8. A Hidden Life
It has been said that all-time great film auteur Terrence Malick (Badlands; The Thin Red Line) “returned to form” with his late Oscar entry and Palme d’Or contender A Hidden Life, and while such a statement is debatable to fans of his more experimental contemporary work, there is credence to the claim, because A Hidden Life is a simply stunning, eye-widening experience of spectacular beauty; the type of film that it seems no other filmmaker on Earth could have made.
Perhaps out of respect for the true story of Franz Jägerstätter, an Austrian man who was captured and imprisoned for refusing to fight for the Nazi regime during World War II, Malick scaled back his comprehensively visual leanings to offer a more identifiable and therefore more traditional narrative-based film, the result being something of an amalgamation of previous releases Days of Heaven and The New World.
Scored with timeless strings and piano by the great James Newton Howard in perhaps the underrated film accompaniment of the year, and photographed by Jörg Widmer with a beautiful and inviting array of wide lenses, A Hidden Life was an experience of cinema – a film that deserved to be watched on a ginormous screen with perfectly balanced surround sound and as few distractions as possible; the true story itself, which championed kindness and empathy in the face of tyrannical governmental regimes, deserving of such a cinematic celebration; A Hidden Life an undeniable bright light in the darkest of times.
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Mank is an almost guaranteed 2021 Oscars front-runner. It’s a crisp, black and white, Hollywood-aggrandising tale focused squarely upon one particularly strong performance by a generations-spanning character actor of the highest ilk. It’s not exactly difficult to see why Netflix, who have long chased Oscars as a means of legitimising the artistry of their Netflix Original line-up, would pour money into this latest David Fincher project.
It’s a film that ticks a lot of boxes, but no amount of box ticking can quite summarise how different of a Fincher project this feels. Mank is emotionally accessible, personal even, and it feels like a labour of love, an emotion that seems so far removed from the director’s usually sterile, almost frighteningly concise output.
What shines from this film is a genuine love and appreciation for the source material and the child-like wonder of Hollywood that Fincher at one time likely felt; albeit presented to us through the lens of an older and wiser filmmaker. Fincher’s dad, Jack, wrote the screenplay in the early 2000s ahead of his death, which perhaps makes this the most personal film of David Fincher’s illustrious career, and the warmth and passion towards Jack’s work is truly evident throughout Mank’s runtime. Fincher has been pointed and critical (of filmmaking and politics) throughout his career, and Mank does break down Hollywood myth and help each of us to restructure the narrative Hollywood has been churning out about “the good old days” for close to 80 years, but through spectacular crossfade edits, a re-establishment of the lost art of shadow as a storytelling device, and a theme park-like ride through the old studios and film sets, Mank feels like a beacon for some of cinema’s lost artistry, like a passionate reminder of all we can lose by forgetting about the form’s power, like a filmmaker’s film; and it is simply unmissable for all of this.
Ema was released on streaming after its theatrical run was cut due to the global shutdowns of cinemas across the world, and what a shame that was for a film that so clearly begs to be looked at. In the year 2020, there have been few pieces of cinema that scream quite so loudly to be seen, Ema’s array of colours (accentuated by wardrobe, lighting, hair and makeup) being the standout feature of what is an experiential film; one more concerned with expressing our generation’s attempts to revolutionise societal norms in terms of sexuality, gender politics, career goals and general life aspirations, than it is a device for narrative.
Here, the filmmaking is nothing short of exceptional, director Pablo Larraín (Jackie) centring his expression of the truest elements of the cinematic form on a narrative following artists working in other mediums to present how artistic expression in any form should always be seen as revolutionary, especially when coming from the far ends of the earth or those most oppressed.
Cinema is a medium unique in its ability to present movement, to dictate meaning through the deconstruction and reconstruction of time (the edit), and Ema is undoubtedly one of the year’s most thoroughly exceptional examples of each; every filmmaking principle highlighted and showcased in a quite remarkable expression about expressing yourself through art; a towering achievement from a truly remarkable screen artist.