right now.â Whereas heartbreak was fresh and monumental on âFifteen,â nowadays Swiftâs approach to love and dating is candid and matureâbut wistful enough to avoid being blasĂ©.
âPeaceâ is among Swiftâs most spacious and gorgeous songs, leaving the impression of pillow talk deepened by promisesâor threatsâof loyalty. While the song deflates somewhat from the predominance of lyrical clichĂ©s (âThe devilâs in the details, but you got a friend in me,â âIâd swing with you for the fences/Sit with you in the trenchesâ), Swift delivers every word with intimate urgency. Itâs a fitting summation of the tension between the thrill of love and the knowledge that itâs never truly promised, a conflict thatâs motivated much of Swiftâs music.
Every Britney Spears Album Ranked
We decided to reevaluate the singer’s discography and discovered that her trajectory as an artist has been far from linear.
Over two decades into her career, Britney Spears is less likely to make headlines for her music than her personal and legal battles, which have resulted in the #FreeBritney movement. So itâs easy to forget that, against all odds, the pop singer has amassed an impressive body of hitsâfrom her iconic debut, ââŠBaby One More Time,â to later earworms like âTill the World Endsâ (see our list of Britneyâs best singles here).
With the exception of cult favorite Blackout, Britney has never been considered an âalbum artist.â Thereâs nothing more satisfying, though, than someone who forces us to recalibrate our expectations, and Britney did just that with 2016âs Glory: By eschewing EDM and embracing subtler pop and R&B sounds, she made her most daring, mature album to date.
Earlier this year, fans launched another social media campaign, #JusticeForGlory, and the album was subsequently reissued, nearly four years after its initial release, with a new track, âMood Ring,â previously only available in Japan. We decided to reevaluate Britneyâs discography and discovered that, defying yet another expectation, her trajectory as an artist has been far from linear. See below for our ranking of all nine of Britneyâs studio albums.
9. Oops!…I Did It Again (2000)
âMy loneliness ainât killinâ me no more!â Britney belts on âStronger,â referencing a key phrase from her debut single, â…Baby One More Time.â The track is, in retrospect, a standout among Max Martinâs many teen-pop productions from the era, boasting an ABBA-esque hook, robust dance beat, and a menacing foghorn that announced a sexier, more sophisticated, and yes, stronger, Britney. But while the singerâs sophomore effort, the cheekily titled Oops!…I Did It Again, doubled down on the Swedish producerâs formula, it also magnified the worst of both teen-popâs ticks and Britneyâs vocal hiccups. A limp cover of the Rolling Stonesâs â(I Canât Get No) Satisfactionâ makes Samantha Foxâs 1987 rendition sound positively electric, while the molasses-slow âWhere Are You Nowâ and the treacly closing ballad âDear Diaryâ could rot the teeth right out of your skull. Sal Cinquemani
8. Britney Jean (2013)
Designed by committee, with up to six producers and nine songwriters per track, Britney Jean is sonically all over the place, stocked with a mix of the most garish presets from the EDM era and flaccid midtempo pop. The filtered synths featured throughout the album (courtesy of producers like will.i.am and David Guetta) are most forgivable on the catchy âTil Itâs Gone,â which is as close as Britney Jean gets to earworms like Femme Fataleâs âTill the World Endsâ and âHold It Against Me.â Lead single âWork Bitchâ is the aural equivalent of bath salts, a shrill and mechanical assault on the brain, while âTik Tik Boomâ is by far Britney Jean and companyâs most egregious lapse in judgment, with T.I. offering tripe like âShe like the way I eat her/Beat her, beat her/Treat her like an animal, somebody call PETA.â Uh, somebody call Tipâs probation officer. Cinquemani
7. âŠBaby One More Time (1999)
When Britney burst onto the scene with â…Baby One More Time,â her adenoidal, childlike vocals suggested an innocence belied by the image of the then-16-year-old on the albumâs cover, kneeling in a short denim skirt, her schoolgirl blouse unbuttoned, her head cocked to the side. Prior to 1998, teen pop had been an innocuous, perennial nuisance, but those big, pounding piano chords and processed squawks of âOh, bay-ba, bay-ba,â followed by the singerâs full-throated delivery of the songâs hookââMy loneliness is killing me!ââsignaled the christening of the genreâs very first Lolita. That the rest of âŠBaby One More Time plays like a glorified Kidz Bop album is neither surprising nor, frankly, inappropriate. The uptempo highlightsâthe hit â(You Drive Me) Crazyâ and the house-influenced âDeep in My Heartââfeel lyrically and sonically chaste compared to the title track, while the ballads alternate between inane (âEmail My Heartâ) and interminable (âFrom the Bottom of My Broken Heartâ). Cinquemani
6. Britney (2001)
Thereâs a learning curve in pop superstardom and Britneyâs development always seemed comparatively stunted, if only because she rush-released three albums in as many yearsâand all before the age of 20. The media generously, if inexplicably, dubbed Britney the next Madonna, but her interpretations of classics like âI Love Rock Nâ Roll,â from 2001âs Britney, lacked the irony and grit of a more seasoned and self-aware artist. The album, her best to date at the time, proved she owed much more to the likes of Paula Abdul and, especially, Janet Jackson than the Queen of Pop. The most successful songs here deviate from the Max Martin formula of Britneyâs early hits, including the saccharine disco bop âAnticipatingâ and the Neptunes-produced âIâm a Slave 4 U,â whose skittering synths and heavy breathing served as a preview of what would become Britneyâs career m.o. Cinquemani
5. Femme Fatale (2011)
In my review of 2011âs Femme Fatale, I lamented its lead singleâs âcheesy pickup linesâ and âgeneric Eurotrash beats and dated trance synths.â By the time the album dropped a couple of weeks later, though, âHold It Against Me,â in all its generic glory, had burrowed its way into my psyche like a brain-eating amoeba. Released at the height of the EDM explosion, Femme Fatale is, like that single, a gaudy, unrepentant attempt to cash in on a subgenre with a looming expiration date. So itâs no surprise that some of the albumâs most enduring tracks pivot back toward Britneyâs earlier hits, including the bubbly âHow I Rollâ and âTrip to Your Heart,â which finds frequent collaborators Bloodshy & Avant seamlessly applying their glitchy, pitch-incorrected synth-pop to the fad of the era. Cinquemani
4. Circus (2008)
With Circus, Britney dropped the richly self-referential posture she almost reluctantly adopted on Blackout in favor of a far more risky mode: self-actualization. Instead of wallowing in the great drama that was her train-wreck quarter-life crisis, Circus represents the rebirth of regression. Itâs a dozen-plus songs of blithe denialâone of which, âRadar,â is curiously recycled from the earlier albumâthat seems to be saying, âHey, Iâm still young enough to eat hard candy without it being a sad anachronism. So letâs get nekkid.â Biographical details are suppressed in favor of shopping lists (âLace and Leatherâ), while confessionals step aside and make way for lewd double-entendres (âIf U Seek Amyâ). Hell, actual lyrics are eschewed in favor of syllables. Because itâs Britney, however, it all seems to work: Ridiculousness comes naturally, and her cooing break, âOoh lolly, ooh papi,â on âMmm Papiâ is the nexus of cock-hungriness. If the album is a psychological step backward, well, you canât say Britney doesnât sound at home in the womb. Eric Henderson
3. In the Zone (2003)
Britneyâs fourth album, In the Zone, found the former pop tart coming of age with a bold mix of dance and hip-hop beats, wiping clean the last traces of her bubblegum past. Britneyâs unabashed devotion to dance-pop is, perhaps, the one thing that truly links her to Madonna, whoâlamentablyâappears on the opening track âMe Against the Music.â Britney beckons to an anonymous dance partner on âBreathe on Me,â exploring the eroticism of restraint: âWe donât need to touch/Just breathe on me.â After a night at the clubâand little actual physical contactâshe passes out on the couch in the âEarly Morninââ (produced by Moby) and finds some self-gratification on the Middle Eastern-hued ode to masturbation âTouch of My Hand.â Lest you start to believe that the girl who began her career by teasing her barely legal status is finally âin the zone,â âOutrageousâ finds her singing âmy sex driveâ and âmy shopping spreeâ with the same dripping gusto. Cinquemani
2. Blackout (2007)
One thing latter-day Britney doesnât lack is self-awareness. âIâm Mrs. âExtra! Extra! This just in!â/Iâm Mrs. âSheâs too big, now sheâs too thinâ,â she quips on âPiece of Me,â the second single from her 2007 album Blackout. Listening to it now, itâs easy to forget there was anything wrong in her starry world at the time. The album is remarkably cohesive, riding the Timbaland renaissance without the man himself (half the album was produced by Timbo cohort Danja). âGimme Moreâ and âGet Naked (I Got a Plan)â hold their own alongside the likes of Justin Timberlakeâs âSexyBackâ and Nelly Furtadoâs âPromiscuous.â But itâs Bloodshy & Avant who hog the spotlight here, ponying up the beats on the glitchy âPiece of Meââwhich sounds like robots hate-fuckingâand the spunky, Kylie-esque âToy Soldier.â âNo wonder thereâs panic in the industry. I mean, please,â Britney sneers on the former. Was that a sly comment on our misplaced gaze? Cinquemani
1. Glory (2016)
From Gloryâs opening âInvitationâ to its closer, âCoupure Electrique,â itâs no surprise that Britney stocks her latest album with expressions of uncontainable horniness. What is surprising is the degree to which her agency in the act is emphasized, and how sex here is rarely an act of exhibition. Songs like âPrivate Showâ and âDo You Wanna Come Over?â yearn for a specific intimacy, a moving expression from an artist whose public relationship with sexuality once seemed disturbingly out of her control. The albumâs key lyric comes from the single âSlumber Partyâ: âWe use our bodies to make our own videos.â Glory is an album-length reclamation of Britneyâs autonomy. Sam C. Mac
The Best Sci-Fi Movies on Netflix Right Now
These films show us utopias, dystopias, distant planets, and our own Earth destroyed.
