It’s that time of the year, the awards season is well underway and the impressive theatrical schedule is reflective of that, for there are a myriad of excellent films available to be seen at the moment, and this weekend marks two of the very best, in the form of Uncut Gems and 1917. The former is so good, had it been released last year there’s a strong chance it would’ve topped our best of the year list.
So let’s begin with this, the latest from directing duo – and brothers – Josh and Benny Safdie, the creative forces behind the excellent, and notably dark Good Time starring Robert Pattinson. This latest picture is tonally similar, in that it’s bleak and at times almost impossible to watch. It’s like having a two hour long panic attack, and perhaps appealing to the sadist within us, it’s an incredible feat of filmmaking, perhaps the most intense and exhausting cinematic experience we’ve ever experienced. We delve into the chaotic, self-destructive life of jeweller Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler), who gets his hands on an uncut rock of Ethiopian gems. He’s hustled his entire life, like a New York version of Del Boy – except this man hasn’t got his Rodney besides him, he’s a lone liability, a ticking time bomb with an affliction for gambling, seeming to get a kick out of danger. What we then see is effectively a week in his haphazard life, as things go from bad, to worse, to absolutely fucking diabolical. The use of music and the way the Safdie brothers build suspense is remarkable, every scene feels as though there’s a whistling kettle about to boil water in the background. Sandler is exceptional in the leading role too, showing off his dramatic chops, while Julia Fox is brilliant as his mistress, and basketball player Kevin Garnett also impresses, not to mention LaKeith Stanfield, who really can do no wrong at present. So make sure you see this film, but please be aware, it may be one of the most captivating and brilliant creations of recent years, but there’s a pretty strong chance you won’t enjoy a single second of it. We didn’t – and it’s our film of the year.
Fancy some light relief as an alternative? Well, you’ll have to wait until next week, for the second recommendation is Sir Sam Mendes’s 1917, a gripping and equally as exhausting thriller, this one set during the First World War. The premise is simple, young soldiers Schofield (George MacKay) and Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) must risk everything to deliver a message. Time is against them, and they have to journey across enemy territory, but they need to let the British soldiers to withhold from a forthcoming attack, which is a deadly trap set up by the Germans. First thing first, the cinematography is just breathtaking, this is Roger Deakins at his finest, while the Thomas Newman score is equally as stunning. In fact, one of the only criticisms of the film is that perhaps it’s too beautiful, given the narrative and context of the character’s situation. But we’re not complaining, for it makes for a wondrous cinematic event, enhanced, of course, by the single-take technique, as the film (except for a couple of notable cuts) purports to all have been shot in one continuous take, and rather than feel like a gimmick (we’re looking at you, Birdman) it serves the story brilliantly well, adding to the tension and really ensuring the audience are thrown into the heart of danger with these two courageous soldiers.
Finally, and you have to feel a little sorry for any film released this weekend when up against such brilliant cinema, is Benedict Andrews latest drama Seberg. The esteemed stage director’s preceding endeavour Una was fairly criticised for not quite feeling cinematic enough, as the filmmaker couldn’t shake his own roots, but this is more ambitious and expansive and is a more accomplished turn. It’s a biopic, of sorts, of Jean Seberg, the actress who became an icon of French New Wave cinema following her turn in Godard’s Breathless. But this is focusing strictly on a different time in her career, when she became embroiled in the Civil Rights Movement, both politically and romantically, following her affair with activist Hakim Jamal (Anthony Mackie). This alerted the FBI, and in an investigation fronted by Jack Solomon (Jack O’Connell), the institution proceeded to look deep into her personal life, and avoiding any sense of boundaries, conducted an unethical investigation that didn’t play by the rules. Kristen Stewart excels as the eponymous protagonist, and while the film certainly has its moments, given the gravitas of the narrative, and the scope to explore in cinema, it doesn’t quite shine as it should, not doing this remarkable tale justice, for it’s one spiked with pertinence, looking into surveillance, privacy, even delving into MeToo territory at times with comments on how the actress was mistreated by director Otto Preminger. There’s definitely good things going for this film, but when you have two other brilliant films out at the same weekend, perhaps this may just be one to watch and see at home in a few months time.