The Simple Cinephile’s Favorite Films of the Decade

The 2010s has been one of the most revolutionary decades for all things cinema. Technology has advanced, a slew of promising new actors have been introduced in Hollywood, and there are more exciting films to look forward to than ever before. As we segue into 2020—the start of a new decade to be full of new films to enjoy—the writers of The Simple Cinephile talk about their favorite films of the past decade:

If Beale Street Could Talk (2018)

If Beale Street Could Talk (2018) – source: Annapurna Pictures

Cast: KiKi Layne, Stephan James, Regina King
Director: Barry Jenkins
Where to watch: Amazon Prime Video

While many place Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight on their best of the decade lists, I also include If Beale Street Could Talk. Described by the director as a series of “memories, dreams, and nightmares,” this film holds me from start to finish every time. Nicholas Britell’s score and James Laxton’s cinematography evoke just as much emotion as the story and characters do themselves. This combination brings sound and color to Baldwin’s novel, inviting viewers to truly live the experiences of Tish and Fonny. Jenkins crafts Beale Street with such sensitivity that it’s impossible not to find yourself emotionally-invested and yearning for the young couple’s happiness.

Black love is a rare thing to see on screen with it usually being side-lined, but Beale Street dives deep, and that’s one of the reasons I love it so much. Their love is celebrated. The camera dwells; we have time to study the faces of our characters, we feel every touch and are warmed by the gentle, intimate moments. Their bodies are portrayed in a way that doesn’t feel exploitative, but true. One particular scene feels so private that I held my breath the first time I witnessed it, afraid to disturb the characters I cared for so much. If Beale Street Could Talk helped me learn to love myself more and will always remain incredibly important to me.

Honorable Mention: Little Women (2019)

Written by Yazz

The Wind Rises (2013)

The Wind Rises (2013) – source: Studio Ghibli

Cast: Hideaki Anno, Hidetoshi Nishijima, Miori Takimoto
Director: Hayao Miyazaki

It has been a decade of swan songs (or at least films with the feeling of finality), with films such as Twin Peaks: The Return, First Reformed, Amour, or more recently The Irishman. We see artists who have been admired for many decades take a took at themselves and their accomplishments up to this point—how their latest work ties in with the themes they’ve investigated throughout their careers. No film displays this like Hayao Miyazaki’s beautiful and bittersweet The Wind Rises.

Focusing on a lifelong love of flight, Japanese aviation engineer Jiro Horikoshi’s storied career includes the creation of the A-6M World War II fighter plane, Miyazaki choosing to never choose a side of anti or pro-war, but the love of creation. Jiro’s drive to design is eclipsed by the morality of eventually what the aircraft are used for. The romance between Jiro and Naoko acts as a parallel to Jiro’s career—knowing the end is near but making the most of it. Despite being Miyazaki’s first foray into real-life adaptations, it’s never bound by the limitations of trying to remain accurate to the real like engineer. Instead, it fits perfectly into the catalog of Miyazaki’s masterworks, just a little wiser. It’s a movie that is gorgeous in every frame, from the sophisticated color palette to the master sound design from Koji Kasamatsu. Joe Hisaishi’s score is melancholic and romantic, especially the theme, which is able to exist as a piece of music both for the film and on its own. It’s clear from the very beginning that this is craft shaped from many decades.

Honorable Mention: The Florida Project (2017)

Written by Jack

The Hateful Eight (2015)

The Hateful Eight (2015) – source: The Weinstein Company

Cast: Samuel L. Jackson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Kurt Russell, Walton Goggins, Tim Roth
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Where to watch: Netflix

That’s right, The Hateful Eight, largely considered by critics as one of Quentin’s Tarantino’s lesser films, is my favorite film of the 2010s. It’s a crying shame that the film is not considered in the same league as Tarantino’s most popular and acclaimed works such as Pulp Fiction or Inglorious Basterds because, for this cinephile, not only is it his favorite of the decade, but it is also his favorite of Tarantino’s entire oeuvre. That’s because The Hateful Eight is Tarantino at the top of his craft. Filmed on glorious 70mm, every composition in every frame receives rigorous attention to formal detail. Through careful staging, use of off-screen space, camera placement, framing, movement, and particularly the evolving utilization of foreground and background, creating those delicious deep space compositions, Tarantino can imbue his suspenseful confined take on the mystery genre, drawing from The Thing and The Great Silence, with a sophisticated formal elegance. An elegance which primarily manifests using layered wide screen composition. Each composition is filled to the brim with so much visual information consistently revealing and withholding crucial narration: an approach that would make Akira Kurosawa blush. As a result, the audience is constantly encouraged to scan the screen and unravel the layered mise-en-scène presented for any hint of subterfuge. 

The Hateful Eight doesn’t stop at just virtuous visuals and compositions. Sound, particularly Ennio Morricone’s original score, plays such an important role in this audio-visual. Morricone’s fantastic score evokes a sense of suspenseful looming dread that could manifest and burst violently onto the screen at any moment. Speaking of violence, Tarantino through this tale of these hateful, sadistic, misogynistic, and racist strangers confined to this limited space in the aftermath of the civil war has much to say about the violent, selfish, and turbulent nature of America then and now. Tarantino intelligently juxtaposes moments of warmth and potential understanding with depravity calling for compassion in the middle of a wailing storm and a boiling poisoned pot of coffee. It is a cynical cold perspective on America’s political and social landscape—a nation founded on violence. However, none of this would work if the performances were in any way lacking, and boy oh boy, they sure aren’t. Walter Goggins, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Samuel L. Jackson are clear highlights, and all involved eat up the ebb and flow of Tarantino’s signature witty dialogue at every turn.

Honorable Mention: Silence (2016)

Written by Lachlan

Frank (2014)

Frank (2014) – source: Magnolia Pictures

Cast: Michael Fassbender, Domhnall Gleeson, Maggie Gyllenhaal
Director: Lenny Abrahamson

There are few films from this decade that comment on performance, identity, and modern masculinity as aptly as Lenny Abrahamson’s Frank. Based on the real story of papier mâché head-wearing musician “Big Frank” Sidebottom—Abrahamson’s fictional adaptation brims with offbeat humor, strange instruments and a real appreciation for the weird and contradictory experiences that come with being human.

Jon (Domhnall Gleeson) is an aspiring musician who gets a gig working with an experimental, dead-end band run by the elusive, mask-wearing Frank (Michael Fassbender). Frank follows the disjointed process of the band as they work on their first album, as well as getting a sudden skyrocket to fame, thanks to the internet. But amidst the cartoonishness of Frank’s big head (metaphorically speaking, as well as his literal papier mâché head) and absurd songs, Frank is surprisingly moving and vulnerable. There are petty band disagreements and relationship dramas abound, sure, but there are deep sorrows and moral reconciliations just beneath the fanfare. At its core, Frank gets at the personal cost of building up walls and putting on masks. More importantly, it asks a compelling question of its characters and its audience: what happens when you’re deathly afraid of what’s underneath all of that?

Honorable Mention: Raw (2016)

Written by Cody

The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) – source: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Cast: Ralph Fiennes, Tony Revolori, Saoirse Ronan, Willem Dafoe, Adrien Brody, Bill Murray
Director: Wes Anderson

Choosing one of so many great films brought to the public this decade was an extremely difficult task. Add to this the fact that, as a millennial young woman, probably 80% of my movie baggage was built just this decade. So, in order to get to my chosen one, I set some criteria: the film should be technically as good as its narrative—including editing, visual effects, etc.; its director’s style should definitely be present throughout the film; the acting of the cast should convince viewers that these characters were real within that story; and it should be as memorable to me as a bedside book.

Finally, I came to the conclusion that​ The Grand Budapest Hotel, directed by Wes Anderson, is my favorite movie of the decade. Bringing together familiar faces from previous Anderson films such as Owen Wilson, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Jason Schwartzman and Adrien Brody—and notable new additions—Tilda Swinton, Léa Seydoux, Jude Law, and Saoirse Ronan, to name a few.​ The Grand Budapest Hotel not only meets all the requirements listed above, but also has everything one could wish for in a great story—from drama to romance, mystery, and comedy—without ever losing its essence. Besides its delightful visual aesthetic—one of Anderson’s trademarks, along with his talent for storytelling—​The Grand Budapest Hotel takes supplements of classic genres, like the chase films from the First Cinema Era, the jailbreak films and the noir films, something that honors the history of the Seventh Art, and serves as a full plate for all cinephiles.

Honorable Mention: Get Out (2017), Mommy (2014), Palo Alto (2013), Columbus (2017)

Written by Leticia

Palo Alto (2013)

Palo Alto (2013) – source: Tribeca Film

Cast: Emma Roberts, Jack Kilmer, Nat Wolff, James Franco
Director: Gia Coppola
Where to watch: Amazon Prime Video, Netflix, Kanopy

Palo Alto, Gia Coppola’s directorial debut, came out in 2013—a year known for its surge of teen movies, such as The Bling Ring, The Spectacular Now, the Carrie remake, and The Kings of Summer. Among all of these (and more), Palo Alto seemed to jump out at me and resonate with me so much that I just had to pick it as my movie of the decade. The simple plot line (but complex in the characters’ eyes) is quite niche as a whole, but so many of the character’s traits and side plots pull me in and almost mirror my own relationships and feelings. It’s like a comfort movie—seeing all these high school students struggling, but ultimately the main characters getting their happy ending. The beautiful cinematography makes you almost feel like you’re in a dream, or as if you’re an onlooker onto these seemingly mundane but twisted happenings. The soundtrack is also the finishing touch to the movie, filled with melancholy songs to add as a backdrop to the characters’ ennui and dark teenage angst.

