Monday, 14 March 2022

In Memory of William Hurt

There was something about William Hurt that made me want to watch every film in which he had a role, however small. I particularly admired his laid-back style and his voice. Even Hurt’s smaller roles helped lift films like Dark City and A.I. into my list of all-time favourite films.


Of the films in which Hurt had a major role, my favourites were (in chronological order): Body Heat, The Big Chill, Gorky Park, The Accidental Tourist and Until the End of the World, though I recognize that his performances in Kiss of the Spider Woman and Broadcast News were probably his best work.


I will miss him.

Thursday, 10 March 2022

The Mauritanian and The Report – 2 Reviews and a Mystery

When I recently prioritized watching the films that could make it onto my top ten list for 2021, I did not include The Mauritanian. The critics did not seem to be impressed, and I’d heard little buzz. So, even though I’d had it earmarked for some time, I decided to wait until my top ten were done. Mistake.

I believe The Mauritanian to be impressively made while telling a very important story, and it would easily have made my top ten list for 2021. The story is that of Mohamedou Slahi, imprisoned without charge at Guantanamo Bay following 9/11 and represented in court by pro bono crusader, Nancy Hollander. The acting is excellent, especially performances by Jodie Foster, Tahar Rahim and Benedict Cumberbatch. I thought the style of storytelling was artistically shaped and made the right impact (and this is not an easy impact). And I thought it was fair storytelling; this should be a film for everyone, whatever one’s politics.

I followed up my viewing by watching The Report, which deals with a similar theme – the torture that was government sanctioned at Guantanamo. It’s an excellent complement to The Mauritanian, filling in many details from a different point of view – in this case, it’s the story of Daniel Jones as he persevered in investigating, writing and insisting on the public communication of the Senate investigation into CIA torture.

Before I compare them (to make a point), I want to be quite clear that I recommend both films. These are important films; watching them should be somewhat parallel to Germans being made to see images of the concentration camps. This is history that we must know and feel or we will make the same mistakes again. And the films are not just stories of moral outrage, but they clearly demonstrate why Guantanamo should be seen as a huge mistake from all sides.

But here’s the mystery: The Mauritanian was relatively panned by critics (53 on Metacritic) and completely snubbed by the Oscars (though not by BAFTA). The Report was, appropriately, not a huge critical favourite, but it did score a significantly higher 66 on Metacritic. And yet, I can’t help but believe that The Mauritanian was a far better film than The Report. What’s going on here?

Both films are quite “earnest” in approach; these are serious dramas based on true stories. But The Mauritanian feels human and framed in a powerful and effective way; whereas The Report feels nearly like a documentary that is heavy-handed and dry. One frustrates you in way that you feel deep in your gut and the other in a way that is more intellectual. The acting is probably ok in The Report, but it’s hampered by mediocre writing that gets downright caricatured and cliched when it’s the dialogue of the film’s villains (especially the psychologists, Mitchell and Jessen, who are like evil clowns).

But my point is this: The Mauritanian seems like a better quality film on all counts and yet the critics overlooked it and evaluate it notably lower than a comparable, but inferior, film. Why could this be?

Of course, I speculate. But it seems to me that the key difference is that The Mauritanian humanizes a devoted Muslim associated with Al Qaeda. This is its strength, but I’m not sure the critics could handle it. I’m not sure they could handle a Muslim Guantanamo detainee talking about his God’s invitation to forgive his American torturers. Maybe there are other reasons, but this is all that I can see.

If you can stomach some scenes of torture (or work your fast forward button), I’d urge you to check out The Mauritanian; then if you want to understand more, follow it up with The Report.

Tuesday, 8 March 2022

International Women's Day


 Would you believe I enjoy reading fiction even more than watching films? In honour of International Women’s Day, I thought I would highlight the fact that 80% of the ‘four-star’ novels I read during the past few years were written by women. 

