Top 15 Films of 2020 (that aren’t Parasite)

With all theatres closed, and a lack of films being made (due to a small thing called a pandemic happening), you’d think that there would be no films to make up a top films list this year. However, you’d be wrong. With streaming services, especially Netflix, being active and continuously to pump out films, there have been many, many great films to come out this year.

Now, let’s get this out of the way – Parasite is the best film to come out in 2020 (although some argue that it technically came out in 2019). Parasite is the best film to come out over the past decade. Parasite is the best film to come out since the turn of the century. Parasite might be the best film to ever come out, possibly ever.

The South Korean black comedy thriller has received widespread critical acclaim and even became the surprise Best Picture winner earlier this year. It’s been talked about to death (and mainly on this blog), and it’s definitely my favourite film of the year, so I thought it would be more refreshing to go through all the other best films that categorically AREN’T Parasite.

So, here are my favourite films of 2020 that are not Parasite:

First, some honourable mentions: The 40-Year-Old Version, The Assistant, Calm with Horses, His House, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, The Personal History of David Copperfield, Swallow, The Vast of Night, Weathering with You & Wolfwalkers 

15. Host

In history, this film will go down as possibly the first “pandemic movie”. The found footage horror film centres on a group of friends who perform a seance via a zoom call, and it’s thrilling tense, scary and wonderfully fun. It’s also gloriously short, at only 65 minutes. It’s definitely the most important horror movie of the year. I can’t wait to see what other creative avenues filmmakers are going to do with the pandemic in 2021 and beyond.

14. Saint Frances

Saint Frances is one of the most delightful and sweet surprises of the year. The plot is simple – set around a 34-year-old waitress, Bridget (Kelly O’Sullivan), who attempts to change her life by getting a job as a nanny to the annoying and bratty six-year-old, Frances (Ramona Edith Williams). The film is not revolutionary or life-changing, but remains a real bittersweet and charming treasure that has definitely gone under the radar this year.

13. Bad Education

Now, technically this counts as a television film, broadcast on HBO in the United States earlier in the year. It stars Hugh Jackson as a school superintendent, and Allison Janney as his assistant superintendent, who are both involved in an illegal embezzlement scheme that is soon discovered by the authorities. The film is brilliantly directed by Cory Finley (who previously directed 2017’s underrated Thoroughbreds), who makes it feel like a mixture between The Big Short, I, Tonya and Catch Me If You Can, and features an absolute career-best performance by Jackson (and Janney is great too).

12. Rocks

This indie gem was broadcast on Netflix earlier in the year, and was a real treat. The film flirts with some heavy subject matter – centring on a young teenage girl, Olushola (nicknamed “Rocks”), who has to deal with her mother abandoning her and her little brother – but the real wonderful thing about it is that it remains full of joy and humour. It also features some star-making performances by it’s child actors, particularly lead, Bukky Bakray.

11. Mank

This David Fincher-directed biopic about the making of what many critics call the “greatest film ever made”, Citizen Kane is definitely not everyone’s cup of tea, but for those interested in film history, it was definitely a real treat. It’s possibly the most gorgeous and visual dazzling movie to come out this year (shot in beautiful black-and-white, and featuring some innovative, Orson Welles-inspired camerawork), and features an Oscar-worthy performance by Gary Oldman (also, Amanda Seyfried is an absolute revelation). This Netflix gem is really terrific, and has continued to establish that Fincher truly is one of the best filmmakers of his generation.

10. Bacurau

This Weird Western from the mind of Juliano Dornelles and Kleber Mendonca Filho comes close second as being the biggest genre mesh-up of 2020 (the first obviously being Parasite). Centring on the inhabitants of a small Brazilian town, who are beset by an array of strange events (including but not limited to futuristic drones flying in the sky), the film is part sci-fi, part western and part violent thriller. With influences raging from Black Mirror, Tarantino and John Carpenter, this odd flick is definitely an experiment that for the most part, really pays off.

9. Small Axe: Lovers Rock

Steve McQueen’s Small Axe has been one of the many joys of 2020. The anthology series, consisting on five distinct stories looking at London’s West Indian community in the late 60s to 80s, brilliantly blurred the lines between television and film. Many of the films (or episodes, whatever they are) are terrific, particularly the police drama, Red, White and Blue and insightful drama, Education, but the absolute best remains Lovers Rock.

The drama centres on two lovers who meet at a Reggae house party in the 1980s, and strikes a wonderful balance between being a cinematic, beautiful pleasure and discussing issues and problems deeply prevalent in our society. It’s a really beautifully shot movie (with lots of one-shot camera takes) and filled to the brim with great music. Small Axe has been terrific, and I can’t wait to see what McQueen does next.

8. Never Rarely Sometimes Always

This subtle and quiet film from Eliza Hittman (13 Reasons Why, Beach Rats) introduces us to two future stars in Sidney Flanigan and Talia Ryder. The plot is quite uncomplicated – it centres on a young teenage girl, Autumn (Flanigan), who must travel to Pennsylvania to get abortion, and does so with the help of her cousin and best friend, Skylar (Ryder). It has echoes of the 1960s Best Picture winner, Midnight Cowboy, and remains a wonderful example of “show, don’t tell” film-making. Hittman directs the film absolutely beautifully, and I can’t wait to see what she does next.

7. 1917

This Sam Mendes-directed war epic was almost the leading choice to win Best Picture before Parasite came along and surprised every-one. And, it remains absolutely great. What it lacks in narrative momentum (essentially being centred on two young soldiers in World War 1 who set off on a large trek to deliver a message), it makes up for in ground-breaking visual prowess, appearing like it is all filmed in one, continuous shot. It does so with brilliant direction by Mendes and incredible cinematography by the legendary Roger Deakins. Although, I’m obviously very glad that Parasite won Best Picture, 1917 was a very, very worthy runner-up.

6. The Trial of the Chicago 7

This Netflix historical legal drama was probably the best Netflix Original of the year. It is directed by world-renowned screenwriter, Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing, The Social Network), and centres on – as the title depicts – the notorious trial of the “Chicago Seven”, organisers of a protest that soon turned violent and destructive. The film is utterly riveting and heart-breaking, and is filled with great performances (especially by a surprisingly brilliant Sacha Baron Cohen) and some brilliant editing. The real best thing about the film, however, is that Sorkin has proven himself to be a really good director. We always knew he was an amazing writer, but this movie proves he’s great behind the camera too.

5. The Invisible Man

Leigh Wannell’s The Invisible Man, a very modern-day take of H.G. Wells’ classic novel, is proof that you can still make great horror films in the 21st century. The feminist movie stars Elizabeth Moss as an abused woman, who is being stalked by someone, who she believes is her recently deceased abusive boyfriend. The film is absolutely brilliantly directed, with some incredible creative jump scares. But, what so wonderful about it is that underneath all the scares is a story full of depth and interesting characters. It’s definitely the second best horror movie of 2020 (we’ll get to number 1 in a sec).

