Movies that Matter: Spotlight

agoodmovietowatch Spotlight is a series of sections that shine a light on excellence in under-represented cinema.
spotlight: BIPOC Stories

, 2019

To those unfamiliar with Filipino folklore, some of the scenes in Rain (2019) might feel kooky, with horse heads and giant eggs and the personification of a typhoon popping up occasionally in between Maya’s quest for love. Even fans of Filipino romantic dramas and love teams might be taken aback by the last third of the film, which doesn’t take the usual route in the genre. But these eccentric choices work to characterize Maya as someone who loves being in love, as someone who grew up on mythology and fantasy to cope with the difficulties of life, as someone who nevertheless keeps that belief despite the terribleness of the mundane, the mismanaged inconveniences that pile up, and, of course, the multiple heartbreaks that she faces. It may be strange and unexpected, but Ulan is just one of the most unique Filipino romances ever created.

Genre: Drama, Fantasy, Mystery, Romance

Actor: Aj Muhlach, Andrea Del Rosario, Angeli Bayani, Carlo Aquino, Josef Elizalde, Jourdanne Castillo, Kylie Verzosa, Leo Martinez, Marco Gumabao, Nadine Lustre, Perla Bautista, William Martinez

Director: Irene Villamor

Regardless of where, when, and why war came to be, war inevitably makes children grow up faster than they ought to. Turtles Can Fly depicts one such boy, a thirteen year old refugee nicknamed Kak Satellite whose limited English and resourcefulness transformed him into a leader for the rest of the children as they scrounged for scraps, sweep for landmines, and set up satellites for news. It’s a harrowing experience. Writer-director Bahman Ghobadi depicts it in a grounded, real way, with the Kurdish cast directly re-enacting the same horrors that they’ve gone through the year before, and the same practical nonchalance that they cling to for survival. Regardless of how viewers feel about the Iraq invasion, or other wars with refugee crises, Turtles Can Fly simply asks viewers to see their faces.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Abdol Rahman Karim, Avaz Latif, Emre Tetikel, Hiresh Feysal Rahman, Saddam Hossein Feysal, Soran Ebrahim

Director: Bahman Ghobadi

As time goes by, the youth doesn’t recognize how connected they are to previous tragedies, more so when it comes to war. Some even say that they have no part in it. Nobuhiko Obayashi’s later years have been preoccupied in countering this idea. Casting Blossoms to the Sky is the first of Obayashi’s anti-war trilogy, with the film inviting its audience to follow a journalist rediscovering the city of Nagaoka after the 2011 Tohoku earthquake. There’s a certain dreamlike approach to the way the various war stories are weaved together, with vibrant frames, simple CGI, and prominent green screen that grants some distance between the audience and the actual wartime reality, but it’s no less potent as Reiko interviews those that remember the scars of the past, and the rituals, practices, and art they’ve taken up in response. Casting Blossoms is a depressing story about war and disaster, one that is a tough one to watch. But it never forgets the humanity, the kindness and love that allowed Japan to recover, the very qualities we must protect and remember in ourselves.

Genre: Drama, Fantasy, War

Actor: Akira Emoto, Bengal, Chōei Takahashi, Hirona Yamazaki, Hiroshi Inuzuka, Kanae Katsuno, Koji Ishikawa, Mansaku Ikeuchi, Masahiro Takashima, Masao Kusakari, Masayuki Yui, Mayuu Kusakari, Minami Inomata, Misako Renbutsu, Naoyuki Morita, Natsuki Harada, Saki Terashima, Seina Suzuki, Shiho Fujimura, Shirô Namiki, Sumiko Fuji, Takahito Hosoyamada, Takashi Sasano, Takehiro Murata, Takuro Atsuki, Tomoko Hoshino, Tōru Shinagawa, Toshie Negishi, Toshinori Omi, Toshio Kakei, Tsurutaro Kataoka, Yasuko Matsuyuki, Yuto Kobayashi

Director: Nobuhiko Obayashi

In Letterboxd, Cleaners was once the highest rated film of 2021, and was once in the list of the top 250 narrative features overall before the rating system changed in 2023. To viewers outside the Philippines, this might have been mind-boggling, especially since the film wasn't yet released internationally the year it premiered, but it shot up the ranks for a reason. The coming-of-age anthology just looks so different, being filmed live, then xeroxed and highlighted, frame by frame, just like print-outs for school. The unique approach evokes a sense of nostalgia in high contrast print and blurred movement, and it's matched with the classic Filipino coming-of-age moments that has rarely been seen before.

