By the Law (1926)
Five prospectors head to the Yukon. After one of them kills two of his compatriots, the survivors, a husband and wife, subdue him, but, isolated from civilization, struggle deciding how to proceed. Should they extract justice or wait weeks for the authorities to come?
Adapted from a novel by Jack London, this early Soviet film probes the purpose and function of civilization. By asking where society begins and individual responsibility ends, it continues the work of philosophers such as Plato and John Locke and anticipates later work such as The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948) and Lord of the Flies.
When every other film features a masked vigilante taking the law into their own hands, this is a compelling exploration of the true purpose of justice.
In 1977, Robyn Davidson (Mia Wasikowska) traveled almost 1700 miles from Alice Springs, Australia across the desert to the Indian Ocean with only her dogs and a pack of camels while Rick Smolan (Adam Diver) chronicled her journey for National Geographic.
Wasikowksa is well-known as the title character in Tim Burton’s unfortunate Alice in Wonderland (2010), but shows more talent and promise here in a much more difficult and physically demanding role.
Adam Driver is an immensely gifted actor who will soon become a household name following his role in the next Star Wars movie.
The comparisons to Wild (2014) were inevitable. Both films feature strong-willed women challenging themselves with a physical test of endurance as a way to overcome past emotional trauma.
But while Witherspoon’s film makes it clear her trek is Strayed’s coping mechanism following her mother’s death, this film focuses exclusively on Robyn’s journey to enlightenment, obscuring her motivation.
Strayed’s grieving comes across as whiny and self-indulgent, but leaving Davidson’s motivation unknown opens this film up to interpretation and makes it more accessible.
I loved this film and will think of it and Davidson’s inspiring journey often.
The Babadook (2014)
Widow Amelia (Essie Davis) struggles raising her emotionally disturbed son, Samuel (Noah Wiseman), whose father, Oskar, died in a car accident the day he was born.
One night, Amelia allows Samuel to pick what book they’ll read before bed, and he finds a mysterious pop-up book about a monster called Mr. Babadook.
In the following days, as unexplained things happen at their house and Samuel harasses his mother about seeing a monster, Amelia starts believing Mr. Babadook has invaded their lives.
First time feature film director Jennifer Kent masterfully combines the visual aesthetic of German Expressionism (Mr. Babadook looks Mr. Hyde via The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari) with the storytelling techniques of Alfred Hitchcock and Steven Spielberg, refusing to show us the monster and forcing us to insert our own far scarier imaginary horrors in its place.
Anchored by outstanding performances from Davis and Wiseman, this refreshingly old school film is unlike most modern horror films, which focus on titillating gore instead of suspense. By demonstrating what can happen when you trust the story and don’t rely on shocking visuals, I hope this film reinvigorates the genre.
What Now? Remind Me (2013)
Portuguese filmmaker Joaquim Pinto takes a year-long selfie, chronicling his life as he struggles with HIV treatment.
This is an occasionally fascinating look at what it takes to survive such a debilitating illness and the lengths people will go for one more moment with their loved ones, one more day on God’s green earth.
However, there are times Pinto goes too far, showing us scenes of raw intimacy between him and his boyfriend which are best left to the two of them and like a bad reality TV show or an unfortunate invasion of privacy.