4. Soul

Pixar’s latest went straight to DisneyPlus on Christmas Day last year, and proved that the animation studio can still very much make charming and amazing movies in recent times. The film is quite complex – mainly centred on jazz lover, Joe who dies suddenly and tries to avoid being sent to the “Great Beyond” – but the great thing about it is that you never notice that while you’re watching it. Along with two of Pixar’s recent efforts, Inside Out and Coco, Pixar is turning away from making studio movies and sequels, and making more smart, insightful movies filed to brim with smart ideas and deep messages. Such a wonderful pleasure this movie was.

3. Possessor

This under-seen science fiction body horror is from the mind of Brandon Cronenberg, the son of David, and much like his father’s best works, the film is filled with wonderful gross body horror and an extraordinary level of violence. However, Cronenberg still directed the film with a high level of expertise, craft and class, definitely breaking out of his father’s shadow in the process. It’s one of those films that the more I have thought about it, the more it has really grown on me, and I now think of it as one of the absolute best films of the year.

2. Jojo Rabbit

Taika Waititi’s World War 2 comedy-drama was one of the real highlights of early 2020. The film centres on a young boy, Jojo Bletzer (played brilliantly by Roman Griffin Davis), whose life is turned upside down by the discovery that his mother, Rosie (Scarlett Johansson) has hidden a young Jewish girl, Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie) in the attic. The Oscar winner’s huge contrasting tonal shifts will not be for everyone, but for the people that get it, they really get it. It remains a really poignant and hilarious comedy with a mesmerising performances by Johansson. It is living proof that filmmakers should have creative license to produce whatever they want, even if the subject matter is somewhat controversial.

1. The Lighthouse

Finally we’re reached number one, and at the top spot is another Marmite choice with The Lighthouse. The latest from The Witch director, Roger Eggers is a psychological horror-thriller that centres on two lighthouse keepers (Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe) who try to keep their sanity while living on a remote and mysterious island. Eggers gives the film a striking visual style – being shot in an almost square 1.19:1 aspect ratio that is filmed in black-and-white. Brilliantly shot, written and performed, The Lighthouse is an absolutely brilliant horror fable that is equal parts surreal, entertaining, visual striking and oftentimes, strangely funny, showing in the process that Eggers has a bright future ahead of him.

The Lighthouse is brilliant, but remember – Parasite is still the best feature film of 2020.

Promising Young Woman Review

Every now and then, there comes a movie which gathers very divisive reactions. Last year there was Joker, a movie that prompted widespread controversy and worries it would promote real-life violence, and a couple of years ago, there was Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, a movie that huge critical and audience acclaim, yet controversy for it’s handling of racial themes.

And now, in 2021, we have Promising Young Woman.

The psychological thriller film is directed by Emerald Fennell, a writer and actor, most famously known for her recurring role as Camila Shand in the Netflix drama series, The Crown, as well as being the show-runner for the second season of the BBC America breakthrough hit, Killing Eve (writing 6 episodes of that season). With the exception of a short film, this is Fennell’s first foray in the film world, and as a directional debut, it’s pretty damn exceptional.

The centres on the young woman of the title, Cassie Thomas (portrayed by Carey Mulligan), a 29-year-old who works in a coffee shop and still lives with her parents. At night, she leads a double life as a secret vigilante, who goes to bars or clubs and pretends to be intoxicated and waits to see if she will be preyed upon by a seemingly “nice guy”.

So, as you can tell from the premise alone, the film discusses a lot of themes and ideas very prevalent in our society, in particular themes of consent and rape, perfect for the #Metoo inspired era we are in now. However, that is just the beginning, because, as the film unfolds, the film takes us down a path that many won’t expect.

It is soon revealed that Cassie wasn’t always like this – she was once a “Promising Young Woman”, an ambitious, cheerful and determined young woman, who was actually on set to become a doctor before a traumatic event led to dropping out of school. We meet her 10 years after this event, in which she has become a cynical and bitter young woman still stuck in the past. However, this may all change after the arrival of the charming surgeon (and Cassie’s former classmate), Ryan (Bo Burnham), who could possibly break Cassie out of her old funk.

Throughout her constantly witty and inventive script, Fennell is never interested in following the usual beats and tropes of typical, Hollywood movies. In many ways, the film is like Three Billboards in how it constantly subverts our expectations – we begin to constantly change our minds (both in a good or bad way) on the central characters, and we are regularly surprised by all the brilliantly out-of-nowhere plot twists.

One of the most recognisable plot twists that will definitely leave an impact for pretty much every audience member is the shocking ending. The last 15 minutes has already proven to be quite divisive, and many moviegoers will leave the film either extremely disappointed or extremely satisfied. For me, however, the ending was indeed, extremely satisfying and I loved it, but it’s definitely a love-it-or-hate-it moment.

Other than that the twists, the script is also great for it’s bonkers genre experimentation. At first, the film is social thriller, centring on exploring “important” issues in our society, and then it somehow manages to turn into a 90s style romantic comedy, in which our flawed, guarded lead heroine (Cassie) is somehow melted by our dashing, charming male lead (Ryan). But, then, somehow, Fennell is able to turn the last act into a crazy, dramatic finale that feels like it comes out of a rape/revenge film or even a exploitation flick.

But, all this is kept afloat by the brilliant direction by Fennell. Despite the fact that this is her first film, she comes with an established and eye-popping visual aesthetic that feels way beyond her years. Mostly every shot is filled to the brim with bright colours, particularly a lot of pinks and reds, and it has absolutely immaculate production design.

Not only that, but to add to that the soundtrack is absolutely killer. The music is very peculiar – there are remixed, sometimes acoustic versions of pop tunes, including “Toxic”, “It’s Raining Men” and “Angel of the Morning”. There’s even a use of Paris Hilton’s (actually really great) song, “Stars are Blind”, in which Fennell uses completely non-ironically for a romantic, heartfelt montage.

All this makes you feel like you’re watching a “woman’s picture”, a female take (made for women and by women) on the social thriller, a genre previously mainly occupied by male filmmakers, particularly Bong Joon-ho and Jordan Peele. The visual style also purely makes the film very entertaining – Fennell is able to turn the film filled with “important” and “timely” messages into a thrilling and cinematic popcorn flick.

But, in many ways, the film belongs to Carey Mulligan. The 35-year-old actress has always been on the verge of stardom over the past decade, but this could be her turning point. The performance, in which she has to play a variety of emotions (including joyous, depressed, empty, angry and many more), feels reminiscent of Margot Robbie’s barnstorming performance in “I, Tonya” 3 years ago, in which it feels like an actress has finally “arrived” on the scene. If her performance isn’t at least nominated at this year’s Oscars, it will be a real shame.

Other than Mulligan, the film is filled with supporting cameos and performances, all of which are a bit hit-or-miss. Burnham is great, and there are some other solid performances, particularly by Alison Brie, Connie Britton, Laverne Cox and Alfred Molina. Some other performances, however, feel a little bit like missed opportunities, particularly the underwhelming use of Jennifer Coolidge and Molly Shannon.

