Melissa Anderson

  • Mike Nichols, The Fortune, 1975, 35 mm, color, sound, 88 minutes.
    film February 19, 2015

    Fortune Teller

    THE FORTUNE, Mike Nichols’s sixth film, reaped anything but when it was released in 1975. The commercial and critical failure of this 1920s-set romantic farce, which followed the similarly dismal performance of his previous movie, the cetacean sci-fi thriller The Day of the Dolphin (1973), largely explains Nichols’s hiatus from helming narrative features for the next eight years. (He kept busy overseeing various productions on Broadway, where he had his first triumphs as a director, beginning with 1963’s Barefoot in the Park.) This near-decade break ended with Silkwood (1983), a topical docudrama

  • Sam Taylor-Johnson, Fifty Shades of Grey, 2015, HD video, color, sound, 125 minutes. Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey (Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan).
    film February 11, 2015

    Grey for Pay

    THE STAGGERING POPULARITY of E. L. James’s 2011 erotic novel and BDSM primer, Fifty Shades of Grey, particularly among a certain female demographic, gave rise to the condescending genre tag “mommy porn.” However disdainful the label might be, my own anecdotal experience on various modes of transportation suggests that the book’s most conspicuous readers—those who preferred actual paper products, with emblazoned covers, to anonymity-ensuring Kindles or Nooks—were indeed mothers: On the subway I’ve spotted several moms, their kids next to them and absorbed in their own distractions, lost in James’s

  • Gregory La Cava, Stage Door, 1937, 35 mm, black-and-white, sound, 92 minutes.
    film February 09, 2015

    Snap, Crackle, Pop

    WISECRACKS RICOCHET at breakneck speed at the Footlights Club, the women-only theatrical boardinghouse in Midtown Manhattan that is the center of Gregory La Cava’s brilliant sober comedy Stage Door (1937). (A typical exchange: “Is the show closing?” “Like a tired clam.”) During many of his productions, La Cava, whose screwball paradigm My Man Godfrey was released the year before, drove studio heads nuts, pledging no fealty to the script and often encouraging overlapping dialogue and improvisation; Stage Door was no exception to this practice. Based, if only marginally so, on the 1936 play of

  • Céline Sciamma, Bande de Filles (Girlhood), 2014, HD video, color, sound, 112 minutes.
    film January 29, 2015

    Diamonds Ring

    THOUGH IT MAY NOT BE THE BEST TRANSLATION, Girlhood, the US title affixed to Céline Sciamma’s Bande de filles—which would more accurately be rendered as “Girl Group” or “Girl Crew”—nonetheless aptly sums up this perceptive writer-director’s abiding interest. Water Lilies, Sciamma’s 2007 debut, centers on the erupting desire among a trio of fifteen-year-old female adolescents during a languorous summer; Tomboy (2010), her even more accomplished second feature, highlights a pubescent untethered to the rule-bound world of gender codes. Girlhood continues to probe the developmental stage when bodies

  • Rowland V. Lee, I Am Suzanne!, 1933, 35 mm, black-and-white, sound, 100 minutes. Left: Suzanne (Lilian Harvey).
    film January 27, 2015

    Strings Attached

    THE EXCITABLE PUNCTUATION MARK of its title instantly signaling the delirium to follow, I Am Suzanne! (1933), populated by an enormous cast of marionettes, will give pupaphobes night terrors. This bizarre pre-Code musical melodrama, directed and co-scripted by Rowland V. Lee—the other screenwriter, Edwin Justus Mayer, would collaborate nine years later with Ernst Lubitsch on the screwball paragon To Be or Not to Be—exists in the same uncanny valley where Hans Bellmer romped.

    The film is set in the “Paris” of Fox Film Corporation soundstages. On the same street in the French capital, two entertainment

  • Mati Diop, A Thousand Suns, 2013, color, sound, 45 minutes.
    film January 19, 2015

    Family Ties

    MATI DIOP’S LUSH AND ELEGANT A Thousand Suns requires only forty-five minutes to astutely consider weighty matters of history and legacy. Loosely described, this medium-length work is a portrait of Magaye Niang forty years after the Senegalese nonprofessional actor starred in Touki Bouki (1973), a milestone of African cinema directed by Djibril Diop Mambéty, Diop’s uncle. More provocatively, A Thousand Suns destabilizes the distinction between fact and fiction; as Diop herself told Cinema Scope magazine, “The friction and two-way shuttling between reality and myth is the main subject of my film.”

