Roma (2018)

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Directed by Alfonso Cuarón
Country: Mexico / USA

Versatility and competence are two valuable attributes of Mexican writer/director Alfonso Cuarón, demonstrated in peculiar works like Y Tu Mama Tambien (2001), Children of Men (2006), and Gravity (2013). Yet, none of the above delivered so much personal intimacy and cinematic maturity as Roma, a flawlessly shot drama based on his childhood memories when he was living in Mexico City’s Colonia Roma neighborhood in the early 1970s.

The story focuses on Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio), a humble Mixtec maid working for a middle-class family nearly shattered by the absence of its patriarch, Antonio (Fernando Grediaga), a respected doctor. At the moment that this man decided to abandon the household, his wife Sofia (Marina de Tavira) takes the responsibility of raising four children with the priceless help of Cleo, who also shares other domestic duties with her co-worker Adela (Nancy García García).

The camera captures the routines and dynamics of the family through glorious black-and-white frames polished to compositional precision. The extraordinary cinematography is credited to the director himself, who also co-produced and co-edited. Concurrently, we follow Cleo’s personal problems with her boyfriend, Fermin (Jorge Antonio Guerrero), an immature thug from the slums and martial arts practitioner, who dumps her ruthlessly in the same minute she informs him about a possible pregnancy.

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Taken by frustration and disappointment, the two vulnerable women lean on each other, forging a moving companionship where there is no place for social class stratification. All the guilt, trauma, and pain are attenuated by the love and warmth within the family, regardless of the difficulties that might exist. Sofia and Cleo are brave women, whom Cuarón wanted to thank and honor. And he did it marvelously.

The simple and realistic storytelling discloses individual complexities that made me care for these characters with all my soul. The touching finale is one of the most powerful scenes of a deeply humane film where hope triumphs in times of adversity.

While the performances are immaculately genuine, Cuarón’s unparalleled direction convinced me in every aspect since he never loses focus with trivialities. Every scene is there for a purpose, not by chance. Despite the evocation of another time, connections with the current state of the world can also be established in Roma, an illuminated tale of gratitude and one of the most gratifying experiences I’ve had this year in a theater.

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Lady Bird (2017)

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Directed By: Greta Gerwig
Country: USA

The extremely talented actress turned deft writer and now promising director, Greta Gerwig ("Francis Ha", "Mistress America"), reveals her genius in “Lady Bird”, a delightful coming-of-age comedy-drama with so much to be apprehended and cherished.

The semi-autobiographical film is a love letter to her city of Sacramento in California and also a glorious portrait of family and friendship, personal dreams and social status.

The American actress of Irish descent, Saoirse Ronan, who excelled in John Crowley's drama "Brooklyn", stars as Christine McPherson, a quick-tempered 16-year-old who wants to be called by Lady Bird. Her rebelliousness can easily turn into radical actions such as throwing herself out of a moving car because of an argument with her nurse mother, Marion (Laurie Metcalf). The clash between these strong personalities is very perceptible here, becoming the responsible factor for those typical love-hate bonds in the life of an adolescent. Besides, the title character hates Sacramento and doesn’t want to study at the Catholic high school, despite the scholarship granted to her. According to her mother, this financial help came at the right time since her depressed father, Larry (Tracy Letts), is currently unemployed. But the ambitious Lady Bird wants more and dreams about going to the East coast, where all the culture is. Unfortunately, her parents couldn’t afford to give her an education there, but that’s no reason to give up, though. The resilient Lady Bird already engendered a plan with the complicity of her benevolent father.

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Meanwhile, at school, she hangs out with her best friend, Julie (Beanie Feldstein), and starts dating with an Irish Catholic boy, Danny (Lucas Hedges), who comes to the conclusion he’s gay after all, stressing out with the thought of having to confess the truth to his parents. 

In a blink of an eye, the life of Lady Bird shifts from anonymity to the center of attention when she starts a more serious relationship with the popular Kyle (Timothée Chalamet), the leader of a cool rock band, who often puts on airs. Moreover, she cuts off relations with Julie, replacing her with the spoiled and pretentious Jenna Walton (Odeya Rush). However, and because life always reveals us if we're right or wrong, she realizes, sooner than later, that those moves were nothing but mistakes. Learning and growing!

Ms. Gerwig not only depicted the tempestuous mother-daughter relationship with extraordinary precision, but also set up each and every other interpersonal connection with outstanding truthfulness. The topic has been addressed countless times but few attained this level of credibility. 

