11 Contributions by: Emil Hofileña On Hulu

Staff & contributors

Summer of Soul would already be remarkable if it was just a collection of some of the greatest live performances ever put to film. Boasting a roster that includes Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone, Gladys Knight, and Sly and the Family Stone, the nearly-forgotten 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival featured in the documentary was an all-star catalog of some of the biggest names in popular music, all at pivotal moments in their careers. Seeing them at the height of their powers, in front of a Black audience that meant so much to them, makes for an unexpectedly emotional experience.

But Summer of Soul also expands beyond the actual concert, using the Harlem Cultural Festival to represent a turning point in Black culture and history, especially after the death of Martin Luther King Jr. Through the film's pristine, electric editing and gorgeous archival restoration, music becomes a communal act of mourning, a rallying cry to face the uncertain future, and a celebration of a people and a heritage continuing to fight against erasure and persecution.

Genre: Documentary, Drama, History, Music

Actor: Abbey Lincoln, B. B. King, Chris Rock, David Ruffin, Fidel Castro, Hugh Masekela, Jesse Jackson, John F. Kennedy, John V. Lindsay, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Mahalia Jackson, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., Mavis Staples, Max Roach, Moms Mabley, Nina Simone, Questlove, Redd Foxx, Richard Nixon, Robert F. Kennedy, Sly Stone, Stevie Wonder, Walter Cronkite

Director: Questlove

Focusing squarely on two families and a select few health workers, The First Wave gets intimate access to the fears and anxieties of individuals trying to contend with the effects of the initial outbreak of the coronavirus in New York. That these characters also tend to belong to already vulnerable sectors in the United States isn't a superfluous detail—as director Matthew Heineman illustrates (without the use of detached talking heads interviews) how proper responses to a global pandemic like this one are still hampered by capitalist interests, and racist and xenophobic institutions built into American society. All of these obstacles make every setback and every moment of progress in these characters' lives feel absolutely crucial, making for an emotionally overwhelming experience.

Genre: Documentary, History

Actor: Al Sharpton, Andrew Cuomo

Director: Matthew Heineman

, 2019

Shot on a hand-cranked silent camera with all the sound and dialogue added in during post, Bait immediately stands out as a film that appears lost in time. With the visual texture and slightly displaced audio of an independent film made during Hollywood's infancy, the movie manages to convey its character and class conflicts with an additional air of surreality, even in its simplest sequences of shots. But writer/director/cinematographer/editor Mark Jenkin doesn't approach this project with an ironic or flippant attitude. Through the most fundamental techniques of an art form that's constantly changing, he crafts a story about the inevitability of change and those who really stand to lose the most from the passage of time.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Edward Rowe, Georgia Ellery, Giles King, Mary Woodvine, Simon Shepherd, Tristan Sturrock

Director: Mark Jenkin

Similar in spirit and in subject matter to the Oscar-winning documentary 20 Feet from Stardom, The Wrecking Crew pulls back the curtain on the recording of many of the greatest American songs of the 1960s and '70s: that a single group of unassuming session musicians were responsible for bringing out the sound in these tracks. The film is a treasure trove for musicians and music fans, making you hear certain instrumental nuances in a different light and deepening your perception of music between what was written and what was recorded. Then inevitably and tragically, the realization sets in that few—if any—of these musicians have received the recognition they truly deserve, as essential but unfairly small parts of a music industry ecosystem that often cares more about image and entertainment than musicianship.

Genre: Documentary, Family, Music

Actor: Adam West, Annette Funicello, Brian Wilson, Bruce Johnston, Carl Wilson, Cher, Dean Martin, Dick Clark, Eva Gabor, Frank Sinatra, Frank Zappa, Frankie Avalon, Glen Campbell, Graham Nash, Jody McCrea, Lou Adler, Micky Dolenz, Mike Love, Nancy Sinatra, Peter Tork, Ricky Nelson, Sammy Davis Jr., Sonny Bono, Tommy Kirk, Tommy Sands

Director: Denny Tedesco

Surprisingly dramatic for a documentary but without exoticizing its central characters for a privileged audience, The Territory is that rare film that rightfully portrays indigenous peoples as living firmly in the present. In their continuing struggle to protect their land and culture, the Uru-eu-wau-wau people of the Amazon may be vulnerable, but they aren't helpless. They're organized, have access to technology, and know exactly how they want to represent themselves—armed with bows and arrows and defending what's theirs in beautiful, thrilling footage. In this way, even as The Territory ultimately touches on issues that have affected all of Brazil, namely the destructive effects of Jair Bolsonaro's presidency, it still feels like a documentary co-authored by these indigenous people themselves.

