Spider-Man (2002)

Maguire’s lead turn adds consistent melodramatic cheese right from his opening voiceover (“Who am I? You sure you want to know? The story of my life is not for the faint of heart”) to his last one (“This is my gift, my curse”) but it feels authentic to the awkward, angsty, coming-of-age teen experience and works well with the other campy comic-book elements (Dafoe and Simmons leap off the page with their performances). Fun action and quirky humour (“up, up, and away web!”) top things off.
6

The Power of the Dog (2021)

Excellent turns (Cumberbatch’s nuanced lead especially), with lots of interesting relational and thematic dynamics at play (brother-brother, mother-son, old hat vs. new hat, harsh vs. tender, banjo vs. piano) and storytelling that’s appreciably subtle and moody, aided as it is by patient camerawork and an unnerving soundtrack. Despite the slow-burn approach, some of the character shifts feel sudden (see Rose’s descent; Phil’s change), but it’s tied up in a satisfying (leather) bow in the end.
7

Marie Antoinette (2006)

Very stylish, with great cinematography and a pop soundtrack that perfectly peppers the lavish period-piece setting. Story-wise, the slow opening act intrigues as quiet Marie is made pawn in a publicized political chess match, but the unfocused next two acts fail to generate any momentum. They sit better in out-the-carriage-window hindsight (the forced reign of a teen queen is bound to be messy) but more consistency and depth in the one of the character or plot threads would have been nice.
6

Little Women (1994)

The completion of Jo’s romantic arc doesn’t sit quite right but that’s about the only thing that feels off (well, that and Bale’s goatee) in this cohesive and cozy (but still poignant and emotional: see the gift for Beth) family journey through life and love and the blasted patriarchy (“You should have been a lawyer, Miss March” “I should have been a great many things, Mr. Mayer”). Dunst’s adorable Amy and Ryder’s moody Jo (“I just know I’ll never fit in anywhere”) are two standout turns.
6

Bachelorette (2012)

Really hard to enjoy, thanks to unlikeable main characters, uninteresting hijinks, and distasteful attempts at humour. It seems to be a problem in tone management though, because underneath its sickening candy comedy shell is a rather intriguing web of dark character drama (see the eating disorder cover-up, drug addiction, and tale of a suicide attempt). The overdose to ambulance ride sequence feels like it finds the right groove but it’s overshadowed by a shallow shrug-it-off ending.
3

Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989)

Passes the Bechdel test with flying and colours: Kiki’s forest talk with Ursula about art, magic, and inspiration was brilliant, but that’s not to slight her coffee with Osono or birthday exchange with the old woman. These dynamics combined with Kiki’s business blunders (Jiji’s sacrifice was hilarious) and poignant personal growth (from “something’s wrong with me” to the brave rescue to the letter home: “there are still times when I feel sad”) make for a deceptively powerful coming-of-age tale.
9

The Beguiled (2017)

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The unexpected arrival of a wounded Union soldier at a girls school in Virginia during the American Civil War leads to jealousy and betrayal. (IMDb)
The slow first two acts are a fairly bland main course (colourless cinematography and a lack of music don’t help) but in hindsight they do well in setting up the thrilling third act dessert with its deliciously sinister climax and brilliant cherry-on-top final shot (with ominous score icing): the women played with the polite man until his destructive patriarchal power emerged and threatened, and now the understanding of the titular character(s) is subverted. Kidman’s turn is a chilling standout.
7/10 (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)

Dick (1999)

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Story of two girls who wander away from a White House tour and meet President Nixon. (IMDb)
The splash of ditzy teen girl naivety (Williams and Dunst perfect the parts with plenty of Napoleon Dynamite-esque geekiness to go with the shrieks and giggles) amidst the no-nonsense world of politics is uproarious, and even more so as the leads start to get wise (“It’s too much pressure!”) and confident (see the perfect final scene: “You suck, Dick!”). The exaggerated 70s setting offers more to enjoy (see their ridiculous outfits, Carl’s hairpiece, and the disco soundtrack) in this fun comedy.
7.5/10 (Really Good)