The characters are meaningful and fascinating, the narrative is no slouch, and the story, incredibly simple, is grandiose in terms of gracefulness and spirit.
This funny, tender, and brilliant film, thriving with witty observations and touching conclusions, is undoubtedly at the very top of my 2017 best list.

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A Ghost Story (2017)

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Directed by: David Lowery
Country: USA

Writer-helmer-editor David Lowery (“Ain't Them Bodies Saints”) delivers one of the most rewarding movies of the year, a psychedelic, indie-style ghost drama that is beautiful and haunting in equal proportions.

Resorting to long shots, which stimulate even more our curiosity, and perfectly composed settings, the director opts for a dead-cold stillness that characterizes an intelligent, layered tale related with a profound sense of loss, despair, and eternity.
 
By the time we are introduced to C (Casey Affleck) and M (Rooney Mara), a young married couple who just moved into a suburban house in Dallas, we are also presented with a sentence by the acclaimed English writer Virginia Woolf that says: “whatever hour you woke there was a door shutting”.

Actually, after dying unexpectedly in a car accident, a door of light is literally shut for C, who, by choosing to return home, remains confined there for many, many years.

Noises and silences are masterfully conjugated to create tension, while the impactful score by Daniel Hart plays a fundamental role in the discomfort of whether eerie, whether dramatic situations. Moreover, the balance between light and darkness is achieved with artistry and enhances the beautiful cinematography by Andrew Droz Palermo (“You’re Next”).

One of the aspects I liked the most was the basic way the ghost was depicted. And let me tell you that, in the present case, the typical long white sheet with two holes in the head felt creepier than childish. This rambling hollow figure patiently observes M’s grieving process until she abandons the house for good. Before leaving, she places a little piece of paper with something written inside a crack on the wall. The frustrated spirit of C attempts to reach this ‘secret’, even many years later, when several other people went to live in the property. 

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On two occasions, the spirit attests all his dissatisfaction and boredom by employing violent manifestations. Firstly, when M brings home a new male friend, and secondly, when a Spanish-speaking family moves into the house.

An unthinkable surprise, perhaps slightly strained, turns up when C communicates with another ghost who keeps waiting in the house next door for someone he doesn’t remember.

A Ghost Story” tests the limits of our intellect and senses, giving us much more to chew on than most of the typical films within the genre. This film looks like something Wim Wenders would do if he had dedicated himself to the infinite solitude of a ghost instead of a fallen angel.

Lowery’s risk-taking effort could easily fall in the ridicule. However, the auteur shaped it brilliantly and the film truly impressed me by entangling, astonishing, and disorienting with its hazy, uncanny, spiritual viewpoint.

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45 Years (2015)

Directed by Andrew Haigh
Country: UK

“45 Years” is a distinguished, high-quality British drama, which I recommend without reservations.

The director, Andrew Haigh, who already had convinced me of his filmmaking capabilities with the acclaimed drama, “Weekend”, centered on a gay relationship, was fortunate to work with Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay, two of the most extraordinary actors of their generation, whose monumental performances I can’t praise enough (both were awarded a more than deserved Silver Berlin Bear).

They respectively play, Kate and Geoff Mercer, an apparently balanced couple living almost secluded in the beautiful English countryside. Within a week, the childless couple is going to celebrate their 45th wedding anniversary, to take place in an elegant space in town, and the occasion involves some preparation work so everything can run smoothly. We can sense a mature, warm tenderness on their voices and behavior, despite some debilitation evinced by the retired Geoff, who was subjected to a bypass surgery five years before, the reason why they’re celebrating the 45th anniversary instead of the usual 40th. Suddenly, the arrival of an atypical letter, sent by the Swiss authorities, disturbs the composure of their rustic lives. The letter informs that the body of Geoff’s ex-girlfriend, Katya, was found in the Alpine mountains, preserved underneath the ice since 50 years ago, when she fell down from a precipice. This unanticipated news, which should have been faced with tranquility, inflicts deep transformations in Geoff, who starts having a relentless necessity of talking about Katya. Kate, who shows a salutary openness to talk about everything, is struck not only by a natural jealousy but also by an uncontrollable curiosity that leads her into a nebulous period of Geoff’s past. The biting reality makes her feel betrayed, letting us envision a painful bitterness for the years to come.

