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Saturday, December 15, 2018


(“They Shall Not Grow Old” is Patrick Compton’s film event of the year.)

My definition of frustration is reading about a number of allegedly good/great films that we Durbanites don’t get to see (unless you’re a Pirate Bay downloader). One such, Roma, scripted and directed by the sublime Alfonso Cuaron (Y Tu Mama Tambien, Children of Men), has been receiving rave reviews around the globe. It opened yesterday (December 14) in Cape Town and Joburg – but not in Durban. It may still get here, so keep your eyes peeled.

My selections this year come, as always, with the caveat that in addition to the many I’ve unavoidably missed, there have been more than a few films that have passed me by in the hurly-burly of a year’s movie-watching.

20. Five Fingers For Marseilles. The first of only two South African films on my list, but there you are. Scripted by Sean Drummond and directed by Michael Matthews, this is a Sergio Leone-type Western cleverly transposed to the badlands of Lady Grey in the northern Eastern Cape. Gun fights, bar-room brawls and standoffs in an indigenous setting, vividly captured by cinematographer Shaun Harley Lee.

19. On Chesil Beach/The Children Act. I’m cheating a bit, but I couldn’t separate these two solid adaptations of Ian McEwan novels, both scripted by the author. The first is about a young couple’s struggle with sex on their wedding night in 1962. Vivid performances from Saoirse Ronan and Edward Mayhew as the couple, and good direction from Dominic Cooke. The second, directed by Sir Richard Eyre, is about a distinguished high court judge, memorably played by Emma Thompson, who is wrenched out of the bubble of her measured, intellectual existence when messy real life comes calling.

18. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Excellent performances from Frances McDormand, Sam Rockwell and Woody Harrelson stand out in a foul-mouthed movie that sparkles but doesn’t always convince. Martin McDonagh’s film undoubtedly scores highly as entertainment, but is less convincing as a realistic portrait of a small-town community and its various inhabitants.
17. The Post. Steven Spielberg’s impeccably liberal movie about the decision of the Washington Post’s owner, Katharine Graham, to publish the Pentagon Papers feels particularly timeous in these “post-truth” dark days. The movie features solid performances from Meryl Streep as Graham and Tom Hanks as editor Bill Bradlee.

16. I, Tonya. Craig Gillespie’s uneven, luridly entertaining film about the life and career of ice-skater Tonya Harding who was involved in the assault of her great rival, Nancy Kerrigan, before the Olympic Winter Games in 1994. Scene-chewing central performance by Margot Robbie as Harding and also from Allison Janney as her mother from hell.

(Toni Collette in “Hereditary”)

15. HEREDITARY. An effective horror movie that generally avoids using the clichés that make up the typical “fright night” formula. Unlike most horror movies, which deal in external, usually supernatural threats, this film looks for its darkness from within the confines of an American family. Features a stunning central performance from Toni Collette.

14. The Reports On Sarah And Saleem. This powerful Palestinian movie about an affair between an Israeli woman and a Palestinian man was my personal highlight at this year’s otherwise very ordinary Durban International Film Festival. It’s the feature film debut of Muayad Alayan and is scripted by his brother Rami. In this movie about uneven power relations, the Alayan brothers eschew didacticism and create a convincingly nuanced portrait of life in one of the most highly contested and complex countries in the world.

13. Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool. Annette Bening is sensational in this unusual romantic drama, based on fact, involving veteran film star Gloria Grahame, one of the Hollywood goddesses of film noir in the late 40s and early 50s, and an unknown Liverpool actor half her age, well played by Jamie Bell. Set during the last three years of Grahame’s life (1979-81), this Paul McGuigan movie is about her end-game as she treads the boards in England, her previous career in the movies all but forgotten.

12. Sicario: Day Of The Soldado. A grimly effective sequel to Denis Villeneuve’s 2015 drama, this thriller is a brutal assessment of contemporary power politics as it plays out along the US-Mexico border. Penned by the master of the contemporary Western (Hell or High Water, Wind River), Taylor Sheridan, this cynical sequel is directed by Stefano Sollima. Starring Josh Brolin as the tough CIA operative and Benicio del Toro as his accomplice.

(Glenn Close & Jonathan Pryce in “The Wife”)

11. The Wife. Glenn Close gives a superb, Oscar-worthy performance as the emotionally complex wife of a Nobel Prize winner travelling to Stockholm to receive his award. Also starring Jonathan Pryce as her husband Joseph.

