Xavier Dolan

2009

J’ai tué ma mère 58
[ review ]

2010

Les amours imaginaires 41
[ review ]

2012

Laurence Anyways 50
[ review ]

2013

Tom à la ferme 39
[ I’m a sucker for old-school film scores. Seriously, right when the ominous, Bernard Herrmannesque Gabriel Yared score kicked in, some 5 minutes into the film, it had me hooked, even though at that point, we know next to nothing about what brings Tom (Xavier Dolan with longish bleached blonde hair) to the Quebec countryside. That music immediately lets you know that something dark and twisted is about to happen. Tom, it turns out, is here to attend the funeral of his late lover, whose mother Agathe (Lise Roy) is unaware he was gay, an information the deceased’s brother Francis (Pierre-Yves Cardinal) wants to remain unknown to her. And – here comes the dark and twisted part – Francis also instantly begins to intrude on Tom in disturbing ways, harrassing him while he’s in bed, while he’s in the bathroom, etc. But then the way things evolve (or devolve) seems off, with events happening by fits and starts, characters behaving erratically and the Hitchcockian thriller the score seems to promise never quite materializing. “Tom à la ferme” also suffers from uneven (at best) acting and from direction that fails to make us forget that it’s an adaptation of a stage play by Michel Marc Bouchard. I grew increasingly bored of the scenes between Tom and Francis, which often feel stiff and uninvolving no matter how much psychosexual violence they feature. Things pick up slightly when Evelyne Brochu shows up, but not enough to salvage things. Frankly, this is probably my least favorite Xavier Dolan movie. But that score, man… ]

2014

Mommy 67
[ review ]

2016

Juste la fin du monde 89 92
[ Reviewed on Extra Beurre ]

Updated Pantheon (2008-2012)

This is a follow-up to the Top 10 list of my favourite filmmakers I put together in 2008. Again, this isn’t about all-time greats, but about folks who are doing consistently great work right now, i.e. since the last list.

1. Christopher Nolan

2008-2012 output: The Dark Knight, Inception, The Dark Knight Rises

To think, Nolan barely made my 2008 list (he was #10), and now he’s #1! My undying love for “Batman” has something to do with it, but it mostly has to do with how his “Dark Knight” films are instant classics. As if that wasn’t enough, with “Inception”, he’s also made another masterpiece in between his last two “Batman” epics. Finally, I must say that out of all 10 directors listed on this page, he’s the one whose next project(s) I’m most intrigued and excited about.

2. Steven Soderbergh

2008-2012 output: Che, The Girlfriend Experience, The Informant!, Contagion, Haywire, Magic Mike

This guy, man…. He’s even more prolific than Woody Allen, and even his least satisfying work (“The Girlfriend Experience” in this case) is hardly uninteresting. And when Soderbergh is firing on all cylinders, watch out! To me, “Che” is nothing less than a masterpiece, even though it’s somewhat underrated (by its director himself, even). And “Contagion” and “Haywire” are just about as enjoyable and well-crafted as old-fashioned genre movies get.

3. Quentin Tarantino

2008-2012 output: Inglourious Basterds; upcoming: Django Unchained

I’m quasi-cheating here because no one’s seen “Django” yet… But “Inglourious Basterds” was all kinds of awesome and it’s only grown in my esteem since it first came out. At this point, its self-proclaimed status as Tarantino’s masterpiece sounds more accurate than ever.

4. Paul Thomas Anderson

2008-2012 output: The Master

I’m definitely cheating here, because I would have preferred not to include any filmmakers who’ve only made one feature in the past four years in the Top 10. But goddammit, PTA was my #1 in 2008 and his latest, the just-released “The Master”, is yet another masterpiece.

5. Darren Aronofsky

2008-2012 output: The Wrestler, Black Swan

Here’s to defying expectations! I mean, there is a distinctive visual artist with some thematic obsessions at work throughout Aronofsky’s filmography, but the out-there, almost show-offy nature of films like “Pi”, “Requiem for a Dream” and “The Fountain” differs greatly from the more down-to-earth (relatively), immediate quality of “The Wrestler” and “Black Swan,” if only in the way that those latter two are all about their lead character, whereas Aronofsky’s earlier films were more epic/expansive.

