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Yazdi | Best of 2022 Films

Of all the things in all the world, I am often grateful most for the drifting away from my own life and becoming part of another when watching a really good film. You know, when you forget where you are, and who you are, and for a blissful couple of hours are in another’s world.

Like every year, 2022 provided its share of movie riches. This year I watched 77 films (thank you, Letterboxd) and was happy to be back amongst the tribe of those happiest with their faces backlit from the light emanating from a giant film screen in a theater.

Every year I say that it is hard to pick just the top ten or fifteen films, and yet it is truer with the passing of each year. So as before, here is a list of the films this year that turned on something within me: with anger, with intellect, with wonderful oddity, or just with giddy high-altitude entertainment.

Honorable Mentions: I do want to acknowledge some other films this year that I truly enjoyed. A call out to the goofy but smart, under-the-radar charm of CONFESS, FLETCH, the cool-witty vibe of the Jane Austen contemporary adaptation that is FIRE ISLAND, the intelligent,  brave two-hander that peaked too early in the year: GOOD LUCK TO YOU, LEO GRANDE, the sweetly grounded Cinderella charm of MRS HARRIS GOES TO PARIS, the visually arresting, brutal and relentlessly dogged THE NORTHMAN, the most striking and well-realized Indian film I saw this year, PONNIYIN SELVAI, PART ONE (sorry, RRR), the big-eyed but ultimately wistful wonderment that was THREE THOUSAND YEARS OF SOLITUDE, the artful twisting of horror expectations in SPEAK NO EVIL, the stealthy look at race in a film slyly disguised as a high-school comedy: EMERGENCY, the late-career Adrian Lyne concoction that is equally weird and libidinous, DEEPWATER and the unfairly maligned DONT WORRY DARLING.  

However, here are the fifteen films that I most want to celebrate:

1. TAR: this film reminded me what cinema should be, and how we have so lost our way. At once, unapologetically cerebral, ruthless, and crafted with precision, TAR engages us with all the questions that gnaw on us in 2022. With a career already as storied as that of Cate Blanchett, it says something to claim that this might yet be her finest achievement. The film is smart for as much information it withholds from the viewer as what is given to us. Just as in real life, where we contend with questions around privilege, abuse of power, sexual misconduct and the scrutiny of public gaze with incomplete information. We almost never know the full truth. 

2. THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN: This was the funniest film I saw this year, and also at the end the most heart-rending. While the film is ostensibly about a simple friendship between two men (played by Colin Ferrell and Brian Gleason) wherein one suddenly decides one day that he wants to terminate the friendship, it could be about any type of relationship. Have we not all dealt with individuals in our life who mean well, but will just not take no for an answer? Also, what do you do when one person in a relationship wants out and the other doesn’t. Writer-director Martin McDonaugh takes this premise and runs with it to the extreme with his characteristic flair for absurd and unexpected violence. Also this film that is nominally about the sundering of the friendship between these two men is perhaps in reality only a stealth setup to actually tell the story of the character of Ferrell’s sister, played wonderfully by Kerry Condon.

3. EVERYTHING, EVERYWHERE, ALL AT ONCE: What more is left to say about this film at this time. Yes the film’s title is apt, it is indeed about seemingly a hundred things at once, and the first hour appears so gonzo as to seem that the directors, The Daniels, have no plan in mind and are just throwing things at the screen randomly to see what sticks [BULLET TRAIN also suffers from the same misperception]. But through all of the craziness that unfolds on screen, there IS a plan, there is a method to the madness. And a message as old as the hills, about the need for tolerance and the value of family over all else. The mile a minute leaps in the film also afford the filmmakers to pay quick homage to so many other films. Perhaps none as wistful and lovely as the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it section set in Hong Kong that venerates the woozy romanticism of Wong Kar Wai films, principally, IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE. That this little film, released in February is holding up strong late in the year and is at the forefront of every discussion about the best films of the year speaks to how indelible an impact the film has had. That and the fact that this film finally gives Michelle Yeoh the opportunity to prove once and for all that she is a film god.

4. ARMAGEDDON TIME: There is something about the pandemic that has made many top-end filmmakers look back upon their childhoods and to make films that look back upon their time growing up. Kenneth Branagh did this with BELFAST, Sam Mendes with EMPIRE OF LIGHT, and most recently Steven Spielberg with THE FABLEMANS. But of all these films looking back at a specific place and time when these directors grew up, ARMAGEDDON TIME from James Gray is perhaps the most emotionally honest and effective. Based in the eighties when he was growing up as a teen in New York in an immigrant family, James Gray presents the entire film I think, as an apology. As we transition from kids to adults we are also growing up in terms of moral rigor, and the ability to take stands on issues political or otherwise, and we are developing the confidence to speak up. With the giddy energy of a teen that doesn’t always allow for full understanding of social, moral or racial issues, Gray failed to stand up for a friend when he was a child, and this film is his mea culpa. I do not think he is asking us to absolve him of what happened, but just document those events. And to his great credit, Gray is not afraid to show himself and his family with all their imperfections, with a brutal honesty that puts this film ahead of others in this genre.

5/6/7. The Kill-The-Rich trilogy of TRIANGLE OF SADNESS, GLASS ONION and THE MENU. What good fortune to have, not one, not two, but three intensely entertaining films come to us this year, all about the indulges of the uber-rich. And as broad and on the nose as all three films may be in dialing up their satire of the gruesome excesses of the wealthy, the great satisfaction they deliver in seeing them get their comeuppance cannot be denied.

TRIANGLE OF SADNESS the latest from the wily provocateur that is Ruben Ostlund, offers a nasty, if heavy-handed skewering of the privileged aboard a small luxury-ship. And then in a smart second act sees the fates and the power dynamics gleefully flipped when the ship collapses and a few seek refuge on an island. Featuring one of the most daring, and wait-what-just-happened endings of the year, this one will have you leaving the cinema vigorously debating. As the better films tend to do

GLASS ONION: in another year, this would easily have been my top film of the year. Rian Johnson pulls off another delicious Agatha Christiesque whodunit by retaining the beats from KNIVES OUT but opening it up to more hijinks, more commentary, and more visual candy. When you have a murder mystery set on an island owned by a tech bro, you just know that the super-privileged have their comeuppance served steaming on a hot platter. Add to that some uncanny casting (hello Janelle Monae, why aren’t you a major star yet?) that eschews high voltage stars for more apposite casting, and you have a true charmer on your hands.

