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Archive for December, 2019

Best (and worst) movies of 2019

Voilà AWAV’s annual list (for last year’s, go here). The movies here opened in theaters this year in France. I see a lot of movies in the theater—two a week on average—but inevitably miss a few. As usual, several well-reviewed American movies that have come out over the past couple of months have yet to open in France. For the first time, the list includes Netflix exclusives. N.B. There was a higher-than-usual number of particularly good French movies this year.

TOP 10:
An Officer and a Spy (J’accuse)
Ash Is Purest White (江湖兒女 Les Éternels)
Balloon (Ballon)
Birds of Passage (Pájaros de verano)
Joker
Les Misérables
Never Look Away (Werk ohne Autor)
So Long, My Son (地久天长)
The Specials (Hors normes)
The Two Popes

HONORABLE MENTION:
By the Grace of God (Grâce à Dieu)
Only the Animals (Seules les bêtes)
School Life (La Vie scolaire)
Someone, Somewhere (Deux moi)
The Dazzled (Les Éblouis)

BEST MOVIE FROM ALGERIA:
Papicha (بابيشة)

BEST MOVIE FROM TUNISIA:
Noura’s Dream (نورة تحلم)

BEST MOVIE FROM SENEGAL:
Atlantics (Atlantique)

BEST MOVIE FROM URUGUAY:
A Twelve-Year Night (La noche de 12 años)

BEST POLITICAL THRILLER FROM ARGENTINA:
Rojo

BEST POLITICAL THRILLER FROM SPAIN:
The Realm (El Reino)

BEST MOVIE FROM IRELAND ABOUT ECONOMIC PRECARIOUSNESS IN THE AGE OF NEOLIBERALISM:
Rosie

BEST MOVIE FROM SWITZERLAND ABOUT THE VALUE ATTACHED TO HUMAN LIFE IN THE AGE OF NEOLIBERALISM:
Those Who Work (Ceux qui travaillent)

BEST MOVIE FROM GREECE ABOUT A SUBMISSIVE HOUSEWIFE WHO TAKES CHARGE OF HER LIFE:
Her Job (Η Δουλειά της)

BEST MOVIE FROM ISRAEL ABOUT THE CRAP WOMEN HAVE TO PUT UP WITH IN THE WORKPLACE:
Working Woman (אישה עובדת)

BEST MOVIE FROM ISRAEL ABOUT CONSERVING THE MEMORY OF A HOLOCAUST MASSACRE COMMITTED BY AUSTRIANS:
The Testament (העדות)

BEST MOVIE FROM ROMANIA ABOUT CONSERVING THE MEMORY OF A HOLOCAUST MASSACRE COMMITTED BY ROMANIANS:
“I Do Not Care if We Go Down in History as Barbarians” (“Îmi este indiferent dacă în istorie vom intra ca barbari”)

BEST MAFIA MOVIE FROM ITALY:
The Traitor (Il traditore)

BEST CINEMATIC ADAPTATION FROM ITALY OF AN EARLY TWENTIETH CENTURY AMERICAN NOVEL:
Martin Eden

BEST MOVIE FROM FRANCE ABOUT AN OVER-THE-HILL POLITICIAN AND HIS EARNEST YOUTHFUL ADVISER:
Alice and the Mayor (Alice et le maire)

BEST MOVIE FROM FRANCE ON HOW REALLY HARD IT IS TO BE A SMALL FARMER:
In the Name of the Land (Au nom de la terre)

BEST MOVIE FROM FRANCE ABOUT AN INTREPID REPORTER DURING THE SIEGE OF SARAJEVO:
Sympathy for the Devil (Sympathie pour le diable)

BEST MOVIE FROM FRANCE ABOUT AN INTREPID REPORTER DURING THE CIVIL WAR IN THE CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC:
Camille

BEST FRANCO-BELGIAN MOVIE FROM RWANDA ABOUT RWANDAN SOLDIERS IN THE EASTERN CONGO:
The Mercy of the Jungle (La Miséricorde de la jungle)