“The [sci-fi] film has never really been more than an offshoot of its literary precursor, which to date has provided all the ideas, themes and inventiveness. [Sci-fi] cinema has been notoriously prone to cycles of exploitation and neglect, unsatisfactory mergings with horror films, thrillers, environmental and disaster movies.â So wrote J.G. Ballard about George Lucasâs Star Wars in a 1977 piece for Time Out. If Ballardâs view of science-fiction cinema was highly uncharitable and, as demonstrated by some of the imaginative and mind-expanding films below, essentially off-base, he nevertheless touched on a significant point: that literary and cinematic sci-fi are two fundamentally different art forms.
Fritz Langâs Metropolis, a visionary depiction of a near-future dystopia, is almost impossible to imagine as a work of prose fiction. Strip away the Art Deco glory of its towering cityscapes and factories and the synchronized movements of those who move through those environments and whatâs even left? Itâs no accident that some of the greatest cinematic adaptations of sci-fi novels bear only a passing resemblance to their source material. Ridley Scottâs Blade Runner, for example, simply mines some of the concepts from Phillip K. Dickâs Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? about human-looking androids, using them as the raw material for a haunting urban future-noir that owes more to visual artists like Moebius and Antonio SantâElia than it does to Dick himself. Then thereâs Andrei Tarkovskyâs Stalker, which transfigures Arkady and Boris Strugatskyâs briskly paced novella Roadside Picnic into a slow, mesmerizing journey into an uncanny space.
Ballard may have been right that literary sci-fi has provided all the interesting themes and ideas for which sci-fi in general has become known, but he failed to grasp how cinema has expanded our understanding of sci-fi by pricking at our collective visual consciousness. The titles below (all presently streaming on Netflix) have shown us utopias, dystopias, distant planets, and our own Earth destroyed. Some of these depictions are humorous, others haunting. Some rely on complicated special effects, others use none at all. But theyâre united by their fearlessness in breaking down boundaries and thrusting us into worlds beyond our own. Keith Watson
10. Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (Jonathan Mostow, 2003)
A naked man. A naked woman. A slithering snake. A burning bush. No one scene in Jonathan Mostowâs Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines comes close to approximating the feral apocalyptic swell of James Cameronâs Judgment Day, but itâs certainly drunk on bibilical allegory. The film is most notable for a a series of exciting and ridiculously over-the-top set pieces, none better than an elongated road chase that pits the T-X (Kristanna Loken), a crane, and a horde of unmanned police cars against John Connor (Nick Stahl) and his future wife, Kate Brewster (Claire Danes), inside an animal hospital van. Both T-X and Brewster are very much in control of the filmâs chaos, and the combination of Lokenâs deadly catwalk strut and Danesâs gut-busting one-liners almost makes up for the fact that neither woman is remotely as ferocious as Linda Hamilton. When the shit hits the fan, the dust settles in a somber art deco purgatory. Predicated on all sorts of chance encounters and somber resignations, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines reimagines the Adam and Eve myth but with a post-industrial edge and a distinctly feminist slant. Ed Gonzalez
9. April and the Extraordinary World (Christian Desmares and Franck Ekinci, 2015)
Christian Desmares and Franck Ekinciâs April and the Extraordinary World is a steampunk mystery that follows its eponymous heroine through an alternate history of modern France. Adapted from a graphic novel by Jacques Tardi, this animated film plays like a fortuitous mashup of HergĂ©âs Tintin comics and the films of Hayao Miyazaki, what with its indomitable heroine, talking animals, fantastical fortresses and flying machines, valorization of scientists, and weighty ecological themes. In addition to its ecological commentary, the film offers the simpler, standard steampunk pleasure that comes with constructing an alternate past parallel to our own, full of ingenious gadgets and inventions that could only exist in such a world. Bicycle-powered blimps, suspended railroads (where trains hang down from the tracks instead of running on them), and rodent surveillance cyborgs (serving the same purpose as our modern closed-circuit security cameras) transform this unique, smog-drenched vision of turn-of-the-century France, despite the gray and brown palette, into a visual wonderland. Oleg Ivanov
8. Elizabeth Harvest (Sebastian Gutierrez, 2018)
The plot convolutions of Elizabeth Harvest conjoin with director Sebastian Gutierrezâs stylistic bravuraâblasts of red and blue in Cale Finotâs cinematography that connote a spiritual as well as physical sense of ultraviolenceâto create an incestuous atmosphere thatâs reminiscent of the stories of Edgar Allan Poe. Henry is a memorable monster, played by CiarĂĄn Hinds with a bravura mixture of smug entitlement and oily needfulness thatâs weirdly and unexpectedly poignant. In one of the greatest mad-scientist speeches ever delivered by a character in a horror film, Henry explains that his cloned wife (Abbey Lee) is only real to him when he destroys her. This admission chillingly crystallizes the thin line, within the male gaze, between adoration and contempt. Bowen
7. Hardcore Henry (Ilya Naishuller, 2015)
The filmâs first-person perspective is so ingeniously sustained throughout the lean 96-minute running time that youâre liable to swat at your face when a man covered in steel and wielding a flamethrower sets Henry (Andrey Dementyev) on fire, or hold on to the edge of your seat when he battles the telekinetic warlord Akan (Danila Kozlovsky) atop a skyscraper from which a free fall seems inevitable. The filmâs singular ambition is to immerse the viewer in the thick of a frenzied drive toward the promise of a loverâs touch and a few more minutes of life. Our aesthetic perception is linked to our perception of Henry himself, so that the film becomes a study of empathy through aesthetics. Itâs not for nothing that Henry is made to have no voice, as Hardcore Henryâs unbelievably precise choreography of action seeks to tap into a universal feeling of powerlessness. Gonzalez
6. Jurassic Park (Steven Spielberg, 1993)
Even detached from the fuzzy flow of nostalgia, Jurassic Park‘s splendor remains firmly rooted in a fixed set of attributes, particularly the way Steven Spielberg girds his high-flown fantasy within a context of concise, carefully constructed filmmaking. Itâs this combination of flashy thrills and solid fundamentals that makes for whatâs perhaps the most perfect distillation of the Spielberg brand, with its giddy embrace of the fringe possibilities of special effects, its blending of swashbuckling adventure with overtones of genuine terror, the fondness for small personal stories couched within impossibly large narratives. While even his best films involve a certain measure of hokey schmaltz, he should be equally noted for the precise craftsmanlike qualities that turn them into uniquely rewarding experiences, his insistent focus on assembling worlds from the ground up, accounting for visceral details, no matter how ridiculously fantastical the story may be otherwise. In Jurassic Park this means building an outlandish dream kingdom on a bedrock of scientific detail, on a narrative level, and mixing still-shaky CGI effects with more large-scale models, on a visual one, qualities which help make that grandiosity tactile. Jesse Cataldo
5. Back to the Future (Robert Zemeckis, 1986)
Long before Robert Zemeckis re-envisioned the 1960s as the era America gave itself over to stupidity (to the delight of Rush Limbaughâs dittoheads nationwide), he blasted the 1980s back into the 1950s with Back to the Future. Or, rather, he blasted the 1980s specifically for its return to a 1950s-reminiscent moral and political agenda. Looking back on it with the same sense of from-the-future assurance that informed the movieâs own creation, Back to the Future is a logistically beautiful but almost inhumanly perfect confluence of internal logic and external forces. It stands up on its own as a well-oiled, brilliantly edited example of new-school, Spielberg-cultivated thrill-craft, one that endures even now that its visual effects and haw-haw references to Pepsi Free and reruns seem as dated as full-service gas stations apparently did in 1985. Its schematic organization of what Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) and Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) need to accomplish and its steadily mounting series of mishaps demonstrating how they can go wrong represent probably the most carefully scripted blockbuster in Hollywood history, but the filmâs real coup (and what separates it from the increasingly fluent pack of Spielberg knockoffs) is in how it subtly mocks the political pretensions of the eraânot the 1950s, but rather the 1980s. Eric Henderson
4. The End of Evangelion (Hideaki Anno, 1997)
When Hideaki Anno ended Neon Genesis Evangelion, his elaborate analogy for his own untreated depression, with a moment of calming, redemptive group therapy, the backlash he received from fans who wanted a cataclysmic climax was overwhelming. In response, Anno crafted this theatrical alternate ending, in which he brutally and unsparingly gave fans all the nihilistic chaos they could ever want. If the anime seriesâs finale was a psychological breakthrough, End of Evangelion is the relapse, an implosion of self-annihilating revulsion and anger rendered in cosmic terms. Religious, sci-fi, and psychosexual imagery intersect in chaotic, kaleidoscopic visions of personal and global hell, all passing through the shattered mind of the show’s child soldier protagonist. Its finale is the most fully annihilative visualization of the Rapture ever put to screen, a mass death rendered as cathartic release from the hell of existence that, in a parting act of cruelty, leaves the broken, suicidal protagonist alive to bear witness to oblivion. Jake Cole
3. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Michel Gondry, 2004)
Introverted nice guy Joel (Jim Carrey) hears of an experimental procedure to erase troubling memories, and dives right in when his impulsive girlfriend, Clementine (Kate Winslet), washes her brain clean of their love-shattered relationship. Joelâs memories go backward in time from the last gasp of their love to their initial spark, but there are sideways detours along the way that take him to infancy and memories of his first childhood humiliation. James Joyce might have applauded this Phil Dick-caustic/Gnostic rendition of his Nighttown from Ulysses, with Clementine as Joelâs face-changing Penelope/Molly Bloom. Joel attempts to fight the erasure in his own mind, and the film admits early on that itâs a fight he cannot win. That he keeps on fighting anyway is the crux of Eternal Sunshine, and a breakthrough for Charlie Kaufmanâwriting about the human condition more than questioning our lives as self-made fictions. The fantasies of the film are more ârealâ than anything he’d written before, because they define who we think we are. Joel rediscovers his love for Clementine through fantasy, which is to say through his clouded memories of her. Such things are precious, and Gondry revels in that world in all its fleeting, flickering, ever-mutating joys. Jeremiah Kipp
2. Total Recall (Paul Verhoeven, 1990)
An imaginative expansion of the brisk Philip K. Dick short story, âWe Can Remember It for You Wholesale,â this film about fake memories and a real interplanetary crisis now stands redolent with nostalgia, both for its time, as well as for itself. Beneath its show of smoke and mirrors, mercenary babes, and treacherous holograms, Total Recall is a story about a man who must choose between two possible, contradictory realities. In one timeline, heâs an earthbound schmuck; in the far less likely one, heâs a hero who must save an oppressed people on a faraway planet. He canât afford to waver, but itâs our privilege to do so. As viewers, weâre welcome to consider the persistent motif of walls collapsing, subterfuges dissolving, and rugs being pulled out from still more rugs. The film now exists in a twilight of an era in which factory-produced entertainment could still serve as a keyhole into a dimension of weird, through which we might glimpse the otherworldly, and contemplate fondling the third breast. Jaime Christley
1. Starship Troopers (Paul Verhoeven, 1997)
It seems fitting that it took stumbling upon an obscure Soviet-era concept for me to feel like I had the vocabulary to talk about Paul Verhoeven with any degree of accuracy. That concept is stiob, which Iâll crudely define as a form of parody requiring such a degree of over-identification with the subject being parodied that it becomes impossible to tell where the love for that subject ends and the parody begins. And so there, in 32 words, is the Hollywood cinema of Paul Verhoeven. Starship Troopers then has to be a bad movie, insofar as that means that the acting is not dramatically convincing, the story is hopelessly contrived, the special effects are distractingly garish in their limb-ripping and bone-crunching, because the point isnât to do better than Hollywood (that would run counter to Verhoevenâs obvious love of these cheap popular forms), but to do more of Hollywood, to push every element to its breaking point without caving to the lazy lure of ridicule. The result is a style that embraces a form as fully as possible only to turn it back against the content, and one of the greatest of all anti-imperialist films. Phil Coldiron
The Best Horror Movies on Netflix Right Now
Hereâs some of our favorite horror films currently streaming on Netflix.
Ever since audiences ran screaming from the premiere of Auguste and Louis LumiĂšreâs 1895 short black-and-white silent documentary Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat, the histories of filmgoing and horror have been inextricably intertwined. Through the decadesâand subsequent crazes for color and sound, stereoscopy and anamorphosisâsince that train threatened to barrel into the front row, thereâs never been a time when audiences didnât clamor for the palpating fingers of fear. Horror films remain perennially popular, despite periodic (and always exaggerated) rumors of their demise, even in the face of steadily declining ticket sales and desperately shifting models of distribution.
Into the new millennium, horror films have retained their power to shock and outrage by continuing to plumb our deepest primordial terrors and incarnate our sickest, most socially unpalatable fantasies. They are, in what amounts to a particularly delicious irony, a âsafe spaceâ in which we can explore these otherwise unfathomable facets of our true selves, while yet consoling ourselves with the knowledge that âitâs only a movie.â
At the same time, the genre manages to find fresh and powerful metaphors for where weâre at as a society and how we endure fractious, fearful times. For every eviscerated remake or toothless throwback, thereâs a startlingly fresh take on the genreâs most time-honored tropes; for every milquetoast PG-13 compromise, thereâs a ferocious take-no-prisoners attempt to push the envelope on what we can honestly say about ourselves. And some of our favorites are currently streaming on Netflix. Budd Wilkins
15. The Monster (2016)
In The Strangers, Bryan Bertino exhibited a masterfully lush style that owed quite a bit to the elegant camera pirouettes of John Carpenter. Here, the filmmaker utilizes his command of medium for more individualized purposes. By the time that The Monster reveals itself to be a horror film, weâre so engrossed in Kathy (Zoe Kazan) and Lizzyâs (Ella Ballentine) pain that the arrival of the titular menace strikes us as an authentic violation of normality, rather than as a ghoul arriving on demand per the dictates of the screenplay. The film has an eerily WTF arbitrariness that should be the domain of more films in the genre. Chuck Bowen
14. Under the Shadow (2016)
Like an Iranian take on The Babadook, writer-director Babak Anvariâs Under the Shadow is an emotionally direct and realistic horror story centered around a socially isolated mother and child who are terrorized by eerie supernatural events. Living in Tehran under Ayatollah Khomeiniâs reign and during Iranâs long war with Iraq, Shideh (Narges Rashidi) feels the world closing in on her, a suffocation that comes to feel almost tactile through the specificity with which Anvari details her day to day. The paranormal happenings are very likely a combination of the motherâs hallucinations and the childâs way of making sense of the violence the mother perpetrates as her sanity ebbs and flows, but Anvari keeps things creepy in part by leaving open the possibility that there really may be something supernatural gripping his milieu. Elise Nakhnikian
13. The Blackcoatâs Daughter (2015)
The Blackcoatâs Daughter has a sad, macabre integrity. Kiernan Shipka, Lucy Boynton, Emma Roberts, Lauren Holly, and James Remar are poignant in their minimalist roles, and writer-director Oz Perkins arranges their characters in a cleverly constructed narrative prism that simultaneously dramatizes violence and its aftermath in an endless chain reaction of perpetual cause and effect. And the carnage, when it arrives, is staged with an aura of guttural bitterness that refuses to give gore-hounds their jollies, elaborating, instead, on the desolation of the characters committing the acts. When the demons appear in the film, and in terrifyingly fleeting glimpses, Perkins understands them to spring from the deepest chasms of human despair. Bowen
12. Cam (2018)
When Wilhelm Reich developed the concept of âsex economyâ in 1931, he had in mind something like the way societal expectations or advertising may compel someone toward compulsory masturbation. Almost 90 years later, compulsion is but one of an array of factors informing Cam, Daniel Goldhaberâs lithely satirical and startling take on the present state of online sex work. Based on screenwriter Isa Mazzeiâs own experiences as a cam model, the film is neither plainly sex positive nor outright cautionary in its depiction of Alice (Madeline Brewer), an up-and-coming streamer whose account is hacked and stolen by someone appearing to be her doppelgĂ€nger. Even as Cam gives new meaning to âghostingâ when Alice watches âherselfâ online, the filmâs strengths come from an intimate familiarity with the anxieties that accompany a life predicated on thriving in a gig economy still owned and operated by impenetrable customer service mechanisms and corporate channels of older, sweaty white men. Cam is also one of the first American films to grapple with the realities of being doxed to family and friends, further demonstrating its primary acumen as a check on the social pulse of a particular strain of U.S. conservatism that continues to think about and patrol sex work, and those who participate in it, in even pre-Reichian terms. Clayton Dillard
11. 1922 (2017)
In 1922, Wilfred James (Thomas Jane) initially scans as a broadly brutish characterization given by an actor looking to disrupt his handsomely aloof image, following a cinematic tradition of expressively filthy, monosyllabic and flamboyantly antisocial characters such as Daniel Plainview and Karl Childers. Though Janeâs dramatization of rage is haunting and shrewdly comical in its overt and ultimately moving ĂŒber-manliness. The casual violence of Wilfredâs physicality is subtly calibrated, particularly the tension in his muscled back as he drinks lemonade on the porch after a hard day of murder. Complementing Janeâs portrait of coiled wrath, Molly Parker physicalizes the fear that informs every minute wrinkle of Arletteâs relationship with her husband, which the character attempts to paper over with bravado, inadvertently sealing her doom. Arlette is one of countless women whoâre damned if they do and if they donât, yet somehow the men are able to rationalize themselves as the victims. 1922 informs Stephen Kingâs pulp feminism with primordial, biblically ugly force. Bowen
