2019: Réney Warrington’s movie highlights

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The mere existence of a film such as Parasite gives me hope for the movie industry. The fact that it raked in $106,7 million at the box office makes me a little delirious. A film as brilliant, excruciating and funny as Parasite does not make that kind of money. And it’s not the only highlight of 2019. Below is like 2% of the exciting films released in 2019.

Knives out

When renowned crime novelist Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) is found dead at his estate just after his 85th birthday, the inquisitive and debonair detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) is mysteriously enlisted to investigate. From Harlan’s dysfunctional family to his devoted staff, Blanc sifts through a web of red herrings and self-serving lies to uncover the truth behind Harlan’s untimely death.

What fun! On top of terrific casting, flawless styling and a house as interesting as the characters, Knives out is intelligent, funny, dark and, yes, hugely entertaining to watch. It will spoil the film to reveal any of the twists and surprises; just know that there are quite a few, and that this viewer certainly did not see them coming. Ana de Armas is perfection as the mild-mannered Marta, and the film ultimately revolves around her good heart. I haven’t enjoyed a whodunnit this much in years. Keep an eye out for the nod to Murder, she wrote.

Marriage story

A stage director and his actor wife struggle through a gruelling, coast-to-coast divorce that pushes them to their personal and creative extremes.

Thank you, Netflix, for creating a space (and paying) for films like these to be made. Even with big names attached to it, very few studios would’ve thrown money at this project in our current climate. It is not easy viewing, but for real cinephiles and lovers of gritty, realistic drama, it is essential viewing. The dissolution of a marriage, a relationship, is perfectly captured. Adam Driver stands out. He has a primal rawness that he can turn on at the flick of a switch. Watch out for the scene in his new apartment, where the two finally let rip. I needed a whisky after that. But don’t despair; there is a ray of light at the end of the film.

Parasite

Meet the Park family: the picture of aspirational wealth. And the Kim family, rich in street smarts, but not much else. Be it chance or fate, these two houses are brought together, and the Kims sense a golden opportunity. Masterminded by college-aged Ki-woo, the Kim children expediently install themselves as tutor and art therapist for the Parks. Soon, a symbiotic relationship forms between the two families. The Kims provide “indispensable” luxury services, while the Parks obliviously bankroll their entire household. When a parasitic interloper threatens the Kims’ newfound comfort, a savage, underhanded battle for dominance breaks out, threatening to destroy the fragile ecosystem among the Kims and the Parks.

If, one day, the chips are down, we have clowns for leaders, the environment is falling apart … oh, wait, we’re there already. Ok, so the earth is warming, we have clowns for leaders, money and resources are getting tight, and we’re all stuck in this together. How far will you go to survive? When everyone around you is scrambling for the same thing, do you go for the kill? Do you show mercy? Do you try and rise above the desperation? To me, that is what Parasite asks. It still haunts me weeks after seeing it, and I still don’t have answers.

Tell me who I am

When 18-year-old Alex Lewis wakes up from a coma after surviving a motorcycle accident, the world is not one he remembers. He has forgotten everything. His home. His parents. He can’t even remember his own name. The only thing he does know is that the person sitting next to him is his identical twin brother, Marcus. Alex relies on Marcus to give him his memory back, to tell him who he is. But the idyllic childhood Marcus paints for his twin conceals a dark family secret.

What sets this film apart from other brilliant documentary films is the absolute grace these two brothers show each other. Yes, the story is gobsmacking, but the empathy, love and trust between Alex and Marcus in this impossible situation had me in tears throughout. Tell me who I am will intrigue you, question your views on life, but also humble you in the face of such compassion.

The peanut butter falcon

The peanut butter falcon tells the story of Zak (Zack Gottsagen), a young man with Down’s syndrome, who runs away from a residential nursing home to follow his dream of attending the professional wrestling school of his idol, The Salt Water Redneck (Thomas Haden Church). A strange turn of events pairs him on the road with Tyler (Shia LaBeouf), a small-time outlaw on the run, who becomes Zak’s unlikely coach and ally. Together, they wind through deltas, elude capture, drink whisky, find God, catch fish and convince Eleanor (Dakota Johnson), a kind nursing home employee charged with Zak’s return, to join them on their journey.

The description gives away the whole plot. Do not despair. It is a character-driven film, and all of the characters, large or small, are nothing short of beguiling. The best moments are between Zak and Tyler, mostly when Zak, who has been locked away his whole life, shows street-smart Tyler how to live life, and heal. Goosebumps without Hollywood schmaltz.

Luce

It’s been ten years since Amy and Peter Edgar (Naomi Watts and Tim Roth) adopted their son from war-torn Eritrea, and they thought the worst was behind them. Luce Edgar (Kelvin Harrison Jr) has become an all-star student beloved of his community in Arlington, Virginia. His African-American teacher, Harriet Wilson (Octavia Spencer), believes he is a symbol of black excellence who sets a positive example for his peers. But when he is assigned to write an essay in the voice of a historical twentieth century figure, Luce turns in a paper that makes an alarming statement about political violence.

This movie has the potential to ruin friendships, to break up longstanding movie clubs. It could set in motion such thought-provoking and justifiable, yet completely conflicting, interpretations, that one could argue for weeks on end. It is marvellous. Luce tackles a myriad of issues – race relations, privilege, mental health, parenting – but does not give easy answers, or any answers at all, actually. It simply creates a backdrop for you to wander into, pokes you from all sides, but, more importantly, unsettles you all the way through.

