July 2018 Film Roundup

A bit late with it this month, but after my lacklustre effort in June to watch new films (I only managed three in total), I’ve redoubled my efforts and can for July present you an EXPANDED new films list, that even so manages to miss out the wonderfully enjoyable Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again… It’s been a month of SUN and HEATWAVE temperatures (for Britain) which means that the cool comfort of a cinema screen has been particularly welcome. (As ever, daily write-ups are at Letterboxd.)

Last month I also promised an update for stats fans, and I can confirm that 50% of the features I watched in July were directed by women (20 out of 40 films in total), and as you can see six of them show up in each of the top 10s below. Moreover, 53% of the films I saw (i.e. 21) were directed by people of colour.

Top 10 New Films (on their first release in the UK)


Leave No Trace (2018, dir. Debra Granik)
Cold War (2018, dir. Pawel Pawlikowski)
Shakedown (2018, dir. Leilah Weinraub)
In the Fade (2017, dir. Fatih Akin)
Naila and the Uprising (2017, dir. Julia Bacha)
Outside In (2017, dir. Lynn Shelton)
Speak Up (2017, dir. Amandine Gay)
Mission: Impossible – Fallout (2018, dir. Christopher McQuarrie)
Claire’s Camera (2017, dir. Hong Sang-soo)
Pin Cushion (2017, dir. Deborah Haywood)

I saw all but one of these films at a cinema (the odd one out was Netflix-only release Outside In). For some of them, saying they were on “release” is a little misleading (Claire’s Camera was a one-off Korean Film Festival preview screening, Speak Up was another one-off screening, while Cold War is being released properly at the end of August).

It’s good to see more 2018 films finally making these lists, and the two up the top are surely the strongest of 2018’s dramatic narrative films I’ve seen so far this year. Leave No Trace for me is superior to the same director’s Winter’s Bone of almost ten years ago, and the young woman at the centre of the story is a New Zealand actor it turns out. In any case, she gives a great performance, coming across (and I mean this as a compliment) as an unrehearsed non-actor, someone who’s really living the part. Ben Foster also disappears into the film, as he tends to do (he’s been in so many good films, but I still don’t really know how to spot him). Cold War, meanwhile, in a sense extends Pawlikowski’s black-and-white historical Polish stories after Ida, but strikes a quite different tone. There’s a heavy sense of doomed romance, and Pawlikowski cuts out everything that’s extraneous, so that it comes in at under 90 minutes.

Elsewhere, there’s a strong showing from documentaries, which this past month have ranged across subjects like underground LA queer sex workers in Shakedown (a fascinating story of people who aren’t much represented on screen) to reminiscences of the Palestinian Intifada in Naila and the Uprising, and French feminists of colour speaking direct to camera in Speak Up.

Outside In and Pin Cushion are little indie dramas from the US and UK respectively, the latter of which has a bleak edge that makes what initially seems like a twee coming of age story feel a little more raw by its conclusion. Mission: Impossible – Fallout is the blockbuster on the list (which feels a little rote now in this franchise, but still manages to pack plenty in), and In the Fade is a fine German film anchored by an amazing performance from Diane Kruger. Finally, if you haven’t really enjoyed some of Hong Sang-soo’s recent films, you probably won’t like Claire’s Camera because it continues his improvisational non-style-as-style technique, and has a daffy Isabelle Huppert wandering around Cannes.

Top 10 Old Films (but new to me)

beDevil (1993, dir. Tracey Moffatt)
I Am Somebody (1970, dir. Madeline Anderson)
Chocolat (1988, dir. Claire Denis)
The Battle of Chile (1975-79, dir. Patricio Guzman)
Mamma Mia! (2008, dir. Phyllida Lloyd)
Mossane (1996, dir. Safi Faye)
Little Fugitive (1953, dir. Morris Engel/Ruth Sorkin/Ray Ashley)
Thursday Till Sunday (2012, dir. Dominga Sotomayor)
The Man by the Shore (1993, dir. Raoul Peck)
The Nights of Zayandeh-Rood (1990, dir. Mohsen Makhmalbaf)

After last month’s blow-out at Bologna, most of these were seen at home, although it’s notable that the top two were seen at Bristol’s Cinema Rediscovered festival, which takes direct inspiration from Bologna. It’s a new festival, but Bristol is a lovely city with plenty of sense of artistic discovery and I look forward to revisiting it. Tracey Moffatt is an Australian artist of part Aboriginal descent, and beDevil was her only feature: it is very much the film of an artist, and has a singular sense of place, with the kind of stage-bound feeling of old Hollywood movies but riven through with a confrontational sensibility that makes it very much an outlier of everything else being made at the time. I Am Somebody, meanwhile, is a short film made during the Civil Rights movement which deals with intersectional ideas of the struggle for social change at a time when these ideas were still in their infancy.

The others largely just reflect what I’ve been renting from my video shop, although the Raoul Peck film is from me struggling to work through a box set of his Haitian films, and Mossane was a one-off screening at the BFI of a singular Black African woman filmmaker (one of very few).

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June 2018 Film Roundup

Sadly, I have failed in my third month of my sub-quest to watch more than 50% films directed by women (last month was more succesful), though my general 2018 challenge to watch an unseen film (something new or new to you) every day continues apace. This comes down to my own poor planning in advance of a week-long jaunt to Bologna for its fantastic Il Cinema Ritrovato film festival. I loved that festival, I loved the town, I loved having dinner and Aperol/Campari spritzes with friends as well as meeting new people (mostly film writers and academics), and I loved the food and general vibe of both the town and the festival. However, as it’s a festival dedicated to old and archival films (as well as new restorations of old films), it does mean the demographics skew a bit white and male — not just on the films, but on the attendees too it might be added. I got the feeling that the festival was trying to address the diversity at least a tiny bit (it was my first year so I can’t really be sure), and I tried my best to fit as many films directed by women in, but it was not enough to pass my own little quest for this month. That said, I’ll redouble my efforts in the (not named after a woman) month of July. Also, I didn’t even watch enough films to get a top 5 for new release movies, but I blame that on film distributors — the weather has been rather sunny and lovely, and a few blockblusters clogged the screens.