The film is definitely not for everyone – it’s fiercely cynical and angry tone, as well as the whiplash-inducing tonal changes, will definitely leave people divided. However, if you’re looking for something very different and very eye-catching, you should definitely check out “Promising Young Woman”. Actually, even if you aren’t looking for that, it’s definitely still worth watching, just for the conversation it’s bound to provoke. Nevertheless, I really loved it.

Rating: 9/10

From Normal People to Quiz: Here are my Top 10 TV Shows of 2020

Well, 2020 has been an experience hasn’t it. Unlike films (many of which have been delayed infinitely due to the pandemic), television has been actually striving this year. And, here are 10 of the very best television of the year.

10. Quiz

This ITV miniseries about the Who Wants To Be A Millionaire cheating scandal has kind of flown under the radar this year, but it really shouldn’t have done, because it was really terrific. The 3-part series is filled with great performances, especially by Succession’s Matthew Macfadyen and Fleabag’s Sian Clifford, and has some wonderful, witty writing. And, just like the best biopic/real-life dramas, the series remains riveting, tense and you have no idea what’s going to happen (even though you kind of do know what’s going to happen).

Also, Martin Sheen as Chris Tarrant is pure genius.

9. Sex Education

This Netflix coming-of-age comedy drama was the break-out hit of 2019, and it still remains just as good with it’s sophomore season. Although a bit of the novelty that the first season had has kind of worn off, this season remains just as funny and joyous. The real treasure of this show are wonderful characters and great cast, with particular stand-outs including Aimee Lou Wood as the incessantly chipper Aimee Gibbs, Gillian Anderson as the embarrassing sex therapist mother, Jean and Tanya Reynolds as the school “weird girl”, Lily.

This could be a real long-running hit for Netflix if they manage to keep up the same level of quality for season 3.

8. The Umbrella Academy

Based off the comic book series of the same name (which, quick fact for you – was written by Gerald Way of My Chemical Romance fame), this quirky and idiosyncratic Netflix hit ambitiously blends many genres, including black comedy, time travel adventure, 60s period drama, superhero action and many more. The series may not feel as fresh as it did in it’s first season, but it’s also smoothed out some of the harsh edges from the previous season, getting more of an equal tonal balance and giving more interesting development to some of the more boring characters.

Hopefully, this future cult classic will continue to remain it’s brilliant quality for it’s next season.

7. Normal People

For many of us, this BBC Three/ Hulu miniseries has a lot of memories of early lock-down, and for the first few months of the year, it was definitely the best television out there. The 12-part drama features two break-out performances from relative newcomers, Daisy Edgar-Jones and Paul Mescal, and is a haunting depiction of young love, centring on our lead characters’ journey through sixth form to university to post-university life. Even if you are not a romantic at heart, this show is definitely worth checking out for it’s sympathetic writing and heartfelt direction.

However, it is not even the best limited series on the list (that is still to come).

6. I May Destroy You

Michael Coel’s 12-part mini-series was one of the most delightfully weird pieces of media to come out this year. The former Chewing Gun creator/writer adapts her own traumatic experiences in this limited series, centring on a “millennial” writer who struggles to come to terms with the fact that she was raped after her drink was spiked. The best thing about this series, however, is that the series never feels like you’re watching a “important series”, it remains equal parts shocking, heart-breaking and often times, very funny.

Also, the series marks possibly the best way to end a series, with the final part – titled “Ego Death” – being one of the very best TV episodes of the year.

5. Schitt’s Creek

PopTV cult comedy, Schitt’s Creek has been slowly climbing up the ranks over the past 6 years, with each season gathering higher critical acclaim, a bigger fan-base and awards success. And with it’s final season, the series ended on the highest of highs, and broke all kinds of Emmys records (including the most Emmys ever for a single season of a comedy series, and the only time a series has won in all seven major categories).

The series has proven itself to be “the Fleabag” of the year, proving that a small, underdog series can break into the mainstream, and get huge acclaim. And, with it’s final season, Dan Levy has provided us with many hilarious moments and pitch perfect endings for all of our central characters.

4. Bojack Horseman

Bojack Horseman has had such an odd trajectory as a series. Debuting in 2014 opposite the then-Netflix hits, House of Cards and Orange is the New Black, it looked like it was set to be a charming but forgotten about adult animation series. However, over it’s past 7 years, it has somehow managed to rise up the ranks to become one of the best – if not the best – animated TV series of all time.

The concept of the show continues to entertain, blending hilarious satire of the show-business and Hollywood with some wonderfully odd anthropomorphic comedy. And, over time, the show has turned into an especially deep show, giving us some haunting commentary on depression, addiction, self-destructive behaviour and overall, what it means to be human. And, it all comes from a show about an animated talking horse.

Also, this season ended the show brilliantly, with it’s penultimate episode, “The View from Halfway Down” being a particular highlight.

3. Better Call Saul

Now, to be honest, my number one show is pretty much a three-way tie between these following three shows. On any other day, I could rearrange these three shows to be in the very top spot.

What I’ve currently decided on though, is the fifth and penultimate season of the Breaking Bad spin-off, Better Call Saul in third place. Much like it’s predecessor, Better Call Saul has crept up on us, being a slow and methodical character study that just continues to get better and better.

And, I know it’s sounds like a cliche, but this truly was the series at it’s best. In particular, the series excelled in it’s final 3 episodes, with “Bagman” and “Bad Choice Road” being two of best episodes of television of all time. It was at this point that the show really gave us such quality just as good as Breaking Bad and possibly even better.

Also, special mentions should go to the brilliant performances, especially by lead, Bob Odenkirk, Rhea Seehorn (as Kim Wexler), and newcomer, Tony Dalton (as Lalo Salamanca). I mean, the season is just worth watching for the showdown between Kim and Lalo alone. All this sets the stage for what will hopefully be an explosive (and tragic) final season of the brilliant series.

2. The Mandalorian

Back in 2015, JJ Abrams completely revitalised the tired Star Wars franchise with it’s seventh movie, The Force Awakens. However, the franchise’s most recent movies (Solo and The Rise of Skywalker) have proven to be colossal disappointments, all of which set the stage for the next big Star Wars project – the live-action series broadcast directly to DisneyPlus, The Mandalorian – to be give a much-needed revitalisation to the franchise again.

And indeed it has.

The first season (broadcast in March earlier this year) was absolutely terrific, but it was the second season (which aired over the past two months) that really sealed the deal. This latest season had absolutely no bad or filler episodes, and climaxed in possibly the show’s best episode (“The Rescue”).

What’s so brilliant about the series is it’s beautiful simplicity – it’s essentially a Sergio Leone-like western set in space, with Pedro Pascal’s The Mandalorian being the show’s very own Man with No Name. And, that leaves space for some brilliant supporting characters (especially Temuera Morrison as Boba Fett; Giancarlo Esposito as Moff Gideon and Gina Carano as Cara Dune) and plenty time to development the Mandalorian’s character and his father-son bond with the show’s breakout character, Baby Yoda (or Grogu).

