“This is a film not about a single woman’s quest for identity or independence, but about the infinite power of a woman’s community.”
Letterboxd is humming with Little Women Cinematic Universe energy, particularly since the trailer for Greta Gerwig’s new version, with its cast pulled straight from the Letterboxd Year in Review, dropped.
Yeah, we see you watching and re-watching all the previous film adaptations of Louisa May Alcott’s landmark 1868 novel that you can fix your eyeballs on. We’re not ones to doze by the fire; we like adventures. So let us take you on a romp through past Little Women screen adaptations, in which we rank the productions based on our community’s stantastic response to each.
Since that Cats trailer dropped, the internet has had its whiskers in a twist, with cries of “impawsible, no way, they can’t do that”.
Every so often, a film comes along that unites audiences in wonder and delight. We laugh, we cry, we emerge from the cinema born anew, washed in the collective excitement that comes from watching a sea-change take place before our very eyes.
For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction: so came the trailer for Tom Hooper’s bombastic musical spectacular, Cats, slinking into cinemas this Christmas and your night terrors imminently. The internet reacted with a mixture of confusion, anger, fear and wonder. Out of chaos, comes order: sit back, relax, and let me answer all your questions.
What on earth…?
Cats. Don’t pretend you don’t know what Cats is.
Okay, so Cats is a musical, composed by the overlord of British musical theater, Andrew Lloyd Webber in 1981. He’s also the man behind The Phantom of The Opera, Evita, Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat… the list goes on and on. And on.
“It’s fun-scary, as opposed to you feeling scared because it’s disgusting or something.”
We talk to Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark and Troll Hunter director André Øvredal about working with Guillermo del Toro, finding the line with tween-friendly horror, and the good-and-bad of anthology films. (And, yes, we threw in a few Troll Hunter questions.)
Produced by Oscar-winner Guillermo del Toro, who also has a Screen Story credit on the film, Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark is a new PG-13 horror adapted from the three-book series of the same name first published between 1981 and 1991.
Prefiguring the likes of Goosebumps and its many imitators, the original Scary Stories books, written by Alvin Schwartz and illustrated by Stephen Gammell, presented short horror tales aimed at a young-adult readership. Many of the stories were inspired by (or perhaps the source of) widely known urban myths.
Despite the stated target audience, the stories—with assistance from some deeply disturbing illustrations (see below)—struck a nerve and traumatized readers of all ages. They were controversial to the point where there was, briefly, a minor movement to have the books removed from schools.
A movie adaptation would seemingly point to a classic horror anthology film, but del Toro and his collaborators have instead constructed a singular narrative around a group of young teenagers in 1968.
After learning the tragic story of a girl who was murdered in their sleepy little town many years earlier, Stella (Zoe Margaret Colletti) and her friends start encountering supernatural events that allow for various Scary Stories to come to life on screen.
The film’s director is Norwegian filmmaker André Øvredal, the man behind 2016’s The Autopsy of Jane Doe, and the inventive 2011 found-footage fantasy epic (and Letterboxd community favorite) Troll Hunter.
“This was the film there was no turning back from. It’s the reason I’m making films today.“ —Julius Onah shares the five movies that made him want to be a filmmaker.
Nigerian-American 36-year-old producer and director Julius Onah (twin brother of director Anthony Onah) tackles the multitudes of identity in his new film Luce, a complex psychological drama starring Kelvin Harrison Jr. as a former Eritrean child soldier adopted by white liberal Americans (Naomi Watts and Tim Roth), who is confronted by his teacher (Octavia Spencer) after she discovers a concerning essay on political violence in his locker.
The film premiered at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival to warm praise. Letterboxd member BrandonHabes describes it as a “smart, sophisticated examination of identity and racial stereotyping, a film that pivots on deception and drips with rich ambiguity”. “Bold, daring, gripping, and tense while being performed and staged within an inch of its life” raves Jeff Stewart, while fellow Sundance attendee Ryan hopes that the film “will change how people watch movies”.
Onah interned for his professor Spike Lee while studying for his Masters in Fine Arts at NYU. Lee later signed on as executive producer for Onah’s 2015 debut film and thesis piece The Girl is in Trouble. Onah was then tapped by J.J. Abrams to direct God Particle, later known as The Cloverfield Paradox, which infamously dropped a few hours after its announcement at the 2018 Super Bowl. (We covered the stats of that night here.)
