Peter Jackson and his army of cast and crew returned for a second trip to Middle-earth in 2002’s The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, based on author J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy epic of the same name. Centered around the breathtaking Battle of Helm’s Deep, a council of talking trees, and a band of hobbits on the perilous road to Mordor, the sequel surpasses the introductory Fellowship of the Ring. The Two Towers offers more swordplay, scares, and magic than its predecessor.
In response to the 2016 presidential election, a new documentary from A24 and Apple turns to America’s youth to explain how we got here and where we go next. Directors Amanda McBaine and Jesse Moss followed 1,000 sweaty, hormonal teenage boys during the American Legion’s week-long civics camp to figure out if the kids are alright. Boys State is an uncomfortable glimpse at partisan politics tinged with an unnatural concentration on toxic masculinity in adolescence.
Starving artist and expat Charlie is in desperate need of 800 euros in writer-director Jordan Blady’s darkly comedic first feature. To the audience’s great amusement, Blady’s narcissistic protagonist is willing to go to extraordinary lengths to get ahead. The sonnet-length, 74-minute indie debuted at the LA Film Festival in 2018.
Two children experience the inscrutable while trapped in a remote cabin with their stepmother-to-be. The Lodge doesn’t bend genre conventions or invent a wholly original horror premise, but the twisty, austere, and perturbing psychological horror movie is the genre’s finest release since Midsommar. The latest from Parasite distributor Neon is also a memorable American introduction for Austrian directors Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala.
The widely celebrated 2001 epic kicked off writer-director Peter Jackson’s landmark journey to Middle-earth. The Lord of the Rings series would influence decades of fantasy filmmaking on both the silver screen and the small screen. Harry Potter, Game of Thrones, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe all owe part of their size, rich lore, and (the newly coined) worldbuilding to Jackson’s trilogy, which introduced audiences to a complex world. Before The Fellowship of the Ring, intricate, episodic universes were reserved for lengthy novels and monthly comic books.
Director Josephine Decker’s (Madeline’s Madeline) Shirley Jackson biopic was one of the standout films at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. Set just before the author’s premature death in 1965, Shirley is the backdrop for a larger conversation about the author’s underappreciated work, her tragic life, and the mid-century role of women in the household.
Black troops accounted for 32% of the American military force in Vietnam, but only 11% of the country’s population at the time. Spike Lee has dedicated his career to identifying socio-political issues, venerating and participating in film history, and restoring Black history. In Da 5 Bloods, Lee sets his sights on the Black soldier’s rightful place in the war film genre. Generations of Hollywood whitewashing and historical erasure have minimized Black military history. Lee’s uneven, affecting film, which debuted on Netflix in June, engages Donald Trump and war’s long-term impact on its participants.
Sony’s body-swapping adventure returned in 2019 for another nostalgic romp through the untamed frontier. Jumanji: The Next Level, the second Jumanji movie in as many years and the fourth since 1995, added Awkwafina, Danny DeVito, and Danny Glover, but the rest of the nostalgic franchise remains frozen in stasis.
2019’s Where’d You Go, Bernadette is the nineteenth film from Richard Linklater, and one of the few women-led films in the writer-director’s catalog. Where’d You Go, Bernadette, adapted from a 2012 novel of the same name by Maria Semple, opts to change the novel’s narrative structure. The movie’s fresh framework kills the book’s central mystery and most of the resulting conflict. Not quite deep enough to serve as a character study, Where’d You Go must settle for an affable tale about an architect’s midlife crisis.
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.