The first two seasons of The Mandalorian are so damn good that it’s almost been the best TV has to offer. Almost…

1. The Queen’s Gambit

And, now we reach number one. Now, like I said, any other day of the week, The Mandalorian or Better Call Saul could of been in the top spot, however, the eventual winner ended up being The Queen’s Gambit, a small Netflix mini-series that could.

Directed and written by Godless’s Scott Frank (and adapted from classic book of the same name written by Walter Tevis), the series follows a self-destructive young woman, Beth Harmon (played to perfection by Anya Taylor-Joy) on her path to becoming the world’s greatest Chess player.

And, I know what you’re thinking – “A TV show about Chess. Really?”. But that’s one of the real joys of the series, is that it makes you extremely interested in a subject that otherwise could of been really boring. The Chess-playing sequences are executed brilliantly, with perfect direction and editing to go alongside.

And, that’s what is really remarkable about the series – is that, although brilliantly written, a lot of the storytelling in the show is really visual. It’s possibly one of the most perfectly constructed pieces of media to come out in a long time in that everything, from the writing to the cinematography to the production values to the costume design to the acting (especially by a break-out performance by Taylor-Joy) are all absolutely great.

If you haven’t seen it yet, you should definitely check out The Queen’s Gambit, because it’s absolutely brilliant and (although, a very close call) it’s my favourite TV show of the year.

Horror Tuesday: Onibaba (1964) Review

One of the most iconic pieces of J-horror of all-time is Onibaba, a 1964 film directed by Kaneto Shindo. Much like the 1999 J-horror film, Audition (also covered on here), the film has gathered a legion of fans from critics and other directors, including Edgar Wright and Mark Kermode, the latter of which has called it one of the “scariest films” he’s ever seen.

Onibaba.jpg (1600×1061)

The plot follows two unnamed women – one young (Jitsuko Yoshimura) and one middle-aged (Nobuko Otowa) – who are joined together because of younger woman’s marriage to the older woman’s son. Due to the son being off in the Civil War, the women are left on their own, and begin to kill soldiers to steal their possessions. Meanwhile, another man, Hachi (Kei Sato) moves in near them, and begins an attraction to the younger woman, and this drives a wedge between the two women.

Much like Audition, Onibaba is a really haunting experience, that has an uneasy and queasy tension through a lot of it’s run-time. But, crucially, the real scary part of the film comes in the last part of the movie, during the last 10 minutes. That is where the movie shows it’s to be really terrifying picture.

At the beginning, the film is actually a slow building 3-parter, surrounding around the Younger Woman, Older Woman and Hachi. Shindo has real confidence in the movie, and is perfectly fine with the movie centring purely on these 3 actors. It sounds like from the outset, that it might of had a sitcom-like format, however, that shouldn’t put you off – the sheer lack of actors and characters just adds to the film’s haunting atmosphere.

Also, all the actors pull it off. Yoshimura, Otowa, and Sato are all really good, and really embody their characters brilliantly. All 3 of the characters are also really well-developed and fleshed out, and this makes for complex viewing. Much in the same way as a lot of J-horror films, this film does not have many heroes or villains, and in fact, we are aligned to relate to every character, despite their questionable actions.

The film is also not that action packed, and can be a little slow at times. But much in the same way as the films of David Lynch, the film is all about atmosphere and mood. Much of this comes from the uneasy silence that permeates the film. Shindo is a filmmaker who prefers not to have much dialogue in his films, and this just makes Onibaba all the more uncomfortable and uneasy.

What’s so impressive about the film is that you can often feel what is coming off the screen. For the most part, cinema is a visual experience, that you can see and hear, but Onibaba feels like more than that. When the characters are dealing with extraordinary heat, you can feel how uncomfortable and distressed the characters are with this.

Weather also plays a big part of the film. Along with the sizzling heat, there is sometimes rain that comes into play. The rain just punctuates the drama and dread that the audience and characters are feeling. Not only that, but the weather also acts as a sort of pathetic fallacy, as it often happens when something bad is about to happen, and this becomes a huge warning for viewers.

The film also has some quite terrifying imagery. The iconic image of the Japanese mask appears throughout the film. Terrifying and scary, the mask is used by the older woman to scare the younger woman out of having an affair with Hachi. The mask is very frightening – it weird and surreal, and you can understand why it has become an iconic staple of Japanese horror culture.

This mask also plays into the heart-stopping, palpitating climax of the film. As is often a tradition with J-horror films (like Audition), the film is all pretty much a build-up to this climax, and this just makes it all the more terrifying. It is also great to see a movie have confidence in not having a completely tidy, non-ambiguous ending, and leave certain things left unanswered.

Overall, Onibaba is a really thrilling piece of J-horror. It is an iconic piece of Japanese cinema, and you should watch it just for that, but you should also check it out because it is a really thrilling, scary and well-crafted piece of horror cinema.

My 10 Favourite Films of the 21st Century

There have been some amazing films that have come out over the past 20 years, ever since we entered the new millennium, and here are just some of my absolute favourites.

Firstly, here are some honourable mentions: Blade Runner 2049, Get Out, God’s Own Country, Gone Girl, Her, I, Tonya, La La Land, Little Miss Sunshine, Little Women, Memento, Moonlight, Mulholland Drive, Phantom Thread, Searching, Serenity, Shaun of the Dead, Spirited Away, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Train to Busan, Wild Tales & Zodiac

10. Mission: Impossible – Fallout (2018)

Mission: Impossible has always been one of the most underrated film franchises of recent times. Despite a bevy of famous directors (including, Brian de Palma, John Woo, JJ Abrams, Brad Bird and Christopher McQuarrie) and famous actors (including the man himself, Tom Cruise) at the helm, the franchise has always been on the verge of widespread success, producing fun and serviceable popcorn action thrillers.

However, with it’s sixth instalment, Fallout, the franchise crosses the threshold from serviceable entertainment into a real sophisticated, classy and visceral piece of cinema. With brilliantly directed action sequences, compelling characters (particularly Rebecca Ferguson’s Ilsa Faust), thrilling tension, and great performances, Fallout is not just a great Mission: Impossible film, but a great film altogether. It’s definitely the best action film of the 21st century (and sorry, but it’s much better than Mad Max: Fury Road). Hell, it might even be the best action movie ever made.

9. Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)

This isn’t the last Coen brothers film that will appear on the list (see: number 2), but this is definitely the best film they’ve made in the last 10 years. It’s possibly their most Marmite film in their filmography (some people rank it as one of their favourite films of Coens; some people rank it among their worst), however, I absolutely love it.

It’s depressing, melancholy, sombre, subversive, darkly funny and strange in all the best ways, and I love it’s cinematography, songs, performances (including by a breakout Oscar Isaac) and some glorious cameos (including by the always great Adam Driver). It’s the sort of film that sticks with you long after the credits roll, and stays with you your entire life.

