Thursday, 7 January 2021

Contenders: Playing catch-up

As I do each year, I've been catching up with 2020 films I missed when they were originally released, to consider them during the awards voting season. London's latest/ongoing lockdown has definitely helped give me more time at home for filling in these gaps in my viewing this year. They're listed here in the order I watched them, and I suspect I'll have more of these in the coming weeks. My usual Critical Week note is at the bottom...

Saint Maud
dir-scr Rose Glass; with Morfydd Clark, Jennifer Ehle, Lily Knight, Lily Frazer 19/UK StudioCanal 1h24 ***
Filmmaker Rose Glass creates a harrowing atmosphere for this freaky British horror, which centres on a timid young woman whose confidence grows in seriously nasty directions. Morfydd Clark is terrific as Maud, a nurse hired to work for the imperious former dancer Amanda (Jennifer Ehle), who is wasting away with cancer. But Maud's newfound religious fervour means that she's more interested in saving Amanda's soul than helping her in her time of need. Clark plays Maud's dangerous piety with a staggering sense of focus, augmented by some surreal, unnervingly effective effects work. And Ehle is also fiercely committed to her intense role. The film is way over-the-top, as Glass cleverly mashes up references to The Exorcist with stories of fanatical terrorists. It ends up feeling like a lot of style with little substance. But what style!
4.Dec.20

The Life Ahead
dir Edoardo Ponti; scr Ugo Chiti, Edoardo Ponti; with Sophia Loren, Ibrahima Gueye, Abril Zamora, Renato Carpentieri, Iosif Diego Pirvu 20/It Netflix 1h34 ****
Sophia Loren returns to the screen with a terrific performance in this engaging drama about an odd-couple friendship between an Italian Auschwitz survivor in her 80s and a cheeky orphan from Senegal. It's a lively story with plenty of sharp edges to it as these two characters clash and bond in unusual ways. At the centre is the journey of the quick-thinking young Momo (Gueye), who makes cash dealing drugs while trying to be a good boy for Loren's watchful Madame Rosa. There are terrific relationships dotted throughout the film, including another orphan Rosa is caring for (the expressive Pirvu) and a trans hooker (Zamora), a single mum who's estranged from her family. Yes, it's lively and sentimental, but never gets too sweet. And there are some strong emotional kicks.
20.Dec.20

Welcome to Chechnya
dir David France; scr David France, Tyler H Walk; with David Isteev, Olga Baranova, Maxim Lapunov 20/UK BBC 1h47 ****
This acclaimed and often harrowing documentary explores reports of a violent gay purge underway in the autonomous nation within the Russian Federation, where police arrest and torture anyone rumoured to be homosexual, recommending that their families kill them. Across Russia at large, hateful homophobic violence isn't prosecuted, so people live in terror. The film centres on two aide workers (Isteev and Baranova) who bravely rescue young people from certain death, then seek sponsorship abroad to spirit them out of the country. We watch several of these cases unfold like heart-pounding thrillers. And the central story features superhero Lapunov, the first person to officially report his assault by officials. He's supported by his boyfriend and family, all of whom also need to get out as soon as they can. All while Russia denies the problem and promotes the violence. 
20.Dec.20

Dick Johnson Is Dead
dir Kirsten Johnson; scr Nels Bangerter, Kirsten Johnson; with Dick Johnson, Kirsten Johnson 20/US Netflix 1h29 ****
After her mother's death from Alzheimer's, documentarian Kirsten Johnson decides to make a film about her father, focussing on the idea that one day he too will die. Much of this doc is blackly hilarious, as Dick goes along with her nutty ideas, acting out being bumped off in a variety of ways (cleverly deploying actors and stuntmen) and even attending a funeral staged as his send-off (he thinks the coffin is comfy). But along the way, the film also outlines Dick's interesting life and the warmly humorous relationship he has with Kirsten. This makes it hugely entertaining and engaging, even while dealing with issues most of us never talk about. It's a rather low-key, home-made kind of movie, but there are some genuinely big moments, and it's assembled expertly to hold our attention, gently coaxing us into exploring our own mortality too.
