ENTRIES IN PART 1:
Francisco Algarín Navarro
Dr Nandana Bose
José Cabrera Betancort
Buñuel in Mexico
FILM PROGRAMMER (KAVI, NATIONAL AUDIOVISUAL INSTITUTE, HELSINKI)
Silmästä silmään (Eye to Eye, John Webster, 2020)
Andjust (Mox Mäkelä, 2020)
Eden (Ulla Heikkilä, 2020)
Tenet (Christopher Nolan, 2020)
Aalto (Virpi Suutari, 2020)
The Trial of the Chicago 7 (Aaron Sorkin, 2020)
On the Rocks (Sofia Coppola, 2020)
Mank (David Fincher, 2020)
A Hidden Life (Terrence Malick, 2019)
Bombshell (Jay Roach, 2019)
Dylda (Beanpole, Kantemir Balagov, 2019)
Women Make Film (Mark Cousins, 2019)
Filmfarsi (Ehsan Khoshbakht, 2019)
Peterloo (Mike Leigh, 2018)
L’extraordinaire voyage de Marona (Marona’s Fantastic Tale, Anca Damian, 2019)
Sorkhpoost (The Warden, Nima Javidi, 2019)
Meeting Gorbachev (Werner Herzog & André Singer, 2018)
Family Romance, LLC (Werner Herzog, 2019)
J’accuse (An Officer and a Spy, Roman Polanski, 2019)
Jenseits des Sichtbaren – Hilma af Klint (Beyond the Visible – Hilma af Klint, Halina Dyrschka, 2019)
Om det oändliga (About Endlessness, Roy Andersson, 2019)
Saint Maud (Rose Glass, 2019)
Whistle and I’ll Come To You (Jonathan Miller, 1968) Jonathan Miller 1934–2019
Alice in Wonderland (Jonathan Miller, 1966) Jonathan Miller 1934–2019
Le Tableau (The Painting, Jean-François Laguionie, 2011) Jennifer Barker / Midnight Sun Film Festival
Der Student von Prag (The Student of Prague, Henrik Galeen, 1926) 2020 restoration Filmmuseum München
Kvinnors väntan (Waiting Women, Ingmar Bergman, 1952) Ingmar Bergman Centenary restoration
This Gun For Hire (Frank Tuttle, 1942) NBC Universal DCP at Il Cinema Ritrovato
Das Wachsfigurenkabinett (Waxworks, Paul Leni, 1924) a much-anticipated 2020 restoration by Deutsche Kinemathek
Shatranj-e baad (Chess of the Wind, Mohammad Reza Aslani, 1976) a true resurrection of a major film believed lost, by The Film Foundation’s World Cinema Project, 2020
Sedotta e abbandonata (Seduced and Abandoned, Pietro Germi, 1964) 2020 restoration by Cineteca di Bologna and Cristaldifilm, Venice Classics at Il Cinema Ritrovato
Storm Warning (Stuart Heisler, 1951) 35 mm print from Warner Bros. at Il Cinema Ritrovato
Sylvester (New Year’s Eve, Lupu Pick, 1924) world premiere of a 2020 restoration by Deutsche
Kinemathek with the original score by Klaus Pringsheim played by the Orchestra del Teatro Comunale at Bologna’s Piazza Maggiore
Gaumont Chrono de Poche (Giancarlo Stucky, 1900) home movies restored in 2020 by Cineteca di Bologna
Muhomatsu no issho (The Rickshaw Man, Hiroshi Inagaki, 1943) world premiere of the 2020 restoration by Kadokawa Corporation and The Film Foundation / Venice Classics at Il Cinema Ritrovato
Born in Flames (Lizzie Borden, 1983) 2016 restoration by Anthology Film Archives
My first and only online festival was the Midnight Sun Film Festival 2020. It was very well organised, and I’m glad that I participated but I don’t think the concept of an online festival is exciting in the long run.
EDITOR AT LUMIÈRE MAGAZINE/PROGRAMMER AT XCÈNTRIC
The best films I saw in 2020 were Daïnah la métisse, by Jean Grémillon, Lady Lazarus, by Sandra Lahire and Sensitométrie II, by Patrice Kirchhofer. The best 2020 films I saw are Lamentations, by Nathaniel Dorsky, Puchuncaví, by Jeannette Muñoz, and Spinoza / Ongodist, by Bruno Delgado Ramo.
The great moment of the year was the retrospective devoted to Amy Halpern at Xcèntric and ZumZeig, in Barcelona. Also, the program “Jardines secretos” and the performance Paracronismos II (2020) by Valentina Alvarado Matos and Carlos Vásquez at the (S8) Mostra de Cinéma Periférico in A Coruña.