We asked Onah to take us on a journey of movie discovery. In naming these five films, he outlines why they stand head-and-shoulders above others in influencing his career as a filmmaker. See the list on Letterboxd or read on for more. (The films are in no particular order.)
“I do this for the absurdity.” Co-stars Alice Englert and Thomas Mann tell us about snake-handling, cycles of fear and shame, and their new film Them That Follow.
Britt Poulton and Dan Madison Savage’s moody new film Them That Follow (which they wrote and directed together) takes place in a world rarely glimpsed in cinema—that of a serpent-worshipping religious community deep in the Appalachian mountains.
In certain Pentecostal off-shoots, worshippers bring venomous snakes into their churches, and prove their faith by handling them during services, relying upon God to ensure they won’t get bitten.The great Walton Goggins (The Hateful Eight) plays Lemuel, the pastor of one such sect, and Alice Englert (Beautiful Creatures) co-stars as his daughter Mara, who is torn between her familial religious obligations and the lure of the outside world.
They are surrounded by a heavyweight supporting cast that includes Oscar-winner Olivia Colman (The Favourite), Kaitlyn Dever (Booksmart), Lewis Pullman (Bad Times at the El Royale) and Thomas Mann (Me and Earl and the Dying Girl), who plays Mara’s best friend/romantic interest Augie, someone who rejects his community’s snake-handling.
Them That Follow is “so quiet and grounded it almost negates the evil that lies beneath the surface”, writes Letterboxd member Wood, while Karsten Runquist urges viewers to look past the slow initial build-up “because the second half is near perfect. Amazing performances from literally everyone (protect Olivia Colman at all costs) and just some great-looking cinematography”.
The snakes might prove difficult for some film lovers to get around, as SlasherReviews warns: “Sometimes you have to put your life on the line to be a fan. As someone who [has] Ophidiophobia (fear of snakes) this was one of the most difficult films I have ever sat through. I cried. I grabbed my neighbor’s arm. A fantastic film that I will 100% never watch again.” Tyler agrees that the snake content is “horrifying, but that’s not the main focus. The focus is on characters…”.
Following the film’s screening at SXSW earlier this year, Letterboxd had a quick catch-up with actors Alice Englert and Thomas Mann.
An apology to our community.
We fucked up and we’re genuinely sorry. We’re especially sorry that our reply caused some of you to feel unsafe on Letterboxd.
How did it happen?
The tweet: We’re a small team. The same small team that built the service also looks after the servers, does the PR, washes the dishes and takes out the trash. Yesterday, we replied with stupidly chosen words to a Twitter query, without stopping to consider the wider social context, or the similarity between the tweet’s wording and an egregious and harmful statement from a political figurehead. It was wrong and we’re sorry.
The review: Our community policy has long been clear as to how we feel about content that promotes, engages in or incites hate, violence or intolerance. The underlying intent of the original review—a wish for a swift end to fascism—is a conversation we welcome. It was the use of specific language around violence that led one of our moderators to remove the review text, after it was reported to us.
“If I have any value now, my responsibility lies in nurturing the limitations of cinema and making them apparent.” —Filmmaker Rick Alverson chats with us about the irrelevance of ‘consumer cinema’, the fascinating failure of masculinity, and causing trouble with Jeff Goldblum.
Musician, writer and director Rick Alverson makes the kind of films that are, as Letterboxd member DirkH enthuses, “hard to love and impossible to enjoy”. One of the decade’s most challenging directors, his confrontational style is take-it-or-leave-it, but those who like to take it find something deeply profound in his take-downs of concepts like the American Dream.
Alverson’s newest feature, The Mountain, departs from the ironic realism of his earlier films, creating a lushly immaculate, desolate poke at American society. Set in the 1950s, The Mountain is loosely based on the controversial American neurologist Walter Freeman, here represented as the fictional Dr Wallace Fiennes.
“I wanted to let myself have a bit of fun.” Filmmaker and actor Lynn Shelton chats with Letterboxd about the improvisational joy of her new film Sword of Trust, the “mixed bag” of streaming services, and the power of Claire Denis.
Lynn Shelton is a trusted director in the world of TV comedy, having helmed episodes of GLOW, Fresh off the Boat, Shameless, New Girl, The Good Place and many more. Along the way, she has written and directed several feature films that together form a smart, gently praised mumblecore-meets-naturalism oeuvre.