BEST FRANCO-BELGIAN MOVIE ABOUT A PRISONER IN NEVADA AND HIS HORSE:
The Mustang

MOST MACABRE FEMINIST COMEDY FROM FRANCE:
Rebels (Rebelles)

MOST AMUSING NETFLIX COMEDY ABOUT A 1970s BLAXPLOITATION FILM DIRECTOR:
Dolemite Is My Name

MOST AMUSING ISRAELI-PALESTINIAN COMEDY MAKING SPORT OF THE ISRAELI-PALESTINIAN CONFLICT:
Tel Aviv on Fire (תל אביב על האש)

MOST LIGHTWEIGHT NETFLIX SATIRE ON HOW ORDINARY PEOPLE ARE SHAFTED BY THE GLOBAL FINANCIAL SYSTEM:
The Laundromat

MOST NOT BAD BY-THE-NUMBERS NETFLIX MOVIE SET IN A PARIS BANLIEUE:
Street Flow (Banlieuesards)

BLEAKEST FILM NOIR FROM CHINA SET IN WUHAN:
The Wild Goose Lake (南方车站的聚会)

MOST TEDIOUS MOVIE FROM RUSSIA SET IN POSTWAR LENINGRAD:
Beanpole (Дылда Une grande fille)

MOST OVER-THE-TOP MOVIE FROM BRAZIL SET IN THE SERTÃO OF THE NORDESTE:
Bacurau

MOST FATIGUING INDIE MOVIE SET IN MY HOMETOWN MILWAUKEE WISCONSIN:
Give Me Liberty

BEST HOLLYWOOD MOVIE ABOUT FORMULA ONE AUTO RACING SINCE ‘RUSH’:
Ford v Ferrari

MOST ENTERTAINING BIOPIC OF A GREAT ENGLISH POP MUSIC SINGER:
Rocketman

MOST ENTERTAINING CINEMATIC TRIBUTE FROM ENGLAND TO A GREAT AMERICAN ROCK MUSIC SINGER:
Blinded by the Light

MOST ENTERTAINING HOLLYWOOD WHODUNIT MOVIE THAT DOES NOT NEED TO BE SEEN UNLESS ONE LIKES ENTERTAINING HOLLYWOOD WHODUNIT MOVIES:
Knives Out

BEST HOLLYWOOD MOVIE WITH MELISSA MCCARTHY AND RICHARD E. GRANT IN THE LEAD ROLES:
Can You Ever Forgive Me?

BEST NETFLIX MOVIE WITH ADAM DRIVER AND SCARLETT JOHANSSON IN THE LEAD ROLES:
Marriage Story

BEST HOLLYWOOD REMAKE OF A GOOD MOVIE FROM CHILE WITH JULIANNE MOORE IN THE LEAD ROLE:
Gloria Bell

MOST FAR-FROM-PERFECT HOLLYWOOD MOVIE WITH CHRISTIAN BALE IN THE LEAD ROLE:
Vice

MOST FAR-FROM-PERFECT HOLLYWOOD MOVIE WITH VIGGO MORTENSEN AND MAHERSHALA ALI IN THE LEAD ROLES:
Green Book

MOST NOT-PERFECT MOVIE FROM FRANCE WITH JULIETTE BINOCHE IN THE LEAD ROLE:
Who You Think I Am (Celle que vous croyez)

MOST DEFINITELY NOT-PERFECT MOVIE FROM FRANCE WITH VIRGINIE EFIRA AND ADÈLE EXARCHOPOULOS IN THE LEAD ROLES:
Sibyl

MOST ABSOLUTELY NOT-PERFECT MOVIE FROM FRANCE WITH CHIARA MASTROIANNI IN THE LEAD ROLE:
On a Magical Night (Chambre 212)