PS Once again, I’m still posting notes on all the films I see over at Letterboxd but herewith my summary.

Top 3 New Films (on their first release in the UK)

Another Country (2015, dir. Molly Reynolds)
Casa Roshell (2017, dir. Camila José Donoso)
The Rape of Recy Taylor (2017, dir. Nancy Buirski)

The first two films were on Mubi this past month, and only the last had a cinema release. Moreover, I only really liked the first film; the other two are the only other two new-release films I saw, so they’re there by default (and even then, I’m including Another Country because I believe this is its first proper release in the UK, aside perhaps from some one-off screenings).

That first film is a documentary about Aboriginal people, and the way in which their lives have been affected by racist policies of the Australian government: it’s a strong film about giving a sense of a community, but it’s also depressing, with little apparent hope for change to the way these Aboriginal reservations are organised. The other two are also documentaries, the first sort of a hybrid documentary-fiction about a Mexican nightclub and its genderqueer and trans performers, the second about a footnote to the early history of the Civil Rights movement in the USA largely composed of historians and archival footage.

Top 15 Old Films (but new to me)

Cabaret (1972, dir. Bob Fosse)
È piccerella (1922, dir. Elvira Notari)
Late Chrysanthemums (1954, dir. Mikio Naruse)
Lieutenant Kizhe (1934, dir. Aleksandr Faintsimmer)
In Jackson Heights (2015, dir. Frederick Wiseman)
Journey to the West (2014, dir. Tsai Ming-liang)
Crown Prince of the Republic (1934, dir. Eduard Ioganson)
Jane B. by Agnès V. (1988, dir. Agnès Varda)
Black Goddess (1978, dir. Ola Balogun)
Chronicle of the Years of Fire (1975, dir. Mohammed Lakhdar-Hamina)
Lights of Old Broadway (1925, dir. Monta Bell)
Mysterious Shadows (1949, dir. G.W. Pabst)
Haitian Corner (1988, dir. Raoul Peck)
The Winter of Three Hairs (1949, dir. Gong Yan/Ming Zhao)
Carita de cielo (1947, dir. José Díaz Morales)

Because of the shorter list above, and because of the Il Cinema Ritrovato film festival (accounting for all the pre-80s films above except the Naruse), I’ve expanded the list this month to 15 choices, and there are plenty more I could have added that I’d still have liked more than even my favourite new-release film this month.

In Bologna, most of the films I saw were vintage 35mm prints from various archives. The Academy Film Archive in Los Angeles furnished vintage Technicolor prints, clearly the best and most impressive way to see Cabaret for the first time — a film I loved, despite its Oscars success (never a guide to quality, of course). Various national archives came through for the rest. There were Soviet films, and two of the four I saw from their 1934 strand are above, both amusing and wry. There were silent films, both my choices above by women filmmakers (Monta Bell in the States, and Elvira Notari in Italy), and both also amusing, if broad, comedies. There was a strand of Chinese films, from which I saw three films, with the one above my favourite, a beautifully shot portrait of an era filtered through a comic book sensibility. I didn’t end up including any of the 1930s Fox films, or the John M. Stahl melodramas, perhaps because in the case of the former, they were not the best films (though they were interesting), and in the latter I’m just not a huge melodrama fan, even if I can appreciate the artistry Stahl brought to his work. However, one of the Mexican melodramas sneaks in, the grandly enjoyable and daffy Carita de cielo, though I’m kicking myself I missed Victims of Sin, which I hear was wonderful.

Additionally, there was a programme called ‘Cinemalibero’ that included various activist and revolutionary films, not least Nigerian filmmaker Ola Balogun’s Brazilian film Black Goddess, who was there to introduce it, and was a real highlight (and a rare film to get to see). The other film I’ve included above from that strand was a new restoration (therefore presented in digital format), the grand and sweeping story of Algerian independence, taking in much of the early-20th century, the beautiful Chronicle of the Years of Fire (its director was also there, but I didn’t get the chance to listen, and my French wouldn’t have been up to it, in any case).

Finally of the Bologna films was another recent restoration in digital 4K, which was the late Pabst film Mysterious Shadows. It may not have been a masterpiece, but it was great fun — taking in cave exploration, ice skating, bad capitalists trying to exploit science, a romantic three-way, and some deft camerawork. With all that, and the relatively cheap eating and drinking, I shall definitely be returning to this film festival.

May 2018 Film Roundup

Nearing the mid-year point in my 2018 challenge to watch an unseen film (something new, or new to you) every day, May is the second month in my sub-challenge to watch more than 50% films directed by women (as it’s a month with a woman’s name… please keep up). Again, I’m still posting notes on all of them over at Letterboxd, but a round-up is required. Turns out that as the sun and warmth has returned slowly to Britain, I’ve been watching fewer films, so closer to 30 than 50 this month, and far more short films.

Top 5 New Films (on their first release in the UK)

The Breadwinner (2017, dir. Nora Twomey)
The Dreamed Path (2016, dir. Angela Schanelec)
Waru (2017, dir. various Maori woman directors)
Raazi (2018, dir. Meghna Gulzar)
Tully (2017, dir. Jason Reitman)

Three of these films were given a release at cinemas; some other films that came out in May that I’d already seen include Lucrecia Martel’s Zama, which I’d probably have put on this list if it were new to me, although it took my second viewing to get into it fully, so perhaps it’s a grower. The Indian film turned out to much stronger than I usually expect of Bollywood features.

The German film was given a premiere at Genesis Cinema but otherwise was just on streaming service Mubi. However, after seeing a number of other Angela Schanelec films this past few months thanks to Mubi, I found it to be an enigmatic and mysterious film with what I perceived to be hidden depths that may reveal themselves if I were to watch it again.

