Ever feel like there’s too much to watch, and you don’t know where to start? Well don’t worry. Our Film & TV editor Hidzir Junaini will be rounding up only the very best things to hit your screens at the end of every month! Skip the mediocre and delve right into the good stuff.
It’s our final monthly round-up for 2018 (our year-end lists are coming soon!), but it seems as if the movie and television gods have saved some of the best for last. In cinema we show equal love to arthouse festival darlings and big-budget blockbuster adventures. Over in TV land, we were especially enthused with a gorgeous Italian series, innovative anthologies, and the triumphant return of a housewife turned stand-up comedian.
Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse
Into The Spider-Verse isn’t just the best superhero movie of the year, it’s the greatest Spider-Man movie ever made. It’s dazzlingly unique art style is a comic-book come to vibrant life, it gives Miles Morales an emotional introductory arc, it joyfully services the lore of many multiversal Spider-People – and most of all, it’s a thrilling adventure with plenty of heart, humour and colour. Phil Lord and Chris Miller encapsulate the infinite possibilities of this arachnid archetype, showcasing why Spidey’s relatability and resilience continues to mean so much to so many different people from all walks of life, through countless iterations and generations.
In terms of 2018’s feminist heist films, if Ocean’s 8 was empty bubblegum, Widows is a prime slab of wagyu steak. Written by Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl), directed by Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave), and starring a powerhouse ensemble led by Viola Davis – this is a riveting, somber and brutal crime thriller made with artful intelligence and social conscience. With more on it’s mind than a big score, Widows combines muscular action, complicated female characters and pulp escapism, with anger at powerful men, corrupt institutions and America’s systemic inequities.
Alfonso Cuarón’s semi-autobiographical filmfeels like a gorgeous black and white scrapbook, filled with lyrical remembrances and poetic naturalism. Roma follows a young domestic worker for a family in a middle-class neighborhood of Mexico City, serving as a personal and artful love letter to the women who raised Cuarón. This portrait of domestic strife and social division in the tumultuous 1970s is affectingly authentic, lingering on the profundities of the everyday. Vividly realized and richly textured, this masterpiece fully immerses you into a panoramic slice of life.
The Guilty is pure white-knuckle tension through and through. Set entirely within a police call center, this sublimely crafted Danish film follows an emergency dispatcher as he frantically tries to help an abducted woman. Gustav Möller’s chamber piece about a series of phone calls has no business being this riveting, or nerve-wracking, and yet it is. It’s unrelenting pace (unfolding in real time), outstanding performance (the entire film hinges on Jakob Cedergren’s voice and face), and immersive sound design, makes this claustrophobic thriller one of the best of 2018.
Watch on: Blu-ray or digital (screened at the Singapore International Film Festival)
An ambitious camgirl is plunged into an existential crisis when she learns that she’s been locked out of her account, and replaced by an exact replica of herself on her stream. More than just fraud, this virtual entity has somehow managed to copy her physical form, and nearly everything else. What happens when our avatars take on lives of their own? That’s the premise for this engrossing cyber-thriller written by former webcam model Isa Mazzei. Cam‘s mindfuck mystery strips away artificial salaciousness to tell a feminist story about sex work, attention and identity.
Bo Burnham’s filmmaking debut is a transcendent ode to one of life’s most awkward phases. Eighth Grade may be a simple story of an unremarkable girl growing up – but it’s so emotionally precise, beautifully observed, and tenderly told, that the film radiates through honesty and specificity. Anchored by Elsie Fisher’s wonderful performance, this film captures the essence of adolescent anxiety and vulnerability with uncommon sensitivity. Eighth Grade universally resonates, even if you’ve never been a 13-year-old girl growing up in the Snapchat era.
This South Korean adaptation of Haruki Murakami’s short story Barn Burning is a beautifully minimalist character drama that simmers with languid tension, inscrutable motivations and subtle observations about class divisions and youth alienation. Lee Chang-dong’s masterful film slowly builds to a scorching crescendo that rewards patience with entirely unexpected turns. Built upon exquisite performances from Yoo Ah-in, Steven Yeun, and Jeon Jong-seo – this hauntingly meditative mystery is a disquieting psychological masterpiece about human nature.
Boots Riley’s directorial debut is one of the wildest hate letters to capitalism you’ll ever see. This is a wonderfully bizarre film that dizzies with sheer originality, crafting a surrealist morality tale about race, class, identity politics and corporate greed – wrapped up in a balls-out dystopian sci-fi satire. Hilarious, confrontational and outrageous, Sorry To Bother You is a fearless film that juggles many tones, leaving your jaw on the floor with it’s many absurdist turns. Pure genius.