Honorable Mention: Lady Bird

Written by Maddie

Ex Machina (2014)

Ex Machina (2014) – source: A24

Cast: Alicia Vikander, Oscar Isaac, Domhnall Gleeson, Sonoya Mizuno
Director: Alex Garland
Where to watch: Amazon Prime Video, Netflix, Kanopy

A staggeringly beautiful and innovative story of technological testing from the last 10 years which holds up as one of my absolute film favorites. Alex Garland makes a grandiose debut led by the star-making turn of the truly entrancing human-esque robotics of Alicia Vikander. Ex Machina is a captivating, chilling, blue-toned science fiction feature that has a lot to say—and if that’s not enough, there’s that spectacular dance moment starring Oscar Isaac.

Honorable Mention: Sing Street (2016)

Written by Troy

Phantom Thread (2017)

Phantom Thread (2017) – source: Focus Features

Cast: Daniel Day-Lewis, Vicky Krieps
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Where to watch: Crave (Canada)

Phantom Thread isn’t just an intriguing title. This is a ghost story—of the past returning to haunt the present, of letting go, and the trouble with breaking a curse. In his supposedly final performance, Daniel Day-Lewis is Reynolds Woodcock, ‘50s London’s most in-demand and highly-strung dressmaker. In absentia from work, Reynolds meets waitress Alma and embarks on a love affair that threatens to shake up the prestigious House of Woodcock for good. If only she can show him how to relax a little. This is a gorgeously conceived, seductive film with a huge appetite (for both people and food) and often belly-aching in its humor, tossing screwball energy at a twisted romance that’s far weirder and more subversive than you’re expecting. Frankly, Vicky Krieps, the film’s devilish anti-muse, was robbed. Imagine a decade without a new Paul Thomas Anderson masterpiece.

Honorable Mention: The Guest (2014)

Written by Luke

Frances Ha (2012)

Frances Ha (2012) – source: IFC Films

Cast: Greta Gerwig, Mickey Sumner, Adam Driver
Director: Noah Baumbach
Where to watch: Netflix

Perhaps better films than Frances Ha have come out this decade, but there is certainly no movie from the past ten years that has filled me with the same amount of happiness and warmth. Watching Frances Ha is like wearing your favorite sweater, or drinking a nice cup of tea, or chatting with an old friend. To me, it is pure comfort. The film follows a 27-year-old dancer, Frances (Greta Gerwig), as she meanders through apartments, relationships, and jobs. Frances, it is clear, isn’t quite sure of who she is. “I’m so embarrassed,” she says in one scene, “I’m not a real person yet.” This quote is, in many ways, central to the film.

Frances Ha is about people in different stages of becoming—people who aren’t quite fully formed human beings yet. Far from shying away from the scary idea of being in your 20s without knowing where you’re headed, the film is a celebration of the state of being a work-in-progress. Its nostalgic black-and-white cinematography and charming performances time and time again ease my fears of the future, gently reminding me that it’s okay to be a little lost.

Honorable Mention: The Florida Project (2017)

Written by Saru

Arrival (2016)

Arrival (2016) – source: Paramount Pictures

Cast: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker, Michael Stuhlbarg
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Where to watch: Amazon Prime Video

Arrival is a masterpiece—it’s a deeply introspective rumination on human nature, our desires, our fears, and our faults. The score and cinematography are incredibly haunting, and the screenplay and use of language as a plot device is brilliant. Arrival hits you like a gut punch and stays with you long after the credits roll. Am I forgetting anything? Oh, right, Amy Adams gives one of the best performances of all time. We will never forgive and never forget that The Academy snubbed her.

Honorable Mention: Lady Bird (2017)

Written by Meg

How to Train Your Dragon (2010)

How to Train Your Dragon (2010) – source: Paramount Pictures

Cast: Jay Baruchel, America Ferrera, Gerard Butler, Kristen Wiig, Jonah Hill, David Tennant
Director: Chris Sanders, Dean DeBlois
Where to watch: Amazon Prime Video, Netflix

The thing about How to Train Your Dragon is that it’s a perfect movie. I’m sorry if you don’t agree with this, but then I have to ask: what don’t you enjoy about an underdog story? Hiccup, the unlikely hero of the story and our fateful protagonist, is constantly trying to prove himself—whether that be trying to make his Viking father proud, or attempting to hold his own against the dragons that systematically invade his village of Berk. When he captures a dragon of his own, Hiccup feels that killing him is the only way to finally convey to the rest of his village that he’s not a coward—and yet, he can’t do it.

From then on, Hiccup’s relationship with his new dragon—named Toothless—is the core of the film, demonstrating acceptance and what it means to come into one’s own. Hiccup carried me through my gawky teenage years and well into young adulthood, because there’s nothing more comforting than seeing your own awkwardness mirrored onscreen and realizing that maybe, just maybe, things will get better. For those of us that never feel like the heroes in our own lives, the ones who look in the mirror and wonder if we’re ever going to conquer whatever beasts we’re fighting: take a look inside your heart, and maybe you’ll see Hiccup staring back.

Honorable Mention: Brooklyn (2015)

Written by Gaby

First Reformed (2017)

First Reformed (2017) – source: A24

Cast: Ethan Hawke, Amanda Seyfried, Cedric the Entertainer, Philip Ettinger
Director: Paul Schrader
Where to watch: Amazon Prime Video

If any film captures the unique yet universal feeling of existential dread that came with the 2010s, it’s Paul Schrader’s First Reformed. Schrader immerses his audience in a cold and harrowing world of unanswerable questions. Through a very specific tale of existential dread, First Reformed subtly digs at blind evangelism and the damage that religious denial has aided in causing. At the start of the film, Ethan Hawke’s Reverend Ernst Toller quotes Thomas Merton as he states “I know nothing can change, and I know there is no hope.

Although the film presents many queries, First Reformed is about the horrors that transpire when we as individuals lose hope. As bleak as Paul Schrader’s latest is, it functions as a plea to open our eyes and harden our hearts, because the damage humanity has caused will not be undoing itself anytime soon.

Honorable Mention: Carol (2015)

Written by Ella

STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER is An Emotional & Ambitious Farewell

It’s not easy to take on the finale of a trilogy of trilogies that unquestionably balances one of the strongest and heart-felt franchises known to cinema, but returning once again to combat the previous degrading development in The Last Jedi, J.J. Abrams miraculously leans in with his own to force to complete the much-beloved Skywalker Saga with a thrilling eruption of both action and discovery. First uniting fans and critics with his fantastic take on the galaxy in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Abrams uncovers not only that stormtroopers can fly these days, but he starts a conversation that dives deep into Rey (Daisy Ridley)’s true lineage and the awakening of the franchise’s greatest Emperor through a series of countless new worlds and action sequences that eventually puts the epic chronicle to rest.

Following through after the events that took place in Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi, once again, the fate of the galaxy hangs in the balance as The Resistance (still hugely outnumbered) and the First Order tighten grips for the last time. However, despite knowing all of this, the opening crawl flourishes and we are given little time to think about its information as the story gets moving quickly—barely pausing for breath. In the depths of it all, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) is shown taking down unfortunate aliens on a planet called Mustafar (a place that fans will most likely recognize as the destination where Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi fought tirelessly in the final episode of the prequel series), outpacing his stormtrooper escorts as he mows his way through a path of destruction towards the crumbling ruins of Vader’s castle grounds. Depicted as quite a dark and calamitous scene for the creatures that are faced with the erubescent color of both Ren’s cross-guard lightsaber and fueled anger, the moment is ultimately a snow-driven fight that concedes the dark warrior’s possession of The Force with both determination and a temper that’s as fiery as his wielded weapon. Entering the decay of land with a purpose, the Supreme Leader discovers an artifact that will ideally lead him to answers throughout the film. From there, he goes straight to Exegol to meet the overarching return of the villainous and powerful Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid), erupting us fans to witness the Dark Side’s progress through the understanding and shock that no one is ever really gone.

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Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019) – source: Walt Disney Studios
Motion Pictures

Back at the rebel base, our lovable freedom fighters Finn (John Boyega) and Poe (Oscar Isaac) have evolved to become a pair of great leaders among The Resistance movement, showcasing their joyous friendship and well-hearted chemistry through the countless hugs and praises that they shower each other in after every successful quest. During all of this, Rey, in the midst of the jungle moon on Ajan Kloss, is undergoing training from Leia (the late Carrie Fisher respectably brought back with uncut footage from the prior two films)’s vigilant guidance. Still linked—bound even—to Kylo Ren, Rey expresses herself to be more confident, in not only her power of the Force, but her capacity to resist the Dark Side and its cynical manners, allowing her to work harder throughout each session of mediation while levitating and learning to wield her lightsaber through dangerous obstacle courses—a parallel that swiftly takes us back to when Yoda trained Luke Skywalker in The Empire Strikes Back.

Within the first act, the central characters Rey, Poe, Finn, and good old Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo), along with everyone’s favorite protocol droid C-3PO (Anthony Daniels), establish an easy and humorous closeness that fits well throughout each galaxy-trotting treasure hunt that falls into their hands. Accommodating some heartfelt character moments and laughs between the fivesome, whether it be from Chewie beating Finn and Poe in the holographic battle game ‘Dejarik,’ or C-3PO constantly reminding his friends that he is fluent in more than seven million forms of communication, the bond that they all share on the Millennium Falcon makes me wish that they’d spent more time together on screen. Moving from location to location, the tour that they savor is fleshed out with action set-pieces, new characters, plenty of attractive visual detail—and did I mention flying stormtroopers? Each exposition in every scene that they spend together is a surprise, and a satisfying reflection on what Star Wars should be: making your own path and finding your family. It’s all perfect—at least before a spy within the First Order delivers a terrifying message that quickly disengages the collection of happiness altogether.

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Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019) – source: Walt Disney Studios
Motion Pictures

Among the Dark Side, it is no secret that Sith Lord Emperor Palpatine is back in frame, urging Kylo Ren, whose cracked helmet hints all too obviously pointing at his bruised inner turbulence to seek out an obsessive search for Rey in order to wipe out the Jedi for good. The Rise of Skywalker proceeds to further explore the relationship between Rey and Kylo—their deepening connection growing stronger after their battle with Snoke in the previous episode; the taunting of one another through visions of the future that intertwine with what they each believe.

