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.
Only one month into the new year, and we’re already spoilt rotten. In between peak TV and awards season, there’s been an abundance of outstanding films and series to hit your televisions, streaming services and cinemas these past few weeks. Lucky for you, we’ve already weeded through hours and hours of content to cherry-pick the very best.
On the film side, we have everything from Indonesian horror and European arthouse to Oscar contenders and a marmalade-loving Peruvian bear. Over in TV land, we’ll be recommending a slew of new prestige dramas, an oddly relevant 90s’ revival, a socially-conscious superhero, a sci-fi anthology, a sensitive devilman, and a hilarious trip through literal hell.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is an absolute masterpiece, and the by-far the best film to hit theaters this month. Martin McDonagh’s powder-keg narrative is blistering, heartbreaking, and surprisingly profound. More than a typical tale of a grieving mother seeking justice from incompetent police, this is a thoughtful character study of many sides, finding comedy in anger and forgiveness in violence. Stars Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell already have that Oscar in the bag for their incredible performances here.
Phantom Thread is a marvelously unconventional tale of obsessive control and poisonous romance, elegantly crafted and exquisitely stitched. Paul Thomas Anderson’s vision is as aesthetically lustrous as it is psychologically perverse, while Daniel Day-Lewis’ magnificent final performance is meticulous and precise. But truly, it’s Vicky Krieps’ haunting turn (accomplished without all that method fussiness) that steals the show and lingers in your mind.
A taut, stylish and engrossing kidnap-thriller, revolving around a sensational true-crime tale of wealth and privilege. All The Money In The World is a return to form for Ridley Scott as an auteur, and super-sub Christopher Plummer is indeed sublime. But it’s Michelle Williams who astounds with yet another tour-de-force performance. The movie’s many offscreen controversies may dominate the headlines, but it’s Williams’ onscreen work that deserves them.
It may surprise you to learn that Paddington 2 recently claimed the title of best reviewed movie of all-time – and with good reason. Paul King’s sequel isn’t just exceptionally witty, heartwarming and visually inventive – it’s emphasis on the value of immigrant communities and multiculturalism is an important message for kids and adults alike (especially today). Kindness, open- mindedness and sympathy – as learnt from the perspective of a gorgeously-animated and extremely polite bear – what’s not to love?
Ruben Östlund’s follow-up to Force Majeure is remarkable. A sprawling satire of the art world, played out through a series of escalatingly absurdist vignettes – The Square‘s themes explore moral hypocrisy, social responsibility, modern marketing and pseudo-speak pretension through multiple angles. There’s plenty to digest within its 150 minute duration, but Östlund willingness to wallow in discomfort for comedy, and his wild narrative turns, will keep you riveted.
Molly’s Game is a mostly terrific biopic by superstar screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, who also makes his directorial debut here. Rapid-fire dialogue, hyper-intelligent protagonists and soaring monologues are his specialty, and some film’s grander moments come awfully close to the greatness of A Few Good Men or The West Wing. Jessica Chastain also shines as Molly Bloom – whose real-life journey from world-class skier to running an underground poker ring for celebrities, CEOs and mobsters – is immensely fascinating.
Joko Anwar’s remake of Sisworo Gautamas Putra’s classic 1980 horror film Pengabdi Setan is downright excellent. His commitment to the lo-fi film language of old-school horror, expertly-staged scares, patient character building and wonderful narrative twists ensures that his take feels fresh yet familiar at the same time. It’s no wonder that this haunted house fright has already become such a mainstream sensation in Malaysia and Indonesia.
Bolstered by assured performances from two acting icons in Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep, alongside an all-star supporting cast, this riveting docudrama is easily Steven Spielberg’s best movie in over a decade (since 2005’s Munich to be honest). The Post’s celebration of journalistic independence, objective truth and institutional accountability might be historical, but it’s themes feel especially crucial today. Click here to read our full review.
There have been a lot of great portrayals of Winston Churchill from great thespians in recent years (Brendan Gleeson and John Lithgow comes to mind) – but Gary Oldman’s turn in Darkest Hour has them all beat. Joe Wright’s chamber piece is a gripping portrait of a fabled man – whose thunderous feats of public oratory resolved World War II Britain, and yet was riddled by private insecurity. Oldman’s fearsome, scenery-chewing performance anchors it all.
