The Farewell (directed by Lulu Wang) From my full review: Wang is very obviously influenced by contemporary European cinema in her shot composition, specifically the work of Ruben Ostlund. There are lots of intentional off-center shots with characters cut off on the sides of the frame or barely peeking up from the bottom. Wang uses her composition to bring out the humor and poignancy of scenes, for example, allowing an opera-singing performer at the wedding to underscore her cousin’s sloppy drunken crying fit in the middle of the banquet hall. There’s an absolutely fantastic slow-motion medium shot in the third act of the family walking towards the camera that is framed and scored to perfection. For a second film, the technique on display is remarkable. These are not the most dynamic scenes, people sitting in a room and talking, yet the cinematography is gorgeous.
555 (2017) John Early and Kate Berlant became two of my favorite comedic talents during the 2010s. They met while doing stand up in New York and shared the same sensibilities. That leads to some of the best videos on YouTube and eventually, this limited series on Vimeo. 555 is five episodes centered around people who work in the entertainment industry. They are at different levels from a child actor to two self-centered executives to actors in a class. The other common thread is that these people are insanely self-absorbed and will passively-aggressively try to one-up each other to the point of absurdity. There is a beautiful line that gets crossed in every episode where it goes from awkward to the stupidest people in the world trying to impress each other. No one else can hit this type of comedy as well as Early & Berlant, and I want more.
Over the Garden Wall (2014) Born out of the inspiration that Adventure Time brought to Cartoon Network, Over the Garden Wall is a mini-series following two brothers wandering through a mysterious forest and encountering strange people. The series was created by Patrick McCale, who had previously worked on Adventure Time and The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack. Over the Garden Wall is a deep dive into the Americana aesthetic of the 19th & early 20th centuries. Many musical numbers consist of pre-1950s phonograph recordings. You’ll be reminded of early animation from the 1920s & 30s in many of these episodes. There’s such a remarkable charm to this show that few animated series possess. It’s funny while being genuinely terrifying at moments, enigmatic and wistful. It’s a program that understands what nostalgia actually is and how that feeling is different from reality. Our protagonists drift through abstract forest landscapes emerging into the dreams and fantasies of others, interacting for a while before being pulled into another story.
Billy On the Street (2011 – present) The late-night show is a tired format in the 21st century, the same template slapped on the program no matter what the network. You see, a suited man deliver a monologue, maybe do a skit, interview a celebrity, add, rinse, repeat. Billy Eichner has taken the boring talk show and the game show and blended them together in a chaotic, frenzied, and beautiful mess. Often, Eichner tows a celebrity guest along with him as they rush through the streets of New York, asking passersby lightning speed questions and giving them little time to respond. The best moments are those subjective questions where Eichner inserts his personal opinions as to the correct answer, usually involving Meryl Streep. The series began on the obscure Fuse cable channel, transferred to TruTv, got picked up by Funny or Die, and is now currently sponsored by Lyft. Previous seasons have hopped around digital platforms but currently find their home on Netflix.
Lost The Final Season (2010) The decade began with an ending, the finale of one of the biggest shows of the 2000s. The phenomenon of Lost is something that will likely never be captured again. It was a network television series that became a must-see obsessive viewing for almost everyone you knew. The series was entrenched in conspiracy and theories, and each fan had their own wild take on what things meant and where the story was going. The reactions to the series finale were definitely mixed, to say the least. Some fans absolutely hated the character-focused wrap-up while others (like myself) defend how the story concluded. I followed the weekly podcast by Damon Lindeloff & Carlton Cuse religiously and knew that the first three seasons were stretched out longer than the creators wanted to. Once the series got to its fourth round of episodes, the show moved at a much faster pace with a clear intention. There was still plenty of mystery, but I argue that a lot of things were answered in subtle, ingenious ways. I also recommend watching the fan edit of Chronological Lost, where all flashbacks come first before the island, and the flash-forwards feel more cohesive. You can find that fan edit on the regular torrenting locations, and it gave me a great appreciation of the whole show.
Woman at War (Directed by Benedikt Erlingsson) From my review: The war in the title is most definitely a cold one, and arguably a conflict Halla is fighting with herself. There is a group of inept police and drones that show up in the second act, but they never really feel like a threat. It’s Halla and the mistakes she makes that lead to the film’s finale. Part of what Halla is moving towards is an understanding that you cannot save the planet alone, and by the end of the movie, there is a small but growing number of supporters. We also see her framed against the immense challenge of repairing the environment, further emphasizing how much she needs help. There are no answers to the big questions in Woman at War; instead, it helps soothe those anxieties and remind us we’re not alone.
From my review: There are some genuinely despairing moments, highlighting how a woman like Moll, coping with social-emotional issues can be used and beaten up by a society that just wants her to conform. She is pursued romantically by a local police officer whom Moll shuns when she ends with Pascal. Later, she needs this man’s help, and when she goes to him, he tosses her out on the street knowing her pleas are real and she is potentially going to be harmed. It’s a harsh moment and a significant turning point for Moll to come to the realization that she is by herself. The night that follows is transformative, including a metaphorical and literal self-burial. Moll emerges in the daylight with a plan to bring all this madness to an end.