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January 1, 2023 / barton smock

( said toward films in 2022

I don't know, man. I'm 46 and life is maybe just an aftermath of near misses, but Lucky, with Harry Dean Stanton and directed by John Carroll Lynch, knows you can't adopt a cricket, but buys anyway what it's surrounded by. Make your doubled sound. Fucking love this movie.

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To Leslie, directed by Michael Morris, is an earned anti-miracle of a film. Andrea Riseborough, as an anxious predictor of the past, dancing for both stoplight and spotlight, gives a performance that has a few steps on creation. She forgets when things began, and gets there first. As her son, Owen Teague lets body language change his voice and it shows. All the performances here- by Marc Maron, Allison Janney, Stephen Root, Andre Royo- forgo out-of-body by being leapt-into and if sorrow is living’s sole quirk, all here know that every person we are is sad. There’s no fly-on-the-wall element here. Just a wall, a slapped wrist, a gaze, an occasional vision. Devastation and restoration either have the same god, or are. Lottery or no, everyone gets their name called when loss this passive is the currency of the moment. The whole film feels like a final scene, until its final scene. Best film I’ve seen this year.  

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Damien Chazelle's Whiplash is a suffocating film about people not letting each other breathe. It's not about greatness nor is it about how to achieve greatness. Nothing here seems condoned. It just moves, and move it does. An emptied, no less beautiful, hosanna. Funny how the movie has been misread, mostly by tiktok incels, as some gotcha moment directed at the 'good job' crowd. So many seduced by one who pretends to not give a fuck, who actually spends all the fucks on one thing. This is a film about losing love for something enough that you can beat on it long past the point of performance, and so brutally that its art is erased. I didn't see any winners.

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Not so much what nightmares are made of, Lucile Hadzihalilovic's Earwig is more a maker's portal into the pain-shaped minds of those terrified of having more dreams. Lost and beautiful, it employs identity as a loneliness that pinpoints the vague. Earthy, paranoid, violent. I don't know. Take a breath. You're the someone else you want to be and sometimes I think of all the bodies I came back to you in.

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Beth de Araújo's Soft & Quiet is a doomscroll of hidden proximity that will tattoo insomnia on even the most thoughtfully awake. I'm not sure I can recommend it but know damn well it needs to be seen and looked away from in equal measure, and vice versa. Difficult and driven, it deserves all be present. Its one-take illusion puts its menace in so many real places that one feels followed, directly beside, winked at, and eye-level with peepholes marked for repair. As art and as document, it is too true to be based on anything, and is instead ripped into existence by an air breathed by characters who sleep beneath empty symbols and make nothing of vandalism save what's already been carved onto the surfaces of their untouched and wrongly examined lives. It's dark here, in the light, and we know these people.

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Thomas M. Wright's The Stranger is a bewitchingly downbeat true crime thriller both anchored and spirited away by the eidolic performances of Joel Edgerton and Sean Harris, each of which use a resigned urgency to centralize the haunted hinterland of retroactive pursuit. Edgerton eats worry in his sleep, and Harris sees friendship as starvation. Evil here grows older by being younger than time.

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All dark corners, crooked cartoons, and unmoved toys, Kyle Edward Ball's Skinamarink had me believing that I was watching something I shouldn't be. Eavesdropper, accomplice, whatever. To some vague but definitive evil. Not so much wavelength as undertow. Not so much point of view as earworm witness. Injury sleeps in the afterlife, it seems, and the stitches have come off. More than likely, the movie is still there, and you've gone by in a blur.

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By design too far and too soon, the always intensely casual documentary Bad Axe, as stopped and started by director David Siev, is somehow both uplifting and hopeless. It puts the present in yesterday and plants it in tomorrow. As for its loyalty to now and to family, it does catch the unaware collective who will wear a mask to mouth hate unrecognized but won't cover their face to keep others from getting a sickness that sizes the same world. A must see. Bring the right friend.

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Sissy, as directed by Hannah Barlow and Kane Senes, stops time long enough for its slasher sensibilities to overtake both homage and mantra with the faster sisters of fomo and isolation all while tracking the otherworldly un-mirrored performance of Aisha Dee as it duels for the same safe-space nostalgia and the right to say to everyone and to no one 'if it's not in the frame, it didn't happen yet'. Dee is exodus and revelation, and moves the end times back into the middle where belief must re-earn its brutal beginnings. Full of backhanded admittance and disappearing permissions, this movie is proudly and gloriously someone's fault.

