Fourteen years after Borat, co-writer and star Sacha Baron Cohen donned the famous oversized gray suit and lush mustache again for its sequel. While the Borat Subsequent Moviefilm prides itself in revealing the same American ugliness as Borat, it does so without the original’s deft touch. Where Borat allowed Baron Cohen to amble from one improvised moment to the next, the Subsequent Moviefilm is overplotted, worrying more about the connective tissue than the substance.
Writer-director Karen Maine’s debut film conjures laughs, guilt, and nostalgia, particularly for young adults of a certain religious sect, or perhaps more accurately, former members of a religious sect. Yes, God, Yes is unusually sweet for a teen sex comedy, a feat accomplished through Maine’s perceptive script and Stranger Things star Natalie Dyer’s emotive performance. The semi-autobiographical coming-of-age story is refreshingly light fare in a somber year.
In response to the 2016 presidential election, a new documentary from A24 and Apple turns to America’s youth to explain how we got here and where we go next. Directors Amanda McBaine and Jesse Moss followed 1,000 sweaty, hormonal teenage boys during the American Legion’s week-long civics camp to figure out if the kids are alright. Boys State is an uncomfortable glimpse at partisan politics tinged with an unnatural concentration on toxic masculinity in adolescence.
Artists can’t control the state of the world in which their art debuts; for film productions, circumstances are even dicier. Does the movie match or combat the prevailing societal mood? Will the economy support its release? Are the themes pertinent to a current issue? If the work isn’t discovered initially, will it stand the test of time for a future audience? The stars aligned to answer these questions for Palm Springs, a romantic comedy that dropped on Hulu in July 2020.
Backed by a cast of relative unknowns, director Ken Loach delivers a story true to those living on the margins. The filmmaker’s latest work is set in Newcastle, a city in Northeast England, but without the accents and references to soccer, it could just as easily be set in New Haven, a city in the American Northeast. Loach and writer Paul Laverty empathize with members of the shrinking middle class who are casualties of globalization and negligent labor laws.
Two children experience the inscrutable while trapped in a remote cabin with their stepmother-to-be. The Lodge doesn’t bend genre conventions or invent a wholly original horror premise, but the twisty, austere, and perturbing psychological horror movie is the genre’s finest release since Midsommar. The latest from Parasite distributor Neon is also a memorable American introduction for Austrian directors Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala.
Director Josephine Decker’s (Madeline’s Madeline) Shirley Jackson biopic was one of the standout films at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. Set just before the author’s premature death in 1965, Shirley is the backdrop for a larger conversation about the author’s underappreciated work, her tragic life, and the mid-century role of women in the household.
Black troops accounted for 32% of the American military force in Vietnam, but only 11% of the country’s population at the time. Spike Lee has dedicated his career to identifying socio-political issues, venerating and participating in film history, and restoring Black history. In Da 5 Bloods, Lee sets his sights on the Black soldier’s rightful place in the war film genre. Generations of Hollywood whitewashing and historical erasure have minimized Black military history. Lee’s uneven, affecting film, which debuted on Netflix in June, engages Donald Trump and war’s long-term impact on its participants.
Halfway through 2015’s My Hindu Friend, the last film by Brazilian writer-director Héctor Babenco, its main character surmises, “Don't you think it's supremely insignificant in the history of humanity that you ran eight seconds faster than you did 20 years ago? We're never going to have another Fellini film, think of that. That's what matters.” Babenco (Kiss of the Spider Woman and Pixote) can’t match 8½, but his precipitously edited, wistful final film gives way to sporadic beauty.
Emma. is the fourth film adaptation of Emma, author Jane Austen’s final published work before her death. Emma. follows Aisha, a 2010 Bollywood adaptation, Emma, a 1996 period piece starring Gwyneth Paltrow and Alan Cumming, and 1995’s Clueless, an Alicia Silverstone-led classic set in modern-day California. Austen’s beloved coming-of-age romance was perfected in Clueless, its first adaptation, but like Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility, the novel is rife for an update every decade. Director Autumn de Wilde’s rendition allows Austen’s precise satire to speak for itself.