Finally, there’s Waru which (as yet) has had no UK release in any form, but my mum sent me the DVD. It’s a series of short films all based around the same fictional premise (the death of a young child) on a marae. Given the format, some are better than others, but on the whole it’s a strong piece.

Top 10 Old Films (but new to me)

A Tale of the Wind (1988, dir. Joris Ivens/Marceline Loridan)
The World (2004, dir. Jia Zhangke)
As I Was Moving Ahead Occasionally I Saw Brief Glimpses of Beauty (2000, dir. Jonas Mekas)
24 City (2008, dir. Jia Zhangke)
The Holy Girl (2004, dir. Lucrecia Martel)
Urban Rashomon (2013, dir. Khalik Allah)
Peppermint Soda (1977, dir. Diane Kurys)
The East Wind (El Chergui) (1975, dir. Moumen Smihi)
There’s Always Tomorrow (1956, dir. Douglas Sirk)
Together (1956, dir. Lorenza Mazzetti)

None of these are Criterion films. Instead, there are a few shorter pieces I caught up on to fill my daily gap (the Allah film is on YouTube, as is the Mazzetti, although it was on the BFI’s “Free Cinema” set of British new wave films and documentaries of the 1950s). As Lucrecia Martel’s latest was out, I thought I should go see a retrospective screening of one of her earlier films, the wonderful (and possibly underrated by me) The Holy Girl. Another celluloid screening was the rare Moumen Smihi film, a Moroccan filmmaker whose work isn’t much shown or available.

Two of the others were on Mubi (the almost-5hr long Jonas Mekas assemblage and the Sirk film, as part of a season of his work). Finally there were some I rented, including the Ivens film I put up the top, several Jia films (of which I think The World is my favourite, dealing with alienation in the modern world), and the Diane Kurys period film, a slightly sentimental but lovely coming of age set in 60s Paris.

April 2018 Film Roundup

My 2018 challenge to watch an unseen film (something new or new to you) every day proceeds apace, and April sees the first of three months in which I’ve dedicated myself to watching at least 50% films directed by women (for these are all months with women’s names, or at least that’s my tenuous thematic connection). I watched 50 films this month, not counting short films, and I managed 27 directed (or co-directed) by women, although I am (perhaps cheekily) including a trans filmmaker who as far as I know doesn’t identify as either.

Top 5 New Films (on their first release in the UK)

Western (2017, dir. Valeska Grisebach)
Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts (2017, dir. Mouly Surya)
Wonderstruck (2017, dir. Todd Haynes)
Even When I Fall (2017, dir. Kate McLarnon/Sky Neal)
Isle of Dogs (2018, dir. Wes Anderson)

In a rare top five for me so far, all of these films were given a cinema release during April, even if Marlina was a very small and targeted release, which in London meant only a handful of screenings. One of them was at the East End Film Festival, at the wonderful Genesis Cinema, and it was great both to see the film — a western in form, albeit set in Indonesia, with a woman seeking vengeance — and to hear the young woman director talking about its making afterwards.

My top place is another pseudo-western, one that even has that as its title, although it’s set in Bulgaria amongst a group of German workers. It’s another in a long lineage of films about masculinity and about codes of manly behaviour as seen by a woman (think Chevalier or Beau travail, the latter of which I caught up with a few days ago for about the fifth time, and which I still esteem as one of the best films ever).

The documentary in fourth place is about young Nepali women more or less abducted from their poor families at childhood into rural Indian travelling circuses, and for a film about human child trafficking, it has charismatic central performers, it depicts an arc of lived experience which moves towards a more hopeful resolution, and it has a keen cinematic eye for a good shot.

The other two films are relatively big budget and given plenty of fanfare, even if the Todd Haynes piece was (in my opinion) rather unjustly neglected as a minor work, but I suppose that was always likely to be the case with any follow-up to Carol.

Top 10 Old Films (but new to me)

Repast (1951, dir. Mikio Naruse)
Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960, dir. Karel Reisz)
Twenty-Four Eyes (1954, dir. Keisuke Kinoshita)
Marseille (2004, dir. Angela Schanelec)
Winter Light (1963, dir. Ingmar Bergman)
Something Must Break (2014, dir. Ester Martin Bergsmark)
Battles (2015, dir. Isabel Tollenaere)
All I Desire (1953, dir. Douglas Sirk)
Canyon Passage (1946, dir. Jacques Tourneur)
Documenteur (1981, dir. Agnes Varda)

Rarely, only one of these films comes from the Criterion Sunday project (that’s the Bergman film), for we’ve had quite a run of films I’d either seen before (by Fassbinder) or films that are just too attenuated to hold my interest (which accounts for the rest of the Bergmans, an extensive documentary about him, and a rather wacky Shohei Imamura). Of course, my top place is a Naruse film that, like all his work, should feature in that collection but somehow doesn’t, but it’s wonderful as ever, with a nimble touch in dealing with an unhappy marriage as lived in a society very rigid in its etiquette and codes of public conduct.

Two more come from cinema screenings: the Reisz was part of a ‘Woodfall Films’ season at the BFI to which a friend took me along, a wonderful slice of working-class Northern life in which Albert Finney plays a rather annoying lad; while the Kinoshita film was presented by the Japan Foundation, and while it may have been projected from a DVD, it was still affecting to see it (and I will be returning to it again in many years for the Criterion project).

Several others come from the Mubi streaming service, not least a season of Angela Schanelec films, of which Marseille is my clear favourite, though they all share a particular interest in narratives which seem to come across their subjects rather by chance, and elliptical editing strategies. Another of their seasons (of women filmmakers), provided Battles, a haunting, poetic documentary about the legacies of 20th century warfare in the European built environment, while there were also a number of Varda films (even if I caught up with Documenteur on DVD after it had left Mubi; it’s another of her LA-set films, a light blend of documentary and fiction modes). Finally, Mubi provided a number of mid-century period films: the high melodrama of the Sirk film, and the glorious Western beauty of the Tourneur.

