Whilst only a fraction of last year’s most important releases are receiving nods this awards season (hint as to why: lists of nominees are overwhelmingly male and stale) 2019 was an exceptional year for film. There was truly something for everyone with smart Hollywood big-hitters like If Beale Street Could Talk, Book Smart, Us and The Farewell, stellar foreign language releases like Pedro Almódovar’s Pain and Glory and Alejandro Landes’s Monos and auterist dramas like Joanna Hogg’s The Souvenir.
2020 seems like it could already comfortably pick up the mantel, with this month seeing Uncut Gems, Makoto Shinkai’s Weathering With You and Alexa Demie-starring Waves all hit screens and universally acclaimed Parasite will also be showing in UK theatres in February. However, if you need some advice for the films to put on your radar for later in the year, we’ve got the names to take note of.
Portrait of a Lady on Fire – Céline Sciamma
Céline Sciamma’s best known film, 2014’s Girlhood, is an acclaimed depiction of the Black female experience in the French banlieues. However, critiques of the film (rightfully) focussed on its tendency towards voyeurism and on Sciamma’s failure to unpack her own white assumptions and baggage. Ironically then, the director’s latest, Portrait of a Lady on Fire, clearly aims to depict queer female desire from a perspective beyond the limiting depictions of the cis male director. Lingering on the significance of a returned gaze or a tender touch, it ultimately does what it sets out to do and offers up a sensual and nuanced depiction of lesbian identity. (Released 28 February)
Bacurau – Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelles
The follow-up to stunning character study Aquarius Kleber Mendonça Filho returns with Bacurau, which won the Grand Jury Prize at the 2019 Cannes Festival. Much like Aquarius, which revolved around one woman’s resistance towards her home being bought out by developers, Bacurau asks questions about human “worth” within a hierarchical system and points to a lack of accountability among the privileged. Critics were quick to pick up on the work’s background commentary on Bolsonaro’s neo-fascistic reign in Brazil but for those looking for escapism, this weird western offers it aplenty with gore, high stakes and sudden, rapid changes of tone. (Released 13 March 2020)
Rocks – Sarah Gavron
Perhaps best known for her cinematic adaptation of Monica Ali’s Brick Lane and Carey Mulligan-starring period drama Suffragette, director Sarah Gavron is now back with Rocks. Set in the heart of London, the film follows 11-year-old British-Nigerian schoolgirl Rocks as she fends for herself and brother. With a partially improvised script, the on-screen chemistry is spontaneous and convincing, receiving praise from The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw, who gave the film a glowing five star review after its showing at TIFF. (Released 10 April)
Ema – Pablo Larraín
Chilean director Pablo Larraín reunites with Gael García Bernal after 2012’s Oscar-nominated No to create Ema, a frenetic film with the kind of visual vibrancy that evokes Gaspar Noé at his best. With newcomer Mariana Di Girolamo, García Bernal is one half of a broken marriage torn apart by the violent actions of the couple’s adopted son. A fairly conventional premise, but Di Girolamo’s Ema is one of cinema’s rare unconventional female characters whose magnetic personality and pyromanic tendencies take the story in unexpected directions. With its bizarre plot and exuberant protagonist, it’s the kind of release that plays on your mind, days after you leave the cinema. (Released 17 April)
An Easy Girl – Rebecca Zlotowski
A coming of age drama set in the South of France, Rebecca Zlotowski’s An Easy Girl offers up Call Me By Your Name-style charisma and atmosphere. However, rather than honing in on teen angst or early same-sex experiences, its focus is female sensuality and the power, but also the complexities, that stem from being an object of desire. (Release date TBC)
Lynn + Lucy – Fyzal Boulifa
With Ken Loach’s Sixteen Films involvement as a producing partner, Lynn + Lucy delivers on a promise of social critique with particularly sharp attention to the complexities of class relations. Director Fyzal Boulifa immerses the viewer in a tight-knit, low-income community and explores the power dynamics within this micro-world as titular character Lucy becomes the centre of local scandal. Yet the film’s greatest strength is its attention to the shifting relationship between Lucy and her best friend Lynn, whose friendship is tested by the film’s event and, more relatably, by the changes that come with growing older. (Release date TBC)