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FILM: tectac's Kelly Reichardt, Ranked

Surprised I hadn't made this list already, as I'd completed her filmography back in 2016. But now, with the wide release of FIRST COW, I figured it was an appropriate time. Reichardt is one of my favorite currently working directors; her confidence is astounding, her trust in the audience to make simple connections on their own an admirable and increasingly rare commodity. Her films will not be for everyone, especially those who need a movie to give them arcs with closure or undeniable thematic signposts. Her films are lullabies for the soul, and occasionally those lullabies are legitimately terrifying. I say that in the best way possible, of course.
7The Bathers
Kelvingrove Baby

>> NIGHT MOVES (2013)

First half comes to a precise boiling point—the moment Josh and Dena get stopped and questioned by a trooper. It’s the exact kind of scene at which Reichardt excels viz., building tension with utmost minimalism. This is more strictly cause-and-effect than most of her oeuvre, which merely have characters to which things happen. Not necessarily a bad thing, but this strikes me as a script that Reichardt would down and then ghost direct whichever lesser director picked up the project out of boredom. That’s especially true of the second half, which I reckon is the reason most people find it inferior. The backend still has its merits, though, like e.g. Josh and Dena’s final conversation, venturing into erogenous zones I never thought Reichardt would bother occupying. Alas, though, the material itself clashes with its formalisms too often, but I applaud the diversion. (Put another way: If this is the worst thing she ever makes, she’ll have had one hell of a career.)
6Mercury Rev
Deserter's Songs

>> OLD JOY (2006)

Tricky film to quantify. On one hand, its meditative banalities creep with an unimposing sense of realism that's difficult to capture, though Reichardt makes it look easy. On the other hand, while I’m sure its intention was to encourage superimposition from each viewer’s personal experiences, this comes dangerously close to withholding too much, threatening to stretch the narrative gaps into full blown chasms. That’s not a nail in the coffin, though; what’s left lingering in hindsight is the contemplative pace of life and the volumes transposed by deafening silence. There’s no melodrama here, no eruptive fight, no mind-blowing epiphany, no horrific revelation, no nauseating twist. But maybe that’s a good thing, and maybe I should be thankful for Reichardt’s ambition to Say Something without saying anything at all (i.e., As we grow up and grow old, we inevitably grow apart.) Frustrating in its evasiveness but astounding in its formal restraint. Needs a revisit soon.
5Built to Spill
There's Nothing Wrong with Love


First two stories are expectably quaint, encompassing Reichardt’s signature tranquility and humanism; Dern and Williams are great, injecting top-shelf nuance into their soft-spoken performances. The text itself, however, doesn’t dissect life as sharply as Reichardt’s best stuff e.g. the entirety of MEEK'S CUTOFF, most of WENDY AND LUCY, and even RIVER OF GRASS to a more boldly skittish degree. But then along comes the third parcel—featuring Kristen Stewart and Lily Gladstone—which is remarkable and breathtaking such that it retroactively wilts the first two segments beneath its massive shadow. On its own, it’d be one of the best short films of the decade. As it currently stands, it’s tethered to two vaguely related limbs that don’t measure up. I tried to make a case that the binding agent of these three women—excluding Stewart; her purpose is Cause, not Effect—is thematic, but the stores still feel more incidental than proportional. 67% good, 33% astounding.
4The Microphones
Mount Eerie

>> RIVER OF GRASS (1994)

The whole film possesses a sort of careless lethargy, bobbing through a sinusoidal wave of negligence and solipsism, waxing and waning with bouts of energy and panic, smoothed over with stretches of secular inertia. It's very clearly a debut, but sparks of Reichardt's later work are prevalent—most notably her compositional curtailment and inclination for exploring the devastation of less-than-desirable - though hardly monumental in the traditional sense - states of affair. Not so much a story as a rumination of lost souls and the consuming effects of monotony. Quite coarse when viewed too closely, and the voiceover narration gives the soured impression of a less-equipped BADLANDS—I guess the unknown-lovers-on-a-lamb crime spree throughput helps with that, too—but there's an admirable confident to Reichard’s raggedy swagger that, while not wholly original nor brimming with visual caprice, remains unusually amusing. Amazing to see where this eventually took her.
3William Basinski
The Disintegration Loops III

>> WENDY AND LUCY (2008)

Though many smart people have deemed this a hopeless meat grinder, Reichardt never asks or even expects us to sympathize with Wendy. If anything, she posits the opposite, insinuating several times that Wendy’s bad luck is not luck at all, but a consequence of her own poor decisions. Wendy makes a slew of questionable choices that prod us to reconsider our cumulative empathy. Is she truly deserving of anyone’s commiseration? Slightly rough around the edges and anchored by a few painfully stagey moments, but well composed overall, appropriately devastating and unexpectedly clever with its moral tug-of-war. (There is, however, a single element that stopped me from scoring this higher: When Wendy is being carted away by the cops, she waits until they're pulling away to notify them of Lucy’s presence outside the store. It is unlikely not only that police officers would hang a dog out to dry but that Wendy would wait until that exact moment before saying something.)
2Vampire Weekend

>> FIRST COW (2019)

Trying to discern to which institution Reichardt was nose-thumbing, my initial and obvious answer was capitalism. “Why didn’t she call this THERE WILL BE MILK?” I wondered. In retrospect, however, the extent to which FIRST COW functions as a legitimate criticism (or advocacy) of private enterprise, capitalism, liberalism, et al is infinitesimal at best and accidental at worst. It dawned on me during the final reel that she wasn’t making a Film About Capitalism, nor was she voicing any appropriate posture on one system or another, nor was she commenting on the Robinhood nature of success. She was using the joint business venture of Cookie and Lu to craft a goddamn buddy film. And as such, one could indeed graft this as FILM CAPITALISME, but if that’s the only rubric by which its quality is measured, then it is an utter and total failure. As a meticulously detailed and beautifully time-sensitive anecdote of improbable male bonding, on the other hand, it’s exquisite.
1John Coltrane
Blue Train

>> MEEK’S CUTOFF (2010)

Seeing Reichardt’s formalism applied to a 19th Century template is hypnotizing, but that hypnotism can be mistaken for lethargy if one is not expecting it. That lethargy, though, is precisely what makes this a boiling cauldron of anxiety; a film that speaks more through its silences and contemplative leering than its text. Once that realization takes hold, the lulls now transfix, backed by an undercurrent of impending ruination from various unlikely sources. This is an environmental horror not unlike GERRY or THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, only transposed to a totally different context. Mother Nature is the inescapable enemy, the unrelenting bringer of fate. Reichardt’s camerawork is spellbinding—the 4:3 aspect ratio imposing an interesting claustrophobia despite the vastness surrounding the settlers—and includes a slow dissolve that left me agape. An application of gradual territorial vanquishment through prolonged restraint. One of the finest films of the century.
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