Need a good laugh? Maybe a cry?
Whether you’re emerging from lockdown and can’t wait to get back to the cinema or you’re busy adding jumbo-sized popcorn to your online shopping order to help entertain yourself at home for another week, there are captivating films, insightful documentaries and binge-worthy miniseries to transport you to another place (if that’s what you need right now).
Here are seven recommendations to try, from easy-watching TV rom-coms to surreal, otherworldly cinema available to stream or on the big screen right now.
For heartwarming humour: We Are Lady Parts
All-female, all-Muslim punk band Lady Parts is on the hunt for a lead guitarist. Enter PhD candidate Amina Hussain (played by Singaporean actor and singer-songwriter Anjana Vasan), who is, in turn, on the hunt for a husband. High-octane humour and love-fool antics ensue in a six-episode series from British writer, director and producer Nida Manzoor, who cites silly sitcom The Young Ones and mockumentary This Is Spinal Tap as two of her inspirations. There’s riot grrrl feminism, hilarious lyrics in on-the-nose songs like Ain’t No One Gonna Honour Kill My Sister but Me and a lot of love-heart eyes from Amina as she meets various guys who might be the perfect match. Each episode is snappy, and you can binge it all in one session with ease. Stream it on Stan right now.
For those missing an IRL film festival: Mustang
When Turkish drama Mustang (2015) was presented at the Sydney Film Festival five years ago, it was easy to draw parallels to Sofia Coppola’s The Virgin Suicides (1999). Following the story of five sisters as they come of age, this beautifully shot film is tense, melancholic and intimate. It went on to win the Cannes Directors’ Fortnight prize and four Césars. Partly narrated by youngest sibling Lale, the story starts with an innocent encounter at the beach on the last day of school. The sisters’ conservative uncle and grandmother confiscate their phones and computers and, as Lale puts it, “The house became a wife factory that we never came out of.” Director Deniz Gamze Ergüven’s debut film is on SBS On Demand until August 12, 2021.
For a surrealist adventure: I Am Not a Witch
Zambian-Welsh director Rungano Nyoni was inspired to make her BAFTA-winning debut following a trip to Ghana, where she visited one of the world’s oldest “witch camps”. The result is a surprisingly funny feature in which an eight-year-old girl is denounced as a witch and becomes a tourist attraction. Shula (Maggie Mulubwa) is tied to a long white ribbon and told she’ll be turned into a goat if she tries to escape. An Adelaide Film Festival jury awarded I Am Not a Witch Best Feature in 2017 for its originality, film critic Mark Kermode likens its absurdist tragicomedy to filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos’s The Lobster, and you can stream it on SBS On Demand until August 22, 2021, as part of a selection celebrating the 69th Melbourne International Film Festival.
For everyone who’s “feeling like a saggy, massive sack of shit”: Bo Burnham: Inside
Since its release in May, Tiktok creators have lapped up the satirical pop songs from Bo Burnham’s extraordinary Netflix special, narrating their own end-of-days isolation clips. Welcome to the Internet and White Woman’s Instagram both feature on an album released by the US comedian following the success of his musical-comedy special. If you haven’t already streamed this widely lauded lockdown project – written, performed, shot and edited by Burnham from one room in his LA home – this is your reminder to do so. If you have, it hits despairingly different when you’re confined to four walls too. Charting a year in lockdown, Inside isn’t solely about poking fun at latte-foam art and Facetiming your mum; it’s a raw, emotional diary of a man questioning his mental health as he turns 30, alone in an increasingly claustrophobic space. Watch it on Netflix.
For the story behind a cinema icon: My Name Is Gulpilil
“This is my story of my story,” says screen legend David Gulpilil in what is likely the final film of his life. Director Molly Reynolds and producer Rolf de Heer (long-time partners) have worked with Gulpilil over 20 years, including on The Tracker, Ten Canoes (the first Australian feature made entirely in an Indigenous language) and Charlie’s Country. Reynolds uses archival footage and film clips to trace 50 years of Gulpilil’s life on screen – all while the Yolngu man comes to terms with stage-four lung cancer. It’s a defiant, intimate documentary, with Gulpilil talking directly to camera, reminiscing, reflecting and taking control of his story. It doesn’t shy away from the actor’s less glamorous history either, including his conviction in 2011 for domestic violence against his wife at the time. Gulpilil is also credited as producer – his first time in that role. My Name Is Gulpilil is in cinemas and available on ABC iview.
For soul-searching: Nine Days
There’s been a lot of hype surrounding director Edson Oda’s first feature film, which debuted at Sundance Film Festival in 2020. It’s said to be unlike any film you’ve seen before – which is a huge claim – partly because of its existential themes. Over the course of nine days, a man named Will (Winston Duke, known for playing M’Baku in Black Panther and other Marvel titles) interviews and tests candidates for the chance to be born. One will be chosen to enter the world as a newborn; the others won’t. It’s a beautifully shot, emotional film that keeps you guessing. It co-stars Zazie Beetz, Benedict Wong, Tony Hale, Bill Skarsgard. Nine Days is in cinemas now across the country (and on hold in states where cinemas are closed due to lockdown).
For an escape from lockdown into hopeful romance: Starstruck
It sounds a little like a gender-flipped Notting Hill – an ordinary woman living in London has a one-night stand and discovers her fling is actually a pretty famous film star. Instead of Hugh Grant, there’s the lovable New Zealand writer, actor and comedian Rose Matafeo. Instead of Julia Roberts, there’s the affable Nikesh Patel. The six-part series is a lot more self-aware than the doddering rom-com of 1999, and that’s thanks to Matafeo’s cute and witty writing (and that of her co-writer, NZ comic Alice Snedden). Each episode takes place in a different season in east London. Stream it on ABC iview.