While this summer movie season is littered with blockbuster trash like X-Men: Dark Phoenix and Men in Black: International – we’re here to point out that there’s loads of greatness going on too. From a whip-smart teen comedy and existentially fascinating animation in cinema; to socially potent dramas, delightfully blasphemous fantasy, brainy sci-fi, and bittersweet comedies on television – June was a particularly rewarding month to be glued to your screens.
Olivia Wilde’s feature directorial debut is a perfect high-school comedy and an instant coming-of-age classic. Booksmart follows the hilarious misadventures of two best friends on the eve of graduation, as they try to attend their first party. Buoyed the exuberant chemistry of its leads Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein – Booksmart is a delightful tale of youth and female friendship that scores huge laughs, warm feels and well-earned tears. Blazingly paced, perpetually unpredictable and hyper fresh, this is the definitive teen romp for Generation Z.
Against all cynical expectations, Toy Story 4 proves to be a poignant and rousing epilogue to a flawless Pixar franchise. Alongside the existential quagmire of new character Forky (who believes he’s disposable trash and is utterly horrified by his sentience), this emotional and exciting film is a rousing adventure wrapped around themes of love, loyalty, acceptance and rejection. Filled with laughs, scares and heart – Toy Story 4 unexpectedly finds necessary development for Woody as he reconciles his innate selflessness with personal fulfillment.
While most rock biopics are fairly paint-by-numbers, Rocketman explodes with unsanitized flamboyance. Rather than a typical dramatization, director Dexter Fletcher presents Elton John’s life as a surreal musical fantasy, adding a dazzling layer of cinematic inventiveness to a traditional showbiz tale. Taron Egerton’s superlative performance doesn’t just capture John’s outrageous physicality, he embodies the musician’s inner sadness and insecurity with aplomb as well. Rocketman is a colorful, sequin-encrusted, jukebox ride that feels utterly exhilarating.
13 years after David Milch’s profound and profane revisionist Western was abruptly cancelled, it’s cast and creator have reunited to finally give fans the resolution they deserved. And indeed, Deadwood: The Movie is the perfect swan song for TV’s great unfinished masterpiece, replete with overwhelming emotion and baroque dialogue. This feature-length coda bids bittersweet farewells to many main characters, and poetically ties up a bloody tale of how a brutally lawless frontier came to be subsumed into the American experiment. Read our full review here.
Directed by Martin Scorcese, Rolling Thunder Revue is part documentary, part concert film and part fever dream. Telling the story of Bob Dylan’s legendary tour, this immersive movie plunges you into the troubled spirit 1975 America and the galvanizing music that Dylan performed during the fall of that year. This ingenious hybrid of fact and fiction is a time capsule of the era’s vital counterculture, humanizing the man behind the songs while mythologizing creative icon at the heart of it. Gloriously thrilling and playfully ambiguous, this film is essential for Dylan fans.
Ryan Murphy’s engaging series about New York’s underground drag ball scene is back – and it’s more political and fabulous than ever! Pose jumps from the 80s’ to 1990 in season two, juxtaposing the subculture’s spotlight in the mainstream thanks to Madonna’s “Vogue”, with the height of the AIDS/HIV epidemic that’s decimating the community that built it. Naturally, real-world history impacts its cast of LGBTQ characters immensely, but amidst the death and despair, Pose clings to hope as the House of Evangelista faces a dark era with love and grace.
Ava DuVernay’s powerful miniseries tells the harrowing true stories of five African-American and Hispanic teenagers who were falsely accused and wrongly convicted of raping a white woman in 1989 – only to be exonerated 13 years later. While the details of the “Central Park Five” case are widely known, When They See Us makes us confront the overlooked physical and emotional ordeal these children (and their families) were made to suffer. Although emotionally draining and excruciating, this urgent cautionary tale is a crucially empathetic look at the victims of injustice.
DC Universe might have already cancelled it due to budgetary concerns, but this live-action adaptation of Swamp Thing is still worth a watch. Less of a superhero adventure and more of a supernatural horror, this series leans heavily into Louisiana’s backwood bayous to deliver a thick atmosphere of suspense. By blending grotesque body horror with the wonders of strange ecology, Swamp Thing feels grossly disturbing and scarily beautiful at the same time. The moss-covered creature design is outstanding, as is the story, acting and overarching mystery.
Adapted from Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman’s beloved novel, this miniseries is a delightfully twee romp through the apocalypse. Relying heavily on Michael Sheen and David Tennant’s devilish bromance and divine chemistry, Good Omens follows the unlikely friendship of an angel and a demon (among a colourful cast of witches, mortals, and a tween Antichrist) as they try to prevent armageddon. Staying true to the novel’s idiosyncratic tapestry and irreverent tone, this hilariously fantastical buddy comedy should please long-time book fans and casual viewers.
