By Hannah Tyler
10. If Beale Street Could Talk
How I watched it: I saw it at the BFI Southbank on a rainy winter afternoon. I was unemployed and it was dark and the film’s warm New York sunlight and cinematic language reassured me.
2018 didn’t seem like the best time to tell a story about a Black man being framed for rape, as we as a culture tease out the knots of how people in power have used their power structures to abuse women and marginalise Black people. But Barry Jenkins puts every step right in his direction to present these not as different narratives, but parallel symptoms of racist and sexist institutions that stem from white supremacy. And not only this, but create a movie that is both romantic and beautiful.
The film creates this through deep empathy for its characters, and it never seeks to punish its characters or you as a viewer, as many films about the effects of violence do. It’s use of cinematic language is swooning; gorgeous warm light frames Harlem, and pops of green, yellow, and red tie through the wardrobe of our lovers, Fonny and Tish, and the production design. Gorgeous close ups of Kiki Layne and Stephan James’s open faces are complimented by Nicholas Britell’s swooning score. Their relationship exists within their circumstances like a little plant happily growing between cracks of pavement. Sometimes there is a defiance in happiness.
9. God’s Own Country/Pride
How I watched it: Both on my laptop. God’s Own Country whilst crafting, by the end I was fully wrapped in the movie.
I’ve cheated horribly, but in no way could I separate these two films. And you might think that it’s reductive pairing two films because they are queer, but it’s more that: both are essentially about the political assault on the working class in the UK.
Set in the 1984 during the miners strike, Pride follows a group of queer people who, seeing a group of people in a similar circumstance as their own, form a support group for the striking miners. The film is a plea for unity within the left (despite these two groups’ completely understandable reasons for division), wrapped up in a feel good crowd pleaser you can bring your mum to. It’s sometimes saccharine nature, or it’s more silly lines never wear down the sharp and relevant political edges. The film is a reminder that being part of a relentless struggle against oppression can feel good, instead of exhausting, actually. Andrew Scott’s body language when he picks up the phone and speaks Welsh for the first time in 16 years is one of the single most heartbreaking things I’ve even seen put to film.
In God’s Own Country, farming, which has tied people to the Yorkshire countryside, is no longer viable. Frances Lee presents a farm in crisis, and a boy in crisis, Johnny (Josh O’Connor) who is left with the burden of running his family’s sheep farm, expresses the stress via self-destruction, getting black out drunk and having sex with random men at the local pub. Meaning and love of the self and of the land entwine with the arrival of Gheorghe, a Romanian farmer here to find work in lambing season. Whilst what I remembered most about this film is its beautiful landscapes, in interviews with Lee he has said that he kept the camera close on the characters and had no wide shots of the land. I got a lovely surprise of a Patrick Wolf song over the credits, who I think is one of the best contemporary songwriters about English landscape and history, who also happens to be queer.
8. Frances Ha
How I watched it: I saw it at Luna Leederville in Perth with my (then) boyfriend, who I would move to London with but who came back without me.
Even though Frances Ha was released in 2013, it somehow feels the most dated of all the movies on this list but this, I feel, is a good thing. Frances is a dancer who lives in New York, who breaks up with her boyfriend when he asks her to move in with him to continue to live with her friend, who moves out to live with her boyfriend.
At the time, stories about female friendship, especially those written by women (this is written by Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig), were rare in Hollywood. Frances Ha makes this list because it feels so specifically 2010s—the gig economy, the hipsters, the highly educated young people with little direction and few opportunities. At the time it was so rare to have a portrait of close female friendship presented in a way that Hollywood often depicts heterosexual romance. Beautifully shot in black and white, the film elevates the humdrum struggles of a twenty-something arts worker to something cinematic. For all those who have hesitated when the ATM asks if you want to pay the three dollar fee.
7. The Lobster
How I watched it: At the London Film festival 2015, with Jess. I go to at least one film every year and it is always good.
Sometimes when I’m not sure if I’m going to be able to hack a movie, I go to the Wikipedia page and read the plot. Yorgos Lanthimos’s Dogtooth is one of those whose synopsis provided a hard no. I think I watched the trailer and somehow decided that his first English language film, The Lobster, was going to be okay. As someone who struggles with the ‘comedy’ aspect of dark comedies (the darkness just makes it dark?!) I felt oddly at home in Lanthimos’s parallel universe where everyone says exactly what they mean in weirdly stilted dialogue. This directness is a cause for humour, but only because we are so uncomfortable when the subtext of what we say is aired directly. Turns out that directness is a perfect way of quelling my anxiety. Everyone please say exactly what you mean all the time from now on. Colin Farrell grasps the concept and style beautifully and I believe this is his best performance.
The most disturbing rom-com I’ve seen in a while, the film takes place in a world where people are not allowed to be single. People whose partners die or leave them are taken to a hotel where they have 45 days to be coupled up or be turned into an animal (of their choice!). That, or escape with the other loners and live in the woods where they occasionally dance to EDM music they each listen to on discmans with headphones simultaneously. Occasionally a camel will walk into shot out of nowhere. Bold, ridiculous and romantic.
Part two will appear in a few weeks!