Corresponding to Driver and Ridley’s heart-wrenching and extraordinary performances, the film relies mostly on how strangely well-matched the pair are to one another. With Rey heavily invested in her friendships and her cause of protecting the Jedi and Resistance; Kylo is depicted as merely the opposite: a more-or-less cynical and suspicious Supreme Leader that has the everlasting impulse to control the impossible. But The Rise of Skywalker is simply a tale that embarks on two opposites attracting—a mysterious connection that is ultimately the most intriguing aspect of the new trilogy, and a hint of ambiguity and sort of eroticism that builds against the simplistic good-versus-evil themes to something rather fresh and contemporary. A reasonable thought out story that die-hard Star Wars fans would hopefully see as an achievement within the franchise, instead of a make haste trivial fan service that many are exploiting it to be.

While the performances for both Driver and Ridley come across with absolute commitment and genuine excellence throughout, taking center stage in a large chunk of the film’s ambitious drive, there are new additions in the form of General Pride (Richard E. Grant), Zorii Bliss (Keri Russell), and Jannah (Naomi Ackie) that might as well not be there. Among the snow-flecked world of Kijimi, the remnants of the second Death Star, and the towering waves that craft into a level of visual gorgeousness, there sure seems to be a lot of distraction on our heroes’ journey—much too often feeling like a swift way to harvest information for the story to move on, which often encompasses it to feel more indulgent to generate a humorous curve in the tale. But despite its too many characters and all too much pandering that results in the film feeling less than its run-time, The Rise of Skywalker still doesn’t fail to astound me. With the colorful festival of desert planet Pasaana and the cinematography that follows its stunning visuals, there was no doubt in my mind that I would leave the film without picking up adoration for what lingered on screen. And the tiny droidsmith Babu Frik did just that.

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Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019) – source: Walt Disney Studios
Motion Pictures

The Rise of Skywalker delivers the answers to the questions we’ve all been asking, and despite it not being discussed further, it ends the Skywalker Saga with an exhilaration that may be inconsistent and unparalleled to how The Last Jedi took to it. To me, I saw Abrams finale as a sequel to The Force Awakens—a thrilling eruption of high fantasy, emotional punches, final goodbyes, and a visual pan on the light winning for the last time.

Ultimately, I see this film as a love letter to Star Wars. The franchise has always been about finding who you are and finding your family, combined beautifully with the themes that lean towards heroism, sacrifice, and friendship. Abrams still stays true to that in some beautiful ways, and with his graceful outlook on the galaxy, reminds fans of the much-beloved universe that the ever-present, all-powerful force remains strong—and will be for a long, long time.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is now in theaters worldwide

A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD is Not About Mr. Rogers

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a biographical film about a well known man must not only acknowledge, but glorify, his work and personal life. Announced as an Oscar contender pretty much from the moment Tom Hanks accepted to play the part, Marielle Heller’s A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood surprised audiences at TIFF for being a movie about Mr. Rogers—but not really. In fact, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is more about who is watching the screen than who is on it.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (2019) – source: Sony Pictures Releasing

Marielle Heller’s third feature film focuses on Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys), a journalist known for his often offensive pieces, who is commissioned — very much to his surprise—to profile the iconic Fred Rogers for an issue about heroes. Vogel is based on real life journalist Tom Junod who profiled Mr. Rogers for Esquire’s 1998 November issue. In the film, Lloyd attempts to cope with parenthood on all fronts—managing his father’s reintegration in his life against his will after having abandoned him during his childhood, and managing the birth of his newborn alongside his wife Andrea (Susan Kelechi Watson).

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood starts quite simply. Mr. Rogers (Tom Hanks) enters his home in the neighborhood while singing the show’s theme song. He performs the entire ritual—takes off his coat, closes and opens and closes his red sweater, and puts on his blue shoes. At the end of the song, he takes his “picture board” and presents the audience to a photograph of a bruised-nose-Lloyd, breaking the forth wall and introducing the audience to the film’s main character. It would be wrong to say the film blurs fiction and reality. The film’s symbolic language is not used to disguise reality, but to reveal it, much like Mr. Rogers did through his neighborhood.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (2019) – source: Sony Pictures Releasing

Similarly to her previous effort Can You Ever Forgive Me?, Heller’s new feature is meticulously orchestrated in a way that never feels abrasive, but the meta nature of A Beautiful Day gives the director more room to play with convention. The film manages to balance Lloyd’s personal issues with Mr. Rogers’ global impact by using him as an example of that same effect without ever dismissing Lloyd’s character or making Mr. Rogers look bigger than he is. Fred Rogers was, as mentioned by his wife Joanne (Maryann Plunkett), just a man who also dealt with a fair amount of anger. but worked hard to not let it get the best of him.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is ultimately a testimony of Mr. Rogers’ message—that feelings should be acknowledged and talked about, a notion that might seem obvious and even corny to skeptical adults like Lloyd and, as one particular moment in the film acknowledges: us. It is difficult to watch Heller’s film without going through any sort of introspection. The meta aspect of A Beautiful Day does not rely on praising its audience for catching a reference but on asking questions, a sort of Fleabag effect that works in reverse. Mr. Rogers looks at us as he looks at Lloyd, bugging him, making him turn his investigative journalism on himself.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (2019) – source: Sony Pictures Releasing

At the end of the day, even if A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is not exactly about Mr. Rogers, it is about Mr. Rogers’ mission, and that might be the best Mr. Rogers film after all.

PORTRAIT OF A LADY ON FIRE Explores Lesbian Romance Using the Female Gaze

At the end of the 18th century, Marianne (Noémie Merlant) is teaching portraiture to a group of young women when one of them asks her about a painting they discovered at the back of the class—the titular ‘portrait of a lady on fire.’ We then jump to a flashback, which takes precedence for the majority of the film, as Marianne recalls one of the most defining moments of her life.

While travelling to the isolated island of Brittany in France, Marianne’s canvasses fall overboard and, without hesitation, she dives into the turbulent sea to rescue them—showing us that she is a woman of agency. Marianne has been commissioned to paint a wedding portrait of Héloïse (Adèle Haenel); a young woman who is to be married off to her late sister’s ex-fiancé. However, Héloïse has refused to sit for portraits as she doesn’t wish to marry the Milanese nobleman. Because of this, Marianne is told that she will act as Héloïse’s walking companion during the day and will paint her in secret at night.

marianneheloise
Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019) – source: Neon

Portrait of a Lady on Fire has such beautiful direction and cinematography that the film almost feels like a painting itself. It’s made up of breathtaking shots, and has a dreamlike tenderness about it with gentle characters, soft voices, and a calming ambiance—even though we know a bittersweet ending is waiting for us. Director Céline Sciamma and Haenel are lesbians themselves, which allows the film to be coated in an authentic and compassionate female gaze.

We don’t meet Héloïse until twenty-minutes into the film. With her back towards us and running recklessly towards the cliff side, we fear that she will meet the same fate as her sister—but then she finally turns around and reveals her effortless beauty. Sciamma uses intimate close-ups throughout the film to demonstrate Marianne’s tender voyeurism towards Héloïse—after all, she must commit Héloïse’s features to memory in order to capture her likeness for the painting. During the first half of the film, Marianne quietly observes her subject, but she soon realizes that her subject is watching her back.

When Héloise finds out the truth and sees the first painting for the first time, she asks: “Is that how you see me? No life, no presence?” Marianne destroys the painting after realizing she failed to capture Héloïse’s true aura. It’s during the second half of the film, when Héloïse’s mother leaves for five days that the two women are finally able to act on their impulses, as Sciamma shows us what happens when women are given the freedom to live out their desires.

marianne and heloise
Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019) – source: Neon

With male characters not around, Portrait loses itself to the female experience. Marianne and Héloise’s passion grows as they spend more time together and learn the most intimate details about one another—such as how Marianne always touches her forehead when she doesn’t know what to say. “Do all lovers feel they’re inventing something?” Héloise wonders. Portrait is an intimate portrayal of lesbian romance, though it’s one that heavily relies on furtive glances and soft touches. Despite this, the subsequent yearning physicality of their relationship manages to provide raw vulnerability—something that works for the film’s time period.

Marianne and Héloise also treat servant Sophie (Luàna Bajrami) as their equal as they all cook together, play cards, and exchange stories. They also aid Sophie with her abortion, as Sciamma makes sure to explore more of the female experience. While both lesbianism and abortion were illegal in 18th century France, these women don’t judge each other as they live freely during their short-lived period of time together. Even though the presence of a male dominated society looms over them, Portrait shows us what happens when women are left to just be.

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Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019) – source: Neon

The theme of freedom runs strongly throughout Portrait as Héloise questions if freedom is loneliness, but it soon becomes apparent that people can set you free in ways you didn’t imagine. Sciamma is also sure to show love without possession as it ditches the male view on lesbian love. In an interview with Jezebel, Merlant said: “Women fill the frame and take their freedom in a world where there is restrictions everywhere. They find their way to love. They don’t talk about men because it’s a vision of a woman writing this movie.”

The final moments of Portrait are its most powerful. Marianne knows that their love is impossible, but Héloise has not been able to recover from the heartbreak that still follows her around years later. The short time they had together were the best moments of their lives and the impact is enough to last a lifetime. While both actresses give phenomenal performances, it’s Haenel’s final moments of pure heartache that will stay with you long after the film is over.

QUEEN & SLIM’s Performances Are Its Saving Grace

It started like any other night for two young African-Americans in Ohio. They went to a diner for a first date. The young woman didn’t want to be alone that particular night, so she turns to Tinder. They make small talk about each other and they each send mixed signals about whether or not there would be a second date. On the way back from the diner, the young man gets stopped by a cop for a minor traffic violation. Being an African-American stopped by a white police officer in 2019, the stop escalates to a boiling point and the young man gets physical, eventually shooting the police officer in the throat.

