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Top picks for biopics

It’s time for these figures to have their own award-winning movies

Top picks for biopics

Bohemian Rhapsody, Darkest Hour, and The Theory of Everything — biopics make up a significant portion of the movie content that we see today, and have consistently played a large role in the awards season.

A biopic or biographical film is a dramatic intepretation of someone’s true life story. These reinterepretations are always complex, and face increased scrutiny as they attempt to embody not only the facts but the spirit of the person featured, hence why they tend to have a spotlight during the awards season.

This last year saw a plethora of biopics being released, including Bohemian Rhapsody, featuring the band Queen while having a specific focus on the lead singer, Freddie Mercury.

Recent biopics have not only centered on cultural figures, but also political ones, such as On the Basis of Sex, which showcases the young life of Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, as well as more serious scientific achievements such as in First Man, which presents Neil Armstrong’s personal, physical, and emotional journeys in getting to the moon.

Biopics can vary greatly, but it’s their universal quality of providing us with an up-close and personal look into the life of a person we have admired or observed that makes them appealing year after year.

With this in mind, I would like to present some interesting, niche stories of people that Hollywood may have forgotten about, but certainly deserve a bit of the spotlight. 

Joan of Arc

The year was 1428, in the midst of the Hundred Years War between the French and the English, and the French struggled under an unstable monarchy. At just 16 years of age, Joan of Arc claimed to have heard the voices of saints telling her to go to the Dauphin of France, Charles VIII, to join his cause.

Despite the captain of the garrison rejecting her initial request to join the military, Joan persisted, and managed to secure herself an audience with the Dauphin. She faced extensive questioning by ecclesiastical authorities in the Dauphin’s court before they agreed that she possessed the knowledge of divine spirits, and granted her not only a position in the military but a team of military men to support her mission.

Acting entirely on the voices she heard, Joan of Arc managed to obtain several military victories, earning her the respect and influence to convince the Dauphin to go to Reims, recently freed from enemy hands, and be crowned king of France.

Although she had accomplished her mission and was subsequently idolized throughout France, Joan was not yet done. She continued to launch military campaigns to reclaim more and more land from the English. During one unfortunate campaign, Joan was captured by the Anglo-Burgundian forces, determined a heretic, tried for witchcraft, and burned at the stake at the ripe old age of 19 years old.

Joan of Arc continues to be an icon of the French, and she did receive decent attention in the 1990s, with a French film and a Canadian mini series both attempting to document her life. But 2019 is a new age, one that desperately needs a reminder of how powerful and capable young women can be.

In addition, Joan of Arc resented wearing traditional women’s clothing of the time, and changed into men’s clothing any chance she could get. It would be interesting to see this timeless story told with a modern approach and understanding of feminism as well as gender identity.

Louis Pasteur

The last time a movie was made about Louis Pasteur was in 1936. Considering how medical technology has shifted in recent years, the film certainly deserves a reboot with a modern perspective. If we are going to make yet another movie about an old white man, let it at least be someone who may remind some confused parents as to why it is important and necessary to vaccinate their children.

As a reminder, Louis Pasteur was a French chemist and microbiologist in the mid to late 1800s. His accomplishments include discovering that microorganisms cause fermentation, introducing the pasteurization process, and developing the principle of vaccination. His work with vaccinations was his last contribution to the world of science, but despite his well-respected position in the scientific community, many people were reluctant to accept the concept of vaccinations.

It was not until Pasteur published the results of studies showing the success of an anthrax vaccination that people began to consider his work valid. When Pasteur created a vaccination for rabies, a disease that tormented people for centuries due to its mysterious origin, he vaccinated nine-year Joseph Meister, and introduced the world to preventative medicine.

Today’s ill-informed anti-vaccination movement could do well with a reminder of the origin of vaccinations, not to mention many other simple medical concepts that Pasteur introduced and verified to the world, including the germ theory of disease. Sometimes, in order to move forward, it’s necessary to look back with a gentle reminder of where we came from.

Gladys Bently

Allow me to introduce you to Gladys Bentley — and for those of you familiar with this lovely jazz and blues singer and LGBTQ+ icon of the Harlem Renaissance, let’s take a walk down memory lane.

