Notebook's 13th Writers Poll: Fantasy Double Features of 2020

In our annual poll, we pair our favorite new films of 2020 with older films seen in the same year to create fantastic double features.

At the movies, this year appeared to begin like any other: With winter releases in cinemas and Rotterdam, Sundance, and Berlin unveiling exciting new premieres, the shape of the year's cinema started to be defined.

This all turned out to be false start, and too good to be true. Starting in March, the ways movies were released—if they were released at all—and how we watched them radically changed. Our end of year poll, now in its 13th edition, remains the same in conception: Asking 2020's Notebook contributors how they would program new premieres into double features with older movies watched this year. But, of course, how our many contributors encountered movies in 2020, what they had access to and what their normal viewing habits were—these have shifted dramatically. This year the fantasy double feature, pairing new and old viewings, have become an even more acute snapshot of how people watched movies, what resonated with them, and how the present interacts with the past.


Alonso Aguilar

Paul Attard

Jennifer Lynde Barker

 Susana Bessa

Alex Broadwell

Cathy Brennan

Joe Brennan

Danielle Burgos

Matt Carlin

Max Carpenter

Katherine Connell 

Adrian Curry

Adrian Dannatt

Henri de Corinth

Doug Dibbern

Flavia Dima 

Hugo Emmerzael 

The Ferroni Brigade

Lukas Foerster

Sasha Frere-Jones

Caden Mark Gardner

Sean Gilman

Leonardo Goi 

Carmen Gray

Duncan Gray

Michael Guarneri

Eric Hatch

Liam Hendry

Patrick Holzapfel

Elizabeth Horkley

David Hudson

Aaron Hunt

Jonah Jeng

Demitra Kampakis 

Daniel Kasman

Sumeet Kaur 

Amos Levin

Steffanie Ling

Beatrice Loayza

Aiko Masubuchi 

Evan Morgan

Mantra Mukim

Joseph Owen

David Perrin

Savina Petkova

Samuel B. Prime

Thomas Quist

Jorge Suárez-Quiñones Rivas

Jonathan Rosenbaum

Sophia Satchell-Baeza

Serena Scateni

Pedro Segura 

 James Slaymaker 

Christopher Small

Srikanth Srinivasan

Elissa Suh

Ryan Swen

Scout Tafoya

Gina Telaroli

Matt Turner

Carlos Valladares

Madeleine Wall 

Kelli Weston

Jason Wood

Manu Yáñez

Neyat Yohannes

Alonso Aguilar

NEW: The Cloud in Her Room (Zheng Lu Xinyuan, China)

OLD: La bocca del lupo (Pietro Marcello, 2009)

The whole world seems to be drifting away. The weight of time has distorted the landscape to a point where it feels foreign and distant. Like aimless specters, dissociated bodies wander through the streets they used to call home looking for something to hold on to; hopelessly trying to relive the memories of a past that wanes by the minute. In between unidentifiable neon signs and new asphalt monoliths, a collection of ephemeral encounters unveils an ecosystem unaffected by its ever changing facades. Both Lu Xinyuan and Marcello see this liminal space as a sensory and historical melting pot; a mysterious latitude where fiction and documentary, narrative and experimentalism, and past and present, all collide into each other. It is only here that, amidst their unceremonious homecomings, protagonists Enzo and Muzi really find their solace; interrelating with these ageless voices and static remnants of the past, and getting a firmer grasp of themselves by becoming one with their surroundings.

Paul Attard

NEW: Substance Without Science (Daniel Barnett, USA)

OLD: Et Resurrectus Est (R. Bruce Elder, 1994)

“Occasionally my films have been accused of "overloading" -- of saying too much at once. To this, I answer that there is no normative apprehension of the movement that appears in any of my films, and least of all Et Resunects Est. There is no all-comprehending understanding that grasps all possible meanings. Pure openness and complete access to possibility are simply illusions since they defy the reality of temporality.”

—R. Bruce Elder, “Letter to Antonio Bisaccia (1994)”

Two works from educators and philosophers of the moving image, both of which could be accurately described as “a conflict of images.” They portray a familiar dominion in which such icons have become bastardized and debased by their numbing omnipresence within contemporary convergent media, the natural endpoint for an accelerated world that gives little credence to such trivialities. Long before R. Bruce Elder started taking night classes to program “digital compositions” that removes all human subjectivity from their final product, he was incorporating video and computer images into his dense montage pieces of mechanical art. In the final film in his 42-hours long cycle The Book of All the Dead (inspired by such epic poems as Ezra Pound’s unfinished "The Cantos"), which in turn caps off the six-part "Exultations" series, Elder forces viewers out of traditional narrative cinema’s passivity in order to reconnect the lacking linkage between body and mind; to reform/reimagine human flesh into a digital apparatus needed to withstand the overwhelming nihilism of the modern world. Daniel Barnett, with the second of his Sweet Dreamers Trilogy, demands a different sort of engagement: one between viewer and screen, to recognize and construct meaning outside of the type of verbal logic that drives most feature-length commercial works. Like Elder, Barnett employs both analog and digital technologies, multiple audio channels, and found footage to accurately convey the dizzying incomprehensibility of contemporary life. In an era where fact or fiction continues to blur (“fake news,” as it were), these two remind us that perception and cognition are the greatest tools we have in order to make sense of it all.

NEW: Flying Over Brooklyn (Ernie Gehr, USA) + OLD: Side/Walk/Shuttle (Ernie Gehr, 1991)

Right before the lockdown was in full effect, my last “theatrical” viewing experience was being fortunate enough to watch Ernie Gehr’s ephemeral Side/Walk/Shuttle on 16mm, courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art. Some thirty years later, Ernie is still finding new ways to make the mundane appear magical. 

Jennifer Lynde Barker

A program for the final week of this pandemic year:

 December 25

NEW: Accidental Luxuriance of the Translucent Watery Rebus (Dalibor Baric, Croatia) + OLD: Les astronautes (Walerian Borowczyk with Chris Marker, 1959)

The sheer joy of exuberant, cosmic wafting through surreal and imagined landscapes: a perfect holiday excursion.

 December 26

NEW: The Nose or Conspiracy of Mavericks (Andrey Khrzhanovskiy, Russia) + OLD: The Cranes are Flying (Mikhail Kalatozov, 1957)

Two heartbreaking films about the brutality of living through dictatorship and war, and how art can set us free.

December 27

NEW: My Octopus Teacher (Pippa Ehrlich and James Reed, USA) + OLD: The Ballad of Narayama (Keisuke Kinoshita, 1958) 

The world is a strange and unknowable place, and often we must simply wait for the inevitable with as much composure as we can muster. Life is but farewell, as we learn from mollusk and Kinoshita.

December 28

NEW: Portrait of a Lady on Fire, Céline Sciamma (France) + OLD: Hungry Soul (Yūzō Kawashima, 1956)

Hunger gives us the world, and it makes us burn for as long as we live, and perhaps longer.

December 29

NEW: The Physics of Sorrow (Theodore Ushev, Canada) + OLD: The Naked Island (Kaneto Shindō, 1960)

Life is struggle and suffering and staggering beauty and sorrow. Both films give us the meaning of life piece by piece through a labor of love.

 December 30

NEW: Violet Evergarden: Eternity and the Auto Memories Doll (Haruka Fujita, Japan) + OLD: Female Prisoner Scorpion: Jailhouse 41 (Shun’ya Itō, 1972)

Meiko Kaji and Violet Evergarden are female warriors who struggle through trauma to discover and manifest their souls. This double feature is dedicated to those cruelly lost in the 2019 Kyoto Animation arson attack.

December 31

NEW: Another Round (Thomas Vinterberg, Denmark) + OLD: The Full Monty (Peter Cattaneo, 1997)

The final day of the year finds men seeking redemption and renewal, and plenty of hot stuff: Robert Carlyle going the full monty and a joyful, dancing, champagne-soaked Mads Mikkelson make me believe in miracles. Skål!

 Susana Bessa

NEW: Air Conditioner (Fradique, Angola) | * NEW: Days (Tsai Ming-Liang, Taiwan)

OLD: Kaili Blues (Bi Gan, 2015)

In a year of confinement, trying to pin down time has felt like watching it peel away from my skin. Some say this was (is) a year of "lost time." But is it? To be physically trapped is to more densely inhabit the inside, the interior of one’s mind. The only confirmation I found was that my mind roams more fluidly now. It drifts unbounded and without as much fear. In Fradique’s Ar Condicionado, air conditioners are falling from their fixtures. Melting, collapsing, burning down exhausted. In apocalyptic times (or is that present time already?), a war veteran, Matacedo, goes into Dr. Mino’s time machine of a world, the repair shop, where plants still find enough oxygen to breathe in, to have an air-con unit fixed. Always behind bars, in cramped roads and alleyways, Matacedo lives in a Luanda with limited air space, constrained air quality, the scorching heat only intensifying the strangling of Angolans’ dreams to run free from their grieving—shadows of the country’s colonial past and its long civil war—and being forever denied of such a possibility. “I dream not to forget, and still forget at dawn,” the song sings. Dr. Mino says that memories exist within the air-cons. In other words, to open one would be to not be of that time, to flee without having to, but also and most importantly, to remember. In a motorless car, the air-con is connected, and the chilly breeze finally released onto Matacedo’s face. The entire repressed timeline of his city, of his lived trauma in it, now unleashed onto his body. Matacedo’s encounter with his time reflects the kind of otherworldly yearning for release which defies a physical expression in Bi Gan’s exercise of cinematic opulence. A blue film, from which all cinema is built, Kaili Blues crosses bridges and streams in small-town China, and it reaches the mountains bending time, as in a poet’s dream, feeding the soul with a tingling sense of comfort. In Chen Sheng’s search for his 8-year-old nephew (or is it lost time?), I found Matacedo’s longing to activate his memories, once forgotten in another timeline by another man. That which is presented through narrative in the first is confirmed with filmic language in the second. And if memories exist inside Luanda’s aircons, they ought to also be found out in the repeated clock imagery that instructs Bi Gan’s ghost story.

*In a perfect world, a three-feature day with people I love would include Tsai Ming-Liang’s Days as the final act, the most important of cinematic experiences about bodies and how trapped we are inside them, mirroring its unsubtitleness with Ar Conditioner's telepathic communication. If there is a mood I aim to return to time and time again is Chaplin’s Limelight’s theme soaring through the screen, coming from the inside of that small music box, a gift from not only Lee to Anong, but also to the socially distanced audience of masked faces in a big theater during a pandemic: the hymn to our physical sadness in 2020.

Cathy Brennan

NEW: Over the Moon (Glen Keane, USA-China)

OLD: Rugrats In Paris: The Movie (Stig Bergqvist & Paul Demeyer, 2000)

Shortly after watching the beautiful Over the Moon, I read Kyle Turner’s piece on Rugrats in Paris, a film I first saw as a small child on the year of its release.The article prompted me to revisit the film. On a narrative level, Rugrats and Over the Moon are linked by a child protagonist overcoming the loss of their mother. This deeply personal aspect of both films is coupled with a more detached articulation of globalization in 21st century children’s entertainment. The American characters of Rugrats in Paris spend much of the film in a Japanese-owned theme park based in Paris. The film itself came into being as a result of the original cartoon’s international success. Meanwhile Over the Moon, a product of Chinese venture capital and American creatives, represents a hot pot stew of traditional Chinese culture mixed in with tropes from Western animation and musicals.

Joe Brennan

NEW: Underwater (William Eubank, USA)

OLD: Regarde la mer (François Ozon, 1997)

A pair of bitter marine nightmares in daylight and darkness, both asking who deserves to own the sea and the land. Nothing good happens by the ocean and no home can ever be truly watertight.

Alex Broadwell

NEW:The Two Sights (Joshua Bonnetta, Canada)

OLD: Le Tempestaire (Jean Epstein, 1947) + Will o’ the Wisp (Andrew Kim, 2013) + Detour de Force (Rebecca Baron, 2014) + Ghost Dance (Ken McMullen, 1983)

“Films are beginning to appear in which one discovers the murmur of an idea, the whisper of memories-words, the strange reach of sentences one could swear were heard but which were never uttered.” A purportedly psychic photographer is given a soundscape some four decades on (Baron), Pascale Ogier throws a paper image into a cacophonous ocean a year before her death (McMullen), a silent séance condenses the atmosphere beneath the hum of cicadas (Kim), and a Scotsman proposes an affective power in a beached whale’s (to us) inaudible wail (Bonnetta). Through occulted sonic undercurrents in service of spiritual phenomenology, these films deal in the “cathedral-like echoes” and “crypt-like muted sounds” Jean Epstein dreamed would form the future of cinema in his 1955 essay The Counterpoint of Sound.

NEW: Undine (Christian Petzold, Germany) + OLD: How to Live in the German Federal Republic (Harun Farocki, 1989) + Pandora and the Flying Dutchman (Albert Lewin, 1951) + Aquarius (Kevin Jerome Everson, 2003)

Temporal, municipal, social rupture bringing flood. Those in Petzold’s melancholy-slapstick Berlin orbit said rupture three decades or so removed, (ultimately inhabiting much the same unterranean space-time as Lewin’s Mason & Gardner), while his late mentor’s subjects navigate the very same tear (Farocki’s film was shot before the wall came down, released after), seeming to tread water, performing bizarre social ritual in-training toward some promised future of opportunity. A future of opportunity whose trace echoes in Everson’s hyper-distilled short, as text-on-screen fortune cookie platitudes stamp the oneiric suspension of a child in the ocean.