Rounding out my list is a film about trans and gender non-conforming identities via the Swedish film Something Must Break written and directed by a trans artist, which I ordered on DVD because it was cheap and I’d seen some good notices for it. It shares some DNA with A Fantastic Woman, but seems somehow less exploitative, and has another fantastic performance at its heart.

March 2018 Film Roundup

Three months have passed in my 2018 challenge to watch an unseen film (something new or new to you) every day, with the bonus proviso that it’s ‘March Around the World’ month (a Letterboxd-based film-viewing challenge) so there’s an international flavour to my watching (more than usual), with a specific reference to Africa. Expect African films! Again, I’m still posting notes on all of them over at Letterboxd, but a round-up is required.

Top 5 New Films (on their first release in the UK)

Sweet Country (2017, dir. Warwick Thornton)
Annihilation
(2018, dir. Alex Garland)
Malila: The Farewell Flower
(2017, dir. Anucha Boonyawatana)
Untitled
(2017, dir. Michael Glawogger/Monika Willi)
Close-Knit
(2017, dir. Naoko Ogigami)

Only one of these films was actually given a release at cinemas (the first one), although I should note that I also caught up with Lynne Ramsay’s You Were Never Really Here for a second time (I originally saw it at last year’s London Film Festival), and it’s surely my favourite film that was given a cinema release in March, a bleak anti-genre film pulling apart the mythology of the lone hitman.

There are two films from streaming services, with the poetic documentary about nothing in particular, Untitled (the last film by documentarian Michael Glawogger) on Mubi, while Annihilation was of course only given a Netflix release in the UK (aside from a few measly one-off screenings at Everyman cinemas).

My final two films above, Malila and Close-Knit, were screened at the BFI Flare film festival (which deals with LGBTQI+ themes), though I daresay they won’t get a ‘proper’ release. The first is by a trans woman filmmaker although it doesn’t explicitly deal with transgender people (it’s sort of a gay love story set in the Thai jungles, but more than that it’s a Buddhist-inflected meditation on what it means to be alive), while the Japanese film is a more commercially-orientated film about a family unit featuring a trans woman (played by a cis male, as it’s early days for Japan I suppose).

Top 10 Old Films (but new to me)

Untitled (For Marilyn) (1992) and Lovesong (2001, dir. Stan Brakhage)
Daratt (aka Dry Season) (2006, dir. Mahamat-Saleh Haroun)
Happy Hour (2015, dir. Ryusuke Hamaguchi)
Umberto D. (1952, dir. Vittoria de Sica)
Faat Kiné (2001, dir. Ousmane Sembène)
The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (1927, dir. Alfred Hitchcock)
Samba Traoré (1992, dir. Idrissa Ouédraogo)
Yeelen (1987, dir. Souleymane Cissé)
XXY (2007, dir. Lucía Puenzo)
Melancholia (2008, dir. Lav Diaz)

The Criterion Sunday project of watching Criterion Collection films provides my joint number 1, two short films by Stan Brakhage, which is a bit of a cheat I suppose but as they’re both under 10 minutes, it seems fair. Brakhage has a number of these painted-directly-on-the-celluloid works, and Untitled is perhaps my favourite, dedicated to his wife. Almost every image is like an individual painting, overwhelming in its cumulative beauty, though you do need to put on a good soundtrack (they’re both silent). Criterion is also responsible for Umberto D., a sensitive and nuanced De Sica film, very beautiful and very sad. The Lodger was also projected off a Criterion disc, but this wasn’t part of my project (not yet), as the night I saw it was more dedicated to the musical trio providing accompaniment (hence the rather patchy film projection).

There’s a number of African films, as trailed in my intro above, because of the ‘March Around the World’ focus on African cinema this year. My favourite was the Chadian film Daratt, which has a beautiful simplicity to it. Indeed, uncluttered narratives are a bit of a feature of my favourite films, including Samba Traoré (Burkina Faso), Yeelen (Mali) and Faat Kiné (Senegal).

At the rather more epic end of the scale are the 5½ hour Happy Hour (a recent Japanese film about four women) and the 7½ hour Melancholia (another of Lav Diaz’s customary overlong meditations on Filipino history and society). Finally, bringing things back to the LGBTQI themes mentioned above was XXY, a beautiful Argentine film about a gender non-conforming person.

 

February 2018 Film Roundup

So I’m back again this month with the second episode of my 2018 challenge to watch an unseen film (something new or new to you) every day. February is a shorter month but I still packed plenty in (including two visits to see Lady Bird at the cinema). Plus, as anyone in Europe knows, it’s been getting quite cold the last few days, so sitting inside watching films seems like a particularly fine pastime; when it gets to the summer months, I feel my challenge will be more stretched. Anyway, I’m still posting notes on all of them over at Letterboxd, but a round-up is required.

Top 5 New Films (on their first release in the UK)

The Nothing Factory (2017, dir. Pedro Pinho)
Phantom Thread (2017, dir. Paul Thomas Anderson)
Princess Cyd (2017, dir. Stephen Cone)
Black Panther (2018, dir. Ryan Coogler)
Lady Bird (2017, dir. Greta Gerwig)

Continuing last month’s theme of poetic documentaries screened at the ICA (Institute of Contemporary Arts), my favourite film of the month was another slightly leftfield experimental work released by them, a three-hour-long Portuguese documentary-like fiction feature set amongst the workers at a factory, who’ve been laid off and want to wrest back control. It’s thoughtful and artful, covering a range of genres and formal discourse while reflecting carefully on the state of the worker under capitalism: it can be boring at times, but it’s also compelling and beautiful.

Netflix was also responsible, finally, for releasing a good film in the form of Princess Cyd, which had a screening last year at London Film Festival, but slipped under the radar and got the modern equivalent of the straight-to-DVD. Well, it’s exquisitely made, and deals beautifully with its middle-class characters. (Although I’m being a bit mean about Netflix, since they also had a film on my last listMy Happy Family, another fine drama.)

