Martin McDonagh’s The Banshees of Inisherin is darkly comic — invariably mordant and occasionally hilarious. But the situational modesty and outward sardonicism are subterfuge. This is a stealthily grand film with weighty political and existential themes, framing McDonagh as contemporary cinema’s wisest bad-ass.
Film & Television
Contributed by Jonathan Stevenson / In writer-director John Patton Ford’s grippingly lean and gritty thriller Emily the Criminal, the audience is immediately thrust in scene with Emily Benetto, who works for a caterer without benefits. Absent exposition, she simply seems petulant and put-upon, not unlike many young adults trying to make their way in an increasingly forbidding world. Forced to quit art school, Emily is saddled with $70,000 in debt and no marketable credentials. But thanks to the dark nuance of Aubrey Plaza’s terrific performance and Ford’s crafty screenplay and cold-eyed direction, it remains clear that something ugly and ingrained lurks behind Emily’s immediate circumstances. Despite early appearances, this film is not a didactic contemplation of the false seductions of the middle class in twenty-first-century America, and only incidentally concerns female empowerment. It is centrally about character and how immutable it is or isn’t.
Contributed by Jonathan Stevenson / When an arthouse revisionist western directed by an Australian woman and starring an Englishman dominates the Oscar nominations, it’s safe to say that the pandemic has not severely compromised the quality or vision of cinema, even if it has skewed the structure of the business towards streaming platforms and away from brick-and-mortar theaters.With the usual caveats about inevitable bias and subjectivity, here, in alphabetical order, is a defensible Top Ten for 2021.
Contributed by Jonathan Stevenson / It�s a rare movie that finds the sweet spot between storyline cohesiveness and minimal exposition as well as great tone. Lisa Cholodenko�s plangent late-nineties gem High Art � her feature debut, now available on Criterion � is one such movie.
Contributed by Paul DAgostino / Nobuhiko Obayashis film Labyrinth of Cinema is, as billed, broadly, profoundly, and provocatively about war. He is best known for his epic War Trilogy. At the same time, the storied Japanese filmmakers final film completed not long before he passed away at the age of 82 in April 2020 is also a visually dazzling, pan-historical account of the ways and reasons for which films are made, viewed, critiqued, and recalled.
Contributed by Jonathan Stevenson / If the Cold War suppressed heroism to the point where anti-heroes came to rule culture, the post-Cold War era may have engendered such disappointment in humankind as to elevate the thoughtful misanthrope to icon.
Contributed by Jonathan Stevenson / The Outside Story, writer-director Casimir Nozkowskis agreeable feature debut, shapes up as a fairly typical indie shaggy-dog story: a mildly dissolute creative type finds himself in a mildly humorous jam that resolves itself over the course of the film in a mildly heartwarming way, preferably […]
Contributed by Paul D’Agostino / A few foragers gathered in a middle-grounded clearing in a forest, conversing casually as their dogs sniff and shuffle excitedly at their feet. A man in a tub in a cream-of-pink tiled bathroom scrubbing his soap-cloaked pup as he bathes himself. A lone walker in […]
Contributed by Jonathan Stevenson / These times demand both mordant humor and serious contemplation, which helps explain the prevalence of meticulously packaged black comedies in cinema. Two prominent and very good ones that come to mind are Emerald Fennells Promising Young Woman, a diamond-hard dissection of the extended kill-chain of […]
Contributed by Jonathan Stevenson / By the most salient political parameters governance, public health, the rule of law 2020 was one of the worst years in living memory. Hobbled by Covid-19, art overall seemed commensurately downbeat, but also pensively defiant. In cinema, if a dominant theme emerged, it may have […]