Genre: Documentary

Director: Alex Pritz

Rarely do we get horror movies that are as dedicated to toying with audience expectations as Barbarian. Even rarer is a horror movie that pays so much attention to setting, and how men and women approach and interact with physical spaces in different ways. It's a film that's ultimately about entitlement—except it's delivered to us with jet-black humor and manic energy, shifting from romantic to ridiculous to raving mad. But with instantly charming performances from Georgina Campbell and Bill Skarsgård—and Justin Long doing a brilliant job playing an absolute jerk—Barbarian never leaves you grasping in the dark, even if it leads you deeper into hell.

Genre: Drama, Horror, Mystery, Thriller

Actor: Bill Skarsgård, Brooke Dillman, Derek Morse, Georgina Campbell, J.R. Esposito, Jaymes Butler, Justin Long, Kate Bosworth, Kate Nichols, Kurt Braunohler, Matthew Patrick Davis, Richard Brake, Sara Paxton, Trevor Van Uden, Will Greenberg, Zach Cregger

Director: Zach Cregger

It may not teach us anything that we don't already know by now, but the documentary Totally Under Control—filmed in secret, in defiance of the Trump administration—still stands as a valuable historical document so that the same mistakes can be avoided in the future. Boiled down to simple terms by doctors and other experts, the film's explanation of the United States' failure to adequately contain their own COVID-19 outbreak is always science- and fact-oriented first. And in its own classy, level-headed way, the film emphasizes that every politician, celebrity, and media outlet has a crucial part to play in making sure nobody panics and chases any counterproductive agendas. It should be obvious by now that we're all on the same team.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Alex Gibney, Andrew Cuomo, Anthony Fauci, Barack Obama, Deborah Birx, Donald Trump, Joe Kennedy III, John R. Bolton, Michael Bowen, Mike Pence, Narendra Modi

Director: Alex Gibney, Ophelia Harutyunyan, Suzanne Hillinger

Built on promising ideas revolving around toxic relationships, exploitation of Black bodies, and a fading African heritage, Jagged Mind comes up with reasonably diverting genre thrills but stops short of taking advantage of the rich material it has at its fingertips. In getting caught up with its own premise, the film isn't able to craft a compelling enough journey for its protagonist to break free of the cycles she finds herself in. As a result, it becomes something that's fun to watch in the moment—thanks to some playful, misleading editing and a solid lead performance by Maisie Richardson-Sellers—but not something that leaves a lasting impression or makes a full, compelling statement.

Genre: Horror, Mystery, Thriller

Actor: Jimmy Jean-Louis, Kate Szekely, Maisie Richardson-Sellers, Rosaline Elbay, Shannon Woodward, Shein Mompremier

Director: Kelley Kali

Rating: R

What Black Ice lacks in comprehensive research about the structures that maintain institutionalized racism inside major hockey leagues, it partly makes up for with one painful testimonial after another. This is a documentary that aims for the personal and the emotional over the intellectual—still an effective strategy as the film makes its point through repetition, to show just how commonplace racism is within hockey culture. And though it begins to feel somewhat plain in its execution (and without as much momentum leading into its concluding statements), Black Ice makes for a fiery, impassioned wake-up call especially to Canada's own seemingly "progressive" racial politics.

Genre: Documentary

Director: Hubert Davis

Based on the novel by Women Talking author Miriam Toews, this adaptation of All My Puny Sorrows holds clear reverence for its source material but falls short of making a case for its existence as a film. Toews's prose—significant parts of which writer/director Michael McGowan has kept intact in the dialogue—may be appropriate for a book that allows full internal access to its narrator, but on film her words come across as overly articulate and artificial, even if they speak beautiful, harsh truths about grief. And without a defined visual identity or proper flow of ideas to back up its admittedly complex characters (played with authentic tenderness and force by Alison Pill, Sarah Gadon, and Mare Winningham), the film ends up stuck in its own darkness, unable to give a proper form to all its thoughts.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Alison Pill, Aly Mawji, Amybeth McNulty, Donal Logue, Mare Winningham, Martin Roach, Michael Musi, Mimi Kuzyk, Racine Bebamikawe, Sarah Gadon

Director: Michael McGowan

Rating: R

Yet another drama designed to be emotional without actually doing the heavy lifting to get us invested, Prisoner's Daughter takes the easy way out at every turn, mistaking its use of capital-I Issues and dramatic plot points for substantial writing. This doesn't mean that the film itself isn't still watchable and competently performed (by a typically strong Brian Cox, but especially by Kate Beckinsale); it just fails to make a statement about any of its disparate parts mashed together. At the end of the day, it feels as if the film doesn't have enough faith in the already complex and difficult relationship at its center, so it attempts to dress it up with prison, cancer, drug addicts, and epilepsy—which only cheapens what's already there.

Genre: Drama, Mystery, Thriller

Actor: Brian Cox, Christopher Convery, Chuti Tiu, Ernie Hudson, Jon Huertas, Kate Beckinsale, Mark Kubr, Tyson Ritter

Director: Catherine Hardwicke

Rating: R