Most surprising is that this number also applies to my favourite genre, science fiction, which until recently has been overwhelmingly dominated by men (though one of my all-time favourite novels, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein - 1818 - may be the first true sci-fi novel ever written, and in 2020 I read Shelley’s lesser-known, but also excellent, The Last Man - 1826, a post-apocalyptic novel about a global pandemic - as if). 


Other favourite sci-fi novels I read in the past few years include:


Ada Palmer’s magnificent Terra Ignota series:

Too Like the Lightning

Seven Surrenders

The Will to Battle

Perhaps the Stars


N.K. Jemisin’s marvellous Broken Earth trilogy (note that Jemisin’s Emergency Skin is the best short story I read in the last ten years):

The Fifth Season

The Obelisk Gate

The Stone Sky


Octavia E. Butler’s Xenogenesis series:

Dawn

Adulthood Rites

Imago


Ann Leckie’s Ancillary trilogy:

Ancillary Justice

Ancillary Sword

Ancillary Mercy


Becky ChambersWayfarers series:

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet

A Closed and Common Orbit

Record of a Spaceborn Few

The Galaxy, and the Ground Within


Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga books

The entire series (16 books) is must reading for sci-fi fans (I read five in the past three years)


The Testaments by Margaret Atwood, sequel to her classic The Handmaid’s Tale


The City in the Middle of the Night by Charlie Jane Anders


Binti and Noor by Nnedi Okorafor


The Space Between Worlds by Micaiah Johnson


The Book of the Unnamed Midwife by Meg Elison


China Mountain Zhang by Maureen F. McHugh


This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone


The Found and the Lost (collection of novellas) by Ursula K. Le Guin (also reread one of my all-time favourite novels, written by Le Guin: The Dispossessed).


Turning away from sci-fi, my favourite fiction novel of the past few years was The Weight of Ink by Rachel Kadish (my favourite fiction novel of the past decade was also written by a woman: Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch). 


Other favourite fiction read during this period includes:


Shadow Tag, The Round House and The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich


Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens


Milkman by Anna Burns


All My Puny Sorrows and Women Talking by Miriam Toews



Since this is a film blog, I will end with a nod to a largely unknown and under-appreciated  French-Canadian filmmaker who made my favourite film of 2019 (And the Birds Rained Down) and has made three other films (Familia, Gabrielle, Merci Pour Tout), all of which are very well-made and deserve a viewing, though few readers will have heard of them. In my opinion, Louise Archambault is one of the very best film directors in Canada.

Friday, 4 March 2022

The Batman


I can’t remember the last time I saw the opening screening of a film, but I did so yesterday (Thursday) to see The Batman. My expectations weren’t high, as I had heard it was very violent and featured a serial killer at the centre of its plot, neither of which I appreciate. But Batman has always (since I was a boy) been by far my favourite superhero and critics were generally positive, so I thought I had better watch it.

Wow!


I liked Tim Burton’s Batman films and I liked Michael Keaton as Batman. Same with the Christopher Nolan trilogy and Christian Bale as Batman. Batman Begins (2005) was, until now, my favourite superhero film. But …


Wow!


The Batman. Literally and figuratively one of the darkest films ever made. The use of music to help create that darkness is masterful - the pounding soundtrack is a highlight for me. The Batman/Bruce Wayne himself is dark in every way, his face and dour expression as dark as his clothes and his gothic-style mansion. I won’t say his performance was extraordinary (it was very good), but Robert Pattinson was certainly the right choice for this dark Batman.


Or is he Batman? He is referred to as ‘the’ Batman, not Batman, and when, early in the film, one of Gotham City’s seedier characters asks him who he is, the reply is not “I am Batman” or even “I am The Batman”, but “I am vengeance.”


Vengeance. This is also what Catwoman Selina Kyle (a terrific Zoë Kravitz) might call herself if asked, as vengeance lies at the heart of her motives. But more interestingly, vengeance is also what the film’s villain would call himself. The Batman’s serial killer (the Riddler, played scarily well by Paul Dano) is all about exposing the corruption in the city’s governance and police force and exacting vengeance. So the three characters at the heart of The Batman: “I am vengeance.” And yet this film bears no resemblance to The Avengers.


