I often worry that, as a movie buff, I’ve been made jaded; that seeing more movies than what is probably healthy for any one person to see has tainted my love for film. But then comes along a film to remind me that the problem doesn’t lie with me as an audience member–nor does the problem lie in me having seen too many films.
The problem, I suppose, is that too many movies have a similarity to them; an itching sense at the back of your head that you’ve been there and done that. One can argue that the root cause of all this is that too many movies nowadays are copies of other movies; it’s as if they aren’t even being directed by people; it’s as if some sort of weird algorithm–some cybernetic entity had been created in cyberspace and while wandering various networks, became a sentient being that began to piece together scenes from pre-existing films and assign new faces and paraphrased words to the characters.
The result is, many films nowadays feeling contrived and inhuman–Frankensteined, xerox copies of other films, obvious products of studio-hosted focus groups and the like.
The following films surprised me, because of how they confidently upended clichés and presented new, fresh narratives with such ease that you wonder why we don’t normally get more like them. This is what happens when new voices —in this case, women who in their own league, have been given the creative control over a film as directors— are given room to tell stories from perspectives that have been stifled and at times, ignored: we get fresh, exciting movies that are compelling, engaging, and ultimately human.
1. Bird Box (Directed by Susanne Bier)
A film that has strong acting from it’s main actress and an effectively chilly, creepy mood; “Birdbox” is about a mysterious entity which removes a large percentage of the world’s population; here’s the catch, if you so much as look at it, you’re as good as dead. In her quest to flee with her two young children down an unforgiving, hazardous river to a place of sanctuary, Malorie (Sandra Bullock) finds that the world she once knew is now a thing of the past. To survive, Malorie and her kids must charge headlong into a terrifying, two-day journey blindfolded. Bullock, an Academy Award winner, stars alongside Trevante Rhodes, with Sarah Paulson, and John Malkovich.
2. First they Killed my Father (Directed by Angelina Jolie)
Sometimes a film can be very divisive, and therfore a hard sell. One could be excused for avoiding stories about the horrendous rule of the Khmer Rouge; especially one keenly observed through the lens of a child’s eyes. In any case, Angelina Jolie‘s “First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers”, adapted from Loung Ung‘s 2000 journal with the same name, is made with so much care and keenness that there’s no motivation to fear it, in my opinion.
5-year-old Loung (played by the undeniably expressive youngster, Sareum Srey Moch) and her family accept the system’s requests to leave their Phnom Penh residence and head, as far as anyone knows, to the fields of Cambodia. Loung’s delicate, liberal dad (Phoeung Kompheak) is a dangerous government official–which adds another layer of danger to a story already fraught with tension. Based on a true story; this film tells the tale of the government order at the time which dictated how even the demonstration of having an independent perspective, is criminal offense.
3. A Wrinkle in Time (Directed by Ava Duvernay)
Meg Murry (Storm Reid) is an average student with issues of self-esteem whose self-doubt makes it a struggle to fit in. As the child of two widely acclaimed physicists, she is clever and remarkably skilled– her brother, Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe) also exhibits a unique sense of intellect. Exacerbating the situation is the vanishing of Mr. Murry (Chris Pine), which torments Meg and has left her mom (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) grief stricken. Charles Wallace presents Meg and her new friend and classmate, Calvin (Levi Miller) to a trio of peculiar and fascinating celestial guides: Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey), Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon) and Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling)- who have traveled to Earth to help look for their dad.
Together, they set off on their mission; voyaging with the use of wrinkling of reality known as “tessering”, they find themselves traversing different universes beyond their wildest dreams. Through this, they must go up against a powerful evil that threatens to do considerable harm to more than just their world. To make it back home to Earth, Meg must glimpse inside herself and accept her imperfections to outwit the encroaching evil permeating itself around them.
4. Otherhood (Directed by Cindy Chupack)
Feeling overlooked on mother’s day, long time companions Carol (Angela Bassett), Gillian (Patricia Arquette) and Helen (Felicity Huffman) choose to drive to New York to reconnect with their grown-up children, and all the while, they understand their children are by all account not the only ones whose need to adjust in life. A voyage to relate turns into an adventure of rediscovery that empowers these ladies to re-evaluate and think about the relationship they had with their children prior. With this, their relationships with their companions, life partners and above all, themselves are also called into question.
Written and directed by Cindy Chupack (“Sex and the City“), the film is a deep, amusing and legitimate investigation of life after parenthood. A film that asks questions more than it presents answers, one that speaks to real things everyday women have to deal with in life–one that emphasizes the humanity and dignity of each person as they adjust to the different circumstances that life has in store for them.
