PART 2: FILMS
The best Netflix-produced movie yet, Roma is the service’s first film to make Hollywood sit up and take notice. The evidence? Ten 2019 Academy Award nominations, which resulted in Oscars for Best Director, Best Cinematography and Best Foreign Language Film.
As you’d expect from Alfonso Cuarón, previously responsible for the likes of Gravity and Children of Men, Roma is both a technical marvel (impeccably shot by Cuarón himself in black and white) and emotionally charged, resulting in a film that’s every bit as powerful as anything made primarily for the cinema screen.
Inspired by Cuarón’s own childhood in Mexico City, the story follows an indigenous maid to a wealthy middle-class family as she experiences a series of events – at first, seemingly unlinked, but which create a moving tapestry that expertly portrays life on a personal and macro scale.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Spider-Man takes time out from the behemoth of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and finds a brand new direction in this inventive animated movie that uses the multiverse theory (essentially, that there are an infinite number of parallel dimensions co-existing on top of each other) to take the web-slinger in all sorts of weird and wonderful directions.
To reveal too much would spoil the joy of watching this alternate universe Spidey, Brooklyn schoolboy Miles Morales, undergo his own origin story, which brilliantly parallels the one we’ve already seen in so many other movies, comics and games. The fact that it’s all brought to life in an amazing (no pun intended) animation style is simply the icing on a delicious cinematic cake.
The Irishman isn’t just Martin Scorsese’s long-awaited return to the world of organised crime, it also unites the cinematic Great Triumvirate of tough guy gangster movie stars: Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and an out-of-retirement Joe Pesci. Kind of like The Expendables, but with people who can actually act – and it’s undeniably great to see these legendary thesps delivering the best work of their late careers.
With a story spanning several decades (this movie is showcase for how far CG de-aging technology has come – and perhaps proof that there’s still room for improvement) the film delves into the mysterious disappearance of mercurial union boss Jimmy Hoffa (Pacino), who had links to both mainstream politics and the mob. It’s mainly told through the recollections of De Niro’s eponymous “Irishman” Frank Sheeran, a truck driver who becomes an enforcer for both Hoffa and Russell Bufalino, the mafia boss played by Pesci.
True Grit (2010)
The Coen brothers’ adaptation of Charles Portis’ classic Western novel has the dubious honour of being the film nominated for the most Oscars without walking off with a single one – and watching it a few years on from its release, it’s clear that the Academy made a mistake (not with the nominations, but with the… not winning thing). This is a truly outstanding modern day Western, an exploration of how courage and heroism (aka “true grit”) comes in many forms, as well as being thrilling and funny in equal measure.
Jeff Bridges impresses as gruff alcoholic marshal Rooster Cogburn, tasked with hunting down a killer on the run, but it’s young Hailee Steinfeld as his spirited 14-year-old employer who arguably steals the show.
Alex Garland’s directorial debut is a brilliantly realised slice of sci-fi about what makes us human. Oscar Isaac plays the charismatic billionaire CEO of a tech company who wrote the code for his search engine as a child. When his employee Caleb wins a competition to spend a week at his boss’s high-security bunker home, Nathan uses it as an opportunity to field test his new invention: Eva, the physical incarnation of Nathan’s latest AI software. But can she pass the Turing Test even when the examiner knows full well she’s a robot?
The interactions between Alicia Vikander’s Eva and Caleb could easily have become tedious interviews but Garland infuses them with flirtatious humanity. Much like Joaquin Phoenix’s character in Her, Caleb finds a lot to like in his artificial companion, with some incredible make-up and special effects making her equally appealing and believable to the audience. And that’s what makes the denouement of Ex Machina all the more shocking.
Ari Aster’s movie starts out like a family drama and ends as… well, that’d risk ruining a ride filled with more twists than a runaway rollercoaster.
Toni Collette’s Annie tries to parse the ways in which her recently deceased and extremely secretive mother’s behaviour has shaped and warped her family – not just Annie herself, but her deceased brother, son Peter and young daughter Charlie, the latter two of which seem particularly troubled. When these troubles lead first to tragedy, then full-on nightmare, it already may be too late for Annie to steer things back on course. If you’re looking for an intelligent, well-crafted film with the power to shock, look no further. Director Ari Aster (who more recently made Midsommar, another smart and scary movie) leaves plenty of clues and cues in to hint at the ending, but you still won’t see it coming.