Halfway through 2015’s My Hindu Friend, the last film by Brazilian writer-director Héctor Babenco, its main character surmises, “Don't you think it's supremely insignificant in the history of humanity that you ran eight seconds faster than you did 20 years ago? We're never going to have another Fellini film, think of that. That's what matters.” Babenco (Kiss of the Spider Woman and Pixote) can’t match 8½, but his precipitously edited, wistful final film gives way to sporadic beauty.
Emma. is the fourth film adaptation of Emma, author Jane Austen’s final published work before her death. Emma. follows Aisha, a 2010 Bollywood adaptation, Emma, a 1996 period piece starring Gwyneth Paltrow and Alan Cumming, and 1995’s Clueless, an Alicia Silverstone-led classic set in modern-day California. Austen’s beloved coming-of-age romance was perfected in Clueless, its first adaptation, but like Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility, the novel is rife for an update every decade. Director Autumn de Wilde’s rendition allows Austen’s precise satire to speak for itself.
Onward, an ode to the nerdy teenager, is the latest grown-up kids movie from co-writer and director Dan Scanlon (Monsters University) and Pixar. The animation giant recently celebrated the nuclear family in Coco, Incredibles 2, and Inside Out. In Onward, the central Lightfoot family is as uniquely shaped as the centaurs that inhabit their fantastical world. By journey’s end, it’s clear that unconventional isn’t lesser. Grab a d20, your favorite cheese-dusted salty snack, and a box of tissues.
Gentle, even brushstrokes grace every frame of writer-director Céline Sciamma’s balletic Portrait of a Lady on Fire. The film’s late 18th-century setting shrouds Portrait’s central couple in secrecy. Secluded sea caves and daily walks replace traditional courtship for its passionate lovers. Sciamma’s love story is set at a comfortable simmer without ever boiling over.
Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey is the latest release in a series of amusing but empty comic book adaptations from the DC Extended Universe. The film, formerly known as Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn), relies on the charisma of its title character to make good on its promise of light-hearted, homicidal fun. There’s only so much star Margot Robbie can do.
In Miss Americana, documentarian Lana Wilson explores eating disorders, fame, and celebrity politics through subject Taylor Swift. Wilson, whose directorial credits include documentaries about Japanese suicide and late-term abortion, finds similar depth in the ensuing inspection of Swift’s character. Modern celebrity documentaries are overproduced to a fault, but Swift’s vulnerability allows Wilson the access needed to craft an early contender for the best documentary of the year.
More than a year out from the 93rd Oscars, the politicking and jockeying of the horse race—although I’m remiss to use another equine term—have commenced. There’s a comfortable certainty around five of the likely nominees while the remaining spots will generate award season’s tension and suspense.