The One And Only Ivan (2020) – Ivan The Terrific

Released: 21st August 2020
Seen: 2ns April 2021

The One and Only Ivan Info

In 2012, author Katherine Applegate released The One And Only Ivan. The novel was based on the real story of a circus gorilla named Ivan who was kept in the middle of a shopping mall until a large petition and the threat of a massive boycott got him transferred to a zoo where he would have something resembling actual freedom. The book was a smash hit, winning several awards and appearing on several “must read’ lists so an adaptation was inevitable and Disney just happened to be the ones to do it… and their version got nominated for an Oscar, hence why we’re talking about it.

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Minari (2021) – Maximum Comfort

Released: 18th February
Seen: 31st March

Minari Info

Of all the Oscar films this year, there are a few that are actually making history for who is nominated, from the first film with an Asian woman director to be nominated for best director (Nomadland) to the first film with an all-black producing team to be nominated for best picture (Judas and the Black Messiah, which I hope I get to see before the ceremony). Another history maker, and I can’t believe it’s taken 93 years to get to this, is the first Asian American man to be nominated for Best Actor. Steven Yeun earns his place in film history just for that alone, but he also earns it by delivering a beautiful performance in the film Minari.

Minari takes place in 1980’s Arkansas where a small family of Korean immigrants have decided to move to a farm where the father, Jacob Yi (Steven Yeun) hopes to make a living selling Korean vegetables to local stores. This dream of Jacob’s is causing a rift between him and his wife Monica (Han Ye-Ri) so they are either constantly fighting, worrying about their son David’s (Alan Kim) heart condition or at their job at a nearby hatchery where they sort chicks by sex (staring at chicken genitalia all day would put me in a bad mood too).

In one last attempt to hold the family together, they invite Monica’s mother Soon-Ja (Youn Yuh-jung) to come and babysit David and his sister Anne (Noel Kate Cho) to try and give David and Monica a little more time to handle work and their new farm, but living the American dream is never easy and for the Yi family it might be too much for them to handle.

Minari Image

Minari is a simple little film with a charming family that you immediately root for within seconds of meeting them. There’s just something about the Yi family that makes you want everything to work out right for them and every obstacle that comes their way. There’s a certain ease with the proceedings, every new day in these characters’ lives is a treasure to watch and feels so realistic that it really didn’t shock me to learn it was just pulled from the director/writer’s real life because it feels so honest and pure.

It’s a rare film that can make even the irritating characters work, but Minari is so loaded with charm that even the hyper-religious friend Paul (Will Patton) has a certain something that ends up making you like him. Every character is so loveable, which honestly makes it even harder when things just don’t work out at certain points because you want nothing more than for this family to be OK.

The real heart of Minari, the part that I would’ve gleefully watched another 2 hours of, is the stuff between young David and Soon-Ja. This strange relationship between a boy and his grandmother where the grandmother is so different to what one might think of as a normal nana that the kid flat out rejects her. Not only do they get some of the most genuinely adorable scene (especially at the end, there’s a final shot of the two of them that actually brought a tear to my eye) but also the funniest scenes in the film. 

There might not be many genuinely hilarious moments in Minari, it’s very much a drama, but it knows exactly when to play the comedy and has it so finely tuned that when the jokes hit, they hit hard. Most of the comedy comes from Soon-Ja in a performance that is the definition of movie stealing. I will admit I had never heard of Youn Yuh-Jung before now, South Korean films are sadly a blind spot (in part just due to availability down under) but her performance is so committed and hilarious that I’m actually angry I never knew about her before. 

Minari is a touching, poignant and charming film that almost has more power now than anyone could’ve imagined thanks to real world events going on right now (Do I even need to say “#StopAsianHate” or can I just assume that I’ve cultivated a readership of people who aren’t assholes who need to be told that?). It’s amazing, a film that would be powerful and fun no matter what language it was in but throw in the fact that this is some glorious mainstream representation and a way to introduce a new audience to some fantastic actors they might not have known… Minari is objectively great in every possible way, one of my favourite films of the year.

A Shaun The Sheep Movie: Farmageddon (2020) – Baa-mazing

Released: 9th January
Seen: 28th March

A Shaun The Sheep Movie: Farmageddon Info

Aardman Animation has a long history of creating some of the greatest animated works around. Their unique and iconic style has been a constant ever since the early Wallace and Gromit shorts were delighting kids in the early 90s (oh god I feel old). Since then they’ve become a standard-bearer in the world of claymation and their cinematic efforts have been constantly joyful, from the iconic Chicken Run (which is getting a sequel soon, now with 33% less angry anti-semite!) to the gloriously silly Curse of the WereRabbit. This year they’ve given us the second film in the Shaun the Sheep franchise and… oh my god it’s the most precious thing!

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Sound of Metal (2020) – The Hills Are Alive

Released: 4th December 2020
Seen: 28th March 2021

Sound of Metal Info

So it’s finally getting towards the most average time of a film critics year, the month before Oscars come out when we have to play catch up on movies that we missed so that we can take part in the cinematic discourse of which films are the best films of this weird, weird year. 

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Raya and the Last Dragon (2021) – Not a Drag-on

Released: 19th February
Seen: 17th March

Raya and the Last Dragon Info

Once again Disney has done a weir business thing that only Disney could probably get away with, time once again to deal with the issue of the Premier Access where Disney expects an extra 30 bucks on top of their current streaming price in order to vide a movie, in this case Raya and the Last Dragon. They did this recently with Mulan (interesting how it’s only been the films with mostly Asian casts that get this treatment, not sure what that says but it’s an interesting trend) and back then I couldn’t justify it… I also couldn’t really justify this, but it was also in a local cinema and I genuinely believe that’s the best way to properly enjoy the visual spectacle of Raya and the Last Dragon

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Justice League – The Snyder Cut (2021) – Here We Bloody Go Again

Released: 18th March
Seen: 18th March

Justice League Info

So it has come to this. On March 18th in 2021, as a result of years of campaigning under the hashtag “Release the Snyder Cut”, WB finally decided to release the Snyder Cut of the Justice League film. Now, here’s the funny thing about that, as a critic my opinion means precisely jack shit regarding this film.

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