6. David Fincher

2008-2012 output: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Social Network, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

I always admired Fincher (well, maybe not at the time I saw his mediocre “Alien” sequel in theatres as a teen), but thought for a long while he would never reach the heights of “Se7en” and “Fight Club” again. I practically gave up on him after “Benjamin Button”, but then whammy! He made two of the most stunning movies of the last few years, both visually and thematically, to say nothing of the mind-blowing Trent Reznor scores.

7. Cameron Crowe
2008-2012 output: Pearl Jam Twenty, We Bought a Zoo

Not super productive, but his 2011 one-two punch – one brilliant rockumentary plus a deeply touching dramedy – have reignited my passion for the work of this kindred spirit of a filmmaker.

8. Steven Spielberg

2008-2012 output: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, The Adventures of Tintin, War Horse; upcoming: Lincoln

His body of work is undeniably uneven, with outright duds standing next to his masterpieces of the 70s, 80s and 90s, but for my money, his often edgier post-2001 work is pretty amazing. Okay, some of his most recent work is lightweight, but I for one loved the hell out of “Indy 4” (sue me) and “War Horse” truly moved me.

9. Lars von Trier

2008-2012 output: Antichrist, Melancholia

The definition of a love-him-or-hate-him filmmaker, which makes him fascinating right there. I’m firmly in the love him camp, even though I sometimes hate what he does – never on the whole, but in parts. “Antichrist” is a good example of that: some of it is extraordinary, but some of it is practically unwatchable. But would we want it any other way?

10. David Gordon Green

2008-2012 output: Pineapple Express, Your Highness, The Sitter

It’s growing harder and harder to hold on to the idea that he’s an artsy indie-film prodigy and the proper heir to Terrence Malick. Then again, I may love some of his rowdy comedies even more than his early lyrical dramas. And when you add his episodes of “Eastbound and Down” to the mix, broham more than earns a place on the list, though lower than in 2008 (let’s be realistic).

David O. Russell

1994
Spanking the Monkey


1996
Flirting with Disaster 73
[ review ]


1999
Three Kings 90
[ review ]


2004
i ♥ Huckabees 69
[ review ]


2010
The Fighter 90
[ review ]

2012

Silver Linings Playbook 85
[ I love these recent David O. Russell movies. They take a familiar genre and make it feel fresh and exciting. Here, you’re pretty much dealing with a romantic comedy, except it’s often frantic and full of nervous energy, both in the way the characters behave and in the way the film is put together, and you have to catch up to the storytelling, which rushes forward, dropping bits of backstory left and right… Plus, almost everyone on screen is a little bit crazy, with mental illness being handled as the mess that it is, but also with heart and some humor. Finally, Russell really knows how to get the best out of his actors these days and it’s a thrill to watch Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver, who were all nominated at the Oscars for this. Excelsior! ]


2013
American Hustle 87
[ review ]

John Huston

1941
The Maltese Falcon 95
[ The first collaboration between John Huston and Humphrey Bogart (who also worked together on other brilliant films like “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” and “The African Queen”) is also Huston’s first picture and, by many accounts, the first film noir. The opening scroll and its mentions of Knight Templars and pirates having been involved with the titular priceless token instantly grabs your attention, the opening scene with private dick Sam Spade rolling a cigarette then meeting with a female client quickly seals the deal, then the twists start unrolling like wildfire and there’s no turning back. The smoky B&W cinematography, the moody score, the hard-boiled dialogue, the femme fatale (“What else is there that I can buy you with?”), the quirky supporting performances by Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet (who both turned up again the next year with Bogie in “Casablanca”, probably not coincidentally) and the very Bogartitude of it all are simply intoxicating. It’s a cliché to say that they don’t make them like this anymore, but damn! Every single beat of this yarn is awesome, there’s none of the filler and nonsense that make up so many of the movies today. Sam Spade is one of the coolest characters ever – as the Fat Man tells him at one point, “There’s never any telling what you’ll say or do next, except that it’s bound to be something astonishing.” ]1942
In This Our Life

