Samstag, 10. April 2021

The Empty Man

© 2020 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved / Walt Disney Studios

★★★★

"Prior kombiniert Nihilismus mit wesensverwandten Denkansätzen – der Prolog spielt im buddhistisch geprägten Bhutan, Amanda und ihre Clique gehen auf eine Highschool, die nach dem Sprachphilosophen Jacques Derrida benannt ist – und verdichtet diese Bezüge zu einer alles durchziehenden Urangst: vor der Leere des Universums, vor der Vorstellung, dass jedweder 'Sinn' darin eine menschengemachte Illusion ist."

Ganze Kritik auf Maximum Cinema

Dienstag, 6. April 2021

Maximum Cinema Filmpodcast #22: "Capone", "Burrow", "Promising Young Woman"

© Olivier Samter

In Folge 22 des Maximum Cinema-Podcasts sorgen drei Filme für viel Gesprächsstoff: Capone irritiert Daniel, Olivier und mich mit wenig Tiefgang und viel Make-up, während Lola eine Lanze für Josh Tranks Gangsterdrama bricht; beim Pixar-Kurzfilm Burrow sorgt schon die Inhaltsangabe für Uneinigkeit; und in Emerald Fennells oscarnominiertem Promising Young Woman geben das irreführende Marketing und die ungewöhnliche Herangehensweise an Traumata zu reden. Die Episode ist auf allen gängigen Podcast-Plattformen verfügbar.

Freitag, 2. April 2021

Raya and the Last Dragon

Vor 500 Jahren wurde das Land Kumandra von den Druun heimgesucht, bösen Geistern, die Menschen in steinerne Statuen verwandeln. Doch dank eines letzten Aufbäumens der mächtigen Drachen konnte das Ende der Welt verhindert werden: Sie opferten sich, um eine magische Kugel zu erschaffen, mit denen die Druun gebannt werden konnten. Kumandra war gerettet, nicht aber der Frieden unter seinen Bewohner*innen: Es entbrannte ein Streit um die Drachenkugel, und das Land, das an einem drachenförmigen Fluss liegt, spaltete sich in fünf regionale Stämme auf – Heart, Fang, Spine, Talon und Tail.

Raya (gesprochen von Kelly Marie Tran) ist die Tochter von Benja (Daniel Dae Kim), dem Anführer des Heart-Stammes und Beschützer der Drachenkugel. Als Benja Delegationen aller anderen Stämme zu einem Bankett einlädt, um die 500-jährigen Differenzen endlich beizulegen, verschuldet Raya eine Katastrophe: Sie zeigt Namaari (Gemma Chan), der Prinzessin von Fang, die Kammer, in der die mächtige Kugel aufbewahrt wird; das Artefakt zerbricht in fünf Teile, jeder Stamm reisst sich ein Stück unter den Nagel. Und zu allem Überfluss werden die Druun dadurch von ihrem Bann erlöst und terrorisieren Kumandra von neuem.

Weitere sechs Jahre später befindet sich Raya auf der Suche nach dem sagenumwobenen "letzten Drachen", mit dessen Hilfe sie ihren Fehler ausbügeln und Kumandra einen will. Doch wie sich herausstellt, entspricht dieser Drache nicht ihren Vorstellungen: Sisu (Awkwafina) ist nicht der erhoffte Druun-Schreck, von dem in den Legenden die Rede ist, sondern ein unbeholfener Schussel.

Wer erklären will, worum es in Raya and the Last Dragon geht, braucht einen langen Atem. Der 59. Film aus der Animationsschmiede von Walt Disney Pictures mag, Abspann nicht eingerechnet, keine 95 Minuten dauern – doch das Fantasy-Epos von Don Hall (Big Hero 6) und Carlos López Estrada (Blindspotting) wartet mit so viel fiktivem historischem Hintergrund, so viel Erzählstoff und mythologischen Andeutungen auf, dass es bisweilen wie der Zusammenschnitt einer Disney+-Serie wirkt.

Die Welt ist aus den Fugen – und Raya (Stimme: Kelly Marie Tran) versucht, sie wieder geradezubiegen.
© Disney
Es steht ausser Frage, dass das Drehbuchduo Adele Lim (Crazy Rich Asians) und Qui Nguyen hier konzeptuell Grosses geleistet hat: Mit Kumandra wird hier eine reichhaltige, lebendige Welt geschaffen, die sowohl in den diversen kulturellen, philosophischen und religiösen Traditionen Ost- und Südostasiens verwurzelt ist, als auch in der jüngeren Popkultur, die sich von denselben Quellen hat inspirieren lassen – vom breiten Kanon ostasiatisch geprägter Young-Adult-Fiction bis hin zum Nickelodeon-Serienhit Avatar: The Last Airbender (2005–2008).

Doch diese Welt erhält keinen Platz, um sich zu entfalten: Raya and the Last Dragon erzählt eine videospielähnliche Item-Sammel-Geschichte nach Schema F: Raya und Sisu reisen von liebevoll ausgearbeitetem Ort zu liebevoll ausgearbeitetem Ort und nehmen es dort in knapp gehaltenen zehnminütigen Sequenzen mit Gegenspieler*innen mit regionsspezifischen Fähigkeiten auf, um schliesslich ein weiteres Stück Drachenkugel zu ergattern. Zeit, um die Lokalitäten etwas näher kennenzulernen, bleibt kaum je, denn es wartet stets schon die nächste Destination.

Raya bittet Sisu (Awkwafina), den letzten Drachen, um Hilfe.
© Disney
Neu ist diese Erzählstruktur nicht, schon gar nicht im Animationsfilm. Allein 2020 folgten sowohl das DreamWorks-Sequel Trolls World Tour als auch die chinesisch-amerikanische Produktion Over the Moon einer ähnlichen Handlung; das Gleiche gilt für einige der besten Werke der jüngeren US-Animation. Doch ein Coraline (2009) oder ein Inside Out (2015) verstanden es, ihre Schauplätze überschaubar und der Filmlänge angemessen zu halten. Wo es sich jene Filme erlaubten, näher auf Figuren, Konflikte und thematische Motive einzugehen, rennt Raya unerbittlich seinem Plot hinterher, auf Kosten der Figurenzeichnung: Die Titelheldin ist eine farb- und tiefenlose Protagonistinnen-Schablone, deren einzige erkennbare Charaktereigenschaft der Wille ist, die ihr vom Skript zugedachte Mission zu erfüllen. Und auch die Mitstreiter*innen, die Raya auf ihrer Reise begegnen – darunter ein einsamer Krieger (Benedict Wong) und eine Baby-Meisterdiebin (Thalia Tran) – dienen vorab als Mittel zum Zweck oder scheinen als kalkulierte Publikumslieblinge mit Aussicht auf eine Spin-off-Serie gedacht zu sein.

Auf der Suche nach den Bruchstücken der magischen Drachenkugel kommt Raya die gewiefte Namaari (Gemma Chan) in die Quere.
© Disney
Das ohnehin schon überladene Fantasy-Actionabenteuer tut sich auch keinen Gefallen damit, seine mythologisch-historischen Versatzstücke mit zeitgenössischen komödiantischen Einlagen "anzureichern", ausgehend von Awkwafinas Casting als Sisu. Die New Yorker Schauspielerin, Komikerin und Rapperin, die vor allem für ihre urkomischen Leistungen als Charakterdarstellerin in Ocean's Eight (2018) und Crazy Rich Asians (2018) bekannt ist, spielt hier weniger eine klar definierte Rolle, als dass sie eine Leerstelle im Drehbuch mit ihrer eigenen Comedy-Persona ausfüllt – was nach ihrer grossartigen dramatischen Darbietung in Lulu Wangs wunderbarem The Farewell (2019) besonders enttäuschend ist. "I'm not the best dragon", warnt Sisu Raya bei ihrem ersten Treffen. Warum genau, bleibt weitgehend ein Rätsel – ausserhalb der Tatsache, dass Sisu, wie die meisten von Awkwafinas Film- und Bühnenfiguren, ein ungelenkes Plappermaul mit akuter Witzelsucht ist.

