Any given year in the artistic calendar is earmarked with how much the filmmaking media channelizes and showcases our immediate truth beyond our own externalities. Well to put it very honestly, 2019 found bright minds tune into the collective darkness of our environment with a focus on those who understood that paying lip service at the altar of defeated hope will be bogus and simply refuting our everyday trysts with all sorts of disasters big and small. Cue the return of new seasons of THE HANDMAID’S TALE and BIG LITTLE LIES and the smog filled battle royale of GAME OF THRONES’ final stretch. Or the surprising blend of renewed beginnings and danger for Jesse Pinkman in EL CAMINO: A BREAKING BAD MOVIE. In short, amorality was a conduit for the soul.
The fact that most of the works that this writer found accessible and riveting enough to make it to the most defining ones of this year were backed by streaming giants is an abiding statement in itself . Hence the independent paradigm of creating the truth beyond an illusory, cursory reading of life triumphed. It was a period where hope was earned after spells of great soul searching and humour wrought from deep wells of loneliness ( as in the case of the sterling properties of Amazon Prime’s FLEABAG and THE MARVELOUS MRS. MAISEL)
So here instead of calling these the best of the year, I will reframe by saying that the following works all reflected the sign of our times. They were beholden to our immediate culture and proved beyond a doubt that we needed these moments of sustained truths more than anything else.
AMERICAN SON (NETFLIX)
This NETFLIX original retained the claustrophobic nature of its source play starring the same cast as this.
At the cost of being too didactic and verbose or even breathlessly wordy to some critics, it initiated a timeless discourse on race relations which was of the moment and its concerns stemmed from the grist of centuries’ worth of internalized abuse. Kerry Washington was the mother on tenterhooks relaying every parent’s worst fears and spotlighting the evil of gun violence and police brutality against minorities while Eugene Lee was her counterpart who had more alarming truths to disseminate as a ‘non-white’ police officer handling this delicate case.
Steven Pasquale and Jeremy Jordan round out the other side of things. What makes AMERICAN SON implosive is that each word and by extension conversation reveals the unintentional manner in which racial imprints have been handed down to us, making us inadequate to separate right from wrong so that unutterable sentiments resting on the tip of our tongues come out at the most inopportune moments . Sparing not an iota of flawed human endeavours and prejudices, AMERICAN SON ends with the obvious shock to the system as death becomes another haunting postscript for our times.
MARRIAGE STORY ( NETFLIX)
Watching this much loved feature by NOAH BAUMBACH from the comforts of my drawing room, I warmed up to its balanced portrait of two soulmates, with the popular he/she montage of what they like about each other opening it , who fall into a mid – life crisis of opposing forces and opt for a divorce. It tracks the downward spiral with sensitivity and compassion without the burden of those standardized ‘big’ moments for lending it an extreme earnest center.
Shuttling between lives and burning issues of a future without each other, MARRIAGE STORY is also the tale of two cities New York and Los Angeles. Buoyed by naturalistic presence of each performer and filmed in single takes in several key scenes, it invests in the pain and breakdown of lifetime bonds among decent people so that by the end we truly feel for them and wish they could have stayed together. However, they exercise goodwill and a truly amicable rapport for the sake of their decade old marriage and the mutual love for each other and their son. A heartfelt snapshot of multiple lives and alliances built on constancy.
Jordan Peele’s enigmatic vision of true, perilous horror set the stage for a year where anger towards established norms burst forth like barely contained minefields that had been waiting to be detonated.
US was based on the idea of there being miles of unaccounted underground networks in America, implying that danger lurked quite literally beneath the surface.
We often wonder about the human tendency to conceal our innermost feelings, especially those verging on the ravenous and anti-social. Here the conceit of a family get- together seamlessly gets coalesced with the hint of a home invasion that, in turn, brought out body doubles of the main protagonists. It cast a pall on those viewing as the uneasy truce between stable and evil, the calming and the horrifying presented itself in its imagery, the parallels and mirror image of our true selves shattering all conceived notions. By sculpting the doppelgangers as essentially anti-establishment figureheads rallying violent ends against injustice, US became a mini-thesis on the nature of ‘othering’ and the darker aspects of our souls we wish to ourselves keep in the attic of forgetfulness. The direction made that point complex and trenchant while utilizing certain tropes of the thriller /horror hybrid in exciting ways.