There were also several ‘big’ releases that stood out too. As I mentioned, I went to Lady Bird twice, probably because that was the most straightforwardly enjoyable: small town, closely-studied characters, the beauty of which is in their interactions (so, not entirely unlike Princess Cyd). However, I loved P.T. Anderson’s newest film, finding it less about an awful man, as about the subtle warping of traditional power dynamics of the controlling mercurial artist (a great performance from Vicky Krieps). And of course Black Panther was a phenomenon which I was happy to get on board with, world creation in a way that seemed fresh and new after all the tiresome bombast of some previous superhero films (although still with, well, plenty of bombast).

Top 10 Old Films (but new to me)

Il posto (1961, dir. Ermanno Olmi)
The Act of Seeing with One’s Own Eyes (1971, dir. Stan Brakhage)
Thelma (2017, dir. Joachim Trier)
Boy (2010, dir. Taika Waititi)
I fidanzati (1963, dir. Ermanno Olmi)
The Blood of Jesus (1941, dir. Spencer Williams)
Initiation Love (2015, dir. Yukihiko Tsutsumi)
Dirty Gertie from Harlem U.S.A. (1946, dir. Spencer Williams)
Black Panthers (1968, dir. Agnès Varda)
Bad Moms (2016, dir. Scott Moore/Jon Lucas)

Streaming services again offered up a few interesting recent films I’d somehow missed, and while only Thelma makes it onto this list (via Mubi), it stands up to the other Joachim Trier film they screened last month (his 2006 Reprise) — this one may indeed be better, but it’s mysterious enough that I think I need to let it sit with me a while. Still, it has a fantastic control of atmosphere.

Continued Criterion watching threw up the wonderful Ermanno Olmi films listed there, as well as the challenging Brakhage, all of which I will give fuller write-ups in time, when their entries show up on my Criterion Sunday feature.

The two Spencer Williams movies were from the Pioneers of African-American Cinema box set that I helped to Kickstart, and because it’s Black History Month, it seemed like a good idea to crack on through (I also watched some slightly sub-par Oscar Micheaux features from the early sound era). The Williams ones, though, are fascinating in the way they are pulled between overt moralising and also the thrill of sinfulness: the acting can be amateurish, but the period detail is wonderful. Black Panthers, too (a short Varda documentary from the late-60s), seemed a propos not just in relation to black history but also the feature film of (almost) the same name — well, it at least contextualised Oakland, CA’s symbolic importance through its footage of the activist group.

There was a short season of Japanese cinema at the ICA by the Japan Foundation which threw up a few intriguing films, best of all for me being Initiation Love, which I believe was a made-for-TV movie but with a bold time-looping premise and a big twist that makes it all retrospectively even more interesting (although the film is enjoyable enough as a relationship drama). Plus, I finally got around to watching Taika Waititi’s early feature Boy, which is as charming and delightful as most of his work has been, and almost entirely set amongst a poor, working, rural Maori community in New Zealand. Incredibly, it’s only just had a DVD release in this country.

January 2018 Film Roundup

I rarely post here nowadays except for the weekly Criterion Sunday films (some day, some day, I’ll get round to posting more once again)… But I’ve still been watching films! My friend Pete has been doing a 2018 challenge to watch an unseen film (something new or new to you) every day, so that’s quite a few films. I’m posting notes on them over at Letterboxd, but hey why not have a round-up here!

Top 5 New Films (on their first release in the UK)

Self-Criticism of a Bourgeois Dog (2017, dir. Julian Radlmeier)
Tempestad (2016, dir. Tatiana Huezo)
Field N—-s (2015, dir. Khalik Attah)
The Post (2017, dir. Steven Spielberg)
Journey’s End (2017, dir. Saul Dibb)

Signing up to the Mubi streaming service has introduced me to a wide range of new films, including some new releases that never came out in the cinema. The films of Julian Radlmeier are notable amongst these, and while his first two shorter works were interesting, it’s his first full-length feature which had me hooked on his particularly deadpan satirical style (a little bit reminiscent of Jessica Hausner’s Amour Fou, by way of Jarmusch).

Then again, a couple of these favourites are poetic and somewhat experimental documentaries screened at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (the two pre-2017 films above), so perhaps my tastes are taking me a little way from the multiplex these days. Rey (2017, dir. Niles Atallah), which I caught in the cinema but was also on Mubi during January, was another rather interesting film, a staged fiction but which intersected with documentary in surprising ways.

Of the big releases I saw, The Post was probably my favourite, but I found plenty to like in Journey’s End (a rendering of WWI via a stage play), and — just missing out on my top 5 — The Commuter (2018, dir. Jaume Collet-Serra), wherein Liam Neeson punches people on a train, albeit in an efficient and entertaining way.

Top 10 Old Films (but new to me)

Street Without End (1934, dir. Mikio Naruse)
Snow Canon (2011, dir. Mani Diop)
My Happy Family (2017, dir. Nana Ekvtimishvili/Simon Groß)
Reprise (2006, dir. Joachim Trier)
Reminiscences of a Journey to Lithuania (1972, dir. Jonas Mekas)
Mur Murs (1981, dir. Agnes Varda)
The Hitch-Hiker (1953, dir. Ida Lupino)
Dead Slow Ahead (2015, dir. Mauro Herce)
Funeral Parade of Roses (1969, dir. Toshio Matsumoto)
Jubilee (1978, dir. Derek Jarman)

My old film watching takes in one film first released on Netflix last December, which for my purposes counts as ‘old’ but isn’t really (My Happy Family, a wonderful Georgian film). Elsewhere, a screening of Mati Diop’s early short and medium-length works opened my eyes to a bright new talent I’d been missing this decade, and makes me excited for her upcoming feature-length debut.

As for older works, I’ve been trying to catch up on the classics of Japanese cinema, which brought me to Mikio Naruse’s silent works (most of which I watched towards the tail end of last year) and also Funeral Parade of Roses, a sort of unclassifiable piece of drama which seems to throw everything into the mix.

Several of the rest of my list above screened on Mubi, so they’re a blend of films I’ve long meant to get round to watching (Varda and Mekas) peppered with others by directors largely unknown to me, but whose films I was surprised by (Trier and Herce). I know Joachim Trier in particular has a profile, but like Diop, I’ve somehow missed his films. I shall have to do some catching up.

