by Georgina Allan
“Well done Quentin. In 2019 you got away with being best mates with a serial abuser, then committing even more violence against women on screen and masking it as a happy ending.”
Welcome one and all to that hellishly enjoyable time of year for film: awards season. Full of snubs, speeches, and declaring a film the winner when it wasn't because you read the card wrong.
We talked about the controversies of 2019 releases - now for the online outrage when a film does or doesn’t get an irrelevant medal from the film industry. And we’re only just emerging from the suffocating pile of end of year lists!
While so much of film criticism is focused on new releases, we thought it would be a good time to refer you to some similar, better or earlier titles. And if you’ve seen recent nominations there is little, if any, diversity in the line ups, so we’ve tried our best to highlight titles that go against this grain.
So why don’t you try something new, step outside your cinematic box, and perhaps your new favourite film will be something old.
We all know Scorsese is the master. His influences can be seen throughout a multitude of films. But he doesn’t change his tune much does he? Just look at Marty’s stats and see how many times he’s been up on the podium accepting awards or putting Robert De Niro back in the limelight with another Rotten Tomatoes shit show.
If you want to try a different kind of crime epic, explore Takeshi Kitano and his many films based around yakuza and Japanese culture. Start with Violent Cop (1989) or Sonatine (1993).
Alternatively, if you want to spend a similarly hefty amount of time watching a film, why not go for the Arabian Nights trilogy by Miguel Gomes or The Great Beauty (2013) by Paulo Sorrentino. Both are lengthy forays exploring vivid, unusual ideas without a mafia hitman in sight.
However, there are a wealth of relationship dramas to plough through. Joe Swanberg’s work feels less arch and more real than Baumbach’s. Try Digging For Fire (2015), where a couple who discover a gun in their backyard begin to feel themselves drifting apart. Tamara Jenkins’ A Private Life (2018) is as prickly as Marriage Story, and its central couple are much more relatable.
A sugary but emotive watch is Take This Waltz (2011), directed by the underrated Sarah Polley and starring Michelle Williams. And don’t forget the gut-punching Blue Valentine (2010).
For more diverse picks (because my god, don’t straight white couples get a lot of screen time), Appropriate Behaviour (2014) by the fabulous Desiree Akhavan is a good choice: a suitably bittersweet exploration of sexuality in the midst of a break up. Wong Kar Wai’s output always involves a moping couple or two, or watch award-winning Iranian drama A Separation (2011).
Easy pickings here for influences/straight-up stolen scenes. Something violent happens while Nat King Cole plays in the soundtrack? Yeah, that’s happened before. Want to see some dark cityscapes in jarring monochromatic colour? Fincher does that, mate. The most obvious homage is to Scorsese’s The King of Comedy (1982). De Niro gives an unexpected turn as Rupert Pupkin and it was almost too harmonious to put him into Joker, playing the adversary role which Jerry Lewis played against him in the original.
The most outrageous lack of recognition award, however, goes to Lynne Ramsey’s amazingly taut You Were Never Really Here (2017). Joaquin’s character in this could almost be Arthur Fleck’s twin, albeit one that is a much more believable and complex character. At 89 mins, it is a feat in swift storytelling, showing the seediness and corruption of the New York elite.
Or hey, maybe watch something not focused on another male anti-hero whose relationships to women are incredibly troublesome? Here is a very incomplete list of some modern, bigger budget films that feature complex, nearing on irredeemable, women:
Sympathy for Lady Vengeance (2005)
Isabelle Huppert in most things
The Last Seduction (1994)
any film by Andrea Arnold or Josephine Decker
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Well done Quentin. In 2019 you got away with being best mates with a serial abuser, then committing even more violence against women on screen and masking it as a happy ending.
For a much more solid portrayal of Hollywood, watch Robert Altman’s The Player (1992), a sprawling neo-noir starring everyone big in the nineties. It contains one of the most famous long shots in cinematic history and has a spiky edge as it pokes fun at films made as Oscar bait.
Spike Lee is an underrated filmmaker if compared to Tarantino. He has similarly crafted his own idiosyncratic, cinematic language and style. But importantly, all of his narratives question the status quo and champion black actors and stories. If you like Tarantino’s personality flashing through his work, Lee is all over his own films, but in a much less brattish way than cine-blowhard Quentin. He has also quite rightly called out the ludicrousness of Django Unchained and its white director. Start with the OG classic Do The Right Thing (1989) before watching his female-centred narratives She’s Gotta Have It (1986) and Chi-Raq (2015).
Any live action remake
I can’t say I rep Disney as an entity, but this cashing in on our childhood film memories with live action remakes must be stopped. You might be able to make a computerised big cat do some singing but do you really need to? Someone should have asked a similar question to the producers of Cats
Go and see more exciting, experimental or hand drawn animation. Some of the most lovingly made animations of recent years have been Song of The Sea (2014), My Life As A Courgette (2016), The Red Turtle (2016) and of course the amazing output of Studio Ghibli.
These show that kid friendly animation can be much more affecting and beautiful in their small worlds than the pumped up, CGI fantasy realms set in the uncanny valley of hell.
I would love to recommend you more effective ways of portraying a genocidal regime - Son of Saul (2015) is a good start, maybe one of the most harrowing watches ever. But seeing as we’re in the lighthearted territory of Taika Waititi, I’ll forward you to Armando Ianucci’s The Death of Stalin (2017) if you haven’t seen it already. It lands the type of satirical black comedy that is able to poke fun at historical characters without ever sweetening their atrocities.
Of course watch Dr Strangelove (1964) to which almost everything is indebted, as well as Chris Morris’s back catalogue on TV and film. But if you’re still craving that bittersweetness of youth that Waititi compels in us, try Bill Forsyth’s classic Gregory’s Girl (1981); Beasts of The Southern Wild (2012); or Me, Earl and The Dying Girl (2015).
The British teenage girl experience has never, yes never, been accurately portrayed on film. (Please email me if you have evidence to the contrary.)
We do, however, have a wealth of unrealistic portrayals of American teens. I love to watch outlandish adventures of beautiful 30 year olds pretending to be 16 as much as the next person, but Booksmart (2019) aimed for better than this standard and sadly missed the mark. The story is trying and farcical despite the two leads being believable.
There are recent films that are equally as good if not better. Love, Simon (2018) was the teenage coming out drama we all needed. Lady Bird (2017) was heartwarming. The Diary of a Teenage Girl (2015) highlighted relationships between mothers and daughters. And of course there was Eighth Grade (2018) but don’t talk to me about it or I’ll well up. But why not try Raw (2016), a teen angst turned horror film. Or Daisies (1966), a surreal 1960s Czech film about two girls exploiting men for nice dinners and talking nonsense while the other laughs. What a dream.
The absolute go to has to be Girlhood (2014) by Céline Sciamma. Watch to escape the incessant white feminism going on right now and remember that the #MeToo movement was created by Tarana Burke, not white Hollywood actresses.
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Georgina Allan is the Film Editor of The Radical Art Review