Every Kelly Reichardt Film Ranked
Kelly Reichardt’s characters are usually not in a hurry and they do not have any money. In ‘River of Grass,’ a couple is trying to leave Florida; ‘Meek’s Cutoff’ has a group of settlers walking across a desert trying to find civilization; ‘Wendy and Lucy’ has Wendy leaving for Alaska.
With seven features to her name, the American director, screenwriter, editor, and teacher makes films that can be deemed as “slow.” Born in Florida and dropped out of high school after 11th grade, Reichardt earned an MFA from Boston. Her films, on the other hand, are usually set in Oregon or Montana.
She is, firstly, known for her collaboration with writer Jonathan Raymond, and, then, cinematographer Christopher Blauvelt. In terms of performances, she has teamed up with her dog, Lucy; the cow, Eevie (a one-time thing); in addition to the actor, Michelle Williams.
To watch Williams chop wood in ‘Certain Women’, or walk-in ‘Meek’s Cutoff’, or hum in ‘Wendy and Lucy’ needs patience. They are, moreover, things of beauty that, according to Keats remain joys forever.
Similarly, to watch Mark clueless in ‘Old Joy’ or Cookie scared in ‘First Cow’ are nerve-wracking. But Reichardt makes them feel convincing. To find the couple involved in an incident in ‘River of Grass’ or the radicals plot to blow up a dam in ‘Night Moves’ are tense.
Related Read: 15 Great Films About Troubled Geniuses
Reichardt’s work is worth admiring and deserves more attention because her films are paced the way life is. I like all her films and I only know what should come the last and the first here. However, here is a ranking of every feature film she has ever made till 2020.
7. NIGHT MOVES (2013)
‘Night Moves’ is perhaps the only film that marks itself as the odd one out in the Reichardt oeuvre. Likewise, it has some big names: Jesse Eisenberg, Dakota Fanning, Peter Sarsgaard, Alia Shawkat, and James Le Gross.
The film is about the environment, radicalism, capitalism, and a dam. Unusual topics for Reichardt who moves away from the dailiness of her stories and quietly planting a bomb in her filmography.
Distributed by Cinedigm see it for sheer experimentation and how Reichardt adapts her touch into a thriller. This is to say that Night Moves is not a bad film at all. The consequences on the climate or the leads, though, are uncertain.
6. MEEK’S CUTOFF (2010)
This is some trivia, I suppose: Kelly Reichardt did not let her actors wash their costumes as they walked through the desert the entire film to maintain continuity. They stank so badly that she caved in one morning. Once, just once!
It was 43 degrees Celsius. The actors furthermore had heatstroke and hypothermia. The women in this nineteenth-century western wear bonnets to protect themselves from the sun. They walk, walk, and walk some more through the Oregon desert.
There is a Native American (Rod Rondeaux) who does not talk. But Emily, Meek, and he offer some conflict for the film to run interestingly enough for 104 minutes. Distributed by Oscilloscope, the film led the NYT to write this: ‘In Defence of the Slow and the Boring.’
Related to Kelly Reichardt Movies – Meek’s Cutoff (2010) Review: A Transcendent Tale of Morality
5. RIVER OF GRASS (1994)
Reichardt’s debut feature, when she was about 30 years old, focuses on a bored woman, Cozy, (Lisa Donaldson) in her 30s. She goes to a bar with a bloke, Lee, (Larry Fessenden), and then to somebody’s posh house and their pool.
Lee, surprisingly, shows off a gun to Cozy. The owner of the house, unexpectedly, enters. The gun fires. Cozy and Lee, hurriedly, flee. They do not check or even look, forget calling for help. They run for their lives. Have they killed the presumed owner of the house?
Cozy and Lee are only in South Florida where Reichardt grew up. What are they going to do? What do they expect to do? They cannot be on the run for long; they do not even have the resources! The film was distributed by Strand Releasing.
Watch/Stream River of Grass on Kanopy
Related to Kelly Reichardt Movies – Greener Grass : ‘MAMI’ Review – A Surreal Satire on the Displeasure of Politeness
4. OLD JOY (2006)
Kelly Reichardt took 12 years to make her second feature but made some shorts between then and 2006. Based on Jonathan Raymond’s short story of the same name, ‘Old Joy’ was, however, worth the wait.
Two old friends go camping. They are accompanied by a dog. The chap who has the dog has a well-to-do life while you cannot say the same thing about the other one. A scene including a hot spring offers all the catharsis, to the viewers and the characters.
Peter Sillen did the camera work on this one while Yo La Tengo provided the music. It stars Will Oldham and Daniel London as Kurt and Mark and runs again for a brief 76 minutes. If only a hike in the woods were to bring you joy; Reichardt asks why not.
