Reel Rendezvous

A pick of some notable movies of the last few years ahead of the holiday season

2023 was a year when the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and big blockbuster movie formula finally stopped bringing crowds to the cinema. It took the Barbenheimer cinematic event earlier this summer to revive the industry which has been on a constant slump post-pandemic. The second half of the year saw some exceptional films from across the world, most of which were overshadowed by the combo of Barbie and Oppenheimer.

Here is a pick of some notable movies of the last few years ahead of the holiday season for you to enjoy over any number of your favourite streaming platforms.

Barbenheimer (Barbie + Oppenheimer)

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No 2023 film list would be complete without the obvious mention of Barbenheimer, the seemingly oxymoronic double bill of Greta Gerwig’s Barbie and Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer.

Nolan’s epic stars Cillian Murphy as the “father of the atomic bomb”, Robert J. Oppenheimer, as the film takes the audience through quantum theory, Oppenheimer’s journey from struggling student to Los Alamos, and existential cold war anxiety. Rather than a dramatic reenactment, Oppenheimer feels like more of a character assassination, a meditation on the dangers of moral indecision, and the absurdity of power and those who wield it. With the reignition of nuclear anxieties most markedly triggered by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Oppenheimer is more than just a reflection but a warning.

Oppenheimer’s monochromatic cinematography is in complete contrast to the burst of neon that is Barbie. However, remarkably, these films are not too dissimilar in that both are tinged with existentialism. Through various shades of pink, Gerwig tackles the question of what it means to be a woman in our modern society and the patriarchal pressures that distort women’s sense of self. It is unsubtle but smart, accessible yet witty. It is not an arthouse intellectualisation of the human experience but it does touch on pertinent themes, and more importantly, it is an incredibly fun watch.

More than capturing the zeitgeist of our post-covid, late-stage capitalistic world, these films marked the return of cinema or rather catalysed the refound joy of cinema-going.

The Boy and the Heron

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A decade after announcing his retirement, acclaimed Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki made an unexpected comeback to cinema this year with the release of The Boy and The Heron. Studio Ghibli’s latest masterpiece touches on familiar themes such as grief, the moral ambiguities of war, childhood memories, nostalgia, nature, and nationalism all presented via the prism of magical realism and mystery. A film that was almost certainly worth Miyazaki breaking his retirement for.

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It is a heartbreakingly beautiful film that captures the tragedy that is the end of childhood naïvety and the silent dangers of societal norms and conformity. An overt description would fail to capture the poignant essence of this Belgian coming-of-age film which won the Cannes Film Festival Grand Prix. The rich cinematography and lush backdrop of flower fields perfectly balance the raw emotive performances, leaving a taste in the audience that is beyond bittersweet.

All the Beauty and the Bloodshed

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This gripping Oscar-nominated documentary follows Nan Goldin, one of the greatest photographers of the last century, and her battle to hold the Sackler family accountable for their complicity in the American opioid epidemic. Goldin herself narrates the film as she recounts her dysfunctional childhood, her journey through New York’s underground scene, the fight against AIDS, and her struggles with opioid addiction. This film is poignant yet empowering and a strong reminder of the often-forgotten power of an individual’s courage and community pride.

Wes Anderson’s adaptations of Roald Dahl

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Netflix was graced by Wes Anderson’s quartet of reimagining of Road Dahl’s lesser-known short stories. Wes Anderson and Roald Dahl can only be described as a perfect match with Anderson’s eccentric yet measured style perfectly capturing the ridiculousness that is the crueler side of humanity. These full-bodied featurettes may be short but they are far from sweet.

Cairo Conspiracy (Boy from Heaven)

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This Palme d’Or nominated, Arabic political thriller is a co-production between Sweden, France, and Finland, and follows the naïve son of a village fisherman as he is unwillingly made a pawn in a political-religious power game for the future of Egypt after being accepted to study at the prestigious Al-Azhar University. This film is beautiful and gut-wrenching making it clear why it won the best screenplay at Cannes.

Past Lives

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Celine Song’s A24-produced directorial debut took the film world by storm this summer and for very good reason. It follows childhood sweethearts Na-young (Nora) and Hae-sung who reunite years after Na-young’s emigration to North America. In some ways this “What if?” film is very much reminiscent of Linklater’s “Before Sunrise” but is also a meditation on cultural identity, memory, nostalgia, and migration. A must-watch.

L’immensita (The Immensity)

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Penelope Cruz stuns in this turbulent Italian drama. While this film touches on pertinent issues such as gender dysphoria, sexism, abuse, and gentrification, it is more of a demonstration of the strength of a mother’s love and the power to embrace unconformity even if it requires sacrifice. L’immensita is heartbreaking but joyful and Cruz’s performance is truly a tour de force.

Kathal

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Kathal (Hindi word for Jackfruit) is a Netflix-produced Indian satirical comedy film that follows a small-town police inspector as she investigates the missing Jackfruits of a local politician. This lighthearted film is more than just a quirky comedy and elegantly touches on prevalent issues including corruption, caste discrimination, gender inequality, fake news, and class dynamics.

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