Stuck in "Shortbus"

Shortbus.Director: John Cameron Mitchell. Arriving before HBO’s coital Tell Me That You Love Me, this rather sweet exploration of relationships set in a post 9/11 New York also uses explicit sex as one of its many narrative tools. The result is often sexy and funny (see Francois Ozon) but also a little sad in its depiction of young adults whose sexual bumblings reflect less pornographic ecstasies, but a carnality that feels painfully real. Cameron manages an honest depiction of the very human hoops we traverse in search of connection. It may not fly with the morality police but grownups will get it.

X2000. Director: François Ozon. These shorts show the quirky surrealism of a filmmaker whose feature-length work (Under the Sand, Swimming Pool, Time to Leave) bursts with sex, mystery, fear and elegance. From adolescent sexual curiosity (Truth or Dare) to ironic revelations sparked by looming mortality (The Little Death) Ozon achieves odd shocks by peering beneath life’s unremarkable surfaces to view the lurking volcanos beneath. One of my favorite filmmakers; this is a great introduction to a modern original.

Zodiac. Director: David Fincher. Fincher breathes new life into what’s become a cliché (a cat-and-mouse tango between a rampaging serial killer and his pursuers) via his take on the Zodiac murders that plagued the West Coast back in the 70s. It’s a different Fincher from Seven and Fight Club: there’s violence, but the real story is his use of slowness and deliberation to ramp up the tension. It all plays like a maddening puzzle, and Fincher makes us feel the combatant’s shifting tides of paranoia and obsession.

Army of Shadows: Director: Jean-Pierre Melville. Made in 1969, but not released in this country until 2006, this striking black-and-white film is a peak for Melville, and world cinema. Dry as a bone in its depiction of a covert French Resistance operation, Melville gives lesser auteurs (Spielberg, et al) a lesson in storytelling sans overselling, over explaining. There’s no telegraphing, no manipulation, only the camera’s clear-eyed perusal of the film’s characters as they struggle with issues of loyalty, commitment and their dwindling moral compasses.