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A bit of a different approach to selecting this week, since we’ll be taking some time off for the holidays, we’re making sure that you don’t miss out on the best films coming to streaming services in that time we’re away, so along with selections from this week, there’ll be some future ones too.
Most prominent among those is Pixar’s latest feature film Soul, an ambitious and colourful existential comedy about what it even means to have a ‘purpose’ in life. It’s heavy material with a light touch, which finds a counterpart in Babyteeth, Australian director Shannon Murphy’s feature debut that follows a terminally ill high schooler as she fosters an unlikely romance.
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Soul (25 December) - Disney+
Leave it to Pixar’s Pete Docter to continually smuggle existentialism to an audience of children. After his last feature Inside Out attempted to make visual sense out of the inner workings of the mind, his latest Soul (co-directed and written by Kemp Powers) goes even more abstract: seeking the meaning of life at the edge of infinity. After his untimely demise (after falling down a pothole), middle aged and still aspiring jazz pianist Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx) finds himself looking at the Great Beyond. Wanting to escape his fate and make it back to earth in time for the break in his musical career he had been waiting for, he accidentally finds himself in the Great Before, a place for souls who wish to come to earth.
Watch: Soul director Pete Docter talks to Yahoo
It’s a completely bananas concept which is probably among the most ambitious the studio has created to date, and it can often be a lot to take in as it throws all of its ideas at the wall to keep its younger audience engaged. But as with their other features its held together by a lot of charm and smart humour that easily crosses generational gaps, all in service of lessons that all would do well to heed: that nothing in this life is fixed.
Babyteeth (31 December) - Netflix
Shannon Murphy’s debut film Babyteeth wasn’t quite given the chance to make as huge waves as it could have with the unfortunate timing of its release. It’s a hell of a debut, real lightning-in-a-bottle filmmaking that turns its strange and thorny premise into something thoughtful and sweet and heartbreaking without ever being cloying. Playing a young girl confronted with her own mortality Eliza Scanlen (in yet another tragic performance as a dying character if we’re still thinking about Little Women), puts in astonishing work as the lead Milla.
But it’s not just Scanlen who shines, each member of the cast works wonders in displaying their character’s existential problems, but they’re characterised by whip-smart and often quite funny dialogue, Murphy’s charisma behind the camera showing through in every scene.
Also coming to Netflix: The Midnight Sky, Proxima, Les Miserables
The Matrix Trilogy - Amazon Prime Video
For a bit of Holiday season counter-programming, there probably isn’t anything more out there than the Wachowski’s anime-inspired cyberpunk series The Matrix. The first film is one of the greatest action spectacles ever created, importing the style of wuxia films through its floaty wirework and fight choreography (the films borrow Yuen Woo-ping of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon fame) as well as that of Japanese anime, Ghost in the Shell and Akira commonly listed amongst its influences. Not to mention its innovative incorporation of “bullet time” slow-mo sequences.
From its themes of trans identity to our changing mind-body relationship with digital technology, it’s a simply unforgettable, practically unimpeachable film. The sequels don’t share the same reputation, but are equally capable in their staging of outlandish action (a freeway chase in Reloaded being another of the best sequences of that decade). Perhaps it gets lost in its own philosophising, but it makes a nice break from the increasingly homogenous nature of Disney-dominated contemporary blockbuster culture.
Widows (31 December) - Amazon Prime Video
The films of Steve McQueen have up to this point typically been austere and contemplative affairs. Though that style was subverted to fascinating effect by his recent film anthology Small Axe, it’s equally interesting to see it applied outright to a heist thriller in Widows. After four thieves are killed by police during an explosive armed robbery attempt in Chicago, their widows join forces to pull off a heist in order to clear the debt left behind by their spouses’ criminal activities. The film both manages to live up to its pulpy premise, with taught thrills and snappy one-liners (and incredible turns from every member of its cast), but also operates as a cynical exploration of the interconnection of capitalist greed and politics.
Also on Prime: Romeo + Juliet, The Girl With All The Gifts