PRINT December 2021

top ten


Cassie da Costa is a staff writer for Vanity Fair and the commissioning editor for Another Gaze film journal.

Maggie Gyllenhaal, The Lost Daughter, 2021, 2.8K video, color, sound, 121 minutes. Leda (Olivia Colman).

THE LOST DAUGHTER (Maggie Gyllenhaal)
Actress, producer, and now director Maggie Gyllenhaal has given everything she’s got to her adaptation of Elena Ferrante’s lesser-known novel. And what we get is a film unafraid to blow up the premise of maternity in the very act of celebrating it. 

Ryusuke Hamaguchi, Drive My Car, 2021, 2K video, color, sound, 179 minutes. Oto Kafuku (Reika Kirishima) and Yusuke Kafuku (Hidetoshi Nishijima).

DRIVE MY CAR (Ryusuke Hamaguchi)
One of those films you almost don’t want to say anything about, because to experience it is to be thrust outside of typical experience. Hamaguchi has adapted Haruki Murakami’s short story with romantic abandon, applying his usual fascination with theatricality to a parable about the fundamental unknowability of the ones we love.

ALL LIGHT, EVERYWHERE (Theo Anthony) Anthony’s foray into the workings of surveillance technology, including the police body camera, transports him to the origins of his own device: the movie camera. He combines relentless curiosity and rigorous introspection in a piercing film essay about the ongoing complicities that drive our anti-Black and pro-capital society.  

WORKING GIRLS (rerelease, Lizzie Borden)
Borden’s 1986 feature, her second after debut Born in Flames, received the Criterion treatment this year, which reminds us that some of the most daring and cutting-edge cinema was made decades ago and for no money. Following a group of sex workers who see clients out of a well-kept brothel while under the watch of a ridiculous boss, Borden’s movie understands how work and identity are ruthlessly intertwined.

Janicza Bravo, Zola, 2020, Super 16 transferred to 2K video, color, sound, 87 minutes. Stefani (Riley Keough) and Zola (Taylour Paige). Production still. Photo: Anna Kooris.

ZOLA (Janicza Bravo) Why adapt a viral Twitter thread except for the clout? Bravo and cowriter Jeremy O. Harris earn their props by taking a refreshingly askew angle on a popular story, infusing the witty, explosive parlance of Black Twitter with the visual hyperreality of Bravo’s directorial style. 

Still from Mitski’s 2021 video Working for the Knife, directed by Zia Anger. Mitski.

WORKING FOR THE KNIFE (Zia Anger) Anger is a filmmaker worthy of the resources to make absolutely anything she wants. But we don’t live in a good enough world for that— yet. In the meantime, her latest music video, with indie rock musician Mitski, is a baroque and mischievous declaration of the soul-sucking consequences of being practical about your career. It’s also among the best pandemic-referencing cinema we’ve gotten all year. 

THE CARD COUNTER (Paul Schrader)
Schrader has been telling the same story for decades, yet each time he finds something vital to express. Oscar Isaac is unforgettable as a broken soldier who is dubious about his own redemption in this sharply accurate American portrait. 

RESPECT (Liesl Tommy) It’s easy to dismiss Tommy’s biopic for its audacity. How can you attempt to take on the fullness of Aretha Franklin’s life and talent in a single movie? But Respect does not purport to know it all. Rather, it pays close attention to the relationship between Franklin’s artistry and her environment and the sensitivity of the former to the latter. Jennifer Hudson forgoes imitation or tribute and instead stays true to the act of performance.

9 THE INHERITANCE (Ephraim Asili) Drawing on his own experience of living in a Marxist co-op in Philadelphia, Asili blends simple staging and critical theory without overdetermining the results. The Inheritance feels like a movie that was adapted into a play and then back into a movie—it emerges simultaneously in many directions, allowing a cacophony of voices to speak through one another. 

Leos Carax, Annette, 2021, 4K video, color, sound, 141 minutes. Ann Defrasnoux (Marion Cotillard).

ANNETTE (Leos Carax) Everyone wanted Annette to be everything because that’s what Holy Motors (2012) felt like. But instead Carax made a film of absences, a supermusical challenged by the emotional bankruptcy of its protagonist. Adam Driver storms through every scene, tearing the whole thing apart, backed by a score from Sparks. It’s dark, brooding fun.