Horse Girl (dir. Jeff Baena, 2020) – Sarah experiences increasingly lucid dreams that begin to trickle into her waking life.
Sarah (Alison Brie) takes comfort in her mundane routines. She works at the arts and crafts store, spends time with her childhood horse Willow, and enjoys the rest of her night with her favourite supernatural crime show, Purgatory. It is an ordinary life that takes a sudden turn when she begins to experience surreal dreams. Inexplicable time loss soon has her questioning her reality that loses its sheen and threatens to shatter.
In the story of her mental breakdown, Horse Girl shares one writer and close DNA with I Heart Huckabees. Both riff on themes of existentialism, questioning the random laws of the universe and the consequently absurd meaning of life. But Jeff Baena’s latest film turns out a much darker take than its comedic predecessor.
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Giri/Haji (by Joe Barton, 2020) – A Tokyo detective arrives in London when he is tasked to find his brother, whose alleged crime sends ripples across the two cities.
Tokyo detective Kenzo Mori (Takehiro Hira) travels to Soho in search of his estranged brother Yuto (Yosuke Kubozuka), whose alleged murder of a Yazuka family member ignites an all-out gang war. The incident sets the Yakuza on a collision course with the Met Police, embroiling others along the way.
In an endless sea of British crime dramas, Giri/Haji stands out by a mile. It is for one, an adventurous cultural exchange. Shuttling between Japan and the UK, the unique series takes its time to understand the minutiae of foreign traditions, respectful and never exploitative.
The contrast in cultures is interesting, though it is ultimately the similarities that fascinate the most. In his story, Joe Barton recognises the experiences that are neither uniquely Japanese nor British, but simply human.
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As the decade comes to a close, so do many major film franchises that have ignited ten good years of fanfare and keyboard wars. Between the epic Endgame and divisive Rise of Skywalker, Glass ended the twenty-year wait for cinephiles who loved Unbreakable, while Dark Phoenix managed to disappoint legions of mutant fans.
Several original studio productions have rightfully shone in their own light, too, and it is on these that this list is based on. In order of personal preference, here are ten of my favourite movies that I have seen and enjoyed in 2019. Until I get to see the late releases, including Monos and Jojo Rabbit. Damn you, licensing agreements!
10. Mirage / Durante la tormenta (dir. Oriol Paulo)
When Vera finds a way to save a young child in the past, she never imagined that she would have to lose her own in the present. Made to doubt her own sanity, all she can do is hold onto her memories as she tries to find her way back into the life that she knew before.
This is the story of Mirage, a time-bending mystery that thrills with its every turn. Though not entirely unpredictable, the emotional core is what does cement director Oriol Paulo as one of the best genre writers today. (review)
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Marriage Story (dir. Noah Baumbach, 2019) – A successful theatre director and actress go through the trials of divorce.
Charlie (Adam Driver) rarely gets defeated, in the ways that Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) feels like she always does. He keeps things in order where she does not, and she pushes him when he gets stuck in his ways. The warm montage that celebrates their love’s little moments is, minutes later, achingly revealed to be the start of their separation.
Sitting before a stranger mediating their divorce, they look back at the little things that they love each other for and wonder how they let them slip. In the same vein of Blue Valentine, Marriage Story is a romance movie after the happily-ever-afters, reminding us of how we never truly know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory.
Inspired by his experiences and that of the cast, Noah Baumbach writes with honesty that comes from the heart. He lays bare the emotional fault lines that are often left unspoken about in relationships. Barring Jennifer Jason Leigh’s side of the story, his deeply personal work remains an incisive take on love found and lost.
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In the Shadow of the Moon (dir. Jim Mickle, 2019) – Officer Thomas Lockhart spends decades tracking down a mysterious serial killer, who resurfaces every nine years.
In 1988, several strangers die gruesome deaths across the country at the same time, and the police are no closer to a motive. That is until one victim’s dying words points to an unidentified suspect – a young black woman in a hoodie (Cleopatra Coleman).
Officers Lockhart (Boyd Holbrook) and Maddox (Bokeem Woodbine) manage to track down the alleged serial killer at the train station, only to witness her fatal accident. Not before she calls Lockhart by name and predicts the birth of his daughter.
The incident, followed by the shock of his personal tragedy, sends him spiralling down a dark rabbit hole as he goes on an obsessive hunt for elusive answers. A glimmer of hope comes in the return of the killer nine years later, alive and unaged.
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