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.

The Icelandic film Rams is about two grizzled farmers who enjoy unusually warm relationships with their sheep. Expect no nudges or winks: Though it's amply salted with dry wit, the movie is a heartfelt inquiry into why two brothers who live side by side have not spoken in 40 years.

In the insufferably arch neo-noir Western Mojave, Garrett Hedlund — a vision in sexy boots, artfully disheveled tresses and a morose green gaze — ventures into the desert, there to brood on his depraved, deprived life as a Hollywood director of note. Having crashed his car, Thomas lights a fire, but further brooding is interrupted by the arrival of a stranger named Jack. We know Jack does not mean well because he is unwashed, hirsute, sorely in need of cosmetic dentistry and played in overdrive by Oscar Isaac.

If nothing else The Benefactor, an absorbing if uneven psychological drama from writer-director Andrew Renzi, provides Richard Gere with a liberating opportunity to come on like Al Pacino. As Franny, a wealthy Philadelphia philanthropist without boundaries who gets his way through hysterical giving, Gere throws himself around with overbearing flamboyance, clearly relishing the chance to inhabit a man who's always on but understands nothing.

In 2011, the British director Andrew Haigh made Weekend, an achingly wistful chamber piece about a lifetime of unfulfilled longing poured into a brief encounter between two very different gay men. Weekend comes highly recommended, as does Haigh's new film, 45 Years, which also spans a few days, here slogged through by an aging couple forced by startling news to reassess their long marriage. Neither film has a plot in the received sense, nor does either lead us to a foregone conclusion.

The lively little fellow we meet in the Brazilian film Boy and the World has a circle for a head topped with three goofy hairs, two vertical slits for eyes, a striped tee-shirt and black shorts. That's it, but he contains multitudes, and this lovely animated poem to migrant labor will show you them all. Together with his loving parents, who are drawn with equal economy, Boy lives poor but happy in a rural idyll depicted in slashes of brilliant color, much like the free drawing of a child. The wind rustles; cobalt butterflies hover; he plants a seed; he's happy.

In the early 1970s, an elderly homeless woman who called herself Miss Shepherd parked her decrepit van in the London driveway of British playwright Alan Bennett. Bennett had invited her, ambivalently and with every expectation she'd leave before long. She stayed for 15 years, and The Lady in the Van, Bennett's hilarious, self-lacerating, and wistful account of her sojourn among the trendy liberals of Camden Town, became first an article and then a stage play starring — who else? — Maggie Smith.

Rocker docs lie thick on the ground these days, most of them landlocked in a tired arc of childhood stress, rapid rise to stardom filled with drugs and debauchery, followed by decline and, for those who survive, extravagant rue-ing the day. And given the short, sharp life of Janis Joplin, any account of her has to spend time in that terrain. But though Janis: Little Girl Blue — Amy J. Berg's loving, exhaustively researched documentary about the whiskey-voiced blues interpreter — gives Joplin's dark side its due, the film rarely succumbs to mawkish wallowing.

Like his 2002 melodrama Far from Heaven, which it resembles in all sorts of good ways, Todd Haynes' Carol opens onto a busy city street scene in full 1950s dress. The camera quickly settles on a young man in a fedora as he rounds a corner and enters a plush eating establishment. A story is brewing there, but one in which Fedora Man will turn out to be no more than a peripheral player, our guide to two elegantly clad women apparently enjoying a gossipy afternoon tea.

Angelina Jolie Pitt's By the Sea opens with a long shot over a sharp precipice that fairly screams upcoming crisis for the handsome couple driving along its scenic edge. That's about as lively as things get in this undercooked mood piece about a disintegrating marriage between a stalled writer and his glum wreck of a wife. It helps not one whit that the two are played by Hollywood's starriest couple, who radiate about as much onscreen chemistry here as Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman did in Eyes Wide Shut.

Some day soon after a brisk run in theaters and, with luck, a clutch of well-deserved Oscars, John Crowley's Brooklyn may find its sweet hereafter as a Turner Classic Movies selection of the month on endless repeat. I mean this as the highest compliment: Though it's set in 1950s coastal Ireland and New York, from soup to nuts Brooklyn comes as close as any contemporary drama I can think of (other than Todd Haynes' breathily semiotic Far From Heaven) to the finest women's movies of the 1930s and 1940s.

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