What would you do if 2% of the world's population disappeared without any apparent reason? This haunting human catastrophe is the premise of the HBO series The Leftovers. Starting three years after the event (dubbed the “Sudden Departure”), it homes in on small town coming to grips with the ramifications of this question, particularly police chief Kevin Garvey, played by Justin Theroux, who inadvertently finds himself at the center of it all.
For some inexplicable reason, it is relatively unknown compared to other HBO shows but this has to change. It is innovative, has an amazing Max Richter soundtrack, as well as a stellar cast, including Liv Tyler and an outstanding Carrie Coon. Created by Damon Lindelof and Tom Perrotta, whose 2011 novel the show is based on, The Leftovers is a must-watch mixture of grim and gripping, but also beautiful, engrossing television!
From the legendary Hayao Miyazaki, and courtesy of Studio Ghibli, which also brought you Spirited Away, comes this epic whirlwind of a story. Set during a fantastical late Muromachi period, the medieval era of Japan, in a time when many humans were still living among nature, while others set out to conquer and tame it, the movie follows a young man named Ashitaka, who he seeks cure for the curse of a boar god, giving him superhuman powers but eventually killing him. He rides west on a fantastic beast, where he eventually sees a young woman named San, also known as Princess Mononoke. What unfolds from here, is an epic tale of mythical war on many fronts, between the nature gods and humans. While this may sound like a dichotomy, it never is that morally simplistic. The story is action-packed and fast-paced, drawing freely from Japanese mythology as well as modern hot-topic political issues. Add to this the fantastic visuals: Hayao Miyazaki uses a mixture of hand drawings and 3D rendering that are nothing short of spectacular. In short, Princess Mononoke is movie history. If you haven't seen it yet, do it now.
Many films have tried to decipher the indecipherable bond between mothers and daughters. Lady Bird, Everything Everywhere All at Once, and Turning Red, to name a few, center on this particular relationship, which to outsiders may seem strange at best and dysfunctional at worst. How can mothers yell at their daughters one second and coddle them the next? How can daughters treat mothers like their best friend and enemy all at once?
One of the best films to explore this complexity is Petite Maman, a fantasy-like film that brings together mother and daughter in a unique situation, forcing them both to regard the other in otherwise impossible ways. It succeeds where others haven’t precisely because it accepts that this relationship is beyond dissecting, and the only way to honor it is in the poignant, poetic, and otherworldly way that it does. It’s a quiet film that manages to say a lot, not least of which is that it’s okay to feel and love and hurt as much as one does.
Set in 1650 against the backdrop of the English colonization of Ireland, Wolfwalkers follows the story of Robyn, a young apprentice hunter who arrives in Ireland with her father to wipe out the last wolf pack. Completing the “Irish Folklore Trilogy,” Tomm Moore’s film is a tale of sisterhood, friendship, and acceptance told with phenomenal artistry. Beautifully animated, with warm autumn colors and refined attention to detail, the film is beyond pleasing to the eye. The outstanding voice work from Honor Kneafsey and Eva Whittaker, along with a well-written and emotionally compelling story, make Wolfwalkers a unique animation experience for young viewers and adults alike.
Two angels wander the streets of a monochrome Berlin, invisible to the colorful world that bustles around them. When one of them falls in love, he begins to question his place and yearns to give up immortality to join the ranks of the living. Wim Wender’s exceptional film is a poetic meditation on faith, cinema, and a mournful tour of a city in the grip of the Cold War.
Wings of Desire is bursting with poetry and heartbreaking humanism emphasized by the tender performances by Bruno Ganz, Otto Sander, and Peter Falk, while serving as a beautiful love letter to a city yearning for change. If you’ve only seen City of Angels, the loose American remake, then you owe it to yourself to experience the raw poetic power of the real deal.
Will Ferrell plays a well organized IRS agent named Harold Crick who seems to have figured out everything in his life to the dot. Little does he know his life is being run by someone else, a nervous and morbid novelist, famous for ending her works with the death of the main character. As the nature of his life and eventual doom, he decides to lay back and enjoy the ride, breaking all his ingrained and boring habits. While this film is recommended for everyone, Will Ferrel fans, especially, need to watch this to see Will's acting variety.
16th century Korea—the small kingdom is governed by a royal family, but the sudden death of the king causes a power struggle among the elite, which in turn opens the window for either genuine change or further corrupt rule. At the heart of this is Crown Prince Lee Chang (Ju Ji-hoon), who conspires with the rebel scholars to bring his corrupt rivals down.
This all sounds familiar, if not a bit trite, but before you can start to pin it down, Kingdom quickly morphs into something more than just a period drama. The introduction of fantasy, terror, and neverending gore elevates Kingdom into a multi-genre feat—an impressive blend of political intrigue and pure zombie horror that never fails to keep you at the edge of your seat.
Hayao Miyazaki is no stranger to the fantastical. Howl’s Moving Castle and Spirited Away conjure worlds of spirits and demons, monsters and witches, imaginary wars and extraordinary heroes. But in Kiki’s Delivery Service, the real magic arises from the mundane.
The titular teenaged Kiki leaves home, setting out to become a better witch. She arrives in the idyllic seaside town of Koriko with only her broom and best friend, a black cat named Jiji. When she serendipitously meets Osono, the gentle owner of a bakery, Kiki begins a delivery service as part of her training.
Kiki’s Delivery Service may be one of Miyazaki’s more understated films, but it’s a beautiful reminder that believing in oneself is a magical act of courage that we should all undertake.
Krzysztof Kieślowski’s drama stars Irène Jacob as two identical women living separate lives, and the intricate and indelible ways in which they are bound together. While Weronika, a Polish singer, balances her familial duties and intimate romantic relationship, a French music teacher named Véronique senses that she is not alone.
The Double Life of Véronique’s hypnotic and entrancing qualities will wash over you like a tide crashing over a bed of sand. It is a tough film to capture in words, when so much of it is just beyond words—Kieślowski’s film is one to be seen, sensed, and experienced.
As is only appropriate for a limited series about such a horrific period in human history, The Underground Railroad isn't meant to be easy viewing. Thanks to uncompromising direction from Barry Jenkins (the director of the Best Picture Oscar winner Moonlight) and unforgettable images from cinematographer James Laxton, this approaches a level of confrontational storytelling that almost seems inappropriate for the comforts of television. But it's essential viewing nonetheless, and Jenkins makes sure to transform this into a much stranger, more thought-provoking tale beyond the brutality of its first episode.
The Underground Railroad is speculative fiction: instead of being a historical account of the real-life network of routes to help free African-American slaves, it imagines a literal train that swiftly transports Cora (a powerful Thuso Mbedu) from one dystopian vision of white America to another. With every new setting, Jenkins doesn't just talk about slavery; he talks about how America talks about slavery, and how the stories of these Black slaves are constantly reappropriated by white supremacists.
In the year of the Netflix TV Show Maniac, another absurdist title stole critics’ hearts. Sorry to Bother You is a movie set in an alternate reality, where capitalism and greed are accentuated. Lakeith Stanfield (Atlanta) is a guy called Cassius who struggles to pay his bills. However, when at a tele-marketing job an old-timer tells him to use a “white voice”, he starts moving up the ranks of his bizarre society. A really smart movie that will be mostly enjoyed by those who watch it for its entertaining value, and not so much for its commentary. It is like a Black Mirror episode stretched into a movie.