10. The Invitation (2015)
The Invitation filters each sinister development through Willâs (Logan Marshall-Green) unreliable perspective, to the point that one friendâs failure to turn up at a lavish dinner, or anotherâs precipitous departure, appear as if submerged, changing with each shift in the emotional current. Returning to the rambling house where he and Eden once lived for the first time since the death of their son, Will finds himself inundated anew by his heartache, and the film, which otherwise hews to crisp, clean realism, is run through with these painful stabs of memory. Eden slashes her wrists in the kitchen sink, the sounds of children playing emanate from the empty yard, inane talk of the Internetâs funny cats and penguins becomes white noise against Willâs screaming: The question of whether or not to trust his sense of foreboding is perhaps not so open as director Karyn Kusama and company might wish, but against the terrors of continuing on after losing a child, the issue of narrative suspense is almost immaterial. Matt Brennan
9. Sinister (2012)
Scott Derricksonâs Sinister isnât a period piece, but by directing its attention backward it brackets its chosen tech-horror particulars as products of a bygone eraâin this case considerably further back than the period of tube TVs and quarter-inch tapes to which this subgenre of horror so often belongs. Much like Ringu, Sinister concerns a cursed film whose audience dies after exposure to it, but here the curse is disseminated not by clunky videotape, but by a box of 8mm films. The projector, more than simply outmoded, is regarded here as practically archaic, and as with Berberian Sound Studio and its reel-to-reel fetishism, Sinister makes quite a show of the mechanics of the machine, soaking in the localized details and milking them for their weighty physicality. Even the formatâs deficiencies, from the rickety hum of sprockets to the instability of the frame, are savored by what seems like a nostalgic impulseâa fondness for the old-fashioned that even transforms the rough, granular quality of the haunted films themselves into something like pointillist paintings of the macabre. Calum Marsh
8. Session 9 (2001)
As in real estate, the three most important factors in Brad Andersonâs brooding Session 9 are: location, location, location. The filmmakers have hit upon something special with the Danvers State Mental Hospital, whose sprawling Victorian edifice looms large over the narrative: A motley crew of asbestos-removal workers, led by matrimonially challenged Gordon (Peter Mullan), run afoul of a baleful, possibly supernatural, influence within its decaying walls. Anderson uses to brilliant effect a series of archived audio recordingsâleading up to the titular âbreakthroughâ sessionâthat document a disturbing case of split personality. While the film doesnât entirely stick its murderous finale, no one who hears those scarifying final lines of dialogue will soon forget them. Wilkins
7. Before I Wake (2016)
Director Mike Flanaganâs Before I Wake hintsâin flashesâat a remarkably cruel psychodrama, physicalizing one of the worst and most common fears that orphans share: that theyâre awful and unlovable, and therefore undeserving of parents. This fear is similar to the terror that parents have of inadvertently destroying or disappointing their children, and Flanagan unites these anxieties with a ghoulishly inventive plot turn that he doesnât fully explore. Flanagan is deeply invested in Codyâs (Jacob Tremblay) welfare, to the point of rigidly signifying the various manifestations of the boyâs nightmares, pigeonholing irrationality into a rational framework so as to justify a moving yet literal-minded finale. Chaos couldâve opened Before I Wake up, allowing it to breathe, though Flanaganâs beautiful and empathetic film cannot be taken for granted. Bowen
6. The Evil Dead (1981)
The Evil Dead still feels like the punchiest horror flick this side of a Dario Argento giallo. Sam Raimi relentlessly fashions the filmâs first half as a creepy-crawly sweat chamber with evil seemingly taking the form of an omniscient, roaming camera, gleefully poking fun at his five protagonists along the way. Despite the signsâthe difficult-to-start vehicle, the fallen bridgeâno one else believes the woods are alive. Ash (Bruce Campbell), horrordomâs most memorable wuss, and his girlfriend, Linda (Betsy Baker), share an intimate, peek-a-boo moment in which he gives her a necklace, and when heâs later forced to kill her, Raimi takes great joy in referencing this coquettish exchange of affection. Now infamous for its over-the-top gore and cheesy effects sequences, The Evil Dead is most impressive for Raimiâs unnerving wide angle work and his uncanny, almost unreal ability to suggest the presence of intangible evil via distant headlights, bleeding light sockets, and, in the filmâs most awesome set piece, a simple game of cards. Gonzalez
5. The Witch (2015)
Robert Eggers does an admirable job of synchronizing The Witchâs paranormal and domestic spheres, setting up a vice-grip scenario in which Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy) has no possibility of escape. Her familyâs restrictive religious practices are as domineering as the forlorn, featureless landscape which surrounds her, and this atmosphere only grows more stifling as the family pins blame on the girl for their mounting misfortunes. Positioning itself among a specific vein of highbrow phantasmagoric spiritualism, the film owes a serious debt to the unsettling ambiance of Andrei Tarkovskyâs The Mirror, Roman Polanskiâs politically tinged psychological thrillers, and Ken Russellâs gonzo period pieces. But by allowing the monster to win, the film overcomes the sense of familiarity, as its reworking of a tired horror trope into a transformed feminist symbol stands out as an impressive act of genre revisionism. Jesse Cataldo
4. Train to Busan (2016)
When divorced of message-mongering, the filmâs scare tactics are among the most distinctive that the zombie canon has ever seen. The zombies here are rabid, fast-moving ghoulies that, as Train to Busanâs protagonists discover, are attracted to loud sounds and only attack what they can actually see. This realization becomes the foundation for a series of taut set pieces during which the storyâs motley crew of survivors manipulate their way past zombies with the aid of cellphones and bats and the numerous tunnels through which the train must travel. The genre crosspollination for which so many South Korean thrillers have come to be known for is most evident in these scenes (as in the survivors crawling across one train carâs overhead luggage area), which blend together the tropes of survivor-horror and disaster films, as well as suggest the mechanics of puzzle-platformer games. Gonzalez
3. The Guest (2014)
The Guest is carried by an intense and surprising mood of erotic melancholia. Adam Wingard leans real heavy on 1980sâor 1980s-soundingâmusic in the grandly, outwardly wounded key of Joy Division, and he accompanies the music with visual sequences that sometimes appear to stop in their tracks for the sake of absorbing the soundtrack. The film is a nostalgia act for sure, particularly for The Hitcher, but it injects that nostalgia with something hard, sad, and contemporary, or, perhaps more accurately, it reveals that our hang-upsâdisenfranchisement, rootlessness, war-mongering, hypocritical evasionâhavenât changed all that much since the 1980s, or ever. Bowen
2. Poltergeist (1982)
Tobe Hooper is officially credited for having directed Poltergeist, but itâs co-scripter Steven Spielbergâs fingerprints that are all over this dark-mirror image of E.T. and Close Encounters of a Third Kind, about unseen spirits tormenting a suburban family. Itâs structured as an escalating series of reveals, from the frisson elicited by inexplicably mobile furniture on up to third-act hysteria derived from birth imagery, child peril, and the eternal creep factor of video snow in a dark room. Hooperâs Grand Guignol flourishes are occasionally evident, particularly when a paranormal investigator pulls his own face off, but the technical proficiency is all Spielbergâs, as is the abiding interest in families and the influences (supernatural or otherwise) that disrupt them. Abhimanyu Das
1. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
Detective thrillers often concern contests of male ego, involving brilliant investigators who confront physically superior and equally brilliant psychopaths. Often lost among such face-offs are considerations of the lives that are destroyed and ruined over the course of the narratives, as these thrillers exist to evoke and satisfy our own fears and resentments. By contrast, Jonathan Demmeâs The Silence of the Lambs is grounded in the psyche of a ferocious yet unproven female protagonist, whose thoughtful fragility intensifies the filmâs violence, invigorating it with a sense of dread and violation. The film is a strange and still novel mixture of coming-of-age character study, murder mystery, and Grand Guignol horror spectacle. Bowen
The 20 Best Horror Movies on the Criterion Channel
Hereâs some of our favorite horror films currently streaming on the Criterion Channel.
Ever since audiences ran screaming from the premiere of Auguste and Louis LumiĂšreâs 1895 short black-and-white silent documentary Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat, the histories of filmgoing and horror have been inextricably intertwined. Through the decadesâand subsequent crazes for color and sound, stereoscopy and anamorphosisâsince that train threatened to barrel into the front row, thereâs never been a time when audiences didnât clamor for the palpating fingers of fear. Horror films remain perennially popular, despite periodic (and always exaggerated) rumors of their demise, even in the face of steadily declining ticket sales and desperately shifting models of distribution.
