Two of the pieces of visual moving art I will list here are what haters will call ‘not movies’. But this is my list and not yours, so here are my ten faves.
Apes**t: It’s both a gross display of wealth and a call to action. And it’s so brazen that I have no other choice to but respect it. The Carters use the Louvre as the location of their rap video. They mostly surround themselves with the Neolcassical artworks. I was only able to experience those through jpeg reproductions during my art history 101 course. But they were witnessing art live and were making it for worldwide consumption! It’s a callback to the revolutionary ethos of America and France, black and white. Their presence in the Louvre also reminds me of Judy Chicago’s work because like Chicago, The Carters criticize museums. Those institutions barely represent art depicting and creations of black people, POC, and women. We need reminders that there are still glass ceilings stopping them. It’s time for them to be in the canon.
Won’t You Be My Neighbor?: I hate children. And it’s fascinating to see a figure who likes them for who they are. The nebulous they, disregarding their abilities or anything else. Most people, presumably, love others, in all different levels of love, because of what they already have or are. Director Morgan Neville gets inside the head of someone who has the exact opposite philosophy. He examines Fred Rogers and his revolutionary show with the same simplicity and bravery as the latter. There’s a scene that got me the most. It was when a puppet in the show asks an actress playing a princess about assassination. It’s inappropriate in the way that both fits children and the sick adult world in which they live. Most documentaries are just recaps of a great person’s life, and this is no different. But there’s a lack of on pretension here that I liked.
Dirty Computer: This is one of the more effective deconstructions of the male gaze. Janelle Monae calls an emotion picture. In it, she plays Jane, one of the titular computers that a cleaner is trying to deprogram. Through him, we get to see her innermost thoughts and experiences while living with her girlfriend (Tessa Thompson). And all of them are breathtakingly and refreshingly juvenile. Its climax, ahem, is when Monae sings ‘Pynk,’ which is about something obvious to everyone. The film is also imaginative, an innate quality in this Afro-futurist movie. Anyway, returning to the male gaze. There’s a guilt that the cleaner feels in taking those memories away from Jane. The audience, in turn, fear that removal which reflects the danger of living life today if you’re not straight. This film is, then, a way for people like Monae to fight back, and does so with humour and honesty.
Hereditary: Spoiler alert: So the Grahams experienced one death in the family after another. Peter (Alex Wolff) is the sole surviving member of the that family. He also finds himself in a coronation ceremony where he finds himself as King Phaimon. Phaimon, by the way, is one of the eight monarchs bringing evil into this world. This is a different take of the voice or face of evil, the latter being practically non-existent. In most movies where this happens we see absolute defeat (Rosemary’s Baby) or mustache twirling embodiment of said evil. Instead, he has no idea what is going on. The movie sustains and justifies that tone of bewilderment and uncertainty throughout its running time. This reflects our our contemporary era. We’re living in evil right now, inheriting it, and it’s still bringing us surprises. And the fact that Peter’s reaction to his reluctant crowning suggests evil’s eternal onslaught.
Isle of Dogs: There’s an inherent contradiction in director Wes Anderson’s work. The surfaces in his live action films have a pastel clean finish to them. On the other hand, his animation work has grimier surfaces. The textures in his previous animation movie The Fantastic Mr. Fox illuminate. But here we can see the sweat clumping the hairs of Chief (Bryan Cranston’s voice). Here he looks looking for one of his own. All of them reluctantly live in an island where most of the population has agreed to chuck them. There’s a craftsmanship in expressing how real this world is. It’s much more fascinating than searching for the flaws of real life. The plot itself reflects society’s mercurial perceptions towards specific animal species. Using Japan as its setting makes the real life Western examples of this behaviour more damning. And no, I’m not gonna say the titular pun.