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An arrival numb to departure, Christian Tafdrup's Speak No Evil is an out-of-body duet unsung by people too close to partnership and camaraderie to see a single evil let alone name any tune not already on another's tongue. It is important that a film this alone remain within itself at length, or forever, and with performances and visuals that achieve both the hermetic and wild, it painfully and almost perfectly leaves itself an inheritance of inaction and etiquette enough to afford its callous but necessary payoff.

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Anxious and dedicated, Ti West’s Pearl is a brutally loyal exploration of isolation and madness wherein genesis and exodus are unsure which started what. Mia Goth levels heaven and brings up the hell with a performance in so much local pain that what lands becomes less alien the more it invades. For all its blood and baptism, West is careful what is shown, and there is one scene so brave and so held by Goth that it unglues the eye and something in every body seems to rip on its own. Sickness is here, but has nothing on sadness.

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Director Julian Higgins navigates the difficult and earned God's Country as a map redrawn of a land scarred by permission, sacrifice, and, finally, invitation. Nothing here is god-given- not character, not spirit, not image. Thandiwe Newton is radar and blip, and never fails to locate the strayings of her lived-in living out. What a performance. If fire and flood, here, are the easier answers, then what a mercy that the last scene poses a devastating ask in a new nothingness where the local and the symbolic abandon each other equally.

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Blonde is wholesale maddening. Director Andrew Dominik loses the thread early, but seems to know it? And I'm not sure that's any better. It's an odd movie that would steal scenes from itself, but, here we are. While Ana de Armas almost takes the child out of childish enough to keep beauty, and Julianne Nicholson is a heat that leads bottles to lightning, nothing leaves a mark. Aside from the first 20 minutes, and one scene with Adrien Brody as Arthur Miller, this movie is so much tell that the show is secondary, and no amount of body horror or spiritual indictment can survive on image alone with writing this obvious and unquiet. It might have been the point, but the experience isn't strange enough, and the relief is always in sight, no matter how much is left onscreen. Too much sabotage, not enough self.

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While keeping confession pinned beneath the unholy ripple of Tim Roth's flickering muscle of a performance, Resurrection, as guided and committedly freed by director Andrew Semans, is a film of secret chaos and bodily left turns that lovingly loses its permission to a possessed and wholly overtaken showing from Rebecca Hall. While surely mad and caringly unpredictable, it wouldn't be able to talk its tongues without the work that Grace Kaufman does as a child who moves the happening from under the accident with a waiting lonely enough to cradle the hurting young and uncarried old.

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Elegantly untouched by director Nikyatu Jusu, who knows that stories are owed their belongings, Nanny is a delayed stunner of a film that never feels behind or slow but instead, and in line with the spiritual and physical fluidity of Anna Diop's fictile performance, stops and starts in a depth that feels both timeworn and newly doomed. 

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Noah Buschel's The Man in the Woods is alive and at rest, and is not sure its past life will see us in ours. Off kilter but never out of focus, it manages homage in mood while also rejecting it, kindly, with a creatural pulse. The performances are all ace...not the least of which are found in the quiet and decisive hurt of Jack Kilmer, the comically shy sadness of the trinity of Odessa Young, Gus Birney, and Jessica Carlson, the dual mirror in the broken partnership of Marin Ireland and Jane Alexander, William Jackson Harper's steering of the man alone with inner wilderness, and Kevin Corrigan's deft conducting of a music abandoned by chorus. This movie tricks magic.

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What an elegant and rhythmic note to the gospel of the inner outsider Sparrows Dance is. Director Noah Buschel writes for the body and directs from the heart of the criminally underseen. Marin Ireland blues all flame and sighs invisibly through an invisible mask, while Paul Sparks convinces light it has a shadow and tells it to keep looking. Rarely has watching and breathing been so lovely to do at the same time.