My Favourite Films of 2017

Another year, another favourite films post! I’ve done one on Letterboxd, but that’s just my top 25 of films that were actually released in the UK in 2017, so it includes films that were on my favourite 2016 films list. Over there I’ve also got a list of all the 2017 films I’ve seen, which are the ones with a 2017 production date, and that list will keep changing and growing. Below is a list of my favourite new films that I saw in 2017, including ones that don’t have a UK release yet. As ever, it means it’s missing some that only got festival screenings which I haven’t yet seen (most notably Agnès Varda’s Faces Places, which I’m very much looking forward to), so expect those next year.

But to the statistics, because I love the statistics! In total, I saw fewer films in 2017: 340 medium- or full-length feature films (almost a hundred fewer than in 2016), 143 of which were in the cinema (which at 42% is exactly the same percentage, though still represents a drop from a high of 62% of films seen in the cinema back in 2013).

However the big news is that I achieved my resolution to see 50% of films directed by women and 50% of films directed by people of colour. I saw exactly 170 women-directed films and 170 PoC-directed films, which particularly in the latter case represents a huge year-on-year increase (last year I saw 43% films directed by women, and 26% directed by non-white directors). In total, I saw exactly the same number of films directed by women of colour as by white men (95 films, i.e. 28% of my total). Now that I’ve hit that, I probably won’t try to achieve it again in 2018, as it did mean I actively avoided a lot of films, especially when it got to December, and I want to focus on filling in some film history gaps, which is going to mean more (old) films directed by white men, but I will certainly try to keep watching a diverse range of new filmmaking.

In terms of quality, there were lots of brilliant films, and plenty that I loved which I haven’t been able to include here… I mean, somewhere below the 25 listed there’s Professor Marston and the Wonder Women (flawed, yet sensitive, with a brilliant performance from Rebecca Hall, maybe my favourite acting performance of the year), On Body and Soul (a strange, odd Hungarian film), Félicité (an African film with another brilliant central performance), Angels Wear White, Jeune femme, The Death of Stalin, Step, I Am Not a Witch, Good Time (a critical favourite, and with an undeniably brilliant Robert Pattinson), not to mention 2016 films only released in the UK in 2017 like Hidden Figures, 20th Century Women, Toni Erdmann, the list goes on… So yes, I’m a big fan of 2017.

25 Girls Trip

Girls Trip (2017)It’s not perfect but this comedy is great fun, not least for Tiffany Haddish’s great performance. It also makes a stark contrast to Rough Night, which would be my least favourite film this year if I made a list of those (but generally I avoid films that look terrible).

24 Lady Macbeth (2016)

Lady Macbeth (2016)British cinema (and television) is littered with dull, worthy, handsomely-mounted period films, but this one is very far from being either dull or worthy. It is, however, very beautiful, and Florence Pugh is brilliant in it (after impressing in a small role a few years ago in The Falling).

23 Toivon tuolla puolen (The Other Side of Hope)

Toivon tuolla puolen (The Other Side of Hope, 2017)There have been plenty of films about refugees and immigrants over the last few years, for sadly obvious reasons, but this one from Kaurismäki has his usual glacial deadpan cinematic gaze but with a beautifully moving underlying empathy. Should probably have ranked it higher.

22 Human Flow

Human Flow (2017)Another film about refugees, and one with both grand, complex images of masses of desperate people, but also the filmmaker/artist (Ai Weiwei) moving among them. It’s not so much about their individual stories, as about the overall story, and it’s heartbreaking.

21 Logan Lucky

Logan Lucky (2017)Steven Soderbergh’s return to feature filmmaking this year may have had all his usual hallmarks, but its story of poor people marginalised by capitalism yet desperate for something better has all the hallmarks of that classic American theme wrapped up in its heist plot mechanics.

20 All This Panic (2016)

All This Panic (2016)A coming-of-age documentary in NYC with stark characters, alternately awful and yet growing into themselves, framed by a beautiful aesthetic from director Jenny Gage and her DoP.

19 Colossal (2016)

Colossal (2016)Surely the oddest film of the year, a strange hybrid of monster movie and small-town allegory. It’s pretty wayward at times, but at its best, it’s brilliant, not so much about the destructiveness of alcoholism as (in a late film twist) about toxic masculinity.

18 Wo bu shi Pan Jinlian (I Am Not Madame Bovary, 2016)

Wo bu shi Pan Jinlian (I Am Not Madame Bovary, 2016)The title character is a well-known femme fatale figure of Chinese literature, and this film is about a woman shunned. It’s also, pretty easily, the most beautiful film of the year I’ve seen, and the distinctive cameo-like picture framing is used to great effect.

17 The Big Sick

Film Review The Big SickI think in many ways this romantic comedy is best viewed as a film about being an immigrant and fitting in (it somewhat sidelines its female lead for understandable based-on-real-life plot reasons), but it’s also about finding empathy and being a better person, so I rate it highly for that.

16 London Symphony

London Symphony (2017)I live in London and I helped with the Kickstarter for this project years ago, so it’s great to finally see it. What could be an arch and rather affected conceit (hommaging the silent ‘city symphony’ films of the 1920s) is actually beautifully achieved, and makes London look a lot more beautiful than on my grumpier days I sometimes feel it deserves, but it makes me happy to live here.

15 Fences (2016)

Fences (2016)It came out in the UK this year hence its inclusion in my 2017 list (ditto the other 2016 films here), but Viola Davis is easily the MVP in this acting line-up, though Denzel is of course no slouch. Filmed theatre can be a tough ask and won’t work for everyone, but I thought this film was beautifully rendered, and it’s truly elevated by the acting above all.

14 Personal Shopper (2016)

Personal Shopper (2016)It wouldn’t be an end-of-year best-of list without a standout Kristen Stewart performance, and though I found this film somewhat more wayward than Olivier Assayas’ previous collab with Stewart (Clouds of Sils Maria), it’s still a wonderful piece channelling grief and longing via some peculiarly 21st century mediation.

