Amy Taubin

  • Crystal Moselle’s The Wolfpack

    THE WOLFPACK, which won the grand prize for documentary at Sundance 2015, is a celebration of movies and the cinephiles who live through and by them as if their obsession weren’t going out of style. A male coming-of-age narrative, it delivers sometimes frustratingly fragmentary information via crude video imagery and a subtle sound track in which an undercurrent of dread is punctuated by moments of exhilaration. Not until the film’s end does one realize what an epic and intimate story has been told by fledgling documentarian Crystal Moselle.

    In the spring of 2010, Moselle spied six adolescent

  • “China: Through the Looking Glass”

    Among the most subtly erotic images in all cinema is the slow-motion shot of Maggie Cheung wearing an iridescent cheongsam that shimmers red to green as she ascends the stairs in Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood for Love (2002). Working with his longtime production and costume designer, William Chang, Wong is the artistic director for “China: Through the Looking Glass,” a collaboration between the Met’s Costume Institute and its Department of Asian Art. The exhibition will showcase decorative objects and clothes from three centuries of Chinese history, as well as fashions by

  • film April 07, 2015

    Missing Link

    WITH THEIR WIVES and young children in tow, three old friends drive from Tehran to a weekend rental on the Caspian Sea. Almost from the vacation’s first moment, things go wrong, and tiny lies snowball into matters of life and death. Asghar Farhadi’s About Elly (2009) is finally being released six years after it won the Silver Bear in Berlin and Best Film at the Tribeca Film Festival. In the interim, Farhadi made two lauded movies, the foreign-language Oscar winner A Separation (2011) and The Past (2013). About Elly is looser, less self-serious, and more provocative morally and politically.

    My

  • film March 10, 2015

    Mouths Wide Shut

    BEWARE OF MOVIES in which actresses spend most of their time in eyelet-trimmed white cotton nightdresses, as does Sophie Traub in James Fotopoulos’s The Given (2015). According to the filmmaker, The Given is about “acting, performance, and abuse.” Fair enough. It is indeed about those things, but in the negative—how not to act, perform, or attempt to deal with abuse, given or received. One wonders if that was Fotopoulos and Traub’s intent. If so, the bad acting, staging, and psychodrama text could have had a bit more satiric bite.

    In any case, Fotopoulos is a notably talented, prolific, and

  • Kornél Mundruczó’s White God

    ALTHOUGH I WOULD NOT be the person I am today had I not seen Bambi as a child, I do not recommend taking kids to White God, which is similarly tender, harrowing, heartbreaking—and violent. And although the central characters of Kornél Mundruczó’s mongrelized movie are an adolescent girl and an animal who are bonded to each other, the film is nothing like Robert Bresson’s Au hasard Balthazar (1966), which is both the greatest and the most unbearable movie ever made. In fact, White God made me despise the masochism and passivity of Balthazar’s human protagonist (Anne Wiazemsky). The girl

  • film February 27, 2015

    Head of the Class

    ALICE (ANA GIRARDOT), a pretty twenty-year-old who is in her first year at the Paris fashion trades institute L’École Duperré, and Antoine (Bastien Bouillon), an attractive business major who is about to drop out of grad school to become a photographer, are leafing through a monograph on the artist Sheila Hicks, whose use of fabric and other craft materials expanded the definition of fine art. They pause at a photograph of a small, ragged, irregularly colored cloth. Why, wonders Alice, is it beautiful? Antoine answers that it reminds him of primitive art and that you can see a wound in the

  • film January 29, 2015

    Troublé and Then Some

    DELICATE, TOUGH, and heartbreakingly sad, My Name Is Hmmm… (2013) is the first feature by Agnès Troublé, better known as the fashion designer agnès b. You’ve probably seen—maybe even worn—her “j’aime le cinéma” T-shirt. You might not be aware, however, that through her production company Love Streams (named for John Cassavetes final film), she has helped finance movies by Harmony Korine, Claire Denis, and Jonas Mekas. Their influence is apparent in My Name Is Hmmm…, but the way Troublé tells a story and the story she tells are utterly personal. Her elliptical editing of both images and music

