—Leviathan: I remember being cratered by Andrey Zvyagintsev’s film, its helpless and hopeless story of a family displaced and destroyed by a confluence of church and state corruption. The director’s self-seriousness serves the material (and its attendant Book of Job underscoring) better than it does his subsequent Loveless.
—Vertigo: Hitchcock’s essential document about the poisoning effect of desire, using the ‘good guy’ part of Jimmy Stewart’s star persona and warping it, twisting it into the possessive creator of the figure of the woman he thinks he knew (Kim Novak). One of the greatest ever supporting performances by Barbara Bel Geddes as Midge.
—Unrelated: A debut completely of a piece with the work following it, Joanna Hogg’s sun-soaked first film is a mid-life crisis movie in disguise, as Kathryn Worth’s Anna holidays with an old, distant friend, and spends most of her time in rapturous contentment with the young cohort, led by Oakley (Tom Hiddleston). Painful viewing. Pair it with Lucrecia Martel’s La Ciénaga.
—The Cow: Dariush Mehrjui’s newly restored film looks and sounds tremendous, the sharpness of its cast’s voices and the beauty of its stark, widescreen images hint to the richness of pre-revolutionary Iranian cinema.
—Pierrot le Fou: The excursion in the trees, as the camera dances along with Karina and Belmondo, is one of my favourite passages in Godard’s films. It’s always so satisfying.
—A Day in the Country: This ‘incomplete’ film raises the question as to whether any other film, ever, can lay claim to that description if this can’t. A 40-minute adaption of de Maupassant’s short story, it’s every one of life’s pleasures gathered in a reflection upon town vs country, realism vs impressionism, love vs convenient partnerships.
—Equinox Flower: Ozu’s first colour film, and it would seem as though he never worked without it. Radiantly beautiful study of a patriarch’s hypocrisy, and how a family unit deals with the father’s shortsightedness. It never leaves me.
—A Woman Under the Influence: Cassavetes’s 1974 feature contains the best performance of his filmography, and one of my favourites. Rowlands, as a woman whose mental health unspools, is heartbreaking and so lovable; and Falk’s husband, loving her uncontrollably, fails to marshal his life around her. I’m teary even thinking about it.
—The Headless Woman: Incidentally this would make some double-bill with the film above. Martel’s third feature is discomfiting cinema of the self: in framing and sound design, the director drops a viewer into something resembling Verónica’s consciousness, and it feels like concussion. Fragmentary and alarming.
—The Stuart Hall Project: John Akomfrah’s documentary, which matches the development of Stuart Hall’s intellectual career with the development of Miles Davis’s musical one, is a sore reminder that we need figures like Hall in public life—and becomes even sorer when we know there isn’t one.
—Three: The first film I’ve seen by Johnnie To. This 2016 thriller, set within a hospital and its variously enmeshed crises of conscience and ethics brought on by the arrival of a police suspect with a bullet in his brain, is worth admission alone for a late-in-the-day shoot-out in which the camera roams a ward in slow-motion. Delicious.
—Days of Heaven: Because it’s one of Malick’s best films; because it’s not available anywhere else in the UK; because it’s one of the most resplendent things captured on celluloid; because Gere and Adams are a lovely romantic pair; because of Linda Manz’s narration, which alters the film entirely, changes its emphasis, centres her personality and her odd sense of humour; because of the swarming sequence; because of Sam Shepherd’s tragic, gorgeous farmer; because of Ennio Morricone’s score; because.
—Baahubali: The Beginning: I suspect this could be screened in a 60,000-strong venue and tickle every single viewer. The action sequences are delightfully odd and inventive, the songs are great, and the fact it’s both gargantuan and in essence a frame story endears me to it so much.
—Atlantics: Mati Diop’s first feature, set in Dakar, aches. A ghost story, a police procedural, a romance, and yet at all times it speaks to the desperation of Senegal’s young population in the most ravishingly beautiful way. The sea has rarely been filmed as forbiddingly.
—The Grandmaster: So, yes, this is the shorter cut, not the glorious 130-minute Hong Kong one. But Wong Kar-wai’s most recent work, even in curtailed form, still amazes: the film’s details are immaculate (the bead of water dropping from the brim of Ip’s hat!), the fight choreography artful, the acting measured and all the more moving because of it. Gong Er’s fight—and Zhang Ziyi’s expression of her character’s mastery—on the snowy platform is exhilarating. “I was lucky to meet you in my prime.”
—Happy New Year, Colin Burstead: Ben Wheatley’s party of family disrepair is diverting and gamely acted, its storm of personalities controlled by a tight editing scheme, which whips away from the punchline as it lands. Hayley Squires’s line readings are a thing of joy, and one character advocates the “good Brexit, the Tony Benn Brexit.” I don’t need to say more.
—Minding the Gap: One of my favourite documentaries of last year, Bing Liu’s film is a study in the way people present themselves to the world, how a person’s personality is animated by aspects of life inaccessible to most, and even when accessible, beyond difficult to put words to. But, dear God, it tries. I love Keire: I hope he’s well.
—Night of the Living Dead: I adore the pace, the steady decline into devastation of George A. Romero’s epochal horror picture. Its art is one of practicality, and it’s partly because of this that the final sting is so painful.
—Nothing Like a Dame: Dames Atkins, Dench, Plowright, and Smith gather around garden tables, dining tables, and living room settees to gossip, moan, giggle, and misremember. Easy-going but I can’t tell you how much fun it is.
And, without irony, because I can’t resist—The Shaun the Sheep Movie. It’s splendid.