Genre: Comedy

Actor: Carlo Mejia, Gianne Rivera, Ianna Taguinod, Julian Narag, Leomar Baloran

Director: Glenn Barit

spotlight: Directors over 60 years old
When it comes to work, most apply to a job, take a 9-5 role for some decades, and then retire once enough funds have been acquired, the body gives out, or they reach the statutory age in their respective countries. This path isn’t as straightforward for the artist. La Belle Noiseuse is a portrait of an artist in his later years, only making a return due to an unexpected muse. It is quite lengthy, almost four hours, so it may feel like a daunting task for casual film viewers, as much as it is for the painter, but the way Rivette dedicates the time to the etching, the turn of the page, the brush of the paint upon the paper feels so calming, with the artist and their muse at their most natural. It’s easy to deduce the inevitable connection that forms, but La Belle Noiseuse is much more interested in the creative process, rather than the romantic drama, more interested in exploring the way art endeavors to capture the soul, even when the muse continues to remain elusive.

Genre: Drama

Actor: David Bursztein, Emmanuelle Béart, Jane Birkin, Marianne Denicourt, Michel Piccoli

Director: Jacques Rivette

Without context, Minbo, or the Gentle Art of Japanese Extortion seemed like a goofy satire, especially when the silly trumpet score pops up, and unfortunate hotel employees Suzuki and Wakasugi flounder around trying to solve the hotel’s yakuza problem on their own. And when Nobuko Miyamoto shows up as the brilliant lawyer, it’s so satisfying to see her turn the tables on the yakuza purely through words, strategy, and knowledge of law. It’s hilarious, but Minbo doesn’t just poke fun– it demystifies the gangster as a cool and untouchable figure, portraying them instead as loudmouthed bullies that we can handle. It also shows us how much can be done, only if we, as a group, perhaps as a whole nation, can muster the courage to fight.

Genre: Comedy, Crime

Actor: Akio Tanaka, Akira Nakao, Akira Takarada, Guts Ishimatsu, Hideji Ōtaki, Hōsei Komatsu, Kōji Sekiyama, Masahiko Tsugawa, Noboru Mitani, Nobuko Miyamoto, Shigeru Yazaki, Shirō Itō, Takehiro Murata, Tetsu Watanabe, Toshiro Yanagiba, Yasuo Daichi, Yuji Miyake

Director: Jūzō Itami

With cardboard houses, sugar winters, and broccoli trees, No Dogs or Italians Allowed at first seems lighthearted, playful, and not too serious. Alain Ughetto casts himself asking his grandmother Cesira about his family, but we only see his hands moving and interacting with the characters as if he was crafting clay model miniatures. However, the whimsical approach sugarcoats the very tragedies that struck his family– from the multiple wars to the discrimination they’ve faced as immigrants– with excellent animation and puppetry that feels much more lifelike than 3D CGI. In telling his family’s story, Ughetto also retells 20th century European history, reframing the worldwide events and movements through a personal perspective.

Genre: Animation, Drama

Actor: Alain Ughetto, Ariane Ascaride, Bruno Fontaine, Christophe Gatto, Diego Giuliani, Laura Devoti, Stefano Paganini

Director: Alain Ughetto

Kimberly Peirce's first–out of only three—film was a smashing success, mostly due to her dedication to the subject matter. Peirce spent years researching the life and tragic death of Brandon Teena after reading an article about him in The Village Voice. She felt a particular kind of kinship as a queer person herself, and wanted to construct a story out of real facts that would put the spotlight on love and the desire for connection, and not that much on the violence which dominated the public discourse. In Falls City, Nebraska, the director conducted interviews with Lana Tisdale (Brandon's girlfriend) and her mother, while attending the ongoing trial. She took years to cast the lead and from hundreds of cis women, lesbians, and trans people, she chose the unknown actress Hilary Swank, who went on to win the Best Actress Academy Award (and the irony of that is not lost on us). The film features fantastic performances aplenty and very raw storytelling, visualized by neorealist style and low lighting. Direct references were the films of Martin Scorcese and John Cassavetes, but Boys Don't Cry has its own blend of beauty and cruelty to take pride in.

