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.
The Power of the Dog
Jane Campion returns with this masterfully tense, psychologically complex and beautifully poetic Western family drama. Set on a booming Montana ranch in 1925, Benedict Cumberbatch stars as coarse and rugged rancher Phil Burbank. When his ruminative brother George brings home a new wife and her son, Phil revels in tormenting and mocking them. Eventually though, Phil appears to take the boy under his wing. Is this gesture a softening of Phil’s heart, or a cruel ploy? This is an exquisitely crafted film with unhurried rhythms that continually shift as plangent notes of melancholy, solitude, jealousy and resentment surface.
Olivia Colman turns in a phenomenal performance as Leda Caruso, a woman who finds herself becoming obsessed with another woman and her daughter while on summer holiday, prompting memories of her own early motherhood to come back and unravel her. Based on a novel by Elena Ferrante, The Lost Daughter is a haunting psychological drama about sexuality, female relationships, motherhood and women’s struggle to carve a professional space outside it. In her directorial debut, Maggie Gyllenhal crafts an unflinching character study built on self-ascribed transgression and buried shame that will leave viewers shaken.
Blurring traditional boundaries of documentary with mixed graphic design – Flee follows the true story of Amin Nawabi, a man grappling with a painful secret he has kept hidden for 20 years, one that threatens to derail the life he has built for himself and his soon-to-be husband. Recounted through animation to director Jonas Poher Rasmussen, Amin tells the story of his extraordinary journey as a child refugee from Afghanistan to his new home of Denmark for the first time. Flee is a remarkably humanizing and complex film, crafting a probing and powerful memoir that explores the lingering psychic damage of war.
From Academy Award-winning writer and director Paolo Sorrentino comes the story of a boy, Fabietto Schisa, in the tumultuous Naples of the 1980s. The Hand of God is a beautiful film full of unexpected joys, such as the arrival of football legend Diego Maradona, and an equally unexpected tragedy. Fate plays its part, joy and tragedy intertwine, and Fabietto’s future is set in motion. Sorrentino returns to his hometown to craft his most personal film, a tale of fate and family, sports and cinema, love and loss. It’s a lovely, charming, vibrant, sad, bildungsroman tale that makes these teenage recollections twinge with freshness.
This excellent Iranian film follows Rahim, a man in prison because of a debt he was unable to repay. During a two-day leave, he tries to convince his creditor to withdraw his complaint against the payment of part of the sum – but things don’t go as planned. Asghar Farhadi’s latest is a superb and soulful morality play that blurs the line of innocence and guilt in a fraught drama about the true weight of a good deed. A Hero ultimately delivers a nuanced examination of justice – and the many shades of injustice that surround it.
Screened at: Singapore International Film festival
King Richard follows the journey of Richard Williams, an undeterred father instrumental in raising two of the most extraordinarily gifted athletes of all time, who will end up changing the sport of tennis forever. Driven by a clear vision of their future and using unconventional training methods, Richard has a plan that will take the adolescent Venus and Serena Williams from the streets of Compton to the global stage as sporting icons. The inspiring and moving film shows the power of family, perseverance and unwavering belief as a means to achieve the impossible and impact the world.
In the afterlife, a sound engineer lingers in the mortal realm. Armed with a recorder, a boom mic and a pair of headphones, he silently inserts himself in public and private affairs at uncustomary proximity and records even the slightest drop of water. His ‘presence’ at times incongruous and seemingly obtrusive but other times incapacitated by his spectrality, the recordist’s stolid visits to peculiar sightings, friends and family ponder the reverberations of his passing. Royston Tan’s latest is a truly remarkable film – a masterclass in deadpan humor, cinematography and sound, while also featuring a documentary-level presentation of the work of the sound man.
Screened at: Singapore International Film Festival
Wes Anderson’s latest is a whimsical and witty love letter to journalists set in an outpost of an American newspaper in a fictional 20th-century French city that brings to life a collection of stories. Bursting at the seams with hand-crafted visual delights and eccentric performances from a stacked ensemble entirely attuned to the writer-director’s signature wavelength, this is the film equivalent of a quirky short story collection. Fans of Anderson’s meticulously arranged aesthetic will be delighted with The French Dispatch’s mobile, static, graphic and typographic style.
