Director Bong Joon-ho (Snowpiercer) does something quite amazing with the $50 million budget Netflix gave him: he makes a simplistic movie. But boy is it good. Okja tells the story of a “super pig” experimentation that sends genetically modified pigs to top farmers around the world. In Korea, a farmer’s granddaughter forms a special relationship with one of these super pigs (called Okja), only to be confronted by the company who runs the experimentation in the persons of Johnny Wilcox (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Lucy Mirando (Tilda Swinton). When they try to take away Okja, she finds an ally in an animal advocacy group lead by Jay (Paul Dano), and goes on an adventure to retrieve her friend. Again, it’s a straightforward movie, and in that sense it is very entertaining – but it’s also full of thought-provoking themes, and mostly incredibly thoughtful performances from the ensemble cast.
A heart-breaking examination of a decaying shell of a once-bright marriage, this sad and erotic story uses juxtaposition between happy flashbacks and the grim reality of an ordinary and dull life. This film features electrifying performance from Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling, who seamlessly combine tenderness, rage, lust and sadness. This is a guaranteed tear-jerker, so make sure you’ve brought your Kleenexes!
A beautiful and subtle masterpiece exploring the life of Alike, a teen in Brooklyn navigating her identity as a gay black girl. Caught between the traditional world of her family and the butch and sexual world of her friend who has already come out, director Dee Rees allows the audience to see the trials and tribulations of Alike’s attempts to be comfortable and sure of herself. It’s a moving and raw coming-of-age story with many characters in the film being quite lovable and relatable making it easy for the viewer to become attached.
How to Change the World is an insightful and candid documentary about the formation of Greenpeace in 1971 by a small group of environmentalists and activists in Vancouver, British Columbia. Beginning with their attempt to disrupt U.S. nuclear testing in Amchitka, Alaska, the film follows their subsequent efforts to thwart commercial whaling in the Pacific, their anti-sealing campaign in Newfoundland, and their ongoing efforts to defend the natural world against what they perceive as excessive human intervention and abuse. How to Change the World is as much a poignant tale of inspired activism as it is an interesting study of the organization’s early tribulations: idealism vs. anarchy, social movement vs. organizational structure (or lack thereof) and leadership vs. disunity. The voice of co-founder Robert Hunter (de facto leader of Greenpeace from inception) is heard posthumously throughout via narrator Barry Pepper, and it adds an impassioned air of gravitas to the film, detailing the many complexities Greenpeace experienced over the course of its early years of growth and development. A compelling and educational viewing experience.
A documentary about the rise and fall of the Enron Corporation, the energy-trading and utilities conglomerate that gained worldwide attention in 2001 upon its headline-grabbing bankruptcy. Detailing the massive amount of fraud and malfeasance committed by the organization’s top executives, the film delves into the many intricate strategies and “special purpose” entities that were manufactured in order to hide enormous losses and debt from shareholders and the general public. It’s a fascinating and distressing examination of hubris and greed, with so many ethical considerations laid aside in the pursuit of financial gain. The film is as pertinent today as it was when it was released in 2005—perhaps even more so in this post-financial collapse era of increased distrust in corporate agendas.
This is a very nice movie about a lovely older couple named Tom and Gerri. It follows their lives for an entire year, as they work at their jobs, invite friends over for dinner, and work in their garden. They live modest but fulfilling lives, and they seem mostly happy and very much in love, a rarity in the movies. This probably sounds horribly boring to most people, but since Mike Leigh is the director, the film is instead a touching and realistic portrayal of love and how people spend their time together. We should all be so lucky as to live a life as charmed as the central couple in this film.
Good Bless America is a deeply ironic and violent action comedy from folk legend Bobcat Goldthwait. In a turn of events sure to ring true to many viewers, the protagonist, Frank Murdoch (Joel Murray), after being informed of his terminal brain cancer, sets out on a killing spree out of sheer distaste for the vile, rude, and materialistic culture that surrounds him. Large swaths of the movie are pure rage fantasy, a cathartic blend of violence and humor as the cretinous bogeymen of the modern era are gleefully dispatched. Obviously not a fantastic date movie, but perhaps a good one for a bad mood.