  • film January 23, 2015

    Imitation of Life

    BEFORE I SAW THE IMITATION GAME all I knew about Alan Turing was that President Obama, making a speech in England in 2012, named him as one of the three greatest British scientists, the others being Sir Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin, and that the following year the Queen granted him a posthumous pardon for the crime of indecency. Benedict Cumberbatch, who plays Turing in the film, remarked that it should have been left to Turing whether or not he wanted to pardon the British government. But of course he’d been dead since 1954.

    Knowing little or nothing about Turing is the prerequisite for

  • Amy Taubin

    1 GOODBYE TO LANGUAGE (Jean-Luc Godard) The 3-D of past, present, and future; more intimate than spectacular, although the eyes boggle as well as the mind. As revolutionary as Breathless was fifty-four years ago.

    2 BOYHOOD (Richard Linklater) A six-year-old actor (Ellar Coltrane) and his fictional alter ego grow up in concert in a film that took twelve years to make. Deceptively simple, truly visionary—a great American independent movie in the form of a time machine.

    3 WHIPLASH (Damien Chazelle) Chazelle’s second feature never drags, never rushes. A kinetic evocation of performance anxiety,

  • film November 16, 2014

    Love on Top

    NO, GINA PRINCE-BYTHEWOOD’S Beyond the Lights is not as great as her debut feature Love & Basketball (2000), which is at the top of my list of exhilarating, contemporary American coming-of-age romances. I know that Time magazine believes our problems would be solved if we banned the word feminism, or something like that—I couldn’t wrap my brain around the dust-up—but part of what made Love & Basketball so extraordinary was Prince-Bythewood’s creation of a heroine who believes that when a woman and a man are fiercely ambitious and want to excel in the same arena, the competition should make their

  • Robert Wilson’s The Old Woman

    I ATTENDED two performances of Robert Wilson’s The Old Woman at the Brooklyn Academy of Music this past June, the first out of curiosity about what Wilson would do with the oddball coupling of Mikhail Baryshnikov and Willem Dafoe, the second because I was ravenous for more. More of the miraculous mix of precision and spontaneity in the interplay of the performers, more of Wilson’s incandescent yet hard-as-nails stagecraft, more of Hal Willner’s pulsating score, and of Darryl Pinckney’s incantatory adaptation of Russian avant-garde writer Daniil Kharms’s short story “Starukha” (The Old Woman),

  • David Cronenberg’s Consumed and Maps to the Stars

    THE AMUSE-BOUCHE that arrives just after the opening of Consumed, David Cronenberg’s hilariously oral first novel (just out from Scribner), is an assortment of tooth-marked body parts that once belonged to Célestine Arosteguy, half of France’s most celebrated philosopher couple. Her husband, Aristide Arosteguy, is suspected of having murdered her, since these leftovers were discovered in their apartment and Aristide is nowhere to be found. Or so it has been reported. On TV, the building’s cleaning woman opines that the act was a mercy killing, that Mme Arosteguy was dying of a brain tumor, the

  • film August 19, 2014

    Blood, Sweat, and Tears

    IN THE FIVE YEARS PRIOR TO 1900, average life expectancy in the US increased from thirty-nine to forty-seven years; cities were gradually wired for electricity, which replaced gas illumination; the x-ray was invented and also the motion-picture projector. This transformative moment in all the sciences is the setting for The Knick, a ten-part hospital series currently on Cinemax.

    What makes The Knick (short for a fictionalized version of New York’s Knickerbocker Hospital) the latest instance of auteur TV is that it is directed, photographed, and edited in its entirety by Steven Soderbergh, a

  • film July 11, 2014

    Ice Age

    THEY ARE A SUMMER STAPLE—geezer road movies—as attractive as a humidity-inspired influx of giant water bugs. Though it follows many rules of the genre, Martha Stephens and Aaron Katz’s Land Ho! is a movie of a different order; its scenic wonders, off-kilter humor and pathos, and the unforced chemistry between its two central characters and the actors who play them will appeal to an audience broader than the senior-ticket set (of which I am a member).

