Credit: Cannon Films / Channel 4

The contemporary began on 11 February 2005, when the TV series Nathan Barley first aired on Channel 4. It ended just 5 weeks later, on the same station, with the finale. 

Less a television show than a 3 hour film, Chris Morris and Charlie Brooker’s masterpiece presided over the temperature of the cutting edge with the same insight and predictive pierce as Orwell’s 1984, or Wallace’s Infinite Jest. In it, the social order is depicted through the microcosm of early 2000s Shoreditch. Depicted as a promenade of absurd grifters, the culture-vulture mentality of the characters, an assortment of oddly behatted media figures, bandmates, and proto-viral influencers, shows a break not only with history, but a hermetic milieu that is unimpacted by geopolitical issues or even local social unrest. ‘The rise of the idiots,’ as Dan Ashcroft (Julian Barratt) hubristically tries to term it in the edgy magazine SUGARAPE. 

But it wasn’t mere satire that positioned Nathan Barley as the be-all-and-end-all. Morris and Brooker present a formal strictness that pulled dot com aesthetic onto the street, through garish over-saturated lighting, and downgraded broadcast standard cameras. The acid-wash visual glare is matched in digital terms by the extremities of Pedro Costa and Eduardo Williams. At the recent 73rd edition of the Berlinale, I experienced Williams’ Un gif larguísimo (A Very Long Gif), which the programme notes described as the longest GIF you’ve ever seen. Consisting of three channels – two interchanging bubbles of city landscape and youthful revelry, one, a blown-up journey through someone’s digestive system. As with so much of what feels genuinely avant, it could easily become a Barley background gag. And yet, its power is undeniable. 

Until this publication is bought out by some American firm (DMs open, venture capitalists), we will continue to run in the vein of TrashBat, rather than SUGARAPE. Cinema Year Zero’s MO has always been to resist hot takes and discourse culture, and an easy way to do so has been to largely avoid pieces on recent films. Which makes this issue an intriguing challenge. We are compelled by the collision of past and present, and in that spirit, this issue is an effort to survey the scene as it presents itself. We asked our 6 contributors to choose a piece of work they have experienced as an encounter with the contemporary. From site-specific cinema, to online arguments, to gallery exhibits that reform our notions of political discourse, these essays are a compendium of the present: frisson, friction, and non-linear expressions of selfhood.

Kirsty Asher strolls through the programming collaboration between Deeper Into Movies and Weird Walk, and its quest to revive sight-specific Weird Britain on film. 

Blaise Radley examines the aged but still open wound of Vulgar Auteurism, to ask why this specific notion continues to fuel online film chatter. 

Miranda Mungai posits a notion of Online Realism, to pull together strands connecting films as disparate as The Menu and We’re All Going to the World’s Fair. 

Sarah Cleary braves the Barley setting of Shoreditch to visit People Make Television at Raven Row Gallery, and finds that some of Britain’s most radical televisual communication occurred over 35 years ago. 

Across the Atlantic, international correspondent Marty Millman dials in from New York City to dispatch on Alex Prager’s latest box of sweet treats from Lehmann Maupin. 

Finally, Cathy Brennan uses a 30-second street interview clip on Twitter and uses it to opine on trans women’s relationship to the camera.


Deeper Into Weird Walk

Kirsty Asher

There follows on these isles a cinematic tradition of pondering Britain’s rural landscape as a haunting spectre, and the oddities found therein. On a macro level, there was the folk-horror boom of the 1960s and ‘70s, which tapped into a more generalised relationship with rurality and its customs. Customs which, when used in pursuit of mainstream success, were often purloined unfairly from the communities that created them and kept them alive. In more accessible, localised forms it could be found in the anthology TV film series Play for Today (1970 – 1984) in the likes of Nuts in May (Leigh, 1976) and Penda’s Fen (Clarke, 1974). Films which focused in terms of social realism on how British people interact with the landscape around them and how it informs us – culturally, politically, even spiritually. There were the laughably sinister public service films which shaped how a generation of children viewed the landscape around them, such as Lonely Water (Grant, 1973) and David Eady’s Play Safe trilogy (1978). The great British countryside – beautiful yes, but ever deadly. Et in arcadia ego. The macabre stalks even the idyll. As landscape evolves, and the meaning of the word shifts in the 21st century  – no longer simply a physical space but also a digital network – movements and organisations rush to bridge the gap. In particular, the recent programming and streaming collaboration between Deeper Into Movies and Weird Walk.

Those reading may be more familiar with the multiplatform East London film club Deeper Into Movies than Weird Walk, an online journal which puts out a zine, a podcast and events concerning the ancient tracks and hidden sites of the British Isles – “formed in the hinterland between the bucolic and the eerie”. Together they have collaborated as Deeper Into Weird Walk on two screenings so far, both at the Rio Dalston. The first, The Ballad of Tam Lin (McDowall, 1970) on Halloween Night last year, which featured a Q&A with star Ian McShane hosted by Stewart Lee. Then more recently they screened Ben Wheatley’s delightful caravan-holiday-murder-spree romp Sightseers (2012), with a Q&A by the writer-stars Alice Lowe and Steve Oram. The Deeper Movies Channel has also started a Weirder Walks Selects collection. The channel features Sightseers along with a couple of cult psychogeography documentaries in the form of London Orbital (Sinclair & Petit, 2002) and The London Nobody Knows (Cohen, 1967).

Sightseers was the weird little brain baby of Lowe and Oram, brought to life by Wheatley in the days where his attachment to directing the sequel to The Meg (2018) was but a gleam on the horizon. A story of a couple, Chris and Tina, still in their honeymoon phase heading off on a caravan road trip through Northern England. Chris (Oram) soon embarks on a killing spree which at first is influenced by Little England grievances peppered throughout the film. He backs over a guy for littering on their visit to a model railway. While visiting a ruined abbey, Chris remarks to new friends on how someone’s personal graffito has marred the ancient stone. Individual close ups of each character’s grave expression in response to this this blight reminded me so much of a line from Larkin, that other great arbiter of petty Englishness, from Show Saturday (1973) “Mugfaced middle aged wives, glaring at jellies”. 

Chris’s goriest kill is amongst standing stones, a rambler who chastised Tina for letting their (stolen) dog shit near the stones. The rambler threatens to grass them up to the National Trust, and Chris goads him, asking the stranger if he went to private school (he did) and accuses him of trying to feel up Tina. While Chris beats the brains out of the toff in slow-mo,  John Hurt’s voice comes in reciting Jerusalem as Elgar’s ‘Nimrod’ rises to a heartening climax, abruptly cut short when he smashes the guy’s head against one of the stones. “Tell that to the National Trust, mate.” 

While the stranger’s brains are still glistening on the druidic rock, Chris justifies his murder as a retribution for feudalism – “300 years ago his ancestor would have strode down a path just like this you know, and he’d have seen some common strumpet like you and he’d have gone ‘I’m gonna have a bit of that’…and they call them The Good Old Days”. This scene alone can encapsulate a very recognisable form of England, an England entirely unsettled by itself and thoroughly despondent about its present circumstances. This is also evident in Cohen’s curio-doc The London Nobody Knows, which features James Mason in the David Attenborough role, but rather than grandfatherly observations of penguins, we have Mason flatly observing a decaying Music Hall theatre, detailing the demolition of a fading Victorian past, and ending on a phlegmatic note that any hideous architecture of the modern era will also be done away with at some point in the future. 

The tie that binds this all, and Weird Walk with it, is hauntology: a portmanteau of haunting and ontology first coined by Derrida, who suggested that the act of haunting and of being could be as one – that ghosts, or the spectral, are relentlessly present even as the past fades into memory and the future arises. Originally developed as a music genre, it has since found itself part of a literary movement, envisioned most boldly in online projects Hookland and Scarfolk. Created by David Southwell and Richard Littler respectively, both are fictional towns  which are eternally trapped in the 1970s, embodying the notion that cultural and political spectres linger in nation, or wider territory’s geography.  And there can be no doubt that Britain’s landscape – political, social, economic, cultural, journalistic – is haunted. Feudalism, colonialism, industrialism, Thatcherism; all have driven dark furrows through this land, and the scars still gleam. 

Scarfolk grew from a blog which posted sardonic public service posters influenced by the inadvertent grim comedy of the post-war health and safety era. Fostered in a greenhorn welfare state of radioactive nests and nuclear survival leaflets, from a time when that was a tangible threat. Some of these were recently featured in the Ghost section of Somerset House’s Horror Show exhibition. Hookland’s origins lie more in the ethereal, and the strange. Both, created by children of the 1970s, exemplify an idea of Britain lingering on the edge of time. Its heritage enshrouded in mist and its future unclear. Scarfolk’s outlook is perhaps more bleak, its parody posters sending up an obsequious nation obsessed with class. Hookland offers resistance. Rejecting creaking nostalgia, invoking landscape punk – a landscape of fractured rural beauty and humming pylons; standing stones flanked by cooling towers.

What is gained from all of this is a refreshing dose of weirdness, a refusal to view England in terms of chocolate box villages and neoliberal homogenisation; presented for consumption or profiteering. But to re-establish a cinema of Strange Britain takes guts and institutes willing to take risks. As Paul Kingsnorth noted in his 2008 novel Real England: The Battle Against the Bland, “Whimsy doesn’t pay”. This publicaiton’s own Ben Flanagan wrote about the Paddingtonisation of British Cinema since 2012 for our Pagans issue, and researching this piece certainly reaffirmed the ways in which the weirder side of British TV and filmmaking has become a smoothed out homogenous plasticine of Nice. Take for instance the recent British film The Lost King (Frears, 2022), a film about a woman who, along with extensive research into the matter, claimed to have a psychic sense that King Richard III was buried under a Leicester car park. In another England, this could have been brought forth in a suitably odd manner, given the correct team, and instead it was delivered with late-career Steven Frears cosiness, with a post-Paddington Sally Hawkins chucked in for good measure. Ben Wheatley seems to have abandoned his early career psychogeographical projects for the most part, especially as he’s now made the jump to directing large, silly blockbusters.

British cinema remains in a sad stasis, missing the opportunity to harness hauntology and weirdness in these progressively more chaotic times. But there is at least a growing trend in streaming and programming to edify our pre-existing oddities. Perhaps in this there is room for a movement to grow, however big or small, by inspiring those yet to become such filmmakers with the work those who came before. 

Credit: Central Office of Information


Credit: Paramount Pictures

When Everything is Reclaimed: Isn’t All Auteurism Vulgar?

Blaise Radley

Imagine, if you can, a film beyond the realms of reclamation. The photography neither symmetrical enough to appease “One Perfect Shot” fetishists nor consciously ugly enough to sate the ascetic wants of the avant-garde. The budget not low enough to be applauded as bootstrap-pulling nor high enough to be vouched for as unfairly disregarded. And, most importantly, featuring no ageing, esteemed director around whom die-hard fans can rally screaming “late style!” 

Where reclamation once only applied to uplifting overlooked outings from fringe filmmakers, now the most common subjects of reclamation are works of popular cinema. It’s telling that few filmmakers have been subject to more reevaluations than Michael Bay, patron saint of maximalist action and diametrically opposed critic-to-audience scores. Once described as “the crassest hack in the business” by Peter Travers of Rolling Stone, Bay is a director who inspires snobbish revulsion with the same ease that he generates yearly reappraisals. Even this publication venerated him in Volume 1. Regardless of his merit as a filmmaker, he’s become a poster child for unthinking poptimism. 

Bay’s qualities have been subject to relitigation even before Roger Ebert proclaimed Armageddon (1998) “an assault on the eyes, the ears, the brain, common sense and the human desire to be entertained”, but his modern critical standing can be traced back to the vulgar auteur movement of the early 2010s. As defined by Callum Marsh in his foundational piece on the movement, vulgar auteurists sought to bring new attention to “unfairly maligned or under-discussed filmmakers working exclusively in a popular mode”. The intention was to widen the scope of contemporary criticism to include serious engagement with oft-dismissed genre filmmakers, particularly those with large bodies of mainstream work such as Tony Scott, Michael Mann, John McTiernan, and our beloved Bay. As Ignatiy Vishnevetsky put it, “Vulgar auteurism is about expansion, not rejection.”

Much like late-stage capitalism and the inevitable heat death of the universe, however, constant expansion isn’t always a good thing. The need to find ever more unlikely works to place under a magnifying glass has created a quagmire of zero sum discourse, where no film is bland enough to be ignored. A movie is scarcely released to bemused shrugs than it is reclaimed on social media; the vapid steadicam soirée of Babylon (2022, Chazelle) redeemed in a procession of four screenshot Twitter posts the moment it hit VOD. Ironically, the rabid defence of major studio releases now carries the same underdog ethos as independent filmmaking. Stating that an archetypally milquetoast studio release like The Menu (2022, Mylod) lacked artistic value is reframed as mean-spirited by Anya Taylor-Joy stans and Ali G Indahouse (2002, Mylod) apologists. God forbid anyone hurt the feelings of some entertainment executive, mopping up their adrenochrome tears with crisp dollar bills. 

That’s not to say the canonisation of Bay et al is the problem. Rather, it’s the symptom. When auteur theory was first proposed by the critics at Cahiers du Cinéma, it was intended as a rebuttal to the readiness with which contemporary studio directors like Hitchcock, Hawks, and Ford were overlooked, reframing their expansive filmographies as cohesive artistic statements. By segregating modern mainstream auteurs as vulgar—a term Marsh intended to indicate commonality rather than lack of taste—the floodgates have been opened for all manner of tripe with no visible creative fingerprint to be granted armistice. We’ve reached a status quo where a film like Tron: Legacy (2010, Kosinksi), disregarded by critics and ignored by audiences, isn’t just the subject of cultish fandom—it’s garnered enough cultural cache for a direct sequel to enter production over a decade later. Meanwhile, its for-hire director just released a Netflix bomb and Best Picture contender in the same year. 

The point remains that so-called vulgar auteurs are auteurs by any other name. Certainly Bay is. His signature style—dynamic camera movement accentuated by quick cuts, a complex, layered mise-en-scène, and a penchant for telephoto lenses that compress the foreground and background—is present in nearly every frame, regardless of whether he’s shooting dialogue or action. In the mode of Kafka or Dickens, Bay has even lent his name to a superlative adjective, the “Bayhem” of his constantly escalating shoot-outs standing tall amongst countless imitators. What sets Bay’s work apart is a pervasive misanthropy that fundamentally complicates our enjoyment of his bloody fireworks displays, from the barely-blinked-at civilian body count of Bad Boys II (2002) to the loud-mouthed burlesque of the American dream in Pain and Gain (2014). Good or bad, it’s this internal conflict that makes Bay worthy of such repeated analyses. 

Therein we find the misapprehension that set this critical framework in motion: that to be called an auteur is to be given a stamp of approval, and therefore auteurs who focus on “lowly” genre fare must be delineated and separated from their well-esteemed arthouse cousins. Since “vulgar” has been poorly defined, it’s as liable to be used to describe a shoestring-budget direct-to-streaming B-movie as it is the explosion pornography of Bay. It carries with it a sense of guilt on the part of the viewer, implying that the film in question can’t stand up to the scrutiny of traditional study. Moreover, it suggests that any opposition is narrow-minded or somehow punching down, even when the film in question is a multimillion dollar product. The remit of reclamation has been extended beyond elevating maligned works to avidly defending blockbusters from any dissent, a rhetorical imperative premised solely on the “Let people enjoy things” meme.

It’s no coincidence that the ceaseless reclamation of mainstream cinema has occurred during the largest stylistic drought in Hollywood history. When auteurism was first proposed, auteurs were noted for their ability to break from the house styles of each studio; Paramount’s arty, sophisticated dramas; Warner Bros’ cheap, flatly-lit weepies. Eighty years on, and the autocratic regimes of Netflix and Disney have changed the industry prerogative from filmmaking to content creation, where blanket coverage is king and quantity is quality. Netflix openly specifies that “90% of a program’s final total runtime be captured on approved cameras using the following capture requirements”. Suddenly, style breaks of any kind have become a rare commodity. 

Anyone who’s seen an effects-heavy picture in the past decade implicitly recognises the predominant style of this cinematic era; every film shot in a series of medium wides and medium close-ups that lack any compositional intent or thoughtful lighting, blocking reduced to ensuring actors are somewhat visible when the CGI hangover descends. The Post-Whedon blockbuster isn’t only bloated with quips, it’s televisual. Against such competition, Bay’s set pieces, once demonised as everything wrong with the trajectory of American filmmaking, stand out as statements of craft that are as influential as they are idiosyncratic. His 360-degree hero shots—in which the camera rotates on a fixed axis around a focal point as the character(s) break through the frame vertically, staring into the middle distance—have been parodied, paid tribute to, and straight up ripped off. What’s more, his style is constantly evolving to meet the new scope of digital production techniques.