Much like her French counterpart, Joan of Arc, Bentley also left home at 16, and found herself at odds with the gender roles placed upon her by society. The oldest of four girls, Bentley left her Trinidadian-American family in Pennsylvania to join the art scene of the Harlem Renaissance in New York. Singing initially at rent parties and buffet flats, Bentley’s uniquely powerful voice and talented blues parodies had her moving on to nightclubs and speakeasies including the famous Clam House and Ubangi Club.

In addition to her musical abilities, Bentley would become known for her unique sense of style that featured a tuxedo and top hat, as well as being very open about her sexuality, having a slew of glamorous girlfriends. The end of the Harlem Renaissance created new challenges for Bentley, who moved to California with her mother, but she still managed to make a living, especially during World War II when gay bars became more common on the west coast.

Unfortunately this came to an end during the era of McCarthyism, which became a witch hunt for gay people in the United States. Facing extreme pressure as a famous lesbian of the time period, Bentley was forced to claim that she had “cured” her lesbianism with hormone treatment, began to wear female clothing, and married a man. During this time, she continued to perform, and joined “The Temple of Love and Christ Inc.” on her way to becoming an ordained minister, before her untimely death in the 1960 flu epidemic.

Bentley’s life highlights the power of the Harlem Renaissance in encouraging not just racial but sexual freedom and acceptance. In addition, her life serves as a brutal reminder of the challenges that members of the LGBTQ+ community faced during the twentieth century. Bentley has received even less attention from Hollywood than Joan of Arc and Pasteur, and deserves the spotlight more than anyone.

(not) Overlooked: Romantic comedies

The best genre of film, fight us xoxo The Varsity’s A&C section

(not) Overlooked: Romantic comedies

Palpable and undeniable chemistry, long witty banter, brazen declarations of love, and unlikely pairings followed by actions laced with infinite empathy are just a few of the key pieces that embody the essence of a romantic comedy to me. Characters who seem emotionally incomplete without the affections of their person of interest — a habitually regressive trope that can seem rather fluffy in our recent era of heralding self-love, which is by the way also important and its about damn time — gets me every time. As I tell all my friends while planning my weddings with every guy who has ever returned a pen that I unknowingly dropped or held a door for me for an extended time, I can’t help it — I love LOVE.

My love of the genre can be traced back to my tween years in Nigeria as a fairly socially awkward schoolgirl. Being African, but specifically Nigerian, it was, and still is, rather bizarre to not be as abrasive and unabashedly confident as every other person you come across on a daily basis. So you can imagine how I stuck out like a sore thumb with my reserved nature and tendency to only speak when I needed to — a rare phenomenon back home. Instead, I used coming-of-age romance novels and the occasional Mills & Boon-esque books lent to me by my aunt — as inappropriate as that may sound — to escape into a world of stories that only I could imagine myself in. They ranged from summer love pieces and stories of best friends who unknowingly had feelings for each other, to fantasy stories about a princess recently hiring a stable boy who somehow constantly misplaced his shirt and needed her to keep him warm. I know, I know. But I went to an all-girls high school, so what we lacked in everyday interactions, we sought elsewhere. The whole romance thing fascinated me and I craved to understand and interrogate the nuances and intricacies of love.

The romantic comedy is as important a genre as any other, including science fiction, drama, and action. But, over the years, it has been afforded less cultural legitimacy than its counterparts. Romantic comedies are regularly degraded in favour of stories that highlight more heavy-handed topics. Though these lighthearted stories are equally as important, this stigma deprives the genre’s most ardent followers of the opportunity to be as openly self-indulgent about depictions of everyday romance as, for instance, Star Wars stans. Why should we diminish our declarations of love for one genre over another when, rather, we should be able to embrace them all without shame? Romantic comedies allow their audiences to delve into stories that touch on everyday human connections and the complexities of our interactions. Though it may be considered predictable or cheesy, there is a comfort in knowing what to expect, something that real life regularly fails to give us.

Nevertheless, the current sociopolitical climate has forced us to look at our most relished romantic comedies and re-evaluate what should be considered problematic. The recent box office successes of Netflix’s To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before and Warner Bros. Pictures’ Crazy Rich Asians sent messages to Hollywood about the lack of diversity in our most adored romantic comedies and that inclusive movies can be just as successful. The audience, including myself, craves representation on-screen. I grew up watching romantic comedies that mostly featured people who didn’t look like me, and that is a problem. Love and Basketball, The Best Man, and Think Like a Man stand out as some of the few features that encapsulated Black love on screen for me.

