(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
LINDA HOLMES, HOST:
We spent a lot of time watching movies in 2020 - a lot of time. And we like to think we gave you a chance to hear about most of our favorites.
AISHA HARRIS, HOST:
But with release schedules scrambled and publicity scattered, there are still things that managed to slip through the cracks. And sometimes, they're films we really think you should see. I'm Aisha Harris.
HOLMES: And I'm Linda Holmes, and today we're making recommendations for great 2020 movies we missed on POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR from NPR. Here with me and Aisha from his home in Washington, D.C., is NPR arts critic Bob Mondello. Hello, Bob.
BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: Hey, good to be here.
HOLMES: And also with us is frequent NPR contributor and culture writer Bilal Qureshi. Thank you for being with us, Bilal.
BILAL QURESHI, BYLINE: Thank you for having me. Great to be here.
HOLMES: We are so excited to do this, and we are basically just going to each offer a film that came out in 2020 that we haven't gotten the chance to talk about, at least on this show. And we're just going to go straight around, and I'm going to start with Aisha. Aisha, what are you recommending?
HARRIS: Well, the film that I'm recommending is actually straight down the middle of my sensibilities as a millennial. And it was a movie that I actually didn't know if I would like as much as I did, and it really surprised me. And that movie would be "Save Yourselves!" It premiered at Sundance Film Festival, and it was released later this year in October on video on demand, and it's now streaming on Hulu. And it was written and directed by Alex Huston Fischer and Eleanor Wilson. And it stars Sunita Mani, who you probably recognize as Arthie from "Glow," and John Paul Reynolds, who you probably recognize as Drew on "Search Party" - two very millennial actors...
HARRIS: ...And I say that with all the love. And they play Su and Jack, this sort of Brooklyn couple who are very burnt out on life. They do not love their jobs. They feel like they are spending too much time on their phones. They want to reconnect. They love each other, but they are feeling stuck. And so they go upstate for the weekend. They borrow a friend's cabin in the woods, and they promise to completely unplug. And if you are a millennial, you can realize how difficult that is. There's a lot of jokes about their inability to completely unplug, but it turns out it's good that they can unplug because a weird creature arrives. Things get weird. They find out there is some sort of alien invasion that is happening in New York City, and they have to figure out how to survive.
And beyond all of the sort of, you know, jokes about technology, the way we're obsessed with them and just the fact that millennials are characterized, usually, as very self-centered, I really thought it goes beyond all of those jokes. And it really digs into what it would mean to try to survive when you don't have any actual survival skills, no matter how old you are. And so the relationship they have, the bond they have, the frequent banter, I think, is just really, really delightful. And I actually think it would make a good pairing with something like "Palm Springs," which was another movie that came out last year starring Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti. And they have sort of similar sci-fi, fantasy elements and, you know, two couples who are trying to figure things out. But they both kind of veer in their own different ways. So if you ever want to pair these two, I think it'd be perfect.
HOLMES: And both on Hulu, we should say.
HARRIS: Yes - and both on Hulu. And I do have to say that it had one of my favorite scenes, moments in film of last year. Basically, as a quick setup, essentially, they are in the midst of, like, trying to figure out what to do, and they start talking about guns. And Su says, like there's a gun in the basement. Let's get it. And Jack is not so crazy about that idea.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "SAVE YOURSELVES!")
SUNITA MANI: (As Su) I hate guns, too. The statistics...
JOHN REYNOLDS: (As Jack) If I so much as pick up a gun, I'm more likely to shoot you than anything else in the house.
MANI: (As Su) I know, Jack.
REYNOLDS: (As Jack) Yes.
MANI: (As Su) I know the statistics. You're 11 times more likely to kill yourself than any external threat.
REYNOLDS: (As Jack) Exactly - no guns.
MANI: (As Su) It's just that we might have to use the gun.
REYNOLDS: (As Jack) No, no.
MANI: (As Su) Like, if aliens are coming toward us, a gun might stop them.
HARRIS: Yeah. So (laughter) I just love it because, you know, they're in the midst of trying to save their lives, but then, them being millennials and wanting to be very progressive, they're just like, rattling off all of these (laughter) statistics about guns. I feel like I would have this exact conversation if I was in their shoes. So that is "Save Yourselves!" It's on Hulu. Go watch it. It's just very delightful.