Much has been made of Bay’s ballet of dive-bombing drones and multi-perspective car rolls in AmbuLAnce (2022), but his most obvious refutation of predominant style remains Transformers: The Last Knight (2017). The set piece that ends the first act—one that, in a characteristic moment of self-aware commentary, starts out in a junkyard—features a short scene where two giant robotic dinosaurs burst out of the tarmac in slow-motion, flipping a series of military vehicles in the process. Bay cuts rapidly between a helicopter perspective shot, a fixed-camera-angle behind the turret of a gun mounted on one of the cars, a close-up from inside a vehicle, and a handful of medium wides of the chaos (some low angle, some high), all at different speeds, all shot on different cameras, all in different aspect ratios. Like it or not, Bay’s work carries a consistent intention behind every spray of dust and sparking exhaust.

It’s the clarity with which that intention shines through in a tentpole production that makes Bay’s work worthy of reclamation, rather than a generalised poptimism. And yet, anything that deviates from predominant style is now read as worthy of aggrandisement, making zealots out of every strand of cinephilia. The “arms wide open” philosophy of vulgar auteurism has been sullied, and enjoying Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022, Daniels) is no longer optional. The Daniels’ exaggerated rendition of predominant style, delivered in the same register as Marvel albeit with the mild flare of a mid-00s music video, has won them immense plaudits, both on the awards circuit and with their legions of sausage-fingered social media stans. That one half of the Daniels ended up reprimanding the more pernicious elements of their fanbase speaks to their bemusing vehemence. No-one gets angrier about the implication that their taste is shallow than the modern Hollywood glutton. 

When Andrew Tracy coined the term vulgar auteurism in his 2009 article, “Vulgar Auteurism: The Case of Michael Mann”, the usage was explicitly pejorative. As he put it, “[Vulgar auteurism] is one of the defining traits of latter-day cinephilia, with whole fleets of past and present studio craftsmen, from the competent to the questionable, being elevated high above their stations.” There’s an irony that even the concept of vulgar auteurism itself has been reclaimed, especially since its initial usage speaks so specifically to our current situation. The purpose of vulgar auteurism was never to insulate pop culture from critique—quite the opposite. Even the most fervent Bay-head would acknowledge his potential shortcomings as a filmmaker; his puerile visual humour, his constant leering at women, his exhausting maximalist-at-all-costs style. But it’s those same recurring facets that make him worthy of discussion. 

The vulgar auteurist’s reclamation of Bay & Co may have been valuable in drawing academic attention to otherwise vilified filmmakers, but it simultaneously reduced the cultural conversation to “Is X good or bad?”, limiting the critical apparatus at play. Rather than indicating that all mainstream media is worthy of reevaluation, Bay is one of the few exceptions that proves the rule: that contemporary popular cinema is an artistically-bereft, producer-driven crapshoot. Instead of meeting films on their own terms, vulgar auteurism’s descendents demand that rushed studio products be met with all-inclusive praise, words like “fun” and “entertaining” acting as unimpeachable rebuttals. It’s a stance that only raises the value of the work to elevate the individual, turning cinema into an extension of ego. Fortunately, the lesson for any nascent reclaimer is simple. The next time you encounter someone who doesn’t like the latest two star big-budget misfire, try bringing yourself down to its level rather than lifting it to yours. You might find the elevation difference isn’t as big as you thought. 



Miranda Mungai

“Between 1994 and 2008 the internet flattened into reality.” (*)

Being online was once wet n’ wild and we were all internet explorers. Now it is what it is, a sheer veil over our experience of the everyday, and we are all suffering in alienation. We were stripped of our titles, noble explorers of the voltaic unknown, when “the online” stopped being at a distance from us. Being “online” is now the same as being “in the world” but cinema, heretofore, has only ever offered a study of the latter.  

Cinema is facing an entirely new conception of the everyday to narratively re-present, one that is severed and shifting at incredible speeds as new technologies usurp their predecessors, offering new ways for us to interact with each other and the world. Without being foolish enough to offer any concrete designations that will surely become obsolete by the year’s end, this piece, will categorise some American films of the 2020s according to their attempts to narrativise the present day. What emerges might be best described as an “online realism”, or a cinema that renders our contemporary alienation palpable. 

In We’re All Going to the World’s Fair (Jane Schoenbrun, 2021), a teenager plays a game. As she pricks her finger and watches a gash flash on her screen, reciting “I want to go to the World’s Fair,” she relents to the computer, enacting a kind of digital/fleshly blood transfusion. Casey (Anna Cobb) loses control of herself, the “viral” online content animated in her body. In her attic bedroom in the middle of nowhere, she does not travel, explore, or surf beyond the interface: the creepypasta comes out and explores her.  The world is porous and the digital seeps in, calcifying what is animate and delivering it back into the pulsating flesh of the world, presenting a challenge for a medium deigned the “time image” and the “movement image.”

“…to experience the pleasure of the computer, one must be a sadist.” (Pg. 13)

When time moved fluidly forward, so did the movies. As the concept of progress became intertwined with technological advancements, the cinematic apparatus marched towards the future, growing from shadow-play to CGI in little over a century.

Networks are the next step of this technological trajectory. While the talkies opened up a new narrative horizon as the diegetic world expanded to include sound, “being online” is a more unruly technology to narratively contain. Not every filmmaker obliges, as grandaddies Scorsese, Tarantino and Paul Thomas Anderson churn out films firmly in the pre-internet past-tense. They find company in the presence of an increasing number of films that are both subtly and overtly set in the near past, just before networked technologies were ubiquitous (Bones and All, Aftersun). Similarly disconnected from the present moment are films ostensibly of science fiction, with flawlessly functional consumer technologies, notably without social media (Decision to Leave, M3GAN). Yet, some films do make a formal attempt to reflect the present day and the networked technology that is integral to it; but as they register our synchronic condition, such films struggle to avoid becoming deeply imbricated in it. 

Constituted through the vlogs she posts to an ambiguous video-hosting platform, we watch as Casey spends a majority of World’s Fair staring vaguely in our direction, breaking the fourth wall as is appropriate to the online visual register. Formerly reserved for, say, the confrontational politics of Brechtian theatre, Schoenbrun now signals a confusion of cinematic codes and their online perversions. Casey’s indirect gaze mimics the narcissism of an online exchange that relieves the anxiety of facing the ambiguity of the other: looking outwards, imagining control over the unpredictable gaze of someone else. Looking outwards is, for Casey, a method of retreat into the imaginary that the online facilitates. JLB (Michael J. Roberts), a lonely middle-aged man who directly contacts Casey out of concern, presents us with the shame of misrecognising such direct address as sincere. He reaches out only to be rejected; only to show us that even the visual regime of the online is self-ironising, self-reflexive, and ultimately self-obsessed.  

Just as this gaze shows us that the machinations of interpersonal contact online mean that our look outward can only be redirected inwards, Bodies Bodies Bodies (Halina Reijn, 2022) takes this operation and turns it into violence. Bodies is a bitchy murder mystery that takes the concept of “gen-z” and makes it the central comic thrust as a storm locks seven party people in a mansion. Early on, the only millennial present, Greg (Lee Pace), surprises everyone when he expertly opens a bottle of champagne with a sword. Alice (Rachel Sennott) mutters “I can’t believe I didn’t video that,” summoning the single regret the entire narrative rests on. The host of the party, David (Pete Davidson), looks to imagine himself as someone capable of soliciting such amazed reactions from others, without the possibility of public embarrassment. And so, he turns to the presumed safety of an imagined interlocuter cast in blue light and the murder mystery begins and ends there.  

“Is this then a failure of imagination, or is it rather simply a fundamental skepticism about the possibilities of change as such, no matter how attractive our visions of what it would be desirable to change into?” (Pg. 413)

After an hour of chaos, the remaining four come together in an attempt to have a conversation, in which Jordan (Myha’la Herrod) expresses anger towards Sophie (Amandla Stenberg) for involving her in the trauma of her drug addiction and overdose, and Sophie replies:

“Feelings are facts.”

“It’s creative non-fiction which is a valid response to life in an attention economy.”

“You all trigger me.”

The film is self-reflexive, but the character is not. While this distance is intended as satirical bounty, it succeeds only at a wilful disassociation of the subject from the challenges presented by the narrative world. In emulating the online and its fervent discourse, the film necessarily emulates the defence mechanisms against interpersonal sincerity that are hard coded into a language that shuts down, rather than nurtures, conversation. Such language, borne of indictments against injustice and oppression precisely opposes any possibility of a world free of inequity as it bars entry to any interlocuter. If the world is porous, the online’s encroachment ensures that subjectivity cannot have the same porosity. 

“So, User is not a body. It is a simulation, a profile, a stand-in, or a proxy” (Pg. 71)

Bodies builds to a grand gesture of bathos, as the whole film and its many casualties are revealed not as the work of a killer lurking in the stormy shadows, but as narcissistic impulse leading to mistrust, and finally to the panicked violence of self-preservation. Under such stratified conditions, the degree of violence the characters in Bodies enact on one another is logical. Each character makes sense if we consent to the logic of mistrust and disgust that structures online interactions.

Consider the preoccupation with “likeable” and “unlikable” characters in critical and fan discourses (let alone the ambiguity of these terms and the absence of fixity in their connotations). Simply, “unlikeable” characters can be killed without remorse. In fact, they go so far as to kill themselves and each other. Bodies cannot be considered a horror, with the palpable absence of any threat, of the perversion of the human condition that births the psycho killer or the complete obscurity of some supernatural vengeance. In some ways it shares this with World’s Fair: the killer is not any kind of body, or even a presence in the world, but this unnameable way of being that has escaped the internet.

The Menu (Mark Mylod, 2022) is similarly populated by a host of notoriously “unlikeable” characters: pretentious critics, unrepentant tech bros, old money filled with existential ennui. But there is an exception in Anya Taylor-Joy’s Margot, who figures as the viewer’s co-conspirator, “likeable” thanks to her inability to be duped by the experience; for her guile and independence, she survives this ordeal. 

These films ask for our psychic participation and agreement to perceive fictional worlds according to these binaries. None of the characters described so far benefit from thorough characterisation, lacking history or personality beyond the likeable/unlikeable scale. The most vacuous are those who live, defined by a few key redeeming traits that flag them as worthy of sympathy. In The Menu, sex worker Margot was brought on a date by someone who did not value her life on account of not valuing her labour. In Bodies, we have two survivors: ex-drug addict Sophie and her girlfriend Bee (Maria Bakalova), whose mother has bipolar disorder, and who offers the only narrative tension as a continual object of suspicion. Her potential threat is to the national imaginary, as she tickles at xenophobia: a jobless immigrant seemingly more ruthless than the rest (what is she hiding?). 

These Final Girls are saved not by their compliance to moral codes of virginal purity – a sex worker and lesbian couple present the complete opposite – but by their inability to be completely condemned as unlikable. That this position cannot strictly be defined is what renders these characters flaccid, as they evade the shifting limits of transgression. With the unlikable ceremoniously executed, all that survives is the void of likeability and the certainty of alienation in the absence of an in-between.

“Also, understanding Dasha’s humor as a greater whole probably helps. I would recommend this to Dasha fans, but probably not anyone else. It’s…LIKE THAT.”(*)

The Scary of Sixty-First (Dasha Nekrasova, 2021) relies on the same precept: you know these people from outside the narrative order, so judge them as you do elsewhere. Except, rather than turning to stereotypes, to the vague idea of your least favourite Twitter hack, Nekrasova embeds her own persona directly into the narrative.

Nekrasova eludes being named, ostensibly playing herself. More accurately, she plays the online persona she has been building since she went viral in 2018 after offering wry retorts to an InfoWars reporter while dressed in sailor fuku. The film garners a 4.6 rating on Rotten Tomatoes, indicating that if you are not completely aware of who Nekrasova is – or aware that the film is an 81-minute meme of her interest in the Jeffrey Epstein conspiracy; then you haven’t been in the correct online circles to completely understand the film let alone enjoy it’s campiness.

This articulates how films attempting “online realism” become Marvel bedfellows, so heavily reliant are they on extra-diegetic information. Marvel asks that viewers spend a considerable amount of time and money investing in the franchise, so that each new release makes sense in the grand scheme of Marvel movies. The Scary of Sixty-First asks that you already know who Nekrasova is, and the Epstein conspiracies she publicly obsessed over; The Menu asks that you watch at least a few episodes of Chef’s Table, that you understand the pretension that visually and narratively structures the whole film; Bodies needs us to already know its catchphrases, stereotypes and viral movements for its claims to satire to even come close to offering some entertainment; World’s Fair doesn’t need us to know about creepypasta but asks that we accept a visual register lifted from the Twitch, YouTube etc.

The building blocks of each film lie outside the cinematic space and can instead be found in the specific online contexts and accompanying social norms which the filmmakers assume to be known by the viewer. This cinema’s attempts to grapple with our present condition instead becomes over reliant on its reference material, deferring to its logic rather than offering any imaginative embellishment. 

“The poor image is no longer about the real thing—the originary original. Instead, it is about its own real conditions of existence: about swarm circulation, digital dispersion, fractured and flexible temporalities.”(*)

Today, something that might be termed an “online realism,” leaves behind a husk of what was once cinematic world building. These films are extraordinarily successful at showing us how little distance we have from the online, and how online tools and their attending discourses have come to structure so much of our imagination, including its limitations. “Online realism” precisely articulates the alienation and discontent at the heart of our current moment. 

Credit: Utopia


Credit: BBC

Sarah Cleary

There was a time, not that long ago, when the vast majority of people would never see themselves on a screen. Needless to say, this time has passed. Existing on-screen, in one way or another, has become a completely mundane facet of contemporary life, and the means of image creation and dissemination have now been ‘democratised’ beyond comprehension. But, in the 1970s and 1980s, the monolithic BBC saw fit to offer ordinary folks a shot at the UK airwaves in the form of Open Door (1973 – 1983), a ground-breaking series recently chronicled at East London-based gallery Raven Row. Their exhibition, People Make Television, showcased over 100 community-orientated programmes created by activists and advocates on a dizzying array of contemporaneous issues. One of the first grassroots organisations selected to create an edition of Open Door was the Transex Liberation Group, and the resulting programme (which originally aired June 2, 1973) is a miraculous thing to behold – a TV show about trans women by trans women.

The programme begins with a more typical example of the BBC’s treatment of the transgender community: a wink and a nudge from popular shop-floor sitcom Are You Being Served? In the clip, ladies’ man Mr Lucas (Trevor Bannister) is downright shocked to see the camp-as-tits Mr Humphries (John Inman) apparently flirting with a beautiful woman. Humphries explains that they’ve “known each other for years”, adding that “he’s much more settled now he’s had the operation.” Cue the laugh-track and cue the gay panic from Mr Lucas. It’s at this point we meet our Open Door hostess, Della Aleksander, chuckling to herself. “I like that programme”, she says, “and now for the reality.” And with that, a delicate tone is set: Della (along with the programme’s other trans participants) will be endeavouring to change viewers’ hearts and minds, but not without a sense of humour.

We are then formally introduced to the four featured members of the Transex Liberation Group in a series of film sequences, each offering an intimate glimpse into the ladies’ daily lives. We see the groovily-dressed Jan out clothes shopping. In voiceover, she tells us how her transition has inspired her to become an affordable electrologist (a godsend for trans women). We hear homemaker and mother Rachel recall quite how much she loathed the “rough types of jobs” she undertook pre-transition. The newly married Laura is dying to tell us how she met her beloved Barry – watching her flirt with him during an adorable (albeit obviously staged) phone catch-up is an especially tender moment. Finally, in a truly daring choice, we watch Della take a bath. What makes this so radical is how nonchalantly her naked trans body is presented to us. There’s no sense a viewer’s prurience is being indulged here – there’s a simple, mundane beauty about it.

Each sequence begins with a photograph of the subject pre-transition and ends with her looking directly into the camera, holding the viewer’s gaze for a moment or two. The former choice would look downright tawdry without the latter but, as it is, this before-and-after device imparts the huge physical and psychological distances each subject has travelled. Still, it’s a curious combination of tabloid shock and arthouse technique. What these film segments provide for a contemporary viewer – perhaps even more than later discussion segments – is a tangible insight into transgender life in 1970s Britain. The fact they do so in such pointedly quotidian fashion makes them all the more remarkable and, ultimately, invaluable.  

Following these filmed profiles is a studio-based conversation between the group members. Led by Della, the group first try to find adequate words for the ineffable frustrations of transition. Jan describes waiting for her gender affirming surgery as “like living on the edge of a volcano”, adding that she lives in perpetual fear of succumbing to an injury and waking up in a psych ward where she would “be made to feel an oddity.” Rachel describes the waiting period for her own operation as a “limbo stage”, as well as “like being in a revolving door you can’t get out of.” It’s striking to see these women bare their turmoil with such candour – a forthrightness that is surely rooted in mutual support. Some of Della’s questions are blunt, yes, but they are coming from a fellow trans woman. As such, her line of questioning can elicit more unguarded and authentic responses than a journalist would likely receive. Here Open Door lives up to its tagline: “your say, your way.”

