A Year in Films and TV, Andrew Patterson, August Wilson, Beanpole, Billie, Billie Holiday, Brighton, Calm With Horses, Carole Lombard, Chadwick Boseman, David Lynch, Day By Day With Marilyn, Diana Rigg, Duke of York's Brighton, Edward Norton, Eliza Hittman, Eva Riley, Film Noir, George C. Wolfe, Hollywood's Hard-Luck Dames, James Erskine, Kantemir Balagov, Laura Wagner, Linda Manz, Lucky Grandma, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, Marilyn Monroe, Michelle Morgan, Motherless Brooklyn, Neo-Noir, Never Rarely Sometimes Always, Nick Rowland, Perfect 10, Russia, Sasie Sealy, The Last Interview, The Vast of Night, Tsai Chin, Veronica Lake, Viola Davis
This photo was taken in Brighton just two winters ago, but it already feels like a distant memory. Founded in 1910, the Duke of York’s is the oldest operating cinema in Britain, and I’ve been a customer, on and off, for the last quarter-century. The last film I saw there, back in February, was (ironically) Parasite. After four months in lockdown the Duke’s reopened in July, but by October its parent company Cineworld had announced that all theatres would close indefinitely. Now this grand old building is boarded up, a sorry sight – and it’s just one of many venues facing an uncertain future. I’ve really missed the cinema, though streaming has offered an alternative of sorts. As an old friend told me recently, we all need a little glamour in our lives – and so I hope 2021 is kinder to the arts than this year has been.
Reworking Jonathan Lethem’s novel as a fifties noir, Motherless Brooklyn was a labour of love for its writer, director and star, Edward Norton.
Andrew Patterson’s debut, The Vast of Night, recreates the world of fifties sci-fi, as a New Mexico radio DJ (Jake Horowitz) and a switchboard operator (Sierra McCormick) race against time to track down a strange audio frequency.
Eliza Hittman’s Never Rarely Sometimes Always highlights the urgency of women’s right to choose with strong performances from Sidney Flanagan and Talia Shire as small-town friends who head to the city for help in dealing with an unplanned pregnancy.
Russian filmmaker Kantemir Balagov is only 29, but his second feature, Beanpole – about two young women struggling to rebuild their lives after the trauma of war – shows a maturity beyond his years.
George C. Wolfe’s adaptation of the August Wilson play, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, is a tour de force, with Viola Davis as the great singer, and a haunting final bow from Chadwick Boseman as the young pretender.
Another queen of the jazz age gets her due in James Erskine’s documentary, Billie. (Lee Daniels’ biopic, The United States Vs. Billie Holiday, will follow in 2021, with Andra Day starring.)
At 86, Tsai Chin tops a 60-year career in Sasie Sealy’s bittersweet debut, Lucky Grandma, filmed in New York’s Chinatown and charting a widow’s mixed fortunes as she gambles with her future.
An Irish gangster movie, Nick Rowland’s Calm With Horses stars Cosmo Jarvis as a former boxer ensnared by a local crime family, with sterling support from a cast including Niamh Algar and Barry Keoghan.
Scottish director Eva Riley’s debut feature Perfect 10 was filmed in a Brighton tourists seldom see – from suburbia to the South Downs – with captivating performances from its young leads, Frankie Box and Alfie Degan.
There’s always more to be said about Marilyn, and with The Last Interview & Other Conversations, we hear it from the lady herself; while Day by Day With Marilyn, a lavish journal packed with photos, quotes and facts – as compiled by Monroe biographer Michelle Morgan – conjures a brighter tomorrow.
And finally, we lost two iconic stars this year: Linda Manz, who deconstructed American girlhood in Days of Heaven, The Wanderers, and Out of the Blue; and Diana Rigg, who personified Sixties cool in TV’s The Avengers, and became a grande dame of the theatre.