On the night of 25 February 1964, the greatest boxer ever walked the earth, Cassius Clay (Eli Goree, Race) won the world heavyweight championship from Sonny Liston. In the aftermath of his career-turning moment, Clay celebrates the victory with three friends—all are prominent Black figures in the 1960s, musician Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr., Hamilton), NFL star Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge, Straight Outta Compton), and the controversial Black activist as well as Clay's mentor, Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir, High Fidelity series). Four legends in One Night in Miami marks the directorial debut of Regina King, adapting a stage-play by Kemp Powers (Pixar's Soul) who also writes the screenplay. The celebration isn't merely a celebratory party or anything resembles it; instead, the four legends emba...
Eliza Hittman's Never Rarely Sometimes Always is a tough watch—not because of distressed theme or challenging nature, but because of the familiarity of its theme and how close it is to the ground. The title refers to options usually employed in Likert-scale questionnaires to measure attitude with nuance. In this case, those word collections refer to the questionnaire asked in a crisis pregnancy clinic sympathetically unraveling the protagonist's sexual activities preceding the story's bleak topic: unwanted teenage pregnancy.
John Magaro stars in First Cow (2020).
In the present day, Alia Shawkat walks her dog along the woods when she discovers remnants from the past that will transport the story back in the era of Oregon Country, an era of fur-trade competition between American and British companies. It's a harsh period; settlements were scarce and the pristine environment could be deadly to those unaware of the danger. Director Kelly Reichardt (Night Moves) and her collaborator, Jonathan Raymond, present a story about the age of opportunity—where friendship and early form of American Dreams take shape—in First Cow. There's a real cow with real milk; there are wildlife hunters; there's an aspiring cook and an immigrant with eye for business making a couple of unlikely BFFs taking the center stage.
Carey Mulligan stars in Emerald Fennell's Promising Young Woman (2020)
From the showrunner of Killing Eve, Emerald Fennell, here comes a rape-revenge thriller that feels familiar in bits, but unlike other films with similar theme, it operates on a completely different modus operandi. Aimed for precision in the narrative, direction, and lead performance, Promising Young Woman is a thriller that stings hard and never let go. At its center, there's Carey Mulligan who singlehandedly carries the mission—taking vigilante mantle and serving revenge the way it should be served: cold. She dives head first to the full-raged war against everyone who has wronged her; but, more to it, she plans to take the war more structurally and mercilessly.
Jamie Foxx behind Joe Gardner in Pixar's Soul (2020)
With Soul—released straight to Disney Plus on Christmas Day, Pixar grows more mature and sophisticated, but never loses the heart. Co-directed by Pete Docter (Inside Out) and playwright Kemp Powers (One Night in Miami), this jazzy soul-seeking odyssey between New York and the hypothetical astral field is like an adult-oriented drama version of Docter's 2015 work. That being said, kid-friendly feature works on surface level; but, underneath, there's a more philosophical and subliminal layers that only appeal for adult viewers grasping the meaning between life, death, and ideas beyond those distinctions.
We've seen it before and we'll see it again: a problematic guy is doomed to repeat the same day over and over again in a seemingly endless time-loop. Now, imagine putting together the phrase ‘time loop’, ‘rom-com’, and ‘original’ in the same sentence as ‘one of this year’s best.' Then, add 'not trying to be the next Groundhog Days' and 'relevant to the current situation' into the equation; and you'll get Palm Springs, a directorial debut by Max Barbakow, written by Andy Siara. Coincidentally, the premise somehow mirrors the condition of almost everyone around the world—trapped in a devastating loop and a cycle of tedium during the quarantine period.
Diana Prince a.k.a. Wonder Woman, portrayed as eloquently as ever by Gal Gadot, makes a sweet come back in Wonder Woman 1984, set in the titular year at least 66 years after she's last seen in the Armistice of 11 November. The heroine is currently living a serene routine as Smithsonian Institution expert in Washington while cautiously and secretly helping people and fighting crimes. When an ambitious con-artist, Max Lord (Pedro Pascal), comes up with a foul plot that might cause ridiculously mythical cataclysms around the world and turn an innocent gemologist and Diana's colleague, Barbara Minerva (Kirsten Wiig), into an apex predator like never before, she must take her super-heroine mantle once more even when she's faced to the ultimate vulnerability she doesn't know she has.
