films

7 Recent Films Directed by Women You Should See ASAP by Keith LaFountaine

7. RAW (2016)

directed by Julia Ducournau

“An innocent teenager, studying to be a vet, develops a craving for human flesh.”

There is so much I love about this film. It’s eerie, horrifying, visually unforgettable, and narratively substantive. The fact that this was Ducournau’s debut feature makes it even more impressive. I could not more highly recommend watching this film as soon as possible, especially if you love horror.


6. BERLIN SYNDROME (2017)

directed by Cate Shortland

“A passionate holiday romance leads to an obsessive relationship, when an Australian photojournalist wakes one morning in a Berlin apartment and is unable to leave.”

Both a terrifying horror film and a deep character study, Berlin Syndrome took me by surprise last year. I haven’t been able to forget it since. Cate Shortland’s direction is incredible, and Teresa Palmer’s lead performance is unforgettable.


5. A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT (2014)

directed by Ana Lily Amirpour

“In the Iranian ghost-town Bad City, a place that reeks of death and loneliness, the townspeople are unaware they are being stalked by a lonesome vampire.”

God, I love this film so much! It’s hypnotizing, in terms of its visuals, its soundscape, and its lighting. Amirpour’s direction is spot on, and Sheila Vand gives an incredible performance.


4. BUSTER’S MAL HEART (2016)

directed by Sarah Adina Smith

A family man's chance encounter with a conspiracy-obsessed drifter leaves him on the run from the police and an impending event known as the Inversion.”

Puzzling, intriguing, mystifying — it’s difficult to classify Sarah Adina Smith’s mesmerizing film. Rami Malek’s lead performance is incredible, and Smith’s direction reflects the inherent strengths of the film — it’s ability to move between genres with ease, to shock and to endear. Few films are as original and exciting as Buster’s Mal Heart.


3. THE INVITATION

directed by Karyn Kusama

A man accepts an invitation to a dinner party hosted by his ex-wife, an unsettling affair that reopens old wounds and creates new tensions.”

I didn’t intend for this list to be so full of horror films! With that said, Karyn Kusama’s The Invitation is one of the most memorable modern horror films to get released. It has a host of incredible performances, perfect editing, and incredible lighting. It’s eerie, unsettling, tense, and exciting. I might have to revisit this film again, soon — it’s been a few years since I last saw it.


2. MIDDLE OF NOWHERE (2012)

directed by Ava DuVernay

“When her husband is sentenced to eight years in prison, Ruby drops out of medical school in order to focus on her husband's well-being while he's incarcerated - leading her on a journey of self-discovery in the process.”

Ava DuVernay is a household name nowadays (and rightly so — if you haven’t seen Selma or 13th you should fix that). However, the film I would most recommend in her canon is her affecting drama, Middle of Nowhere. Featuring a great performance from Emayatzy Corinealdi, and with pitch-perfect writing and direction from DuVernay, this film is a truly somber and emotional film that has a razor-sharp focus on its impactful characters.


1. The Tale

directed by Jennifer Fox

“A woman filming a documentary on childhood rape victims starts to question the nature of her childhood relationship with her riding instructor and running coach.”

The Tale is a difficult film to watch. Not only does it deal with very traumatic and difficult subjects, but it also is a true story — it’s Jennifer Fox working through her own experience of abuse when she was a child. Not only is this an important film, but it’s also a very well-made, affecting, difficult to watch drama. In fact, it was my #2 favorite film of the year in 2018.

7 Films I'm Excited To See In 2019 by Keith LaFountaine

Every year, I get excited about upcoming films. This year feels a little different than past ones, though. Maybe that’s the impending doom of Avengers: Endgame, or maybe it’s because I’m pumped to see what A24 is going to unleash after a solid lineup in 2018, or maybe it’s the number of exciting horror movies that are being released this year.

No matter the reason, here are five of the films I am most excited to see in 2019.