NEW: Fauna (Nicolas Pereda, Mexico) + OLD: Vertigo (Alfred Hitchcock, 1958) ­+ The Dragon is the Frame (Mary Helena Clark, 2014) + The Green Fog (Guy Maddin, 2017)

In the first chapter of his philosophical opus on dream-life, “A Dream Interpreted Within a Dream,” itself oneirically structured and often vertiginously worded, scholar of Jewish Studies & mysticism Elliot R. Wolfson cites Hegel in describing that “ the chaos, confusion, and flux of dreaming, the fixed boundaries of subjectivity are dissolved...” This grouping trades rather explicitly in that process of dissolution, each film separately and together hinging on a through-line or fulcrum of prismatic narrative fracture. Insidiously cultivated assumptions are upended, and the gaze shifts, through a crystallizing combination of duration, movement, and montage.

NEW: A very long exposure time (Chloé Galibert-Laîné, France) + The Blue Curtain / Birdsaver Report Volume 1 (Heehyun Choi, South Korea) + OLD: O’er the Land (Deborah Stratman, 2009) + Premium Connect (Tabita Rezaire, 2017) + Parallel I (Harun Farocki, 2012) + Lore (Sky Hopinka, 2019) + The Green Ray (Tacita Dean, 2001)

Atmospheric perception and volume rendered on/in conspicuously two-dimensional screens and frames. Acts of reaching-through digitally and imaginally curtained networks of knowledge and tradition. Cinema’s lack of "authentic" representation is foregrounded, but so is the simmering potential of affective depth and tactility—flat fragments describing a whole unfolding.

Danielle Burgos

NEW: She Dies Tomorrow (Amy Seimetz, USA)

OLD: Fear of Fear (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1975)

aka panic! at the double feature

A woman’s unshakeable sense of angst warps reality and spreads to their immediate circle, but their sense something’s inherently amiss isn’t wrong. On the surface, one plays it for laughs at twilight and the other as sun-drenched femme ennui story of the week, but both nail the panic-stricken reality rift familiar to anyone who’s dealt with anxiety disorders. If only our own feelings of futility ran as decadent and fashionable. 

NEW: Shirley (Josephine Decker, USA) + OLD: Blast of Silence (Allen Baron, 1961)

Genius brushing naïveté, a bloom of eros amid Thanatos.

NEW: La Llorona (Jayro Bustamante, Guatemala) + OLD: Welcome II The Terrordome (Ngozi Onwurah, 1995)

Unacknowledged horrors of the past leave open wounds bleeding into the present.

NEW: Sunless Shadows (Mehrdad Oskouei, Iran) + OLD: Dogtooth (Yorgos Lanthimos, 2009)

An isolation that’s helping vs. hurting, protecting vs repressing.

NEW: Fireball: Visitors From Darker Worlds (Werner Herzog, Australia) + OLD: From Beyond (Stuart Gordon, 1986)

Visitors from darker worlds indeed. Both feature obsessive fascinations and dangers of the outer realms laced with nihilism (though Herzog’s sourpuss V.O. is counterpoint), but scientific joy in one is dangerous pleasure in the other.

Matt Carlin

NEW: The Gentlemen (Guy Ritchie, UK) + OLD: Cash on Demand (Quentin Lawrence, UK),

How could I not choose The Gentlemen, the last film I saw in theaters before COVID reared its ugly head and shut down all the cineplexes? The humorous star-studded tale was a return to form for Ritchie and a good night at the cinemas (remember those?). Cash on Demand, a Hammer Films Productions starring Peter Cushing is another tale of robbery and the underworld set among gentlemen, and is surprisingly effective. Added bonus: Christmas time setting!

NEW:The Color Out of Space (Richard Stanley, USA) + OLD: From Beyond (Stuart Gordon, USA)

I must admit that I was not the biggest fan of Stanley's tale. I had seen better Lovecraft adaptations and I had certainly seen more bonkers Cage. When compared against Lovecraft's original short story, it pales in comparison. Watch this first, then follow it up with Stuart Gordon's 80's masterpiece to understand how to truly adapt Lovecraft for the screen!

Max Carpenter

NEW: Gunda (Kossakovsky, Norway) intermittently overlaid with a phone screen capture scrolling through October 2 Twitter updates on Trump’s admission to Walter Reed.

OLD: Rally ‘Round the Flag, Boys! (McCarey, 1958)

I can’t say much about this pairing except that it's an apt snapshot of my 2020 viewing paradigm. I’m tired of films paired by themes or plot similarities or divergences or cutesy juxtapositions; sometimes it’s inexplicably nice to segue from a ten-spice papaya salad to a tiramisu. Though, if I’m being true to the particulars of my cinephagy, the DJTxCOVID remix of Gunda is a hearty bowl of Esau’s pottage with a fruity cocktail while Rally ‘Round is a Halal Guys platter.

Emotionally, though, my 2020 was

NEW: Clip(s) of the May 28 burning of the 3rd Precinct of the Minneapolis PD, preferably silent (Anonymous, USA) + OLD: Chilly Scenes of Winter (Silver, 1979)

Katherine Connell 

NEW: Emma (Autumn de Wilde, UK)

OLD: Bonjour Tristesse (Otto Preminger, 1958)

Colorful, frothy portraits of women both—as Austen would put it—“handsome, clever, and rich.” Emma (in Emma) and Cecile (in Bonjour Tristesse) each share a special bond with their daddy dearest that inches towards something Freudian and concocts elaborate schemes that spiral far away from good intentions. Some precocious mistakes end with spontaneous nosebleeds but no love lost; others with a lifetime of ennui. 

NEW: The Half of It (Alice Wu, US) + OLD: The Wise Kids (Stephen Cone, 2011)

These are kind films about queer identity fragmentation and formation. Both end with the feeling of a large inhale: a sense of uncertainty, but a warm one.

NEW: Matthias & Maxime (Xavier Dolan, Canada) + OLD: Maurice (James Ivory, 1987) 

If the angsty crescendo of Dolan's (almost) unrequited romance—Phosphorescent's "Song for Zula”—had existed in 1987, it would have been an equally appropriate coda to the messy yearning in Maurice; specifically the scene where Hugh Grant looks out the window while contemplating the concessions he’s made and the love that he’s lost. 

Adrian Curry

OLD: Original Cast Album: Company (D.A. Pennebaker, USA, 1970)

NEW: David Byrne's American Utopia (Spike Lee, USA, 2020)

Two of the most riveting films and joyous films I saw during lockdown this year (and god, we needed some joy) were both Broadway musicals, or rather documentaries about (or documents of) Broadway musicals. Two films made 50 years apart by two of America’s greatest documentarians capturing performances of works by two of America’s greatest living songwriters: D.A. Pennebaker documenting Stephen Sondheim, Spike Lee documenting David Byrne. Pennebaker’s legendary hour-long film with the unwieldy title Original Cast Album: Company premiered on the Criterion Channel early in lockdown and became my summer obsession, encompassing the 2019 Documentary Now! parody (“Original Cast Album: Co-op!”) and endless listens to the said cast album (“Where you going?“ “Barcelona.” “Oh”). Capturing the process of a single day recording session of the cast album for Sondheim’s 1970 musical, Company, Pennebaker’s film is absolutely enthralling. A gender-swapped 50th-anniversary Broadway revival of Company was already in previews when the pandemic lockdown started in March. Meanwhile, David Byrne’s concert spectacular American Utopia had just ended its original Broadway run about a month before, though it had been rescheduled to return in the fall until COVID shut down all of Broadway for the rest of the year. Instead we were blessed with Spike Lee’s brilliant filmic staging of Byrne’s fantasia with a cast as diverse as Company’s is blatantly not and a world-view as expansive and inclusive as Sondheim’s was restricted to his white, upper-middle-class New York coupledom angst. (I bet Sondheim wishes he’d written “You may find yourself in a beautiful house, with a beautiful wife” for Company). We can’t go the theater for the foreseeable future but Company and Utopia make a fabulously uplifting double-bill for these constricted times.

Henri de Corinth

NEW: Alfred (Esther Urlus, Netherlands)

OLD: The Birds (Alfred Hitchcock, 1963)

Esther Urlus’s new film is a multiple-exposure moving image of a bird flapping its wings, and together with its title Alfred suggests, in its way, Alfred Hitchcock’s 1963 film The Birds. To think that it suggests as much seems almost a byproduct of the postmodernist irony that the director engendered in that film and Psycho in the early 1960s, yet the actual ‘narrative’ of Urlus’s film is more prosaic, as it documents a personal episode. Urlus’s daughter brought home an abandoned pigeon chick, naming it Alfred, and raised it in their house, where it learned to fly. Urlus, a Dutch multimedia artist and filmmaker who constructs film collages in Super8 and 16mm, created the film from 16mm footage she took of Alfred before they released him. At first glance, it reminds one of the James Pollak’s optical effects in the opening title sequence of Hitchcock’s film, and suggests its absurd image of birds swarming the inside of a house. Yet it also connotes Hitchcock’s narrative at large: a young girl who comes into possession of a de facto pet bird, which seems to set off the events in each film. Just as Hitchcock’s lovebirds are the protagonist’s gift to a young girl, Urlus made Alfred as a gift to her daughter. 

Adrian Dannatt

NEW: Lover's Rock  (Steve McQueen, UK)

OLD: Identification of a Woman (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1982)

To celebrate a year remarkable for its scanty social occasions two memorable parties both taking place at the beginning of the 1980s; one a frosty Italian aristocratic gathering the other a Ladbroke Grove shebeen (can that be the word?) complete with sweat drenched wallpaper. Personally I hope for more of both in 2021.

Doug Dibbern

NEW: The Cordillera of Dreams (Patricio Guzman, Chile)

OLD: Blind Beast (Yasuzo Masumura, Japan, 1969)

These two films—so different on the surface—seem like fitting representatives for the disorienting experience of watching movies while isolated at home for most of this year. Guzman’s film is a thoughtful, elegiac rumination on the relationship between political trauma and national memory; Masumura’s is a feverishly ugly and ostentatiously grotesque cinematic stab-wound that plumbs the relationship between artists’ ingrained solipsism, aesthetic experimentation, and abusive sex. They appeared, at first, to exist at opposite ends of the aesthetic and ideological spectrum—though equally distant from today’s mainstream assumptions about what movies might possibly try to be. Yet to my mind they’ve come to have a surprising affinity: a shared commitment that everyone, everywhere, will inevitably be haunted by an inconsolable resignation about the fate of this decaying world. Or maybe that’s just me: maybe it was just that this year’s imposed sequestration and detachment from my fellow human beings made me find refuge in cinematic extremes in order to make sense of a world that seemed to be collapsing in upon itself even more than usual.

Flavia Dima 

OLD: Instructions for a Light and Sound Machine (Peter Tscherkassky, 2005)

NEW: El tango del viudo y su espejo deformante / The Tango of the Widower and Its Distorting Mirror (Raoul Ruiz & Valeria Sarmiento, 1967/2020)

Death and duality, de-collages and recycled images, hauntology—in the floating debris of what is probably cinema’s most horrible year to date, the ghost(s) of cinema past has bubbled up to the surface to haunt our screens and shield our eyes from the unremitting barrage of despairing news, yet still always managing to return a spectral echo to the present. Two films that use and re-use images ingeniously, distorting realities, narratives and mediums, two films that wrestle with images left behind by masters of cinematic art, two films with the concept of mortality lying at their cores.

OLD: Goodbye, Dragon Inn (Tsai Ming-liang, 2003) + NEW:Ne croyez surtout pas que je hurle / Just Don’t Think I’ll Scream (Frank Beauvais, 2019)

In between missing the cinema and the little invisible habits we cultivate inside of it, missing the familiar faces of our favorite theaters’ staff and workers and missing foreign architectures and interiors, and a full head-on immersion into an endless torrent of images that were lying just beneath the surface of the Internet, circulated in endless pirate communities and ecologies (Salut, la loupe!), these two (apparently diametrically opposite) films capture much of what this year has been like, in cinephile terms. A film of shared silent glances coalescing around images versus the relentless voice of a conscience haunted by isolation and a dismantling social and political fabric, finding rare moments of solace in cinema—what better way to capture the painful seismic rupture that was March 2020?

P.S.: Did I, a certain member of the anally-retentive audience member sub-species, ever think I’d miss the fact of slowly boiling in my sear at a late-arrival who’s using their smartphone flashlights to wade around in those crucial expositional moments of every film? Never. (On that note, please stop doing this once cinemas are open again, thanks. Stay safe!)

