Amy Taubin

  • Errol Morris’s Wormwood

    EVERY WHICH WAY, Errol Morris’s Wormwood is of the moment, and not only because it’s a crime series made for binge-watching. There’s the distrust of all government and law enforcement; the obsessive search for a secret or overlooked piece of information that could reveal the whole truth and nothing but the truth; and even the renewed focus on the Korean War and its aftermath.

    When I began watching Wormwood (the six-episode Netflix series, rather than the roughly four-hour movie version that played briefly at Metrograph in New York and at a few other theaters), I still was in the throes of what

  • film December 29, 2017

    Tailor Swift

    HOW TO DESCRIBE Paul Thomas Anderson’s magnificently daft Phantom Thread, a movie as precise as it is delirious. To borrow from Stanley Cavell, it’s a comedy of courtship, marriage, and remarriage. Comedy, however, may be too clear-cut a designation for this story about the intimate life of a couple from first attraction to a precarious arrangement of power, for which no one would write a lifetime warranty. Beyond the dazzling performances of Daniel Day-Lewis, Vicky Krieps, and Lesley Manville; the swooping and/or oddly angled luminous 35-mm cinematography by Anderson himself; and the almost

  • Amy Taubin

    1 SPOOR (Agnieszka Holland with Kasia Adamik) A primeval forest in Poland is the battleground for the no-holds-barred struggle of a woman who risks everything to protect the creatures that live there from a corrupt, death-dealing, patriarchal status quo. The greatest film by a world cinema master.

    2 QUEST (Jonathan Olshefski) A remarkably intimate portrait of the Rainey family of North Philadelphia, who welcomed Olshefski and his camera into their home over ten years with a kindness and generosity of spirit that make the documentary a unique gift to audiences.

    3 GET OUT (Jordan Peele) Racism

  • film November 25, 2017

    Sliding Doors

    WORLDS COLLIDE in Anita Thacher’s radiant Anteroom. The 1982 installation has been exactingly re-created at Microscope Gallery, using all but obsolete analog technology, specifically two slide projectors synced by a Tascam that uses audio tape to queue the slides changes. I’m beginning with the technology because the analog “imperfections” enhance the particular physicality of the piece, which not only is ravishing to the eye but also elicits an associative, elusive, and unstable sense of one’s own interiority.

    Thacher, who died in September, began her career in the early 1960s as a painter and

  • film September 14, 2017

    Music to My Ears

    THE ROSTER LIVES UP TO ITS TITLE: “The Whole World Sings: International Musicals.” I wish I could spend a week at the Quad seeing all thirteen features in the series organized by the theater’s programmers in collaboration with Village Voice critic Bilge Ebiri. Whether bittersweet, semitragic, joyous, or somewhat deranged, almost every one of these films will lift your spirits as you enter a fall season that looks to be as depressing—I’m not referring only to culture—as this summer was.

    Screening in a new digital restoration, Chantal Akerman’s 1986 Golden Eighties (aka Window Shopping) is a study

  • Jane Campion’s Top of the Lake: China Girl

    MATERNAL DESIRE surges through Jane Campion’s six-hour TV miniseries Top of the Lake (2013) and its sequel, Top of the Lake: China Girl (2017). In the original, Sydney-based detective Robin Griffin (Elisabeth Moss) reluctantly returns to the wilderness town in New Zealand where, at age fifteen, she was gang-raped and impregnated. Her mother is seriously ill, and despite their prickly relationship, Robin wants to help. But she’s soon drawn into the investigation of the statutory rape of twelve-year-old Tui (Jacqueline Joe), who takes refuge alone in the dense mountain forest surrounding the

  • film August 31, 2017

    A River Runs Through It

    STAND IN THE STREAM, the title of Stanya Kahn’s recent hour-length video, has taken on an extra layer of associations in the final two weeks of its exhibition at MoMA PS1. So has the opening image of a policeman in a heavy-duty military-like jacket and helmet standing, his back to the camera, on a beach next to some kind of motorized, perhaps amphibious vehicle. I think I’ve seen something like it on TV, ferrying stranded Texas flood victims to safety. Or maybe not.

