From Da 5 Bloods to Better Call Saul, the best international films and series of 2020 so far, and where to stream them
Now that we’re past the halfway point of the year, Firstpost picks some of the year's best highlights and where to stream them -- from Da 5 Bloods to Better Call Saul
The boundaries between reality and post-apocalypse were blurred in Summer 2020, a season without blockbusters, without Cannes and without cinemas. Although we couldn't indulge in our beloved summer pastime in a freezing theatre, entertainment was still available and accessible to anyone with a subscription to Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and the other streaming services.
Now that we’re past the halfway point of the year which doesn't seem to end, we at Firstpost sit back, take stock and pick out the films and series which stood out from the crowd — even if it is a small one observing the two-metre rule. With respect to films, we are strictly selecting those that are currently available for streaming in India. So, fret not — for there won't be any films here you won't be able to watch right away. This also means we won't be including films (like The Invisible Man), which hit theatres before the lockdown but are yet to find a home on a streaming service. Also not on the list are 2019 gems like Beanpole, Little Women, Parasite, Portrait of a Lady on Fire, and Uncut Gems. True, they only became available to us this year, but they have all been discussed aplenty. The idea is to give 2020's relatively lesser-known titles the same consideration as the already heralded efforts.
So, as is traditional once we get to July, here's a selection of five films and five series worth watching, and where to watch them.
Bad Education (Stream on Disney+ Hotstar)
Thoroughbreds director Cory Finley's sophomore feature examines a real-life embezzlement scandal and epitomises how American idealism can so easily be perverted by vanity and opportunism. Dr Frank Tassone (Hugh Jackman) is a beloved superintendent who turned Roslyn High School in Long Island into one of the most prestigious public schools in the country. But he's also a man with skeletons in his closet, which come spilling out when student reporter Rachel Bhargava (Geraldine Viswanathan) starts digging into the school's finances. Watching Tassone's duality unfold through Jackman's performance is to witness the magic of acting. Playing his co-conspirator in all this is Allison Janney. Need we say more?
Blow the Man Down (Stream on Amazon Prime Video)
On a cold winter's day in Easter Cove, Maine, sisters Mary Beth (Morgan Saylor) and Priscilla Connolly (Sophie Lowe) are forced to hide the truth of a deathly confrontation with a dangerous man. Only, this drags them into the nefarious affairs of their small fishing town's unsuspected crime network operated and led by a group of matriarchs (played by Margo Martindale, Annette O'Toole, June Squibb and Marceline Hugot). The movie feels like a slow-motion skid on thin ice, as an atmosphere of dread slowly envelops the characters. From the pacing to visual language to the delicious blend of comedy and tragedy, one can't help but notice the Coen brothers' influence on writer-directors Bridget Savage Cole and Danielle Krudy.
Da 5 Bloods (Stream on Netflix)
Spike Lee's films have become the unofficial chronicles of black America, and his latest is an emotional and long-overdue tribute to the black soldiers who fought in the Vietnam War. And it is in Vietnam that Lee sets his story from beginning to end. America's immoral legacy is intertwined with the never-healed wounds of four black soldiers, who return to the country to find the body of their fallen colleague and a chest full of gold bars buried along with him. There is the spectacle of war, the psychological drama of its aftermath, the thrill of adventure, and the mirth of a buddy comedy — all wrapped in a delicious homage to John Huston's The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now.
The Half of It (Stream on Netflix)
Introverted nerd Ellie (Leah Lewis) helps tongue-tied jock Paul (Daniel Diemer) win the heart of his crush Aster (AlexxisLemire). But their unlikely friendship is complicated by Ellie's own feelings for Aster. The Half of It has a been-there, watched-that feel to it but director Alice Wu rises above it. Wu lets her film take its own direction, going beyond a simple rom-com premise to find an authentic portrait of a Chinese-American teen. Finding love is the goal here, but unlike most romcoms, it is not the end. It is only half of it: the other half is anchored in a coming-of-age tale about three characters who grow and acquire depth as they learn more about themselves, resulting in a relationship beyond romance.
The Vast of Night (Stream on Amazon Prime Video)
The Vast of Night is one of those indie miracles: a low-budget sci-fi film featuring unknown actors, from a debutant director with a distinct style and clear personal vision that makes you hopeful for cinema's future. Andrew Patterson transports the viewer to a quasi-dream place, inviting us to a small town in New Mexico in the late 1950s at the beginning of the Soviet-American space race. Two teenagers, switchboard operator Fay (Sierra McCormick) and radio DJ Everett (Jake Horowitz) hear a mysterious radio interference and team up to investigate its origins. The paranoia-laced atmosphere brings to mind classics like Robert Wise's The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) and Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), while the film invents its own strange, haunting vernacular. Modest in its runtime, it distils the essence of alien invasion films, and makes for a fine calling card for Patterson.
