COLUMNS

  • L.A. Gory

    UNTIL VERY RECENTLY, the 1991 film L.A. Story was hands-down the best satire of Los Angeles as told from the perspective of a man experiencing a possible psychotic break. Harris K. Telemacher—a TV meteorologist played by Steve Martin—is an “egghead” who loves Shakespeare, but finds himself drowning in a sea of Angelenos who get furious in traffic, love colonics, drink “decaf double half-caf with lemon,” and remain incapable of enjoying culture unless it happens to be the probiotic kind. He has one love interest with the unbelievably dumb name SanDeE*, who is into hippy-dippy woo-woo nonsense

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  • Either Ore

    FEW DOCUMENTARY FILMMAKERS have been as consistently preoccupied with the fate of the planet as Austrian producer, director, writer, and cinematographer Nikolaus Geyrhalter. One wonders, in fact, why it took him so long—nearly a dozen films—before hitting upon the title “Earth.” Like his previous documentaries, Erde has screened at multiple film festivals and comes trailing awards: the 2019 prize of the Ecumenical Berlinale Forum, Best Green Dox at Dokufest Prizren, and even a special award for “Best Film on the Topic of Soil” at Innsbruck’s Nature Festival. Judging from the topical narrowness

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  • Soul Sisters

    GRETA GERWIG’S GREAT SUBJECT is the twilight of girlhood. She has become something like the patron saint of girls on the precipice, or, as Britney Spears put it twenty years ago, not-girls-not-yet-women. Her heroines, sharp and tender, find themselves caught between their past and future selves; they are consumed by the task of reconciling youthful hope with present realities, slouching toward some kind of self-actualization and away from adolescence, real or protracted.

    In Frances Ha (2012) and Mistress America (2015), both cowritten by Gerwig, she plays an adrift twentysomething struggling to

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  • Over Exposure

    BENEDETTA BARZINI IS STANDING OVER THE SINK of her cluttered Milan apartment, gulping down a couple of pills. Now in her mid-seventies, she is the subject—no, the hero, the raison d’être—of The Disappearance of My Mother, a remarkably enthralling documentary by Beniamino Barrese, the youngest of her four children. The pill-taking occurs not quite midway through the film, and it is heart-dropping. Not because I identified with Barrese, though, whose obsession with keeping his mother with him forever inspired this intimate depiction of a mother-son dyad, along with Barzini’s crucially reluctant

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  • Power Forward

    THE FILMS OF JOSH AND BENNY SAFDIE move at a hotfoot thinking-on-your-feet pace, built around fraught and frantic protagonists who can see no further than the next contingency, the next corner of the personal maze that they’re negotiating. Compulsive and often reckless behavior is a throughline in the Safdies’s filmography; from 2008’s The Pleasure of Being Robbed—concerning the misadventures of a female kleptomaniac—onward, they’ve dealt in men and women working desperately to stay one step ahead of consequences. More recently, they’ve centered films on a lovelorn teenaged heroin addict (2014’s

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  • Heaven Scent

    A TRUE “HOTHOUSE FILM,” Little Joe opens with a fluid overhead shot from a rotating surveillance cam, circling rows of genetically modified plants. They’re the creation of workaholic geneticist Alice Woodard (Emily Beecham) and her team of plant breeders: a purported “happiness” flower whose scent releases a precursor to oxytocin, the hormone that facilitates bonding between mother and child. Alice’s smitten associate Chris (Ben Whishaw) makes this artificial attachment sound warm and gushy: “What this plant really needs is love.”

    In return, the flower, which Alice names Little Joe after her son,

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  • John Waters

    Filmmaker John Waters’s sixteen-city spoken-word tour “A John Waters Christmas” begins December 2 in West Palm Beach, Florida.

    1

    CLIMAX (Gaspar Noé)

    The best movie of the year gives new meaning to the term “bad trip.” Frenzied dance numbers combined with LSD, mental breakdowns, and childhood trauma turn this nutcase drama into The Red Shoes meets Hallucination Generation. Freak out, baby, freak out!

    2

    JOAN OF ARC (Bruno Dumont)

    There is a God and his name is Bruno Dumont. His piously poisonous sequel to last year’s best film, Jeannette: The Childhood of Joan of Arc, is artier, holier, and will give

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  • Amy Taubin

    Amy Taubin is a Contributing Editor of Artforum and Film Comment. She is currently working on a collection of forty years of her criticism.

    1

    HONEYLAND (Ljubomir Stefanov and Tamara Kotevska)

    Hatidze Muratova, likely the last female wild-honey gatherer in Europe, is the charismatic hero of this observational documentary in which an almost-abandoned stone village in Macedonia becomes the scene of a battle between sustainable environmental measures and earth-destroying capitalist greed and stupidity.

    2

    THE SKY SOCIALIST: ENVIRONS AND OUT-TAKES (Ken Jacobs)

    What was almost lost—the heartbreaking handheld

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  • James Quandt

    James Quandt, Senior Programmer at TIFF Cinematheque in Toronto, is the editor of Apichatpong Weerasethakul (Austrian Film Museum, 2009) and Robert Bresson (Revised) (Indiana University Press, 2012).

    1

    LUC TUYMANS (Palazzo Grassi, Venice) and THE WHITE ALBUM (Arthur Jafa)

    Tuymans’s glorious retrospective of paintings dense with references to the cinematic and Jafa’s justly consecrated video in the Arsenale provided the high points of this year’s Venice Biennale.

    2

    VITALINA VARELA
    (Pedro Costa)

    Darkness visible. Abandoned by her husband’s death, the eponymous Cape Verdean woman, who returns from

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  • Melissa Anderson

    Melissa Anderson is the film editor of 4Columns.

    1

    LA FLOR (Mariano Llinás)

    For nearly fourteen hours, this protean magnum opus, held together by an extraordinary quartet of actresses (Elisa Carricajo, Valeria Correa, Pilar Gamboa, and Laura Paredes), immerses us in the pleasures of densely detailed fiction.

    2

    A BIGGER SPLASH (Jack Hazan)

    Several titles on my Top Ten list are new restorations of older films I saw for the first time in 2019; none seduced me quite like Hazan’s beautiful 1974 docufiction about David Hockney, then in the midst of romantic agony and creative fervor.

    3

    ATLANTICS (Mati Diop)

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  • J. Hoberman

    J. Hoberman is a recovering film critic. 

    1

    STATE FUNERAL (Sergei Loznitsa) 

    The official footage documenting the pageantry around Joseph Stalin’s death—reorchestrated here by Loznitsa—is a totalitarian spectacle that, in its interplay of leader and mass, is a sort of found Triumph of the Will starring a “dead god” (Loznitsa’s phrase) in a carnation-red coffin. The Trial (2018), another Loznitsa film, might serve as a prologue—long-lost footage from an early show trial that was evidently shot for an audience of one still-living god.

    2

    MARTIN EDEN (Pietro Marcello)

    Bursting with ideas, Marcello’s

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  • Baby Don’t Hurt Me

    ALEXA KAROLINSKI AND INGO NIERMANN make war movies about love. Their two moving-image works to date, both currently on view at Auto Italia in London, are premised on the existence of an Army of Love, an entity as real as it is speculative, comprising a motley cluster of volunteers—soldiers spanning sexualities, generations, abilities, and ethnicities—whose purpose is “to offer all-encompassing love . . . to those who need it.” It is an imperative at once simple and extraordinarily difficult. Love here is understood as a practice involving “care, desire, sex, and respect,” indiscriminate of its

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