The Best Movies I Have Seen in the Past Year
Over the past year, I have seen many films of various genres. I frequently watch movies with friends, and family, and on my own. Genres I gravitate toward are horror films, documentaries, and thrillers. Films of these genres are exciting and engaging as well as fun to watch in the company of others. Discussing themes and theories of the film with others can be as enjoyable as viewing the film itself.
There are three movies I have seen in the past year that have stood out against the rest. First is Ari Aster’s Midsommar, a 2019 horror film set in rural Sweden. Produced by the same production company and directed by Ari Aster as well, the film Hereditary (2018) is another notable film I have viewed this year. Hereditary is a horror film regarded by some as one of the most frightening horror films of all time (Beresford). Finally, the documentary titled My Octopus Teacher (2020), a Netflix production directed by Pippa Ehrlich and James Reed. My Octopus Teacher received multiple awards, including an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature in April of 2021.
Midsommar is rich with themes such as mental illness, intimate relationships, family, female empowerment, and cultural rituals. The film begins by introducing Dani Ardor (played by Florence Pugh), a graduate student studying psychology. Within the first few moments of the film, horror ensues when Dani discovers her sister and parents perished in an unimaginable and tragic way. Dani’s long-term partner Christian (played by Jack Reynor) is introduced, providing comfort to Dani following the tragedy.
After some months go by, the couple is presented with an opportunity to travel to Sweden to collect research on the traditional Swedish Midsommar festival with some fellow scholars. Upon arrival, the group of students learns they are staying in a region of Sweden where the sun does not set below the horizon, providing an additional level of unease for the viewer. As the festival wears on, horror and shock accompany each increasingly disturbing Midsommar ritual. This film utilizes an eerie score and frighteningly clear images of gore, as well as unsettling foreshadowing, creating an additional feeling of dread for the viewer. The movie adjourns with the final Midsommar ritual, sealing the fate of each character except for Dani, who is now the only remaining survivor of the friend group. Midsommar is truly gripping from start to finish.
Hereditary carries many of the same themes as Midsommar, including a family tragedy that shakes an entire family to its core. The matriarch of the family, Annie (played by Toni Collette) discovers her deceased daughter early one morning. Annie soon learns that her son, Peter (played by Alex Wolff), was aware and involved in his sister’s untimely death, yet said nothing and allowed his mother to discover his sister on his own.
As the film continues, Annie begins to feel the presence of her previously distant, deceased mother. Annie begins to discover secrets of her mother’s past, including her involvement in a Satanic cult. Annie begins to dabble in communicating with her deceased daughter through soul-selling means. This film utilizes frightening imagery, not in short shocking "jump scares”, but rather drawn-out disturbing shots that are hard to look away from. As the film draws to a close, it becomes apparent to the viewer that there will be no happy ending, but rather a riveting series of final scenes leaving the viewer with a pit in their stomach as the film ends.
According to a study from GIGAcalculator.com, Hereditary ranks number one on "The Most Heart Racing Horror Films”, along with classics such as It and The Exorcist. "GIGACalculator.com found Hereditary was the most heart-racing horror film, making pulses rise to an average of 115 BPM - a significant jump compared to the average resting heart (60 – 100 BPM)” (Beresford). Study participants cited the film’s dark and sinister atmosphere to be the primary factor in their evaluation. This writer agrees, Hereditary is a terrifying film worth multiple viewings.
Finally, My Octopus Teacher (2020) is a fantastic documentary with rich cinematography and a riveting storyline. It is no surprise this documentary won an Oscar for Best Documentary Feature in 2021 (Oscars.org). Foster’s story takes place in the African kelp forests of False Bay. The film is comprised of Craig Foster’s own beautifully shot daily footage of his interactions with a female Common Octopus, which become increasingly more intimate as the octopus begins to trust Foster over the course of over a year. Foster eloquently narrates the film, sharing his experiences with touching vulnerability. Miraculously, Foster witnesses both the decline and moment of death of his beloved friend, an apt ending that exemplifies the natural cycle of life of the Common Octopus.
Each film presented above has left a lasting impact on me, and I suspect that is true for many viewers given the reception of these films. Both Midsommar and Hereditary made the Top 100 on Best of Rotten Tomatoes (Rottentomatoes.com). According to the Internet Movie Database (IMDB.com), My Octopus Teacher has been nominated 14 times for various awards and won 11 of these. Given these reviews, viewing even one of these films would certainly be worthwhile.
Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Accessed 27 May 2021.
"Best of Rotten Tomatoes – Top 100 Horror Movies”. Rottentomatoes.com,
Baker, Aryn. "My Octopus Teacher Became a Viral Sensation on Netflix. Its Human Star Craig Foster Wants the Film to Inspire Change”. Time
Beresford, Jack. "Gabriel Byrne Modern Horror Classic Hereditary Named Scariest Film of All Time in New Scientific Study”. The Irish Post
Hereditary. Dir. Ari Aster. A24, 2018. Film.
"My Octopus Teacher – Awards”. IMDB.com, Accessed 27 May 2021.
Midsommar. Dir. Ari Aster. A24, 2019. Film.
My Octopus Teacher. Dir. Pippa Ehrlich & James Reed. Netflix, 2020. Film.