Having matured and experienced adult romantic connections, romantic comedies mean all the more to me now. Now, they are a reflection of lived realities, more meaningful than they were in past times of preferred realities. But I am now able to embrace myself, along with my awkwardness and its complexities, and forge my own stories outside of what I see in film. Romantic comedies served as an escape for a younger me to imagine a reality outside of my immediate world, and they are still just as significant to me now.

So yet again, it’s important to recognize that romantic movies are as important as the umpteenth period drama in the cinemas every year. Love is essential and even more special because it can be redefined in so many funny ways. Dismissing the quintessential plot of two unlikely individuals falling in love with each other in spite of themselves robs you of the comforts of revelling in the most basic of human connections. And that should be considered a crime in itself.

Need a hand getting started? Here is a list of my most loved romantic comedies, in no particular order — don’t make me do what I cannot do!

Also, the ’90s had the best romantic comedies, don’t deny it!

  • When Harry Met Sally…
  • Notting Hill
  • My Best Friend’s Wedding
  • The Proposal
  • Silver Linings Playbook
  • Jerry Maguire
  • Crazy, Stupid, Love

What movies get wrong about casual sex

You don’t have to be damaged to sleep around

What movies get wrong about casual sex

Two of my favourite romantic comedies are No Strings Attached and Friends With Benefits, both centred around an ostensibly modern dynamic: friends having sex. Once taboo, casual sex is becoming increasingly normalized — mainstream enough to be the centre of a romantic comedy.

But underlying their apparently modern stories is a reliance on outdated tropes. No Strings Attached opens with young versions of the main characters at summer camp, with Emma (Natalie Portman) comforting Adam (Ashton Kutcher) over his parents’ divorce.

“People aren’t meant to be together forever,” young Emma says, making evident her resistance toward commitment, a detail that will drive the plot in the rest of the film.

The opening scene of Friends with Benefits is similarly meant to set up character motivations for having casual sex: both leads are dumped by their long-term partners, leading them to be cynical about love.

The concept that people only have casual sex because they are damaged is not a new one and is often levelled specifically against women. Even more recent films, like Amy Schumer’s Trainwreck, reinforce this message that women sleep around because they fear intimacy and crave attention.

Amy (Amy Schumer) is told by her father in the opening scene that “monogamy isn’t realistic,” which then jump-cuts to her current lifestyle of excessive drinking and one-night stands. The audience is meant to see her life as a calamity — see the movie’s title. She ultimately changes her ways when Aaron (Bill Hader) persuades her to pursue a monogamous relationship with him — after some conflict, of course.

The plot conveniently plays on the classic fairytale ending of a woman being saved by her Prince Charming, while embedding this antiquated storyline in a modern context. As casual sex is increasingly portrayed on the big screen, I can’t help but notice that female characters like Amy are often portrayed as emotionally stunted to explain their sexual choices. In contrast, male promiscuity is seldom psychoanalyzed or represented as a character flaw.

When I started sleeping with a friend in first year, it didn’t look anything like these films. We didn’t spend time developing a list of rules. Both of us still believed in love and commitment, just not with each other. We were 18, friends, attracted to each other, and living in the same residence.

It was a dynamic made out of convenience — but that doesn’t mean it was without complications. There were times when I thought I was developing feelings for him. However, it was hard to differentiate whether I truly wanted a relationship or whether I just wanted to be absolved from the guilt of having sex outside of one. I was often unhappy and conflicted about the dynamic. I’d tell him it would never happen again, but then it would. I questioned whether choosing to sleep with a friend meant I was damaged in some way.

Ironically, it took someone else saying what I had been telling myself to realize how ridiculous it sounded. A male friend recently imparted this advice to me: if I wanted guys to find me attractive, I needed to stop sleeping with them. Men don’t like women who sleep around, he said.

I realized that for all the judgment I inflicted on myself, I never judged the guy I was sleeping with for having casual sex. Moreover, anyone who determined others’ worth by judging their sexual history was probably not someone I wanted in my life, friend or boyfriend.

