Whatever your stances towards the streaming service and its hyper-capitalist nature, it’s hard to deny that Netflix has given a platform to a specific group of high-quality serials. They share a firm grasp on the modern zeitgeist, push boundaries in terms of representation and bring original dramatic concepts to the table. It’s obviously a completely different story how the company treats their output —there is an easily comprehensible tactic of catering and extreme calculation. Netflix has understood that taking risks can pay off, but as soon as they don’t, any “misinvestments” are avoided —case in point are the recent cancellations of excellent, culturally significant shows such as Everything Sucks! and One Day at a Time due to insufficient viewers. That being said, it’s great to see some strong, original television being brought to the mainstream. One example particularly stands out in this context; co-created and written by regular collaborators and North-American indie darlings Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij, The OA is a tightly plotted and character-focused genre mishmash that handles its concerns of trauma, belief, death and human relationships with a stunning amount of suspense, vigor and pathos.
The show’s premise is one that is hard to encapsulate. A hurricane of mysteries sets the ground for the events surrounding Prairie Johnson (played by Brit Marling), her mysterious disappearance—and return. Prairie used to be blind, but has her sight has been restored after reappearing on the radar. The incident draws a lot of attention to her and her adoptive parents, who particularly struggle to understand what happened. Instead of opening up to them or the authorities about the events and why she calls herself The Oa, Prairie contacts five people that couldn’t be more different, orders them to leave their front door open in the middle of the night and meets up with them in an abandoned house to tell her long, incredible story and the role they each play in it. The group, first plagued by skepticism and mistrust, slowly grows to be some sort of family and the fact that their only prior connection was being members of the same school, fades away.
The Criterion collection is not the most inclusive of lists. The majority of films introduced into the canon belong to cisgender and heterosexual filmmakers. While the lack of representation reflects cinema as a whole, and Criterion tends to lean towards an era not known for acceptance, it’s still a disappointing fact. Regardless of this, there are a handful of gay filmmakers whose works have been given the Criterion seal of approval, a trusted sign of the contributions they have made, not only to the art of filmmaking, but to the gay cinematic community as a whole.
Mysterious Object at Noon (2000)
Weerasethakul, affectionally known by his fans as “Joe”, is an experimental filmmaker whose interest in the unconventional makes his feature-length debut, Mysterious Object at Noon, a must-watch from Criterion’s archive. Taking the concept of exquisite corpse (a surreal method by which art is assembled based on chance), Weerasethakul combines documentary filmmaking with art-house style, pushing the boundaries of cinema and successfully creating a patchwork story from various interviewees across Thailand.
Though Weerasethakul’s debut does not explicitly address sexuality, the theme is often explored across his work, alongside various subjects such as nature, Western perceptions of Asia, and dreams. His passion for looking beyond the expectations of the mainstream is undoubtedly influenced by his homosexuality. “For me, the word queer means anything’s possible,” Weerasethakul explained in an interview, allying himself immediately with the concept of queer cinema.
Rarely have films ever made me cry for two hours straight, but Lean on Pete arrives like a stampede to join that very short list. I saw Lean on Pete last year at London Film Festival and director Andrew Haigh was at the screening for a Q&A. The very first question (or statement rather) was from a woman who did nothing but berate the film for its representation of America. I was seething — did we even watch the same film? Lean on Pete is devastating. It’s a sensitive portrayal of lower-class America with a heartbreaking performance from Charlie Plummer. Andrew Haigh’s films always destroy me, and this one is no different.
Lean on Pete is the horse in question, a racehorse long past its prime and destined to be sold for slaughter. The only thing standing in the way however is 16-year-old Charley (Charlie Plummer) who refuses to let this horse die. Charley is working for Del (Steve Buscemi), also past his prime and exasperated with the world of horses, he passes on his wisdom to naive little Charley while providing odd jobs. Pete’s rider is Bonnie (Chloë Sevigny), a cynical jockey on the verge of giving it up altogether. “There are only so many times you can fall off a horse and get up,” she says. Her reminders that Lean on Pete is just a horse, not a pet, fall on deaf ears — in a world where Charley has no one (his mother abandoned him and his father is largely absent, much preferring to jump from girlfriend to girlfriend) Pete is his one loyal friend.