What we are looking forward to in the second half of 2020: Antebellum, A Quiet Place Part II, Candyman, Dune, I’m Thinking of Ending Things, The French Dispatch, Mank, Minari, Never Rarely Sometimes Always, On the Rocks, Promising Young Woman, Shirley
Better Call Saul (Stream on Netflix)
As exceptional as its predecessor Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul proves Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould haven't lost any of that creative verve. Season 5 gives us an even clearer picture on how Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk) transforms into his alter-ego Saul Goodman, who will one day manage the "legal" affairs of one Walter "Heisenberg" White. Still searching for shortcuts to success, Saul's links to Albuquerque's drug trade sees him reluctantly embroiled in the feud between Gus Fring and Lalo Salamanca. Only, this was the season of Kim Wexler (Rhea Seehorn), which makes us all the more worried about her fate in the final season. In a contrary motion written with surgical care, Kim tries to help Saul out of his pickle even as the latter gets himself into deeper trouble. Whatever happens in the final season, as Guillermo del Toro once remarked, "Kim is the key!"
Devs (Stream on Disney+ Hotstar)
Exploring the hubris of Silicon Valley's self-appointed messiahs, Alex Garland gives us an examination of the human condition in which technology becomes the means to serve every desire, need and impulse. Forest (Nick Offerman), the shady boss of a tech giant, flirts dangerously with quantum transgressions through a supercomputer which can not only reveal everything that has happened throughout human history, but can also accurately predict the future. What begins as a conspiracy thriller involving Russian spies evolves into a deeply meditative study on mortality, free will and the very nature of the universe. Devs may not lend itself to binge-watching, as you will want to sit back and reflect on its ideas after each episode. Whether you accept or reject them, it's a show you will never stop thinking about.
I May Destroy You (Stream on Disney+ Hotstar)
All those who made Phoebe Waller-Bridge a household name, it is time you showed similar appreciation to another outrageous talent in Michaela Coel. If you've seen Chewing Gum, nothing can prepare you for the visceral gut-punch of emotions in Michaela Coel's I May Destroy You — a series she created, produced, wrote, co-directed and stars in. Arabella is a young novelist working on her second book. The day before a deadline, she goes out for a drink with her friends only to wake up the next morning with a bruise on her forehead. Though she suffers from a memory lapse of the night's events, she is troubled and re-traumatised by snapshots of being raped by a stranger in a bar’s toilet, snapshots which are triggered by the most innocuous things. If Netflix's Unbelievable offered some form of catharsis to the survivors thanks to the work of two determined investigators, I May Destroy You deals with the tragically mundane experiences of most survivors who will possibly never get justice.
The Midnight Gospel (Stream on Netflix)
From the mind of Pendleton Ward comes a new animated series that transposes comedian Duncan Trussell's podcast interviews into Adventure Time-style animation — this time, featuring a pink-skinned spacecaster named Clancy Gilroy (voiced by Trussell). Conversations about spirituality and self-consciousness, death and drugs are set against the psychedelic worlds of the multiverse explored by Clancy. Each conversation adds value to Clancy's life and helps him understand himself and the world around him. We don't want to come up short by comparing it to other animated shows because there’s really nothing quite like it — that should make for a good enough recommendation alone. Everyone who has seen it has loved it. Sadly, not enough have.
Mrs America (Stream on Disney+ Hotstar)
Mrs America recounts a decisive moment in American history that sheds light on the conservative vs liberal battles being fought to this day. It is 1972 and the chief subject of the political debate is the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), a proposal for an amendment in the US Constitution to guarantee equal rights for all citizens, without discrimination on the basis of sex. At the centre of it is Phyllis Schlafly (Cate Blanchett). She embodies a tragic irony: she has political aspirations but champions a cause which deprives her of them. Condemning feminists like Gloria Steinem (Rose Byrne), Bella Abzug (Margo Martindale) and Betty Friedan (Tracey Ullman), she defends conservative politics that contributed to the weakening of the feminist cause: the fight for reproductive rights, equal pay, and the election of a woman to the presidency among others. Across the nine episodes, it however never feels preachy. Along with Blanchett, Byrne, Martindale and Ullman, UzoAduba, Elizabeth Banks, Sarah Paulson and Melanie Lynskey make up an irresistible ensemble and put on an unmissable show.
What we are looking forward to in the second half of 2020: Brave New World, Fargo, The Haunting of Bly Manor, Lovecraft Country, The Third Day, The Undoing, WandaVision
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