For the rest, not differentiating between films seen for the first time or several times prior:
#27 (2019), 3 Preparations (1972), A Glance (1972), Access to the View (2000), By Halves (2012), Cheshire Smile (2012), Cigarette Burn (1978), Elixir (2012), Filament (The Hands) (1975), Injury on a Theme (2012), Invocation (1982), My Mink (Unowned Luxuries #2) (2019), Newt Pauses (2016), Palm Down (2012), Peach Landscape (1973), Pouring Grain (2000), Ready-Made (1985), Roll #1 For Nancy (1972), Slow Fireworks (2019), Three-Minute Hells (2012), Unowned Luxuries #3 (2020) – Amy Halpern
A Farewell to Arms (Frank Borzage, 1932)
A Star is Born (1937), Heroes for Sale (1933), The Next Voice You Hear… (1950), The Purchase Price (1932), Track of the Cat (1954) – William A. Wellman
A Woman Under the Influence (1974), Love Streams (1984), Opening Night (1977) – John Cassavetes
Abendglitzern (2012), Bagatelle (2017), Bleierne Wellen (2006), Broadway (2006), Container (2011), Frauenbründl (für G.) (2018), Für P. (2016), Gelbe Blätter (2011), Gläser (2011), Gletscher (2006), Golfhaus (2006), Grabmäler (2004), Große Wasser (2012), Im Nachtmittagslicht (before Hochzeitsspaziergang) (2013), Kakibaum III (2011), Karussell (2017), Laub (2010), Leopard (2012), Louïe (2007), Pflasterzeichen (2006), Rost (2010), Sanfelices Treppenhaus (2018), Schatten auf roter Wand (2006), Schattenbild I (2018), Schlittschuhlaufen (2006), Steinerne Stadt (2018), Strom (2010), Warriors Mark (2007), Weiße Vorhänge (2018), Yali (2012) – Helga Fanderl
Acht Stunden sind kein Tag (1972), Angst essen Seele auf (1974) – R.W. Fassbinder
All My Life (Bruce Baillie, 1966)
Amaryllis- A Study (Jayne Parker, 2020)
Am Meer (1995), Four Diamonds (2016), Lisa (2017), Kopfüber im Geäst (2009), Sakura, Sakura (2015) – Ute Aurand
Anne of the Indies (Jacques Tourneur, 1951)
Arequipa (1981), Bent Time (1983), Pools (1981), Women I Love (1979) – Barbara Hammer
Arsenal (Aleksandr Dovzhenko, 1929)
Atlanta Central Library (Kate Brown, 2019)
Austrian Pavilion (Philipp Fleischmann, 2019)
Baumschatten (Milena Gierke, 1996)
Before My Eyes (1989), Duvidha (1973), Mati Manas (1985), Siddheshwari (1989) – Mani Kaul
blue mantle (Rebecca Meyers, 2010)
Bouquets 26, 27 (Rose Lowder, 2003)
Bringing Up Baby (Howard Hawks, 1938)
Broadway Mai 95 (1996), Wenn du eine Rose siehst (1995) – Renate Sami
Carnegie Hall (1947), Club Havana (1945), Murder Is My Beat (1955) – Edgar G. Ulmer
Carriage Trade (Warren Sonbert, 1971)
Cathedral (Ronald Chase, 1971)
Chikamatsu monogatari (Kenji Mizoguchi, 1954)
Daïnah la métisse (1932), L’Étrange Mme X (1951), Pattes blanches (1949) – Jean Grémillon
Dance, Girl Dance (1940), Merrily We Go to Hell (1932) – Dorothy Arzner
Delight (1975), Intuition, (1976) – Sheila Pinkel
Demain on déménage (Chantal Akerman, 2004)
Die linkshändige Frau (Peter Handke, 1978)
Dishonored (Josef von Sternberg, 1931)
Double Labyrinthe (Maria Klonaris & Katerina Thomadaki, 1976), Sauro Bellini (Maria Klonaris, 1982)
Driftwood (1947), Young People (1940) – Allan Dwan
Eerie (1992), Lady Lazarus (1991), Night Dances (1995), Serpent River (1989) – Sandra Lahire
Él (Luis Buñuel, 1953)
Empty Suitcases (Bette Gordon, 1980)
Erzählung (2007), Falten (2005), L’Atelier (2007), Toccata (2002), Winter Feuer (2000) – Hannes Schüpbach
Garden Pieces (Margaret Tait, 1998)
Green (1988), Warm Broth (1987-1988) – Luther Price
Guns (Robert Kramer, 1980)
Hello, Sister! (Eric von Stroheim, 1933)
I Began to Wish… (Julie Murray, 2003)
In Between (Jonas Mekas, 1978)
Inherent Vice (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2014)
Interlude (2019), Lamentations (2020) – Nathaniel Dorsky
It’s Only Money (Frank Tashlin, 1962)
Jaune et bleu III BIS: Les Vagues (Pascal Auger, 1985)
Jeune femme à sa fenêtre lisant une lettre (1983), Keep in Touch (1987), La Vallée close (1995), Les Antiquités de Rome (1989), Venise n’existe pas (1984) – Jean-Claude Rousseau
Kiss (Andy Warhol, 1963)
L’Enfance nue (Maurice Pialat, 1968)
L’Inhumaine (Marcel L’Herbier, 1924)
L’innocente (Luchino Visconti, 1976)
La Collectionneuse (1967), Ma nuit chez Maud (1969) – Eric Rohmer
La mala educación (2004), Volver (2006) – Pedro Almodóvar
La Pieuvre (1927), Les Amours de la pieuvre (1967) – Jean Painlevé
La Première partie du roi Henry IV de double v Shakespeare : une analogie (Joëlle de la Casinière, 1972)
La Vache qui rumine (Georges Rey, 1969)
Le Gant de l’autre (Michel Nedjar, 1977)
Le Printemps (Marcel Hanoun, 1972)
Le Sang d’un poète (Jean Cocteau, 1932)
Log Abstract 88 (Scot Hammen, 1988)
Looking at the Sea (2011), Skagafjordur (2002-2004) – Peter Hutton
Luminous Zone (Barry Gerson, 1973)
Lust for Life (Vincente Minnelli, 1956)
Marnie (1964), Mr. and Mrs. Smith (1941), Murder! (1930), Psycho (1960), Strangers on a Train (1951), The Birds (1963) – Alfred Hitchcock
Meihōdō (Jorge Suárez-Quiñones Rivas, 2020)
Midi (Teo Hernández, 1985)
Mies vailla menneisyyttä (Aki Kaurismäki, 2002)
Mikey & Nicky (Elaine May, 1976)
Mon oncle d’Amérique (Alain Resnais, 1980)
Monsieur Verdoux (Charles Chaplin, 1947)
My Best Friend’s Wedding (P.J. Hogan, 1997)
Never Fear (1949), Not Wanted (Elmer Clifton, Ida Lupino, 1949), Outrage (1950), The Bigamist (1953) – Ida Lupino
Odinnadtsatyy (1928), Shestaya chast mira (1926) – Dziga Vertov
On purge Bébé (Jean Renoir, 1931)
Paisà (Roberto Rossellini, 1946)