8. A Separation (2011)

Asghar Farhadi’s brilliant fifth feature, A Separation is him at his best and most heart-breaking. It’s most definitely the second best non-English language film of the 21st century (we’ll get to number one soon enough), and one of the best dramas I’ve ever seen.

The film boasts one of the greatest scripts ever written, with brutally frank and straight-talking dialogue, and makes us feel sympathy equally all of our lead characters, despite their bad or morally ambiguous actions. One of the most underestimated films to come recently, A Separation is most definitely worth a look.

7. Knives Out (2019)

Rian Johnson’s epic murder mystery comedy isn’t for everyone, but for the people that get it (like me), they really get it. The film is odd hybrid of an Agatha Christie murder mystery and a witty, suspenseful and darkly funny popcorn thriller. It’s neither a straight-up mystery, nor a spoof movie – it finds itself somewhere in the middle. It’s a strange pastiche of the whodunnit genre that simultaneously embraces and subverts the genre’s conventions.

What’s so brilliant about the film, however, is that you never notice all this while you’re watching it. It’s properly cinematic, really thrilling, entertaining, funny and filled to the brim with great performances and compelling characters. I mean, Ana de Armos is a frigging star through and through. I can’t wait to see the sequel, even it’s just for Daniel Craig’s barmy accent alone.

6. Paddington 2 (2017)

If you’d asked me about 3 years ago, I would probably say Paddington 2 is my favourite film of the 21st century. However, eventually ending up at number 6 is still pretty good.

This sequel to the 2014 adventure comedy centred on the Paddington Bear books by Michael Bond, improves everything about the original in spades. It’s more entertaining, more thrilling, funny and even more heartfelt. By the end, you’ll both be in floods of tears and your heart will be lifted by the level of compassion that Paddington has for the planet and it’s people.

It’s just the film we need for right now, and anyone with a soul and beating heart will surely be incredibly moved by this wonderful, wonderful movie.

5. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)

Spider-Man have gone through a hell of a lot through the past two decades – we have had three separate actors portraying the Marvel superhero across three distinct franchises (in 7 movies). However, who’d ever thought that the best portrayal of Spider-Man would actually come from an animated movie, with Miles Morales as the lead.

Spider-Verse is really beautifully animated, and filled to the brim with wonderful and hilarious characters. It’s also a film with a real love of comic books, and has a willingness to embrace the more wacky, crazy parts of the medium. It’s possibly the best animated films of the past 20 years, and definitely my favourite superhero movie of all time (and yes, its better than The Dark Knight – there, I said it).

4. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Charlie Kaufman’s 5th feature, is a masterclass in how to tell an tired, unoriginal story in a new and innovative way. Centring on a estranged, bickering couple (Kate Winslet and Jim Carrey), who decide to erase each other from their memories, the film combines a nonlinear narrative and wild genre experimentation to create something wholly original.

It’s the sort of film the explores the concept of romantic love, and the importance of memories and how our memories are what defines us, yet manages to do it in a very mainstream, and accessible (yet very strange) way. It’s also got some glorious performances by Kate Winslet and an out-of-character dramatic Jim Carrey. If you’re looking for something a little unorthodox coming from the 21st century, then definitely check out Eternal Sunshine.

3. The Social Network (2010)

Sometimes a film comes along where the writer and the director are both collectively working at the height of their powers. And The Social Network is one of those movies. In this movie, we see director, David Fincher (Fight Club, Se7en, Gone Girl) and writer, Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing, The Trial of the Chicago 7) coming together to make arguably the greatest biopic movie of all time (and it’s a movie about Facebook).

Not only that, but the score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross is absolutely fantastic, and the editing is some of the best editing done in the history of cinema (that hacking scene is utterly incredible). What is really miraculous about the film, however, is that Fincher is able to turn a film about Facebook (which could of been so boring) into a rollicking, cinematic, and oddly, fun feature film.

The Social Network does not get half as much attention as it should do – give it another 25 years, and hopefully, it will be seen as the classic that it deserves to be seen as.

2. No Country for Old Men (2007)

The Coen brothers’ 1996 classic, Fargo is definitely my favourite film of theirs, but if I had to pick their most polished, most well-made feature in their filmography, it would definitely be No Country for Old Men. Like a lot of their films – the plot is extremely simple (it’s essentially a cat-and-mouse thriller about the hunt for a suitcase of money), but that doesn’t mean it’s any less extraordinary.

What’s so brilliant about No Country is that it’s a masterclass in “show, don’t tell” storytelling – it gives just the right amount of exploratory dialogue, and treats it’s audience with the upmost of intelligence. It the possibly the absolute pinnacle of visual storytelling, only made more impressive by some beautiful cinematography by Roger Deakins (who, if you didn’t know, is the greatest cinematographer in the whole world – and that’s not a opinion, that’s just a fact).

Also, Javier Barden as Anton Chigurh – possibly the best bad guy ever?

1.Parasite (2019)

Now, every film on this list is absolutely brilliant, but Parasite is on an another level. Parasite is a special movie – the sort of movie that comes around once every few decades or maybe even once in a lifetime.

The black comedy-cum-thriller-cum-social satire is the 7th feature by South Korean writer-director, Bong Joon-ho (who formerly crafted the brilliant films, Mother, Snowpiercer and Memories of Murder), and is a real miracle of film. Film students and film critics will be analysing it for decades to come to figure out just how Joon-ho did it. Somehow, Parasite manages to be equal parts funny, tense, suspenseful and dramatic, and manages to work as about 10 different genres all at once.

But what might be the best thing about Parasite (and the reason why it got widespread media coverage, universal critical acclaim, and huge box office success) is just how entertaining the film is. Joon-ho is able to turn a tired social message into something that is really cinematic and gloriously thrilling. Watching Parasite is like watching Alfred Hitchcock at his best – we are seeing Joon-ho at the absolute total command of his craft, and he has proven himself to be one of the greatest film directors of his generation.

Yes, Parasite is the best film of the 21st Century, but Parasite may even be more than that. It may even be the greatest film ever made in the history of cinema.

What I Watched in Lockdown: Month #2 – April

Aw, April. After March was possibly the craziest and oddest month of our collective lives, April was a learning curve for everyone, as we tried to get used to our new surroundings.

Although it originated from truly terrible surroundings, this actually seemed like quite a uniting time as everyone in the whole world was sharing one big similar circumstance. Everyone was stuck in their respective homes – no one could see friends, see family, go to the cinema, go to a restaurant or really do anything. And, actually it was nice to see everyone – no matter what race, gender, age, class or nationality – deal with the same issues for once.

