She Dies Tomorrow (2020)

Where’s it on? BFI Player and other digital platforms

Billing new releases as COVID-19 movies is already a critical cliché. But although shooting wrapped before coronavirus was so much as a blink in a bat’s eye, Amy Seimetz’s fatalistic drama about a mysterious contagion has certainly found its moment – NPR called it ‘2020: The Movie’. Kate Lyn Sheil plays the young woman who becomes convinced she’s due to die the following day. She’s just moved into a new house, but instead of unpacking her boxes she finds herself researching burial urns online and listening to Mozart’s Requiem on repeat. And when she tells her friend Jane (Jane Adams), Jane too seems to become virally contaminated with a conviction of predetermined death. And she in turn passes it on to her brother and his friends at a dinner party. Here making her second feature as director, following the 2012 Florida noir Sun Don’t Shine, Seimetz plays this spreading doom not for scares but for a kind of existential panic that’s absurd, unsettling and morbidly funny in equal measure. 

Taste of Cherry (1997)

Where’s it on? Blu-ray

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Taste of Cherry (1997)

Abbas Kiarostami had a perfect decade in the 1990s. From Close-up in 1990 to The Wind Will Carry Us in 1999, the Iranian director made 5 astonishing features, successively racking up a dizzying number of international awards. Taste of Cherry, from 1997, was the cherry on the cake, so to speak, winning Kiarostami the Palme d’Or at Cannes. Now released on Blu-ray by Criterion, it’s the second of our cheery recommendations this week to feature a protagonist fixated on their own end. In this case, Kiarostami follows a middle-aged man intent on suicide who drives around Tehran looking for someone to assist in his burial. Kiarostami loved a driving movie, and revisiting Taste of Cherry today it’s easy to see how Mr Badii’s front-seat conversations with his various pick-ups proved a key inspiration for Jonathan Glazer when filming the Glasgow kerb-crawling sequences of Under the Skin (2013). Kiarostami’s masterpiece is not as morbid as it sounds, but life-affirming by stealth as it builds to a breathtaking directorial sleight of hand.

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Sully (2016)

Where’s it on? BBC1, Saturday, 8.30pm

From 2 films haunted by death, we come to one that’s uniquely celebratory of the difference one life can make. Sully belongs to a late cycle of films in which Clint Eastwood has probed the nature of real-life (American) heroism. It stars that paragon of American virtue and decency Tom Hanks as Captain Chesley ‘Sully’ Sullenberger, the US Airways pilot who made headlines in 2009 when he was able to land a passenger plane with failing engines on the Hudson River. While a disaster movie would typically build to this heroic feat, Eastwood opens with it. He’s more interested in the measuring of a man that happens in the aftermath, as Sully is pulled before the National Transportation Safety Board and forced to defend his actions against accusations of pilot error. An ode to professionalism and the human judgements that elevate us above machinery, Sully closes with a vaguely Kiarostamian gesture when – during the closing credits – we cut to the real Sully and some of the passengers whose lives he saved. It’s an impulse that Eastwood took even further with 2018’s The 15:17 to Paris, which stars the actual men who stopped the 2015 Thalys train attack as themselves.

Buster Keaton: 3 Films – Our Hospitality / Go West / College (1923-27)

Where’s it on? Blu-ray

The Eureka label continues its Buster Keaton project this week with the release of a third volume collecting 3 of his features. Our Hospitality (1923) is the masterpiece here; the earliest of the lot, it’s coming up on its 100th birthday. It found Keaton confidently spreading his wings into feature-length terrain. Far from just a string of gags, it tells a proper story parodying inter-family blood feuds that span generations. Buster plays the New Yorker who travels to the south to collect a family inheritance only to find himself at the mercy of the rival Canfield clan, who would shoot him dead on the spot but for their counter-impulse of southern hospitality. Lovingly recreating its pastoral early 19th-century settings (including a farmland New York), this is the one with Buster’s death-defying feats on a waterfall, and all of the same practical genius and gift for shot-making can be found in this same set’s Go West (1925), which climaxes with Keaton herding cattle through the streets of downtown Los Angeles.

But I’m a Cheerleader (1999)

Where’s it on? Amazon Prime

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But I’m a Cheerleader (1999)

Disappearing from Amazon Prime’s subscription offer at the end of the weekend is this knowingly camp satire from the end of the last millennium. With Boy Erased and The Miseducation of Cameron Post, there was a spate of dramas about gay conversion therapy a couple of years ago, but Jamie Babbit’s But I’m a Cheerleader got there first – and did it a whole lot funnier. Made under the acidic influence of John Waters, Babbit’s debut follows a high-school cheerleader with an eye for the girls whose conservative parents send her to True Directions, a boot camp for ironing out ‘unnatural’ sexual impulses. Garish in its pink/blue production design and broad in its sweeps at the reactionary forces that seek to impose heteronormativity, But I’m a Cheerleader met a muted response on release in 1999 but has become a cult classic among queer audiences. Its cast boasts a whole bunch of familiar faces in bit parts, including RuPaul, Michelle Williams and Julie Delpy.