We don’t know about you, but the start of the year and the weeks leading up to the Academy Awards – this year’s edition takes place on March 13 at 8am Singapore time – always provides a good runway to catch up with some of the best cinematic works, before major blockbusters start rolling out. Ahead, some of Singapore’s well-known cinephiles give their picks on what you ought to catch with their selections of Oscar-nominated shows and charming indie works.
“Films can be so many things,” muses Walter Navarro. As the indie cinema’s Programming Manager, Navarro works with his team to select new film releases, curate thematic programmes and festivals and negotiate the licensing deals. Apart from selecting films that are more commercial, Navarro also makes it a point to champion deserving films that may not usually get a platform to be seen in Singapore. It’s not hard to tell that he loves what he does: “I get to watch movies during work hours, what’s not to like!”
“Sophie tries to piece together the memories and mementos from a sun-drenched childhood holiday with her dad, slowly unveiling an undercurrent of sadness in his character that she was not equipped to perceive as a kid.
Aftersun is likely one of the most quietly devastating, tender and moving films you’ll see this year, which is quite remarkable considering that this is Charlotte Wells’ debut film. If you love naturalistic stories about family relationships that handle drama with subtlety while still packing an emotional gut punch – or you straight up have daddy issues – this is for you! “
“Another remarkably reassured debut film from a British woman director. As a lesbian teacher that’s not out to her co-workers, Jean has to navigate life under Section 28, a British legislation that prohibited the ‘promotion of homosexuality’ from 1988 till 2003 (sound familiar?). After discovering that one of her students is also queer, Jean faces a tough choice between self preservation and taking a stand for her community.
Beautifully shot in grainy 16 mm for that extra cinematic vibe, Rosy McEwen’s aching performance will pull you in and make you root for Jean to finally find her peace. I loved how, in spite of the weight of it all, the film makes space to celebrate moments of joyful self-affirmation, and avoids falling into the queer misery porn trope.”
“How much do you know about the pioneers of Singapore’s creative scene? Hwee En Tan and Deon Phua spent three years interviewing local trailblazers to piece together an insightful and breezy recounting of the budding ’90s creative scene in the little red dot. From the first Zouk parties to the hardcore punk gigs at The Substation, the birth of design studios like Phunk and the underground graffiti scene, Class Acts covers a lot of ground while highlighting the fruitful interconnections between all these creatives. I’ve always been interested in street culture, design and music, so this was both a treat and a history lesson for a non-Singaporean like me. Extra points for the rad soundtrack by local producer Fauxe!”
“In this poignant immigrant story, a fiercely determined Korean single mother and her headstrong son struggle to adapt to life in Canada as they battle prejudice and institutionalised racism while trying to keep their precarious bond intact. When Dong-Hyun is tasked to prepare a family tree in school, So-Young decides to confront her painful past and take her son on a trip to Korea to reconcile his identity and heritage.
Director Anthony Shim constructs an unsentimental but warm tribute to the immigrant experience, exploring painful but necessary questions; how do we build our sense of self when we don’t know where we come from, how do we integrate when we don’t quite belong anywhere? I love a compelling fish out of the water story and Dong-Hyun and So-Young are brought to life so endearingly and with so much empathy that I felt immediately invested in their journey.
Don’t miss this Busan Audience Award winner if you enjoyed films like Minari or The Namesake.
He Shuming is no stranger to awards and film festivals. His debut feature film Ajoomma premiered at the 27th Busan International Film Festival, was nominated for four Golden Horse Awards and was selected as Singapore’s entry for the Best International Feature Film at the 95th Academy Awards. “Making films is a privilege, and a way for me to understand more about humanity,” says the 38-year-old auteur, who appreciates the escape that films offer their viewers, and film’s ability to bring people together.
“I love the films of Todd Field. He’s only done three films so far: In The Bedroom, Little Children and Tar. The direction in this film was so measured, plus it’s also a film that needs to be watched in the cinema so you get the full appreciation of how sound design is such a big part of the character building. Cate Blanchett and Nina Hoss are just amazing. Every frame is so meticulous.”