  • Ava DuVernay, Selma, 2014, color, sound, 127 minutes. Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King (David Oyelowo and Carmen Ejogo).
    film December 22, 2014

    March of Time

    A FILM OF GRIPPING IMMEDIACY, Ava DuVernay’s Selma opens with moments of intimacy and pageantry quickly followed by terrorism and carnage. Hours before receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, Martin Luther King (David Oyelowo), standing in an Oslo hotel room, is softly, playfully grumbling to his wife, Coretta (Carmen Ejogo), about having to wear an ascot for the ceremony. Shortly after King is welcomed onstage by a Norwegian dignitary, four girls are shown making their way down a flight of church stairs, bantering and laughing one second, dead and buried under rubble the next.

    This jolting achronological

  • Sophie Fillières, If You Don’t, I Will, 2014, color, sound, 102 minutes. Pomme and Pierre (Emmanuelle Devos and Mathieu Amalric).
    film December 16, 2014

    Marriage Material

    THANKS TO THE VAGARIES of release schedules, sometimes a modest, intelligent movie can seem even more accomplished when it arrives in the wake of a similarly themed, lumbering white elephant. Writer-director Sophie Fillières’s fifth feature, If You Don’t, I Will, concerns the strained, often caustic interactions between a long-term couple—what the filmmaker herself has felicitously called “the more or less low-level violence of conjugality.” Unlike David Fincher’s ghastly commercial hit Gone Girl, in which the platitude “marriage is hard work” is carried out to its grimmest, most cartoonish

  • Serge Bozon, Tip Top, 2013, 35 mm, color, sound, 106 minutes.
    film December 12, 2014

    Law and Disorders

    IN HIS BREAKTHROUGH FILM LA FRANCE (2007), Serge Bozon created a singular anachronistic war movie/musical hybrid: A drama about the horrors, loneliness, and camaraderie of World War I in which soldiers intermittently break out into delirious songs that suggest outtakes from Pet Sounds, the film celebrates 1960s-era pop manna while lamenting the folly of nationalism. Tip Top, Bozon’s latest, similarly upends categories: This sui generis policier audaciously balances slapstick with a fiercely intelligent probing of the still-knotty legacy of France’s colonialist past.

    Using Bill James’s 2006 mystery

  • Robert Altman, 3 Women, 1977, 35 mm, color, sound, 124 minutes. Millie Lammoreaux and Pinky Rose (Shelley Duvall and Sissy Spacek).
    film December 08, 2014

    Women on the Verge

    DIRECTED BY ROBERT ALTMAN during the New Hollywood paragon’s most fertile decade, 3 Women (1977) stars two of the greatest, most emblematic actresses of 1970s American cinema: Shelley Duvall and Sissy Spacek. This shape-shifting movie, which explores self-delusion, intense attachment, and identity-merging, originated in a dream Altman had and proceeds with a particular oneiric logic. The film is rich in brilliant oddities and juxtapositions, never more so than when Duvall and Spacek are encompassed in the same frame.

    3 Women looks back to Ingmar Bergman’s Persona (1966) and anticipates David

  • Jennifer Kent, The Babadook, 2014, HD video, color, sound, 93 minutes.
    film November 27, 2014

    The Parent Trap

    A SPOOKY, POWERFUL exploration of murderous maternal rage, writer-director Jennifer Kent’s domestic-horror movie The Babadook satisfyingly pierces the obscene sanctification of “mommyhood”—a pathological mandate that seems to have become an irreversible cultural imperative.

    For the The Babadook, the Australian Kent’s debut feature, the onetime actress has expanded the scenario she first explored in her 2005 short, Monster. The film opens with a nightmare—a man and woman are struggling in a car underwater—unfolding in slow motion, though whose REM sleep we’ve been given access to isn’t immediately

  • Wim Wenders, Paris, Texas, 1984, 35 mm, color, sound, 147 minutes. Jane Henderson (Nastassja Kinski).
    film November 24, 2014

    Wild at Heart

    AROUND THE TIME that Francis Ford Coppola cast Nastassja Kinski as a circus performer in his swoony, romantic reverie One from the Heart (1982), he proclaimed her “the most beautiful woman in films today.” Many noted the actress’s uncanny resemblance to the young Ingrid Bergman; Paul Schrader, who directed the German-born Kinski in Cat People (1982), was certain that she would replicate the Swedish Bergman’s immense crossover success in the US. She did, sort of, but for an epoch-defining image, not for a movie as canonical as, say, Casablanca: Richard Avedon’s notorious 1981 photograph of Kinski,