This traffic stop sets off a chain of events for the young couple in Queen & Slim, which was marketed as a modern day take on the well known Bonnie and Clyde story—but it is so much more than that. It plays around with different genres throughout its run time. There’s romance, there’s drama, there’s crime, there’s even a little bit of comedy. But most importantly, it’s relevant. A film this ambitious could’ve gone wrong very easily, but the script and direction are stylish and allow for smaller, more human moments to play out.

Queen & Slim (2019) – source: Universal Pictures

For example, the names of the couple are not disclosed until a news report at the end of the movie. People don’t even refer to the young couple as “Queen” or “Slim,” like the title would suggest. Any news report that was heard in the movie would just give descriptions of the two without any names. The only hint at a name we get before the ending is when Queen stops at a cemetery to pay respects to her mother. Another small scene shows Queen having Slim stop the car to look at some horses. In the hands of anyone else, these little details and scenes would’ve been left on the cutting room floor. But here, it’s left in so their characters could be more developed.

Daniel Kaluuya and newcomer Jodie Turner-Smith have excellent chemistry with each other right from the opening scene at the diner. They would have to have good chemistry with each other in order for this story to work, since most of the time it’s just the two of them in a car. Turner-Smith was my favorite performance of the two, feeling very natural and in control given the circumstances. Director Melina Matsoukas built a career from directing music videos and found the courage to bring this story to life with her first feature film. Also worth highlighting is writer Lena Waithe, who some people may recognize for her part on the Netflix series Master of None. She shares a story credit with controversial novelist James Frey.

Queen & Slim (2019) – source: Universal Pictures

The film isn’t totally flawless, however. At 132 minutes, it does get slow in some parts. I found myself checking my watch quite a bit towards the third act. Some of the editing choices I also found to be a bit odd, starting out with some characters talking before transitioning to voice-overs and going back to showing them talk. Maybe they were trying to be a bit artsy with the style but that back and forth was a little distracting.

If there is a Bonnie and Clyde story this compares to, I would be thinking more of Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers. That movie, much like Queen & Slim, had a distinct style and also blamed the media for glorifying a criminal couple to the point where riots ensued. Queen & Slim is more subtle than Oliver Stone’s movie, however, and this is in part to more nuanced performances from Kaluuya and Turner-Smith. Some people may avoid it because of how it paints police officers, but they’re missing out on one hell of a movie.

KLAUS Revives Traditional Animation Just in Time for the Holidays

There’s magic in a letter. An alchemy of processes; forests to cards, pigments to ink, pen to paper. Finally jettisoned off to far corners of the country, the world, collecting the fingerprints of postal caretakers before reaching your doorstep. It’s an analogue art form, a method of communication fighting a losing battle against the virtual upholstery of instantaneous pixels, word processing, and email. Yet we keep it alive via birthday cards, thank you notes, invitations and, of course, the precious wish lists of children worldwide.

Klaus (2019) – source: Netflix

Much like communication, animation is a medium obsessed with modernity. As software becomes faster, so does the process of rendering 3D character models to poke, prod, and puppeteer. Sweeping landscapes become copy-and-pasted backgrounds and pre-production for annual Disney animated features seem more concerned with physics engines and automation than character design and experimentation.

Disney has just released its highly-anticipated Frozen II, a painterly and expressive exercise in world building, sure, but whose genuinely startling moments of pure animated innovation are few and far between. Its most stirring sequences are those that recall the abstract of Fantasia or those build upon the fantasy of the first film, but must Disney remain steadfastly bound to nostalgia to make the products the success they are?

Spanish animator and first-time feature director Sergio Pablos (along with co-director, Carlos Martínez López) thankfully birthed Netflix’s animated Christmas film Klaus in a reinvigorating 2D style. It’s a quaint, storybook film for bedtime that understands that an animated origin of the first letters written to Santa Claus could only be faithfully chronicled by the picturesque, analogue qualities of traditional animation.

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Jason Schwartzman in Klaus (2019) – source: Netflix

Set within a mythical continent that fans of Terry Pratchett, Roald Dahl, and Dr. Seuss will eat up, Klaus follows the not-so-intrepid Jesper, a trust fund kid who’s sent by his father, the head of the postal service, to the remote town of Smeerensburg so he can prove his worth. Once there, he discovers that the frozen town is fraught with a raging conflict that goes back for generations. Much like the Montagues and Capulets, the Krums and Ellingboes aren’t quite sure who started the disagreement. But, with the help of a mysterious woodsman and a cynical teacher-cum-fishmonger, Jesper tries to unite the town just in time for Christmas.

Seasoned animator Sergio Pablos has his origins in traditional animation, having contributed his fair share to the 1990s Disney Renaissance through his work on The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Hercules. More recently, he’s perhaps better known as the unsung creator of the money-printing factory, Illumination’s Despicable Me and Minions franchises. However, with Pablos’ directorial debut, his return to the second dimension marks the arrival of a potential savior for animation. By making Klaus the streaming platform’s first original animated feature, Netflix are making a statement—2D is here to stay.

The premise of Klaus is remarkably basic with the potential to become maudlin and overly precious had it been rendered with the bouncy, automated animated styles we’re more used to today. There are certainly some questionable needle drops of contemporary tunes, inexplicably fighting against the hand-crafted, archaic aesthetic constructed in the first act. These operate purely as mass appeal in the wake of animated studios’ current modus operandi, and we can only be thankful that Pablos and co. opt for the likes of “How Do You Like Me Now” rather than the latest annoyance from the Top 40.

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Rashida Jones and Jason Schwartzman in Klaus (2019) – source: Netflix

Accompanied by Jason Schwartzman’s bratty drawl as Jesper, there are a few hurdles to get over before you can totally succumb to the warm, fire-lit embrace of Klaus. Rashida Jones is brilliantly cynical as a disheartened schoolteacher, familiar to anyone who has ever tried to make a career out of the unforgiving profession, and Joan Cusack is having heaps of fun as Mrs Krum, the most fanatical devotee to the town’s violent traditions. Thankfully, sardonic Schwartzman is also offset by a scabrous, complicated performance by J.K. Simmons as a mournful Santa Claus. His is a refreshing take on the character, as Christmas films of late have seemed eager to modernize Saint Nick (Arthur Christmas, Noelle), or portray him as a fleetingly untouchable, impossibly magical figure (The Polar Express).

Animated Santas especially haven’t had the strongest track record. A Nightmare Before Christmas’s Sandy Claws remains mostly mute and spends the majority of the film being impersonated by a skeleton; trying to recall what exactly Alec Baldwin was attempting with his Russian Santa for Rise of the Guardians just leads to headaches. In fact, the only 2-dimensional Santa that comes to mind for the most recent comparison is Futurama’s decidedly kid unfriendly RoboSanta—a malfunctioning, foulmouthed psychopath.     

Simmons is perfectly cast, therefore, as the ideal introduction to the character of children’s legend. Initially acquainted to Jesper as a mysterious woodsman, a former toy maker with a withering exterior, the titular Klaus soon becomes the soul of the film. Klaus is front and back-loaded with fun yet distracting action set pieces along with rote slapstick, but Simmons’ gentle growl narrates a somber and humanizing origin for the character during the second act’s moments of downtime that makes Netflix’s first animated original an essential viewing for the holidays.

This Santa Claus is very much human, with all the emotional baggage and regret that comes from years of living a human life. But, much like Edmund Gwenn and Richard Attenborough both understood in their performances as Kris Kringle in Miracle on 34th Street and its 1994 remake, it’s not the flying reindeer or light-speed present delivery that makes Father Christmas magic. Like the best versions of the North Pole’s most famous resident, Simmons’ Klaus is won over by the innocent creativity and boundless potential of children. A parental figure conjured by generations of families to do the things that real parents can’t, Santa Claus is rendered here in soft and inviting traditional animation to secure his place as the world’s most magical grandfather.

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J.K. Simmons in Klaus (2019) – source: Netflix

Santa Claus is a character quite literally gift-wrapped for animators to mold, adapt and take advantage of. However, as studios like Disney, Pixar, and DreamWorks have thrown us into the next generation of animation for the 21st Century, we’ve yet to see a definitive take on the character for the computer generated era. Perhaps Klaus should serve as a reminder that Saint Nick simply doesn’t belong in algorithms, programs, or engines. Much like a child cannot send his Christmas list in an email, a faithful Santa Claus adaption needs handmade craft and care to win the hearts of young audiences. Paired with one of J.K. Simmons’ most genuine vocal performances, we finally have an animated Santa trustworthy enough to sneak down our chimneys and steal our cookies in the middle of the night.

Klaus is available to stream on Netflix

BROTHERHOOD: The Calm Before the Storm

Previously known for her short films Gods, Weeds and Revolutions, and Born in the Maelstrom, Meryam Joobeur returns once again to mesmerize audiences with her short Brotherhood. The film premiered at TIFF and took home the award for Best Canadian Short Film in the Short Cuts Awards section.

Set in a rural region of Northern Tunisia, Brotherhood follows a family of six: mother Salha (Salha Nasraoui), father Mohamed (Mohamed Grayaâ), their three sons Malek (Malek Mechergui), Chaker (Chaker Mechergui), Rayene (Rayene Mechergui) and Malek’s Syrian wife, Reem (Jasmin Lazid). Joobeur is known for her approach on wider political issues via the exploration of familial dynamics. From unveiling the Tunisian experience of Ben Ali’s dictatorship by pairing a young woman with her Alzheimer-ridden grandfather and demonstrating her attempt to discover who he used to be before in Gods, Weeds, and Revolutions, to her investigation of a mother/daughter relationship as the daughter, a biracial woman, struggles to fit in within a modern, segregated society due to her inability to be placed within the African American/Caucasian binary, Joobeur utilizes her distinctive style to effectively narrate convoluted stories. 

