2019, the year Brad Pitt fixed antennas (Ad Astra and Once Upon A Time In Hollywood), Scarlett Johansson tied shoelaces (Marriage Story and Jojo Rabbit – out in the UK on 1st Jan), Adam Driver seemed to be everywhere and washing machines featured more than expected (In Fabric and Seahorse).
La Belle Époque – It’s too soon to know if this is really as good as it made me feel during the film festival or an “overegged French time-travel comedy” as Peter Bradshaw claimed in The Guardian.
The Favourite – One of the first films I saw this year which made me think it would be a while until I saw something I enjoyed more and I was right.
Eighth Grade – A really long wait to see this in the UK but it was worth it, a film about hope, despair, anxiety and it manages to be terrifying and funny in equal measures.
Marriage Story – Everything feels so authentic, it’s heartbreakingly beautiful and also surprisingly funny.
If Beale Street Could Talk – A beautiful film with a beautiful soundtrack.
Knives Out – Another recent film that may not stand the test of time but I had so much fun whilst watching it I had to include it in this list.
Midsommar & Us – Horror is a genre I tend to overlook but both of these films exceeded my expectations, both are carefully constructed and unravel in an enthralling way.
Irene’s Ghost, Seahorse, Our Most Brilliant Friends – Great documentaries that were enhanced by Q&A with the filmmakers.
My favourite film of 2019 only got a single screening as a Tuesday Wonder and (confession time) I didn’t see it at the Picture House. Minding The Gap: An American Skateboarding Story is one of those documentaries where the subject matter is just a cover story for the way it brilliantly exposes just what it means to be human and I absolutely loved it. It’s available on iPlayer as part of the Storyville strand and would make a great double bill with the underrated Mid90s.
Honorable mentions to: Collette, Beautiful Boy, RBG, Pond Life, Vox Lux, Madeline’s Madeline, Booksmart, Sometimes Always Never, Apollo 11, Only You, The Farewell, Peanut Butter Falcon.
In the run up to the Leeds International Film Festival we’ll be taking a look at some of the films making up this years programme. First up is Stephen…
I wasn’t sure what to expect in this years selection of films but after last year’s late addition of Roma I was hopeful we’d get a chance to see The Irishman on a big screen. Disappointingly it wasn’t in the launch programme but that big gap on Thursday 7th was soon to be filled with Scorsese’s latest. This feels like the real opening film of the festival for me and I just hope the Town Hall seats aren’t too uncomfortable for the three and half hour running time. Netflix seem to making more effort to get this in cinemas and it should also be playing at the Picture House after the festival.
I love the variety of films shown at the festival and often find myself drawn towards the weirder sounding films. There don’t seem to be that many oddities in this year’s programme but perhaps that because the strangeness has gone into the mainstream with Jojo Rabbit. I’ve loved all of Taika Waititi’s films so far (Boy, What We Do In The Shadows, The Hunt For The Wilderpeople, Thor: Ragnarok – I still haven’t seen Eagle vs Shark) and I’m sure this won’t disappoint although the trailer left me a little cold.
In between those opening and closing films I’m currently planning on seeing around 50 films (and therefore really grateful that the Gold Explorer pass was introduced). Over the years I’ve come to trust the programming team and think there’s usually a good reason to see any of the films in the programme. I’ve tried to take a more practical approach to my schedule this year, trying to avoid dashes across town or upturning my entire plan to fit in films I assume I’ll be able to see elsewhere e.g The Cave, The Two Popes, Ordinary Love and Matthias & Maxime (by the way isn’t it strange that there are two films called The Cave as well as Marriage Story and A Marriage Story in the programme). If you are still making your plans and want to see a better view of when films are showing you may find this Clashfinder useful.
Most of the films I’m looking forward to are from directors I already know and have been praised at other film festivals. All of the following have headline slots and are likely to be popular:
The Lighthouse– I wasn’t a fan of The VVitch (2015) but keen to see what Robert Eggers has done with this.
Portrait of A Lady On Fire– Girlhood (2014) and Tomboy (2011) are fantastic and Céline Sciamma’s latest film very different from those, she was also screenplay consultant on one of my favourite ‘forgotten’ LIFF films Bird People (2014).
Some of the lesser known films I’m looking forward to include:
Patrick– Really not sure what to expect from this but it was one film in the trailer reel that really stood out as a typical WTF LIFF film.
I’m disappointed I haven’t been able to fit in more of the classic films, the Mother Cutter strand is a great idea and a wonderful selection of films. I do have some free time so I may be able to fit some of these films in as well. I’m also glad that the short films are getting more screenings, I’ve not been able to get to many of these in the last few years but this year it seemed easier to fit them around other films.
As we enter the second half of the year it seems like a good time to look back over all the films shown at the Picture House so far. 2019 started strong for me with The Favourite and I confidently claimed it would be the best film of the year. I loved how it took something quite familiar but presented it in such a unique way by mixing together humour, tenderness and some ridiculousness.