The group then move onto discussing some of the structural and systemic issues each of them have faced and continue to face. On the subject of work, Jan points out that potential employers aren’t likely to offer a trans applicant as much money as “the girl next door.” Della then relates her frustration at having been told by a psychiatrist that she needed to work “as a woman” for at least one year before she could be considered for a surgery, and stresses how much she hated having to “hoodwink” people during her months-long wait for female documentation. With a bit of cheekiness, Laura describes the Kafkaesque quantum state of her marriage to Barry – “legal but not lawful”, as Della puts it. “I could still get married to a woman”, muses Laura, “but I’d hate getting into drag to do it!”

The final segment sees the panel joined by Dr. Schlicht and Leo Abse MP to offer their perspective on “the transsexual problem”. While it does have its points of interest, this is by far the least fruitful portion of the programme. Jan, Laura and Rachel all remain in attendance, though they can’t seem to get a word in. The segment quickly devolves into a rather shallow three-way debate between Della, the doctor and the MP. Both men ostensibly hold a pro-trans position, with the doctor being the more convincing of the two. He does, however, quibble with Della’s assertion that everyone is “intersex” to one extent or another. Though it’s hard to be certain, it appears that she’s using the term as an imperfect placeholder for the concept of non-binary gender – a line of thinking the doctor stubbornly fails to follow. 

The MP rejects Della’s notion far more aggressively, pointedly discouraging her from suggesting that she and other trans people have anything in common with the general population. “The doctor and I want to be men”, he barks, “you want to be women, but you mustn’t confuse the issue.” It’s telling that the programme starts to more closely resemble televised conversations about trans people in 2023 as soon as the supposed expertise of a politician and a psychiatric practitioner are deferred to. Della fights her corner though, clarifying her position thusly: “masculinity has quite a large degree of femininity in it, being a man involves a feminine aspect, and being a woman involves something masculine.” 

It’s of course unsurprising that some of the language used by Della and the other Transex Liberation Group members during the programme is, for lack of a better term, old-fashioned. For example, they not only refer to themselves as having had “sex changes” (a generally outmoded term for those not in the know), but also refer to themselves as being “sex changes”. However, a great deal of what these women have to say is strikingly forward thinking. At one point, Della delivers an impassioned piece to camera wherein she states that “transsexualism is really the tip of an iceberg”, and that “there is no pure male and no pure female.” Going further, she opines that “the sex act itself is a transsexual act, in which one endeavours to become and absorb the beloved.” Here Della is explicitly prompting the viewer to examine their own relationship to gender it’s their empathy, rather than sympathy, that she seeks to arouse. This proclamation would surely prove controversial today, not least because it necessarily rejects the Us vs. Them dichotomy which sustains contemporary ‘transgender discourse’. That such a radical, big-hearted sentiment once occupied one of three television channels in the UK is – frankly – mind-boggling.


On Alex Prager at Lehmann Maupin

Marty Millman

Artist, photographer, and short filmmaker Alex Prager is at the forefront of the surrealism Resurgence. Prager creates elaborately staged scenes that draw inspiration from a wide range of influences and references, including Classical Hollywood cinema, experimental films, street photography, and other forms of popular culture. She evokes an atmosphere of ambiguity in all of her works by merging historical and contemporary perspectives. Her images conjure a sense of nostalgia while intertwining fiction and reality, crafting an unsettling aura around familiarity. Prager’s latest exhibition, Part Two: Run, which is currently showing at Lehman Maupin in New York, feels like a grand showcase of her ethos. 

Prager entered the world at the tail end of the seventies in sunny Los Angeles. In many ways, this landscape acted as a grand background to influence her life, her choices, and most importantly her art. After seeing an exhibition of William Egglestion’s stunning colour combinations at the age of 20, she became interested in photography. As a self-taught artist she found the sense of excitement and came alive through these still images. Initially conceived as black-and-white street photography, her work quickly evolved into hyper-stylized color portraits and group photographs. 

There is a sense of separation from reality in her work, an idealized fiction. Prager creates worlds that are familiar, yet cause a sense of unease, drawing inspiration from the fashion and context of the 1950s and 1960s in order to bring attention to layers of artifice that mask imperfections and true emotion. The notion of being truly seen is a running theme; Prager captures the anxiety of being perceived, that the worst parts of ourselves may be known and seen by all. No two people on this earth share the exact same way of thinking. Every individual views life through their own slanted perception of it – my world will never be known to you and vice versa. Yet there’s still this anxiety that someone may see past the veil, look into your soul, and truly see you. 

Prager’s entry into filmmaking was very abstracted from a desire to take a more immersive look into the stories she has created. There was a desire among her audiences for a narrative to accompany her photography. She shot the short film Despair (2010) with Bryce Dallas Howard, allowing viewers to be privy to the moments before and after a particular frame. The film enhanced the emotional range she could capture with her work and opened up more possibilities for her examination of self. In La Grande Sortie (2016) the audience sees through a dancer’s eyes on stage. Each member of the crowd steals a little piece of her until she’s all gone. Leaving the viewer to see themselves in a sea of anonymous faces. In mere moments, Prager establishes a mood, a feeling, that strikes the viewer so deeply. Her strength lies in nuance: bright colors, distinctly familiar visuals, and consuming musical scores.

The latest of Prager’s pieces focuses on the isolation of modern society. Part Two: Run is in direct response to the current period of cultural ambivalence and uncertainty in the United States. It is a feeling of confusion and indecision that occurs when faced with a complex situation. Manifested as a fear of failure, fear of the unknown, and a lack of confidence in one’s ability to handle a situation. Through this exhibition, the viewer is encouraged to examine human perseverance as well as the opportunities that exist both within the art world and in everyday life for empathy, participation, and action. In this day and age, almost everything can be delivered directly to one’s doorstep and a person could in some way “survive” without ever leaving the comfort of their own home. Bravely choosing to leave security, venture out into the world, and participate as contributing members of society demonstrates willful action. It illustrates life as it truly is, a game. Regardless of whether we choose to read the terms or conditions, we have decided to engage in the game. 

Part Two: Run is an exhibition of new photographs, film, and sculptures. In this new body of work, Prager engages theatrical strategies and cinematic conventions, exploring cultural anxiety. Through the use of theatrical devices and cinematic motifs, Prager explores a sense of cultural anxiety. Transporting the viewer to an all-American town that erupts in chaos when the residents are confronted by a giant metal sphere on a rampage. As figures collide into their own reflections, Prager suggests a curative, collective reckoning with those forces outside our control. Through absurdist humour the film examines human resilience in the face of catastrophe. When society’s great anxieties are presented as a laughably large pinball, it is easier to digest and confront those fears. 

Featuring a group of people from above, Sleep is an expertly staged, vivid photograph. Lifeless bodies lay in the middle of the street, but it appears to be in a peaceful slumber. As part of Prager’s practice, the figures assume familiar postures and poses in order to embody characters, to engage, reflect, and, ultimately, create a sense of empathy. Viewers, too, become active participants in the work. Implored to search for characters that embody a recognizable feeling. In this way, Part Two: Run encourages viewers to contemplate their own vulnerability and mortality. 

Prager’s work as a whole is a reminder that it’s alright to live in a fantasy – or rather let dreams of a colorful and bright world influence your perception of it. If it makes it easier to examine one’s own existence and confront misadventures, what’s the harm in adding a touch of melodrama to life? Rather than wallow in fear and loathing, cast it out. Life is more enjoyable when you bask in the beauty of the unpredictable.

Credit: Alex Prager


Credit: Twitter

Cathy Brennan

He was a boy, she was a girl, can I make it any more obvious? Well, actually, let’s see if I can be any less obvious with this piece. In the music video for Avril Lavignes’s Sk8r Boi there is a guy at the beginning pointing a camcorder at a preppy girl in a car. Towards the end of the video, Lavigne is kneeling on the hood of a car singing directly into the lens of a camcorder held by some grinning goof. 21 years later, and we’ve got a video of another goof, this time holding a mic and standing next to a beautiful girl.

This video, which was uploaded to Twitter on February 21st 2023, by the guy with the mic, Israel Padilla, was captioned thus: ‘I was speechless’ followed by a cry laughing emoji. Padilla and the girl, who gives her name as Emily James, are standing on a brightly lit street at night with people passing by in the background. Emily is in the middle of a night on the town and halfway through the video one of her friends appears on camera to check if she’s alright. Padilla’s interview with Emily goes awry when he asks her how often she cuts her hair and she answers ‘I do porn’. From that point onward, Padilla is on the ropes – he’s stunned. Then Emily drops the two in her one-two punch by revealing that she’s trans.

The street interview is currently one of the most potent genres of online video content. However the form is almost as old as television itself, utilised first in broadcast news before moving into comedy. As far back as the 1950s, TV journalists would stop people in the street and ask them questions about the most pressing matters of the day such as “is too much fuss made over bosoms?”. These are known as ‘man on the street’ interviews or vox pops. Arguably the most notable variation of the format on TV in the last decade is the comedy Billy On the Street, in which the gay failson of Hollywood Billy Eichner browbeats innocent New Yorkers with questions about pop culture pablum.

With the accelerating accessibility of media technologies and online platforms in the last few decades, any cunt with a mic and a dream can be just like Eichner and bother people on their local high street for online clout. The creator, usually a guy, goes up to a random person, usually a young woman, and asks them a question: ‘What’s your most embarrassing story?’, ‘Do you like guys under 6 foot?’, ‘What’s your body count?’ There’s an implicit desire in these types of videos to get attractive young women to embarrass themselves with a raunchy story.

The street interview as done by Padilla and an international band of clout-hungry fuckbois, reinforces cisnormative ideas of heterosexuality. Through repeated lines of questioning around body counts, height, and the eternal nice guy-asshole dichotomy, these interviewers reinforce a code of existence against which young straight boys and girls measure themselves against. The borders of desirability are drawn up over and over again. It’s a game that’s rigged so heavily against all who play in earnest; humiliation is perpetually on the cards, and it’s usually the women in front of the camera who are set up to bear the brunt of it in the comments.

This is why it’s so pleasing to see bugs in the genre’s system, when an interviewee gracefully twirls out of the discursive trap with unselfconscious eccentricity. The ‘Ancient Man’ girl is the ideal example of this kind of matrix-breaking performance. In this brief video, the girl answers the interviewer’s question with complete sincerity and utter nonsense: “like 1800s, don’t you want to run away with me? It’ll be like humans never existed, or technology.” There are a couple of skeezy-looking guys messing about in the background for the camera, giving the video a vague aura of menace, which only makes the girl appear more heroic when she wordlessly runs away from the flabbergasted interviewer with a smile on her face. These interviewers are in the business of producing content, but through her responses, the Ancient Man girl takes the video and transforms it into a piece of online art. She produces a distancing effect for us as viewers, allowing us to consider just how monotonous this genre is, how insulting the questions, and how awful the interviewers are. As one commenter put it: “my man was looking for girls to ridicule… and instead he got this goddess.”

As an openly trans sex worker, Emily James similarly disrupts the cis heterosexual assumptions of the online street interview. Through flicks of her hair and grinning glances to the camera, she shows off an intuitive ability to perform to the camera. Journalist Kristen S. Hé tweeted “sex worker at her most powerful imo – the gaze is hers to control!” Padilla wasn’t able to clock James in the video and that, combined with his attraction to her, is what takes him aback in the moment, but through editing in reaction meme clips like they had us in the first half, Padila attempts to reassert some control as the auteur. He definitely wasn’t owned because he sees himself as the normal one. It didn’t really work out either because men in the comments used a two-pronged attack on both Padila and James, making fun of Padila because you can “tell” James is trans. she was bringing it in the comments herself refusing to cede control of her image. Fully aware that guys who make fun of trans women online often make for the biggest simps in private, she was plugging her OnlyFans, and tweeting about how Padila begged her to top him once the camera stopped rolling. She rocks.

James’ confidence in 2023 does more than produce a funny clip, it also prompts reflection on trans women’s relationship to the camera. Historically, the documentary has often been a tool to draw borders between normality and otherness by subjecting people and cultures to the mechanical eye of a camera lens, wielded by an arbiter of the status quo. From Flaherty’s ethnographic documentaries to Louis Theroux exploiting sex workers, the documentary is often a rearticulation of entrenched power dynamics when seeking to examine the lives of marginalised people. Since Christine Jorgensen ushered in a mainstream awareness of trans women, documentaries about us have proliferated to satisfy a curiosity both sincere and prurient. One example that sticks out in my mind is the 1967 short Queens At Heart.

Rediscovered by historian and archivist Jenni Olson, Queens At Heart features a middle-aged guy who calls himself Jay Martin and four glamorous trans women on a couch: Misty, Vicky, Sonja and Simone. Martin is conveniently sat behind a desk. After some footage of a drag ball, Martin interviews Sonja, Simone, and Vicky. Despite a flimsy pretence of being part of a “research project”, Martin’s interviewing technique is lurid. Just as Padilla bleeps out the words “porn and “penis” in James’ speech the filmmaker here bleeps out Simone when she discusses the particulars of her sex life. The censorship of words function as a reminder of who ultimately has the power in this media dynamic. It’s all the more twisted because Simone is simply answering the questions posed by the grinning Martin. The women in this short all look profoundly uncomfortable. Vicky’s mumbling response in her interview, particularly when she discusses her experiences with suicidal ideation, are heart-breaking. Where Emily James glanced at the camera with a mischievous energy, Vicky glances offscreen, betraying an intense anxiety over Martin’s intrusive questioning.

I find film texts like I Was Speechless and Queens At Heart conflicting. On the one hand these are products of transmisogynist exploitation. Perhaps my watching and rewatching of them, even my writing on them, perpetuates that harm. Yet at the same time what draws me back are the women; my identification with them as well as my admiration. I’m almost envious of James’ ability to wrap the camera round her finger, turning it into a tool for her rather than Padilla. My experiences of fighting transphobes online and off have taught me to shield myself from the camera, since transphobes often use images to document and dox us. For years, any poor lanky soul with dark curly hair who was photographed at an Edinburgh protest would be mistakenly identified as me. For most of my life I’ve been dealing with bouts of suicidal ideation, largely because of my position as a trans woman in a nation like the UK. So when I see a woman like Vicky squirm the same way I have done when questioned by an NHS clinician about my mental health (in the notes I was described as “dysthymic”) I find some comfort in knowing that my pain is not unique.

It’s fucked up that a trans woman can find solace in the media which was produced to exploit us. Seeing Emily James as not just another iconic trans woman, but also part of a lineage of trans women like Misty, Vicky, Sonja and Simone in Queen’s At Heart we begin to see a more complicated picture of trans women’s relationship to the camera. This machine – around which a cinephilic culture has accumulated so that publications like Cinema Year Zero exist, barnacle-like – can easily be used to degrade trans women. Yet it can also be used to humiliate those who would hurt us, so long as we play our cards right.


Credit: Signature Entertainment

If box-office receipts are anything to go by, we are living in the post-theatrical world. One can watch the vast majority of the year’s films, notable or not, online and perfectly legally. The question of where film conversation should exist is a pertinent one for those who are preoccupied with the ongoing existence of the medium. But it is rarely a happy one. Physical spaces are often institutionalised and dominated by cliques. The myth of a friendly cinema will be laughed at by film-going heretics who see through the grift of the post-film Q&A. The cinephile turns then, to online, where one can share undeveloped thoughts alongside copyrighted images, and feel like the film is a part of the self, a personality trait. In this way Twitter’s dominance as a pithy melting pot was rattled when Elon Musk purchased the site. At least the shady Saudi firm that he bought it from had been quiet. 

Musk has sold himself as a visionary, but we suspect he doesn’t care for cinema. Images soar at us, like dreams they say. Senses stimulated. Film criticism, in its efforts to make sense of what the writer has witnessed, is often an act of hope. But on the timeline, that hope is often drained by ignorance or hatred. It can be reduced to a list.

I was going to write this introduction anyway, and then the list dropped. Following Sight & Sound magazine’s once-a-decade poll of the greatest, the onslaught of whether Jeanne Dielmann is woke, contrarian, or erasing history gave way to something even more numbing: the ballots. A top ten list is a cry for recognition. A data cache of a person’s momentary thoughts on the day they wrote it. It was interesting to see the humble top ten list swallowed into ‘S&S list but for Westerns/Albums/Books’. One must hand it to Britain’s leading film magazine, they’ve got the brand on lock. The most interesting thing about lists, as we all know, is what they leave off. But the notional effort to combat exclusion leads to an overabundance. Brevity is king, but it runs the risk of usurpation by the glib. The low stakes of Twitter are fine when your timeline shares the dream – otherwise, you’re fried.  

With our final 2022 volume, Cinema Year Zero turns those dreams into wishes for the future, in an effort to keep the dream alive, and to feel cosy through the holidays. Our contributors have each chosen an aspect of film and cinema culture that they would like to see change in the coming year. Some of these essays search for a nostalgic and utopic whole. Some point to incremental change. Others still ask for the world. Our 2022 poll is canon. 

In this issue:

Esmé Holden explores how the precision of Minnelli’s mise-en-scène creates a platonic formula for nostalgia in Meet Me in St. Louis.

