The great comedic actor Jack Lemmon has always meant a lot to me; Some Like It Hot was the first film I truly fell in love with which made me seek out more Billy Wilder and discover a world of Hollywood masterpieces. Since my early teens, Jack Lemmon was my guy, not an obsessive crush (see Ewan McGregor and Matthew Perry) but a genuine bringer of joy and cinematic warmth, so it meant a lot to write about him for the bfi.org.uk on what would have been his 93rd Birthday.
Unbelievably, this turned out to be even better than 2014’s first instalment. Warmth and comforting charm drips like hot marmalade from every lovingly crafted detail. Hugh Grant gives an hilariously self deprecating performance and Brendan puts the “Glee” into Gleeson. A touching, but not twee, and very much needed tale of kindness, compassion and sandwiches.
Almost one year on from its release and subsequent Academy Award best picture win, Barry Jenkins’ outstanding masterpiece still shines brightly on a cinematic year that was significant for LGBT and racial politics. An unforgettably touching gem.
This extremely funny satirical horror from director Jordan Peele is a cutting take down of the hypocrisy of the white liberal middle-classes. With an intelligent, riveting screenplay and an excellent lead in Daniel Kaluuya, this serves to be a heart-stoppingly entertaining yet sharply political commentary on the underlying racism of modern America.
God’s Own Country
A deeply affecting love story by first time director Frances Lee, set on the windy landscapes of the Yorkshire Dales. Silent, emotionally repressed young farmer, Johnny (Josh O’Connor) and newcomer, Romanian helper Gheorghe (Alec Secareanu) fall in love as they work together during the lambing season. The cinematography captures the beauty of the country and uses documentary style realism to convey the quiet yet visceral nature of pastoral life. With two brilliantly honest performances from the leads, this is an ode to the wild beauty of Yorkshire and a tender, uplifting romance.
A Ghost Story
One of the most uniquely inventive films of the year. Daringly, sometimes uncomfortably, intimate in its cinematography and with an unexpected narrative shift halfway through, this is a profoundly thought provoking and haunting piece of film making.
Call Me By Your Name
A sumptuous, sensual, coming of age romance set in the glorious Italian countryside of Lombardi. The film tells the story of teenage Elio (Timothée Chalamet) and his love affair with his father’s archeology research assistant Oliver (Armie Hammer), staying with them for the summer. With their bourgeois family life, summering in their enormous house and enjoying enticing al fresco dinners and delightful breakfasts, lounging by pools and cycling around the sleepy town, it’s all extremely enticing, not to mention spectacularly shot, but what could be seen as tiresome or annoying characters are actually wonderfully well rounded and believable; with the two leads giving subtle melancholy to their character’s passion and the always brilliant Michael Stulbarg as Elio’s father, brings superb honesty to the films quiet climax. A sublime, cinematic wonder.
Death of Stalin
The actual King of Comedy, Armando Iannucci, brings the darkest of satires, the finest of casts and a shit load of swearing, to the best comedy of the year and the greatest show from Jason Isaacs since Skeletons.
I Am Not Your Negro
An extremley impressive documentary directed by Raoul Peck based on an unfinished manuscript from novelist James Baldwin as he reflects on the black civil rights movement, his friends Malcom X and Martin Luther King and the appalling history of racism in the United States. Baldwin’s expressive language and dynamic intellectualism bring a great literary power to the sometimes familiar but always horrifying stories of the violence and injustice that still disgustingly exists in modern America. (A great film to double-bill with Ava DuVernay’s remarkable 13th.)
The Florida Project
Sean Baker’s fantastic follow up to 2015’s Tangerine, is a sweet, funny and sincere drama set in the motels on the margins of the Disney World theme park in Florida. Highlighting the human issues of the marginalised communities surviving from week to week, yet avoiding schmaltz or pontification as it explores this world through the eyes of cheeky six year old Moonee and her friends. They spend their long hot summer days running around causing mischief and licking off the drips from their sticky melting ice creams. A bright, bold, often joyful and sometimes heartbreaking watch with great support from Willem Dafoe.
At times unbearable, persistently excruciating and extremely funny, the three hour running time whips by in a flurry of laughter, nudity and family pain. With absolutely note perfect performances from Sandra Hüller and Peter Simonischek and a climax that is both expertly orchestrated farce and powerful emotional drama, it’s easy (but a shame) to see why it’s already being remade in the English language.
I had been away from work for a few days where I had caught up on some great new releases, enjoyed a couple of London Film Festival screenings and was fully immersed in the unfolding horror story of the Harvey Weinstein scandal.
Stories of strong women speaking out and weak white men making at best, feeble platitudes and at worst inexcusable excuses.
When the New York Times story first surfaced I wasn’t surprised, anyone interested in cinema has always known HW to be a horrendous bullying creep. And anyone who knows anything about sexual politics, knows that women have for what seems like an eternity, been treated like shit, by big men, in big jobs. Power. Sex. Scandal. It was disgusting, upsetting and vile but not particularly shocking.
Ben Affleck, got swept up in his own embaressing scandal(s).
And Matt bloody Damon said:
“As the father of four daughters, this is the kind of sexual predation that keeps me up at night.”
