We are visual creatures. We process information on what we see. It’s how we make sense of the world. And some enterprising creator would try to attain some clarity by showing others of what the world looks like to them through their preferred medium. Take film for instance—we take it in with our eyes and replay them in our heads long after we left the theatre. Here are some of the ones that have left an indelible mark.
(Before you proceed any further, know that there will be spoilers.)
As far as superhero movies go, nothing is more socially current than Black Panther. It might bear the traits of the fantastical but the issues that the black race face are very real. The moment where we’re introduced to Killmonger (played by Michael B Jordan) is also the moment where we saw how insidious colonialism really is.
The Death of Stalin
It came out in the UK in 2017 but I watched it this year so it counts. Written and directed by Armando Iannucci (who created Veep and In the Loop), this political satire follows the real-life history of Stalin’s death and its aftermath. This might not be a popular opinion but Stalin was a bastard. As were several members of the Central Committee, who were sycophants and Judases. But it is a joy to watch these schemings play out—the secret meetings and back alley alliances—and the humour-tinged animosity. If the missteps in powerplay don’t kill you, the cutting retorts will.
We raved about ROMA that’s based on director and writer, Alfonso Cuarón’s childhood. From the cinematography to the acting, it is the drawn-out moments that really captures your attention. Nothing in a scene is by accident, everything is as planned; that is the mark of a master like Cuarón.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
If you’re turned off that this is an animation, I pity your small-mindedness. Not only is this a feat in animation (motion blur is removed; the use of dynamic poses and movements), this is also what a Spider-Man movie should be: unburdened by gravity; like a superhero in flight.
A Quiet Place
A Quiet Place hinges on a simple premise of evoking fear through the absence of sound. It’s an easy manipulation. But when you allow a child to die at the hands of the monster—at the start of the film, no less—all bets are off, which gives the audience another thing to be at the edge of the seat for.
Sorry to Bother You
If Black Panther is a superhero genre wrapped around social commentary; Sorry to Bother You is the playful middle finger depressed on a trigger of a loudspeaker that’s keeping you woke. Although director Boots Riley’s messages of racism and social injustice are as old as time, this is unlike any film we’ve seen before: man-horse hybrids; white voices; a modern form of slavery. The struggle is real but why shouldn’t we have a little fun when we’re sticking it to the Man?
My sister didn’t like it. Her husband didn’t like it. Too bad they are not writing this. This movie that’s written and directed by Ari Aster, is a new kind of horror—it’s not your conventional ghost story; the protagonist isn’t pursued by a masked killer—it is a slow burn of a horror. One that’s doesn’t creep up on you, it is already there. You can’t see it but you can feel it next to you. Like a movement at the corner of your mind.
And when that’s not enough, the terror takes a turn for the probable as exemplified by this clip. That sometimes the terror is far more terrible when it could have easily happened to you.
Isle of Dogs
If Ray Harryhausen were still alive, would he have marvelled at how far we’ve gone with stop-motion? 3D animation might have taken the lead but stop-motion, especially stop-motion in Wes Anderson’s world, still retains an allure. It is a labour of love that does not show its true face readily but you still feel its effects nonetheless.
I’ve read Annihilation the book and if I were a director, I’d conclude that the novel is unfilmable. But I’m not a director and even if I were, Alex Garner is a far superior director than me and would go on to adapt Annihilation for the big screen.
It’s a sci-fi film with elements of horror but only if you find the idea of nature scary. Garner admitted his film is as “an adaptation which was a memory of the book”. So, like its theme of evolution, the final film resulted in something that’s entirely its own.
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
Based on several Western short stories the Coen Brothers wrote over several years, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs makes for a strong anthology. Vignettes in the film cover the plains of the Old West, where survival is a constant struggle and fate can quickly turn on its heels on you. Like the titular first story, where Buster Scruggs, crooner and the fastest draw in them lands, discovers how the narrative can quickly shift.
I watched this on a long plane ride. I had no expectations but I went away, pleasantly surprised by it. Do yourself a favour: skip the trailers. For some reason, the trailers paint Game Night as a broad comedy but it’s so much more. There were unexpected twists, the cast is likeable and Jesse Plemons, who plays the cop, Gary, is excellent as the neighbourhood weirdo.