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.
2019’s slate of cinema and television kicked off with a bang, leaving high-profile favourites like Glass, Fyre,True Detective and The Punisher (they were good, just not good enough to make this list) in the dust. Arthouse festival darlings dominate this month’s film recommendations, alongside a Golden Globe winner and a technologically innovative “choose-your-own-adventure” movie. Meanwhile, outstanding animated series, nature documentaries, and freshman dramadies pack the TV section – alongside the returns of a beloved sitcom and one of 2018’s best espionage dramas.
The Old Man & the Gun
The Old Man & the Gun is such a charming little film – leisurely, low-key and lovably puckish. In the final role of his career, Robert Redford warms your heart as an Americana antihero archetype he’s played many times before. He’s a gentleman outlaw, a sweet old bank robber who steals with a smile, and leaves you with a twinkle in your eye. If this guy ever sticks you up, it’ll probably be the most pleasant interaction of your day. This wistful folk tale is the perfect swan song for Redford, radiating with its star’s dapper charisma, soft touch and easy affability.
The feature debut of Belgian director Lukas Dhont is the intimate and moving story of Lara, a 15 year-old transgender girl who juggles the physical demands of becoming a ballerina, with the long and emotionally arduous process of transitioning. While all teens struggle to cope with issues of body, identity, sex and communication – Lara’s coming-of-age is far more complicated, and fraught with insecurity and societal insensitivity. Narratives of this ilk can be exploitative, but Girl stands apart because of it’s observational naturalism and quietly empathetic approach.
Watch in: Cinemas (Golden Village and The Projector)
This Japanese zombie comedy is a hilarious love letter to low-budget genre filmmaking, emphasizing that the greatest joys of creating art are the imperfections of its process. It’s first half is a 40-minute B-grade romp, shot in one take, about film crew shooting a zombie movie that are attacked by real zombies. It’s second half follows the DIY production of that movie, showcasing the behind-the-scenes comedy of errors that force the cast and crew to improvise some of the first half’s most baffling moments. One Cut of the Dead is ingeniously meta fun.
Watch in: Cinemas (Cathay and Japanese Film Festival 2019)
Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria might be divisive, but we wholeheartedly consider it to be a masterpiece. Driven by mesmeric carnality, rich subtext (of power structures, national guilt and motherhood), sickening body horror, Thom Yorke’s spellbinding score, and intoxicating dance – this film feels like witchcraft. While sharing the same period, setting and atmosphere as Dario Argento’s 1977 original, this 2018 version is a radical reimagining of superior thematic density. This is a disorienting, disturbing and daring occult opus that plays like macabre fever dream.
There aren’t many films about poetry that are this unsettling. Maggie Gyllenhaal turns in a bravura performance as a bored kindergarten teacher, who discovers that her five-year old student is a poetry prodigy. His profound words inspire her, but her genuine interest in cultivating that talent turns into a disturbingly unhealthy obsession. Writer-director Sara Colangelo blurs the line between mentorship and manipulation, making it unclear if this is nurturing or appropriation. The Kindergarten Teacher offers an uncomfortably complex moral tangle with no easy answers.
Green Book is a feel-good crowd-pleaser that proves to be immensely enjoyable because Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali are just tremendous scene partners. This semi true story of a virtuoso African-American pianist and his Italian-American driver/bodyguard touring through Jim Crow South doesn’t offer deep insight when it comes to tackling race relations, but it does crackle with heart and humour. Genuine human connection and friendship transcending differences isn’t a radical narrative, though it can be supremely moving when crafted this well.
Black Mirror’s latest technological head-trip is a choose your own adventure game disguised as a movie! By inviting the audience to make choices for it’s game developer protagonist, Charlie Brooker immerses you a dozen layers of meta as you try rewatch (or replay) make as many different choices as possible, to discover as many different story permutations as possible.While of course, making you confront the nature of choice, the illusion of free will, the madness of contemplating branching realities, and your own complicity in the darkness that follows.
Following up on beloved icons like Mary Poppins and Julie Andrews is an unenviable task, but Emily Blunt somehow manages to shine and make the classic character her own this magical sequel. While it probably won’t be as evergreen as the original, this movie is certainly a deliriously joyous experience, leaning on earnest sentimentality, show-stopping numbers and phenomenal performances from the likes of Lin-Manuel Miranda to charm audiences of all ages.
Escalating tension, masterclass acting, and detailed spycraft continue to make this sci-fi espionage series the unlikeliest successor to The Americans in season two. J.K. Simmons astonishes by adding layers to his dual roles as undercover agents from alternate universes, as both versions of Howard Silk become increasingly immersed in each other’s lives and personalities. Even with it’s knotty conspiracies and clever counterintelligence, Counterpart remains emotionally grounded with it’s beautiful character studies of nature versus nurture.
