Throughout the year, we need to be reminded to slow down and appreciate the beauty of life in all its seasons. These twelve films do exactly that for me, here paired with a month for which they seem (to me) to have some affinity. Many of these films are not easy, especially for those of us trained to expect constant, frenetic stimulation, but to one of sympathetic disposition each has the potential to be life-changing.
January: Children of Men (2006)
Firmly in the grip of winter, January must offer promise for the new year. Alfonso Cuarón’s Children of Men, set in a dystopian but increasingly believable 2027, is all about hope. Clive Owen plays a jaded bureaucrat who comes face-to-face with the possibility of salvation.
February: Werckmeister Harmonies (2000)
Chill, often gloomy February, as the great fast commences, is the perfect setting for this Béla Tarr masterpiece about a small town in communist Hungary. Embedded in its length and winter bleakness is a strange radiance and moments of wonder.
March: Andrei Rublev (1969)
The budding heart of Lent is an appropriate season for this miraculous film from Andrei Tarkovsky. In a series of episodes inspired by the lives of 15th-century Russian icon painters, Andrei Rublev depicts the cruelty of history and the despair (and subsequent rebirth) of an artist.
April: Roma (2018)
A monochrome film chronicling mundane working-class existence in 1970s Mexico may seem an unlikely choice for the strike of Eastertide. But Cuarón’s beautifully shot Roma blossoms with grace and empathy, leaving the attentive viewer in a glow of joy in life.
May: Late Spring (1949)
This film may be my favorite of Yasujirō Ozu’s, and its placement in the month of May is self-explanatory. With characteristic restraint and a commemorative touch, Late Spring portrays the changing relationship between a loving father and daughter.
June: The Tale of the Princess Kaguya (2013)
Isao Takahata’s last film takes inspiration from (and inverts) a beloved Japanese story. The Tale of the Princess Kaguya is a bittersweet celebration of earthly life, gorgeously animated by hand and suitable for all ages.
July: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)
This philosophical melodrama posing as a martial arts epic may be the biggest popular hit on this list, but Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon deserves its success. Through both meditative conversation and wuxia action, Lee sensitively explores oppositions: feminine and masculine, selfishness and self-abnegation, love and hatred.
August: The Tree of Life (2011)
The summer ages toward harvest, and a late-summer radiance pervades much of Terrence Malick’s autobiographical magnum opus. Moments from an East Texas childhood with their many emotions rise and ebb, flow and mingle, generating one of the decade’s most beautiful cinematic experiences.
September: The Color of Pomegranates (1969)
For grandiose September, what could be better than one of the most lavishly saturated tableaux ever filmed? Sergei Parajanov’s “biography” of the 18th-century poet Sayat Nova is mystifying and spellbinding. Surrender yourself to it, and see what happens.
October: The Mirror (1975)
Haunting October seems at least as good a time as any other to watch this other Tarkovsky masterpiece. With rarely-matched artistic purity, Mirror is an autobiographical and sometimes mystical series of impressions and images from a Russian childhood.
November: Spirit of the Beehive (1973)
As the weather turns chill, sober reflection intrudes on the exuberance of harvest. Victor Erice’s enchanting and autumnal tale of childhood is told with sincerity and affection, but also sensitivity to the confusion and fear that are part of growing up in a dangerous world.
December: Fanny and Alexander (1982)
There may be no better Christmas movie for grown-ups than this playful, bittersweet story of childhood, faith, human weakness, and familial love. Ingmar Bergman himself seems to have regarded this as the capstone of his whole splendid oeuvre. This film (or miniseries, depending on which version you watch) burns with the light, darkness, and color of Advent and Christmastide.