A Watch This episode where CJ and Dani look at their top five films of the year.
These films are currently screening in the UK; some or all are either now screening or are coming soon in the US, Australia and other regions.
Jennifer Kent’s follow-up to The Babadook continues elements of that film’s aesthetic – emphatic close-ups (using vintage lenses), jittery editing and a muted, anti-glamour palette and design structure – thus establishing, over the two films, a discernible voice. But whereas The Babadook was lean and mean, The Nightingale is a long walk in the woods – the Tasmanian woods, specifically, in Australia’s grimmest colonial times, as a war wages between white and black and a convict woman is treated as a sex slave by a truly repugnant local Sergeant. The film is brutal and relatively compelling but the length is a problem; some scenes seem, perhaps deliberately, repetitive or essentially redundant. Worse, though, where The Babadook had a clear and powerful thematic spine, The Nightingale’s messages are vague. Colonialism was brutal, and women and “blacks” were equally brutalized, but beyond that, what? I’m not sure. * * *
Joanna Hogg’s fourth film, The Souvenir, is her best, and one of the best features so far this year. Telling her own story, of being a privileged and naive film student in London in the early 1980s who endures a challenging relationship with an older man, Hogg doubles down on her methodology – structured story but improvised dialogue, use of first-time actors, long static takes emphasising the awkwardness of everyday life, etc – while boosting her commitment to plot and, most importantly for those who’ve found her previous work (understandably) cold, heart. This is certainly Hoggian, but it demonstrates a compassion and depth of feeling unseen in her first three films. Wonderful and totally engaging, with superb central performances. * * * *
Mark Jenkin has created the most visually memorable film so far this year with Bait, which he shot on 16mm B&W stock using a vintage wind-up Bolex, which meant he couldn’t record live sound, so the whole soundscape including all dialogue was added in post. Furthermore, Jenkins processed the film himself by hand, and used things like coffee grounds and vitamin powder in the process, giving the resulting image an honestly-achieved hand-made look. The story itself is also bold and original, the tale of Cornish gentrification seen through the eyes of a local fisherman struggling with economic survival in the new Cornwall tourist economy. The aesthetics of the film inevitably consign it to the arthouse, but for the right viewer, this film will be fresh, vibrant, exciting and extremely memorable. It certainly was for me. * * * *