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.
February may be the shortest month of the year, but it sure has no shortage of quality onscreen entertainment. This month’s movie recommendations are dominated by 2018’s best indie films that sadly didn’t get a release in Singapore last year. Fortunately, you can now watch these titles thanks to their belated arrivals via streaming, Blu-ray and arthouse distributors. Over on TV land, we celebrate the final seasons of two outstanding female-driven comedies, and praise some amazing new series on Netflix.
Exceedingly funny, unexpectedly tense and emotionally impactful – Blindspotting is a must-see! This film bursts with the mercurial wit and exhilarating energy of prime Spike Lee, while managing to be much more subtle in it’s exploration of appropriation and gentrification. It’s a delightful bromance comedy, a dramatic deconstruction of cultural identity, a frightening look at black fears in modern America, and it’s even at times a thrilling hip-hop musical. Blindspotting’s superlative style is grounded by organic character chemistry, making this essential and original.
Yorgos Lanthimos’ 18th century English period piece is a unconventional and idiosyncratic delight. While other tales of court intrigue might focus on regality and pomp, The Favourite leans into corseted pettiness and outrageous petulance to craft an absurdist and anachronistic black comedy. Buoyed by a triumvirate of irresistible performances from Olivia Colman, Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz – this biting satirical farce about women vying for power is bawdy, profane and cynically fun in spite (or perhaps because) of it’s revisionism. Read our full review here.
Won’t You Be My Neighbor isn’t just a celebration of Fred Rogers’ wonderful career in children’s television, or the impact his gentle affection exuded – this documentary mirrors the man’s ideals by offering a stirring call for love and kindness. We all know deep down how to be good, but it can sometimes be the hardest thing to do in an increasingly scary and cynical world. To have Mr. Rogers remind us – calmly, plainly, earnestly – that empathy, understanding and simple decency should never be forgotten – can be overwhelmingly emotional in it’s simple humanity.
Produced, written and directed by Chloe Zhao, The Rider is an elegiac and entrancing true story of Brady (played by the real-life Brady Jandreau), a talented cowboy coping with a severe head injury after a horrific rodeo accident. Set against the gorgeous landscape of rural South Dakota, this is a heartrending portrait of a young man struggling to give up his singular passion, while reconciling his trauma with the constructs of frontier masculinity. There’s an earthy spirituality and ineffable beauty amidst The Rider‘s intimate realism that makes this so profoundly moving.
Mid90s is such an accurate time capsule. More than reductive nostalgia, Jonah Hill’s directorial debut is a loose and lived-in snapshot of a bygone era that will make those who remember it smile and cringe in equal measure. It feels honest, messy and entirely authentic – without any didactic messaging about whether this was a better or worse time. This film simply and faithfully frames 90s skate culture around a raw and believable coming-of-age story, that’s informed by emotional experience, but presented with the unvarnished objectivity of a documentarian.
Thoroughbreds is one of the darkest, most diabolical black comedies in recent memory. A taut and tense psychological two-hander with superb performances from Anya Taylor-Joy and Olivia Cooke, this film about an unfeeling sociopath and an emotional narcissist forming a murder plot, is chilling in it’s ice-cold deconstruction of morality. Writer-director Corey Finley certainly impresses with his filmmaking debut. Although slow-burning, Thoroughbreds is surgical with every inch of dialogue, photography and sound – servicing each disquieting intention perfectly.
NBA players and a maverick agent upend the system during a lockout in High Flying Bird – a witty and fleet critique of the business of basketball. Sharp ideas about capitalist disruption, and the commodification of black athletes in pro sports, makes this one of Steven Soderbergh’s most cerebral and invigorating films in some time. Once again shooting on iPhones, and released online, it’s also easy to see this narrative mirroring it’s director’s own philosophy of using modern media as a means of redistributing power, and giving control back to the talent.
Revenge is such a pulpy and stylish grindhouse tale of bloody vengeance and bold symbolism. Coralie Fargeat’s rape retaliation thriller inverts the B-movie male gaze spectacularly, from it’s harrowing beginning to it’s Fury Road-esque action, it’s all so immensely cathartic. This film faithfully executes the brutal tropes of it’s titular genre, whilst stunningly subverting it’s key elements to create a landscape of dust and gore that’s uncompromising in it’s feminist vision.
While perhaps not as audaciously creative as it’s predecessor, everything about The LEGO Movie 2 is still very much awesome. The Second Part dizzies with clever jokes, goofy sight gags, meta shrewdness (Batman zingers are abundant with this franchise), and potent lessons about selfish boys and their toys. This uproarious sequel is a zany adventure with syrupy sentimentality, inspiring adults and kids alike to celebrate the joy of collaborative imagination.
