AT BERLINALE

Berlinale 2020: Jóhann Jóhannsson's Entrancing 'Last and First Men'

Last and First Men Review

The iconic Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson passed away with a few years ago, but he has left us with something timeless and extraordinary – an awe-inspiring work of cinematic brilliance, both aurally and visually. Last and First Men is a 70-minute documentary feature that Jóhannsson originally created as a visual piece to accompany his live concerts. The finished "documentary" film was put together by Icelandic producer Thor Sigurjonsson and Norwegian cinematographer Sturla Brandth Grøvlen, and it has just premiered at the Berlin Film Festival – two years after his death. Maybe it helped that I was deliriously tired (film fest exhaustion) when I watched this but… This is one of the most entrancing cinematic experiences I have ever had. I feel like I stopped caring about time and was completely lost in the footage and the music and the words. My mind melded with the screen on this journey. I loved every last second of this experience.

Berlinale 2020: Riz Ahmed Raps & Reflects on Life in 'Mogul Mowgli'

Mogul Mowgli

This film is one of the finest discoveries at the 2020 Berlin Film Festival. Mogul Mowgli is an outstanding gem of a film, made authentically by genuine artists giving it their all. It's a remarkable relief to come across a film so surprising yet so entirely refreshing and engaging, that's an unforgettable experience to watch, and I can't help but rave about it when this happens. Mogul Mowgli is one of my favorite surprises at Berlinale this year. A few of my colleagues mentioned it as a film on their schedule and I looked it up, saw that it stars Riz Ahmed as a rapper, and decided to give it a look. I have high hopes that the film will find an audience outside of the film festival circuit, and connect with many people. It doesn't matter where you come from or what religion you follow, this film is about an artist wanting it all struggling with the painful realities of life.

Berlinale 2020: Kelly Reichardt's Film 'First Cow' is the Bakers' Delight

First Cow Review

I would really, really like an oily biscuit with honey and a touch of cinnamon after finishing this film. Please. First Cow is the latest feature made by American filmmaker Kelly Reichardt (of Old Joy, Meek's Cutoff, Night Moves). After initially premiering at the Telluride & New York Film Festivals last fall, it has made an appearance at the Berlin Film Festival this year showing as a European premiere in the main competition section. Set at the beginning of the 19th century in the rural Northwest (mainly in Oregon), the film is about a friendship and successful local business started by two lonely misfits. It's not just a film about a cow, it's not just a film about friends, and it's not just a film about the Northwest frontier. It has so much depth and heart and humility, an entirely wonderful film. I think I loved it, to be fully honest, which even surprises me.

Berlinale 2020: 'Minamata' Reminds of the Power of Photojournalism

Minamata Review

It is always important to shine a light on stories that remind us of the power of journalism. Not only about all the hard-working, courageous people committed to reporting the stories, but also about the impact it can have on the world. It also goes without saying that photojournalism is just as powerful, if not even moreso sometimes. One image can change the world. This is the ultimate value of this particular film, and the true story it tells. Minamata tells the story of renowned American photographer W. Eugene Smith, who went to Japan in the early 1970s to photograph the inhabitants of a small town being poisoned by a careless, greedy chemical corporation that had a dangerous factory there. It's a very moving, earnest film about the power of photography and the tenacity of journalists. And it won me over big time, unleashing all kinds of emotions.

Berlinale Enters a New Era Kicking Off the 70th Edition of the Festival

Berlinale Film Festival

Willkommen in Berlin! The 70th Berlin Film Festival, also known as Berlinale, has kicked off this week in Berlin, Germany in the center of the city at Potsdamer Platz. This year's festival takes place a few weeks later than usual (instead of back-to-back with Sundance), so they can put some distance between the festival and the Academy Awards yet still sneak in before February ends. This is my seventh year in a row covering this festival, and now that I live in Berlin, it's my "hometown" festival that I get to attend while going home to my own apartment every evening. It's also a pivotal year for Berlinale - not only is it the 70th edition, it's the first festival with a brand new set of co-directors running things - Mariette Rissenbeek & Carlo Chatrian.

The 5 Excellent Documentaries Worth Watching from Berlinale 2019

Berlinale 2019 Documentaries

"Good cinema is good cinema." -Agnes Varda. Looking back at the 69th Berlin Film Festival this year, there honestly weren't that many great films. A few really stood out (like Golden Bear winner Synonyms), but in general the line-up was pretty dismal. Even the competition selection was mostly awful. I saw a total of 24 films over 10 days at Berlinale 2019, and looking back over them, my favorites were all documentaries. So to recap Berlinale this year, I put together a list of my 5 favorite docs which also happen to be 5 excellent films that are very much worth watching. It's always hard to convince people (anyone, really) to watch a documentary. So the least I can do is highlight my favorites and try to explain why they're good. If you have time, watch all five, but if not, at least watch one of them - I guarantee you'll be enriched by these fine films.