THE MENU: this one is yet another film about a group of superrich invited to a private island. The upper echelon chef who owns the island wants to deliver not just the ultimate in experience in food, but something a little more transcendent. With a script that always leaps a few steps outside the viewer’s grasp, and a premise that at its core is so absurd that you cannot do much else than shrug your shoulders, this is a glitzy piece of undeniable entertainment. Plus committed performances from the likes of Ralph Fiennes, Anya-Taylor Joy, Nicholas Hoult and Hong Chau never hurt a film.

8. DUAL: Riley Stearns has been quietly making dryly absurdist films for the last few years and we are ignoring the intricate world-building of this smart filmmaker at our own risk. If you were already a fan of his THE ART OF SELF-DEFENCE from 2019, then you will find his latest just as hard to resist. Consider the premise of DUAL. Learning that she has a terminal disease a woman arranges to have a clone made to outlive her. Only she somehow prevails over her disease and now there’s two of her, which the cloning company will not allow, and now she has to fight herself to the death so that only one remains, thereby restoring order. Like a quieter Yorgos Lanthimos, Stearns sticks by the absurd rules he has created to deliver a smarting thriller that will long stick with you.

9. CHA CHA REAL SMOOTH: This shouldn’t work; it reads like a crank ‘em by the numbers indie film script. But writer/director Cooper Raiff has an earnestness that you either buy and settle in with or roll your eyes over; it was the former for me. The screenplay has a specificity that rings true and the characters never stray from who they are for an easy laugh. A paid for hire bar/bat mitzvah party-starter builds an unusual rapport with the mother of an autistic girl. See what I mean? This film made me smile the whole time I was watching it and I am learning that Dakota Johnson may be one of our great stealth actors.

10. CORSAGE: One of the films last year that just didn’t work for me was SPENCER, a fictionalized imagining of a weekend late in the life of Lady Diana. I found the film shrill and exhausting and overly affected. CORSAGE this year attempts a similar approach and comes out aces. It is a fictionalized accounting of the life of Empress Elisabeth of Austria. Anachronistic, stylized and often a wishful-thinking revisionist, feminist take on the life of the real empress, the film is an attempt to do a biopic through a punk-rock lens. As played by Vicky Krieps, this empress is exhausted from the role of just the royal clotheshorse and wants more: more men, more political authority, more agency. I can see why this take on a historical figure may upset Austrian traditionalists looking for a onscreen adaptation faithful to real life. But like Sofia Coppola in MARIE ANTOINETTE, the filmmaker Maria Kreutzer here is more interested in capturing what might have been the inner life of this historical figure through a resolutely modern lens.

11. THE INSPECTION: Write about what you know, they say. And first-time writer and director Elegance Bratton tells a story based on his own experience as a lost man who enrolls in the Marines and must contend with being a gay Black man at boot camp. The film lives by the grays it creates; this is not the by-the-books retelling of homophobia in a training regiment that you might expect. The writing is nuanced and fluctuates back and forth between the lead  (played by Jeremy Pope) dealing with the physical requirements of the boot camp and his emotional setbacks. Of particular impact are the few but sharply abrasive interactions between Pope’s character and his mother, played by Gabrielle Union. This is a coming of age film with uncommon honesty that never settles for pat, unrealistic resolutions.

12. THE WONDER: This film lives up to its pedigree, and it is a shame it hasn’t gained more awards traction. Based on the book by Emma Donoghue (writer of THE ROOM), directed by one of our most consistently adventurous directors Sebastian Lelio, and starring the best-in-her-generation Florence Pugh, the film is about a puzzle that needs to be solved. During the 1850’s, an English nurse is sent to a small Irish town to investigate the ‘miracle’ of a young girl who is able to survive without eating. As she spends more time with the girl and her immediate family, the nurse is convinced there is a scientific reason why the girl is able to survive without food. Part detective story, part commentary on the eternal clash between faith and scientific reason, and part angry indictment of predominantly men’s spaces that will not let a woman in, this is a well rendered piece of work. Special bonus: the opening and closing shots which economically convey the magic of moviemaking itself.

13. HONK FOR JESUS, SAVE YOUR SOUL. This film from first time director Adamma Ebo is structured as a mockumentary and saves its indignation for the very end. It is a funny yet scathing look at the institution of the megachurch in southern United States. In its telling of the fictional account of a pastor and first lady of one such megachurch trying to recover from a scandal and build back their congregation, the film offers, finally, a great opportunity for Regina Hall to demonstrate how good an actor she can be when given the chance. The film has been criminally overlooked for its controversial subject, but gives us that outsider view of the hypocrisy that pervades most religious powerhourses today.

14. EMILY THE CRIMINAL. Aubrey Plaza is almost always hired to play the smartest person in the room, the one who will cut you down with the slyest, driest retort. But we ignore her versatility at our own peril. When given the opportunity, she can pull off complex characters with easy gait; see the criminally overlooked BLACK BEAR from last year alone. Now this year EMILY THE CRIMINAL gives Plaza a lead role that she chews up  with ace commitment. Plaza plays someone crippled by student debt who slowly embarks on at first small, then large jobs that function outside of legal propriety. Each job puts her in greater mortal – and moral – danger, and the film smartly depicts how difficult it is to pull out of a criminal setup once you are already a part of it. For a small independent enterprise, this film gave me more anxiety in my theater seat than any other this year. The action is tightly written and constructed to play out dangerously in real time. In our minds, we repeatedly beg the lead character to walk away, to not make another bad decision. Even as we fully know that we too would lack the luxury of moral fortitude if faced with the same circumstances as the lead character.