Let's take our time to appreciate and celebrate Riz Ahmed's prodigious talent. In the same year, the British actor and rapper has transported us into two stories, equally poignant and affecting, of sympathetic self-acceptance from perspectives of two completely different musicians who has lost their identities as their bodies weakens. In Mogul Mowgli, he's an Americanized British-Pakistani rapper whose body betrays himself with an autoimmune disease in an allegory of identity crisis. In Darius Marder's Sound of Metal, Ahmed is a heavy-metal drummer who begins to lose his hearings and immediately plunges into existential hysteria. While built upon similar premise, Ahmed brilliantly exudes one-of-a-kind charm in each performance and splendid range; the latter, however, observes the actor in...
David Fincher's new film, Mank, is a behind-the-scene drama about the sacred writing of Citizen Kane. Lauded as one of the finest movies ever made, which is nothing but the truth, the 1941 epic is also known for the series of disputes that follow—from the constant hassle and massive boycott by media mogul, William Randolph Hearst, after whom the movie is partially modeled; the long-lasting financial trouble for RKO Pictures, to the dispute over the writing credit split between director/star/producer, Orson Welles, and veteran screenwriter, Herman Mankiewicz. The film would go on receiving 9 Oscar nominations and only winning one for the rightful Best Writing (Original Screenplay)—to which Welles and Mankiewicz differ in opinions, originating the dispute that will last for decades.
Pietro Marcello's adaptation of Jack London's 1909 novel, Martin Eden, exudes retro-beauty of Southern Italy's labor circles, even when the original setting is in the Southern coastal of America. An essential criticism towards early 20th century socialism from a socialist, the story of Martin Eden is almost proverbially biographical and contextual from an American point of view. Marcello, transferring the setting to Naples, wraps the theme with historical aesthetics and the country's long history of socialism—that came thicker than the American counterpart.
While family gatherings, in general, might be very overwhelming and anxiety-inducing for some people, Emma Seligman's Shiva Baby takes the sheer catastrophe to the the next level. Expanded from Seligman's 2017 short film of the same title, the story unfolds an utterly awkward and chaotic series of moments as the protagonist, Danielle (Rachel Sennott, in a downright thought-provoking performance), spectacularly sets all her secret lives, social discomforts, and piles of lies to collide into each other in a fateful shiva gathering. Set in a tightly cramped mourners' house, the whole moment boasts a claustrophobic atmosphere and an ironically hilarious thriller in an unexpected timing.
Jasmila Žbanic's Quo vadis, Aida? presents one of the most horrifying war crimes in history, the 1995 Srebrenica Massacre—where more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys are executed by Serbian troops, almost candidly. There's an urgency in the motion picture that, as a Bosnian, Žbanic is compelled to bring out the story as it is—to remind the world of every victim as an individual, not just numbers. It's dedicated to all Bosnian women, who lost their husband and sons during the event; who, at this point of the history, have to continue to live in a world with the perpetrators, especially the leader, Ratko Mladic, who still denies the genocide up to today.
A New York-based, British-Pakistani rapper, Zed (Riz Ahmed), is about to embark in his first world tour after years of struggle from scratch. Just before the supposedly career-defining opportunity, he decides to fly home to his family in London after being away for at least two years. What arrives to him, however, isn't what he's expected; instead, he shows symptoms of an autoimmune disease attacking his muscle. "Your body doesn't recognize itself, so it attacks itself," the doctor diagnoses—while, at the same time, alluding the inner conflict the protagonist bears: the lost sense of identity.
In His House, Sudanese refugee couple flee their war-torn home country and, against all odds, manage to cross the sea—leaving the past nightmare behind. Upon reaching the UK as asylum seekers, they are granted a house as a means of a fresh start, a new beginning. However, when a malicious force lurking inside the house tells them otherwise, they are torn between clinging to the past or moving on to the new life.
Alice Wu's directorial effort is an astonishing coming-of-age drama about self-acceptance and, unsurprisingly, teenagers' view of platonic love. At its very core, The Half of It might immediately remind us of Cyrano de Bergerac's story or its multi-generational iterations. There's an otherworldly beautiful lady; there's a charming halfwit; there's an eloquent middle-person known for the panache and is insecure of own physical appearance. It's easy to label it a modern-day iteration for worse or, maybe, good if "modern" also means more "woke."