Es ist diese fehlgeleitete Kombination aus oberflächlich erzähltem Epos und einer familienfreundlichen Version linkischer Impro-Comedy Marke Judd Apatow (Trainwreck, The King of Staten Island), wo Sprüche über Gruppenprojekte geklopft und Meta-Kommentare über peinliche Situationen gemacht werden, an welcher der Film letzten Endes zerbricht. Raya and the Last Dragon wirkt nicht wie eine kohärente Vision, sondern wie eine Sammlung einfach zu vermarktender Einzelteile, die in einem Disney-Marktforschungslabor zu einem franchisentauglichen Monstrum zusammengepappt wurden.

★★

Dienstag, 30. März 2021

Maximum Cinema Filmpodcast: "Don't Believe the Hype" (Live an den 45. Schweizer Jugendfilmtagen)

© Olivier Samter

Am 20. März feierte der Maximum Cinema-Podcast im Rahmen der 45. Schweizer Jugendfilmtage sein Live-Debüt – wenn auch pandemiebedingt via Zoom. Daniel, Olivier und ich unterhielten uns rund eine Stunde lang vor Publikum über Quentin Tarantinos Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019) und die Erwartungen, die an grosse Regisseur*innen gestellt werden. Die Unterhaltung ist jetzt als Spezialepisode auf allen gängigen Podcast-Plattformen verfügbar.

Dienstag, 23. März 2021

Maximum Cinema Filmpodcast #21: Schweizer Filmpreis, Bier und Cordon bleu für Dimitri Stapfer, "Raya and the Last Dragon" und "WandaVision"

© Olivier Samter

Der Schweizer Filmpreis steht vor der Tür, also nehmen Daniel, Lola, Olivier und ich die Kandidaten im Rennen um den besten Film unter die Lupe, während Mirjam Schilliger den Schauspiel-Shooting-Star Dimitri Stapfer interviewt. Danach steht in Folge 21 des Maximum Cinema-Podcasts Disney im Zentrum: Wie schlagen sich der Animationsfilm Raya and the Last Dragon und die Marvel-Miniserie WandaVision? Die Episode ist auf allen gängigen Podcast-Plattformen verfügbar.

Sonntag, 21. März 2021

WandaVision

Warning: This review contains mild spoilers for the first four episodes of WandaVision.

Watching WandaVision, the new Disney+ series seeking to lift from the shadows two characters marginalised by the Marvel Cinematic Universe's overplotted big-screen spectacles, is a deeply weird experience. Marking the Disney-owned Marvel Studios' return from a pandemic-induced 18-month release hiatus, Jac Shaeffer's nine-episode limited series serves both as a much-needed corrective to a franchise formula that has gone a little stale in recent years and as an uneasy reminder that we would have been perfectly fine if the hiatus had continued indefinitely.

In fairness, WandaVision can be read as an honest attempt at wrestling with the emotional shortcomings of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), starting with its very premise: it casts as its protagonists the telekinetically gifted Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) and her android love interest Vision (Paul Bettany) – two superheroes who have played a somewhat active part in the first decade of MCU movies, most notably in Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) and Avengers: Infinity War (2018), but who have, overall, remained largely ancillary characters, their relationship mostly relegated to blink-and-you-miss-them scenes of interpersonal development. So to use these characters to well and truly get the MCU underway again, after the quasi-franchise reset of Avengers: Endgame (2019) and a likely industry-changing pandemic, is a bold move, to say the least.

Yet for three episodes or so, creator and head writer Jac Shaeffer, along with director Matt Shakman, delivers – and improves upon – the kind of gentle stylistic and tonal self-innovation by which the MCU's very best entries distinguish themselves. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) gestured towards Alan J. Pakula and Sydney Pollack; Ryan Coogler's Black Panther (2018) dabbled in afrofuturism; James Gunn's Guardians of the Galaxy trilogy-in-the-making plays fast and loose with the boundaries between goofy adventure comedy and earnest pathos – while WandaVision pays tribute to the history of scripted American television entertainment, with just a dash of the uncanny surrealism with which Casper Kelly's brilliant 2014 short Too Many Cooks skewered the grotesque world of 1990s sitcoms.

Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen) and Vision (Paul Bettany) in "Filmed Before a Live Studio Audience."
© Disney
The first episode, "Filmed Before a Live Studio Audience," after fittingly retro opening credits, finds Wanda and Vision settling into their new house in picturesque Westview, New Jersey, in what appear to be the 1950s. Plunked in the cosy plainness of a domestic set borrowed from the likes of I Love Lucy (1951–1957), dressed in the period-appropriate garb of middle-class WASPs, filmed in black and white, framed by 4:3 aspect ratio, and accompanied by an overeager laugh track, the two newlyweds have to navigate that most archetypal of low-stakes sitcom kerfuffles: Vision's boss (Fred Melamed) and his wife (Debra Jo Rupp) come for dinner and must not find out about their hosts' extraordinary abilities. Misunderstandings and main course-related emergencies ensue, naturally.

On the one hand, this is a fairly startling break with what the MCU, particularly under Infinity War and Endgame directors Anthony and Joe Russo, has accustomed its audience to – no more breathless exposition, followed by competently choreographed, if hopelessly overlit CGI action, followed by even more exposition. On the other hand, "Filmed Before a Live Studio Audience" also works as a charmingly antiquated piece of comfortable wind-down television, with just the right measure of intrigue and eerie wrongness about it – a red dot of light in a sea of greys here, a small sliver of Lynchian horror there – to suggest that there is more afoot than cheery, tongue-in-cheek nostalgia.

Episodes two and three, "Don't Touch That Dial" and "Now in Color," essentially follow suit, and add to the overarching narrative mystery by seemingly moving forward in time: "Dial," with its animated credits and Stepford Wives-adjacent view of suburbia, invokes the witch-out-of-coven high jinks of the 1960s classic Bewitched (1964–1972); while "Color" dials up, in true 1970s Brady Bunch fashion, not just colours and collars, but the familial hullabaloo as well.

Wanda and Vision's sitcom world seems to be moving through the decades.
© Disney
Part of what makes these first episodes such a delight are the game performances Shakman gets out of the series' leads. Olsen and Bettany are clearly having the time of their lives channelling Lucille Ball and Dick Van Dyke, delivering even the corniest of zingers with infectiously joyful conviction, expanding upon the scant depth the MCU has so far afforded their eminently likeable characters.

However, Marvel storytelling and franchise filmmaking being what they are, it hardly comes as a surprise that what happens in Westview doesn't stay in Westview. Before long, the town's environs are crawling with military personnel and assorted scientists, desperate to figure out what is happening inside the force field-like haze that surrounds Wanda and Vision's new home.

It's at this point, right at the end of episode three, where it becomes clear that WandaVision won't reach escape velocity; that it will inexorably be brought back down to the terra firma of MCU convention. After the wholesome, at times unsettlingly hyperreal strangeness of the opening three episodes, episode four, "We Interrupt This Program," while still reasonably intriguing, mainly plays like patronising reassurance: 'don’t worry, you will get answers to all your questions, and in a familiar fashion at that.' That familiar fashion being, of course, overlit exposition.

That's not to say Teyonah Parris, Randall Park, and Kat Dennings, who play our alternative, 21st-century, 'real life' heroes, aren't an appealing trio. In fact, their office space banter serves as an amusing contemporary echo of Wanda and Vision's carefully calibrated quips: what are 2020s comedy tropes, if not Lucille Ball and Mary Tyler Moore persevering? But the trio are a chop off the old Marvel block nonetheless – plucky vigilantes who help the military rid itself of a scheming bad apple seeking to use its power for evil. The all too well-worn motifs, story beats, and in-universe winks and nods are out in full force – a move exemplified by the fact that Dennings, in playing astrophysicist Darcy Lewis, is reviving a character last seen in 2013's Thor: The Dark World.

Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris) embarks on an investigation into what is happening with Wanda and Vision.
© Disney
While this is not catastrophic in and of itself – after all, it would be naïve to expect a Marvel-produced streaming tentpole not to eventually return to what made its studio the juggernaut it is – it is not a little disappointing how readily WandaVision abandons what made it so unique in the first place. Yes, the sitcom samples don't just disappear post-"Program": there are variations on Growing Pains (1985–1992), Malcolm in the Middle (2000–2006), and Modern Family (2009–2020). But as a result of the impact the external military machinations have on Wanda and Vision's slice of TV suburbia, they are far less dominant in terms of style and narrative, far less playful in how they advance the overarching plot than the earlier ones.

Unfortunately, as it turns out, much of the intrigue evoked in the more formally adventurous episodes dissipates once WandaVision scales back the experimentation. One major casualty of this development is the central relationship between the two titular characters. Although the series visibly reaches for bittersweet poignancy, particularly in the final two episodes ("Previously on" and "The Series Finale"), Wanda and Vision cannot seem to fully cast off their status as underexplored MCU bit players: the sentiments that are expressed are vaguely touching, but they still end up lacking the emotional grounding and the sense of character for those sequences to really land.

It certainly doesn't help that "Previously on" and especially "The Series Finale" are, to a considerable extent, a blandly typical third act in the Marvel mode: villains are revealed, evil plans outlined, numerous seeds for future franchise fodder planted. The action feels perfunctory too, even by the standards of the MCU, where, it seems, every standout sequence – the opening to Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017), the Led Zeppelin-enhanced brawls of Thor: Ragnarok (2017), the battle royale of Infinity War – comes at the cost of three forgettably non-descript ones. Here, Wanda and Vision face off with their respective nemeses in the most generic of ways: hands shoot differently coloured lightning bolts, while bodies smash into the pavement. A series that started with Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany cracking jokes about flying saucers in front of a live studio audience could hardly have ended in a more anticlimactically unimaginative way.

Rambeau is joined on her mission by astrophysicist Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings) and FBI agent Jimmy Woo (Randall Park).
© Disney
So this is Marvel, one year on from its COVID-delayed resurgence after Endgame, with another two Disney+ series (The Falcon and the Winter Soldier and Loki) and another two movies (Black Widow and Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings) coming out or set to come out over the course of the next six months. "Phase 4" of the MCU is raring to go, by the looks of it.

Yet if WandaVision is anything to go by, I don't know if this is a prospect I relish, personally speaking. For while it is a serviceable miniseries (even if it runs almost exclusively on fumes by the end), its ultimate effect is a sobering one: it's difficult to appreciate and admire Shaeffer's attempts at breaking with the Marvel formula when the series that was marketed as 'the weird, experimental one' ends up back on square one, ready for the next piece of franchise media to pick up where Spider-Man: Far from Home (2019) left off. Is this as good, or rather as unconventional, as things are going to get? And if that is the case, why bother? Of course, WandaVision is, in a sense, incidental to this thought process. It just had the misfortune of being the thing that ended the MCU's compulsory 18-month break – and, by virtue of being more diverting than convincing, confirming my own personal impression that I never felt a distinct yearning for that hiatus to end.

Where do we, where does Marvel go from here? The latter question isn't difficult to answer: WandaVision was a streaming hit, and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is shaping up to be one as well. If the international COVID vaccination schedules hold true, Black Widow will be perfectly positioned to be part of a first wave of blockbusters waiting for cinemagoers in a tentative 'post-pandemic' world.

Not even sitcom suburbia is safe from the trappings of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
© Disney
The first question, meanwhile, requires some personal, non-generalisable introspection. For my part, I can say that, in the wake of "The Series Finale," I found myself feeling nostalgic for Iron Man 2 (2010), of all MCU titles – even though I barely remember what happened in it, beyond Mickey Rourke cracking electric whips and Samuel L. Jackson starting to assemble the Avengers.

What I do remember, however, are the circumstances I saw it in: it was early May of 2010, the week before my last day of high school. My dad and I took a miniature road trip to another city to see the movie, because it was only playing in a dubbed version in my hometown. Before heading into the cinema, we walked along the lake at dusk and ate the hot panini we got from a takeaway. During the film, I occasionally leaned over to him to quickly explain stuff to him. Even though it was a full cinema, I was the only person who stuck around to wait for the post-credits scene. After it was over, I went outside and told my dad how excited I was by all the Avengers build-up happening in plain sight. The next day, I tried my hand at a video review that fortunately never saw the light of day.

Overlit action, you were not missed.
© Disney
More than a decade later, I realise that my excitement for the MCU probably peaked with The Avengers (2012); that many of the positive feelings I associate with the franchise may be inextricably bound up with experiences like the one above and the nostalgia resulting from them; and that my emotional investment in these movies likely reached its natural endpoint with Endgame and Far from Home.

Given all of that, it's doubtful that WandaVision could ever have hoped to shepherd me back into the dedicated Marvel fold. Still, I find it quite telling that, 13 years into one of the most ambitious ventures in longform cinematic storytelling ever attempted, the franchise is at its most exciting when it embraces the surreal comfort of television sitcoms, and at its most tiresome when it promises even more franchise.

Dienstag, 9. März 2021

Maximum Cinema Filmpodcast #20: Bond vs. ZFF, "News of the World", "Music", "Greenland" und Film Live Streaming mit Yves Blösche

© Olivier Samter

Das Zurich Film Festival beklagt eine Terminkollision mit dem vorverschobenen neuen James-Bond-Film, doch das ist bei weitem nicht so schlimm wie Music, das Regiedebüt der australischen Popmusikerin Sia. Etwas besser schneidet Paul Greengrass' Western News of the World ab, und in der Diskussion zum Katastrophenfilm Greenland prallen Oliviers und Daniels unterschiedliche Auffassungen von guter Weltuntergangsorganisation aufeinander, während Lola von apokalyptischem Tischtennis erzählt. Und dann hält Folge 20 des Maximum Cinema-Podcasts auch noch ein Interview mit Yves Blösche von der Filmcoopi bereit. Die Episode ist auf allen gängigen Podcast-Plattformen verfügbar.

Sonntag, 7. März 2021

ONE FOR YOU: The Batman Movies


With cinemas still closed, Olivia Tjon-A-Meeuw and I delved into the vault for the latest installment of the One for You Podcast and returned with arguably the first modern string of superhero movies – the Batman franchise that ran from 1989 to 1997 and was helmed by Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher respectively. How does 1989's Batman approach the iconic character? What do we think of the villain-centric Batman Returns (1992)? Are Batman Forever (1995) and Batman & Robin (1997) as bad as their reputations? Strap in – Olivia and I answer these and more questions in the longest One for You discussion to date, clocking in at 73 minutes. Listen to the episode on Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts!

Samstag, 27. Februar 2021

Music

© 2020 Alamode Film / Ascot Elite Schweiz



"Leider braucht Music nicht einmal eine halbe Minute, um klarzustellen, warum die Kritik an Zieglers Casting gerechtfertigt war. Ziegler spielt die autistische Titelfigur, die 14-jährige Music, mit unangenehmem Nachdruck: Sie beisst sich inbrünstig auf die Lippe, verdreht hingebungsvoll die Augen, schlägt sich mit den Händen immer wieder gegen den eigenen Körper – es ist eine Autismus-Maskerade aus dem Bilderbuch, die bisweilen an die Bemühungen von Pausenplatzrüpeln erinnert, 'behindert' zu spielen."