Into the new millennium, horror films have retained their power to shock and outrage by continuing to plumb our deepest primordial terrors and incarnate our sickest, most socially unpalatable fantasies. They are, in what amounts to a particularly delicious irony, a âsafe spaceâ in which we can explore these otherwise unfathomable facets of our true selves, while yet consoling ourselves with the knowledge that âitâs only a movie.â
At the same time, the genre manages to find fresh and powerful metaphors for where weâre at as a society and how we endure fractious, fearful times. For every eviscerated remake or toothless throwback, thereâs a startlingly fresh take on the genreâs most time-honored tropes; for every milquetoast PG-13 compromise, thereâs a ferocious take-no-prisoners attempt to push the envelope on what we can honestly say about ourselves. And some of our favorites are currently streaming on the Criterion Channel. Budd Wilkins
20. Sisters (1977)
Though Brian De Palma had directed several accomplished features before it, Sisters feels in many ways like a debut film. Itâs certainly De Palmaâs first attempt to marry the edgy satirical textures of his earlier work with a recognizable genre narrative. Or, more bluntly, Sisters is De Palmaâs first horror thriller, which is the genre that has allowed him to express himself fully. Like many debut films, Sisters is self-conscious and intellectually guarded, lacking the emotional vibrancy of its creatorâs future productions, but itâs also a stunning work of style that erupts into ferocious madness. Chuck Bowen
19. Cronos (1993)
The ticking of multiple clocks overlapping with a series of loud gongs introduces Guillermo del Toroâs debut feature, Cronos, as a forceful mechanism with a built-in timer for sudden bursts of disintegration. Layers of sound resonate over black, giving the yellow credits an eerily present yet menacing feel. The audible dynamism gives way to a familiar dose of historical reflection, with an omniscient voiceover telling of a famous 16th-century Spanish watchmaker/alchemist who dreamt of creating a device that could spring eternal life. After the man is found dead with a stake through his heart among a random building collapse hundreds of years later, it appears he succeeded as a vampire. With this prologue, del Toro introduces the transcendence of manmade supernatural desires, positioning the consequences of abusing myth and legend in a modern-day setting. The tension between history, science, and religion becomes increasingly palpable throughout Cronos, forging ideas concerning mortality and erosion that will evolve in his later films like the Hellboy series and Panâs Labyrinth. Glenn Heath Jr.
18. HĂ€xan (1922)
Near the conclusion of HĂ€xan, an intertitle asks: âThe witch no longer flies away on her broom over the rooftops, but isnât superstition still rampant among us?â Such a rhetorical question is in keeping with the implications of Benjamin Christensenâs eccentric historical crawl through representations of evil. Though the film begins as something of a lecture on the topic of womenâs bodies as a threat, it morphs into an array of sketches, images, and dramatizations of mankindâs fundamental inability to conceive itself outside of power and difference. Contemporary footage of insane asylums and women being treated for hysteria confirms a truth thatâs still with us, nearly a century later: that the horrors of the past are never so far away. Clayton Dillard
17. Antichrist (2009)
Lars von Trierâs two-hander psychodrama Antichrist draws heavily from a rich tradition of âNordic horror,â stretching back to silent-era groundbreakers like HĂ€xan and Vampyr (and Carl Theodor Dreyerâs later Day of Wrath), in particular their interrogation of moral strictures and assumptions of normalcy. In the wake of their sonâs death, He (Willem Dafoe) and She (Charlotte Gainsbourg) follow a course of radical psychotherapy, retreating to their wilderness redoubt, Eden, where they act out (and on) their mutual resentment and recrimination, culminating in switchback brutal attacks and His and Her genital mutilations. Conventional wisdom has it that von Trierâs a faux provocateur, but that misses his theme and variation engagement with genre and symbolism throughout, which renders Antichrist one of the most bracingly personal, as well as national cinema-indebted, films to come along in a while. Itâs heartening to see that real provocation still has a place in the forum of international cinema. Bill Weber
16. Diabolique (1955)
Henri-Georges Clouzot was somehow a realist and expressionist in roughly disconcertingly equal measure. Diaboliqueâs boarding school is portrayed with the stressed and rumble-ready textures of a real school, yet it also appears to exist in a realm of otherworldly myth thatâs particularly embodied by the creepy pool into which Christina (Vera Clouzot) and Nicole (Simone Signoret) eventually decide to dump Michelâs (Paul Meurisse) body. The tedium of murder seems to be conveyed in unusually specific terms, such as the logistics of lifting a chest containing a body up into the back of a car, while other scenes make sense only in symbolic fantasy terms, such as the classic moment where Michel slowly unexpectedly rises out of the cold bathtub. Like much of Clouzotâs work, Diabolique is really a caustic, despairing character study masquerading as a thriller. It conjures an atmosphere of suffocating rot thatâs so palpable, in fact, that the murder plot is in many ways its least disturbing element. Bowen
15. Kwaidan (1964)
Working from source material by Lafcadio Hearn, Masaki Kobayashi treats his four adaptations to mighty doses of studio artifice to achieve a painterly hyper-reality. Kobayashiâs directorial control of the milieus is total, which is apropos given the fact that Hearnâs stories feature characters in thrall to the whims of outside forces. For what ultimately amounts to slim (in incident, if not necessarily in length) and predictable tales of ghostly infringement on quotidian life whereby the arcs and the outcomes are more or less the same, itâs the complete harmoniousness of the mise-en-scĂšne that keeps them engrossing on a moment-to-moment level, unfolding less like crescendos to narrative surprises than wades through persistent and inexorable hauntedness. Carson Lund
14. Onibaba (1964)
Long identified with either the epic samurai saga or intimate domestic drama, Japan has staked a more contemporary international claim on the horror genre. But these roots stretch back as far as any larger trend. Kaneto ShindĂŽâs Onibaba, for one, is something of a mid-century classic, a stylistically influential dramatization of a bygone Buddhist folktale wherein a mother and daughter-in-law sacrifice wandering swordsmen, stripping them of their possessions before depositing their corpses in a nearby pit. Itâs the game of sexual cat and mouse that results from the appearance of a mysterious mask, however, that renders the film both feminist polemic and unnerving fable of moral comeuppance. Jordan Cronk
13. The Brood (1979)
A film that externalizes all its subtexts like nervous welts in order to mock the burgeoning self-help and divorce crazes that had parents everywhere willfully unable to look beyond their own navels, David Cronenbergâs dark comedy The Brood is as perverse as it is incisive. The message that, no matter what parents try to do to internalize their own therapies and protect their loved ones from the messes theyâre inside, thereâs no possibility for a clean separation from the beds they make coincided with Cronenbergâs own divorce, which may account for the filmâs transitional tone, alternately savage and chilly. Eric Henderson
12. Eyes Without a Face (1960)
Robin Wood, that great analyzer of screen frissons, once noted that âterrible buildingsâ were the recurring theme in the films of Georges Franju, and perhaps none is more terrible than the mansion-clinic presided over by Prof. Genessier (Pierre Brasseur) in the French surrealistâs masterpiece Eyes Without a Face. As the surgeon operates on captive young women in hopes of restoring the face of his disfigured daughter Christiane (Edith Scob), an unforgettable portrait of subverted normalcy emergesâone where angelic doves and grisly hounds, obsessive love and appalling violence, the gruesome and the poetic, are all perpetually leaking into one another. Fernando F. Croce
11. The Vanishing (1988)
A disquieting expression of pragmatism as proof of godlessness. Director George Sluizer devises a mystery that very purposefully collapses in on itself, as the terror of The Vanishing resides in its ultimate revelation that there isnât any mystery at all, a development that carries obviously existential notes of despair. Thereâs no guiding motivation behind the disappearance that drives the film, and no cathartic purging of guilt or triumph of good; there isnât even really a triumph of evil. A few things randomly happen, then a few more things, then nothing. The end. That non-ending, though, is one of the greatest in all of cinema and the source of many a nightmare. Bowen
Every Lady Gaga Album Ranked
Even if the singer’s creative trajectory has seemed erratic, her skill for crafting sublime pop is undeniable.
Despite throwing herself into jazz standards with Tony Bennett or belting Americana ballads with Bradley Cooper, Lady Gagaâs heart belongs to pop music. Even if her creative trajectory has seemed erratic at times, zigging when it should have zagged, her skill for crafting sublime pop songs like âPoker Face,â âBad Romance,â and âThe Edge of Gloryâ is undeniable. From the singerâs very first hit, âJust Dance,â to the house-influenced throwbacks of her latest album, Chromatica, dance-pop in particular is a well Gaga has returned to again and again throughout her career.
