By © Jane Freebury
Funny how a pandemic makes us look at everything differently
Instead of sitting in the dark watching a film with strangers, we are getting our movies wholesale. Tapping into the immense virtual supermarket of cinema and television on the streaming platforms is fun, hey, however tedious it can be sifting through looking for good stuff.
But films are made to be immersive, to get lost in. Not watched on a smartphone or laptop where so much textual detail is lost. Watching movies in a theatre has less to do with the communal experience than we may think.
In the home, in the world outside, it’s a big ask of any film to compete with distractions like ambient light, a coffee, a snack, or notifications pinging on the cellphone.
We saw the blockbuster falter in 2020, including Bond in No Time To Die – what a title to sell during a pandemic! – delayed again. Distributors tested the waters with the smaller film, seeing what would winkle out a wary audience.
with hardly a blockbuster in sight, it was so often the small, intimate and powerful that led in lockdown
The pall of Covid may have contributed to the feeling that Tenet didn’t live up to expectations, though it wasn’t among Christopher Nolan’s better films.
By contrast, The Burnt Orange Heresy, a small heist movie released around the same time was way more engaging. And it had bonus curiosity value from Mick Jagger.
It may be that the noisy, brazen blockbuster is best seen when people are feeling safe, expansive, or even devil-may-care. On the other hand, it has been a good year for the small film, not having to compete with big heavily marketed rivals for box office.
And there were some great films, outside the sound and fury of blockbusters, released in 2020. My list of best movies of the year stands up as well as any best of the year list.
Superb local drama, Babyteeth, finally got the attention it deserved as it swept the recent AACTA awards. Relic proved to be a remarkable debut from a young director, Brazen Hussies was a terrific doco, and kids’ film H is for Happiness came and went but is still awaiting recognition.
From the UK, Hugh Grant astounded with his performance in the slick gangster drama, The Gentlemen. 1917 took us to war, via a long take. Watching the Nick Cave performance documentary, Idiot Prayer, was like entering another dimension.
From the US, a worthy remake of Little Women, Charlie Kaufman’s intriguing, haunting I’m Thinking of Ending Things, the minimalist masterpiece The Assistant, On the Rocks, Knives Out and brilliantly written The Trial of the Chicago 7.
From France came the adult animated feature set in Taliban Afghanistan, The Swallows of Kabul, the fabulous Portrait of a Lady on Fire, while La Verite and La Belle Epoque explored the past and its consequences.
For Sama, a coproduction, was a heart-rending letter from a mother to her baby daughter as Syria imploded. So small and intimate, and so powerful.
In 2020 it has been great to see the distributors giving the smaller film a go. Time is yet to tell how the cinema experience of 2020 will play out, but it certainly felt like a re-set.
First published in the Canberra Times on 19 December 2020