Movies screened at film festivals usually burn bright during the festival week, to only then descend into oblivion. With the advent of streaming services, so many of these film festival films have found a home, and have thus become easier to access. This list is a celebration of such films- which did exceedingly well in the festival circuits to end their celebrated journey in the home of Amazon Prime Video.
There is no one way to describe this Bong Joon-ho masterclass in cinema and commentary. It’s a black-comedy, it’s a gritty thriller, and it’s all backed up by thinly veiled social commentary. The story of how the Kim family (Song Kang-ho, Jang Hye-jin, Choi Woo-shik, Park So-dam) living literally beneath ground level, infiltrate the house of the rich and gullible Parks (Lee Sun-kyun, Cho Yeo-jeong) is at once funny, but also deeply disconcerting, giving the class-war rhetoric a layer of doubt- here it is the rich who are innocent, and the poor are ruthless. And yet, your loyalties remain exactly where they should.
The film swept four awards at the 92nd Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, and Best International Feature Film, becoming the first non-English language film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. But before that, it won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, which kickstarted its Oscar journey.
This film outlines the tense relationship between a jazz drummer (Miles Teller), under the brutal tutelage of his abusive mentor, the bandleader (J.K.Simmons). Written and directed by Damien Chazelle, a lot of the violence of this film- inflicted upon by others and by oneself as a form of masochistic learning- is based on his own experiences in a competitive jazz band. The tense staging and close framing of moments lends this film an immersive thriller-like quality.
Whiplash premiered in competition at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, and went on to winning three awards at the 87th Academy Awards, for Best Film Editing, Best Sound Mixing, and Best Supporting Actor for Simmons.
Based on the 1952 romance novel The Prince Of Salt, republished in 1990 as Carol, the namesake film directed by Todd Haynes is a landmark moment in the queer mainstream cannon. Cate Blanchette and Rooney Mara play characters who fall in love in 1950s New York. Lushly lit in deep reds, this tale of courting, and loving across barriers of gender has the shadow of tragedy following it even as it charts the ecstasies of forbidden love. Keep your eyes out for the scene in the restaurant where, sitting opposite one another, they exude an erotic desire to just be together- all else be damned.
Carol premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 2015, competing for the Palme d’Or. Mara tied with Emmanuelle Bercot for the Best Actress award.
Mr. Turner (2014)
Full of old-humour and rich details, this is Mike Leigh’s biographical portrait of the English romantic painter J. M. W. Turner, played by Timothy Spall with a comic, hubris filled scowl, like an upside down smile. While focusing on the latter half of his life, after he is established as a painter, the film follows his vagrance, and his travels that find fixation in his numerous paintings of ships. The film plays out without pomp or drama. At one point Turner is told, “The universe is chaotic and you make us see it.” The film however doesn’t place him on any such pedestal, but instead gives us those quiet moments of mixing pigments in front of blank canvases, complaining about the rising costs of the blue powder that comes from the lapis lazuli of Afghanistan.
The film premiered in competition for the Palme d’Or at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival, where Spall won the award for Best Actor, and Dick Pope received a special jury prize for the film’s cinematography.
The Florida Project (2017)
Directed by Sean Baker, this two hour film follows six-year old Moonee (Brooklynn Prince), who lives with her mother in a motel in Florida, in the shadows of Disney World. What follows is life through her eyes- the small michiefs, and the larger acts of arson with her band of friends from her mauve motel, and the one nearby. Willem Dafoe plays the motel manager, the paternal figure who is at once stern but also yielding. The most significant achievement of this film is that it makes this sandpaper cheque-to-mouth life feel safe, even as it posits the larger issues of childcare, making you wonder what these at-risk kids would grow up to be. You don’t judge them, and you are not made to feel this tense and nauseous anxiety about them. You only wish for them, the best.
The Florida Project premiered in the Directors’ Fortnight section of the 2017 Cannes Film Festival. It was chosen by both the National Board of Review and American Film Institute as one of the top 10 films of the year. Prince won the Critics’ Choice Movie Award for Best Young Performer.
Recommendations in collaboration with Amazon Prime Video