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.
From visually audacious science fiction and sociologically potent satires, to profound non-fiction specials and transcendent animation – September provided us with a treasure trove of artistically challenging and thoroughly engrossing onscreen entertainment. We rounded up the best of the best from screens big and small for you here.
Mandy might or might not be Nicolas Cage’s best movie – but it’s definitely the most Nicolas Cage movie. Panos Cosmatos has taken a chainsaw to 80s’ action cheese to sculpt an arthouse heavy metal fantasia. All you need to know is that the most uncaged incarnation of Nicolas Cage fights a demon biker gang and a freaky cult to avenge his wife’s murder. But the story itself takes a backseat to the film’s acid trip imagery and fever dream immersiveness. It’s stylized to the point of overindulgence, but every beautiful, bloody basthit frame is striking.
This true story of English boxer Billy Moore and his nightmarish incarceration within a Thai prison, is brutal, bruising and relentlessly harrowing. A Prayer Before Dawn relies almost entirely on Joe Cole’s near wordless performance, and his pure physicality speaks volumes. This is a tough watch because everything from his battle with addiction, to his hellish environment, to his Muay Thai training is uncompromisingly visceral and scarily authentic. But by the end, you’ll feel emotionally rewarded by its bleeding-knuckled story of harsh salvation.
Mamoru Hosada’s (Wolf Children, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time) latest anime is a sweet and enchanting child’s eye view. Mirai feels like the director’s most personal work to date, combing escalating flights of fancy with emotionally honest and richly drawn (literally and figuratively) family dynamics. The thrust of the story is four-year-old Kun’s petulant jealousy of his newborn baby sister, and while that portrayal can be cute and sometimes romanticized, it’s also often aggravatingly real. Hosada’s gentle touch captures the wonder and pain of childhood beautifully.
Coming to you from the writer-director of Saw and Insidious, Leigh Whannell, Upgrade is the most absurdly violent, balls-out entertaining thing we’ve seen all year. This is a retro sci-fi action thriller that just delights in gratuitous grindhouse gore and incredibly dark humour. Think Paul Verhoeven’s RoboCop meets 1970s John Carpenter meets Black Mirror – this bloody revenge fantasy is B-grade fun done right, resulting in a kickass ride destined for cult classic status.
American Vandal season two is less absurdist and much darker, but it remains just as compelling. It’s still a hilarious yet sad satire of true-crime documentaries (nailing everything everything from the genre’s gotcha sensationalism, to it’s visual language), and it’s commentary on contemporary American high schools and social media culture is incisive. But if you choose to take it’s ridiculous mystery about poop pranks at face value, you can because it works as a riveting investigation on its own, with better twists and turns than most actual detective shows.
The Deuce jumps forward five years from 1972 to 1977, but it hasn’t lost a step. Maggie Gyllenhaal delivers her career-best performance as Candy’s elevation from street level sex worker to adult entertainment producer becomes the show’s new focal point. And while David Simon’ drama is positioned around the rise of the porn industry, it really is a more holistic exploration of a city undergoing enormous socioeconomic paradigm shifts, ranging from policing and crime to labour laws and evolving nightlife (disco and punk take center stage this season).
As smart, funny and unforgiving as BoJack Horseman’s satire of Hollywoo(d) has been, this season’s theme of accountability is the show at its most cutting. This thoughtful, painful and structurally inventive fifth season explores cycles of abuse and empty public redemption, the complicity of the media machine, artistically bankrupt prestige dramas, and the unintended normalization of vile behaviour through entertainment’s anti-heroes. But even amidst moral alienation, the show never loses sight of his whip-smart humour or it’s nuanced empathy.
Hoop Dreams director Steve James spent a year following the students of an elite Chicago high school, looking to explore why it’s black students weren’t seeing the same benefits as their peers. And as this 10-part documentary shows, the answer is far more complicated and nuanced that one might think. America To Me – through it’s honest, intimate and empathetic chronicle of the lives of these kids, educators and parents – organically illustrates how well-intentioned diversity rarely means racial equity in the face of larger systemic problems.
