Mark Kermode isn’t the only person to suggest this is one of the best concert films ever made and it’s hard to disagree with such claims. The music from Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone, Sly & the Family Stone, Gladys Knight & the Pips and more really is fantastic, not to mention incredibly moving at several points.
The film is more than just footage from 1969’s The Harlem Cultural Festival. The full title of the film is “Summer of Soul (…Or, When The Revolution Could Not Be Televised)” because, although everybody involved knew how important it was to film these concerts, the footage was never seen and largely forgotten about. Unfortunately we can guess at some of the reasons why it never made it to TV but it’s great that we now get to see it. It was surprising to me how much more contemporary it seems compared to the more widely seen coverage of Woodstock that also took place that summer. The film captures the time and place to great effect, highlighting how much had happened leading up to the end of the decade and how much there was a need, and drive, for change.
It’s another music documentary (see also The Sparks Brothers) that will really benefit from the cinema experience. Not only will it look and sound great but this is a film to be enjoyed and experienced with other people. If you can’t make it to City Varieties it is also available to watch at home on Disney+.
All being well it shouldn’t be too long until we can start seeing films on the big screen again. The City Varieties’ Movie Nights are set to resume on the 17th and there are plans for more On The Road screenings over the summer. Until then there are still great films available to watch online. The latest addition to Leeds Film Player is Black Bear and is presented in partnership with Hyde Park Picture House.
Black Bear stars Aubrey Plaza, perhaps best known for her role in TV’s Parks and Recreation but also in great films such as An Evening with Beverly Luff Linn (2018), Ingrid Goes West (2017) and Safety Not Guaranteed (2012). This is a more dramatic role but one that still manages to be darkly funny. I knew very little about the film and that may the best way to experience it because part of what makes the film so engaging is how it unravels and it’s never clear exactly where it is going to end up.
I’ve missed seeing films in the cinema for a number of reasons. The visual delights of Wolfwalkers (2020) would have been more mesmerising on a big screen. The wonderful sound design of Sound Of Metal (2019 apparently) could be appreciated more if heard over a good sound system. David Byrne’s American Utopia (2020) would look and sound great but would also be a much better experience watching it with an appreciative audience. Watching Black Bear I found myself missing the audience for a completely different reason. It’s a film I really liked but one that I think is likely to be divisive; it’s intense, the characters are mostly unlikeable and it often ends up in awkwardly uncomfortable places. Much like in the second part of the film I wanted to know what other people would be feeling, was it okay to be enjoying this so much? Is ‘enjoying’ the right word or emotion? Would other people be laughing at the audacity of it all like I was? Hopefully, like all interesting things, there would be a mixture of reactions but I hope everybody would be able to find something to appreciate. Or maybe the lack of human interaction over the last 14 months means I’ve just forgotten how to react appropriately.
At the start of the year we usually look back over the previous 12 months and pick out our favourite films. Normally for this blog these would be restricted to those shown at the Picture House and I though this year it might have to be different. However the first few months of 2020 were really good for cinema and I’m not sure if this top 5 would be much different even if the doors had stayed open for longer.
So my Top 5 of 2020 is:
Portrait Of A Lady On Fire
Of the films I saw on the smaller screen at home the following would make it into my Top 10: Lynn + Lucy (BFIPlayer), Wolfwalkers (Apple+), Saint Frances (Netflix), Babyteeth (Netflix) and Never Rarely Sometimes Always (Sky/NowTV).
What about you? Did you still manage to see lots of great films (on screens of any size), let us know in the comments.
Normally at this time of year the film festival will have come to end but as we all know this year is far from normal. Plans to show films in venues had to be cancelled as cinemas closed again at the start of November but this has made the online selection even stronger and many of the films are still available until the end of the month.
I found the Leeds Player to work very well with only a few minor niggles, it’s certainly better than offer online film festival platforms with no visible watermarks and the ability to cast to TVs.
Here’s my selection of the films I liked the most that are still available to watch until November 30th.
