C'mon C'mon Reminiscent of Wim Wender’s debut Alice in the Cities, Joaquin Phoenix travels across America in this Mike Mills movie with his strange 10 year old nephew while interviewing kids and teenagers in America about their ideas of the future. A beautiful story about movement, bonding and filled with ideas that make us question our ideas about the world.
The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent Nicholas Cage kissing Nicholas Cage in a movie about Nicholas Cage played by Nicholas Cage. Fun, reinventing the pop humor imagery of Nic Cage while getting in some meta-film narrative that’s both exhilarating and funny.
Bones and All Or how to make cannibalism sexy. Luca Guadagnino’s makes a better American horror film than his earlier reimagining of Dario Argento’s Suspiria. Rural and weird America thrives in this cannibalistic love story with a brilliant performances from Taylor Russell, Mark Rylance and Timothée Chalamet.
Holy Spider This Iranian serial killer film by Ali Abbasi about a real life serial killer Saeed from Mashhad, Iran. Saeed preys on prostitutes as a way becoming a martyr and living cause of God. The narration of the real life events is embellished with the arc of an investigative journalist played by Zar Amir-Ebrahimi who is on the fight against the serial killer. Though having its plot conveniences, the movie brings everything together in a stark serial killer tale wrapped in relevant social commentary about Iranian society post the Mahisa Amini protests.
Moonage Daydream Brett Morgen’s tripping take on David Bowie’s life and music is an out of body experience. Having known very little about Bowie before, I left in awe at the expanse in Bowie’s work and in extension, in Morgen’s work. A psychedelic experience.
Triangle of Sadness I HATE CAPITALISM activism through a movie about the ultra rich on a yacht who later get stranded on an island. Class struggle, the gluttony of the rich, glorious puke projectiles and a drunken Marxist Woody Harrelson are the highlights in Ruben Östlund’s follow-up to the art-house epic The Square.
Top Gun: Maverick A movie with fighter planes and a Tom Cruise who is not afraid to really fly them? One of those large screen spectacles from this year that bring great writing and apex filming techniques blended to a perfect Hollywood blockbuster. Having not watched the original, the sequel still stands tall and Tom Cruise, the Man, balances off the edge of madness while still keeping his head.
Everything Everywhere All at Once The cultural zeitgeist of this era will be defined by this movie, a true successor to the spirit of The Matrix. Bizarre, breathtaking, featuring a bagel and the best dramatic scene between two rocks (not Dwayne Johnson, sorry). Sitting through this time travel tale is the equivalent of forgetting one’s brain in the washing machine, and getting dunked into an absolute creative craziness that lingers long after the movie is finished. An instant classic, this movie has the highest probability for being in the lists of future generations that look back at the 2020s as the heyday for great movies.
The White Lotus: Season 2 Mike White (forever the Ned Schneebly from School of Rock, which he also wrote) ups the stakes at the “uglies of the rich” TV show continuing the success from the first season from 2021. Analyzing the sexual ambiguities of the characters who are all casted to perfection and a whodunit at the core of the story became a favorite past-time in the last months of 2022, bringing up an online fan base just as funny as the series. Funny and sexy at every turn of a frame, a great show to start the New Year with, if you’ve missed it.
The Rehearsal Nathan Fielder’s follow-up to the nerd fun, cringe comedy show Nathan for You is a bizzaro reality TV-show that pays a 6 hour homage to Charlie Kaufman’s Synecdoche, New York. Taking the synecdoche trope to the extreme, Nathan Fielder manages to find the boundary between the real self and the actors self when faced with a camera, generating a lot of absurdity in the process. The Rehearsal asks a lot of questions about the philosophy of film and pulls us the audience to meditate on the fakeness of a world that we almost take granted to be real. Nathan Fielder is one of those rare artists who create magic out of nonsense, a true jester-philosopher of our times.
This list is in no particular order. Happy New Year and thank you for reading.
How to write a show where the main antagonists are Bashar al-Assad, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, ISIS, and the vestiges of the KGB without it coming off as a tacky American spy soup? Dripped in style, cogent writing, and a cast that is both suave and vulnerable aided by brilliant production design makes Le Bureau des Légendes a sophisticated espionage thriller that manages to keep you hooked throughout its 50-episode saga.
The initial episodes waste no time in setting up the story and are a bewildering ride but the lead character Guillaume Debailly played by a mesmerizing Mathieu Kassovitz brings together all the confusing story lines to a precipitating point by his screen presence, where he broods and ponders, a humane French 007.
Though in the latter seasons Le Bureau des Légendes falls into the familiar TV trope of the copious intermingling of characters, it does not come across as forced, the show borrows this leeway from the sharp writing and its intensive focus on the key material that moves the story forward. Guillaume Debailly's love for a Syrian dissident Nadia El Mansour forms the central conflict beneath the operations of the French Intelligence Service, the DGSE.