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Creatively and gloriously unreliable, Vincent Grashaw's difficult and restoring What Josiah Saw chooses how it begs and gets two-headed performances from all involved. Nick Stahl gives his ghost a ghost, Scott Haze retraces steps that didn't touch the earth, Robert Patrick closes every space in which he appears, and Jake Weber gets the story wrong with a menace that kills the right. But, damn, this is really Kelli Garner's movie. From the moment Garner's Mary puts the path in her path with the body language of anti-destination, the movie makes a scenic witness of its periphery and goes about vicariously burning itself beside the salvage of Garner's nervously resigned vision.

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Talking itself into and out of the unanswered blue, All My Puny Sorrows guts both the nearby and the distant using the same hunger for recovery as bellied by any lost sister of loss. Alison Pill and Sarah Gadon glow wounded in performances that separately heal, and Mare Winningham keeps detail as something some god has locally misplaced. I was glad for all of its conversations and for its half open way of unburning books, for how Pill baptized the submerged, for how Gadon let others believe they’d invented the headlight, and also for how director Michael McGowan left often the camera alone to become its own silent letter.

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We’re All Going To The World’s Fair has to it an unworried precision that had me thinking I might have forgotten to shut down, in another life, an electric toothbrush. If any pulse is taken, it’s the pulse of separation and director Jane Schoenbrun is songbook tender and secretly protective enough to hum the art of this film into the disconnected wrists of those whose online has no off. Schoenbrun and lead Anna Cobb make of knowing a current terror and no sky here falls that hasn’t been dropped. Cobb, with deadpan abstraction, gives a performance worth of sleep’s eternal jump-scare and works with the film outside of the film to put an end to vice-versa that we might more blankly keep those who are constantly notified away from those who appear by looking at the vanished. 

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Goran Stolevski's You Won't Be Alone is an awestruck and forged thing of first creatures and last acts that makes up both words and silence and puts them together to say body in a way that doesn't forget the teeth or how to pull them from the stories of the horribly bitten and damn if the lit work of Noomi Rapace, Alice Englert, Sara Klimoska, and Anamaria Marinca doesn't keep a lonely fire, hold the quiet, and give it air.

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Misshapen and willful, Hatching is a vividly off-kilter horror movie of painted-on happiness and colored-in connections in which director Hanna Bergholm gives us both the double lives of the dead inside and the lonely ghosting of those unsurprised to be caught on camera.

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After watching Igor Legarreta's All The Moons, a film that lands a star somewhere near Let The Right One In and You Won't Be Alone, where those of a forced immortality are made to ask for permission to be eternal, I wrote a few lines in a notebook:

I healed myself with the knowledge that there was no cure for my ghost. 
Before I knew it, my childhood was older than me.
I am the only one who feels that you've been here before.
You sound invisible. 

I don't know, brother, sister, you. Death is the longest read, and war a cheap bookend. See the film. Love the sick. I'll lose the notebook.

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and, in opening or in conclusion:

SOMETHING ABOUT CAREGIVING WITH AN APPEARANCE BY ETHAN HAWKE

so up late/early with the hauntspeak of worry and general sense of appropriate doom but also appropriate play and how there is laughing and being silly and the reason no one tells you how lonely it all is beforehand is all in the words before & hand so here I am still in the mathafter of this dream where I was being chased by a demon and I had this oversized tote bag with all my stuff in it and I'm running in and out of closets and jumping turnstiles and the bag is just keeping me from being my fastest self and I end up in a hotel room hallway and out of a door on my left emerges Ethan Hawke and he takes the bag from me, empties it, and in the bag is a smaller bag...and he puts all my stuff in the smaller bag and says he could use the larger so I say it is his and then we are going down this spiral staircase and I hear the demon hissing and Mr. Hawke tells me to go back up and he'll go down, so I do, and at the top of the stairs I have this sudden stomach pain and look down and my insides are coming out and I fall down the stairs and when I stop falling I am on top of Ethan and I roll off of him and he starts taking all my insides and shoving them into his stomach which I see has a hole in it and then of course I am no longer asleep and think now that I am up and worried and alone and in one piece maybe I'll watch Adopt A Highway as it's the only Ethan Hawke movie that's come out recently that I haven't seen and maybe this will save my son this watching this not sleeping this having of my own insides

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