Genre: Crime, Drama

Actor: Alicia Goranson, Alison Folland, Brendan Sexton III, Caitlin Wehrle, Cheyenne Rushing, Chloe Sevigny, Craig Erickson, Gabriel Horn, Gail Cronauer, Guilford Adams, Hilary Swank, Jackson D. Kane, Jeannetta Arnette, Jerry Haynes, Josh Ridgway, Libby Villari, Lisa Renee Wilson, Lou Perryman, Matt McGrath, Paige Carl Griggs, Peter Sarsgaard, Rob Campbell, Robert Prentiss, Shana McClendon

Director: Kimberly Peirce

Rating: R

spotlight: Directors under 30 years old
While the mixed reception of its near-faithful American remake Vanilla Sky might make some viewers pause, there’s an intuitive brilliance in the Spanish original Open Your Eyes that isn’t easy to translate. Sure, the apparent differences help– it’s shorter and less complicated, and Cesar’s face turns more grotesque than David’s does. But what’s startling about Open Your Eyes is the way writer-director Alejandro Amenábar guides the camera through its various shifts, creating a more subtle and gradual realization that something is wrong, and thus, a more terrifying dream turned nightmare. Amenábar has later deemed the film as his worst, saying it was written when he didn't know much about life, but, in our opinion, Abre Los Ojos still holds up as a groundbreaking existential sci-fi simulation, one that still puzzles and captivates years after.

Genre: Drama, Science Fiction, Thriller

Actor: Chete Lera, Eduardo Noriega, Fele Martínez, Gérard Barray, Ion Gabella, Miguel Palenzuela, Najwa Nimri, Penélope Cruz, Tristán Ulloa, Walter Prieto

Director: Alejandro Amenábar

Rating: R

This is maybe the last Montreal Screwjob documentary the world will ever need, but in other respects, it’s an incredibly insightful look at the increasingly raunchy late ‘90s WWF through the eyes of the straight-laced Bret “The Hitman” Hart. We get insights into his bond with his sadistic dad Stu Hart, his priorities when caught between a WWF and WCW bidding war, and his loyal fans who in crowd interviews can be described as the coherent and smarter section of the audience. But what makes this one of the greatest and most important pro wrestling documentaries of all time is its divine timing, getting into Bret’s headspace talking about his future before leaving WWF, hearing his wonder before any of the unfortunate events shortly after.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Bob Marella, Bret Hart, Brian James, Brian Lee Harris, Brian Pillman, Charles Warrington, Curt Hennig, Dave Meltzer, Davey Boy Smith, Del Wilkes, Diana Joyce Hart-Smith, Dustin Runnels, Earl Hebner, Edward Ellsworth Annis, Glenn Ruth, Harry Smith, Jim Neidhart, Joe Laurinaitis, Jose Estrada Jr, Juan Rivera, Kevin Nash, Larry Pfohl, Leon White, Marc Mero, Mark Calaway, Mark Canterbury, Michael Hickenbottom, Michael James Hegstrand, Michael Seitz, Mick Foley, Miguel Pérez Jr., Owen Hart, Paul Michael Lévesque, Pierre Clermont, Randy Savage, Rena Marlette Lesnar, Rick Rood, Robert Howard, Roddy Piper, Scott Hall, Shane McMahon, Steve Austin, Stu Hart, Sunny, Ted Turner, Tom Brandi, Vince McMahon, Vince Russo, Wayne Farris

Director: Paul Jay

Tale as old as time: longform wrestling content catered to a general audience kicks things off with disclaimers and explanations of what pro wrestling really is. But director and producer Barry Blaustein also does a fantastic job as narrator, guiding us with friendly fanboy insights through Terry Funk’s sincere inability to retire, the beginning of Jake Roberts’ self-destruction, Mick Foley’s perceived invincibility, and the cacophony of backstage stories in the late ‘90s that the film strings together. As if all that wasn’t enough, so many oddball and iconic skits (i.e. “I’m not booked, Terry”) push this from great to quintessential.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Accie Julius Connor, Aurelian Smith Jr., Barry W. Blaustein, Chyna, Darren Drozdov, Dave Meltzer, Dwayne Johnson, Jesse Ventura, Mark Calaway, Michael Cariglio, Michael Manna, Mick Foley, Noelle Foley, Paul Heyman, Scott Levy, Steve Austin, Terry Funk, Tony Jones, Vince McMahon

Director: Barry W. Blaustein

Rating: R

La Chimera is often meandering. Scenes flitter about and move at different paces, resembling dreams more than they do reality, but they’re hardly trivial. Just the opposite, they enchant you with their beauty and confront you with deep, existential questions that haunt you long after the film’s run. You won’t find obvious answers here though, and you might even leave more perplexed than when you began. But that is the beauty of a film like La Chimera, it cracks you open to different realms and possibilities.