HOLMES: Oh, thank you very much, Aisha Harris. I'm going to watch that movie. All right. Bilal Qureshi, what did you bring for us?
QURESHI: I chose a film that I heard about last January so exactly a year from now called "Les Miserables" from France, which was France's entry to the Oscars last year. It's the kind of movie that - you know, it was a very crowded foreign language category last year at the Oscars, dominated by, of course, "Parasite," which went on to become the most buzzy sort of movie of the year and then the best picture of the year.
But this was one of those films that I heard about from several people I really admire that it was a French film. It was a European film. But this is exactly the kind of new European cinema that people are so excited about, made by new voices, new filmmakers and about the kind of people we don't really see in European films, the people of color in Europe, the people of immigrant backgrounds.
It's set in the suburbs of Paris, which - what I always found so fascinating about France and about Paris specifically and a lot of people probably know is that, unlike America, where the white flight was out of the cities, in France, it's been the push of people of color and immigrants as far into the suburbs and out of the city center as possible, creating a kind of gilded center and lots and lots of large housing project kind of based communities where a lot of the immigrants in France live.
I had been there on a reporting trip with - as your guest sometimes (ph), Audie Cornish a couple of years ago, so I know about these communities a little bit. And this film is just an epic film about - it's basically a cop film, in a way, about a new unit of police officers who are patrolling one of these projects. It unfolds over the course of a day, and it's about the kids that they basically profile, that they harass, that they assault and, essentially, a day that unfolds into this very dramatic confrontation and showdown.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "LES MISERABLES")
UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (As characters) (Shouting, unintelligible).
(SOUNDBITE OF GUN FIRING)
QURESHI: That feels like a very minimal description of what ends up essentially being a really big movie about the idea of France, the idea of society, of politics, of policing, all of which, by the way, is made in 2019. So it's not, like, a film that was ripped from the international headlines. This was a film that came out in January. I happened to see it in August after everything that happened in the States. And I just found it to be one of these films that really feels both prophetic and really cathartic and really meaningful. And it also made me think a lot about the kind of genre of police brutality films that we've had in the last few years, certainly coming out from Hollywood, things like "The Hate U Give," even "Queen & Slim," and finding that some of those films just seem to not really be either embraced by people. Or they don't really - they seem too issue-driven.
I mean, this, for me, is just a really masterful piece of filmmaking. It builds. You have to stick with it. And then it has this scale that I can't even really quite express. So "Les Miserables" from France, directed by Ladj Ly, who is - it's his first film. And he grew up in these projects where it's set. And, you know, people have asked directors sometimes, like, what - you know, is this inspired by your life? And he had said in interviews, like, everything in it happened to him or happened to people that he knew.
So this is a dramatization of a reality. And while it may sound depressing, I think that that's where I would really recommend it to people to see, because it's one of the more intelligent, thoughtful and moving films I've seen in a long time. So that was a film that certainly didn't get to have the kind of platform build-up that it would've had over the year because it sort of disappeared into March but was acquired by Amazon Prime. So it's streaming on Amazon Prime, which is good for everyone because it's an easy film to find.
HOLMES: And one clarification - if you are sitting out there thinking, are they going to tell - are they going to explain to me, because I'm confused, this is not the musical.
HOLMES: It has nothing to do with the musical. This is a completely different, separate, unrelated story. No Anne Hathaway.
HARRIS: No singing live.
HOLMES: No singing live. No close-ups of people singing live, an entirely different "Les Miserables" now available on Amazon Prime. Thank you, Bilal. Bob Mondello, what did you bring now?
MONDELLO: (Laughter) I can't tell you.
HOLMES: All right.
MONDELLO: I mean, that's the weirdness about this.
HOLMES: Explain it to me, Bob.
MONDELLO: All right. The problem - I remember when I was first talking to the publicist about this movie. And I said, it won awards at South by Southwest even though South by Southwest wasn't actually held. The producers, obviously, have a death wish. There is no way that I can do this title on the air. And I've since discovered that's also true in podcasts. I can't say the title. So as a practical matter, I can play you a clip. It's named after the place that this couple meets. And the couple is a young guy who has just gotten to college and who is not terribly happy and who is talking to his roommate about where the big party is going to be.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "S***HOUSE")
COOPER RAIFF: (As Alex) Do you know if there are any parties tonight?
