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.
Starving artist and expat Charlie is in desperate need of 800 euros in writer-director Jordan Blady’s darkly comedic first feature. To the audience’s great amusement, Blady’s narcissistic protagonist is willing to go to extraordinary lengths to get ahead. The sonnet-length, 74-minute indie debuted at the LA Film Festival in 2018.
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.
The widely celebrated 2001 epic kicked off writer-director Peter Jackson’s landmark journey to Middle-earth. The Lord of the Rings series would influence decades of fantasy filmmaking on both the silver screen and the small screen. Harry Potter, Game of Thrones, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe all owe part of their size, rich lore, and (the newly coined) worldbuilding to Jackson’s trilogy, which introduced audiences to a complex world. Before The Fellowship of the Ring, intricate, episodic universes were reserved for lengthy novels and monthly comic books.
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.
Sony’s body-swapping adventure returned in 2019 for another nostalgic romp through the untamed frontier. Jumanji: The Next Level, the second Jumanji movie in as many years and the fourth since 1995, added Awkwafina, Danny DeVito, and Danny Glover, but the rest of the nostalgic franchise remains frozen in stasis.