Ganze Kritik auf Maximum Cinema

Dienstag, 23. Februar 2021

Maximum Cinema Filmpodcast #19: Bye Bye Blue Sky, Au revoir Schweizer Oscar, "World of Tomorrow", "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" und "Malcolm & Marie"

© Olivier Samter

Ein Animationsstudio macht dicht, und die Schweiz scheidet sang- und klanglos aus dem Oscarrennen aus. Auch Don Hertzfeldts oscarnominierter Kurzfilm World of Tomorrow (2015) stimmt eher melancholisch – wenn auch im positiven Sinne. So richtig ins Diskutieren kommen Daniel, Lola, Olivier und ich, wenn es um die Bühnenadaption Ma Rainey's Black Bottom und das polarisierende Kammerspiel Malcolm & Marie geht. Folge 19 des Maximum Cinema-Podcasts ist auf allen gängigen Plattformen verfügbar.

Freitag, 19. Februar 2021

News of the World

© Universal Pictures International Switzerland / Bruce W. Talamon / Netflix

★★★★

"News of the World ist eine ruhig erzählte, geradezu malerisch inszenierte Hommage ans goldene Zeitalter des Hollywood-Westerns, an die Blütezeit von John Ford (The Searchers), Howard Hawks (Red River) und Anthony Mann (Winchester '73). Anstelle der hektischen Handkamera-Aufnahmen, die man sich von Greengrass gewohnt ist, findet man hier wunderschöne texanische Panoramen in allen möglichen Farb- und Lichtabstufungen, deren ästhetische Bezüge offensichtlicher nicht sein könnten: Regisseur Greengrass und Kameramann Dariusz Wolski (Pirates of the Caribbean, The Martian) schwelgen in Verweisen auf Ford, Hawks und die amerikanische Landschaftsmalerei."

Ganze Kritik auf Maximum Cinema

Freitag, 12. Februar 2021

Malcolm & Marie

© Dominic Miller/NETFLIX © 2021



"Das Drehbuch bewegt sich auf dem Niveau eines übermotivierten Filmschul-Erstsemestlers, von den grossen, von Klischees durchsetzten Reden bis hin zu den sprunghaften Figuren, die schon bei der kleinsten Provokation jegliche Selbstbeherrschung verlieren. Malcolm und Marie wirken nicht wie glaubwürdige Figuren, sondern wie hohle Gefässe, aus denen bierernste, inhaltlich haarsträubende Zeilen über Kunst, Kritik und 'wahre Liebe' erklingen. Bald einmal fragt man sich, warum die beiden Akteure überhaupt noch zusammen sind."

Ganze Kritik auf Maximum Cinema

Mittwoch, 10. Februar 2021

Maximum Cinema Filmpodcast #18: Golden-Globes-Sh*tposting, "Pretend It's a City", "One Night in Miami" und "The White Tiger"

© Olivier Samter

Auch in diesem Jahr provozieren die Golden-Globes-Nominationen Stirnrunzeln, doch davon erholen sich Daniel, Lola, Olivier und ich schnell – dank Martin Scorseses wunderbarer Doku-Miniserie Pretend It's a City über die redselige New Yorker Ikone Fran Lebowitz. Auch One Night in Miami konnte wenigstens 50 Prozent des Moderationsteams überzeugen; und auch The White Tiger liefert mehr als genug Diskussionsstoff. Und damit nicht genug: Folge 18 enthält die längste Post-Credits-Szene der Maximum Cinema-Podcastgeschichte. Der Podcast ist auf allen gängigen Plattformen verfügbar.

Dienstag, 9. Februar 2021

One Night in Miami

© Amazon Studios

★★★★

"Dass so eine Adaption schnell einmal wie abgefilmtes Theater ohne viel filmhandwerklichen Elan wirken kann, hat vor weniger als zwei Monaten George C. Wolfes blasse August–Wilson-Interpretation Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (2020) gezeigt. Doch Powers und King, die auf diverse TV-Regie-Engagements (Scandal, This Is Us) hier nun ihr Spielfilmdebüt folgen lässt, haben an den richtigen Schrauben gedreht, um mit One Night in Miami nicht nur thematisch, sondern auch ästhetisch und erzählerisch zu überzeugen."

Ganze Kritik auf Maximum Cinema

Freitag, 5. Februar 2021

Swallow

© Courtesy of IFC Films

★★★★

"Regisseur und Drehbuchautor Carlo Mirabella-Davis verarbeitet in Swallow eine provokante Metapher: Indem sie ihren Körper mit scharfen Objekten und ätzenden Substanzen füllt, kontert Hunter all die toxischen Elemente, die sie als Frau in der patriarchalen Gesellschaft 'schlucken' muss – allen voran die Erwartung, dass sie sich aus lauter Dankbarkeit für die auf sie übertragene finanzielle Sicherheit mit der Existenz als makellose Gattin und identitätslose Gebärmaschine zufriedenzugeben hat."

Ganze Kritik auf Maximum Cinema

Montag, 1. Februar 2021

The Dig

© Cr. Larry Horricks /  Netflix© 2021

★★★★

"Vom Schiff aus mag Stones Aufarbeitung der Sutton-Hoo-Ausgrabung wie eine jener blutleeren Prestige-Historienproduktionen über die ach so gloriosen Errungenschaften Grossbritanniens aussehen. Doch in diesem Fall könnte der Schein kaum mehr trügen: The Dig begegnet seiner Thematik mit ästhetischer Virtuosität und der Bereitschaft, sie in einen weitaus grösseren, existenzielleren Zusammenhang zu stellen."

Ganze Kritik auf Maximum Cinema

Dienstag, 26. Januar 2021

Maximum Cinema Filmpodcast #17: "The Kid", "Pieces of a Woman" und "Sound of Metal", oder: Der Hundertjährige, der den Oscarkandidaten die Show stahl

© Olivier Samter

Charlie Chaplins Stummfilmklassiker The Kid feiert sein 100-jähriges Jubiläum – und Daniel, Lola, Olivier und ich feiern in Episode 17 des Maximum Cinema-Podcasts mit! Danach geht es thematisch etwas getragener zu und her: Wir werden uns zu viert nicht ganz einig über Kornél Mundruczós Drama Pieces of a Woman, und auch Darius Marders Sound of Metal, in dem Riz Ahmed einen hörgeschädigten Schlagzeuger spielt, gibt Anlass zur Diskussion. Der Podcast ist auf allen gängigen Plattformen verfügbar.

Sonntag, 24. Januar 2021

ONE FOR YOU: "The White Tiger" & "The Remains of the Day"


Join Olivia Tjon-A-Meeuw and me as we embark on a class-heavy discussion of two adaptations of Booker Prize-winning novels: first, we take a look at Ramin Bahrani's latest, the Delhi-set rags-to-fewer-rags drama The White Tiger, before we turn our attention to James Ivory's majestic The Remains of the Day from 1993. Listen on Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts, which films we picked, what we think of each other's choices, and who is objectively right.

Samstag, 16. Januar 2021

Maximum Cinema Filmpodcast #16: "Soul", "Wolfwalkers", "The Mandalorian" und der Geist von "Princess Mononoke"

© Olivier Samter

Die Kinos haben immer noch geschlossen, also mussten Daniel, Lola, Olivier und ich auf die diversen Streaming-Anbieter zurückgreifen, um podcasttechnisch ins neue Jahr zu starten. Und wir wurden fündig: In Folge 16 des Maximum Cinema-Podcasts besprechen wir Pixars Soul und die Star Wars-Fernsehserie The Mandalorian, die beide auf Disney+ verfügbar sind, sowie den auf Apple TV+ erhältlichen Cartoon-Saloon-Animationsfilm Wolfwalkers. Und irgendwie kommen wir immer wieder auf Princess Mononoke zurück. Der Podcast ist auf allen gängigen Plattformen verfügbar.

