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)

 

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018)

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An anthology film comprised of six stories, each dealing with a different aspect of life in the Old West. (IMDb)
The discomforting and racist villainous portrayal of “Indians” should’ve been thrown away but the rest of the classic Western potpourri here provide lots of cozy charm (love those songs sprinkled throughout) and frigid chills amidst what is a uniquely curated collection of stories (some delightfully bizarre like the titular tale with its compelling narration and amazing climactic duet; others a bit more plodding and unremarkable) about death and judgment and the diehard American dream.
7/10 (Good)

What If (2013)

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Wallace, who is burned out from a string of failed relationships, forms an instant bond with Chantry, who lives with her longtime boyfriend. Together, they puzzle out what it means if your best friend is also the love of your life. (IMDb)
A charming cast with good chemistry, a script chock full of random witty banter (Driver’s crude best friend is a highlight), and the dulcet tones of Patrick Watson aren’t enough to completely distract from the utterly predictable romance plot (a “just kidding” airport scene near the end got my hopes up but it was not to be), but they at least make it a pleasant journey, and credit is deserved for how long they postponed the inevitable, though it seemed to make the ending that much more meh.
6.5/10 (Alright)