Wow!


When Gotham’s mayor is brutally murdered, Lieutenant James Gordon (a wonderful understated performance by Jeffrey Wright) finds a card addressed to the Batman left behind by the killer. Gordon turns on the bat-signal, which looks as sinister as the rest of this dark (and darkly beautiful) city. The card provides clues to lead the Batman (with the help of Alfred, Wayne’s butler, played by Andy Serkis) to evidence of the mayor’s corruption. Cards are also left behind at the scenes of the subsequent brutal murders (of more corrupt leaders). Gordon and the Batman (and Alfred) must solve the riddles in a film that highlights the detective skills of our hero rather than his fighting skills. This fits in well with the film noir atmosphere of The Batman.


Following the clues, the Batman visits a nightclub where he meets the Penguin (an unrecognizable Colin Farrell), a mobster working for crime boss Carmine Falcone (John Turturro). Selina also works at the club. The Batman suspects she knows something and follows her home, discovering who she is and enlisting her help. There is a great chemistry between them throughout the film, though Selina’s character is not as well developed as it could be. 


To avoid spoilers, I won’t say any more about the plot (there’s a fair bit going on here, as this is a three-hour film). But I will say a little more about Pattinson’s Bruce Wayne. This is not the charming playboy of previous films. Wayne is a sad intense figure who exudes pain throughout (I particularly appreciated the way I could read Pattinson’s expression even behind the mask). Wayne’s troubled character lends weight to questions like: Is The Batman a hero or an antihero? If the hero and the villain are both after the same thing, how different are they? Is this really a superhero film at all, since there are no unusual powers on display and nothing formulaic about the film? 


The Batman was written and directed by Matt Reeves, whose previous films (War for the Planet of the Apes, Cloverfield, Let Me In) have impressed me, so it’s not a big surprise that he has created a thoughtful, if bleak, film featuring excellent acting, gorgeous cinematography and a haunting score. There were, however, a couple of things I didn’t like about The Batman: 1) The lengthy car chase scene; the critics loved it, but I found it an utterly pointless waste of time (I’ve always hated car chases); 2) I have nothing against long films, but there were a few unnecessary scenes in the middle that could have shaved off about fifteen minutes and helped with the pacing of the film. And of course I did not enjoy the violence or the serial killer elements.


Nevertheless, I must confess (as the wows have revealed) that The Batman blew me away. What can I say? I’ve always liked dark films (as long as there is a character at the centre I can engage with). In the case of The Batman, well, I’ve listed most of the things that I liked about the film, to which I will add my appreciation for the political commentary, but I can’t tell you the biggest reasons why I loved it without spoilers, so … 


The Batman is maybe just a little too violent for me to give it an easy four stars, so for now I’ll say ***+ - ****. My mug is up.


Saturday, 19 February 2022

Walter's Top Ten Films of 2021

 

Last year, I complained (honestly) that I’d barely even seen ten 2020 films, let alone felt able to choose a top ten list. This year, thanks to many movie night invitations from Vic, including some TIFF views, I saw enough 2021 films to choose a top ten (almost – 10th spot is actually shared between 2 honourable mentions). I still had to include a few that are reaching a bit back into 2020 – forgive me, film purists.

Increasingly, I have felt that my taste or my film-watching experience of movies has diverged from those of “the critics.” Obviously, this is a gross generalization as, thankfully, film critics do still have quite diverse views. But less than ever have I felt that high Metacritic averages have steered me to reliable choices (none of the top seven made my list). Is this because I am becoming an old curmudgeon (and I confess that at times this is an odd aspiration of mine) in a way that is also linked to my utter disbelief at the grotesque ugliness of NFL uniforms these days? Seriously? Do people actually think that those are pleasant colours to watch on a playing field!!