And, it was actually quite a calming time for me. I loved it, and I watched a lot of films. These include:

  • Lots of new films, that I watched on streaming services, instead of at the cinema. Streaming services including the subscription-based ones (including Netflix, Amazon Prime and DisneyPlus, along with Shudder, which I got for a while during lock-down (it wasn’t worth it)), free streaming services (including BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, and of course, YouTube) and streaming services were you buy rentals (including Google Play, Amazon or Curzon Home Cinema). The new films I watched on streaming services include Bacurau, Swallow, Love Wedding Repeat, Tigertail, Blow the Man Down and Sea Fever. I also re-watched The Invisible Man and the National Theatre Live taping of the stage play, Fleabag (which was very lovingly put onto streaming for charity). The best of these films was Bacurau (with a big honourable mention for Swallow), and the worst was definitely Love Wedding Repeat.
  • During lock-down, me and my dad started a film club, in which he would show me a film I’ve never seen before, while I would show him a film he’s never seen before. The classics I watched for the first time include the Orson Welles classic, Touch of Evil; the iconic war film, Apocalypse Now; the other iconic John Travolta dance film (that isn’t Grease), Saturday Night Fever; the 60s Paul Newman film, The Hustler; the Stephen King-David Cronenberg adaptation of The Dead Zone; Apocalypse Now documentary, Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse; the classic Humphrey Bogart classic, The Maltese Falcon and the 80s Best Picture winner, Platoon.
  • Films I showed my dad that I re-watched include the Coen brothers films, Inside Llewyn Davis (which I love), Barton Fink, The Man Who Wasn’t There and A Serious Man. Others include the forgotten gems, Begin Again, Searching and Leave No Trace, and the terrific recent gems, One Cut of the Dead and The Peanut Butter Falcon.
  • Otherwise, I watched Knives Out twice this month. Yes, that means that I’ve seen it six times now. The first time, I watched it with a commentary track from director, Rian Johnson, while the second time I watched it normally.
  • Speaking of Knives Out, I watched a lot of films that Johnson says influenced his work. Before this month, I watched 80s twisty-turny thriller, Deathtrap and the whodunnit parody movie, Murder by Death. In this month, however, I watched some Agatha Christie adaptations, including Evil Under the Sun, Death on the Nile, Murder on the Orient Express (the 1970s one) and The Mirror Crack’d, as well as the 70s mystery thrillers, Sleuth and The Last of Sheila. I also watched the 2015 miniseries of Christie’s And Then There Were None, which was great by the way, if you haven’t seen it.
  • Other random films include: Mr. Right, a mediocre Sam Rockwell black comedy; Tigers Are Not Afraid, a terrific and underrated fantasy horror in the vein of Pan’s Labyrinth (which was pretty much the only other film I watched on Shudder), and QT8: The First Eight, a documentary about Quentin Tarantino. I sort of let go of watching Studio Ghibli films in April (don’t worry, I start again in June), however I did watch the underrated Ghibli gem, Whisper of the Heart.
  • I did also re-watch a lot of films with my family during this month. This includes a favourite from my childhood (and one of my mum’s favourites), the Pixar movie, Finding Nemo, and The Shining sequel, Doctor Sleep, which I undoubtedly think it better than the original. I also re-watched the 2016 comedy, The Nice Guys, another go-to comfort movie for me.
  • I also continued to watch The Simpsons during this harsh and difficult time. I carried on watching random episodes, finishing the sixth and fifth seasons. This re-watch really established to me that The Simpsons is so good – the writing on this show is better than most shows on nowadays.
  • Other random TV seasons I’ve seen include: the first season of Ozark; the first season of Pure; the second season of Mark Kermode’s Secrets of Cinema, and the fifth season of Better Call Saul. They were all good, but the fifth season of Better Call Saul was near perfection (bring on season 6).
  • Outside And Then There Were None, I also watched some miniseries, including Tiger King (like everyone else on the planet – remember when that was the biggest thing ever) and Quiz, a dramatisation of the Who Wants to be A Millionaire scandal (which was fantastic, by the way).
  • I also read this month (that’s right, sometimes I read) – I started to read some comics. I read Volumes 7 (consisting of issues 31 to 36) and 8 (Issues 37 to 42) of Brian K. Vaughn’s Saga, one of my favourite comic book series. I also read the second volume (Issues 6 to 10) of the underrated series, Skyward.

Bring on the Month 3, where caution: I was A LOT of films.

What I Watched in Lock-down: Month #1 – March

Well, 2020 has been… an experience, hasn’t it.

Ever since March, life has changed for pretty much everyone in the world. Coronavirus – or Covid-19 – has all of a sudden become the most famous celebrity in the whole world, and everyone abruptly discovered a new vocabulary, including “social distancing”, “pandemic”, “isolation” and “quarantine”.

It became the biggest thing in the world around March, especially half way through the month. It is still going on now, but it’s definitely dialling down, and will probably never again reach the craziness of mid-to-late March. The whole pandemic is like a TV show that started off as biggest show on television, and is now petering out (but still has a devoted fan-base) – it’s like Twin Peaks, Glee or Heroes. And, like these shows, the pandemic will hopefully be cancelled soon, only getting a revival in the press when it is properly finished.

And, like everyone, we were put in lock-down in late March, not being able to go outside, go to cinema, go to a restaurant, see friends, see family, or just really do anything that doesn’t involve doing it in the house. So, therefore, like everyone, I got a load of brand new projects, and this included watching a lot of films.

Firstly, during the first half on the month (the 1st to the 16th), where the world had not really changed that much, it was pretty much business as normal. This includes:

  • A load of new films, that I watched at the cinema (remember when we could do that). This includes – Portrait of a Lady on Fire, The Invisible Man, Downhill, Onward (and the short film that proceeded it, Playdate with Destiny), The Photograph and Military Wives. Yes, that’s right, Military Wives was the last film I watched at the cinema. I mean, Military Wives was good and everything, but if I die of Covid-19 and that is the last film I see at the cinema, I’m gonna be pissed. Overall the best of these films are either The Invisible Man or Portrait of a Lady on Fire (both so great – Portrait a little overrated, and Invisible Man was better than many thought), while the worst was definitely Downhill.
  • Also, I watched Taylor Tomlison’s new stand-up special, Quarter Life Crisis, which was very good. It was broadcast on Netflix – a eerie foreshadowing that we would get a load of new films on streaming services.
  • I continued to watch Studio Ghibli movies – the anime movies that were produced by Hayao Miyazaki’s film studio – ever since were brought to Netflix in February. In February, I watched Kiki’s Delivery Service, Castle in the Sky and Porco Rosso, and re-watched My Neighbour Totoro, while in March, I watched The Secret World of Arrietty and The Cat Returns and re-watched Spirited Away.
  • I also continued to watch a lot of Mark Ruffalo films, which I started to watch after seeing Dark Waters in late Feb. This includes Foxcatcher and Just Like Heaven, and re-watching Zodiac and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, the latter two are two of the best films of the 21st century.
  • Other random first-time watches include: the 2016 horror film (that the podcast, The Evolution of Horror recommended me), The Autopsy of Jane Doe; the underrated Best Picture nominee, In the Bedroom; the overrated Noah Baumbach movie, Mistress America, and the solid Sidney Lumet thriller, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead. A re-watch includes Ready or Not, a film from last year, that I really liked.
  • In terms of TV, I watched the fifth season of Inside No. 9. This was good, but was not as good as the utterly brilliant fourth season.

