Meek’s Cutoff (2010)

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Set in 1845, this drama follows a group of settlers as they embark on a punishing journey along the Oregon Trail. When their guide leads them astray, the expedition is forced to contend with the unforgiving conditions of the high plain desert. (Letterboxd)
Appropriately slow–this survival western pulls no punches, and by punches I mean achingly long scenes of walking across barren landscapes, because there’s a lot of them. And they’re loaded with feeling: short in-between scenes lay out the stakes and ratchet up the unease and distrust, and then the journey (captured with poignant music and visuals–see that breathtaking long cross fade early on) continues, and in the film’s boldest stroke of all, it doesn’t end, just like it never began.
8/10 (Great)

Wildlife (2018)

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A teenage boy must deal with his mother’s complicated response after his father temporarily abandons them to take a menial and dangerous job. (IMDb)
Beautifully made, from haunting score to poignant cinematography, impeccable turns to superb script that always knows when to talk and when to not, with a great three-act story shifting through a poor kid lens the focus from volatile dad to selfish mom to post-fire aftermath (the lack of repercussions for the porch incident is the only flaw here). Its picture-near-perfection actually holds it back a bit though; the aching drama of the narrative could’ve benefited from a bit more grit and shake.
8/10 (Great)

 

There Will Be Blood (2007)

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A story of family, religion, hatred, oil and madness, focusing on a turn-of-the-century prospector in the early days of the business. (IMDb)
Patient and poignant cinematography and a persistently discomforting Kubrick-esque score fittingly portray drawn-out scenes in a dreary landscape amidst a long-scale soul-crushing story about the corruption of capitalism. Daniel’s narrative is compelling, but the parallelism in his feud with fellow false prophet Eli (Day-Lewis and Dano are both wonderful) is so brilliantly crafted (see the echo of the former’s baptism in the devastating final scene) the latter could have used more screen time.
8.5/10 (Amazing)

Swiss Army Man (2016)

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A hopeless man stranded on a deserted island befriends a dead body and together they go on a surreal journey to get home. (IMDb)
A surreal survival story, an odd-couple comedy, and an existential drama all in one: With exquisite cinematography (slow-motion shots of butts and waves are each equally stunning), superb visual effects, and an a cappella soundtrack often featuring the characters themselves, the spiritual themes of life and love are brilliantly and uniquely weaved together with the crudely bodily: masturbation, farts, etc. The final act falters but with all its weirdness you knew it was going to be hard to land.
8/10 (Great)

12 Years a Slave (2013)

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In the antebellum United States, Solomon Northup, a free black man from upstate New York, is abducted and sold into slavery. (IMDb)
The significance of the mid-narrative opening scene still isn’t clear as it’s returned to later on, but it’s the only thing that doesn’t connect in this affecting and well-acted (Fassbender is a highlight) period piece. McQueen’s direction is laudably and fittingly unrelenting and inaccessible, with achingly long takes (see Solomon’s tiptoe hanging) and unflinching scenes of violence (see Patsy’s whipping). Bursts of tense music also add emotional nuance to the typical sentimental soundtrack.
8/10 (Great)

Love & Mercy (2014)

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In the 1960s, Beach Boys leader Brian Wilson struggles with emerging psychosis as he attempts to craft his avant-garde pop masterpiece. In the 1980s, he is a broken, confused man under the 24-hour watch of shady therapist Dr. Eugene Landy. (IMDb)
Maybe it’s just the two different actors, but the past and future narratives just never really feel like they share the same protagonist, which is a shame, because each story is still strongly engaging in its own right: One showcasing Wilson’s quirky brilliance and burgeoning internal struggles, the other his road to recovery and love from under the thumb of a manipulative psychiatrist, each featuring solid performances, good music, and intentionally artful editing that keeps things interesting.
7.5/10 (Really Good)

Little Miss Sunshine (2006)

A family determined to get their young daughter into the finals of a beauty pageant take a cross-country trip in their VW bus. (IMDb)
The excellent opening sequence here gives us an immediate feel for each character, setting the stage for an achingly beautiful and genuine film family portrait with a powerful message of authenticity over perfection. The film epitomizes the dramedy genre; each aspect blends naturally with the other in favour of story and character development instead of cheap laughs and sentimentality, but I’ll never not cry happy tears during the climactic scene of this wonderfully-written and well-acted movie.
8.5/10 (Amazing)