I am sick and tired of the father/daughter tripe.
Things I always cringe at when I hear them (Thankfully NEVER from my own father):
“I worry about my little girls growing up too fast, I know what I was like when I was that age”
“No daughter of mine can go out dressed like that”
“It’s easier having sons, you don’t need to worry about what they might get up to”
The “As a father” line is pretty much code for “As a Father, I have changed the way I see women, so instead of them being sexual objects in my eyes, they are now creatures to be protected from the rapey kind of lad that I once was.”
I have shamefully, guiltily defended Allen for years. YEARS. “He wasn’t convicted”, “It was HER adopted daughter, not his” “It’s not illegal, it’s just a bit creepy” – The blurry lines surrounding Allen’s scandals are messy and well known, so I won’t go into them again but I have, despite knowing that he’s probably, almost definitely done something wrong along the way, defended him, because I just didn’t want one of my favourite directors to be on the bad side. His films were too important to me.
It’s easy to hate Trump and Weinstein, they’re famous bullies. But Woody, his neurotic, intelligent, jazzy, New Yorky, hilarious, sharpness was something I fell in love with a very long time ago. Not to mention the fact that he directed AT LEAST ONE of the greatest, most beautiful films of all time. Which happens to also be one of his most awkwardly uncomfortable ones, in context.
So where is the line? I have seen more of Woody Allen’s output than any other director. Will Manhattan, Annie Hall, Sleeper, Crimes and Misdemeanours, Love and Death etc have to be sent to the charity shop? Must I stop quoting him? Is it easier because he’s not really done anything great for ages?
Recently I have laughed, cried and applauded Argo, The Martian and Manchester By The Sea.JFK is one of my favourite films. And what about Rosemary’s Baby and Chinatown? There’s absolutely no defending Polanski, but what about the films? This is an old question, but I still don’t know the answer, when do we boycott? When do we say no to the FILMS? How long can you separate the art from the artist?
I’m a proud feminist and a lifelong cineaste so what do we do?
Back to today…
This morning, I overheard a woman, a white privileged, educated women say a number of outrageous things, including, but not limited to the following:
“If he’d looked like Paul Newman, would they have minded?”
“Feminism has gone too far.”
“If they go into his bedroom, it can’t be called rape.”
“Women have always slept their way to the top. Now they call it sexual harassment.”
I argued. But not enough. It’s never enough.
The women on my timeline are bravely sharing their own stories of sexual abuse and harassment. I don’t think I’d ever be brave enough to write it all down. My stories probably aren’t as significant, and it’s embarrassing anyway… and my Dad is on Facebook. But it’s powerful and disturbing to see it all there in one place. So many stories. Women I have known for years, women I have known for weeks, women I have never met, strangers and friends.
Of course we keep talking, and fighting and arguing and laughing and joking and hugging. The talking is important though. If we can. It does feel like something could change this time. Harvey Weinstein has been booted off the Academy Awards board. Next up, Polanski and Gibson perchance?
Maybe, what we’ve finally got on our hands here, is a dead shark…
La La Land was always going to be the film for me, before the awards nods and rave reviews, I was excited, I couldn’t wait: a musical with Emma Stone, a Hollywood film about Hollywood filmmakers, Damien Chapelle’s second movie after the crashing excellence of jazz drumming Whiplash, something would have to go seriously wrong for this film not hit me in the heart.
So after finally arriving on UK general release into the cold, darkness of January, on a wave of hype and critical praise, I tried to keep my expectations in check as I sat down to watch this throughly modern musical. If it wasn’t for the fact that I am now in my thirties and have at least a modicum of cynicism more than I did ten years ago, this film, I fear, would have physically broken me. As it was, I was left quite overwhelmed, despite the fact that there is already so much love for La La Land, I had no idea that it would be so personal and affecting.
From the massive opening choreographed number to the final melancholic close, this is almost a note perfect film, with the detail, love and care of a director who knows what cinema and musicals and film history can mean to their audience when done correctly, and with warmth.
La La Land is steeped in nostalgia, with glorious homages to the golden days of Singing in the Rain and Top Hat but at its core is the relationship between Emma Stone’s Mia and Ryan Gosling’s Seb, which is believable, contemporary and funny. They are equally matched and perfectly paired. They crackle and sparkle and delight with their laid back warmth and charm. Emma Stone has been wonderful in everything since Easy A but this is surely her shining moment.
Mia and Seb sing, imperfectly, with the ease of Fred and Ginger and tap together with joyful grace and a beautiful backdrop of the sunrise colours of tinseltown. The whole film is perfectly shot and sound stages are used with a twinkling nod to the cinematic past. It is hopeful and romantic yet melancholy and heartbreaking, it is real and fantastical. We can choose how to read it but can’t fail to be swept along with it. An ode to the dreamers… and the jazz.
In the weeks since I first saw this film, I’ve heard so many arguments about why it isn’t the joyful film I think it is. Yes sure, if you really want to pull it part you could, you can search for its imperfections and shout me down or bash them out on your keypad, but why would you want to? When so much in the world is trying to pull us down, why would you try to stop a film which purpose is to lift us up, up and away into the planetarium stars of the Griffin Observatory, on a waltz and a wish and a song?