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.

A good ingénue role is stuffed with smarts, as Gracie Allen, Marilyn Monroe, Lucille Ball and other comic greats all understood. Greta Gerwig, an accomplished filmmaker and actress who's been pinned (Damsels in Distress, Frances Ha Ha, and others) as the go-to ingénue of American independent film, gets that, too. On the whole, she's made hay with the knowledge, even when the purported ditz isn't drawn distinctly enough to give room for expansion.

In an achingly lovely scene in Terence Davies' 1992 film The Long Day Closes, a little boy rests his elbows on a windowsill and gazes out at the rain slanting past his cramped tenement house in England's industrial North. It's the 1950s, and on the soundtrack is Debbie Reynolds' honeyed "Tammy." To those of us who grew up in dreary post-War Britain (I remember that time in monochrome), the relentless grey of that scene, set off by the pop promise of a Golden Elsewhere, takes the measure of both our days and our yearnings for relief.

Inspiration in Hollywood movies is often a matter of one plucky individual taking on a "system" and winning. For the Brits, such triumphs come deeply embedded in class, region, and national pride, and winning is neither guaranteed nor especially prized. The wonderful 2014 drama Pride re-enacted a gratifyingly improbable, real-life alliance between gay Londoners and displaced Welsh miners during the bruising national strike of 1984.

Clocking in at a hefty 155 minutes, a film about Bulgaria's transition from Communism to capitalist democracy might in principle be a tough sell outside the former Soviet Union. But Maya Vitkova's Viktoria, a handsome, formally adventurous family saga, tells that tale through a powerful maternal melodrama spanning three generations of implacable women bound by blood, spilled milk and the tumult of a world in transition.

In Lorene Scafaria's The Meddler, Susan Sarandon plays Marnie Minervini, a recent widow who moves from the East Coast to Los Angeles to "be near" (read, boss around) her daughter Lori (a very good, if underused Rose Byrne), a depressed screenwriter who's just broken up with her boyfriend. We meet Marnie lying in bed gazing up at the ceiling, and that's more or less the last wordless time we spend with her.

You can spend perfectly lovely time with Our Last Tango purely as a dance movie, with all the sexy pleasures that tango delivers. But for Maria Nieves Rego, one half of Argentina's premier tango couple, the dance of love in her 50-year partnership with choreographer Juan Carlos Copes curdled into a long-running duet of hate.

Time was when every other drama about troubled youth came packaged with evil, inept or uncomprehending government functionaries itching to make matters worse. In Emmanuelle Bercot's sympathetic Standing Tall, one sorely lacking caseworker shows up briefly to rub salt in the prior wounds of a damaged youngster. He is quickly dispatched though, and from then on the film tags along with a team of dedicated workers trying to rescue the teenager from a rotten past, a lousy future, and his own hair-trigger temper. There's not a saint among them, but their devotion rarely flags.

There's little reason to believe that Julie Delpy saw, let alone lifted the premise of, the Duplass brothers' 2010 black comedy Cyrus before she made Lolo, a pert little number about a Parisian teenager pulling out the stops to pry his doting single mother loose from a promising new boyfriend who's ready to move in. For all the similarities of premise and plot, Lolo is as breezily French in execution as Cyrus is deadpan Amer-indie. And anyway, the oedipal drama, however bent out of shape, never goes out of style.

Home for the holidays: An aging prodigal child approaches, swearing like a trooper and dragging all manner of other baggage behind her battered wheelie. Once she finds the right front door — it's been a while, with ample reason, since last she visited — a warm, if nervous, welcome awaits from an extended family of noisy Texans gathered for Thanksgiving. In another kind of movie, tears and laughter will follow as a family closes ranks to heal its black sheep, and thereby itself.

Chances are, if you've seen a Kelly Reichardt film, it would be Wendy and Lucy, a small, languorous, utterly heartbreaking 2008 drama with a big star, Michelle Williams, as a young homeless woman trying to make her way to the Pacific Northwest with her beloved dog. Wendy and Lucy is an art film with a delirious sense of place, but it's also a road movie, and far from Reichardt's first. One way or another, every extreme indie she makes pays sly, ardent homage to genre.

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