I digress. Let’s get to it. I’ll just add that since Vic and I wrote almost no reviews during the year, I have virtually no notes to look back on, and my memory fails me on those movies I saw many months ago. But I trust my ratings and my gut feelings as I recall them.

10. (Honourable Mention) – The Dig and Passing. I didn’t rate either of these high enough to warrant my top ten list, and so I place them here more as honourable mentions than fully in 10th place. They are both very well-made films, and I have no qualms about recommending either of them. They are also both “period films” that are done very effectively while something is slightly lacking that prevents me from being able to connect deeply with them – almost like the historical distance leaves them feeling a bit muted.

9. Don’t Look Up – Yes, this film had many problems. And it wasn’t made nearly as well as those that I’ve just barely placed in the 10th spot. But I really think it should be viewed and discussed and argued about. The low points for me are the jerky editing and strangely chosen relational twists (if it was for humour, they missed). But some of the satire was highly effective (and I have no idea why I liked the matter of snacks in the White House so much, but I did). And I loved the meal around the Mindy table a lot.


8. The Worst Person in the World – I believe this is the first time that I saw a Joachim Trier film, and I like the tone that he adds to this type of indie rom-com in comparison to the artsier edge of this genre. It’s like there is some attitudinal shift that made it more relatable, warm and human. There is something in the very brief ending scene that was quite disappointing to me, but by then I’d already committed to being a fan.

7. Percy - This is one of those that is probably a stretch to include in 2021, but I didn’t see it in time for last year and it was close. I am quite passionate about this issue. My emotional self sees Monsanto as one of the clearer examples of the kind of evil that is destroying the earth and humanity. (My rational self is a little less extreme, but not a lot.) I believe that the film does a good job of depicting the issue and Christopher Walken seemed a good choice to depict the titular character.  

6. One Night in Miami – The idea and structure of the film was novel (speculative fiction about an actual meeting) and worked well for me. By adding the element of relationships between these four fascinating historical characters and their different ways of interacting with the context of race in America in the 60s, they invite the viewer to watch and learn and re-think from a different point of view. Highly recommended.

5. The Matrix: Resurrections – I’m not naturally inclined toward sequels. I loved the first and enjoyed the 2nd and 3rd more than some, but I wasn’t optimistic for how I’d feel about this. But Wachowski really had me hooked fairly early in this “resurrection” with her meta-twists on the franchise, especially after what I’d heard (I presume accurate) about her own wrangles with Warner Bros. There were still far too many shoot-em-up scenes and other scenarios that make no great logical sense. It’s not a classic like the original, but it was funny, clever, thought-provoking and entertaining.

4. The Man in the Hat – I stumbled onto this one a few months after similarly stumbling on the old French classic, Mon Oncle (1958), by Jacques Tati. Not being particular fans of old films, let alone silent films (or nearly silent films in these cases), Carol and I watched Mon Oncle with few expectations. It was a surprising delight and a fascinating glimpse into perceptions of modernity in post-war Europe. The Man in the Hat felt like it reprised all that was delightful in the Tati film, with a bunch of new delights. One of those delights was Ciaran Hinds, who is just magnificent, and a few musical moments (as I said, not quite silent) add some of the other highlights. If you want something different, look this one up.

3. Judas and the Black Messiah – There was so much that was rich and rewarding about this. It’s an important complement to The Trial of the Chicago 7 that made my list last year and tells the story of Fred Hampton, whose death plays a key role in both films. It’s historically illuminating, and the “Judas” theme adds an important layer. I’ve been used to writing off the Black Panthers as the violent side of the coin (as opposed to MLK’s emphasis), and it felt important to appreciate many aspects of their experience.

family in 60s theatre

2. Belfast – This felt like the first time I’d loved a film in the theatre for a long time – so much so that I saw it twice. I literally can’t remember the last time I’ve done that. I think it had a special element for me in that the young boy at the centre of the story (largely a year in Kenneth Branagh’s Belfast childhood during the Troubles) was born only a year before me, making it easy to relate to his experience even though his life was so different from mine. I loved the play-like set of his closely relational neighbourhood, and the juxtaposition of its sense of safety that was thrown into turmoil and violence. It brings up questions about the loss of community and external forces that have destroyed the fabric of neighbourhoods like this.