Mr. Haigh’s camera lens places its focal point on the characters, soulfully capturing the restless and heavily disappointed look of Kate, as well as the partially camouflaged inner turmoil of Geoff who grows pensive in attitude and reckless in appearance. Not infrequently, the images are quite sharp over the subjects, but intensify the out of focus background. This aspect, intentionally or not, has a parallel with this reflective tale when depicting a supposedly unclouded present sapped by a blurry past.

Timeless and progressively enthralling, “45 Years” ends in an excruciatingly heartbreaking way at the sound of ‘Smoke Gets in Your Eyes’. My favorite of 2015.

Spotlight (2015)

Spotlight (2015) - Movie Review
Directed by: Tom McCarthy
Country: USA

Movie Review: Tom McCarthy’s “Spotlight” is flagrant, perfect, and essential. Mr. McCarthy’s fluid script was co-written with Josh Singer and interpreted in the best way by the glorious cast, conveying the journalistic effort that was put into this true investigation of the sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic archdiocese of Boston, carried out in 2002 by an investigative team of The Boston Globe known as Spotlight. The investigation unmasked several priests who sexually abused children during several years, and denounced the continuous cover-up of this sort of crimes perpetrated by the church, as an institution, in an almost unimaginable scale. All began with the arrival of a confident new editor to The Globe. Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber is outstanding), a Jew who had gained an excellent reputation in New York and Florida, knew exactly what he wanted when he politely urged the Spotlight team to consider picking this particular case. The tenacious reporters of Spotlight are chief Walter ‘Robby’ Robinson (Michael Keaton) who has some amends to make with his own past, the super-responsive Michael Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo), the efficient and temperate Sasha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams), and the restrained Matt Carroll (d'Arcy James), who got unsettled when he found out that one of the houses used for molesting kids was located right next to his place. All these members respond before the supervisor, Ben Bradley Jr. (John Slattery), who is presented as a minor key in the achievement. Sometimes agreeing, some other times arguing with one another to reach the best way for putting the truth outside without the interference of concurrent newspapers, the team wouldn't be succeeded without the priceless help of the righteous attorney Mitchell Garabedian (Stanley Tucci at his best), who had already started defending some of the devastated victims. Of course, there’s also a bunch of attorneys so-called ‘friends of the church’ who do everything to maintain the crimes unrevealed or to sweep the dirt under the carpet. Never exploitative and highly assertive in its unobtrusive approach, Mr. McCarthy, who won me over in the past with “The Visit” and “Win Win” but last year had a thorn in his side with “The Cobbler”, turned “Spotlight” into a masterpiece whose theme, even if not fresh nowadays, still has to be shouted out loud in order to alert and avoid future abuses. And… justice for all!

Horse Money (2014)

Horse Money (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Pedro Costa
Country: Portugal

Movie Review: “Horse Money” is the new drama from the celebrated Portuguese filmmaker, Pedro Costa, author of the remarkable trilogy based in Fontainhas, an impoverished neighborhood in Lisbon, which includes “Ossos”, “In Vanda’s Room”, and “Colossal Youth”. This time the subject is a bit different, but Mr. Costa retrieves Ventura from his last film. This man, played by himself, is a confused Cape Verdean immigrant, a retired bricklayer, who was admitted in a Lisbon’s hospital where he keeps escaping through the gloomy back passageways, losing track of the space and the time, and being haunted by ghostly presences of his past. To complement the disquieting phantasmagoric images, we’re granted part of the disorder that goes on Ventura’s head. These particular sequences are arranged with a persistent exactitude, and yet some elements seem not to fit quite well, making us even more intrigued and sometimes lost in the darkness of his alienation. Suffering from a nervous condition, Ventura is stuck in time – he says he’s 19 and believes the date is March 11, 1975, time of a failed military coup led by General Spínola. This occurrence apparently destroyed the company where Ventura was working. In one of his visits to what remains of this company, Ventura finds his nephew, who seems a ghost waiting for the money that was never paid after a three-month absence due to an epileptic seizure. He often bumps into Vitalina Varela, an anguished widow, who blames Ventura for the death of her husband. Another visitor is a man who stabbed him and whose restless soul also wanders throughout the hospital. The most memorable scene is when Ventura is tormented by voices inside the hospital’s elevator, in the presence of a living statue of a revolutionary soldier. Costa brilliantly plays with past and present, truth and hallucination, desires and nightmares, songs and silences, politics and misery, life, death… My head is still spinning in a sort of a watchful dazzle, and I cannot forget the sad, vague, and embittered expressions of these lost souls…or ghosts.

