’Tis the season to be jolly. Oscars are nearly upon us. While the rest of the world prepares for Christmas, we’ll pack our bags for an epic pilgrimage to Pandora. While others go shopping for presents, we’ll try to cram in some last-minute leftovers in time for our top 10 lists. After somehow making it out of a particularly dull fall, which was dominated — like spring and summer — by more franchise fare, it’s time to finally sink our teeth into some real movies.
This month’s list includes a couple of excellent Oscar contenders, an underrated Hindi gem from some weeks ago, and two subversive studio movies that deserve your time and attention. And with tighter windowing expected to be applied to awards contenders this year, the next few months will be exciting as well.
Armageddon Time – Available to rent and purchase on iTunes, Google Play, Amazon, YouTube etc in the US
It’s remarkable how deeply conditioned we’ve become to equate success in the creative fields with money. Had director James Gray been working anywhere else (except perhaps Europe), he wouldn’t have commanded a fraction of the respect that he does now. Gray doesn’t have a single ‘hit’ to his name in a two-decade career, and yet, he remains one of the most important American filmmakers of his generation. A master at blending sweeping themes with delicate intimacy, Gray joins the likes of Alfonso Cuaron, Kenneth Branagh, Steven Spielberg and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu with the semi-autobiographical Armageddon Time, inspired by his childhood in New York. It’s unexpectedly unsentimental, surprisingly political, and features a performance that might just win Anthony Hopkins another Oscar.
Aftersun – Coming soon on Mubi; available to rent and purchase on Amazon Instant Video, Google Play, and Vudu.
One of the best films of the year, director Charlotte Wells’ drama about memories both manufactured and manicured is the movie that will make Paul Mescal a star. Mescal has been teetering on the verge of mainstream stardom for a couple of years now, and in Aftersun, he delivers a performance so heartbreakingly raw, so delicately moving that giving him an Oscar for his trouble would be too slight a reward. Even though the film is presented entirely through the perspective of a young girl, played by the radiant Frankie Coiro, it is anchored by Mescal’s melancholic turn as her troubled father. This one’s right up there.
Triangle of Sadness – Available to purchase on iTunes, Google Play, Amazon, YouTube etc in the US
Director Ruben Östlund’s Palme d’Or-winning satire might not be as sharp as his earlier films — Force Majeure remains a modern classic — but there’s enough to chew on in his latest dressing down of the well-dressed. Fans of HBO’s White Lotus might notice similarities in the basic set-up, but there’s a gentle wickedness to Östlund’s movies that set it apart from American satire. While the White Lotus mocks the rich by pointing fingers at them, Triangle of Sadness spares no one, not even you.
Chup: Revenge of the Artist – ZEE5
Director R Balki co-opts the raw passion of a debutant filmmaker in his misunderstood treatise on movies. Every frame of Chup is brimming with a love for cinema, and an anger at the disrespect with which it is often treated. Balki has confidently pulled off a tricky tonal balancing act here, and while Chup isn’t the easiest film to describe, think of it as Wes Craven’s Scream, if it was directed by Woody Allen.
The Menu – Theatres
Yet another excellent addition to the pandemic-inspired sub-genre of satirical filmmaking where a group of talented actors and crew members spend a month in an exotic bubble and come back with a film or show, The Menu is more masala entertainment than refined sit-down meal. Directed by Succession’s Mark Mylod, the film is unsubtle in its observations about privilege, but has a rather subversive devotion to art. An odd flavour profile, you might think, but it all comes together.
The Wonder – Netflix
Trust the broken streaming industry to ensure that the best Florence Pugh performance of the year remains undiscovered even as more footage is devoted to Harry Styles’ spit. It’s true that Don’t Worry Darling was a bigger production, but that dreadful film should’ve disintegrated by itself. Instead, it pulled Netflix’s The Wonder down with it. An inventive period drama that is more fun than it lets on, The Wonder is both gut-wrenching grim and oddly uplifting at the same time.
Ahed’s Knee – Mubi
If Mubi isn’t going to advertise it, someone has to. Director Nadav Lapid became overnight-famous in India, perhaps for reasons that he might not consider ideal. Or maybe he does, who knows? But the arthouse streamer is currently in possession of his latest film, the Cannes Jury Prize winner Ahed’s Knee. It’s as good an entry point into his filmography as you could hope for. Ahed’s Knee contains all the politically-charged angst of his earlier work, but is also rather self-reflexive, and sometimes surreal, especially when it momentarily turns into a humourless 8 1/2 and Stardust Memories.