2019 is just a week old, but I'm here to tell you there is proof of great cinema about to be unleashed in the coming months. It's true, I've seen these movies in advance, whether it'd be at press screenings, through screeners or at film festivals, these are the films to be on the lookout for.
Director: Gabriel Abrantes, Daniel Schmidt
Synopsis: A disgraced soccer star seeks redemption but is exploited by a variety of causes hoping to capitalize on his celebrity.
Verdict: Sometimes a film cannot be pinned down to a specific genre. “Diamantino” is that perfect example. A hybrid of sci-fi, comedy, fantasy, romance, and surrealism, it defies explanation and follows its own beautifully dark and twisted creative freedom. The multitude of genre shifts makes the heavy themes being tackled satirically biting. This is an intellectually satisfying film, boldly stated through genre hybrids, physical comedy and a comedic sense of obliviousness from its Gump-esque lead character, bringing on insanely funny moments as well as its dim-witted protagonist journeys through the deepest, darkest corners of government uncovering, mistakenly and obliviously, the true depths of a damaged civil society.
Release Date: TBD 2019 release.
Director: Mateo Garrone
Synopsis: A gentle dog groomer becomes involved with a violent boxer who terrorizes the neighborhood.
Verdict: “Dogman” turns out to be a kind of David vs. Goliath story. Described as an urban western, while the drama does possess traces of Eastwood’s early no-frills gut-punches, it’s also very much a B-movie soaked in horror and revenge. It finds Mateo Garrone back in fine form and mostly, at the height of his game; the allure of his monstrous antagonistic character is undeniable and he earns extra credit for creating one of the most reprehensible movie villains in recent memory. This is a malicious breed that looks at the seed of violence through another lens; not the pervasive malignancy of mafia corruption (like the director’s previous “Gommorah”), but a rather an unsettling, malevolent individual perpetrating his own brand of terror. A hyper-realistic urban tragedy “Dogman” is ferocious and in its own way, much more frightening than “Gomorrah.”
Release Date: Spring 2019.
Director: Errol Morris
Synopsis: A portrait of controversial political strategist and former Donald Trump advisor, Stephen K. Bannon.
Verdict: “American Dharma” gives Steve Bannon a voice, if you’re already turned off by that prospect then documentarist extraordinaire Errol Morris‘ latest movie is not for you. The rest of us can go into this beguiling film with an open mind and accepting the challenge of an open dialogue with a man that many believe to be responsible for the emergence of the “Alt-Right” movement in this country. We’re never really sure who has the upper hand in this duel of filmmaker versus subject, but the film is much more than that, it’s a compelling historical overview of what is happening and what’s to come. Bannon warns of looming civil war and his reasonings aren’t that far-fetched. Morris seems to agree with him, ending “American Dharma” with apocalyptic imagery that feels disturbing because of its plausibility. Due to its warnings of the impending violent divisiveness looming in the country, this is a film that could age very well over time, but we all hope it doesn’t.
Release Date: TBD (No U.S. distribution yet).
Director: Sebastian Lelio
Synopsis: A free-spirited divorcée who spends her days at a boring office job and her nights at clubs around Los Angeles. After meeting a new man, she is thrust into an unexpected new romance, but there’s much more than meets the eye with her new prince charming.
Verdict: It might be sacrilege to say this, but not only is this “shot for shot” remake a very good film, but it might actually be better than the original. Why? Well, because Lelio has matured as a filmmaker over these last 5 years, he’s made this remake more emotionally relatable and affecting, but, more importantly, has improved the sketches of these characters because of the wonderful actors he’s cast in his film. Julianne Moore is the key to the remake’s success, it might just be the actress’ best performance since, quite possibly, 2002’s “Far From Heaven.” Yep, she’s that good, that raw, that emotionally resonant in the role of a middle-aged woman that makes the mistake of dating a troublesome schlub of a man.
Release Date: March 8 via A24.
“The Man Who Killed Don Quixote”
Director: Terry Gilliam
Synopsis: A disillusioned advertising executive is pulled into a time-jumping fantasy when he is mistaken for Sancho Panza.
Verdict: Make no mistake about it, “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote” is a love letter to art, to those that dare dream and how it can also lead us to madness, but the best most joyous kind. The overt symbolism is delivered here with a wink from Terry Gilliam, who returns to his roots of satirical comedy. Logic takes a backseat for the moment-to-moment chaos happening before our very eyes. This results in some of the most personal filmmaking Gilliam has done in more than two decades, with more than a few references to his own art. In other words, this is a rejuvenation. Gilliam, the auteur, is back because taking chances and the possibility of failing clearly excites him again.
Release Date: Spring 2019
Director: Isabella Eklöf
Synopsis: The trophy girlfriend of a small-time drug lord is caught up in a web of luxury and violence in the port city of Bodrum on the Turkish Riviera. The terrible things men do to women and that women allow men to do to them. Don’t mistake this provocative powerhouse for anything but the announcement of a new cinematic talent. Isabella Eklof’s “Holiday” is bound to provoke polarizing reactions. It’s a tough watch, a film that means to get under your skin and that it does. featuring one of the most graphic rape sequences ever committed to screen, the film is subtle on plot, never providing any definitive answers, but renders a damn-near damning finale. It’s not for the faint of heart, but in the era of #MeToo this is a film that deserves to exist, asking us questions about masculine and feminine roles in society, all done in uber-realist, near claustrophobic, fashion.
Director: Gaspar Noé
Synopsis: A group of French dancers experiences a hallucinatory nightmare when they realize their sangria bowl has been spiked with potent LSD.
Verdict: The first half, one of the best dance sequences I have ever seen put to film, feels alive and vibrant with cinematic prowess. By then, Climax feels like it's worth the hype it's gotten, a wildly breathless entertainment with single take Steadicam shots of pro, millennial dancers auditioning for a tour of some kind inside a modest-sized dance hall. Noe is trying to present to us what happens when you have the highest of highs and then go to the lowest of lows.
Release Date: March 1st
Director: Werner Herzog
Synopsis: Famed director/documentarian Werner Herzog travels to Russia to interview former Cold War-era, Soviet Union President Michael Gorbachev.
Verdict: Herzog’s film, one of the very best non-fiction works he’s given us, has the filmmaker interviewing the 87-year-old Gorbachev in a film that ambitiously tries to show how the new world order was formed right before and after the Soviet collapse under Gorbachev’s leadership. Gorbachev turns out to be one of the most fascinating political figures of our time. All thanks to Herzog’s keen eye at having a continuous fluid flow to the story and his subject’s willingness to lay bare in front of an audience, this is one of the most important documentaries of the year because it still feels fresh and relevant to our times.
Release Date: TBD 2019.
“The Wild Pear Tree”
Director: Nuri Bilge Ceylan
Cast: Dogu Demirkol, Murat Cemcir, Bennu Yildirimlar
Synopsis: Episodic story of aspiring writer Sinan returning to his native village in rural Turkey after having completed his studies abroad, which, in turn, has him becoming involved and overwhelmed by his father, Idris, a gambling addict up to his knees in debt.
Verdict: Ceylan is trying to give us a film driven by political landscapes, and astonishingly complex dialogue that is driven by philosophy, and religious traditions. The film does feel very “novelistic,”think of it as a rambling plunge into the more philosophical and epic works of Russian literature, those that revolved around a single character and involved a lot of intense conversation.
Release Date: January 30th