Thithi is a 2015 Kannada film from India that begins with the death of 101-year old Century Gowda, and follows his family as they prepare for his funeral celebration 11 days later. The story-line focuses on 3 generations of his descendants, as his son, grandson and great-grandson are caught up in individual dramas related to the impending funeral as well as their own personal aspirations. His son Gaddappa, an elderly wanderer, absconds with a traveling family of shepherds, his grandson Thammanna hatches an elaborate plan to claim the family land for himself, and his great-grandson Abhi becomes enamored by a young shepherd girl whom he pursues doggedly. Filmed using non-professional actors recruited from villages in the southern Karnataka state of India, Thithi is a humorous and enjoyable portrait of life in a rural part of South Asia rarely seen by the world-at-large. As a realistic slice-of-life, the film gives the viewer an outsider’s glimpse into not just the lifestyle of many residents of rural India, but also their elaborate customs and rituals related to death according to Hindu tradition. Thithi is the type of film that moves at its own deliberate pace, but ultimately provides a winning experience in both its storytelling and its cultural significance.
The Centre Will Not Hold explores the life of the famous Joan Didion – professional observer and cultural spectator. The film gives only a small window into the complexity of her mind and the space in which she processes and understands the world, which stems from her capacity to sit above everything that is happening around her and just observe. From writing for Vogue, to war journalism, to her famous novels – from watching a child do acid, to reporting on the first gulf war – Didion is as prolific as she is insightful and majestic in her writing. Throughout the documentary she gives her first hand perspectives on love, relationships, motherhood, and grief – beautifully articulating it as “a place we do not know unless we’ve been there.” A beautiful woman, and an incredible film.
A deeply affecting and meaningful documentary, directed by the woman who it revolves around. Jennifer Brea, a Harvard Ph.D student, begins suffering from unusual symptoms: prolonged and extreme fatigue, mental confusion, full-body pain, etc. When she goes to the doctor she is dismissed for being dehydrated and depressed. Later she finds an extended community suffering from her exact same symptoms, all of which fall under the umbrella of Myalgic Encephalomyelitis, more widely known as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. She decides to tell their stories from her bed, and as such this movie is a collection of videos from her and her partner, added to the stories of others living with the disease. An important and inspiring movie that sheds a light on the lives of the millions affected by CFS around the world. Watch the trailer.
The Fountain is a highly compelling science-fiction/fantasy film told in three interwoven parts related to the mythical concept of the Tree of Life. Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz star in a triad of roles that alternate along the film’s narrative: 1) an ancient conquistador assigned by the Queen of Spain to locate the legendary tree within the jungles of South American, 2) a modern medical doctor desperately striving to find a cure for his wife’s terminal brain cancer, and 3) a futuristic space traveler transporting the sacred tree across the cosmos with spectral images of his wife as his companion. In this, his 3rd feature feature-length film, writer/director Darren Aronofsky has crafted a strikingly ambitious depiction of the search for, manifestation of and preservation of the oft-fabled key to eternity. It’s highly philosophical and at times strikingly abstract visual storytelling, aided immeasurably by Jackman’s and Weisz’s heartfelt, aggrieved performances. The passion and the earnestness they deliver helps to buoy a complicated plot that isn’t always entirely cohesive, but comes together as a wonderfully compelling amalgamation of sights and sounds bound to inspire the viewer. Kudos to Aronofsky for eschewing simple fantasy in lieu of something so dynamic, original and emotionally commanding.
This is the first film directed by actor Macon Blair (so good in both Blue Ruin and Green Room), and while it is shaggy and tonally all over the place, there is a lot to recommend here. First off, I’m a huge fan of the (underrated) Melanie Lynskey, so I was primed to like this movie from the get-go. After Ruth’s (Lynskey) home is broken into, she seeks revenge against the perpetrators with help from her martial arts obsessed neighbor Tony (Elijah Wood, sporting an impressive rat-tail). What starts out as an empowering journey for Ruth & Tony quickly teeters into dangerous and increasingly violent territory. This movie is probably not for everyone, but if you’re a fan of 90s indie films and don’t mind some violence mixed in with your dark humor, then you will probably enjoy this small, well-acted film.
