Ten films to watch out for in 2020

The pick of the films we’re most excited about over the next 12 months – from Spike Lee’s new Vietnam War drama to Sofia Coppola’s comic romp through New York.

Sight and Sound
Da 5 Bloods (2020)

1. Da 5 Bloods

Spike Lee

A Spike Lee Vietnam film is the war movie we didn’t know we were dying to see. “The film is called Da 5 Bloods,” the director explains on the phone from Los Angeles. “‘Da Bloods’ is a term that the African-American soldiers in Vietnam called each other.”

The film, which stars Chadwick Boseman, Delroy Lindo, Clarke Peters and Paul Walter Hauser, revolves around a group of ’Nam veterans returning to South East Asia in an effort to deal with their traumas.

It was while Lee was in preproduction for his Cannes prize-winning BlacKkKlansman (2018) that he started to think about making a film about African Americans fighting under the Stars and Stripes flag. “The producer Lloyd Levin gave the script to [Lee’s regular screenwriting partner] Kevin Willmott and me. It’s written by Danny Bilson and Paul DeMeo. Kevin and I changed the viewpoint to that of African American soldiers in the Vietnam War. We realised that this was an opportunity to show what black Vietnam soldiers did.”

Lee is unwilling to discuss any other Vietnam movies, but says Da 5 Bloods will be different: “I’m not saying there are no black soldiers in other Vietnam war movies, but this is their story. They are not like the guy on the side.”

The 62-year-old New Yorker – pictured above on set – indicates that patriotism will be a big theme in the film. “The first person to ever die fighting for the US flag was a black man, Crispus Attucks, who was killed at the Boston Massacre, fighting against the British. So black people were dying for America from the get-go. During the Vietnam War, the African-American population in the US was 11 per cent, but the number of black soldiers fighting was 31 per cent. Our black asses went straight to the front line, so we incurred a disproportionate number of fatalities and injuries. Today, when Agent Orange [President Trump] accused black NFL players of not being patriotic, this is bullshit. If anything, we have been more patriotic: we have been fighting for this country, [despite] being lynched and now being shot down on the streets.”

The film, which is currently being mixed in New York and will come out some time later this year, will be financed by Netflix, with whom Lee has a strong relationship. “I did two seasons of She’s Gotta Have It with them, they executive produced one of my students’ short films, See You Yesterday, so I’m glad they are around. Netflix and other streaming services are giving filmmakers a place to go when the studios don’t want to do it. Example number one: Scorsese’s The Irishman.”

— Kaleem Aftab

  • Correction (24 January 2020): an earlier version of this article, also printed in our January 2020 issue, incorrectly included Giancarlo Esposito in the cast of Da 5 Bloods. We have removed the mistake here.

2. Memoria

Apichatpong Weerasethakul

Apichatpong Weerasethakul directing Tilda Swinton on the set of Memoria (2020)
© Sandro Kopp

Memoria sees the Thai director (pictured on set) filming a feature outside his native country for the first time, and working with a name Western cast. It stars Tilda Swinton, Jeanne Balibar and Daniel Giménez Cacho (Zama) and is set in Colombia, where Apichatpong teamed up with a local crew and his longstanding director of photography Sayombhu Mukdeeprom. Memoria is about an archaeologist, a fish scaler and a woman plagued by strange sounds. The director talked about the film in this email interview.

What has the experience been like working outside your usual domain of Thai landscape and mythology?

Enjoyable, liberating. Still, I approached the new place similarly to when I work in Thailand. I appreciate everyday life’s details, a sense of perpetual transformation, the decay. They are universal.

Why did you decide to work with Tilda Swinton and Jeanne Balibar?

I have been friends with them for many years. I wrote the script with them in mind. We share the love of a particular cinema, and we wanted to be in a place that is foreign to us, to open our senses.

How did you first discover Colombia, and what fascinated you about the country?

It started when I was young with the stories of the Amazon, the Inca, and Gabriel García Marquez. Later, I had a chance to visit Mexico, Peru, then Colombia. I learned about the country and was struck by the land that links with violence and greed and people’s perseverance.

Archaeology features in the film – is that what the title Memoria is about?

Yes. Intermixed layers of memories.

Given the story, does sound design figure heavily?

One hundred per cent!