Hugo Emmerzael 

NEW: Siberia (Abel Ferrara, USA) 

OLD: Total Recall (Paul Verhoeven, 1990)

Two absolute bangers by vulgar auteurs that dive headfirst into the vast realms of our subconsciousness. Ferrara’s and Verhoeven’s cinematic journeys question reality, perception, ecology, nature, identity and masculinity, while conjuring up spectacular imagery and memorable performances from their magnetic lead actors. Another more personal connection between these films was the pleasurable experience of watching them: the former with some of my dearest friends during the halcyon days of the pre-corona Berlinale, the latter a rare trip with loved ones to EYE Film Museum in Amsterdam for a restored 4K presentation of the film in a time when the cinemas briefly reopened again.

The Ferroni Brigade

NEW: Everything Is Cinema (Ḍōṇ Pālattaṟa, 2021, India) + OLD: Karantin (Quarantine, Sulamifʹ Cybulʹnik, 1968)

NEW: 8-ka de shinda kaijū no 12-nichi no monogatari (The 12 Day Tale of the Monster that Died in 8, Iwai Shunji, Japan) + OLD: Huṁ Hunśī Hunśīlāl (Love in the Time of Malaria, Sañjīv Śāh, 1992)

NEW: Zombietopia (Wu4 Ming4 Zeon3, Malaysia) + OLD: Armon aika (Days of Grace, Jaakko Pyhälä, 1998)

How could we not start with an acknowledgment of the way the world turned this year, and how thus our movie watching was affected?

 NEW: The Beach House (Jeffrey A. Brown, USA) + OLD:  Night Gallery: Professor Peabody's Last Lecture (Jerrold Freedman, 1971)

NEW: The Dark and the Wicked (Bryan Bertino, USA) + OLD: Schatten aus der Zeit (George Moorse, 1975)

NEW: Lúa vermella (Red Moon Tide, Lois Patiño, Spain) + OLD: Un siècle d'écrivains: Toute marche mystérieuse vers le destin (le cas Lovecraft) (The Strange Case of Howard Phillips Lovecraft, Patrick-Mario Bernard & Pierre Trividic, 1999)

That one feels like reading again Lovecraft under these conditions should be more than understandable.

NEW: Üres lovak (Empty Horses, Lichter Péter, Hungary) + OLD: Amerikai anzix (American Postcard, Bódy Gábor, 1975)

NEW: Melegvizek Országa (Land of Warm Waters, Igor & Ivan Buharov, Hungary) + OLD: Sanytari-oborotni (Evgenij Jufit, 1984)

NEW: Tinnitus (Daniil Zinčenko, Russia) + OLD: Electro Moskva (Dominik Spritzendorfer & Elena Tikhonova, 2013)

While Eastern promises of doom and damnation feel more real than ever.

NEW: Bill & Ted Face the Music (Dean Parisot, USA) + OLD: Soup to Nuts (Benjamin Stoloff, 1930)

NEW: Paradox (Daryl Hannah, USA) + OLD: Star in the Dust (Charles F. Haas, 1956)

NEW: Mike Judge Presents: Tales From the Tour Bus (Mike Judge, USA) + OLD: Il était un musicien: Monsieur Saint-Saëns (Claude Chabrol, 1978)

How else to describe this year than in terms of developing new perspectives on time—and where would this get more tangible than in music?

NEW: El crack cero (The Crack: Inception, José Luis Garci, Spain) + OLD: El crack dos (The Crack II, José Luis Garci, 1983)

NEW: Les Plus Belles Années d'une vie (The Best Years of One Life, Claude Lelouch, France) + OLD: Un homme et une femme, 20 ans déjà (A Man and a Woman: 20 Years Later, Claude Lelouch, 1986)

NEW: Tales from the Hood 3 (Rusty Cundieff, Darin Scott, USA) + OLD: Tales from the Hood 2 (Rusty Cundieff, Darin Scott, 2018)

But also: time in a hands-down fashion, as in: This is no first—it's just another chapter.

NEW: Police (Anne Fontaine, France) + OLD: The Gun (John Badham, 1974)

NEW: Bronx (Rogue City, Olivier Marchal, France) + OLD: Braquo [Saison 1] (Olivier Marchal, Frédéric Schoendoerffer, 2009)

NEW: La Terre et le sang (Earth and Blood, Julien Leclercq, France) + OLD: Landkrimi: Alles Fleisch ist Gras (Reinhold Bilgeri, 2014)

Continuity is also key to cinema—here: The continuity of genre, its rules and tropes. Certain truths seem to never get old...

NEW: Nos ili Zagovor netakih (The Nose or, Conspiracy of Mavericks, Andrej Hržanovskij, Russia) + OLD: Le Nez (Nose, Aleksandr Alekseev, 1963)

NEW: Bnut'yun - La Nature (Nature, Artav'azd P'eleshyan, 2019-21, France/Armenia) + OLD: I vse-taki ja verju...(… And Still I Believe, Mihail Romm, Ėlem Klimov & Marlen Huciev & German Lavrov, 1974)

NEW: Poslednjaja milaja Bolgarija (The Last Darling Bulgaria, Aleksej Fedorčenko, Russia) + OLD: Ivan Groznyj 3 [Excerpts of an unfinished film] (Sergej Ėjzenštejn, 1946/1988)

… with some feeling more urgent and current than ever...

NEW: Gekijōban Kishiryū Sentai Ryusoulger VS Lupinranger VS Patranger (Kishiryu Sentai Ryusoulger VS Lupinranger VS Patranger The Movie, Watanabe Katsuya, Japan) + OLD: Batman: A Piece of the Action & Batman: Batman’s Satisfaction (Oscar Rudolph, 1967)

NEW: Slate (Cho Barŭn, Republic of Korea) + OLD: La Mujer murciélago (Batwoman, René Cardona, 1968)

NEW: Freaks Out (Gabriele Mainetti, 2021, Italy) + OLD: Re. Cutie Honey [OAV Series] (Supervising Director: Hideaki Anno, Episode Directors: Imaishi Hiroyuki, Itō Naoyuki, Masayuki, 2004)

...especially when they get reconsidered again and again in different cultures, guises and circumstances...

NEW: “Captain Berlin und die wirklich wahre Geschichte vom Mauerfall” [Audioplay] (Jörg Buttgereit & Jonas Bergler, FRG) + OLD: Captain Berlin versus Hitler (Jörg Buttgereit, 2009)

NEW: Kigigoegoe: Sŏngyŏngsu(Beauty Water, Cho Gyŏngun, Republic of Korea) + OLD: „Kigigoegoe: Sŏngyŏngsu“[Webtoon] (O Sŏngdae, 2015)  

NEW: Fǎn xiào (Detention, Xú Hànqiáng {John Hsu}, Republic of China [Taiwan]) + OLD: “Fǎn xiào” [Video Game] (Creator: Yáo Shùntíng, 2017)

...or in their transitions from one medium/art to the next.

 NEW: Tremors: Shrieker Island(Don Michael Paul, USA) + OLD: Sniper: Legacy (Don Michael Paul, 2014)

NEW: Calibro 9 (Toni D'Angelo, Italy) + OLD: Falchi (Hawks, Toni D'Angelo, 2017)

NEW: Saat3-Gik1 (Kill-Fist, Lei5 Tim1 Hing1 {James Lee}, Malaysia) + OLD: Smartphone Film Series # 01: Gaa1 baan1 (Smartphone Film Series # 01: Overtime, Lei5 Tim1 Hing1 {James Lee}, 2017)

Therefore we shall celebrate all those who serve genre cinema on all fronts: direct to video, cinema and if necessary even the internet...

NEW: L'ultimo fuorilegge (The Last Outlaw,, Carlo Luglio & Fabio Gargano, Italy) + OLD: I figli non si toccano! (Don't Touch the Children!, Nello Rossati, 1978)

NEW: Dari A ke Z Lokman (From A to Z Lokman, Ammar Adzim & Amir Hafzi & Amir Muhammad & Elise Schick, Malaysia) + OLD: Azam (Grit, Z. Lokman, 1997)

NEW: San daikaijū Gourmet (Monster Seafood Wars, Kawasaki Minoru, Japan) + OLD: M: Muranishi Tōru kyōnetsu no hibi (M: Toru Muranishi - Wild Passionate Days -, Katashima Ikki, 2018)

...and we shall cultivate their memories...

NEW: Bakuretsu Machine shōjo – Burst Machine Girls (Rise of the Machine Girls, Kobayashi Yūki, Japan) + OLD: Tenemos 18 años (We Are 18 Years Old, Jess Franco, 1959)

NEW: Ein Callgirl für Geister (Klaus Lemke, FRG) + OLD: Sinfonía erótica (Erotic Symphony, Jess Franco, 1980)

NEW: Perempuan Tanah Jahanam (Impetigore, Joko Anwar, Indonesia) + OLD: La mansión de los muertos vivientes (Mansion of the Living Dead, Jess Franco, 1982)

...especially in cases as rich and constantly surprising as that of Jess Franco!

NEW: Thunderbolt Fantasy: Seiyū genka (Thunderbolt Fantasy: Bewitching Melody of the West, Urobuchi Gen, Japan) + OLD: Let My Puppets Come (Gerard Damiano, 1976)

NEW: Fireball: Visitors from Darker Worlds (Werner Herzog & Clive Oppenheimer, USA) + OLD: Cave Women (Annette Haven, 1979)

NEW: #Shakespeare's Sh*tstorm (Lloyd Kaufman, USA) + OLD: La venexiana (The Venetian Woman, Mauro Bolognini, 1986)

And now that we've entered the realm of the sensual, we shall cherish three neglected methods to ponder the pleasures of sex - puppet animation, science, Renaissance literature—and how these can be put to good use in other fields as well. For, in the words of the Werner: This is the best science.

NEW: “Sekai meisaku monogatari. Chōsen-hen: Shunkaden” [Digitalized 35mm Magic Lantern Film] (Kawajiri Taiji [Slide Artist] & Iwata Kyōko [Digital Version], 1950s/2020, Japan) + OLD: Pando-ŭi pom (Spring of Korean Peninsula, I Byŏngil, 1941)

NEW: Suí piàn dēngtái (Onstage Appearance, Lín Yàyòu, Republic of China [Taiwan]) + OLD: Dà xiá méihuālù (The Fantasy of the Deer Warrior, Zhāng Yīng, 1961) 

NEW: Lulu Faustine (Stephen Broomer, Canada) + OLD: L'Invention de Morel (Claude-Jean Bonnardot, 1967)

NEW: The Case of the Vanishing Gods (Ross Lipman, 2021, USA) + OLD: Der Mann mit dem Glasauge (The Man with the Glass Eye, Alfred Vohrer, 1968)

NEW: The Village Detective (Bill Morrison, USA) + OLD: Aniskin i Fantomas [Miniseries] (Mihail Žarov & Vitalij Ivanov & Vladimir Rapoport, 1973)

And which science could be of greater interest to us than that of the moving image?

NEW: Donner – Privat (John Webster, 2021, Finland) + OLD: Black Sun (Arne Mattson, 1978)

NEW: Self Portrait 2020 (I Dongu, Republic of Korea) + OLD: Chahwasang ich’ŏn (Self Portrait 2000, I Sangyŏl, 2000)

NEW: Como el cielo después de llover (The Calm After the Storm, Mercedes Gaviria, Columbia) + OLD: La mujer del animal (The Animal's Wife, Víctor Gaviria, 2016)

Especially when we look at the demands it makes on its practitioners as well as their nearest and dearest...

NEW: Papier-mâché(Vitalij Suslin, Russia) + OLD: Golova. Dva uha (Vitalij Suslin, 2017)

NEW: Genderation (Monika Treut, 2021, FRG) + OLD: Die Dohnal (Sabine Derflinger, Austria, 2019)

NEW: No Hay Camino – There is No Path (Heddy Honigmann, Netherlands) + OLD: Il était un petit navire (There Was a Little Ship, Marion Hänsel, 2019)

…and how film and self, memories and identities, warp, merge, reshape...

NEW: Silicon Valley [TV Series] (Mike Judge, Eric Appel, Jamie Babbit, Alec Berg, Tricia Brock, Maggie Carey, Charlie McDowell; Gillian Robespierre, Tim Roche, Matt Ross, Clay Tarver, USA) + OLD: A Linguagem da Persuasão (The Language of Persuasion, Joaquim Pedro de Andrade, 1970)

NEW: Bois Cerveau TV (Quentin Dupieux, France) + OLD: Canale Grande (Friederike Pezold, 1983)

NEW: Die ultimative Frage auf alle Antworten (Michael Gülzow, Austria) + OLD: #67 (Jean-Gabriel Périot, 2012)

...and yet how much depends on it, especially in a time were distrust in the media is ever more widespread—and with good reason.

 NEW: City Hall (Frederick Wiseman, USA) + OLD: Stars and Stripes Forever (Henry Koster, 1952)

NEW: #AmericaNeedsMichigan (Don Winslow & Shane Salerno, USA) + OLD: Escanaba in da Moonlight (Jeff Daniels, 2001)

NEW: Election Knight Rises: A Late Show Animated Special (Tim Luecke, USA) + OLD: Superman/Batman: Public Enemies (Sam Liu, 2009)

Which is not to say that cinema, home media and the net don't also do their job in offering perspectives and encouragement mighty needed!

