Review of film watching in 2018

Things will get better when my train journey to Manchester improves as HOME offers the best choice of films on most days.

The number of film screenings in cinemas fell for me this year. I think that was mainly due to the lack of diversity in the local screenings available and the unfortunate timings of some of the festivals I usually try to attend. It’s true that I did spend more time on the streaming site MUBI (although recently I’ve been very disappointed at the range of films on offer) and also on YouTube catching up with classic Hollywood. I’ve also spent time watching Talking Pictures TV, perhaps the best thing that has happened to UK Freeview television in the last few years.

The rise of Netflix and Amazon as general film and TV streaming sites is increasingly problematic for me, though I recognise that my friends are getting to see a wider range of films, especially if their local cinema scene is even worse than mine. However, the recent furore over the (very) limited cinema screenings of Roma and other Netflix productions is very disturbing. The BBC offered us both Mark Kermode and Neil Brand on BBC4 in 2018, focusing on questions of genre and music in film/film musicals. Both series were intelligently produced and presented by an experienced film journalist and practitioner respectively, both whom are passionate and enthusiastic. That must be a plus. BBC1 have just announced that its Film programme (which usually just took the year as the second part of its title) has been axed. Film 2018  coughed its last some time ago in that dishonourable way that schedulers employ – pushing a programme later and later in the schedule until what’s left of its audience have no idea where it is. We are promised something new on both broadcast and online BBC platforms in 2029. Is it too much to hope that BBC executives will learn from Kermode and Brand?

Here is a list of some of the films that I found most interesting and enjoyable this year. If there are titles missing that you expect to be there, it probably means that I haven’t seen them (e.g. those by Ceylan and McQueen). I’ve listed the films in alphabetical order so there are no preferences displayed. The only title we haven’t blogged about on this site is The Hate U Give which I hope to revisit when the DVD appears in 2019. I saw it with Nick and we were both stunned by its impact and therefore in a year when African-American cinema saw a resurgence, it deserves a mention. Happy as Lazzaro should get a UK release in the Spring but I’m not hopeful for Winter Flies – East European films seem to be very hard to sell to UK cinemas.

I saw six of the films here at festivals, but four of them were subsequently released in the UK. All the films in the list were screened at least once in a UK cinema in 2018.

In 2018 I was also pleased to be prompted to explore the career of Ida Lupino as actor/writer/producer and director – thanks Glasgow Film Festival. I was also pleased to celebrate Agnès Varda’s career watching Le bonheur (France 1965) and L’Une chante, l’autre pas (France 1977) on DVD as well as Faces Places. On the negative side I didn’t see any standout British films or Chinese Language films this year. Many British independent films are increasingly difficult to see and Chinese independent films are similarly hard to find. Six out of fifteen the films here are directed by women.

Cold War (Poland-France-UK 2018)

Faces Places (France 2017)

A Fantastic Woman (Chile-Germany-Spain-US 2017)

Happy as Lazzaro (Italy-Germany-Switz-France 2018)

The Hate U Give (US 2018)

Leave No Trace (US 2018)

Lucky (US 2017)

Mukkabaaz (India 2017)

The Rider (US 2017)

Roma (Mexico-US 2018)

Shoplifters (Japan 2018)

Sweet Country (Australia 2017)

Wajib (Palestine-France-UAE-Columbia-Qatar-Germany-Norway 2017)

Winter Flies (Czech Republic-Slovakia-Slovenia-France-Poland 2018)

Zama (Argentina-Spain-France-Netherlands-Mexico 2017)

I fear for the diversity of films on offer in 2019. I hope I’m wrong but I think finding foreign-language films may become more difficult.

7 comments

  1. Geoff Lealand

    I need to keep a diary of film-going, which recorded 118 films at the cinema in 2018, with clusters around film festivals and weekly Film Society screenings. I ought to add in Netflix for that includes features: saw Roma as it ought to be seen (on a large cinema screen) and then on a adequate home screen.
    Not many British films but Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool was memorable, Perhaps I might include Lean on Pete—American set but directed by Andrew Haigh, I am awaiting Lynne Ramsay’s latest.

    • Roy Stafford

      Interesting comments Geoff. Where was Roma shown on a big screen in New Zealand – in Wellington? I was impressed by the Lynne Ramsay but thought of it as an international/US film. Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool was a 2017 release over here. It’s a good example of the kind of British film which I didn’t catch this year.

