Suffering from too much merriment? Here's your holiday Netflix binge-list sorted.
Devilishly well-constructed with plenty of chilling twists and turns, Cam is a modern day De Palma-esque techno-thriller that elevates above standard Black Mirror fare through clever direction and a committed lead performance. Madeleine Brewer (The Handmaid's Tale) stars as a young woman using online webcam sex shows as a means of income, only to find her online persona stolen by someone who looks exactly like her. The film is a tense low-budget delight, tapping into the anxieties we feel about the thin veils of security we build around our online personas. The film is most effective when it focuses on the fascinatingly complex struggles of sex workers in an often antagonistic industry, as our hero's body becomes a battleground for the sinister machinations of an invisible enemy. A film as likely to broaden some viewers' horizons as it is to shock them.
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
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Responsible for a handful of the finest American films of our time, the Coen Brothers' latest is a darkly comic anthology made up of six stories of the Old American West that vary from the existential to the absurd. The Coens are some of the most outwardly cynical film-makers working today, and the short stories that unfold here transform classic Western archetypes (cowboys, bank robbers and gunslingers) into doomed souls in a cruel and chaotic world. The Coens' signature dry humour and brilliant, often unexpected story rhythms are employed in every chapter to stunning effect, perhaps unsurprisingly all arriving at the same grim conclusion - that we all end up in the dirt. Luckily, it's not a slog. Rather, each story is a tense, often wickedly funny delight, mixing familiar faces like Liam Neeson, Zoe Kazan, James Franco and Tom Waits with an array of relatively unknown character actors to great effect. Another haunting, evocative classic from the Brothers.
A messy but undeniably fun historical epic, this retelling of the classic story of Scottish liberator Robert the Bruce is aiming to be a new, action-packed take on the Braveheart formula - to the point where the film picks up moments after the end of that Oscar-winner. Chris Pine employs a shaky Scottish accent as Bruce, tasked with leading the forces rising up against the cruel and oppressive British monarchy. There's plenty of agreeably bloody swordplay here, and the film moves so quickly and efficiently it's easy to ignore some of the more outwardly silly moments of dialogue and eye-roll-worthy story beats. As a historical epic retooled as an action film, it's a lot of fun, though it's hard not to wish that the talented director Mackenzie (Hell or High Water) didn't turn out something a little more thoughtful.
A mysterious and frequently wonderful documentary, Shirkers tells the story of a Singaporean film-maker (Tan) and her friends who, at the age of 18, made one of Singapore's first independent films, only to find it stolen by a slippery, slimy American film teacher overseeing the project. The film is fascinatingly constructed, employing footage from the film itself with modern-day interviews to weave a portrait of youth, innocence lost, and a Singapore on the verge of transforming into the modern metropolis it is today. The film is driven by the convictions of Tan, so deeply wronged by a man she trusted, that it can be forgiven for occasionally dipping into overly self-congratulatory territory. Ultimately, the film becomes a powerful coming-of-age story glued together by the unbreakable bond of the filmmakers at the centre of the story. A moving, twisty-turny glimpse at a lost classic.
Perhaps the least festive film you could potentially watch this holiday season, Private Life is a troubling experience but one that provides subtle rewards. Kathryn Hahn and Paul Giamatti are a couple entering middle age and engaging in the treacherous, traumatic minefield that is trying to conceive a child while battling infertility. Director Tamara Jenkins has always been one of the finest chroniclers of the American upper middle class, and this may be her most anxiety-inducing effort yet, as the couple's desperation begins to mount amidst piling indignities. It is a bleak film, but never cold - one which depicts the stress of such a struggle on a marriage in such unflinching terms that one begins to question whether or not it is worth it. It is an apocalypse film of sorts, one that uses this all-too-common struggle as a way to explore the ever-creeping dread of modern life. Did I mention it is one of the most uncomfortably funny films of the year, too?