Drawn upon the lives of it’s writer-director’s Pawel Pawlikowski’s late parents, Cold War is cinema at its most ravishing. This devastatingly beautiful love story sparked by art and doomed by ideology, spanning decades and both sides of the Iron Curtain. Shot in a 4:3 aspect ratio and in black and white, this Polish masterpiece is a monochrome feast of chilly negative space depicting hot-embered passion, and a tumultuously elliptical romance. Read our full review here.
Watch in: Cinemas (Golden Village and The Projector)
The Hidden World soars to a visually marvelous and emotionally poignant climax for DreamWorks Animations’ finest franchise. Hiccup (now the chief of Berk) and Astrid are faced with the darkest threat to their expanding dragon utopia yet, forcing them to forever alter their relationship with each other, and their dragons. This final chapter to Dean DeBlois’s acclaimed fantasy series remains a delight for all-ages, allowing it’s charming characters to mature in bittersweet ways.
Netflix’s multi-layered Russian Doll is the best show of 2019 so far. Acerbic, affecting and so richly rewarding, this show avoids the tropes of time loop narratives to offer the warmest, freshest take on the Groundhog Day concept. It’s funny and addictive, but it’s also an existential character study of how people get stuck in self-defeating patterns, repeatedly making the same mistakes. Co-creator and star Natasha Lyonne is an absolute revelation here, playing Nadia with a caustic mix of vulgar bravado and tender intelligence that makes her totally magnetic.
With Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt reaching its end end point, we think it’s safe to say that the comedy team of Tina Fey and Robert Carlock have created something as indelible, hilarious and genius as 30 Rock ever was. These last six episodes of season four offer a side-splitting and warm-hearted farewell to the wacky world of Kimmy, Titus, Jacqueline and Lilian. For a show about dealing with abuse, trauma and toxic men – it remains goofy and sincere till the very end, plying you with dozen-layered punchlines, clever running gags and surreal non sequiturs.
As bittersweet as it is, Broad City’s final season finds it’s creative team of Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer at their best and most inspired, both behind and in front of the camera. This fifth season finds Abbi and Ilana leaving their 20s behind and forging through life milestones – without sacrificing the carefree spirit, hilarious millennial commentary, and joyous misadventure they’ve come to be known for. We could hang out with these broads forever, but alas, this love letter to female friendship and New York City has come to a beautifully satisfying conclusion.
Historical non-fiction and alcohol mix hilariously well (once again) in Drunk History’s uproarious sixth season. It’s premiere kicks off with an Are You Afraid Of The Dark? parody that retells the bonkers true story of how Mary Shelley was inspired to write the character of Frankenstein and his monster during an opium-fueled sex party hosted by Lord Byron. From there, history lessons get even funnier and more star-studded with inebriated recreations of true stories about Edith Windsor and the Defense of Marriage Act, America’s first black pilot Bessie Coleman, and more.
Netflix’s new Carmen Sandiego series is an excellent educational kids show. Although it’s been revamped into a more stylish espionage adventure about a do-gooder super-thief, the series still retains it’s edutainment roots. Car chases, gadgets and disguises are cool – but fun capers about stopping evil organizations from starving developing countries for profit, or returning priceless artifacts to exploited cultures, are good ways to teach kids about real-life injustices.
Weekly talk shows have come and failed at Netflix, but with Patriot Act’s success and viral appeal, it seems as if the streaming giant has found their MVP in Hasan Minhaj. The politically sharp comedy show returns from it’s brief hiatus for “Volume 2” this month, and it remains as engaging as ever. Finely balancing meticulously researched pieces on crucial social issues, alongside some astutely funny commentary, Minhaj educates and entertains in equal measure.
While season three is still some ways off, Big Mouth briefly returns for a very special double-length Valentine’s Day episode! While this animated series about puberty-struck seventh graders (and their literal hormone monsters) has always been hilarious gross and overwhelmingly lewd, My Furry Valentine takes it’s built-in carnal humour to whole new levels. Because after all, what other holiday would make pre-teens more stressed about their sexual awakening?
Motown Magic is a new cartoon series on Netflix about an imaginative African American boy named Ben. Using his magic paintbrush, he’s able to go inside the colorful street murals of Detroit and bring the imaginary characters within them to life! Each episode’s plot is inspired by the themes of classic Motown songs, spurring gentle adventures in learning that are interwoven with classic Motown hits performed by artists like Ne-Yo, Skylar Grey and Trombone Shorty.