8. Sound of Metal
A captivating deafness drama punchily directed and delicately scripted by Darius Marder that is not really about being deaf but about living with yourself and being in the moment.
When metal drummer Ruben (Riz Ahmed) begins to rapidly lose his hearing, he thinks his life and career are over. But after checking into a rehabilitation centre for the deaf, his perspective shifts and he begins to confront his many deeply-rooted flaws, gaining a new lease on life.
Sound of Metal is presented to us not just as a story of struggle against a physical disability but a story of addiction, recovery from substance addiction and continuing addiction to stimulation, and not living in the moment. One of the first challenges camp counsellor Joe (Paul Raci) gives Ruben, and one of the toughest for him to overcome, is to sit in a room alone and write. Ruben wants his hearing restored to reconnect with the sensations of the life he used to live, but in reality he needs to listen to the thoughts he has been blocking out for years and truly embrace who he is, hearing or otherwise.
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7. The Sparks Brothers
Edgar Wright will be responsible for a lot of new fans of Sparks this year with the release of his documentary that might not tell all, but does emphasise what a unique, slightly crazy and resilient creative force the brothers Mael have always been.
Over 40 years and 25 idiosyncratic albums, Ron and Russell Mael have eluded mainstream success but inspired a passionate cult following. Tracking their creative and commercial experiences album-by-album, and interviewing the brothers and their many famous fans, Wright presents a deeply personal document of hugely creative artists.
The Sparks Brothers isn’t the standard retrospective rock doc about a band who’s past it or dead, but brings us right up to date with their latest projects and tells the story very much in the style of Sparks themselves, with a well thought-out aesthetic and moments of humour and surrealism peppered throughout. For fans of Sparks this will be a treat, for non-fans it should still prove fascinating and may even convert you.
6. Promising Young Woman
Writer-Director Emerald Fennell had revolution on her mind with Promising Young Woman, a stylish and engrossing thriller pulsing with righteous anger at the power dynamic between genders still being completely off-balance.
Previously a promising medical student forced to drop out with PTSD over the horrific rape of her friend Nina, Cassie (Carey Mulligan) now drifts through life and her part-time job, using her free time to fulfil a dark purpose. On a night Cassie pretends to be fall-down drunk and helpless to bait men into taking advantage of her, before revealing her sobriety in their homes and confronting them over their actions. Before long, Cassie has an elaborate revenge plot in motion targeting all those who share responsibility for her friend’s life-changing trauma, just as nice guy doctor Ryan (Bo Burnham) enters the scene and restores some of Cassie’s faith in humanity.
Fennell’s feature debut is dynamite, a well-deserved winner of the Best Original Screenplay Oscar. It confronts us all with uncomfortable truths and asks difficult questions, but is funny, visually striking and deliciously dark for good measure. Mulligan gives the performance of her career, Burnham’s persona is utilised ingeniously, and the film’s final act hits with the force of a train.