With only ten 10-minute episodes, State of the Union proves to be a breezy and satisfying binge. Created and written by Nick Hornby, this compact series takes place in a pub where estranged spouses meet to pregame their weekly marriage counseling. Expertly acted by Rosamund Pike and Chris O’Dowd, this dialogue-driven relationship dramedy thrives purely on witty and wry conversation. Whether discussing politics and pop culture, or arguing about their marital troubles, every inch of dialogue fills us in on their complex chemistry and difficult history.
Charlie Brooker’s dark sci-fi anthology returns with three brand new cautionary tales about technology. This fifth season offers morally complex and intellectually incisive takes on gamification, social networks, and artificial intelligence – as they pertain to sexuality, society and pop culture. Black Mirror remains sharp and smart, but it’s the show’s tonal departures from dystopian cynicism that has injected new life into its heavy parables. From ambiguous romance to teen comedy, Black Mirror’s best new episodes shine when they aren’t overly pessimistic.
Based on Margaret Atwood’s seminal novel, the first two seasons of The Handmaid’s Tale have been urgent and brilliant, but also oppressive. A series about a society where women are slaves isn’t supposed to be pretty, but it’s depiction of female misery was starting to feel unbearable. Thankfully, season three trades some of it’s brutality for hope as June and others slowly start to catalyze a revolution in Gilead. The air of dread and uncertainty for these women is still stifling, but there are small victories and minor moments of catharsis to cling to amidst the suffering.
Based on Sanrio’s adorable red panda character, this adaptation of Aggretsuko transcended it’s cutesy roots to become a subversive feminist gem in season one. Back for season two, this kawaii meets metalcore series now balances it’s focus between Retsuko’s workplace troubles (sparked by an over-sensitive colleague) with pressure from her mother to marry and settle down. In dealing with complex millennial anxieties, Retsuko rages against a different societal machine as she grapples with “maturity” and how that means different things to different people.
When Jonathan Krisel and Zach Galifianakis’ show first began, it focused on the foibles of a failed professional clown named Chip Baskets. But as the series evolved, Baskets grew to become an earnest ensemble dramedy – finding nuanced depth by exploring the hopes and heartbreaks of the entire Baskets family (Louie Anderson’s sweetly gentle portrayal of Chip’s mother Christine remains marvelous). While past seasons have mined pathos from personal failures, this fourth finds the family growing beyond their insecurities with humour and sincerity.
Thanks to it’s all Latinx writers room, and all-women directing team, Vida’s thoughtful exploration of race, gentrification, class, and sexual identity in East L.A. continues to be as vibrant and vital as ever. Now back with an expanded season two, the show dives deeper into the complex lives of estranged sisters Emma and Lyn Hernandez through poignant stories of love, loss and family – providing a lens into a myriad of diverse perspectives and socio-political issues within the LGBTQ and Mexican-American communities in their neighbourhood. Read our full review here.
If you thought the causal loops and family trees of this German time travel series was complicated in season one – season two dives deeper and gets infinitely knottier. Now spanning five timelines (1921, 1954, 1987, 2020 and 2053), and dozens of intertwining paradoxes, things could easily get messy. But Dark‘s gargantuan feat of plotting is so airtight that viewers can be totally engaged without being unnecessarily confused. Elegantly structured and brimming with tragedy, this season’s exploration of choice and predeterminism is brainier and more riveting.
David E. Kelley’s adaptation of Liane Moriarity’s novels returns for it’s season season and adds Meryl Streep to it’s already star-studded cast. But beyond the allure of watching Streep let loose, the show continues to enthrall with it’s invigorating mix of dark comedy and drama by digging deeper into its leading ladies’ lives. Buoyed by superb performances, Big Little Lies balances it’s barbed mockery of California’s moneyed class with some thoughtful probing of weighty women’s issues. This wicked story of excessive privilege remains as watchable as ever.
Starring Carla Gugino as retired professional thief Daisy Kowalski, aka Jett, this slick new crime series follows her as she’s reluctantly forced back into doing what she does best. This fun genre exercise evokes the works of Elmore Leonard (Gugino also previously starred as Leonard heroine Karen Sisco), full of hard-boiled noir suspense, master criminals trying to outfox each other, and a charismatic lead handling it all with charm, wit and sex appeal. The denseness of its twists can be daunting, but Gugino’s captivating performance makes it all easily enjoyable.
Fred Armisen’s new Spanish-langueage horror-comedy is wonderfully weird, exceedingly bizarre and inventively off-kilter. Los Espookys revolves around a group of friends who embrace their passion for all things macabre and decide to make a business out of scares. It’s sort of a reverse Scooby Doo where you root for the people setting up the haunts instead of the ones solving the mysteries. These oddballs follow their endeavor from one absurd scenario to the next leading to some of the heartiest and most unconventional humour you’ll find on television.