Films I loved in September 2019

Holliday Grainger as Laura and Alia Shawkat as Tyler in Animals

Fundamental to the charm of Animals is the the enticing energy of the fun and carefree friendship between two young women living in Dublin, the film’s protagonists. When that friendship is tested by one of the pair seemingly having to choose between living carefree and conventionally settling down, the film evolves into a sophisticated, increasingly melancholic and moralising-free story about confronting major crossroads in life. The fact that the film never abandons its high spirits nor resorts to binary oppositions is part of what makes it so refreshing, bold and entertaining.

Sarm Heng as Chakra in Buoyancy

Buoyancy is a compelling and tense thriller about a 14-year-old Cambodian boy who is forced to work on a seafood trawler, highlighting the issue of modern day slavery within Southeast Asia’s fishing industry. The superb direction and cinematography create a powerful sense of claustrophobia within the boat, which as the film’s main setting functions as a prison for the characters, contrasting stunningly with the beauty of the surrounding open sea. Naturalistic and never shying away from the horrors – while also not revelling in them – this is a deeply humane film designed to raise awareness.

Awkwafina as Billi and Shuzhen Zhou as Nai Nai in The Farewell

In The Farewell a Chinese American woman travels to China with her family to visit her terminally ill grandmother, but they go on the pretence of being there for her cousin’s wedding, since the family have decided not to let the grandmother know she is dying. Based on a true story, this is an extremely charming film that deftly manages its shift from comedy to melancholy with integrity and empathy. It’s genuinely funny and the moments designed to tug on the heartstrings are also effective, but it also delivers many sly observations of family dynamics and social rituals.

Evelyn

Evelyn follows British documentary filmmaker Orlando von Einsiedel and his siblings on a hike as they attempt to reconcile the suicide of their brother 13 years ago. It’s a beautiful, heartbreaking and cathartic experience for the family and the viewer as the conversations captured in the film explore how relationships can be both broken and healed by grief. Most affecting are the scenes where von Einsiedel and his family encounter strangers who share relatable experiences, articulating just how many people are touched by suicide, but also the power of sharing personal stories.

Memory: The Origins of Alien

Memory: The Origins of Alien is a fascinating and in-depth analysis of the iconic and groundbreaking 1979 horror/science-fiction masterpiece Alien. Going beyond the confines of a traditional making-of film, this documentary views Alien as a ‘cultural dream’ to dissect its literary and visual inspirations, and explore how it reflects classical mythology, our collective unconsciousness and cultural anxieties both at the time of the film’s original release right through to present day. This is entertaining and accessible film analysis that made me love Alien even more than I did already.

Jessica Chastain as Beverly Marsh in It Chapter Two

To my surprise and delight I enjoyed It Chapter Two a lot more than I thought I would, given that while I liked the first film, it didn’t stay with me. Set 27 years later to follow the Loser gang as adults returning to their hometown to confront Pennywise once more, this new instalment effectively builds on the foundation of the first film, not just to amp up the dread and uncanniness, but also to invest in the notion of how childhood trauma, often repressed and unrecognised, shapes us as adults. Hence there’s an emotional weight behind this film that I found immensely satisfying.

Thomas Caldwell, 2019

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