NEW: Coup 53 (Taqī Amīrānī, Großbritannien) + OLD: Šatranǧ-e Bād (Chess of the Wind, Moḥamad Reḍā Aslānī, 1976)

NEW: Ǧenāyat-e bī Deqat (Careless Crime; Šahrām Mokrī, Iran) + OLD: Mohākeme-ye Sīnamā Rex (The Rex Cinema Trial, Parvīz Ṣayyād, 1990s?)

NEW: Rādīogrāf az yek Ḫānevādeh (Radiograph of a Family, Fīrūzeh Ḫosrovānī, Iran) + OLD: Nīmeh-ye Penhān (The Hidden Half, Tahmīneh Milanī, 2001)

Not to mention insights otherwise impossible to get?

NEW: Kaviar (Elena Tichonova, Austria) + OLD: Ibiza-Affäre [Observation video] (starring Heinz-Christian Strache and Johann Gudenus in Ibiza, Spain, 2019)

NEW: Prolonging Life (Dmitrij Fal’kovič, 2021, Great Britain) + OLD: Ivanov (Dmitrij Fal’kovič, 2018)

NEW: Komunismus a sít’ aneb konec zastupitelské demokracie (Communism and the Net or the End of Representative Democracy, Karel Vachek, Czech Republik) + OLD: Pain, Vengeance?Brot, Rache?Bread, Revenge? (Stefan Hayn, 2019)

How close can the tiny, accidental and ugly be to the grand, elegant and resplendent?!

NEW: Minamata Mandala (Hara Kazuo, Japan) + OLD: Nippon no sugao. Dai 99-shū: Kibyō no kage ni (NHK, 1959)

NEW: Tōyō no majo - Les Sorcières de l’Orient (The Oriental Witches, Julien Faraut, 2021, France/Japan) + OLD: Chōsen (The Price of Victory, Shibuya Nobuko, 1963)

NEW: Mishima Yukio VS Tōdai Zenkyōtō: 50-nenme no shinjitsu (Mishima: The Last Debate, Toyoshima Keisuke, Japan) + OLD: Nihon Zero-nen (Japan Year Zero, Fujita Toshiya [& Kawabe Kazuo], 1968/2002)

How could we develop a perspective on history without cinema and television? Not to mention that this memory is full of surprises, sights unseen sometimes since a director and an editor said, This we don't need now.

NEW: Greyhound (Aaron Schneider, USA) + OLD: Corvette Port Arthur (Joris Ivens, 1943)

NEW: Persischstunden / Uroki persidskaj (Persian Lessons, Vadim Perelʹman, Belorus) + OLD: Faktas (Fact, Almantas Grikevičius, 1981)

NEW: Waffenstillstand - Mein Sommer '45 in Dresden (Hans-Dieter Grabe, FRG) + OLD: Canada Remembers Part Three: Endings and Beginnings (Terence Macartney-Filgate, 1995)

Sometimes, though, imagination and empathy can get us as close to a historical truth as images of events proper...

NEW: Bābǎi (The Eight Hundred, Guǎn Hǔ, People's Republic of China) + OLD: Enoken no Songokū: Zenpen & Enoken no Songokū: Kōhen (1940; Yamamoto Kajirō)

NEW: Spy no tsuma (Wife of a Spy, Kurosawa Kiyoshi, Japan) + OLD: The Mask of Nippon (Margaret Palmer, 1942)

NEW: Midway (Roland Emmerich, USA) + OLD: Taiheiyō kiseki no sakusen - Kiska (Retreat from Kiska, Maruyama Seiji, 1965)

...not to mention that on other times we might want to come to a history that wasn't and truths that feel desirable.

NEW: Zuì kě'ài de rén (Salute to the Heroes, Shèng Zhènhuá, People's Republic of China) + OLD: Shànggānlǐng (Battle on Shangganling Mountain, Shā Méng & Lín Shān, 1956)

NEW: Imsinhan namuwa tokkaebi (The Pregnant Tree and the Goblin, Pak Kyŏngt’ae & Kim Dongnyŏng, Republic of Korea) + OLD: Cry for Happy (George Marshall, 1961)

NEW: Kangch’ŏlbi 2: Chŏngsangoedam hwakchamgp’an (Steel Rain 2: Summit Extended Edition, Yang Usŏk, Republic of Korea) + OLD: Yŏnp'yŏng haejŏn (Northern Limit Line, Kim Haksun, 2015)

What a mess history can be, though, especially when it's unfinished business.

NEW: Mans mīļākais karš (My Favorite War, Ilze Burkovska-Jacobsen, Latvia/Norway) + OLD: Chopin-Express (Michael Kehlmann, 1971)

NEW: Malmkrog (Cristi Puiu, Romania) + OLD: In freier Landschaft [Miniseries] (Michael Kehlmann, 1977)

NEW: Luz nos Trópicos (Light in the Tropics, Paula Gaitán, Brazil) + OLD: Bartolomé de Las Casas (Michael Kehlmann, 1992)

But for all our love of cinema at its most modern and poetic, we do miss the television of yore: its serious severity and intransigently confrontational didactic glory.

NEW: 2551.01 Episode 01 “The Kid” (Norbert Pfaffenbichler, 2021, Austria) + OLD: Eat It / Mangiala (Francesco Casaretti, 1969)

NEW: Thalasso (Guillaume Nicloux, France) + OLD: Nurunuru Cancan (Wet Hot Sake, Noshiyama Yōichi, 1996)

NEW: Struktur ist alles (Josef Hader, Austria) + OLD: Chez Maupassant: Le Petit fût (Claude Chabrol, 2008)

But, yes, for all the headiness we desire, in the end we're happy when it's all be about the joy of pushing through to the other side of whatever limit, be it cinematical, philosophical, or physical—when it results in intoxication at its finest.

NEW: Tajūrō jun'aiki (Love's Twisting Path, Nakajima Sadao, Japan) + OLD: Chōkon [Fragment] (An Unforgettable Grudge, Itō Daisuke, 1926)

NEW: The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run (Tim Hill, USA) + OLD: Wormholes (Stephen Hillenburg, 1992)

NEW: Gloria Mundi (Robert Guédiguian, France) + OLD: K'yank' (Life, Artav'azd P'eleshyan, 1993)

For all this is not about mere dedications, but acceptance of the necessity to make one's tribute a mission to expand on the legacy of greatness.

Lukas Foerster

NEW: Cats (Tom Hooper, USA)

OLD: Tango durch Deutschland (Lutz Mommartz, 1980)

If cinema will indeed end with Covid 19 (and by now I'm no longer sure it won't), I might one day think of Tom Hooper's Cats as the last hurrah of my favorite art form. A bizarre, widely derided pop-cultural monstrosity that only comes alive under very special circumstances—as it did in a magical screening in a Zurich multiplex in early January. Having already been thoroughly enchanted by the trailer myself, I was able to witness a live conversion in the seats behind me: A group of friends entering the screening hell-bent on making fun of “cat boobs,” and ending up being touched by cinema. "Born into nothing / At least you have something." A few days later, I moved to the US and a few months later Covid hit. One of the many films I watched alone at home over the past several months was Tango durch Deutschland by Lutz Mommartz. A forgotten masterpiece of outsider art featuring Eddie Constantine as the material ghost of pulp cinema, traveling through Germany and leaving behind an almost, but not quite invisible trace. Shot 40 years ago and still as if from the perspective of post-cinema, sober and without a hint of nostalgia: cinema was here, once, and it did make a difference, if only once in a while. Now, however, we are alone.

Bonus Film History Corpse Grinder Double Feature:

NEW: Mank (David Fincher, USA) + OLD: Un gatto nel cervello (Lucio Fulci, 1991)

Sasha Frere-Jones

NEW: Lovers Rock (Steve McQueen, UK)

OLD:  Bullitt (Peter Yates, 1968)

I did not understand that I had chosen two Steve McQueens until I told a friend I was writing this. I can't speak to that, really. What McQueen and Yates have in common is a way of placing bodies in physical space. Bullitt is dominated by spaces where three or four vertical layers collapse into a single view. No scene in Bullitt is ever dominated by one subject, not even in the car chases. For Lovers Rock, the space of visual focus is a living room, both enlarged and contracted by music: first Janet Kay, and then the Revolutionaries. You can feel full, right where you are—this is what these films tell me.

Caden Mark Gardner

NEW: Congratulations Debby (Roger Hayn, USA)

OLD: The Swimmer (Frank Perry, 1968)

Roger Hayn’s low-budget black-and-white psychodrama shares a station-to-station quality with Frank Perry’s haunting adaptation of John Cheever’s short story, each showing the gradual cracks in the artifice of their central characters. In The Swimmer, Burt Lancaster plays the WASP patriarch Ned Merrill whose odd behavior of swimming in every pool of his Connecticut suburban neighborhood perplexes all around him as his perceptions of his life clash with their memories of him and his impact on their lives. Congratulation Debby’s eponymous character (Jennifer Dorr White) is a middle-aged late-in-life pregnant woman who has a certain affect to her upbeat perkiness (her voice conjures memories of pre-recorded phone telemarketers or television infomercial hosts) that can make a viewer immediately skeptical. She attempts to share her great personal news of her pregnancy with family members and neighbors. But it is their reactions that point to a different attitude of how the viewer should have about Debby and questions arise over who is this woman. Both The Swimmer and Congratulations Debby show the unsettling ways one can reshape and de-compartmentalize their past traumas and actions into goals and a fresh start when they are in fact suppressing lives and relationships left in complete disrepair. 

 Sean Gilman

NEW: The History of the Seattle Mariners (Jon Bois, USA)

OLD: Seven Samurai (Akira Kurosawa, 1954)

A double feature of my favorite movie and my favorite sports team, both epics of perseverance in defiance of inevitable failure. Nothing could be more appropriate for this wasted year. 

NEW: Birds of Prey (Cathy Yan, USA) + OLD: The Female Prisoner Scorpion and Stray Cat Rock series (Various Directors, 1970-1973)

Comic book movies have a long way to go to match the ferocious and subversive energy of the dozen or so films Meiko Kaji made in a four year span 50 years ago.

NEW: The Woman Who Ran (Hong Sangsoo, South Korea) + OLD: Black Christmas (Bob Clark, 1974)

Toying with the idea that Hong’s latest is about Kim Minhee navigating the deadpan terrors of Hong’s domestic spaces like the final girl in a horror movie.

NEW: Lovers Rock (Steve McQueen, UK) and American Utopia (Spike Lee, USA) + OLD: The Harder They Come (Perry Henzell, 1972) and The Rocking Horsemen (Nobuhiko Obayashi, 1992)

Four movies from around the world about music as escape from the horrors of modern life.

NEW: The Disciple (Chaitanya Tamhane, India) + OLD: Om Shanti Om (Farah Khan, 2007), Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baaje (V. Shantaram, 1955), Aag (Raj Kapoor, 1948), and Fan (Maneesh Sharma, 2016)

By far my most rewarding movie experience of 2020 was the several weeks I spent digging into the classics of Indian cinema. I had high hopes that the quarantine-induced lack of new releases would finally allow me time to become conversant in a cinema I’d too long ignored for one excuse or another. Alas, as the year dragged on, my ability and desire to watch much of anything dissipated. But still, these group together reasonably as Indian Movies about Artistic Obsession: music, film, dance, theatre, and movie stardom, respectively. 

NEW: Hopper/Welles (Orson Welles, USA) + OLD: Original Cast Album Company (DA Pennebaker, 1970) and Eega (SS Rajamouli, 2012)

Revenge of the flies on the wall.

Leonardo Goi 

NEW: Labyrinth of Cinema (Nobuhiko Obayashi, Japan)

OLD: Close-Up (Abbas Kiarostami, 1990)

If 2020 birthed any genuine “love letter to the movies” this was not David Fincher’s Mank but the late Nobuhiko Obayashi’s final film, Labyrinth of Cinema. I saw it in Rotterdam in late January, before 2020 became 2020; nothing I watched in the months that followed felt as urgent and entrancing. Contagiously pacifist and utopian, Obayashi’s journey through the horrors of Japan’s 20th Century (and the films that portrayed them) ends with a radical suggestion: what if cinema can help us remake the world? It brought to mind another fulminating ode to the medium as a vehicle for compassion, Abbas Kiarostami’s Close-Up. Perhaps cinema won’t help us change the future in the way Obayashi alludes to, but it can still open us to the suffering of others, and bring that “calm to the heart” Ali Sabzian told Kiarostami in court—still among the best definitions of what great films can do. 

NEW: Todo lo que se olvida en un istante (Richard Shpuntoff, 2020) + OLD: News from Home (Chantal Akerman, 1977)

Do the places we live in end up shaping how we carry ourselves into the world? Two urban meditations in which New York isn’t a city but a way of looking—in Shpuntoff’s own words: “the language of my vision.”

NEW: Nasir (Arun Karthick, 2020) + OLD: Paterson (Jim Jarmusch, 2016)

Two beguilingly ordinary lives, and two filmmakers resolutely committed to conjure grace and poetry out of everyday gestures. “Low-key” is a grossly misleading label for both.