1. The Father – This film both intrigues and takes you for a painful but worthwhile emotional ride. My mom is a couple of thousand km away in a long term care home that leaves her with almost no personal visits (because of vaccination issues). Phone calls are not an easy form of connection when dementia has entered the picture, and the pain and frustration of this were very present as I watched The Father. The film was hard but helped. It’s a brilliantly realised concept thanks to great acting and directing. Watch this film.

My annual “spilled coffee” award goes to Wonder Woman 1984. It wasn’t the worst movie that I wasted my time on, but it was the biggest disappointment.

And the best of the older films that I saw this year was Sorry We Missed You (no surprise as it was Vic’s #1 last year), and it helped choose alternatives to Amazon at least a few times. Still trying. I have high expectations that Mass and CODA (Carol and I loved the French original) would have made my list this year if I'd had a chance to see them.

Here's to hoping for more theatrical visits in the slightly less pandemicky year ahead. 

Monday, 14 February 2022

Vic's Top 20 Films of 2021



For reasons that many readers will know, the past year has been a difficult one for me. One consequence of this is that I haven’t posted on this blog for a very long time. But thanks to the Toronto International Film Festival allowing me to watch films online, I’ve actually seen more excellent films in the past year than in almost any previous year, though very few of them were seen at the cinema. So not only is it time to post my list of Top 15 Films of 2021, I decided I needed to expand my list to twenty films this year.

A number of the films on my list are either still playing in Canada or not yet released, but since they are considered 2021 films and I have watched them already, they are included here. Despite seeing many excellent films in the past year, I would not say that 2021 was an exceptional year for film (i.e. relatively few films from this list will make my list of top films of the decade), but it was better than 2020.


Here are a few observations about my list:

  1. My top three films, in order, were also (coincidentally) the top three films of my film-critic friend, Gareth Higgins (and five of his top ten and are in my top ten). We share very similar tastes in film, but no previous lists compare.
  2. Three of the films on my list were directed by women, six were written by women and five have a female protagonist.
  3. Five of the films on my list are foreign language films (up from one last year).
  4. The trend toward more Netflix films continues, with five Netflix originals on my list below (indicated by an (N)).
  5. Denis Villeneuve continues his incredible streak with four straight films on my top film lists.
  6. Willem Dafoe appears in four of the films mentioned below (two in my top 20). Oscar Isaac, Timothée Chalamet and Ralph Fiennes also appear twice. 

Before I start counting down, I have three honourable mentions: 1) I’ve always liked Spider-Man and I’m a big fan of the Tobey Maguire Spider-Man films. I have not, however, been impressed by the live-action Spider-Man films that followed, so to say I was pleasantly surprised by Spider-Man: No Way Home would be an understatement. I somehow avoided spoilers (and won’t supply any here), and I have missed a number of recent relevant Marvel films, so the film surprised me in many ways, all of them good. If I had found the ending a little less confusing, this film might even have made my list.


2) Then there’s The Matrix Resurrections. I’m also a big fan of the Matrix films and Lana Wachowski’s The Matrix Resurrections may be my favourite. It was brilliantly-written (Lana was joined by David Mitchell, with whom she had worked on Cloud Atlas, one of my all-time favourite films), beautifully filmed, well-acted, thought-provoking, clever and funny. The only thing that kept this film off my list was one unforgivable (for me) scene involving people jumping out of windows. Whatever the reasoning behind it, this scene sucked away my enjoyment of the film enough to keep it off my list.


3) Guillermo del Toro’s Nightmare Alley was the most beautiful film I watched this past year. If the characters had been more sympathetic, this dark and extraordinary film would have made it on my list.