Casual sex had its benefits. I was sleeping with someone who respected me and viewed my pleasure as important. I learned that sex could be something I actually enjoyed. The experience also forced me to confront the double standards that I had internalized and ultimately changed my relationship with sex for the better.

For young women, taking ownership of our sexuality doesn’t have a uniform manifestation. While some can’t have good sex outside of a monogamous relationship, others find one-night stands to be empowering. We don’t all want the same thing — but we should all have the autonomy to make those decisions for ourselves. Society needs to see that women are competent adults, not sexual objects.

Navigating the complex Venn diagram of sex, love, and intimacy is a captivating topic for films, but I would love to see more that challenge misconceptions rather than reinforce them. Pop culture needs a new narrative, one that doesn’t equate promiscuity with damage and cynicism — and we all need to stop pathologizing women for their sexual choices.

You’ll still catch me watching Friends With Benefits and crying when Justin Timberlake surprises Mila Kunis with a flash mob at Grand Central Station or when, in No Strings Attached, Ashton Kutcher brings Natalie Portman a bouquet of carrots because she hates flowers. But I know that real women don’t need a backstory to explain their sexual choices, or a relationship to prove that they’re worthy of love.

The best and worst films of 2018

What to watch for the meme and what to watch for the movie

The best and worst films of 2018

Attention cinephiles! Here’s the lineup of Hollywood’s cinematic hits and misses:



The brilliant Academy Award winner Alfonso Cuarón (Gravity, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Children of Men) delivers yet another masterpiece shot in 4K black and white. A salute to his childhood, Cuarón presents the life of a wealthy Mexican family surrounded by political turmoil in the 1970s. The plot is driven by the mother and nanny who strive to keep the family together. A strong contender this Oscar season, Roma is a beautiful story of bravery and unconditional motherhood with no shortage of Cuarón’s classic breathtaking landscape shots.


The Favourite succeeds in reinventing the period genre, delivering a work that is both extremely entertaining and incredibly humorous. Director Yorgos Lanthimos (The Lobster) does an impressive job of illustrating his quirky style with use of unique camera angles and elaborate images. The epic combative lesbian love triangle between Emma Stone, Olivia Colman, and Rachel Weisz makes this film worth watching.


Legendary filmmaker Spike Lee’s adaption of the true story about Ron Stallworth (John David Washington), the courageous African-American detective who aided in exposing the maniacal behavior of the Ku Klux Klan, is impactful and consistently funny. BlacKkKlansman will leave you just as Do the Right Thing did ­— with goosebumps and a reflection on the still relevant oppressed Black experience in America.


It makes perfect sense that this film was the Grolsch People’s Choice Award winner at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). Green Book is a charming feel-good movie done in the vein of Hidden Figures, communicating an important lesson on segregation and racism in the United States. Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali make a fantastic duo for this road trip that tests the limits of the Jim Crow South. The Varsity loved it so much, we reviewed it for TIFF.


Japanese master Hirokazu Kore-eda presents an incredible narrative about a complex and mischievous family struggling to make ends meet. The only way the family succeeds is by the children shoplifting. The Palme d’Or winner grabs your attention from the opening scene and does not let go until the credits roll, leaving film-goers in a state of satisfied shock. When surveying this year’s Oscar contenders ­— both foreign and domestic — Shoplifters is the pièce de résistance.


This Polish film was shot in exquisite black and white 4:3 aspect ratio by Oscar-winning Pawel Pawlikowski. The passionate Shakespearean tale of two star-crossed lovers set during the spread of communism in Europe in the 1960s makes way for possibly the best film of the year. One knows you have seen a good movie when you don’t want it to end; Cold War portrays this phenomenon flawlessly. The Cannes Best Director Award winner leans heavily on its classical jazz score, contributing to the pace and brilliance of the script. The last act is so profound it left TIFF-goers ominously quiet. Cold War is a definite must-see from this year’s lineup.


Barry Jenkins’ (Moonlight) adaptation of the James Baldwin novel is the perfect example of cinematic excellence. He tells the story of a young Black couple struggling to survive in early 1970s Harlem. The magnificent auteur makes use of his whimsical mise en scène styled with unique editing and cinematic techniques. If Beale Street Could Talk is driven along by a euphoric soundtrack, peppered with artists forever linked to this period. When has a John Coltrane/Miles Davis-infused score ever disappointed?