1.Jan.21

Crip Camp
dir-scr Nicole Newnham, James Lebrecht; with Judith Heumann, James Lebrecht, Denise Sherer Jacobson, Neil Jacobson 20/US Netflix 1h46 ****
This important doc traces the origins of the accessibility rights movement back to a summer camp in 1971, where teens with disabilities were able to experience a normal youthful getaway, far from their over-protective parents and segregated schools. No one was "ill" here: each person's distinct physicality was embraced. And as they grew up, many of them began to take a stand for America's marginalised population of people who were unable to access transport, schools and services. Through articulate speeches, protests and sit-ins, they changed the law in America, something that has spread throughout the developed world to allow all people to participate in public life. It's a hugely empowering story, and the filmmakers wonderfully keep reminding us that these are intelligent, valuable members of society, with the same needs and desires as everyone else.
3.Jan.21

Bloody Nose Empty Pockets
dir Bill Ross IV, Turner Ross; with Shay Walker, Peter Elwell, Michael Martin 20/US Netflix 1h38 ****
A fly-on-the-wall documentary filmed over the course of one night, this traces the closing down of The Roaring 20's, a dive bar off the Vegas Strip. The colourful regulars trickle in expressing their sadness about losing their home away from home, then as they chat and become increasingly inebriated, the crowd gets much more interesting in just about every way possible. There are some mild antics, the threat of a brawl and a lot of bromance going on here. It's freeform and very loose, but is shot gorgeously by the directors to look like a carefully staged narrative feature. So the people really spring to life as vivid movie characters with fascinating back-stories and nuanced interaction. And along the way, there are gentle observations on the nature of dreams, the way we don't always do what we know is right, and the deep need to have a safe bolt-hole.
4.Jan.21

The Kid Detective
dir-scr Evan Morgan; with Adam Brody, Sophie Nelisse, Tzi Ma, Sarah Sutherland, Wendy Crewson, Peter MacNeill 20/Can Sony 1h40 ***.
This comical mystery centres on a 32-year-old whose glory days as a brilliant teen private eye are long behind him, but he's not willing to give up on his career. Writer-director Evan Morgan packs the film with witty Hardy Boys-style references, while deepening the story significantly. Adam Brody is wonderful in the lead role, a guy who never quite grew up and now takes his first properly adult case involving a brutal murder. The tone is a bit goofy, and the pacing rather meandering, so the details of the case never quite grab hold. But Brody holds the interest, providing an engaging character study that feels strikingly relevant without being pushy about the bigger themes. The film has an askance tone that makes it unpredictable and offbeat enough to be memorable.
6.Jan.21

His House
dir-scr Remi Weekes; with Sope Dirisu, Wunmi Mosaku, Matt Smith, Malaika Wakoli-Abigaba, Javier Botet 20/UK Netflix 1h33 ***.
There's a fierce topicality to this unnerving British horror movie, which centres on a couple (Dirisu and Mosaku) who arrive as refugees following a harrowing escape from their brutally wartorn African homeland. But as they settle into their grubby government-provided home, they realise that it's also occupied by a vicious witch (Botet) and the daughter (Wakoli-Abigaba) they lost en route. Dirisu and Mosaku are outstanding in complex roles that explode with emotionality, and writer-director Weekes evokes thoughts, ideas, trauma and terror using fiendishly clever filmmaking. Yes, most of the scary bits are rather obvious movie tricks, but because its so underpinned by current events and raw emotions, it gets deep under the skin.
6.Jan.21

~~~~~~~ ~~ ~~~ ~~~~
C R I T I C A L   W E E K

The only regular releases I watched this past week were I Care a Lot, J Blakeson's seriously unnerving comical thriller with Rosamund Pike and Peter Dinklage, and A Stone in the Water, a somewhat clumsy low-budget Misery-style horror film with Bonnie Bedelia. Everything else is listed above. Meanwhile, with nominations ballots due this weekend in two awards, I still have qualifying films to watch over the next week, including Denzel Washington in The Little Things, Daniel Kaluuya in Judas and the Black Messiah and Shahab Hosseini in The Night.