Kirsty Asher’s Master & Commander: The Far Side of the World retrospective calls for a blockbuster cycle driven by physical production and visionary leaders. 

Nadira Begum points out the dearth of stars that can move mountains, and argues that the resurrection of the romantic-comedy from the streaming dustbin is the only way to save an actor’s face: beautiful, huge.  

Digby Houghton wades through the mire of ‘awards season’ to ask if there is any room for the mid-budget drama amongst the streaming and blockbuster landscape of American film.  

Orla Smith casts an eye across the current state of UK film production and distribution, to ask how the humble emerging filmmaker can get their foot in the door. 

Cathy Brennan turns the attention back onto the critics: why do we watch the films we do, and what happens to the films we don’t? 

2022 Poll and Ballots

Meet Me in St. Louis

Credit: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Don’t Tell Me The Light Are Shining Any Place But There

Esmé Holden

To me, there is no warmer, more cosy genre than the musical, especially ones from the so-called Golden Age of Hollywood. The technical perfection cleaning off all the rough edges and open artifice of the performances, both in the style of acting and the fact they start singing, create a sense of familiarity and distance; a kind of nostalgia. That’s why Singin’ in the Rain (1952) and The Wizard of Oz (1938) feel like Christmas films even though they really have nothing to do with the season. Because they are films from a time gone by: in the early post-war period musicals made up about a sixth of all Hollywood productions, but now they seldom produce more than two a year. Their escapism is no longer about absorbing you in, sincerity must always be diffused with self-aware humour, pointing to its artifice before the audience can. So it’s not surprising that people’s feelings bursting out into songs is seen as silly. It’s an idea that has clearly taken far too much of a hold when a film like La La Land (2016) thinks that “what if there was a Hollywood musical where the performers couldn’t sing or dance?” is an interesting question to ask. As if some added realism would offset–or at best allow–the genre’s supposed excesses, rather than neuter them with irony. At least Mamma Mia! (2008) and its sequel are straightforward in their boozy sing-along intentions. But both show that the Golden Age of musicals is awfully far away. 

Perhaps that’s what makes them more appealing, more nostalgic, but I think there is much that their warmth could bring to a time in Hollywood when textures have become so icy and cold, and fantasy has moved away from emotions and enclosed itself into unrelated universes. I think movies, in general, would be better if they were more like Meet Me in St Louis (1944), perhaps the warmest and greatest musical of its time. Before he became interested in the illusions and the irony of escapist filmmaking, Vincente Minnelli adapted Sally Benson’s sentimental short stories which look back nostalgically at the life of the Missouri-based Smith family over a year at the very beginning of the 20th century. It’s a simple and incidental film, and so the musical numbers expand the emotions of daily life, without ever feeling the urge to explode them out into melodrama. When Esther (Judy Garland) sings longingly about the boy next door (in the fittingly titled “The Boy Next Door”) she takes a moment to look in the mirror and dance with herself, it’s those little moments, those private joys, that the film thinks are most worth capturing. The scene is shot simply, as all the musical numbers are, mostly through the window Esther is looking out of, because Minnelli sees the lives of the women who make up the majority of the family as interesting and valuable in and of themselves. 

In another scene, Garland is comically resisting as she’s squeezed into a corset by her sister Rose (Lucille Bremer), and the things off-screen that we have to ignore become all too obvious. Garland is sparkling and brilliant in the film, but she had a terrible time making it, or at least while making it. According to the daily production reports, she was chronically late and occasionally didn’t show up at all, when on set she would delay shooting for any number of reasons. As insecure as she was about her juvenile screen persona, she struggled to see herself as a leading lady next to all the women she had been told were much more beautiful than her, MGM studio head Louis B. Mayer called her his “little hunchback”. Maybe some of that insecurity bleeds into the performance, into the way that Esther is desperate to grow up, imitating the kind of way an adult talks, even though underneath she’s already so tender and so strong. But that feels distasteful to say. It doesn’t matter if it’s true at all because it comes far too close to justifying her cruel treatment. At first MGM forced her onto a strict diet and then gave her amphetamines to control her weight. By 1944 she was completely addicted, she had been for years. These addictions would follow her for the rest of her short life. She might have found a brief love on this set, she and Minnelli were married for six years, but ultimately, Hollywood killed her. She died of an accidental overdose at 47. 

Old Hollywood movies are designed to make you forget. They were supposed to be escapist after all. Part of what makes Minnelli so interesting is that he made his films in harmony with the system, rather than in opposition to it: in his films art and escapism seem harmonious, even though the studio’s factory line production methods should stand between them. His style is elegant and decorative, but fundamentally simple: he moves the camera as little as possible so that the meaning, the emotion it’s trying to create, is felt but not quite seen. It makes those feelings seem bigger and like they are a totally natural response, rather than something you’re being told, I think that’s the essence of Old Hollywood style and Minnelli was the very best at it. Even the highly specific production design of St Louis–the sets cost $497,000 of the 1.5 million budget–work in a similar way. Every detail of the Smith family’s second empire Victorian house is integrated into the movie, like when Rose is trying to have a private call with her family sitting a few feet away at the dinner table, but she has to shout down the old phone to be heard. Or, when Esther asks the boy next door, John Truett (Tom Drake), if he could help her turn down the lamps, so she can hold close to him in the fading light, the lamps become an inextricable part of the aching romance. It makes the nostalgic memories of this time and place seem like your own, you remember the little things in a way that only someone who lived with them would. 

Although both of these are a part of what makes the movie so rich and affecting, the sense of naturalness allows it to carry in other ideas quietly. Think of the scene when the family patriarch (Leon Ames) decides that the whole family is moving to New York. At first, everyone is upset and goes off to their rooms, but when he starts to sing a sentimental song with his wife (Mary Astor) at the piano, they all slowly return. It’s a moving scene perfectly executed, the slow build from the bare sound of just voice and piano to the warm hum of everyone together again, silently forgiving and returning to normal. But nothing has actually changed, the Father’s unfair and arbitrary use of his patriarchal authority still stands. Nostalgia smudges memories, and it softens them. Escapism makes us look away entirely. So perhaps this genre which embodies these things the most, even in a period so defined by them, only serves to convince us to go back downstairs and listen to our father’s voice. 

But in many ways Meet Me in St Louis is an exception, even with the exceptional time that it was made. Though the studio system continued into the sixties, as Thomas Schatz argues in The Genius of the System (1988), the decline started as early as 1947, with the introduction of television and the Paramount Agreement amongst other things. Even within this brief boom, no musical was as incidental. Neither a back-stage story nor melodrama, it stands mostly alone. The system can only take so much credit for its exceptions and miracles, as much as it would like to. Even though its surfaces seem so perfect, it’s a complicated and contradictory film, an individual one. Its view of the future isn’t simply sadness that the beautiful past is being left behind, in fact, that sense is mostly brought on by the Father’s active decision. It’s not inevitable at all, it can be undone and is by the end of the film. The future can als be joyous, as in the opening song (“Meet Me in St Louis”) where characters young and old pine for the upcoming St Louis World’s Fair, which even in 1903 was a symbol of the future; “Don’t tell me the rights are shining any place but there” they sing. Minnelli doesn’t feel the need to bridge these contradictions, the future can simply be both. 

The modern Hollywood musical can only look back, and to these movies they don’t even take seriously; there is no world’s fair on the horizon, it sees no future for the genre. Meet Me in St Louis is as nostalgic as any of them, but it’s also looking forward, and to find a future for musicals we must follow its gaze. Now that the studio system has fallen, with its control of both production and distribution, there is much more freedom to look outside of it. Now film history doesn’t have to be so linear, we can build on films from far-reaching places and time. Western cinephiles have started to explore the huge amount of musicals coming from India, and there are no doubt other places with as deep of a well, maybe the future is already there. But to find exceptions like St Louis requires a deeper understanding of these cultures, both in terms of filmmaking and politics, which seems awfully far away. Eventually we will get there and find a new place for the musical, hopefully at a faster pace than we’ve looked so far, but until then, we’ll have to muddle through somehow. 

  1. The Genius of the System by Thomas Schatz.
  2. Get Happy by Gerald Clarke (pg 82). 


Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World

Credit: 20th Century Fox

Don’t Forget Your Old Shipmate

Kirsty Asher

Since my day job now consists of post-production work, my idealised cosiness of the industry has become more informed by the comradeship I find there. In the time of cookie-cutter blockbusters and Taika Waititi framing the failures of his own direction as gainful publicity, the days of actors and crew reminiscing about the sheer joy and creativity of a major project seems doomed to become a fleeting thing of the past. Just recently I was lucky enough to hear Ian McShane regale the audience about his times getting pissed with Ava Gardner on the Scottish borders for the filming of The Ballad of Tam-Lin (1971) at its Hallowe’en screening and Q&A. It proved a soothing antidote to clips of celebrities peeling back velcro on Google predictive searches and asking each other inane ‘would-you-rathers’ (Negroni Sbagliato obviously gets a free pass here). But the one film which I return to for that comfort of camaraderie; for what felt like the 21st century’s last grasping attempt at a major blockbuster action film made with all the finesse and dedication of a Bach cello suite is Peter Weir’s Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003).

Master and Commander was made with the intention of kickstarting a franchise (the original Aubrey-Maturin book series by Patrick O’Brian spans twenty novels), but Weir had always been cautious to create a cinematic adaptation, despite being a fan of and reliable authority on the books. When the production eventually took place, he decided on adapting the tenth book, The Far Side of the World (1984). The premise as adapted for screen concerns Captain “Lucky” Jack Aubrey (Russell Crowe) being charged with intercepting a French heavy frigate far bigger and faster than his own HMS Surprise (a real frigate which was broken up in 1802). An inter-oceanic chase begins, peppered with shanties, superstition, and stories told amongst friends and officers. The ship’s surgeon Stephen Maturin (Paul Bettany) offers a cerebral view of warfare which, when combined with his keen naturalist knowledge, leads to innovative tactics for capturing the bigger vessel. 

As detailed in the making-of film Behind the Seas: A Filmmaker’s Journey (2004) the deftness of Master and Commander’s production design, the rigorous immersion of the cast in the period setting, and the lengths this production went to to achieve historical accuracy was nothing short of extraordinary. Not only did they buy a replica frigate the HMS Rose at auction in Canada and make suitable adjustments, but when they realised they needed a second ship for static shots, they constructed their own HMS Surprise using the original plans kept at the Admiralty House in Whitehall since the 18th century. Weir, at this point a charismatic figurehead of filmmaking and, described in the Behind the Seas as “film’s pied piper”, constructed a boot camp for the cast, or “crew” as they were to become. With colour-coded t-shirts connoting their rank (this was actually Russell Crowe’s idea) the midshipmen and able seamen were taught the ways of cannon fire, in lessons that also acted as rehearsals for blocking the scenes. Weir also created a break room to boost morale for a cast a long way from home and family, which reflected a gentleman’s club of the early 19th century “designed for the express purpose of developing friendships and camaraderie”. While directors have often been compared to a ship’s captain, there’s no denying Weir took the notion to heart with these additions. Devoid of television, the cast were encouraged to chat and play chess or snooker, or read books. What was being crafted in Baja California under the meditative watch of Peter Weir wasn’t just a film, but a once-in-a-lifetime experience of historical immersion. The cast, from the extras playing ordinary sailors to the officer class, consented to taking part in a unique cinematic experiment. The dedication to historical accuracy, to production design brim with artisanal skill, to costumes which sealed the actors into their characters, all contributed towards a film that totally immerses the viewer into the Napoleonic era. 

Sadly, 2003 turned out to be the worst year for an Antipodean-led blockbuster to attempt both award and box office supremacy with Peter Jackson’s Return of the King looming large. Master and Commander was a stately maritime venture that came out the same year as a rollicking, deeply silly maritime adventure in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. While Return of the King won for all its nominations, Master and Commander limped home with just two wins. On a $150 million budget, it barely scraped a profit with $211 million internationally. Operating within the framework of cinema as big business and the art crafted therein as capital, it seemed at the time as if the painstaking craftwork, attention to detail and historical accuracy was little deserved. Why continue with this dated filmmaking style when the new reality of blockbuster filmmaking was on the horizon: bloated projects with misaligned budget priorities, consistent abuse of VFX workers’ rights, films and shows further destined to streaming debuts in lieu of theatre premiers, social media calcifying in the arteries of daily life leading to films and shows more frequently framed and written with a subtitled screenshot in mind.   

Yet a small but dedicated core of fans have remained loyal to the film. Like ‘Brazil mentioned’, it only takes one person posting something related to Master and Commander’s opening text “OCEANS ARE NOW BATTLEFIELDS” on Twitter for a legion of devoted fans to respond with their undying adoration for the film. The great efforts that went into crafting this dedication to the Age of Sail and its camaraderie has itself inspired a camaraderie amongst those who hold this film dear.

Concerned as we are at CYZ with being perched on the edge of history, we are nevertheless always looking forward to ask how on earth anything can progress from here. We who indulge in cinema, and by extension Film Twitter, are always concerned that juggernaut profit-machines and social media’s relentless dynamism will metastasise into a dreaded ouroboros, gorging on nostalgia and profit in a never-ending cycle. But I see reason for hope. Eschewing the Coca-Cola Christmas fantasy, I look instead to a pagan vision of winter hope for cinema’s future – that from the moment the darkest night has fallen, we have not long to await the green shoots of spring. After years of languishing in the bilge water of development, it looks as though a sequel to Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World is finally in the works for those of us who have stood unfalteringly by Weir’s maligned masterpiece. Perhaps, after the unbearable glut of Marvel supremacy this will herald the return of the action-drama film, and with it the return of legendary productions that both cast and crew can take genuine pride in.

Pretty Woman

Credit: Buena Vista Pictures Distribution

Less Action, More Romance

Nadira Begum

In a recent cover interview with Allure magazine, Jennifer Aniston lamented the dearth of ‘movie stars’ nowadays. “I feel like it’s dying,” she said. “There’s no more glamour.” While the mouthpiece of such a claim feels somewhat dubious, the sentiment is no less true – she’s right to say that there aren’t any real definitive ‘movie stars’ of this generation, at least not any like the movie stars of the past. If someone were to ask you to name a movie star, it would be easy – names like Cary Grant, Julia Roberts, and Tom Hanks would roll off your tongue without a second thought. The star power of these figures was undoubtable, each of them easily drawing in a crowd of movie-goers with the pull of their names alone. When promoting a film, they were the star attraction, not the production company or the studio.

Now, it seems as though Hollywood is so focussed on franchise building and IP-driven projects that very little thought is given to the stars themselves. Many of Hollywood’s ‘bigger’ names have built a portfolio of almost exclusively action roles for themselves, breaking box office records but not necessarily capturing audience’s hearts. In doing so, these actors are failing to really establish themselves in the public consciousness as ‘movie stars’. In a recent podcast interview, Quentin Tarantino commented that the issue with the ‘Marvelisation’ of Hollywood was that the actors themselves weren’t the stars of the show – the characters were. Heart-breaking: the worst person you know just made a great point. During Marvel’s prime years, it wasn’t Chris Evans or Chris Hemsworth or whichever other Chris that drew in audiences, it was Captain America and Thor. Despite an actor like Evans possessing the kind of charm needed to be a lead, audiences were never really tuning in to see his performance, they were tuning in to keep up with an overfamiliar fictional character. In fact, the actors’ inability to establish themselves as stars and draw in crowds with their names alone is proven by their lacklustre filmography outside of Marvel projects. Just look at the (non)success of The Gray Man (2022).

This reliance on easy, big-budget franchise films puts limitations on what our understanding of the modern movie star is. Charismatic actors like Jonathan Majors and Tom Holland would easily thrive in a romantic setting, so why isn’t a rom-com on the cards for them? Daniel Kaluuya, one of our generation’s most magnetic actors, once expressed his desire to make a rom-com, but it seems that no filmmakers have taken him up on this offer. This complete disregard for romance as a genre is robbing us of the delight of watching someone like Kaluuya let his natural charm and charisma play out on screen. We are suffering because studios seem more intent on reaching targets and making unfathomable amounts of money than actually connecting with an audience, which would, ironically, make them more money in the long term. And if money must remain the end goal for these productions, then surely it would make sense to cash in on cult followings and capitalise on the online stan culture that surrounds actors like Holland and Kaluuya. In a tragic twist of fate even the pioneer of modern blockbusters, Steven Spielberg, struggles to find space among the superhero-saturated multiplexes for his personal project The Fabelmans (2022). And, in a cinematic landscape that seems to prioritise franchise-building above all else, the desire for real connection has never been more potent amongst audiences that seem fatigued by such an onslaught of unfeeling action films, as showcased by Marvel Studios’ inability to cross their usual billion pound threshold at the box office in recent years. Action blockbusters like those within thenever-ending behemoth that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe are great films to switch your brain off to, but they are so far detached from genuine emotional depth that they feel unbearably cold. The onslaught of endless superhero films and extended universes has left a romance-shaped hole in the heart of audiences, and it goes without saying that an action-heavy industry can only last so long before inevitably self-destructing, taking their biggest talents out along with it. If we are to return to a cinema of feeling once more, then we need the talent of today to get behind these films wholeheartedly and bring audiences along with them.