Once upon a time in Hollywood

Quentin Tarantino’s ninth feature film is a story that takes place in Los Angeles in 1969, at the height of hippy Hollywood. The two lead characters are Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), former star of a western TV series, and his long-time stunt double, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt). Both are struggling to make it in a Hollywood they don’t recognise anymore. But Rick has a very famous next-door neighbour – Sharon Tate.

Even though I have loved every one of his movies, I am by no means a Tarantino aficionado. Having said that, I found Once upon a time in Hollywood to be a very Tarantino-type film, yet very different from his previous attempts. The pace is slower, there is much less violence and there are no lengthy dialogues, all Tarantino ingredients.

The characters are still quirky and larger than life, the dialogue still reminiscent of early classics and the imagery haunting. Perhaps the ever-present violence was replaced with an ever-present threat of violence, the known murder of Sharon Tate? All in all, it is an intriguing film, with an incredible twist at the end – a worthy instalment in the Tarantino canon.

Paddleton

An unlikely friendship between two misfit neighbours becomes an unexpectedly emotional journey when the younger man is diagnosed with terminal cancer.

Kudos to Netflix for yet another brilliant art house film that might not otherwise have been made. Paddleton is a no-drama, slow-build-up portrayal of friendship, integrity and stepping up to the plate. It will sucker-punch you in the gut, and, for that reason, you will either hate it or love it. I loved it. There is not a whiff of Hollywood drama about this film. It develops slowly, but will not bore you. Every scene is measured, and both you and the cast have time to breathe. Most importantly, it is never sappy.

Hustlers

Hustlers follows a crew of savvy former strip club employees who band together to turn the tables on their Wall Street clients.

What a remarkable surprise this film turned out to be. The trailer shrewdly sold it as a comedy, with some inconsequential drama thrown in. Casting Jennifer Lopez, with her fluffy film history, only added to the expectation of it being a frothy romcom. Just with strippers. Nothing too gruelling – a Friday night film that would fill the seats. Surprise! It’s a gritty drama, an all-out condemnation of the greed of men, with rather great comedy thrown in – and, yes, with some strippers. Oh, and believe you me, JLo is a revelation as Ramona Vega.

Capernaum

Capernaum, winner of the Grand Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival, tells the story of Zain, a streetwise Lebanese boy, who sues his parents for the “crime” of giving him life. The film follows Zain as he flees his negligent parents, survives through his wits on the streets, takes care of Ethiopian refugee Rahil (Yordanos Shiferaw) and her baby son, Yonas (Boluwatife Treasure Bankole), is jailed for a crime and, finally, seeks justice in a courtroom.

Capernaum is a stirring take on poverty, child abuse and overpopulation. It won’t traumatise you or leave you despondent, though. Director Nadine Labaki has provided enough beauty and humour to balance out the dark, without taking away any of the horror or making the film sentimental. That is an achievement. The opening aerial shot of the shanty town, with tyres on roofs that can be blown away, gives you a glimpse of the chaos, before pulling you down into it and keeping you there for two hours. You are supposed to feel overwhelmed, crowded and at a loss. So, when Zain goes for a ride on a Ferris wheel, and is, for the first time, elevated above his circumstances, both you and he gasp for air when he catches a glimpse of the open sea, a promise of space and calm.

Joker

Joker centres around the iconic arch-nemesis, and is an original, stand-alone fictional story not seen before on the big screen. Arthur Fleck, a clown-for-hire by day, aspires to be a stand-up comic at night – but finds that the joke always seems to be on him. Caught in a cyclical existence between apathy and cruelty, Arthur makes one bad decision that brings about a chain reaction of escalating events.

If the philosophy 101 theory holds true, and art is indeed a barometer of the times, then Joker is a frightening harbinger of doom, a dark mirror reflecting the monstrous society we have created. As Arthur – or Joker, as he prefers being called – reflects, “Is it just me, or is it getting crazier out there?”

Ten minutes in, I stopped thinking, I stopped reviewing and I stopped worrying about deadlines, taxes and life outside the theatre (which is quite something if you live in Joburg in 2019). After 122 minutes, I left feeling entirely winded, intensely worried about the bubbling violence and hatred erupting all over the world, but, more importantly, determined to listen to the marginalised, to see and hear them. Because cancelling them out, as is the fashion of the day, is coming back to bite us in the arse.

The favourite

Early 18th century. England is at war with the French. Nevertheless, duck-racing and pineapple-eating are thriving. A frail Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) occupies the throne, and her close friend, Lady Sarah Churchill (Rachel Weisz), governs the country in her stead, while tending to Anne’s ill health and mercurial temper. When a new servant, Abigail Masham (Emma Stone), arrives, her charm endears her to Sarah. Sarah takes Abigail under her wing, and Abigail sees a chance to return to her aristocratic roots. As the politics of war become quite time-consuming for Sarah, Abigail steps into the breach to fill in as the queen’s companion. Their burgeoning friendship gives her a chance to fulfil her ambitions, and she will not let woman, man, politics or rabbit stand in her way.

Clutch the family pearls, for The favourite is not a Jane Austen or James Ivory period drama consisting of furtive glances, unfulfilled urges, honour and integrity. It is set in the 18th century, but it is a contemporary and exasperating tale of debauchery, jealousy and psychosis that will make your skin crawl. Of course, I loved it.

“Off the wall”, “out there”, “weird” are all terms that have been used to death, and cheapened in the process. Yet, that is what comes to mind when trying to describe this film. It is rather strange – from the naked man being thrown at with blood oranges, to the duck race, the fisheye lens which warps the frame, and the lilac cake-eating interspersed with lilac vomiting.

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