MOST ONLY OKAY MOVIE FROM FRANCE WITH DANIEL AUTEUIL IN THE LEAD ROLE:
La Belle époque

CREEPIEST MOVIE FROM FRANCE WITH KARIN VIARD AND LEÏLA BEKHTI IN THE LEAD ROLES:
The Perfect Nanny (Chanson douce)

MOST RIDICULOUS MOVIE FROM FRANCE WITH JEAN DUJARDIN AND ADÈLE HAENEL IN THE LEAD ROLES:
Deerskin (Le Daim)

MOST COMPLICATED COURTROOM DRAMA FROM FRANCE WITH MARINA FOÏS AND OLIVIER GOURMET IN THE LEAD ROLES:
Conviction (Une intime conviction)

BEST MUST-SEE DOCUMENTARY ABOUT THE POLITICS OF MEMORY OF THE SPANISH CIVIL WAR:
The Silence of Others (El silencio de otros)

BEST DOCUMENTARY ABOUT THE MEMORY OF A DEMOCRACY EMBRACING ASYLUM-SEEKERS FROM A DICTATORSHIP:
Santiago, Italia

BEST MOST MOVING DOCUMENTARY ABOUT THE MEMORY OF SUDAN’S INCIPIENT FILM INDUSTRY AND THE POLITICAL SYSTEM THAT PROVOKED ITS DEMISE:
Talking About Trees (الحديث عن الأشجار)

BEST MOST POWERFUL DOCUMENTARY ABOUT THE WAR IN SYRIA:
For Sama (إلى سما)

BEST NETFLIX DOCUMENTARY FORESEEING THE FUTURE OF AMERICA’S DEMOCRATIC PARTY:
Knock Down the House

MOST FASCINATING DOCUMENTARY ABOUT AN INDUSTRIAL POTEMKIN VILLAGE DURING THE SOVIET ERA:
The Cacophony of Donbass (Какофонія Донбасу)

MOST UNSATISFYING DOCUMENTARY ABOUT A SMALL TOWN IN THE AMERICAN HEARTLAND:
Monrovia, Indiana

BEST MOVIE BY MARTIN SCORSESE:
The Irishman

BEST MOVIE BY PEDRO ALMODÓVAR:
Pain and Glory (Dolor y gloria)

BEST MOVIE BY ARNAUD DESPLECHIN:
Oh Mercy! (Roubaix, une lumière)

BEST MOVIE BY JEAN-PIERRE & LUC DARDENNE:
Young Ahmed (Le jeune Ahmed)

BEST MOVIE BY KEN LOACH:
Sorry We Missed You

BEST MOVIE BY YORGOS LANTHIMOS:
The Favourite

BEST MOVIE BY BARRY JENKINS:
If Beale Street Could Talk

MOST ENTERTAININGLY TENDENTIOUS MOVIE BY COSTA-GAVRAS:
Adults In the Room

MOST ENTERTAININGLY OFFBEAT MOVIE BY ELIA SULEIMAN:
It Must Be Heaven

MOST NOT-ALL-THAT-BAD OF A MOVIE BY CLINT EASTWOOD:
The Mule

MOST MERELY OKAY MOVIE BY WOODY ALLEN:
A Rainy Day in New York

MOST MIND-NUMBING MOVIE BY JAMES GRAY:
Ad Astra

MOST FORGETTABLE MOVIE BY QUENTIN TARANTINO:
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

MOST PROMISING DIRECTORIAL DEBUT BY HAFSIA HERZI:
You Deserve a Lover (Tu mérites un amour)

MOST UTTERLY FAILED DIRECTORIAL DEBUT BY CAROLINE FOUREST:
Sisters in Arms (Sœurs d’armes)

MOST SOMEWHAT OVERRATED MOVIE BY CÉLINE SCIAMMA:
Portrait of a Young Lady on Fire (Portrait de la jeune fille en feu)

MOST OVERRATED MOVIE BY HIROKAZU KORE-EDA:
The Truth (La Vérité)

