Uncut Gems (Josh Safdie & Benny Safdie, 2019)

In 2010, miners retrieved a black opal from the Welo mine in Ethiopia. Two years later, the opal has made its way into the possession of Howard Ratner, a gambling addict who runs a jewelry store in New York City’s Diamond District. Basketball star Kevin Garnett takes an interest in the opal, asking Howard for it as a good luck charm for his next game. Howard agrees, keeping Garnett’s 2008 NBA Champion ring as collateral. Howard then proceeds to pawn the ring, kickstarting a chain of events that may very well spell his doom.

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Eighth Grade (Bo Burnham, 2018)

Kayla is an eighth grade student attending Miles Grove Middle School. She often posts motivational videos on YouTube to help those with little self-esteem, though they receive little attention. Her advice is quite ironic, for she herself is quite the shy person, having few friends at school. It is to the point where she is voted “Most Quiet” by her classmates. She also has difficulties connecting with her father, who tries, and largely fails, to ween her off of social media. In spite of her emotional baggage, Kayla spends her last week as a middle school student determined to leave her comfort zone.

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Lady Bird (Greta Gerwig, 2017)

A teenager by the name of Christine McPherson, who usually goes by her nickname Lady Bird, has just finished touring a series of Californian colleges. She is now being driven back to her home in Sacramento by her mother, Marion. After graduating, she intends to apply to schools outside of California, discontent with the boring life she leads. Marion, believing Lady Bird to be ungrateful, does not agree with her decision and swiftly rebukes her. Lady Bird, deciding she would rather throw herself out of a moving car than suffer her mother’s interminable lectures one second longer, proceeds to do just that.

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The Farewell (Lulu Wang, 2019)

Billi is a Chinese-American woman attempting to gain a Guggenheim Fellowship while living in New York City. She, along with her mother and father, had moved to the United States when she was very young, leaving behind their remaining relatives – including her beloved grandmother, Nai Nai. One day, they receive distressing news; Nai Nai has been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. However, she herself does not know of her affliction with her sister deciding not to inform her. Using their nephew’s haphazardly planned wedding as an excuse to see Nai Nai one last time, Billi and her family travel to Changchun to surreptitiously bid her farewell.

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Midsommar (Ari Aster, 2019)

Dani Ardor is a college student in a relationship with one Christian Hughes. He is an emotionally distant man – to the point where one of his friends, Mark, suggests they break up. However, one night, he receives a particularly disturbing call from Dani. Her bipolar sister has just committed a heinous murder-suicide, stealing the lives of their parents before taking her own. The next summer, Dani, while attending a party with Christian, learns that he and his three friends, Mark, Josh, and Pelle, have been invented to attend a midsummer celebration in Hälsingland, Sweden. Pelle hails from the country and the festivities take place once every ninety years at an ancestral commune known as the Hårga. Once Dani learns of their trip, Christian hesitantly invites her to join them.

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Ex Machina (Alex Garland, 2014)

A programmer named Caleb Smith works for the world’s premier search engine company Blue Book. By chance, he wins an office contest, allowing him to visit the luxurious abode of Blue Book CEO, Nathan Bateman. The CEO lives alone with his sole companion being a servant named Kyoko who doesn’t speak English. It is here Nathan demonstrates his latest invention: an android outfitted with artificial intelligence named Ava. Nathan wants Caleb to judge whether or not Ava has a true consciousness.

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High Life (Claire Denis, 2018)

Monte is the sole survivor of a crew onboard a space vessel that has long since left the Solar System. The only other contact he has with another form of human life is a baby he named Willow. His crew was a group of death row inmates sent to find a source of alternative energy in the far reaches of space. Their goal is to extract energy from a black hole. As Monte disposes of the corpses, he reflects on the events that brought him here.

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First Reformed (Paul Schrader, 2017)

Ernst Toller is a Reverend of the First Reformed Church in Snowbridge, New York. Toller is also a former military captain who struggles to come to grips with the death of his son, Joseph. Worst of all, he himself had encouraged his son to enlist. Partially to ease his guilt, he has made the decision to write down his thoughts in a journal for a year, intending to destroy it once he is finished. First Reformed has existed for 250 years and was once a stop for the Underground Railroad. Its attendance has been dwindling over the years, and it now primarily serves as a tourist attraction owned by a megachurch named Abundant Life.

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Gloria Bell (Sebastián Lelio, 2018)

Gloria Bell is a free-spirited divorcee with children who have grown up. She enjoys music and takes to letting loose at various dance clubs in Los Angeles. As if by chance, she meets another, older divorcee named Arnold. His divorce occurred far more recently, and his two adult daughters do not work, completely relying on him to support them. Despite their differing backgrounds, the two of them quickly enter a relationship, though Gloria may soon learn that it’s not to last.

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A Critique of the Critics: Aggregated Assault

When it came to films, 2017 seemed to have little middle ground between the critically beloved gems and the turkeys. Nonetheless, I could consider it one of the medium’s better years within the 2010s if for no other reason than because the critically acclaimed films had little trouble living up to the hype. It was to the point where I would argue nine nominations weren’t enough to do the year justice – especially when one considers quality works such as Good Time and Blade Runner 2049 failed to gain recognition.

My primary means of determining what film to watch would be Rotten Tomatoes. Launched in 1998, Rotten Tomatoes would appear to be a hopeful filmgoer’s best friend. Why wouldn’t it be? It aggregates what critics have to say about the film. If it gets a high score, you can safely bet you’re seeing something special. Meanwhile, if Hollywood extensively markets a film only for it to receive 20% or less, you can bet it’s the product of a particularly cynical cabal of boardroom executives attempting to appeal to the lowest common denominator. It was to the point where Brett Ratner, known for having directed the Rush Hour series and X-Men: The Last Stand, felt it to be the “destruction of [their] business”.

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