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Some Culture Lust Movie Recommendations: The Matador, Wendy and Lucy, and The Visitor

I've watched some great movies in the last couple of weeks and thought I'd make some recommendations.

David Fandila from the documentary The Matador.

The Matador. I was just in Portugal and we considered seeing a bullfight while we were there. For many reasons, we ended up not doing it, but we wavered from the beginning on whether we should. The Matador is a new documentary that follows young and charismatic Spanish matador David Fandila on his quest to do 100 bullfights in one season. After seeing this vivid doc, which takes you into the ring for a number of bullfights, I'm still not sure I would want to see one. However, I definitely recommend seeing this film. You learn a lot about bullfighting, from its three-act structure, to the pageantry and ritualism surrounding it, as well as its controversial standing in Spain. When paired with the film's beautiful score and the gorgeous color and majesty of the early stages of a bullfight, I certainly understand how the sport can be considered beautiful. However, it was really hard to watch the end stages of a bullfight where the bloodied bull falls to the ground. Despite having to cover my eyes at times, I was hooked throughout this film, mostly because of its compelling subject, which is visually rich, and its sympathetic star. You can hear more about The Matador by listening to this These Days interview . & It opens this weekend in San Diego at Landmark's Hillcrest Theaters. &

Michelle Williams in the film Wendy and Lucy.

Wendy and Lucy . This movie is like one of those memorable and sparse short stories that impresses with its mix of economy and power. It's directed by Kelly Reichardt and stars Michelle Williams as Wendy, a plain, guarded young woman who is on a road trip from Indiana to Alaska where she hopes to find work in a fishery. & We meet her in Oregon, where she makes some bad decisions but also suffers some tough breaks. & Lucy is her loyal companion, a golden yellow mutt who curls up on the front seat when Wendy sleeps in her car. & This quiet and bleak film is warmed by the relationship between Wendy and Lucy. & I won't mislead you into thinking this is an easy movie. & It's very sad and Wendy's struggle to survive financially feels frighteningly relevant to today's world. & Williams' performance is perfectly restrained and Reichardt's direction is streamlined and thoughtful. & It opens in San Diego in January (the 23rd) so you have a wait, but keep it in mind.

Richard Jenkins and Haaz Sleiman in The Visitor.

The Visitor. I missed this one when it came out in theaters and it finally reached the top of my Netflix list last week. I really love this film. It's written and directed by Tom McCarthy , who also wrote and directed The Station Agent (and, he played the shady journalist in season five of The Wire ). The Visitor stars Richard Jenkins , who gives such a beautiful performance it reminds you how good he always is, even when we've mostly seen him in supporting roles. He played Six Feet Under's ghostly patriarch, Nathanial Fisher. In The Visitor , he plays a professor trapped in grief and lonliness after the death of his wife, but is inspired anew by a serendipitous relationship with a young immigrant couple. If the Academy has any sense, Richard Jenkins will be nominated for Best Actor and Tom McCarthy will get a Best Screenplay nod. When the film came out in theaters, KPBS film critic Beth Accomando interviewed McCarthy . & The Visitor is now available on DVD.

There are bigger films I've seen recently, like Slumdog Millionaire and Milk , but they are getting tons of press and are likely already on your radar. & I do recommend both of them, Slumdog for its editing and clever storytelling structure and Milk for the performances, especially Sean Penn who completely transforms himself. &

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