Euphoria (2019) – Sam Levinson

First off, to describe the core of this TV series as plainly as a “group of high school students who grapple with issues of drugs, sex, and violence” is not even cutting it. It definitely deserves a better introduction on all streaming sites and IMDB.

From start to finish, every second, every transition, is heavy with unimaginable confrontations. And of all kinds including mental, emotional, visceral, and carnal. This show incarnates the essence of conscience as it is best defined by the turmoil it causes in one’s psyche. Euphoria is gratifying, disturbing, and intrepid in its making.

The characters – Rue, Jules, Fezco, and Cassie being some of my favorites, build a sense of acute awareness for the world they’re living in. They’re in it, there’s no escape, and no reason why one should escape.

The show is salvaged by its brutal renderings in a way that feels as if you’re the one experiencing it. The gripping cinematography and the courageous soundtrack respond more to the inner voices of the characters. It’s the version of a story society wants you to pretend to forget. The addiction, the betrayal, the bullying, the body-shaming, the insecurities, and concocted sexuality.

It’s a fable of truths – a string of hard truths – plucked out one by one from a system too cruel, selfish, and monumental to bring to a screeching halt. The aftermath is a twisted show that defines the undefinable with its trembling honesty.

Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959) – Alain Resnais

A mysterious film that redefines the intimacies of visual storytelling. Hiroshima Mon Amour is the first time a film has had a deep melancholic impact on my understanding of time. The film blends into its dire past, ill-fated present, and uncertain future. It instills in the viewer indescribable spontaneity to experience the unstudied moments of life.

The kind of curiosity that hesitates to step out of its shadow and play with the light. You can feel this game of shadow and light as you watch the film. Its poetic capacity lies in its execution. But its soul is in the way the director, Alain Resnais, has realized the scope of the story, its characters, and its philosophy.

Hiroshima Mon Amour remains, to this day, a reminder of the scarred footprints of time abandoned after the winds of war have passed. The cinematography is rememberable. Some scenes in the film, subtle and visceral, reveal the vulnerability of a historic phenomenon. While the others are charged with intellectual and temperamental vigor.

It’s a film that yearns, remembers, and celebrates its singularity. It stops the flow of time. Sharpens your presence through the lives of its characters. And allows its viewers complete scrutiny and soul-searching as instances of death, survival, and memorabilia are meditated upon.

Roma (2018) – Alfonso Cuaron

It’s fracturable enough to feel emotions. The tide of which unravels slowly until a deep sense of grief envelops us. Now imagine what it would be like to exteriorize that withdrawal from reality. What manifests is a colorful and enigmatic film about all forms of rejection in society and inconsolable bearings.

Roma is about women with a touch of soul-crushing humane contradictions. The kind that questions motherhood as much as it does upbringing. Lives that shoulder the weight of an uncertain and restless history wrapped in nuances that are difficult to go on with. But life goes on.

The film is deeply imaginative and characteristic. Shot in black-and-white, Alfonso Cuaron, being the film’s director, writer, cinematographer, and editor, has understood the fragility of the setting against the ruggedness of its characters.

The true mark of filmmaking is when you can glimpse and meditate on one’s depth through the most ordinary acts of the story. Like scrubbing the floor, standing under the shower, kissing a loved one goodnight, or even looking for someone in a crowd. Every filmmaker knows this but only a few are able to employ it and make it unnoticeably real. Films like Roma, Capernaum, The Lunchbox, Wong Kar-Wai’s films are some of them.

The Hateful Eight (2015) – Quentin Tarantino

A bold and cruel movie, The Hateful Eight comes off as unhinged and even provocative. Quentin makes a conscious effort to show it just as it’s named: hateful. Though the violence and graphic display of blood and brains seemed a little over-the-top, the movie does comprise of a few noteworthy scenes.

It’s slow-paced, at first, and sort of ambiguous in its expression. But it does quicken once you get to know the characters and their temperament. It’s the kind of film that will keep your eyes glued to the screen. Not because of Tarantino as a filmmaker, but the characters themselves compel you to anticipate a disastrous and defining ending.

The dialogue and the screen time that each character shares. The way the camera captures every facial twitch just in time to build suspense. All your anticipations about the film evaporate through nasty provocations and oftentimes unpleasant slurs. You know it’s about to come to an end but you’ve got to know how.

The cinematography, though confined to a cramped cabin, is stimulating. The film reads like a book with talks about the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln’s letter, and Maj. Marquis Warren’s savageness. Tarantino leaves nothing to guesswork. It’s a story about how a group of men use words under the same light as artillery, in order to kill and be killed.

Irreversible (2003) – Gaspar Noe

By refusing to follow through in a chronological format, Gaspar Noe’s Irreversible deflects one’s perspective on violence, sex, and crime in films. The film is frank, explicit, and ironically, reversible in every sense. It has structure, definition, and motive in both ways. Though watching it irreversibly, or as it is, is undoubtedly more cerebral.

The film places plenty of emphasis on expression. Expression by sound, light, and the spaces in between. It’s fast-paced, all-pervading, and unwatchable. Never have I seen such a repulsive film with such strong a message; that violence, when seen through the lens of revenge, is ugly and non-censored.

And the crime, which is one of the most disturbing scenes of the film, manifests as physical pain, unflinchingly felt, through spasms and bouts of shock, disgust, and anger. You’re cornered to a point of no return where what is at stake is how much you can endure and if you do watch every second of the film, there’s no way to recover from what you’ve just seen.

Irreversible recoils in time. It possesses extremity in sight, sound, and rhythm. It lacks the blurriness that we’re generally conditioned to in films and so the cinematography really puts one in an uncomfortable spot. It argues what reality can be when denied of its televised and printed privilege. That one can’t exploit crime when it’s right in front of you. So what if a film makes it moral – without allowing you to shut your eyes.