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) There - yeah, yeah. S***house is having a party.
RAIFF: (As Alex) Like, the house is called S***house?
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) Mhm. It's kind of far. But my buddy Seb (ph) said it's going to be fire.
RAIFF: (As Alex) Fire.
MONDELLO: So now you see my problem? I mean, if I...
HOLMES: I do see your problem (laughter).
MONDELLO: I cannot say that. So in any event, the weirdness about this picture is that it is a sweet, little romantic comedy sort of, a romantic dramedy, that that title doesn't describe in any way, shape or form. It's just - it's weird. And I really do think the producers made a mistake with it. On the other hand, it's a very sweet movie, got almost uniformly great reviews, made by a guy named Cooper Raiff. It is his very first picture. He is, I think, 22 years old, possibly 23 now. And he made a picture that was, essentially, in the style of those Richard Linklater movies that were "Before Sunrise," "Before Sunset," whatever. And it's basically him and a girl he meets walking around and talking. And I've got another clip that'll give you a sort of a flavor for it. It's late in the evening after they have met at [expletive] house. They're talking like this.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "S***HOUSE")
DYLAN GELULA: (As Maggie) What I'm saying is, like, college is, and, like, it should be, the most selfish time of your life. Like, the agenda here is not to learn how to be a great friend.
RAIFF: (As Alex) OK, what is the agenda, figure out who you are?
GELULA: (As Maggie) Actually, it is.
RAIFF: (As Alex) I want other people to help me in that. Like, I want other people to be a part of my identity.
GELULA: (As Maggie) I think it's about, like, figuring out who you are separate from other people and, like, taking care of yourself.
RAIFF: (As Alex) Yeah, I just don't like college (laughter).
MONDELLO: Which is pretty much his relationship with life there. He seems like a very sweet guy. I've heard him talking in interviews about all the people who have helped him. And he seems as pleasant and as innocent as the character he's playing. And a film that wins at South by Southwest, wins the grand prize there, usually goes on to quite a history. And the thing with this movie is that the only way that that history makes sense is if it's advertised someplace with a lot of asterisks and ampersands and things like that in the title and people get intrigued by this weird title. But if you can't say it and it's not advertised anywhere because it's not going to be in theaters, it's kind of a problem. So anyway, I had a lovely time at this. I thought it was a really sweet movie. And I hope it finds an audience.
MONDELLO: Fingers crossed.
HOLMES: Yeah. You know, it's funny that you mention that because I saw a romantic comedy that I really loved in Toronto several years ago called - that was called, at that time, "The F Word." And "The F Word" was friendship.
HOLMES: That was the joke in the movie...
HOLMES: ...Was that the F-word was friendship or friends. They changed the title for American release to - it's called "What If?" You can find it kicking around on demand. So I'm sort of amazed that they've stuck to their guns on this.
HOLMES: And it's sort of, in some ways, admirable and, in some ways...
MONDELLO: Insane (laughter).
HOLMES: Well, I hope it doesn't wind up being a regret. That's what I would say...
HOLMES: ...Because it sounds like something that I would watch. And I have not really been aware of it. So...
HOLMES: I will check it out now. And that is available to rent, video on demand. You can find it. They will let you search for it under its actual title.
HOLMES: You do not have to search under [expletive] house. Thank you very much, Bob Mondello.
MONDELLO: My pleasure.
HOLMES: My pick is also something that I saw in Toronto, this one in 2019, the last time I was in Toronto in person - is a Romanian documentary called "Collective." It begins with a very tragic nightclub fire in Bucharest in October of 2015. So just in the opening minutes, you learn that this was a fire that killed 27 people right away, 37 more who died over the later weeks and months generally while they were still in the hospital. The fire itself and the fact that the club was not operating safely with regard to things like fire exits led to public protests. The existing government resigned. And that's sort of the preamble.
That's the beginning of the story because what the body of the film is about is that over the sort of roughly a year or so after the fire, Romanian journalists gradually uncovered massive corruption in the country's health care system. It involved everything from kind of offshore banks to bribes to incompetent management to, kind of most pointedly, fraud that denied proper protection from infection to patients, which was then believed to have accounted for a significant amount of the death that took place after the fire itself.