The psychological thriller promised potential but ended with far too many plot holes. The audience is left with questions like “Why did Sandra Bullock’s character name ‘Girl’ Olympia and not Ella, the birth mother’s dream name for her child?” and “Why are the mentally ill unaffected by the monster?” Watch it for the meme, not for the movie.


With a promising cast featuring Jeffrey Tambor and Steve Buscemi, this one unfortunately drops straight to the floor. From the creator of Veep, Armando Iannucci, one would expect timely one-liners and dark witty dialogue. Instead, the political satire was awkwardly delivered and lacked timing. This disappointment has potential to become a cult classic similar to Tommy Wiseau’s The Room; it was so bad, it was almost good.


Based on a true story about a never-ending game of tag, this movie couldn’t end fast enough. Void of any characters worth investing in, I suggest you file Tag for a Netflix-and-chill session. Acute attention is neither necessary nor required.


Amy Schumer’s I Feel Pretty is a failed attempt at a self-deprecating work of cuteness. The subject matter seems like low hanging fruit, but Schumer let the citrus rot before they got around to filming. It lacks, well, almost everything that makes me want to part with 13 hard-earned dollars. Trainwreck was somewhat bearable thanks to the eye candy John Cena provided where you can most definitely see all of him.

Honourable mentions: for the good or the bad?

1. Capernaum

2. Crazy Rich Asians

3. Black Panther

4. Eighth Grade

5. Mid90s

6. Free Solo

7. Isle of Dogs

8. Burning

9. Beautiful Boy

This one’s for you, Mr. Grinch

Bah! Humbug! An alternative movie list for those not overly fond of the holiday season

This one’s for you, Mr. Grinch

Look, I get it, you don’t want to watch A Charlie Brown Christmas or It’s a Wonderful Life again. You’re too alternative for Christmas now that you’re in university and learning big words like ‘hegemony’ and ‘postmodernism.’

Join the club. Be a ‘not-Christmas’ Christmas movie watcher. Sip that eggnog and feel smug. Make a comment on your Instagram and Twitter that you, too, are resisting the commodification of Christmas.

So what is a ‘not-Christmas’ Christmas movie? It’s a movie set during Christmas which goes against normative assumptions of Christmas. While a movie like It’s a Wonderful Life might not have anything to do explicitly with Christmas lore, it still captures the spirit of Christmas.

The following movies are the antitheses to our preconceived notions of what a Christmas movie should be. Here are the candidates for ‘not-Christmas’ Christmas movies for this holiday season:

1. Instead of thinking about world peace, get your dose of unnecessary violence and action with Die Hard, 1988.

This one is the original ‘not-Christmas’ Christmas movie. There’s something so cheeky about watching Bruce Willis blow things up when your neighbours are singing “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” around the Christmas tree.

2. Instead of holding hands around the Christmas tree and singing songs, explore the deepest trenches of alienation and loneliness in Dekalog: Three, 1989.

Poland has never been so lonely in the third episode of Krzysztof Kieslowski’s masterpiece Dekalog. Driving around the streets at night in a taxi, Dekalog: Three places us in the world outside of the brightly lit homes of the suburbs. Here, the inability to connect with other human beings runs rampant. Holiday depression is real, and Dekalog: Three sleigh rides deep in its depths.

3. Instead of enforcing heteronormativity, delve into the psychological tensions of a boy learning about his sexuality in The Long Day Closes, 1992.

Showcasing the pure poetry of subdued queer cinema, 11-year-old Bud (Leigh McCormack) sits alone on the stairs as his entire family eats a meal around the Christmas tree. His two brothers have recently gotten married, but Bud knows he does not fit in. He is becoming increasingly intertwined in a world of ambivalence and ambiguity as he discovers his sexuality in 1950s Liverpool.

4. Instead of romanticizing idyllic Christmas childhoods, dive deep into childhood trauma with Fanny and Alexander, 1982.