“Charlotte Well’s sublime debut is just astonishing. Paul Mescal is nominated for Best Actor, and it’s so well deserved for his performance. It’s meditative and emotionally evocative. I don’t want to say too much but you should just go watch it. Sometimes a film is best watched not knowing what it’s about.”
“Unabashedly classical machismo Hollywood, it almost feels like a throwback to the ’90s, except it’s 2022. Nonetheless, a really enjoyable film to watch.”
“Possibly Park Chan-wook’s most romantic film. It’s Hitchcockian, but still very Park Chan-wook in terms of the form and style of his earlier works. Intoxicating, with gorgeous cinematography. Tang Wei is just as enigmatic as ever.”
Film producer Tan Si En was part of the team behind award-winning local films such as Kirsten Tan’s Pop Aye and Anthony Chen’s Wet Season. She currently spearheads her own film and TV production company, now part of Beach House Pictures and Blue Ant Media, alongside fellow co-founder, the writer and director Kris Ong. Tan finds great joy in the work she does, collaborating with talents and seeing how stories transcend from words to screen.
“A must-watch this season. I first caught the film at its world premiere at SXSW and was immensely touched by it. This film is a crazy journey that is brilliant, hair-raising, and heart-breaking all at the same time. It is a queer-positive family drama about love and acceptance at its finest.
“The film follows a team of lawyers who take on the heads of Argentina’s bloody military dictatorship during the 1980s in a battle against odds and a race against time.
This is an important story of the courage and strength of families of victims, and millions of Argentines. Injustice like these are still happening in many parts of the world, and this film reminds us all that “we have the responsibility to build a peace based not on forgetfulness but on memory, not on violence but on justice.”
“This film really stayed with me. It is both funny and tragic to see how two lifelong friends find themselves at an impasse when one abruptly ends their relationship. Incredulous yet not too far from reality to witness how something so minute ends up with alarming consequences for both of them.”
“Electrifying and beautiful. Return to Seoul is a complex and compelling portrait of a woman seeking out her biological parents, with gripping performances that give an intimate experience of grief, anger and healing. One of the best films of 2022/2023. Bonus, there’s lots of great music in this film.”
As a film programmer and arts manager with more than 15 years of experience, Leong Puiyee has sat on panels and selection committees for various local and regional film festivals, such as the Bangkok ASEAN Film Festival and the Miniko Film Week. For her, the beauty of films lies in the way it “allows you to discover, understand and uncover the human psyche, different cultures, and glimpse into societal issues. It also provides a form of escape, transporting you into another world.” No wonder that her top picks this awards season tell stories that seem so distant from us, yet compel us to pay attention to them.
“Based on real events, this film details the monumental work of a team of young lawyers, led by a seasoned prosecutor, against the brutal military dictators in a dangerous trial. It is gripping from start to end, with some light comedic touches to ease the tension. A powerful film about the voices of the citizens and the horror of military dictatorship.”
“Memory is a strange thing, it can bring joy, fondness, pain or trigger all types of emotions. This is a bittersweet, tender film about the remnants of childhood, with lingering memories of the past and what we thought we knew of a loved one.”
In Thong Kay Wee’s words, film is the “most immersive and encompassing artistic medium.” As the Programme Director for the Singapore International Film Festival, he plays the role of a custodian for cinema culture, particularly in Singapore, through facilitating exchanges between the industry, the public and the films we find meaning in. His love for the endless possibilities that film brings can be seen in his top flicks that are emotionally-charged and challenging boundaries and genre conventions.
“This sun-kissed, heartfelt portrait of a father-daughter relationship by debut feature filmmaker Charlotte Wells deserves to be touted as one of the breakout films of the year as it tackles a difficult topic with a clear emotional understanding of its circumstances and with utmost care.”
“Boyhood friendships come under the microscope in Lukas Dhont’s latest examination of the adolescent experience, and this tear-jerker masterfully depicts the struggles against both creeping prejudices and the loss of innocence from the mind of a child.”
“It is usually slim pickings with the Oscars when it comes to the inclusion of culturally diverse offerings in cinema, so this frenetic, free-wheeling concoction by the Daniels deserves a shout-out for breaking the paradigm of the usual Asian-American representation.”