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Staff & contributors

The culture of propaganda and cover-ups that kicked off the pandemic is the subject of this compelling documentary by award-winning director Nanfu Wang (One Child Nation). Wang, who traveled with her family to China in January 2020, saw and filmed the pandemic firsthand, and wrote to major newspapers like The New York Times to convince them to write about it. They never did. 

Media and government in both China and the U.S. played down the threat, and this documentary asks how different everything would have gone otherwise. More dauntingly, it's an examination of how the Communist Party in China managed to use the event to its advantage. 

Genre: Documentary, Drama

Director: Nanfu Wang

Directed by Todd Haynes (I’m Not There, Carol), The Velvet Underground takes an avant-garde approach to tell the story of the 1960s rock band. Like their music, nothing about this documentary is linear and expected. Screens are split to show two different things at once, seemingly unrelated clips are stitched to create a patchwork of feelings, and strobes of light flash multiple times onscreen. It's like an art installation come to life.

The film is dynamic and dazzling, infused with the same underground atmosphere as their early performances. If you’re looking to know more about the band, this film might not be for you. But if you’re looking to experience the band, to feel and see and hear what it was like to catch them at their peak, then this is for you.

Genre: Documentary, Drama, Music

Actor: Allen Ginsberg, Amy Taubin, Andy Warhol, Bill Graham, Billy Name, Cass Elliot, Danny Fields, David Bowie, Frank Zappa, Jackson Browne, John Cale, John Waters, Jonas Mekas, Jonathan Richman, Lou Reed, Marian Zazeela, Mary Woronov, Nico, Sterling Morrison

Director: Todd Haynes

As biopics go, Cassandro skews towards the conventional. It follows a template familiar to anyone who has seen a life-story movie about the underdog climbing up the ranks thanks to their unmatchable heart and talent. But it’s also a template that’s elevated by Bernal’s wonderful performance and Roger Ross Williams’ careful and naturalistic direction. Save for a few melodramatic moments, many parts of Cassandro feel fresh and authentic, not least of which is Saúl's heartwarming relationship with his mother Yocasta (Perla De La Rosa). It’s unapologetic joy is another element that sets it apart: instead of being punished for his flamboyance and cheer, Saúl is rewarded for it. This seems like a rare triumph in LGBTQ+ stories, and on that merit alone Cassandro deserves to be seen. 

Genre: Drama

Actor: Bad Bunny, El Hijo del Santo, Gael García Bernal, Joaquín Cosío, Julieta Ortiz, Leonardo Alonso, Perla de la Rosa, Raúl Castillo, Roberta Colindrez

Director: Roger Ross Williams

Rating: R

From its title and premise, the hope for this kind of documentary would be for it to show some respect for the people who died from the Floridian opioid epidemic. At the very least, the film should dissuade people from the crimes documented here, by emphasizing the consequences of these actions. American Pain does not do this. It’s interesting to view how quickly the business gets out of hand for these unethical entrepreneurs – director Darren Foster reveals each development with enough style and flourish to be entertaining – but the film is clearly more fascinated with how the twins got away with drug dealing for so long. It’s a fun watch… if you forget people died from the events of this film.

Genre: Documentary

Director: Darren Foster

Rating: TV-MA

The level of access that A Thousand Cuts gets to both the side of the press and of the administration is ultimately what makes it valuable. By being on the ground with journalists doing honest-to-goodness hard work, the film reframes Duterte's war on drugs (really a campaign to terrorize the poor into submission) as an information war between news outlets and government propaganda. Unfortunately, in the process, the film also winds up excluding the voices of working class people and how they both engage and are engaged by all this information. There should be a way to honor the work of these journalists without accidentally positioning them above the public they serve.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Amal Clooney, George Clooney, Leni Robredo, Maria Ressa, Patricia Evangalista, Pia Ranada

Director: Ramona S. Diaz