10. A Star Is Born. Lady Gaga confirms her very considerable singing skills but also shows some serious acting chops in Bradley Cooper’s very watchable fourth edition of the Hollywood classic. Gaga’s thrillingly spiky performance is remarkable, particularly given that it’s her first movie role. Cooper’s grizzly, sympathetic presence as her alcoholic lover and mentor, gradually going down like some handsome torpedoed battleship, is also a worthy effort – as is his perceptive direction, surprisingly good singing voice and guitar-playing skills.

9. The Hate U Give. George Tillman’s powerful adaptation of a best-selling Young Adult novel about the troubled black experience in the US that features a memorable performance by Amandla Stenberg as a young black woman beset by racial difficulties. Tillman’s direction gives this tale a fierce, story-telling grip and he is indebted to a fine script from (the late) Audrey Wells as well a series of superb performances from his large cast.

8. A Quiet Place. Silence has never been more terrifying in this riveting post-apocalyptic thriller. In this time of noisy Hollywood blockbusters, it’s a pleasure to celebrate silence in John Krasinki’s suspenseful and unusual thriller (with a dash of horror). The action takes place in the future after an unnamed apocalypse in the United States. Only small bands of humans survive in a blasted landscape also occupied by vicious predators (not dissimilar to those that populated Ridley Scott’s Alien series). The creatures are blind, but they have super-sensitive hearing that means, in effect, that if you sneeze you lose ... your life. Starring the excellent Emily Blunt and Krasinski as the parents of a beleaguered family living in dread.

(Gary Oldman in “The Darkest Hour”)

7. Darkest Hour. Gary Oldman gives the performance of his life as the growling old bulldog, Winston Churchill, who overcomes great odds, not only to defy Hitler but also members of his own pusillanimous war cabinet as the Nazi hordes threaten to invade England in 1940.

6. Journey’s End.  Saul Dibbs’s intense and deeply moving adaptation of RC Sherriff’s famous play is a heartfelt tribute to the men who fought in the trenches in northern France during The Great War. Sherriff himself based the play on his experiences as a soldier during the war where he fought at Vimy Ridge and was badly wounded at Passchendaele. Features a commanding central performance by Sam Claflin as the mentally shredded Captain Stanhope and Paul Bettany as his calm fellow officer “Uncle”.

5. The Fun’s Not Over. Durban director Michael Cross’s latest documentary is not only a beautifully judged tribute to a talented musician, it’s also a welcome socio-cultural evocation of an era (the 1980s and 90s) from a particular perspective that it has become politically fashionable to ignore, if not deride. James Phillips (aka Bernoldus Niemand), evokes a time in South Africa’s history when white youth were struggling, in their own way, to respond to the chains of apartheid. Phillips duly thrust himself over the parapet with provocative elan and, through his music, helped to begin the liberation process for Afrikaner youth in particular.

4. Lady Bird. Greta Gerwig has delivered an almost perfect love letter to her younger self. This delightful movie, her directorial debut, is a funny, moving and wise coming-of-age drama set in her home town of Sacramento. The concept of a coming-of-age teenage high school comedy-drama is hardly new, and many of the characteristic boxes of that genre are ticked in this film. But the remarkable quality of the script – every line rings true – the sensitive direction and glowing performances by Saoirse Ronan as the rebellious “Lady Bird” of the movie’s title and Laurie Metcalf as her passionate, controlling mother take the film into completely new territory.

3. The Shape Of Water. This is a work of art brimming with cultural references, including monster movies, old musicals and fairytales. It is also a deeply human fantasy about love and the sense of wonder that accompanies its discovery. Guillermo del Toro’s movie stars the wonderful Sally Hawkins whose magnetic presence holds this extraordinary film together.

2. Phantom Thread. Daniel Day-Lewis signs off his career with a flourish in Paul Thomas Anderson’s exquisitely perverse romance. Day-Lewis plays Reynolds Woodcock, a high-fashion designer in London in the mid-1950s. Woodcock is a long way from being a sympathetic figure. He is, in many ways, a perfect example of the artist-as-monster. In addition to the director and his star, there are also fine performances from a largely unknown Luxembourg actress, Vicky Krieps, who plays Woodcock’s lover, Alma, as well as Lesley Manville who plays his sister, Cyril.

1. They Shall Not Grow Old. Maybe it’s the occasion, the 100th anniversary of the end of World War 1, but this, for me, is the film event of the year. New Zealand director Peter Jackson, best known for his Lord of the Rings trilogy, has made an enduring cinematic contribution here. Working with the visual and sound archives of the Imperial War Museum (IWM) and the BBC, Jackson has used state-of-the-art technology to bring to wondrous and often disturbing life old footage of life in the trenches. – Patrick Compton