48/52 THE DRESSMAKER
A glamorous woman returns to her small town in rural Australia. With her sewing machine and haute couture style, she transforms the women and exacts sweet revenge on those who did her wrong.
Writer/Director Jocelyn Moorhouse was a favorite of mine growing up because she was the force behind How to Make An American Quilt and A Thousand Acres. Then, like so many other women directors, she disappeared from cinema. For 18 years. In her case family obligations took priority when two of her four children were diagnosed with Autism. She devoted all of her time to their therapy and growth.
Now she’s back with a wild fairy-tale western starring the luminous Kate Winslet and a performance by Judy Davis that is one of the funniest I’ve ever seen. The film is sort of all over the place–at times a comedy, at times a revenge thriller, at times a dark drama–but it’s thoroughly entertaining and beautiful to look at. There were moments when I couldn’t stop laughing–that’s how funny and audacious (and Australian) the movie is. I’m so happy to see Moorhouse working again. This film is available on VOD.
47/52 AMERICAN HONEY
We’ve grown up mainly on male stories, and most of the films have been written and directed by men – and that’s only half of the human race. ~ Andrea Arnold
Based on a New York Times article that Arnold read, American Honey centers around the world of magazine crews that employ impoverished youth (who are often homeless, troubled or neglected) to tour around the country selling subscriptions. At just under three hours, it’s a sprawling and critically-praised glimpse into the cracks of Midwestern America most people never see unless you’ve lived there. What’s remarkable is that Arnold is an English filmmaker who seems to understands these places as well as any American.
The film reminds me of a modern New Wave approach. Arnold shoots in an aspect-ratio that appears square on screen because it’s closer to a human portrait. Her film is populated with non-actors, current music, achingly beautiful shots that cut before they become sentimental and a sense of scope that’s achieved while her camera lingers on faces rather than landscapes. It’s harsh and graphic at times, pulling no punches about a world that pulls no punches with these kids.
American Honey won the Jury Prize at Cannes and Arnold’s other films (including Fish Tank) have garnered a slew of awards including BAFTAs and an Oscar for Best Short. She also directs for Transparent. Arnold is one of those groundbreaking filmmakers whose work qualifies as an Event whenever she comes out with something new. This film is available on VOD.
46/52 IT HAD TO BE YOU
I would watch Cristin Milioti read a cereal box. I was so disappointed when her sweet and clever television series, A to Z, got cancelled after one season; she was proving herself to be the perfect romantic comedy heroine, the likes of which we haven’t seen since Meg Ryan or, more recently, Rachel McAdams.
Writer/Director/Composer Sasha Gordon has been feeling the same way about the dearth of smart romantic comedies. She set out to make the kind of movie she wanted to see, based on a real incident from her own life. And this movie is a GEM. It’s genuinely funny all the way through, it has originality, and it’s true to life instead of spinning off into fantasy land. I kept seeing it online and gave it a shot after a very stressful Monday at work; it was a lovely surprise and exactly what I needed.
Gordon is a prolific composer and award-winning short film director. IT HAD TO BE YOU is her first feature and she’s currently writing her second. You can find this film streaming on Amazon.