Joker (2019) In Joker, a film that was expected to be yet another comic book film filled with over-the-top action, director Todd Phillips instead manages to slip social commentary seamlessly into a narrative that focuses on poverty and mental illness rather than the meaningless, fun-to-watch scenes that are associated with the genre of comic book films. The line Phillips walks with Joker is a thin one; some believe the film has gone too far, claiming that it promotes the narrative of white incels and glamorizes the violent behavior portrayed. Yet the film’s underlying message revolving around a corrupt society that ostracizes those in poverty with mental illnesses speaks not to those looking for inspiration, but to those who are blind to the everyday issues that plague the lower class. Joker pushes aside the goal of pleasing audiences with intense action and lovable heroes to instead posit a question: What might happen should a society of wealth ignore its suffering masses? The film’s response, while dark and violent, entertains audiences as they search for the answer alongside main character Arthur Fleck. In short, Joker should be watched—and deserves its eleven nominations at the Academy Awards—for the message of warning it provides its viewers via the artistic platform of film.
1917 (2019) There’s something about war movies that feels so distant; the longer ago the war, the less real it seems. It’s hard to fill the shoes of someone who lived over a century ago in a world that looked vastly different from ours today. Yet through the narrow lens of 1917, director Sam Mendes has managed to not only bring viewers into the world of World War I, he’s brought them onto the battlefield. The major difference that allows 1917 to stand out from the countless films that cover wars spanning centuries—and millennia—lies in the cinematography of the film, a feat of accomplishment by famed cinematographer Roger Deakins. As the film appears to be one continuous shot that follows the two young lance corporals, played by George MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman, the style in which the film is shot and edited fully envelops audiences into the environment of the war-torn men. In doing so, viewers get a first-hand account of the story as it unfolds in front of their eyes.
Ad Astra (2019) Science fiction film Ad Astra (2019), directed by James Gray, is a film following a seasoned astronaut as he discovers more about his presumed dead father who was lost in a space expedition long ago. As he learns more about his father, he realizes that he must venture out into space to find him and to attempt to stop a mysterious power surge threatening Earth and the solar system. The film aims to explore a father-son relationship in the context of space travel and the question of whether we are alone in the universe. The story opens with text onscreen informing us that it is the near future and that humanity has expanded into the stars in search of life. It then cuts to what can be perceived to be an interview or evaluation of the main character, Major Roy McBride, who speaks about his feelings and experiences. As his testimonial switches between dialogue and voiceover, visual exposition informs the audience of his background, including his relationship with his wife—briefly—and his current occupation. McBride is an astronaut who works on Earth’s “Space Needle” that broadcasts into the solar system in search for other intelligent life. His father, Clifford McBride, is currently believed to be dead after embarking on a deep space expedition to the edges of the solar system looking for signs of life. The two are estranged, as Clifford left for his expedition when Roy was sixteen, and all Roy has left of his father are his update transmissions from his ship.