5. Winter’s Bone (Directed by Debra Granik)
Somber, chilling, yet still with a lingering feeling of hope, “Winter’s Bone” is the best work of Debra Granik’s (who both wrote and directed) – and it flaunts a fantastic, performance by (then partially unknown) Jennifer Lawrence. Her family home is under threat of being repossessed after her meth-cooking father fails to show up for court and suddenly vanishes. Ozark high schooler Ree Dolly (Lawrence) breaks the neighborhood set of principles by going up against her kin about why they are being so shady. Tensions rise when Ree is unable to find her dad, and this leads to the possibility that her disabled mother, her siblings, and herself, will then no longer have a roof above their heads or their own table to eat food off.
6. Mudbound (Directed by Dee Rees)
Set in rural American South at the time of World War II, Dee Rees‘ “Mudbound” presents and epic tale of two families set against each other by a heartless social pecking order, yet bound together by the farmland of the Mississippi Delta of which they share. The film depicts the McAllan family, having recently moved from the placid city of Memphis and utterly unprepared for a difficult lifestyle of of cultivating crops. Regardless of the dreams and aspirations of Henry, his significant other Laura battles to keep the confidence in his seemingly fruitless endeavor.
In the mean time, Hap and Florence Jackson – tenant farmers who have worked the land for ages – battle boldly to accomplish their own dreams in the face of the implemented social obstructions they face. The war overturns the two families’ arrangements as their returning friends and family, Jamie McAllan and Ronsel Jackson, manufacture an uneasy kinship that faces the harsh implications of the Jim Crow South.
7. Something’s Gotta Give (Directed by Nancy Meyers)
Harry Sanborn (Jack Nicholson) is single man who strictly only dates ladies younger than thirty. On what was to have been a romantic weekend with his most recent date, Marin (Amanda Peet), in her mom’s Hamptons shoreline house, Harry starts to suffer from chest pains. Erica Barry (Diane Keaton), Marin’s mom, a successful dramatist and divorcée, reluctantly consents to help nurture him back to good health. When they are separated from everyone else together, Harry is amazed to wind up attracted to Erica.
Also, in spite of her underlying protestations about Harry, Erica winds up rediscovering love. Drama ensues when Erica is then sought after by Harry’s beguiling 30-year-old doctor, Julian Mercer. When recouped, Harry returns home and returns to his old ways. Despite this, his affections for Erica demonstrate to be life changing, Harry must confront his newfound sentiments in order to win back her admiration.
8. The Invitation (Directed by Karyn Kusama)
In this tight spine-chiller by Karyn Kusama (“Girlfight”, “Jennifer’s Body”), the tension is felt when Will (Logan Marshall-Green, “Prometheus”) appears at his ex Eden (Tammy Blanchard, “Into the Woods”) and new spouse, David’s (Michiel Huisman, “Round of Thrones”) evening gathering. Amid Eden’s suspicious conduct and her puzzling house visitors, Will starts to suspect that there was more to his invitation than what he had initially suspected. Unfurling all in one dull night in the Hollywood Hills, The Invitation presents itself as a tale of of mounting distrustfulness, enshrouded in mystery.
9. American Honey (Directed by Andrea Arnold)
My personal favorite film of 2016; “American Honey” offers a refreshingly unconventional take on the coming-of-age drama whose narrative ambitions add up to a rewarding experience that is both unique and powerful. Star (Sasha Lane), a young lady from a grieved home, flees with a traveling sales crew to sell magazine subscriptions cross-country. The group who drive through the American Midwest offers her a chance to seize her life and take control of her circumstances.
Discovering herself in this posse of youngsters, along with Jake (Shia LaBeouf), she finds herself adjusting to the crew’s unconventional road lifestyle; driving all day, staying in hotels, and doing everything they can to make that sale. All of this comes with nights of hard partying and indulgence, a propensity to neglect the rule of law, and the potential promise of young love. The sky is the limit for these youths with their hopes and dreams.
10. Across the Universe (Directed by Julie Taymor)
“Across the Universe” is a romantic musical that takes place in the 1960s during the tempestuous years of anti-war protest, all the way to the advent of rock ‘n roll, down to the coastal streets of Liverpool, to the creative psychedelia of Greenwich Village, from the riot-torn streets of Detroit to the killing fields of Vietnam.
The star-crossed lovers, Jude and Lucy, along with a small group of friends and musicians, find themselves in the emerging anti-war and counterculture movements, with “Dr. Robert” and “Mr. Kite” as their titular guides. Unforeseen forces outside their circle of control lead to the two young lovers drifting apart–thus, forcing Lucy and Jude to strive to find their way back to one another.
(Photos are taken from Rottentomatoes)
Article by Mique Watson; on Twitter as @miquewatson