Panacronismos II (Valentina Alvarado Matos, Carlos Vásquez, 2020)
Propiedades de una esfera paralela (2020) – Valentina Alvarado Matos
Puchuncaví (2014-ongoing) – Jeannette Muñoz
Pushover (Richard Quine, 1954)
Sensitométrie II (1974), Sensitométrie III (1975) – Patrice Kirchhofer
Shockproof (1949), Sleep, My Love (1948) – Douglas Sirk
Spotlight On A Brick Wall (Mike Stoltz, Alee Peoples, 2016)
The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger, 1943)
The Shiranui Sea (Noriaki Tsuchimoto, 1975)
Transcript (Erica Sheu, 2019)
Guacamole (Chick Strand, 1976)
Sidewinder’s Delta (Pat O’Neill, 1976)
Spinoza / Ongodist (Bruno Delgado Ramo, 2020)
Standing Forward Full (Alee Peoples, 2020)
Tanka (David Lebrun, 1976)
The Awful Truth (Leo McCarey, 1937)
The Bravados (Henry King, 1958)
The Brothers Rico (Phil Karlson, 1957)
The Dark Mirror (Robert Siodmak, 1946)
The Dead Ones (1949), The Illiac Passion (Gregory J. Markopoulos, 1967)
The Garden of Earthly Delights (1981), The Riddle of Lumen (1972) – Stan Brakhage
The Great Blondino (Robert Nelson, 1967)
The Lawless Breed (Raoul Walsh, 1953)
The Secret Garden (Phil Solomon, 1988)
The Woman Who Ran (Sang-soo Hong, 2020)
To Be or Not to Be (Ernst Lubitsch, 1942)
Tomorrow’s Promise (1967), Autre fois j’ai aimé une femme (1966) – Edward Owens
U samogo sinego morya (Boris Barnet, 1936)
Uccellacci e uccellini (Pier Paolo Pasolini, 1966)
Wasteland no. 2: Hardy, Hearty (Jodie Mack, 2019)
What the Water Said, Nos. 1-3 (David Gatten, 1997)
CONTRIBUTOR TO SENSES OF CINEMA & ARE YOU IN THE HOUSE ALONE? A TV MOVIE COMPENDIUM: 1964-1999
10 favourite new films released for the first time in 2020, listed in alphabetical order
Anbessa (Mo Scarpelli, 2019)
Guest of Honour (Atom Egoyan, 2019)
A Hidden Life (Terrence Malick, 2019)
Little Joe (Jessica Hausner, 2019)
Lynn + Lucy (Fyzal Boulifa, 2019)
Malchik russkiy (A Russian Youth, Alexander Zolotukhin, 2019)
The Man Who Killed Don Quixote (Terry Gilliam, 2018)
Nan fang che zhan de ju hui (The Wild Goose Lake, Diao Yi’nan, 2019)
Ne croyez surtout pas que je hurle (Just Don’t Think I’ll Scream, Frank Beauvais, 2019)
La vérité (The Truth, Hirokazu Koreeda, 2019)
10 favourite older films encountered for the first time in 2020, listed in alphabetical order
Akahige (Red Beard, Akira Kurosawa, 1965)
Bangiku (Late Chrysanthemums, Mikio Naruse, 1954)
Bab el hadid (Cairo Station, Youssef Chahine, 1958)
The Big Parade (King Vidor, 1925)
Fort Apache (John Ford, 1948)
La Grande Illusion (Grand Illusion, Jean Renoir, 1937)
Ochazuke no aji (The Flavour of Green Tea Over Rice, Yasujiro Ozu, 1952)
Sanshô dayû (Sansho the Bailiff, Kenji Mizoguchi, 1954)
La Strada (Federico Fellini, 1954)
Within Our Gates (Oscar Micheaux, 1920)
Some brief notes on cinema in 2020
What can be said about the state of the world in 2020 that countless commentators have not already expressed? Putting aside the shocking effects of COVID on individuals and communities, the global pandemic brought huge ramifications for businesses and organisations worldwide, with cinema being one of the many areas hardest hit. Traditional modes of production and distribution were upended, with film shoots halted, movie theatres shuttered and cinema releases suspended. The closing of theatre doors opened up an avenue for streaming services to keep audiences engaged. This mode of viewing films had previously coexisted with theatrical exhibition and physical media releases, but video on demand quickly became the principal way to see new films for many. The growth in streaming that may have taken a few more years was suddenly compressed into a few months. Some film organisations were able to adapt their existing ways of working and continue operating under these surprising new circumstances.
From a UK perspective, special mention should be made of the British Broadcasting Corporation and the British Film Institute, both of whom presented an array of films, old and new, with the BFI Japan 2020 season being particularly strong. This year of predominantly online cinema also presented a wealth of discussions and presentations, with some remarkable films and film-related events brought to the attention of this writer, including an in-depth Instagram Live interview with Jean Luc Godard, who mused on the history of cinema and the circumstances around COVID, and 40 Days to Learn Film, a video essay by Mark Cousins, presented on Vimeo during the first UK lockdown. Cousins also directed Women Make Film: A New Road Movie Through Cinema, a documentary in 40 chapters, revealing numerous overlooked and undiscovered films from female directors.
The absence of new blockbuster movies being released solely on cinema screens during the pandemic, save for the high-profile exception of Tenet (Christopher Nolan, 2020), meant that many of the latest streaming titles were more independent in nature. These indies were accompanied by a number of older films, giving people a wide range of viewing choices in unprecedented times. In addition to the titles in the ‘old and new’ lists submitted by this writer, there are many other excellent films that could have been included. As of this writing (December 2020), the virus shows no signs of abating, and so the ultimate effect of COVID on the future of cinema – both the artform and the way of seeing film – remains to be seen.