    Former brothers-in-law, Colin (Paul Eenhoorn) and Mitch (Earl Lynn Nelson) have been out of touch since Colin’s wife died and Mitch’s wife divorced

  • Richard Linklater’s Boyhood

    TIME FLIES in Richard Linklater’s Boyhood, which is both a conceptual tour de force and a fragile, unassuming slice of movie life. Two hours and forty minutes in length, it depicts the maturation of a boy named Mason (Ellar Coltrane) from a six-year-old child into an eighteen-year-old young adult. There has never been a fiction film quite like it.

    “‘The clay of cinema is time.’” Tarkovsky’s axiom, paraphrased by Linklater in a conversation we had recently over the phone, has guided the director ever since Slacker (1991)—as has his own corollary that a film should be “locked in the moment

  • film May 20, 2014

    Tunnel Vision

    IT’S IMPOSSIBLE to watch Sam Fleischner’s richly textured, fully engaging Stand Clear of the Closing Doors without thinking of the terrible story of Avonte Oquendo, the autistic teenager who ran through an open door in his high school—he was always attracted to light, his mother said—and vanished. His remains were discovered three months later in the waters off College Point, New York. Stand Clear premiered in the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival, almost half a year before the photos of Oquendo with the words MISSING BOY appeared in every New York subway station. At Tribeca, Fleischner said that he

  • Mireia Sallarès’s Little Deaths

    ONE OF THE MOST POWERFUL and provocative documentaries I’ve seen in all the years I’ve been looking at movies has never had a theatrical release or been shown in a film festival anywhere. Mireia Sallarès’s 2009 Las Muertes Chiquitas (Little Deaths) played briefly at Anthology Film Archives in New York this past fall. Three years before, NYU’s Catalan Center had presented it in conjunction with an exhibition of Sallarès’s photographs. Now, probably thanks to filmmaker Jill Godmilow, Sallarès’s champion in the US, it is available on DVD from Facets Media for less than thirty bucks. What are you

  • film March 17, 2014

    Hollywood Ending

    A SMART AND WITTY TWIST on the reality genre, Doll & Em is a six-part series created by actors Emily Mortimer and Dolly Wells, starring Emily Mortimer and Dolly Wells, and written by Emily Mortimer, Dolly Wells, and Azazel Jacobs. Mortimer’s husband, Alessandro Nivola, is the producer, and Jacobs directed the entire shebang. Mortimer and Wells are British, as is the series, which was made for the Sky Channel’s “Sky Living” and then acquired by HBO. Five of the six half-hour episodes, however, are located in LA.

    So is this an incestuous selfie—smug Brits with excellent educations and cultural

  • film March 05, 2014

    Past Imperfect

    ANDREW BUJALSKI’S COMPUTER CHESS (2013) is set in an undistinguished hotel that gradually is revealed to be haunted by the problem of “the ghost in the machine.” The year is roughly 1980, and teams of unkempt, bespectacled computer science pioneers with MIT and Stanford pedigrees are competing in an annual chess tournament which pits program against program, with the winner then matched against a putatively human expert, the tournament’s organizer (played by film critic Gerald Peary, one of Bujalski’s first supporters).

    Although no one would have predicted it, this most oddball of Bujalski’s four

  • film February 05, 2014

    Mash Media

    “NEW FRONTIER,” the mini–art fair component of the Sundance Film Festival, was headquartered this year in and around the building where casual or well-heeled festivalgoers buy movie tickets. (Industry professionals register for passes and “packages” in advance.) Between the ticket buyers and the not inconsiderable numbers of viewers who are excited by the promise of expanded and interactive media, “New Frontier” drew crowds every day to its primary location—between Park City’s Main Street and its free bus depot.

    With the exception of jury members and the rich and famous who have their own cars