Now, we get to the time were the world went to shit. This is a new world, where new releases were either delayed, or taken straight to streaming. With the world in extreme turmoil, I started to watch favourite films and childhood favourites. Also, feeling like I won’t have this opportunity again, I decided to watch a bunch of old classics I’ve never seen before. Watches includes:

  • I re-watched some of my favourite films, including Fargo (believe or not, a go-to comfort film for me), Toy Story 2 (which I’m loving more and more on each re-watch) and last year’s Knives Out (which I watched for the fourth time).
  • I also watched some of my favourite films from childhood, including Ocean’s Eleven and Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Both were good, but not as great as I remembered, especially Ocean’s Eleven.
  • Also, when I got DisneyPlus in late March, I watched a lot of their content, including their two short films, Lamp Life and Forky Asks a Question: What is Money?.
  • I started watching some classic films, starting with 1949 classic, The Third Man.
  • As we had to get used to our new surroundings, I started to watch new films on streaming services instead of at the cinema. This includes The Platform and Vivarium – both solid, if slightly underwhelming satirical movies.
  • Other random watches include: The Invisible Man director, Leigh Wannell’s other film, Upgrade; the 1970s musical thriller (that Edgar Wright recommended me), Phantom of the Paraside, and re-watched the 2011 Steven Soderbergh thriller, Contagion, which for some reason, I found slightly relatable.
  • Also, as a go-comfort move, I re-watched my favourite show from my childhood – a little show you may of heard of called The Simpsons. I re-watched a lot of random episodes and finished the eighth season. This brought me back to my childhood at this really heard time, and really established for me that it is indeed one of the best TV shows of all time.
  • Otherwise, I also finished the second season of Lost in Space and the twelfth season of Doctor Who. Both were solidly good seasons.

Now, the next two months were peak lockdown, so prepare for a lot of movies in the next few months.

Streaming Options: The Wretched Review

One of the streaming titles to gain a lot of popularity since the beginning of the COVID-19-enforced lock-down is The Wretched, a supernatural horror film. Only playing on streaming platforms (including Amazon, Google Play, and YouTube) and some drive-in cinemas, the film has become a huge success due to a lot of big, blockbuster films that have been delayed. In fact, the film has become the first film since the 2018 superhero blockbuster, Black Panther to keep the top spot at the box office for 5 weeks.

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The film focuses on a young teenage boy, Ben (John-Paul Howard), who moves back in with father, who he has been estranged with since his parents’ divorce. He begins to suspect that his next-door neighbour, Abbie (Zarah Mahler) is actually being possessed by an ancient witch, harming her family around her. With the help of his new friend, Mallory (Piper Curda), he must find a way to stop her from hurting him or his family.

From the outset, you can tell that the plot feels very inspired by the 1954 Alfred Hitchcock classic, Rear Window, in how Ben begins to spy on his neighbours, and begins to suspect that something is not quite right with them. In this scenario, Ben is James Stewart and his best friend, Mallory is Grace Kelly. It’s so similar in fact, that Ben is actually wearing a case throughout the film, having just broken his arm.

You could also compare the film to Disturbia, a 2007 thriller, which was essentially a rip-off of Rear Window, but instead, done from a more teenage perspective. This is essentially what this film does – it tells a Rear Window-type plot from a teenage perspective, but mixes it with more supernatural chills. In fact, the film owes more of a debt to kids’ films, like the fun 2007 animated movie, Monster House (in which young teenagers investigate their supernatural house next door) and the 2008 fantasy adventure, The Spiderwick Chronicles (in which a teenage boy and his siblings fight against demons and ghouls).

This is a little bit of a problem of the film, as is sometimes uncomfortably mixes teen angst and drama with genuine scares and chills. It is a similar problem that the recent film, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark in which it branded itself as properly scary horror film, but was also a movie that needed a primarily young target audience.

By extension, the feels like it should be a lot scarier than it is. There are certain sequences at the beginning that are quite chilling, like the actual monster itself, and seeing it appear subtly in baby monitors or the corner of Ben’s eye. It’s almost like seeing a teen version of Paranormal Activity at some points. However, it feels like it slightly abandons this after around half an hour, and the film trades in scary chills for more of an adventure, exciting thrill ride.

This is another problem about the film – is that sometimes there is just too much going on. Other than struggling to balance a variety of tones and target audiences, there is a lot of plots and story threads that the film is trying to go for. The film is about Ben, his development and his relationships, as well as dealing with the threat next-door, that turns into a supernatural threat.

There is also a large amount of characters and actors vying for screen-time. Although, it is definitely Ben’s story, other characters include his father, his father’s girlfriend, Mallory, her sister, Abbie, her family, and many more. Not only that, but on top of all of this, the film then tries to do 2 big twists at the end. It almost feels like the script was trying to be too ambitious and trying to do too many things, that it doesn’t end up that successful doing any of them.

That being said, the film is still very pacey and thrilling. The film is very well-directed by Brett Pierce and Drew T. Pierce. They might be a little out of their element directing a full-on, scary horror film, and would probably be better crafting more a children adventure film. However, saying that, they are still capable of making a movie that is fun, entertaining and exciting, with many thrills and some relatable and interesting characters.

Overall, The Wretched is a perfectly fine diversion. It isn’t perfect, and possibly needs a little bit of more work put into the script, and overall thought put into exactly what it wanted to be. However, saying that, if you are looking for a fun, pacey and thrilling horror movie, then you should definitely give this a watch.

Rating: 6/10

Streaming Options: The Vast of Night review

If you are looking for a bit of sci-fi fix during lock-down, then you should definitely check out the newest Amazon Prime original, The Vast of Night. The film was first shown at the Sundance film festival in 2019, and was then brought by Amazon Studios, who are screening it free for anyone with an Amazon Prime subscription. It can also be screened in certain drive-in theatres in the US, and let me tell you this is the sort of movie that is pitch perfect for a drive-in movie watching experience.

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The film is inspired by vintage 50s-60s science fiction television, like The Outer Limits and especially, The Twilight Zone, with a healthy dose of The X Files also thrown into the mix. In fact, the whole film is framed as an episode of a The Twilight Zone-type show, called Paradox Theatre – the film begins on a old-fashioned curved television with a fuzzy connection, with an authoritative-like narrator. And, at various times, the film slips back into this just to remind us of that framing device.

The film focuses on the relationship between teenage switchboard operator, Fay Crocker (played by Sierra McCormick) and young radio DJ, Everett (Jake Horowitz), two people living in a small, desolate town in New Mexico. The two soon start investigating strange sounds coming out of the radio and switchboard, which leads to them discovering various stories from the townsfolk about close encounters and alien invaders.

Much in the same way as Mulder and Scully in The X-Files, Fay and Everett are contrasting and opposing figures that bicker, argue and have really great chemistry. Fay is more of a wide-eyed, optimistic figure, who wishes to stay in this small town, while Everett is more of cynical, arrogant and charming figure, who is desperate to get away from this town. And, as is the case with The X-Files (the early seasons, especially), the two have brilliant chemistry, but it never really slips into a sexual, or romantic pairing, and is much more effective only hinted at. This small piece of characterisation works really well, and is elevated by great performances McCormick and Horowitz.

