Staff Picks: Features, Films, and Flicks


This Week’s Reading

Still from Lynne Ramsay’s You Were Never Really Here. Photo courtesy of StudioCanal.

You Were Never Really Here is a disturbing and poetic piece of cinema. I don’t know whether it’s my favorite movie of 2018—the experience of watching it was too uncomfortable for that—but even so, it strikes me that Lynne Ramsay’s omission from the nominees for best director at this year’s Oscars is difficult to justify. In You Were Never Really Here, Joe, played by Joaquin Phoenix, is a tortured, messy veteran and contract killer tasked with tracking down the kidnapped daughter of a senator. Often in movies of this sort, the pressure that builds by the threat of violence is somehow released when that violence occurs. There is no such relief here. In the pauses between violence, Joe returns home to his elderly mother (Judith Roberts) to fret over her health or help her polish cutlery; all the while the violence remains, like a ringing in the ears following an explosion. —Robin Jones 

The magic of Nicholas Britell’s score for If Beale Street Could Talk lies less in its beauty and more in its ability to heighten and blend with the other sounds of the city. I find, for instance, while listening to his music on the subway, that I cannot easily distinguish between the song and the small reverberations and clicks of the train car. His compositions are vulnerable and complex in a way that invites further inflection. They draw my attention outward and produce a cascading noticing: this wind, this siren, this face across from mine. The music, like the film, is not defined by any one thing. It is never glossy or romanticized, but deeply felt. The score draws attention to what is here—both the here inside the film and here, outside. It is an articulation of life against a looming whiteness that continues to enforce and muffle. —Spencer Quong

I have spent much time waxing salty about the awards-season snubbing of First Reformed, which I staff picked a few months ago. I am here now to decry the deafening nomination silence around Museo, Alonso Ruizpalacios’s artful, tightly wrought heist film based on the 1985 robbery of more than a hundred fifty objects from the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City on Christmas Eve. Museo follows the two young thieves during the crime and its aftermath, when they are immediately in over their heads as they try to sell what they’ve acquired, only to find it so rare and precious as to be worthless on the black market. The term heist movie may smack of gimmickry, but I adore the genre and think it often dredges up something deeply mysterious from within the human psyche. Ruizpalacios’s film is visually beautiful and dynamic while also being tender and thoughtful—I cried through the ending and spent days thinking about it, peeling back the layers of the main character, portrayed by Gael García Bernal in a performance of quiet intensity and pathos. A. O. Scott writes that while watching Museo, he felt he “might be in the presence of someone who could become the next great Mexican filmmaker.” I agree and believe that the true robbery of Museo is that it wasn’t even given the chance at gold. —Lauren Kane


Ando Sakura, Matsuoka Mayu, Sasaki Miyu, Jyo Kairi, and Lily Franky in Shoplifters, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.


There’s something quietly devastating about Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Shoplifters that I haven’t been able to shake since I saw it at the IFC Center a month ago. The film, an exploration of what constitutes a family, begins with a father and son shoplifting in a nondescript Tokyo grocery store. On the way home, they discover an abused little girl and end up taking her home with them. Like life, Shoplifters is fundamentally unfair: characters destroy their bodies in jobs that will never lift them out of poverty, people who really shouldn’t be parents have children, and, by the end, the Japanese legal system rewards those who shouldn’t be rewarded. Along the way, the film slyly hints that something isn’t quite right in the multigenerational family it portrays. I won’t spoil any of the twists—and there are quite a few—but needless to say, not all is as it seems. —Rhian Sasseen

I first watched Gillian Robespierre’s Obvious Child when it came out, in 2014. I was still in high school, and the ragtag group of friends who proposed it crowded around the TV, relishing a rom-com that could satisfy both our blooming personal politics and our small-town desire for a metropolitan social scene. After resurrecting the movie with sleepy boredom during a sweaty afternoon last July, I went on to watch Donna Stern (Jenny Slate) chug wine and mourn the loss of independent bookstores another four times over the past few months. A few of these viewings were with friends who hadn’t yet experienced the glory that is Obvious Child, but others were alone, curled up with snacks and the exaggerated hilarity that comes from knowing the punch line before it comes. In a word, Obvious Child is cozy. Throughout the film, we see Donna sleeping or napping or crawling into bed with people who love her unconditionally. And while it might seem absurd to describe a movie framed around an abortion as feel-good, Robespierre achieves this precise effect. The abortion Donna chooses to undergo isn’t her greatest anxiety but rather one in a litany of messy highs and lows that includes her job insecurity, her breakup, and her ambition as a writer. I will never stop laughing at the scene in which Donna lurks outside her ex’s apartment, shivering in the cold and counting sips of coffee until he emerges. Jenny Slate is a gift to the world, and Obvious Child wins every Oscar in my heart. —Nikki Shaner-Bradford

The best actress category at the Academy Awards this year is a group of five phenomenal women (Yalitza Aparicio, Glenn Close, Olivia Colman, Lady Gaga, and Melissa McCarthy) at the top of their game. I can’t truly grouse about this, can I? But grouse I will, because Toni Collette’s performance as an anxious miniatures artist and bereaved mother in Hereditary, my favorite film of 2018, is the kind of feat that cements a legacy, and I’m appalled she wasn’t recognized by the Oscars this year. Make no mistake—Collette has always been incredible. But this particular role encompasses so many extreme moods—blinding anger, heart-splitting terror, and the lowest, purest agony—that in the hands of a lesser actor, the film would fall apart. That it doesn’t is a miracle mostly attributable to Collette. In one scene, grieving the death of a family member, she writhes on the floor, inconsolable, screaming and howling over and over: “I can’t! I can’t! I just want to die!” Never has grief onscreen been this terrifying, this gut-wrenching and real. —Brian Ransom


Still from Ari Aster’s Hereditary. Photo courtesy of A24.