Watch in: The Projector (screened at the Singapore International Film Festival)
This is an extremely low bar, but Bumblebee is far and away the best Transformers movie ever made. Heck it’s probably the ONLY good Transformers movie ever made. Forget those noisy Michael Bay atrocities, new director Travis Knight imbues an 80s-style “magical friend” movie with coherent action and rich characters to tell a story with humour and heart. Sure, it’s very reminiscent of E.T. and The Iron Giant, but those nostalgic references are great benchmarks.
Vox Lux is the anti A Star Is Born, addressing the pitfalls of music celebrity but in radically different ways. Though both are essentially pop tragedies, this film eschews huge crowd-moving emotion and old-fashioned romanticism for jagged cynicism and deeply upsetting terror. Brady Corbet’s Faustian film about the decline of 21st century society is sharply crafted and darkly provocative, buoyed by sensational performances from Natalie Portman and Raffey Cassidy.
Screened at: Singapore International Film Festival
Like Shaun of the Dead meets High School Musical – this year’s best Christmas movie is actually a post-apocalyptic zombie horror and a teen musical! Anna and the Apocalypse draws from well-trodden genre formulas but it feels completely fresh thanks to a zesty young cast, infectious comic energy, and some truly catchy musical numbers that bring glee amidst all the gore and scares. This should bring a good dose of holiday cheer to the living and undead alike.
HBO’s gorgeous Italian-language limited series is a faithful adaptation of Elena Ferrante’s acclaimed novels about a passionate and challenging adolescent friendship set in 1950s Naples. This is a quiet epic of intimate beauty and understated grace, patiently immersing you into the difficult lives of two strong-willed girls, as differences in opportunity complicate their affection as they mature. My Brilliant Friend is a masterwork of uncommon sensitivity and emotional insight, buoyed by tremendous performances and exceptional production values.
After a wonderful first season and plenty of Emmy glory, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel‘s second season had plenty of lofty expectations to live up to. And we’re happy to report that there’s no sophomore slump here! In fact, this series about a 1950s’ housewife turned stand-up comedian is funnier, smarter and somehow even more delightful in season two. Rachel Brosnahan’s vivacious Midge continues to be a joy to watch, even as Amy Sherman-Palladino takes our fast-talking heroine beyond Manhattan to a wider, richer and more colourful world of challenges.
Set within a single room in a nondescript motel, the Duplass Brothers’ inventive anthology series Room 104 is back for a second season. The genre-flexible series (drama, comedy, horror, musical, sci-fi, etc.) often feels fresher than most genre-specific anthologies, but this season is so much wilder, more surprising, and more eclectic than it’s first. Stacked with incredible talent, ranging from Mahershala Ali and Josephine Decker, to Michael Shannon and Brian Tyree Henry (and more) – Room 104’s new collection of 20-minute short stories are extremely engaging.
Revived after a record-breaking crowdfunding campaign last year, geek cult classic MST3K returns for it’s 12th season! The brainchild of comedian Joel Hodgson, the show centers around a series of “average Joes” and their robot friends, who are kidnapped by mad scientists and forced to watch the worst movies ever made as part of an experiment to find a movie so awful it will break the brains of the populace. This season’s watch-along includes famed cinematic schlock such as Mac and Me, Killer Fish, The Day Time Ended, Lords of The Deep and more!
Hulu’s monthly holiday-themed horror anthology Into The Dark has been hit or miss so far, but this Christmas installment is an instant classic. Directed by Nacho Vigalondo (Colossal, Time Crimes), “Pooka” is about a struggling actor who forms an unhealthy symbiotic relationship with a toy mascot costume he’s hired to play. From there, things gets wilder, weirder and more disturbing as the evil titular mascot begins to take control in increasingly frightening ways. Vigalondo visualizes psychological descent like a lucid nightmare exploring the duality of man.
The CW’s DC superhero shows continue their annual crossover tradition with this year’s epic and extremely fun “Elseworlds”! Taking place across The Flash, Arrow and Supergirl – a multiversal entity known as The Monitor is wreaking havoc across multiple dimensions, forcing our core heroes to team-up and fix reality. Although lacking the Legends of Tomorrow, this time they get join Superman, Lois Lane and Batwoman across three nights of pure fanservice hype.
Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement are back together as Flight of the Conchords, and the long-awaited reunion has brought them back to their old home on HBO for a fresh comedy concert special! Recorded live at London’s historic Hammersmith Apollo, the sheepish Kiwi duo perform a bunch of new originals (like “Father & Son” and “A Gender Reversal Reversal Song”), alongside a slew of beloved favourites. This is an uproarious return that’s most welcome.