Classic actors like the aforementioned Cary Grant and Julia Roberts became household names with careers that spanned decades due to the sheer range they were able to display in their early film roles. There would be no North by Northwest (1959) without Bringing Up Baby (1938), and there would be no Erin Brockovich (2000) without Pretty Woman (1990). In fact, if you go beyond Hollywood and look to foreign cinema, some of the biggest stars are those who are known for their ability to carry romantic roles. The clearest example is Bollywood, where you cannot be a movie star if you cannot charm an audience as easily as you can intimidate them. Romance is part and parcel of these films, so much so that some of the biggest and most iconic names in Indian cinema are actors who are most well-known for their romantic roles. Films like Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (1998) served to establish the long-lasting careers of Bollywood icons Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol, forging them into an era-defining duo; they’re like Bollywood’s Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, if you need a derivative Western comparison. These actors knew that on some level, the key to winning an audience’s support was to first win their hearts, and what easier way to do that than with the magic of romantic comedy?

When presented with that much revered title of ‘movie star’, the only relatively new name that comes to mind is Timothée Chalamet, and that is no doubt due to his ability to be as captivating as a romantic lead as he is a compelling dramatic lead. Many of his roles thus far have hinged on this charm. In Call Me By Your Name (2017) he is mesmerising as a young boy discovering himself, in Little Women (2019) he embodies the perfect pining Laurie, and his most recent turn in Bones & All (2022)showcases his ability to capture the desperation of young love with admirable ease. Equally intriguing is his refusal to take on a superhero role thus far. Since heeding the advice of Leonardo DiCaprio (another actor who initially won audiences over with his romantic roles), Chalamet has not been afraid to embrace romance in his search for a fulfilling acting career, and his penchant for the more tender roles gives him an edge that his peers lack.

There are no real movie stars for this generation because audiences simply aren’t being encouraged to fall in love with them anymore. Everything is sterile and neatly fits into a box — the superhero leads are symbols of patriotism and nothing more, the franchise leads are clean-cut heroes and nothing more. There is no nuance or grey area involved in the kinds of stars we are being offered now, and there certainly isn’t much room for charisma. The superstardom of someone like Robert Pattinson is proof of the power of romance and charisma. After shooting to global fame with his role in Twilight (2008), a teen vampire romance, Pattinson spent the better part of the next decade seeking out the creative and artistic fulfilment of arthouse films, working with a range of indie directors. His roles ranged from the terrifying to the absurd, and when he finally returned to the blockbuster earlier this year in Matt Reeves’ The Batman (2022), he brought along his legion of devoted fans and their ‘Team Edward’ t-shirts. Pattinson is testament to the fact that movie stars can be forged when you don’t disregard romance as a starting point. Cinema is suffering from a famine of romance; in the rat race to the top of the box office, love is a mere afterthought that has no place in this game. Perhaps this is symbolic of a society in decline, though it’s more likely the product of a regurgitative money-making machine. This current trend of emotionless American blockbusters is one of the most heart-breaking aspects of modern cinema.

That is why I think Hollywood would benefit from a return to its romantic roots, and my one wish this holiday season is for cinema to embrace romantic comedies once more. I encourage studios and directors to find their most charming actors – the Daniel Kaluuyas and the Keke Palmers of this generation – and allow them free reign with a genre that thrives off of audience connection. Invest in stories that value human emotions like love and heartbreak, and trust that audiences will be invested too. Romance has never really been respected as a genre, but it seems that even modern attempts to revive the rom-com don’t fully believe in the trusted mechanics of the genre in the way they used to, and that is exactly what holds them back. I implore Hollywood to indulge in the most clichéd aspects of the romance genre and take a leap of faith on films that care more about matters of the heart than they do saving the world from an imaginary foreign invasion. After all, is love not the most trusted saviour of all?


Credit: Netflix

Digby Houghton

If The Buggles had written “Video Killed The Radio Star” today, it may have read more like, “high concept television killed the mid-budget film”. However, mid-budget cinema comprises a large portion of what makes Christmas the cosiest time of the year, because these films are predominantly released during this period. My own seasonal nostalgia for the time of year is evoked when I recollect the slick polish of Carol and I, Tonya. This festival season may be no different. It’s already proving to be bountiful for mid-budget movies with Cate Blanchett hopefully winning another Oscar for her performance as the eponymous Lydia Tár in Todd Field’s Tár and the fateful bromance of Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell in The Banshees of Inisherin. Although the meme potential of both films has been potent, box office numbers have not as contemporary audiences find themselves inundated with the glut known as the prestige age of television. The fate of the mid-budget film rests less in the hands of film-goers than media moguls who are gleefully pivoting to streaming.

Mid-budget cinema loosely encompasses films whose budgets fall within the range of $15 to $60 million and is indebted to genres like drama, biopic, and courtroom films, all of which have plummetted in demand since the 1990s. Films of this calibre tend to gravitate around a tight cast of three or four main characters and an even tighter screenplay. This formulaic approach reached its zenith through the ripple effects of the rise of indie darlings in the late 1980s like Gus Van Sant, Steven Soderbergh and the Coen Brothers, who would go on to make mainstream films in the 1990s including Good Will Hunting, The Limey, and Barton Fink respectively. These films exemplified the benefits of an economical screenplay and a handful of acting talent could favour box office success. But in the decades hence, this kind of American cinema has become diluted and lost in the mainstream vanguard.

 American author Ben Fritz reverses the traditional maxim in his 2019 book The Big Picture, “it used to be that television, the home of endlessly recycled sitcoms and cop shows, was the medium of the familiar and cinema the medium of originality,” in order to prove that television has replaced cinema as the beacon of artistic showmanship. He charts the decline of the mid-budget film concurrent with the rise of fêted television productions like The Sopranos and The Wire. However, the new era of streaming has encouraged a binge-watching model which sustains itself on a never-ending consumption of televisual content. And it is endorsed through the platforms, which provide a ten-second countdown before the next episode begins to play, shown in Netflix series like House of Cards. Television may offer an effective (potentially endless) product, but the importance of mid-tier cinema is that it keeps film culture, and cinema-going, alive.

Blockbusters may provide limitless escapism for audiences during the festive season, but thanks to the media circus of awards ceremonies, it’s also a period for cinema that nominally attempts to deal with adult themes to receive attention outside of the main metropolises. These kinds of films have slowly been corroded since the dominance of streaming television. If Christmas isn’t a time to unfurl in the cinemas and watch the latest new releases of Black Adam and Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, then you also have the opportunity to see some auteur-driven autofictional recreations. Old Hollywood legends like Steven Spielberg push this agenda in his latest outfit The Fabelmans, as well as a slew of other 20–50-million-dollar films like Glass Onion and Bones and All (all of which will hit streaming before they end up in a cinema near you). This is a slate of films which have attempted to resonate with the blockbuster market, but there have been few signs of encouragement from the results thus far

Global streaming giants like Netflix, who distribute, produce, and exhibit their own films, continue to relegate the position of art cinema to televisions and other streaming devices. This is evident in the recent Netflix releases: Andrew Dominik’s Blonde was made for $22 million and provides a ghastly intrusion into Marilyn Monroe’s turbulent life. The saddest part of this film’s production predominantly lies in the puppet distribution approach, which meant it barely played in theatres, even in my hometown of Melbourne, where Dominik graduated university. Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths, which was acquired during the Venice Film Festival, tells the surrealist life of a documentary filmmaker whose life uncannily resembles Iñárritu’s own. Bardo’s short-lived release in Melbourne meant that it was gone from theatres in a fortnight. Netflix’s production model relies on mid-scale movies but the distribution and exhibition creates an issue for audiences because they’re in cinemas for a mere moment. Therefore, Fritz’s earlier remarks couldn’t be any closer to the truth as Netflix usurps the market for mid-budget cinema by producing and distributing its own products for our television screens, leaving the cinema relatively desolate. 

Fritz also paraphrases Ted Sarandos, the chief content officer of Netflix, who has argued that “movies are simply stories made of moving images that you consume in one night, whereas TV shows are ones that take several nights.” Netflix’s chief priority towards providing a limitless experience of entertainment that only a medium like television can provide is daunting for the future of mid-budget entertainment films which don’t necessarily breed off the likelihood of sequels and the construction of cinema franchises. Hollywood competes on an ever-expanding global market, from China to Brazil, and therefore its stories and narratives need to appeal to as many demographics as possible, which has led to the proliferation of the franchise movie.  

However, mid-budget films are affected by ever-increasing costs, because a studio can quite reliably return their money on investment by producing fewer films if one of them is a hit.  They are also seen to be a bigger gamble than in previous years. Fritz reiterates, “today, anything that’s not a big-budget franchise film or a low-cost, ultra-low-risk comedy or horror movie is an endangered species at Hollywood’s six major studios.” Thus, as time passes perhaps the cosiest time of the year will no longer be fixated on the latest art house concept, masterminded by some kind of European auteur, but rather mindless consumption around a television alongside family and friends.  Bardo and Blonde may justify our cravings for art cinema, but given its self-mutilative model which prioritises clicks, hits, and quantity over quality, this shouldn’t be considered a long-term goal for sustaining independent production. 

If audiences desire the trend of mindless consumption in which mid-tier budget films are relegated to streaming platforms, losing credibility and popularity as an art form, then there is not much more which can be done. There needs to be a drive from producers, directors and distributors to bring audiences back to the cinema. Mid-budget films are an important part of the ecology of film and they rely on components of film production like a tight screenplay, whereas big-budget films prioritise special effects and ensemble casts of A-list actors. The recent reception to Banshees of Inishiren and Tár prove that there is still an audience for these films. However, the dominance of streaming models is hard to overcome. Hopefully, in the new year there will be greater demand for the mid-budget movie, and we will be rescued from the plight of ‘mid-budget streaming’.

The L-Shaped Room

Credit: British Lion Films

Orla Smith

In a recent talk at the BFI Southbank, Danny Boyle made the bold claim: “I am not sure that we [the British] are great filmmakers.” This quote set off two warring factions in my brain. One is the side that’s been writing about film for over five years — and watching it voraciously for even longer. It’s the side that grimly sighs and remembers the dozens of recent fanatically hyped up British debut features that turned out to elicit a series of homogenous shrugs. 

Then there’s the side of me that’s a fledgling filmmaker, one short film deep and terrified at the prospect of building a career in the increasingly hostile British film industry. There’s so much to say about Britain right now, and so few means by which to say it (at least in the medium of film). Yes, our homegrown box office hits are Fisherman’s Friends (2019) and Downton Abbey: A New Era (2022), and you might watch one of our government-funded independent films and find you’ve forgotten about it by breakfast the next morning. But it hasn’t always been like this, and my Christmas wish (for the sake of my future filmmaking as well as my own viewing pleasure) is that it won’t be like this for much longer. Consider this a Christmas card to Danny Boyle (with the British government cc’d), asking him to consider whether British filmmakers are the problem, or if Britain itself is shielding artists from their own potential.

This year, our press cohort has fallen over itself to praise directorial debuts Aftersun (Charlotte Wells) and Blue Jean (Georgia Oakley), with both of them triumphing at the British Independent Film Awards (BIFAs) over titles directed by more established filmmakers. (I’d like to throw in some support for the less-discussed and BIFA-ignored Pretty Red Dress by Dionne Edwards, which I slightly prefer to both, for its energetic filmmaking and its lived-in portrait of a Black South London family messily grappling with gender nonconformity.) Last year it was After Love (Aleem Khan), Boiling Point (Philip Barantini), and Censor (Prano Bailey-Bond). Stretch a little further back and you’ll remember the beloved His House (Remi Weekes, 2020), Saint Maud (Rose Glass, 2019), Ray & Liz (Richard Billingham, 2018), Apostasy (Daniel Kokotajlo, 2017), I Am Not a Witch (Rungano Nyoni, 2017), Lady Macbeth (William Oldroyd, 2016)… the list could go on further than you care to read. All have their merits, some I like more than others, but each of these are films that scream “POTENTIAL” without fully delivering on it. Because of course they don’t. What is a first feature if not a place from which to grow?

But what else ties all those films together, besides their debut feature status? All of their directors are yet to make a second film.

We are setting our emerging filmmakers up to fail; the UK film industry is currently little more than a constant stream of empty promises. Plenty of programmes exist to support first features, such as iFeatures, which has aided the development of films like Blue Jean, Perfect 10 (Eva Riley, 2020), Make Up (Claire Oakley, 2020), Pin Cushion (Deborah Haywood, 2017), God’s Own Country (Francis Lee, 2017), Apostasy, Lady Macbeth, The Levelling (Hope Dickson-Leach, 2016), and more. And yet, of that list, Francis Lee is the only filmmaker to have made a second film — and only with the support of American company Neon.

When we’re not hanging them out to dry completely, we are driving promising talent out of the country to seek funding elsewhere. In rare cases, this means Americans funding British-set projects, like Joanna Hogg’s The Souvenir/Eternal Daughter trilogy (2019-2022), or Lee’s Ammonite. More commonly, this means artists leaving the country to tell American stories. Around half of Andrew Haigh’s creative output has been US-centric, and he’s now based in LA, which is a loss of one of Britain’s most thoughtful writers of character, and one of few contemporary filmmakers who really know how to block a scene. Lynne Ramsay and Andrea Arnold are two of the most stylistically distinct filmmakers to emerge in the 21st-century, certainly in Britain, both of them bringing poetry to marginal lives in ways that are very much their own. Still their careers seems to have shifted toward stateside storytelling with Ramsay’s We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011) and You Were Never Really Here (2017), and Arnold’s American Honey (2016). (Perhaps we’ll win Arnold back after her catastrophic experience on Big Little Lies Season 2, but it’s too early to tell if her documentary Cow is a homecoming or a brief digression.) And it took Steve McQueen three American features (one a Best Picture winner) to be able to come back to Britain and make his opus Small Axe (2020). Even still, that watershed work that chronicles the stories of London’s West Indian community could only exist on TV, and never got its day in movie theatres.

In one of the most politically fraught times in recent British history — it certainly feels like we’re teetering on the brink of collapse — we need British cinema about Britain that is political, sharp, urgent, and compelling. The current moment should inspire a new wave of politically-charged films, and yet the waters are shallow and tepid. Sure, it’s encouraging that projects from diverse voices are increasingly being greenlit: more women are making films in Britain, and more people of colour, although certainly not enough. More queer stories are being told (although trans directors are conspicously absent from the list of filmmakers above, perhaps because the transphobia of British institutions outweighs their desire to appear progressive). 

But what use is providing one-off funding to the next generation when you have no interest in cultivating artists, and allowing them to have a career? It takes skill and practice to make a film that speaks meaningfully to the current moment, discussing political systems and personal plights in a way that’s poetic rather than trite. There’s a multitude of reasons that we aren’t seeing that in our national cinema, but it’s certainly partly because we aren’t allowing filmmakers to grow into the kinds of artists that can achieve something that profound. We aren’t providing them the freedom to work in an unconventional way, if that’s what they need to achieve results. Hell, even an old hand like Mike Leigh is struggling to get a project off the ground, even though it’s hard to think of a film more resonant to contemporary London than his nearly thirty-year-old film Naked (perhaps double billed with his 2008 film Happy-Go-Lucky, to compare and contrast a nihilist’s and optimist’s views of the city). It amounts to nothing more than good PR for the arts sector, rather than actually equalising the cinematic voice of the nation.


In my state of depression about the country’s myriad legislative clusterfucks, the lack of political conviction and poetry in our filmmaking, and my own depressing career prospects, I found myself drawn back over half a century to the British New Wave. These films, which were predominantly produced in the early 1960s, massively shaped how British cinema is thought of and talked about, particularly since it originated the term ‘kitchen sink drama’, still hurled around today, and sometimes in a derogatory context. Watching Tony Richardson’s A Taste of Honey (1962) was a shock to the system. Somehow, cultural memory has marked these films as oppressive and traumatic, when some of them are filled with life, youthful energy, and visual beauty — if also accompanied by harsh truths.

These were films primarily concerned with working class lives, particularly in the North of England, responding to a lack of those stories in the British cinema landscape. They treated their characters as complex, thorny people; at turns bitter, humorous, sexy, and mad as hell (another label attached to the movement is ‘angry young men’). These were progressive films for their time, discussing class, misogyny, and various taboo subjects with more frankness than you’d find in most other contemporaneous films. And most importantly of all, they were largely compelling and exquisitely crafted.