15. BULLET TRAIN. Is this the most misunderstood film of the year? Based on a Japanese manga of repute, all this film wants to be is a lark, a giddy piece of entertainment that would win the admiration of Tarantino. The plot is complex web of players and killers and too smart for this own skin hustlers whose lives cross-connect on the bullet train of question. The labyrinthine plot especially in the first hour where characters and their motivations are thrown at you in rapid succession has turned off many viewers. TOP GUN: MAVERICK came in a close second, but BULLET TRAIN was the film that gave me the giddiest joy in my theater seat this year. Is the plot too complicated? Are these characters impossibly smart? Do they talk with the sort of rapidfire wit that is entirely unrealistic? Yes, yes, and yes. But we go to the cinemas fully aware of the make-believe we are going to see on screen. Sometimes it is good to just to embrace the artifice and go along for a hyper-violent, fast paced ride. Also of note, I believe that years/decades from now, people will look back on the current time as the finest hour of Brad Pitt’s career. Ever since he has embraced the supporting character role, he has been doing work that most other actors lack by way or charm or effortless cool; see also Pitt’s solid turn in BABYLON.

Yazdi’s Best of 2019: the First Half


Hello film lovers. Yazdi here.


The first six months sometimes felt like the world was on fire. If not underwater. Literally. With record high temperatures world wide and biblical floods elsewhere. Mass shootings on a daily basis and a political regression to the early fifties. In these spiraling times, I found the best salve in the comfort of movie theaters, when stepping in, no matter how briefly, into the lives of others on screen was distraction enough. So now is as good a time as any to list the better films that got released in the first half of 2019.


  1. BOOKSMART (VOD: iTunes/Amazon)

Objectively smart, wickedly funny, and ultimately well meaning, this film will hold up as a classic of the American teen film genre.  Not since FRANCES HA have we seen a film take on, as its principal focus, the careful examination of the relationship between two female friends, an oft neglected topic. And start preparing to hear the name of Olivia Wilde at end-of-year Best Director discussions.


  1. GLORIA BELL  (VOD: iTunes/Amazon)

No film this year brought be greater delight at the simple joy of being alive as GLORIA BELL. Remaking his own celebrated 2013 Chilean film GLORIA, starring the indomitable Paulina Garcia, director Sebastian Lelio, fresh off his Best Foreign Film Oscar win for A FANTASTIC WOMAN, teams with Julianne Moore for his English language debut in GLORIA BELL. This film chooses to watch, without judgment, a woman of a certain age post-divorce try to find her place in the world again. People always complain that the stalwarts like Streep and Moore and Close always grab all the attention, not leaving room for new actor recognition, but to watch Julianne Moore here, in a resplendent, unaffected, and open performance is to realize why the good actors deserve our continued respect.


  1. US (VOD: iTunes/Amazon)

Jordan Peele’s sophomore feature lacks the elegantly clean plotting that made his first film, GET OUT, a breakout hit. This second film from Peele is messier and bites off more than it can chew. But that doesn’t make it a lesser film, just a more ambitious one. Most of the film plays, and effectively so, as a thriller, even as a genre home invasion film. But in its last thirty minutes it digs deeper at what Peele had in mind with the film all along. A blistering attack on privilege, the price we pay for repressing our identity, and our cultural acceptance of elitism, US has one of its characters say in so many words that the film title refers to an unsteady “United States” and not the deceptive warmth of “us”. Is it that each one of us has an other hidden self, the truer person that we keep firmly subterranean. And what if all our other hidden selves were to get together. That we are even discussing these ideas is a testament to the vision of Jordan Peele. When can we see your next film, Mr Peele?


  1. EVERYBODY KNOWS (streaming on Netflix)

A woman returns with her kids to her hometown in Spain for her sister’s wedding and her teenaged daughter goes missing on the night of the celebrations. This plays like a thriller, but only as a device to comment on the unknowable secrets that lurk within families. And the long-held resentments and past grudges that erupt when something bad happens. This is a melodrama in the best sense of the word, a fully satisfying moral dissection of family couched within a whodunit.  This is a Spanish language feature made by an Iranian director, set in Spain and features some of the best acting talent from Latin cinema. All one needs to say is that it stars Penelope Cruz, Javier Bardem and Ricardo Darin. What more do you want from your cinema, especially coming from two-time winner of Best Foreign Film director Asghar Farhadi.  And as terrific as Cruz and Bardem (playing Cruz’s past lover) are in this film, it is Barbara Lennie who plays Bardem’s wife who should be included any year-end discussion of the best supporting performers in cinema. I wonder if there is a better film screening on Netflix right now.


  1. MIDSOMMAR (back in theaters for the Director’s cut with 30 additional minutes)

This film technically didn’t open until July 3rd, but I saw it at a screening earlier in June, so I am including it on this list. How could I not. This is not a perfect film, and a few times comes dangerously close to buckling under its own heft. And I wanted the ending to hold more wonders, be more original (although the conclusion has a delighting sourness to it). But the film is constructed with so much wonder otherwise, and is so masterfully crafted, that I readily surrendered to where it took me. The film is about a group of friends who visit the rural home of their Swedish friend to attend the once-in-decades Midsommar festival, and soon start to realize that things there may not be as idyllic as they seem. The film circles around so many issues, (including a nicely haunting prologue featuring rising star Florence Hugh having to deal with sudden tragedy), that it is often difficult to identify the film’s primary thesis. But therein lies its strength because the road to its conclusion is so gleefully unpredictable.


  1. ROCKETMAN (VOD: Amazon/ITunes)

Now here is how to make a biopic.  Of a musical genius, even while being constrained by the jerky, necessarily episodic nature of the storytelling. In its execution and in its joyful, surreal, and altogether delightful visual splendor of the musical pieces, the film goes to heights that completely eluded the overcelebrated BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY from last year. Unlike that film, ROCKETMAN has its lead sing his own songs (and he is mighty adept at it), the film covers a relatively short period of time (childhood through the early eighties) in the life of its protagonist, and most critically handles them with integrity.


  1. PHOTOGRAPH (streaming on Amazon Prime)

As small as this film is, it gives so much. The director of the celebrated film THE LUNCHBOX, has his next film that is set in India deal with the unlikely connection between two strangers who need each other more than each realizes. Wise, gentle and never kneeling to the unnecessary turnings of a plot, PHOTOGRAPH best of all is a movie about movies, and finds a way to pay wistful homage to a past Bollywood that will never be again. The film is also a marvel of acting, as the unimprovable Nawazuddin Siddiqui creates another indelible character of an everyman in India. Seek out this film, particularly since it is streaming on Amazon Prime now.


