By Roger Costa
- EYIMOFE- THIS IS MY DESIRE (Nigeria. Janus Films.)
In modern Lagos, the lives of a hairdresser dreaming of migrating to Europe and an electrician dealing with tragic bureaucracy, serve as reflections on the nation’s economic situation and as a mirror of minority people struggling for better days among chaotic circumstances. An assured, confidant, unique and magnificent directorial debut, full of potential, Nigerian brothers Chuko Esiri and Arie Esiri’s film breathes lyricism and sociopolitical activism at equal measures, creating an affecting, deeply moving and triumphantly organic portrait of survival and grief, exploitation and integrity, ambition and humanitarian values.
2- THE POWER OF THE DOG (Australia. Netflix.)
Jane Campion’s transfixing film explores male toxicity like nothing before. The imagery, Benedict Cumberbatch’s ravishing performance, the subtle eroticism, the poetry among the violence and intolerance: everything confirms a major female filmmaker on top of her game.
3- ABOUT ENDLESSNESS (Sweden. Magnolia Pictures.)
Swedish auteur Roy Andersson continues to investigate the human condition, its pleasures, tragedies, bright and dark sides, through a series of random, hilarious vignettes. An intriguing and dreamlike deadpan comedy, the film presents various characters in determined situations that mirror the anxiety, fear and joy of existence, as well as a reflection on the basics of living. Essential cinema at its best.
4- BAD LUCK BANGING OR LOONY PORN (Romania. Magnolia Pictures.)
A school teacher sees her life turning upside down during the Pandemic, when a homemade sex video ends up on the Internet. As she anxiously runs around town, in order to prepare evidences for an important meeting with the school’s representatives and parents, Romanian director Radu Jude composes a definitive portrait of modern society’s cruel behavior and hypocrisy towards sexual taboos, while authentically documenting the consequences and social transformations of our COVID-era. An unashamed, timely work of grand bravura.
5- THE WOMAN WHO RAN (Korea. Cinema Guild.)
Delicately told through three different meetings, Hang Sangsoo’s lovely dramatic comedy follows the emotional crisis of a young woman as she is separated from her husband for the first time since they got married. As she explores the city and meets up with three different friends, engaging in provocative conversations about male dominance and female perspective, the film presents the usual vigor and freshness of the Korean master’s aesthetic in an immersive, lyrical and deeply melancholic new atmosphere for the battle of the sexes.
6- MOGUL MOWGLI (UK. Strand Releasing.)
Riz Ahmed confirms himself as the most versatile and committed actor of his generation with this portrait of a famous British/Pakistani rapper who is drastically diagnosed with a rare disease that twists his life as a whole, including preventing him from practicing his art and plans for touring. Co-written by Ahmed himself and director Bassam Tariq, this infuriating, radical and hallucinating horror/drama explores racial conflicts of all sorts, family and religious traumas, conceiving a powerful statement on humanitarian relations and the reactions of being divided, excluded or judged by the color of skin.
7- HIVE + QUO VADIS, AIDA? (Kosovo. Zeitgeist/Kino Lorber. Bosnia. Super LTD.)
Two sensational neo-realist dramas presenting unique aspects of each culture, based on tragic political experiences, with the horrifying backdrop of a civil war or a dictatorial regime, and deeply demonstrating the determination of brave women. The first is Kosovo’s Oscar entry which follows the attempt of a woman in locating her missing husband who was taken away by the regime, with the help of other hopeless yet strong women at the same condition; the second is Bosnia’s Oscar nominated film where a UN translator is caught up amidst the chaotic situation when the Serbian army takes control of her small town imprisoning everyone including her family.
8- LICORICE PIZZA (USA. MGM.)
Paul Thomas Anderson’s lively, enthusiastic and sensitive romantic comedy transports us to the heat and sparkling love of California in the 70’s, where an aspiring teen actor and a young woman develop an affecting, unlikely co-dependent relationship breaking boundaries and expectations. Superbly performed, hilarious, contagiously cheerful and masterly crafted, it is another brilliantly Nostalgic example of Anderson’s commitment to the seventh art, its techniques and magical responsibility.
9- SWEET THING + SUN CHILDREN (USA. Film Movement. Iran. Strand Releasing.)
Two deliciously told adventures about children being abused or exploited, revealing dark aspects of life, but embracing hope and allowing them to persevere for a brighter future. The first one is Alexandre Rockwell’s personal and engaging look at family bond, a love letter to adolescence and to the art of storytelling. The second is Iranian master Maji Majid’s latest portrait of his country’s street kids’ struggles for survival and opportunity. Wonderfully acted, realistic and heart-breaking, it is an efficient moral tale about innocence loss and the injustices of capitalism.
10- WEST SIDE STORY (USA. 20th Century Studios.)
Steven Spielberg’s colorful, electrifying, tense and violent musical drama is the most efficient and universally-approachable film of the year to depict racial conflicts, the turmoil of our socially/ethnically divided world. It is also a fantastic crowd-pleasing romance, filled with convincing performances and magical dancing numbers. Plus it brings the most beautiful cinematography of the year and a powerful message of humanitarian peace. It was worth the wait.
+ 10 OTHER HONORABLE MENTIONS:
11- The stories of women in trouble of PASSING + EL PLANETA + ANNE AT 13,000 FT.
12- The dark puzzle and mysteries of THE CARD COUNTER
13- Almodovar does it again with PARALELL MOTHERS
14- The timely documentaries WRITING WITH FIRE + ACASA MY HOME + PRESIDENT
15- The urgency, claustrophobic atmosphere of 7 PRISONERS
16- The anxieties of modern love revealed in WHEEL OF FORTUNE AND FANTASY
17- The inventive #metoo movement drama TEST PATTERN
18- Iranian THERE IS NO EVIL investigates the emotional horrors of execution
19- The sensibility, annoying moments and naturalism of generation clash C’MON C’MON
20- The incredible and fantastical journey of THE ELECTRICAL LIFE OF LOUIS WAIN
*THREE FESTIVAL FILMS THAT SHOULDN’T BE FORGOTTEN
1- LAST DAYS OF SPRING (MoMA’s DocFortnight)
2- IL MIO CORPO (Momi’s First Look)
3- WOOD AND WATER (Lincoln Center’s New Directors/New Films)
*FOUR GREAT KOREAN DRAMAS THAT DESERVE A BETTER RELEASE
1- MOVING ON
2- SHORT VACATION
3- A DISTANT PLACE
4- THREE SISTERS
*THE BEST NON-RELEASED FILM: “HIT THE ROAD” (Iran)
*THE INTERNATIONAL OSCAR CONTENDER THAT SHOULD BE: “TIGERS” (Sweden)
*BEST ACTOR: Riz Ahmed “Mogul Mowgli”
*BEST ACTRESS: Penelope Cruz “Parallel Mothers”
*BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Timothee Chalamet “The French Dispatch”
*BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Ruth Negga “Passing”
HAPPY NEW YEAR!!! LONG LIVE CINEMA !!!