— Jonathan Romney

3. Bergman Island

Mia Hansen-Løve

Bergman Island (2021)

The semi-autobiographical Bergman Island is Hansen-Løve’s seventh feature and her first in English. It’s a supernatural melodrama set on the Swedish island of Fårö, where Ingmar Bergman, the director of The Seventh Seal (1957) and Persona (1966), lived and worked. Hansen-Løve won’t be drawn on exactly how Bergman and the island relate to the film – she’s still editing it – except to say that it’s about an American filmmaking couple who travel to Fårö to write their respective screenplays. In the long summer days, the line between reality and fiction starts to blur against the backdrop of the island’s wild landscape.

The cast is also tantalising: Mia Wasikowska, Anders Danielsen Lie – and Vicky Krieps and Tim Roth (pictured left). “I discovered Vicky in Phantom Thread [2017], where she’s unique,” Hansen-Løve explains of her casting decisions. “Among Tim’s many films, Made in Britain [1982] and Little Odessa [1994] were some of my favourites. Mia Wasikowska has been one of my favourite actresses for a long time, and I was hoping to work with Anders since I saw him in Oslo, August 31 [2011].”

And did she, like her characters, write her script on the island? “Yes, I did go to Fårö to write it – but alone! I actually have visited each year since 2014. At some point it became like a second home.”

— Isabel Stevens

4. Benedetta

Paul Verhoeven

Benedetta (2020)

Yes, cinema nuns do sometimes have decorous presences, but they’re more likely to carry elements of scandal under the habit: Bruno Dumont’s novice-turned-terrorist in Hadewijch (2009), the sinful sisters of assorted Euro-exploitation pics and, most riotously of all, Ken Russell’s The Devils (1971). So expect a whiff of sulphur with the incense in Paul Verhoeven’s Benedetta, his delayed follow-up to 2016’s Elle.

Previously known as Blessed Virgin, the French-language drama is based on Judith C. Brown’s historical book Immodest Acts: The Life of A Lesbian Nun in Renaissance Italy, and tells the story of Sister Benedetta Carlini, a 17th-century abbess supposedly subject to mystical visions and stigmata. The film will certainly be provocative, given the director’s track record and the nipple-flashing promotional artwork. Even so, Verhoeven declared early on that the film “must be deeply infused with a sense of the sacred”.

Co-starring Lambert Wilson and Charlotte Rampling, Benedetta could mark an international breakthrough for its lead Virginie Efira. She became a big-screen name in France in films by Laurent Tirard and Justine Triet, but made a heavyweight impact in 2018 in Catherine Corsini’s An Impossible Love, with a dazzling performance as a woman caught in an abusive relationship.

— Jonathan Romney

5. The Roads Not Taken

Sally Potter

The Roads Not Taken (2020)

Sally Potter’s tenth fiction feature film has been five years in the making. Conceived before Potter went into production on The Party (2017), which won the Guild Film Prize at Berlin as well as numerous awards for its ensemble cast, The Roads Not Taken is introspective where The Party was social, while expansively roaming multiple locations and eras, compared to the former’s single location.

Yet it, too, centres on an older man newly vulnerable in the grip of illness and reconsidering his life choices. Here, Leo (Javier Bardem) wanders through the city for 24 hours with his daughter, while simultaneously visualising his multiple parallel lives.

Potter speaks of her interest in “women making films about men, not in ways that have been done before. It’s about a fragile masculinity” – one that the film regards with Potter’s customary tenderness for those struggling to tell their unheard stories. “In Leo’s mental state,” she notes, “his apparent disability, is the ability to co-exist in his other possible selves. Where Orlando [1992] was about multiple selves through time, this is about selves moving horizontally. It’s another way of exploring identity that is entirely fluid and co-existent.”

Holding the centre is Leo’s daughter Molly, with Elle Fanning reprising and reinventing her role in Potter’s Ginger & Rosa (2012) as a woman trying to understand her father. Fanning has said she first truly understood acting on Ginger & Rosa, a tribute to the director that Potter is happy to return. “Elle has a combination of pure professionalism with total lack of rigidity, so I found myself continuously writing new things for her,” she says. “She really carries the narrative thread of compassion and bewilderment here, of what it means when you’re confronted with suffering.”

The film presents – and honours – both Leo’s and Molly’s experiences and perspectives on the caring dynamic. Speaking from her experience of caring for a family member and a friend with neurological conditions, Potter says, “You need to make that empathetic leap into their state, to a middle ground. One can find great joy in these very difficult but incredibly human interactions, being in the blood and guts of human life.”