  1. JOHN WICK 3 (VOD: iTunes/Amazon)

The John Wick films have become an unexpected paean to superlative action in cinema. And JOHN WICK 3 is no exception; the film is essentially a concatenation of hard-to-believe, how-did-they-do-that set pieces that frequently bring jaw to floor. How each successive film in the series amps the ingenuity of the action is something to marvel at, even as the scripts widen the mythology of the world created by the first film. What is not something to marvel at is how Chad Stahelski, the man behind these films, feels the need to also unfortunately ramp up the violence in these films; look, I am fine with violence in cinema and it doesn’t usually bother me. But as many others have mentioned, if JOHN WICK 3 didn’t get an NC-17 rating for extreme violence, then no film ever will. Why this need to push the limits of the eye-gouging and bone-crunching; Stahelski should have confidence in his craft and understand that not everyone savors violence as entertainment.


  1. GULLY BOY (streaming on Netflix)

A young man from the Mumbai slums dreams of becoming a rap artist. This was film I should have had no interest in, and yet it totally captivated me, proving again Roger Ebert’s assertion that it’s not what the film is about, but rather how it is about what it is about. Ranveer Singh just coming off his gloriously deranged role in PADMAVAT, plays the title character with a mixture of resigned despair and cautiously germinating optimism. And Alia Bhat playing his girlfriend who will take no prisoners, very nearly steals the film. This is another winner from writer-director Zoya Akhtar.


  1. THE DEAD DON’T DIE (VOD: iTunes/Amazon)

I am not routinely a fan of horror, but Jim Jarmusch’s droll, dry take on the zombie genre made me beam through the running time of THE DEAD DON’T DIE. Many found the film inconsequential, but I resonated fully with the deadpan humor, and the film’s frequent forays into self-aware breaking of the third wall. Bill Murray has reached a mythical stature in cinema, but to see his line readings in this film is to realize why he earns that place. And with a ridiculously privileged cast that includes Adam Driver, Tilda Swinton, Chloe Sevigny and Alison Janney, this film is a breezy hoot.


Yazdi’s Best of 2018 | Films | Personal Favorites

There were so many good films released in 2018, that to whittle them down to just ten seemed a betrayal. Isn’t the point of these lists to bring your personal recognition to the best, the most adventurous, the most humane, the most risk-taking of films. So spread the wealth, I say. Recognize more. I have my top 15 films, and then a list of ten more to round off the top 25. And I even cheated with placing more than one film in a ranking occasionally. Whatever it takes to shine a light on the better films.

Also as in past years, the films on my list are those that changed something within my emotional circuitry.



Filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos throws battery acid at the British period piece genre. He gleefully incorporates anachronistic costumes and music, and invents plot where there are historical gaps ,to create something deliciously nasty; I watched most of the film agape. The script, by Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara lets each of the three female leads be conflicted and scheming, wary and hilarious, and altogether human.  One woman has usurped the powers from the frail Queen Anne, and another is, at any cost, on her way up literally from the mud into the queen’s chambers.



One measure of a better film is this: you come out after watching it and immediately wonder why no one thought to tell this story before. A QUIET PLACE has the simplest of premises: a family trying to survive in a future world ruled by aliens that hunt by sound. As far as visceral thrills go, no film this year did better.



Ah, is there a more humanist filmmaker working today than Hirokazu Kore-eda. For more than a decade he has made films that refuse to make easy villains of any of his characters. He takes a story from the Japanese headlines, and compassionately examines how that might have come to be. Like Koe-eda criminally underappreciated LIKE FATHER LIKE SON, this film too asks the viewer to reconsider our definition of ‘family’. The film is also a grand showcase for its actors, including his long collaborator Kirin Kiki (who passed away soon after the release of the film) and the unimprovable Sakura Ando, who tackles what might be the most subtly complex role of any in cinema this year.


  1. ROMA

I have learned over the years that the single greatest deterrent to the enjoyment of a film is high expectations. By the time I saw ROMA it had already been hailed as the best this and best that. And yet, from the opening credits appearing over floor tiles splashing with foamy water, to the quiet end, I was displaced. Displaced from my cinema seat to another time and place, at once silvery and unreal in glorious black-and-white photography and as invasively authentic as turning the pages of someone’s brittle, tissue spliced photo album. Perhaps my reaction to the film owes much to the fact that I too grew up in the early seventies in a busy city, and under the full influence of many a domestic help. This film will hold up well to posterity.



Most days in 2018 felt like the world was in a race to greater isolationism. And the one thing that we could use more than anything else was objective unconditional empathy. I was most grateful this year then for the triptych of films that were all about individuals on the fringes of society that we would rather not consider. Or at least those we would prefer to actively ignore. All three films, excellent pieces of cinema each, are empathy generators asking us to re-examine our outsiders, by any definition, be it economics, mental health, or geography.



A man in his late twenties hesitates to introduce his affluent girlfriend to his rough-hewn family, only to have his parents sheepishly announce that they are expecting a child. Another film would have taken this clever premise and made a soap opera out of it. But BADHAAI HO has no interest in tired plot gymnastics, or feckless humor. It takes its central conceit – the imminent arrival of a child to a couple of a certain age and authentically watches it’s impact on every member of the family and surrounding neighbors. And uses this to craft some of the wittiest writing this side of the Atlantic. What can I saw, I laughed and I cried. How often can you say that.



This is a heist film, but to call it so is severely reductive. Director Steve McQueen takes this genre and uses it to construct a dense labyrinth of characters set around contemporary Chicago to create something Shakespearean: layered, marked by shifting loyalties, and bracingly tragic. Make no mistake, it takes no small measure of brilliance to create what looks like a gangster theft film, which is also a deeply, consistently satisfying entertainer, while deftly commenting on the state of race, class and political rot in contemporary urban America. The film starts with a con job gone spectacularly wrong, killing all involved, and proceeds with the mafia leaning of the widows of the dead men to recover the spoils; the women band together to pull off a final heist. With this pedigree and this cast, this film should have been a flat out hit. That it isn’t is both a mystery and a tragedy.



