While superpowered teen adventures seem to be the order of the summer, there were plenty of other smaller gems to look out for as well! From politically biting black comedies and culturally unique gangster epics, to eye-opening non-fiction and visually inventive dives into the human psyche – July brought us a wide-variety of onscreen goodness in film and television.
Birds of Passage
Part ethnographic study and part gangster epic, Cristina Gallego and Ciro Guerra’s beautifully crafted film is culturally rich, visually lyrical and sweepingly tragic. Spanning the late 60s and 70s, Birds of Passage follows the rise and fall of a family from Colombia’s indigenous Wayuu tribe, as they get caught up in the country’s booming drug trade. When sacred traditions and portentous omens are compromised by capitalist greed and prideful vengeance – blood is shed and innocence is lost. This dusty contrast of ancient beliefs and modern corruption is enthralling.
Dementedly exuberant and visually inventive, Makoto Nagahisa’s debut feature is a funhouse 8-bit adventure through juvenile ennui and emotional alienation. We Are Little Zombies follows four young orphans who meet at a crematorium, and bond over their shared inability to cry after losing their parents. Feeling dead inside, the group embark on a quasi-existential escapade that’s full of surreal left turns and framed like a Super Nintendo RPG. From roving the streets to finding fame as a chiptune band, this film is a dazzlingly lurid journey of nihilism and catharsis.
Originally shot by Sydney Pollack and painstakingly reassembled by producer Alan Elliot (the footage was deemed unusable due to technical issues), this concert documentary showcases the great Aretha Franklin at the height of her powers – and it’s a pure spiritual gift. Filmed at Los Angeles’ New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in 1972 to a rapt audience, Amazing Grace captures the glorious joy and miraculous wonder of a truly transcendent gospel performance. This is a powerful and nourishing testament to the Queen of Soul and a voice touched by God.
Submerged in claustrophobic tension and unrelenting terror, Alexandre Aja’s latest creature feature might be the most intensely thrilling cinematic ride this year. Following a father and daughter duo trapped in a rapidly flooding basement crawl space (due to a massive hurricane) with hungry alligators – Crawl executes it’s simple premise with anxiety-riddled precision. Buoyed by an unwavering atmosphere of suspense and fear – Aja balances this film’s outlandish aspects with gruesome body horror, genuinely scary set-pieces, and plenty of blood-soaked fun.
Both a rollicking superhero adventure and a charming teen road-trip movie, Spider-Man: Far From Home swings effortlessly as a post-Endgame palette cleanser and an exciting look into the MCU’s future. While Tom Holland reaffirms his status as the best live-action Spidey, this film’s greatest feat is it’s brilliant handling of Jake Gyllenhaal’s Mysterio. Blending thrilling action with effective emotional stakes (ranging from awkward romance to Peter Parker’s struggle to live up to Tony Stark’s expectations), this is an enormously fun ride filled with heart and surprise.
Korean auteur Bong Joon-ho satirizes the various ways the rich and poor leech off each other in his latest masterpiece (and Palme D’Or winner), Parasite. Part giddy con-artist farce, and part nail-biting thriller – this wickedly tense, darkly funny and beautifully shot tragicomedy artfully crafts a masterful indictment of class inequity, greed, and economic anxiety. From the desperate underprivileged willing to exchange financial security for moral bankruptcy, to the oblivious bourgeoisie – Parasite illustrates the pervasive psychology of money. Read our full review here.
The best summer blockbuster of 2019 isn’t in cineplexes – it’s on Netflix. After the chilly darkness of it’s second season, Stranger Things 3 returns to delight with a warmer and more colourful vibe. While the Upside Down and government operatives (evil Soviets this time) once again provides the threat and terror, the real joy of this third season is it’s focus on charming relationship stories. From raging hormones in the teens to unresolved sexual tension in the adults, Stranger Things 3 is fun whether they’re fighting monsters or just hanging in the mall.
Amidst it’s constant stream of hilariously offensive rapid-fire wit and creative profanity, Veep has slowly morphed from an absurdist comedy of powerless pettiness to a strangely realistic satire of flippant power. This final season finds former President Selina Meyer and her sharp-tongued staff on the comeback campaign trail, as she bumbles her way through another election rife with hypocritical lies, vicious betrayals and countless scandals. Through jokes about race, abortions and mass shootings, this jaundiced mockery of toxic American politics remains gleefully cutting.
Noah Hawley’s trippy take on Marvel’s weirdest mutants returns for the third and final season of Legion. This final act is glorious return to form for this audaciously abstract show, as it reframes protagonist David as the story’s true villain, and refocuses on new character Switch. Legion’s psychedelic journey through time is even more dizzyingly surreal than usual – prone to musical interludes, unorthodox editing, and disorienting visuals. But the emotional throughline of Syd’s trauma and David’s accountability anchors us in a sense of motivational clarity and momentum.
