9 (2009)

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A rag doll that awakens in a postapocalyptic future holds the key to humanity’s salvation. (IMDb)
The initial lack of story and character backgrounds is appropriate for the film’s shocking post-apocalyptic world (the “machine” is a compelling threat), as we’re dropped into the desolate setting as naive as our protagonist; the exposition to follow is mostly tasteful (save for the scientist’s heavy-handed yet still insufficient final explanation) and the characters that develop feel shallow but natural. Most significantly though, the animation and action set pieces are consistently fantastic.
7.5/10 (Really Good)

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

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When their relationship turns sour, a couple undergoes a procedure to have each other erased from their memories. But it is only through the process of loss that they discover what they had to begin with. (IMDb)
With Winslet and Carrey’s top-notch turns, the authentic dialogue, the beautiful soundtrack, and the exquisitely intimate camerawork, this would already be an amazing romance film even before the sci-fi twist (which perhaps has a hole or two) injects it not only with juicy story subversions (see Patrick’s role; the deja vu post-erasure) and dramatic intrigue (see Mary’s side-plot) but also heart-wrenching tragedy and oddball comedy. Brilliant editing through Joel’s memories ties it all together.
9.5/10 (Breathtaking)

I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore (2017)

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When a depressed woman is burglarized, she finds a new sense of purpose by tracking down the thieves alongside her obnoxious neighbor. But they soon find themselves dangerously out of their depth against a pack of degenerate criminals. (IMDb)
A strong yet subtle central character study (the detailed visual storytelling is perfect-see the paralleled grocery store scenes) of the relatable Ruth (with quirky Tony) is brilliantly joined by a blackly comedic and shockingly violent crime drama (with genuinely creepy baddies) excellently edited and scored. Its intriguing underlying discussion of revenge and justice doesn’t wrap up in a satisfying manner though, as exemplified by the too-easy epilogue to the devastatingly bloody climax.
8/10 (Great)

Everything Is Illuminated (2005)

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A young Jewish American man endeavors to find the woman who saved his grandfather during World War II in a Ukrainian village, that was ultimately razed by the Nazis, with the help of an eccentric local. (IMDb)
Delicate and unhurried direction (lots of long takes and pretty silence) works well with the initial road trip fare (Wood’s pensive “collector” employs with apprehension the guiding services of misguidedly enthusiastic Alex and his grumpy grandfather) as lots of culture-clash comedy (see the hotel dinner) and lost-in-translation laughs (“seeing eye bitch”) keep things lively, but as the humour fades in favour of sober historical probing it starts to feel a little dry (though no less beautiful).
7.5/10 (Really Good)

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)

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Gandalf and Aragorn lead the World of Men against Sauron’s army to draw his gaze from Frodo and Sam as they approach Mount Doom with the One Ring. (IMDb)
The lengthy final battle takes away from some character work, but it’s undeniably epic, with its dizzying camerawork (see the flying rock perspective), artful editing (the montage with Pippin’s song is perfect), awesome action (see the elephant take-downs), and a memorable one-liner or two (“I am no man!”). Meanwhile, Frodo and Sam’s more focused and torturous journey adds some welcome emotion, added to further in the moving final few scenes (see the bow to the hobbits and the tearful farewell).
8.5/10 (Amazing)

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)

While Frodo and Sam edge closer to Mordor with the help of the shifty Gollum, the divided fellowship makes a stand against Sauron’s new ally, Saruman, and his hordes of Isengard. (IMDb)
The fragmented and widespread narrative here gives the film a monumental feel, but at the expense of the kind of tension and character development that require an unwavering approach–so despite this sequel’s equally masterful set design, music, and camerawork, delightful pops of comedy, and fantastic battle scenes, it still feels a shame that the tantalizing interplay between Sam, Frodo, and Gollum in particular struggles to get into a good groove, even within the film’s massive run-time.
8.5/10 (Amazing)

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)

A meek hobbit of the Shire and eight companions set out on a journey to Mount Doom to destroy the One Ring and the dark lord Sauron. (IMDb)
The mix of breathtaking bird’s eye pans and intense facial close-ups here showcase a layered tale that’s as much of a heartfelt character drama as a grand fantasy epic, with as many internal battles as external ones, and pleasant bits of humour from the homey hobbits sprinkled amongst the haughty and thick war talk that keep the narrative from melodramatic cliches. Excellent acting, music, and time-tested special effects ensure that this wonderful story’s film adaptation won’t soon be forgotten.
9/10 (Amazing)