For me, Lupita Nyongo’s doppelganger seems to design her voice literally from the epiglottis, suggesting the inherent repression of the voiceless millions . That becomes a measure of the brilliance of the performers’ dual act here. Come to think of it, the two letters in the film’s title cleverly tweaks the idea of the United States(U. S.) itself in these troubled times, refracting its present breakdown.
AVENGERS : ENDGAME
IT : CHAPTER 2
A persistent darkness ruled the roost in two of this year’s biggest mainstream successes as the superheroic ensemble of AVENGERS ENDGAME became a galaxy of individuals marshaling their strengths for final innings and truth be told, it was pensive, thrilling, capturing our imaginations like no other. An end of an era was marked, likened to this decade’s close with an introspective final recognition of this timely allegory of the might of collective good over evil.
Similarly, IT CHAPTER 2 found its core of gloom with some truly engaging scenes of bonding among childhood friends and allies, reunited in the face of a villainous monster PENNYWISE , an amalgamation of the worst of humanity including the bullies terrorizing us in the name of extended silences. While the scary bits were often laughable, ludicrous and loud, there was a sense of nostalgia palpable here otherwise and that included the flashbacks . Fear over unity and vice versa was the dynamic that IT CHAPTER 2 captured well.
THE HANDMAID’S TALE SEASON 3
Coinciding with the release of Margaret Atwood’s Booker winning sequel THE TESTAMENTS, the third season sowed seeds of greater resistance to a mass movement that disemboweled humanity of any visible trace of recognition for females.
Led by Elisabeth Moss’ singular portrayal of June and some outstanding performers aiding its vision, Season 3rd melded the prophetic bureaucracy of doom for Gilead’s future with an even greater force for the wheels of change turning and turning, taking detours without being clamped down by authority. It was atmospheric, photographed like a beautiful nightmare and came with simultaneous echoes of worldwide protests marking 2019 on the whole.
WALK. RIDE. RODEO (NETFLIX)
Amberley Snyder’s inspirational real life tale truly found its home in WALK. RIDE. RODEO. Like the monumental strides of a horse, she got back on the saddle as an expert rodeo star, tracing her almost fatal nadirs as a paraplegic and then the constancy of her will to survive against all odds.
What I enjoyed about it was that it ticked off all beats of a real life story and the attendant flight towards fearlessness , reminding us that it is indeed the true spiral of individuals who dare to take risks and not just a filmmaking convention. A good, old fashioned tale capturing the spirited Americana core, this must be watched by us to start anew and count our blessings . Amberley did spectacularly .
GRACE AND FRANKIE SEASON 5TH (NETFLIX)
These ladies came, saw and conquered like life-long champions of free will and individuality, belying age old mantras and the chronic cause of ageism.
Of course back problems and the fear of death came in the way as did unhealthy on-off dynamics of an enduring friendship but the cast was consistently upbeat while the inclusion of Lisa Kudrow for a cameo more than welcome.
In the process, GRACE AND FRANKIE became literal expansions of Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda’s real life bond of years and years , with a sixth season coming in January. While the world went to war, humour ruled their wavelengths in a rare bright spot for this list.
A RAY OF HOPE : WINNIE THE POOH (2011)
I so vividly remember how the release of the final Harry Potter film completely robbed this one of wider audience and so my recent viewing of WINNIE THE POOH was like some kind of validation.
As an admirer of the cuddly yellow toy bear, series of cartoons and books, I feel nothing can define gentle charms of childhood better than this assortment ; the 2011 Disney feature employs the same animation technique and storytelling as the books by A. A. MILNE, propelled by our interests being piqued by recent releases of two films on CHRISTOPHER ROBIN, the loveable human prefect at the heart of this anthropomorphic saga spanning eras and years of release .
If one needs to be reacquainted with a lost world of innocence, the assorted adventures of POOH and his friends here are all that is needed to let hope reign supreme.
MORE WORKS WILL BE DISCUSSED IN THE NEXT POST.