Donnerstag, 14. Januar 2021

"Facing the Bitter Truth"-Filmpreis 2020

Bester Film


  • About Endlessness von Roy Andersson
  • The Assistant von Kitty Green
  • Fireball: Visitors from Darker Worlds von Werner Herzog und Clive Oppenheimer
  • I'm Thinking of Ending Things von Charlie Kaufman
  • Knives Out von Rian Johnson
  • Little Women von Greta Gerwig
  • Lovers Rock von Steve McQueen
  • Never Rarely Sometimes Always von Eliza Hittman
  • There Is No Evil von Mohammad Rasoulof
  • Uncut Gems von Josh und Benny Safdie


Beste Regie

  • Greta GerwigLittle Women
  • Kitty GreenThe Assistant
  • Eliza HittmanNever Rarely Sometimes Always
  • Spike LeeDa 5 Bloods
  • Terrence MalickA Hidden Life
  • Steve McQueenLovers Rock
  • Benny Safdie, Josh Safdie Uncut Gems


Beste Hauptdarstellerin

  • Paula Beer als Undine Wibeau in Undine
  • Jessie Buckley als The Young Woman in I'm Thinking of Ending Things
  • Monica Dolan als Sue Bagnold in Days of the Bagnold Summer
  • Sidney Flanigan als Autumn in Never Rarely Sometimes Always
  • Julia Garner als Jane in The Assistant
  • Saoirse Ronan als Josephine "Jo" March in Little Women
  • Evan Rachel Wood als Old Dolio Dyne in Kajillionaire


Bester Hauptdarsteller

  • Sacha Baron Cohen als Borat Sagdiyev in Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan
  • Bartosz Bielenia als Daniel in Corpus Christi
  • Daniel Craig als Benoit Blanc in Knives Out
  • Paul Walter Hauser als Richard Jewell in Richard Jewell
  • Delroy Lindo als Paul in Da 5 Bloods
  • Shaun Parkes als Frank Crichlow in Mangrove
  • Adam Sandler als Howard Ratner in Uncut Gems


Beste Nebendarstellerin

  • Maria Bakalova als Tutar Sagdiyev in Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan
  • Irlande Côté als Camille in Une colonie
  • Miranda Hart als Miss Bates in Emma.
  • Samantha Ko als Qin in A Sun
  • Florence Pugh als Amy March in Little Women
  • Amanda Seyfried als Marion Davies in Mank
  • Mahiro Tanimoto als Mahiro in Family Romance, LLC


Bester Nebendarsteller

  • Colman Domingo als Cutler in Ma Rainey's Black Bottom
  • Fabien Fenet als Maître Nicolas L'oiseleur in Jeanne
  • Kevin Garnett als Kevin Garnett in Uncut Gems
  • Robbie Gee als Simeon in Alex Wheatle
  • Tom Hanks als Fred Rogers in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
  • Hugh Laurie als Mr. Dick in The Personal History of David Copperfield
  • Ehsan Mirhosseini als Heshmat in There Is No Evil


Beste Voiceover-Performance

  • Richard Ayoade als Jerry in Soul
  • Bruce Davis als Billy in The Vast of Night
  • Will Forte als Tim Willoughby in The Willoughbys
  • Rachel House als Terry in Soul
  • Marc-Uwe Kling als Das Känguru / Erzähler in Die Känguru-Chroniken
  • Jessica Louthander als Erzählerin in About Endlessness
  • Julia Pott als Emily in World of Tomorrow Episode Three: The Absent Destinations of David Prime


Bestes Schauspiel-Ensemble

  • Kajillionaire – Adam Bartley, Patricia Belcher, Mark Ivanir, Richard Jenkins, Da'Vine Joy Randolph, Rachel Redleaf, Diana-Maria Riva, Gina Rodriguez, Randy Ryan, Debra Winger, Evan Rachel Wood
  • Knives Out – Toni Collette, Daniel Craig, Jamie Lee Curtis, Ana de Armas, Chris Evans, Marlene Forte, Don Johnson, Katherine Langford, Riki Lindhome, Jaeden Martell, Frank Oz, Edi Patterson, Christopher Plummer, Noah Segan, Michael Shannon, Lakeith Stanfield, M. Emmet Walsh
  • Little Women – Timothée Chalamet, Chris Cooper, Laura Dern, Louis Garrel, Tracy Letts, Bob Odenkirk, James Norton, Florence Pugh, Saoirse Ronan, Eliza Scanlen, Meryl Streep, Emma Watson
  • Mangrove – Darren Braithwaite, Richie Campbell, Duane Facey-Pearson, Jumayn Hunter, Alex Jennings, Malachi Kirby, Jack Lowden, Nathaniel Martello-White, Shaun Parkes, Rochenda Sandall, Sam Spruell, Samuel West, Letitia Wright
  • The Personal History of David Copperfield – Nikki Amuka-Bird, Aneurin Barnard, Darren Boyd, Peter Capaldi, Gwendoline Christie, Morfydd Clark, Daisy May Cooper, Matthew Cottle, Rosalind Eleazar, Bronagh Gallagher, Hugh Laurie, Dev Patel, Tilda Swinton, Anthony Welsh, Ben Whishaw, Paul Whitehouse, Benedict Wong
  • A Sun – Chen Yi-wen, Greg Hsu, Samantha Ko, Liu Kuan-ting, Wenn Chen-ling, Apple Wu, Wu Chien-ho, Ivy Yin
  • Uncut Gems – John Amos, Jonathan Aranbayev, Eric Bogosian, Wayne Diamond, Noa Fisher, Julia Fox, Mike Francesca, Kevin Garnett, Judd Hirsch, Jacob Igielski, Tommy Kominik, Natasha Lyonne, Idina Menzel, Josh Ostrofsky, Adam Sandler, Lakeith Stanfield, Tilda Swinton, Abel Tesfaye, Keith Williams Richards


Bester nicht-englischsprachiger Film

  • About Endlessness von Roy Andersson (Schwedisch)
  • Corpus Christi von Jan Komasa (Polnisch)
  • Family Romance, LLC von Werner Herzog (Japanisch)
  • Hexenkinder von Edwin Beeler (Deutsch, Italienisch)
  • Honeyland von Tamara Kotevska und Ljubomir Stefanov (Rumelija, Bosnisch, Serbokroatisch, Mazedonisch)
  • Les Misérables von Ladj Ly (Französisch)
  • Sekuritas von Carmen Stadler (Deutsch)
  • A Sun von Chung Mong-hong (Mandarin)
  • There Is No Evil von Mohammad Rasoulof (Farsi)
  • The Wild Goose Lake von Diao Yinan (Wuhan-Mandarin)


Bester Animationsfilm

  • The Willoughbys von Kris Pearn
  • Wolfwalkers von Tomm Moore und Ross Stewart
  • World of Tomorrow Episode Three: The Absent Destinations of David Prime von Don Hertzfeldt


Bester Dokumentarfilm

  • Dick Johnson Is Dead von Kirsten Johnson
  • Fireball: Visitors from Darker Worlds von Werner Herzog und Clive Oppenheimer
  • Hexenkinder von Edwin Beeler
  • Honeyland von Tamara Kotevska und Ljubomir Stefanov
  • In Search of a Flat Earth von Dan Olson


Bestes Originaldrehbuch

  • Da 5 Bloods – Danny Bilson, Paul De Meo, Spike Lee, Kevin Willmott
  • The Assistant – Kitty Green
  • Corpus Christi – Mateusz Pacewicz
  • Kajillionaire – Miranda July
  • Knives Out – Rian Johnson
  • Never Rarely Sometimes Always – Eliza Hittman
  • Uncut Gems – Ronald Bronstein, Benny Safdie, Josh Safdie