The L-Shaped Room (1962) is a personal favourite of mine, and despite being an outlier as one of the few films in the movement to centre on a female protagonist, I think it represents a lot of the strengths of the New Wave. Directed by Bryan Forbes (Whistle Down the Wind, Seance on a Wet Afternoon, The Stepford Wives), the film follows a French woman named Jane (Leslie Caron) who moves into a rundown Notting Hill boarding house and grows to know and love its residents. Here we have an expertly directed ensemble drama with a strong sense of place (it is named after its setting, after all), that is matter-of-fact about the difficulties faced by working class people, but still holds so much compassion and warmth for its characters. The way The L-Shaped Room depicts outsiders on the fringes of society feels surprisingly modern: it’s primarily about the stigma surrounding single motherhood, and the film discusses abortion; it also features multiple queer characters, including a Black immigrant who Jane befriends when she moves next door to him. It’s much less of a difficult watch than something like the blisteringly rageful Look Back in Anger (1959), because the angry young man here (Tom Bell’s Toby) isn’t the lead character, but supporting to Jane (and he’s not nearly as awful as Richard Burton’s Jimmy Porter in Anger, because who is). But The L-Shaped Room still ends on an achingly melancholy note that provokes anger at the system that has left its characters with no good or easy choices. 

Crucially, this New Wave, which had ripple effects that are still felt in British cinema today, was not achieved by waiting patiently for the establishment to act. In fact, you can trace a lot of its films back to one production company: Woodfall Film Productions, founded by Tony Richardson, John Osborne, and Harry Saltzman, who wanted to create a film adaptation of Osborne’s play Look Back in Anger. They were artists frustrated by the lack of opportunities to tell the kinds of stories they wanted to tell, and get them screened, so they created those opportunities independently. In the ‘60s alone, Woodfall produced eight of Tony Richardson’s own films. Other significant filmmakers of the British New Wave, several of which were supported by Woodfall at some point, worked frequently throughout the late ‘50s and early ‘60s: Karel Reisz, Richard Lester, Desmond Davis, Lindsay Anderson, Ken Loach, Jack Clayton, Bryan Forbes, etc. Today’s cohort is significantly less white and male — but it’s hard to pat the BFI on the back for that progress when they’ll never offer contemporary filmmakers the chance to practise and hone their craft (and thus shape and enrich our film culture) as frequently as the New Wave directors got to.

I don’t think the BFI, Film4, or the British government’s (lack of) arts money generosity is going to save British film any time soon. There are models for government arts funding that support rich and varied works — there’s plenty wrong with the French film industry, but you can’t deny that they hungrily cultivate auteurs and greenlight risk-taking films. It’s hard to imagine the BFI ever funding a debut fiction film as challenging as Alice Diop’s patience-demanding, morally murky Saint Omer (2022). Or even any film, debut or not, as challenging as Saint Omer or Julia Ducournau’s car-fucking spectacular Titane (2021) or Justine Triet’s exquisitely strange Sibyl (2020). It’s a goal to strive for, but we’re a long way from having a government-funded infrastructure that supports the regular creation of daring works.

My wish for the new year is that filmmakers in this country find canny ways to make and exhibit work within Britain — about life in Britain — without having to wait to be sanctioned by our arts funding overlords, and that we (as viewers) shift our attention to what artists on the fringes are creating. That might mean independent production companies, or it might mean experimenting with modes of filmmaking that don’t require tons of money, or any money at all (they do exist!). Whatever it is, it will require collaboration, ingenuity, and a little bit more hope for our cinematic potential than that possessed by Danny Boyle.

Purple Sea

Credit: Amel Alzakout, Khaled Abdulwahed

Cathy Brennan

When I think of British film culture in the present moment, the word cosy is pretty fucking far from my mind. To be cosy is to be contented and being in such a state makes one vulnerable. It’s also not very exciting. My holiday wish would be for a new British film culture where screenings become riots, industry assholes are exposed, and institutions crumble into dust. All that may be too much to ask, so for the purposes of this piece I’ll simply wish for more curiosity from film criticism.

In a cocktail-laden conversation with fellow CYZ contributor and denpa queen Ellisha Izumi, she told me about her annual tradition of watching every Best Picture nominee ahead of the Oscars; an oftentimes gruelling task we both agreed. What I came to realise is that I don’t actually watch a lot of the tongue-waggiest films, whether they be blockbusters, award-winners or indie darlings. I still haven’t seen The Shape of Water (2017), nor Top Gun: Maverick (2022). The release of a second Avatar stirs no excitement in my breast, and the fulsome response to Aftersun (2022) has rained off most of my interest. This prompts an existential questioning over my cinephilic credentials. Am I so out of touch? And just like a certain school principal, the conclusion I come to is no, it’s the broadsheets who are wrong.

My critical practice is far better rewarded by seeking out the extraordinary in the margins. If everybody watches the same films, then you’ll get a lot of flat opinions, regardless of whether the thumb directs a film towards the heavens, or condemns it to the dirt. Going off-piste has served me and my friends well. Back in the 2019 edition of London Film Festival (LFF), I was among the early championing cries for Isabel Sandoval’s Lingua Franca (2019). My friend Paul Farrell still talks about his experience of LFF 2018 where he spurned Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria (2018) for the Black Country-set Ray & Liz (2018), and skipped the raucous 8am press screening for The Favourite (2018) to see a firecracker in the form of Diamantino (2018). A crazy-eyed Paul coming up to me that morning in Leicester Square and saying “mate, I’ve just seen Diamantino” remains a cherished memory.

Even as festival programmers take great effort to platform underrepresented voices in filmmaking, that energy isn’t matched when it comes to promoting these films beyond festival audiences. As of writing, Miryam Charles’ unbearably personal Cette Maison (2022) only has 2 reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, one from The Guardian and another from Little White Lies. Scratch around and you will find reviews in Sight & Sound and Hackney Citizen, but otherwise this is a mouse squeak from the realm of film criticism. Cette Maison is perhaps one of the finest examples of film as a personal art form to be released this year. It’s a probing expression of Charles’ grief over the horrific death of her teenage cousin Tessa in 2008. Shot on woozy 16mm film, Cette Maison functions as a fictional biography for Tessa as well as a reflection on her family’s Haitian roots. There is a sustained commitment to hybridity in the film by eliminating distinctions between fiction and documentary, the use of both French and Haitian Creole, and even the boundary between memory and fantasy. All this serves to transport you into a specific headspace, submerging you in the grasping thought processes of grief. A genuine work of art.

Another film that’s just as personal is Purple Sea (2020). Directed by Syrian artist Amel Alzakout and Khaled Abdulwahed, the film is comprised of footage taken from a GoPro camera attached to Azakout’s wrist, when the boat she and other refugees were on sank off the coast of Lesbos in 2015. 42 of those refugees died. When I first saw Purple Sea it was being screened as part of the Open City Documentary Festival in September 2020. Around this time there was a shift in British media coverage as months of COVID’s domination of the newscycle gave way to a resurgence of xenophobic reporting on people crossing the English Channel in small boats seeking asylum in the UK. Some have drowned attempting to cross the channel including children. As I write this sentence at midday on 14th December 2022, BBC News is updating on an incident in which at least three people are thought to have died crossing the channel in the early hours of the morning. The reason why people make such a perilous crossing is because their lives are held with such xenophobic indifference by the French and British governments that no safer routes are made available to them.

Purple Sea depicts a rare perspective in our media landscape: that of a refugee during a crossing. A Sky News report from August 2020 demonstrates the mainstream media point of view. A posh white woman calls out to a group of Black men packed onto an inflatable dinghy for comment. On more than one occasion she refers to such sights as “unsettling” without elaboration. The people making the crossing are othered, viewed at a distance. They don’t speak like the reporter whose own voice exudes an imperial authority. A spectatorial relationship is established through such reporting. We, the presumed white British viewer, are able to project whatever we like onto these people. In Purple Sea, Alazakout’s voiceover (recorded after the boat sinking) wonders whether people in a hovering helicopter were filming the disaster and who they saw drowning: “Refugees? Criminals? Victims? Or just numbers? Fuck you all!”

Purple Sea was released on Mubi in August 2021. More desperate people had drowned trying to cross England’s moat. It was a rare and real opportunity for film critics to draw attention to a small film about an ongoing humanitarian crisis that has defined the character of 21st century Europe. Instead, it passed by with next-to-no coverage. One brief review in The Guardian, plus my review for We Love Cinema. In November that year, 27 out of 30 people on an inflatable dinghy, similar to the one seen in that Sky News report, drowned in the English Channel. It was the largest loss of life on the Channel since the International Organization for Migration started collecting data in 2014.

It would be offensive to blame film critics for such a disaster. More extensive coverage of Purple Sea on its release would not have had any impact on this crisis. But I think Purple Sea’s neglect by publications and critics is indicative of an incurious character that is dominant within film culture, one that can only engage with the political realities of our time in superficial “eat the rich, buy our shit”-style sloganeering.

Such short-sightedness is the product of a norm where we as critics try to get ahead of predetermined festival favourites, and pre-selected award show contenders, which leaves truly small films with nobody in their corner. I am just as guilty of this. While Paul was enraptured by Ray and Liz, I subjected myself to Luca Guadagnino’s self-important reimagining of Suspiria, and tried to pretend it was a work worthy of serious consideration because it seemed to be the film of the moment. Of course responsibility shouldn’t fall solely on the shoulders of underpaid critics. Editors for traffic-hungry publications ensure priority is given to films which have the big bucks backing them. PR companies also hold a tighter grip on a film’s narrative as it goes from festival favourite to Letterboxd classic. Critics do not matter in this environment and so there’s little material incentive to seek out the unfamiliar. We therefore get sucked into the money-driven machinations of a film industry that we should keep at arm’s length, and disingenuously puff ourselves up as artistic taste-makers or, dare I say, influencers.

The reluctance to meaningfully engage with the political and emotional dimensions of a film can at times come across as revulsion, instead prioritising some nebulously defined formal quality that make films with little buzz vulnerable to cold disregard. In Girish Shambu’s 2019 manifesto For a New Cinephilia, he characterises the old cinephilia as an insular attitude towards culture that “privileges aesthetic pleasure.” The context in which Alazakout’s footage was captured morally rules out any possibility for aesthetic pleasure. Indeed that’s what makes it such a vital film. However one review of Purple Sea casually dismissed it as an “arthouse trifle.”

Film culture would not be made more cosy if more critics seriously engaged with films so personal they cut right down to the marrow like Cette Maison and Purple Sea. But it would be far less alienating than it is now. I don’t want to read a dozen reviews about how relatable The Worst Person in the World (2021) is to millennial women, or how much of a badass dude James Cameron is for overworking VFX teams to produce his white saviour fantasy land. For Shambu, the new cinephilia should be “fully in contact with its present global moment.” I don’t think film criticism is there yet.

When thinking about this, an experience my mind keeps coming back to is queuing for an early morning press screening at that 2018 edition of LFF. The film was Barry Jenkins’ If Beale Street Could Talk (2018), and it was being held at Picturehouse Central. At the beginning of the year, the cinema staff had called off a strike demanding a living wage because they had been threatened with losing even more pay that the workers could not afford to endure. Waiting outside the cinema on that chilly October morning meant standing over sleeping homeless people. I remember looking around and seeing my fellow critics and cinephiles chirpily chatting away about the films they’d seen, seemingly unconcerned about the people lying next to them or whether such chatter would disturb their sleep. We were eventually let in to watch If Beale Street Could Talk and were moved by the film’s portrayal of racist inequity in 1970s Harlem, while shutting ourselves off from the reality just outside. My Christmas wish is not just for critics to show more curiosity in the films we choose to watch, but also more curiosity in how the films we watch inform our understanding of the world around us.

2022 POLL

Credit: Neon

Each year, we ask our contributors for their favourite films of 2022, alongside their best discoveries. The lists are aggregated to compile Cinema Year Zero’s films of the year:

  1. All the Beauty and the Bloodshed (Laura Poitras)
  2. Nope (Jordan Peele)
  3. Saint Omer (Alice Diop)
  4. Crimes of the Future (David Cronenberg) 
  5. The Banshees of Inisherin (Martin McDonagh)
  6. Aftersun (Charlotte Wells) 
  7. Top Gun: Maverick (Joseph Kosinski) 
  8. Vortex (Gaspar Noé)
  9. The Quiet Girl/An Cailín Ciúin (Colm Bairéad)
  10. Benediction (Terence Davies) 

-The Ballots-

Ben Flanagan


  1. The Munsters (Zombie)
  2. RRR (Rajamouli)
  3. Elvis (Luhrman)
  4. All My Friends Hate Me (Gaynord) 
  5. Dry Ground Burning (Pimenta, Queirós)
  6. Saint Omer (Diop)
  7. Stars at Noon / Both Sides of the Blade (Denis)
  8. The Plains (Easteal)
  9. Avatar: The Way of Water (Cameron)
  10. Irma Vep (Assayas)


  • Hellraiser (1987 – 2022) 
  • 3D rep screenings: Dial M For Murder, The Mask, Avatar, Creature From the Black Lagoon
  • Dawn of an Evil Millennium (Packard, 1988) 
  • Saint Jack (Bogdanovich, 1979) & The Dead (Huston 1987) (via Badlands Film Collective
  • Bones (Dickerson, 2001)
  • FIlms of Takashi Ito
  • Green Snake (Tsui, 1993)
  • The Channel Awesome Trilogy: Kickassia, Suburban Knights, To Boldly Flee (2010 – 2012)
  • The Gospel According to St. Matthew (Pasolini, 1964)
  • Les Sièges de l’Alcazar (Moullet, 1989)
  • King Lear (Godard, 1987) 

Kirsty Asher 


  • All the Beauty and the Bloodshed (Laura Poitras)
  • The Banshees of Inisherin (Martin McDonagh)
  • Benediction (Terence Davies)
  • Kanaval: A People’s History of Haiti in Six Chapters (Leah Gordon, Eddie Hutton-Mills)
  • Red Rocket (Sean Baker)
  • Nope (Jordan Peele)
  • Three Thousand Years of Longing (George Miller)
  • Fire of Love (Sara Dosa)
  • Utama (Alejandro Loayza Grisi)
  • Boiling Point (Philip Barantini)


  • The Ballad of Tam-Lin (Roddy McDowell, 1970)
  • Penda’s Fen (Alan Clarke, 1974)
  • Memories of Matsuko (Tetsuya Nakashima, 2006)
  • Green Snake (Tsui Hark, 1993)
  • La Chiesa (Dario Argento, 1989)
  • Wild Strawberries (Ingmar Bergman, 1957)
  • Q (Larry Cohen, 1982)
  • Tommy (Ken Russell,1975)
  • Crossing Delancey (Joan Micklin Silver, 1988)
  • Dr Heckyl and Mr Hype (Charles B. Griffith, 1980)

Cathy Brennan


  1. Benediction (Terence Davies)
  2. Our Bodies Are Your Battlefields (Isabelle Solas)
  3. Cette Maison (Miryam Charles)
  4. Robe of Gems (Natalia López)
  5. Next Sohee (July Jung)
  6. The Quiet Girl (Colm Bairéad)
  7. Till (Chinonye Chukwu)
  8. All the Beauty and the Bloodshed (Laura Poitras)
  9. Three Minutes: A Lengthening (Bianca Stigter)
  10. Man vs Bee (David Kerr)

The order of this list is unimportant. Benediction is my personal favourite. Danielle Deadwyler in Till gave the single best performance. Robe of Gems was formally incredible. All the Beauty and the Bloodshed left me in a terrible state, which was exacerbated by the vulnerability that comes with being in a crowded British press screening. Went into Three Minutes not knowing what to expect and came out shattered. Next Sohee ticked my boxes in terms of slow-burning social critique and personal relatability.

The Quiet Girl is emotion-driven film-making which is something I try to prioritise in these lists. Our Bodies Are Your Battlefields was an underseen documentary about trans rights activism in Argentina that I loved. My other priority for these lists is to uplift films that other critics neglected.

Some films that were seriously considered for this list were Funny Pages, Ali & Ava, Jeong-sun, 1976, Our Lady of the Chinese Shop and The Banshees of Inisherin.


  1. Finding Christa (Camille Billops, James Hatch)
  2. Maangamizi: The Ancient One (Martin Mhando, Ron Mulvihill)
  3. Dessert for Constance (Sarah Maldoror)
  4. Schmoedipus (Barry Davis)
  5. Sex, Lies, Religion (Annette Kennedy)
  6. Outlaw Poverty, Not Prostitution (Carol Leigh)
  7. Is This Fate? (Helga Reidemeister)
  8. The Joycean Society (Dora García)
  9. Green Snake (Tsui Hark)
  10. Tri (Aleksander Petrović

Order is also not important here. First three films were seen at Cinema Rediscovered in July. Thank you to everyone who brought those films (and more) to Bristol. In particular, thanks to those who worked on the bell hooks: Reel to Real and the Women’s Stories from the Global South (& To Whom They Belong) strands. Two films (Sex, Lies, Religion and Is This Fate?) were seen thanks to the team at Another Screen, so thank you to them for their work. The Joycean Society was seen as part of the Takeover program on e-flux. Thank you to Julian Ross for his work on that. Tri was seen because of Fedor Tot’s emphatic recommendation. Thank you to him and Ehsan Khoshbakht for screening it at Close-Up this summer. Green Snake was watched with fellow CYZ editors past and present  with Paul Farrell. Thank you to Paul, the ultimate Tsui Hark fan, for finally getting us to watch Maggie Cheung defeat an incel by making him spunk his pants. Schmoedipus and Outlaw Poverty, Not Prosititution were seen because of my own personal curiosity. Thank you to me and thank you to Carol Leigh for uploading your work onto the Internet Archive, may you rest in peace.