Genre: Adventure, Comedy, Drama, Fantasy

Actor: Agnese Graziani, Alba Rohrwacher, Alessandro Genovesi, Carol Duarte, Elisabetta Perotto, Francesca Carrain, Gian Piero Capretto, Giuliano Mantovani, Isabella Rossellini, Josh O'Connor, Julia Vella, Lou Roy-Lecollinet, Luca Chikovani, Maria Alexandra Lungu, Milutin Dapčević, Piero Crucitti, Ramona Fiorini, Sofia Stangherlin, Vincenzo Nemolato, Yle Vianello

Director: Alice Rohrwacher

Rating: NR

spotlight: Disability Stories
While being known for co-writing the Dogme 95 manifesto, Lars von Trier’s first film after breaks his rules with built sets and music added in post. Still, Breaking the Waves has plenty of von Trier’s thematic preoccupations, challenging the notions between faithfulness and sexuality by positing a married couple who cannot indulge in marital pleasure, due to being paralyzed. While the premise leads to explicit scenes, it’s more harrowing than sexy, really. It’s terribly heartbreaking as Bess does all she can for her marriage, first by praying for her husband’s return, and then following his perverse wish, partly from guilt, but partly from pleasure, even when it goes contrary to her repressive church and community. Breaking the Waves may not be an easy watch, but regardless of what you personally feel about the morality of Bess’ actions, von Trier will nevertheless bring you to empathy.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Adrian Rawlins, David Bateson, Dorte Rømer, Emily Watson, Finlay Welsh, Gavin Mitchell, Jean-Marc Barr, John Wark, Jonathan Hackett, Katrin Cartlidge, Mikkel Gaup, Phil McCall, Robert Robertson, Roef Ragas, Sandra Voe, Stellan Skarsgård, Udo Kier

Director: Lars von Trier

Rating: R

It's uncanny how innocent love can resemble stalking and obsessiveness. We first see Lea’s (Alessandra de Rossi) perspective as she meets funny-man and friendly neighbor Tonyo (Empoy Marquez) out of the blue. Later, we see Tonyo’s perspective and follow his pathetic journey through the heartbreak that led to him shadowing and eventually speaking to Lea. By the time we see both perspectives, it’s too late to judge the surprising events that unfold. The premise seems simple: it follows a relationship that feels comically wrong as it involves a temporarily blind woman and a man who only develops his confidence from not being seen. But it comes alive thanks to the playful chemistry and casting of de Rossi and Marquez, who charm in this brilliantly self-aware Pinoy rom-com.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Alessandra de Rossi, Carolle Urbano, Empoy Marquez, Junpei Yamamoto

Director: Sigrid Andrea Bernardo

You don’t need to know a lot about baseball to appreciate The Saint of Second Chances. It has enough going on to keep you hooked from start to end, beginning with Jeff Daniels’ inimitable voice as the narrator and Charlie Day’s inspired casting as the younger Veeck, all the way down to the Veecks’ fascinating ties with American sports history and Mike’s inspiring and heartwarming second-chance philosophy. It all gets a bit too much at times, as if the filmmakers themselves were overwhelmed with their abundant material and creative decisions, but it’s executed with so much care and love that it seems as if this is the only way it could’ve come out: a wonderful mess. 

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Agnes Albright, Bill Veeck, Charley Rossman, Charlie Day, Dan Barreiro, Darryl Strawberry, Don Wardlow, Gary Private, Howard M. Lockie, Ila Borders, Jeff Daniels, Joel Spence, Kalup Allen, Lamar Johnson, Lee Adams, Max Kassidy, Oscar Jordan, Stewart Skelton, Tom Billett, Tony LaRussa

Director: Jeff Malmberg, Morgan Neville

Rating: PG-13

, 1993

Part documentary yet part surreal daydream, director Derek Jarman’s final film is one last rallying cry into a blue void. Against an unchanging screen of International Klein Blue, most of the film is Jarman’s voice, drifting through various subjects, from day-to-day complications of AIDS to contemplations about the color blue. Some of his frequent collaborators chime in. Choirs singing about damnation occasionally pop up too. While essentially a radio drama, the combination of voices, foley, and scores all merge together into an ethereal, haunting soundscape, that sticks in your head long after the film ends. Mirroring his partial blindness, Jarman’s last experiment leaves an impression of his own experience. It’s absolutely devastating.