Spun off from the excellent Trollhunters series, 3Below continues Guillermo del Toro‘s epic Tales of Arcadia by switching from magical fantasy to science fiction. Revolving around exiled aliens Aja, Krel and Vex – 3Below follows their adventures as they try to blend in and return home. Picking up after season one’s spectacular climax, things get dire as our heroes are hunted by bounty hunters and an anti-alien government agency, even as they attempt to stop evil General Morando’s invasion of Earth. This faster, funnier and more emotional second season is a blast!
Based on the epynomous Istraeli series, Euphoria is a boundary-pushing and brutally honest look at harrowing world of sex, drugs and violence in modern teenage culture. This gorgeously shot series is buoyed by a career-defining performance from Zendaya, who is a revelation as 17-year-old drug addict Rue. Her exceptional performance grounds Euphoria’s shocking content in raw emotional authenticity. Although often unflinchingly real and obscenely graphic, it’s distressing stories feel earned because they’re based in empathy rather than exploitation.
Created by Jonathan Tropper (Banshee) and Justin Lin, based on a TV show pitched by Bruce Lee, Warrior is basically Peaky Blinders meets The Raid. Set during the Tong Wars in 1878 San Francisco, the series follows martial arts prodigy Ah Sahm, who travels from China to America in search of his sister, only to be caught up in a bloody gang disputes and intense anti-immigrant prejudice. Buoyed by incredible fight choreography, sprawling criminal intrigue and surprisingly potent social commentary – Warrior is an adrenalized balance of noir drama and hatchet fights.
In Aziz Ansari Right Now, the comedian’s latest standup special, Ansari brings his shrewd humor to numerous subjects – including himself. While opening up about his sexual misconduct controversy last year, Ansari spins off his sincere introspection about growth into broader topics such as the exhaustion of “wokeness” and the complexity of contextual truth. Without being didactic, Ansari’s set weaves in hilarious jabs at himself and his audience to illustrate how it’s become impossible explore changing cultural values without sliding into simplistic reductions.
If you’re missing Rick & Morty, perhaps Final Space could be a worthy animated sci-fi diversion. This amusingly witty space adventure may be filled with quips and breakneck action, but it’s real strengths are it’s surprisingly dark drama and beautifully crafted character arcs. This second season wastes little time establishing the fresh status quo for intergalactic fugitive Gary and what’s left of the crew of the Galaxy One. In dealing with the pain and devastation of last season amidst a rollicking new adventure, this new installment of Final Space is off to an exciting start.
This engaging new documentary series is a great look into the vibrant world of professional wrestling outside of the WWE. Hosted by hardcore musician Damian Abraham, The Wrestlers takes a deep dive into America’s thriving indie scene, the next wave of Mexican luchadores, Japan’s joshi puroresu (female wrestling) circuit, the gory subculture of death matches, and more. But beyond it’s spotlight of the industry’s lesser-known corners, Abraham also explores artform’s place around the world – as catharsis, protest, political statement, and a way of life.
After a six month hiatus (and five years off the air before that), Young Justice finally returns for the second half of its epic third season. Outsiders’ latest stretch of episodes continues at a blistering pace, offering more adventures for the Team and the Justice League as they attempt to stop both the Light and Apokolips on the streets and in space. Deftly balancing scope and scale, fans never feel lost in this show’s sprawling cast and dense storylines. Buoyed by great voice acting and compelling character dynamics, Young Justice remains an animated highlight.
While investigating the 2014 suicide of teenager Conrad Roy, detectives found hundreds of text messages from his girlfriend, Michelle Carter, encouring him to kill himself. This two-part documentary explores what led up to Roy’s death, and the manslaughter case levied against Carter thereafter. Directed by Erin Lee Car -, I Love You, Now Die deftly layers this horrifying true-crime story with arguments and reveals that continuously shifts your opinion on Carter’s culpability – all while extending humanity to subjects previously defined by tabloid headlines.
Created by Arturo Castro (Broad City, Narcos), this fresh and funny sketch comedy series plays like Key & Peele for millenial Latinx issues. Alternatino’s hilarious skits satirizes everything from modern dating to American culture to politics – endeavouring to dismantle Latino stereotypes and showcase a wide variety of perspectives through insightful punchlines and gut-busting humour. At the center of these breezy and bite-sized sketches is Castro himself, who flexes charisma and range by playing more than 45 different characters in this star-making vehicle.
They Come For Us At Night: China’s Vanishing Muslims
This VICE News special follows journalist Isobel Yeung as she sneaks into China to investigate the horrific plight of the country’s Uighur population. Through the use of hidden cameras, this brave report documents first-hand the dystopian nightmare of Orwellian surveillance and brutal policing in Xinjiang that has been systematically eliminating minority Muslims. At least one million Uighur are detained in what the U.N. described as a “massive internment camp”, while their children are forced into orphanages where they’re indoctrinated with state propaganda.