Alonso Aguilar


  1. L’Envol, dir. Pietro Marcello
  2. Mato Seco Em Chamas, dir. Joana Pimenta & Adirley Queirós
  3. Elvis, dir. Baz Luhrmann
  4. Pacifiction, dir. Albert Serra
  5. Coma, dir. Bertrand Bonello
  6. Jackass forever, dir. Jeff Tremaine
  7. Fogo-fátuo, dir. Joao Pedro Rodrigues
  8. The Munsters, dir. Rob Zombie
  9. Answering The Sun, dir. Rainer Kohlberger
  10. AmbuLAnce, dir. Michael Bay 


  1. Los Inundados (1962), dir. Fernando Birri
  2. A Night To Dismember (1983), dir. Doris Wishman
  3. The Winning of Barbara Worth (1926), dir. Henry King
  4. Walker (1987), dir. Alex Cox
  5. Cien Niños Esperando un Tren (1988), dir. Ignacio Agüero
  6. The Sea Wolf (1941), dir. Michael Curtiz
  7. Bang Bang (1971), dir. Andrea Tonacci
  8. Hudutların Kanunu (1966), dir. Lufti Akad
  9. Naufragio (1978), dir. Jaime Humberto Hermosillo
  10. Muna Moto (1975), dir. Jean-Pierre Dikongue-Pipa 

Thomas Atkinson 

  • The Grid: Ambulance (Bay)/Los (Benning)
  • Blood of my Blood: Avatar: The Way of Water (Cameron)/Kannathil Muthamittal (Ratnam)
  • When They Go High: Cold Wind Blowing (Copland)/Shocker (Craven)
  • A Woman Becoming: Coma (Bonello)/Esther Kahn (Desplechin)/Blue Sky Maiden (Masumura)
  • Mind Map: Crimes of the Future (Cronenberg)/Liberté et Patrie (Godard)/Autofiction (Lertxundi)
  • The Void Gazes Back: Pacifiction (Serra)/Watch the K Foundation Burn a Million Quid (Gimpo)
  • Moves Slow: The Plains (Easteal)/Roadgames (Franklin)/Ghost Comb (Knight)
  • Watch Him Work: Rewind and Play (Gomis)/Dirty Ho (Lau)
  • Knowing Me, Knowing You: Saint Omer (Diop)/Spacy (Ito)
  • Mosaic: The United States of America (Benning)/Radioactive Dreams (Pyun)/June 17th, 1994 (Morgen)

I’m flaunting the rules; sue me. One new film per spot on the list, but each is twinned with a discovery that felt just as invigorating. This is a picture of my year, less complete than full. Godard gets a spot; so does Pyun. I plan to spend at least a bit of the holidays catching up on the Holy Spirit of that 2022 Memoriam Trinity, Jean-Marie Straub. I cheated even by my own rules – there’s several triple-bills on here, which puts me 4 spots over on my discoveries list – but let that not seem like the work of a glutton struggling to fit the best of the best in. Perhaps the one great lesson I learned in 2022 was the treasure of time. After leaving Cinema Year Zero as an editor, for the simple reason that I did not have the time to spare for a project that deserved it, I have attempted to give back to the universe in some sense. 

These are 24 films to which I wholeheartedly gave my attention, and want none of it back. I’m paring down, curating more, deciding what really interests me, where I want to keep digging. How fitting that the only director to appear twice, in both the new and old categories, is that great shaman of time and attention, James Benning. 

Nadira Begum 


1. One Fine Morning

2. Bones & All

3. White Noise

4. The Banshees of Inisherin

5. Nope

6. Bodies Bodies Bodies

7. The Quiet Girl

8. The Batman

9. Emily

10. Enola Holmes 2 (very serious)


1. Dead Poets Society (1989)

2. Paterson (2016)

3. Sweet Charity (1969)

4. The Personal History of David Copperfield (2019)

5. Sleepless in Seattle (1993)

6. The Last Black Man in San Francisco (2019)

7. Casino Royale (2006)

9. My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002)

10. Unbreakable (2000)

If you had asked me this question a year ago, you would’ve received a much more interesting new discoveries list. It seems that I spent this year rewatching Twilight every two months and fixing my Daniel Craig/James Bond knowledge instead of venturing out.

Rose Dymock


  • Athena – a petrol bomb to the sense, the best constructed first ten minutes of a film I’ve seen.
  • Aftersun 
  • Decision to leave 
  • Boiling point – a film that transported me back to waitressing and joys and anxieties that come with it. 
  • Venetian men – a short film seen at Women X  Film Festival about the effortless adventures of teenage girls and their Venice holiday in the 1990s.
  • A room of my own – how to make a unique pandemic film
  • Unrest
  • Compartment no 6
  • Paris 13th district 
  • The lost city 


  • Umbrellas of Cheurborg 
  • Om shanti om
  • Bad lieutenant 
  • Labyrinth (Armenian)

Anna Devereux 


  • An Cailín Ciúin (Bairéad)
  • Elvis (Luhrmann)
  • All the Beauty and the Bloodshed (Poitras)
  • The Banshees of Inisherin (McDonagh)
  • Aftersun (Wells)
  • Licorice Pizza (Anderson)
  • Top Gun: Maverick (Kosinski)
  • Nope (Peele)
  • All My Friends Hate Me (Gaynord)
  • Confess, Fletch (Mottola)


  • Bones (2001, Dickerson)
  • Meet Me in St. Louis (1944, Minnelli)
  • Friday Foster (1975, Marks)
  • Miami Vice (2006, Mann)
  • All That Jazz (1979, Fosse)
  • Bringing Out the Dead (1999, Scorsese)
  • Margaret (2011, Lonergan)
  • Holiday (1938, Cukor)
  • Michael Clayton (2007, Gilroy)
  • The Dead (1987, Huston)

Paul Farrell


=1. The Quiet Girl (Bairéad) 

=1. Crimes of the Future (Cronenberg) 

3. Water Gate Bridge AKA The Battle at Lake Changjin II (Lam/Chen/Tsui) 

4. Memoria (Apichatpong) 

5. The Munsters (Zombie) 

6. Cold Wind Blowing (Copland) 

7. Ambulance (Bay) 

8. Dark Glasses (Argento) 

9. Vikram (Lokesh) 

10. Ali & Ava (Barnard)


  1. Deadbeat at Dawn (Van Bebber)
  2. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (Lee)
  3. My Dinner with Andre (Malle)
  4. In Order Not to Be Here (Stratman)
  5. 5. Violence at Noon (Oshima)
  6. Godzilla vs. Hedorah (Banno)
  7. North by Northwest (Hitchcock)
  8. The Boys of Summer (Haddad)
  9. Jacaranda Joe (Romero) 
  10. Too Old to Die Young (Refn)

Digby Houghton 

  1. One Fine Morning (Mia Hansen-Løve)
  2. Licorice Pizza (Paul Thomas Anderson)
  3. The Stranger (Thomas Wright)
  4. Holy Spider (Ali Abbasi)
  5. Wanda (Barbara Loden, 1970)
  6. Vortex (Gaspar Noé)
  7. Innocence (Lucile Hadžihalilović, 2004)
  8. The Afterlight (Charlie Shackleton)
  9. Franklin (Kasimir Burgess)
  10. Top Gun: Maverick

Esmé Holden


  1. Crimes of the Future (David Cronenberg)
    • At the end of his career, David Cronenberg looks back at the reactionary elements of his work with regret and pain. It’s his funniest and most relaxed movie, but in it he finds a dramatic redemption, an acceptance of the changing of the body (which has resonated with just about every trans person I know). In doing this, the ardently atheistic filmmaker can only look to the transcendent, ending on a visual quote from The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)
  2. In Front of your Face / The Novelist’s Film (Hong Sang-soo)
    • A diptych about finding beauty in the face of death. In Front of Your Face shows how it can only be found in impermanence, because that’s what all things in life are; any hint of eternity is only a delusion. After it’s been found, The Novelist’s Film is about creating a life that can sustain it, spending time only with people you care about and doing things you find inspiring. Hoping to keep a hold of it, of beauty, for as long as you can. As long as you have left. 
  3. Cordillera of Dreams (Patricio Guzmán)
    • The final film in Patricio Guzmán’s trilogy connecting the geography and political history of Chile wanders into the abstraction of poetry without ever allowing it to get in the way of precise analysis. When Guzmán asks what the Cordillera would say after all the horrors it’s watched over, it answers: on a path made from the mountains’ stone we see the carved names of the people murdered on it. Rather than mythologising history, which the film is explicitly fighting against, poetry shows it more clearly; it gives life to what might become cold and abstract facts. 
  4. Section 1 (Jon Bois)
    • Jon Bois continues with the theme of randomness in his most suspenseful film where the best outcome of this American Football game is a totally boring loss, so that everyone will leave the stadium before a plane crashes into it. Bois shows us how all the chaos of the world can align perfectly, it’s all the more moving because it happened for no good reason; it was a secular miracle. 
  5. We’re All Going to the World’s Fair (Jane Schoenbrun)
    • The Internet might seem like a free space to express yourself in whatever way you want, but its quiet structures inform that expression; the medium gives the message shape. Jane Schoenbrun’s debut feature quite bracingly shows how artificial and silly the results of this can be, but never doubts that the feelings underneath are genuine and true. The ambiguity of the internet might seem an apt conduit for teenage (or transgender) feelings not yet understood, but it only serves to obscure them more, in a kind of self-absorption that only alienates people from themselves.
  6. No Bears (Jafar Panahi)
    • A film made on the edges, literally on the border of a country that’s about to collapse in on itself, it’s Jafar Panahi’s darkest movie. Instead of finding complexity within a simple premise, No Bears is dense, complicated and sometimes hard to follow; it feels like a lot of detail is lost watching it as a foreigner. If its focus seems scattershot, it comes together in an incredibly powerful final act with echoes of Sansho the Bailiff (1954), feeling similarly huge and bleak, uncomfortably foreshadowing what was about to come in Panahi’s country and personal life. 
  7. Benediction (Terence Davies)
    • Quite similar to Terence Davies’ previous film, A Quiet Passion (2018), but is richer because the two parts—one of hyper-articulate wit and one facing the bleakness of death—aren’t neatly segmented. It slips back and forth through memory, managing to have morbid and sexy scenes work right next to each other, even if the joy in Siegfried Sassoon’s life, and by proxy Davies’, slowly fades to basically nothing. 
  8. Three Thousand Years of Longing (George Miller)
    • The biggest surprise of the year, George Miller’s passion project and inevitable box office failure looked lame and cornball. And maybe it is, but its core feels so true that it imbues the rest with its light, that the obsession with stories and art, whether you’re an artist, an academic or an audience member, speak to a deep loneliness and melancholy. A desire to escape into another world—into a fanatical world with Djinn or into your own head with something intellectually engaging—or maybe it’s just to get away from your life for a little while, it doesn’t really matter where to. 
  9. The Tsugua Diaries (Maureen Fazendeiro & Miguel Gomes)
    • Maureen Fazendeiro and Miguel Gomes’ first film together is a celebration of collaboration and all the little highs and lows of living together. From squabbles about who drank whose milk to the building of a butterfly house, or rather, the opposite, as the days are shown in reverse order. Much like with Hong Sang-soo, the narrative then comes from the structure rather than the action, from the gaps in context slowly filled in. The way this allows the film to loop around on itself is quite beautiful: as it shows the film within the film and the butterfly house being unmade, it shows itself being made; it invites us into that creation. 
  10. Saint Omer (Alice Diop)
    • Movies that like to think of themselves as emphatic often only look for it in places comfortable and familiar, flattening everyone together as having a lot more in common than we think. But in Saint Omer, Alice Diop looks at people who have done things beyond comprehension and doesn’t try to judge nor explain them. Any explanation can only seem half-formed because all people can only be partly understood. To make a finer point of that, to imagine someone as totally alien from you, is therefore a choice, something the film directly challenges. If it’s striking to meet the eyes of the woman in the trial at the film’s centre it’s not because you’re looking into a void, but because you aren’t. 


  1. Election Campaign 1932 (1933, Ella Bergmann-Michel)
  2. The Harvey Girls (1946, George Sidney)
  3. The Big Snooze (1946, Robert Clampett) 
  4. Aag (1948, Raj Kapoor)
  5. Monkey Business (1952, Howard Hawks)
  6. Alphaville (1965, Jean-Luc Godard)
  7. Trafic (1971, Jacques Tati)
  8. Green Snake (1993, Tsui Hark)
  9. Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou (1998, Takashi Annō)
  10. The Gleaners & I (2000, Agnes Varda)

Ellisha Izumi


  1. Resolving ‘Your Biggest Fan’ (Stef Aranas)
  2. Do Revenge (Jennifer Kaytin Robinson)
  3. Decision to Leave (Park Chan-wook)
  4. Bergman Island (Mia Hansen-Løve)
  5. TÁR (Todd Field)
  6. After Yang (Kogonada)
  7. Deep Water (Adrian Lyne)
  8. Good Luck to You, Leo Grande (Sophie Hyde)
  9. Not Okay (Quinn Shephard)
  10. Funny Pages (Owen Kline)

Sadly, there are no clear favourite features for me in 2022 so I decided to give the number 1

spot to a short that I love that got me excited about the future of filmmaking: Resolving

‘Your Biggest Fan’ a brilliant meta-doc by a trans filmmaker trying to finish her graduate film

during a COVID lockdown. Similarly, Funny Pages snuck in at number 10 despite its third act

problems as its visceral comedy promises an exciting future from writer/director Owen


Several films on this list also impressed me with deft scripts that I kept returning to long

after watching: the exploration of diaspora through sci-fi metaphor in After Yang, of

sexuality in Good Luck to You, Leo Grande, and a thorough examination of privilege in the

underrated Not Okay.

Honourable mentions go to Sharp Stick (Lena Dunham), Bones and All (Luca Guadagnino),

and Austin Butler for a great performance in a mixed bag film (Elvis), which had dazzling

highs in sea of lows. Filmmakers I’m eager to see more from include Jane Schoenbrun

(We’re All Going to the World’s Fair) and Monia Chokri (Babysitter).

best discoveries of 2022

1. And So We Put Goldfish in the Pool. (2017, Makoto Nagahisa)

2. Turksib (1929, Victor Turin)

3. Something’s Gotta Give (2003, Nancy Meyers)

4. Trust (1990, Hal Hartley)

5. Lost in London (2017, Woody Harrelson)

6. Boogiepop and Others (2000, Ryu Kaneda)

7. Tokyo Blood (1993, Gakuryu Ishii)

8. Keane (2004, Lodge Kerrigan)

9. Fury (1936, Fritz Lang)

10. Queen of Diamonds (1991, Nina Menkes)

Honourable mentions for phenomenal repertory cinema experiences:

A. The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm (1962, George Pal, Henry Levin) in Cinerama

at Widescreen Weekend

B. Forever a Woman (1955, Kinuyo Tanaka) at Cinema Rediscovered

C. Unstoppable (2010, Tony Scott) in 35mm at The Prince Charles Cinema

Ioanna Micha 


  1. Decision to Leave by Park Chan-wook
  2. Tár by Todd Field
  3. The Fabelmans by Steven Spielberg 
  4. After Yang by Kogonada
  5. Everything Everywhere All at Once by Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert
  6. The Eternal Daughter by Joanna Hogg 
  7. The Banshees of Inisherin by Martin McDonagh
  8. Magnetic Fields by Giorgos Gousis
  9. Barbarian by Zach Cregger
  10. Athena by Romain Gavras


  1. La Paloma (1974) by Daniel Schmid
  2. Lola Montès (1955) by Max Ophüls
  3. My Night at Maud’s (1969) by Éric Rohmer
  4. How Green Was My Valley (1941) by John Ford 
  5. The Trial (1962) by Orson Welles 
  6. Taste of Cherry (1997) by Abbas Kiarostami
  7. Le Bonheur (1965) by Agnès Varda
  8. Force Majeure (2014) by Ruben Östlund
  9. Our Little Sister (2015) by Hirokazu Koreeda
  10. Murder on the Orient Express (1974) by Sidney Lumet

Sam Moore


10 – Top Gun: Maverick

A swansong for Tom Cruise, the last movie star on the planet, all wrapped up in what’s

wonderful and frustrating about the blockbuster. Legitimately breathtaking and visceral

action sequences; the jingoistic relationship to the military; and the prevailing, but tenuous

grasp of the status quo on the rest of world. Not a nostalgic sequel to a decades-old

original film, but a moving, sobering comment on what’s become of cinema – and one of its

most famous, full-throated exponents – since the 80s.