Chromatica became Gagaâs fifth #1 album on the Billboard chart (not including the A Star Is Born soundtrack), giving her a chart-topper in each of the last three decades. And last night, she took home five awards at the MTV Video Music Awards, making her one of the most decorated VMA winners ever, behind only BeyoncĂ© and Madonna. To celebrate, we took a look back and ranked each of Gagaâs seven studio albums. Alexa Camp
7. Cheek to Cheek (2014)
Despite her claims that she grew up listening to the jazz greats, Gaga comes off more as a dilettante than an aficionado on Cheek to Cheek, a collection of duets with veteran crooner Tony Bennett. On songs like the Cole Porter standard âAnything Goesâ and the title track, Gaga sounds like what she thinks a jazz singer should sound like; her performances are affected, marred by shouting and clichĂ©d phrasing. She lacks the vocal precision and enunciation that made her so-called idols the masters they were: Her timbre on a cover of eden ahbezâs âNature Boyâ is wildly inconsistent, shifting from soft and almost pleasant to parodic and comical, often within just a few short bars. If not for the session musiciansâ top-notch work, including Joe Lovanoâs virtuosic tenor sax solos, much of Cheek to Cheek would sound like glorified karaoke. Camp
6. Artpop (2013)
âArtpop could be anything!â Lady Gaga declares on the title track to her third album, Artpop. This muddled creative vision can be heard in the music itself, which vies for versatilityâfrom the dreary, trap-inspired âJewels nâ Drugsâ to âG.U.Y.,â âMary Jane Holland,â and âGypsy,â which are all carbon copies of better songs on her first two albumsâbut ends up revealing a lack of a coherent artistic vision. Silly, seemingly nonsensical lyrics like âAphrodite lady seashell bikini garden pantyâ recall Gagaâs early hits, but âUranus!/Donât you know my ass is famous?â is no âIâm bluffinâ with my muffin.â Artpopâs best song, âDo What You Wantââa duet with R. Kelly that has since been scrubbed from the albumâs digital editionsâis a measured electro banger that smartly doubles as a love song and finds Gaga lashing out at critics while doing her best impression of Christina Aguilera. But Artpop was a strategic (mis)step backward, the sound of an artist scrambling to maintain, if not reclaim, her position among popâs elite. Camp
5. Chromatica (2020)
Gaga displays only a superficial understanding of the music she seeks to emulate on Chromatica. Thereâs an effortlessness to Dua Lipaâs recent Future Nostalgia and Jessie Wareâs Whatâs Your Pleasure? that puts Gagaâs white-knuckled recreations of 1990s-era house-pop into stark relief. The vast majority of the songs clock in at under three minutes; the pure, if unwieldy, ambition of Born This Way is replaced by SEA-boosting tactics that, fair game or not, chip away at the albumâs few creative merits. Orchestral interludes similarly serve little purpose beyond breaking up the sonic monotony into a three-act structure. When strings begin to swirl around in the background of âEnigma,â you can imagine the symphonic electro-pop album that might have been. Like 2013âs Artpop, Chromatica isnât so much a collection of songs in search of a theme as it is a theme in search of an album. Cinquemani
4. The Fame (2008)
Though Lady Gaga was almost instantaneously coronated by the media as the latest in an exhausting parade of Madonna wannabes, her early visual style cribbed more from Grace Jones and RĂłisĂn Murphy, while her debut, The Fame, aped a cross-section of mid-aughts female artists. Lady Gaga was initially a vacant pop avatar, at turns channeling Britney Spears, Gwen Stefani, and Fergie but rarely giving us a glimpse of the real Stefani Germanotta. Throughout the album, she relies on nonsensical drivelââDrive it, clean it Lysol, bleed it/Spend the last dough in your pocko!ââand displays nary an ounce of irony on tracks like âThe Fameâ and âMoney Honey.â The albumâs final single, âPaparazzi,â hints at the more fully developed persona Gaga would soon go on to cultivate, but The Fame remains an empty artifact of its time, flaunting the crass commercialism that gripped the zeitgeist in the years leading up to the 2008 economic collapse. Cinquemani
3. Joanne (2016)
She may have eschewed the outlandish costumes for 2016âs Joanne, but Lady Gaga merely replaced them with a different kind of pretense. âYoung wild American/Lookinâ to be somethinâ/Out of school go-goân/For a hundred or two,â she sings on the opening track, âDiamond Heart.â The problem with this rags-to-riches narrative is that her stint as a go-go dancer was, by her own account, more of an anthropological experiment than a means of survival. But while her reincarnation as an Americana troubadour, traveling from one sticky-floored dive bar to the next with her trusty guitar in hand, felt unearned, she does play the part convincingly enough on songs like âSinnerâs Prayerâ and the title track. And whether itâs Josh Hommeâs snaky guitar licks on âJohn Wayneâ or the backward loops and dreamy psychedelic flourishes of âAngel Down,â Joanneâs real stars are its guest musicians and producers, who help Gaga craft a sonically cohesive and otherwise convincing facsimile of roots-rock. Cinquemani
2. The Fame Monster (2009)
Originally conceived of as a bonus disc for the re-release of The Fame, this eight-song mini-album has earned its lofty place in Lady Gagaâs canon. The Fame Monster wasnât a huge leap forward for herâseveral songs ape the sound of hits like âJust Danceâ and âPoker Faceââbut it did provide some fleeting glimpses of the artist behind the pretense. Thereâs something instructive about the way Gaga rejects any and all intimacy with others throughout. âSo Happy I Could Dieâ is ostensibly a love song, but the object of her affection is herselfâlooking at herself, drinking with herself, dancing with herself, touching herself. âAlejandroâ finds the singer fending off a harem of Latin men, while she opts for the dance floor rather than answer a loverâs calls on âTelephone.â When she does finally let someone in (or near), itâs a âbad romance,â or heâs a âmonster.â That the closest Gaga gets to another human being involves being tied up and bitten says it all. Cinquemani
1. Born This Way (2011)
A self-consciously, some might say Warholian, act of re-appropriation, Lady Gagaâs Born This Way rises cannily and hilariously phoenix-like from its primordial soup of influences, which includes chunks of Cher, Madonna, David Bowie, Queen, Klaus Nomi, Billy Idol, even Dead or Alive. With its relentlessly throbbing beats (âAmericanoâ) and plethora of fierce breakdowns (âScheibe,â âHeavy Metal Loverâ), this resuscitated vintage would be perfectly content as the soundtrack to fashion weeks and underground sex dungeons the world over, though really itâs intended as a sincere ode to the bedazzled hearts of outsiders past and present, real and imagined. Ed Gonzalez
Christopher Nolanâs Films Ranked
Thereâs an engimatic quality to the role of Christopher Nolan in the current filmmaking landscape.
Thereâs an enigmatic quality to the role of Christopher Nolan in the current filmmaking landscape, and one that stands apart from the fact that his films so often court ambiguity with explicit intent. From the Russian-nesting-doll antics of Inception to the magicians-as-filmmakers commentary of The Prestige, Nolanâs ambition within the realm of big-budget, broad audience spectacle is comparable to the likes of few. Among those, James Cameron comes to mind, and now Nolan joins the Avatar director with his own film about interplanetary travel, the logical next step for a filmmaker so concerned with world-building, literal and otherwise. Looking back at his work thus far, what emergesâapart from his obsession with identity, reality, community, and obsession itselfâis an artist who, heedless of his own shortcomings, is intent on challenging himself, a quality that salvages and even inverts a great many of his otherwise pedestrian choices. One suspects that this is an artist still in his pupa stage, and one is also fearful that the near-unanimous praise heaped upon his work since his breakout hit, Memento, will only serve to keep him there. To wit, his latest film, Tenet, employs the kind of chronology-bending antics that epitomize Memento and Inception. Rob Humanick
Editorâs Note: This updated list was originally published on November 5, 2014.
11. Inception (2010)
The purported originality of Inception, from concept to execution, says infinitely more about the cinematic vocabulary of those describing it as such than it does about the film itself. Alas, a promising premise and some impressive zero-gravity imagery does not a mind-bending sci-fi spectacle make, and Nolanâs torrentially graceless exposition makes this experience akin to what Nick Schager described upon the filmâs release as âinstruction manual cinema.â Here, Nolanâs better instincts are strangled by his apparent fear that audiences wouldnât âget it,â and the result is a minor tragedy of wasted opportunities and verbose bombast that frequently collapses into self-parody. Humanick
10. Tenet (2020)
In keeping with Tenetâs allegiance to the world of James Bond, Kenneth Branaghâs villain, Sator, almost itches to prove how bad he is (think of Mads Mikkelsenâs Le Chiffre bleeding from his eyes in Casino Royale). Sator constantly checks his pulse, which never rises above 130. âEach generation looks out for its own survival,â the Protagonist (John David Washington) says, and it seems like Nolan is trying to acquit himself of not taking his 007 riff further. Bond has been pilfered, reworked, and parodied, but Nolanâs self-seriousness is such that heâs loath to subvert the tropes of Ian Flemingâs spy universe. Yes, Tenet knows how to go full throttle. Thereâs fun to those explosions, and Ludwig GĂ¶ranssonâs throbbing score, which gets the blood pumping higher than Branaghâs pulse counter will allow. But every time it stops to speak, it only emphasizes a hollowness within: how enamored it is of its own cleverness. Ben Flanagan
9. Dunkirk (2017)
The metronomic precision of Nolanâs cinema, which often trades in crafty puzzles, is foregrounded in Dunkirk, with the sound of a ticking stopwatch embedded deeply into Hans Zimmerâs score. The editing is meant to heighten the sense of bewilderment facing the Allies, but in the end the filmâs confusing structure ensures that the any bewilderment is the audienceâs own. In devoting so much time to the dull, counterproductive mechanics of the action assembly, Dunkirk dispenses with nearly all other elements of drama. At first, this is to the filmâs credit; the characters donât waste time offering backstory or personality quirks, too focused on the immediacy of survival. After a time, however, the blurred lines between characters only exacerbate the editingâs cold, distancing effect. That Nolan wrenches grace notes out of such fleeting bits of horror is a testament to his intermittent skills as an image-maker. As with his recent spate of blockbusters, however, his fussy ambition ultimately results in aesthetic and thematic sloppiness. Jake Cole
8. Following (1998)
Christopher Nolanâs debut feature, Following, is an intriguing mix of narrative trickery, ponderous psychology, and borderline-hallucinatory chiaroscuro imagery. Jeremy Theobald, credited as âthe young man,â is a struggling writer who likes to follow people for creative inspiration, yet this mostly harmless behavior turns into something darker when he starts to break his own self-imposed rules. Nolanâs trademarks are all present in this outing, already replete with hidden identities, plot twists, and shuffled chronology, while even his limitationsâthematically on-the-nose dialogue and too much implied connective tissue from scene to scene, or even shot to shotâspeak implicitly to the untrustworthiness of the material at hand. Humanick
7. Batman Begins (2005)
Nearly a decade out, Nolanâs first chapter in his Dark Knight trilogy, Batman Begins, remains a passionate love letter to the caped crusader, albeit one severely undercut by a visual palate that only intermittently captures the brooding qualities of its illustrated source material. Hans Zimmerâs score is a standalone achievement that, paired with an excellent Hollywood cast and a production designed to forgo CGI whenever possible, makes it easier in the moment to overlook the filmâs stultifying reliance on pedestrian compositions and manifesto-like exposition. Nolanâs deliberately adult approach to the material was a refreshing reprieve from Joel Schumacherâs camp spectacles, even as it retreated from the visual exuberance established by Tim Burtonâs underrated Batman Returns. Humanick
6. Insomnia (2002)
While lacking the sublime existentialism of Erik SkjoldbjĂŠrgâs original film of the same name, Insomnia marked Chistopher Nolan as a reliable dramatic filmmaker, divorced from the usual mindfuck hijinks he had already made synonymous with his work. The relationship between Al Pacinoâs Detective Dormer and Robin Williamsâs Walter Finch is a potent one despite existing mostly off screen, and while itâs disappointing that the film ends in predictable fashion with guns blazing, itâs a small comedown from an otherwise incisive look at the nature of personal will, brilliantly repurposed here in a small Alaskan fishing town where the sun shines even at night. Humanick
Fantasia 2020: Labyrinth of Cinema, No Longer Human, Detention, Morgana, & More
The exhilaration of virtual film festivals is that they radically expand the access and means of audiences.
