Andy’s Look Back At 2021

Our newest committee member, Andy Smith, takes a look back at another unusual year in cinema.

Before we get to the nitty-gritty let me put some context around where my film preferences lie: Here are some of my favourite films, by which I mean films that I would happily watch over and over again, but not on a loop! (in no particular order): Casablanca (1942), Ex Machina (2014), Leon (1994), Dirty Harry (1971), Farmegeddon (2019), Wall-E (2008). I don’t mind a suspense film but I am not a fan of horror or ‘action’ movies. Although Tenet (2020) was simply brilliant… My wife and I always mark a film out of 10 as we leave the cinema – it has to be our instant impression, given without conferring which we then average and record. More that 8 is very good, less than 2 means we probably walked out if we could without disturbing people. 10s are like hen’s teeth.

The first half of 2021 was spent watching films on-line via a 12 inch laptop or DVDs via a projector on to the sitting room wall trying to replicate “The Experience” of the big screen – we even got ice creams in. It was a poor substitute.

From May we were back in cinemas and managed to rack up 20 films between then and the end of the year. Most of them were excellent – only one was poor. So a good strike rate.

The first film was Nomadland – pretty much a 10/10. What an interesting ‘storyline’ fantastic direction (Chloe Zhao), great characters (Frances McDormand, David Strathairn and members of the nomad community), cinematography (Joshua James Reynolds) and social comment.

Frances Mcdormand in Nomadland
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‘Happy Lazzaro’ on Film 4

Film 4 Monday-through-Tuesday at 12.55 a.m. and now available on All 4.

Happy as Lazzaro / Lazzaro felice (Italy / France / Switzerland / Germany 2018

This film was one of the outstanding releases in 2018. I enjoyed immensely both the screening at the Leeds International Film Festival and again when it returned to the Picture House in 2019. And I look forward to seeing it again on terrestrial television. It should look reasonably good as long as Film 4 stick to the 1.66.:1 aspect ratio. It runs just over two hours and has both Italian and English dialogue with sub-titles for the former.

Directed by Alice Rohrwacher, one of her earlier films was The Wonders (2014). This film has been described as magic realist. It combines naturalistic observation with a plot that includes references to myth and folk tales, social exploitation and a touch of fantasy. Lazzaro of the title is a sweet natured and apparently simple minded peasant. He is part of a village cut off from modern Italy and involved in some form of share cropping. Later in the film a migration leads members into a lumpen-proletarian existence. The film shares tone and tropes with recent migrant films. It is fascinating and at times moving. Visually Hèléne Louvart’s cinematography is both beautiful and atmospheric and the overall production is excellent. I thought this the best film I saw at the Festival. A friend commented,

“I greatly admired The Wonders … and this was even better. This tale of a holy fool in a setting which blurs the borders between realism and the fantastic is not, perhaps, for the literal-minded but should delight most of the rest of us.”

The number of foreign language titles screened on terrestrial television has severely reduced in recent years. So a film like this is a rare pleasure. It is unconventional and the narrative tends towards the picaresque; and it is also really imaginative.

The Best of 2020

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:

  1. Portrait Of A Lady On Fire
  2. Little Women
  3. Uncut Gems
  4. Parasite
  5. JoJo Rabbit

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.

2019 in retrospect.

So, I found 2019 not a great year for new releases; lots of popular films but not that many outstanding ones. Those that stood out for me both in terms of craft and subject were:

Rosie, Eire. This was a drama about homelessness in Dublin. Very well done and the cast were impressive. It was distributed independently so I am afraid many people may have missed it.

Happy as lazzaro / Lazzaro Felice, Italy. A compelling drama, both of exploitation and the problems of migrants. One of the most imaginative stories I have seen for a  long time.

A Season in France, France. A drama about an African migrant family. This was a bleak tale but finely done.

Never Look Away, Germany. An artist travels from East Germany to the West and from Socialist Realism to the avant-garde. Fascinating.

Pain and Glory, Spain.  An exploration of sexual orientation and of cinema and of art; beautifully put together.

Bait, Britain. This title only qualified on 35mm. The digital version did not handle the distinctive techniques on the film well.

So Long, My son, China. One of several epic dramas from the territory presenting a canvas that was large in terms of time and space; a study of  the contradictions of family relationships.

We also enjoyed several screenings of classics in their original format of 35mm.         Sans Soleil / Sunless, France 1983 was part of a weekend of screenings curated by the Pavilion of the  Artist Moving Image Network. This is a classic documentary, visually stunning and with a complex tapestry of themes. Among the other gems of the weekend was Colloque de chiens, France 1977; a sardonic 20 minute film on 35mm and in colour. The canine characters were a metaphor.

Our 2017 Highlights

We asked our blog contributors for their highlights of the year and this is what they came up with.

Bill

My highlights from the films shown at the Picture House are:

  • Elle, France 2016
  • I Am Not Your Negro, USA, 2016.
  • Lady Macbeth, UK, 2016
  • The HandmaidenSouth Korea, 2016
  • Lover For A Day, France
  • Kedi, Turkey, 2016
  • Thelma, Norway
  • Loving, USA, 2016
  • Detroit, USA
  • Human Flow, Germany

and from the film festival at different venues

  • Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (Showing at Hyde Park from January 12th), USA
  • Mutafukaz, France/Japan
  • The Teacher, Slovakia/Czech Republic, 2016

On a different day I could have included Neruda, Loveless, 20th Century Women or Human Flow.

Jake

My top 10 of 2017, sticking to films that got a general cinema release this year:

  1. Certain Women (USA, dir. Kelly Reichardt)
  2. Le Parc (France, dir. Damien Manivel)
  3. Toni Erdmann (Germany, dir. Maren Ade)
  4. Machines (India, dir. Rahul Jain)
  5. Cameraperson (USA, dir. Kirsten Johnson)
  6. Moonlight (USA, dir. Barry Jenkins)
  7. By the Time it gets Dark (Thailand, dir. Anocha Suwichakornpong)
  8. The Untamed (Mexico, dir. Amat Escalante)
  9. Dina (USA, dir. Antonio Santini & Dan Sickles)
  10.  A Ghost Story (USA, dir. David Lowery)

Keith

The new films that impressed me this year, in the order of when I saw them, are

A special mention for Casey Affleck in

And of the classics from the past,

  • Cloud-Capped Star / Meghe Dhaka, India 1960, really impressed me.

Stephen

I restricted this list to things I saw for the first time at the Picture House, otherwise the list could also have included Paddington 2, The Last Jedi, Blade Runner 2049 and Dunkirk.

  • Manchester by the Sea, USA, 2016
  • A Monster Calls, UK, 2016
  • 20th Century Women, USA, 2016
  • mother!, USA
  • The Florida Project, USA
  • Good Time, USA
  • A Ghost Story, USA
  • My Life As A Courgette, Switzerland/France, 2016
  • JackieUSA, 2016
  • Bad Genius, Thailand

I’m a bit disappointed that my list is mostly English language films but a lot of the ‘foreign language films’ released this year such as A Man Called Ove, The Handmaiden and Toni Erdmann I saw at LIFF30 so haven’t included here.