1. Never Rarely Sometimes Always: If we all must die, this is the movie I’d like to take with me to the other world. Never Rarely Sometimes Always is about an unwanted pregnancy and what it does to a 17-year old girl who is not into a foetal attraction. Not really. The majority of the film sees Autumn (Sidney Flanigan) and her lovely cousin Skylar (Talia Ryder) travelling to New York without their parents’ knowledge or consent. The plan is to go to New York get an abortion and return home the same day. God of course, has other plans. Funny how He pops up when least needed.This is a film that won’t try to surprise you by unexpected plot manoeuvres. It wins your heart with its stark often brutal sincerity. The director Eliza Hittman (I loved her earlier work Beach Rats) is as motivated, driven and determined as her heroine. They both want the same thing. Soon I was so invested in Autumn’s journey that I wished I was there to offer her a place to stay
2. So Long, My Son: This 3-hour long Chinese epic is a staggering achievement in every sense. After I finished watching it, I sat in supreme silence thinking about life, mortality, continuity, lineage, marital harmony, friendship and at the end of it all, the futility of it all. How do I describe So Long, My Son? At its most visible level, it is the story of a couple, played with self-effacing velocity by Wang Jingchun and Yong Mei, who lose their only son in a freak drowning accident. The narration, done up in moving images culled from the past and tossed into the present, shows us in vivid yet unobtrusive colours of grief, how this tragedy determines the couple’s entire journey of life. So Long, My Son is so much like life. It is as complicated or simple as you make it. You can watch the film its gracefully unfolding cinematic saga of pain, tragedy, heartbreak and reconciliation. Or you can dig deeper into the troughs of Chinese history of the past 50-60 years when single-child families were made mandatory by the Chinese government.
3. The Devil All The Time: Stunning, is a word that might have been invented to describe Anthony Campos’ new dark and violent drama. Set in the years following World War 2 in a rural America populated by perverse atonement seekers, periodicity is the plot’s playground for unleashing a kind of violence that undermines the very essence of human nature. And that’s not such a bad thing at all. Brutality is a way of life in modern times. And cinema cannot pretend of its non-existence. The film walks the talk creating a kind of twitchy universe where felony and crime are a way of life. It’s a savagely irredeemable world where good people, such as the heroine’s sister Leonara (Eliza Scanlen) get seduced by the perverse preacher (Robert Pattinson, chilling in his creepiness) and left to commit suicide. It’s a world where a war veteran (Bill Skarsgard, incredibly anguished) shoots his son’s pet dog so that his wife would be freed of cancer. God, you see, needs to be appeased. But where IS God?
4. Hope Gap: I would have gone with a 5-star rating for this excruciatingly beautiful portrait of a marriage falling apart.It is extremely austere in reifying the emotions that we can see swell up in the characters as they face a situation they never expected. After 30 years of a comfortable marriage, who quits? It sounds ridiculous to even the man, played with tremendous restrain and dignity by Bill Nighy. For years, Edward has been taking in his wife’s bantering and bullying, taunting and temper tantrums. “Why didn’t you tell her that you hated her attitude?” their shocked son Jamie asks his father as the patriarch prepares to leave home one not so fine Sunday morning while matriarch Grace attends church, clueless that her husband’s plans to change her life, THEIR life, so suddenly at a time when she dreamt of only the calmness of a shared retirement. It’s a cruel baffling scenario, as seen through the eyes of the son. Josh O’Connor as the son who has his own problems away from home in London to deal with, fills the film with a nurturing empathy. In one of the films, many memorable sequences (almost every moment is unforgettable) Jamie tells his only two friends how, when he was a child, his parents would pick him from both the sides and swing him midair while walking together. As he tells this, his voice cracks. The tears flow.
5. Ordinary Love: It is very hard not to love this film. At the same time it is difficult to forgive the co-directors for putting us through this at a time when we are all struggling to keep our morale from plunging to the ground. Ordinary Love introduces us to a 50-plus couple Tom and Joan, played by two of the finest actors Liam Neeson and Lesley Manville from the UK. They look so comfortable together and so well-ensconced that it would require a director as equanimous as the Japanese Koreeda to not throw in a crisis in this tranquil domestic scenario. So yup. Deal with it. Joan has breast cancer. She not only has to deal with this sickness but also with a husband who is as traumatized as she is and not very accepting of this blow that fate has dealt them. Understandably, it is difficult to wheedle out any humour in this situation. But the master performers that they are, Neeson and Manville’s bickering arguing and shared nervousness will make you smile, especially the way the husband grills the doctors as though they are hiding vital information from him. During treatment Joan suggests her husband take a walk. “Nope I’m staying right here,” Neeson is a befitting match to adversity.The film spares us none of the details of Joan’s treatment, and her conversation with fellow-chemotherapists shook me to the core. I would have avoided the film if I knew what was in store. But in that case I’d have been a poorer cineaste.
6. Seberg: Allow me to make a confession. I have in recent times become a huge fan of the mesmeric Twilight star Kristen Stewart. She has gone from strength to strength. If you have seen her in Clouds Of Sils Maria (2014), Certain Women (2016), Personal Shopper(2016) and Lizzie(2018) you would witness the evolution of one of American cinema’s most influential contemporary actresses. In Seberg, an autobiographical recreation of the iconic French actress Jean Seberg’s ruination in America in the hands of the FBI, Kristen is much more than a sum-total of the plot. She rises and shines giving to the beautiful psychologically fragile actress’s life-wreck a smudge of sensuality and grace, I have never seen in cinema about self-destructive actresses.
7. Little Women: To not nominate Greta Gerwig in the Best Director’s category is a shame that the Oscars would have to live down for as long as they (the Oscars) and the male biases that exist in movie industries all over the world, live. Ironically, the protagonist of Louisa May Alcott’s novel faces such prejudices all her life. In an early sequence of this resplendent adaptation of a timeless novel, Jo (the incandescent Saoirse Ronan) is told by her publisher that her writing needs to avoid masculine themes and concentrate on the heroine finding a suitable match for herself.
This is America in the 1860s and director Gerwig plunges right in there. We meet the March family of all-women(the father is away at war) and immediately fall in love with all of them, collectively and individually. There is a magical quality to how much empathy and compassion Gerwig brings to the dining table. Each of the four sisters is played with a luminous credibility by actresses who seem the least conscious of the burden of re-creating a classic that has been done repeatedly in the past. 17 times, I am informed, though I am not sure of the number since I haven’t seen all the renditions of Alcott’s influential novel. From the screen adaptations that I’ve seen, this one is by far, the finest, most supple and energetic, warmest and most heartwarming.
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