Saturday, 2 January 2021

Critical Week: Is it raining?

Happy New Year from now-outside-the-EU London! Days have been blurring together over as I watch movies, go for walks and eat, and not a lot else. I'm still catching up on awards-season titles as voting deadlines approach. It's a tricky business, deciding which ones are worth the time and which can perhaps be skipped. As a critic, I hate not to give everyone a fair shake, but I do have to set priorities. Among the ones I watched were the quirky Irish romantic-comedy Wild Mountain Thyme, with Emily Blunt, Jamie Dornan and Christopher Walken. Odd casting aside, it's warm and funny. Anthony Hopkins and Olivia Colman are on top form in the sharply well-made drama The Father, based on a stage play. 

BEST OUT THIS WEEK:
We Can Be Heroes • DNA
Pieces of a Woman
 
PERHAPS AVOID:
The Blackout
 
ALL REVIEWS >
There was also Michelle Pfeiffer, terrific alongside the always-watchable Lucas Hedges in the black comedy French Exit. An all-star cast including Dan Stevens, Leslie Mann, Isla Fisher and Judi Dench star in an entertaining if not particularly needed remake of Noel Coward's nutty comedy Blythe Spirit. Jack O'Connell and Olivia Cooke star in the swirling, sensual, sad romance Little Fish. And Kelly Reichardt's First Cow is one of the best bromances in recent memory, following two men in 19th century Oregon.

Much less demanding, Robert Rodriguez's colourful kids' superhero movie We Can Be Heroes is an energetic guilty pleasure. And then there was this eclectic trio: Savage is a gritty, violent story of gang life in New Zealand; DNA is a heartfelt French film looking into a woman's Algerian roots; and from Russia, The Blackout: Invasion Earth is an ambitious alien-attack epic that's messy but still spectacular. Finally, I caught up with two awards-worthy docs: an inventive exploration of grief and mortality in Dick Johnson Is Dead and a powerful look at disability rights history in Crip Camp.

I'm still catching up on contenders over the next week, as both the London and Online critics groups are casting nominations ballots next week. And I also need to watch a few films that are coming out over the next few weeks. It's a mixed bag that I haven't quite defined yet. 

Thursday, 31 December 2020

A Year in Shadows: 2020

52 films, in order of appearance: The Gentlemen, 1917, Waves, The Personal History of David Copperfield, Queen & Slim, Parasite, Emma, Greed, True History of the Kelly Gang, Onward, The Wolf Hour, Uncorked, Trolls World Tour, Love Wedding Repeat, Extraction, Bad Education, The Half of It, Capone, Scoob, Snowpiercer, A Rainy Day in New York, Days of the Bagnold Summer, Da 5 Bloods, Fanny Lye Deliver'd, Eurovision Song Contest, The Old Guard, Palm Springs, Stage Mother, Summerland, An American Pickle, Waiting for the Barbarians, Tesla, Tenet, Mulan, The Roads Not Taken, The Devil All the Time, Monsoon, The Glorias, Mangrove, Supernova, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, WolfWalkers, The Human Voice, Ammonite, Small Axe, Happiest Season, Nomadland, The Prom, WW84, Soul.

TRIVIA ALERT!
  • Two solo covers: George MacKay and Tilda Swinton.
  • Twice on one cover: John David Washington.
  • One solo and one shared cover: Henry Golding, Letitia Wright, Robert Pattinson and the film Mangrove.
  • Two shared covers: Elle Fanning.
  • Two shared covers, one as himself and one as an animated character: James Corden.
  • Most crowded: Trolls World Tour (11), The Gentlemen (7).
  • Most films on one cover: Small Axe (5).