There is more gonzo creativity in this film than any other ten films released this year. Writer-director Boots Riley has so much contempt for the state of race relations in contemporary America, and so much righteous anger that he can barely contain in within each frame of his film. So he throws everything he has onto each scene. Some of it sticks, some of it doesn’t, but it is nothing less than giddying to see pure ideas thrown at the viewer at such rapid-fire pace. It is futile to try and explain the plot, except for the basic set-up: an out of work African American man who gets employed at a call center, quickly learns that he can be highly ascendant in this career by taking on a Caucasian voice. And then things go to poop, as they say. Gleefully surreal, nakedly bruising in its strife for social justice, and unbound by limits of reason or logic, the film takes off into a cloud of absurdist genius.



I do not usually gravitate toward Westerns. And yet here is another film that takes the outward shell of a genre and uses it to beautifully comment on human failings. This English language film, directed by a French filmmaker, based on a novel by a Canadian, and starring American and British actors is something to be experienced: funny, unexpectedly insightful, and wistfully tragic. The film is like a hybrid of HIGH NOON and IN BRUGES. And how can you pass up the opportunity to see John C. Reilly, Joaquin Phoenix, Jake Gyllenhaal and Riz Ahmed in peak form. There is a scene late in the film where the eponymous brothers arrive in 1850s San Francisco that is wonderfully realized and a marvel of Production Design. Best of all, there is a lot that remains to be unpeeled after having seen the film.


  1. TULLY

This film is many things, but what has endeared it to me is that from the first scene of a mother softly brushing her son to calm him down to the very last, it seeks understanding. In cinema’s pursuit of taking on the most challenging and taboo of topics, it has often ignored one staring in the face of so many: the post-natal challenges of motherhood. In our fear of anything short of the glorification of the state of motherhood, the unpleasantness of it, the physical and psychic stress of it goes unmentioned. TULLY handles with authentic agency.



Watch out for Chilean filmmaker Sebastian Celio, who has had an untarnished streak to date. He is beloved by arthouse movie fans and his A FANTASTIC WOMAN nabbed the Best Foreign Film Oscar last year. It won’t be long before he becomes a household name, perhaps no sooner than the release in 2019 of GLORIA BELL, the English language remake of his GLORIA. But look no further for evidence of the magic of his craft than the woefully underappreciated DISOBEDIENCE. A woman (Rachel Weisz) returns to her orthodox Jewish London community upon news of the death of her father, the rabbi. Her return triggers a disruption within the insular world, not the least because of her renewed friendship with the wife (Rachel McAdams) of the expected new rabbi. Smart, brave, questioning and ultimately empathetic the film ponders on the impact of warring with tradition.



If films could create their own language. If the experience of the lesser other in society can be rendered on screen. If the social issues of fifty years ago remain woefully relevant even now. If the colors and visual composition in a movie can take your breath away. If a decades old James Baldwin work can breathe and be breathy on celluloid. If the ache, and the burning seething heat of new love can be conjured up. Then one gets a film so perfectly composed, acted and brought to its inevitably artful end. Then we would get IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK.


  1. MUSEO

Two men from relatively affluent families, afflicted with the usual discontent of youth, pulled off the biggest heist of artwork from a museum in Mexican history. They also thought that they could sell the spoils of their theft relatively easily to make money, even after the media blitz that followed the robbery. Always ahead of the audience, this artful construction of the events, plays like a terrific thriller. It also is Evidence H in the case for how criminally underappreciated Gael Garcia Bernal remains in cinema.


  1. 22 JULY

Not too long ago a man working for the Norwegian police opened fire on the streets of Norway, and then took a ferry up to an island off the city and systematically hunted and shot down children who were camping there. To make a film about a hate act is a high challenge, because it can come off wrong twenty seven ways: being too preachy, or heavy handed, or sentimental, or glib. Paul Greengrass uses his mastery of craft to retell this story with objectivity. And while the first part of the film deals with the actual events leading up to those acts of domestic terrorism, the second half follows two individuals: the court-assigned lawyer to defend the shooter, and one of the teenagers who managed to survive the attack on the island and is under the pressure to speak at the shooter’s trial. This is a sobering, bracing, and ultimately hopeful film that is asking each of us to contemplate global terrorism.



Ah, this film filled me up. Based on the events in the life of Neil Armstrong leading up to the moon landing in 1969, many a viewer came away nonplussed, because they were unprepared for Armstrong to be a stoic, internally drawn lead character. But director Damian Chazelle lets Ryan Gosling play Armstrong as he was in real life, a person of few words, even while recognizing the perils with making this person the lead in his film. There have been plenty of films made about larger than life characters, it is time that we make more about those who are quieter, self-reflecting. I marveled at the impossibly accurate and you-are-there depiction of the NASA efforts to get the first man to the moon. There have been other films made about the moon landing but none that made you experience it like here. The great wonder of FIRST MAN is how acutely it conveys the sheer odds that were against humans stepping on the moon. Particularly with the computational power available at the time which was less than what most of us have on our smartphones now. And the space shuttle itself being no more sturdy than a tin box. And yet we prevailed.


And the next ten films are:


Yazdi’s Favorite Films of 2017


Hello everyone, Yazdi here.

I blame the holidays.

I maintain a list of favorite films on Letterboxd all year. They are films from the past year that have triggered introspection, impressed with their craft, or just made me giddy in my cinema seat. And then the end of the year approaches, the holidays arrive, and I get caught up in the spirit of the season. That is when I inevitably recalibrate the rankings on my list. When I think back upon the past twelve months, the films that register more than others now are those that have moved me the most. The word “movie” dates to the 1890s when it was first realized that projecting still images in quick succession approximated movement on the screen; this definition makes sense. But I like to think of movies, the good ones at least, as films that move us the most, those that emotionally register, often irreversibly. Come the end of the year, the more cerebral films tumble down the list and the ones that have altered something within my emotional circuitry, rise to the top. The list of films stays the same, but when it comes to the rankings, the heart has always trumped the mind. And so is the case with this year’s list too:


  1. STRONGER: Nominally, this is about a person overcoming physical disability, at this time already an exhausted genre in film. But director David Gordon Green makes this a film about all the other things that are impacted by sudden disability; the lives of those around the person; the sense of self as the ground has literally disappeared from under them. The perennially underappreciated Jake Gyllenhaal is supported by career-best performances from Miranda Richardson and Tatiana Maslany. The film has no interest in making heroes out of any of the characters, based on real life individuals. And by allowing them to be deeply flawed, ill-intentioned even, STRONGER became the most emotionally authentic film I saw this year.
  2. CALL ME BY YOUR NAME: Like BOYHOOD, this is a film that doggedly refuses to add up to much through most of its running time. Until the very end when it suddenly does, and it quietly breaks your heart. Director Luca Guadagnino, a master of surfaces rendered with impossible beauty, lets the film languor, letting the viewer soak into the locale and the characters. Its a deeply immersive experience. More than anything else CALL ME BY YOUR NAME gets the subtle, complex dance of first love just right: the initial tentative circling around each other, the mixed messages, the dubious reading of signals, and the alacrity with which those around are recklessly used as pawns. This is the rare film that understands the cruelty that goes hand in hand with the swoon of young love.
  3. THE BEGUILED: A wounded soldier during the American Civil War is rescued to a Girls School. This is your classic rooster-in-a-henhouse story. In her take on the 1971 Clint Eastwood film, Sofia Coppola has left much of the story intact, but chosen to tell it from the perspective of the hens instead of the rooster. What great fun to watch the psychosexual repression get pressure cooked into a delicious stew of moral ambiguities. With a constant backdrop of booming cannons, the Civil War era sexual politics feel fiercely relevant.
  4. THELMA: All those lamenting the death of good cinema should immediately get their hands on this Norwegian thriller. A young girl leaves her sheltered small town family life to attend university in a big city, and starts noticing strange things happening to and around her. Always holding its cards close to the chest, THELMA evolves into something utterly unexpected. You watch the film with incredulity, unsure at every minute where the story is headed. Is this is a coming-of-age film. Is it supernatural horror. Is it a character study about the perils of repressing sexuality. Is it a strident rebuke to religious fanaticism. As you think back on the film afterward, you realize it is not primarily any of those things, although it touches upon them all. And you recognize that the film’s ambitions are grander still, taking on nothing less than how the world at large looks at femininity.
  5. KAPOOR AND SONS: For a long time, the biggest enemy of mainstream Indian cinema had been a willful adherence to moral and cinematic tropes that were dated even decades ago. Which is what has made the Indian films from the last 5-7 years so utterly exciting, as experimentation in form, in structure, and in content have led to a new golden age, with exceptional films coming from young filmmakers eager to marry the aesthetic of independent cinema with quality of craft. KAPOOR AND SONS earns its place in this pantheon. It is blessed with superlative acting from an enviable ensemble cast and a director who knows precisely how to tap into their talent. But the thing that truly sets this film apart from others in the cadre is the script. The writing in this film refuses to find easy villains. It knows that family conflicts can spontaneously escalate to something not unlike between enemy lines during war. The writing seeks empathy, it seeks understanding in the face of long germinated prejudices, and it seeks space for everyone to breathe. This film made me glad to be alive.
  6. THE POST: At a time when the big studios are almost exclusively financing sequels and superhero franchise films, a resolutely cerebral film seems a minor miracle. Steven Spielberg has made an astute turn in his career with a recent trilogy of political films, LINCOLN, THE BRIDGE OF SPIES and now THE POST, that while superficially unrelated, all comment urgently on the state of contemporary politics in America, and the dangerous path we are currently treading. Kay Graham, the de-facto publisher of The Washington Post , in the early 1970s was faced with the choice of publishing the next of the Pentagon papers at the risk of having Nixon shut down the newspaper. THE POST is hermetically sealed within its times. But when you consider the issues at stake: the press versus a government bent on stifling its freedoms, a woman trying to exert her moral will in a predominantly male business, corporate imperatives directly abutting national security risks, you realize just how relevant this film is to the absolute now. THE POST is Donald Trump’s worst nightmare, and for that alone it is an accomplishment.
  7. THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER: The films of Yargos Lanthimos make you wonder if he is the person most urgently in need of a hug in the whole wide world, but By Jove, thank god for filmmakers like him. Demonstrating once again why he is a master of the disquiet, he is able to effortlessly conjure up unease and impending terror. The teenaged children of a celebrated cardiologist (Colin Farrell) and his ophthalmologist wife (Nicole Kidman) start to suddenly get sick with no medical explanation. Does any of it have to do with the young boy that the cardiologist has taken under his wing? Like all of his films, Lanthimos creates a world with its own absurd rules, and staunchly sees the film through based on those tenets. Isn’t it that evil is so frightening because it often hides in plain view amongst the banal. Part cold knuckled revenge thriller, part unforgiving moral treatise, and an altogether unpredictable and sinister experience, this movie may be too disturbing for some. But every lover of cinema needs to watch this film.
  8. COCO: This film nicely fits in with the best of Pixar films in its ability to create complex new world, and being unafraid to tackle darker ideas. This film owes a lot visually to Miyazaki’s SPIRITED AWAY, and the influence of Pixar’s own MONSTERS INC is apparent. However the film’s place and sensibility is uniquely its own. The film uses the Mexican rites of Dias De Los Muertos (Day of The Dead) as its springboard; but those rites resonated strongly with the Indian customs I grew up with, speaking to the universality of our common traditions. COCO filled me up and then devastated me. Note to Pixar: please abandon all efforts with sequels, which save for TOY STORY have resulted in inferior efforts. Their recent original material (INSIDE OUT, THE GOOD DINOSAUR and now COCO) speaks for itself and doesn’t need to be diluted by mediocre sequels
  9. LOGAN LUCKY: Were this film made by another director and distributed by a major studio, it would have been a runaway hit. But we expect proficiency from someone like Steven Soderbergh, and to our great peril, take him for granted. The director of the OCEAN’S ELEVEN reboot (and the sequels) takes a stab at another heist story, this time set in the down South NASCAR racing circuit instead of the gleaming Vegas surfaces of the OCEAN’S films. Oh but what fun this film is, probably the most entertaining one I saw this year. Soderbergh walks a tight line between mocking his characters and demonstrating unequivocal fondness for them. I have no desire to live in a world in which Steven Soderbergh is no longer making films.
  10. A CURE FOR WELLNESS: This is a blindingly original film. A young man is sent to a hidden mountain resort to bring back an office colleague who has seemingly been retained there against his will. The man arrives there, and of course, nothing is what it seems, and from there things take on one twisted turn after another. With a commitment to its craziness that initially puzzles you and then outright wins you over, A CURE FOR WELLNESS is what happens when you allow a filmmaker with giddy vision (Gore Verbinsky) to go with his full creative intent and you get the hell out of his way. What an utter lunatic delight this film is.
  11. DUNKIRK: What is left to say about DUNKIRK at this point? That in spite of other incredible mainstream productions released this year, you will not find a film with better craft. That this is the film that Christopher Nolan has been working toward his entire career. In which he has found the right scale, placed hubris in check, and put to optimal use his penchant for time dilation. Many expected DUNKIRK to be the story of the exodus of the more than three hundred thousand Allied soldiers out of France from Nazi control. But Nolan wisely decided to focus on a handful of individuals-  in air, on land and on water – demonstrating yet again that his best work comes from smaller scale projects.
  12. GET OUT: Of all the films on this list, Jordan Peele’s debut directorial effort will likely be talked about most in ten years’ time. The premise is deceptively simple: invited to the family home of his Caucasian girlfriend, a Black man begins to sense that things may not be what they seem. The film works as a satisfying straight up thriller. But the film gives so much more upon introspection. Peele has mentioned that the inspiration for the film was a mash-up between THE STEPFORD WIVES and GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER. By adroitly approaching this as a genre horror film, Peele is able to have the viewer experience a gleefully amplified version of the African American experience in America. And therein lies its genius.
  13. MOTHER! There is something to be said for a film that will just not submit to a middling response.  Most have outright hatred – the seething, foaming at the mouth kind – for the film. And then there are others who have great admiration for it. Here is the key to the movie: it is the rarest of films which is aided by a little bit of prior knowledge before being seen. The film, from its look into an early marriage in the first act, then to a home invasion in the middle, and finally to the spectacularly deranged last act, is open to many interpretations. I saw the entire film as an allegory for what the conversation between a prideful Creator and his young creation might look like. Once you see the Javier Bardem and Jennifer Lawrence characters as God and Mother Earth, respectively, the film makes absolute sense from first scene to last. The film has also, rightly, been seen as a statement on artistic creation, and the exacting, crippling demands it makes from the artist. Or simply as an age-old push and pull between a wanting masculinity and a giving female presence. No matter how you look at it, as insightful, or as overly obvious, you cannot deny that this is the work of a wily provocateur. And we are remiss to toss it aside based on literal interpretations of the film’s events.
  14. LADY BIRD: You come out of the theater having watched LADY BIRD, and you want to give the film a hug. Greta Gerwig has long been a double threat (an endearing screen actor and a sharply discerning screen-writer) and over the years there have been many (including me) who have wondered when Hollywood would wise up to her talents. Well, Hollywood was too busy bankrolling the next superhero film, and so Gerwig wrote and independently directed her first feature based on her experiences of growing up as a teenager in Sacramento. There is not a single innovative thing in this film, from the plot to the structure to the insights it provide. But a story well told, and with an abundance of respect for all its characters, is all it takes for a movie to hum with universal truths.
  15. THE LOST CITY OF Z / MUDBOUND: I am cheating and placing two films in the final spot because I cannot bear to let either one go unsung. Both are strikingly ambitious pieces of cinema, with wide breadth in scope, created by filmmakers relatively young in their careers.  In his sixth film as director, James Gray takes on the true story of British explorer Percy Fawcett who went deep into the Amazon to search for the mythic City of Z in the 1920s. He uses this premise to reflect on a multitude of themes: the heedless obsession that has driven the greatest explorers (and continues with extreme sportsmen in contemporary times), the tremendous and often irreversible toll this takes on families left behind at home, and the inherent danger in assuming ascendancy during the initial interaction with aborigines in a newly discovered land. This is a smart, grueling, meditative piece of cinema. MUDBOUND is only the third film from Dee Rees and it plays with the assured confidence of a filmmaker telling a story that must be told. Without sentimentalism or overt stridency, Rees follows a multitude of characters navigating the American South after the end of WWII.  They are all achingly human, victims of their time and their prejudices and the abject whims of fate. To Dees’ credit, there is equal compassion and an objective search for comprehension of the motivations of the Caucasian and Black characters alike. Some are monsters, yes, and the ugly cruelty of racism is a constancy, but there is also the haunting presence of an unsparing destiny that will not allow an unrealistic out for any of the characters.