— So Mayer

6. On the Rocks

Sofia Coppola

Rashida Jones and Bill Murray

On the Rocks feels like a return to home territory for Sofia Coppola after her 2017 Southern gothic remake of The Beguiled. This New York-set comedy-drama features Rashida Jones as a young mother who gets back in touch with her exuberant father, a playboy called Felix – Bill Murray, who starred so memorably in Coppola’s Lost in Translation (2003); the support includes comedians Marlon Wayans and Jenny Slate. It gets even hipper: this is the first in a proposed series of collaborations between Apple and indie studio A24 (Lady Bird, Moonlight, Eighth Grade).

Coppola has mastered a certain sharp irony in several of her screenplays; this may be the writer-director’s most straightforwardly comic effort yet. Will On the Rocks channel the elegant urban isolation of Lost in Translation or the sensitivities of father-daughter bonding in Somewhere (2010)? The signs are hopeful.

— Pamela Hutchinson

7. The French Dispatch

Wes Anderson

Early word that Wes Anderson’s “love-letter to journalists” The French Dispatch was to be a musical turned out, sadly, to be fake news.

However, there is plenty more to report. The headline is that this film will feature three storylines, all taken from the pages of the eponymous paper, an American news magazine published in a fictional town in France. Star Frances McDormand will be joined by an enviable cast including Bill Murray, Timothée Chalamet, Jeffrey Wright, Tilda Swinton, Benicio Del Toro and Saoirse Ronan.

The master of symmetry shot the film in the picturesque city of Angoulême last year, and mouths are watering for a similar mix of quirky European kitsch and immaculate landscapes to that in The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014), Anderson’s last live-action feature – not least because his regular cinematographer Robert Yeoman is back on board.


8. The Last Thing He Wanted

Dee Rees

The Last Thing He Wanted (2020)

Dee Rees’s new film, like her last feature Mudbound (2017), will premiere at the Sundance festival later this month before being distributed by Netflix. And perhaps, also as in Mudbound, we should expect Rees to demonstrate her skill at setting personal family history against a wider historical backdrop.

This period drama is based on Joan Didion’s 1996 political thriller, which Rees has called a literary masterpiece, and the adaptation is by Rees herself and debut writer Marco Villalobos. It stars Anne Hathaway as Elena McMahon, a Washington Post reporter who steps down from covering the 1984 presidential election to care for her widowed and dying father, played by Willem Dafoe. Ben Affleck plays a government official who is also Hathaway’s love interest, while Toby Jones and Rosie Perez have supporting roles.

In Didion’s novel, Elena finds herself taking up her father’s shady former role, dealing arms for the US government in Central America; the film was shot partly in Puerto Rico.


9. Mank

David Fincher

Mank (2020)

David Fincher’s first feature since Gone Girl (2014) is another Netflix production, dramatising a bitter feud in classic Hollywood history: Gary Oldman plays the writer Herman J. Mankiewicz, fighting Tom Burke’s Orson Welles over the screenplay of Citizen Kane.

Welles hired Mankiewicz in 1940 to write a draft screenplay which he then substantially edited, introducing new scenes and later saying: “I used what I wanted of Mank’s and, rightly or wrongly, kept what I liked of my own.” Mankiewicz battled Welles to win a credit on the movie, and won – they shared the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay – but held a grudge against the director for the rest of his life.

The entirely non-contentious screenplay for Mank is provided by the director’s father Jack Fincher, a former journalist and editor of Life magazine. All eyes will be on Burke, in particular, to see how his impersonation of the wunderkind auteur goes.

Intriguingly, Amanda Seyfried is set to appear as Marion Davies, silent star and mistress of newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst, who famously went on the warpath against Welles over the similarities between Hearst’s life and the plot of Kane.


10. Tenet

Christopher Nolan

Tenet (2020)

There’s little word yet on the plot of Christopher Nolan’s new film, slated for a July 2020 release, and enigmatic trailers featuring John David Washington (BlacKkKlansman) wearing an oxygen mask don’t give much away. Tenet is an international spy thriller, we’re told, though there have been suggestions that it also possibly involves time travel and evolution.

Cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema has been shooting the movie in 70mm and Imax in seven countries: scenes have been captured in Estonia, Norway (on the roof of Oslo Opera House), the US, India – more specifically Mumbai – Italy, and at a wind farm in Denmark. Cannon Hall in Hampstead, London, previously seen in the 1965 thriller Bunny Lake Is Missing, is another confirmed location.

Washington, Robert Pattinson and Elizabeth Debicki lead the cast. All we seem to know about the characters is that Indian star Denzil Smith plays an arms dealer. But it’s bound to be big, in all senses.


Originally published: 23 January 2020

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