A relatively nondescript month for Indian cinema means that June’s list of the most underrated films is dominated by foreign titles. This is the first time in the six issues in this series that this has happened. But when you’re in a position where you can convincingly argue why Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2 is a more effective film than Anek, you know things have gotten rough out there.
But as scarce as the local harvest was, June turned out to be a great month for films in general. That list includes a zany horror film from one of the world’s best writers, a comedy-drama I’ll be campaigning for next year’s Oscars, a harrowing new Netflix true-crime documentary, and a chilling stalker thriller for fans of Alfred Hitchcock’s films are sure to appreciate it. Coincidentally, five of the eight titles listed here are deeply moving feminist stories; Four of them feature some of the best written female roles of the year, beautifully performed by brilliant actors.
Men – Available in 4K from the Microsoft Store in the US
The title card for men.
A wild film even by the standards of writer-director Alex Garland, Men takes a while to get to the point, but when it does, it’s gorgeous. As with most Garland films, including (to a lesser extent) those he just wrote, you’ll either immediately buy what he’s selling or you’ll want to physically distance yourself from his work. Men are as divisive as they come, but fans of elevated horror will find it a rewarding experience.
Chernobyl: The Lost Tapes – HBO Max in the US
The title card for Chernobyl: The Lost Tapes.
Essentially a visual representation of Nobel laureate Svetlana Alexeyevich’s Chernobyl prayer, The Lost Tapes consists almost entirely of audio interviews juxtaposed with never-before-seen government footage of the immediate aftermath of the Chernobyl disaster. Director James Jones brings together survivors, first responders and others directly affected by the disaster as he tells a tale of regret and fear. The film also serves as a subtle allegory for the post-truth era and should be particularly compelling for Indian audiences who are anticipating the erosion of our democratic values.
Watcher – Can be rented and bought from Amazon and Vudu in the US
The Title Card for Wardens,
The third time is the charm. After Black Widow director Cate Shortland’s Berlin Syndrome and last year’s Prime Video thriller The Voyeurs, here is the perfect take on Hitchockian cinema’s niche subgenre Imperiled White Woman in Random European Setting. Starring millennial scream queen Maika Monroe as a young doe-eyed American with a fresh voice who thinks her creepy neighbor is stalking her around Bucharest, director Chloe Okuno’s Watcher is a particularly stylish statement on the #MeToo movement.
Good luck Leo Grande – Hulu in the US
The title card for Good Luck to You, Leo Grande.
Everything about Good Luck to You, Leo Grande creeps up on you — the sudden wall of emotion, the graphic nudity, the intense drama… But it starts out as a quirky chamber play (read, pandemic project) about a middle-aged widow who probably makes the bravest decision of her life: to shed the shame she has had about herself for decades and to (re)claim her sexuality. She hires the services of a charming young sex worker, titular Leo Grande, and through a series of “sessions” with him, discovers what it means to be alive.
Keep Sweet: Pray and Obey – Netflix
The title card for Keep Sweet: Pray and Obey.
A harrowing true story about religious extremism that doubles as a feminist revenge epic, the four-part Netflix documentary can comfortably be called the streamer’s best true-crime series in months, but it’s so much more than that. It begins like one, however, as it rushes through the requisite context-defining scenes that introduce the audience to the polygamous fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, an offshoot of the already backward Mormon Church, led by “prophet” Warren Jeffs. But it morphs over time into something bigger – a real-world equivalent of The Handmaid’s Tale that serves as a key addition to post-MeToo cinema.
Cha Cha Real Smooth – Apple TV+
The title card for Cha Cha Real Smooth.
By far the best film of 2022 so far, the sophomore drama from writer, director and star Cooper Raiff offers one of the brightest central performances in many years. Dakota Johnson shines as new mother Domino, a role she will remember for the rest of her career as she forms a genuine bond with much younger, freshman college grad Andrew, played by Raiff himself. The young filmmaker returns to the themes he explored in his low-key first film, SXSW hit S#!%house – millennial disillusionment, identity, regret – and creates something of a calling card film that marks the beginning of a memorable career signals.
Hustle – Netflix
The title card for Hustle.
In his long (and mostly unforgettable) career as Netflix’s biggest star, Adam Sandler has snuck in some gems on the side. Hustle isn’t as artistic as Uncut Gems, for example, nor is it as indie-oriented as The Meyerowitz Stories. Hustle is a slick Hollywood sports drama greatly enhanced by Sandler’s superb central performance as a career basketball scout looking to prove himself by betting big on a troubled young Spanish player. It’s part rags to riches tale and part inspirational drama, but Sandler is the main attraction here.
All My Friends Hate Me – Available to rent and buy from Apple, Amazon, Google, YouTube and more in the US
The title card for All My Friends Hate Me.
All My Friends Hate Me is a cleverly written dark comedy about a young man so cripplingly ashamed of who he used to be and who relies so much on other people’s validation that he has no identity as a person. All My Friends Hate Me is consistently funny but occasionally tense breaking down bro culture. And maybe a critique of white supremacy? Who knows. The film, co-written by and with Tom Stourton, is set in an increasingly awkward night at a British country mansion, where the protagonist Pete reunites with his old college buddies for his 31st birthday party and becomes paranoid about what they really think of him.