In lieu of the Toronto International Film Festival’s celebration of the Ingmar Bergman Centennial, I present to you Fanny and Alexander. This five-hour film — the theatrical cut is only three — is about the life of two siblings as they grow up in 1900s Sweden. Its colourful proclivity to red might appear in line with the Christmas spirit, but the way the film ruthlessly explores the inner traumas so often tucked away when representing childhood is what makes it so ‘not-Christmas.’ Seeing mommy kiss Santa Claus is the least of these kids’ troubles.

5. Instead of wholesome family fun, enjoy sex cults and spooky conspiracies with Eyes Wide Shut, 1999.

Stanley Kubrick’s last feature is so drenched in paranoia and weird sex things that it will make any family have a case of the fantods. But the film isn’t just purely decadent: deep down, it’s an authentic meditation on marriage that dares to go into the obsessional and unsettling elements of love.

6. Instead of going to your church’s yearly rendition of the nativity story, explore the most controversial telling of that story in Jean-Luc Godard’s Hail Mary, 1985.

This film is set in 1980s France and was criticized after its release for telling such an untraditional narrative of Mary’s life. In fact, it was condemned by Pope John Paul II and banned in Argentina and Brazil. Hail Mary dares to offend. It features several nude shots of the virgin Mary — albeit stripped of sexual content — and forces us to rethink discourses of the holy by integrating the divine into everyday life. Hail Mary presents such radical claims of the body, virtue, miracles, and God that it transcends any simple understanding of the ‘Christ’ category of Christmas.

7. Instead of engaging in sprees of consumerism, embrace an ironic attitude to the dystopia of modern culture in Brazil, 1985.

You didn’t know Terry Gilliam’s Brazil was set during Christmas? Surprise! It even features a scene of a drunk Santa in a wheelchair. This masterwork in satirizing office life, authoritarianism, and late-stage consumerism is a hilarious political dystopia that becomes more relevant every day.

8. Instead of resting at home, venture into the cold, outside world of rural Québec in Mon Oncle Antoine, 1971.

Claude Jutra sets this revered film in the Canadian canon on December 24. While you’re snug at home with hot chocolate and all, watch as 15-year-old Benoît (Jacques Gagnon) and his uncle Antoine (Jean Duceppe) wander around in the snow on a dead-body delivery. The movie is chilly and methodical. It’s a slow — or perhaps ‘snow’ — burner that gives you a picture of the delights and challenges of a world outside the comfy, heated city life that Torontonians associate with Christmas.

9. Instead of going on a holiday and taking time off work, climb the corporate ladder and achieve a state of late-capitalist loneliness in The Apartment, 1960.

Closing our ‘not-Christmas’ Christmas list is Billy Wilder’s romantic comedy The Apartment. Taking place during the holiday season, Jack Lemmon plays CC Baxter, a lonely office worker who loans out his apartment to his superiors so they can have adulterous affairs. Baxter is determined to get to the top of the corporate ladder, but that all changes when he meets Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine).

Wilder understands that love shatters our expected course in life. He crafts a film where every line of witty dialogue is perfect in its place. The way Wilder plays with the corporate wishlist of success and the world-shattering gift of love perhaps, more than anything, captures the contradictory nature of Christmas. The Apartment is both one of the greatest ‘not-Christmas’ movies and also one the greatest Christmas movies.

Overlooked: Gerald’s Game

This film has the scariest monster of them all

Overlooked: <i>Gerald’s Game</i>

Content warning: references to sexual assault.

I love horror movies. I love everything from the super cheesy ’80s slasher flicks, to the most twisted and intense psychological horrors — provided, of course, that they don’t demonize people with mental illnesses.

But alas, my deep disappointment with horror is the treatment of women and sexual violence. Women’s bodies become ragdolls to be thrown around, either to fuel male emotion or for the sake of pure shock value. Women’s sexuality too often becomes the deciding factor in who gets to survive until the end, with the virginal ‘final girl’ rewarded for chastity while still being heavily sexualized.

Enter Gerald’s Game, the 2017 Netflix horror and thriller based on Stephen King’s 1992 novel of the same name. The setup is easy enough to follow: Jessie (Carla Gugino) and her husband, Gerald (Bruce Greenwood), decide to take a romantic vacation to a lake house in the middle of nowhere, as many ill-fated couples do.