13 You Were Never Really Here

You Were Never Really Here (2017)When I read the précis in the festival brochure, I expected to hate this (a sort of ripped-from-a-Daily-Mail-headline revenge type fantasy), but Lynne Ramsay manages to achieve something with her beautiful, elliptical editing: a profound sense of moral ambiguity. [festival screening]

12 Ava

Ava (2017)At times with a hint of the surreal, this coming-of-age is another fine film about people on the margins of society. [Festival screening; released direct to VoD in UK]

11 Ex Libris: The New York Public Library

Ex Libris: The New York Public Library (2017)Something I too often take for granted, but libraries are great. Frederick Wiseman returns with another of his sensitive, multi-layered films about a public institution, this one showing the huge range of important things a library does for its community. [Festival screening]

10 The Beguiled

The Beguiled (2017)It received some pretty mixed feedback when released, but I loved Sofia Coppola’s latest film. Sure it’s very white in many ways, but it’s a film that seems to capture something about the traumas of adolescence as refracted via the Civil War. Also, it looks great.

9 The Fits (2015)

The Fits (2015)A film that took its time getting a UK release, and another film about adolescence, but it has a wonderfully understated atmosphere, a slow, quiet build, that completely hooked me.

8 Grave (Raw, 2016)

Grave (Raw, 2016)A pretty intense film, and yet another coming-of-age (of sorts), but it does what the best horror films do, which is to make literal something very primal.

7 The Florida Project

The Florida Project (2017)This could easily be an exploitative film about poor white people living on the edges of the American Dream, abandoned (if not screwed over) by capitalism. I mean, it is a film about that, but it’s not an exploitative one: the love between mother and daughter seems profound, and it has real empathy for its characters.

6 Pop Aye

Pop Aye - Still 3Like Colossal above, this is an unusual film, but at its heart it’s a road trip movie about lives lost in the acquisitive forward thrust of modern city-bound society. Maybe it’s because it was one of the first films I saw at the London Film Festival and I just really wanted to love something, but I think this film is great. [Festival screening]

5 Estiu 1993 (Summer 1993)

Estiu 1993 (Summer 1993, 2017)Films about the experiences of childhood aren’t always great, but this Spanish one really takes an extra effort to centre its narrative (and its empathy) on the child at the film’s heart and that pays off. [Festival screening]

4 God’s Own Country

God's Own Country (2017)As a London-based city-dweller, I didn’t expect to like this film as much as I did (northern England, gay love story, set on a farm) but the interplay between the two lead characters is beautifully balanced by the cinematography and editing. It returns to the year’s favourite theme of being an immigrant, and it makes this outsider narrative compelling.

3 Wajib

Wajib (2017)The stand-out of this year’s film festival was this Palestinian film. It engages with the political situation there without being preachy, and in its story of a father and son hand delivering wedding invitations around their community, has something of the feel of an Abbas Kiarostami film. The best kind of humanist filmmaking in a conflicted world. [Festival screening]

2 Get Out

Get Out (2017)It’s fair to say this film has already been very widely discussed and lauded, but I just wanted to add my voice to that. The comic elements only underline the central — and very American — horror at its core.

1 Cameraperson (2016)

Cameraperson (2016)A film about the world we live in, and about the sometimes fractured and fractious ethics of documenting that world, it’s also a film about a person and a life and making a life within that world. It feels like a film about so many things, that could so easily fall apart, but instead it’s the strongest film I’ve seen this year.

New Year’s Resolution 2017

In 2015, I made a New Year’s resolution to watch all films directed by or written by women which were released in UK cinemas, which it turns out was just a little too much of a project to achieve (I came pretty close though!).

The following year, the American group Women In Film came up with a similar idea (I’m no kind of innovator; it’s hardly original) and got #52 Films By Women trending on various social media sites, and so I just sort of allowed 2015’s resolution to continue, albeit with a somewhat less strenuous target. That said, in the end I saw 189 feature films directed (or co-directed) by women in 2016, which ended up being 53 more films by women than I saw in 2015.

This year, I thought I’d be a little more targeted. I keep spreadsheets of my viewing (because of course I do), and I noted that 43% of my total feature films seen in 2016 were directed by women. At the same time, 26% of the total feature films I saw in 2016 were directed by people of colour (being the currently-accepted phrase in the US to designate non-white people), up by 10% on the previous year. For the first time, too, the total number of feature films I saw which were directed by white men dropped to under 50% of the total (45%) in 2016.

So my 2017 New Year’s Resolution is to focus on diversifying my film viewing — not just films made by marginalised communities within anglo-dominated countries, but films from parts of the world which aren’t Europe (I do love French films, it’s true). I want to try to up those percentages to 50% for films directed by women, and 50% for films directed by people of colour. Whether I’ll achieve this remains to be seen. It’ll probably be very difficult unless I watch a lot of films by women of colour, so of course the other side of my resolution is that I go to every film given a release in the UK which is directed by a non-white woman (though that’s admittedly not going to be a huge number).

I have also — and I more or less started doing this a few months ago — but, aside from Criterion Sunday, I’ve stopped posting reviews on this site of films directed by white men, because why should I bother? I still watch them, but they get plenty of awards and media coverage. #sorrynotsorry

My Favourite Films of 2016

I like to start these posts with statistics. Extending my 2015 New Year’s Resolution with the #52 Films By Women pledge that a number of people were doing online (here’s a link to my Letterboxd list of all the films I saw under that pledge, which amounted to far more than the required 52), I saw ever more films in 2016 than I did in 2015.

In total, I saw 436 medium- or full-length films (I consider a medium-length film one that’s between 30-60 minutes in length, though there’s no fixed standard for that), 183 of which were in the cinema — which means that, although I saw many more films, fewer of them were at the cinema than in 2015. I have an account on Letterboxd, where I’ve ranked all 2016’s films (this will continue to be updated as I see more of them into 2017) and another of my favourite films released in the UK in 2016 (which is slightly different as many of them were 2015 films). The list below is sort of a combination of these two.

