Ella Taylor

Ella Taylor is a freelance film critic, book reviewer and feature writer living in Los Angeles.

Born in Israel and raised in London, Taylor taught media studies at the University of Washington in Seattle; her book Prime Time Families: Television Culture in Post-War America was published by the University of California Press.

Taylor has written for Village Voice Media, the LA Weekly, The New York Times, Elle magazine and other publications, and was a regular contributor to KPCC-Los Angeles' weekly film-review show FilmWeek.

While Clint Eastwood was busy playing a wounded Union soldier held at the pleasure of a bevy of Southern belles in Don Siegel's 1971 Civil War drama The Beguiled, the actor also found time to direct his first film, Play Misty for Me, in which he also starred as a disc jockey stalked by an unhinged female fan. Both films were visceral articulations of male paranoia about the sinister potential of repressed or oversexed women.

Every so often, brightly lit Hollywood comedies set in West Coast mansions will slip in five minutes of light-relief banter between a Latina housekeeper and her wealthy white liberal boss. Mild joshing ensues about the cluelessness or prejudice of the employer, perhaps with a good-natured roll of the maid's eyes thrown in. That done, everyone slips back into their assigned slots in the social pecking order. Point taken, but not really.

Anna (Zoe Lister-Jones) and Ben (Adam Pally) are fighting. The young Los Angeles couple bickers long and loud in unprintable expletives about dirty dishes, interfering mothers, his laziness, her incessant judgments and, of course, sex (not enough) in their shaky 10-year marriage. Band Aid is a comedy, and though the jokes are out-there funny on and off (a toddler named Isis has a cameo), half an hour in you may wish this quarrelsome pair would take it outside.

There's a whiff of John Cheever-ish unease in Wakefield, a quietly unsettling drama about a man who disappears from his suburban home, only to spy on his family's response from a house across the street. In fact, the movie is based on a 2008 New Yorker short story by E.L. Doctorow, which in turn was inspired by a Nathaniel Hawthorne tale with the same premise, written in 1837.

In the Israeli romantic comedy, The Wedding Plan, Michal (Noa Koler), a youngish woman who's been trying to get hitched for years sits opposite a prospective mate, trying to make small talk. This is her umpteenth date in umpteen years; all relevant clocks are ticking; she's fed up and close to despair. Mary Richards may spring to mind, also Bridget Jones, and just about every Jane Austen adaptation extant.

Anyone who's experienced grief more as a wild boat ride on stormy seas than as the scheduled five stages from denial to acceptance, will feel intimately spoken to by One Week and a Day, a trenchant first feature from the young Israeli writer-director Asaph Polonsky. Equal parts bracing and beguiling, Polonsky's modestly budgeted movie addresses head-on the ungovernable confusion and raw emotion that attend one of the worst losses anyone can suffer — the death of a child.

Last December The Ottoman Lieutenant, a love story set in Turkey during World War I, came and went in the blink of an eye. The movie was pretty terrible in its own right and, as critics pointed out, its Turkish funding guaranteed a truck-sized memory hole about Turkey's 1915 massacre of over a million of its Armenian citizens, an act generally deemed by historians a genocide that Turkish authorities refuse to acknowledge to this day.

"A sheltered life can be daring too," the Southern writer Eudora Welty wrote in her 1984 memoir, One Writer's Beginnings. Writing about what and whom she saw around her, Welty enjoyed robust literary fame without ever marrying or moving out of her parents' house in Jackson, Mississippi.

In the charming and soulful Japanese anime Your Name, two teenagers who have never met wake up rattled to discover that they have switched bodies in their sleep, or more precisely their dreams. And it's not just their anatomies they've exchanged, or even the identities-in-progress each has managed to cobble together at such a tender age. Mitsuha, a spirited but restless small-town girl of Miyazaki-type vintage, and Taki, a Tokyo high school boy, have also swapped the country for the city, with all the psychic and cultural adjustments that will entail.

