‘Now is the time to make content that makes people uncomfortable,” boasts a recent front-page ad in Variety. It was promoting one of the new services that use streaming platforms to present viewers with “virtual cinema” now that actual cinema-going has been curtailed.
COVID — and overreaching politicians giddy with the power to control our lives — made that happen, but it might have been inevitable anyway.
The civilizing potential that movies once promised — to unify the public and bring creative, humane ideas and imaginative visions to multitudes of viewers — has shrunken because of Hollywood’s increasing mediocrity and shameless one-sided politicization.
It’s no wonder attendance had been waning. When the next James Bond release was rescheduled at the start of the lockdown, no one really cared; even the current star of that once-popular series had expressed his indifference. One frustrated fan noticed that “he looks and acts like a perpetually hung-over KGB agent” — the Russia-collusion hoax ruining everything. Meanwhile, Hollywood’s last box-office hit before the lockdown was the hideous feminist tract Invisible Man, which deserves invisibility, separate from this list of good films that follows.
Midway through this movie year, we are faced with readjusting our needs, given Hollywood’s determination to reeducate audiences (by redefining their social priorities) and change our aesthetic taste into non-entertaining social-justice complacency. That’s the ongoing cinematic culture war.
So for this midyear reckoning, it’s imperative that we pay attention to the films that did not make us uncomfortable but were edifying — reminding us that real cinema is still possible (in alphabetical order).
Capone is Josh (Chronicle) Trank’s comeback, giving Chicago’s most legendary gangster the much-needed Godfather, Part III treatment — no doubt a response to politics gone rogue and the moral reckoning to come. (Tom Hardy is MVP.)
Corpus Christi is Jan Komasa’s challenge to modern pessimism, a daring look at a renegade priest’s search for holiness in godless times.
Deerskin stars Jean Dujardin and Adèle Haenel as film freaks in a folie à deux. This is Quentin Dupieux’s satire on the madness inherited from hipster film culture (Tarantino style), part of the new horror genre that mirrors Millennial anxiety.
Ladies in Black is Bruce Beresford’s tribute to the old-fashioned romantic melodrama as a vehicle for female perseverance. Julia Ormond, made over by life, pays high-fashion homage to Melania Trump.
On a Magical Night is Christophe Honoré’s surrealist comedy in which a philandering couple’s romantic histories return (in person), diving into their deepest desires and memories as great movies used to do.
Straight Up is surprising because it seemed unlikely that in the middle of social turmoil, the year’s best film so far would be an American movie — and a sex comedy at that. Star and auteur James Sweeney submits every progressive shibboleth to brilliant satire, and his individuality wins. (Co-star Katie Findlay is MVP.)
Tommaso is another folie à deux, this time between director Abel Ferrara and actor Willem Dafoe, both confessing the complications of manhood, art and cultural heritage in the shadow of “toxic masculinity.” It’s a worthy music video for Morrissey’s “Secret of Music.”
The Traitor is Marco Bellocchio’s fact-based Mafia epic about the 1986 Maxi trials, made in the tradition of Italian neorealism and parading the political cost of society’s moral decay. It’s a spiritual documentary, a genre unknown to Hollywood.
The Truth is Hirokazu Kore-eda’s latest family melodrama set in the envious hot-house environment of an aging actress and her literary daughter — rivals too close to ever part. Catherine Deneuve and Juliette Binoche make it a showcase where different acting styles merge.
Vitalina Varela, Pedro Costa’s high-art piece, has the effect of rebuking the phony Black Lives Matter movement that has, ironically, canceled most of our culture’s black representations. Costa’s noir still-life about European colonialism, named for its star actress, offers a visual tour de force.
I was fortunate to see most of these films on the big screen — as real cinema, not virtual cinema. And none that I streamed made me uncomfortable, but quite the opposite. These good films are like Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) against an industry committed to keeping audiences antagonized and agitated. Hollywood has lost the meaning of art and is broken. The 2020 Midyear Reckoning disregards such gimmicky anti-cinema (like Hamilton) and keeps the faith.