Tag Archive for: Olivier Assayas

Ten of the very best films of 2015 are already on Netflix Canada

02 Jan
January 2, 2016

Some of the films on year-end best-of lists will take months yet to show up on streaming services, but here are ten from the cream of the 2015 crop that you can watch right now.

Clouds of Sils Maria

Directed by: Olivier Assayas (Carlos, Something in the Air)
Notable performances: Kristen Stewart, Juliette Binoche
Honours & Awards: Best Supporting Actress (Kristen Stewart)—César Awards 2015, NY Film Critics Circle 2015
Watch because: from first frame to last, this is an absolutely incandescent performance by Kristen Stewart. Juliette Binoche is no slouch either.

Ex Machina

Directed by: Alex Garland (screenwriter: 28 Days Later, Sunshine)
Notable performances:
 Alicia Vikander, Oscar Isaac, Domhnall Gleeson
Honours & Awards: Best British Independent Film, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Outstanding Achievement in Craft—British Independent Film Awards 2015; Top 10 Independent Films—National Board of Review 2015
Watch because: striking visuals, and three very strong acting performances, drive a science fiction narrative that actually cares about ideas.

White God

Directed by: Kornél Mundruczó (Johanna)
Notable performances:
Zsófia Psotta, 250 dogs
Honours & Awards: Prix un certain regard—Cannes Film Festival 2014
Watch because: where else can you see 250 dogs storming the streets of Budapest in a canine uprising—without CGI augmentation.

Girlhood

Directed by: Céline Sciama (Tomboy)
Notable performances:
Karidja Touré in a breakthrough
Honours & Awards: Nominated for Best Director, Most Promising Actress (Karidja Touré), Best Sound, Best Music—César Awards 2015
Watch because: “Raw and insistent, bold and brawling, Girlhood throbs with the global now, illustrating the ways an indifferent society boxes in the people who grow up in project-style boxes.”

The Duke of Burgundy

Directed by: Peter Strickland (Berberian Sound Studio)
Notable performances:
Sidse Babett Knudsen, Chiara D’Anna
Honours & Awards: Best Composer: Cat’s Eyes—European Film Awards 2015
Watch because: it’s, oh, just another “densely layered, slyly funny portrayal of the sadomasochistic affair between two lesbian entomologists.”

The Salt of the Earth

Directed by: Juliano Ribeiro Salgado (Nauru: An Island Adrift), Wim Wenders (Wings of Desire; Paris, Texas; Pina)
Honours & Awards: Un Certain Regard Special Prize—Cannes Film Festival 2014; Best Documentary—César Awards 2015
Watch because: this is one case where “epic emotional journey” a) is not an inflated description and b) unexpectedly describes a documentary about a photographer. Without doubt the most deeply moving film I have seen this year.

It Follows

Directed by: David Robert Mitchell (The Myth of the American Sleepover)
Notable performance:
Maika Monroe
Honours & Awards: Nominated for Best Director, Best Editing, Best Cinematography—Independent Spirit Awards 2016; Top 10 Independent Films—National Board of Review 2015
Watch because: it’s for anyone who likes their creep-outs smart, aware of film history, socially astute, but most of all—actually scary.

While We’re Young

Directed by: Noah Baumbach (The Squid and the Whale, Frances Ha)
Notable performances:
 Ben Stiller, Naomi Watts, Adam Driver, Amanda Seyfried, Charles Grodin
Honours & Awards: Top 10 Independent Films—National Board of Review 2015
Watch because: in a film comedically juiced by clever casting and spot-on X-er/millennial collisions, the ultimate highlight is a Ben Stiller performance that (at least for its runtime) will make you forget all about his career bloat.

Wild Tales

Directed by: Damián Szifron (The Six Billion Dollar Manyes that is happening in 2017)
Notable performances:
 several, spread across 6 different stories—my fave is Érica Rivas as the bride, Romina
Honours & Awards: Best Spanish Language Foreign Film—Goya Awards (Spain); nominated for Best Foreign Language Film —2015 Academy Awards
Watch because: “in its vibrant lunacy, and with its cartoonishly brash violence, it’s a little bit Almodóvar, a little bit Tarantino”—and probably a little bit Buñuel too, if less psychoanalytic and subversive.

Iris

Directed by: Albert Maysles (Salesman, Gimme Shelter, Grey Gardens)
Honours & Awards: Best Documentary Feature (Audience Award)—Hamptons International Film Festival 2014
Watch because: this biopic/slice-of-life doc portrait of fashion icon Iris Apfel, she of the enormous chunky glasses and bracelets, gains added poignancy from its scenes of the 100th birthday of her husband Carl (since deceased), and a couple of brief glimpses of legendary director Maysles (also since deceased).

Carlos; Something in the Air (Netflix Canada picks)

26 Jun
June 26, 2015

Carlos – Olivier Assayas, France/Germany, 2010, 165 minutes

Something in the Air (Après Mai) – Olivier Assayas, France, 2012, 122 minutes

As tense and fascinating as any historical-political drama you’ve ever seen, Carlos follows the life of Venezuelan terrorist Ilich Ramírez Sánchez, a.k.a. Carlos the Jackal, from his first attacks in 1973 until his arrest in 1994. Now more than ever we are living in the midst of a cultural obsession with terrorism, but this film provides a glimpse of what a different cultural meaning the concept had pre-9/11 (all while drawing a number of a lines of connection to our moment). It occurs to me that Assayas as a director has much in common with Steven Soderbergh—bringing considerable art and incredible technique to a film that also happens to be thoroughly accessible.

At 165 minutes the version on Netflix is the shortest version available, as Carlos was also cut as a five-and-a-half hour miniseries. Both versions were showered with awards in 2010. You might think that the short version would inevitably have awkward jumps but Assayas is not above throwing name-and-description titles on the screen each time he introduces a new key historical figure, which makes it dead simple to follow the various twists and turns, and eliminates the need for unnatural expository dialogue. The result is a film that moves briskly and clearly from one chapter to the next.

In Après Mai, a.k.a. Something in the Air, Assayas also revisits the 70s—but his own experience of them. Much more languidly paced, and nowhere near as gripping as Carlos (how could it be), Assayas’ 2012 film looks good, sounds good (thanks to another well-chosen soundtrack), and has an unforced quality lent by his choice of non-professional actors for some of the youth roles (as well as a really excellent performance by Lola Créton who also had a compelling turn in Claire Denis’ Bastards). A nostalgia-infused reflection on his own days as a high-school political activist in France, it manages to touch something genuine in its portrayal of a budding film artist who finds himself simultaneously on the inside and outside of the student revolutionary movements of the times.

I do have one complaint about Netflix’s presentation of Après Mai–the only English subtitling option is SDH, which means that for several minutes of the film that feature English dialogue, there is no good way to turn off the English subtitling and descriptions of sounds. This is pretty poor by Netflix, but if you can tolerate a few minutes of slight annoyance, the film is definitely worth the watch.