Solo on one cover: Bong Joon Ho, Chris Hemsworth, Dev Patel, Frances McDormand, Gal Gadot, Mamoudou Athie, Maxine Peake, Naomi Watts, Rosamund Pike, Sacha Baron Cohen, Seth Rogen, Steve Coogan, Tom Hardy, Yifei Liu.

Sharing one cover: Alexa Demie, Alicia Vikander, Allison Janney, Amarah-Jae St Aubyn, Andy Samberg, Anya Taylor-Joy, Charlie Hunnam, Charlize Theron, Clarke Peters, Colin Farrell, Colin Firth, Cristin Milioti, Dan Levy, Daniel Diemer, Daniel Kaluuya, Delroy Lindo, Earl Cave, Ethan Hawke, Eve Hewson, Gemma Arterton, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Hugh Grant, Hugh Jackman, Isiah Whitlock Jr, Jacki Weaver, Jeremy Strong, Janelle Monae, Javier Bardem, Jessie Buckley, John Boyega, Johnny Depp, Johnny Flynn, Jodie Turner-Smith, Julianne Moore, Kate Winslet, Keira Knightley, Kelvin Harrison Jr, Kenyah Sandy, Khali Best, Kristen Stewart, Leah Lewis, Luca Marinelli, Mark Rylance, Matthew McConaughey, Matthias Schoenaerts, Meryl Streep, Micheal Ward, Michelle Dockery, Monica Dolan, Norm Lewis, Olivia Munn, Oscar Moreno, Rachel McAdams, Sam Claflin, Saoirse Ronan, Stanley Tucci, Timothee Chalamet, Will Ferrell.

As the voice of an animated character: Amanda Seyfried, Anna Kendrick, Anthony Ramos, Chris Pratt, Eva Whittaker, Frank Welker, Gina Rodriguez, Gustavo Dudamel, Honor Kneafsey, Jamie Dornan, Jamie Foxx, Justin Timberlake, Kelly Clarkson, Kenan Thompson, Kunal Nayyar, Rachel Bloom, Ron Funches, Tina Fey, Tom Holland, Will Forte, Zac Efron ... as elfs, trolls, souls, wolf-girls, a cat and a dog.

And for the first time, here are the covers that were drafted but never used, mainly due to shuffling pandemic release schedules: Just Mercy, Oscar/Parasite, A Quiet Place Part II, All Day and a Night, Can You Keep a Secret, Arkansas, The Wrong Missy, Da 5 Bloods (alternate version), Greyhound, Animal Crackers, The Boys in the Band, The War With Grandpa, Black Box, County Lines. (Note that Mulan was originally designed for 27th March, then revised for 4th September.)



The Best of 2020: 40th Shadows Awards

To put it mildly, this has been an unusual year. So there has been a wider range of films eligible, as I've included titles released direct to streaming services. I saw all of these in the calendar year 2020, regardless of release dates. My top film of the year is a true original, a blur of drama and documentary that has a lot to stay about the state of the world at the moment. The performances, improvised dialog, camerawork and editing are simply gorgeous. Some of these categories were very difficult to whittle down to 10 - it was often painful cutting the list off there, especially for lead performances.

There is rather a lot more posted on the website, including longer lists and a dazzling array of additional categories and trivia to wrap up the year: 40th SHADOWS AWARDS. Here are the top 10s...

