Will Gluck (US, 2010) – 1 July
One of the finest teen films of the past decade, Easy A is as satirical as Mean Girls, as zingingly scripted as The Edge of Seventeen, and as easily entertaining as any early Cameron Crowe movie. Clean-cut Olive (Emma Stone) lies her way to addictive popularity when she crafts false gossip that she’s lost her virginity. Her nemesis, busybody and Jesus freak Marianne (Amanda Bynes) sparks up, and all goes awry. Easy A holds up as a sex comedy of unusually feminist credentials.
Steven Soderbergh (US, 2012) – 28 July
Steven Soderbergh’s brawny, glossy take on American working-class anti-heroes clawing their way to their big, aspirations in a society that barely works any more. Channing Tatum stars as Mike, a jobbing everyman in the gig economy who defects to the weird (and not-so-sexy-after-all) world of male stripping in Florida. You sense early on that short-term cash and male ego-boosts will only go so far in the unstable post-GFC environment, but Mike’s path into, and then out of, that lucrative underworld is sleekly entertaining – and obliquely political – till the end.
Honourable mentions: Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life, Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues (films, 1 July), The Town (film, 15 July), You’ve Got Mail (film, 15 July), Workin’ Moms season 2 (25 July), Orange is the New Black season 7 (26 July)
Queen of the Desert
Werner Herzog (US, 2015) – out now
A political melodrama that foretells the hubris of whiskey-fuelled colonialist men carving up the Near East for themselves. This biopic of Gertrude Bell (Nicole Kidman) paints the traveller, writer, archaeologist, explorer and cartographer as a proto-feminist in the sand-swept desert of Tehran, as she falls in love with British diplomat Henry Cadogan (James Franco) and as the first world war hastens the Ottoman Empire’s downfall. It’s rare to see a woman as a Herzogian protagonist, but Gertrude Bell fits the bill in other ways – she’s brazenly individual, an outsider and nonconformist, who insists on her own idealism and freedom until the end. It’s an odd, and oddly rewarding, film.
Honourable mentions: The Loudest Voice season 1 (weekly from 1 July), Younger season 5 (out now), The Circuit seasons 1 and 2 (15 July)
AI Artificial Intelligence
Stanley Kubrick and Steven Spielberg (US, 2001) – 1 July
Critics were divided at first by this wild creation, scripted by Stanley Kubrick (the cold misanthrope), and shot and completed by Steven Spielberg (master of the schlocky Hollywood family film). But the two auteurs’ sensibilities balance perfectly in this Pinocchio-like tale of a robotic boy, David (Haley Joel Osment), programmed to love and destined to be rejected by his human mother (Frances O’Connor), who is grieving another son. After an icy wave of climate change hits Earth, David is trapped beneath the risen, frozen ocean, and seems fated to yearn for his mother eternally. But a strange form of perverse redemption awaits – depending on your interpretation. A science fiction classic of great sadness and beauty.
ET The Extra-Terrestrial
Steven Spielberg (US, 1982) – 5 July
Here’s what big-budget productions of popular cinema can look like: gentle, imaginative tales that blend science fiction with innocent family adventure. Spielberg’s vision of a sweet-natured alien who befriends a suburban boy isn’t just a 20th-century American myth, nor can it be dismissed as a nostalgia piece. It’s a film that still captivates with its sense of awe of the unknown.
Michael Mann (US, 1999) – 8 July
Corporate conspiracies, lies and intrigue form the winding plotlines of this paranoid crime film – in which a 60 Minutes producer (Al Pacino) approaches a former executive of a tobacco company (Russell Crowe) for help translating technical documents, and the duo find themselves in a vortex of industry secrets, marred confidentiality agreements and death threats. But the real story, as in so many Michael Mann films, is of obsession, thorny male psychology and alienation, playing out in lonely, urban, concrete environments.
Steven Soderbergh (US, 2002) – 18 July
An unhappy psychiatrist Chris Kelvin (George Clooney in emotional lockdown) is sent to a privately run spaceship to speak to its mutinous staff and rescue the mission. Is the film – which reimagines Stanisław Lem’s novel and Andrei Tarkovsky’s film (now gender-flipped for the stage) – an interstellar ghost story, a fatal romance and/or a perversely tragic science fiction? Whichever way you let Steven Soderbergh’s genre-meets-art film wash over you – with its sentient environmental elements, open-ended plotting and pulsing abstract sequences – you have to accept the following: that a planet can read minds, that an ocean can know you, that your past mistakes will never leave you, and that love can reach across eons.
The Truman Show
Peter Weir (US, 1998) – 29 July
Scripted by New Zealander Andrew Niccol, this is the film that predicted an age of reality TV, where the culture of Kardashianism would stretch way beyond that mad family, and where everyday life itself would be commodified, packaged, edited and screened. Peter Weir’s sometimes satirical, sometimes fantastical drama – in which the life of a regular American man, Truman Burbank (Jim Carrey), is secretly purchased and broadcast by a TV producer (Ed Harris) was less futuristic and more prescient than many realised at the time. Today, it remains a great document of entirely valid late 20th-century anxieties.
Honourable Mentions: The Silence of the Lambs (film, 1 July), Sunshine, 2001: A Space Odyssey (films, 18 July)
SBS On Demand
Tracey Moffat (Australia, 1993) – out now
A classic of Australian cinema and a radical, avant-garde horror film of Australian hauntings. Photographer Tracey Moffat’s trinity of supernatural tales brim with ambiguity and defy any kind of simple categorisation. Every frame is potent and strange. First, a spirit haunts a swamp and the white people who try to build a cinema on it. Second, a family in the desert hear, but cannot see, a passing ghost train every night. And third, two lovers from the Torres Strait suddenly leave a warehouse rental run by new immigrant real estate agents. All three speak to the disturbances of this continent left by colonialism.
Honourable mentions: 63 Up (TV, out now), Madeline’s Madeline, Transit, Le Ciel Flamand (films, out now)
Claudia Doherty and Nick Coyle (Australia, 2019) – 24 June
A make-up tutorial YouTube channel, streamed from … the future? In a bunker? After an apocalypse? This ABC Comedy webseries has the guts to go to some pretty kooky places. Sarah (Love’s Claudia Doherty) is a social media brand ambassador and influencer, whose DNA is resurrected by the monstrous descendents of humans some hundreds of years from now. She’s determined to keep her brand going, despite the trying circumstances of vlogging below-ground, while maintaining the perpetually glam, aspirational visage of an Insta-famous celeb. Sarah’s Channel brings together these two ideas – the narcissism, and apocalyptic obsessions, of the present – inside the satirical format of a twisted beauty tutorial. “Like and subscribe!”
The King of Comedy
Martin Scorsese (US, 1982) – 14 July
Martin Scorsese’s dark comedy is a product of its time – the US in the 1980s, a TV-addled era of celebrity worship, smashed dreams and mad men – that speaks lucidly to the present. A deluded comedian (Robert de Niro) kidnaps his most adored talkshow host (Jerry Lewis), and the film devolves into a perverse psychological crime story seen from the viewpoint of its deranged antihero. Scorsese follows his own classic studies of male melancholy (Taxi Driver, Raging Bull) built on a deep irony: irredeemable, obsessive and entitled men, absent of self-awareness, and yet experiencing moments of pure, universal emotion.