So you follow this team of journalists, and interestingly enough, they operate at a sports paper called the Sports Gazette, which sounds really weird, until - when I read about the journalists, I realized that these - this paper had investigated a certain amount of large-scale fraud within big sports events and organizations, so they actually had some corruption experience.
And you follow this dogged team of reporters as they do this investigation, but you also follow this young, new health minister who gets appointed. His history is as a patient's rights advocate rather than a hospital manager, so he's a very different outlook. And he kind of dives in with these, you know, amazing kind of ideals, trying to figure out how to even sort of begin to attack the problems in this system.
It's a really sad movie. It's very upsetting at times. There is a little bit of footage that someone took on their phone during the fire. They don't linger on it, but it is there. But I like it partly because it's very realistic about both kind of how unrelenting journalists have to be to uncover this kind of thing, when there's just kind of rot and then another layer of rot and then another layer of rot, but also how hard it is, even as a really idealistic and newly powerful government official, to fix the problems that you see.
It introduces you to some of the surviving victims of the fire, families of people who died, whistleblowers - many of whom are women who worked in hospitals, a lot of whom did not have a lot of institutional power. I just think it's a remarkable movie. It is the Romanian entry for the Academy Awards this year. Again, it's called "Collective" - Romanian documentary available for rent now. And that is my recommendation.
We want to hear about your favorite 2020 films that we missed. Find us at facebook.com/pchh and on Twitter at @pchh. When we come back, it's going to be time to talk about what's making us happy this week. So come right back.
Welcome back to POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR. It's time for our favorite segment of this week and every week - what's making us happy this week? Aisha Harris, kick us off. What's making you happy this week?
HARRIS: Well, one of the things that I appreciate about Spotify is their Discover Weekly...
HARRIS: ...Thing. I don't even - like, I don't even know what to call it, but their Discover Weekly generator. And I often find songs and artists that I never would have found otherwise. And so recently, I stumbled upon a song by Mariah the Scientist - not Mariah Carey, but Mariah the Scientist. And I realized that I love another Mariah. She has (laughter) really, really great music. If you're into the sort of - what some people are calling sort of alternative R&B of these days, like SZA, Frank Ocean, then you will probably really dig this. And she released in album in 2019 called "Masters."
And I have to caveat this by saying that it was executive produced by Tory Lanez, who was accused by Megan Thee Stallion of assaulting and shooting her. And so I'll caveat that. I will say, whenever we talk about problematic men, women often suffer. So I think that if you like the music, you should just check it out. It's worth listening to.
And one of the songs that actually caught my ear was a really sort of dark song but that has very Rihanna-ish vibes and has a very '80s feel, and it's called "Reminders."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "REMINDERS")
MARIAH THE SCIENTIST: (Singing) Every candlelight dinner, date-night liquor, late-night visit reminds me of a killer, reminds me I should kill him. Every jazz band, holding hands - could I have this dance? - reminds me of a bad man.
HARRIS: So, yeah, I just really appreciate this sort of - in the same way that SZA talks about relationships in a very real and raw way, she does as well. And I also just love the production on the entire album and just the feel of it. So that's Mariah the Scientist. Check her out.
HOLMES: Thank you very much, Aisha Harris. Bilal Qureshi, what is making you happy this week?
QURESHI: Well, what's making me happy this week is a book that came out last year that I'm just getting around to reading called "No Filter," which is the history of Instagram, the story of the app that we all spend a lot of our time on - at least I do, I feel like, especially this last year. What I love about this book - and it's by a reporter for Bloomberg named Sarah Frier - and the reason I would bring it up - it's a business book in a way. But I feel like, increasingly, you know, our technology is our pop culture and our pop culture is our technology, and so this book, to me, really tells the whole story of how Instagram both came to be and then what happened when Facebook acquired Instagram and, basically, how it's been changing over the last few years and the rise of kind of not only influencer culture on Instagram, but celebrities and how they use Instagram - how, you know, shopping and all of that is being integrated into it.
It's one of these amazing books that sort of feels like - with all the principles that the writer has spoken with, it kind of feels like a sequel to "The Social Network," even though it's a book. And I can already imagine a film version of it because when Instagram was sort of acquired, it was meant to be this kind of very creative, bohemian kind of app, as that was the reputation. And then it sort of tells the story of how the founders and Mark Zuckerberg clashed, and eventually, they left. And one of the founders has never posted in the years since he left. So there was a lot of bad blood there.