    Kahn lifted the title from a bit of dialogue in Bertolt Brecht’s Man Equals Man (1926), an early play about the dehumanizing effect

  • film August 14, 2017

    Runs in the Family

    IN THE SAFDIE BROTHERS’ GOOD TIME, Robert Pattinson does an end run around the cops and anyone and anything that comes between him and the nowhere to which he’s headed. He’s literally on the run almost every time we see him, and when he’s not running, his adrenaline is jacked up so high it looks as if he is. As Connie Nikas, a petty criminal with a long rap sheet on a mission to save Nick (Benny Safdie), his younger and in every way slower brother, from the system, Pattinson jettisons almost everything that made him a romantic leading man—good manners, cultured diction, languorous grace, and,

  • film July 28, 2017

    Murder, She Wrote

    A LOVING SATIRE OF MATING AND MORES among Park Slope lesbians, Ingrid Jungermann’s Women Who Kill combines romantic comedy and murder mystery, and a dollop of psychodrama, and lightly stirs it into a summer movie treat. (Since crucial scenes take place in the fraught, rule-bound environment of the Greene Hill Food Co-op—actual name and location employed—a cooking metaphor is apropos.) Jungermann, the director, writer, and star of her debut feature, plays Morgan, a character so awkward and insecure that no one could regard the woman who conceived and embodied her as narcissistic or overreaching.

  • film June 21, 2017

    Magnificent Seven

    IT SEEMED LIKE OLD TIMES and yet it was, urgently, right now at the world premiere last Sunday of Jim McKay’s En el Séptimo Día (On the Seventh Day). Long one of the most promising New York independent filmmakers, McKay made his mark with two no-budget movies, Girls Town (1996) and Our Song (2000), both depictions of female Brooklyn public high-school students, most of them African American and Latino. They were anti–Beverly Hills 90210 movies—exemplary for their depiction of the liminal condition of underprivileged teenagers whose futures are uncertain no matter how ambitious and talented some

  • EVERYDAY PEOPLE: JONATHAN OLSHEFSKI’S DOCUMENTARY PORTRAIT OF AN AMERICAN FAMILY IN PHILADELPHIA

    “THE FILMMAKERS would like to thank the Rainey family for sharing their story.” The credit appears at the end of Jonathan Olshefski’s documentary Quest. It may be the only familiar note in a movie that is utterly unique in its choice of subject—a truly enviable family from America’s black underclass—and the way that subject is depicted. The words of thanks, which elsewhere would register as a pro forma courtesy, here invoke the very spirit that made the film possible: The Raineys’ ethos, politics, and practice of sharing their energy, skills, talents, and friendship inform every aspect

  • film May 08, 2017

    Burden to Bear

    A PRIMER ON THE WORK of the West Coast artist of the title—first name, Chris—Richard Dewey and Timothy Marrinan’s documentary Burden is well-researched but short on context. Piecing together video documentation of both the confrontational performance works that made Burden the most notorious artist of the 1970s and the intricately fabricated, often magically beautiful sculpture that he began to produce in the 1980s until he died in 2015, the filmmakers leave the commentary largely to Burden himself. Fortunately, he is articulate and seriously witty both in archival footage and in interviews

  • film April 16, 2017

    Heart to Heart

    IN KATELL QUILLÉVÉRÉ’S FILMS, characters’ lives are shaped by chance meetings and random events. Quillévéré’s third feature, Heal the Living, is narratively her simplest and subtlest.

    A young man is killed in a car accident. His heart is donated to a woman who would have died in early middle age without it. Their connection, without doubt, is profound, but it is also perplexing, despite the detailed depiction of the medical procedures involved in this scientific “miracle.” Our sense that something otherworldly has taken place before our eyes reflects on the conundrum that pulses within Quillévéré’s

  • film April 06, 2017

    City Flickers

    JOYOUS, EXHILARATING, AND TRANSFORMATIVE, Tyler Hubby’s documentary Tony Conrad: Completely in the Present is essential viewing for anyone involved in the history of music and visual art—and their interpenetration throughout the second half of the twentieth century right up to today’s web-based “goings on,” to borrow the phrase Conrad uses early in the film to describe how his $25.04 a month, Ludlow Street apartment saw the beginnings of the most subversive art of the first half of the 1960s.