BEST FILM:
  1. Nomadland
     (Chloe Zhao)
  2. Mangrove (Steve McQueen)
  3. The Mauritanian (Kevin Macdonald)
  4. System Crasher (Nora Fingscheidt)
  5. Notturno (Gianfranco Rosi)
  6. The Half of It (Alice Wu)
  7. Da 5 Bloods (Spike Lee)
  8. Soul (Pete Docter)
  9. The Perfect Candidate (Haifaa Al Mansour)
  10. On the Rocks (Sofia Coppola)

DIRECTOR:
  1. Steve McQueen
     - Small Axe
  2. Kevin Macdonald - The Mauritanian
  3. Chloe Zhao - Nomadland
  4. Spike Lee - Da 5 Bloods, David Byrne's American Utopia
  5. Nora Fingscheidt - System Crasher
  6. Florian Zeller - The Father
  7. Christopher Nolan - Tenet
  8. Haifaa Al Mansour - The Perfect Candidate
  9. Sally Potter - The Roads Not Taken
  10. Melina Leon - Song Without a Name

SCREENWRITER:
  1. MB Traven, Rory Haines, Sohrab Noshirvani
     - The Mauritanian
  2. Pete Docter, Mike Jones, Kemp Powers - Soul
  3. Christopher Hampton, Florian Zeller - The Father
  4. Alice Wu - The Half of It
  5. Haifaa Al-Mansour, Brad Niemann - The Perfect Candidate
  6. Chloe Zhao - Nomadland
  7. Alastair Siddons, Steve McQueen - Mangrove
  8. Jayro Bustamante, Lisandro Sanchez - La Llorona
  9. Eliza Hittman - Never Rarely Sometimes Always
  10. James Montague, Craig W Sanger - The Vast of Night

ACTRESS:
  1. Julia Garner
     - The Assistant
  2. Helena Zengel - System Crasher, News of the World
  3. Jodie Foster - The Mauritanian
  4. Elisabeth Moss - The Invisible Man, Shirley
  5. Letitia Wright - Mangrove
  6. Frances McDormand - Nomadland
  7. Joanna Scanlan - After Love
  8. Jessie Buckley - Misbehaviour, I'm Thinking of Ending Things
  9. Carey Mulligan - Promising Young Woman, The Dig
  10. Aubrey Plaza - Black Bear, Happiest Season

ACTOR:
  1. Tahar Rahim
     - The Mauritanian
  2. John Boyega - Red, White and Blue
  3. Cosmo Jarvis - Calm With Horses
  4. Anthony Hopkins - The Father
  5. Chadwick Boseman - Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, Da 5 Bloods
  6. Riz Ahmed - Mogul Mowgli, Sound of Metal
  7. Lee Byung-hun - The Man Standing Next
  8. Sacha Baron Cohen - The Trial of the Chicago 7, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
  9. Christopher Abbott - Possessor, Black Bear, The World to Come
  10. Robert Pattinson - Tenet, The Devil All the Time, Waiting for the Barbarians

SUPPORTING ACTRESS:
  1. Maria Bakalova
     - Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
  2. Olivia Colman - The Father
  3. Amanda Seyfried - Mank
  4. Cherry Jones - A Rainy Day in New York
  5. Dhay - The Perfect Candidate
  6. Lesley Manville - Misbehaviour, Let Him Go
  7. Talia Ryder - Never Rarely Sometimes Always
  8. Orla Brady - Rose Plays Julie
  9. Shailene Woodley - The Mauritanian, Endings Beginnings
  10. Laura Linney - The Roads Not Taken, Falling

SUPPORTING ACTOR:
  1. Barry Keoghan
     - Calm With Horses
  2. Lance Henriksen - Falling
  3. Leslie Odom Jr - Hamilton, One Night in Miami
  4. Jonathan Majors - Da 5 Bloods, Jungleland
  5. Benedict Cumberbatch - The Mauritanian
  6. Nicholas Hoult - True History of the Kelly Gang, Rebel in the Rye
  7. Steve Toussaint - Red, White and Blue
  8. Sverrir Gudnason - Falling
  9. Harris Dickinson - County Lines
  10. Alfredo Castro - The Prince

WORST FILM:
  1. Fantasy Island
     (Jeff Wadlow)
  2. Jexi (Jon Lucas, Scott Moore)
  3. Hillbilly Elegy (Ron Howard)
  4. Buddy Games (Josh Duhamel)
  5. Love, Weddings & Other Disasters (Dennis Dugan)
  6. Fatal Affair (Peter Sullivan)
  7. The Last Days of American Crime (Olivier Megaton)
  8. Come Away (Brenda Chapman)
  9. The Ringmaster (Soren Juul Petersen)
  10. Ava (Tate Taylor)

N O N - F I L M   D I V I S I O N

TV SERIES:
  1. Schitt's Creek
     (CBC)
  2. The Good Place (Netflix)
  3. Ted Lasso (Apple)
  4. The Mandalorian (Disney)
  5. We Are Who We Are (HBO)
  6. Dave (FX)
  7. Staged (BBC)
  8. Normal People (BBC)
  9. I May Destroy You (BBC)
  10. Shameless (Showtime)

SINGLES:
  1. No Time to Die
     - Billie Eilish
  2. Hurt - Arlo Parks
  3. Head & Heart - Joel Corry & MNEK
  4. Coffee for Your Head - Powfu & Beabadoobee
  5. Cuz I Love You - Lizzo
  6. Watch Your Step - Disclosure & Kelis
  7. Diamonds - Sam Smith
  8. This Is the Place - Tom Grennan
  9. Far Away - Jessie Reyez
  10. Rainfall - Stormzy & Tiana Major9

Thursday, 24 December 2020

Critical Week: Joy to the world

Happy Christmas from locked-down London!