Twenty-five years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, documentary filmmaker Petra Epperlein had painful personal reasons to return from the United States, where she now lives, to her hometown of Chemnitz in what was once East Germany. The city had been renamed Karl Marx City under the German Democratic Republic, a Soviet satellite from just after World War II.

From time to time in Hirokazu Kore-eda's gently incisive family drama After the Storm, the soundtrack produces a few bars of casual whistling backed by a soft fragment of melody that noodles along with its lead character, stalled novelist and private detective Ryôta Shinoda (Hiroshi Abe). As he bumbles through another dispiriting day in the life, we learn that a typhoon is on its way to the Japanese town where he lives.

He's a handsome fellow who can play all sorts when given half a chance, but Michael Shannon's alarming bone structure and "you-talkin'-to-me?" eyes tend to trap him in many Frankenstein-adjacent roles. Which is why you might be forgiven for spending much of Wolves, a somber family drama with a fun sports movie neatly tucked inside, waiting for Shannon to explode. And he is a familiar coiled spring as Billy, the self-immolating father of a promising high-school basketball star.

As You Are, a coming-of-age movie in which no one comes of age (putative adults included), opens and closes with an aerial shot of two figures crossing a lawn in front of a house. A shot rings out both times, and the action in between circles around that event in time, framed by scenes of an unseen detective grilling the major players for their selective memories of a trauma for which everyone's responsible — yet that no one, least of all the shooter, meant to happen.

There's more than one fractured monarchy in A United Kingdom, a period saga of love, race and colonial politics set in both post-World War II Britain and a tiny African tribal nation then-named Bechuanaland. Some of this really happened: In 1947 the African country's heir apparent, Seretse Khama (David Oyelowo) and white office worker Ruth Williams (Rosamund Pike) cross paths at a missionary dance in drab, foggy post-War London. In the film, their eyes lock across a crowded room; they bond over a mutual love of jazz; that's it, they're hooked for life.

Frank Langella has all manner of elastic gifts, but he's never been the sort of actor to disappear into the many roles he's played over a distinguished career. There's an underlying stern implacability to just about every deplorable villain (and occasional hero) Langella has tackled: intractable obstinates all, who bend others' wills to their own and give no quarter.

If you've been tracking Matthew McConaughey's well-earned victory march from serious babe to serious actor specializing in wilderpeople, it will not shock you to learn that in Gold, a brand new, pretty old-school poem to the American huckster, the actor bares his bottom for a scene that requires him to leap into the unprepared arms of Edgar Ramirez.

A young man about whom we know little other than his name — Leo — arrives in a pretty French village, where, with little finesse and less success, he propositions a muscled sulk of a teenage boy (Basile Meilluerat). Leo, who's played by Damien Bonnard with a kind of predatory befuddlement, has better luck with Marie (India Hair), a shepherdess who calmly takes the sexual initiative.

Rummage through the many movies that get dumped into distribution in the run-up to Oscars night and you'll often find, amid all the prestige, cinematic awards-bait, a smaller film that's perfectly fine — not great — yet that tells us something consequential about the culture that produced it. That's 100 Streets, a sour-sweet British drama about a bunch of walking-wounded Londoners crossing paths as they struggle through life-crises we all recognize — a marriage on the skids, a longed-for child, an uphill battle to rise above poverty and petty crime.

If Pablo Larrain is news to you, he won't be for long. The Chilean director, whose Tony Manero, No, and The Club won critical praise but only modest box office here, has two highly recommended new films in the awards spotlight this year. Like Jackie — a challenging and brilliant portrait of Jackie Kennedy in the aftermath of her husband's assassination — Larrain's Neruda engages in iconoclastic play with clichés that have clung to a national legend, in this case Chile's beloved poet-politician Pablo Neruda.

One way or another, every Pedro Almodovar film is all about his mothers, real or imagined. His latest, Julieta, marks a return to form for all who love to take a bath in his crimson maternal melodramas. Still, it's a quieter, more inward film, less inclined to broad winks at the audience than, say, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, Talk to Her, or even All About My Mother.