And the story kind of tells the story of this thing that I think a lot of us are on all the time. And I just loved this book for being both a really accessible book as a non-tech-reporting reader, but also as someone interested in pop culture, I think the role of Instagram in our culture is so big, and the book really gets into how that came to be. So I would really recommend it. It's called "No Filter." Sarah Frier, "No Filter" is what's making me happy this week.
HOLMES: Thank you so much, Bilal. That sounds like a very interesting book. Bob Mondello, what is making you happy this week?
MONDELLO: The movie that surprised me at last year's Toronto Film Festival was "The Personal History Of David Copperfield," which was made by the guy who made "Veep," Armando Iannucci, and stars Dev Patel as David Copperfield. And at the time, we didn't have "Bridgerton" to compare it with, but it does the same kind of cross-cultural casting in British society. It is a wonderfully funny - I mean, I got to say, I have seen a lot of Dickens over the course of many years, and I don't think I've seen anything that captured the Dickens that I know when I read him the way that this movie does and that original 8-1/2-hour version of "Nicholas Nickleby" on Broadway did.
It feels as if it's sort of wrapping around you. It is very funny as it goes about some fairly dire things happening to this poor kid. And Dev Patel is pretty much the ideal Dickensian leading man, which I would not have guessed I was going to come out of that saying. So anyway, I highly recommend it. It's enormous fun. I'm pretty sure you can rent this where people rent movies, but it's not on streaming yet. It just opened in theaters in the middle of the pandemic, and it was really close to No. 1 for a couple of weeks, but that meant very few people saw it (laughter), so it didn't matter.
HOLMES: Yeah, yeah.
MONDELLO: But anyway, it's kind of wonderful.
HOLMES: All right. Thank you very much, Bob - "The Personal History Of David Copperfield."
So what is making me happy this week? I was trying to get some chores done around the house this week and went looking for a new entertaining podcast to listen to, and I wound up looking at some of the wrap-up lists of people's favorite podcasts of the year. And I wound up listening to "Bag Man," which is hosted by Rachel Maddow. And it's about Spiro Agnew, and it's about the shape of this crisis that happened when - at the same time that Watergate was unfolding, this potential indictment of Spiro Agnew was coming out about kind of unrelated corruption issues.
So the thing was, they were very eager to get Spiro Agnew out of the vice presidency before, potentially, Nixon had to resign the presidency and Spiro Agnew became the president. These things were kind of traveling on parallel tracks. And as you can probably tell from the way I'm explaining it, with the benefit of a lot of distance, history often becomes easier for me to find simply entertaining.
HOLMES: This is, to me, a really fun podcast. It doesn't hurt to have Rachel Maddow doing both the hosting and a lot of the writing. She has that dry, pointed tone that always kind of brings a smile to my face. Now, is it a particularly interesting time to listen to a podcast about corruption and particularly about recorded phone calls and meetings that should never have been happening and all of that stuff? It is.
HOLMES: I literally listened to this within a day or two of when I heard the now-famous phone call between our current president and the secretary of state of Georgia. Is it really interesting to think about those two things next to each other and how they inform each other? I would say so, yes. But overall, I just think it's a really, really well-made podcast. As soon as I started listening to it, I was like, oh, I'm in great hands, which is always such a nice feeling. So "Bag Man," the podcast by Rachel Maddow out of MSNBC. I definitely recommend it. It is a great listen. And that is what is making me happy this week.
That brings us to the end of our show. You can find all of us on Twitter. You can find me at @lindaholmes. You can find Aisha at @craftingmystyle. You can find Bilal at @bqilal. And you can find Bob at @bob_mondello. You can find our editor Jessica Reedy at @jessica_reedy, our producer Candice Lim at @thecandicelim. You can find our producer Will Jarvis at @willyfrederick and our producer Mike Katzif at @mikekatzif. Mike's band Hello Come In provides the music you are bobbing your head to right now.
Thanks to all of you for being here.
HARRIS: Thank you.
MONDELLO: Really a pleasure. It was great.
QURESHI: Thank you.
HOLMES: And of course, thank you for listening to POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR from NPR. We will see you all right back here next week.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.