The Cat's Meow is set in 1924, but it might be Peter Bogdanovich's most personal film: a glamorous but melancholy look at the destructive lusts and quests for glory that prove irresistible in the land of Hollywood. The characters we see here are larger than life, but their dramas are painfully human: to behold the unrequited loves and power struggles enacted here is to witness gods and goddesses fall to earth.
As a historical romance between two women set on an island in Brittany, Portrait of a Lady on Fire sounds like standard prestige-picture fare: a stately tale of burning desire and repression, with unsubtle parallels to our own time. But even if Céline Sciamma's film teems with lustful glances and pointed critiques of marriage and patriarchy, it's infinitely more interesting, sensuous, and arresting than that description makes it sound. With its overt feminism and depiction of the burgeoning identity of a young female artist, the film inevitably conjures recent fare like The Souvenir and Greta Gerwig's Little Women, but Portrait of a Lady on Fire is the most compelling and quietly radical among them: an enigmatic film about the battle waged between realism and expressionism.
Barry Lyndon is part of "my canon," a totally arbitrary and subjective list of my 100 favorite movies. For reviews of other movies on this list, look for the Top 100 category on the right sidebar.
Barry Lyndon begins with a killing—the murder of Barry’s father in a gentlemanly pistol duel. Observed in a static long shot that sees the minuscule characters dwarfed by an awe-inspiring landscape, this opening scene is a perfect encapsulation of the film to come. Barry’s father is killed as the result of a disputed horse sale, a narrator dryly informs us—a seemingly insignificant motivation for murder that suggests the “civilized” violence of 18th-century Britain, as well as the cruel twists of fate that lead to either wealth or ruination. As we’ll see, this opening pistol duel also foreshadows the climactic standoff between Barry Lyndon (Ryan O’Neal) and his stepson, Lord Bullingdon (Leon Vitali), as the sins of fathers are cruelly revisited upon their sons. Finally, the distanced, impersonal vantage point of this opening duel seems to corroborate the common claim that Stanley Kubrick was a cold formalist indifferent to the characters who occupy his frame—though this often wasn’t the case, and certainly isn’t true of Barry Lyndon.