The game in question comes when Gerald decides to put Jessie in a pair of handcuffs for some roleplaying. Jessie agrees, then becomes uncomfortable. The two argue and suddenly, Gerald drops dead.

Handcuffed to the bed and totally alone, Jessie could easily be the chained-up prey of any would-be killer from a film more entrenched in the stereotypes of the genre. Instead, Jessie is forced to confront the truth about her life: her failing marriage to Gerald, her history of being sexually abused as a child, and the silence with which she has endured all of it.

Rather than be an object of disgust, horror, or shock, Jessie’s trauma is simply presented as it is, with Jessie’s fear stemming from the silence she has been forced into all her life.

There are some old-fashioned scares as well, with Jessie hallucinating the ghost of her dead husband and being interrupted by a grave robber and serial killer in search of treasures, but ultimately, the movie is Jessie’s journey.

Gerald’s Game is an intensely realistic examination of memory and trauma. The lead female character is never an accessory to another’s story or shamed for her choices.

This is the kind of story we need right now, the kind that knows how to scare you without any cheap tricks or jump scares. The scary monster is, in the end, what Jessie has to live with: silence, shame, and trauma.

An alternative movie list for Halloween

Hereditary is going to be the next cult classic in the Halloween film genre

An alternative movie list for Halloween

Sometimes, we need to prepare ourselves to watch a movie. That’s why we marathon all eight Harry Potter movies before any new Fantastic Beasts release and why we watch all the Star Wars movies before a new addition to the franchise.

But when a new movie doesn’t come with others backing it up, we construct makeshift watchlists. Here is one to prepare you for Hereditary, a horror movie that is already out. Due to its success, it will most likely be one of the biggest Halloween-esque films in decades.

It is this standalone property that makes Hereditary, and movies like it, all the more special, so I made it a rule for this list.

I realized it would be much harder to compile a list when most films are either remakes, sequels, or prequels, but I stuck with it. Some honourable mentions that unfortunately didn’t fit the bill are the 2013 Evil Dead remake and 2016’s The Conjuring 2.

Three rules for this Hereditary pre-watch list: the film had to be released in the 2010s, it had to be a standalone, and it had to fit the horror genre — no thrillers. Sorry, you won’t find Green Room or Don’t Breathe on here.

1. The Babadook, 2014 — directed by Jennifer Kent, Australia

You’ve probably heard of The Babadook. In the four years since its release, it has acquired a sort of cult following. And for good reason. The Babadook follows a mother and son duo who find an eerie storybook on their doorstep one day. What ensues is a haunting by a boogeyman that makes for innovative scares.

One of the reasons I appreciate The Babadook as much as I do — and why I think it is perfect for this list — is that it really utilizes the most that it can within the film medium to make your body literally shiver from fright.

You cover your ears when you’re scared in anticipation of loud noise?

That’s fine; The Babadook has imagery that will tattoo itself onto your consciousness.

You cover your eyes when you’re scared in anticipation of such tantalizing imagery?

That’s fine; The Babadook arguably has the most unsettling sound effects that will condition you to grow anxious, like when you hear nails on a chalkboard.

And the best part? Absolutely no jump scares. All of the thrills in The Babadook are created thanks to tension and storyline.

Yes, it really is that good.

2. Under the Shadows, 2016 — directed by Babak Anvari, Iran

If The Babadook seems a little overwhelming to you, it’s best to start off with Under the Shadows, a simple yet effective Iranian horror movie that showcases its horror in the same manner, but in a significantly less intense way. In a war-torn Tehran in the ’80s, a mother and daughter must stick together and battle an evil that presents itself within their apartment building.

Not only is Under the Shadows an incredibly clear cultural vignette of a city divided by war, but it perfectly balances political commentary with complex family dynamics and good, old-fashioned horror. Under the Shadows is a lot easier to watch than The Babadook, but it is nonetheless an extremely effective horror movie.

3. The Witch, 2015 — directed by Robert Eggers, US

The Witch received a limited release in 2015; it was a revelation of a horror movie. The Witch is as much a period piece as it is a horror movie: set in 1630s Puritan New England, a family is plagued by a witch — or are they? — and they begin to grow distrustful of each other, leading to a horrifyingly memorable finale.