Genre: Documentary, Drama

Actor: Derek Jarman, John Quentin, Nigel Terry, Tilda Swinton

Director: Derek Jarman

Rating: Not Rated

spotlight: European Stories
The end of the world, of course, forces people to contemplate one’s life purpose, the choices they made, and the opportunities they chose over others. Andrei Tarkovsky examines this idea in The Sacrifice– juxtaposing a hypothetical third World War with main character Alexander’s choices, the choices that led him to a successful acting career, but also led him to regret that he hasn’t done more to take action, until the deal he made with a cross between the Christian God and pagan sacrifice. The ideas are philosophically heavy, marked with Tarkovsky’s dreamlike imagery, long takes, and slow pacing, but it feels much more personal considering the sacrifice he made in leaving his family to create his last two films abroad. The Sacrifice is a masterful meditation on life itself, a deeply moving anti-war film that was a decent send-off of one of the greatest filmmakers ever to have existed.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Allan Edwall, Erland Josephson, Guðrún Gísladóttir, Helena Brodin, Jan-Olof Strandberg, Jane Friedmann, Susan Fleetwood, Sven Wollter, Tintin Anderzon, Tommy Kjellqvist, Valérie Mairesse

Director: Andrei Tarkovsky

Taking 23 years until its completion, The Tragedy of Man is quite possibly the most ambitious film ever made, not just in its animation, but also in its scope. It’s quite fitting, as an adaptation of the classic Hungarian play, as Imre Madách’s story sets out to question not just the individual’s purpose, but the purpose of humanity as a whole, with writer-director Marcell Jankovics giving life to the play through the historical art styles of past civilizations that shifted today’s Western world, as well as adding what has happened after the play’s publication in 1861. While the film’s length can be daunting, being the Western animated feature in the world, the dialectic hits at the heart of this absurd existence, informed by the cynicism formed after Hungary’s fall of communism in 1989. The Tragedy of Man isn’t an easy film to watch, considering the themes, but it’s an interesting vision of humanity, illustrated in such an interesting way.

Genre: Animation, Drama, History

Actor: Ágnes Bertalan, Mátyás Usztics, Piroska Molnár, Tamás Széles, Tibor Szilágyi

Director: Marcell Jankovics

Simple but lovely movies like Fallen Leaves are hard to come by these days. While others rely on complicated dialogue or overly ambitious premises to be deemed deep or important, Director Aki Kaurismäki trusts that his material is strong enough. After all, its silence speaks volumes; the characters don’t say much but when they do, you can be sure it’s something hard-hitting or funny. The plot doesn’t contain a lot of surprises, but when it makes a turn, it moves you instantly. And the leads, Ansa (Alma Pöysti) and Holappa (Jussi Vatanen) barely move their features, but their eyes convey more emotion, more longing and ache and joy, than one can hope for. Some movies can be challenging, exhilarating, or exhausting to watch. This one is simply delightful. 

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Alina Tomnikov, Alma Pöysti, Anna Karjalainen, Eero Ritala, Erkki Astala, Evi Salmelin, Janne Hyytiäinen, Juho Kuosmanen, Jussi Vatanen, Lauri Untamo, Maria Heiskanen, Martti Suosalo, Matti Onnismaa, Misha Jaari, Nuppu Koivu, Olli Varja, Sakari Kuosmanen, Sherwan Haji, Simon Al-Bazoon

Director: Aki Kaurismäki

Rating: NR

Barbara (Petzold regular Nina Hoss) has fallen from grace, at least by the standards of 1980s Germany. A renowned doctor at a prestigious East Berlin hospital, she has been demoted to a paediatrician at a tiny town on the Baltic coast: a punishment for daring to try and leave the DDR. The Stasi spy on her, threaten her, and on occasion, abuse her. But Barbara does not give up in her attempts to establish a better life for herself, if only she could cross the sea and dock in Denmark. With such a politically-conscious premise, Christian Petzold's sixth film became a hit on the European scene and transformed his relatively modest career into something more transnational. Even if Barbara feels very local—the way in which Germany's divide conditions every movement and gesture of its characters—the tropes of a spy thriller come to the fore and make a legible, rewarding viewing out of something one may deem too particular. The film owes a lot to its lead, Hoss, who has become a staple of Petzold's career, with her stoicism and towering presence as Barbara – a symbol of obstructed mobility.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Alicia von Rittberg, Christina Hecke, Christoph Krix, Claudia Geisler-Bading, Irene Rindje, Jannik Schümann, Jasna Fritzi Bauer, Jens Okking, Kirsten Block, Mark Waschke, Nina Hoss, Peter Benedict, Rainer Bock, Ronald Zehrfeld, Rosa Enskat, Susanne Bormann, Thomas Bading, Thomas Neumann