SUBTITLER AND CRITIC WHO WRITES ON FILM AT MIKESMOVIEHOUSE.CO.UK
Ten Best Recent Films Seen For The First Time in 2020
Ad Astra (James Gray, 2019)
Arimura Kasumi no Satsukyu – Episode 1 (Hirokazu Koreeda, 2020)
Di jiu tianchang (So Long, My Son, Xiaoshuai Wang, 2019)
Domangchin yeoja (The Woman Who Ran, Sang-Soo Hong, 2020)
Gisaengchung (Parasite, Bong Joon Ho, 2019)
Honeyland (Tamara Kotevska/Ljubomir Stefanov, 2019)
In Fabric (Peter Strickland, 2018 – first half only)*
Lahi, hayop (Genus Pan, Lav Diaz, 2020 – first half only)*
Napszallta (Sunset, Laszlo Nemes, 2018)
Ray + Liz (Richard Billingham, 2018)
* The first half of both these films represented some of the most enjoyable new cinema I saw all year. The less said about the second halves the better. In each case, it felt like a new director had been smuggled in to offer a much coarser mirror image of the earlier half.
The Koreeda is the first episode of a TV series, but is a self-contained little gem.
Three Great Discoveries From The Last Decade
Happi Awa (Happy Hour, Ryusuke Hamaguchi, 2015)
Saul fia (Son Of Saul, Laszlo Nemes, 2015)
Toata lumea din familia noastra (Everybody In Our Family, Radu Jude, 2012)
I streamed films from three festivals this year: Bologna’s Il Cinema Ritrovato, the London Film Festival and London’s Korean Film Festival. In each case, the amount of titles was understandably limited, but I must admit I was disappointed with the narrow range of titles on offer from Cinema Ritrovato – whole sidebars were omitted. One of their representatives told me that some organisations had been unwilling to share copyright. Nevertheless, the streaming worked without a hitch, and I applaud all the festivals for setting this service up under extremely difficult conditions. If I complain about Bologna, it’s only because I love the festival so much.
For my own lockdown watching, I binged on:
The complete Cronenberg
The complete Dreyer
All of Roger Corman’s Poe films
All of Laurel and Hardy’s shorts
Eric Rohmer’s Comedies and Proverbs
The complete Classic Series of Dr Who 1963-1989 (OK, I started that last year)
Major discoveries made in lockdown (thank you, DVD and Blu-Ray providers):
Brotherhood of the Bell (Paul Wendkos, 1970)
Bungalow/Montag kommen die Fenster (Bungalow/Windows On Monday, Ulrich Kohler, 2002/2006)
Champagne Charlie (Alberto Cavalcanti, 1944)
Holubice (The White Dove, Frantisek Vlacil, 1960)
Khrustalyov, mashinu! (Khrustalyov, My Car!, Aleksey German, 1998)
Lucky Star (Frank Borzage, 1929)
Minato no nihonmusume (Japanese Girls At The Harbour, Hiroshi Shimizu, 1933)
September (Woody Allen, 1987)
CINEPHILE, WRITER AND FILMMAKER BASED IN PHILADELPHIA
- Vitalina Varela (Pedro Costa, 2019)
- Heimat ist ein Raum aus Zeit (Heimat is a Space in Time, Thomas Heise, 2019)
- Malmkrog (Cristi Puiu, 2020)
- Rizi (Days, Tsai Ming-liang, 2020)
- La France contre les robots (France Against the Robots, Jean-Marie Straub, 2020)
- Fourteen (Dan Sallitt, 2019)
- Ceniza Verde (Green Ash, Pablo Mazzolo, 2019)
- Martin Eden (Pietro Marcello, 2019)
- Il traditore (The Traitor, Marco Bellocchio, 2019)
- Movie That Invites Pausing (Ken Jacobs, 2019)
- Domangchin yeoja (The Woman Who Ran, Hong Sang-soo, 2020)
- Apricity (Nathaniel Dorsky, 2019)
- Point and Line to Plane (Sofia Bohdanowicz, 2020)
- The Grand Bizarre (Jodie Mack, 2018)
- Ich war zuhause, aber (I Was at Home But…, Angela Schanelec, 2019)
FRENCH FILM CRITIC FOR BREF, LE MAGAZINE DU COURT MÉTRAGE AND EUROPE, REVUE LITTÉRAIRE, AND COFOUNDER IN 1971 OF THE “COLLECTIF JEUNE CINÉMA” (THE FIRST FRENCH EXPERIMENTAL FILMMAKERS’ DISTRIBUTION COOPERATIVE)
In no particular order.
Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains (Gu Xiaogang, China, 2019)
Malmkrog (Cristi Puiu, Romania, 2019)
Yalda, a Night for Forgiveness (Massoud Bakhshi, Iran/France, 2019)
Abou Leila (Amin Sidi-Boumédiène, Algeria, 2019)
Dawson City: Frozen Time (Bill Morrison, USA, 2016)
Dark Waters (Todd Haynes, USA, 2019)
City Hall (Frederick Wiseman, USA, 2020)
Vivarium (Lorcan Finnegan, Ireland, Belgium, Denmark, 2019)
Le Fantôme de Laurent Terzieff (Jacques Richard, France, 2020)
Love Affair(s) (Emmanuel Mouret, France, 2020)
A Lua Platz (Prendre place) (Jérémy Gravayat, 2018)
Distracted Blueberry (Barry Doupé, Canada, 2019)
I have chosen 12 films. All were distributed in 2020 in cinemas in France or on French TV, with the exception of Barry Doupé’s Distracted Blueberry which was shown in the 22nd edition of the Festival des cinémas différents et expérimentaux de Paris in October 2020. This is a very disturbing animated feature, four-and-a-half hours long, following a group of artists through a series of very bloody rehearsals with sex and death. But in the world of animated creatures, death doesn’t exist. The male characters of the movie, painters and performers, re-examine the art world in all its possible variations. A disturbing film like Pasolini’s Salò: a kind of premiere in the universe of animation.
My next three choices, by French directors Emmanuel Mouret, Jacques Richard and Jérémy Gravayat, illustrate different areas of activity. Emmanuel Mouret with Love Affair(s) returns to his world of passion with a touch of tragedy. Jacques Richard, one of many filmmakers with post-Nouvelle Vague “tendencies” (like Garrel or Eustache), brings us a very strong documentary about the legendary actor Laurent Terzieff. Jérémy Gravayat, an independent filmmaker, has created a very sensitive film about migrants.