MOST FRANKLY OVERRATED MOVIE BY BONG JOON-HO:
Parasite (기생충)

MOST CRINGEWORTHY MOVIE BY FATIH AKIN:
The Golden Glove (Der Goldene Handschuh)

MOST NOT GOOD MOVIE BY RABAH AMEUR-ZAÏMECHE:
South Terminal (Terminal Sud)

MOST INSUFFERABLE MOVIE BY NADAV LAPID:
Synonyms

MOST PREPOSTEROUS MOVIE BY JORDAN PEELE:
Us

A NO DOUBT BEAUTIFUL MOVIE BY TERRENCE MALICK BUT THAT I COULDN’T BRING MYSELF TO GO AND SEE AS IT IS CERTAINLY VERY SLOW-PACED AND WAY TOO LONG:
A Hidden Life

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The inevitable Brexit

[update below]

The UK general election is two days away and I am crossing my fingers—hoping against hope—that it will result in a hung parliament—though without the Tories, like last time, being able to form a government with the DUP (or any other party). A Labour-LibDem-SNP-Plaid Cymru-Green majority would be able to put an end to the Brexit folly, with a second referendum and inevitable Remain victory. After which another general election would be held and the world outside the UK wouldn’t care one way or the other who came out on top.

But I’m realistic enough to know that this is not the likely scenario. The Tories are well ahead in the polls and, barring a polling failure of the first order, will win a comfortable majority in the House of Commons—and with the UK leaving the UK next month and Boris Johnson in 10 Downing Street to the end of 2024. And the responsible party for this calamitous outcome will be the unreconstructed 1970s communist Jeremy Corbyn, who is Britain’s answer to Georges Marchais, though less entertaining in front of a TV camera (and two decades and some after the French Communists abandoned Marchais’ political vision). If the Labour Party hadn’t changed its leadership election rules in 2014—thereby enabling far leftists to hijack the party—the UK would most certainly not be in this Brexit mess. Maybe more about that another time.

Like lots of people, I have been appalled by BoJo and dismissive of him, viewing him as a sort of Trump wannabe. But I’m rethinking this after having read a lengthy portrait of him—”a great read,” as one friend emailed me; “brilliantly written,” so another tweeted—in New York magazine (December 9th issue) by Andrew Sullivan, “Boris’s blundering brilliance.” The lede: “Brexit has given the U.K’s self-seeking Prime Minister the opportunity to show he actually knows what he’s doing.” The piece is indeed a must-read. Sullivan may be interesting or irritating but, on this specific question, I instinctively trust him, as he is a product of Oxford, crossed paths with BoJo there, and as a working class ex-Tory (and anti-Brexit), has a critical distance on the matter. Sullivan presents BoJo as almost a social democrat—pragmatic in any case and hardly an ideologue—who will not sell Britain out to Trump’s America. I want to believe Sullivan here. The proof will be in the pudding. But Sullivan does convincingly argue that BoJo is not a right-wing populist in the mold of Trump, Orban, Salvini et al. And certainly not Marine Le Pen.

This YouTube video of BoJo reciting a passage from The Iliad in ancient Greek certainly proves that he is no Trump.

Regardless of what Sullivan says, the rhetoric coming out of the Brexit camp on the economy and social policy has been worrisome indeed, with talk of a “Singapore-on-the-Thames,” a free trade agreement with the US—that would lead to the gutting of the NHS, entre autres—and regulatory and fiscal dumping on a massive scale at the doorstep of the European Union. On this neoliberal vision/nightmare, one thinks of the last two films by the très engagé Scottish director Ken Loach. The most recent, which opened in France in October, is Sorry We Missed You, about a working class family (in Newcastle) in which the husband/father has lost his steady job and forced to become an independent contracter, and with the wife/mother working impossible hours—and neither earning enough to make ends meet. It’s the most incisive cinematic critique—denunciation, in fact—of the “Uberization” of our neoliberal economies that I’ve seen. Workplaces in France are not what they are in Great Britain such as depicted in the film—where no one mentions a Code du Travail—but if Emmanuel Macron were to get his way, it will only be a matter of time.