Bestes adaptiertes Drehbuch

  • A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood – Micah Fitzerman-Blue, Noah Harpster (basierend auf dem Esquire-Artikel "Can You Say ... Hero?" von Tom Junod)
  • Dark Waters – Matthew Michael Carnahan, Mario Correa (basierend auf dem New York Times Magazine-Artikel "The Lawyer Who Became DuPont's Worst Nightmare" von Nathaniel Rich)
  • Days of the Bagnold Summer – Lisa Owens (basierend auf dem Graphic Novel Days of the Bagnold Summer von Joff Winterhart)
  • I'm Thinking of Ending Things – Charlie Kaufman (basierend auf dem Roman I'm Thinking of Ending Things von Iain Reid)
  • The Invisible Man – Leigh Whannell (basierend auf dem Konzept des Romans The Invisible Man von H. G. Wells)
  • Little Women – Greta Gerwig (basierend auf dem Roman Little Women von Louisa May Alcott)
  • The Personal History of David Copperfield Simon Blackwell, Armando Iannucci (basierend auf dem Roman David Copperfield von Charles Dickens)


Beste Kamera

  • Ema – Sergio Armstrong
  • A Hidden Life – Jörg Widmer
  • I'm Thinking of Ending Things – Łukasz Żal
  • Little Women – Yorick Le Saux
  • Lovers Rock – Shabier Kirchner
  • A Sun – Chung Mong-hong
  • The Wild Goose Lake – Dong Jinsong


Bester Schnitt

  • The Assistant – Kitty Green, Blair McClendon
  • A Hidden Life – Rehman Nizar Ali, Joe Gleason, Sebastian Jones
  • I'm Thinking of Ending Things – Robert Frazen
  • It Must Be Heaven – Véronique Lange
  • Little Women – Nick Houy
  • Richard Jewell – Joel Cox
  • Uncut Gems – Ronald Bronstein, Benny Safdie


Beste Filmmusik

  • A Hidden Life – James Newton Howard
  • Kajillionaire – Emile Mosseri
  • Little Women – Alexandre Desplat
  • Sekuritas – David Hohl, Martin Meyer
  • Soul – Jon Batiste, Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross
  • The Vast of Night – Erick Alexander, Jared Bulmer
  • Uncut Gems – Daniel Lopatin


Bestes Tondesign

  • 1917 – Michael Fentum, Oliver Tarney
  • The Assistant – Alan Kudan, Leslie Shatz
  • Les particules – Olivier Touche, Marc von Stürler
  • Sekuritas – Gina Keller, Guido Keller, Ivo Schläpfer
  • Sound of Metal – Nicolas Becker, Phillip Bladh, Maria Carolina Santana Caraballo-Gramcko
  • Uncut Gems – Chris Chase, Anton Gold, Helmut Scherz, Warren Shaw, Michael Sterkin
  • World of Tomorrow Episode Three: The Absent Destinations of David Prime – Don Hertzfeldt


Beste Ausstattung

  • About Endlessness – Frida E. Elmström, Anders Hellström, Nicklas Nilsson, Sandra Parment, Isabel Sjöstrand
  • The Assistant – John Arnos, Dani Brom-Peltz, Fletcher Chancey
  • A Hidden Life – Sebastian Krawinkel, Steve Summersgill, Bryce Tibbey, Yesim Zolan
  • J'accuse – Philippe Cord'homme, Jessy Kupperman, Dominique Moisan, Jean Rabasse
  • The Personal History of David Copperfield – Cristina Casali, Nick Dent, Charlotte Dirickx, Thomas Goodwin, Dominique Pace, Polly Stevens
  • Sekuritas – Karin Giezendanner
  • The Souvenir – Stéphane Collonge, Rebecca Gillies, Pedro Moura, Mimi Winsor


Beste Kostüme

  • Alex Wheatle – Jacqueline Durran
  • Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) – Erin Benach
  • Emma. – Alexandra Byrne, Giles Gale
  • Kajillionaire – Jennifer Johnson
  • Little Women – Jacqueline Durran
  • The Personal History of David Copperfield – Suzie Harman, Robert Worley
  • Pinocchio – Massimo Cantini Parrini


Beste Spezialeffekte

  • 1917
  • The Aeronauts
  • Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)
  • Die Känguru-Chroniken
  • The Old Guard
  • Tenet
  • Unhinged


"Spoiler Alert": Beste Szene




Nominationen-Total

Samstag, 9. Januar 2021

The Best Films of 2020


Is it poor form to open an article that is meant to celebrate the cinematic excellence that has graced Swiss screens and streaming platforms over the last twelve months with an extremely specific gripe about film discourse in general? Maybe. But then again, this is an article about 2020, so where's the fun and sense of history in not having it be a bit of a shambles?

So here goes: "This was a bad year for cinema" is one of the most maddening phrases in film discourse – an invariably baseless bemoaning of a perceived lack of high-quality cinematic movie fare that is trotted out year after year and consistently fails to take under consideration all the truly excellent international and independent filmmaking that does not make a splash by virtue of its box office performance or attention-grabbing subject matter. (Chung Mong-hong's impressive A Sun, whose Netflix opening was largely ignored before it was named Variety's film of the year, is a case in point.)

I will concede, however, that in 2020, the sentiment was somewhat more appropriate, if we amend it to "This was a bad year for cinemas." Movie theatres missed out on a lot of essential revenue as a result of the lockdowns and social-distancing measures made necessary by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, as well as big studios' reluctance to release likely blockbusters into this fraught climate.

My original grievance, on the other hand, still stands: even under these extraordinarily difficult circumstances, 2020 provided more than its fair share of outstanding films, and I am happy to present 15 of my favourites here. As regular readers of my lists will know, my pool of candidates consists of all the titles released in the German-speaking part of Switzerland between 1 January and 31 December, 2020 – be that theatrically (not including festivals), on VOD, or on physical media. And thus, I shall cease my griping and start celebrating.



Honourable Mentions

Let's start, as is tradition, with the honourable mentions – the films that did not quite crack my top ten, but which left enough of an imprint for me to feel bad about not including them in a 2020 retrospective. This list of five includes arguably the most topical movie in this compendium – Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, Jason Woliner's uproarious (and superior) sequel to 2006's breakout mockumentary Borat, which once again features Sacha Baron Cohen subjecting unsuspecting Americans to the antics of his most famous character, Kazakh reporter Borat Sagdiyev.

© Amazon Prime Video
What sets this outing apart from its predecessor is both the increased satirical sharpness of Baron Cohen's performance art – doubtlessly brought on by the current political climate in the U.S., where, under the influence of QAnon and the mainstreaming of white nationalist rhetoric, Borat's smiling bigotry suddenly doesn't seem so outrageous anymore – and, surprisingly, the addition of a more coherent plot, driven by Borat's daughter, played by the phenomenal Maria Bakalova. The glimpses one gets of contemporary America are always cringeworthy, often hilarious, and rarely edifying – but they feel painfully essential. (Read my full review.)

Marielle Heller and Simon Bird, meanwhile, provided audiences with similarly essential, if far less confrontational works last year. Heller's A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, a holdover from the 2019 awards season, adapted a 1998 magazine feature about children's TV legend Fred Rogers (played brilliantly by Tom Hanks) into a disarming plea for empathy, emotional frankness, and non-toxic masculinity. By framing the story like a children's show aimed at adults – a move that proved alienating to some viewers – Heller forces her audience to question why the open-hearted expression of feeling is generally dismissed as kitsch on screen and as an embarrassing loss of self-control off screen, encouraging serious engagement with how, culturally, we collectively deal with emotions like anger and grief. (Read my full review.)

© Sony Pictures Releasing Switzerland GmbH / Ascot Elite Entertainment Group
While formally less adventurous, Bird's Days of the Bagnold Summer, adapted from Joff Winterheart's graphic novel of the same name, also explores the pitfalls of coming to terms with one's feelings in a refreshing manner: revolving around a sullen British teenager, played by musician Nick Cave's son Earl, and his divorced mother – a stellar turn by Monica Dolan – and making ample thematic use of the music of indie darlings Belle and Sebastian, Days cannily parallels teenage and middle-age growing pains and unpacks the complexities of a mother-son relationship that has taken a turn for the worse. It's a broadly accessible British tragicomedy, yes, but one that never shirks the implicit darkness of its subject matter, and is all the better and more perceptive for it. (Read my full review.)