9 – Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery

Another sequel, but this one much more contemporary. And capital-c Contemporary might

be the best way to describe Glass Onion, a film that wears its layers – and its own love with

and fascination for them – on its impeccably tailored sleeve. The man-child billionaire who

invites old friends to his private island is exactly the type of person who would buy Twitter

and run it into the ground. But the terminally online politics of this film – something it shares

with its predecessor, even if they’re less blunt here – aren’t the appeal: its the joy of a great

cast peeling back the layers of a classic mystery. A puzzle box to relish in solving.

8 – All the Beauty and the Bloodshed

Nan Goldin tells the story of her life and work with the help of Laura Poitras. Goldin refuses

to look away, which means that the film makes us look on, unblinking, with her. A

testament on the power of art and activism; the need for political engagement and

challenging institutions; and the small tragedies and triumphs that build up to a life worth

living, fighting for, and saving.

7 – Crimes of the Future

David Cronenberg at his most explicitly romantic. Not a body-horror, or even a horror at all,

but instead a delightfully perverse love story about what our bodies – and the stories we tell

with them, the art that they help us to make – might be heading next. While it might be a

simplification to add that David Cronenberg said trans rights, he dd, and that still feels like

it matters.

6 – The Banshees of Inisherin

No man is an island in this tragicomedy, no matter how much one of them might want to

be. What begins as a platonic breakup becomes a kind of philosophical showdown on

what makes life worthwhile. Career best work from both leading men, and a final sequence

that’s unshakeable. These banshees might not be screaming, but their words will burrow

into you all the same.

5 – Aftersun

The film I’ve spent the most time thinking about since I initially saw it this year, and every

time I sit with it, I come away thinking that it was even better. Magical and wondrous in a

way that only cinema can be; it cuts deep in a way that doesn’t even become clear until

long after the end, when all those old wounds open up again.

4 – White Noise

The scariest film of the year, wringing out every possible drop of horror from a laundry list

of contemporary anxieties that range from the mundane to the existential, what’s most

surprising about White Noise is just how effortlessly it fits into Baumbach’s filmography. At

its heart – and it has a big one – is a marriage; two people who are almost desperately in

love with each other, and all of the power, fear, and joy that comes with it.

3 – Nope

Cinema of the spectacle as a funhouse mirror; daring you to look away. Possibly Peele’s

best work yet; full of mystery and nuance. Steven Yeun gives one of the most underrated,

heartbreaking performances of the year and does more in a single scene – talking about an

SNL sketch in a kitschy room of career merchandise – than most actors do with entire


2 – Decision to Leave

Total cinema: all aspects of the medium working at full force to create something that’s

dazzling in a way that feels almost impossible. Breathtaking in its visual storytelling, and

obsessive in its details as a way to fit the shapeshifting story at the centre of it.

1 – You Won’t Be Alone

The mute, body-swapping witch at the centre of You Won’t Be Along is constantly asking

themself about what kind of place the world is: if its frightening, rotten, broken, beautiful. It

becomes all of these things and more in the most singular cinematic achievement of the

year. There’s nothing else like it.


All Male Mashup / V.O.

Immediately cheating by putting two films in my ten slot – a pair of archival excavations by

artist and writer William E. Jones that explore the narrative beats of adult cinema. From

pulsing, fragmented cruising narratives; to the contrast between erotic image and

intellectual dialogue, Jones understands what gets cinema hot under the collar.


Bleak, relentless, and hypnotic. Makes other philosophically driven crime thrillers look

pedestrian and dreary, through both its construction of an increasingly barren Tokyo, to the

ease with which it pries open doors to the darkest, most morbidly inviting corridors. Gets

under the skin and doesn’t leave.


An experimental horror of light and darkness, both visually and thematically. From its first

moments the images are arresting, and the stop-start structure is a dark, absurdist delight.

Doesn’t so much hurtle towards the inevitability of tragedy as walk towards it in a daze,

always looking for something to illuminate an unforgiving world until the last moment.


The best “shouting at the screen in surprise” movie that I saw this year – never goes where

you expect, and never stops moving. There are a few puzzle boxes and mysteries across

these lists, and this is the one that’s most likely to grab you and not let go.


The last time I did a CYZ discovery list, I had Interstellar on it, and this feels like it occupies

that same space: something that’s surprising for me not to have seen. Spielberg is the

great cinematic humanist; offering the audience the ability to see the world anew every



Deconstructing the samurai – as a historical figure and cinematic one – and daring to call

every tradition that came before it hollow and meaningless. There are moments of brutal

violence, and visual serenity here. They’re not running against each other, but existing in a

strange harmony.

The Living Dead Girl

There are two tragedies in life: the first is not getting what you want. The second is getting

it. Jean Rollin knocks on the door of cinematic perfection with a story of love lost that

becomes something monstrous when it’s found once again.

The Public Enemy

Queerness finds a lonely, violent avatar in James Cagney’s Tom Powers, a man who is

constantly raging against the world around him, even as he tries to ascend the ladder of it

with blood on his hands. For all of the heavy-handed moralising that bookends the film,

and the societal problem of a “public enemy,” Wellamn’s film offers something much more

than a morality play: a character study of a man whose ghost still walks among us.


All of the queer films on this list are weird and violent. The most obviously unbalanced

woman in the history of gothic cinema invites a “friend” to her secluded manor. But the

Rollin-esque set-up is anything but: Symptoms is slow to reveal its hand, and creates

something legitimately unsettling in the emptiness of this grand house, and the women that

wander around it.

To Be Or Not To Be

It’s tempting to talk about the politics of the film: the limits of art-as-activism. But in the end,

when I think about To Be Or Not To Be, I think about the fact that it has one of the best

punchlines in a film that I’ve ever heard.

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

“I know what gold does to men’s souls.” A tale of distrust and disintegration; of desperate,

cowardly men reaching out for the the thing they want the most, at any cost. Bogart is

fascinating for his cowardice more than anything else; a fool looking for fool’s gold which,

in the end, is all gold.

S Paul 

(Editor’s Note: Paul declined to continue, citing Gorfinkel’s Against Lists and a desire to abolish the Gregorian calendar)

Paddy Mulholland


  • Benediction (Terence Davies)
  • Blonde (Andrew Dominik)
  • Crimes of the Future (David Cronenberg)
  • EO (Jerzy Skolimowski)
  • Mad God (Phil Tippett)
  • Nelly & Nadine (Magnus Gertten)
  • Pacifiction (Albert Serra)
  • Rimini (Ulrich Seidl)
  • Robe of Gems (Natalia Lopez)
  • What Do We See When We Look at the Sky? (Alexandre Koberidze)


  • Ah Pook Is Here. (Philip Hunt)
  • Flamenco (Carlos Saura)
  • Hen, His Wife (Igor Kovalyov)
  • The House of Small Cubes (Katou Kunio)
  • The Muppet Movie (James Frawley)
  • Peking Opera Blues (Tsui Hark)
  • Phantoms of Nabua (Apichatpong Weerasethakul)
  • Rejuvenique Video Manual 
  • Still in Cosmos (Makino Takashi)
  • Tungrus (Rishi Chandna)

Joseph Owen

  1. Human Flowers of Flesh (dir. Wittmann)
  2. Fairytale (dir. Sokurov)
  3. Astrakan (dir. Depesseville)
  4. Vortex (dir. Noé)
  5. Benediction (dir. Davies)
  6. Top Gun: Maverick (dir. Kosinski)
  7. The Girl and the Spider (Zürchers)
  8. Licorice Pizza (Anderson)
  9. Introduction (Hong)
  10. Benedetta (Verhoeven)

Maximilien Luc Proctor 

8 new features:

  • Darkness, Darkness, Burning Bright — Prelude & Oraison (Rouard)
  • The Dream and the Radio (Després-Larose & Rousiouk)
  • Vortex (Noé)
  • Hole in the Head (Kavanagh)
  • Crimes of the Future (Cronenberg)
  • The United States of America (Benning)
  • Tár (Field)
  • Nobody’s Hero (Guiraudie)

Every year I am faced with the same dilemma: first, determining if I exposed my eyeballs to enough new feature-length films that I enjoyed to make a list. Coming up with a short list of great experimental shorts is never a problem. Darkness, Darkness… was a very special treat which I am well aware most people have not yet had a chance to see. I include it in the hopes that it will generate some interest. Ideally even push some to book the film for screenings. With only one existing print that must be projected by the filmmaker herself, it’s not a simple prospect. But in time I don’t doubt it will get out there a bit more. 

The Dream and the Radio is the kind of ‘first film’ that makes all the festival digging feel worthwhile —finally, further proof of young people out there somewhere in the world who really want to try to do things differently, unafraid of failure, willing to challenge viewers, to challenge themselves, to challenge the general state of festival filmmaking and still make it through the cracks. It is rare, and Renaud Després-Larose & Ana Tapia Rousiouk are absolutely a duo to keep an eye on.

With Vortex, Noé surprised me again. After Climax (2018) (which I appreciated but did not enjoy), I was taken aback by the compassion for his characters here. It’s not exactly pioneering on a formal level, but it is fascinating. Noé’s formal schtick often threatens to fall into ‘why bother who cares’ territory, but here it works far better than expected (as was the case in Enter the Void (2009)). If nothing else one must admire his unceasing dedication to the bit. Of course he couldn’t help himself with that last shot, and the dialogue and plot more than once slips into overly silly territory, yet overall its a level-headed entry that truly tickled the fear-of-death nerve like no other.

Hole in the Head is another promising new work by a lesser-known filmmaker. As per his website, Dean Kavanagh has made 70 short films and 6 features. The theatrical unrolling of his new picture in his native Ireland is a touching success story. The film itself—complete with a handy blog about its making—concerns the mining of a mysterious personal history via various moving image formats. There are tedious moments, but the whole of the film is a satisfying and exploratory bizarro aesthetic adventure which thrills beyond the surface obsessions of, say, a Peter Strickland picture.

Crimes of the Future sees Cronenberg senior up to his usual. What is new here is the way it blends the best of his late style narratives (A History of Violence, Eastern Promises) into his fascination with gore. A logical endpoint. The body reigns supreme in his filmography and here it is once again the locus of control and reckless abandon. Not a return to but a furthering of form.

Similarly, The United States of America sees Benning continuing to hold static shots for extended periods with little to no action. It is a strategy which has allowed him to continue releasing work at a steady clip. Apparently he has already made two new features since this one premiered in February. Here we stare at nature. We stare at the ruins of the American dream. We hear ghosts of the past through recorded speeches and echoes of distant music. We meditate on the injustices the nation was built upon (as is always his wont). 

Tár was a pleasant surprise. Nobody’s Hero was a clever absurdist satire.  I don’t have much else to say about either except to recommend them.

5 new shorts:

  • Ashes by Name is Man (Rosinska)
  • Tigre del Carbon (aZuLosa)
  • Lungta (Cuesta)
  • Notes on Connection III (Franco)
  • All The Best (Proctor)

Tigre del Carbon and Notes on Connection III were two of the many excellent films in the ‘Persistent Visions’ program of MoMI’s First Look festival in March. 

Lungta is the newest work by Alexandra Cuesta, whose Notes, Imprints (On Love): Part I (2020) left an impression for its subtle and sensitive imagery. Lungta however, is composed of ghostly images, nothing concrete, everything based around the fact of its inability to be perceived concretely. 

Ashes by Name is Man is the latest work by Ewelina Rosinska, which will play IFFR in January, and which displays a technical proficiency which has furthered since her last (already quite good) film, Erde im Mund (2020). While both films were shot illustriously on 16mm and edited digitally, her next is slated to be an all-analog endeavor. If Ashes… is anything to go by, her next will be a masterwork of montage. 

All the Best is the first film (a single roll) shot on my Bolex, which was surprise-gifted to me by six of my closest friends in October, and it is incredible the degree to which having my own personal camera has altered my working methodology. 

17 discoveries:

  • Eniaios (I-III and XII-XIV) (1947-1991, Markopoulos)
  • Bouquets 11-20 (2009, Lowder)
  • 17 Reasons Why (1987, Dorsky)
  • Stare (1991, Kels)
  • Women I Love (1979, Hammer)
  • Meditations on Revolution Part V: Foreign City (2003, Fenz)
  • Working Class (1976, Wong)
  • Fog Line (1970, Gottheim)
  • Untitled 77-A (1977, Han)
  • La Region Centrale (1971, Snow)
  • Hand Held Day (1975, Beydler)
  • Heat Shimmer (1978, the Cantrills)
  • Fishs Eddy (1978, Shatavsky)
  • What the Water Said (Nos. 1-6) (1998 & 2007, Gatten)
  • The Leaden Echo and the Golden Echo (1955, Tait)
  • Belly (1998, Williams)
  • Sotiros (2000, Beavers)

Each of these viewings taught me to see again, which is the reason I continue to watch films. 

Fedor Tot


  • No Bears (Jafar Panahi)
  • Petrov’s Flu (Kiril Serebrenikov)
  • You Won’t Be Alone (Goran Stolevski)
  • Vortex (Gaspar Noe)
  • This Much I Know To Be True (Andrew Dominik)
  • Jackass Forever (Jeff Tremaine)
  • Saint Omer (Alice Diop)
  • All the Beauty and the Bloodshed (Laura Poitras)
  • Murina (Antoneta Alamat Kusijanović)
  • Dark Glasses (Dario Argento)


  • The Long Goodbye (Robert Altman, USA, 1973)
  • All that Money Can Buy (William Dieterle, USA, 1941)
  • Hard to Be a God (Aleksei German, Russia, 2013)
  • The Swordsman of All Swordsmen (Joseph Kuo, Taiwan, 1969)
  • Execution in Autumn (Lee Hsing, Taiwan, 1972)
  • Ganja and Hess (Bill Gunn, USA 1973)
  • Coach to Vienna (Karel Kachyňa, Czechoslovakia, 1966)
  • The Enemy (Živojin Pavlović, Yugoslavia, 1965)
  • Boxer from Shantung( Chang Cheh/Pao Hsueh-Li, Hong Kong, 1972)
  • The Lady from Constantinople (Judit Elek, Hungary, 1969)

Best Discoveries of Il Cinema Ritrovato

  • Canoa: A Shameful Memory (Felipe Cazals, Mexico, 1976)
  • A Fire (Ebrahim Golestan, Iran, 1961)
  • Zaseda/The Ambush (Živojin Pavlović, Yugoslavia, 1969)
  • The Raid (Huge Fregonese, USA, 1954)
  • Cheshmeh (Arby Ovanessian, Iran, 1972)
  • The Ninth Circle (France Štiglic, Yugoslavia, 1960)
  • Black Tuesday (Huge Fregonese, USA, 1954)
  • The Long Farewell (Kira Muratova, USSR, 1971)
  • Tony Arzenta/No Way Out (Duccio Tessari, Italy, 1973)
  • Don’t Look Back, My Son (Branko Bauer, Yugoslavia, 1956)

Alistair Ryder


  1. Aftersun
  2. The Eternal Daughter
  3. All The Beauty And The Bloodshed
  4. RRR
  5. The Banshees of Inisherin
  6. Turning Red
  7. Bones and All
  8. Funny Pages
  9. Nope
  10. Mrs Harris Goes to Paris


  1. Julia (Erick Zonca, 2008)
  2. Malcolm X (Spike Lee, 1992)
  3. Terms of Endearment (James L. Brooks, 1983)
  4. Notes on a Scandal (Richard Eyre, 2006)
  5. Police Story (Jackie Chan, 1985)
  6. Quiz Show (Robert Redford, 1996)
  7. Elevator to the Gallows (Louis Malle, 1958)
  8. The Housemaid (Kim Ki-young, 1960)
  9. Asako I & II (Ryusuke Hamaguchi, 2018)
  10. Ali (Michael Mann, 2001)

Orla Smith 

  1. All the Beauty and the Bloodshed (Laura Poitras)
  2. The Eternal Daughter (Joanna Hogg)
  3. Mr. Bachmann and His Class (Maria Speth)
  4. Nope (Jordan Peele)
  5. Saint Omer (Alice Diop)
  6. Ahed’s Knee (Nadav Lapid)
  7. Anais in Love (Charline Bourgeois-Tacquet)
  8. All That Breathes (Shaunak Sen)
  9. Ali & Ava (Clio Barnard)
  10. Eo (Jerzy Skolimowski)

Laura Venning 


  1. All the Beauty and the Bloodshed
  2. Aftersun
  3. The Fabelmans
  4. Blue Jean
  5. Top Gun Maverick
  6. The Eternal Daughter
  7. Armageddon Time 
  8. Flee
  9. Ali and Ava
  10. Enys Men


  1. The Owl Service (1969)
  2. Viy (1967)
  3. Working Girls (1986), Lizzie Borden
  4. We Don’t Need a Map (2017), Warwick Thornton
  5. Caprice (1986), Joanna Hogg
  6. Portrait of Kaye (2021), Ben Reed
  7. Eyes of Fire (1983), Avery Crounse
  8. The Spirit of the Beehive (1973), Víctor Erice
  9. My First Film (2018), Zia Anger
  10. 3 Women (1977), Robert Altman