Brotherhood (2018) – source: Meryam Joobeur

Though a son coming back home with his pregnant wife is usually a joyful moment, Malek’s comes with an underlying tension. Having fled to Syria to take part in the war, Malek’s character brings to the forefront the effect that religious radicalization has had on Tunisian youth. Following the lead of her previous short, Joobeur signals the strain of family ties in silent and transparent stares. Mohamed doesn’t welcome Malek. The moment he sees an unfamiliar white car in his yard, he takes a pause, and after he crosses his doorstep, unlike Chaker and Rayene, he neither hugs Malek nor smiles at him; his unblinking glare is that of shock and disdain. From then on, the family engages in silent and verbal disputes without resolution. Every performance follows through, whether it’s that of the acting veterans Nasraoui and Grayaâ, or the three Mechergui non-actor brothers.

Aside from the actors’ take on their characters, tension also rises from the film’s sound design. The short’s opening shot looks at a flock of sheep, which, after a car-door is shut off-camera, immediately scatter as if they sensed danger that is near. Even prior to the family’s introduction, the message is clear: Malek’s arrival will bring unease. This is a motif that keeps resurfacing each time Mohamed confronts Malek or his daughter-in-law Reem. From handmade chimes moving dissonantly and the wind blowing through the window’s curtain or through a bloody shirt that’s hanging on a string outside, Joobeur constantly uses signifiers of perpetual agitation. Tranquility is nowhere to be found until that climactic moment when silence becomes ominous rather than serene, followed by a breathless Mohamed running after a mistake he cannot fix.

Brotherhood (2018) – source: Meryam Joobeur

Brotherhood is about the importance of mending wounds within the bounds of a family. It’s about the happy memories made while playing with the waves in a shore. But most of all, it’s an open display on how failing to forgive and forget can have terrible repercussions.

Which Friday The 13th Film is The Best?

Open up your windows and hark at the sounds of screaming teenagers! Do you know what day it is? Why, yes. It’s Jason’s day—Friday the 13th!

Friday the 13th, through stellar makeup, gnarly kills, and delightfully corny franchise gimmicks, prevails as a seminal piece of the slasher craze puzzle, spawning a long-enduring franchise and one of the most recognizable horror icons of all time. Regardless if you’ve seen them, you know who Jason is; he’s a figment, like most 80s slashers, of the moral-fixturing, Reagan-era cinematic folklore. Slay the air-headed teens on the cusp of adulthood, while leaving the headstrong, quick-thinking good girl, who abstains from passed-around paraphernalia and other promiscuous proclivities, and lives to see another day.

The Friday the 13th films may not be as immediately well regarded for its very 80s sub-textual layering, amid the creative slaughtering of hormone-infused teenagers, of other slashics like John Carpenter’s Halloween or Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street, but it means a lot to me as a formative piece of my long-standing love affair with horror. I learned from a young age who Jason was, yet had never seen any of the films, that is, until I stumbled upon the 8-film DVD box set at a pawn shop. For years, I hid the collection from my folks, waiting until they went to bed to watch them. I still own that set and have no plans to ever get rid of it; I owe way too much to it.

The series is currently strung up in a seemingly never ending legal kerfuffle between Friday scribe Victor Miller and director Sean S. Cunningham claiming true ownership of the property, essentially prohibiting another movie from getting off the ground until the dust clears. Who knows when Jason will don the mask once again? But in the meantime, we have 12 films, each of varying quality, to look back on.

In the midst of smashing mirrors, walking under ladders, or getting a novelty tattoo, why not take a few moments to scroll through another ranking of the Friday the 13th films? And I’d be tickled blood red if you did. We wouldn’t want to upset our machete-wielding slasher of ceremonies, now would we? Note that these rankings change almost every year in my head, so consider this my in-the-moment ranking. With that out of the way, *SPOILERS AHEAD*.

12) Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday

Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday (1993) – source: New Line Cinema

Jason Goes to Hell is a great example of stellar marketing for an awful film. Jason melting away in a New York sewer hardly seemed like a proper (second) finale for such an iconic villain. Where Jason Goes to Hell goes wrong is its opening prologue. A hoodwinked Jason (Kane Hodder) rummaging through the woods of Camp Crystal Lake is ambushed by the FBI who essentially lure him out into the open by exploiting his own formula against him (a beautiful woman making herself comfortable in an isolated cabin). The squadron then proceeds to blow him to kingdom come until all that’s left is a still-beating heart. What a finale! Oh, there’s a whole movie left? Wait, he’s not “Jason” Jason, he’s a slimy slug monster that possesses one body after the other until he inhabits the body of, let’s see if I’m reading this correctly, another Voorhees? Okay… 

You know you’re in trouble when your horror movie peaks within the first ten minutes. I suppose it was a bold decision to suppress the franchise’s icon in favor of taking a bizarre new turn for the character, but the majority of Jason Goes to Hell struggled in bringing me over to its side of the table. New additions like Steven Williams’ Creighton Duke, an insightful bounty hunter type who constantly unleashes Jason intel out of his ass, and Steven, played by John D. LeMay of Friday the 13th: The Series fame, are stiff additions to the series even for Friday the 13th standards. All the talk of a Voorhees prophecy only makes Jason significantly less interesting and/or intimidating. Just ask Michael (see Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Myers). 

New Line Cinema’s first entry of the series after acquiring the rights from Paramount really fumbles with super lame characters, a botched attempt at mythology, and the worst crime of all—endowing the definitive Jason, Kane Hodder, with one of the character’s coolest looks (mask grafted onto his face) only to immediately can it for, I repeat, a slime worm. Surprise Freddy tease or not, this one’s a dud.

Most Memorable KillDeborah’s impaling in the tent is a solid gore effect on its own, but the Jason-possessed coroner (Richard Gant) immediately splitting her in half with the rod is the icing on the cake. 

11) Friday the 13th: A New Beginning

Friday the 13th: A New Beginning (1985) – source: Paramount Pictures

It only took a year after The Final Chapter, but Friday the 13th emerged with another franchise black sheep that ultimately ranks towards the bottom of my list with A New Beginningthe film that proves that slasher villains only stay dead if their box office does. The film’s inciting incident isn’t someone disappearing in the woods or even a teenage Tommy Jarvis (John Shepherd), reserved as ever, arriving at the forest halfway house for troubled youths, but rather one of the home’s inhabitants, the comically adult-sized Vic (Mark Venturini), cleaving fellow resident Joey (Dominick Brascia) with an ax after a meaningless dispute about wood chopping and candy bars. The kids go missing, there’s a killer on the loose and it must be Jason, you know the drill. 

A New Beginning is the first Friday film since the original to incorporate a mystery killer, and despite the honest attempts at setting paths for multiple red herrings (Tommy plagued by visions of Jason looming over his shoulder, mysterious drifter, etc.), the suspicious close-up of the distraught paramedic Roy (Dick Weiand) standing over Joey’s body lingers way too long for a supposed throwaway character we’ve just met. As it turns out, he’s our killer, masquerading as Jason with blue stripes instead of red ones. The revelation that Joey was his son is a different change of pace, but its unveiling only makes you question Roy’s motivation to slaughter innocent teens instead of focusing all his efforts on Vic. The idea is to make everyone believe Jason did it, but with Vic already imprisoned, there’s no clever method to his revenge scheme. And I’m not even going to get into the egregiously obnoxious Ethel (Carol Locatell) and her dim-witted son Junior (Ron Sloan) whose personas are reduced to yelling and screeching until they’ve exhausted all the oxygen out of the scene (“You big dildo, eat your f***ing slop!”). Their deaths are easily the most cathartic of the bunch. 

Once the Roy nonsense is dispatched of, A New Beginning attempts to provide a reason to continue forward with a final scene including Tommy that ultimately proved as influential as Halloween 4’s finale set-up—not very. It also doesn’t help that director Danny Steinmann was notoriously recognized as a sleaze. Otherwise, the only real contribution A New Beginning brings to the series, besides the energetic Reggie (Shavar Ross) and a prologue with the only glance of Corey Feldman post-The Final Chapter, is the reaffirmation that Tommy really has the worst luck.

Most Memorable Kill—The kills of A New Beginning are largely unimpressive, save for the leather strap Roy wraps around Eddie’s eyes against a tree, tightening it until it inevitably crushes his skull.

10) Jason X

Jason X (2001) – source: New Line Cinema

Welcome to Jason X, the tenth installment of the Friday series in which director James Isaac (Skinwalkers) asks ‘what if we took the foreboding threat aboard a claustrophobic space convoy structure of Alien, and made it mind-numbingly stupid?’ Indeed, this is the one where Jason goes to space. It’s almost a rite of passage for the slasher villain stretched far beyond their initial intent. Eight movies prior, Jason was a sack-covered hermit in the woods, and now, with his chrome-plated upgrade, he could go toe-to-toe with the Terminator if he really wanted to. Pinhead (Hellraiser: Bloodline) and Leprechaun (Leprechaun 4: In Space) already took that leap years ago so it makes sense that Jason would aim for the stars while New Line figures out how to get their then ‘in production hell’ Freddy vs. Jason off the ground.

In the far off future of 2010, we’ve reached the Crystal Lake Research Facility stage of Jason’s rampaging because he’s just so enigmatically unkillable, there’s really no other option than to dedicate an entire building just to study his decades-long endurance. Of everything that could be remembered about this entry, it’s that Jason X, nevertheless, holds the distinct honor of awakening its titular antagonist from cryogenic freezing—not by any sort of futuristic resuscitation, but the sonic waves of an intergalactic orgasm halfway across the spaceship; welcome to the 25th century! The standout, by default, among a sea of some pretty lackluster performances is Lisa Ryder’s KM-14—a sentient, fully capable AI who, in addition to wanting to be treated as if she were human, spends the film’s most entertaining bits in an altercation with Jason (pre and post-chrome upgrades) with some mildly amusing bits of humor thrown in the mix.