And here’s my list, counting down from 20:


20. Judas and the Black Messiah - Shaka King’s film was one of the earliest to appear on my list. With its unique structure, well-written story and great acting (esp. Daniel Kaluuya and Lakeith Stanfield), I thought it was an extraordinary film. Unfortunately, the questionable methods of the Black Panthers kept me from being engaged enough to place it higher on my list.


19. The Card Counter - Paul Schrader’s previous film (First Reformed) was my favourite film of 2017. The Card Counter is not up to the same level, but it’s an intense, haunting, brilliantly-acted (Oscar Isaac, Tiffany Haddish, Tye Sheridan, Willem Dafoe) and well-directed film about the impact of torture on the soldiers responsible for carrying it out. The ending feels a little rushed and counter-intuitive, though it may be consistent with the film. 


18. West Side Story - I love musicals, so the presence of Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story on my list is not as surprising as the fact that it’s not in my top five. This is a gorgeous, beautifully-acted, thought-provoking and much more authentic remake of the 1961 classic. I liked it better than that classic, but the problem is I’ve never been a fan of the stage musical on which both films are based. What can I say? I like Romeo and Juliet, but this version of the story, together with its music, just doesn’t engage me as much as it should.


17. Dune: Part One - Unlike David Lynch, Denis Villeneuve has crafted an almost flawless version of one of my all-time favourite novels, with a gloriously dark, haunting and paranoid atmosphere (as it should be). Timothée Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson and Oscar Isaac are very good, the cinematography is astonishing and Hans Zimmer supplies an appropriate score. I suspect that once Part Two is released (and I treat the two parts as one film), Dune will be much higher on my list, as the first half of Dune is not my favourite part of the novel.


16. Seaspiracy (N) - The only documentary on my list this year (I’ve decided to leave the extraordinary Flee to next year, since it hasn’t been released here yet and I may have viewed it illegally), this Netflix original by Ali Tabrizi is a riveting and scathing exposé of the commercial fishing industry that needs to be watched regardless of the film’s flaws (e.g. the focus on Tabrizi, some unnecessary sensationalizing, a few inaccuracies). 


15. The Worst Person in the World - This highly original and entertaining rom-com from Norway is much higher on Walter’s list. Directed and co-written by Joachim Trier, whose film festival introduction revealed him to be a humble and very likeable director, this film is funny and sad and sometimes dark, featuring a terrific performance by Renate Reinsve as the protagonist struggling with her romantic relationships. Would have been higher on my list if it had connected with me a little more.


14. About Endlessness - Roy Andersson’s films are a never-ending delight to me, but the average viewer will find them odd and probably quite boring, as they have no plot and feature a static camera taking long shots of brief vignettes that tell us something about our lives. This film (work of art) is a brilliant reflection on the meaning/meaninglessness of life, full of scenes of despair and hope that ask us what we have done with our lives.


13. The Power of the Dog (N) - This critical favourite by Jane Campion is an unusual Western, focusing on what goes on in the minds of two ranch-owning brothers in 1925 Montana. Benedict Cumberbatch, Kirsten Dunst, Jess Plemons and Kodi Smit-McPhee are all terrific, as are the cinematography and music. But it was all just a little too cold and dark to get higher on my list. 


12. Passing (N) - Based on a famous 1929 novel by Nella Larsen, and written and directed by Rebecca Hall (her first film), Passing is a gorgeous black & white film about African Americans passing for white in 1920’s New York City. Outstanding performances by Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga provide the foundation for this quiet but tense and carefully nuanced film, with its multiple meanings of the title.


11. The Forgiven - John Michael McDonagh made my favourite film of the past decade (Calvary), so I think he may be one of those directors (like Tom Tykwer) whose thoughtful films always find a way to connect with me, even if most critics aren’t that impressed, as is the case with The Forgiven. Ralph Fiennes is wonderful as an arrogant man visiting Morocco whose life starts to unravel after a random accident. Jessica Chastain provides solid support as his wife, though the wife’s part of the story had nowhere near the power of her husband’s part.


