Sunday, January 10, 2021

ANTEBELLUM and THE HUNT added to TrustMovies' "Best of Year" list

Having this week just caught up with (and been blown away by) ANTEBELLUM, I've got to add it to my best-of-year list, along with a movie I saw months and months ago, THE HUNT, which was, at the time of its originally-to-be-released date (fall 2019), considered too topical and provocative to hit theaters. Yeah, sure: Critical and public response to both movies are typical examples our current cancel culture at work. In fact, both films actually deal with the extremes of this idiot culture, via the ever-popular movie genre of the survival thriller. 

These two movies are first and foremost "entertainments" whose plots and themes just happen to be so timely and important that they grab the intelligent viewer on several levels and never let go.

 -- written and directed by Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz -- actually doubles as a mystery whose complete solution does not unveil itself until literally the film's final shot -- which then has you immediately going back and back into what you've just seen to start piecing together those oddball fragments that didn't quite make sense at the time. Now everything fits. With most mysteries, the set-up and the mystery are a lot more fun than the conclusion and solution. Antebellum turns the usual expectation on its ear.

If you don't know much about the movie's plot, please keep it that way. This is the one film this year that was most undeservedly ruined by critics' (and audiences') spoilers. The opening scenes set in our Civil War, complete with traumatized slaves at work, are difficult to watch for their violence and injustice. Yet by the finale, this will have taken on such new and important meaning that the necessity to the film of this violent beginning increases tenfold. In fact, those would-be revolutionaries who attempted this week to take over Capitol Hill would undoubtedly applaud the sleazy scenario going on in Antebellum. The movie is that timely. 

Plus, it has Janelle Monáe (above right, with Kiersey Clemons, and further above) giving what is certainly her most important performance to date. Even more so than Get Out and Us, the movie brings to life the results, small and huge, of America's continued racism, while holding up a mirror to the way we lived then and live now. Why the American South has been allowed to purvey its constant memorializing and celebrating of its treasonous war appears even more ridiculous and stupid in our current times. Old habits die hard -- especially when they keep alive the economic policies and racism that have served the white elite so well for so long.

Not as exceptional nor quite as interesting a film is THE HUNT. Yet it's still special enough to make an end-of-year "best" list by demonstrating how a good genre movie can tackle important social themes while providing crackerjack entertainment. What dismayed many viewers seems to be the fact that this movie turned the table on the expected roles of hunters and victims. Yet this works wonderfully well by calling into question our seemingly current need for political correctness to dominate rational thinking.

The movie has a marvelous heroine in Betty Gilpin (below), who imbues her role with smarts, street-savvy and plain old physical strength and endurance. Directed by Craig Zobel from a screenplay by Nick Cuse and Damon Lindelof, the movie begins with a bang and never lets up on the pacing, thrills and suspense. Surprisingly, actors such as Emma Roberts and Ike Barinholtz are dispensed with quickly, which leaves the remainder of the film to Gilpin and, finally, Hilary Swank, as her nemesis.

One of the major points made by The Hunt is that class and economics, rather than race or racism, is causing our country's huge divide -- worth considering and exploring and then acting upon until something is really done about the disgusting wealth gap. Meanwhile, we've got this little movie to make its point in mostly breathtaking and breath-holding fashion.

If you haven't seen these modern-day political movies-cum-genre-films, stick 'em on your list ASAP. 

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