The past Covid-19-affected year was possibly worse for the cinema than 2020. Hollywood studios began the slow release of big-budget productions, as northern hemisphere theatres reopened, but this was rudely interrupted by another New Zealand lockdown that lasted even longer in Auckland, and in Hamilton to a lesser degree.
The biggest victim was the New Zealand International Film Festival, whose organisers gambled on a postponement of several months, only to be hit by a full lockdown. With no plan B, such as the theatre/online hybrid of the previous year, some 30-or-so star attractions were denied to Auckland and Hamilton audiences. The festival went ahead in other centres, but audiences tumbled.
Whether that was due to pandemic fatigue, the retiming to later in the year, or other factors such as its branding, remain to be explained. But the loss of nearly $1million could be fatal to a venture that has been largely self-funded for the past 50 years.
It certainly wasn’t due to the lack of quality foreign films, which is the sole purpose of such festivals and, I suggest, a principle that any future festivals should continue to uphold against pressures to do otherwise.
The cancellations leave me with a top 10 list for 2021 that will differ from many others because of its absences.
In alphabetical order they are:
Fanny Lye Deliver’d: A remarkable account of an English farmer’s actions during the 17th century Interregnum, a time of religious and political upheaval.
The Father: Anthony Hopkins at his best as he battles dementia in surroundings where other people and the furniture keep changing.
First Cow: Another remarkable historical period piece, set in the American Northwest, where ingenuity is valued more than anything else.
The Forgotten Battle: A Dutch World War II film that differs from most others because the story is told from both sides.
The Green Knight: A medieval tale is given the modern treatment with spectacular backdrops and strong casting.
I Care a Lot: an acerbic exposé of a rest home racket that sends all the right signals about honesty in business.
The Mauritanian: This puts faces and names on innocent parties caught up in the whirlwind that followed the 9/11 attacks.
The Nest: A business drama in which the family suffers as heavily from failure as the financial wheeler-dealer’s career.
Pig: A quirky black comedy in which Nicolas Cage goes on the rampage to recover his truffle-hunting animal from a cartel of foodie gangsters.
Stillwater: Matt Damon drops his Jason Bourne alter-ego to take on the French judicial system to free his ungrateful daughter, while finding a new family.
Footnote: Many of the 30 significant movies from the international film festival will be screened at two independent Auckland cinemas in late January. A few, such as The French Dispatch, are going into general release, while Jane Campion’s The Power of the Dog is already on Netflix.
Don’t Look Up
American political satire ventures into the territory of apocalyptic science fiction as two astronomers discover a large comet that will end life on earth much faster than climate change. But the US President (Meryl Streep) and her White House adviser (Jonah Hill) aren’t fazed, as the mid-term elections have greater priority. In addition, a high-tech tycoon (Mark Rylance) has a plan to capture the comet’s rare earth minerals. The resemblance to Apple Computer’s Tim Cook is unfair as the character is supposed to be a mashup of the much-different space-obsessed billionaires. Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence look out of place as the scientists attempting to get their bad news through to those in power. However, Cate Blanchett is perfect as the cynical morning TV presenter who seizes the chance to further her career. Other big names in the over-stuffed cast include Timothée Chalamet as grungy skateboarder, pop singer Ariana Grande as herself, and Kiwi-born Melanie Lynskey as a frumpy, put-upon housewife with a heart of gold. Writer-director Adam McKay exposed the machinations of the financial world with The Big Short and the TV series Succession. But here his muddled messaging suggests end-of-the-world scenarios are already beyond parody.
Rating: Mature audiences. 138 minutes.
Tick, Tick … Boom
The new generation of Broadway musicals is in good hands thanks to Lin-Manuel Miranda (Hamilton, In the Heights) and the subject of this biopic, Jonathan Larson. He died, aged 35, after one big hit, Rent, and Miranda is the director who brings that life to the screen. It’s basically Larson’s semi-biographical account of a composer struggling to create a big stage hit by the time he’s 30. Andrew Garfield has the lead role, and Miranda stages the big cast numbers in a rehearsal-style presentation to a select audience. The tunes have a familiarity of well-enunciated musicals, in which the sung words move the story forward. This may account for the need to impress the late Stephen Sondheim, who is among those attending. Unlike Rent, this doesn’t break any barriers, and won’t please those who expect a strong behind-the-curtains drama. But it’s ideal for toe-tapping fans.
Rating: Mature audiences. 110 minutes.
The action starts at the beginning of this latest chapter in the female assassin genre, and doesn’t let up until she’s been through all of a cat’s nine lives. The budget allows globe-trotting from Vietnam to Romania, London and back again over a 20-year period, as befits the pedigree of director Martin Campbell, a Kiwi who has two James Bond adventures under his belt. Hawaiian action star Maggie Q also has pedigree from fight movies such as Divergent, Insurgent and Allegiant, as well as the TV series Nikita. She goes on a revenge spree against the killers of her mentor (Samuel L. Jackson), while Michael Keaton is the only ambiguous character as a potential love interest with a murky background.
Rating: 16+. 109 minutes.