10. The Dig (N) - Ralph Fiennes once again, this time paired with Carey Mulligan, who stars  as British landowner Edith Pretty, a woman who wants to know what’s under the mysterious burial mounds on her property. I believe it was Kathy’s favourite new film during the last year of her life, which may have impacted my own enjoyment of the film. Mulligan and Fiennes are terrific, the screenplay is intelligent and the cinematography is beautiful. The Dig was directed by Simon Stone and written by Moira Buffini.


9. The French Dispatch - Perhaps the most purely entertaining film of the year (I was riveted and smiling during every minute of it), Wes Anderson’s latest film tells three very different stories using his familiar eccentric style, and features a large number of great actors whom I won’t name here. If you liked The Grand Budapest Hotel and Moonrise Kingdom (as I did - both made my top ten lists), then you won’t want to miss this. 


8. A Hero - Asghar Farhadi does it again (most of his films have made my top film lists) with this beautifully nuanced film about moral dilemmas in present day Teheran. Amir Jadidi delivers a spot-on performance as a man caught out of his depth from the moment he tries to do the right thing. This intense suspenseful drama creates deep empathy for the protagonist, a man who has been imprisoned for being unable to pay his debts.


7. Quo Vadis, Aida? - Written and directed by Jasmila Žbanić, this Bosnian film tells the story of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre from the perspective of Aida (brilliantly played by Jasna Duričić), a woman trying to protect her sons and husband. This flawlessly-made film provides much to think about and the ending is especially provocative.


6. The Green Knight - The biggest Wow! film of the year. David Lowery has created a gorgeous poetic masterpiece, based (somewhat loosely) on the old Arthurian tale of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight). I was mesmerized from start to finish (it doesn’t hurt that I’ve always been a huge fan of all things Arthurian). Dev Patel is wonderful as Gawain, the music is awesome and the eerie scenes provide endless food for discussion.


5. Tick Tick … Boom! (N) - A musical that engaged me much more deeply than West Side Story, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s film is based on the semi-autobiographical stage musical by Jonathan Larson (who made Rent). The music is great, Andrew Garfield (in the lead role) is sublime, the story is sad and funny and real, and I loved every minute of it. 


4. Belfast - This lighter look at The Troubles in Northern Ireland in 1969 was written and directed by Kenneth Branagh, based on his personal experiences as a boy growing up in Belfast. The black & white cinematography is beautiful, the acting is excellent (Ciaran Hinds and Judi Dench stand out in supporting roles), the writing feels original and the direction is in sure hands. 


3. Mass - Written and directed by first-time director Fran Kranz, Mass stars Jason Isaacs, Ann Dowd, Reed Birney and Martha Plimpton as two couples in unimaginable pain sitting around a table in a church talking about an horrific tragedy that changed their lives (six years before). This small indie film was shot in only twelve days, and it feels like a play (not a bad thing), but the superb ensemble cast and careful cinematography make it a riveting emotional experience that left me shaking. With a film that highlights the power of human connection, this is humanizing filmmaking at its best.


2. The Father - Anthony Hopkins certainly deserved his best actor Oscar for his incredible portrayal of a man with dementia. Olivia Colman is almost as good as his daughter. Florian Zeller directed and co-wrote the film (based on his play - this is another film that feels like a play) and the writing is brilliant, giving us a story that takes us deeply and empathetically (and uniquely) into the mind of someone experiencing dementia. It’s a magnificent achievement and a true masterpiece. 


1. Drive My Car - No Japanese film has made my top film lists until now (though Shoplifters came close in 2018) but this masterpiece soars right up to number one. Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s film pushed all the right buttons for me, with its flawless acting and direction and its intelligent thoughtful screenplay, which is based on a story by Haruki Murakami, one of my favourite writers. This long, quiet and wise film, which involves a production of Chekov’s Uncle Vanya, is about many things, including grief, regret and, once again, the importance of human connection. I watched this film while sitting beside Kathy on the second-last day of her life. It might have had an impact on my appreciation of the film, but many critics, including Gareth, seem to agree with my assessment.