 
I had a barrage of timed awards-consideration screening links this week that changed what I was planning to watch. This meant that I saw quite a few contenders, and the common adjective to describe highbrow movies this year seems to be: "dour". Thankfully, each has something to recommend in it, usually strong performances that lift the tone. And some of these films have been wonderfully upbeat too.

BEST OUT THIS WEEK: 
One Night in Miami • Soul 
Promising Young Woman 
News of the World • AK vs AK 
The Dissident • Luz 
Hugh Bonneville stars in the Roald Dahl biopic To Olivia (above), a downbeat film that's beautifully played by its cast, including Keeley Hawes as Dahl's wife, the actress Patricia Neal. Tom Hanks gives yet another wonderful performance in Paul Greengrass' earthy Western News of the World, matched by a fierce turn from the wondrous Helena Zengel. Vanessa Kirby and Katherine Waterston yearn for each other in the aching period drama The World to Come. Jude Law and Carrie Coon find cracks in their high-flying life in the insidious 1980s drama The Nest. Sophia Loren shines brightly in the terrific Italian comedy-drama The Life Ahead. Diane Lane and Kevin Costner have a happy life in Let Him Go, until they really, really don't.

There were also a few guilty pleasures this week. Gerard Butler stars in the catastrophic comet strike thriller Greenland, which is far more entertaining than expected. Hilary Swank is downright nasty in Fatale, a dopey noir-style semi-erotic thriller. And Bollywood superstar Anil Kapoor takes on director Anurag Kashyap in the clever pastiche action comedy AK vs AK.

Indie movies included Steven Yeun leading a terrific ensemble in the acclaimed drama Minari, about a Korean family in Arkansas; Boaz Yakin's swirling gender-bending dance-infused drama Aviva; the naturalistic, finely observed immigrant drama Farewell Amor; and the fiercely artful surreal thriller The One You Feed. From Colombia, Luz: The Flower of Evil is a wonderfully stylised horror packed with bonkers touches. And there were two seriously intense documentaries: The Dissident traces the horrific assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudis in Turkey, while the thriller-style Welcome to Chechnya following activists trying to rescue young gay people hunted down in Russia.

I'm taking a few days off from movies around Christmas. Then I'll dive in and watch Judi Dench in a new all-star version of Blythe Spirit, Michelle Pfeiffer in French Exit, the comedy Freshman Year, the Greek drama Apples and the Italian documentary The Truffle Hunters. Others are bound to pop up before voting deadlines close in soon.

Wednesday, 16 December 2020

Critical Week: Ask tough questions

London has been shifted back into severe third-tier restrictions. But cinemas are closed again, as are theatres and restaurants (all places where it's easy to remain distant), but inexplicably not shops, schools, gyms (where it isn't). Thankfully, I had a few actual cinema screenings in between lockdowns, including Kevin Macdonald's superb The Mauritanian, starring Jodie Foster (above) along with Tahar Rahim, Shailene Woodley and Benedict Cumberbatch. It's the powerful true story of a Guantanamo detainee. An even bigger screening was WW84 (that's the film's only title on-screen), the Wonder Woman sequel, which was screened to us on the huge BFI Imax screen. It's a lot of fun, if a bit messy in the final act. What a shame that it can't open in London cinemas as planned this week.