See, low budget films do work! Like Crazy schools other romantic films on what they should all be: cute and sweet but also frustrating and nerve-wrecking. Felicity Jones is absolutely fantastic here, she stars as a British girl who falls in love with an American, Jacob, while in college. On a whim she overstays her visa to be with him, and then return to England to face the consequences. The intimacy this film explores really distinguishes it from others and makes for an authentic experience, as it is based on its writer/director’s own 8-year long-distance relationship. A great option if you’re in the mood for the type of suspense that pulls at your heartstrings.
A beautifully intertwined love story showing the ups and downs of a father, his ex-wife, and their children experiencing love. The film weaves the three love stories of the different generations seamlessly and leaves you caring deeply about the characters. It has an amazing soundtrack added to fantastic acting that will make you feel as though you are living the same experiences as the quirky, screwed up family. It’s a movie for anyone in the mood for a romantic comedy with a little more substance than your average rom com.
In this comedy/drama, Bill Murray plays an aged, dispirited war veteran named Vincent who openly disdains most people and gives little attention to anything beyond alcohol and horse racing. Living a life of solitude in Brooklyn, Vincent’s life takes a turn when a young single mother (Melissa McCarthy) and her son Oliver move in next door, with Vincent eventually agreeing to watch over Oliver when Maggie is at work. Murray is perfectly unpleasant in his darkly comic role, as his relationship with Oliver evolves despite his own misgivings, providing young Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher) with the fatherly/grandfatherly presence he desperately needs. Though somewhat formulaic, St. Vincent rises above expectations by way of great dialogue, favorable performances from all of the leads, and an unbelievably touching finale that will really melt your heart. Much better than you probably expect—definitely check this one out.
This is not what you are looking for if you are not into very slow movies. It ambles along like the East-Texas drawls that populate it, taking its sweet time and letting the story slowly roll out. This true-story-based film is driven by a strong and witty performance from Jack Black –just not the Jack Black you know. A different kind of movie, Bernie is an entertaining mix of true crime and comedy.
A movie about a 16 year old girl who gets involved with an older more sophisticated man and how the relationship changes her life. Carey Mulligan’s performance is nothing short of perfect, inevitably making herself the center of the movie. The coming-of-age story is also quite exceptional, and conveys impressive load and variety of emotions.
An Education is one of those movies that make you live an experience you haven’t lived yourself, but because it is so exquisitely and realistically done, the character’s problems and joys will feel like your own.
A man accidentally gets into a time travel machine and travels one hour back in time. He finds himself stuck in a series of disasters of unforeseeable consequences, with unusual and thrilling moments at every corner. Similarly to Primer, this movie goes to prove that with intelligence and attention to detail, you don’t need a big budget to create an unforgettable story. Great acting, great story-line, and a great thriller.
You’ve probably watched and heard about enough Holocaust films to expect a formula, but you might want to put all that aside going into The Boy in Striped Pajamas. Bruno, the son of a WWII Nazi commandant forms an unlikely friendship with a Jewish kid his age in his father’s concentration camp. The film is World War II told through Bruno’s eyes, and while you might not get why this movie is so highly praised in its first scenes, the twisting and profound second half will have you recommending it to everyone in need of a moving story well executed, or quite simply a good cry.
To play Andy Kaufman Jim Carrey decided that he would get into character and never get out, even when the camera was not rolling. This was extremely frustrating to everyone at first, including the director, who had no way of communicating with Jim Carrey, only Andy Kaufman or Tony Clifton (a character created by Andy Kaufman). At the same time, Carrey had allowed a camera crew to follow him in order to create a behind-the-scenes documentary. The footage was never released because Universal Studios expressed concerns that “people would think Jim Carrey is an asshole”. Jim & Andy is that footage being displayed for the first time since it was recorded 20 years ago, finding Carrey at a very unique point in his life. Sick of fame and almost sick of acting, he displays his true self – an unbelievably smart, fragile, and complex person. His commentary, when it’s not funny impressions, is extremely emotional and grounded – sometimes philosophical. This is one of the best documentaries that Netflix has ever bought the distribution rights for, and certainly a mind-blowing portrayal of a complex mind, Jim Carrey, an actor we all thought we knew very well.