The Favourite remained at the top of my favourites list until very recently when I caught up with Minding The Gap (unfortunately I didn’t get to see it in the cinema). This is one of those brilliant documentaries that starts telling one wonderfully engaging story but as events unfold becomes a film about something else completely. I found it incredibly moving and if you missed it it’s currently available on iPlayer.
Something I’ve noticed this year is that here in the UK we’re having to wait a long time to see some really acclaimed American films. Minding The Gap was one of these but we had to wait the best part of a year to see Support The Girls (out this week and coming to Hyde Park later this month), Madeline’s Madeline and my third choice Eighth Grade. I’ve never been a teenage girl but I found Bo Burnham’s film so relatable. It manages to capture so much about hope and despair and all of life’s anxieties whilst being terrifying and funny in equal measures.
We didn’t have to wait quite as long to see If Beale Street Could Talk, a truly beautiful and moving film with an even better soundtrack and my fourth choice. Finally to keep this selection to only five films I’m going to include US. US didn’t quite live up to my expectations when I was watching it but it really hooked me in and it was a film I kept thinking about days later.
There we have it, my top 5 films shown at the Hyde Park Picture House so far this year are:
Minding The Gap
If Beale Street Could Talk
I should also mention there are quite a few other films that I really liked but saw them last year at film festivals before their 2019 release including: Pond Life, Colette, Can You Ever Forgive Me?, Beautiful Boy, Border, One Cut Of The Dead and probably others I’m forgetting about now.
Now it’s over to you, do share your highlights of the year in the comments or if you want to say a bit more we’re still looking for contributors so get in touch.
A quick recommendation for Sometimes Always Never, the debut feature film from Carl Hunter which is showing this weekend at the Picture House. Scripted by Frank Cottrell-Boyce who has previously collaborated with Danny Boyle (Millions, 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremony) and Michael Winterbottom (Welcome to Sarajevo, 24 Hour Party People). It tells the story of a father (Bill Nighy) who is preoccupied by the disappearance of his grown son who stormed out over a Scrabble disagreement years earlier.
When I saw the film at the Keswick Film Festival, Hunter said he wanted to make something that was British but uniquely so and he employs many different techniques to achieve this. It will remind you of other things, for me it was Wes Anderson, but as a whole it is unlike anything else. The strong cast and writing tell a heartfelt and charming story and some great cameos and funny moments provide lots of entertainment.
There’s a great soundtrack by Edwyn Collins as well.
Growing Pains is a small season of films about “young people, their experiences, and perspectives on the world”. The season started a few weeks ago with Jonah Hill’s directorial debut Mid90s which follows a 13 year old boy as he discovers a group of skateboarders in a Los Angeles suburb and tries to find out where he belongs. It was a film I liked even though it didn’t always seem sure quite what it wanted to be but maybe that was the point.
We’re still in the 1990s this week but much closer to home with Pond Life which is set and was filmed near Doncaster. Nominally about the legend of a giant carp in the nearby ponds it’s really all about a group young people in a small community. The film was previewed at the film festival last November, a full house and an entertaining cast and crew Q&A made it one of my highlights of the festival. Some may say the film is slight but it’s this quietness and nostalgic feeling of endless summers that felt incredibly heartfelt, perhaps it resonated so much with me because I was also a teenager in the 1990s. The film is beautifully made with some really strong performances from the young cast who I am sure will go on to great things (Esme Creed-Miles can also be seen in Amazon’s TV version of the Joe Wright film Hanna). There’s also a great soundtrack from Richard Hawley which mystifyingly doesn’t seem to be available to listen to anywhere yet.
Pond Life is on general release this week and showing at the Picture House daily, it’s a shame that such a small charming film is getting a release at the same time as one of the biggest blockbusters but I do hope people seek it out as it’s really important that films like this get seen in the cinema.
Also on general release this week and coming to Hyde Park from Friday 3rd May is Eighth Grade another fantastic smaller film that will hopefully not get lost in the shadow of the Avengers. We’re very much back in contemporary times as Kayla, brilliantly played by Elsie Fisher, deals with growing up in the modern social media obsessed digital age. Mark Kermode sums it up brilliantly:
Released in America last year, it feels like we’ve had to wait an awful long time to see Eighth Grade in the UK but it’s definitely been worth it. It’s also been a long wait to see Madeline’s Madeline which is screening from the 10th May. I’ve only heard great things about this and the New York Times describe Helen Howard’s debut performance as “one of the great teen performances in film history.” which must be something considering how good the performances have been in the rest of the Growing Pains season.
The film festival is over for another year and what an amazing two weeks it was. I managed to fit in 47 films with a total running time of 82 hours which I thought was a lot until I saw somebody had made it to 70-something screenings. I think it’s an incredible achievement by everybody involved that it’s possible for somebody to see so many films and find something to like about all of them. There were some films I struggled with (Happy As Lazzaro and Birds of Passage) but I think this was more down to my own tiredness (one of the problems of seeing so many films). Other films such as Genesis 2.0, Killing God, Await Further Instructions and I Feel Good all had great ideas that got a bit lost in the final film.
