On Film

Essays

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La piscine: Savage Water

Dismissed as gossip-column fodder in its time, Jacques Deray’s cooly enigmatic villa thriller is an exploration of masculine vanity and feminine disillusion.

By Jessica Kiang

Deep Cover: Who’ll Pay Reparations on My Soul?

Set against the backdrop of the war on drugs, Bill Duke’s boldly stylized thriller stages a meeting between the idea of noir and the idea of Black film.

By Michael B. Gillespie

Working Girls: Have You Ever Heard of Surplus Value?

Lizzie Borden’s groundbreaking drama scrutinizes the gender and labor relations that structure brothel-based sex work.

By So Mayer

Mirror: “All Is Immortal”

The fourth of Andrei Tarkovsky’s seven features is his most oneiric and resistant to interpretation, drawing from the director’s own childhood memories to create a fluid sense of history.

By Carmen Gray

Bringing Up Baby: Bones, Balls, and Butterflies

Howard Hawks’s madcap battle of the sexes is a reminder of how necessary and sneakily profound silliness can be.

By Sheila O’Malley

Pariah: Song of the Self

In Dee Rees’s ambitious and lyrical debut, the inner life of a queer Black teenager and poet is summoned in all its nuances and contradictions.

By Cassie da Costa

The Signifyin’ Works of Marlon Riggs: Positive Images

The multi-hyphenate artist’s staggering and frequently autobiographical body of work reimagines the depiction of Black people in American culture, encouraging us to question everything we see.

By K. Austin Collins

Visions of Eight: Time and Motion

This omnibus documentary captures the remarkable peculiarities of athletic striving in the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich.

By Sam Lipsyte

Streetwise/Tiny: The Life of Erin Blackwell: Qualities of Life

These landmark documentary portraits of intergenerational struggle in Seattle expose social horrors while also revealing the humanity of their subjects.

By Andrew Hedden

Nightmare Alley: The Fool Who Walks in Motley . . .

In Edmund Goulding’s gritty cult classic, Tyrone Power casts off his matinee-idol image to play a conniving carnival barker on the flipside of the American dream.

By Kim Morgan

Flowers of Shanghai: Inside the Dream

Hou Hsiao-hsien captures the power dynamics of courtesan life in this intoxicating portrait of the late Qing dynasty.

By Jean Ma

Merrily We Go to Hell: Gingerbread, Cake, and Crème de Menthe

Dorothy Arzner’s deeply cynical portrait of marriage exemplifies the director’s ambivalence toward the norms dictating female behavior, wielding ironic detachment to mask one woman’s simmering inner turmoil.

By Judith Mayne

Fast Times at Ridgemont High: A Kid’s-Eye View

One of the most influential high-school movies ever made, Amy Heckerling’s debut feature is both a raunchy crowd-pleaser and a keen sociological snapshot of teen culture.


By Dana Stevens

Irma Vep: Film in Flux

In what became his biggest hit to date, Olivier Assayas turned his methods of postmodern reflection onto his own medium, which was being drastically transformed by digitization and globalization at the end of the twentieth century.

By Aliza Ma

Memories of Murder: In the Killing Jar

Bong Joon Ho combines gritty crime drama with absurdist comedy in his breakthrough second feature, a dark tale set during a tumultuous period in South Korean history.

By Ed Park

History Is Made at Night: Taking a Chance on Love

The feeling of freedom in this swooningly beautiful blend of melodrama and romantic comedy speaks to director Frank Borzage’s belief in the invincibility of love.

By Dan Callahan

Defending Your Life: Real Afterlife

In this comic vision of the great beyond, Albert Brooks finds the sweet spot between the acerbic satire of his early films and the humanism of his later work.

By Ari Aster

Secrets & Lies: Seen and Not Seen

Mike Leigh’s midcareer masterpiece is one of the finest examples of his ability to construct riveting drama from ordinary life.

By Ashley Clark

World of Wong Kar Wai: Like the Most Beautiful Times

By marrying the glamour of golden-age Hollywood to a quicksilver formal daring influenced by a wide range of artists, the Hong Kong auteur became one of the coolest and most beloved filmmakers in the world in the 1990s.

By John Powers

Céline and Julie Go Boating: State of Play

Drawing on influences ranging from classic Hollywood to cartoons, Jacques Rivette’s uncategorizable masterpiece plunges viewers into a world shaped by the friendship and imagination shared by two soul sisters.

By Beatrice Loayza

Touki bouki: Word, Sound, and Power

One of the most striking debuts in film history, Djibril Diop Mambéty’s unconventional picaresque forged new aesthetic paths for African cinema with its dreamlike narrative, discontinuous editing, and jagged soundscapes.

By Ashley Clark

Chop Shop: American Hustle

With novelistic intimacy, Rahmin Bahrani’s follow-up to Man Push Cart illuminates the economic desperation hiding in plain sight in contemporary America.

By Viet Thanh Nguyen

Man Push Cart: A Melancholy Pull

Set in a transient, post-9/11 New York City, Rahmin Bahrani’s feature debut follows the Sisyphean toil of a Pakistani immigrant whose life teeters on the verge of catastrophe.

By Bilge Ebiri

Smooth Talk: Girl Power

A film that now plays like a harbinger of the #MeToo movement, Joyce Chopra’s first fiction feature shows how the myths that direct how girls come of age threaten their safe passage to womanhood.

By Honor Moore