Anne at 13,000 ft
A divisive film but one I really liked with a very strong central performance; it stuck with me for days after viewing.
Quo Vadis, Aida?
A really powerful film centred around a translator in Bosnia, 1995 as the Serbian army take over her town. It manages to be both intimate and cover the larger scale of what happened and always feels very relevant.
A late addition to the online programme but a great coming of age film with a really good central performance that wonderfully captures the life of French-Algerian teenager living in Paris in the early nineties.
The Bears’ Famous Invasion
One from the Young Film Festival selection but this charming animation is a delight for all ages (and only £3 to rent).
It doesn’t always make a lot of sense and can get quite silly but this is also the most fun I had watching a film for quite some time. A black comedy about a newspaper columnist taking on social media trolls.
I was slightly worried that there may not be as many good films this year but once again it has been a really good programme. I only saw one film that was (arguably) bad and there were a few I struggled to get on board with but I’m glad I saw everything else. You can see my comments on all of the films along with star ratings on my Letterboxd list.
2020 was always going to be a strange year for the Hyde Park Picture House, we were somewhat prepared for the doors to be closed whilst the renovation work got underway but none of us could have predicted how things have turned out.
As we enter the second half of the year we normally take a look back over the last 6 months and pick out our highlights of the year so far. Fortunately there were quite a few good releases before lockdown begin and there have been a number of great films released straight to streaming since. It’s also been great that online discussions, watch parties and interviews have been able to continue.
Here are my 10 highlights of films I did see (mostly on the big screen)
Uncut Gems (Netflix)
JoJo Rabbit (Rent/Buy)
A Hidden Life (Rent/Buy)
The Lighthouse (Rent/Buy)
Portrait Of A Lady On Fire (Mubi)
Never Rarely Sometimes (Rent/Buy)
I’d also like to recommend Lynn Shelton’s final film Sword Of Trust. I don’t think it got a proper release in the UK but it turned up on Sky Movies/NowTV earlier this year. I’ve always loved Shelton’s films and this is no different, hear death was a tragic loss because it feels like she had so much more to offer. There is a celebration of her on YouTube which I haven’t had chance to watch yet and Birds Eye View interviewed her a few weeks before her death.
There are other films that I’ve heard good things about but still haven’t had chance to watch:
Little Joe (Rent/Buy & Bfi subs)
The Assistant (Rent/Buy)
Color Out Of Space (Rent/Buy)
Queen & Slim (Rent/Buy)
Woman Make Film (Bfi subs)
Da 5 Bloods (Netflix)
Don’t forget about the Hyde Park Picks on Facebook and Twitter for more recommendations of great things to watch at home.
This year was always going to be a strange one for us but none of us expected it to be like this. I hope that you are all staying safe and finding plenty of things to keep you occupied. One good thing that I’ve seen is an amazing sense of community from so many people and there’s no shortage of film recommendations and opportunities for group watch alongs at home.
Hopefully you are already aware of the Hyde Park Picks, daily recommendations from the Hyde Park Picture House team along with some great extras. Our old friends at MiniCine have started a Self Isolation Season on Instagram, picking out two films each day. I’m trying to share as many of these recommendations as I can over on Twitter (and less so on Facebook) so do follow us there if you are not doing so already.
I was going to pick out some films coming up on Freeview TV this week but there are so many to go through and Mark Kermode already does a good job of this on his Radio 5 show/podcast. Instead I thought it would be worth pointing out that many of the films shown on the BBC are also available to watch on iPlayer. Here are my recommendations from what is currently available:
It’s also worth noting that from Monday BBC2 will be screening a classic film every afternoon around 3pm, usually preceded by an episode of the Talking Pictures documentary. This week it’s (mostly) Ealing comedies:
School For Scoundrals
The Man In The White Suit
The Titfield Thunderbolt
The Lavender Hill Mob
Enjoy, stay safe and do let us know if you spot anything else we should be watching.
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.