For the longest time, Jason X ranked towards the absolute bottom. I dreaded rewatching it, and while it’s bad (like, really bad), I have to admit I found myself settling into its cheap 90s movie groove a bit more this time. You can’t help but laugh at the absurd scenarios it pushes Jason into. It even finds a way for the still-frozen Jason to hack off a limb without moving a literal muscle. It’s an immediate step up from New Line’s first Friday venture if only for a pretty rad David Cronenberg (The Brood, Videodrome) cameo as an unimpressed superior who attempts to free 2010 Jason for his own means only to have that backfire in the ‘spear through the chest’ way. When he’s not doing his thing, however, Jason X plods.

Most Memorable KillJason + Adrienne + liquid nitrogen + counter *SMASH* =

9) Friday the 13th: Part III

Friday the 13: Part III (1982) – source: Paramount Pictures

Friday the 13th: Part III is the ‘nothing more, nothing less’ stage of the series, setting the template that would remain a constant for the years the Friday films were produced under the Paramount banner. Part III rode the waves of the 80s 3D revival, Jaws 3D and Amityville 3-D following suit, utilizing the effect to hurl as many objects towards the camera in the hopes that they would make audiences jump—a yo-yo, a laundry pole, apple juggling in the living room, detached eyeballs, etc. Funnily enough, of all the tricks that would only really work if you had the glasses, the best 3D effect was Jason (Richard Brooker) harpooning Vera (Catherine Parks) from across the dock. Even without the 3D, the way it whizzes by the camera makes me instinctively flinch every time.

Part III’s most notable contribution to the series, however, is endowing Jason with his iconic hockey mask by way of the insufferable Shelley (Lary Zerner), one of the most reviled characters of the Friday series, if not number one. In addition to his whining when the group shares their mutual animosity towards his pranks, Shelley often turns to incel-ish behavior when Vera shows no interest in sleeping with him (“Being a jerk is better than being a nothing.”). Jason takes what’s rightfully his from the annoying prankster, and steps out for the first time onto the docks with a confidence that would define the slasher for years to come; still an amazingly simple reveal. 

As a collective, the group dynamic of Part III, despite most of them being friends prior to their arrival at Higgins Heaven, is lacking. Nothing particularly stands out about final girl Chris (Dana Kimmell) either, besides her backstory with Jason prior to the film’s events. Jason aside, the characters that were the most fun to watch were the trouble making, leather-clad bikers (Gloria Charles, Nick Savage, and Kevin O’Brien). I always love that little smile Nick Savage gives before smashing Shelley’s driver’s side window. As a sequel to Part 2, it pales in comparison, but takes on its own gimmicky accords, Friday the 13th: Part III is an average, enjoyable entry of the Friday canon.  

Most Memorable Kill—Performing an impressive handstand feat while Jason’s about proves fatal. I especially love the brief perspective shot underneath when Jason swings the machete down on Andy… and his crotch.

8) Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan

Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989) – source: Paramount Pictures

Hear me out before you hang me out to dry. At one point, I would have found it sacrilege to rank Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan above any of the previous Fridays, let alone Part III,  but this re-watch made me appreciate it a little bit more. Let me repeata LITTLE bit more. After securing another hockey mask complete with the ax gash from Part III for some reason, I like to imagine Jason (Kane Hodder), as he’s grabbing hold of the anchor, thinking to himself, “yeah, you know what? I think I’ve earned a little vacation.” I always thought the S.S. Lazarusthe massive ship that somehow docked in the shallow Crystal Lakewas a fun, claustrophobic set (complete with a disco dance floor) that gave Jason plenty of room to play as he tortured Rennie (Jensen Daggett) and her graduating classmates of Lakeview High.  

You’re essentially getting two Friday films for the price of one with Jason Takes Manhattan. The issue is that by the time the remaining survivors abandon ship and make their way into a New York City harbor, a full hour into the movie who’s poster featured Jason looming over the city, it’s easy to feel exhausted before some of the film’s most iconic developments even get going. I always found it amusing how Jason is more of a casual nuisance to New Yorkers than a looming threat. He looks amazing in the center of Times Square (Hodder thought so too while fans shouted to him during production), and the one thing he does in the famed tourist attraction (kick a boombox owned by some ‘tough’ street punks) is one of the series’ funniest bursts of humor.  

Not a fan of the finale in which Jason is ultimately defeated by the toxic sludge of the NY sewer system, highlighting the character’s goofiest makeup design. It’s probably best that the Friday series took a much-needed break after this one. Considering its lesser stature among the Paramount films, Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan is a *little* better than it’s reputation would suggest. 

Most Memorable Kill—The death of Julius plays like a well-told joke. Over and over, he throws blows to an otherwise unfazed Jason who only really takes the ‘beating’ out of pity. Julius is the only Friday victim, if I recall, that actively submits to a Jason punishment (“Take your best shot”). Voila, the scene arrives at a literal PUNCHline as Jason knocks his block off, tumbling down the side of a building and into a dumpster. *chef’s kiss*

7) Friday the 13th (2009)

Friday the 13th (2009) – source: Paramount Pictures

Of the heavily saturated Platinum Dunes remake-era, the 2009 addition of Friday the 13th doesn’t exactly stand up to Marcus Nispel’s previous Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake from 2003, but it’s a decent Friday film in its own right. The re-imagining shares the same issue with Jason Takes Manhattan in that it does feel like two different Friday films back-to-back. The difference being that the lengthy prologue heavily plays into the momentum of the actual plot even if that stretch of the film never matches the sheer urgency and ferocity of its opening. I really appreciate how the narrative structure is slightly akin to Psycho. The prologue hoodwinks us by having us believe Whitney (Amanda Righetti) will be the film’s sole survivor only to have her disappear after Jason’s opening rampage, prompting a loved one, her brother Clay (Jared Padalecki), to search the area for any sign she’s still alive. And then you have your usual brand of college-aged mischief-makers ringing Jason’s dinner bell, rounding out to a pretty significant body count.

It’s difficult to label this version as an outright remake because it really isn’t. Nispel conceives this stuffed amalgamation of the first three films as a “best of” display of the series’ most iconic beats (i.e death of Mrs. Voorhees, Part 2’s sack, and, of course, Part III’s discovery of the hockey mask). The best part about a Friday the 13th re-imagining is that, with core franchise elements intact, it slips in nicely as an extension of the Paramount films, slightly altering an integral development in Jason’s mythology. There’s nothing too drastic here besides the unconventional structure and inner workings of Jason’s underground dominion. It assumes you get the gist of what these movies are and doesn’t pretend to be anything but. 

Derek Mears embodies a relentless, ruthless Jason who swings his trademark machete and other sharp instruments with ease. Make no mistake, the kills are brutal. The 2009 remake of Friday the 13th is a gruesome return-to-form that, while feeling extraordinarily lengthy, reignites the flame of Jason’s bulking menace. I recommend sticking to the Killer Cut for extended sequences that really accentuate the ferocity of the gore effects. 

Most Memorable Kill—Almost went with the prologue’s ‘sleeping bag roasting on an open fire’ setup, but it’s ultimately more satisfying to see Jason giving Trent, the movie’s resident prick, his grisly comeuppance, utilizing his trusty machete and the back of a tow truck.

6) Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood

Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood (1988) – source: Paramount Pictures

The New Blood abandons its tongue-in-cheek approach from Jason Lives, yet replaces it with an overall “let’s get nuts” vibe where it asks ‘what if Jason went one-on-one with Carrie?’ Traumatized by the accidental death of her abusive father caused by her telekinesis, the shy Tina (Lar Park Lincoln) takes a trip out to her old home out by Crystal Lake with her mother (Susan Blu) and the duplicitous Dr. Crews (Terry Kiser) to try to get her gift under control. Of course, when Tina takes out her frustrations after a bad session, she couldn’t have known that the rotting Jason was lying at the bottom of the lake. Cue the party kids at the house next door, and you have yourselves a decent slasher with a slight sci-fi bent.

What makes The New Blood a monumental slice of Friday history is the glorious, intimidating introduction of stuntman Kane Hodder donning the hockey mask for the first time. He’s the favorite for a reason, despite appearing in some of the series’ lesser entries. The man can take hours of makeup, falling through stairs, being set on fire, having a roof dropped on him, and make it look like just another day at the office. And to think, once the mask is disposed of in the finale, his excellent facial makeup gives the character a whole new intimidation factor. 

The film’s most glaring detriments are its limited gore and off-screen kills, an issue largely attributed to the flawed ratings system. Other Friday films were butchered by notes from the ratings board, but none as heavily as The New Blood. Director John Carl Buechler shot some gnarly kills, no more gruesome than what was depicted in previous films, only to have the pinheads at the MPAA, ironically, slash this movie to pieces in order to secure an R rating. It doesn’t help that the extra bloody cuts of these death scenes are only available in poor quality, rendering an unrated director’s cut pointless. It’s extra sad considering that Buechler sadly passed earlier this year in March. 

Nevertheless, The New Blood claims the #6 spot if only for the finale in which Tina unleashes the full extent of her repressed telekinetic abilities to ward off Jason at every turn. And then, to top it all off, the battle royale concludes with one hell of a mighty in-camera house explosion by Crystal Lake. What a sight. While the final product was heavily botched in the editing room, Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood is still a worthy, if not watered down, extension of Jason’s evolution post-Part VI

Most Memorable Kill—Ah, the sleeping bag—a Friday staple. Jason’s a simple beast. He sees a sleeping bag, he bashes the poor person inside of it against a tree. 

5) Freddy vs. Jason

Freddy vs. Jason (2003) – source: New Line Cinema

It took near forever for the two slasher titans to go toe-to-toe with one another but Freddy vs. Jason somehow managed to pull it off. From the perspective of the opening prologue, this is no doubt a Nightmare feature with Freddy (Robert Englund) plucking the dormant Jason (Ken Kirzinger) from the bowels of hell to do his bogeyman bidding on the unsuspecting children of Springwood, that is, until the machete-wielding mama’s boy gets a little too carried away. When you get down to it, this movie is essentially the lazy half of a group project outsourcing the work only to discover the overachiever getting all the credit, but the project is slashing teenagers for slasher supremacy. 