Across the Pacific

1943
Report from the Aleutians

1945
The Battle of San Pietro

1946
Let There Be Light

1948
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre 89
[ Humphrey Bogart is riveting as a down-on-his-luck American in Mexico who takes on prospecting with fellow bum Tim Holt and old-timer Walter Huston. They must face bandits, exhaustion and the paranoid fear of being robbed of one’s share by the others. This is classic studio moviemaking, well-oiled entertainment that never misses a beat but also has a thing or two to say about the darker chambers of the human heart. ]

Key Largo

1949
We Were Strangers

1950
The Asphalt Jungle 65
[ Herr Doctor’s got a plan for a caper, but he needs a financier, a box man, a getaway driver and a hooligan. And when you’re doing a heist, the most people get involved, the most double-crosses and finking are likely to happen. Like “The Maltese Falcon”, Huston’s earlier film noir, “The Asphalt Jungle” has stark B&W cinematography, snappy dialogue, tough guys and knockout dames (including a young Marilyn Monroe), but it sorely lacks a Bogart-strong leading man. Nonetheless, this twisted and morally ambiguous yarn about the greed and treachery of men kept me engrossed. ]

1951
The Red Badge of Courage

The African Queen 90
[ Movie star heaven, with Humphrey Bogart doing his gruff man’s man boat captain against Katherine Hepburn’s sophisticated English lady. Laughs, thrills and sensuality ensue as the two come across white water rapids, wild animals and German soldiers. “I never dreamed a mere physical experience could be so stimulating!” ]

1953
Moulin Rouge

Beat the Devil

1956
Moby Dick

1957
Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison

1958
The Barbarian and the Geisha

The Roots of Heaven

1960
The Unforgiven

The Misfits

1962
Freud: The Secret Passion

1963
The List of Adrian Messenger

1964
The Night of the Iguana

1966
The Bible: In The Beginning

1967
Reflections in a Golden Eye 52
[ This is an odd flick. Ultimately sort of a psycho-sexual thriller, for the longest time, it’s not quite clear what the hell it’s about. Taking place on an army base, it deals with Major Penderton (Marlon Brando), his shameless hussy of a wife (Elizabeth Taylor) and her lover (Brian Keith), who’s also a military officer and married to a depressive woman (Julie Harris)… Oh, and then there’s the latter’s effete Filipino houseboy (Zorro David) and a mysterious enlisted man (Robert Forster in his very first role) who keeps stalking around the Major’s house and in the surrounding woods, often in the nude (!)… Generally well crafted but marred by frequent false notes, featuring mostly good but hardly unforgettable performances, this adaptation of a 1941 Carson McCullers novel suffers from flirting with then risqué material (adultery, homosexuality, voyeurism, fetishism, etc.) but not really following through with it. Brando, Taylor and Forster kept me engrossed enough, though, as did the abundant horseback riding scenes, especially the frantic one in which the Major rides his wife’s white stallion. ]

Casino Royale 21
[ Whoaaaa, what a mess! Yeah, let’s make a James Bond movie with 8 writers, 5 directors (including Huston) and 3 actors alternately playing Bond. First at the bat is David Niven, stuttering his way through roomfuls of Scottish babes to major boredom. Then Woody Allen has an amusing enough coupla scenes and Peter Sellers does his thing all right, but nothing really connects. Nowhere near as well as anything in the “Austin Powers” trilogy, that’s for sure. I did get a kick out of watching Orson Welles (doing magic tricks!) as Le Chiffre, though. ]

