High Life, the first English-language film by French auteur Claire Denis, made its debut at the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2018. Planned by Denis for 15 years, High Life finally saw a limited release in the United States in April 2019. In comparing the film to genre heavyweights, it is closer to The Phantom Menace’s meandering than A New Hope’s quality. High Life would’ve been better off unrealized.
It’s rare that a weighty, succinct, cerebral film slips through the cracks in the Information Age, but that’s exactly what happened to 2015’s underappreciated Ex Machina. Most filmmakers (and, let’s be honest, studios) would be happy to take home nearly $37 million at the box office on a $15 million budget and secure an Academy Award for Best Visual Effects, but those accolades don’t seem like quite enough recognition for the best film of 2015.
Screenwriter and director Paul Schrader is best known for writing Taxi Driver and co-writing Raging Bull. With First Reformed, a movie written and directed by Schrader, the filmmaker can step out of Martin Scorsese’s long shadow and add an accomplishment all his own to the list of his most prominent credits.
New York Stories and V/H/S are among the most notable anthology movies, but the best known of all is already 2018’s The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, the most recent film from Joel and Ethan Coen. In Buster Scruggs, the directors open and close each of the movie’s six short films by flipping through the fictional book of short stories that the tales emanate from. This is apt imagery from a collection of unconnected, darkly comedic Westerns that belongs on a list among the best short stories in any medium.
Twenty-nine years after Driving Miss Daisy unconscionably secured the Academy Award for Best Picture, Green Book, a movie informally dubbed the reverse Driving Miss Daisy, took home the same prize at the 2018 Academy Awards. Studios won’t halt production on the Green Books of the world until movies like it are no longer profitable and well received, but the Academy should stop rewarding them. Green Book is entertaining, innocuous (on its surface), and feel-good for the right viewer, but the context surrounding it and the subtext that can be garnered from it change the conversation.
With Booksmart, Olivia Wilde becomes the third rookie director in a year to kick her career off with a coming-of-age story. Wilde joins a list that includes Bo Burnham (Eighth Grade) and Jonah Hill (mid90s). Burnham and Hill, coming from comedy and acting, respectively, made the transition with ease. Wilde’s lively, pensive debut about female friendship and identity makes her the third new director to find success in the genre.
Long Shot, an R-rated, politically-set romantic comedy starring Charlize Theron and Seth Rogen, enters theaters as streaming services continue to dominate the genre. Charming and surprisingly raunchy, Long Shot could serve as a litmus test for the future of rom-coms at the multiplex. Fortunately, subverting comedy norms and relying on its stars is enough to make for an enjoyable trip to the theater despite the film’s tendency to step into worn genre tropes like a pair of old shoes.