The Montreal-based Fantasia Film Festival, which kicked off August 20 and concludes on September 2, offers a superb illustration of the losses andâyesâthe gains of having to virtualize everything in the midst of a pandemic. Lost, of course, is the traditional form of community, in which filmmakers, press, and committed fans get to interact with one another, grabbing quick drinks and food between screenings and symposiums and later sharing their impressions over loud music at after-hours get-togethers. The sense of discovery and spontaneity of film festivals, the sense they impart of a quickly formed and just as quickly dissolved society unto themselves, is reminiscent of long wedding weekends or college orientations.
The exhilaration of virtual film festivals, which could and should prove revolutionary, is that they radically expand the access and means of audiences. Travel necessities are eliminated, and speaking events can now be seen by many more people. The virtual dimensions also offer a subtler democracy, as youâre under no pressure to dress and socialize beyond your comfort zoneâwhich is to say that the stressors associated with work have also been lifted. In short, itâs an introvertâs dream. My experience with Fantasia was less socially adventurous, by necessity, than my experience with past festivals, but I felt more of an undistracted communion with the dozen or so films I saw and with the discussions that I watched, the latter of which are currently archived and available for free on Fantasiaâs website (Live post-screening Q&As were allowed to expire however, perhaps and understandably to maintain certain elements of the you-have-to-be-there festival experience.)
The new age of film festival interaction was evident in Fantasiaâs Master Class with filmmaker John Carpenter, who first attended the festival in 1998 with Vampires and who was given a lifetime achievement award, the Cheval Noir, this year. Carpenter answered questions for 45 minutes, which included standbys about potential sequels and remakes in addition to new projects he might have on the burner. These were fan-centric questions, and Carpenter was good-natured yet often vague, his casual aura suiting the milieu of the homey Zoom-esque presentation. The event felt less like a class than the fulfillment of a fanâs dream to have a beer with a legend, and incisive criticism was provided in one respect, with an opening seven-minute-ish montage of Carpenterâs films that emphasized their poetry and especially their sense of loneliness, even in maligned projects like Memoirs of Invisible Man and his remake of Village of the Damned. (Other special events included a lecture on Afrofuturism and a discussion with the Rue Morgue staff about the status of the press.)
The titles I saw among the 100 movies offered this year provided a vast spectrum of tones, aesthetics, and point of views. Fantasiaâs name suggests a specialty in genre flavors, which is generally the case, though the festival offers an exhilaratingly vast interpretation of this idea. In fact, I didnât see one typical meat-and-potatoes thriller or horror film, but rather documentaries, character studios, and biographies that reinvigorated genre concepts with radical formal devices, subtexts, and empathy. The films featured in this festival are also vastly international, underscoring the voices of various genders, colors, and ages.
The most ambitious and exhausting film I saw at Fantasia was Labyrinth of Cinema, a three-hour rumination on war and cinema by Nobuhiko Obayashi, whoâs most famous for the 1977 cult classic House. Imagine an even more maximalist variation of that filmâs gonzo aesthetic and youâve got an idea of Labyrinth of Cinema, in which several teenagers are whisked into a cinema screen and teleported into sequences that represent the Boshin War, the second Sino-Japanese Conflict, and, most agonizingly, the bombing of Hiroshima.
Obayashi isnât much interested in literal coherence, especially in the dizzying 90 minutes that open the film. Instead, he fashions a slipstream of formal devices and flourishesâfeverish Technicolor hues, cheekily obvious uses of blue screen, kinetic samurai battlesâthat suggests how war is mythologized and in the process sanitized by cinema. Obayashi complicates this mythology by emphasizing for prolonged stretches of time the dread of impending death and repeated loss, particularly as embodied by an innocent young girl who dies again and again throughout the ages. Obayashi died earlier this year at the age of 82, and Labyrinth of Cinema may eventually come to be seen as his ultimate testament to the glories and delusions of his art form. This âelderâ film has an audacity that should shame many young bloods in the game.
Another Japanese film examines insidious clichĂ©s not with maximalism, a la Obayashi, but austerity. Filmmaker and photographer Mika Ninagawaâs No Longer Human, a 2019 adaptation of the oft-adapted 1948 autobiographical novel by Dazai Osamu, is a stark chamber play that conveys a painfully matter-of-fact apart-ness, recalling David Cronenbergâs Naked Lunch without the surreal special effects. Mika reworks the source material, placing the author directly in his own narrative, which has been narrowed here to the late â40s, when Dazai (Shun Oguri) was in the final stages of his life, suffering from depression and tuberculosis and drinking himself to death while on the verge of writing his most famous novels, including No Longer Human. The film is pointedly apoliticalâWorld War II is never mentionedâthough Mika parallels the macho military notion of âdying in honorâ with the stereotype of the great male writer-boozer and detonates both in the process.
Dazai drinks and screws endlessly, actions that Mika and Shun somehow manage to drain of vicarious pleasure. Dazai essentially lives at bars, spouting obnoxious jibberish thatâs typical of drunks. Mika lingers on the pain of addiction, especially on the alienation that it fostersâa feeling that one, always fucked up, doesnât belong to clockwork society. When Dazai is in the midst of a sexual conquest, Mika emphasizes less the heat of the action than the deliberate and inadvertent miscommunications that seem to be necessary to broker the act, as well as the physical limitations that come with being a sick addict. No Longer Humanâs most moving moment finds Dazai alone in an alley after being caught with a woman, regarding his family as they vanish into the night. Itâs a moment of unmooring loneliness, intensified by stylized colors that underscore the filmâs artificiality. Weâre seeing merely a reproduction of a miserable, brilliant, vanished man.
John Hsuâs Detention also explores real atrocity, which it merges with a surreal scenario. The film is set in Taiwan in 1962, when the country was governed under martial law and punished with torture and death anyone who spread left-wing ideologies. In a high school, children are secretly taught forbidden literature and, just as the stage is set for a higher-stakes Dead Poets Society, Hsu jarringly upends the filmâs sense of reality. Suddenly, two children wake up in a condemned version of the high school, a nightmarish realm with heightened colors and frightening monsters that suggests a Mario Bava adaptation of Silent Hill. The disorientation Hsu nurtures is more than cinematic game-playing, as this irrational hellscape suggests the confusion that totalitarian regimes sow in their populaces with cruel, nonsensical rules that ultimately serve to inspire terror and accommodation. Resonantly, the ghosts and monsters of Detention have no eyes, as they are products of a government that destroys free will and most of history.
The documentary Morgana focuses on an overweight, middle-aged Australian woman as she reinvents herself as a porn star named Morgana Muses. Filmmakers Josie Hess and Isabel Peppard interview Morgana as she recalls her weight gain and her husbandâs increasing hostility and shame. Yearning to be touched again, she eventually hired a male prostitute for a sexual encounter that was to be her last before suicide. Thereâs no sense of canned recitation in these recollections. Morgana is still viscerally haunted by her past rejections, continued feelings of inadequacy, and convictions that sheâs worthless and should die unmissed by husband, children, or friends. Anyone whose experienced depression, or addiction, knows that such demons never leave you; they abide, perhaps starved, waiting for an opportunity to regain dominion. Or least thatâs how recovery feels, and Morgana fearlessly conjures these emotional currents for the filmmakers.
