Because watching American movies is soooooooo lame and unsophisticated.
I, for one, had never head of the "Trial of the Juntas" before watching this film. I can't really say I knew much about Argentinian history at all. For those of you (like me) who are ill-informed, from 1976 to 1983, Argentina was ruled by a military dictatorship. When that regime was finally dismantled, its leaders were put on trial by the new government in 1985, a controversial and potentially dangerous move as the former leaders still held much sway within the country. Argentina,1985, which happens to be Argentina's Oscar submission this year, follows the attorney tasked with prosecuting these powerful men, and his ragtag team of aides who faced overwhelming odds in the name of justice. If you love a legal drama or just want to learn more about global history, this is an incredibly engaging way to delve into the past.
If a teacher were to film a sex tape with her husband and upload it online, only for it to be discovered by the parents and faculty at her school, should that teacher be fired? This is the central premise of last year's Romanian Oscar submission, a controversial examination of sexism, nationalism, and our attitudes toward sex. The satirical comedy won the top prize at the Berlin Film Festival in 2021 before being released in the US at the end of the year. While the film follows Emi (Katia Pascariu) a teacher on trial for her morality by the parents of her students, director Radu Jude is examining more than just the politics of gender and sex as he entertainingly wanders down many thought lines, exploring the state of Romanian society in general. The film's ending (which I will not spoil) is especially interesting and well executed.
A Chiara is the third installment of American/Italian director Jonas Carpignano's Calabrian trilogy. (For those of you who never bothered to take Italian geography in high school, Calabria is the toe-region of the boot-shaped Italy that is kicking the Sicilian football). While it's the third in a trilogy of films set in the same small town, they are not directly connected, so you can hop in to this one without watching Mediterranea or A Ciambra. This drama, which debuted at Cannes 2021 but wasn't released in the US for a year, follows Chiara, a 15-year-old girl who begins to investigate her family's history after her father mysteriously disappears the night of her sister's birthday party. What secrets lie in her family tree, and how will they affect her life? She's determined to find out in a way that only a headstrong teenage girl can do.
I must say that I love a train ride. And I love a train movie. There is just something oddly romantic and philosophical and timeless and otherworldly about a train that other modes of transportation (car, plane, bike, spaceship, tugboat) just aren't bringing to the table. To step on a train is to be divorced from your real life for a brief moment, and a chance encounter with a stranger seems almost inevitable. Such is the case with last year's Finnish Oscar submission about a female student from Finland who boards a train in Moscow and finds herself in a compartment with a Russian miner. What compartment you ask? No. 6. (Duh!) The pair are from completely different corners of the universe and poke at one another's humanity in a series of fascinating conversations as they cross the Russian countryside. The film, based on a novel, makes me want to hustle down to Grand Central, hop aboard a train, and meet a mysterious a stranger.
Competing against All Quiet on the Western Front and Argentina, 1985 for this year's Best International Feature Oscar is South Korea's submission, this noir detective thriller. Director Park Chan-wook added the Best Director prize at Cannes this year to his ever-expanding shelf of accolades for films like The Handmaiden, Thirst, and Stoker. In his latest mystery, Park Hae-il plays a detective who falls in love with the widow of a man who mysteriously fell to his death while rock climbing. Tang Wei is haunting as the widow, and the pair's cat-and-mouse game is hauntingly sexy. A series of twists and one of the year's most riveting endings make this a must-see for any thriller junkies, but the gorgeous cinematography elevates it out of its genre-only appeal. The drone shot on the causeway? Stunning! *in Olivia Cooke's voice*.
Couldn't be me (and every other critic) out here recommending a three-hour-long Japanese film about a man riding around in a red Saab listening to his dead wife recite Uncle Vanya over a cassette tape. Last year, the adaptation of a Haruki Murakami story snuck into the Oscar's Best Picture race to my shock and delight. While the film is quiet, its screenplay and performances will leave you glued to the screen for the entire runtime. Its slow build to a forceful climax is storytelling at its finest, and the beautiful landscape shots of the titular car sliding back and forth across the Japanese countryside are intoxicating. While this film didn't win Best Picture, it was easily my favorite in the lineup. Never have I been so fascinated by a mixed-language performance of a Chekov play and squabbling over car insurance. If you're only going to watch one thing on this list, please carve the time out of your calendar to make it this one.
Flee would be a remarkable story no matter how it was told. A gay man on the verge of his wedding tells his life story for the first time, and it's a doozie. Born in Afghanistan, he and his family fled the country as it crumbled into war. He escapes the fighting only to become stranded in Russia, before moving to Denmark completely alone, his family members disappearing one by one along the way. What makes this documentary one-of-a-kind, though, is its use of animation. The pseudonymous storyteller "Amin" requested his anonymity, so filmmaker Jonas Poher Rasmussen decided to create a documentary not of live-action shots but in stylized animated graphics that bend and flow with the narrative. As a result, this was the first film to ever snag Best Animated, Best Documentary, and Best International Feature Oscar nominations all in a single year. A queer masterpiece.
And here's another Penélope Cruz title just in case you need more of her in your life (and you do). When Spain opted to submit The Good Boss instead of this Pedro Almodóvar thriller as its Oscar submission last year, many assumed it was out of the running. The increasingly international voting body, however, liked it enough that both Cruz and its score were nominated. Following Cruz and Milena Smit as a pair of mothers who meet as they're about to give birth in a hospital, the film examines the different forms that motherhood can take. Taking several twists and turns before its satisfying conclusion, Parallel Mothers is an engrossing film, and Cruz's performance is certainly Oscar-worthy. The way she swabs her mouth alone is worth a Golden Globe.
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