Speaking of darkness: Jan Komasa's Corpus Christi (Boże Ciało) also was a cinematic force to be reckoned with. The Oscar-nominated Polish drama about a juvenile delinquent reinventing himself as a priest in a tragedy-stricken rural town impressed thanks to its potent narrative treatment of grief and radical forgiveness, the ruminations on the paralysing effects of religious dogma embedded within, and, not least, Bartosz Bielenia's electric lead performance. 

© Xenix Filmdistribution GmbH / 2020 Focus Features
Finally, three cheers for Miranda July's Kajillionaire, a beautiful, heartfelt, funny, and, most of all, highly original oddity – a slow-motion heist movie about a family of small-time grifters trying not to get evicted from the foam-infested office space they call home. Starring Evan Rachel Wood, Debra Winger, and Richard Jenkins in career-highlight performances, Kajillionaire defies expectations at every corner – from (non-)refundable massage coupons to household routine-ing someone to death – without leaning so far into absurdism as to compromise its affecting emotional core. It's a unique film – and that is something to celebrate. (Read my full review.)



The Top Ten

10

Fireball: Visitors from Darker Worlds

© Apple TV+, 2020 Apple Inc.

Perhaps my primary cinematic project of 2020 was working my way through the expansive filmography of 78-year-old German cult director Werner Herzog, who has, over the last 15 years or so, become something of an internet meme – thanks in no small part to his penchant for finding existential profundity in even the most mundane of everyday details, delivered with his trademark Bavarian-accented verbosity. However, if my journey through more than 60 of his works has taught me anything, it's that this popular image of the man behind Aguirre and Fitzcarraldo as a dour nihilist is, at best, only semi-accurate. For evidence, look no further than Fireball: Visitors from Darker Worlds, where he, alongside co-director and volcanologist Clive Oppenheimer, embarks on a global journey to learn more about the historical and cultural significance of meteors and their collisions with Earth. Much like Herzog's 2010 stunner Cave of Forgotten Dreams, a History Channel-produced film about the Palaeolithic paintings in the Chauvet Cave, Fireball uses the pedagogical trappings of the documentary format as a front: yes, there are things to learn about meteorites here, but the film's beating heart is Herzog's genuine, undying love for the uniqueness of people and their passions – the Jesuit brother waxing poetic about the sublime beauty of scientific curiosity; the Indian geochemist pondering the line between life and matter; Herzog's own fascination for CGI visions of the end of the world. In one of the year's very best cinematic moments, Antarctic researcher Jong Ik Lee literally falls over himself out of joy over a discovery, while Herzog, without a shred of irony or bemused existentialist detachment, remarks, "This is science at its best." Fireball: Visitors from Darker Worlds is available on Apple TV+. (Read my full review.)

9

The Assistant

© Ascot Elite Entertainment Group

In 2020, I discovered my love for what I'm calling "paperwork cinema" – films that aren't afraid to foreground the often uncinematic, ostensibly boring administrative minutiae that govern so much of culture, politics, and, by extension, world history. Notable recent examples include Scott Z. Burns' boldly pared-down The Report, which dives into the CIA's use of torture in the wake of 9/11, and Todd Haynes' riveting Dark Waters, an apocalyptic legal thriller about large-scale industrial pollution. The pinnacle of this mode this year was, however, The Assistant, the gripping fiction debut of Australian documentarian Kitty Green (Ukraine Is Not a Brothel, Casting JonBenet), which sees a junior assistant in a film production company, played by the excellent Julia Garner, go through the motions of a regular workday and realising, chore by chore, how her work implicates her in the firm's culture of abuse and exploitation. Against the oppressive backdrop of sterile white-grey office spaces and the alienating hum of printers, photocopiers, keyboards, hushed phone conversations, and muffled executive meetings, Green's surgically precise procedural gradually evolves into a minimalist nightmare of vague allusions, implicit gestures, and corporate euphemisms, never buying into any romantic notions of the movie industry and laying bare instead how misogyny and male entitlement have been neatly folded into the clean, codified routine of the profit-generating machine. "Horrifying" doesn't begin to describe it. The Assistant is available on Cinefile.ch and myfilm.ch as well as on DVD and Blu-ray.

8

There Is No Evil

© Trigon Film

Over the course of four short films that are thematically but not narratively linked, famed Iranian director Mohammad Rasoulof (Goodbye, A Man of Integrity) offers a sobering take on the country he calls home (and whose authorities are trying to jail him for making "propaganda against the system"): Iran, according to There Is No Evil, is racked with collective generational trauma and guilt that are rotting society from the inside. It's a stark diagnosis, but one very much rooted in everyday reality, based as it is on the country's overlapping systems of conscription and capital punishment: mandatory military service is a prerequisite to being given the tools necessary to succeed professionally – work permits, a driving licence – while administering the death penalty, often in secret and under false pretences, is part and parcel of a young recruit's duties. The stories Rasoulof derives from this Kafkaesque set-up are by turns captivating, devastating, and even cathartic, part Greek tragedy, part quiet observation, part self-reflexive allegory in the vein of Abbas Kiarostami and Jafar Panahi. Seeing Rasoulof turn the screw after the opening chapter – a tale whose enigmatic mundanity perfectly illustrates the pervasive nature of state-enacted violence in Iran – is as emotionally taxing as it is engrossing; and it serves as a powerful showcase for the qualities of a master director in the making. (Read my full review.)

7

Never Rarely Sometimes Always

© Universal Pictures Switzerland

There Is No Evil, which won the 2020 Berlin International Film Festival's top prize, the Golden Bear, is followed on this list by the same competition's runner-up: Eliza Hittman's Never Rarely Sometimes Always is an uncompromisingly frank drama about a Pennsylvania teenager – a revelatory debut performance from Sidney Flanigan – and her struggle to jump through all the social, administrative, and logistic hoops to be given access to a safe abortion. Hittman's cold naturalism and implicit style of storytelling, whose harshness finds a welcome contrast in the empathetic turns by Flanigan and co-star Talia Ryder, underscores the subject matter's searing relevance, of course; but the film transcends even its harrowing commentary on the insidiousness of anti-abortion policies and attitudes – by broadening the point into a more general exploration of how women are denied control over their own bodies. Even before the two protagonists travel to New York City to seek help at a Planned Parenthood, they find themselves at the mercy of callous and/or conniving men and a culture that views women as consumables – but it's the trip to the supposed liberal bastion that fully washes away any notion that they can outrun the forces that make safe abortions for minors in Pennsylvania a near-impossibility. Never Rarely Sometimes Always makes tangible the self-perpetuating horror of cultural misogyny. It's not an easy watch, but one that could not feel more urgent and necessary. Never Rarely Sometimes Always is available on DVD from 11 February. (Read my full review.)

6

Knives Out

© Impuls Pictures AG

How fitting that it was the director responsible for arguably the best franchise movie of the last decade – 2017's Star Wars: The Last Jedi – who delivered a potent reminder of the unbridled joy a star-studded original film can bring. Indebted in equal parts to Agatha Christie and contemporary political discourse, Rian Johnson's Knives Out is a rollicking good time – an autumnal murder mystery featuring familial grudges, witty quips, narratively convenient regurgitation tics, a literal wheel of knives Anton Chekhov would call "a bit much," and Daniel Craig proving those naysayers wrong who claimed his Southern accent in Logan Lucky could not be outdone in terms of sheer cartoonishness. In true Johnson fashion, Knives Out – like The Last Jedi and Brick, the writer-director's 2005 neo-noir debut – is neither a nostalgic throwback to nor a wholly ironic deconstruction of the classical genre it invokes. Rather, Johnson faithfully holds on to the elements that make the Christie-esque detective story an enduring favourite – the mystery, the intrigue, the sense of audience participation – whilst adapting its more dated trappings, such as the simplistic depiction of class, to more modern sensibilities. Indeed, with his endlessly entertaining latest, Johnson may have made his strongest case yet that he, in a Hollywood industry obsessed with the glories of the past, is the filmmaker most adept at not throwing out the baby with the bathwater – at salvaging and retooling the traditions that work, and jettisoning those that don't. Knives Out is available on Cinefile.ch and myfilm.ch as well as on DVD and Blu-ray.