  2. John Hall

    Not quite seen all the films on your ‘best of’ list, but I did think both The Rider and Shoplifters were fantastic, both premiering at Leeds Film Festival in adjacent years. I found it hard to get to grips with Zama although it was definitely one of a kind. My best film of the year was Asphyxia from Iran which is proving obstinately difficult to locate in the UK.
    On the vexed subject of Netflix and their limited distribution network, a brief trip to London for the New Year allowed me to catch Roma at Curzon Soho and then also permitted me to see another film that I had not released was similarly restricted, Bird Box, at the Curzon Bloomsbury. Reviews had been sniffy about this but I quite like a post-apocalyptic survival-in-the-face-of-all-odds drama which are usually quite small-scale genre efforts, but can also be very good like The Survivalist.
    I doubt you could call this very good despite some competent performances and an escalating tension, as it had no internal logic or any attempt to explain just what had happened, but where it really shone was in the amount of money that Netflix had thrown at it. The most incidental roles were padded out with name actors such as Pruitt Taylor Vince, Tom Hollander and Parminder Nagra. There was no expense spared in scenes of panicking crowds and special effect car crashes.
    A lot of money being thrown at a film of probably limited appeal and a restricted release, but which should make its money back on the Netflix platform. The whole model of film distribution is changing. To quote one of the characters in the film, melodramatically, “we are in the end times !”

    • Roy Stafford

      Yes, the Netflix strategy could change distribution in many ways that are not yet fully apparent. A couple of points though. The UK exhibition sector has responded to the new environment in two contrasting ways. The upmarket chains (Everyman, Curzon, Picturehouses and Odeon) have invested in new or upgraded cinemas and Vue and Cineworld have dropped prices. The result is a surge in admissions in 2018 which has surprised everyone. Netflix operates a model which means building up a huge loss in the belief that when they reach a target of subscriber numbers they will move into profit. It’s a risky strategy as MoviePass discovered in North America. Amazon can spread its costs against more secure revenues from its retail business. I’m not predicting anything. I’m not sure these are ‘end times’, but they are arguably ‘new times’.

  3. keith1942

    An interesting selection. I have managed to keep up my viewing of theatrical screenings but it involves more travel and more Festivals.
    As for the coverage of cinema on television I found the output disappointing. Gone are the halcyon days of Ken Brownlow’s ‘Hollywood’ [twelve episodes] or Howard Schuman’s ‘Moving Pictures’ [15 minutes on each item]. The Kermode programmes used video clips so short that if you blinked you missed them. There was not enough to illustrate the point of his comment which you had to take on trust.
    Neil Brand I thought was better. But many of the video clips in his series were too short. And the idea that one could cover the film musical in three hours? I did appreciate his including films from outside the Hollywood empire.
    I assume that the producers of these programmes think that we all have ‘shorter attention spans’. I would be interested to know if there is proper research demonstrating this or it is just ‘a self-fulfilling prophecy’.
    Fortunately the actual films often resist this, as with the impressive ‘The Wild Pear Tree’ or the current ‘An Elephant Sitting Still’.

    • Roy Stafford

      TV has changed considerably since the Brownlow/Schuman days. Kermode and Brand have been successful on BBC4, supposedly the most highbrow channel, but still they have to be ‘punchy’ in presentation terms. I’m not happy about the situation and I agree with your comments but the series have been popular (at least in the niche world of BBC4). I see that An Elephant Sitting Still is getting a screening at the Hyde Park in Leeds – but I’m not sure whether I can cope with a four hour sitting. I do understand why some viewers would prefer these really long films to be shown in two or three parts on TV.

  4. keith1942

    Television has changed and one aspect is that the range of programmes appears to be less varied. BBC 4 and C4 both offered more unconventional and idiosyncratic programming in earlier decades. This rather parallels the way that film-makers with distinctive titles frequently cross over closer to the mainstream and the distinctive qualities diminish.
    As for length , time is relative. ‘You Were Never Really Here’ only runs for 89 minutes. But the title irritated me, partly because there were a number of sequences which, wittingly or unwittingly, looked like sequences that I had previously seen in other films. I thought the film would never end.
    On the contrary ‘The Wild Pear Tree’ runs for over three hours. I was conscious of the length at times but for most of the film I was immersed. In the third hour several themes come together and I was held right till the end.
    The British film ‘Peterloo’ runs for two and half hours. I did not notice the time until the end when I felt that we were missing half-an-hour. Three hours plus, like ‘Comrades’ from Bill Douglas, would have done proper justice to this important historical event. As for four hours I long again to see ‘La Commune’, at just under six hours, in a theatrical setting.
    With reference to screening in ‘two or three parts’ on television; punters are entitled to consume products in that fashion but it must be disappointing for filmmakers when the effort of the production team are reduced in quality, size and impact.

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