Yorgos Lanthimos’ follow-up to The Lobster is uncomfortable, idiosyncratic and exceedingly weird. Loosely based on the ancient Greek play Iphigenia at Aulis by Euripides – The Killing of a Sacred Deer is revelatory meditation on domestic horror and predestination. This haunting film stars Colin Farrell and Nicole Kidman as parents whose Stepford facades slowly crumble, and Barry Keoghan as a disturbed teen who threatens them with a cruel Sophie’s choice.
American Crime Story: The Assassination Of Gianni Versace
The Assassination of Gianni Versace so unlike The People vs. O.J. Simpson that it’s a little starling at first. But the deeper you go, the more you appreciate it’s reverse chronological structure. While season one was about the societal implications in the aftermath of an infamous murder (racial prejudice, gender politics and celebrity culture) – season two focuses on societal implications in the lead-up to an infamous murder (homophobia and the dissolution of the American Dream). It’s focus on the killer and his other lesser-known victims form the psychological meat of the story, after the most tabloid-friendly aspect gets you hooked.
If you’re looking for a quick and satisfyingly self-contained little binge – The End Of The F***ing World is the Netflix series for you. This coming-of-age love story between two deeply troubled teens (one’s a budding psychopath serial-killer, while the other is destructive delinquent) only gets sweeter as their adventure gets darker and more perilous. This pitch-black comedy has such perfectly pitch-black ending that we hope they never do a second season.
A bit like Luke Cage by way of Black-ish, showrunner Salim Akil has made an extraordinary superhero show that’s socially conscious, politically relevant and makes no apologies for its depiction of the African-American experience. There are no allegories here, Black Lightning confronts it’s issues directly. The show’s refreshingly mature take on htorny subjects like police discrimination and gang violence elevates it above it’s DC superhero ilk on The CW.
Emmy-winning writer Lena Waithe (Master of None) has a new drama called The Chi, and it’s supremely impressive. Set in Chicago’s South Side – it’s perspectives, characters and sprawling narrative surrounding inner-city hardship immediately feels authentic – and that’s mostly down to Waithe’s own personal experience growing up there. The influence from David Simon’s The Wire is clear, and while it’s not quite that good yet, it definitely has the potential to be.
Philip K Dick’s prolific bibliography is perfect for an anthology series, and Electric Dreams manages to adapt (or update) his genius to varying degrees of success. The show is uneven, but when its good, its damn good. Episodes like “K.A.O.” (written and directed by Mudbound‘s Dee Rees), “The Hood Maker”, “Real Life” (helmed by Battlestar Galactica’s Ronald D. Moore), “The Commuter”, and “Safe and Sound” are wonderful high points. At it’s best, Electric Dreams offers some of the most engaging explorations of the human condition you’ll find anywhere.
If any of you thought that The X-Files was past its prime and had nothing left to say, this latest revival proves otherwise. Season 11 returns Chris Carter’s show to its 90s’ form, with a diverse offering of fantastic, genre-bending standalone episodes that (thankfully) mostly stay away from it’s convoluted alien mythology. It’s latest installment – the hilariously bizarre “The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat” (written by Darin Morgan), deals with fake news, The Mandela Effect and a post-truth Trump world – might even be one of the best X-Files episodes ever.
Mike Schur’s afterlife comedy has taken so many radical turns that we don’t know where to start, but rest assured, the show has remained absolutely hilarious through each game-changing move. The climax of season two finds our poor souls wandering through a literal bureaucratic hell in an attempt to reach heaven, and their journey hasn’t just been full of laughs, its also landed more than a few moments of emotional poignance. From a demon learning to understand human emotion by forging his first friendship, to complex philosophical lessons being taught through mini-tales of personal discovery, The Good Place has been a blast.
If you’re squeamish about body horror, graphic sex scenes and shocking violence, fair warning, this may not be for you. But if you’re not, Devilman Crybaby is easily the best new show on Netflix this January. Its surreal and striking indulgence in the grotesque might appear gratuitous, but it’s all in service of a potent underlying message about bigotry, masculinity and humanity’s capability for cruelty in a climate of fear. You really don’t want to miss this jaw-dropping story of sensitive boy being bonded to a devil (or it’s killer soundtrack).