After being unmasked and framed for murder, Peter Parker resorts to extreme measures to make the world forget that he’s Spider-Man. After enlisting the help of Dr. Strange to magically return his life to normalcy, the botched spell accidentally tears open the multiverse to introduce villains from other Spider-Man cinematic universes including Doctor Octopus, Electro and Green Goblin! In No Way Home, Peter will have to overcome his greatest challenge yet, which will not only forever alter his own future. This interdimensional adventure, filled with thrilling action and high emotional stakes, is easily the MCU’s best of 2021.
22 years after we first plugged The Matrix, Lana Wachowski returns to her cool, dystopian sci-fi world with Resurrections – the long-awaited fourth film in the groundbreaking franchise. The new film reunites original stars Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss in the iconic roles they made famous, Neo and Trinity, in a uniquely innovative follow-up that subverts all expectations. Taking place after Revolutions, the story follows Neo, whose new life in the “real” world takes an unexpected turn when he finds himself drawn back inside the Matrix.
Co-created by and starring Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle (who are 31-year-old actresses playing 13-year-olds amidst a cast of actual kids) – PEN15 is the most uncomfortably hilarious tween comedy on TV. But it’s also the sincerest, funniest and most painfully insightful. Now back for the second half of season two, this brilliantly awkward series about female friendship and the turmoil of puberty in the early-2000s is packed with more cringe moments and emotional honesty. This marvelous depiction of the joys, indignities and horrors of middle school is a hormone-laden rollercoaster.
This adaptation of Emily St. John Mandel’s bestselling novel, set after a flulike virus wipes out most of humanity, has unfortunately debuted in the midst of a real-life pandemic. But it’s a marvelous alchemical blend of despair and whimsy, focusing primarily on an actress (Mackenzie Davis, fierce and emotionally wide-open) who travels the postapocalyptic Midwest with a Shakespeare troupe, trying to keep the culture of the past alive for anyone still around to appreciate it. Skipping back and forth in time in a graceful way that eludes too many shows addicted to nonlinear storytelling, Station Eleven features some of the year’s most tear-inducing moments, but also a healthy mix of quirky comedy and riveting oddness.
The sixth and final season of The Expanse picks up with the solar system at war, as Marco Inaros and his Free Navy continue to launch devastating asteroid attacks on Earth and Mars. As the tensions of war and shared loss threaten to pull the crew of the Rocinante apart, Chrisjen Avasarala makes a bold move and sends former Martian Marine Bobbie Draper on a secret mission that could turn the tide. Meanwhile, in the Belt, Drummer and what’s left of her family are on the run and hunted for betraying Marco. And on a distant planet beyond the Rings, a new power begins to rise. This was a thrilling and rewarding end to one of the greatest sci-fi shows of the modern era, with exciting hints for the future should the series secure yet another revival.
Who could have thought that such a subversive, feminist gem could come from a cute anime based on a Sanrio character? For the past three seasons, this workplace comedy centering around the struggles of an office lady red panda has transcended it’s adorably kiddy veneer to address some very grown-up issues. Dealing with misogyny, harassment, gossipy colleagues, toxic fandom and overwork – our main character Retsuko can only cope by screaming death metal during karaoke. This excellent fourth season sees Retsuko’s relationship with co-worker and Haida blossom even as her work life is upended by the introduction of her company’s sly new president.
Geralt of Rivia takes Princess Cirilla to his childhood home of Kaer Morhen in the second season of the fantasy series based on the Polish book series by Andrzej Sapkowski. The Witcher season two is the best kind of adaptation. It takes something known and creates something wholly unique while always respecting its source material. No matter if you’ve read and played everything or if you’re entirely new to this world, you’re going to have a blast. Vastly more confident about leaning into the high fantasy and higher stakes, this second season is a compelling follow-up.
The MCU’s latest TV series is a breezily low-stakes Christmas adventure that focuses on Clint Barton, as he mentors 22-year-old archer Kate Bishop (a winsome Hailee Steinfeld) to take on the mantle of Hawkeye. The series manages to finally tell a compelling story about the physical and mental wounds of Barton, while still maintaining a spirit of festive joy and warmth. But it’s Kate herself who is the true star of Hawkeye, a naive and charming young woman whose bumbling foray into superheroes is sure to make her a new fan favorite.