Director: Christian Petzold

spotlight: Immigrant Stories
There are connections we make in this lifetime that we expect to be ephemeral, especially in a new city, but sometimes these connections end up being the most meaningful relationship to us. For Jun in Comrades, Almost a Love Story, street smart Qiao is that connection. As she teaches Xiao Jun in Hong Kong city life, they both edge closer to being lovers and Hongkongers, but not quite enough to receive the title. And as fate separates them and fate (and Teresa Teng) brings them together, Comrades, Almost a Love Story crafts quite a memorable romance that stems from a shared dream of finally moving up in the world.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Adrian Kwan, Baat Leung-Gam, Christopher Doyle, Crystal Suen Ah-Lei, Eric Tsang, Irene Tsu, Joe Cheung Tung-Cho, Kristy Yang, Leon Lai, Maggie Cheung

Director: Peter Chan

Some films struggle to balance style with substance, but Problemista isn’t one of them. It’s brandished with Torres’ unique brand of surrealist aesthetic, which is colorful, freakish, and fun, while also accurately relaying the pains of coming to and making it in America as an outsider. We see Alejandro accept increasingly debasing gigs as he runs out of time and money in the deep maze that is America’s immigration bureaucracy. And all the while, he’s being both genuinely funny and painfully incisive. Torres is not the first person to point out that in this day and age, the monsters we face are overbearing employers, greedy bankers, and exploitative companies, but he just might be one of the few to do it with such imaginative grace.

Genre: Comedy

Actor: Amy Zimmer, Bardia Salimi, Brian Belovitch, Carlos E. Navedo, Catalina Saavedra, Charlene Incarnate, Eudora Peterson, Glo Tavarez, Greta Lee, Greta Titelman, Isabella Rossellini, Jack P. Raymond, James Scully, Jason Furlani, Jordan Mendoza, Julio Torres, Kelly McCormack, Laith Nakli, Larry Owens, Logan J. Alarcon-Poucel, Megan Stalter, Miles G. Jackson, Paul Cooper, Roman Maldonado, Ronald Peet, Ruba Thérèse Mansouri, RZA, Sandra Caldwell, Shakina Nayfack, Sheila Moikangoa, Spike Einbinder, Theo Maltz, Tilda Swinton

Director: Julio Torres

Rating: R

In a global movie industry of children's entertainment that often feels like it isn't even trying, this little Peruvian bear coming to England is a wonderful reminder that films aimed at younger audiences aren't inherently limited. If anything, Paddington challenges itself to come up with a far more creative (and effective) way to talk about the lingering scars of colonialism manifesting as discrimination in everyday "civil" society. It sounds like heavy stuff, but Paddington approaches its fish-out-of-water story with the exact counterbalance of silliness, and a riotous cast that's far funnier than anyone would have expected them to be.

Genre: Adventure, Comedy, Family, Kids

Actor: Alexander Bracq, Alice Lowe, Ancuta Breaban, Asim Chaudhry, Ben Whishaw, Catherine Shepherd, Cleo Sylvestre, David McKail, Denis Khoroshko, Dominic Coleman, Faith Elizabeth, Geoffrey Palmer, George Newton, Gus Brown, Hamish McColl, Hugh Bonneville, Iain Mitchell, Imelda Staunton, James Bachman, Javier Marzan, Jim Broadbent, Jude Wright, Julie Vollono, Julie Walters, Justin Edwards, Kayvan Novak, Kenneth Hadley, Llewella Gideon, Lottie Steer, Madeleine Harris, Madeleine Worrall, Mary Roscoe, Matt King, Matt Lucas, Michael Bond, Michael Gambon, Nicole Kidman, Nigel Genis, Peter Capaldi, Ross Boatman, Rufus Jones, Sally Hawkins, Samuel Joslin, Simon Farnaby, Steve Edge, Steve Oram, Stuart Matthews, Tarik Blake, Theresa Watson, Tim Downie, Toby Williams, Tom Meeten, Vic Waghorn, Will Smith

