Sight & Sound Winter 2020-21 issue

Please welcome, then, our Winter 2020-21 double issue, leading on the presentation of our 50 best films of the year poll – and our 100 contributors really have found a great movie for almost every week of the year, despite all the shutters and postponements – but digging in much further, with assessments of the year in Black, LGBTQ+, British and Irish, American, South and East Asian cinema, arthouse, documentary, animation and archive films across nearly 50 pages. (It’s our largest issue ever.) And then we turn to the best television, Blu-rays and DVDs, podcasts and video essays… and on a more sombre note again, our annual obituaries roll-call of the filmmakers we lost in 2020, from Chadwick Boseman to Lucia Bosè.

We also continue our #MyDreamPalace tribute to the cinemas we’ve been missing: filmmakers from Wes Anderson and Richard Linklater to Lynne Ramsay and Tsai Ming-liang pay tribute to the picture palaces that formed them, while Nick Pinkerton surveys the cinema experiences themselves immortalised in the movies. We interview cult directors Don Hertzfeldt and Brandon Cronenberg, sound out Brian Eno’s thoughts on film music, profile the poetic film activist Ayo Akingbade, revisit Jean-Luc Godard’s 1968 tour of American campuses… and close out on the ending of The Elephant Man.

Features

The 50 best films of 2020

Like everything else over the past year, the film world has been knocked for six by the pandemic, which spelled catastrophe for cinemas and left the industry facing a threat to its very existence. But amid the grim realities, there remained reasons to be positive, and much to celebrate in the films themselves – the best of which were as innovative, risk-taking and vital as any in recent times. Introduced by Kieron Corless.

+ Timeline of a year like no other

+ The year in British and Irish cinema

Despite the havoc wreaked by Covid-19, 2020 was a vintage year for contemporary British and Irish cinema, painting a distinctive portrait of modern life in the British Isles, writes Will Massa.

+ The year in animation

While some have overstated the pandemic-related boost to the sector, it’s undeniable that animation has been well-positioned to weather the crisis, writes Alex Dudok de Wit

+ The year in documentary films

A devastating year for cinema has hit nonfiction film particularly hard, uprooting the festival infrastructure on which the health of the sector depends, writes Eric Hynes.

+ The year in arthouse cinema

Niche foreign-language and art films found a lifeline online, but if the year taught us anything it is that these works need the big screen to fully work their magic, writes Jonathan Romney.

+ The year in East Asian cinema

In spite of the inevitable disruptions in the region this year, there were still a number of gems to be found, both old and new, from Wong Kar Wai to Hong Sangsoo, writes Tony Rayns.

+ The year in archive cinema

It’s been a great year for digital restorations and technical ingenuity, with archive film lovers making the most of lockdown viewing opportunities, writes Pamela Hutchinson.

+ The year in Black cinema

Black film and filmmakers were to the fore as never before in 2020, but too often their reception has been filtered through a white sensibility or to assuage white guilt, writes Nicholas Russell.

+ The year in American cinema

Several smart indies found a fittingly surreal context in our dread-ridden times, while the big digital platforms continued to tighten their grip on our viewing habits, writes Devika Girish.

+ The year in LGBTQ+ cinema

It’s been a rich 12 months for queer cinema, with a typically strong Berlin selection and a host of superb documentaries outclassing a mixed bag of queer British films, writes Alex Davidson.

+ The year in South Asian cinema

It was a year of sad losses for the industry in the region, but resilience and innovation kept things moving forward and a number of films still burned bright, writes Naman Ramachandran.

Television of the year

In a year when many of us were glued to our screens for longer than was strictly healthy, what was most striking was the daring nature of many new TV series, recalibrating our sense of what we could expect from the small screen. James Bell introduces our poll of the year’s best TV dramas.

+ The year in TV documentary

With many of us stuck indoors – the real world out of reach and little to distract us – in 2020 nonfiction television became more important than ever before, writes Scott Bryan.

+ Books of the year

+ Blu-ray / DVD of the year

+ Podcasts of the year

+ Video essays of the year

In memoriam: obituaries and tributes to those who died in 2020

Our annual roll call to honour figures from the worlds of film and TV who have died includes beloved talents, from Spartacus himself to the original Bond, and from Antonioni’s first muse to an actor who was a superhero for many, both on and off the screen.

+ new obituaries of 

Lights in the dark

The lockdowns of the past year have made the very survival of cinemas more uncertain than ever. And while we can still watch films at home, the shared experience is crucial to what we take from them – something the movies themselves have long celebrated. Nick Pinkerton takes a seat in the stalls to survey cinema’s many odes to its own dream palaces.

+ Ten great ‘at the movies’ scenes

Sticks and clones

The films of Texas-based indie animator Don Hertzfeldt are instantly recognisable not only for their ever-present stick figures, but for their warm humour and sense of wonder. As the third entry in his World of Tomorrow triptych is released, he talks to Nick Bradshaw about how his work has developed over a 25-year career.