North America delivers the work of three very different artists. The veteran documentarian Frederick Wiseman brings us a huge hymn of democracy (once again) in his simple and astonishing City Hall. And, for the first time, Todd Haynes has made a political film to explain the mystery of Safe, his allegoric film from 1995. The master of found footage filmmaking, Bill Morrison, depicts in Dawson City a trove of recently discovered reels of old films from the beginning of the last century, a piece of cinema and social history.
Every year, Iranian directors remind us of the dramatic situation in their country. With Yalda, Massoud Bakhsi shows the grotesque position of convicts facing the death penalty who are subjected to a new televised trial to win a chance to live.
The four last films – Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains by Gu Xiaogang, Malmkrog by Cristi Puiu, Abou Leila by Amin Sidi-Boumédiène and Vivarium by Lorcan Finnegan – create strange universes in which social and cinematographic patterns alternate, year after year, to refresh the language and power of cinema.
POP CULTURE BLOGGER AT SEX & THE ETERNAL CITY
Like the independent bookshops who survived when the internet killed off the chains, I give my heartfelt thanks to the art house cinemas of Auckland, New Zealand (namely The Academy, The Hollywood, The Capitol as well as Event Cinemas arthouse offshoot, The Rialto) who survived the pandemic to keep the faith. These cinemas sustained me with online content through lockdown and provided an enthusiastic and informed experience when we tentatively headed back into the dark with strangers. Thank you too to the organisers of this year’s New Zealand International Film Festival and Doc Edge Festival who got the balance right and kept the momentum going.
3 Small Films that Filled the Big Screen:
Never, Rarely, Sometimes, Always (Eliza Hittman, 2020)
David Byrne’s American Utopia (Spike Lee, 2020)
The Assistant (Kitty Green, 2019)
In 2020, the void in the mainstream allowed the independents to shine. Seen on the big screen (in small spaces) the empathy of the three films listed above, rang forth. Hittman and Green delivered heart-rending stories of female resilience, grounded in a tense, gritty reality while Lee’s simple yet sophisticated direction captured the excitement of the live performance while delivering the touching nuance lost to the people in the nosebleed seats.
Little Women (Greta Gerwig, 2019)
The Personal History of David Copperfield (Armando Iannucci, 2019)
Martin Eden (Pietro Marcello, 2019)
While respectful to the source material, these films played with setting, authorial voice, casting and chronology to find something modern, vital and valid. What’s more, they provided you with a rollicking good time.
The Painter and the Thief (Benjamin Ree, 2020)
Disclosure (Sam Feder, 2020)
Circus of Books (Rachel Mason, 2019)
Frank and funny, Circus of Books overcomes its vanity project origins with a third act examination of what it means to be an ally. Both The Painter and the Thief and Disclosure talk directly to the power and importance of being seen and in doing so The Painter and the Thief provides the most visceral scene of the year in any film fiction or non-fiction.
Normal People (Lenny Abrahamson, Hettie Macdonald, 2020)
Unorthodox (Maria Schrader, 2020)
Schitt’s Creek (Jordan Canning, Andrew Cividino, Donna Croce, Dan Levy, 2020)
Normal People and Unorthodox are on this list because they are so cinematic, using the mini-series format to get under the skin of their deftly drawn characters. The former is like a Smiths’ song come to life – fleeting, solipsistic, melancholy, wry – while the latter is as taut as any thriller albeit one whose climax is an extraordinary musical performance of intense emotion. Schitt’s Creek does nothing particularly innovative with its sitcom conventions, and shares rather more than a passing resemblance to Green Acres (1965 – 1971), but it would be churlish to deny the multiple Emmy winner it’s moment in the sun. Its message of inclusivity and the whip smart comic timing of its performers were exactly what everyone needed in 2020 and if more people now turn on to Catherine O’Hara’s genius comedic filmography with Christopher Guest, that’s no bad thing.
BERLIN-BASED SWISS FILM CRITIC AND POLITICAL SCIENTIST
The lack of festivals held in real life this year proved to us that cinema outside the cinema loses much of the individual and collective experience that this art provides. 2020 was also a year when many festivals relocated online and released films directly on VoD. What a misery! Filmmakers are making films for the big screen; this intention is an integral part of their work. This allows for diversity of expression, whether artistic or narrative. Everything else is just chitchat and formatting. That’s why, even though I’ve seen as many films this year as I have in the past (about a thousand), I’m only listing here those I’ve seen in a movie theatre!
Long live the cinema, long live the culture which is an essential good!
The Roads Not Taken (Sally Potter, 2020) seen at the Berlinale 2020: Sally Potter’s latest film deals with a subject that tends to affect a large part of our society in one way or another – that of dementia-related pathologies. This film is probably one of the most accurate and sensitive fictional films on the subject, both from the point of view of people with those diseases and their caregivers. And what a casting! Javier Bardem, Elle Fanning, Salma Hayek, Laura Linney…
Druk (Another Round, Thomas Vinterberg, 2020) seen at the Ghent International Film Festival; winner European Film Award 2020: Behind the comedy (4 friends test a theory that they will improve their lives by maintaining a constant level of alcohol in their blood), as usual, the Danish director uncovers the human scars, be it those of his protagonists, of the spectators and (above all) his own, and this with finesse in directing and narration that here reaches heights. Seeing Mads Mikkelsen again as a double of the director adds to the pleasure of watching this movie!
Deux (Two of Us, Filippo Meneghetti, 2019) seen at the Zurich Film Festival 2020; the film represents France at the Oscars 2021: served by two stunning actresses – Barbara Sukowa and Martine Chevallier – (the supporting roles are also excellent), the film tells a secret love story between two neighbours in their 70s. Surprising, tender, with a lot of humour, but without mawkishness, the film is good for the soul in these dark times of a pandemic!
Never Rarely Sometimes Always (Eliza Hittman, 2020) seen at the Berlinale 2020: a poignant film on the right to abortion. This film is powerful and implacable in the facts it exposes, without ever being demonstrative or pedagogical. Hittman manages to combine a poetic rhythm with a raw precision in the details of certain medical acts and their aftermath.