The Witch, like The Babadook and Under the Shadows, relies on a calculated storyline, a well-curated score, and cinematography to instill tension.

There are no jump scares or cheap loud noises. The fear is warranted. And don’t believe the buzz, because The Witch is incredibly watchable. You’ll be hooked from the first minute.

4. Raw, 2016 — directed by Julia Ducournau, France

I was a little hesitant about putting Raw on this list. On the surface, it doesn’t appear to have many fantastical aspects. But once you delve further into its reality and the story arcs that Julia Ducournau expertly builds, you come to find yourself facing a world that is nothing like our own, and yet eerily similar.

Raw follows a young girl, raised by a family of cult-like vegetarians, as she enters her first year of veterinarian school. There, she must wade through new and foreign temptations to find out who she really is.

Despite what the title may suggest, Raw is not solely a dissertation on vegetarianism. The film examines the awakening of identity and hunger, both literal and spiritual. It does so in such inconspicuous ways that the moral of the story hits you rudely only after you’ve finished watching.

What makes Raw so scary is that it is essentially the product of feeding Western society and norms through a distorted filter. It feels familiar but doesn’t look like it.

In short, Raw is the funhouse-mirror reflection of human nature and obsession, and if that doesn’t scare you, I don’t know what will.

It’s also gory — beware.

5. The Wailing, 2016 — directed by Na Hong-jin, South Korea

I am not going to mince words or wax poetic. The Wailing is, by far, the scariest and the most astonishing movie I have ever seen. It is also criminally underrated, and so I hope that if you consider yourself even a slight horror fan, you’ll give this treasure a watch.

The Wailing has a runtime of two and a half hours and follows a detective in a small village in South Korea as he handles what can only be called a zombie-like disease outbreak. But this is not a zombie movie in the slightest. The villagers suspect that an old Japanese man, a recent immigrant, is the cause of the virus and, as you can predict, madness ensues.

The Wailing examines xenophobia and paranoia better than any political drama ever could. The film references the relations between Japan and South Korea, the use and reliance of shamans, and overall spirituality and religion in South Korean society. It forces you to become vulnerable, to give yourself up to the narrative and reality of the story. And once it makes you vulnerable, it bombards you with one horrific scene after another.

It is riveting and jaw-dropping, with no unnecessary jump scares. The Wailing is the perfect film to get you prepared for any further ­­— potential — horror you may see in Hereditary.

Overlooked: Mean Streets

Overlooked: Mean Streets

Overlooked: <i>Mean Streets</i>

The first time that I heard about Mean Streets, I didn’t even recognize it as a Martin Scorsese film, despite loving his later works. Often regarded as a crime movie, Mean Streets is that and so much more.

From the rawness of its characters, to its plot and setting, Mean Streets was an instant classic. Shot almost completely in Los Angeles, the film brings the murky, diabolical glow of Little Italy, New York to life through the God-fearing Charlie (Harvey Keitel) and the suicidal and reckless Johnny Boy (Robert De Niro). At its core, Mean Streets is Scorsese’s tribute to his city. It’s a tale of friendship, love, religion, but most of all, it’s a tale of New York.

Although Keitel and De Niro are now stalwarts of Hollywood, when this movie was filming, they were relatively unknown. We see De Niro especially unshackled by the gravitas of his later roles such as Taxi Driver. In Mean Streets, he often improvised his lines and really brought the rogue Johnny to life — and we love him for it, even though he is the problem that pushes the narrative forward.

The handheld, shaky cinematography further immerses the audience in the gritty world of low-level Italian mafia. A staple in his later works — Goodfellas and Raging Bull, to name a couple — Scorsese’s minimalist yet innovative camera techniques really come through in the famous pool table fight scene. Equal parts hilarious and violent, he strapped a camera to Keitel’s head to demonstrate his intoxicated state.

In a way, the lower budget paved the way for the film’s distinctive style, as the majority of the budget was spent on the soundtrack, with music composed by The Ronettes, Eric Clapton, and the Rolling Stones.

Scorsese’s sharp script and sharper directing encapsulate his view of the world in a grand, two-hour long gangster epic that shouldn’t be buried in the stacks of time, but celebrated as a work of art that inspired thousands of filmmakers and told a story about the great city of New York.