Shelton’s films are small delights, with low stakes and a human scale to them; introspective, contemporary chamber pieces that give her actors plenty of space to improvise. Your Sister’s Sister, which she wrote and directed, has been hailed on Letterboxd as a “terrific little character piece from three superb actors” (Mark Duplass, Emily Blunt and Rosemarie DeWitt), and her earlier mumblecore arthouse porno comedy Humpday (also starring Duplass, with a turn from Shelton as well) has received love for being “absolutely hilarious and deeply awkward”.
Her latest, Sword of Trust, which she co-wrote with Mike O’Brien (a.k.a. Pat the Pizza Guy from Booksmart), is a screwball inheritance comedy starring comedian and podcaster Marc Maron as Mel, a pawn shop owner. He teams up with a couple (Jillian Bell and Michaela Watkins), who are trying to hawk a Civil War-era sword. Together with Mel’s man-child shop assistant (Jon Bass), they are drawn into an absurd world of conspiracy theories.
“The effort here was to keep the filmmaking tradition. I think there’s a balance between innovation and tradition.” —The Lion King director Jon Favreau and cast chat with us about the visually stunning new Disney film.
Disney’s recent proclivity for making live-action films based on its animated classics reaches its technical zenith with Jon Favreau’s The Lion King (whose animated predecessor holds an impressive 4.3 out of 5 stars). Building on methods he first explored in the 2016 live-action version of The Jungle Book, Favreau has constructed a digital world comprised of the most photo-realistic animals ever rendered.
The irony is, of course, that although it’s often referred to as such, the new Lion King isn’t live action at all. Save for one individual shot, it was created entirely inside a computer. But you probably wouldn’t know that if the animals didn’t talk.
That talking is provided by a new voice cast that now better reflects the story’s setting by featuring many actors from across the African diaspora.
“The best filmmaking is mischief-making.” —Midsommar director Ari Aster confesses to being a nervous wreck while answering Letterboxd members’ questions about pagan rituals, grotesque imagery and psychedelic drugs.
It’s crazy to think that only two years ago, Ari Aster was just another New York filmmaker with a few shorts under his belt. But by this time last year, his debut feature, the Toni Collette-starring Hereditary, had taken out the title of most popular film on Letterboxd for the month of June, and ended the year as our Highest Rated Horror for 2018.
Not that he had a moment to enjoy it. Last August, while Hereditary was still in cinemas, Aster was already in Hungary (standing in for Sweden) filming his new horror, Midsommar, with Florence Pugh in the lead role. It was an assignment from a Swedish production company that he almost refused, until he saw it as an opportunity to process the break-up he was going through at the time.
In an insanely tight turnaround, Midsommar is out less than a year since it was shot, and feedback for the film on Letterboxd is largely positive. Midsommar “manages to be the perfect rom-com and the most mesmerizing horror film of the year,” according to Owen, and the film proves to SilentDawn that “Aster is a capable craftsman and an auteur with many dastardly thoughts on his mind”. Laura declares: “Nobody makes me feel as icky, awful, and downright dreadful as Ari Aster, and for that, I’m very, very grateful.”
It’s safe to say that Aster is a Letterboxd MVP, so we thought it only fair to invite you to submit your questions for our interview with him. Ever the optimists, you pitched us well over a hundred, so Jack Moulton got the tough job: whittling, coalescing and combining your thoughts, tucking them in among a few of our own, and putting them to a guy who has “more fun talking about other movies than talking about my own”.
One thing we didn’t ask? The most popular question of all: “Ari, are you okay?” The better question, after watching his films, is: are we okay?
“Tone is fun. Tone is like a fingerprint, and I’m trying to figure out what mine is.” —The Art of Self-Defense writer/director Riley Stearns tells us about his singular new film.
Leaning heavily into ideas centered around manliness, Riley Stearns’ new film The Art of Self-Defense feels pretty loaded. Although it’s clearly presenting itself as satire, the hot-button nature of its subject matter heightens the whole affair.
Set in what appears to be sometime in the 1970s or 1980s, or a cellphone-less present—you can never be quite sure—the film stars Jesse Eisenberg as Casey, a meek office drone who is violently mugged one evening. After recovering, he begins taking karate lessons at a local dojo and falls under the influence of his charismatic sensei, a man named… Sensei. Sensei is played by Alessandro Nivola in a hilarious performance that itself justifies seeing the film, but it’s worth it for several other reasons too, not least of which is a great turn from Imogen Poots, playing a fellow student.