Hot off the critical and commercial success of the epic animated fantasy series Trollhunters, Guillermo del Toro continues his Tales of Arcadia trilogy on Netflix with his sequel series 3Below. Although set in the same town and timeline as Jim Lake Jr.’s magical trollhunting story, this sci-fi space adventure can very much stand on its own thanks to great characters, earnest heart and compelling dynamics. Following a pair of teenage aliens on the run from a coup on their home planet, 3Below is funnier and sillier than its predecessor, but no less action-packed.
After six years, Young Justice has returned for third season, and the requisite time jump has allowed our team to mature even further, even as the big boys in the Justice League fall apart due to moral and political differences. Outsiders uses the League’s schism to illustrate how our young adult adult heroes have become prepared to handle situations in ways their mentors never could. It’s remarkable that Outsiders feels like a natural new season of a show that went off air in 2012, and a new series that was designed for 2019’s more complex political landscape.
Every year, BBC Earth wows with a stunning, David Attenborough-narrated documentary series about the wonders and cruelty of mother nature (with a worrying aside that these breathtaking scenes might soon end thanks to human encroachment). While not as spectacularly grand as 2016’s Planet Earth 2 or 2017’s Blue Planet 2 – Dynasties stands out because of its intimate focus on specific families within five endangered species. Their environmental struggles and social dynamics make for the most compelling, educational and authentic reality TV out there.
This thoroughly entertaining psychological comedy-thriller embeds into you in the warped perspective of a stalker, and it’s engrossing as it is uncomfortable. Based on the Caroline Kepnes novel of the same name, bookstore manager Joe becomes hopelessly obsessed with with an aspiring writer. In Joe’s mind, his actions are romantic. Taken objectively, they’re nothing short of creepy. YOU is both viciously smart and unabashedly soapy, but most of all – its social media horror story is a funny and unnernerving cautionary tale about dating in the age of Tinder.
Brooklyn Nine-Nine has been saved from an untimely cancellation at the end of season five, and it’s so good to have the squad back. Season six brings big changes to the precinct, with Jake and Amy’s new marriage, a new police commissioner, and the departure of Chelsea Peretti – but the show itself remains as goofy and giddily funny as ever. While most comedies feel strained at this advanced age, Brooklyn Nine-Nine continues to be in groove the more we get to know and love this ensemble’s peculiar personalities. Few sitcoms get better with age, but this one does.
While most teen shows use sex as fodder for it’s thrashiest elements, Sex Education approaches the subject matter with refreshing nuance, humour and maturity. The series follows Otis Milburn, and awkward 16-year-old who forms a sex therapy clinic with “bad girl” Maeve after it is revealed his mother is a sex therapist. This is a smart and sensitive look at teens sorting the through the messiness of sexuality to find their place and figure out their bodies.
Steven Universe heads to the Gem Homeworld after it’s hiatus, as Steven and his family of rebel gems seek the help of the all-powerful White Diamond. Besides giving us our clearest glimpse of gem culture and their oppressive class divisions, this emotional interstellar excursion gives Steven a better understanding of his mother, and her complicated relationships with the family she betrayed. It all climaxes with a thrilling Diamond War that’s tragic, shocking and epic.
One of Netflix’s most acclaimed original animated series comes to a spectacular end with season eight of Voltron. After defeating intergalactic tyrant Emperor Zarkon and his deeply misguided son, Lotor – the Paladins now face their greatest opponent in the form of Honerva, once known as Witch Haggar. This final season is the show at its darkest and most dramatic, giving it’s home stretch a grave sense of stakes, without sacrificing show’s heart and humour.
Centering around the absurdly wealthy Roy family, Succession is a thoroughly entertaining series following the aging Logan Roy and his four petty children who each plot for control over their father’s media empire. Sure it’s characters are vain, egotistical and utterly unlikable one-percenters – but damn if Jesse Armstong’s wickedly witty writing and the cast’s expert acting doesn’t keep you enthralled. This is a guilty pleasure soap opera we’ll keep an eye on.
As its title states, Netflix’s heartwarming new docuseries is about dogs! Specifically, humanity’s long and loving relationship with man’s best friend in a variety of sociological contexts. Created by acclaimed documentarians Amy Berg (Deliver Us From Evil) and Glen Zipper (Undefeated, Tales From the Tour Bus), these six poignant tales of canine devotion travel from the U.S. to Syria, Italy, Japan and Costa Rica. There are few things on television as life-affirming as this.