While I’m on the stats, 43% of the films I saw were directed (or co-directed) by women, where I saw 37% in 2015 and 13% in 2014, which is a pretty clear result of my resolutions mentioned above. I also increased the number of films directed by people of colour (this seems to be the accepted online term at the moment). This year 26% of the films I saw were by POC, as opposed to 16% in 2015, and 13% in 2013. It also means the number of films I saw directed by white men finally dropped beneath 50% (from 53% last year to 45% this year). It’s likely that this will be more of a focus for my resolutions going forward.

In terms of quality, 2015 may not have been a brilliant year compared to 2014, but I thought there were plenty of fine films in 2016. It’s just that, as ever, many of my favourites haven’t actually been released in the UK and I even held off seeing some films at the London Film Festival because I was assured they’d be back, so I’ve yet to see many critical favourites (La La Land, Aquarius, Personal Shopper; there are plenty of others). I’m not going to do a least favourite films list, though, because as with last year any such list would be dominated by women filmmakers, which hardly seems fair to all the terrible dreck made by men, whose work I would have avoided.

I also caught up with one or two films which would assuredly have made my favourite 2015 films list last year, if I’d only seen them in time (but which I can’t in all good faith include below). I have another Letterboxd list here of my favourite new-to-me films I saw in 2016. Therefore honourable mentions go to Magic Mike XXL and Taxi, both definite top 10 contenders.

25 Lovesong

Lovesong (2016)
A tender love story between two women, which has a coyness to it, but also a lot of genuine feeling [festival screening].

24 Queen of Earth (2015)

Queen of Earth (2015)
Corruscating Bergmanesque drama which sort of does the opposite to the film above, as it’s about two friends tearing each other apart.

23 Speed Sisters (2015)

Speed Sisters (2015)
Enjoyable documentary about a Palestinian team of racing car drivers, with some socio-political context.

22 Hell or High Water

Hell or High Water (2016)
As good a modern western as any in recent years, it has a great sense of space and wistfulness.

21 The Childhood of a Leader (2015)

The Childhood of a Leader (2015)
Increasingly prophetic tale of a boy whose upbringing has gone awry, resulting in an origin story for a fascist dictator.

20 Réparer les vivants (Heal the Living)

Réparer les vivants (Heal the Living, 2016)
It never quite lives up to its brilliant pre-credits sequence, but it’s beautifully made and moving [festival screening].

19 Where You’re Meant to Be

Where You're Meant to Be (2016)
On the road with dour Scottish singer Aidan Moffat, but finds plenty of pathos in Scottish folk music.

18 Weiner

Weiner (2016)
Shouldn’t work, and subsequent revelations about its subject make sympathy ever more difficult, but this film attempts to do so; also very funny.

17 LoveTrue

LoveTrue (2016)
Tracking the lives of several people living in remote areas, finding and losing love, with a solid directorial style [festival screening].

16 La Permanence (On Call)

La Permanence (On Call, 2016)
A film about a hospital in Paris treating refugees, filled with empathy [festival screening].

15 American Honey

American Honey (2016)
Excessive in every sense, but somehow it all works.

14 The Edge of Seventeen

The Edge of Seventeen (2016)
Coming of age films can be bad, they can be very bad, but this one has genuine humour amongst a better-than-average engagement with teenage angst in a bourgie milieu.

13 Baden Baden

Baden Baden (2016)
A Belgian-French co-production which took me by surprise, for its deadpan humour and winning protagonist.

12 Umimachi Diary (Our Little Sister, 2015)

Umimachi Diary (Our Little Sister, 2015)
I underrated this a lot when I first saw it, being the director’s familiar blend of sweetness and low-key storytelling about family relationships, but it’s only grown in my estimation since.

11 Mustang (2015)

Mustang (2015)
Another coming-of-age story, which tries to get at something of what it means to be a teenager and find oneself, via the device of setting it within an orthodox, repressive family.

10 Nie yin niang (The Assassin, 2015)

Nie yin niang (The Assassin, 2015)
Glorious and beautiful and confusing, I know only that I need to see this again on the big screen.

9 Love & Friendship

Love & Friendship (2016)
One of the year’s funniest films, a comedy of etiquette and misbehaviour.

8 L’Avenir (Things to Come)

L'Avenir (Things to Come, 2016)
It’s very difficult to encapsulate what I love about this sensitive film, but Huppert helps.

7 Paterson

Paterson (2016)
The way that Jarmusch goes big is at a conceptual level — Adam Driver plays a bus driver called Paterson in a town called Paterson in a film called Paterson — but it’s consistently sweet and amusing.

6 Fuocoammare (Fire at Sea)

Fuocoammare (Fire at Sea, 2016)
Another documentary dealing with refugees, and again filled with empathy, always needed, especially now.

5 Creed (2015)

Creed (2015)
Critics in the US had this on their lists last year, but it only got a UK release earlier in 2016, and it is fantastic. I never expected to like a Rocky movie so much, or a boxing film, but there you go.

4 Moonlight

Moonlight (2016)
Not properly released here until 2017, but this is an exciting, beautiful, tonally-perfect story of black coming-of-age that subtly gets at a lot of the undertow of American society [one-off screening]

3 Hail, Caesar!

Hail, Caesar! (2016)
I know a lot of people that hated this film, but I did not; I laughed at it (never always out loud, but I was consistently amused), and I’d never have predicted five years ago I’d put the Coen Brothers so consistently in my top-10 lists.

2 Lemonade

Lemonade (2016)
Barely over an hour, and yes it’s not had any cinematic screenings (it deserves them), this is more than simply a collection of music videos (Beyoncé did that for her last few albums), but more of an avant-garde mood piece that examines American society, race relations, love in extremis, self-identity, and Black visual history [online release].

1 Certain Women

Certain Women (2016)
Easily tops this list. Loved it [festival screening].