Carmen Gray

NEWBloody Nose, Empty Pockets (Bill Ross IV, Turner Ross, USA)  + OLDTicket of No Return (Ulrike Ottinger, 1979)

Anti-productivity as worldview; the solidarity of the dispossessed and disaffiliated; the losses and freedoms on public life's edges; a knees-up before last orders. Lockdown moods par excellence.

NEWLa Nature (Atavazd Pelechian, Armenia) + OLDFalling Leaves (Otar Iosseliani, 1966)

The potent forces of time and nature; human-orchestrated decline and renewal. From the societal and ideological to the existential and ecological, two visions from the Caucasus chart the rhythms of endless revolution. 

Duncan Gray

NEWThe Wild Goose Lake (Diao Yinan, China)

OLDNight and the City (Jules Dassin, 1950)

Like his previous film, the fantastic Black Coal, Thin Ice, Diao Yinan's thriller The Wild Goose Lake is “neo-noir”, and it's worth lingering over that prefix, because the value of Diao can be seen in placing him alongside the noir archetype and noting what he adds or subtracts. I choose Night and the City because it's archetypal enough; because Diao and Dassin share certain plot devices; because it was a small joy in 2020 to revisit the hopeless romantic inside Richard Widmark's two-bit sleaze persona; and because "Night and the City" could just as easily be the title of Diao’s film—that is, if it wanted to downplay the social interest it has in naming itself after a setting. (That setting, of all places this year, is in Wuhan). But it could easily be paired with any noir with a tightening net or a tightening noose, which includes classics not just by Dassin, but Robert Siodmak, Carol Reed, Raoul Walsh, and most of all Fritz Lang, whose hands-over-the-city imagery from M is pointedly evoked. The difference, you might say, is the geometry of its fatalism. The traditional world of noir is made of straight lines and sharp angles. The Wild Goose Lake is made of curves, loops, and whorls, expressed in unlikely bits of slapstick, absurdist comedy, loose plotting, observational drift, and meditative respites. If Diao has a film for the canon, I suspect it's still ahead of us. But with his last two films, he has staked a smart, exciting, and stylish voice: an awareness that the paranoia and dismay of our era is inseparable from farce, and that farce deserves a conscience.

NEWNever Rarely Sometimes Always (Eliza Hittman, USA) + OLDThe Reckless Moment (Max Ophüls, 1949)

The perseverance of women in two very different kinds of movies, but each film has such sustained focus on its ordeal that it might as well be a single sequence. Takeaway 1: that melodrama can feel just as natural as social realism. Takeaway 2: that Ophüls' famously mobile camera still deserves all the glory it gets. Takeaway 3: that Hittman's film may have the best long take of 2020, and the camera doesn't move at all.

NEWDick Johnson is Dead (Kirsten Johnson, USA) + OLDUncle Yanco (Agnes Varda, 1967)

Documentarians lovingly train their camera on family, and know that there's no need to stick to realism to convey what they find.

NEWShirley (Josephine Decker, USA) + OLDThe Ghost and Mrs. Muir (Joseph L. Mankiewicz, 1947)

Literary women: their secluded houses, their sources of inspiration, and the value they get from their expression.

NEWShe Dies Tomorrow (Amy Seimetz, USA) + OLDRabid (David Cronenberg, 1977)

Sympathetic patient zeroes of pandemic cinema. And a sign, I think, that while Seimetz's arthouse horror (made before the pandemic and released mid-lockdown) is the kind of scrappy, uncertain 2020 cinema that historians must cry out for, it could use more of the humor that disrupts early Cronenberg: the cagey sense that the apocalypse needn’t be the end of the world.

Michael Guarneri

NEWGuerra e Pace (Massimo D'Anolfi & Martina Parenti, Italy / Switzerland)

OLDSerious Games I–IV (Harun Farocki, 2009-2010)

"La cinematografia è l'arma più forte."

Liam Hendry

NEWSaint Maud (Rose Glass, UK) 

OLDThrough a Glass Darkly (Ingmar Bergman, 1961)

It took too long before I could watch Through a Glass Darkly and it took too long for the cinemas to open again, but when I did, and when they opened—where I saw Saint Maud—for a short time reality was out of touch. Maud in fervent unbearable prayer, in her bedsit before her altar, at the beach dousing herself in propane. Karin in Darkly going round in circles in the house, in the boat at the pier under the flooding rain, crying: “It’s so horrible to see your own confusion and understand it.” Two films with intense and lonely and trapped characters. Yet two films with a dark beauty that worked perfectly, as the best cinema does, in a year where it was sometimes essential, as escape.

NEWIn My Room (Matt Diop, France, Italy) + OLDBuenos Días Resistencia (Adrián Orr, 2013)

I love when shorts begin or end a showing and need both for a fantasy double feature. Highlights of Miu Miu’s Women’s Tales on MUBI and CinemaAttic’s Cuarentena series. Hypnotic shots of living in Paris and Madrid.

Eric Hatch

NEW: Never Rarely Sometimes Always (Eliza Hittman, USA)

In a normal year, I’d use this space to highlight an obscure international film that might slip through the cracks. But given the singular disruption of both the festival circuit and the subsequent marketplace for U.S. independent films, I wanted to urge everyone who’s able to carve out time to not only watch but create an immersive at-home experience for some of the singular festival films that made the tough decision (or had the decision made for them) to go forward into virtual-theatrical. While the same logic applies to many great films—off the top of my head, Amy Seimetz’s She Dies Tomorrow and Tyler Taormina's Ham on Rye should also be underscored here—Never Rarely Sometimes Always is the emerging film that exemplified to me the new need to create immersive at-home viewing that 2020 theater closures took from us. Not only is it one of those quiet films for which a proper experience hangs on taking in every little glance, touch, and word, but it was one of the first films I remember tackling the difficult, anxiety- and distraction-laden at-home environment of COVID 2020. Eliza Hittman is now 3 for 3 with exquisite feature dramas; of all her extraordinary work so far, this one touched me the most.

OLD: Berlin Alexanderplatz (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1980)

Obviously not a conventional double feature, and you’re off the hook if you’re still employed full time, COVID-positive, and/or have kids. But if you’re like me and this pandemic left you broke but sitting on a stir-crazy amount of (physically) healthy viewing time on your hands, this was (and is, until we’re all vaccinated) the time to be honest with ourselves about our at-home viewing habits, time to concede that if we can binge entire seasons of shitty sitcoms and reality tv shows that leave us feeling like we ate the whole tin of caramel corn, we also finally have the time to tackle the Mount Everests of cinematic TRTs. This could just as easily mean A Brighter Summer Day, Shoah, Jeanne Dielman, Out 1, most any Lav Diaz film, or the new restoration of Sátántangó. But for me, a highlight of 2020 was my first proper experience (following a mediocre viewing decades ago on second-generation VHS tapes) with Franz Biberkopf, the character, setting, and story that most obsessed my single favorite director.

Patrick Holzapfel

NEW: The Words and Days (Of Tayoko Shiojiri in the Shiotani Basin) (C.W Winter & Anders Edström, USA, Sweden, Japan, UK)

OLD: Forza Bastia 78 Ou l'île en fête (Sophie Tatischeff & Jacques Tati, 2002)

Two films dealing with Sherlock Holmes’ assessment: “My life is spent in one long effort to escape from the commonplace of existence." One by showing the daily routines of a special day and the other by showing the daily routines of a village throughout more than a year, both by perceiving the world in a way that changes our own perception of it. 

Elizabeth Horkley

NEW: The Nest (Durkin, USA/UK) 

OLD: The Nightcomers (Winner, 1971)

"A Haunted House Movie Without Ghosts” Touted more than one headline for reviews of The Nest. The same banner could apply to a popular interpretation of Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw. 1971’s prequel to James’ tale, The Nightcomers, refrains from providing clues to the novella's central mystery, of whether or not Bly Manor was actually haunted. Instead, it offers an origin story for Screw’s “creepy children.” We learn the reason for their uncannily “adult” behavior: their former caretakers carried on an abuse–laden affair in plain view. It’s little wonder why the children seem stricken by the time Screw’s governess arrives. 

The Nest’s creaky old mansion is even less compelling as an evil entity than Bly Manor. The Old Dark House™ is background for Carrie Coon and Jude Law’s domestic spats over money. In one scene, Coon, rattled by a door that seems to have opened on its own, lashes out at her children. A bemused “Oh-kay!” is all she can conjure from her teenage daughter. It’s clear as day that it’s not a faulty door that scares her mother most.

Scenery isn’t spared in films of this ilk. Glasses are thrown at walls, doors are slammed, symbolic cracks form in the ceiling. Both The Nightcomers and The Nest suggest that a house’s walls absorb toxic energy as surely as they do the sounds of high–pitched arguments. But more chillingly, they show how these environments poison children, dooming them to repeat follies witnessed in close quarters.

NEW: Host (Savage, United Kingdom) + OLD: The McPherson Tape (Alioto, 1989)

The best found footage horror films do right by exploiting the shortcomings of whatever technology has placed movie–making into the hands of mere mortals. 2020’s "quar–horror" film Host takes place entirely over a COVID–era Zoom call and homes in on the features of the platform that make it a nightmare proxy for in–person communication: quick cuts to inconsequential sounds, blackouts caused by poor connections, characters who pick up their laptops and carry them around the house. That last annoyance elicits a POV look similar to SOV predecessors like the Blair Witch Project, or The McPherson Tape.  

Arguably the very first found footage horror film, The McPherson Tape is about a child’s birthday party interrupted by an alien invasion. Like the kid’s birthday, the film is sort of spoiled by the appearance of Little Green Men: laughably hokey creatures (that, to be fair, more or less resemble the aliens in Signs). Nevertheless, the ultra low-budget piece established a golden rule of the genre: the worse it looks, the better it plays. Director Dean Alioto lures us into the film's web of action by making it nearly impossible to discern what’s going on. Pinned to the screen as we are, the slightest scares elicit reactions that more polished horror movies—found footage or other—can’t come close to achieving.

NEW: Ham on Rye (Taormina, United States) + OLD: Picnic at Hanging Rock (Weir, 1975)

Two films that imagine the bridge between adolescence and adulthood as a mysterious, cosmic event that flings adolescents into an uncertain future. The rapture of Picnic at Hanging Rock is an isolated, inexplicable happening, while in Ham on Rye, it’s an annual rite of passage that seems to be accepted by characters as a test of fortitude. Ham’s vanished preteens are celebrated, we can deduce, for successfully leaving the nest. Picnic’s lost girls, on the other hand, are mourned, by none more so than the classmates they've left behind. In the film’s climactic scene, one of the missing lasses reappears looking the part of a sophisticate. Her aura is nervous; fearful—or is her distance more akin to a newfound sense of elitism? Rather than embracing her, her school sisters demand answers and become hysterical. The “Survivor’s Guilt” they displayed earlier starts to resemble something closer to “Survivor’s Envy.”

David Hudson

NEWMalmkrog (Cristi Puiu, Romania)

OLDSummer Hours (Olivier Assayas, 2008)

Cristi Puiu launched into a rant against wearing masks this summer that probably cost him his seat on the jury in Venice. On Twitter, Bucharest-based film critic Flavia Dima filled us in on why we shouldn’t have been surprised. For years now, Puiu has been making reprehensible remarks demeaning to women and the LGBTQ community. Malmkrog, a film to be reckoned with nonetheless, is charged with some of that negative energy as five Russian aristocrats discuss the nature of evil, Christ’s resurrection, and the morality of war while the cold light of a late nineteenth-century winter seeps in through the tall windows a Transylvanian manor. Upstairs, an old man lies dying. In Summer Hours, the old man, a renowned painter, is already gone. His niece, now seventy-five, gathers her three children and their families in a house weighted with memories but dappled with sunlight and lush greens. In both films, groups move from room to room negotiating individual positions within the overall dynamic, but while the debate in Malmkrog is carried out with a calculated, polite cruelty, the two brothers and sister in Olivier Assayas’s film are determined to work things out with more than just mutual respect. There may be minor secrets and moments of deceit, but there is also a genuine, palpable love between them. In the end, the house is emptied, with some of the old painter’s finest pieces going to a museum. Apafi Manor, where Puiu shot Malmkrog, was a cultural center before the communists nabbed it in 1949. Now it’s a guesthouse with rooms going for sixty-five euros a night—per person.

Aaron Hunt

NEW: Finding Yingying (Jiayan Jenny Shi, USA) 

OLD: Wilmington 10 -- U.S.A.10,000 (Haile Gerima, USA, 1979)

Shi and Gerima both get close to their documentary subjects and appear on camera to hold themselves accountable to them. Finding Yingying and Wilmington 10 -- U.S.A. 10,000 are the rare, non-fiction films that are transparent about their filmmakers' backgrounds and biases, that don't strain for objectivity with reckless abandon. No one else could have made these films.