1969
Sinful Davey

A Walk with Love and Death

1970
The Kremlin Letter

1972
Fat City

The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean

1973
The Mackintosh Man

1975
The Man Who Would Be King

1979
Wise Blood

1980
Phobia

1981
Victory 40
[ I saw the DVD case and I was like, no way, this ain’t for real, this is one of those fake movies people remember Troy McClure from: “Leper in the Backfield”, “Locker Room Towel Fight: The Blinding of Larry Driscoll”… And here we have “Victory”, about a soccer match in occupied Paris between Nazi all-stars and Allied POWs, starring Michael Caine, Sylvester Stallone, Pelé, Max Von Sydow and even French Canadian actress Carole Laure! The actual film is a routine sports flick crossed with World War II escape clichés, but it makes for an amusing curiosity. ]

1982
Annie

1984
Under the Volcano

1985
Prizzi’s Honor

1987
The Dead

Todd Solondz

1995
Welcome to the Dollhouse 83
[ review ]

1998
Happiness 92
[ review ]

2002
Storytelling 66
[ review ]

2004
Palindromes 48
[ “Palindromes” opens by stating that it was made “In Loving Memory of Dawn Wiener”, the miserable central character of “Welcome to the Dollhouse”, Solondz’ breakthrough film. We learn that after getting pregnant from a date rape, Wiener killed herself. This prompts her little cousin Aviva to swear she would never do that, because that would kill the baby and she looooves babies. She might be only 13, but she really wants a baby, a cute little baby she can love and cherish… Her parents are against the idea, of course, so Aviva ends up running away from home. It’s quite a disturbing sight to see this naïve little girl in a midriff-baring shirt running around asking men to knock her up. It’s sad, but in usual Solondz fashion, he finds laughs in the most inappropriate places, defusing the pathetic of the story with funny asides (Aviva joining a Christian teeny-bop band) and throwaway lines (“Want some Nerds?”). On the filmmaking side, Solondz doesn’t reinvent anything. His movies tend to look indie-cheap, with not much in terms of visual style. Solondz shakes things up a little here by having a different actress playing Aviva in every scene, so she goes from small to fat, plain to pretty, young to old, African-American to lily-white and red-haired… I’m not sure what this means, but it’s an interesting gimmick. “Palindromes” kinda loses its way halfway through, needlessly revisiting situations and characters, and Solondz sometimes goes too far, overstepping the line between irreverence and cruelty, but his cynical worldview does balance out Hollywood’s excessive idealism. ]

2010
Life During Wartime

Adam McKay

2004
Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy 85
[ I thought Will Ferrell was one of the funniest men alive all through his Saturday Night Live run and I liked the bits parts he’s played over the years, but I found “Elf” shockingly unfunny. Since then, I’ve been wondering if maybe Ferrell’s brand of lunacy worked only in short doses, like a SNL skit or a cameo in someone else’s flick. Not to worry, my friends, it turns out that Will can be consistently hilarious for 90 minutes, he just needs more than tired fish-out-of-water silliness and holiday schmaltz.With “Anchorman”, Ferrell’s written himself a perfect vehicle for his shameless overacting. There was also obviously much room left for improvisation, and the atmosphere is one of barely controlled insanity. Ferrell’s hard-drinking, ass-grabbing anchorman is surrounded by an equally misogynistic and moronic news team, and Paul Rudd, David Koechner and especially Steve Carrell are almost as game and funny as Ferrell. Then there’s Christina Applegate, who’s stuck with the straight part of the ambitious journalist who threatens Channel 4’s little boys club, but there’s hardly such a thing as “straight” in this movie so she gets to do silly stuff too. The film also features the great Fred Willard, SNL’s Chris Parnell and Fred Armisen, Ferrell’s “Old School” co-stars Luke Wilson and Vince Vaughn, and a great cameo by Jack Black.Director and co-writer Adam McKay does a relatively good job at making this into an actual movie instead of a series of funny scenes. The film is set in the ‘70s and it’s not only reflected in the attitudes, bad hair and tacky style, McKay has actually shot his film to look like it was made in the ‘70s. There’s also some truly over the top bits involving gladiator weaponry, jazz flute and grizzly bears, but there’s no point in me running down a list of the countless things that made me laugh. Great Odin’s Raven, just go see the damn movie! ]


