5. A Bigger Splash (dir. Luca Guadagnino, 2015)
Luca Guadagnino’s second film in his self-described “Desire” trilogy, which also contains 2009’s “I Am Love” and 2017’s “Call Me By Your Name”, is loosely based on the 1969 French film “La Piscine” and stars Tilda Swinton as Marianne Lane, a world-famous rock star who goes on holiday on the small Italian island of Pantelleria with her boyfriend (Matthias Schoenaerts), trying to recover from a surgery which temporarily left her without a voice.
Their holiday is disrupted by the unexpected appearance of Harry (Ralph Fiennes) and Pen (Dakota Johnson), his newly-discovered daughter. Harry, who works as a music promoter, used to be Marianne’s lover and doesn’t seem to have gotten over her – or at least he’s too arrogant and self-absorbed to stop interfering.
There is a lot of sun and holiday vibes in Luca Guadagnino’s film but, from the moment these four people come together, a constant yet subtle feeling of menace ensues, like at any moment something will go off the rails. This is due to the tense dynamic the film constructs between its characters and, while neither of them are likable people, they are still very interesting to watch.
When it comes to acting, the standouts are Swinton and Fiennes, who give two performances at extreme poles, yet both masterful. While Fiennes plays an annoying, boisterous man who never seems to shut up, Swinton is nearly mute throughout the length of this film, but she still manages to be immensely expressive. The two of them are so good that they totally overshadow Johnson and Schoenaerts, who give perfectly fine yet far from memorable performances.
For most of the time, “A Bigger Splash” is a great film, the only complaint we have to make is about the third act tonal shift, which might not work for everyone and feels a little out of place. But overall, this is the kind of film where the performances, direction, and atmosphere come above the plot and, when it comes to these, Guadanino and his cast do a fantastic job. If only the ending was a little bit refined, this would have been much higher on this list.
4. Dogman (dir. Matteo Garrone, 2018)
This intense crime drama/character study is set in a small and gloomy Italian coastal city and follows Marcello (played by Marcello Fonte), a kind yet unassertive dog groomer who has an unlikely friendship with Simone (Eduardo Pesci), a big muscular bully, thief, and cocaine addict hated by the whole community. When Simone forces Marcello to be the getaway driver for one of his robberies, it’s obvious that things have gone too far and Marcello has to stand up against his oppressive friend.
Well-written, tense and insightful, “Dogman” is director’s Matteo Garrone best effort since his 2008 highly-acclaimed gangster film “Gomorrah”. But what makes the film truly great is Marcello Fonte’s sensitive and captivating performance as a gentle guy who has to face his subjugator, which earned him the Best Actor award at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival.
3. Happy As Lazzaro (dir. Alice Rohrwacher, 2018)
“Happy As Lazzaro” starts as a seemingly simple countryside story but takes surprising turns and evolves into something bizarre and not far from dark.
The film’s protagonist is a faded young man called Lazzaro who works on a marquess’ tobacco farm along with people he sees as his family. Lazzaro is simple-minded and has a weak personality, but his angel-like innocence will make you root with him. When he befriends the marquess’ son, for the first time he hears about the injustice he and his people are being exposed to. They aren’t paid and are treated like slaves by the marquess and her husband – but they have no idea that the “outside” world has banned these practices long ago. While Lazzaro still doesn’t comprehend the wrongfulness of his existence, an unexpected arrival causes his life to change and to move to the big city, where he discovers a new – but not necessarily better – life.
With naturalistic cinematography and dreamlike atmosphere, Alice Rohrwacher’s film blends Italian neorealism with elements of fantasy and tells a beautiful story about rich versus poor, untarnished innocence and the cruelty of the world. It is a movie that demands your attention and might drag a little bit, but in the end, offers a rewarding experience.
2. The Great Beauty (dir. Paolo Sorrentino, 2013)
With floating, dreamlike cinematography from Luca Bigazzi and exquisite direction from Paolo Sorrentino, “La Grande Bellezza” is an ode to the eternal beauty of Rome and a stinging commentary about its upper-class people and their hollow lives.
The film unravels as an old-age unearthing of wisdom tale and finds its protagonist in Jep Gambardella (brought to life by the magnificent Toni Servillo), a 65-year-old journalist and former writer who has once written an overly successful novel and who has become one of the most known figures in the literary and social circles of Rome.
After a life filled with beautiful women, late-night revels and extravaganza, the news of the death of his first love cause Jep to abandon the superficiality of high society, rethink his whole existence and embark on a journey of finding “the great beauty”.
“The Great Beauty” ravishes its viewers with stunning visuals, existential questions and a tone that goes from fun to melancholy in the blink of an eye. While not a flawless film, this is probably the closest that modern Italian cinema has gotten to reclaiming the glory of its past.
1. Call Me By Your Name (dir. Luca Guadagnino, 2017)
One of the best movies of 2017, “Call Me By Your Name” takes place in the summer of 1993, in the idyllic northern Italy countryside, where a 17-year-old Jewish-American named Elio (Timothée Chalamet) spends his summer with his parents at their vacation home. His father (Michael Stuhlbarg), a professor of archeology, invites Oliver, a 24-year-old graduate student, to help him with his work and spend the summer with his family. As the warm summer days pass, Elio and Oliver develop a beautiful romance.
Written by James Ivory and based on the novel of the same name by André Aciman, “Call Me By Your Name” was one of the most acclaimed movies of the decade and garnered numerous accolades at major festivals, including Best Adapted Screenplay and nominations for Best Picture, Best Actor (Chalamet) and Best Original Song at the 90th Academy Awards.
This is undoubtedly one of the most moving love stories ever put to film. With stunning cinematography, incredibly natural performances and a screenplay that refreshes the whole gay romance genre, there is hardly anything to criticize about Luca Guadagnino’s film.