NEW: Babae at Beril (Rae Red, Philippines)  + OLD: Batch 81 (Mike De Leon, 1982, Philippines) 

Jonah Jeng

NEW: The Outpost (Rod Lurie, USA)

OLD: Come and See (Elem Klimov, 1985)

VR war cinema. Klimov’s anti-war epic and Lurie’s ode to American military heroism seem an unlikely pair, but both draw on strategies of intense immersion to fulfill their visions. Both feature lucid, drifting long takes and vivid soundscapes, and both, in doing so, cause war cinema’s tendency for gritty “realism” to tip over into hyperrealism and, at points, even surrealism. So tactile and voluminous are the films that they become strange even as they remain enveloping, positing war as an alien environment replete with horror and absurdity. In Come and See, the coldness of dew, the heaviness of muck, and the piercing wails of widowed women are palpable, bypassing the emotional distance typically afforded historical subject matter in order to bring the viewer viscerally closer to the unspeakable atrocities on display. In The Outpost, a conventional, boots-on-the-ground perspective is pushed to the extreme, confining us to the troops’ perspective to such an extent that the world beyond feels huge, unforgiving, and mysterious. Presented in a series of largely non-narrative episodes that evokes the hazy blurring-together of days and set within a valley whose looming walls dwarf the human figures in its shadow, Lurie’s film frames the soldiers’ plight not just in terms of valor but also a cosmic powerlessness. 

NEW: The Wild Goose Lake (Diao Yinan, China) + OLD: A Moment of Romance (Benny Chan, 1990)

Few cinematic figures have been more romanticized than the rakish biker boy burning rubber on the open road, and both of the above films riff on and perpetuate this mythology through thick, indulgent style. The Wild Goose Lake continues director Diao’s practice of colliding genre with art-cinema affectation, joining a tale of a criminal on the lam to severe long takes and lurid neon. A Moment of Romance keeps the neon but weds it to a Cantopop love story infused with city lights and an overhanging fatalism.

Demitra Kampakis 

NEW: Tragic Jungle (Yulene Olaizola, Mexico)

OLD: The Nightingale (Jennifer Kent, 2018)

The Mayan rainforests and the Tasmanian woods are home to many dangers—and not just from wildlife.  Here, the threats stem from man rather than beast, as the ambient forestry bears witness to humanity’s dark underbelly.  In both films, the verdant surroundings transform into mystical backdrops to revenge odysseys, as Agnes and Clare turn the tables on their tormentors—and the shadowy shrubs bear witness to their rebirth, from victims to fearless arbiters of justice with nothing left to lose.  Both images capture the ominous isolation, fierce agency and panicked determinism of these blood-spattered heroines’ quests to track down those who have gravely wronged them.  And while Mother Nature herself can be hostile and indifferent, as both her creatures and the elements demand resourcefulness and relentless survivalist stamina, here she is merely host to the true brutality that lurks in the foliage: colonialism’s violence, exploitation and cruel tribalism.  Olaizola and Kent lay bare the dehumanizing treatment of indigenous peoples, whose spiritual connections to their homeland are exploited and weaponized for labor, profit or further conquest.  There’s an unnerving and eerie magical realism that peppers both films, evoking a nightmarish psychic state of paranoia, vulnerability and displacement, until the border between reality and the metaphysical dissolves—leaving in its wake an uncanny, illusory sense of both grounded and otherworldly danger, as phantoms and personal demons synergistically commingle in an unsparing cocktail of mythological, horrifying historicism.

Daniel Kasman

NEW: Days (Tsai Ming-liang, Taiwan)

OLD: The Country Doctor (Henry King, 1936)

This year, illness, healing, and recuperation were the themes that overwhelmed moviegoing. Days, Tsai Ming-liang’s moving, minimalist ode to Lee Kang-sheng’s quest for, physically, a relief from constant pain and suffering, and spiritually, for a tender connection with another human, has become one of the most resonant premieres of the year. At home, I unintentionally ended up watching a number of movies about peripatetic doctors, and I found the small subgenre in classical Hollywood of small-town practitioners to be of great solace and humanity. Some, like John Ford’s Doctor Bull (1933) and Jacques Tourneur’s Stars in My Crown (1950), were perennial personal favorites, but King’s mid-'30s film was new to me. Anecdotal, quietly observational, based on a true story and radiating warmth, ease and compassion from its star Jean Hersholt, it is a paean to the vocation of doctoring and to essential workers brimful with genuine honor and appreciation. Watch it to know that recovery is possible and hope is ever present.

Sumeet Kaur 

NEW: Never Rarely Sometimes Always (Eliza Hittman, USA)

OLD: Little Woods (Nia DaCosta, 2018)

Two poignant tales of sisterhood and solidarity told against the backdrop of the State’s control over health in general, and women’s bodies in particular. The juxtaposition of these two titles is more fascinating in its contrasts than in similarities. Where Little Woods does not flinch from drama—and melodrama—Hittman’s actors convey their emotions wordlessly. Yet both remain equally powerful in playing out the essence of this excerpt from The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath:

“What does a woman see in a woman that she can’t see in a man?”

Doctor Nolan paused. Then she said, “Tenderness.”

That shut me up.

Amos Levin

NEWTalking About Trees (Suhaib Gasmelbari, Sudan)

OLDGoodbye, Dragon Inn (Tsai Ming-liang, 2003)

In Taiwan, a cinema closes. In Sudan, another struggles to reopen.

For most of 2020 now, theatrical exhibition has found itself in the uneasy space between these two films. Theaters around the globe have shut their doors, some permanently, leaving countless employees in a state of professional and financial limbo. In a year where the grief of audiences, filmmakers or even studios (!) dominated the conversation around the loss of the silver screen, I was struck by both Tsai's and Gasmelbari's focus on the people working behind the scenes. My thoughts are with all those who, like the Sudanese Film Group and Fu-Ho Theatre's fictional staff, have dedicated so much of their time and energy to keeping the theatrical experience alive. And as we await its return, this double feature serves as a great reminder of all it can be: communal, spiritual, political, mystical, intimate, lonely, erotic, strange, familiar, nostalgic and new.

NEWMank (David Fincher, USA) + OLDShow People (King Vidor, 1928)

A Hollywood-Plays-Itself double bill which begs the question: who gave a better performance as Marion Davies? Amanda Seyfried or Marion Davies?

NEWthere must be some kind of way out of here (Rainer Kohlberger, Germany) + OLDSouthland Tales (Richard Kelly, 2006)

The disaster movie self-destructs.

NEWIn Sudden Darkness (Tayler Montague, USA) + OLDCrooklyn (Spike Lee, 1994)

I couldn't pass up the chance to shout about In Sudden Darkness, my friend Tayler's beautiful first short! Her reminiscence of early-2000s Bronx feels like the Gen Z successor to Crooklyn, channeling Joie Lee's tender evocation of Black family life and girlhood, as well as Spike Lee's deft direction of his multi-generational cast.

Steffanie Ling

NEW: Fukry (Blackhorse Lowe, USA)

OLDLes Enfant du Paradis (Marcel Carné, 1945)

How much emotional toil would you endure for the love of a mime? 

NEW: Lapsis (Noah Hutton, 2020) + OLD: Salt of the Earth (Herbert J. Biberman, 1954)

Strike plots led by the workers' wives and the scab’s daughter. Recommend to people in your life who (somehow still) have an attachment to the primacy of the Individual. 

Beatrice Loayza

NEW: Cuties (Maïmouna Doucouré, France)

OLD: Showgirls (Paul Verhoeven, 1995)

Two films overshadowed by controversy; misunderstood; victims of propriety and "good taste." Women and girls surviving, chasing the dream and discovering its artifice. These films capture the joyous potential of a certain type of feminine performance, while revealing how potentially fraught and undignified buying into that performance can be. 

Aiko Masubuchi 

NEWLabyrinth of Cinema (Nobuhiko Obayashi, Japan)

OLDThe Image Book (Jean-Luc Godard, 2019)

Those who know me well enough have likely heard me say that an Obayashi x Godard pairing is much more interesting than an Oshima x Godard pairing. Not that the latter is uninteresting but as an ardent fan of both Obayashi and Godard, I truly believe that when you look at their careers as a whole, the parallels between OB and JLG are fascinating. Take a read of the first paragraph of Richard Brody’s review of The Image Book and play the game of replacing Godard’s name with Obayashi and The Image Book with Labyrinth of Cinema and (other than the fact that Godard was born eight years before Obayashi) it works just as well to describe the work of the kind-souled Japanese director, who passed away this year (or as his wife and producer Kyoko Obayashi would say, “arrived at the closing credits of his life”). There are some foods that are said to increase in taste the more you chew on them. I’m still discovering new tastes from their works all the time.

Evan Morgan

NEW: Point and Line to Plane (Sofia Bohdanowicz, Canada)

OLD: Les capricieux (Michel Deville, 1984)

Les capricieux begins with a series of still lives, gastronomic abundances arranged briefly as art before they are inevitably consumed, by rich layabouts breakfasting in bed, or by the inexorable decay that attends to all the world’s best things. Wassily Kandinsky’s and Hilma af Klint’s abstract compositions depict nothing so delectable as a marbled slab of bacon or a crisp, half-eaten apple, but in Point and Line to Plane they offer their own kind of sustenance, providing a grief-stricken Deragh Campbell splashes of light and color to beat back the shadows of death. And while it is too much to suggest, as Kandinsky does, that in the lifeless symbols of painting “the dead is revived”, they surely contain in them pleasures essential for the living. Les capricieux’s sprightly aristocratic couple, however, need not seek solace in painting; their shared life is a canvas. And so rather than banish Death, they open the door, inviting him to join them inside their sun-dappled maisons du bonheur and thereby win him over. Unsurprisingly, this peevish, dark, and rather asinine little man remains unmoved by the charms of their epicurean existence. His tastes are too coarse, his appetites too broad; he might be forestalled with tea and cakes, but he will devour the world eventually. No matter. Deville and Bohdanowicz, avowed epicures themselves, hold fast to the moral imperatives of aesthetic delight. That those things which enchant and nourish us prove, in the final estimation, only temporary inoculation against our mortal knowledge bothers them not. On the contrary, both filmmakers suggest that a life lived amidst art, or perhaps better yet, a life lived as art, sustains our resolve to meet the Capricious One calm, sated, and—if we’ve truly learned to enjoy ourselves—laughing

Mantra Mukim

NEW: The Disciple (Chaitanya Tamhane, India)

OLD: Woman in the Dunes (Hiroshi Teshigahara, 1964)

The bridge between these two very dissimilar films is forged by their shared interest in, and patience for, the mechanics of desire. Even though they are bound by starkly different emotional and physical landscapes—where Teshigahara’s protagonist is an entomologist trapped in the dunes Tamhane’s protagonist is a devout practitioner of Indian classical music pursuing an ever elusive goal of musical perfection—both the films are prolonged exploration of their respective male protagonists’ struggles with entrapment. In Woman in the Dunes this entrapment is forced on the protagonist, who, ironically, is brought there by his own interest in trapping and recording sand insects. If in Teshigahara, one witnesses the protagonist's aggressive desire for freedom being gradually replaced with his sensual desire for the woman who inhabits the dune, and finally, with a resigned desire to alter the dune itself, in Tamhane’s film the disciple is trapped by the very thing he desires—ideal musical form. The two faces of solitude—one coercive and the other self-imposed—have surprisingly similar consequences in the both the films whose protagonist fail to achieve their goals, instead what the solitude offers them is the anguish and the momentary joie of possibility and not its actualization.

Joseph Owen

NEWVitalina Varela (Pedro Costa, Portugal)

OLDThe Grapes of Wrath (John Ford, 1940)

To address Pedro Costa’s narrative and visual style requires an acknowledgment of how it both absorbs and subverts the traditions of old, classic Hollywood. Its debt to John Ford, for example, is embossed in interview transcripts, because Costa is abnormally forthcoming about the exigencies of his practical and creative processes. Vitalina Varela draws on Ford’s interpretation of the epic western, insofar as Vitalina functions as the resolute, friendless figure who stakes out the empty smallholding, the contours of which ache with absence. Vitalina’s entrance into Portugal, before she steps off the aircraft, is framed as if she were a returning gunslinger or freed convict. Her bathed silhouette at the plane door gives a startling illustration of the character’s sense of predestination and resolve. This could be likened to the opening shot of Tom Joad (Henry Fonda) in Ford’s adaptation of The Grapes of Wrath (1940), which portrays him as an impersonal nomad, strolling up the highway in declining brightness. The relationship between Tom’s silhouette and shadow reveals the line between light and not-light, the oscillating boundary of embodied movement, which prefaces his transformation from a paroled delinquent to the ultimate defender of the disinherited. This focus on bodily figuration invites a return to Costa, who gives much of his latest film to Vitalina’s physique, sometimes distorted in angular repose, but who otherwise deviates from Ford’s representative signatures, wider politics and more orthodox sightlines.

David Perrin

NEW: Tendre (Isabel Pagliai, France)

OLD: Mes petites amoureuses (Jean Eustache, 1974)

Two tender and unsentimental portraits about the pains of growing up, of looking for love when you’re young and not finding it. Whereas Pagliai’s song to childhood takes place during that hour when the day slowly dissolves into night, Eustache’s second feature is bathed, in my memory of it at least, in the brilliant sunlight of summer, when the days feel endless. (Maurice Pialat also makes a brief appearance in it!)