Watch/Stream Old Joy on The Criterion Channel
3. CERTAIN WOMEN (2016)
Michelle Williams first gained recognition in the teen drama on television, ‘Dawson’s Creek’ (1998-2003), already showing the makings of a star. She has not stopped working since then to a blink-and-you-miss-her scene in the ‘Venom’ (2021) trailer.
A recipient of four Oscar nominations, she is known to steal the films she is in even if her roles are brief. Check out this four-minute scene in ‘Manchester by the Sea;’ or even the entirity of a film like ‘Blue Valentine’ and there is no telling what she can do.
For an actor who has frequently acted in Reichardt’s films, and is a part of ‘Certain Women,’ distributed by IFC, Stage 6, and Sony, many fail to see her storyline and performance in this story of three shorts with extraordinary performances all around.
With this in mind, Laura Dern is in the first story playing a lawyer dealing with a case. And the standout story is the last one, performed richly by Lily Gladstone and Kristen Stewart. The latter plays Beth, another lawyer in the film.
Gladstone plays Jamie, who is taken to Beth, who teaches her and others at night school. Her passionate if not daring glances alone can win anybody who is watching this film; certain women, I tell you!
The film is based on Malie Meloy’s stories from ‘Half In Love’ (Scribner, 2003) and Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It’ (Riverhead, 2009): ‘Native Sandstone’ (with a bit of ‘Thirteen & a Half’); ‘Travis, B’ and ‘Tome.’
Related to Kelly Reichardt Movies – Certain Women  : MAMI Review
2. FIRST COW (2019)
‘First Cow’ nods at Reichardt’s ‘Wendy and Lucy’ in its brief opening sequence. This sequence involves Alia Shawkat and a dog roaming about a forest in the present. Five minutes in, the year is 1920, there is a man called Cookie (John Magaro) looking for food in the same forest.
He finds some mushrooms and a naked Lu (Orion Lee). Lu is on the run and, as a result, Cookie shelters him. They enter a village, and so does the first cow of the village. They steal her milk. We are back in Oregon, though! Less walking this time. No desert too; only desserts!
Cookie makes cookies out of the milk, having prepared the dough at night. He prepares them freshly in the market. Lu helps market and sell them. Consequently, in no time at all, they are sold out. And even the man who owns the cow (Toby Jones) cannot have enough of them!
William Tyler supplies the music while her usual collaborators are the names you can find on this one. Raymond does not just share screenplay credits with Reichardt, but ‘First Cow’ is based on a 2008 novel he wrote titled ‘The Half-Life’ (Bloomsbury). At 121 minutes, this is her longest film.
The opening quote of the film, and the book, I believe, sums it all up well. It is from William Blake’s ‘Proverbs of Hell’ (1790-93): The bird a nest, the spider a web, man friendship. Distributed by A24, the film is coming to MUBI in July 2021.
Watch/Stream First Cow on FuboTV
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1. WENDY AND LUCY (2008)
Adapted from Raymond’s short story ‘Train Choir,’ which along with the short story ‘Old Joy’ went on to appear in the collection ‘Livability’ (Bloomsbury, 2009), this film was written by Reichardt and Raymond himself. Sam Levy shot it but there is surprisingly no score in the film.
It begins with Wendy (Williams) humming softly. She is playing, then running around with her dog Lucy. Wendy calls for Lucy; she has a stick in her hand. The title card appears. In 10 minutes, Wendy drives to a snack shop, freshens up in the washroom, feeds Lucy, and hums some more.
This peaceful existence and exposition are soon taken over by the crisis. Wendy loses Lucy in a supermarket as she is accused if not caught stealing food. Her final words to Lucy: Don’t be a nuisance! We don’t need that.
Would I look after myself and be shamelessly selfish for the sake of survival? Or would I truly do everything I can to look for my best friend with whom I share a bond that nobody in this cosmos can understand? You can call that selfless, but it is selfish, too, isn’t it?
The film’s true centerpiece is Michelle Williams. I do not know how many times she got to change or wash her clothes in this film. This was her first gig with the director, but in plain clothes and a blue short coat, she is bang on!
Her film-star glamour is stripped down to make room for a young woman who is restless and penniless. That was her situation, to begin with, but also helpless now that she has lost Lucy. She does not exaggerate her emotions, nor underplay them.
She genuinely seems stressed and confused, tired and, sometimes, alone. Distributed by Oscilloscope, Reichardt resolves the film in gut-wrenching ways, yet something that would happen on an ordinary day with nobody blinking an eye at the events that transpire.
All in all, get some quiet and watch the seven Kelly Reichardt’s; presuming you have not watched them! For all you know, you will be telling me that ‘Night Moves’ had the universal in mind and not just the personal.
Or that ‘Old Joy’ was made with a budget of $1oo,o0o and deserves to be in the top spot just for that. I will agree with you. In case you have, though, you may not care much for her, disagree with the order of this list, or be a fan. Either way, I will be happy that you and I have watched her.