Freddy vs. Jason is by no means a great movie. Bar Englund and Kirzinger, the lead performances, 20-somethings masquerading as teenagers, range from passable to laughably terrible. There’s even a double hitter exchange in the otherwise rousing finale that features distracting casual racist/homophobic comments revolving around Kia (Kelly Rowland) and Freddy’s ultimate confrontation. Otherwise, the fun remains prevalent throughout. Luckily this isn’t a case of saving the goods for the ending. This is a slasher movie, after all. Kirzinger’s silent, slightly pitiful (as one can be for an infamous serial murderer) Jason receives an arc that essentially makes Freddy look like even more of a ghoulish dream exploiter than he already is.

The entire foundation of Freddy vs. Jason is the promise of a spectacular slice-and-dice showdown between these two reigning horror heavyweights, and on that front, it’s as glorious as any gore hound could ever dream of. Each slash, punch, stab, and impale is spectacularly brutal, especially when they utilize each other’s signature weapon of choice on one another. And the best part is that the final altercation isn’t the only time the two titans square off. There’s plenty of bodies to go around. Freddy vs. Jason’s aspirations to entertain at all costs, amid the drawn-out drama within the group of slasher fodder, ensures its re-watchability and its placement on this list. 

Most Memorable Kill—Jason shoving Freddy’s signature through the serial murderer’s chest, followed by Lori’s decapitation maneuver, would have occupied this spot had Freddy ACTUALLY died and not, you know, give a knowing wink to the camera. So we’re going with Jason’s first kill on Elm Street. Post-coital Trey (Jesse Hutch) doesn’t even get a chance to finish his beer before Jason repeatedly plunges his machete through the bed before (back)cracking a cold one of his own.

4) Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter

Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984) – source: Paramount Pictures

You see, this is where it gets tricky. Arranging these next four slots is like asking which child I love more. I unequivocally adore the remaining four Friday films in the same manner; they’re easily interchangeable depending on which week you ask me. However, it would happen that Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter lands in fourth place, ironically enough, this week. The opening recap indicates that this was to be the film where Jason (Ted White) involuntarily hangs up his mask after one last slaughter of some promiscuous teens renting a house in the vicinity of Camp Crystal Lake for the weekend. They should be fine.

From start to finish, The Final Chapter is loaded with memorable moments, most of which belong to the alleged ‘dead fuck’ Jimmy (Crispin Glover). It’s no wonder Jason has it out for him. Glover steals every scene he’s in. His enigmatic, possession state dance in the living room could provide enough material for an entire essay in and of itself. Corey Feldman is also fantastic as a young Tommy Jarvis, the quick-thinking neighbor kid with an affinity for crafting intricately detailed masks, puppets, etc. He’s the only character besides Jason himself that keeps up with appearances despite the heavy rotation of actors between films. What the remaining teens lack in fully-fledged personalities, they more than make up with an immense sense of likability. Well, not Ted (Lawrence Monoson), the designated prick of the assemblage.  

Of all the ways to momentarily incapacitate Jason prior to his zombification in later installments, having the killer land on his proverbial sword, face first, after Tommy takes a good whack, is a great way to ‘kill’ him for the time being. After the slightly lackluster kills of Part III, effects wizard Tom Savini returns to put a little oomph back into some of Jason’s slayings. The FINAL bit of the Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter may mean jack in context of the series’ future, but the remarkable cast, amusing deaths, and satisfying conclusion altogether establishes this entry as an exceptional 80s slasher.

Most Memorable Kill—Crispin Glover, yet again, lands another Friday achievement with a humorous, well-timed death scene involving Jason’s machete and a corkscrew.

3) Friday the 13th (1980)

Friday the 13th (1980) – source: Paramount Pictures

It appears that, as the years have passed, the original Friday the 13th from 1980 has slowly started creeping towards the bottom of some lists. I was fully prepared to knock it down a few spots after this recent viewing. And not only did it rank among my favorites, it even made me appreciate its low-budget simplicity that much more. Friday the 13th, for all its unintentionally goofy eccentricities brought on by some of the lead performances, is an effectively moody slice of horror cinema that relies on the long stretches of silence to create a foreboding atmosphere that, while never reaching Hitchcockian heights, remains consistently eerie. 

Harry Manfredini’s Psycho-inspired composition, a reliable constant throughout most of the series, brings the film to life, maintaining the uneasy significance of the unseen looming threat just off the corner. It’s as sharp as the bloody instruments themselves. The twist regarding Betsy Palmer’s Pamela Voorhees obviously doesn’t hold the same weight on repeat viewings. But the way she flips on a dime, reciting the story of her drowned son, Jason, to a shaken Alice (Adrienne King) in the form of one of the great screen villain monologues, is chilling stuff.

And just when you think Alice is safe, she’s struck by one of the quintessential jump scares, the decaying Jason (Ari Lehmen) arising from the lake to avenge his fallen mother, that’s still pretty freaky even by modern standards. Friday the 13th may have been born out of the attempt to make a quick buck off of the post-Halloween slasher craze, yet its engrossing atmosphere, tangible characters, and killer revelation is always a perfect reminder of why I fondly regard this series so dearly. 

Most Memorable Kill—Mrs. Voorhees’ decapitation, complete with Tom Savini’s hairy knuckles, is an all-timer, but the inaugural Friday slaying award goes to Kevin Bacon’s gushing arrow through the throat from beneath the bottom bunk. Nasty stuff.

2) Friday the 13th: Part 2

Friday the 13th: Part 2 (1981) – source: Paramount Pictures

While structurally similar to the first film, there’s something about Friday the 13th: Part 2 I find more to love with. There’s a scene early on with all of the counselors of Camp Packanack gathered around the campfire as Paul (John Furey) recounts the legend of Camp Blood’s unofficial mascot himself. If there were one scene to embody the spirit of Friday the 13th, this would be it. Bar a few exceptions laden throughout the films, this is the first Friday feature where anticipating the deaths, except for Scott (Russell Todd), actually disheartened me, notably the blossoming connection between Mark (Tom McBride) and Vickie (Lauren-Marie Taylor). You just can’t catch a break when you’re slasher fodder in a Friday the 13th film. Friday the 13th’s Alice (Adrienne King) learns this the hard way in a prologue that wraps up the last loose end of the previous film.

Part 2 also contains the series first match cut that indicates a wry sense of humor behind the camera showing a small dog walk over by Jason’s boots with an immediate hard cut to sizzling hot dogs on a grill. It’s simple, yet effectively funny. The sack Jason wears, despite his similar appearance to the slasher from The Town That Dreaded Sundown, is a good look on him (complete with pitchfork) as the first step in the series’ continuing trend of Jason’s gruesome upgrades/transformations with each new film. The early Friday films are a pleasant reminder that, yes, there really was a time where Jason was vulnerable. 

Of the Friday final girls, Amy Steele’s Ginny is, without a doubt, my favorite. The only reason why the cat and mouse game between her and sack Jason (Steve Dash) lasts as long as it does is because Ginny can really think on her feet, deceiving Jason by putting on Pamela’s blood-stained white sweater to momentarily distract him. If Jason were headed in my direction, Ginny is the Friday MVP I’d want by my side. Friday the 13th: Part 2 refines everything that worked about the previous film, offering an array of likable, mischievous camp counselors, creative deaths, and the expansion upon the legend of the infamous Jason. 

Most Memorable Kill—Nearly went with Sandra (Marta Kober) and Jeff (Bill Randolph) being shish kebab-ed to the bed, but then I thought about poor Mark (Tom McBride) minding his own business. Next thing you know, he receives a machete to the face before rolling backwards down a flight of stairs about as steep as the Exorcist steps.

1) Friday the 13th: Part VI – Jason Lives

Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives (1986) – source: Paramount Pictures

At last, we’ve arrived at the absolute pinnacle of the entire Friday saga—Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives. In the character’s final appearance, adult Tommy Jarvis (Thom Matthews) is on a mission to properly dispose of the hockey mask menace once and for all. Little does he know that his little stunt, impaling the maggot-infested corpse with a graveyard fence post, revives the zombified Jason (CJ Graham) à la Frankenstein when a bolt of lighting falls from the sky. Oops.

Predating the self-aware Scream wave of the late 90s, director Tom McLoughlin gets a head start, employing a much needed sharp, satirical edge to the Friday series that only pushes the level of meta parody so far. Jason Lives was very much ahead of its time in regards to lampooning the tried-and-true tropes that dominated most horror films around that time without sacrificing the bare necessities of a Friday feature. It’s extremely funny from start to finish. “I’ve seen enough horror movies to know that a weirdo in a mask is never friendly,” the concerned Lizabeth (Nancy McLoughlin) says before foolishly bargaining with Jason through the promise of her American Express card. Clever match cuts (“Do they think I’m a farthead?”/“Yes!”), darkly comical deaths, breakneck pace; you name it, Jason Lives has it in spades. 

There’s nary a moment wasted. From Jason’s resurrection onward, Jason Lives maintains a breakneck pace in which the danger is always present and its humorous sensibilities are consistently on point. I always appreciated how this was the only Friday that actually featured children in the crossfire at Camp Crystal Lake (or Camp Forest Green). There comes a point where a few of them accept that, yeah, there’s a likely chance they’re about to die in a horror movie (“So, what were you going to be when you grew up?”) All in good fun, the film features a bevy of laughs directed towards Jason to the point where even he’s in on the joke. I’ll never forget the sheer awe and confusion upon seeing Jason’s 007-inspired gun-barrel sequence.

And lest we forget, Alice Cooper’s The Man Behind the Mask is easily the greatest 80s rock ballad Jason could ever hope for. After the unimpressive proceedings of Part V, Friday the 13th: Part VI – Jason Lives is a thoroughly excellent slasher flick that never squanders the opportunities presented before it, humorous or otherwise. 

Most Memorable Kill—Sheriff Garris bent over backwards for a heroic death scene, but it’s Hawes who takes the glory. When you’re Jason and you’ve been resurrected by the lightning bolts of Zeus himself, you’ve gotta get back to work, and so Jason does, brutally ripping Hawes’ heart out of his chest within the first two minutes of reanimation.