The film is a really wonderful jump back into science fiction, a genre of which has gone by the wayside slightly ever since the COVID-19-influenced lock-down began. I mean, since big block-busters have been delayed until September, it’s obviously we would be getting a lot less of effects-driven sci-fi movies. However, The Vast of Night is much more of a low-budget affair for sci-fi movies, centring more on the unseen threat that is looming in the skies.

The film has a very standard, ordinary way of telling it’s story, and never feels the need to be subversive or satirical in any way. The film is unlike the works of filmmakers like, say, Edgar Wright or Jordan Peele, which are trying to balance soft parody with an actual story – this is down-the-middle sci-fi story told completely straight. It is clearly made by someone with a real affinity for this kind of genre, as director, Andrew Patterson (in his directional debut, no less) gets all the details about this era completely spot-on, from the clothes, the cars, the old-fashioned TVs and the old-fashioned circuit boards. I know it sounds like a cliche, but it really does feel like you are transported back to the late 1950s. And, much is the same way as these old-fashioned sci-fi shows, the experience that these kids are going through does feel genuinely wonderful and thrilling. It really evokes the awe and wonder that is felt like watching The X Files and other sci-fi films, like Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977).

Patterson also has a great visual style to offer, and in particular, the camera work done by cinematographer, M.I. Littin-Menz is very interesting. The film is not afraid to hold a shot for a long time, and gives us many long panning shots and uses of steadicam. For example, there is a shot of Fay doing work on the circuit system that holds for a very long time and doesn’t cut away.

There is also a really extraordinary sequence, in which the camera pans from Fay to Everett, who are on different sides of the town. All done in one long, ambitious sequence, the camera glides through the air, going past people and cars, and brings to mind similar sequences in recent Oscar winner, 1917 and latest Netflix original, Extraction.

There is a mixture between this and some more intricate camerawork. This sort of camerawork feels very inspired by the works of Edgar Wright – it is fast, quick, with loads of edits. It also places a big emphasis on close-ups, like keys going into the ignition, or records being put on a record player. It’s the mixture, between the these two opposing styles – the long, panning shots and the fast, quick edits – that give the film a really unique and interesting visual style.

This visual style is also very arresting in other areas. In another strange sequence, Kay and Everett talk to some on the radio about his close encounter experience, and the film literally cuts to black for quite a long time (about 1-2 minutes long) while the listener talks about his experiences. This is a heavily ambitious, and quite strange moment that just adds to the film’s unique visual style.

Overall, the film’s visual style is fantastic, the cast are really wonderful and it beautifully captures the era it is portraying, but overall, I yearned for more substance. The film is just really an exercise in style – the story does sometimes lack a bit of depth – but saying that, it is a really great exercise in style.

The Vast of Night is overall, a really lovely movie that really clicks. For anyone in the mood for a good, old-fashioned piece of sci-fi, particularly with the lack of sci-fi entertainment at a time like this, The Vast of Night is really worth watching. So, if you have an Amazon Prime account, definitely check this out.

Rating: 8/10

Streaming Options: Never Rarely Sometimes Always Review

Never Rarely Sometimes Always is a real indie treat that you can now catch on streaming. The film had a brief theatrical run in cinemas during mid-March, before the COVID-19 pandemic took off, and it’s now available from all different streaming services. It is available from all the usual providers, including Google Play, Amazon and Youtube, where you can stream it for, at the cheapest, £3.49.

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The plot centres on a young 17-year-old girl, Autumn (Sidney Flanigan), who suddenly gets pregnant. Feeling like she doesn’t want the baby, she decides to get an abortion, however, her local clinic doesn’t help her. She decides to travel to Pennsylvania with her cousin and best friend, Skylar (Talia Ryder), to get proper support for her decision.

The film is written and directed by indie director, Eliza Hittman, who was previously at the helm of 2015’s Beach Rats. The two lead stars, Flanigan and Ryder are very much unknowns, but I doubt they will be for much longer after the release of this movie. The closer thing that we get to a star in this movie is Theodore Pellerin, a small indie actor, appearing in the TV shows, On Becoming a God in Central Florida (2019-present) and The OA (2019). Hittman, and her two stars, Flanigan and Ryder are the real geniuses here, that make the film work so well.

The two central performances by Flanigan and Ryder are really quite terrific. For two very young actresses, Hittman is very confident with them, placing the movie squarely in their hands. Very much in the same vein as the lead performance by Julia Garner in another recent streaming title, The Assistant, these stars are often shot in tight, intense close-ups, and they pretty much appear in every single scene.

What is really wonderful about the performances, however, is how much they underact. Normally, when actors are portraying hormonal teenagers, they tend to overact, and make their characters almost caricatured. However, Flanigan and Ryder never do this – they play it a minimalist way, which is so refreshing to see. And Hittman is key here too, as she lets the actors breathe and perform, in a freeing way.

Hittman is really brilliant here as the director. She is very good at doing subtle film-making, than never feels the need to be melodramatic, or overwrought. She never feels the need to judge her characters or their actions, and this makes for very sensitive viewing. She also never feels the pressure to cut away frenetically, and lets the camera linger for a long time.

One of the scenes that brutally captures this is a scene in which Autumn has a consultation with a doctor about her abortion. This is where the title of the film comes into play, as the doctor asks Autumn to reply to her questions with either “never”, “rarely”, “sometimes” or “always”. The scene is really haunting, and through Flanigan’s performance, it beautifully tells a whole story in not many words.

The film also works so effortlessly because of the central relationship between our lead characters. Their relationship has echoes of the central characters’ relationship in the 1969 classic, Midnight Cowboy in how they don’t actually communicate that much with each other, but they don’t need to – they are so comfortable with each other, they don’t really need to talk.

There is a really beautiful scene that showcases this, in which the two get on each other’s nerves, Autumn gives Skylar a “fuck you”, Skylar gets angry and moves forward two seats, and then the two just silently reconcile. There is another beautiful scene in which, while Skylar is kissing a man to get money for the both of them, the two of them hold hands. Their relationship is sweet and soulful, and you can tell that Autumn has a special bond with Skylar, where many others don’t.

Hittman also treats the film’s central topic of abortion very uniquely. Many of the scenes involving abortion – from the first clinic talking her out of having an abortion to the uncomfortable and heartbreaking consultation that Autumn has with a doctor – feel painstaking real and authentic. It is really refreshing to see a movie take on such a touchy subject with real bravery and brio, as well as take on this subject and not judge any of the characters for their actions. The film never feels pro or anti abortion, and this is so refreshing to see.

Overall, Hittman has created a really wonderful film in Never Rarely Sometimes Always. She, and her two central stars, Flanigan and Ryder have turned this film into a engaging, immersive and very interesting experience. You should definitely check, because it’s definitely a contender for one of the best films of the year.

Rating: 9/10