The Salt of the Earth (2014)

The Salt of the Earth (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Wim Wenders / Juliano Ribeiro Salgado
Country: France / Brazil / Italy

Movie Review: “The Salt of the Earth” is a masterly documentary about the life and work of the amazing Brazilian photographer, Sebastião Salgado. This touching piece of cinema was co-directed by the acclaimed German filmmaker Wim Wenders and Salgado’s eldest son Juliano Ribeiro Salgado. Carrying an enormous emotional weight and impressive sense of timing, the stunning pictures of Mr. Salgado are slowly displayed, at the same time that we listen, completely stupefied, to his own voice, explaining the circumstances in which they were taken after a brief historical contextualization. There are times in which Salgado’s face merges into his pictures – a face that never expresses any sentimentality. However, through his voice, whether in French or in Portuguese, we notice the deep impact those moments had on him. After so many years covering death in its most various forms - war, genocides, disasters and starvation - it was admirable how Salgado sought desperately for life in its most pure manifestations – nature, primitive people, wildlife. ‘I got sick in the soul’ he says, expressing a painful discontentment for what we, humans, are capable to do to one another. ‘Suddenly I felt the urge to make a tribute to the beauty of our planet’. Everything in “The Salt of the Earth” has the right proportions. There’s no exploitation of the subject, and there are no forced attempts to make greater what is already great. A profound respect for a courageous man and his work is what we see here. I felt I could have spent another two hours looking at his photography, both heartbreaking and dazzling visions, and listen to the tremendous stories supporting it. Unforgettable pictures, unforgettable stories, unforgettable film.

It Follows (2014)

It Follows (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: David Robert Mitchell
Country: USA

Movie Review: Uncanny moments filled with creepiness is what American filmmaker, David Robert Mitchell, has to offer in “It Follows”, which is undoubtedly the best horror movie I’ve watched in years. If his debut feature, “The Myth of the American Sleepover”, has revealed vision and talent, “It Follows” exceeded all the expectations, letting us ruminating about how efficacious this anxious supernatural tale is, and how attentively and tastefully was put on the screen through amazing shots and an unpretentious approach that deliver everything we look for this genre. After an intriguing opening scene, beautifully shot through a 360º pan, the story remains fixed on 19-year-old, Jay, who was living a laid-back life, natural in her age, frequently in the company of her best friends and neighbors, Kelly, Paul, and Annie. After a bizarre sexual night with a strange young man, Jay starts to sense an unexplainable discomfort associated with horrible visions of an entity that assumes different human forms. Some are apparently normal while some others are grotesque and even immoral in its appearance and behavior. Not only Jay is in danger but the whole chain of victims that passed the curse. The film is tonally brilliant and even pokes us with a couple moments of humor that temporarily relieve the audience from the tension. Mitchell, an assumed admirer of the horror genre, reveals maturity dealing with his own creative process, triumphing in the way that nothing seemed excessive or uncontrolled. The teen cast responded effectively to Mitchell’s call for a film that can make you freak out with its eerie atmosphere, haunting images, and first-rate score by Rich Vreeland aka Disasterpeace.

Timbuktu (2014)

Timbuktu (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Abderrahmane Sissako
Country: Mauritania / France

Movie Review: African cinema has a fearless new voice that deserves a huge accolade. Mauritanian filmmaker, Abderrahmane Sissako, directed and co-wrote “Timbuktu”, one of the most relevant dramas I’ve seen in a while. The film follows the misadventures of Kidane, a pacific cattle herder who does everything to protect his wife, daughter, and assets, from a group of fanatic Jihadists that control Mali’s city of Timbuktu. Mr. Sissako, beyond taking aim on the invaders through a deft sneer, also portrays the joyless life of the tormented inhabitants. The magnificent, well-composed shots amazed me whenever captured the arid African landscapes, but also disturbed me when showed the Jihadists’ demands: women had to wear socks and gloves (poor fishwife who realizes her job is compromised), it was strictly forbidden to play soccer (a game played by youngsters, with the particularity of having no ball, has the simultaneous effect of being ludicrous and cruel), music was not allowed (one woman was condemned to 40 lashes after filling our souls with her voice), and adultery was considered the worst crime (the punishment was death by stoning). Despite the law, forged in the name of Allah, there were those who enjoyed special immunity: Zabou, a deranged woman seen as a kind of a sorcerer, was allowed to wander without covering her head; or a religious fundamentalist who was caught smoking and coveting Kidane’s wife. Not to mention other cultural issues, such as teen girls forced to get married against their will… Every senseless fanatic should watch “Timbuktu” whose objectivity and vision become essential these days. You can call it whatever you want: urgent criticism, breathtaking adventure, or daring mockery… for me, it’s simply an unsubmissive masterpiece, which I wouldn’t change a thing.