NEW: Février (Kamen Kalev, Bulgaria) + OLD: Heaven Can Wait (Ernst Lubitsch, 1943)

NEW:A Metamorfose dos Pássaros (Catarina Vasconcelos, Portugal) + OLD: Reminiscences of a Journey to Lithuania (Jonas Mekas, 1972)

NEW: Undine (Christian Petzold, Germany) + OLD: Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (Howard Hawks, 1953)

NEW: Responsabilidad Empresarial (Jonathan Perel, Argentina) + OLD: Trop tôt/Trop Tard (Jean-Marie Straub-Danièle Huillet, 1981)

Savina Petkova

NEW: Undine (Christian Petzold, Germany/France)

OLD: Ondine (Neil Jordan, Ireland/USA)

With Undine, 2020 started as a fairytale promise. The Berlinale audience saw itself refracted on the big screen every time the protagonists traversed a known part of the city. As for the unknown quarters, with. Petzold's penchant for repetitions, turning a corner has never looked so enchanting. More than ten years ago, Neil Jordan anticipated the moral weight of associating sea creatures with migrants His Ondine draws on a celtic mythology but similarly addresses the need for storytelling amidst difficult times. Two possible love stories bring mythologies together and remain inextricably human as metaphors for crossing boundaries in order to achieve interpersonal intimacy.

Samuel B. Prime

NEW: Bad Boys For Life (Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah, USA)

OLD: Kenan and Kel: Two Heads Are Better Than None (Michael Grossman, 2000)

A peak partnership (BBFL) and a weak partnership (K&K) unite in this pairing by way of the supernatural. Somehow the bad boys just make more sense as dad boys, but the addition of a vengeful bruja seals the deal. The suppressed family drama unearthed along the way ties this narrative together so thoughtfully that it makes it one of this year's most pleasant surprises. In other words, a movie I put off seeing until the last possible opportunity winds up as one of my absolute favorites. Huh. Frankly, I also simply didn't expect to see a Don Simpson credit in 2020. In the latter, the phoned-in Halloween-themed TV-special road movie loses its wheels almost immediately with nothing to drive it forward except the family minivan. It's one detour after another, unraveling faster than the world's biggest ball of string sent rolling down the highway, including - naturally - a haunted house. There's nothing of Kenan's relentless scheming here and without it Kel's begrudgingly tolerated holy fool grates more than usual. It's not that I dislike the duo, but that it misses every opportunity to capitalize on their dynamic in favor of a story about a bargain basement headless horseman. As with 2020: "aw, there it went."

Thomas Quist

NEWFirst Cow (Kelly Reichardt, USA)

OLDThe Big Trail (Raoul Walsh, 1930)

The images of these westerns seem at opposite ends of the spectrum: The Big Trail’s vast and busy frames in 70mm versus First Cow’s muddy 16mm photography. Yet, both invite the viewer to glimpse, formally in The Big Trail and thematically in First Cow, the last vibrant moments away from the pall of state-sponsored capitalism. The financial failure of The Big Trail temporarily prohibited Walsh’s deep images from becoming the status quo for Westerns, depriving us of more films where the grandeur of the image equaled the sanguine promise of the American West. Nearly ninety years after Walsh’s depiction of the Oregon Trail, Reichardt’s shrunken and etiolated images show the dregs of that promise, where the last gratifying elements of life in Oregon are monetized in hopes of attaining something better.  

NEWLiberté (Albert Serra, France/Portugal/Spain/Germany) + OLDA Sunday in the Country (Bertrand Tavernier, 1984)

Two films radically divergent on how one should spend time in the country but united in their devotion to the thrall of the image.

NEWTommaso (Abel Ferrara, Italy/UK/USA/Greece) + OLDMan of the West (Anthony Mann, 1958)

“Our arteries bear the age of our habits.” —Gaston Bachelard

Jorge Suárez-Quiñones Rivas

NEW: The Woman Who Ran (Hong Sang-soo, South Korea)

OLD: Untamed Woman (Mikio Naruse, 1957)

Do you like meeting up with people?

That’s what everyone does. It’s needed.

I used to meet people often.

It does make you tired.

I don’t want to see anyone. When I do, I say things I don’t need to say, and do things I don’t need to do. I’m sick of it.

Two women wandering around, spreading themselves around spaces. The limits between cityscape and landscape, with their central figure moving around places, paying visits to different houses, creating bonds with each shifting.

Every slight commentary during the development of any conversation seems to have the power of changing the course of everything.

The focus on money issues, specific labors, material needs and countable goods coexists with a tendency towards the invisible, the inapprehensible. A continuous fight between consciousness and instinct. A fragile sense of responsibility and transparency.

The shadows of the past, the blurred figure of old relationships. An impossibility neither to remember nor to forget. A journey through the efforts of enduring while scarring over. The resistance of a certain innocence and purity in the middle of a confusing time, often disturbed by the disruptive presence of male.

A mountain always on the horizon, not knowing whether disappearing is a chance or a threat. An atmosphere where the possibility of leaving, escaping, running off seems always feasible. Legends and myths are told—"She just left at night, and didn’t come back"—and the echo of other women’s stories seem to have the power of affecting the two women’s filmic present.

Takamine Hideko and Kim Min-hee sincerely being while preserving their souls, letting us glimpse their accumulating layers of lived experiences, in a frame where the contact with nature always offers a possibility for reconciliation.

NEW: Glimpses from a Visit to Orkney in Summer 1995 (Ute Aurand, Germany) + OLD: Garden Pieces (Margaret Tait, 1998)

The volume of things surrounded by the camera.

Recalling a panoramic shot, bringing flowers from 1995-1998 to a present lacking of them. Getting so close that they even blur.

The arrival towards an image

Jonathan Rosenbaum

NEW: Her Socialist Smile (John Gianvito, USA)

OLDA Tale of the Wind (Joris Ivens & Marceline Loridan, 1988, France)

Two quixotic adventures in filming the unfilmable, both made by indefatigable masters of bearing witness. 

Sophia Satchell-Baeza

NEW: Lovers Rock (Steve McQueen, UK)

OLD: Aïta (Izza Génini, 1988)

On this, the Fateful Year of No Dancing, it felt especially poignant to watch people move and make music together on screen. Whether it was the neon-lit music-video choreographies on a rooftop in Pablo Larraín’s Ema, the druggy blur of an Italian nightclub in Michaela Coel’s TV series I May Destroy You, or the whirl of elbows and crotch in Steve McQueen’s Lovers Rock: watching people dancing felt life-affirming and also kind of strange, like being a Fun Vampire feeding off the energy from the screen. Encountering the music documentaries of Izza Génini, the subject of a revelatory Filmmaker Focus at Berwick Film & Media Arts Festival, was like finding treasure. The pioneering Moroccan documentary filmmaker captures performers on and off stage: the mesmeric rhythms of Moroccan traditional music, the physicality of trance states, and the close camaraderie of women together, on stage or at home, creating.

NEW: Point and Line to Plane (Sofia Bohdanowicz) + OLD: Az Iz (Betzy Bromberg, 1983)

“Voices came from all sides and the world began to ring.” —Point and Line to Plane

OLD: The Three Disappearances of Soad Hosni (Rania Stephan, 2011) + NEW: The Giverny Document (Single Channel) (Ja’Tovia Gary, USA)

Does it count if I danced in my room? Reading Abdellah Taïa’s An Arab Melancholia (2008) lead me to a love affair with Soad Hosni, the great Egyptian movie star. Like the book’s teenage narrator, I became obsessed with her song-and-dance sequences (her track “Bambi” was on repeat in early lockdown):

“To spend an hour with her, become her teary-eyed lover, her dancing partner, the actor of my own life [..] To learn how to live life to the fullest from her, feel every emotion, feel totally alive, alive despite the silence.”

The Berlin film institute Arsenal Kino—another lockdown hero—had a free screening of Rania Stephan’s extraordinary collage film The Three Disappearances of Soad Hosni. Constructed from rare videotapes of Hosni’s films, Stephan fleshes out her complex story through the sounds and gestures of her performances alone. A sense of loss stalks the film: the multiple disappearances indexed through the temporality of VHS, of this golden era for Egyptian cinema, and of the life—and mysterious death—of an icon. Hosni’s shimmering diva allure, that bubbling energy and infamous sex appeal: all present in the buzzing, luminous textures of videotape. I watched it twice, both times in bed. Ja’Tovia Gary’s The Giverny Document is a relatively different work in many ways, but it too homes in on the gestures of an artist for the clues to an untold story (here an extraordinary performance of “Feelings” by Nina Simone). Both warn of the threats to women’s bodies, yet ultimately celebrate life: its color, vitality, and playfulness. Here’s to 2021: may there be dancing, please.

Serena Scateni

NEW: N. P (Lisa Spilliaert, Belgium)

OLD: The Scent of Green Papaya (Tran Anh Hung, 1993)

Words are sometimes unnecessary. 

NEW: Memories to Choke On, Drinks to Wash Them Down (Ming Kai Leung, Kate Reilly, Hong Kong) + OLD: Song of the Exile (Ann Hui, 1990)

“We must not get too comfortable here in the hospitable hyphen. It is a transitory, political space that has consequences for those around it. It could be a privileged position from which we can enjoy seeing our surroundings both close up and from afar. We could be forced into the hyphen unexpectedly in a moment of crisis, the meaning of inside-outside suddenly thrown into sharp relief. This in-between, dialogic, hyphenated third space is one of negotiation between self and other, objectivity and subjectivity.”

—Sophie Hope, "Inhabiting the Hyphen," NANG #4

Pedro Emilio Segura Bernal

NEW: Days (Tsai Ming-liang, Taiwan)

OLD: An Affair To Remember (Leo McCarey, 1957)

NEW: First Cow (Kelly Reichardt, USA) + OLD: 7 Women (John Ford, 1966)

NEW: An Unusual Summer (Kamal Aljafari, Germany, Palestine) + OLD: A Girl Chewing Gum (John Smith, 1976)*

*Inspired on a review by Flavia Dima

NEW: Isabella (Matías Piñeiro, Argentina) + OLD: Late Autumn (Yasujiro Ozu, 1960)

NEW: The Woman Who Ran (Hong Sang Soo, South Korea) + OLD: Les Sièges de l'Alcazar (Luc Moullet, 1989)

Ignominy Bonus:

NEW: New Order (Michel Franco, Mexico) + OLD: The Birth of a Nation (D.W. Griffith, 1915)**

**Inspired on the title of a review by Sergio Huidobro

 James Slaymaker 

NEW: Inventing the Future (Isiah Medina, Canada)

OLD: 2084 (Chris Marker, 1984)

"This famous technology need not necessarily mean what we thought: a new and particularly sinister form of power. It begins to reveal itself as a fabulous force for the transformation of the world, and this includes the struggle against hunger, sickness, suffering, against ignorance and intolerance. It is still a struggle but now in terms born of the 21st and not the 19th century."

This quotation is lifted from the narration of Chris Marker’s 2084, a 10-minute video essay which envisions how burgeoning computer technologies may be wrestled away from the control of major corporations and used to advance the class struggle. Marker’s short is presented in the form of a computerized message composed in the year 2084 and then sent back 100 years into the past, outlining multiple possible trajectories for the future of human society. In the bleakest timeline, all advanced technologies are in the control of a small group of techno-totalitarians, resulting in the intensification of inequality, the neutralization of trade unions, and the total disenfranchisement of the worker. The primary reason for this downfall was a failure of imagination: rather than adapting their methods of resistance to take advantage of emerging technological modes, the workers allowed for the rise of computerized systems of oppression and control to go unchallenged. The short ends, however, with a vision of utopia, as Marker describes a society in which workers were able to use these technological tools as a means of emancipation from tyranny. Marker’s tract comes across as much a plea to his fellow filmmakers as it is to the workers movement. The emergence of a new political reality facilitated through the development of advanced machinery necessities the formation of radical, non-systematic modes of filmmaking. Appropriately, Marker’s form is as challenging as his subject. Archival images are abstracted into electronic blurs of movement; multiple monitors are arranged side-by-side within the same composition to form spatial montage; human bodies are framed against abstract washes of binary coded color. Marker compiles these sights into a densely layered, associative palimpsest, an immersion into the image-making tools of new media intended to expand our conception of cinematic language just as it expands our socio-political horizons.

The quote would not feel out of place within the audio-visual weave of Isiah Medina’s astounding work of intellectual montage Inventing the Future. Marker’s short was produced on the cusp of the digital revolution, Medina’s feature is firmly embedded within it. Placing the two works into direct comparison reveals much about the sweeping transformations in filmmaking and communication technologies that have taken place over the past 36 years: the television monitors, video mixers, 8-bit graphics, and grainy video footage which feature in Marker’s virtual workspace look relatively quaint when considered alongside the ubiquitous digital interfaces, HD cameras and advanced CGI models that saturate Medina’s mediascape. Yet, the political concerns at the heart of Medina’s feature are of a piece with Marker’s own. How, Medina ponders, might the power of digital technology be harnessed by the Left to realize a vision of the future that challenges neoliberal hegemony? How might the very machines that have facilitated the centralization of the financial sector, the dismantling of trade unions and the atomization of the working class be repurposed to establish a more egalitarian society wherein the material abundance generated by such machinery is distributed fairly amongst all and the individual is liberated from the pressures of wage slavery? For Medina and for Marker, bringing about substantial social change is dependent on the combination of organized thinking about the future and creative engagement with technology; watching these two works back-to-back this year served as a striking reminder of the endurance of the utopian dream and how much we have yet to accomplish.