7. STAR WARS: EPISODE IX

Releasing on 20 DECEMBER 2019

written by J.J. ABRAMS & CHRIS TERRIO || directed by J.J. ABRAMS

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Almost nothing is known about the final film of the new Star Wars trilogy thanks to how tight security has been on the film (and understandably so). While I’m hoping that J.J. doesn’t pull too much from the original trilogy with this film (as Kylo Ren in The Last Jedi espouses, we need to kill the past when it comes to this saga), I am excited to see how it all ends.


6. AVENGERS: ENDGAME

Releasing on 26 APRIL 2019

written by CHRISTOPHER MARKUS & STEPHEN McFEELY || directed by ANTHONY RUSSO & JOE RUSSO

Aside from Star Wars: Episode IX, this is easily the most widely anticipated film of the year. While I was not as blown away with Infinity War was some other folks, I am still very excited to see how this first section of the MCU ends. I’m fully prepared to experience the emotional fallout of watching some of my favorite characters bite the bullet.


5. MIDSOMMAR

Releasing on 9 AUGUST 2019

written & directed by ARI ASTER

While I did not totally fall in love with Hereditary upon its release, it has since grown on me. There’s a lot to love about Aster’s direction, particularly in his visual style and the performances he manages to pull from his cast. Midsommar looks to be directly contrasted to his debut film, utilizing bright sunlight to elevate his horror as opposed to inky darkness. This trailer looks unique, dynamic, and eerie — exactly what I want from modern horror. Don’t expect it to be full of jump scares, and don’t expect it to go the way you expect. I fully trust Aster, though, and that’s part of the reason I will be one of the first people in the theater upon its release.


4. JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 3 - PARABELLUM

Releasing on 17 May 2019

written by DEREK KOLSTAD || directed by CHAD STAHELSKI

I am astonished that the John Wick films work. Operating on the usual cliches one would expect from this genre, and this type of storyline, Derek Kolstand and Chad Stahelski managed to create a character and a story that feels wholly unique. Part of that stems from the way the films are shot, with an emphasis on choreography instead of fast editing. The other of it stems from Keanu Reeves’s performance (he hasn’t been this perfect for a role since The Matrix).

All in all, I am pumped to see how this fantastic trilogy ends.


3. THE IRISHMAN

Releasing Fall 2019

written by STEVE ZAILLAN || directed by MARTIN SCORSESE

A crime epic directed by Martin Scorsese, written by the guy who penned Schindler’s List and Gangs of New York, starring Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, Harvey Keitel, Anna Paquin, and Ray Ramano? Enough said.


2. ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD

Releasing 26 July 2019

written & directed by QUENTIN TARANTINO

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Another film where we know virtually nothing beyond the cast and a rough outline of the plot. Still, considering the number of Hollywood A-listers that are participating in this film (Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Al Pacino, Kurt Russell, Bruce Dern, and MANY more) there is no doubt in my mind that this is going to be an incredible film. My only concern is how Tarantino handles the death of Sharon Tate (which is still a painful subject, understandably, for her family).


1. US

Releasing 22 March 2019

written and directed by JORDAN PEELE


Jordan Peele proved himself to be a masterful director right out of the gate with Get Out. While I did have some reservations about that film, I cannot express how excited I am for his sophomore film — a haunting, mind-bending horror film that injects some narrative creativity into a genre in desperate need of it. Plus, how can you go wrong with this cast? Lupita Nyong’o, Elisabeth Moss, and Winston Duke look incredible in this film, and I am pumped to be in the theater when this one releases later this month.

The MPAA Needs to Go. Here's Why. by Keith LaFountaine

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We have all seen this image before. It begins before the vast majority of trailers released in the United States. Most of us take it for granted -- it doesn't mean much to us when we are in the theater. Even the rating system itself is taken for granted. Every now and then we may scratch our heads at it, but the average moviegoer doesn't analyze the rating system.

