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.
David Fincher’s first feature since Gone Girl is a gorgeous, bracing and immersive trip in 1930s Hollywood through the eyes of social critic and screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz as he races to finish the screenplay of Citizen Kane for Orson Welles. Steeped in glamour, sleaze, glory and corruption – Mank is a meticulous black-and-white period drama made with dense historical detail that unpeels the power structures of America’s studio machinery. Built on Gary Oldman’s towering performance, this love letter and cautionary tale is a layered metatextual masterpiece.
Pixar has set a high bar for animated movies, but even by it’s standards, Soul is the studio at its peak. Centered on a jazz pianist who dies just before his big break, the film follows his journey to the afterlife and to The Great Before – a fantastical place where new souls are formed before they go to Earth. Soul is an existential masterpiece with intricate storytelling, visual flourish, emotional intelligence, cerebral whimsy and a phenomenal soundtrack. Rooted in the spiritual essence of jazz, this film riffs on big themes (mortality and the meaning of life) to dazzling effect.
Riz Ahmed’s turns in a brilliant performance as Ruben in this passionate character study of a heavy metal drummer who is rapidly going deaf. Sound of Metal is a mesmerizing debut feature from Darius Marder, conveying a visceral story of a musician committed to the physical toll of his art, and his complex struggle to come to terms with the loss of his hearing and music career. Notable for its experimental sound design (the audio often toggles from muffled to unmuffled to silence), this film is an aurally captivating journey that immerses us into Ruben’s disorientation.
Tomm Moore’s latest is a resonant fable and a lovely take on ancient Irish folklore. Wolfwalkers is undoubtedly the year’s best animated film – a visually dazzling, richly imaginative production that taps into contemporary concerns while being true to its magical origins. Set amidst Oliver Cromwell’s colonization of 17th century Ireland, the story follows apprentice hunter Robyn Goodfellowe as she befriends a mysterious girl rumored to be able to transform into a wolf. This is a stunning instant classic that’s as enchantingly gorgeous as it is philosophically profound.
Set in the eponymous Egyptian city of ancient temples, Luxor is a slow-burning, accessibly elliptical story in which a doctor pauses from war-zone duty and returns to a beloved place, looking back at the past, uncertain of the future and searching for meaning in the present. Written and directed by Zeina Durra, this meditative travel drama is dialogue-light mood piece that leans heavily on Andrea Riseborough’s mesmerizing physical performance, alongside the city’s awe-inspiring splendour. This silent, emotional journey of recovery is a subtle triumph.
In Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, tensions and temperatures escalate throughout the course of a recording session in 1920s Chicago. A band of musicians await the arrival of the Mother of the Blues, Ma Rainey. As Rainey clashes with her manager over control of her music, trumpeter Levee spurs his fellow musicians into revealing truths that will change all their lives. Led by stupendous performances from Viola Davis and Chadwick Boseman (his final role), alongside vibrant cinematography, music and costumes – this August Wilson adaptation is magnificent.
Black Bear is a slippery and subversive dark comedy that digs into the pain of the creative process. Set in a remote lake house, this metatextual film follows a couple entertaining a guest who is looking for inspiration. The group quickly falls into a calculated game of desire and manipulation in the filmmaker’s pursuit of art that blurs the boundaries between autobiography and invention. Led by a trio of astonishing performances (Aubrey Plaza, Christopher Abbott, Sarah Gadon), this is a twisted, caustic look at the psychological wounds of DIY filmmaking.
Written and directed by Sean Durkin, The Nest is a wrenching, beautiful drama set in the 1980s about a married couple who relocate from New York to an English country manor, where their seemingly solid family unravels. Led by a pair of rich performances from Jude Law as Rory and Carrie Coon as Allison, this film subtly and sumptuously digs into their spousal cracks. Blinded by an inferiority complex from growing up poor, investment banker Rory chases his capitalistic dreams through financial gambles that increasingly leave his family unmoored and in despair.
This animated film from India is an exquisite hand-painted feature about a red rose bringing together three tales of impossible love. Helmed by Gitanjali Rao and based on true events, Bombay Rose chronicles the struggles of people who migrate to Mumbai from small towns, and the importance of Bollywood movies to take their minds off living in the ruthless, crowded city. Featuring different art styles to depict the dissonance between harsh urban reality and escapist fantasies – this film strikingly renders the economic, religious and cultural nuances of India.
In a year bereft of superhero tentpoles, Patty Jenkins’ ambitious and exciting Wonder Woman sequel is the just the joyful blockbuster jolt in the arm we needed. Set in the colourful 1980s, Diana of Themyscira finds herself dealing with the return of Steve Trevor, and facing two new foes in billionaire tycoon Max Lord and the supernaturally powered Cheetah. Featuring a beautifully human story and layered performances, 1984 doubles down on the compassion and cheese that made the first oh-so great. Epic, thrilling and emotional – this movie is a heartwarming beacon of hope.