Director: Paul King

Rating: PG

German writer-director Christian Petzold tells a story of a fateful encounter trapped in a love triangle. Thomas, Laura, and her husband Ali quickly become enmeshed in a three-way relationship rich with desire, pressure, and betrayal. Another Hitchcockian tribute by Petzold, Jerichow has all the elements of a neo-noir, but it's set in broad daylight. The plotting, the secret love affairs, the femme fatale with no back up plan: all the necessary ingredients for a chaotic tale, wrangled by desirous tensions, to say the least.  A film whose mystique is rather haunting, but far from spectral, Jerichow doesn't conceal its clear references to "The Postman Always Rings Twice".

Genre: Drama

Actor: Andre Hennicke, Benno Fürmann, Claudia Geisler-Bading, Hilmi Sözer, Knut Berger, Marie Gruber, Nina Hoss

Director: Christian Petzold

spotlight: LGBTQ+ Stories
As in his previous films, Director Andrew Haigh explores the delicate nature of loneliness, grief, and love in All of Us Strangers, except this time he does so through a supernatural lens. The result is mesmerizing: amid the tenderness the film draws from its characters, there’s a swirl of mystery too: how is it possible that Adam is conversing with his dead parents? Who, exactly, is Harry? The intrigue is there, and Haigh builds to a satisfying climax that answers all these questions. The mystery also lends the film an ethereal style that makes it visually resemble a horror or thriller more than it does a romance or drama. But as superb as it looks and as compelling as the ambiguity is, they never distract from the film’s central goal, which is to bring us into the complex emotional journey Adam goes through as he simultaneously develops a relationship with Harry and parses his childhood trauma with his parents. It’s a hefty film, filled with big emotional moments that will have you crying, smiling, longing, and healing all at the same time. And like any good film, it will haunt you for days on end.

Genre: Drama, Fantasy, Romance

Actor: Ami Tredrea, Andrew Scott, Carter John Grout, Claire Foy, Jamie Bell, Paul Mescal

Director: Andrew Haigh

Rating: R

Monster is a deceptively simple story about growing up and the many misunderstandings that come with it. It’s told through different points of view, a technique that could easily feel gimmicky in the hands of a lesser director. But with director Hirokazu Kore-eda at the helm, it feels natural and inevitable, as if there was no other way to tell this specific story. It’s a masterful mystery, but Monster is less about suspense and answering the whodunnit question than it is about navigating the murky waters of truth and real life. As corny as it sounds, watching Monster is an experience unto itself: you’ll find yourself believing something one moment and dismantling it the next, learning and unlearning in a span of two hours. But as with past Kore-eda films, it’s the story’s heartwarming sensitivity that trumps everything. You’ll likely come for the mystery but stay for its heart.

Genre: Drama, Thriller

Actor: Akihiro Kakuta, Ayu Kitaura, Daisuke Kuroda, Eita Nagayama, Hinata Hiiragi, Kayo Noro, Mitsuki Takahata, Moemi Katayama, Pee, Ryu Morioka, Sakura Andô, Shidô Nakamura, Soya Kurokawa, Yûko Tanaka

Director: Hirokazu Kore-eda

Rating: PG-13

Done entirely in candid conversation and quiet walks around the city, End of the Century may at first come across like another mumblecore romance, but director Lucio Castro brings such a delicate touch to this story that every idle moment feels like it means the world. An unspoken longing hangs suspended between characters Ocho and Javi, and it's their little dance of disclosing more and more parts of themselves to each other that drives everything forward. And as the film reaches its miraculous third act, where hope and regret are articulated in such a painful—but kind—manner, it transcends its mumblecore inspirations and becomes its own vision of how our relationships change the way we grow.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Helen Celia Castro-Wood, Juan Barberini, Mariano López Seoane, Mía Maestro, Ramón Pujol