Winter Sleep (2014)

Winter Sleep (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Nuri Bilge Ceylan
Country: Turkey / others

Movie Review: I can state that “Winter Sleep”, the new masterpiece from acclaimed director Nuri Bilge Ceylan, does the same for modern Turkish cinema, as “A Separation” did for the Iranian one. The film gives us three hours of pure delight cinema, showcasing the life of a cultivated, wealthy man, Aydin (Haluk Bilginer), a former actor who lives in a small isolated Anatolian village, where he also runs a hotel. As he struggles to make his business thrive in harsh winter, he also deals with family problems, since his wife, Nahil (Melisa Sozen), shows no more love for him and tries to recover her confidence again by organizing a fundraising to help schools in need of improvement. She recognizes Aydin as a refined, honest man, but can’t stand him anymore for his vanity, cynical arrogance, and pride. If this wasn’t enough, his idle sister, Necla, criticizes him heavily in his editorial writings for a small local newspaper. At the same time he’s suing two brothers, the tenants of an old house he rents since his father’s time. One of the brothers is a good man, while the other is a depressive ex-con who usually shows an errant behavior. This is a tale about money, morality, love and conscience, words so many times referred during the assertive narrative, which carries so much beauty and pain. Ceylan uses more words in this film, conserving however the penetrating aesthetic style for which we know him, composed by the excellent work of his habitual cinematographer, Gokhan Tiryaki, and occasional moments of contemplation and inner reflection. Palme D’Or at Cannes, “Winter Sleep” hides a ponderous complexity behind its simple images, and so far is my favorite movie of 2014.

Boyhood (2014)

Boyhood (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Richard Linklater
Country: USA

Movie Review: Richard Linklater proves why he is one of the best actual filmmakers. If the realism of the masterfully written ‘Before’ trilogy or the funny fiction of “Bernie” could arise any doubt to someone, here comes “Boyhood”, a witty film that stands so close to reality that we can’t help feeling so alive and experience a variety of emotions. The 166-minute drama, set in Texas and filmed during a 12-year period, depicts Mason Jr.’s life from the age of 6 until 18. His parents, Mason and Olivia, and sister, Samantha, are no less interesting characters too, well defined, and adding a beautiful richness to the story. Despite separated for so long, Mason Jr.’s parents were there for their kids, playing a fundamental role in their lives. Of course everything wasn’t just perfect, since some bad memories will be difficult to erase – the flaming arguments of Olivia with the men in her life, or a broken promise from Mason who didn't recall saying it, hurting his son’s feelings. Mason Jr. is a pretty regular kid, looking for his own identity, learning with the dilemmas and disillusions, and open to the life itself. Counting with flawless performances by Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke and Lorelei Linklater (director’s daughter), “Boyhood” presents us credible characters, an enjoyable slice of life and an incredible simplicity of processes filled with moments that are both touching and funny in so many ways. Complete and beautifully conceived, this is an essential film that I urge you to enjoy.

Under the Skin (2013)