Love, Simon: Re-imagines restoration drama as a teen movie about the titular Atlanta teen (Nick Robinson). Here he sets his friends up because one of them Martin Addison, (Logan Miller) wants to expose his sexuality. Simon has to do that while trying to find the identity of his pen pal who is also gay. Despite that brutal premise, Greg Berlanti keeps the tone light and adds nuance to these characters. His direction and Miller’s performance complement each other. Through those elements, Martin transforms to a greasy creep into someone who can actually function in the real world. And Robinson expresses Simon’s perpetual exasperation, embodying the same weight of the world on his shoulders that LGBT+ teens carry. Playing an LGBT+ character is in every other actor’s resume but this feels more than that for Robinson and Miller. They are two of many great actors his age. I hope they succeed.
Design Canada: Takes at the first two decades in Canada’s second century. It’s a time when all forces culminated to define Canada’s aesthetic from its flags and logos. I loved its retro-futuristic tone in depicting a time when this country looked forward. In a way, we still do that as other countries are retrograding. A quiet masterpiece from first time documentary director Greg Durrell. Full review here.
On Her Shoulders: There are segments in Aleandra Bombach’s documentary that are in their own way, satisfying. She captures her subject Nadia Murad and her friend’s conversations in their native tongues. They throw shade at the Canadian military. The latter spends its time in parade to the tune of the Empire Strikes Back theme. Where Murad comes from, armies defend their people. It’s a look at our ridiculous world. We’re still grappling with what to do with and how to help refugees and activists like Murad. She’s a sexual assault and genocide survivor. Here she also discussing how sometimes she just wants to be a hairdresser instead of be an activist. It, as it should, empathizes with her. Festival size review here.
My Name is Myeisha: It’s honest about being based on a play. Which is based on the real life death of Tyisha Miller. Miller died under police gunfire in 1999, way after the Compton riots. It’s the freshest 90’s throwback, with its use of pop cultural references. It also reminds us of a time when black people were on the receiving end of police brutality. Anti-blackness should have been a thing of the past but it isn’t. I’d also like to talk about the casting. The movie eventually reveals that the cop (Trevor Williams) who killed Myeisha (Rhaechyl Walker), Miller’s fictionalized version, is white. But throughout most the film a black actor (John Merchant) plays the cop. He also subs as her coroner and lover. I’d like to have seen Williams do an Eminem impersonation. But Merchant adds a necessary, irreplaceable gravitas to his roles.
Black Panther: The last spot in my top ten was in between this and A Quiet Place‘s emotional tremors. But I prefer Black Panther‘s understated vibrancy, which is a rare quality in an action movie. That tone perfectly complements its depiction of the utopia that is Wakanda. Well, it’s not really a colourful utopia, since it does portray the clashing ideological differences between two would be monarchs. T’Challa’s (Chadwick Boseman) isolationism opposes Erik Killmonger’s (Michael B. Jordan) vengeful imperialism. And director Ryan Coogler shows nuances and flaws in both systems and the men who espouse them. And the conflict between the two cousins, reminiscent of Macbeth and Malcolm, aren’t the only fissures within Wakanda. It shows the squabbles between its five tribes and how they deal with each other’s differences. Wakanda looks as diverse just like Africa. And there’s something Hitchcockian about the entire film that’s just great.
- Genre: Action, Animation, documentary, Horror, Music, Romance, Science Fiction
- Directed by: Alexandria Bombach, Andrew Donoho, Ari Aster, Greg Berlanti, Greg Durrell, Gus Krieger, Morgan Neville, Ricky Saiz, Ryan Coogler, Wes Anderson
- Starring: Alex Wolff, Beyonce, Bryan Cranston, Chadwick Boseman, Janelle Monáe, Nick Robinson, Rhaechyl Walker
- Produced by: Gary Hustwit, Geralyn White Dreyfous, Hayley Pappas, Justin Benoliel, Kevin Scott Frakes, Natan Schottenfels, Scott Rudin, Stan Lee, Wyck Godfrey
- Written by: Ari Aster, Emma Westenberg, Isaac Aptaker, Jay-Z, Joe Robert Cole, Rickerby Hinds, Roman Coppola
- Studio: 20th Century Fox, Impact Partners, Marvel Studios, PalmStar Media, RYOT Films, Twentieth Century Fox Animation, Wondaland