My favourite films this year were all retrospectives from the brilliant Time Frames series. I’ve always loved the Before films and it was relief to find Before Sunrise was as good as I remembered. I finally got to see 12 Angry Men for the first time and it was every bit as good as I had expected. 12 Angry Men was one of many films that seemed surprisingly relevant for 2018, as was Sidney Lumet’s other film, Fail-Safe, another first viewing for me and made even more tense by the shadow of Trump hanging over it.
Of the new films it was Anna and The Apocalypse that I enjoyed the most. It’s the best Scottish zombie high school Christmas musical you’re going to see for some time and the soundtrack (out now) is brilliant. The audience for Pond Life seemed to be made up mostly of cast, crew and their friends and I’m not sure how many festival goers saw it or what people not involved with the film thought of it. It’s far from a perfect film but there was something about it that I really loved and I do hope that when it’s released next summer it finds an audience that appreciated it as much as I did. In Fabric was another new film that completely pulled me in;I can’t begin to explain what it was about but I absolutely loved it.
This year I was also pleasantly surprised by a lot of the more ‘mainstream’ films. One of my few 5 star ratings was for Beautiful Boy and Can You Ever Forgive Me?, Widows, The Kindergarten Teacher and Colette were all much better than I was expecting.
I’ve tried to put all the films I saw in some order over on Letterboxd where you can also find my brief thoughts hastily written between films or at the end of a long day.
It would be great to hear your thoughts on the festival in the comments or if you would like to write a longer blog post (on the festival or anything else) get in touch.
Continuing our look at some of the highlights of the year, here are my thoughts on 2018 so far. I’ve not been to see as many films this year but not because of a lack of choice. Many of the best films shown at Hyde Park this year were ones I was lucky enough to see at LIFF or other festivals, so my list doesn’t included the likes of Three Billboards…, You Were Never Really Here, The Breadwinner or Journeyman.
Leaving me with the following:
Leave No Trace
A Quiet Place
The Shape Of Water
Lean on Pete
It saddens me a little that these are all American films but look out for the Icelandic film Heartstone if that shows up in a programme down the line. I saw it at Keswick Film Festival in February and remains one of my favourite films of the year.
As well as serving on the committee for the Friends I’m also involved with Keswick Film Club and in a few weeks their 19th Film Festival will be taking place. I grew up near Keswick and the film club played an important part in developing my love for art house cinema. I’ll be heading back to the Lake District town for the festival and would easily recommend a visit to see some great films in an idyllic location.
There are films you (probably) won’t have seen yet. Director Simon Hunter will open the festival with Edie, starring Sheila Hancock as an 84 year old who is determine to climb a mountain. A Fantastic Woman has been wowing festival audiences and critics around the world and François Ozon’s L’Amant Double has yet to get a UK release date. We also have one of the first screenings of John Hurt’s final film, That Good Night. John was the patron of the festival and visited a number of times, his wife will be introducing the film.
We’re also delighted to be showing Ken Russell’s Clouds Of Glory, thought for many years to have been lost. Commissioned by Melvyn Bragg for Granada TV, this is Ken Russell’s interpretation of the lives and loves of Coleridge and Wordsworth and was filmed locally. The screening accompanies a talk, Cumbria On Film, exploring how the region has been used for films over the years including Withnail & I and The Force Awakens.
As the year comes to an end we’re starting to think about the cinematic highlights of 2017 and we’ll be posting some of our favourite films in a few weeks’ time. As I started to think about my own list I realised that I’ve missed a lot of films that are showing up in other end of year lists. So here, in no particular order, is a top ten list of (possibly) the best films I didn’t see this year:
I Am Not Your Negro
A Quiet Passion
My Cousin Rachel
I’m going to try and catch up with some of these (Elle and A Quiet Passion are both on Netflix and I Am Not Your Negro and Lady Macbeth are included in Amazon Prime) which do you recommend I should see first? Also do let us know what your favourite films are and we can include them in our end of year round up. If you need a reminder of everything that has been shown at the Picture House this year, we have a list here.
As always the programme is packed full of a wide variety of films and deciding what to see is tough process for film lovers. In the end I made a lot of my choices on how easily I could get from one screening to the next, of course it wouldn’t be LIFF if I didn’t have a few dashes between town and the Picture House. I made a clashfinder which shows which films are on at the same time and you may find it useful when you’re planning your festival. Other people are using the clashfinder which means I can see what films are getting highlighted the most and, although this may not reflect ticket sales, the current top 10 is as follows:
I’m hoping to see all of those films so that list doesn’t surprise me much. I’ve got another 40 or so films in my current plan plus this year I’m hoping to try Night Of The Dead for the first time! What else am I looking forward to? Well there’s new films from Clio Barnard (Dark River) and Paddy Considine (Journeyman), the breakfast screening of Amélie should be a delight (plus it’s a 35mm print) and Mutafukaz looks like it’s the kind of craziness we’ve all come to expect from the festival.
What about you? What films are you looking forward to seeing and have you managed to put together a plan yet? Let us know in the comments.