Of the nine films I saw at the cinema in November 2017, these are my favourites...
The title of the film refers to an art installation consisting of a small space — four metres squared — outside of a large museum. The Square (the artwork) represents "a sanctuary of trust and caring [wherein] we all share equal rights and obligations". And this — trust and caring — is what The Square (the film) is all about.
Along the way, The Square deals with questions of power, entitlement, dignity, inequality and prejudice. It's a film about civilised society and the responsibility we all have to one another if we are indeed to call ourselves civilised. It's a film about owning up to the mistakes we make and learning from them as we move forward. It's a film about human beings living together, like animals, and the way in which we help or don't help one another is a recurring motif.
The narrative is driven by Christian, a handsome philandering single father and the curator of a museum dedicated to pushing the limits of modern art. He is likeable but fallible, and as the sprawling storyline makes abundantly clear, he's not nearly as in control as he appears.
It's a film that's full of awkward scenes in which people's consideration for one another is tested: a man with a disability is chided for inadvertently ruining a Q&A session with a famous artist; a room full of people do nothing while individuals are singled out and humiliated in the name of art; a young girl and her kitten are ruthlessly exploited for YouTube hits.
The Square is a difficult movie at times — its most shocking scene leaves huge questions that writer-director Ruben Östlund clearly has no interest in answering, and I personally find that rather annoying. But aside from that, it's really funny, brilliantly imaginative, horribly painful and ultimately, rather touching. Plus Elisabeth Moss is in it and she pulls one of the greatest faces in cinema history. Here it is here…
Brigsby Bear is the hilarious and super-poignant story of a disarmingly naïve young man and the effect he has on those who get to know him. It's all the more beautiful because it touches on some extremely dark subjects yet still manages to remain refreshingly sweet and warm-hearted. If you know nothing about it, please stop reading now and seek it out. It's a very special and surprising story that deserves your full ignorance.
So, Brigsby Bear is the eponymous superhero of an animated TV kids show with an unusual line in moral guidance. Weekly episodes are handmade by Ted and April, who use the shows to home-school their son James, who they abducted aged 3. In the opening ten minutes of the film, James is rescued from his bizarre but harmless captors and returned to the world from which he was stolen as a baby, the equally bizarre and perhaps not quite so harmless world of middle-class teen America, with beer and Molly, douchebags, digital editing and dope-as-shit slang.
The film follows James as he comes to terms with everything he's ever known being a lie and finds his place in the real world.
James' journey may be a tad too tidy for some, with things on the whole going just a little too well, but that's what I really loved about the film. It could so easily have turned into a harrowing loss of innocence tale, but it remained wilfully sweet, whilst still rooting itself in a fairly realistic version of modern America. I was totally immersed from very early on and found myself joyfully rooting for James and for the healing power of creativity and the love of family and friends.
Watch it with Room for a bizarre abduction-themed evening of tears, hope and joy.
DAVID LYNCH: THE ART LIFE
A documentary about David Lynch, his art and his life, which are kind of one and the same, from his birth to the making of Eraserhead, his first feature. If you like the idea of having David Lynch talk to you about his life as he smokes endless cigarettes and tinkers away with his multimedia and for the most part fairly abstract art, then this is the film for you.
As a filmmaker, Lynch seemed to arrive fully formed with his own extremely individual, highly stylised aesthetic already in place. But of course it bled out of his art, with which he'd been obsessed since childhood. And this film is the story of how his style actually developed.
Personally, I've only really loved a couple of Lynch's films. Usually I'm left a little cold and feeling not quite untethered enough from conventional forms of storytelling to really appreciate him. But as a man who makes films and music and art, I find him wholly captivating. I could listen to him for hours and if anything, I felt a tad short-changed by this 88-minute documentary.
If you have no interest in art and the creative urge, however ... oh come on. Grow up.
BATTLE OF THE SEXES
This is the true story of women tennis players campaigning for equal treatment in the workplace in the early 1970s. Campaigning meant fighting the organisers of major events who believed that despite selling the same number of tickets as male players, women only merited an eighth of the prize money men were paid. And it also meant fighting male chauvinism at large, and in the early 1970s, men found male chauvinism hilarious.
As part of the latter struggle, top women's player Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) feels duty-bound to accept the challenge of former men's champion and pantomime proud chauvinist Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell). The challenge is a tennis match, over five sets. Bobby vs Billie. Man vs Woman. Male Superiority vs Gender Equality. Roy Moore vs His Nine Accusers. Trump vs His Seventeen. Greed & Cowardice vs Plain Old Goodness. Plus $100,00 for the winner.
Carell is particularly good as Riggs, the preening, patronising, chauvinist pig-headed puppet of the patriarchy who, like everyone who fights for the status quo, is solely concerned with personal gain. And because he's totally brazen about it, and apparently unashamed — rather like Trump in fact — we laugh. King calls him a clown, and is clearly actually rather fond of him, focusing her indignation instead on the suits behind the business. Which of course makes sense. But Riggs is still an objectionable, dangerous arsehole. Still, if it hadn't been for his misogynistic mugging for camera and cash, it might have taken even longer for women to make their voices heard.
That sounds like I'm suggesting that the fox should take credit for advances in henhouse security. Like we should be thankful to Harvey Weinstein for forcing the plague of molestation out into the light. I'm not. We shouldn't. I just think it's ironic. Don't you think? Apparently, in real life, Billie Jean King tried to make Riggs understand that when they played that match, they'd been part of something meaningful and socially significant, but Riggs was insistent that it was all only ever about the money. On his deathbed, he apparently conceded, "Yeah, I guess we did make a difference." All of which is testament to how genuinely admirable a human being Billie Jean King is.
Battle of the Sexes reminds us how far we've come, and how very far we've still to go. Aside from the shameful politics portrayed in the film, it is beautifully and convincingly told. It looks great, especially if you have good memories of the Seventies, and the love interest storyline is especially poignant. And sexy.
It's also really important that these stories are told, because if we didn't celebrate the victories, we might forget that they were even possible.