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Staff & contributors

Dorky kid Greg Gaines (played by the brilliant and unlikely named Thomas Mann) has severe issues with closeness (he calls his best friend a “co-worker”) and is instructed by his mother to befriend Rachel (Olivia Cooke), a girl recently diagnosed with cancer. Far from being an indie tear-jerker, though, “this isn't a touching romantic story”, as Greg's narration reminds us. This is not least to the quirky nature of the film and the third titular character Earl, Greg's closest co-worker, who acts as the moral glue between Greg and Rachel.

In addition to hilarious writing and amazing performances, the film is laced with pop-cultural references by way of the movies that Greg and his Earl shoot in their spare time – spoofy takes on cult movies with titles like Sockwork Orange. Moving without being melodramatic, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is a charmingly off-kilter fish-out-of-water plot about making friends, dealing with death, and enjoying life best as one can.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, Bobb'e J. Thompson, Chelsea Zhang, Connie Britton, Etta Cox, Hugh Jackman, Jeremy Long, Joe Fishel, Jon Bernthal, Katherine Hughes, Masam Holden, Matt Bennett, Molly Shannon, Nick Offerman, Olivia Cooke, RJ Cyler, Thomas Mann

Director: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon

Rating: PG-13

After experimenting with multiple storylines in The French Dispatch, the inimitable Wes Anderson goes one step further with the mind-bendingly meta Asteroid City. Framed as a TV documentary about the making of a play, Asteroid City’s Russian doll setup reflects the neurosis of its period (the Cold War-struck ‘50s), art-making, and the intimidating vastness of outer space.

The play takes place in a tiny desert town where atom bomb tests routinely rattle the doorframes and where a convention for young geniuses is being held, attended by a host of typically idiosyncratic characters (played by Jeffrey Wright, Tilda Swinton, Tom Hanks, and many, many more). Still, it retains a central focus: the grief of new widower Augie (Jason Schwartzman) and his kids, and the connections he and his son (Jake Ryan) forge with a visiting actress (Scarlett Johansson) and her daughter (Dinah Campbell). Asteroid City draws much of its poignancy from this story (and its behind-the-scenes goings-on), as these people stare into the cosmic wilderness and a future without their loved one. Shot in gorgeous bleached postcard tones and full of the imaginative flourishes we’ve come to expect from Anderson, this is a profound rumination on existential angst that miraculously finds hope amidst all its characters’ nihilism.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Adrien Brody, Aimee Mullins, Ara Hollyday, Bob Balaban, Bryan Cranston, Damien Bonnard, Deanna Dunagan, Dominique Fouassier, Edward Norton, Elena Uriz, Ella Faris, Erika Godwin, Ethan Josh Lee, Fisher Stevens, Francisco Javier Gomez, Grace Edwards, Gracie Faris, Hong Chau, Hope Davis, Jack Eyman, Jake Ryan, Jarvis Cocker, Jason Schwartzman, Jay Lau, Jeff Goldblum, Jeffrey Wright, Liev Schreiber, Margot Robbie, Matt Dillon, Maya Hawke, Palmira Ferrer, Patricia Colin, Paul Kynman, Randall Poster, Rita Wilson, Rodolphe Pauly, Rupert Friend, Sam Marra, Sandy Hamilton, Scarlett Johansson, Seu Jorge, Sonia Gascón, Sophia Lillis, Stéphane Bak, Stephen Park, Steve Carell, Tilda Swinton, Tom Hanks, Tom Hudson, Tony Revolori, Truman Hanks, Wendy Nottingham, Willa Skye, Willem Dafoe

Director: Wes Anderson

Isle of Dogs has all the hallmarks of a Wes Anderson picture—it's stylish, otherworldly, and deadpan hilarious. But the film is also uniquely its own thing, a stop-motion animation deeply and gorgeously immersed in Japanese history and lore. Instead of merely relegating culture in the background for mere aesthetic purposes (as Anderson has done in the past with The Darjeeling Limited), culture here plays a vital role in the adventure and overall plot of the film. It's up to the viewer to decide whether Isle of Dogs is a case of appropriation or appreciation, but what can't be denied is that this is a movie with a strong and unforgettable bite to it. 

Genre: Adventure, Animation, Comedy, Drama

Actor: Akira Takayama, Anjelica Huston, Bill Murray, Bob Balaban, Bryan Cranston, Chris Benz, Courtney B. Vance, Edward Norton, Elaiza Ikeda, F. Murray Abraham, Fisher Stevens, Frances McDormand, Frank Wood, Greta Gerwig, Harvey Keitel, Jake Ryan, Jeff Goldblum, Kara Hayward, Ken Watanabe, Koyu Rankin, Kunichi Nomura, Liev Schreiber, Mari Natsuki, Nijiro Murakami, Roman Coppola, Ryuhei Matsuda, Scarlett Johansson, Shota Matsuda, Taichi Kodama, Takayuki Yamada, Tilda Swinton, Yojiro Noda, Yoko Ono

Director: Wes Anderson

Rating: PG-13

At one point in The Whale, Brendan Fraser’s Charlie —  a morbidly obese, reclusive teacher — describes an act of abject cruelty as “not evil” but “honesty.” Darren Aronofsky seems to believe the same about his movie, but alas, he's gravely misled, because The Whale is flooringly glib. From the outset, the film actively and incessantly tries to choreograph audience disgust for Charlie, all so that it can pull off a manipulative “he’s human, actually” swing later on — a “twist” that won’t work if you, you know, already accept people’s humanity irrespective of their appearance. 

Cinematography, makeup, and score all conspire to paint Charlie as grotesque: the camera laboriously over-emphasizes his size and mobility issues, while histrionic music chimes in to frame trivial moments (like Charlie reaching to pick something up from the floor) as grand, tragic dramas. Even if you ignore all its needless cruelty, The Whale — which is adapted from a play — can never shed its stagy origins: the writing frequently reaches for transcendence, but its efforts are as subtle as its evidently retroactively-shoehorned-in-title. If it’s as sincere as it purports to be, this is one of the worst movies of recent years, and if it’s not — which is almost preferable — then it’s a landmark exercise in trolling.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Allison Altman, Brendan Fraser, Hong Chau, Jacey Sink, Sadie Sink, Samantha Morton, Sathya Sridharan, Ty Simpkins

Director: Darren Aronofsky