And we’ve made it to the end! You survived! As a reward, may I present my personal favorite moment in all 12 films. It’s so pure and Hodder’s body language sells it beautifully:

What’s your favorite movie in the Friday the 13th franchise? Let us know in the comments!

SIN CIELO: Interview with Jianna Maarten Saada

Sin Cielo is a short film written and directed by Jianna Maarten Saada. Prior to the project’s creation, Maarten Saada visited dangerous parts of the country on her own. She stayed with underprivileged families, many of whom knew someone whose daughters had been abducted, who feared for their lives.

As a result, Maarten Saada produced a film that demonstrates a very real and significant problem with the intention to bring the issue at hand to the surface. The film has competed in high profile festivals and has won several awards such as the Grand Jury Prize at the Seattle International Film Festival, the Young Jury Prize at Palm Springs Shorts Fest, the Grand Jury, Audience Award and Best of Fest Prize at Ivy Film Festival.

Being under Oscar Consideration, Maarten Saada spoke about Sin Cielo and the urgency of acknowledging human trafficking as a prominent problem.

Sin Cielo (2018) – source: Jianna Maarten Saada

Ioanna Micha: So, before we delve into more details, could you tells us a bit about Sin Cielo?

Jianna Maarten Saada: Sin Cielo is at its core a love story between two teenage kids living in a Mexican colonia bordering El Paso. The boy Memo does these low level runs with his best friend for the local gang faction—”Uncle’ Juan” as they call him—in the neighborhood. He doesn’t even know what is in the bags he buries at checkpoints, it’s a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ situation. So, he makes this date with Delia to walk her to school. She waits for him, but he oversleeps and they miss each other. On her walk to school, she is abducted. He goes looking for her but is warned pretty early on to keep his mouth shut—don’t ask, don’t tell. When he doesn’t listen, they drive by and shoot at his house. The film ends in a parade, a kind of visual final moment on what has been emotionally occurring throughout this story to these people.

IM: I really enjoy the pace of the film and that it is at its core a love story. We see how Delia and Memo interact in the beginning, for instance, and we root for them! How come you framed the film as a love story?

JMS: Thank you so much! Young love is so inspiring because it’s so honest and overwrought. It feels so sweet and simple and then right in the middle of it is this huge hand that swoops down and steals it; it just rips it right to shreds. I love these kind of love stories. I love the Romeo and Juliets of the world in terms of structure. It’s such a fated structure. I’ve read and watched Romeo and Juliet probably a hundred times and each time I root for their love to overcome all even though I know it’s going to end badly. I know they will both die but here I am shouting ‘don’t take the poison! She’s alive!’ That’s great storytelling. We wanted to see if we could accomplish that in twenty five minutes. At the beginning of the film Memo tells you this is going to end badly. He says the walls are listening in and you can’t trust people, and the ominous beginning is a pretty big tip that this will not end well. But, it’s our job, as storytellers, to make you forget that and get attached, so that later these two teens can break your heart. That’s the goal.

Sin Cielo (2018) – source: Jianna Maarten Saada

IM: There’s great chemistry between Fenessa Pineda and David Gurrola. What made you decide on these two actors?

JMS: The moment I met them in the room I knew. I was in love with both of them. They just had the perfect bit of sweetness. Total naturals! I think they are both superstars, no joke. David was fifteen when we shot Sin Cielo. He carries with him all the reality of being this fifteen-year-old kid in high school with girl problems, you know the whole nine yards and yet he’s a total heartthrob! Fenessa is pure gold. You put a camera on her and it’s as if the camera isn’t there. They’re both just so easy; it makes my work pretty effortless. I mean the fact that they are not fighting off major movie roles right now blows me away. We really do need to open the path for more latinx starring/lead roles. Both of these young people can hold a movie.

IM: You shed light on a very real and crucial issue that exists in the world, that of human trafficking. You have called it before a ‘collective problem’ and I believe that this is an undeniable truth. What inspired you to tell this story?

JMS: The people in the towns I visited while doing research inspired this story. This is their story. These are their heartbreaks, their children being stolen, their fears, their worries. The words the characters are saying are really their words.

IM: I find the title so intriguing! Why is the film called Sin Cielo?

JMS: It means without sky. Or without heaven to be really interpretative with it. The idea that that’s all there is—this never ending sky, felt apropos.  It’s like being trapped in a prison of air.

IM: Sin Cielo has won several awards from film festivals, such as Calcutta International Cult Film Festival, the Seattle International Film Festival and Palm Springs International ShortFest,. How does it feel to know that the film has had such a great response?

Sin Cielo (2018) – source: Jianna Maarten Saada

JMS: We’re very happy to be received so well. I think it’s always surprising when it happens, but it’s one of those right movie right moment things, and we are so grateful to the audiences who expressed their affinity for the film.

IM: You have another short at its post-production stage called Mermaids. Would you like to reveal anything about it?

JMS: Mermaids is a total fave of mine. It’s finished, but for some reason it shows up on IMDb that it’s in post-production. It’s under five minutes and a total tonal piece I shot with Pallavi Reddy on 35mm. Reddy did this beautiful processing on it. I love that short. It’s tonally my favorite piece. We never really got it out there to fests, which we should because it’s very surprising I think. It’s entirely silent, no dialogue at all. The framing is very specific. I was just so much fun to shoot!

IM: Do you have another future project in mind?

JMS: Yes, several! My writing partner Cara Lawson and I have a feature of Sin Cielo as well as a psychological horror, a sci-fi piece, and a character driven drama. There are more stories we want to tell than folks willing to give us money to tell them. Ha! Sometimes we have to slow ourselves down!

IM: Is there something I haven’t covered yet that you would like to mention?

JMS: We would definitely like to get the word out there about folks taking a serious look at femicide and trafficking to be part of a solution going forward. Trafficking is alive and well in our world, making billions of dollars. I truly believe there’s another way, another path, that does not result in selling your fellow human into bondage.

If you’d like to help make a change, please visit the following websites to donate—every little bit helps a victim in need: 3StrandsGlobal, Anti Slavery International, and Free The Girls.

SIN CIELO: Open your Eyes

Encouraging as it may sound to say “sky’s the limit,” the truth is that sometimes there’s no control over the restrictions life may deal. Maybe a black van is just around the corner, for instance, and everything that was taken for granted before has now become an idyllic past. Sometimes the limit might be way below the sky; it can be the end of a house’s front yard. 

Sin Cielo (2018) – source: Jianna Maarten Saada

For years, cinema has attempted to tackle issues such as abduction and human trafficking—from John Lee Thompson’s Kinjite: Forbidden Subjects and Lukas Moodysson’s Lilja 4-ever, to Marco Kreuzpaintner’s Trade and Danny Boyle’s multi-award winning film, Slumdog Millionaire. Film as a medium tries to function as a constant reminder of this universal problem. Boyle’s feature, for example, has definitely achieved that end as it was praised not only for its horrifying depiction of the world, but also for its inspirational love story. 

In a similar approach, Jianna Maarten Saada’s Sin Cielo contributes to this effort with great skill. Looking into the lives of Memo (David Gurrola) and Delia (Fenessa Pineda), two teenagers in a town close to a Mexican border, Maarten Saada brings the terrible reality of human trafficking front and center. Every day that every child or woman steps outside, there’s a risk of them being abducted and never heard from again—it’s a threat that’s always lurking, even during the light of day. 

Creating a multi-layered narrative, Maarten Saada initially allows only partial access to the town’s organized crime. The voice-over opening the film suggests that most of the story is told through Memo’s point of view, and seeing that he spends the first moments blindfolded, there can be no full disclosure yet. After all, even with such a narrow entry, Memo is putting his life on the line since as he says: “people die because they talk too much… I think the walls could listen to what I’m telling you.” He is kept in the dark, so that even if he decides to speak he can never reveal the actual location of the stolen items. Memo lives in a dangerous place—it’s no wonder the information shared in the beginning is given from a safe distance as an extreme wide shot follows two dark figures, presumably Memo and his friend, hustling in the dead of night. Hardly noticeable at this point, but out there just enough to be seen, crime is present.  

Sin Cielo (2018) – source: Jianna Maarten Saada

Likewise, the danger of human trafficking first enters the screen through the news on Memo’s TV warning that “7 women a day are abducted, often by someone they know,” but it goes unnoticed; it’s a ‘these things never happen to us really, it’s always other people’ type of reaction. It turns out, however, that Memo becomes part of the people affected by this peril when Delia, the girl he has fallen for, is taken away in a black jeep on her way to school. The abduction happens off-screen, but Delia’s shrieks are heard loud and clear. The film doesn’t provide subtitles for this part, but fighting for your life doesn’t need any; every cry and every scream in Pineda’s compelling performance is inherently understood, regardless of one’s linguistic background.

Besides Pineda, Gurrola brings a lot into the character of Memo not only in the awkward moments of a teen falling in love, but also in the painful realization that Delia is gone and he is powerless in overturning this tragedy. While the film is mostly quiet, with the only exceptions being scenes of absolute despair such as Delia’s kidnapping, Maarten Saada closes with a bang when Memo silently takes Delia’s place in the town’s parade. Cutting between Memo and Delia standing in two different lines, the parade’s lines and rows of captured women inside a truck respectively, the director draws a parallel between two situations: where Delia, as a teenager, should have been, and where she, among other girls, has ended up unfairly.

Sin Cielo (2018) – source: Jianna Maarten Saada

By accompanying this injustice with the parade’s celebratory drum noises, Maarten Saada builds up a tension and in turn this tension creates irony which signals that this problem has been ignored for far too long. Besides dedicating the film “to 1000s of women in Mexico who have disappeared and the families who still look for them,” Maarten Saada takes one step further: she includes the names of women and girls who have gone missing in Mexico over the years. In a way, even if those women were deprived of their lives, they are offered a form of immortality in black and white; they’re gone, but they’re not forgotten. 

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