As I wrap up this list, I realize that there were so many other fine films in 2017 that could have just as easily been on the list. So I had to get nit-picky in eliminating some movies.  Both I, TONYA and BABY DRIVER should have made this list, but I had to make some tough cuts and they were the most painful eliminations. THE FLORIDA PROJECT is a bonafide great film, but I couldn’t buy into its conclusion. THE SHAPE OF WATER is visually, as wondrous a film as any Guillermo Del Toro has made, and Sally Hawkins breaks your heart, but its conclusion unfortunately succumbed to the one thing Del Toro has never indulged in: sentimentality. THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI features crackerjack performances from a stellar ensemble, and is a rousing, provocative movie, but the film ultimately felt too mean-spirited to me. THE DISASTER ARTIST is good entertainment but seemed a bit of a piffle, an inside joke, a lets-do-this-for-fun enterprise. I have yet to watch ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD, THE GREATEST SHOWMAN and PHANTOM THREAD.

I have also deliberately left out documentaries because there were so many compelling ones released this year (you must see FACES, PLACES) and I will put out a separate list for them. Likewise I will be soon be publishing a list of the best of commercial cinema in 2017, where ATOMIC BLONDE, JOHN WICK-2 and STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI should find their rightful top perches. For an impenitent list maker like me, this should nicely feed my mania; watch this space for more.



2017 Winners | San Diego Film Critics Society

The Winners have been announced! The San Diego Film Critics Society, of which Moviewallas is a proud member, went through their year-end voting earlier this week. They picked their choices from nominations that had been announced last Friday.

And here are the winners. James McCoy as Best Actor, Male, for SPLIT, a film that was released earlier this year and which was hardly on any other critics groups mind. Sally Hawkins as Best Actor, Female, for THE SHAPE OF WATER, in which she plays a mute cleaner in the 1950s who has to contend with a creature brought in captivity to the premises. Sally Hawkins’ closest rival for the prize? Herself! As Hawkins picked up first runner-up prize as well for her role in MAUDIE.