In-a-body experiences

Brandon Cronenberg’s thrilling second feature Possessor stars Andrea Riseborough as an assassin who occupies other people’s bodies. He talks to Anne Billson about the disorienting effects of creating our public personas, experimental technology, and how the body-swapping film genre chimes anew with our identity-driven times.

From the archive: Godard and the USA

To tie in with the US release of La Chinoise, Jean-Luc Godard embarked on a tour of US universities. In this piece from our Summer 1968 issue, reprinted to mark the director’s 90th birthday, Claire Clouzot – granddaughter of director Henri-Georges Clouzot – reports on the director’s encounters with students eager for political change

Regulars

Editorial

A journal of the plague year

Rushes

My Dream Palace

At a time when many cinemas are shuttered and under threat, a new S&S campaign asks filmmakers to reflect on the magic of watching films on the big screen. Contributions from Edgar Wright, Regina King, Wes Anderson, Richard Linklater, Viggo Mortensen, Tsai Ming-liang, Luca Guadagnino, Lynne Ramsay, Francis Lee, Chaitanya Tamhane and Kleber Mendonça Filho.

Soundings: “Let’s do the film mix”

Brian Eno reflects on how listening to film soundtracks changed his idea of music and details how he approaches his own scores.

Opinion: Hunger management

In lockdown, streaming of films has surged in popularity. But some appetites will only be satisfied by the big screen. By Mark Cousins.

Wide angle

Artists’ moving image: Taking risks in cautious times

In a world that sometimes feels like an experiment in new forms of connection, experimental film has found niches in which it can thrive. By Michael Pattison.

Artists’ moving image: Cry of the city

Ayo Akingbade’s films of contemporary London are hopeful dreams that are also pragmatic calls to action. By Ela Bittencourt.

Primal screen: Catch you on the flip side

The flip book, the simplest form of moving-picture technology, has played a persistent role in the history of cinema… By Bryony Dixon.

…and a chance encounter with a late 19th-century example has uncovered a trove of lost treasures from film’s first decade. By Pamela Hutchinson.

Archive: Not enough Johnson

The works of art we cherish are mostly finished, more or less. What can we learn from the canon of the unfinished and the never started? By Matthew Harle.

Reviews

Films of the month

Ekwa Msangi’s tender, understated melodrama adopts multiple perspectives to get under the skin of an Angolan immigrant family reunited in Brooklyn after 17 years apart. Reviewed by Pamela Hutchinson.

Viola Davis as Ma Rainey and Chadwick Boseman in his final role are outstanding as black artists fighting to make their voices and music heard in 1920s America, though even here their treatment is lopsided. Reviewed by Nadine Deller.

plus reviews of

Television of the month

Missionary nuns led by Gemma Arterton’s Sister Clodagh face stern tests of faith and character in a rich, spacious rethinking of Michael Powell’s 1947 masterpiece. Reviewed by Hannah McGill.

plus reviews of

Home cinema features

Sax education: The Fu Manchu Cycle, 1965-69

The forces of law and order couldn’t kill off Sax Rohmer’s Chinese supervillain Fu Manchu – and nor can a frail thing like public taste. Reviewed by Nick Pinkerton.

Revival: The Night Porter

A combination of sex and Nazism made Liliana Cavani’s film notorious, but, as she explains here, its roots lay in Greek tragedy. Reviewed by Pasquale Iannone.

Lost and found: Morozko

Why has the West never learned to appreciate Aleksandr Rou’s blend of traditional Russian folklore and 20th-century Soviet values? By Deborah Allison.

Archive Television: The Strange World of Gurney Slade reviewed by Robert Hanks

plus reviews of

  • Columbia Noir #1: Escape in the Fog / The Undercover Man / Drive a Crooked Road / 5 Against the House / The Garment Jungle / The Lineup
  • How You Live Your Story: Selected Works By Kevin Jerome Everson
  • Le Garçu
  • Two Films By Nanni Moretti: Aprile / The Son’s Room
  • Two Films By Frank Perry: Ladybug Ladybug / Diary of a Mad Housewife
  • Short Sharp Shocks
  • Train to Busan Trilogy: Seoul Station / Train to Busan / Peninsula
  • Waxworks

Books

Cary Grant: A Brilliant Disguise by Scott Eyman (Simon & Schuster)
+ Cary Grant: The Making of a Hollywood Legend by Mark Glancy, (Oxford University Press)
reviewed by Pamela Hutchinson

Duras/Godard Dialogues Introduction, afterword and footnotes by Cyril Béghin; translation by Nicholas Elliott (The Film Desk) reviewed by Beatrice Loayza

Letters

  • Christopher Nolan’s slow art
  • More Louise Brooks bylines please
  • Mis-illustrating Bruce Lee
  • David Nicholls’s surprise Us inspiration
  • Winter Kills and the 70s conspiracy thriller
  • Altruism and the ending of Rashomon

Endings

The Elephant Man

The close of David Lynch’s 1980 portrait of 19th-century Englishman John Merrick offers its tragic hero a dignified escape from his torment. By Adam Nayman.

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