A thoughtful drama about the financial crisis, Margin Call is gripping. Seriously, even something as convoluted as the 2008 global economic meltdown is not only accessible and understandable, but it’s gripping. Margin Call transports you to the heart of Wall Street, both the financial institutions and the street, literally. It is exciting, well-acted and informative. Uh, also: Kevin Spacey.
The Fundamentals of Caring is an offbeat comedy/drama starring Paul Rudd as Ben, a man attempting to overcome tragedy and looming divorce by becoming the caretaker for a teenager with muscular dystrophy named Trevor (Craig Roberts, Submarine). The two develop an unconventional relationship based largely on sarcasm and profanity, delivering many laugh-out-loud moments, while also slowly exposing the pain each is carrying inside. They eventually embark on a road trip across the western United States, at Ben’s urging, in order for Craig to see something of the world beyond his wheelchair and television. It’s a formulaic yet fun and touching road movie that covers much familiar ground, but also offers a fine illustration of caregiving, personal growth and emotional healing. Paul Rudd is as good ever, and Roberts is utterly superb. One of the best movies on the Netflix Originals catalog, and an undeniable winner, all-in-all.
Authentic and filled with great performances, Mud is a beautiful tale of love, loss, and growth. While you had probably thought you couldn’t be more impressed with him than in Dallas Buyers Club, Interstellar, or True Detective, Mathew McConaughey’s performance here is probably his best, and is nothing short of a masterpiece. It takes the entire movie to an unprecedented level of authenticity and power as well as give his character’s interaction with two young boys in the South the perfect balance between uneasiness and sorrow. The story is also very thrilling, and will keep you at the edge of your seat more times than not.
Director Noah Baumbach’s autobiographical film is a strikingly realistic take on divorce and the turmoil it sets on an already-dysfunctional family. Bernard (Jeff Daniels) is a selfish decadent writer who’s splitting with his unfaithful wife Joan (Laura Linney). Their two sons, Walt (Jesse Eisenberg) and Frank (Owen Kline), are taking different sides that reflect their personality. This separation only reinforces their insecurities as they quickly fall into depression and grow away from their friends. The parents, however, find unconventional lovers just as quickly, Bernard with a student of his, and Jane with her son’s tennis coach.
The Squid and the Whale is a funny, emotional, and gripping story that finds a perfect balance in tone despite dealing with bitter divorce and troubled adolescence.
An absolutely delightful documentary about the first round of testing on the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva. Who knew that watching a roomful of scientists waiting for a blip on a screen could be so riveting? The science is explained in layman-friendly, easy-to-follow language, and the movie lends a fascinating and entertaining look behind the scenes at one of the world’s largest scientific collaborations.
When Russian director Vitaly Mansky is commissioned by the North Korean government to make a documentary about an average Pyongyang child, he follows their every guideline. Except the end result, Under The Sun, is the complete opposite of what they had intended. For example starting every take earlier than they thought, he makes the documentary about the watchdogs around the child and other mechanisms of propaganda. He uses quiet storytelling to expose just how brainwashing in a fascist regime takes place, and how the people caught in it function. May just be the smartest, most important film you can watch on North Korea.
The White Helmets, the 2016 Academy Award for Best Documentary Short Subject, is a concise but riveting documentation of the titular rescue organization that formed in Syria in 2012. Set primarily in the war-torn city of Aleppo, the film captures the day-to-day efforts of the White Helmet volunteers as they respond to the sites of airstrikes and bombings in order to remove survivors and victims from demolished buildings. Director Orlando von Einsiedel (Virunga) clearly put himself in harms way in order to capture remarkable footage of war and ruination, illuminating the unimaginable destruction and death beset upon the Syrian people over the course of nearly 6 years of civil war. It’s a remarkable effort, highlighted in particular by profound one-on-one interviews with members of The White Helmets. They each express their heartfelt desire to save the lives of other human beings, even as they yearn for peace and the safety of their own families and friends. Indeed their official credo from The Quran, as explained in the film, reads “Whoever saves one life, saves all of humanity.”