The mysterious, unpredictable, but compellingly thought provoking Norwegian thriller THELMA, was awarded Best Foreign Film, beating out the likes of  more established films like THE SQUARE and THE OTHER SIDE OF HOPE. First time independent feature director, Greta Gerwig picked up the Best Director prize, besting established players such as Steven Spielberg and Christopher Nolan. Timothee Chalamet, who has burst onto the scene with his understated but undeniably affecting performance in CALL ME BY YOUR NAME was presented with the Best Breakthrough Artist prize. And the wonderfully versatile Michael Stuhlbarg, also from the same film (and also THE POST, and THE SHAPE OF WATER) was declared the winner for Best Body Of Work.

The San Diego Film Critics Society, which prides itself on its selection of awardees who are far from the beaten track, continued their streak in 2017 as well. Here is a full listing of the 2017 winners:


Best Picture: GET OUT
Runner Up: LADY BIRD

Best Director: Greta Gerwig, LADY BIRD
Runner Up: Christopher Nolan, DUNKIRK

Best Actor: James McAvoy, SPLIT
Runner Up: James Franco, THE DISASTER ARTIST

Best Actress: Sally Hawkins, MAUDIE
Runner Up: Sally Hawkins, THE SHAPE OF WATER

Runner Up: Willem Dafoe, THE FLORIDA PROJECT

Best Supporting Actress: Tie
Allison Janney I, TONYA
Laurie Metcalf, LADY BIRD

Best Comedic Performance: Daniel Craig, LOGAN LUCKY
Runner Up: James Franco, THE DISASTER ARTIST

Best Original Screenplay: Jordan Peele, GET OUT
Runner Up: Greta Gerwig, LADY BIRD

Best Adapted Screenplay: Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber, THE DISASTER ARTIST
Runner Up: Virgil Williams & Dee Rees, MUDBOUND

Best Documentary: JANE
Runner Up: THE WORK

Best Animated Film: MY LIFE AS A ZUCCHINI

Best Foreign Language Film: THELMA

Best Editing: Jonathan Amos & Paul Machliss, BABY DRIVER
Runner Up: Lee Smith, DUNKIRK

Best Cinematography: Hoyte Van Hoytema, DUNKIRK
Runner Up: Darius Khondji, THE LOST CITY OF Z

Best Production Design: Paul D. Austerberry, THE SHAPE OF WATER
Runner Up: Alessandora Querzola and Dennis Gassner, BLADE RUNNER 2049

Runner Up: Tie

Best Costume Design: Tie
Jacqueline Durran, BEAUTY and the BEAST

Best Use of Music: BABY DRIVER

Breakthrough Artist: Timothee Chalamet
Runner Up: Barry Keoghan

Best Ensemble: MUDBOUND

Body of Work: Michael Stuhlbarg – THE POST, CALL ME BY YOUR NAME, THE SHAPE OF WATER

2017 Nominations | San Diego Film Critics Society


So here we are. It is that time of the year already. Was 2017 just a big dream and it never really happened? Or is it really mid-December! How can that be.


Anyway, while we ponder the immutability of time, let us also share the 2017 Nominations for the best in cinema from the San Diego Film Critics Society.


The Moviewallas are proud, card-carrying members of the SDFCS, and we are thrilled to be voting tomorrow when we announce the winners. But here the nominations in each category:



Films nominated for BEST PICTURE

Best Picture

Best Director
Christopher Nolan, DUNKIRK
Greta Gerwig, LADY BIRD
Guillermo del Toro, THE SHAPE OF WATER
Jordan Peele, GET OUT

Best Actor
James McAvoy, SPLIT
Robert Pattinson, GOOD TIME
Timothée Chalamet, CALL ME BY YOUR NAME

Best Actress
Margot Robbie, I, TONYA
Sally Hawkins, MAUDIE
Saoirse Ronan, LADY BIRD

Best Supporting Actor
Ethan Hawke, MAUDIE

Best Supporting Actress
Allison Janney I, TONYA
Catherine Keener, GET OUT
Holly Hunter, THE BIG SICK
Laurie Metcalf, LADY BIRD

Best Comedic Performance
Daniel Craig, LOGAN LUCKY
Lil Rel Howery, GET OUT
Ray Romano, THE BIG SICK

Best Original Screenplay
Christopher Nolan, DUNKIRK
Greta Gerwig, LADY BIRD
Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani, THE BIG SICK
Jordan Peele, GET OUT

Best Adapted Screenplay
Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber, THE DISASTER ARTIST
Sofia Coppola, THE BEGUILED
Virgil Williams & Dee Rees, MUDBOUND

Best Documentary

Best Animated Film

THELMA nominated for Best Foreign Film.

Best Foreign Language Film

Best Editing
Jonathan Amos & Paul Machliss, BABY DRIVER
Lee Smith, DUNKIRK
Sarah Broshar, Michael Kahn, THE POST
Sidney Wolinsky, THE SHAPE OF WATER

Best Cinematography
Ben Richardson, WIND RIVER
Darius Khondji, THE LOST CITY OF Z
Hoyte Van Hoytema, DUNKIRK
Roger Deakins, BLADE RUNNER 2049

Best Production Design
Alessandora Querzola and Dennis Gassner, BLADE RUNNER 2049
Nathan Crowley, DUNKIRK
Paul D. Austerberry, THE SHAPE OF WATER

Best Visual Effects

Best Costume Design
Jacqueline Durran, BEAUTY and the BEAST
Jenny Eagan, HOSTILES
Sonia Grande, THE LOST CITY OF Z
Stacey Battat, THE BEGUILED

Scene from CALL ME BY YOUR NAME, nominated in several categories. The film opens in San Diego on December 22nd.

Best Use of Music

Breakthrough Artist
Barry Keoghan
Brooklynn Prince
Greta Gerwig
Jordan Peele
Sophia Lillis
Timothee Chalamet

Best Ensemble


Anyway, tomorrow Monday, December 11th is when we vote for our favourites and declare the final winners. Watch this space for the award announcements