Jennifer Kent’s 2014 debut feature film “The Babadook” is a hauntingly beautiful tale of a depressed mother and her young son. In a lot of ways, it’s a classic ghost story, but the deeper meaning Kent infuses takes the film to the next level. Essie Davis gives a stellar performance as Amelia, a widowed single mother facing a deep depression. Her son, Samuel (Noah Wiseman), is a point of grief for Amelia since her husband died on the way to the hospital while she was in labor. Not only is Amelia left without her partner, she is left with Samuel, a constant reminder of her husband that also looks like him.
With awards season in full swing and director Marielle Heller’s newest film “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” being a big name in all the awards buzz, it’s the perfect time to look back to last year when she brought the story of author Lee Israel to life with “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”. There wasn’t a film that I backed as hard last year to win any and every award possible as much as this film because I truly think it’s perfect. It tells the fascinating and true story of Israel (Melissa McCarthy) falling out of touch with the modern world of literature and turning her talent for being factual into a forgery.
The Sandy Hook massacre in 2012 saw 26 people murdered – 20 kids and six members of staff. It remains the largest school shooting at an American primary or secondary school, and is the second-largest school shooting in American history (the tragedy at Virginia Tech in 2007 saw 32 people murdered). Coming out one year prior, “We Need To Talk About Kevin” is a film that explores one of life’s more terrifying recurring nightmares. Based on the 2003 novel of the same title by Lionel Shriver, “We Need To Talk About About Kevin” focuses on successful travel writer Eva (Tilda Swinton) and the relationship with her son, Kevin (Rocky Duer, Jasper Newell and finally Ezra Miller). Kevin seems to antagonise and loathe his mum from birth: crying only in her arms as a baby, being entirely uncooperative with her as a young kid when they’re alone, and taunting her frequently as a teen.
Director Ava DuVernay has, over this last decade, established herself as one of the most important filmmakers in the business, thanks to her incomparable body of work across mediums: from her shocking and vital documentary “13th” on the perpetuation of slavery in the US to the powerful, sensitively constructed series “When They See Us” about the wrongly convicted suspects in the 1989 Central Park Jogger case. Of all of her work over the last ten years, “Selma” is DuVernay’s very best. The film describes the events leading up to and including the 1965 marches from Selma, Alabama to the state’s capital, Montgomery, conducted by Martin Luther King (David Oyelowo) and others, as part of a movement to give African American citizens the opportunity to exercise their right to vote.
We often associate the “male gaze” in cinema to how female sexuality is portrayed, but I would argue that it exists when it comes to modern military movies, as well. This is one of the thoughts that found itself moving through my brain rewatching Kathryn Bigelow’s “Zero Dark Thirty.” There is a jingoistic, action-driven version of this or “The Hurt Locker,” Bigelow’s Oscar-winning drama about bomb diffusers in Iraq, that could be made by a Michael Bay or Peter Berg. It would have been empty thrills compared to the contemplative work Bigelow does in both films.
The fact that writer-director Ana Lily Armipour’s genre-hopping A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night (2014) ranks so highly in ITOL’s top 50 films by women of the decade list is a testament to its originality, cult appeal, and fang-sharp social commentary. Billed as an Iranian Vampire Western, and set in the fictional Bad City, it nods to a myriad of influences from classic horror and film noir, to Tarantino, comic books and David Lynch- clanking industrial images and sounds loom large and fever-dream music-sequences are woven throughout.
The greatest achievement of Netflix is giving creators a place to put their work. From Martin Scorsese to Ava DeVernay, Netflix has become a creative landing for directors and writers to display their work without the hassle of going through the tired Hollywood process. Dee Rees got to do just that with her second feature "Mudbound" as a Netflix original movie. After her debut "Pariah", which also earned a spot on our Top 50 List, Rees proved her worth and had a much larger market to sell her idea in. It premiered at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival and was released in November of 2017, which put it squarely in the Oscars award season. Not that it needed help being premiered at the end of the year, but it helped to gain it four nominations, including two for Mary J. Blige who created an original song for the film.
A young woman arrives in an idyllic poolside estate overlooking the desert with her wealthy, older boyfriend. She is scantily clad and coquettish--working a lollipop in quite the lasciviously suggestive way. What seems like a hedonist fantasy at first (an older, wealthy, married man all alone in a beautiful house with a young sexy woman and a weekend filled with their vices of choice: drugs, alcohol, sex) gets upended when Richard’s (Kevin Janssens) sketchy pals, Stan (Vincent Colombe) and Dimitri (Guillaume Bouchède) arrive unannounced. This sticky situation is further aggravated when, during a night of partying, Jen (Matilda Lutz) proceeds to drunkenly flirt with them all.
Based on the book by Daniel Woodrell, "Winter's Bone" is a truly engrossing and remarkable film by Debra Granik who is such an underrated director and it's wonderful to see two of her films make our ITO Top 50 countdown. Adapted by Granik and Anne Rosellini, "Winter’s Bone" takes place in the Ozark Mountains of Missouri, where teenage Ree (Jennifer Lawrence) is trying to provide for her household: her mother has become catatonic with depression and her younger brother and sister (Ashlee Thompson and Isaiah Stone) need looking after.