Director: Lucio Castro

Though the drag scene is alive and well today, Paris is Burning is an important reminder that it didn’t always used to be that way. Over the course of seven years, Director Jennie Livingston leads us underneath the crime-ridden streets of 80s New York, where a glittery drag subculture is flourishing, despite all odds. Leading the community are the so-called mothers, the best performers and most fashionable of them all, tasked with inspiring and caring for newcomers. Nevermind that they’re shunned by society and suffocated (sometimes literally) by hateful homophobes and racists; when there is a ball, all that matters is that they strut, dance, and put on the best damn show of their lives. What they do is art, and Livingston makes sure to exalt the craft and pride that goes into it. At the same time, intimate interviews with iconic queens like Pepper LaBeija and Willi Ninja reveal the heartbreaking nature of the community. Most, if not all, have endured some form of abuse, and many risk their lives to earn a decent living. But again, Livingston refuses to reduce them to pure tragedy; she gets them to share their wonderfully big dreams, then gets us to hope along with them that they might just come true.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Dorian Corey, Kim Pendavis, Octavia St. Laurent, Pepper LaBeija, Sol Williams Pendavis, Venus Xtravaganza, Willi Ninja

Director: Jennie Livingston

Rating: R

spotlight: Women Stories
To Kill a Tiger should not be an easy watch. It’s about the gang rape of 13-year-old Kiran, a girl whose small village has shunned and blamed her for “not knowing better,” and who is being forced by community leaders to marry her abuser to “erase the stain” on herself. But instead of leaning on sensationalism, Director Nisha Pahuja tells Kiran’s story with so much care and sensitivity that it feels refreshing and ultimately inspiring to watch. Pahuja hones in on Kiran’s relationship with her father, Ranjit, who stands by her daughter despite the pressure imposed by his community to do otherwise. The filmmakers note that he’s the rare man to pursue justice for his wronged daughter, and we can see through intimate conversations among the villagers, lawmakers, and social workers how brave and novel Kiran and Ranjit’s journey is. To Kill a Tiger is not an easy watch, but under Pahuja’s deft direction, the discomfort feels necessary, and the relationships heart-aching but uplifting.

Genre: Documentary

Director: Nisha Pahuja

Break-ups aren’t the easiest thing to overcome, but how we deal with them usually doesn’t get as ludicrous as the events Pepa goes through in Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. The film makes said nervous breakdown chaotic– it includes spiked gazpacho, a frantic call to the police, and being held at gunpoint– but as Pepa and the women around her try to put off each fire, at least one of them literally, writer-director Pedro Almodóvar ensures sympathy for them, with Pepa's snappy dialogue cutting through the lies of a smooth-talking womanizer refusing to face them. And it’s all paired with a suitably dramatic score, meticulous staging, and exaggerated, colorful frames mostly occurring in the wreck of a fabulously styled penthouse.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Agustín Almodóvar, Ana Leza, Ángel de Andrés López, Antonio Banderas, Carmen Maura, Chus Lampreave, Eduardo Calvo, Fernando Guillen, Francisca Caballero, Gabriel Latorre, Guillermo Montesinos, Imanol Uribe, Joaquín Climent, José Antonio Navarro, José Marco, Juan Lombardero, Julieta Serrano, Kiti Manver, Loles León, Lupe Barrado, María Barranco, Rossy de Palma, Yayo Calvo

Director: Pedro Almodóvar

Rating: R

Feminism has made plenty of strides in multiple areas, but even in the era of free love, talking about sex was difficult, and certain figures were dismissed just because of it. The Disappearance of Shere Hite reexamines the titular forgotten feminist figure that simply focused on the female orgasm, giving a second look at her immediate rise and fall in the American media, and the reasons for her leaving the country. With Dakota Johnson’s soft voice, an excellent selection of archival footage, and Hite’s deeply personal words, the film paints a portrait of a mild-mannered, self-possessed woman, but it also reveals the heartbreakingly repetitive vitriol that affects these open discussions today.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Dakota Johnson, Shere Hite

Director: Nicole Newnham

Biographical documentaries tend to depict exceptional people– people who are so great that everyone wants to know about them, and people who are so terrible that they serve as a warning. Great Photo, Lovely Life depicts a serial sexual abuser in photojournalist Amanda Mustard’s family, able to get away with nearly all his crimes each time he skips over state lines. It’s not an easy film. It’s deeply uncomfortable. There are certain interviews that will trigger anger, despair, and bewilderment over how someone so evil can remain out of bars all his life. Great Photo, Lovely Life doesn’t provide any easy, comforting sequence as a balm to sexual abuse survivors around the world, but it’s an urgent reminder of the consequences of maintaining silence.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Amanda Mustard

Director: Amanda Mustard, Rachel Beth Anderson