Undine (Christian Petzold, 2020) seen at the Berlinale 2020: This film is a pure cinematographic delight: the German filmmaker confirms his art of mixing genres. Here Petzold takes up a mythological theme (Ondine), but one that he treats with the cinematographic realism that characterises him. And it’s a success!
The Assistant (Kitty Green, 2019) seen at the Berlinale 2020: an implacable manifesto, of an icy tranquillity, on the feeling of powerlessness, on the small individual cowardice of professional survival which, put end to end, stain the whole community with the seal of shame; how a system is set up in the void of speech and allows Weinstein, Epstein, DSK, Ramadan or Trump, to name but a few, to slip for decades like eels into the arcane of power, whether they are political, economic, medial or class-related.
Nowhere Special (Uberto Pasolini, 2020) seen at the Zurich Film Festival: a very hard theme about death and adoption explored in a very beautiful film. Sensitive and dramatic but without melodrama, and with a touch of humour here and there, Nowhere Special is never cynical but sometimes bittersweet.
Physique de la tristesse (The Physics of Sorrow, Theodore Ushev, 2019) seen at the Filmfest Dresden – International Short Film Festival: with the encaustic technique, 27 minutes of poetry and technical mastery! “I am us,” he repeats over and over again. At the same time nihilistic – “There is only childhood and death. Nothing in between.” The label of his only perennial companion, his suitcase, is inscribed: “To be opened only at the end of the world,” and admitting the field of possibilities, the narrator wanders through his memories like the Minotaur in the labyrinth.
Rizi (Days, Tsai Ming-Liang, 2019) seen at the Berlinale 2020: Loneliness is the bass line of Tsai Ming-Liang’s cinematography. The director combines two documentary stories to make a very experimental, contemplative fiction that uses the senses of the spectator who, if he enters the film, finds himself in the magic of cinema that suspends time in a jewel case of eternity.
Effacer l’historique (Delete History, Benoît Delépine et Gustave Kervern, 2019) seen at the Berlinale 2020: The restitution of a real off-beat, it is the trademark of the two fellow Grolanders that are Delépine and Kervern. Here, their art reaches new heights of accuracy, acuity, and caustic humour. The other particularity of the duo of directors is their benevolence towards their characters, often at odds with the world in which they live. Here, three victims of technology who declare war on the tech giants.
PHD CANDIDATE, DEPARTMENT OF CINEMA STUDIES, NYU; FILM CURATOR, RESEARCHER AND TEACHER
Still in complete agreement with Elena Gorfinkel’s “Against Lists” manifesto, below are the most memorable and touching filmic experiences I enjoyed throughout 2020 (in alphabetical order).
Purple Sea (Amel Alzakout and Khaled Abdulwahed, 2020)
The Inheritance (Ephraim Asili, 2020)
An Da Shealladh (The Two Sights, Joshua Bonnetta. 2020)
Bitcoin Mining and Field Recordings of Ethnic Minorities (Liu Chuang, 2019)
Every Rupture (Sasha Litvintseva, 2020)
Rizi (Days, Tsai Ming-liang, 2020)
Becoming Alivium (Thao Nguyen Phan, 2020)
Tragic Jungle (Yulene Olaizola, 2020)
Responsabilidad empresarial (Corporate Accountability, Jony Perel, 2020)
Isabella (Matías Piñeiro, 2020)
Window Boy Would also Like to Have a Submarine (Alex Piperno, 2020)
First Cow (Kelly Reichardt, 2019)
Los Conductos (Camilo Restrepo, 2020)
Look then Below (Ben Rivers, 2020)
Domangchin yeoja (The Woman Who Ran, Hong Sang-soo, 2020)
The Cloud in Her Room (Zheng Lu Xin Yuan, 2020)
The Metamorphosis of the Birds (Catarina Vasconcelos, 2020)
PARIS-BASED TRANSLATOR AND RESEARCHER. CO-EDITOR OF THE ONLINE JOURNAL L’ÉCRAN TRADUIT
Best new films (alphabetical order)
The Assistant (Kitty Green, 2019)
David Byrne’s American Utopia (Spike Lee, 2020)
Never Rarely Sometimes Always (Eliza Hittman, 2020)
Possessor (Brandon Cronenberg, 2020)
Rêve de Gotokuji par un premier mai sans lune (Natacha Thiéry, 2020)
Sapphire Crystal (Virgil Vernier, 2020)
Le Sel des larmes (The Salt of Tears, Philippe Garrel, 2020)
She Dies Tomorrow (Amy Seimetz, 2020)
Shirley (Josephine Decker, 2020)
Vitalina Varela (Pedro Costa, 2019)
Older films (chronological order)
Big Brown Eyes (Raoul Walsh, 1936)
Escape in the Fog (Budd Boetticher, 1945)
My Name is Julia Ross (Joseph H. Lewis, 1945)
Lancelot du lac (Robert Bresson, 1974)
Néa (Nelly Kaplan, 1976)
Arrebato (Iván Zulueta, 1980)
The Woman in Black (Herbert Wise, 1989)
Travolta et moi (Patricia Mazuy, 1993)
- Jean-Luc Godard (Cinémathèque française)
A very complete, very well-curated one. Miraculously ended before just before the first lockdown in France.
- Mark Rappaport (Filmmuseum München, online)
Rappaport’s video-essays are at the same time labyrinthic, serious, funny and surprising. A delight.
Two film books:
Román Gubern, Un cinéfilo en el Vaticano (Anagrama)
Christina Newland (ed.), She Found it at the Movies (Red Press)
HEAD OF RESEARCH, LEEDS ARTS UNIVERSITY, UK; INTERESTED IN THE FABRIC OF FILM
Saint Maud (Rose Glass, 2020)
Saint Maud is a re-imaging of the possession and the best film from 2020. The plot is an original take on this familiar horror sub-genre. The special effects associated with possession films are recreated in a nuanced but unsettling way. The poetic use of shifting light and shadow convey the shifting tensions that ebb and flow within Maud. There is also an underlying melancholy that touches upon the themes of loneliness, mental illness and poverty. Ambiguity is at the film’s core, is Maud a messenger from God or does her mania have a more sinister cause?