The brainchild of Alan Yang (Master of None) and Matt Hubbard (Parks and Recreation, 30 Rock) – Forever is one of those shows that’s impossible to talk about without giving away it’s many, many brilliant surprises. Without robbing you of discovering it’s incredible left turns and inventive secrets for yourself, let’s just surmise that this strange love story is an unpredictable and existentialist gem about what it truly means to be “together forever”. It’s themes of marriage and routine focus on mundanity, but it’s storytelling will shock you out of your comfort zones.
Audacious and addictive, Maniac is the most inventive piece of television in 2018. Created by visionary director Cary Joji Fukanaga and The Leftovers writer Patrick Somerville, this limited series is a retro-futuristic visual wonderland that runs through a gamut of styles and genres (ranging from Coen Brothers-esque crime capers to Tolkien fantasy to alien invasion thriller). Adding steak to the dazzling sizzle, Emma Stone and Jonah Hill, as the protagonist patients of a pharmaceutical brain experiment, ground this hallucinatory flourish with affecting performances.
No crowd. No laughs. Drew Michael’s new HBO special is an experimental stand-up set performed in front of no audience, except one disinterested ex-girlfriend. Bordering on performance art, great jokes are presented in an empty void. This is less about the comedy than about critiquing the craft’s form, and the self-absorbed bubble that the white male stand-ups live in. By framing this as a narrative of one man’s internal monologue struggling to connect with a woman who sees right through him, you’re forced to think about the medium’s one-sided nature.
Finally returning for its seventh season on Adult Swim, The Venture Bros. still remains one of the standard bearers for this golden age of adult animation. In fact, it’s sharp satire of Hanna Barbera cartoons, superhero tropes, spy adventure conventions, and heady sci-fi concepts feel fresher than ever. Jackson Publick and Doc Hammer waste no time in rewarding patient fans by immediately paying off long-running mysteries, delivering shocking twists and unveiling hidden backstories that redefine the show’s core relationships. Read our full review here.
Hulu’s polished psychological thriller ties together the Stephen King multiverse with creepily compelling character-driven mysteries. While it did feel like a pastiche in its early stages, once the show stopped paying homage to other stories and began telling its own, Castle Rock became instantly riveting. In particular, it’s seventh episode entitled “The Queen”, dealing with the horrors of dementia, might be one of the most visually poetic and emotionally devastating hours of TV we’ve ever seen, bolstered by a tour-de-force Sissy Spacek performance.
After 280 episodes, one of the greatest cartoons of all-time has come to a perfectly open-ended end with a joyful, soulful and mind-bending “giant-sized” finale. From the Great Gum War between Princess Bubblegum’s and her Uncle Gumbald, to the sudden reappearance of the monstrous GOLB, Adventure Time offered plenty of stakes and surprises in its final adventure. But in the end, the show stays true to its sweet core of friendship, hope and the magic of music.
Magic For Humans is the most charming and inventive magic shows we’ve seen in years. Part street magic, part all-ages sketch show, and part Nathan For You – it’s tremendously refreshing to see an illusionist as personable as Justin Willman find fun new ways to present his jaw dropping tricks. Some setups are mined for comedy, while others are framed as sociological experiments, offering insight into human nature even as you’re admiring the sleight of hand.
Jim Carrey returns to TV and re-teams with director Michel Gondry for a new series entitled Kidding. This half-hour drama feels like eternal darkness of the spotless mind, as Carrey’s version of childhood icon Mr. Rogers is wracked with grief after the death of his son, and struggles to cope with his unraveling family. Showrunner Dave Holstein burdens wholesome optimism with unimaginable tragedy in a compelling exploration of pain and transformation.
Few other comedies remain in peak form in it’s 13th season, and yet It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is still here, proving that being hateable is just as enduring as being likeable. The Paddy’s Pub crew are undoubtedly terrible people, but with the “departure” of Dennis (Glenn Howerton), the rest begin to show signs of growing up. Thankfully that’s quickly kiboshed in filthy, immoral, gross and uproariously awful ways when the gang replace him with a sex doll.
Although it’s created by Avatar: The Last Airbender head writer Aaron Ehasz, The Dragon Prince is more like a children’s version of Game of Thrones. It’s nowhere near as great as those reference points, but it’s an endearing and fantasy that has the potential to be. The show does a great job of boiling down complicated political concepts to kids – using themes of cyclical war, intolerance and the demonization of the “other” as plot points in a breezy adventure.