Rose Glass’ directorial debut is a woozy slow-burn psych-out about the horrors of religious devotion. Maud (Morfydd Clark) is a palliative care nurse who takes a job caring for a retired choreographer (Jennifer Ehle) living with cancer. Maud is also Roman Catholic and extremely off-putting. She becomes convinced she needs to save her patient’s soul. She also becomes quietly preoccupied with archaic acts of self-harm in the name of spiritual purity.
Saint Maud works best when you don’t think of it as a horror movie. It’s not necessarily scary, but it is disturbing. Glass makes viewers feel trapped watching Maud’s increasingly upsetting acts of so-called devotion without being able to stop them or look away. Until the very end, which you might find yourself watching through your fingers.
Imagine the most stressful family get-together you’ve ever been to in your life. Whatever you’re thinking about, it has nothing on the day Danielle (Rachel Sennott) is having in Shiva Baby. She’s observing shiva with her overbearing parents, her nosy relatives, her ex, her sugar daddy, and other people she does not want to be around. Director Emma Seligman presents each anxiety-inducing new story beat with a sense of drama that makes Danielle’s bad day feel high-stakes and endless. Shiva Baby is a conversation-based comedy that’s full of surprises; it’s funny, sexy, and embarrassing in equal measure.
Titane might be the wildest movie of the year, but it’s also one of the best. Fans of Julia Ducournau’s debut, Raw, knew to expect something challenging and mesmerizing from the filmmaker. Still, I can’t imagine that anyone expected Titane. On its surface, the Cannes Palme d’Or winner is incomparably shocking, throwing us into the unsteady world of car-obsessed dancer Alexia (Agathe Rousselle). But if you roll with the punches long enough, the gruesome story turns into something tender. Titane is an experimental powerhouse and a feast for the eyes and ears, but it’s also a wistful (if deeply unorthodox) story about family — and self — lost and found.
Together Together is a rare and precious thing; a rom-com about platonic friendship. Nikole Beckwith’s movie follows an unusual relationship between Matt (Ed Helms), a single man in his forties, and Anna (Patti Harrison), the barista who becomes his surrogate. Together Together flips a familiar script in a lot of beautiful ways, building its plot around Matt’s desire to be a father and letting the duo’s relationship blossom organically — and awkwardly — from there.
Harrison, always compelling, takes a softer comedic approach than her usual over-the-top characters and is matched at every turn by Helms’ performance as a helicopter dad-to-be. Together Together talks loudly and often about the boundaries its characters are setting, yet it also has a quiet emotionality that carries it through to its bittersweet, inevitable conclusion.
With Zola, director Janicza Bravo gives Twitter’s most addictive viral thread the big-screen treatment. The story Aziah “Zola” King told in 2015 is filled with absurd humor, subtextual truths, and jarring tonal shifts — all of which make it a perfect match for Bravo.
Taylour Paige is excellent as the titular character, a waitress and stripper who is roped into a wild trip to Florida with her new friend, Stefani (Riley Keough). Stefani’s boyfriend, Derek (Nicholas Braun), and a mysterious passenger called “X” (Colman Domingo) also come along for the ride. The movie juggles humor and darkness with ease, documenting the trip with the steadily building tension of a whistling kettle about to boil — or the sound of a tweet whooshing off onto the timeline.
Related Topics: 2021 Rewind