42. The Immigrant  (James Gray, USA, 2013)
I’m sorry. I’m really, really sorry. But there’s no way around it: I just can’t stand Joaquin Phoenix. Outside of Her, I have never, ever found him anything other than a distraction. He’s compelling only in the sense that he’s a black hole from which no light can escape, sucking every other quality a film might possess closer and closer into his orbit until he eventually devours it.
Any time he is not on screen, The Immigrant is a beautiful, arresting work. The scenes without him feel like scenes from a masterpiece, from a future classic. Marion Coutillard is extraordinary, it’s beautifully shot, the story is simultaneously intimate and epic. I am tempted to say that with another actor in Phoenix’s role, this could be one of the greatest American films of the last 20 years. But James Gray has worked with Phoenix several times now and says he might not have made this movie if Phoenix didn’t want to do it, so clearly he is getting exactly what he wants. So perhaps it doesn’t matter: there is something in Phoenix’s performance style that is essential to Gray’s vision, and it likely wouldn’t sit right with me no matter who was in it.
If you haven’t already, I urge you to read this spectacular review by Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, who loves the film and writes eloquently and devotedly in its favor. He writes in a way that makes me actually wistful about not liking the film more. I want to love it the way he loves it. Don’t mind what I have to say.
(SIDE NOTE: I love John Tavener’s Funeral Canticle but I reallllly hope it’s not going to become the new Adagio for Strings over the next several years of movies.)

Then as the sheen of the starlight stole over him, he thought of the gilded ceiling of that vast concert hall, and heard stealing toward him the faint sweet music of the swan. Hark! was it music, or the hurry and shouting of men? Yes, surely! Clear and high the faint sweet melody rose and fluttered like a living thing, so that the very earth trembled as with the tramp of horses and murmur of angry men.

He leaned back and smiled toward the sea, whence rose the strange melody, away from the dark shadows where lay the noise of horses galloping, galloping on. With an effort he roused himself, bent forward, and looked steadily down the pathway, softly humming the ‘Song of the Bride’—[…]’Freulig geführt, ziehet dahin.’ […] Amid the trees in the dim morning twilight he watched their shadows dancing and heard their horses thundering toward him, until at last they came sweeping like a storm, and he saw in front that haggard white-haired man, whose eyes flashed red with fury. Oh, how he pitied him,—pitied him,—and wondered if he had the coiling twisted rope. Then, as the storm burst round him, he rose slowly to his feet and turned his closed eyes toward the Sea.

And the world whistled in his ears.