Color Out of Space (Richard Stanley, 2020)
This adaptation of Lovecraft’s novel is another horror vehicle for Nicholas Cage who gives a solid performance as ‘out of control’ dad. The action transpires within a garden of psychedelic alien beings. This was an opportunity to go really wild with cinematic ‘colour-fields’ which the film does do to some extent. The film is very engaging although it does not reach its full potential.
Black Box (Emmanuel Osei-Kuffour, 2020)
Black Box is a film that pulls at the heart-strings. A little girl cares for her father who has lost his memory in a car accident that also killed her mother. The father subjects himself to some experimental treatment to regain his memories from a doctor with her own agenda. The twist in the tale is when this film comes alive. It signifies the fight to hold onto identity.
Possessor (Brandon Cronenberg, 2020)
Possessor explores similar themes to Black Box where psychic spaces are open to cynical exploitation. In this dystopian near future, bodies are commodified and consciousness can be commandeered for extreme capitalist ends. Everyone is dehumanised and any remaining sense of self ultimately evaporates. This film considers these issues while oozing with stylish body-horror violation and gore.
Sputnik (Egor Abramenko, 2020)
Sputnik delivers a refreshing perspective on the parasitic relationship between alien and human. A cosmonaut returns to Earth as the vessel containing a dangerous organism which lives inside his body. A young doctor is recruited by the military to investigate the phenomenon. Her personal back story is told consecutively with that of her growing compassion for the host and symbiont. The staging and art direction convey a wonderfully austere but stylish ‘Eastern Bloc’ atmosphere.
Relic (Natalie Erika James, 2020)
Edna’s mental and physical capacities are deteriorating and when she disappears her daughter and granddaughter notice that the old family home is infested by a creeping black mould. They are all reunited until Edna, engulfed by the black spores, transforms into a monstrous entity. The daughter is compelled to stay and care for Edna as she passes away knowing that she too will inherit the corruption. This film explores the inevitability of aging bodies and minds.
Host (Rob Savage, 2020)
Shot during the Covid-19 pandemic, Host was made in lockdown using Zoom. Six friends and a medium decide to hold a virtual séance and it does not end well. The plot is conventional, however the uncanny aspects of the digital technology breathe new life into the ‘found footage’ genre. Dolls, doubles, ghosts, mirrors, coincidences and repetition are extremely creepy when glimpsed through the Zoom screen.
Underwater (William Eubank, 2020)
Six miles beneath the surface of the ocean a drilling station is in crisis as water breaks through its walls threatening the survival of the staff. To escape they need to walk across the sea floor, making sure they have enough breathable air. To compound their problems, they are attached by strange, deadly creatures. The heady mix of action, thriller and horror really gets the adrenalin pumping and is reminiscent of films such as Sphere (William Eubank, 1998) and Gravity (Alfonso Cuarón, 2013)
His House (Remi Weekes, 2020)
His House is a poignant story about trauma and secrets told through the experiences of a refugee couple in England. This film draws upon the haunted house motif. But it is not only the spirits that are frightening, the hostility and racism from their neighbours and the cold materialism of their local authority landlords are also chilling. The couple are trapped in a crumbling house that offers no sanctuary – they need to face their fears alone.
Leeds International Film Festival (LIFF) 2020
I subscribed to LIFF’s Night-in of the Dead, a bundle of horror films available on Leeds Film Player from the 13th November 2020. The selection of films seemed to privilege comedy horror, which was disappointing. Some of the films I discuss above were made by independent filmmakers who have been able to craft profoundly disturbing and frightening horror. Films of this calibre should also be screened at LIFF to satisfy those audiences who appreciate serious horror.
FILM SCHOLAR AND PROGRAMMER
I’m Thinking of Ending Things (Charlie Kaufman, 2020)
Lux Æterna (Gaspar Noé, 2019)
La Llorona (Jayro Bustamante, 2019)
Saint Maud (Rose Glass, 2020)
She Dies Tomorrow (Amy Seimetz, 2020)
Swallow (Carlo Mirabella-Davis, 2019)
Koirat eivät käytä housuja (Dogs Don’t Wear Pants, J.-P. Valkeapää 2019)
Shirley (Josephine Decker, 2020)
Kajillionaire (Miranda July, 2020)
The Vast of Night (Andrew Patterson, 2020)
Aniara (Hugo Lilja & Pella Kågerman, 2018)
Ned Rifle (Hal Hartley, 2014)
Rouge (Antoine Barraud, 2015)
Gabi on the Roof in July (Lawrence Michael Levine, 2010)
The films of Éric Rohmer
FILM SCHOLAR, EDUCATOR, AUTHOR OF THE BFI FILM STARS SERIES MONOGRAPH MADHURI DIXIT (BLOOMSBURY, 2019)
These are my 2020 cinematic highlights grouped in no particular order.
Films released for the first time in 2020 (festivals, cinemas, streaming services):
Bulbbul (Anvita Dutt) – a feminist horror fairy tale from the perspective of a child-bride, released on Netflix India, was the only noteworthy 2020 film.
Older films encountered for the first time in 2020 (seen in festivals, cinémathèques, re-releases, home entertainment, streaming channels, etc):
- Parasite (Bong Joon-ho, 2019) – I consider myself lucky to have seen it inside the main auditorium of the National Film Archives after queuing up for more than an hour thanks to the annual Pune International Film Festival (PIFF); subsequent repeat theatrical viewings after it won Oscars and before the pandemic shut down multiplexes. A rare instance of a Korean title released for theatrical exhibition in India.
- The legendary South Korean filmmaker whose films such as The Housemaid (Hanyo, 1960) influenced Bong Joon-ho to make his ‘staircase film’ Parasite – Kim Ki-young’s Insect Woman (1963) and Woman of Fire (1971) viewed on the Korean Film Classics’ (KFC) excellent YouTube channel.
- A Flower in Hell (Shin Sang-ok, 1958) – 1950’s classic Golden Age melodrama starring Choi Eun-hee, the incomparable femme fatale and Sang-ok’s wife; viewed on KFC.