Under the Skin (2013) - Movie Review
Directed by: Jonathan Glazer
Country: UK

Movie Review: I don’t have enough words to praise “Under the Skin”, Jonathan Glazer’s innovative sci-fi film, based on the novel with the same name by Michel Faber, and starring Scarlett Johansson as an alien embodying an attractive young woman who installs itself in Scotland to collect human skin that will serve to ‘dress’ her spatial invader friends. Her preys, very well selected, were allured and inevitably taken into a sophisticated process that removed their blood, flesh and bones. Emotionless at first, the visitant strangely starts to change after interact with a disfigured man, who she spared in an act of compassion. From this moment on, she becomes curious about what humans feel, going through different experiences that inevitably will lead her to the sad notion of how evil and scary our nature can be. The final scenes will remain in my head for a long time, and the idea that we, humans, can be very maleficent to one another, is so vividly exposed, that I couldn’t help wishing the alien’s revenge. The stylized, eerie, and hypnotic “Under the Skin” was cleverly conceived in order to grab our senses, proving Jonathan Glazer (“Sexy Beast”, “Birth”) as a filmmaker to follow, and giving Johansson an opportunity to shine in another memorable performance. I couldn’t find anything to rebuke here, apart from the Scottish accent, which sometimes makes the dialogues very difficult to understand. The distinguished plot and its exquisite execution make “Under the Skin” a modern sci-fi masterwork to watch and rewatch again!

Nebraska (2013)

Directed by: Alexander Payne
Country: USA

Movie Review: “Nebraska” is one of those films you won’t easily forget. Director Alexander Payne (“About Schmidt”, “Sideways”, “The Descendants”) grabs this wonderful story by Bob Nelson, and with masterly simplicity builds a near perfect portrait of Nebraska, along with one of its typical families. Woody Grant (Bruce Dern) is a stubborn, hard of hearing, and alcoholic old man who, motivated by a scam letter issued by a marketing company saying he won a million dollars, persuades his son, David (Will Forte) to drive him from Billings, Montana, where they actually live, to Lincoln, Nebraska. Along the way, they take the opportunity to revisit their hometown, Hawthorne, where they will meet Woody’s older brother (almost a copy of himself) and his family, and some old acquaintances who certainly won’t be missed. Woody’s outspoken wife, Kate (June Squibb), and his well-succeeded older son, Ross (Bob Odenkirk), will also join him later towards a splendid and unforgettable family adventure. The characters were well thought and fantastically built through the excellent performances by Dern (best actor in Cannes), Forte, and Squibb. The serenity, transparency, and honesty evinced here, are big lessons to those dramas that use cheap machinations to depict reality. Deep and damn funny, “Nebraska” stands as a timeless road trip drama reinforced with amazing landscapes painted in cool shades of grey. Assuredly, it is a major accomplishment of the American cinema.

The Act of Killing (2012)

The Act of Killing (2012) - Movie Review
Directed by: Joshua Oppenheimer / others
Country: Denmark / UK / others

Movie Review: “The Act of Killing” is a hard-to-watch documentary about a bunch of Indonesian executioners (gangsters or free men according to their explanation), who were responsible for the death of more than one million people during the 1965-1966 anti-communist purge. They were supported by the Government and protected by a dangerous right-wing paramilitary organization called ‘Pancasila Youth’. Since most of them showed no regrets for thousands of deaths, boasting themselves with the crimes committed against innocent people, I wonder what these men are made of. The objective here was to make them recreate their own past actions, including interrogatories, torture, and consequent extermination of people they accused to be ‘communists’, nothing more than opponents of a corrupt and intolerant regime. Excited to be in a film representing their dirty work, the men revealed to be ignorant in many aspects, cruel executioners, and money extorters, making this film risible and appalling at the same time. Their performances have the same effect of a bizarre circus, recreating horrible methods of torture with an easiness that is quite shocking.  With illustrious documentarians such as Errol Morris and Werner Herzog as executive producers, “The Act of Killing” discloses scandalous truths that won’t leave you indifferent. Former assassins Anwar Congo and Adi Zulkadry were the main protagonists in a film that gathers all the madness associated to its characters, proving in a cynical, yet exceptional manner that pure evil really exists. Essential viewing!

Southwest (2012)

Southwest (2012)
Directed by: Eduardo Nunes
Country: Brazil

Review: “Southwest” was one of the most pleasant surprises I had lately. Eduardo Nune’s debut is a treat for the eyes, with a dazzling black-and-white photography and delightful details in direction. Showing boldness, both in conception and execution, it intertwines life and death in a Brazilian southwest village, to depict Clarice’s whole life in a single day. I know this sounds weird, but you will notice that the time runs differently here, so don’t expect a conventional storytelling. Beyond that, we have traditional parades, amulets, exceptional music and odd sounds, landscapes, everything working together to provide a whirlwind of emotions and sensations within a dreamlike ambience. “Southwest” is pure art-house, which challenges, provokes and disorients until you become prisoner of your senses. Likely to be seen as a reliving of the past or mere hallucinations, my guess is: it will haunt you, no matter what…