And yet, this private company (this will be important later) is the keyholder for a film's success in theaters.

I think it's time we drastically re-invent our rating system in the United States and do away with the MPAA once and for all.

 

Firstly, it's important to understand that I am not saying we shouldn't rate films. Quite the contrary. We have always had rating systems and censorship boards in place since film's inception.

In 1909, the New York Board of Censorship was created to dictate specific standards of morality for films being released. This spread to other states, who did the same thing, eventually becoming known as the National Board of Censorship. However, its name was changed to the National Board of Review to avoid the term 'censorship.' They still acted as a censorship board, though, as producers would submit films for review and adhere to the changes the Board requested.

The Board's goals ultimately changed, though, around 1930. They began focusing more on championing art and reviewing films than dictating what sort of moral fiber should be present in filmmaking standards. The National Board of Review still functions to this day, but its film commentary and awards (as seen in Screen Magazine) became its primary goal.

The Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America (MPPDA) was created in 1922. It quickly took responsibility for creating industry standards for ethics and guidelines, ultimately coming up with the Motion Picture Production Code.

The Motion Picture Production Code was implemented from 1930 to 1968. There were a strict set of guidelines filmmakers had to follow in order to be in good standing with the MPPDA. They included the following:

"Don'ts & Be Carefuls":

  • profanity (including words like God, Lord, Jesus, Christ, hell, damn, and other curses)
  • Suggestive nudity (including on-screen nudity and silhouettes)
  • drug trafficking
  • inferences of sex perversion
  • white slavery
  • sexual relationships between white and black folks
  • mention of venereal diseases
  • scenes of childbirth (on-screen or silhouetted)
  • children's genitalia
  • ridiculing the clergy
  • offending any race, creed, or country

Also in the code was a list of things where "...special care be exercised in the manner in which the following subjects are treated, to the end that vulgarity and suggestiveness may be eliminated and that good taste may be emphasized."

This included:

  • using the flag
  • avoiding any unfavorable mentions of other countries' religion, history, institutions, etc.
  • arson
  • using firearms
  • theft, robbery, safe-cracking & the dynamiting of trains and buildings
  • brutality and gruesomeness
  • committing murder
  • smuggling
  • actual hangings or electrocutions as legal punishments of crime
  • sympathy for criminals
  • attitude towards public people and institutions
  • sedition
  • cruelty to children and animals
  • branding people or animals
  • the sale of women, or a woman selling herself
  • rape, or attempted rape
  • one night stands
  • men and women in bed together
  • deliberate seduction of girls
  • the institution of marriage
  • surgical operations
  • the use of drugs
  • titles or scenes dealing with police
  • excessive or lustful kissing, particularly when one is a criminal.

Seem ridiculous? That's because many of the things in the Motion Picture Production Code were ridiculous. Films had rules where kisses could only last for three seconds, and the act of flushing a toilet could not be filmed. Things that seem excessively trivial today (one night stands, drug use, interracial relationships, nudity, profanity, etc.) were strictly enforced for over thirty years!

The Production Code eventually stopped being enforced, but only because a rating system was being formulated. Unsurprisingly the MPPDA renamed itself the Motion Pictures Association of America (MPAA) and created a new rating system. And here we are today.

 

So what's so wrong with the rating system? It seems pretty straightforward, right? Well, it is and it isn't.

Let's start with the things that make sense. Firstly, it makes sense to categorize films that are okay for children (G & PG) and films that are not (PG-13 & R). It also makes sense to divide these films by their content -- things like blood, sex, profanity, etc. would not be expected in a film marketed for five-year-olds, while it would be expected in a film marketed for adults.

For films that only adults should see (meaning a kid can't see them with a parent/guardian), the MPAA created an NC-17 rating.

So far so good.

