Films I loved in September 2019

30 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

Films I loved in May 2014

2 June 2014

Scarlett Johansson in Under the Skin

Scarlett Johansson in Under the Skin

The more I think about Under the Skin the more I find myself falling for the visuals and soundscape that fuel its stripped-down story of an alien harvesting men from the streets of Scotland. The eerie and the avant-garde imagery in this film are difficult to shake off, being both sublime and disturbing. Combining the formally experimental moments in the film with scenes that employ such a bold cinéma vérité-style approach to filmmaking, has resulted in a truly unique work.

Veerle Baetens as Elise and Johan Heldenbergh as Didier in The Broken Circle Breakdown

Veerle Baetens as Elise and Johan Heldenbergh as Didier in The Broken Circle Breakdown

I experienced intense  joy and sorrow while watching the highs and lows of the relationship depicted in The Broken Circle Breakdown. Similar to the masterful Blue Valentine, this Belgium/Dutch film is cleverly non-lineal in order to contrast the happiness at the start of a relationship to the trauma that comes later. Included in the mix is a great subtext about religious faith and loosing faith in what America stood for during the Bush Administration, and some amazing bluegrass music.

Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon in The Trip to Italy

Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon in The Trip to Italy

While I enjoyed The Trip I loved The Trip to Italy, which not only features funnier interactions between Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, playing versions of themselves travelling around Italy for a food article, but is overall a tighter, better structured and better developed film. It not only gave me some of the biggest laughs I have had watching a film for a very long time, but the melancholic observations on mortality and morality were surprisingly effective.

Godzilla

Godzilla

The new Godzilla film somehow manages to stay true to the spirit and basic mythology of the original Japanese films, while also feeling like a fresh and sincere reincarnation of the legendary franchise. And while in hindsight the film suffers from some weak characterisation, the spectacle and action sequences more than compensate. The restraint used in key sequences made those moments genuinely frightening and exhilarating.

Del Herbert-Jane as James and Tilda Cobham-Hervey as Billie in 52 Tuesdays

Del Herbert-Jane as James and Tilda Cobham-Hervey as Billie in 52 Tuesdays

The Australian film 52 Tuesdays is a highly inventive and sophisticated coming-of-age film. The various limitations that the filmmakers set for themselves has resulted in a fascinating film that continually challenges the audience to reassess their perceptions. Shot over 52 Tuesday afternoons, the story of a teenage girl coming to terms with her mother’s transition to a man touches on issues of adolescent sexuality, gender identity and ideas of privacy with sensitivity and complexity.

Thomas Caldwell, 2014