5

About Endlessness

© Xenix Filmdistribution GmbH

At 77, Roy Andersson is unlikely to change – and there is little evidence that he needs to. 20 years on from his triumphant return to filmmaking – after more than two decades dedicated almost exclusively to television ads – and 45 years after his last traditionally narrative feature, the Swedish directing maverick's style remains perhaps world cinema's most distinctively off-beat – eschewing conventional storytelling in favour of sketch-like scenes unconcerned with such gauche luxuries as dramaturgy, shot as disturbingly hyperreal tableaux vivants starring people with the complexion, demeanour, and general dynamism of corpses. Andersson has made four films in this mode, with About Endlessness having the unenviable – but evidently not insurmountable – task of following his 2014 masterpiece A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence. Guided by the ethereally detached voice of Jessica Louthander – a framing device new to the Andersson universe – About Endlessness heightens its predecessors' abstractions to fascinating effect: fewer scenes than ever end on something that could reasonably be described as a punchline, rendering the 78-minute series of human dioramas even more of an absurdist danse macabre than usual. In fact, it might be the clearest, most moving articulation of Andersson's cinematic vision of history yet: in keeping with its title, About Endlessness takes the long view – giving equal "narrative" weight to a World War II death march and a father tying his daughter's shoe in a rainstorm en route to a birthday party; to Hitler in the Führerbunker and birds migrating south for the winter; to murder and dancing; to world-historical tragedy and the momentary joy of looking out the window and seeing it snow. About Endlessness is available on Cinefile.ch and myfilm.ch. (Read my full review.)

4

I'm Thinking of Ending Things

© Cr. Mary Cybulski / Netflix © 2020

Not so much a strait-laced adaptation of Iain Reid's eponymous novel as another vehicle for writer-director Charlie Kaufman (Synecdoche, New York) to work through his long-standing fascination with the ways in which human beings try (and often fail) to connect with one another, I'm Thinking of Ending Things is the kind of puzzling movie bold enough to actively frustrate any attempt at reducing it to a single unified meaning. Indeed, over the course of two viewings and several discussions with other people – two of them in podcast form, available here and here – I have been confronted with so many different readings, all of them intriguing in their own right, that it seems like a fool's errand to try to summarise its narrative and thematic thrust here, as a third watch will likely lay waste to any sense of certainty I might have at the moment. What I do know is that I'm Thinking of Ending Things is carried by two fantastic performances from Jessie Buckley and Jesse Plemons – playing a name-shifting young woman and her newish boyfriend, respectively – and that it features them paying his parents a visit. Atop this premise, Kaufman builds a viscerally moody horror-adjacent relationship drama that wrestles with the loss of identity and agency inherent in romantic attachments, the fuzzy boundaries between inner life and outward performance, the inexorable flow of time, and the terrifying possibility that humankind has gone on for so long that each and every action may ultimately just be a quotation in disguise. Dismiss it as pseudo-intellectual hogwash at your own peril – this is cinema at its most beautifully evocative. I'm Thinking of Ending Things is available on Netflix. (Read my full review.)

3

Little Women

© Sony Pictures Releasing Switzerland GmbH

It's hard not to get lost in airy platitudes when talking about the many joys of Little Women. Here's a movie that is beautiful, vibrant, moving, heart-warming, smart, wistful, joyous, and a whole host of other adjectives that one could resort to in order to signify one's approval in the broadest of terms. But each of the adjectives, no matter how seemingly overused, is an apt way of describing Greta Gerwig's perceptive adaptation – the seventh in total – of Louisa May Alcott's classic novel. By breaking up Alcott's linear chronology – rearranging her tale of four sisters coming of age and finding their feet in the adult world in 1860s America into two interlaced storylines – and adding an ingenious framing device that blurs the lines between fiction and history, Gerwig pulls off a staggering feat: she marries the beloved novel's odes to childhood magic with its strong feminist tendencies and, in doing so, excavates the complex relationship between the two. Yes, Little Women is a touching, gorgeously crafted love letter to sisterhood, friendship, and the dreams of youth – but it never shies away from showing how the fierce and exuberant nature of its distinctive protagonists is tested by a world that is less than welcoming of women trying to live on their own terms. This, then, is more than a brilliant adaptation; it's outstanding historical cinema that, by virtue of its well-rounded characters, its razor-sharp and strikingly relevant script, and its wonderfully spirited performances, breathes new life into a genre that has historically struggled in doing justice to the lives and careers of women. Little Women is available on DVD and Blu-ray. (Read my full review.)

2

Lovers Rock

© Alfiewrthy on Posterspy / Des Willie / BBC / McQueen Limited

One of 2020's special cinematic pleasures was Steve McQueen, director of 12 Years a Slave (2013) and Widows (2018), returning to the spotlight with a quinfecta of offerings: a five-film anthology, Small Axe centres, unpacks, and celebrates the experiences of London's West Indian community in the wake of the Windrush generation that arrived in Britain from the Caribbean after World War II. Of those five self-contained works, all of which are worth a watch (and most of which are based at least in part on real events), part two proved the standout: in fact, Lovers Rock may be the single most tender, most affectionate piece in McQueen's entire filmography so far. Set at a house party in West London, circa 1980, it is a masterclass in immersive filmmaking: although there is a story to be found here – the Saturday night story of girl meets boy – Shabier Kirchner's camera floats through the different rooms seemingly untethered by characters or drama, because at the heart of it all, there's the music and the dancing. Time and time again, Lovers Rock finds its way back to the dancefloor, where revellers are chopping along to Carl Douglas' "Kung Fu Fighting," slow-dancing to, well, lovers rock hits of the day, or falsettoing themselves into a trance long after the last bars of Janet Kay's "Silly Games" have faded away. Here, McQueen's keen eye for period and environmental detail – one of Small Axe's great strengths – meets both the trademark patience of his direction and a newfound sense of infectious ardour. The mixture makes for a truly transcendent experience. Lovers Rock is available as part of the Small Axe DVD box set released by the BBC. (Read my full review.)

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Uncut Gems

© Netflix / A24
If films of the year were chosen by how well their atmosphere fits the mood of their respective vintages, 2020's winner would have to be Uncut Gems by default: no other movie was more stressful, more unpredictable, more overcharged, and more relentlessly frantic than the 135-minute thriller tour de force by brothers Josh and Benny Safdie. But even though they're not – at least not consciously – and Uncut Gems made the cut for the top position thanks to its cinematic qualities, there's no denying that there is a certain poetry in crowning a film the best of 2020 that is primarily concerned with things going wrong and, if that wasn't enough, being made worse by a flurry of ostensibly terrible decisions. Halfway between King Midas and the not-so-secret criminal underworlds of Martin Scorsese's New York, we find Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler), a fast-talking huckster from Manhattan's Diamond District, who appears to be in debt with pretty much everyone around him – and whose plan to balance his books mainly consists of amassing more debt and hoping for a lucky gambling break. And yet, thanks to Sandler's exceptional performance and the Safdies' deliberately frenzied directing, which makes their work on 2017's Good Time seem Bergmanesque by comparison, it's all too easy to fall under Howard's spell – to sympathise and empathise with, even reluctantly cheer on the overconfident fool trying in vain to get to the end of the gilded hamster wheel that is American capitalism. Thrillers of this kind may have fallen out of fashion somewhat in recent years, but if the Safdies' masterful marriage of form and function is any indication, there's plenty of life left in the genre: indeed, with its gripping, lived-in storytelling, its nerve-racking presentation, and all of its unapologetic idiosyncrasies Uncut Gems has all the makings of a future classic. Uncut Gems is available on Netflix. (Read my full review.)