This has been a tough year for movies, where streaming services threatened cinemas more than before and major film productions came to a halt. May 2021 bring about better luck for us and the film industry both.
Before we return to the theatres next year, here’s looking back at the strange year we had, as defined by the films I personally loved. These exclude ones that almost made it, namely: Black Box, I’m Thinking of Ending Things, and Eurovision Song Contest for the gift of Ja Ja Ding Dong alone.
10. The Invisible Man (dir. Leigh Whannell)
Abandoning the bandages get-up for a high-tech suit affixed with micro-lenses, the new incarnation of Invisible Man has certainly gotten a visual upgrade. More than green screen magic is the story that brings out more grounded invisible monsters within toxic relationships.
Escaping the pitfall of taking on remakes, Leigh Whannell has his own story to tell. Who knew that his movie would be the last cinematic experience that I would have had for the next 6 months, but I couldn’t have chosen a better film to mark a temporary break from my favourite place on this planet. (review)
9. The Devil All the Time (dir. Antonio Campos)
The Devil All the Time centres on a band of reprehensible men of faith who contend with the meaning of faith and lash out when their prayers go unanswered. They cross paths at various points, though share little in common but their dark hearts for violence.
One may be tempted to ask, who needs a downer like this in these bleak times? Yet director Antonio Campos accomplishes the mean feat of making every second of his grim story compelling. The excellent narrative makes a case for how bad people may make better stories – when told in the right way. (review)
8. Da 5 Bloods (dir. Spike Lee)
Da 5 Bloods features four black Vietnam War veterans and in doing so, reclaims a part of neglected history that often leaves minorities to the sidelines. It is a culturally significant film, portraying new perspectives of the conflict that are rare in movies.
The story it narrates is about family by blood and bond at its core, but it is also more complex than that. As with his past films, Spike Lee again contemplates on the difficult subject of race relations in the United States amid the tumultuous political climate, then and now. (review)
7. His House (dir. Remi Weekes)
South Sudanese couple Bol and Rial have been granted probational asylum and offered a new home in Britain. They take solace in that the rundown flat is a better alternative to their homeland ravaged by war, even if it is dust-ridden, infested, and possibly haunted.
Unable to work legally, the pair spends most days confined within the whispering walls that threaten to tell their secrets. These strange occurrences are as artfully shot as they are, creepy. They make for a terrifying horror film, grounded by the refugees’ struggles to integrate into the society they desperately wish to be a part of. (review)
6. Color out of Space (dir. Richard Stanley)
H.P. Lovecraft is a notorious racist and misogynist, and Color out of Space recognises his flaws by opting for diverse casting. In doing so, the film never forgets to acknowledge the author’s genuine talent by paying a near-perfect tribute to the surreal cosmic horror of his tomes on film.
Dark humour accompanies the terror of the unknown as Nicolas Cage brings to life his increasingly volatile standout character. The visual language is remarkable, birthing mesmerising cosmic nightmares alongside grotesque body horror. The result is unexplainable and unforgettable. (review)
5. The Call (dir. Lee Chung-hyun)
What if a phone call could connect us to our past? For Seo-yeon, she chooses to change it. She gets on the line with Young-sook, a young woman who lives 20 years before her, and seeks her help. When Seo-yeon’s life does turn around, Young-sook begins to feel resentful that her life had not.
Flashing back and forward in time, The Call sees Young-sook take control of the butterfly effect for revenge. Her plans to make life living Hell for Seo-yeon are horrifying. It is a tense and violent game that she plays as she dictates her victim’s fate with unpredictable moves in this taut thriller. (review)
4. Birds of Prey (dir. Cathy Yan)
It is about time that the DCCU gets another win, though few would expect the victory would belong to the Birds of Prey. After all, the star Harley Quinn had made a relatively poor screen debut through no fault Margot Robbie, only that her character had been done dirty in the disaster that shall not be named.
Thanks to director Cathy Yan, the character’s return to the silver screen restores all we love about her – her madness, irreverent humour, and love for wild chaos. Fun is watching Harl form her very own squad of crazy, each armed ready for a colourful riot to come. (review)
3. Lost Girls (dir. Liz Garbus)
In 2010, Shannan Gilbert was murdered, her body found alongside the remains of others, including 4 sex workers. The society chose to blame the victims because of their backgrounds and ignore the pleas of their families, leaving behind missed windows of opportunities back when the trail was fresh.
Her harrowing murder remains unsolved to date, and Lost Girls does not have any of the answers. Instead, the film gives a necessary voice to the maligned victims through their families at the forefront of activism, warning against past mistakes and inviting us to feel the same emotions they had felt. (review)
2. Tenet (dir. Christopher Nolan)
Tenet is yet another one of Christopher Nolan’s time-manipulating experiments that both intrigue and baffle filmgoers, leaving reactions polarised. For those open to unravelling new concepts with a little uncertainty, the sci-fi venture would offer much to dissect and marvel at, especially on the big screen.
It can be confusing to watch characters move in opposing directions of the timeline. But things do come together neatly towards the end. Not without excitement, fuelled by spectacularly choreographed action that can only be described as cool. Love or hate Nolan, but never dismiss his originality. (review)
P.S. So thankful that this was the film that marked my first trip to the cinemas after its temporary closure!
1. The Platform / El hoyo (dir. Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia)
Every day, a platform full of food is sent down a prison shaft that seemingly has no end. When the food arrives at the lower levels, there are but scraps left to feed the prisoners. Each cellmate would also be reassigned to a different level at random every month, leaving them their coming fate as a great unknown.
The Platform makes a conceptually creative and visually compelling analogy for the modern society’s class divide, where people often fall through the gap due to uncontrollable circumstances. This unsettling critique on the flaws of modern society comes as a timely one, reminding us of the very real dangers of apathy. (review)
Of course, these are but the few films I have seen and liked. It would be amazing if you could share your lists and recommendations with me below.
Thank you for giving this and every other post here the time of day. Here’s wishing that 2021 will be the best year yet for you! x