A sensitivity to pain and the perils of fearlessness prevent Morgana from becoming a fashionable totem of pop âempowerment,â even as Morganaâs fling offers her an unexpected catharsis. This film isnât comfortably progressive in certain fashions, as Morganaâs productions occasionally center on fantasies of rape and domestic violence, drawing the ire of feminists who believe in a singular, approved-in-advanced form of freedom of expression. No, Morganaâs central, forgivable problem is its brevity. In 70 scant minutes, weâre given an origin story, a rebirth, a move from Australia to Berlin as a cult celebrity, a relapse into depression, and eventually a qualified happy ending. There should be much more footage of Morganaâs films, which are truly erotic and show that notions of hotness and sexual democracy neednât be mutually exclusive.
Martin Krautâs La Dosis features another middle-aged, overweight, lonely person whose perilous connection to society is challenged. Marcos (Carlos Portaluppi) is a veteran nurse at a hospital whoâs both beloved and resented in the manner of many people who live only for their job and subtly lord it over everyone else. Kraut captures realistic tremors of physical tension among the characters, and much of the filmâs first half is a captivating, slow-burn study of the protagonist in his setting. Marcosâs principal co-worker, Noelia (Lorena Vega), regards the man with a mixture of tenderness and pity thatâs familiar to relationships between beautiful people and lonely hearts, while other co-workers exclude Marcos from social activities. The most poignant element of these passages is Marcosâs quiet, unyielding dignity; he knows how heâs perceived and he refuses to sully himself by asking for sympathy or inclusion. Marcosâs greatest sense of connection and duty is, troublingly, is his willingness to secretly euphonize hopeless patients.
A new nurse, Gabriel (Ignacio Rogers), threatens Marcosâs sense of place in the hospital. Gabriel is younger, relatively attractive, and gets along effortlessly well with everyone on the staff, especially Noelia. Gabriel doesnât bow down to Marcos as a neophyte often does to a veteran, treating him instead as an equal and, later, rival. Thereâs no need to reveal how La Dosis morphs into a thriller, as Kraut exploits that mystery for a great deal of tension. And the thriller mechanics serve to explode Marcosâs alienationâhis fear of losing a life that heâs already had to settle for. Marcosâs increasing panic renders him more obnoxious and eventually stronger, willing to step up for whatâs his. The filmâs final shot is a tragically casual image of someone embracing, of all things, a return to stasis. Itâs the sort of moment that inadvertently resonates with our Covid-addled times, during which weâre often tasked with settling for facsimiles of past ambitions and pleasures.
The Fantasia International Film Festival runs from August 20 to September 2.
Madonna’s 20 Greatest Deep Cuts
Weâve dug up some of the forgotten or unheralded gems scattered throughout the singer’s catalog.
Streaming has rendered the âsingleâ as we know it officially dead. But in the pre-Spotify era, there was no other solo artist who dominated the singles charts like Madonna, with hits spanning a quarter of a century. She still holds the title for the female artist with the most Top 10 singles in the United States, but itâs the deep cuts that never charted that helped make her one of the most beloved pop artists of all time. Weâve dug up some of the forgotten or unheralded gems scattered liberally throughout her nearly four-decade-spanning catalog. With the exception of one B-side, one compilation cut, and one guest appearance, all of our picks can be found on a Madonna studio albumâa testament to the singerâs strength as an album artist, particularly in the 1990s. These are songs that, in a more adventurous world, could have been hits, and in some cases where the releases were nixed last minute, almost were.
Editorâs Note: An earlier version of this article was published on July 26, 2013.
20. âDevil Prayâ
Madonnaâs 21st-century output has been largely hit or miss, but there are moments throughout 2015âs Rebel Heart that recall the singer at her creative zenith while simultaneously carving out new, exhilarating territory for her as an artist. One such moment, âDevil Pray,â reimagines the Animals as a folktronica band with witch-house tendencies, as Madonnaâs ruminations on salvation and the existential pitfalls of huffing ride an unexpected low-end groove. Sal Cinquemani
19. âPhysical Attractionâ
“Maybe we were meant to be together/Even though we never met before.” If that doesnât sum up the relationship between Madonna and her instant fanbase circa her self-titled debut, I donât know what does. “Physical Attraction” finds Madonna, still believably coquettish and naĂŻve at this early point, tellingly offering her permission to take things to the next level. The woman was in the driverâs seat from day one, and never slid aside for anyone. Eric Henderson
18. âGuilty by Associationâ
The story goes that folk singer Vic Chestnutt tricked Michael Stipe into singing backup on âGuilty by Association,â a song he wrote about living in the shadow of his famous friend and collaborator. A few years later, Joe Henry invited his sister-in-law, Madonna, to sing on a cover of the song for a charity album, the irony of which reportedly wasnât lost on the pop star. The result is an intimate, poignant meta-commentary on celebrity that found the most famous woman in the world singing straight-faced about sniffing Sharpies. Cinquemani
17. âEasy Rideâ
The literal and figurative denouement to both 2003âs divisive American Life and, more broadly, Madonnaâs folktronica period, âEasy Rideâ is the ultimate exemplar of Madge and Mirwaisâs obsession with marrying acoustic guitars, squelchy synths, and deconstructed orchestral arrangements (this one an approximation of Arvo PĂ€rtâs âCantus in memoriam Benjamin Brittenâ). Her vocals start off raw, nearly unrecognizable, and eventually grow fuller and richer until she admits what nearly every move of her decades-long career attests to: âWhat I want is to live forever.â Cinquemani
16. âBeat Goes Onâ
Madonna may have seemed like a trend-chaser when she enlisted Timbaland and the Neptunes to produce her 2008 album Hard Candy, but âBeat Goes Onââa note-perfect hybrid of disco and tech-hop featuring a clever verse by Kanye Westâpractically predicted the mega-success of the Pharrell-assisted disco throwbacks âBlurred Linesâ and âGet Luckyâ five years later. Despite not being officially released as a single, the track garnered airplay on the biggest dance station in the country, a testament to Madonnaâs devotion to dance music even when sheâs supposedly pandering to Americaâs fickle tastes. Cinquemani
15. âGod Controlâ
The six-minute âGod Control,â a track from 2019âs Madame X, begins with the queen of pop conjuring the spirit and disaffected monotone of Kurt CobainââI think I understand why people get a gun/I think I understand why we all give up,â she sings through clenched teethâbefore the whole thing implodes into a euphoric, densely layered samba-disco-gospel mash-up. Madonnaâs vocals alternate between Auto-Tuned belting, urgent whispers, and Tom Tom Club-style rapping as she takes on the gaslight industrial complex and so-called political reformers. On paper, it might sound like the ingredients for a musical Hindenburg, butâsomewhere around the midpoint, when she declares, âItâs a con, itâs a hustle, itâs a weird kind of energy!ââit all coheres into the most exhilaratingly batshit thing sheâs done in years. Cinquemani
14. âOver and Overâ
This hi-NRG track from Like a Virgin is an early snapshot of a larger-than-life personality, introducing themesâracing against time, perseverance, and overall (blond) ambitionâthat would grow ever more pervasive in Madonnaâs lyrics as she got older and more famous. The frenetic extended version, from 1987âs You Can Dance remix album, amps up Nile Rodgersâs original production with supersonic synth washes, time-stamped keyboard percussion fills, andâbecause why the hell not?âringing alarm clocks. Cinquemani
Titled in honor of guest vocalist Yitzhak Sinwani, this track from 2005âs Confessions on a Dance Floor finds Madonna, in characteristic form, blending the mystical with the corporal, the traditional with the contemporary, and the sacred with the profane. Futuristic dance beats swirl as Sinwani recites a Yemenite poem and Madonna wrestles with the influence of light and dark. Ever the visual dramatist, she brought the songâs themes of spiritual captivity to exhilarating life during her 2006 Confessions Tour (above). Cinquemani
12. âHas to Beâ
The Grammy-winning Ray of Light may have marked the queenâs return to her throne, but it was her reunion with longtime songwriting partner Patrick Leonard, as well as producer William Orbitâs more subdued ambient soundscapes, that elevated the project above a mere electronica cash-in. Putting the law of attraction to the test, âHas to Be,â the meditative B-side to âRay of Light,â is an anguished appeal to the gods above from the loneliest, most famous woman on Earth. Cinquemani
As I wrote in my review of Erotica upon its 15th anniversary, âWaitingâ is the ultimate masochism, one thatâs entered into with full knowledge of what the emotional consequences will be. The very first lyric, âWell, I know from experience that if you have to ask for something more than once or twice, it wasnât yours in the first place,â which Madonna utters with the same amount of interest a star of her stature might apply to buying a new pair of shoes, also happens to be one of the best opening lines to a pop song since âI guess I should have known by the way you parked your car sideways that it wouldnât last.â Cinquemani