- Little Forest (Yim Soon-rye, 2018) – an ideal pandemic film, soothing, liberating and replete with delicious cooking sequences. Watched it as part of my research on this Korean New Wave female filmmaker who has been criminally overlooked, and to make amends, will be the subject of an upcoming academic anthology; watched on YouTube.
- Sonchiriya (Abhishek Chaubey, 2019) viewed on the streaming channel ZEE5; Chhichhore (Nitesh Tiwari, 2019) on India’s most popular streaming channel, Disney Hotstar – both watched due to the tragic and untimely demise of a Bollywood star Sushant Singh Rajput whose death by suicide triggered an unseemly, deeply misogynistic national media frenzy.
- Closely Watched Trains (Jiri Menzel, 1966) – Czech New Wave classic watched on the sad occasion of the filmmaker’s death, also inspired by documentary filmmaker, archivist, and founder/director of Film Heritage Foundation, Shivendra Singh Dungarpur’s social media posts on his eight-hour 2018 documentary CzechMate: In Search of Jiri Menzel (which I am yet to see)
- Jallikattu (Lijo Jose Pellissery, 2019), outstanding sound design and the Indian entry at the Oscars; Chola (Sanal Sashidharan, 2019), Moothon (The Elder One, Geetu Mohandas, 2019), Kumbalangani Nights (Madhur Narayanan, 2019) – this was the year I had time to explore the brilliant regional cinema from the Indian state of Kerala – Malayalam Cinema made accessible through English subtitling by Amazon Prime, Netflix and ZEE5 streaming channels
- Bacurau (Kleber Mendonça and Juliano Dornelles, 2019) – the most shocking fictional feature film of the year for me seen via MUBI World which, along with MUBI India, have been consistent in their brilliant curation of world and Indian cinema, both classics and neglected films awaiting discovery by cinephiles, connoisseurs and film scholars
- MUBI World’s Éric Rohmer’s Comedies and Proverbs series comprising of (in chronological order): The Aviator’s Wife (1981), A Good Marriage (1982), Pauline at the Beach (1983), Full Moon in Paris (1984), The Green Ray (1986), and My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend (1987)
- Eeb Allay Ooo! (Prateek Vats, 2019) – a satiric commentary on contemporary India, and my pick for the Oscars. Also impressed by Iewduh (Market, Pradip Kurbah, 2019) seen at PIFF; Booth (Rohin Raveendran Nair, 2019), a short film on MUBI India set in my favourite mall in Pune; and the startling Aamis (Ravening, Bhaskar Hazarika, 2019)
- Cairo Station (Youssef Chahine, 1958) and Cairo 30 (Salāḥ Abu Seif, 1966) – two Egyptian classics from its golden age of realist cinema
- For Sama (Waad al- Kateab and Edward Watts, 2019) seen on streaming provided by Mumbai Academy of Moving Image as part of its year round programme for members; One Child Nation (Nanfu Wang and Lynn Zhang, 2019), a harrowing, unforgettable, well-researched documentary viewed on Amazon Prime, and the eye-opening The Edge of Democracy (Petra Costa, 2019) available on Netflix – all hard-hitting political documentaries from/on Syria, China and Brazil respectively
Online festivals that I ‘attended’:
- Dharamshala International Film Festival held in November 2020 – an interesting, diverse selection of international films; particularly enthralled by the splendid picturesque framing compositions, heady, enchanting music, and the seductive presence of lead actor Luca Marinelli in Pietro Marcello’s Martin Eden (2019); also watched a fascinating documentary The Kingmaker (Lauren Greenfield, 2019) on the polarising grand dame of Filipino politics and former First Lady (mother of the nation!), Imelda Marcos and her continuing presence on the domestic political stage and problematic legacy
- JFF Plus: Online Festival, the 2020 virtual version of the annual Japanese Film Festival (JFF) curated by the Japanese Foundation, December 2020. It provided the rare (free) opportunity to see a Yasujiro Ozu’s classic, The Flavor of Green Tea over Rice (1952)
Never Rarely Sometimes Always (Eliza Hittman, 2020)
This Rain Will Never Stop (Alina Gorlova, 2020)
The Disciple (Chaitanya Tamhane, 2020)
Nomadland (Chloé Zhao., 2020)
Eyimofe (Thus Is My Desire, Arie Esiri, Chuko Esiri, 2020)
Colectiv (Collective, Alexander Nanau, 2019)
Rizi (Days, Tsai Ming-liang, 2020)
Dashte khamoush (The Wasteland, Ahmad Bahrami, 2020)
Caperucita Roja (Tatiana Mazú González, 2019)
Walchensee Forever (Janna Ji Wonders, 2020)
The Unseen River (Pham Ngoc Lan, 2020)
Fische (Raphaela Schmid, 2020)
El mártir (The Martyr, Fernando Pomares, 2020)
Miegamasis rajonas (Places, Vytautas Katkus, 2020)
Two Sisters Who Are Not Sisters (Beatrice Gibsonl, 2019)
New Land, Broken Road (Kavich Neang, 2019)
Gramercy (Jamil McGinnis, Pat Heywood, 2020)
Homeless Home (Alberto Vázquez, 2020)
Sudden Light (Sophie Littman, 2020)
Omelia contadina (JR, Alice Rohrwacher, 2020)
A TWO-HEADED, FOUR-HANDED, SINGLE-MINDED BEAST OF AN ENTITY PROVIDED WITH SHEER CRITICAL WIT AND RELENTLESSNESS WITH WHICH IT HUNTS UPON ITS DOOMED PREY
In alphabetical order.
The Dark and the Wicked (Bryan Bertino, 2020)
Possessor (Brandon Cronenberg, 2020)
Relic (Natalie Erika James, 2020)
Sea Fever (Neasa Hardiman, 2019)
Služobníci (Servants, Ivan Ostrochovský, 2020)
Dawn of the Dead (George A. Romero, 19778) Limited Edition Blu-ray (Second Sight Films)