The cinematography and production design of the show are top-notch, almost making many of the settings seem impossible from a logistical viewpoint: The scenes set in Raqqa, Syria, and Tehran make one question how a TV crew pulled off these falsifications. Any espionage thriller should be inviting its audience to invest in its believability through kinetic action pieces and a story full of contradictions, an act Les Bureau des Légendes pulls off without relying on any overt action pieces.
At its core Le Burueau examines the question of a man having multiple identities and his yearning for a love long lost, one that is further befuddled by the intrigues of espionage and geopolitics. Le Bureau treats this as sacrosanct, making way for a pensive finale that spins the show on its head by asking about the legitimacy of victory in politics and extension, espionage. It's a perfect show to accompany grey days and internal turmoil, an accompaniment for contemplation in a media landscape that offers one a few avenues.
Or how to use a camera as a medium of consciousness
A camera is a tool that functions as a buffer between the one who's seeing and the person who sees, making film one of the exacting mediums to record reality with. The camera assumes the personality of the person behind it which is often diluted because of the dramatized domains the art form occupies. Rare exceptions are found when the camera becomes a tool of localizing and meditation, giving the viewer depth and context to the nature of things around them.
The HBO show “How to with John Wilson” tackles this meditative approach to film, setting it the bizarre confined of New York City where the director John Wilson introduces specific thematic elements juxtaposed to the everyday goings in New York. It's a show that eludes a genre-specific identity, it is part comedy, part cringe, part poetry, and documentary. Set to the childlike voice-over of the director, each short episode focuses on the issues that irk us as adults but for which no one has a specific answer. John Wilson brings curiosity to find answers to problems like how to split one's check or how to be spontaneous, juxtaposing B-roll footage to great comic effect. It explores parts of the human psyche that are assumed to be functioning properly but in reality, it puts most of us in a state of anxiety. Splitting a check or choosing a bottle of wine seems like the biggest mystery of modern life, what is appropriate behavior in these circumstances? Does one go for the second cheapest bottle of wine or risk a more expensive to a Portuguese wine shop at the end of the street? Though homo economicus might be a good thought temperament to imbibe, mental accounting hasn't yet reached the inner sanctum of our behavior. John Wilson helps us understand this division through his anxiety-prone view of life, making things awkward by overthinking and exhibiting this overthinking through the multitudes of human life in and around New York, with a couple of episodes exploring the same questions in Las Vegas and New Orleans.
How to with John Wilson is at its heart a passion project funded by HBO, giving wings to ideas that otherwise would remain as thoughts. The show exposes the conundrums between the reality of our experience vs. the reality of our thoughts, not a small feat for a 30 minute TV show.
As I was watching episode four of the Italian series Inspector Montalbano, “The Mystery of the Terracotta Dog”, I had to remind myself that it was a whodunit revolving around an Inspector and his motley crew set in Sicily. The episode was 1 hour 45 minutes long, enough to drain the patience of an average TV watcher but still, it managed to demand my rasp attention as the narratives veered from the mafia, interpersonal relationships, and in the end a terrific love story based around a Quranic legend. Other tracks in the series have involved Montalbano falling in love with a dog, almost adopting a son and his love for croquettes.
It is in this respect that Inspector Montalbano stands apart from Columbo, Poirot, or Beck for the angelic pursuit of his trade. During his many investigations, he lets the small-time thieves, prostitutes, and illegal immigrants free, even protecting them from the nefariousness of Sicilian politics. Given the fierce anti-immigrant rhetoric of the Italian right-wing, Montalbano comes as an agent of the State both just and clinical. Montalbano is the kind of hero we come to believe because his powers are real, we know what he eats and his morning swimming routines to keep him fit. We see his commitment (often on the fringe) to his girlfriend and when a range of women fall in love with him throughout the series, it doesn't come as a surprise. Luca Zingaretti who plays Montalbano makes one fall in love with him within the scope of an episode, from then on we're enchanted with his quirks and choices.
Inspector Montalbano is a rare police drama that does not insult one's intelligence and neither does it thrust the brutality of the world into one's face. Given the subject matter. there are hardly any grisly or risque sequences. This thematic softness is a take on the genre where the why of committing a crime is more important than the how. Given that the range of complex human interactions, the show becomes an enriching drama that probes the Sicilian life in a way that is more satisfying than the backstory of The Godfather. Montalbano has been one of the most satisfying hero stories I have seen on TV, enough to keep one engaged for more than a few months. This one is a 11/10, will recommend.
Happy New Year and see you again the next year. Thank for reading the kinocow this year and will be back with more reports in the next months.