Cloud Atlas (2012)

Its central conceit (“From womb to tomb, we are bound to others. Past and present”) and thesis (“by each crime and every kindness, we birth our future”) resonate, but marring the former’s clever edits and easter eggs are some discomforting cross-racial transformations and one can’t help but wonder if the thrust of the latter would’ve been stronger with a chronological narrative. As it is, some stories sit better than others (Ewing’s white saviour arc underwhelms; Cavendish’s caper is a hoot).

The Batman (2022)

The plot and politics are a bit ? (the climactic jail confrontation could’ve been unpacked more) but everything else is !–the tunes (Nirvana and also the emotive, ever-present score), the turns, and especially the unique tone, with its sly layer of superhero cheese underneath the super-serious noir (see the heavy exposition between Batman and Gordon) and moody character study (see the bookending voiceovers). Great ending (see the rethinking of “I’m vengeance” and then the silent ride together).

Leave No Trace (2018)

“I just need to know I’m doing the right thing.” Like the trucker, we watch and wonder what it is as Granik masterfully carves a subtle trail through the beautiful (see the opening scenes) and brutal (see post-truck ride) PNW woods and the even more complex wilderness of trauma, parent-child relationships, and the search for home. Perfectly, naturally paced and performed, with music at just the right moments (see the cabin wait; around the campfire). I was hoping for a different ending though.

Nightmare Alley (2021)

The full-circle final scene of this moody morality tale doesn’t fully repair the separation between the first act and the rest, and there are other script stumbles too (see the Carlisle-carny tension that goes nowhere), but every piece compels in spite of the whole; the cinematography and design is showstopping, the cast’s got panache a-plenty, and the violence and deception is shut-eye(s) thrilling (“When a man believes his own lies… people get hurt… And when the lies end, there it is”).

Billy Madison (1995)

The movie is the person, juvenile and silly in both tasteful (yum, glue!) and distasteful ways (yuck, masturbation porta-potty!), showing glimpses of genuine sweetness (“Everyone my age pees their pants. It’s the coolest!”) amidst the sloppy-like-Joes coming-of-age arc, and in the end getting a passing grade (but barely), thanks to consistent pops of good, goofy comedy (see the musical number; the O’Doyles’ fate) and one-liners galore (“You get your ass out there and you find that fucking dog”).

The Mitchells vs. the Machines (2021)

Wacky and wonderful, with a second half in particular that’s a non-stop barrage of laugh-out-loud hilarity (see Furby’s “Let the dark harvest begin!” and later, “Mom’s scary now”), wild action (see Linda’s first battle and oil splatter), and waterfall-eye emotion (see the moose and “No, this is easy”). Rounding it out are great visuals (see the cool comic-style add-ons), a uniquely likeable protagonist, and commentary on tech and generational differences that’s funny and ultimately well-rounded.

CODA (2021)

The family and fishing (story)line is done very well; the script lures out all of the interesting nuances in the unique context and relational dynamics (the deaf older brother adds another to the titular one), and the cast is excellent. It’s marred significantly by the by-the-numbers coming-of-age arc though (the high school, private lessons, and romance scenes are all mostly cheesy), and bland cinematography doesn’t help matters. Still, its heart is strong (see father-daughter on the tailgate).

Drive My Car (2021)

Yield yourself to this text and it’ll drive a Saab-shaped stake into your red heart. The narrative layering and mirroring here is riveting in its discussion on the power of art and in its own artful power (see Yu-rim’s Yoon-a’s Sonya’s stunning climactic sign-language monologue) as it carves a breathtaking road through tunnels of suffering into the good morning of redemption. Mesmerizing performances, music (tastefully placed), and cinematography (see the intense to-camera backseat dialogue).

Turning Red (2022)

Friends/foes, parents/parties, studying/sneaking out, crushes/crushing embarrassment–it’s all part of the crimson-faced chaos of puberty, and it’s captured perfectly here (see the exaggerated emotion close-ups) within a refreshing cultural context and time period. Lots of cute and hilarious bits to go with the huge dramatic sweeps (red moons and rituals and multiple existential planes), weighty themes of identity and family heritage, and even a stunning gazing-out-the-car-window sigh of a scene.

Moana (2016)

Rides a lot of very familiar story waves (see the unlikely duo, the parting, the return just in time) but they’re beautifully animated, their sailors Moana and Maui are very likeable (also special shout-out to enigmatic Gramma: “Is there something you want to tell me?” “Is there something you want to hear?”) and there’s great splashes of music, mirth (the chicken is just fucking hilarious), and eco-feminist-tinged magic throughout. The pacif-ic/ist ending is stunning (“This is not who you are”).