Berlinale 2019: Nadav Lapid's 'Synonyms' is Biting, Bold Filmmaking

Synonyms Review

There's something strange in the neighborhood, someone new and just a bit weird. Synonyms is the latest film from Israeli filmmaker Nadav Lapid (Emile's Girlfriend, Policeman, The Kindergarten Teacher), co-produced by German filmmaker Maren Ade, and it premiered in competition at the Berlin Film Festival (where it also won the Golden Bear top prize). I caught this film during the festival and I must say - I have never seen anything like it before, which is always impressive. Synonyms is a very weird, wild, funny, odd, satirical French-Israeli dark comedy of sorts. It's hard to describe, and even harder to understand after an initial viewing, but the more I talk about it and play scenes back in my mind, the more I admire its boldness.

Nadav Lapid's Satire 'Synonyms' Wins Golden Bear at Berlinale 2019

Berlinale 2019 Golden Bear

As another film festival comes to an end, it's time to celebrate and commemorate with the announcement of the awards. The 69th Berlin Film Festival is finishing up, and the winners were revealed at the Closing Ceremony, including the winner of the coveted Golden Bear for Best Film. That top prize was given to a film called Synonyms, directed by Israeli filmmaker Nadav Lapid (seen above), regarded by most critics as the best of the fest anyway. It's a French-Israeli dramatic satire set in Paris that's about the difficulties of immigration and integration. Other big winners include François Ozon's By the Grace of God about abusive priests, and the documentary Talking About Trees covering Sudanese cinema. Full list of the winners below.

Berlinale 2019: Stylish Dark Comedy 'O Beautiful Night' from Germany

O Beautiful Night Review

One of the most fascinating discoveries of the Berlin Film Festival this year is a German dark comedy titled O Beautiful Night, which is the feature directorial debut of a German animator and/or filmmaker named Xaver Böhm. This stylish, neon-drench indie is about a lonely, nihilistic kid named Juri who is greeted by a guy who identifies himself as Death - a spiny, chain-smoking, crack-head with a tiny scythe necklace who first encounters Juri inside one of those smoky automated casino joints (which are all around Germany). He takes him on a late night adventure around town, stopping to get drugs, win money, and finally to get drinks at a bar. It's actually a cool concept for a film - not necessarily that original, but nicely refreshed this time.

Berlinale 2019: Aretha Franklin's 'Amazing Grace' Concert Doc is Magic

Amazing Grace Review

Lord Almighty this film is magic, just pure musical magic. Aretha Franklin is a goddess. But we all know that already, right? She is truly one of the greatest singers of all time. The moment she opens her mouth and begins to sing, everything else in the world suddenly goes quiet, there's peace and harmony, you can feel this great power of calm and goodness. Amazing Grace is a long lost film from 1972, finally fully restored and released for us to bask in glory and brilliance. I had the pleasure of watching this documentary film at the 2019 Berlin Film Festival, and it's just wonderful. Watching this joyful performance filled me with so much goodness and happiness and all I wanted to do after is dance around the streets all day. Can I get an Amen?

Berlinale 2019: 'Varda by Agnès' is an Inspiring Chat with a Storyteller

Varda by Agnès Trailer

"If we opened people up, we'd find landscapes." Agnès Varda is a genuine master. She is unquestionably of the greatest filmmakers, storytellers, and artists to ever live - there's really no debating this. It may have taken decades for everyone to catch up with and learn about her (and discover her work), but now we all know the truth, and gosh darnity she's still making more films (even at age 90). Varda by Agnès is a new documentary made by Agnès Varda looking back at her entire life as a filmmaker and artist. It's a beautiful examination of the inspiration and explanations behind some of her work (in cinema & in art) she created throughout her life. She has an immaculate understanding of cinema, and shares some of her insights here (but not all of them, of course) and it's an utter joy to watch her talk for nearly two hours. Varda is the best.

Berlinale 2019: Hans Petter Moland's New Film 'Out Stealing Horses'

Out Stealing Horses

Norwegian filmmaker Hans Petter Moland continues to impress me with every new film he makes. Even if it's not the best film, even if it has some issues or falls apart with a story that doesn't amount to much, his work is still remarkably compelling and gorgeous to watch. He's a true master of cinematic visuals and gives us such evocative imagery in every film, making it seem like it's so easy to capture such stunning beauty to accentuate his storytelling. Out Stealing Horses, originally titled Ut og stjæle hester in Norwegian, is the latest film by Hans Petter Moland who reteams with Swedish actor Stellan Skarsgård (they last made the film In Order of Disappearance together, which also premiered at Berlinale in 2014). There are some good ideas in this, but alas it doesn't amount to much despite intriguing layered storytelling. Which is a let down.

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Alex's Top 10 - 2020
1. Nine Days
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5. Feels Good Man
6. Another Round
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9. Lovers Rock
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