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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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.

Jake’s Top Films Of 2016

Following on from Keith’s Favourites from 2016 I commented and including my own list, here it is again in case you didn’t see it.

1. No Home Movie
Belgian artist and film maker, Chantal Akerman, revisits familiar themes here. A tough, yet beautiful piece of documentary self portraiture, that ranks with her greatest work.

2. The Assassin
A rigorous experiment with the themes of classical Chinese Wuxia films. Contemplative, with sparks of blunt aggression. The film Refn’s Drive (2011) wishes it could have been.

3. Fire at Sea
Verité document of Lampedusa (setting of this years La Piscine riff, A Bigger Splash, there couldn’t be a more different film). The cinematography and editing here is top notch, and highlights a fascinating microcosm reflecting larger global issues.

4. Court
I was completely knocked out by this Mumbai-set absurdist gem. An elderly dissent poet/singer is brought into court on trumped up charges of inciting a sewage worker to commit suicide. The resulting case, and the efforts of both the defence and prosecution to bring it to a conclusion, creates a film that brings to mind the films of Ruben Östlund or possibly Roy Andersson.

5. Cemetery of Splendour
An ex-nurse and young soldier suffering from a mysterious sleeping sickness become friends as he drifts through different states of consciousness. Another wistful and gently funny magical realist masterpiece from Apichatpong Weerasethakul.

… and the rest:
6. Little Men
7. Love and Friendship
8. American Honey
9. The Pearl Button
10. Louder than Bombs

Favourites from 2016

arrival-movie-still

So we enter the Award season and the moment when we reflect back on the previous year. I thought a good year, but not a great year for film: but there were some great movies. Of the new releases that I watched at the HPPH I was especially impressed with:

Arrival (USA but also Canada 2016). Denis Villeneuve has directed the most interesting sci-fi in years and Amy Adams offers a sterling performance.

The Pearl Button / El botón de nácar *France, Spain, Chile, Switzerland 2015). Patricio Guzmán provided a documentary that was moving, analytical and both looked and sounded great.

Son of Saul / Saul fia (Hungary 2015). László Nemes produced an intense and revelatory treatment of an often overworked subject.

Taxi / Taxi Teheran (Iran 2015). I prefer film to video but Jafar Panahi can make an impressive film with any sort of cinematic technology.

Our Little Sister / Umimachi Diary (Japan 2016). The latest film by Hirokazu Koreeda is a simple tale of four sisters: and goes into my list of the top films of the century so far.

still-ourlittlesister2

We also enjoyed a lot of classics from times gone by. The best in a competitive field for me was:

Eternity and a Day / Mia aioniotita kai mia mera (France, Italy, Greece, Germany 1998). Theo Angelopoulos’ rich and complex film was screened in a good quality 35mm print.