Now here's where things get weird. The MPAA is a private organization. It claims that it does not censor films because the rating system is strictly voluntary -- films can be screened without being rating, or with extremely adult ratings 

However, the vast majority of theaters refuse to screen unrated films and films with NC-17 ratings. This means that if you submit your film for review by the MPAA and you receive an NC-17 rating, your film will not get sold in theaters. Additionally, if you reject the rating and submit the film as unrated, your film will not get sold in theaters.

So you end up with two choices: either you re-submit your film to be rated again, or you cut out the things the MPAA mentions and re-submit your film to be rated again hoping they will lower the rating.

A very famous example of this, as was seen in the documentary This Film Is Not Yet Rated (which I highly recommend) is Kimberly Pierce's film Boys Don't Cry. When Pierce submitted the film to the MPAA for a rating they returned it with an NC-17 rating in part due to a female orgasm that "lasts too long." When Pierce called the MPAA to ask what was wrong with that particular scene she says the MPAA responded: "well, we don't really know but that's offensive."

Another famous example is Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill Vol. 1. During the fight at the House of Blue Leaves, the reason why the film becomes black & white halfway through is that the MPAA wanted to give it an NC-17 rating when the entire scene was in color. By changing it to black & white the MPAA re-evaluated their decision and gave it an R rating.

So what you have with the MPAA is, like with the National Board of Censorship, a de-facto censorship organization. They have a team of screeners who decide the ratings every film gets. Without those ratings, filmmakers don't have a chance to end up in theaters nationwide. So while they claim the entire process is voluntary, and therefore not censorship, they have created a system where filmmakers and production companies can't function without them.

And (unsurprisingly) the MPAA is just as ridiculous with their standards as they were when they were the MPPDA and were enforcing the production code. Female sexuality (ranging from explicit nudity to showing a female orgasm) often gets an NC-17 rating right away while violence, blood, and torture will get R ratings. If you say fuck more than once in a film you automatically go from PG-13 to R. In fact, there are some films that are rated R only because of their curse words (words, I should add, teenagers are already using on a daily basis in their personal lives).

 

So what do we do? Well, while I suppose it's not practical, what we should do is scrap the MPAA.

Firstly, as has already been detailed, it acts as a de-facto censorship board with ridiculous standards. It is not a voluntary system for directors who want their work to be seen (which is everyone) and it tampers with creative vision. In other words, the system is already so corrupt that trying to alter it would be just like the MPPDA changing its name and creating a new system.

Secondly, the ratings do not protect kids. This is their main goal, and yet more parents are bringing their kids to rated-R films every day. I remember sitting in the theater when Logan was playing and seeing parents file in with their six to ten-year-old daughters and sons. So if the system isn't "protecting children" what is it good for?

Finally, the MPAA rating system has often revealed itself to be sexist and homophobic, often giving films that deal with female sexuality and same-sex relationships much harsher ratings than films dealing with male sexuality and heterosexual relationships.

If you need a clear example of this, just look to Ghostbusters where Dan Akroyd's character gets oral sex from a ghost. That was rated PG. Boys Don't Cry had to fight against an NC-17 rating in part because of a female orgasm that went on longer than the MPAA liked.

 

Now we can't have total anarchy, either. I don't subscribe to an "anything goes" style system. But a new system needs to be built from the ground up. Maybe by directors; maybe by filmgoers. Regardless of where it comes from, though, it should not be shrouded in secrecy and held to complete privacy like the MPAA is. People have the right to know what is in the films coming out -- it can help them decide whether or not they want to see it. But the focus should not be to deter people from going to see films. It should be to excite them.

Just ask yourself this question: would you still have gone to see Kill Bill Vol. 1 if it had an NC-17 rating? If the House of Blue Leaves sequence had been fully in color? An NC-17 rating, or the lack of a rating, shouldn't bar someone from participating in the theater experience. The MPAA makes it so those filmmakers cannot have that experience, though, unless they bend the knee and obey their (often) ridiculous wishes.

That is why the MPAA needs to go.