Nebraska is a poem distilled into a film. Peter Travers from Rolling Stone says “is it a comedy or a drama? Both at the same time, as life itself.” Everything about it is perfect: the acting, the photography, the story. In case that’s not enough and you need to know the plot to get convinced, I’ll tell you that it’s a road movie about a senile old man and his son. If you still want more information, you can Google it, but come on! You’ll just be wasting time that would be better spent on watching this masterpiece.
An American romantic comedy, Beginners is told through a series of flashbacks telling the story of Oliver and his complicated and difficult relationship with his father. The film is gorgeously heartbreaking, demonstrating how hurtful we are to those we love, while showing the ties of mutual need that bind people. In the way it also takes on the process of finding one’s happiness, through the character’s eyes and his father’s, what that process has in common for both, and how one is inspired from the other. Beginners is lovely, funny, interesting, and above all very enjoyable.
If you like any of the following: Irish accents, Woody Harrelson, Pulp Fiction, or dark comedy; then this is the movie for you. This mix of violence, mafia, existential talk, and painfully comical situations might not be for everyone, but it has every component to make its target audience very pleased. And given how chaotic and crazy it can get, it should be enjoyed one take at a time, focusing on each delightful scene rather than the overall plot. Directed by Martin McDonagh, Seven Psychopaths makes a perfect comeback after In Bruges, without veering very much from it (consequently if you like this movie make sure you check out In Bruges too).
Horror movies have always been creepier to me when they play on our fear of the “unknown” rather than gore. Under The Shadow does exactly that. The story is based around the relationship of a woman, Shideh, and her daughter, Dorsa, under the backdrop of the Iran-Iraq war. As widespread bombings shake the ground beneath their feet, the two grapple with a more insidious evil that is faceless and traceless, coming and going only with the wind. The movie’s dread-effect plays strongly on feelings of isolation and helplessness. The scares are slow and it’s obvious the director takes great care in making every single second count and in raising the unpredictableness of the action. Like the bombs, the audience never knows when or how the next apparition will materialize. The former is always on the edge of fear, wondering what is no doubt there, but is yet to be shown on the frame. In terms of significance, Under The Shadow features too many symbolisms to count and will most likely resonate with each person differently. But one thing remains relatively unarguable: this is a wonderful movie.
This movie is distilled horror. A teenager sleeps with her boyfriend for the first time, after which he tells her that he was the latest recipient of a curse that is transmitted through sexual contact. After she becomes completely paranoid without any manifestations, the curse manifests itself in assassins that kill their way to her. A genuinely creepy film that’s also very smart.
Last Days in Vietnam is a 2014 documentary that recounts the final weeks of the Vietnam conflict in 1975, as North Vietnamese forces surged toward Saigon and U.S personnel anxiously awaited word of an evacuation plan. At the time, U.S. Ambassador Graham Martin was reluctant to accept defeat, and delayed a U.S. withdrawal in his (rapidly diminishing) hopes that a solution could be reached. Once the fall of Saigon became imminent and Congress denied emergency funding for the evacuation, however, U.S. diplomatic, military and intelligence personnel were left piecing together a bare bones plan to escape via military helicopter support. The moral dilemma they soon faced was the harsh reality of leaving behind so many South Vietnamese citizens who had supported the American effort—many of whom faced likely imprisonment and/or death. Featuring remarkable archival film footage and first-hand accounts from many involved, the film recounts those final days of chaos and confusion in stunningly dramatic fashion. Director Rory Kennedy has put together a gripping and emotionally compelling film that balances broad historical exposition with concise detail related to the evacuation’s complexities—all of it punctuated by remarkable examples of bravery and heroism. Not to be missed.