2006
Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby 83
[ review ]


2008
Step Brothers 72
[ review ]


2010
The Other Guys 66
[ review ]


2013
Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues 68
[ review ]

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2015
The Big Short 84
[ Reviewed on Extra Beurre ]

Werner Herzog

1968
Signs of Life

1970
Even Dwarfs Started Small 57
[ Herzog’s nucking futs. How else to explain his making a movie about nothing but midgets messing around, midgets riding motorbikes and cars, midgets tearing down trees, midgets laughing hysterically, midgets chasing chickens and pigs, midgets looking at porno mags, midgets teasing blind midgets, midgets burning stuff, midgets smashing dinner plates, midgets talking a lot of nonsense in German and, of course, midgets crucifying a monkey. This is all pointless and insane and disturbing… But it does make for a memorable dwarfsterpiece. ]

1971
Land of Silence and Darkness

1971
Fata Morgana


1972
Aguirre, the Wrath of God 98
[ review ]

1974
The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser

1976
Heart of Glass

1977
Stroszek

1979
Nosferatu the Vampyre

1979
Woyzeck

1982
Fitzcarraldo

1984
Where the Green Ants Dream

1987
Cobra Verde

1990
Echoes From a Somber Empire

1991
Scream of Stone

1993
Bells from the Deep

1997
Little Dieter Needs to Fly

1999
My Best Fiend

2001
Invincible

2003
Wheel of Time

2004
The White Diamond


2005
Grizzly Man 90
[ review ]

The Wild Blue Yonder


2007
Rescue Dawn 83
[ Ten years after devoting a documentary to it (“Little Dieter Needs to Fly”), Werner Herzog explores once again the incredible story of Dieter Dengler (Christian Bale, hot-headed), a German immigrant turned US Air Force pilot who, during his first mission, was shot down and captured by Laotian guerillas. Kept prisoner in the worst conditions for two years, he eventually organizes a daring escape, only to find that getting away from the guards was a piece of cake next to the perils of the jungle surrounding the camp. Herzog’s first Hollywood flick, while probably his most commercial (the bookends on the army ship are practically out of “Top Gun”!), remains faithful to his thematic obsessions, namely man’s insignificance in the face of nature and the return to a primitive state of survival, away from the precepts of civilization. We also recognize his quasi-documentary point of view and, paradoxically, his sense of majestic imagery. There’s even a dwarf! As for Bale, this isn’t is best performance but he’s riveting as always, and it’s interesting how this part echoes both “Empire of the Sun” (where his character was also in a POW camp) and “The Machinist” (for the disturbing loss of weight). ]

Encounters at the End of the World


2009
The Bad Lieutenant – Port of Call: New Orleans 70
[ This is a very loose remake of the 1992 Abel Ferrara cult film in which Harvey Keitel played the a corrupted, perverted, utterly fucked up cop. Here, it’s Nicolas Cage who’s doing all the drugs, abusing his power and getting his kink on, which allows the actor to deliver one of the most bizarre, over the top performances of his career. Which is saying a lot, considering how quirky Cage almost always is in his roles! In this regard, Herzog is helping him a lot, throwing in all kind of weird shit, most notably a bunch of hallucinatory iguanas. Shot around moody, flavorful New Orleans locations and featuring a solid supporting cast (Eva Mendes, Xzibit, Val Kilmer, Brad Dourif, Jennifer Coolidge, Shawn Hatosy, Michael Shannon, Shea Whigham, Fairuza Balk, etc.), “The Bad Lieutenant – Port of Call: New Orleans” is the kind of police thriller in which the murder invistagation that initially seems to be central to the story soon turns out to be an afterthought, the main show clearly being the many ways Herzog and Cage manage to fuck with our minds. ]