 
BEST OUT THIS WEEK:
Education • The Prince
American Utopia
PERHAPS AVOID:
Come Away • Modern Persuasion
ALL REVIEWS >
Steven Soderbergh's all-star comedy Let Them All Talk is also good fun, with a lively ensemble led by Meryl Streep improvising dialog while sailing from New York to London. And George Clooney dons a Santa beard to save the world in The Midnight Sky, which isn't a Christmas movie: it's a smart sci-fi adventure that's intriguing and moving.

Alicia Silverstone is terrific in Sister of the Groom, a likeably odd concoction that feels like it should be a romcom but is actually a serious family drama. Alicia Witt leads a nutty ensemble in Modern Persuasion, a present-day take on Jane Austen that's actually another rather corny romcom. From Argentina, The Weasels' Tail is a madcap play on old-world cinema glamour defending itself from corporate sharks. From Mexico, I Carry You With Me is a beautiful drama about connections between people and cultures. And The Boy Is Mine is a collection of five well-made shorts from five countries, each tackling an aspect of youthful masculinity.

This coming week I have another eclectic bunch of films to watch, including the Roald Dahl biopic To Olivia, Celia Imrie in Love Sarah, Rupert Everett in The Warrior Queen of Jhansi, the Kiwi drama Savage, the Swedish drama Are We Lost Forever, the Mexican drama Identifying Features and probably a few more awards season contenders, as they're coming in by the minute.

Thursday, 10 December 2020

Critical Week: Learn that dance

It's awards season, so I had two more virtual screenings this week accompanied by cast and crew zoom-style Q&As. Ma Rainey's Black Bottom is a faithful adaptation of the acclaimed August Wilson play, and it's somewhat overplayed and stagebound. But the actors are superb, including the late Chadwick Boseman (all other actors should abandon Oscar hopes this year) and Viola Davis. And Carey Mulligan and Ralph Fiennes star in The Dig, an unusually earthy period film about a history-changing archaeological discovery. Without the accompanying Q&As, I also caught up with Soul, in which Pixar outdoes even themselves with flat-out awesome animation and a staggeringly deep story, and Steven Soderbergh's Let Them All Talk, in which a starry cast (Streep! Bergen! Wiest!) explores deep themes in an offhanded shipboard comedy.

BEST OUT THIS WEEK:
The Stand In • Alex Wheatle
Funny Boy • The Prom
Song Without a Name
ALL REVIEWS >
The final two episodes of Steve McQueen's unmissable Small Axe series screened: Alex Wheatle is a superb biopic about the awakening of an acclaimed novelist, while Education is an exhilarating drama that takes on racism in Britain's school system. Riz Ahmed is simply stunning as a drummer dealing with deafness in Sound of Metal. Tessa Thompson transcends the muted period vibe in the romance Sylvie's Love. And Sienna Miller shines in the moody odyssey Wander Darkly

I also caught up with two excellent foreign films: Funny Boy is a moving, gorgeously made drama from Sri Lanka by ace filmmaker Deepa Mehta, while Cocoon is a German coming-of-age drama that catches an intimate perspective. And there was also one film screened in a cinema, and the freaky British horror Saint Maud is definitely worth seeing on a huge screen with a rumbling sound system.

This coming week, I have two more screenings in actual cinemas: delayed blockbuster Wonder Woman 1984 and the true conspiracy drama The Mauritanian starring Tahar Rahim, Jodie Foster and Benedict Cumberbatch. There's also Diane Lane in Let Him Go, Alicia Silverstone in Sister of the Groom, Alicia Witt in Modern Persuasion, the dance-based romance Aviva and the shorts collection The Boy Is Mine.