NEW: Da 5 Bloods (Spike Lee, USA) + OLD: Vladimir and Rosa (Jean-Luc Godard, Jean-Pierre Gorin, 1971)

NEW: Tommaso (Abel Ferrara, Italy) + OLD: Visit, or Memories and Confessions (Manoel de Oliveira, 2015)

NEW: Apiyemiyekî? (Ana Vaz, Brazil/France) + OLD: Nocturne (Angela Ricci Lucchi and Yervant Gianikian, 1997)

Christopher Small

NEWCamagroga (Alfonso Amador, Spain)

OLDNippon-koku: Furuyashiki-mura (Ogawa Productions, 1983)

Two films discovered and hurriedly programmed in person this year, digitally and in 16mm, part of a retrospective and a living, breathing festival program, and symbolizing a decisive personal shift away from writing about movies as a spectator. And still I couldn’t attend either session—isolated from the United Kingdom here in Prague, doing Q&As via Zoom in my bedroom, as I have been all year. That’s the way it goes, I suppose. What a year. In 2020, the fact that these two oh-so-physical movies were shown in person at all, even to a handful of masked spectators who had warily ventured out of their homes for the spiritual comfort of the cinema, was itself a small miracle.

Srikanth Srinivasan

NEWCorporate Accountability (Jonathan Perel, Argentina)

OLDToo Early/Too Late (Jean-Marie Straub, Danièle Huillet, 1981)

Two examinations of the scars of the past on the skin of the present. Straub and Huillet unearth the history of peasant revolts from the placid surface of current-day France and Egypt, while Perel indicts the military-industrial complex under the Argentinian junta from the dashboard of his car: one a people’s history without leaders, the other a corporate crime without faces. Like Straub-Huillet, Perel lingers on the ur-cinematic image of factory entrances—a site of class conflict, as Harun Farocki has taught us—but there are no workers walking out, this eerie absence of human figures corresponding to the disappeared workers under the dictatorship. If, in Serge Daney’s taxonomy, Straub are Huillet are acupuncturists who, by trial and error, feel out at a morally defensible point to place their camera, Perel is seismologist investigating the vestiges of a catastrophe.

Elissa Suh

NEW: The Jesus Rolls (John Turturro, USA)

OLD: Salesman (Albert and David Maysles, 1969)

How to eke it out in America. Merrily they roll along in the land of cheap motels. Salesmen hawked The Good Word in 1969 while a studio tried to peddle this unneeded “sequel” in 2020 — give the consumer what it wants.

NEW: Beanpole (Kantemir Balagov, Russia) + OLD: Point Break (Kathryn Bigelow, 1991)

We don’t choose friendship; friendship chooses us.

NEW: Nomadland (Chloe Zhao, USA) + OLD: The Passenger (Michelangelo Antonioni,1975)

Reinventing your identity under the cover of desert and sky. Unfolding in languorous motion, one film minimizes political realities, while the other mines political angst.

Ryan Swen

NEWThe Woman Who Ran (Hong Sang-soo, South Korea)

OLDBeijing Watermelon (Nobuhiko Obayashi, 1989)

Kim Min-hee and Bengal both happened to be 38 at the time of their respective film's release, still a few years away from the worries of middle age. But their characters are shaded by that autumnal phase, both voluntary outcasts frequenting the company of old and new friends alike, searching for...what? A break from a marriage on the rocks, a new family? Hong and Obayashi propose something akin to a design for living, less a fresh start and more a needed jolt to shake the complacent from their set ways, and to encourage them to embrace the possibilities that a suddenly crowded table, a chance encounter, can provide. And, in case companions alone can't suffice, there's always the cinema: The Woman Who Ran offers spectatorship as its key, where perhaps another glance will freshen one's perspective, while Beijing Watermelon subscribes to the means of production, making an impossible dream something close to reality. Though the roosters may peck and the creditors come knocking, at least there's always the beach.

Scout Tafoya

NEWCapone (Josh Trank, United States) + OLDAnnie Lloyd (Cecilia Condit, 2008)

Decaying bodies and patient observers

NEWViena and the Fantomes (Gerardo Naranjo, United States) + OLDStation Six-Sahara (Seth Holt, 1962)

bastards and sand as far as the eye can see.

NEWThe Grudge (Nicolas Pesce, USA/Canada) + OLDCaptain Sindbad (Byron Haskin, 1963)

Thankless assignments painted like masterpieces

NEWWolfwalkers (Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart, Ireland, Luxembourg, USA, UK, France) + OLDSlumber Party Massacre 2 (Deborah Brock, 1987)

The fanged dreams of young women an escape from men's bloody reality

NEW: The Color out of Space (Richard Stanley, USA) + OLD: Dadetown (Russ Hexter, 1995)

A neighborhood collapsing, a warning to the world ignored

NEWBad Trip (Kitao Sakurai, USA) + OLDJabberwocky (Terry Gilliam, 1977)

Breugel lives

NEW: Possessor (Brandon Cronenberg, Canada) + OLDTerror! (Ben Rivers, 2007)

Someone else's screams

NEW: Dick Johnson is Dead (Kirsten Johnson, USA) + OLDCapturing the Friedmans (Andrew Jarecki, 2003)

"I think I filmed everything so I wouldn't have to remember it."

NEWAn Evening with Tim Heidecker (Ben Berman, USA) + OLD: La Belle Noiseuse (Jacques Rivette, 1991)

An asshole's canvas

Gina Telaroli

NEW: The Bubble (NBA, USA, 2020)

OLD: Pre-code Cinema (USA, 1930-1933)

"All trauma is preverbal. Shakespeare captures this state of speechless terror in Macbeth, after the murdered king's body  is discovered: 'Oh horror! horror! horror! Tongue nor heart cannot conceive nor name thee! Confusion now hath made his masterpiece!' Under extreme conditions people may scream obscenities, call for their mothers, howl in terror or simply shut down. Victims of assaults and accidents sit mute and frozen in emergency rooms; traumatized children 'lose their tongues' and refuse to speak. Photographs of combat soldiers show hollow-eyed men staring mutely into a void.

Even years later traumatized people often have enormous difficulty telling other people what has happened to them. Their bodies reexperience terror, rage, and helplessness, as well as the impulse to fight or flee, but these feelings are almost impossible to articulate. Trauma by nature drives us to the edge of comprehension, cutting us off from language based on common experience or an imaginable past."

The Body Keeps the Score, Bessel Van Der Kolk M.D.

Matt Turner

NEWWhat I Learned In My 20s (Jenn Im, USA)

OLDKelly Loves Tony (Spencer Nakasako, 1998)

"This year, I realised I can slow down. I'm allowed to take some extra time. I can take time when reading. I can take time to appreciate the breeze. I can take time to learn and educate myself about what is going on in the world so that I can make more critical and informed decisions. [...] Time is relative, and it only slows down when you make it a point to actively notice it.”

Carlos Valladares

NEW: Shiva Baby (Emma Seligman, U.S.A.)

OLD: The Mother and the Whore (Jean Eustache, 1973) 

When I saw the best film I saw in a theater this year, it was two weeks before the U.S. shutdown (and the beginning of the end of normal human relations as they were once known). It was a rare 35mm screening of Jean Eustache's magnum opus The Mother and the Whore in New Haven, ConnecticutIt's a painful elegy to something (community? trust? a genuine human connection?), but after a breezy four hours, it felt nigh impossible (boring) to explain how or why or to what. Seeing Emma Seligman's Shiva Baby well into the gnawing solitude of 2020 clarified this mystery (partly) of what sent Eustache and company into such a tizzy of melancholia: in a word, freefall, the sense that what's being inflicted upon lovers, young and lost, will continue indefinitely until they rot in a hole of whiskey. In the Eustache, talk pours out in endless, manic streams out of the mouths of hot Parisians: elegant talk; stupid talk; quasi-fascist and French Maoist talk; but does the talk ever reach its destination? Does anyone listen? In the Seligman, what's perfectly captured is the hell of Uber-Insta-Hinge life in the United States of Venmo today, being chained to stuck-up sugar daddies in order to pursue a career (which one shouldn't have to decide when one is twenty-fucking-one, yet the societal Other demands it!). With every smirk and eye-roll and vocal fry, Rachel Sennott ironizes at the accelerated pace of the Léaud-Lafont-Lebrun triad. All four schmooze with liars, cheats, parents, assholes, lousy grifters; all experience the hell of having no one around to hear their philosophizing, to hear their story—because who cares. Both Shiva and Mother accept the void at the heart of life in 1973 and in 2020: allowing yourself to be pulled into an orbit you can't control, riding it out until it decides to spit you out, and then it doesn't: then you just cope. A pathetic, frightening image: delivering midnight monologues in which grains of insight are sputtered out and quickly forgotten, a brief transcending of the petty monotony of ghosting and games. Sadly, the insights only come in drunken stupors. Both movies serve not as mirrors, but landscapes of anguish. In horror, I struggle as I make my way down the path set by the film that I became most obsessed with in quarantine: the single, miraculous teardrop on Claude Rich's face as, dying, he thinks of the silent words he will always send to his Beloved: je t'aime, je t'aime.

Madeleine Wall 

NEW: The Lodge (Severin Fiala & Veronika Franz, USA)

OLD: When Twilight Draws Near (Akio Jissoji, 1969) 

I doubt I would have thought much about The Lodge if it didn’t have the dubious distinction of being the last film I saw in theaters before lockdown. Nor would I have connected it with Akio Jissoji’s When Twilight Draws Near if I hadn’t watched the latter a few months into lockdown. Considerably different in intention, Fiala and Franz’s film is a return of the repressed horror film, and Jissoji’s Nagisa Oshima penned film is more 60’s radicalism paired with existential despair. At first the pairing feels superficial. Riley Keough spends a Christmas weekend with her new step-children, but all parties have more than the other bargained for. A group of students dare each other to stay in a room the longest as it slowly fills up with gas. Both come down to games of chicken, with a small group of people trapped in a small space, and gas making an invisible appearance. But what has drawn me back to both these films, especially as the world around us rapidly changes, is in the questions they ask. Who do we become when the whole world is stripped away, and what parts do we decide to keep with us? Under the burden of a larger trauma, for The Lodge a massive cult suicide, for Twilight the Holocaust, what kind of relationships can we form? Does the world, or family, still have the same meaning? And what happens when we have to go back outside?

Kelli Weston

NEWThe Woman Who Ran (Hong Sang-Soo, South Korea)

OLDOld Boyfriends (Joan Tewkesbury, 1979)

In the pursuit of intimacy, women find an unexpected map toward themselves. 

Jason Wood

NEWMangrove (Steve McQueen, UK)

OLDPressure (Horace Ové, 1976)

There has been very little to crow about in 2020. The ejection of Trump being one of them and the opportunity for black and Asian filmmakers to tell their story another. Time, Clemency, His House, Real and Mogul Mowgli were all excellent. However, the crowning achievement with Steve McQueen’s Small Axe project. It outlines a continuum of racism in the UK and bought me back to Ové’s Pressure which felt absolutely groundbreaking for uncovering the same 44 years ago. Watching it again recently, it remain s a blistering and bracing experience, as will Mangrove 44 years from now.

Manu Yáñez

NEW: Siberia (Abel Ferrara, Italy, Germany, Greece, Mexico)

OLD: The Criminal Life of Archibaldo de la Cruz (Luis Buñuel, 1955)

In this particularly somber day and age, can we ask for anything more –in the arts and in our lives– than a beacon of light to usher us through the dark? Both Buñuel and Ferrara dig deep into the unconscious to expose our most primal fears and desires. Neurosis and guilt appear as their raw materials. Despair, and maybe some sort of blissful redemption, seem to be the only viable responses to existence. But, despite all this, the marvels of life shimmer in the most unexpected spots. In Ferrara’s Siberia, in the rounded belly of a pregnant woman and in a gleam of light coming from the depths of an allegorical (Plato’s) cave. While, in Buñuel’s The Criminal Life…, joy sparkles in the phony but glittering rituals of the bourgeoisie and in the liberating power of (mostly amoral) human fantasies.

Neyat Yohannes

NEWShirley (Josephine Decker, USA)

OLDA Woman Under The Influence (John Cassavetes, 1974)

Gena Rowlands and Elisabeth Moss are the empresses of unhinged behavior. Their careers are marked by arresting iterations of the madwoman that cause rubbernecking long after the screen fades to black on their performances. In Shirley, Moss is a snarling mid-century horror writer (loosely based on Shirley Jackson) whose paralyzing genius shuffles around in a stale nightgown, without even the slightest inclination towards propriety. And in her defining role as Mabel in A Woman Under The Influence, Rowlands begins at a charming batty that turns erratic, and then crescendos to a harrowing display of volatility in a descent towards mania. Pour yourself a glass of wine and you'll inevitably spill some on the couch as you settle into the madness!

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