5. Enemy (2013)
Enemy is Denis Villeneuve’s inscrutable adaptation of José Saramago’s 2002 novel “The Double” and it’s a chilling, indulgent, yet always audacious affair.
Jake Gyllenhaal, giving an understated yet riveting dual performance, is Adam, a history professor in a passionless relationship with Mary (Mélanie Laurent) who soon discovers, after renting a DVD, that an actor in a small role appears to be his doppelgänger. After a little legwork, Adam finds the actor’s talent agency, intercepts some mail and learns his name, Anthony Clair.
As the puzzle-like film unravels, the viewer is treated, amongst other existential horror high-jinx, to troubling imagery of spiders, gossamer (a web-like appearance of a cracked windshield is especially chilling), stifled femininity, a tough, washed-out looking Toronto landscape, and increasingly dreamlike delusions that build to an arresting conclusion and a final shot that is totally terrifying nightmare fuel.
Enemy is a resonating work that presents itself as seductive cinema, sensational at times, and quick, guaranteed to pervade the viewer while offering up a dark fantasy, and more than a few troubling interpretations.
4. American Honey (2016)
English filmmaker Andrea Arnold (Red Road, Fish Tank) continued her winning streak with American Honey, a film that seems to move from one desultory random moment to the next; arranged with radiant, tantalizing possibilities, and unsettled questions. A rambling masterpiece, this is both a road movie, and a coming-of-age odyssey of singalongs that’s both luxurious to look at and dazzling to contemplate.
Sasha Lane shines as Star, an unfettered 18-year-old, she escapes her abusive scumbag father and joins a mysterious young man named Jake (Shia LeBeouf, excellent), whom she had a chance meeting with. Soon Star hits the road with Jake and other teens, throwing in with a tattooed and glitter-bombed crew who sell magazine subscriptions door-to-door as they zigzag across America.
When we first meet Jake he seems to move with an unpredictable and meteoric energy, like he could just leave the scene or even exit the movie altogether on a whim, if he wanted. And by the end, this meteoric energy has moved on to Star in some sort of cinematic transmigration. And that’s American Honey; a narratively audacious, picaresque pageant of youth, exhilarative spectacle and aspiration.
3. Zama (2018)
Fans of Argentine auteur Lucrecia Martel’s The Headless Woman (2008) had an agonizingly long wait for her follow-up film, Zama, and the wait, ten solid years, proved to be well worth it. Adapted from Antonio di Benedetto’s 1956 novel of the same name, Zama is historical fiction with a suitably ambitious scale that, in Martel’s hands, assumes an expectedly enigmatic form from one of this century’s most audacious and original filmmakers.
Unfolding in the late-18th-century, in an isolated Paraguay colony, Zama follows the twisting fate of the titular Spanish magistrate, Don Diego de Zama (Daniel Giménez Cacho), who waits in vain for the royal transfer that will reunite him with his far-off family.
Zama dazzles in part due to the oneiric lensing of cinematographer Rui Poças (and who’s not still reeling from his work in 2016’s The Ornithologist?), which lends itself so well to Martel’s elliptical, and teasingly elusive style of storytelling. Zama is a sensorial experience, it finds some solidarity with the Western genre, and Martel even displays, astonishingly, an admiration for horror films (Zama ends in a full on fever-dream nightmare fashion), in what is one of the most beguiling and bold films you’re likely to have see. A full-stop tour de force.
2. Under the Skin (2013)
A deeply thoughtful and profoundly shocking exploration of civilization and humanity, Jonathan Glazer spent nearly a decade on this dark hearted epic. Comparisons to Stanley Kubrick and Andrei Tarkovsky are appropriate and easily supported, as are the carefully constructed visual sensibilities and quasi-documentary leanings of Claire Denis and Lynne Ramsay.
Loosely using author Michel Faber’s satirical 2000 sci-fi novel “Under the Skin” as the alpha of this deep, metaphysical and mercurial treatise on humanity, Glazer has surpassed expectation.
Scarlett Johansson is outstanding, shining in a controlled and calculating process as she moves from childlike cherub to rouge-lipped iconoclast, all while saying very little. Seducing working-class blokes at random, she lures them into her alien lair with terrifying and deeply troubling results. Her motives remain unclear in what amounts to an unaffected nightmare.
Mica Levi’s score adds heft to Glazer’s artfully arranged visual compositions, culminating in a third act extravaganza of upset and intrigue.
An elaborate subterfuge of a film, ethereal and arty all the way, it’s an unnerving, unpredictable, and sense-rattling experience that will alternately haunt and reward the patient viewer for days afterwards. Under the Skin does just what its provocative title promises, make no mistake.
1. The Rider (2018)
Chloé Zhao follows up her stunning debut Songs My Brother’s Taught Me (2015) with another heart-piercing and elegiac portrait of life below the poverty line in The Rider. Set and shot in the sun-scorched badlands of South Dakota, Brady Blackburn (Brady Jandreau) is instantly compelling and utterly convincing as a once rising star in the rodeo circuit, who sadly suffered brain damage from an accident at a bull-riding competition.
Now prone to seizures, and having been warned by doctors he can no longer ride, Brady finds solace and strength through his younger brother Tanner (Tanner Langdeau), who is now a resident in a care facility after suffering severe brain damage from a stunt similar to the one that fucked Brady up, too.
The Rider embraces a sustained poetic melancholy due in part to the gorgeous cinematography (Joshua James Richards, who lensed Zhao’s Songs My Brother’s Taught Me is obviously a wonderful collaborator for this kind of emotive, neo-realist tale), and also from Zhao’s winning use of untrained actors who offer up honest performances of utmost purity. Heartfelt, bracingly sincere, and high-achieving, Zhao’s The Rider is a lowkey social-realist masterpiece. Essential viewing.
Author Bio: Shane Scott-Travis is a film critic, screenwriter, comic book author/illustrator and cineaste. Currently residing in Vancouver, Canada, Shane can often be found at the cinema, the dog park, or off in a corner someplace, paraphrasing Groucho Marx. Follow Shane on Twitter @ShaneScottravis.