My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done 73
[ “Ever since he came back from Peru he’s been strange. Well, not so much strange as… different.” Cut to a shot of a foggy mountainscape in Peru, where Herzog famously shot such films as “Aguirre, the Wrath of God” and “Fitzcarraldo” with glorious madman Klaus Kinski… And to a degree, you could put the great Michael Shannon in that category. What an intense, unsettling presence this guy can have! Especially when he’s playing a character as strange/different as the protagonist of this film, a deeply disturbed individual obsessed with his inner voice, visions of God, Greek tragedy and whatnot. The stop-and-go, flashback-littered structure is a bit iffy, but “My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done” almost always remains engrossing from scene to scene thanks to offbeat dialogue, striking cinematography and that towering performance from Shannon, plus strong supporting performances from the likes of Willem Dafoe, Chloë Sevigny, Michael Peña, Grace Zabriskie, Brad Dourif and Udo Kier. “Why is the whole world staring at me?”  ]

2010
Cave of Forgotten Dreams

2011
Into the Abyss

Brian De Palma

1963
The Wedding Party
1968
Murder à la Mod
Greetings
1970
Hi, Mom!
1972
Get to Know Your Rabbit


1973
Sisters 75
[ Dealing with voyeurism, multiple identities and sexual impulses leading to violence, on top of discarding its protagonist after the first act and featuring a great Bernard Herrman score, this is clearly De Palma’s take on “Psycho”… But in some ways, it’s even more twisted, kinky and bizarre, throwing in Siamese twins, a “Peeping Toms” gameshow, a cleverly used pull-out couch (!) and split-screen sequences. Also wildly entertaining: Margot Kidder as the French Canadian model/actress who’s being stalked by her creepy ex-husband and harassed by her formerly conjoined sister. ]

1974
Phantom of the Paradise

1976
Obsession

Carrie 93
[ review ]

1978
The Fury

1980
Home Movies

Dressed to Kill 87
[ review ]


1981
Blow Out 95
[ review ]


1983
Scarface 92
[ review ]


1984
Body Double 76
[ review ]

1986
Wise Guys


1987
The Untouchables 77
[ This is a cop drama, a gangster movie and a quasi-Western, too, what with the Ennio Morricone score and stuff. All of which is really engrossing, thanks to the hardboiled David Mamet and the show-offy De Palma set pieces and long takes, sure. But also because of the great cast led by Kevin Costner as Elliot Ness, who’s well supported by Andy Garcia, Charles Martin Smith and, last but not least, Sean Connery at his most badass. Watch out as well for a young Patty Clarkson as Ness’ wife and, of course, the great Robert De Niro chewing a whole lot of scenery as Al Capone! ]

1989
Casualties of War

1990
The Bonfire of the Vanities

1992
Raising Cain


1993
Carlito’s Way 90
[ review ]


1996
Mission: Impossible 72
[ review ]


1998
Snake Eyes 79
[ review ]

2000
Mission to Mars

2002
Femme Fatale 62
[ I like Brian De Palma as much as the next guy, and “Femme Fatale” is certainly a well crafted, fun thriller. Still, I don’t get the 4 star reviews the likes of Roger Ebert have appraised the film with. De Palma pulls a few nice set pieces here, notably a bait-and-switch diamond heist at the 2001 Cannes Film Festival set to a quasi-Bolero score, and it’s nifty how most of the storytelling is done visually (and what dialogue there is is almost all in French!). But with all the violence, sleazy sex and preposterous twists, how is this different than “Original Sin” (which also stars Antonio Banderas as the patsy)? Rebecca Romijn-Stamos is hot as hell in the lead, but De Palma is falling apart under his own stylistic and thematic fixations. At least he does entertainingly so. ]

2006
The Black Dahlia

2007
Redacted 68
[ Like his Vietnam film, “Casualties of War”, De Palma’s latest is not so much a war movie than a story about deshumanization. Inspired by the rape and murder of an Iraki teenage girl by American soldiers, “Redacted” takes the form of a series of amateur videos, news reports, security camera footage, and excerpts from a documentary with slick visuals and pompous music (De Palma borrowed the “Barry Lyndon” score). Hardly subtle, but an effective exercise in style. ]