The other Loach film is I, Daniel Blake, which won the 2016 Palme d’Or. The protag in this one is a 59-year-old manual laborer (also in Newcastle) who is put on disability and thus entangled in the social service and unemployment agency system, which have been privatized and whose organizing principle is thus the bottom line—not in actually accompanying clients—and getting public charges off the dole. The film is a biting critique of precisely that: the privatization, or outsourcing to profit-making enterprises, of social service delivery, which had been—and should still be—assured by public employees. Having had personal experience with this here in France, where the state functionaries are dedicated professionals and whose objective is to help you, the citizen, I feel more strongly than ever that this sector must remain public and never be allowed anywhere near the private sector. Again, if Emmanuel Macron were to receive carte blanche, France would resemble its neighbor outre-Manche before too long.

Ken Loach is a gauchiste—more so than I—no doubt about that, but he makes good movies and that do not descend into caricature, bons sentiments, or manichaeism in their social critiques.

À suivre.

UPDATE: So the election resulted in the predictable Conservative victory, with a modest 1% increase in the Tory vote over 2017—a defeat for Theresa May—but a landslide in seats, which is all that counts. A huge victory for Boris Johnson and the incontestable brilliance of his strategy—of smashing Labour’s famous ‘red wall’ and uniting the entire Leave camp behind his leadership. And a corresponding debacle for Labour and the calamitous Jeremy Corbyn, who is incontestably responsible for the counter-performance. When a party’s share of the vote plunges from 40% to 32% in the space of two years—and witnesses its greatest loss in seats since before most people reading this were alive—the party leader is necessarily responsible. Nick Cohen nailed it in an instant post-mortem comment in The Spectator, “The polling that shows Corbyn is to blame for Labour’s decline.” It begins

The reason Jeremy Corbyn is not preparing to lead the first majority Labour government since 2010 is Jeremy Corbyn. The Labour leader is proving the falseness of the cliché that ‘oppositions don’t win elections, governments lose them’. Unless enough people are convinced of an opposition’s competence and decency it will not take power, even when all it has to do is beat the mendacious rabble that make up today’s Conservative party.

Jeremy Corbyn’s opposition did not win a majority and could never win a majority because millions could not vote for the incompetent and indecent Jeremy Corbyn. It’s that simple.

I am not just repeating anecdotal evidence from Labour MPs and canvassers. A vast poll of 12,000 voters, released tonight, showed Jeremy Corbyn was by far the single biggest reason voters gave for deserting Labour. Of those who voted Labour in 2017 but were less than 50 per cent less likely to vote Labour now, Deltapoll found the overwhelming reason people gave was they ‘don’t like Jeremy Corbyn’ with 46 per cent agreeing with that blunt statement.

As tonight’s epic defeat shows, Labour could not win because of Jeremy Corbyn and the rancid political clique he led. Do not underestimate the scale of the rout for a moment. Johnson’s triumph is absolute. The Conservatives could be in power for most of the 2020s because a bunch of student politicians and narcissist performance artists destroyed a once viable party.

To continue reading Cohen’s comment, go here.

The Guardian’s Polly Toynbee likewise nailed it in her post-mortem column, “Devoid of agility, charisma and credibility, Corbyn has led Labour into the abyss.” The lede: “Yes, the manifesto was magnificent. But Corbyn has allowed his party to be riven by sectarianism, antisemitism and Brexit.”

For his part, The Observer’s political editor Toby Helm wrote, “I saw for myself just how hostile many voters were to Jeremy Corbyn.”

Paul Mason has an incisive comment in the New Statesman, “Corbynism is over – Labour’s next leader must unite the centre and the left: Only a pluralist movement can counter a dangerous alliance of conservatism and authoritarian nationalism.”

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