Destined to be polarizing, The Art of Self-Defense affects a vibe that feels influenced in equal parts by Yorgos Lanthimos, Charlie Kaufman and Wes Anderson. For Stearns, who also helmed the 2014 cult-recovery feature Faults, a black comedy described by Letterboxd members as “terrific”, “inventive” and “original”, The Art of Self-Defense continues a never-ending exploration of tone, “the most important part of filmmaking”.
Letterboxd caught up with Stearns earlier in the year to talk jiu-jitsu, ambiguity, violence and the Coen brothers.
“The ’90s were not kind to the genre. I think they got a little bit goofy.” —Tripper Clancy, screenwriter of Stuber.
It’s long past time the buddy-action-comedy genre made a comeback. Letterboxd’s West Coast editor Dominic Corry met the stars and creators of the new buddy throwback Stuber, which plonks a scruffy Dave Bautista into an ever-escalating R-rated scenario with Kumail Nanjiani.
Once a reliable staple of studio summer schedules, the humble buddy-action-comedy hasn’t had much of a role to play in popular culture in the last decade or so. Into this relative void comes Stuber, a loving attempt to resurrect the form, clearly made by huge fans of the genre.
Nascent global star Kumail Nanjiani, fresh off his Oscar nomination for co-writing The Big Sick with wife Emily V. Gordon, stars as a part-time Uber driver named Stu, who endures the titular nickname care of a co-worker at a sporting goods store.
Stu’s world is rocked when his car is commandeered by Vic, a grizzled LAPD detective played by Dave Bautista, the former WWE superstar who went on to steal the Guardians of the Galaxy films and reveal dramatic depth in Blade Runner 2049.
Vic is hunting a killer, but can’t drive, so Stu is dragged into an ever-escalating series of encounters across Los Angeles. Iko Uwais, Karen Gillan, Natalie Morales and Mira Sorvino round out the supporting cast.
“From the outside it seems like this dream scenario… but the truth is it took years working on drafts and wondering if anyone would ever read them.” —Joe Talbot on The Last Black Man in San Francisco.
A love story to San Francisco, to one grand Victorian house in particular, and to a life-long friendship, The Last Black Man in San Francisco was many years in the making. And it paid off: Joe Talbot picked up the Best Director prize at Sundance 2019 for his debut feature, a story drawn from the life of his best friend (and the film’s leading man), Jimmie Fails. A close-knit family of creatives grew around the project, and became a vital support system for Talbot when his father had a stroke just weeks before the shoot. Since January, critical accolades for the film have snowballed. Most recently, it appeared in our ten highest-rated features for the first half of 2019.
Letterboxd reporter Jack Moulton took the opportunity for a lengthy chat with Talbot about his remarkable debut feature. The interview contains a virtual masterclass in first-time feature film development (and the persistence required to see it through), along with some never-before-seen images shared exclusively with us by Joe. Also: some plot spoilers, which we’ve left until the very end.
At the midway point for 2019 we can reveal the ten highest-rated narrative films for the year so far. Avengers: Endgame tops the list with a weighted average of 4.15 out of a possible 5. (This time last year, Paddington 2 was top bear. How quickly times change.)
In second spot is The Last Black Man in San Francisco. “Wow! It means a lot,” was director Joe Talbot’s reaction when we told him you’d ranked his debut feature so highly. And in third place is Olivia Wilde’s Booksmart, a firm Letterboxd favorite since its SXSW debut back in March.
We know what you’re thinking: why is Bong Joon-Ho’s Parasite not top of this list, when it is currently our highest-rated narrative film for 2019? Simple: we include only narrative, feature-length films that have had at least a limited theatrical or streaming run in the US in 2019. No documentaries, miniseries, stand-up specials or Paul Thomas Anderson fan-boy tributes to Radiohead members.
“To look at me you couldn’t believe that I could have done what I’ve done.”
Three decades after going to sea as a novice ship’s cook for her childhood friend’s all-women Whitbread Round The World crew, Jo Gooding finds herself with a cinematography credit on a major feature film about the ground-breaking event.
Maiden re-lives the summer of 1989-1990 when British sailor Tracy Edwards, exasperated by the male-dominated sailing field, enlisted an all-female crew to compete in the 1989 Whitbread Round the World Yacht Race (now known as the Ocean Race).
It was a sailing first, and Edwards’ crew faced fierce misogyny and media degradation. Ultimately, they defied the odds and not only finished the race but came in second in their class; a result that at the time was the best for a British boat in 17 years, and still remains the best for a boat with an all-female crew.