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First Reformed

Directed by Paul Schrader

Amazon Prime, Apple

One of the best films of the year. Director Paul Schrader, who wrote the film theory book The Transcendental Style in Film when he was 24, now employs that style (still camera shots, few cuts, and almost no nondiegetic music allowing the spectator room for the spiritual, contrasted by unexplained mystical imagery at the end) to full, sublime effect at 71.

 

In this film, Ernst Toller (a revelatory, internalized Ethan Hawke) is a priest who begins asking big questions about our relationship to God in a world where churches, businesses, and politics are complicit in the destruction of God’s creation—the earth. First Reformed is not a film for everyone. The questions it raises (especially by its startling, gloriously ambiguous ending) may enlighten or offend. Nevertheless, informed by Bergman’s Winter Light, Bresson’s Diary of a Country Priest, and Dreyer’s Ordet, Schrader’s First Reformed renews our faith in the possibility of filmmaking in our day to transcend the mundane.

– Dr. David C. Simmons

Green Book

Directed by Peter Farrelly

In Theaters

A marvelously uplifting film based on the lives of the famous black concert pianist, Dr. Don Shirley (a charming Mahershala Ali), and his Italian driver, Tony Lip (a rough-around-the-edges Viggo Mortensen). As they tour southern states in 1962, they are forced to navigate foreign intersections of race, class, gender and sexuality while considering the invisible traffic lights of privilege.

– Dr. David C. Simmons

 

EDITOR’S CHOICE

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

Directed by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen

Netflix

Because it has Brendan Gleeson (Paddington 2, Mr. Mercedes) in it. Because each of the six episodes is better than the one before it. Because it plays like The Coen Brothers’ Greatest Hits. Because Tom Waits and Saul Rubinek are in it. Because it’s a work of art.

– Chris Manson

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