    It was there that Conrad collaborated with Jack Smith on the soundtrack for Flaming Creatures (1963) and

  • Jonas Mekas’s Movie Journal

    Movie Journal: The Rise of the New American Cinema, 1959–1971, by Jonas Mekas. New York: Columbia University Press, 2016. 496 pages.

    I BEGAN READING Jonas Mekas’s Movie Journal column in the Village Voice in 1961, three years after it first appeared and roughly around the time I saw his first feature film, Guns of the Trees (1961), at the eclectic New York film showcase Cinema 16. Chalk it up to callow youth and an inchoate sense that women were most valued as muses or if they filmed flowers, but I was not receptive to the emerging movement that Mekas would dub the New American Cinema and certainly

  • film February 10, 2017

    Kedi Porn

    If Make America Kittens—the Chrome extension that instantly replaces Donald Trump’s face with images of adorable cats—no longer blots out the horror, try Kedi, Ceyda Torun’s celebration of the felines of Istanbul and the humans who nurture them, or at the very least appreciate living among them. Never cute, this documentary about the interspecies bonding that defines daily life in Istanbul’s old town is as resourceful, agile, and scruffily seductive as its seven feline stars and supporting cast of hundreds.

    Torun, who grew up in the city, says that she would not be the person she is today were

  • film February 09, 2017

    What’s in a Name?

    DID YOU WONDER WHO FIRED THE GUN?, Travis Wilkerson’s 2017 film/performance, was one of the strongest works at a chilling Sundance Film Festival, where the temperatures averaged five degrees Fahrenheit at night and many works spoke of destruction and suffering so great as to make one feel like a spoiled brat for even mentioning the weather.

    A veteran of Sundance, Wilkerson showed, as usual, in the New Frontier section, once devoted to experimental films of all genres but now largely a showcase for the Sundance Institute’s Virtual Reality initiative. Which is a pity, because however much I’d like

  • Raoul Peck’s I Am Not Your Negro

    IN THE WEEKS following the 2016 US election debacle, three documentaries that condemn institutionalized racism as the most egregious failure of American democracy found themselves prime contenders for best nonfiction film of the year. In form, Raoul Peck’s I Am Not Your Negro, Ezra Edelman’s O.J.: Made in America, and Ava DuVernay’s 13th have little in common. A comparison between them, however, might provoke useful arguments, old and new, about the effectiveness of films meant to galvanize political action.

    Impressive as DuVernay’s scathing indictment of the prison-industrial complex and Edelman’s

  • film January 19, 2017

    Displeasure Principles

    A FACE IN THE CROWD, Elia Kazan’s caustic 1957 exposé of American greed and gullibility, has never seemed as horrifying as it does now that a fulminating, fascistic fuckup has become the leader of the unfree world, its future to be determined by Exxon. Under Kazan’s direction, Andy Griffith gives a larger-than-life performance as a country-western singer with a talent for demagoguery who rides local TV stardom into high political office.

    Kazan’s takedown of American democracy opens Anthology Film Archives’s eclectic series “Inauguration of the Displeasure Dome: Coping with the Election,” which

  • Amy Taubin

    1 “BRUCE CONNER: IT’S ALL TRUE” (Museum of Modern Art, New York) MoMA delivered for Conner with this staggering retrospective that underscored the reciprocity between his moving-image and static work by giving seven films optimum projection within the 250-piece exhibition.

    “Bruce Conner: It’s All True” is currently on view at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, through January 22, 2017.

    2 & 3 MOONLIGHT (Barry Jenkins) and TONI ERDMANN (Maren Ade) The two best films of the year could not be less alike except in their embrace of unconditional love, briefly experienced in childhood, then denied,