A relatively unimpressive month for Indian cinema means that June’s list of the best underrated films is dominated by foreign titles. This is the first time in the six editions of this series that this has happened. But when you find yourself in a position where you can offer a convincing argument about why Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2 is a more effective film than Anek, you know things have gotten rough out there.
As slim as the pickings were locally, however, June turned out to be a great month for films in general. This list includes a wacky horror movie from one of the finest auteurs around, a comedy-drama that I’m going to continue championing till the Oscars roll around next year, a harrowing new Netflix true-crime documentary, and a creepy stalker thriller that fans of Alfred Hitchcock’s films will surely appreciate. Coincidentally, five of the eight titles listed here happen to be blisteringly moving feminist tales; four of them feature some of the year’s best-written female roles, performed wonderfully by brilliant actors.
Men – Available to purchase in 4K on the Microsoft Store in the US
A wild film even by writer-director Alex Garland’s standards, Men takes a while to get to the point, but when it does, it’s jaw-dropping. As with most Garland films, including (to a lesser degree) the ones he’s only written, you’re either going to buy what he’s selling immediately, or you’re going to want to physically distance yourself from his work. Men is as divisive as they come, but fans of elevated horror will find it a rewarding experience.
Chernobyl: The Lost Tapes – HBO Max in the US
Essentially a visual representation of Nobel laureate Svetlana Alexeivich’s Chernobyl Prayer, The Lost Tapes is made up almost entirely of audio interviews juxtaposed to never-before-seen state footage of the Chernobyl disaster’s immediate aftermath. Director James Jones rounds up survivors, first responders, and others directly affected by the catastrophe, as he weaves a tale brimming with regret and anguish. The film also doubles as a subtle allegory for the post-truth age, and should be particularly engaging for Indian audiences reckoning with the erosion of our democratic values.
Watcher – Available to rent and purchase on Amazon and Vudu in the US
Third time’s the charm. After Black Widow director Cate Shortland’s Berlin Syndrome and last year’s Prime Video thriller The Voyeurs, here’s the perfect version of the niche Imperilled White Woman in Random European Setting subgenre of Hitchockian cinema. Starring millennial scream queen Maika Monroe as a doe-eyed and dewy-voiced young American who believes she’s being stalked around Bucharest by her creepy neighbour, director Chloe Okuno’s Watcher is a particularly stylish statement on the #MeToo movement.
Good Luck to You, Leo Grande – Hulu in the US
Everything about Good Luck to You, Leo Grande sneaks up on you—the sudden wallop of emotion, the graphic nudity, the intense drama… But it begins as a whimsical chamber piece (read, pandemic project) about a middle-aged widow who makes probably the bravest decision of her life: to shed whatever shame she’s harboured about herself for decades and (re)claim her sexuality. She hires the services of a charming young sex worker, the titular Leo Grande, and over a series of ‘sessions’ with him, discovers what it means to be alive.
Keep Sweet: Pray and Obey – Netflix
A harrowing true story about religious extremism that doubles as a feminist revenge epic, the four-part Netflix documentary can be conveniently described as the streamer’s best true-crime series in months, but is so much more than that. It begins like one though, as it rushes through the requisite context-setting scenes that introduce audiences to the polygamous Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, an off-shoot of the already backward Mormon Church, led by ‘prophet’ Warren Jeffs. But it transforms into something bigger as it goes along—a real-life equivalent of The Handmaid’s Tale that serves as a vital addition to post-MeToo cinema.
Cha Cha Real Smooth – Apple TV+
Easily the best film of 2022 so far, writer-director-star Cooper Raiff’s sophomore drama features one of the most radiant central performances in many years. Dakota Johnson shines as the young mother Domino, a role that she will be remembered for for the rest of her career, as she forms a genuine bond with the much-younger recent college graduate Andrew, played by Raiff himself. The young filmmaker returns to the themes he explored in his lowkey first film, the SXSW hit S#!%house—millennial disillusionment, identity, regret—and crafts something of a calling-card movie that signals the start of a memorable career.
Hustle – Netflix
In his long (and mostly forgettable) career as Netflix’s biggest star, Adam Sandler has continued slipping in some gems on the side. Hustle isn’t as artsy as, say, Uncut Gems, and nor is it as indie-minded as The Meyerowitz Stories. Hustle is a refined Hollywood sports drama that is significantly elevated by Sandler’s excellent central performance as a career basketball scout looking to prove himself by betting big on a troubled young Spanish player. It’s part rags-to-riches story and part inspirational drama, but Sandler’s the main draw here.
All My Friends Hate Me – Available to rent and purchase on Apple, Amazon, Google, YouTube and more in the US
A deftly written dark comedy about a young man who is so cripplingly ashamed of who he used to be, and so deeply reliant on other people’s validation that he has no identity as a person, All My Friends Hate Me is a consistently funny but occasionally tense takedown of bro culture. And maybe a critique of white supremacy? Who knows. Co-written by and starring Tom Stourton, the film is set over an increasingly uncomfortable night at a British countryside mansion, where the protagonist Pete gets together with his old college buddies for his 31st birthday party, and becomes paranoid about what they really think of him.
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