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Cherwell’s best films of 2020

Joanna’s picks:

Let Them All Talk
Filmed aboard the Queen Mary 2 as it sailed from New York to Southhampton, Steven Soderbergh’s Let them all Talk is a rare gem: a story about older women that feels neither heavy nor saccharine. It’s serious, but it’s also refreshingly light. Meryl Streep plays Alice, a distinguished novelist and decidedly difficult woman, travelling to collect a literary prize. She invites two estranged friends from her college years along for the journey, during which, they come to terms with how the Alice’s success has altered the course of their lives. Alice’s nephew is also on board, as is her literary agent, a secret passenger who hides from Alice whilst trying to discover what her next, overdue, novel is about. Many scenes were improvised and, as the title suggests, there is a lot of talking. The beauty of the ship, the women’s sass and Soderbergh’s craftsmanship all contribute to create a film that is memorable because it feels casual.

A stylish, disorientating and relentless film. Trey Edward Shults uses technical tools (innovative photography and switching screen proportions) along with a stellar soundtrack to relate his dark but ultimately hopeful narrative. Shults’ fluid camera, spins and glides through the life of Tyler, a handsome, happy highschool athelete. That is, until a shoulder injury sends his world crashing down, threatening to derail his sporting career, his senior year and his college prospects. Tyler doesn’t tell his sweet sister, supportive stepmother or pushy father, but pops pain pills and slowly comes apart at the seams. When he finds out that his girlfriend is pregnant, a series of terrible decisions lead to tragedy. But the film does not linger at its depths, it picks itself up, pivots, and becomes another film entirely, one focused on how bad decisions can ultimately impact good ones. We realize that this isn’t only Tyler’s story.

Joe’s picks:

I’m Thinking of Ending Things
Charlie Kaufman’s latest film, released directly on to Netflix, felt like the perfect film for our locked-down times. Claustrophobic car rides, uneasy family relations, and a general sense of confusion, superadded to by a boxy aspect ratio, lend the film an eery appositeness. Except, the film was conceptualised, written, and shot in sweetly naïve times, when coronavirus sounded like a nasty beer-induced hangover. So, really, I’m just projecting current circumstances onto the film, tying Kaufman’s aesthetic and narrative choices to the strangeness of our times. Except, this really is the whole point of Kaufman’s mind-bending masterpiece. Please watch it, and I promise the above rambling will make at least some sense.

Lynn + Lucy
2020 has seen a welcome increase in filmmakers approaching stories that buck the current fascination with historical thrillers or middle-class melodramas, instead focusing on urban life and more quotidian realities in a way that avoids Ken Loach’s sometimes overly-blunt social realism. Sarah Gavron’s Rocks, a story of a group of teenage Londoners, and Ladj Ly’s Les Misérables deserve a special mention, but the most credit must be reserved for Fyzal Boulifa’s debut feature. Set in small-town Essex, the story of friendship ruptured by tragedy, and the Hardyesque pressures of misguided community, is as deeply moving as it is artfully crafted.

Martha’s picks:

King of Staten Island
Judd Apatow has found his niche in the home-grown American deadbeat; the lord of the suburbs, The King of Staten Island. The semi-biographical comedy-drama stars Pete Davidson as Scott, a twenty-four-year-old aspiring tattoo artist who is left scarred after the death of his firefighter father. Scars that are reopened with the arrival of Ray, firefighter and Scott’s mum’s new boyfriend. There is a rawness to the film; an honesty founded in its ugliness. The dark humour, naturalistic dialogue and difficult situations make us uncomfortable just as intended. Apatow rejects the glossed Hollywood-ified portrayal of life and replaces it with what feels to be an authentic tale of grief, growth, and the joys of being an idiot.

Trial of the Chicago Seven
I loved Aaron Sorkin’s The Trial of the Chicago Seven because it made me feel genuinely upset. And in a true-story drama that recounts the prosecution of the ‘Chicago Seven’ and Bobby Seale, Black Panther come eighth defendant, after the protests at the 1968 Democratic National Convention, the genuine seems a necessary feature. Balanced by vibrant costume, a beautiful colour-palette, and an impressive all-star cast, The Trial of the Chicago Seven makes the hard-hitting palatable, and the film is enjoyable precisely because it is hard-hitting. Just as it is a political trial being portrayed it is a political film being watched; Sorkin brings together the then and the now and his historical piece feels pertinent to the world that watches it.

Trudy’s picks:

Portrait of a Lady on Fire
Céline Sciamma’s slow-burning romance is a haunting study of the female gaze – I couldn’t quite get it out of my head. Marriane is a young painter in the 18th century who crosses the sea to Brittany in order to paint the portrait of the aristocratic Héloïse. The portrait is to be sent to Héloïse’s husband to be – however, Héloïse doesn’t want to get married and refuses to be looked upon, and so Marriane must paint her subject without her knowledge. The two women slowly fall in love, and their feelings for each other are explored through the politics of the gaze. Sciamma focuses on the perspective of the woman in a society where she is bound by expectations and objectification, and a quiet, burning desire to free herself from those norms. The visuals and music in this film will stay in your mind, just like the smouldering gaze of a perfectly crafted portrait .

My favourite films are always the ones where I fall in love with the characters. Shannon Murphy’s Babyteeth is a beautiful example of this. The film follows Milla Finlay, a schoolgirl who has been diagnosed with cancer, as she falls in love with a gorgeous and dangerous 23 year old drug addict, Moses. The viewer is completely drawn into Milla’s experience; slightly disconnected with the world, but desperate to immerse herself in the excitement of life. You fall in love with Moses just as much as Milla does, but at the same time hate and mistrust him bitterly as you put yourself in the shoes of Milla’s parents, Henry and Anna. Each of the four main characters are whole, flawed, and real, and yet also worthy of love and sympathy. The soundtrack is as unique and emotional as the film itself – I strongly recommend you give this a watch and/or listen.

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