The Master (2012)

The Master (2012)
Directed by: Paul Thomas Anderson
Country: USA

Review: “The Master” is one of the biggest cinematographic achievements of 2012. Freddie Quell, a sex-obsessed and alcoholic ex-veteran of war, erratically wanders around without finding a stable path in life. When he meets Lancaster Dodd, a leader from a movement called ‘The Cause’, everything seemed to get better as he felt accepted inside the 'family'. The film intelligently addresses the psychological on both men. From one side, a man who needs followers, a ruler who puts into practice all the power of persuasion. On the other side, a man who suffers, an untamed who lives in anger and needs to find some balance. These men were truly bonded by friendship, so well portrayed in several scenes. Yet, their natures are incompatible. I don’t find enough words to describe the phenomenal performances by Joaquin Phoenix, with his unforgettable laugh, and Philip Seymour Hoffman, in another masterpiece from ‘Master’ Anderson.

Zero Dark Thirty (2012)

Zero Dark Thirty (2012)
Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Country: USA

Review: It’s quite amazing the capacity of Kathryn Bigelow to create great films from high-risk subjects. If “The Hurt Locker” was the boldest movie from 2008, I have to say that “Zero Dark Thirty” has my vote in this category for 2012. A movie that gives us a thrilling insight about the operations that led to Osama Bin Laden’s death in Pakistan on May 2, 2011. The keys to success were many, but I can point a few: a gripping direction; a plot that never loses its way, maintaining high levels of adrenaline; the absence of superficial scenes; an outstanding performance by Jessica Chastain; image accuracy, with special emphasis on the military operation; a distinct approach, free from the standard clichés. The torture scenes, despite polemic, were absolutely necessary, since the goal here was to reveal the truth. “Zero Dark Thirty” sustains my total surrender to one of the best contemporary filmmakers.

Amour (2012)

Amour (2012)
Directed by: Michael Haneke
Country: France / others

Review: Getting old and sick can be frightful. Michael Haneke shows exactly that with “Amour” – the deserved winner of this year’s Palme D’Or in Cannes. It is amazing how Haneke could make such an intense movie with so little (almost totally shot from inside a house with basically three actors). The bitterness felt for being a burden is very alive in the film, as well as the transformations that can occur on the person who commits to take care of the one in need, regardless of their closeness. The story goes through moments of intimacy, caring and patience, changing unexpectedly to coldness, irritation and aggression. The last 30 minutes were both brutal and poetic, and certainly will affect your mind, shake your feelings and cause you unease. Trintignant and Riva were splendid, in another masterpiece from a genius filmmaker.
Relevant awards: Cannes; European Film awards.

Beasts Of The Southern Wild (2012)

Beasts Of The Southern Wild (2012)
Directed by: Benh Zeitlin
Country: USA

Summary: Hushpuppy and her dad are forced to leave their flooded home.
Review: This is an amazing story seen through the eyes of Hushpuppy, a sweet little girl who lives in the woods of “Bathtub” Island, Louisiana, with her sick dad and a bunch of animals that she called “pets”. After a rainstorm they are forced to evacuate to a hospital in the city, where the doctors will try to “tame” them without success. The concept of home and survival are magnificently portrayed and connected, where the chaos is everywhere, not only throughout the island but also in the Hushpuppy’s mental considerations about the universe. “Beasts of the Southern Wild” is a must see, visually astonishing, surprisingly emotional and filled with many unforgettable moments. One of my favorite movies of the year.
Relevant awards: Cannes, Seattle, L.A., Sundance

The Other Bank (2009)

Directed by: George Ovashvili
Country: Georgia

Plot: A young Georgian refugee leaves the safe zone to look for his father.
Review: “The Other Bank” is irreproachable as an artsy achievement. The story tells a lot about the Georgian-Abkhazian conflict, relying on mindful compositions to express thoroughly the spirit and people involved. Tedo, a 12 year-old Georgian kid, decides to leave alone for his hometown to look for his missing dad. The trip will be full of good and bad surprises. Whenever things go wrong, Tedo has a technique to make it better. He just closes his eyes tight to imagine a completely different reality than the one he’s actually living. This was the first and only feature film, so far, directed by George Ovashvili. Gripping, memorable and deeply moving.
Relevant awards: Best film (Fribourg, Molodist, Mons, Paris, Tromso, Yerenvan, etc.).