Helmed by Chew Chia Shao Min and Joant Úbeda, this documentary explores the lives, values, beliefs and anxieties of the diverse people that make up Singapore. Filmed during the country’s 2015 golden jubilee celebrations, Sementara intertwines casual interviews with individuals from varied walks of life – with each subject sharing deeply personal stories and their perspectives on issues like religion, race, sexuality and identity. By exploring the layered tapestry of differences and commonalities of strangers, Sementara offers a time capsule of the country’s protean DNA.
Screened at: Singapore International Film Festival (SGIFF)
Adapted from Shyam Selvadurai’s 1994 novel and directed by Deepa Mehta, Funny Boy centres on the coming of age of Arjie Chelvaratnam, a young Tamil boy in Colombo who is grappling with his queerness in a country where homosexuality is criminalized. Set against the backdrop of the increased tensions between the Tamil and Sinhalese people leading up to the Sri Lankan Civil War – this film examines themes of racial inequality, sexual identity, and genocide through an intimate lens. Vividly drawn characters and a lively cast makes this a film worth admiring.
Sylvie’s Love pays loving tribute to the glossy studio romances of the 1950s and 60s. Starring Tessa Thompson and Nnamdi Asomugha as star-crossed lovers passionate about jazz in the hot summer of 1957 New York, this is a film awash in vintage production design, costumes and above all music – all rendered in a Technicolor palette that will send fans of Golden Age cinema swooning with nostalgia. Operating as both a throwback melodrama as well as an ode to the era’s “women’s pictures”, Sylvie’s Love is an unashamedly big movie filled with soaring emotion.
Shot in eight days aboard the cruise ship Queen Mary II, with most of the dialogue improvised by the cast, and using natural light and bare-bones equipment – Steven Soderbergh’s latest film is a made on the fly marvel. Part absurdist character study, part shaggy-dog caper on the high seas, and thoroughly delightful, Let Them All Talk stars Meryl Streep as self-absorbed novelist Alice, alongside Candice Bergen and Dianne Wiest as her two oldest friends, as they take a luxury liner trip from New York to England. Through many engaging conversations, Alice’s many tiny dramas and narcissism add up to a thoughtful, loose and salty study of hopes and regrets.
Big Mouth returns for its fourth season which continues to crassly (and smartly) confront the horrors and indignities of puberty to sublime comedic effect. Despite being an absurdist comedy with hormone monsters and talking genitals, the series also astutely tackles the emotional growth of its characters as they stumble through adolescence and sexual awakening. Now in eighth grade, Big Mouth enters more mature territory in dealing with issues like gender transition therapy, code switching, tampons and more – balancing gross-out humour with genuine insight.
Sam Levinson’s stylish, artful and graphic series about Gen Z teens dealing with drug addiction, sexuality and mental illness returns for a special episode! This is part one of two new Euphoria installments that bridge the first and second seasons, and it follows the aftermath of Rue being left by Jules at the train station and relapsing. Set in a diner on Christmas Eve, this dialogue driven instalment follows a deeply intimate, beautifully acted hour-long conversation between Rue and her sponsor Ali as they discuss everything from life and loss to belief and redemption.
The best sci-fi series on air returns for a penultimate season of outer space political intrigue grounded by great character-driven storytelling. Season five follows the scattered Rocinante crew as they each attend to personal business in various parts of the solar system. But even as the show’s scope turns towards our characters’ inner demons, The Expanse still manages to weave an intricate tale of conspiracy, family and radicalization. From a terrorist plot, to Amos’ Earth-bound backstory, to newfound insight into Belter culture, The Expanse remains excellent.
Based on a series of graphic novels by Luke Pearson, this charming cartoon tells the story of a free-spirited young girl who befriends various monsters and spirits in the fantasy city of Trolberg. After discovering all of the magic and mystery lurking in her new home during Hilda’s delightful first season, the titular young adventurer is finally back for more! Season two finds Hilda and her friends find themselves caught in otherworldly mischief involving witches, beasts and a ghost ship – all while embroiled in a feud with Erik Ahlberg, the town’s vainglorious Safety Patrol chief.
The Wilds follows a group of teen girls from different backgrounds who must fight for survival after a plane crash on a deserted island. This excellent genre-bending series is much more than a gender-swapped Lord of the Flies. It’s a bold, empathetic, propulsive and heartbreaking coming of age tale about the physical and mental traumas that modern girls struggle with. The tragic backgrounds of each character are revealed via flashback., and these astonishingly acted stories frame the island not as a prison, but an escape from patriarchal pressures of civilization.
Flight attendant Cassie wakes up with a dead man next to her and has no idea how she ended up in a different city than she remembered in this goofy, jaunty and slick mystery-comedy! Led by a high-energy, messily charming, and nigh-frantic lead performance from Kaley Cuoco as a booze-soaked mess who loves to party and travel – we wander along with her into the ridiculous world of crime she’s stumbled into. The Flight Attendant is an addictive whodunnit that’s playful, fun, blackly hilarious and briskly paced. It may not be “essential” viewing, but it is a proper blast.