West Side Story (2021)

Where’s it on? Cinemas nationwide

Steven Spielberg is late in the game in getting to a big screen musical. His movie brat peers Scorsese and Coppola each got one away early. But this triumphant new version of West Side Story, released barely a fortnight after the death of the show’s lyricist Stephen Sondheim but a whole year after the pandemic scuppered its Christmas 2020 release plans, is every bit worth the wait. The best picture-winning 1961 version left big shoes to fill, but then so, inarguably, did Romeo and Juliet, the source text for this story of rival street gangs – and the romance that bridges the divide – in New York’s Upper East Side. Spielberg’s nostalgic but subtly recalibrated vision dazzles from the first frame to the last. ‘America’, in particular, is a riot of colour and energy, led by Ariana DeBose’s Anita.

Landscapers (2021)

Where’s it on? Sky Atlantic/Now TV

The year is closing out with not one but two top-of-her-game performances from Olivia Colman. While we wait for her brilliant, prickly turn in Maggie Gyllenhaal’s riveting directorial debut The Lost Daughter to arrive on Netflix, we have this darkly funny and sad true-crime miniseries, which started on Sky Atlantic this week. Colman joins David Thewlis as mild-mannered cinephile couple Susan and Christopher Edwards, who are interrogated by the police for the only-just-discovered murder of Susan’s parents in Mansfield more than a decade ago. Landscapers is much more visually inventive than you’d expect from this kind of crime drama: past and present intermingle as the cops enter into stylised versions of events that suggest how fragmented distant memories become.

Daisy Kenyon (1946)

Where’s it on? Talking Pictures TV

Daisy Kenyon (1947)

This Joan Crawford picture from 1947 ranks among the best of the 1940s Hollywood melodramas, though it isn’t the most well known. It’s a love triangle set-up, with Crawford playing a Manhattanite torn between the affections of two fellas – Dana Andrews’ married man and Henry Fonda’s war veteran. But it’s a triangle in which our protagonist may come to realise that she doesn’t need either of the other corners. This was Crawford in the full flush of her imperial phase, coming off both Mildred Pierce (1945) and Humoresque (1946). But Daisy Kenyon is less tempestuous than those, thanks to the cool, ambiguity-embracing approach of Viennese émigré director Otto Preminger, himself hot off A-grade noirs Laura (1944) and Fallen Angel (1945).

Abouna (2002)

Where’s it on? BFI Player

Abouna (2002)

The debut feature by Chadian filmmaker Mahamat Saleh Haroun took the top spot in the Guardian’s recent rundown of the best African films. That’s a lot for any film to bear, but warmth and human insight emanates from this story of two young brothers who are abandoned by their father – later imagining that he is speaking to them from within the frames of a film. Haroun has since gone on to become one of the most internationally recognised of African filmmakers, his films always getting big festival slots. 2006’s Daratt is another masterpiece. But there’s an elemental simplicity about this first feature that still stands out. Coming up on 20 years old, it’s added to BFI Player this week.

The Love of Jeanne Ney (1927)

Where’s it on? Blu-ray

In need of a decent restoration until now, this late silent-era drama from G.W. Pabst has inevitably rested in the shadow of the two classics he subsequently made in 1929 with vampish American star Louise Brooks – Pandora’s Box and Diary of a Lost Girl. Here’s hoping this new Blu-ray from Eureka puts it in front of more eyes because it’s a film of quite staggering visual invention – full of shots and camera movements that feel startlingly modern. Pabst’s film unfurls against the backdrop of the Russian revolution but follows its eponymous heroine to Paris, where she’s bothered by an unscrupulous Russian pest called Khalibiev – an indelibly weaselly turn from actor Fritz Rasp. There’s a stolen diamond, and some business with a parrot, and Pabst revels in the atmosphere of intrigue and decadence.

Originally published: 10 December 2021