The friction between art and life is director Damien Chazelle's ongoing obsession. It's a fine thing to ponder, though I didn't much care for his 2014 melodrama Whiplash, which worked up an overblown froth from the daffy proposition that you can bully a fledgling musician into becoming a genius drummer.

Late in mid-life Nathalie (Isabelle Huppert), a Paris high school philosophy teacher, suffers a string of punishing losses that threaten not just her well-being and sense of fulfillment, but her entire identity as a wife, daughter, mother and professional woman. Her husband (Andre Marcon) announces he's moving in with the mistress he's kept a secret for many years. Nathalie is forced to move the fragile mother (Edith Scob) she has propped up since childhood into assisted living; it doesn't go well.

Late in The Edge of Seventeen, a deftly blackish teen comedy written and directed by newcomer Kelly Fremon Craig, high-schooler Nadine sits on the toilet with her head in her hands. She's taken a beating on the usual fronts of adolescent suffering, as well as another ordeal no youngster should have to bear. "Please God, help me," the girl mutters. Then, "Why do I even bother?" Because to cap it all off there's no toilet paper. If you've seen any other movies or TV shows that producer James L. Brooks has had a hand in, you will recognize the comedy of embarrassment hard at work.

At the fancy Christmas dinner she hosts in her posh Paris home, a stylish entrepreneur named Michele, played to impassive perfection by Isabelle Huppert, verbally abuses her heavily Botoxed elderly mother and her mother's very-much-younger consort. She inflicts injury on the very-much-younger girlfriend of her former husband. She pokes fun at her ineffectual son, his partner, and their baby. She takes a covert swipe at her pretty Christian neighbor while initiating a game of footsie with that neighbor's handsome husband, a broker.

The title Loving may seem a rough fit for a movie made by Jeff Nichols, whose previous work includes Take Shelter and Mud. But Richard and Mildred Loving were the names of the real-life couple who inspired his new film; in the late 1950s they were forbidden to love and marry by the state of Virginia.

The landscape is all too familiar: Junkies, dealers, prostitution, poverty, and, here and there, spasms of violence. But Moonlight, an incandescent second feature from Barry Jenkins (Medicine for Melancholy), is a "black" movie more by way of Charles Burnett than John Singleton (Boyz n the Hood) or the Hughes brothers (Menace II Society).

Amid the current clamor for strong women characters, the films of Kelly Reichardt can seem regressive if you're not paying close attention. From her terrific debut feature River of Grass through Meek's Cutoff and Wendy and Lucy, Reichardt has given us incomplete, quietly suffering women who feel their way into change. Her M.O. is to allow their unexpressed longings to hang quietly in the air so we can feel them too, and watch what happens when they try to act on them.

The actress Sarah Paulson, who's having a very good year, can do pretty much anything. She turned herself into a racist plantation matron in 12 Years a Slave; Cate Blanchett's lesbian bestie in Carol; and there's her brilliant Emmy-winning turn as prosecutor Marcia Clark in this year's The People v. O.J. Simpson. To say nothing of her show-stopping turns as a witch, conjoined twins and other weirdnesses on American Horror Story.

The angry old gent at the heart of the Swedish film A Man Called Ove is the kind of man who puts on a suit and tie every time he tries to kill himself, which believe me is more than twice. He's also the kind of man you're likely to find in films submitted to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. So even though Ove, who's played with firmly compressed lips by Rolf Lassgard, is a royal pain in the butt, the suicides are played for gentle laughs and it's pretty clear from the get-go that things will pan out, in their deadpan Scandinavian way.

Earlier this year the New York-based filmmaker Oren Rudavsky released (with Joseph Dorman) Colliding Dreams, a fair-minded history of the Zionist ideal. The film documented the tension between Zionism as both a response to the mass persecution of Jews, and a catalyst for endless bloody conflict between Israeli Jews and Palestinians who fled or were expelled from their homes in the 1948 Israeli-Arab War, when Israel declared independence.

Pages