Spirited Away (2002) – Hayao Miyazaki

Spirited Away is considered as Hayao Miyazaki’s magnum opus. It strips quintessential animated films of its emphatically exaggerated genre. While Miyazaki brings this film a little more down to earth; embracing a mystical and profound manner. The film draws its essence from its monumental conception. The stringing together of microscopic elements; a brilliant stroke of genius in imagination and creativity.

Spirited Away considers the universe as it is. And that is in its infinitesimal and varied format. It’s a film about sensibility, empathy, and philanthropy. A reverie which reflects the generous aspects of human nature up against the most repulsive. Untranslated feelings, a dictionary of characters, and lyrical affectations later, this film holds its lighthearted tone from beginning to end.

If you allow it, this film can fill you up with a sense of whimsy and wonder. Sometimes explicitly, sometimes in whisperings, and sometimes in anguish. Spirited Away has a way with both its characters and words. It’s like paying attention to the night sky spotted with stars; each star demands attention so you can never forget their luminous glow even if it’s not a part of this world… or yours.

Hereditary (2018) – Ari Aster

The scope of Hereditary is much deeper and coarser than what you might assume within the horror genre. The film evokes an emotional and psychological reaction; destroying the cliched setting of a scary film.

The process of grieving is a stagnant and remote one. And it brings feelings of isolation as much as the destruction of self. What this film does is it creates an atmosphere in which it is impossible for the characters to relate to one another. They grieve but secluded, confined, and forsaken. And so the film is inspired in the way it is executed.

The most gratifying aspect of the film lies in its cinematography. It does more than capture the essence of the characters; it escalates their every movement. And as the movie gains momentum, the weight of every scene is chilling to the bone. You don’t know what’s going to happen next until it does and you’re so completely shaken by it.

I’ve had unsettling thoughts about the film when I first saw it. But now, after having watched it again, I did not resist its disturbing and disquieting personality. It does tackle the traditional family tragedy in a consistently horrifying and complicated way. Which is central to its appeal: that it’s not cut out of the ordinary jump-scare tactics. To watch it is to drift into the most unexpected corners of terror that are hard to shake off.

Inside Llewyn Davis (2013) – Joel Coen and Ethan Coen

The tide of loneliness is a personal one. Its fabric is shrouded in a sort of reverie that floats over the horizon like a mirage. Only visible to you, it blurs every path in your way. As much as you want to get closer to it – to embrace it, make something of it – the farther and farther it walks away from you.

Inside Llewyn Davis tells a tale of what it means to be far inside of oneself and far outside. It connects with you, in the strangest way, because it’s an honest film. Films like these are hard to come by. And once they do follow through – a bittersweet pill that is hard to swallow – it’s memorable.

The film is cloaked in isolation and sadness. About a struggling musician in the early sixties, the protagonist embodies an inner voice. Fragile, intense, and unheard in a world defeated with people. Inside Llewyn Davis creates an unbeatable world in which you see him travel from a single point of failure to another. Rejection after rejection pulled into the direction of numbness and apathy. Such is the gruesome path of loneliness in art that couldn’t have been art without it.

It’s an unforgiving film which is quite characteristic in its making. The cinematography is deeply inviting and pulls you in instantly with the help of subtle cues shadowing some of life’s most significant questions. Dialogue which is as surrealistic and shattering as the setting in which it is being said throws humor into the mix beautifully. It really contemplates what we find difficult to finish; that is the ability to map our struggle in a territorial world.

Frances Ha (2013) – Noah Baumbach

A poignant film about choice and the sum of one’s microscopic dealings with life. Frances Ha is what leads to up your grandest moments in life and what they cost you. At the expense of a miserly and lonely life does the protagonist, Frances, swim through a diminishing reality. A reality in which there are blurred friendships, scintillating conversations, awkward encounters, unfulfilled dreams, and insufficient desires.

Maybe there’s also a hint of truth in them all. A sense of raw goodness that is often the extension of one’s true self. And through that path is the ethos of self-expression and sentiment. The kind that sticks for a long time; like the first rain falling on thick, dense grass.

Movies like Frances Ha must continue being imperfect, a bit unsure, but revelatory and comforting, nevertheless. Watching this film is like looking into a mirror and having life’s story told. Its manifestation, intention, failures, and rewards. What life takes with it and what is left behind.

For such movies do not remedy the sharp edges that often soften our skin. They are involuntarily attached to the world. They must impinge upon our self-made delusions about love, passion, and attachment. Until what’s left is a reflection that looks back at us; that is, on days we don’t feel strong enough to look in.

Moonlight (2016) – Barry Jenkins

Barry Jenkin’s Moonlight guards the fragility of what it shows to be a man. It gains most of its sentiment and volition in the way it’s told. Every nuance is engrossed in its own story. The film is divided into 3 chapters: from when the protagonist was a boy to a teenager and finally as an adult with roles to fill.

The film takes a microscopic perspective on the life of Chiron. The groundwork laid down to express such inexpressible feelings is difficult to compose. And yet, Moonlight draws you in so effortlessly into Chiron’s world. And through it all, the experiential capacity of this film is colossal.

We are all measured against our ephemeral presence in this reality. But to a young boy struggling with identity, this existence doesn’t feel so short any more. And to bring such fragile life questions with you and to have them unanswered as you grow can be even more daunting.

Moonlight makes this sentiment seem emphatically perceptible in a limited and questioning reality. Which is one of the most significant aspects of the film. To watch it is to endure some of the most important questions of existence and identity.