Back down to the beautiful country of Italy. Back into the world of cinema. Back into the city of canals. It's time for to kick off the 78th Venice Film Festival, which continues in 2021 as the only festival that never once took a break during the COVID-19 pandemic. I stopped by Venice last year during the 2020 edition, which was a more low key event with strict pandemic restrictions in place in. The 2021 edition also includes these same rules – masks required, 50% capacity venues with reserved seats, vaccination proof required or negative tests every day – but with much more anticipation as they are following in the footsteps of Cannes trying to return to business as usual. Most importantly, the festival's fanastic selection of films is the reason we're all here, and it's as promising as ever. New films from Edgar Wright, Jane Campion, Paolo Sorrentino, Denis Villeneuve, Ana Lily Amirpour, Paul Schrader, Pablo Larrain, Ridley Scott, and many others. Let's go.
What are the best films out of this year's Cannes Film Festival? Which ones should you be taking an interest in? What films should be a priority for you to see? After 12 days at the 74th Cannes Film Festival, after 30 screenings, it's time to present my 2021 list of my Top 10 Favorite Films. This was my 11th year back to this festival, and I love being there in the middle of the buzz, seeing films all day every day non-stop. These ten listed below are the ones that connected with me emotionally or intellectually, and I hope you'll consider watching a few when they arrive in your neighborhood. They are worth the wait. Even after cancelling the fest last year due to the pandemic, there were many impressive films in Cannes this year. I'm glad I could be there and catch up with cinema again. This is my final recap of Cannes 2021 - don't miss any of these below.
"Cinema is not dead," proclaimed Thierry Frémaux during the announcement of the official selection for the 2021 Cannes Film Festival a few months ago. He was right, of course, but we already knew that. Cinema will never die! It just took a little break during the 2020 pandemic year, with cinemas closed worldwide. But filmmakers were still working on films - finishing up post-production from their homes, or even filming new projects when they were finally allowed to resume production (with masks required along with extensive safety protocols). Aside from the 2020 Venice Film Festival held last September, which still took place in-person despite no vaccines available yet, the 2021 Cannes Film Festival is technically the second major film festival to resume "normal operation" following years of shut downs and pandemic restrictions worldwide. They wanted to get back to how it used to be, with 100% full cinemas, and thankfully nothing bad happened.
We're back again in the South of France for the glorious and grand 2021 Cannes Film Festival. The fest reluctantly cancelled last year due to the pandemic and due to an inability to figure out how to come up with some kind of alternative festival (a virtual version or a delay or anything else that wouldn't risk the safety of the attendees). Last year during the usual Cannes dates in May, I watched a series of Cannes Film Festival-esque films and wrote a tribute to the magic of the festival. This year we're finally back in action. The biggest difference is that the festival is now taking place in July instead of May (but only for this year). It's sunnier, there are more tourists around, and the COVID-19 pandemic is still ever-present. But… I couldn't resist the temptation, and I had to come back. Just to see some films, catch up with old friends that I haven't seen for a while, and relax in the Mediterranean (though there's not much relaxing when I'm seeing four films a day).
Is there a safe way to still host in-person screenings at a film festival in the middle of a pandemic? That's the question that has been on the mind of every last film festival all over the world. But there is one solution – hosting outdoor "open air" screenings with social distanced seating (or drive-in screenings in places where most people have cars). The Berlin Film Festival usually takes place in February every year, but this year they had to cancel their main event, as the third wave of the COVID-19 was taking over the city at the time. However, the festival eventually came up with an interesting plan: allow the press and industry access to a simple digital screening system in February to watch most of the line-up. Then follow-up in June during the summer with outdoor screenings of ALL of the films for the public. This worked like a charm. I caught two films during the Berlinale-in-summer series and found myself wondering why I didn't get even more tickets.
If you haven't heard by now, the Golden Globes are embroiled in a massive controversy that began when they were ousted for having no Black members. And it probably means they're done for good. We can only hope that's the case. NBC has already stated they will not air the Golden Globes in 2022, which is essentially the "final blow" in the controversy, meaning that the actual show won't go on this time. The Golden Globes are put on by a shady group known as the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, aka the HFPA, and thanks to lawsuits & journalists we now know everything (bad) about them. To put it bluntly, it's a group of power-hungry "international journalists" who are obsessed with Hollywood celebs. And to put it bluntly again, it's time to end the Golden Globes for good. 2021 should be their final year. They don't matter anymore, they're boring, they're bought-and-paid for awards, and that's on top of the problems with the HFPA membership.
The fans were victorious. Zack Snyder's Justice League is finally upon us. After a four year journey that originated with director Zack Snyder departing the project due to a family tragedy, the four-hour superhero epic defied all odds and expectations and arrived streaming on HBO Max this past weekend (watch the final trailer again). No longer besmirched by Joss Whedon's neutered version of Justice League from 2017, Zack Snyder's Justice League (formerly known as "The Snyder Cut") restores his epic vision for the superhero film, and it is a victorious triumph for perseverance and for the vision of an auteur who never gave up.
The 2021 Sundance Film Festival wrapped up last week after a series of virtual premieres and localized "satellite" screenings around the country. Now it's time to present our Best of the Fest list. I was able to catch a total of 44 films this year, watching online from home (to stay safe and sound). But I couldn't catch everything and missed a few films getting tons of good buzz (as is always the case). Nevertheless, I saw a great deal of outstanding, high quality features this year. I am presenting one big list of my 10 favorite films - a mix of docs and features. All of these below are worth watching, and I highly recommend seeking them out. I'm glad Sundance continues to program some of the best films all year, as well as more innovative, unique, challenging, experimental, and totally wild & crazy features from all around the world. Below are my favorites, the films that connected with me and have remained on my mind all the way through the festival.
In Tenet, Christopher Nolan's new mind-bending, time-traveling epic blockbuster, there is a scene early on where Clémence Poésy's character Barbara tells our hero, simply known as "The Protagonist": "Don't try to understand it. Feel it." It certainly feels like the mission statement for the film, Nolan's way of telling the audience you probably won't be able to comprehend everything you see in what's about to unfold, so just feel it. It makes sense for a filmmaker who often prefers sonic and tonal ambience over narrative clarity, and in the case of Tenet there's a distinct feeling he's acknowledging this with the hope you'll just go along for the ride. Except in the case of Tenet, unlike Nolan's other works, there's little to understand, or feel, this time.
The show must go on… That's the classic show business phrase that really is the best way to describe what's happening this week. "Meaning that regardless of what happens, whatever show has been planned still has to be staged for the waiting patrons." The 77th Venice Film Festival kicks off today in Italy. Even though every other festival, including Cannes and Telluride, has been cancelled this year, Venice must go on. Even Toronto, which will have some screenings in the city, has shifted almost entirely online instead. But here in Italy, they're trying the opposite. Is it all about ego? Who knows… The red carpet is now sheltered by a giant wall that provides "social distancing" for the celebrities, but it basically just turns the festival into a private no-fans, industry-only event. Which may be for the better anyway? But is definitely a sign that this is no ordinary year for film festivals. Yet there are films to show, and they're still premiering for these two weeks.
Even without Cannes this year, we Cannes still have our own festival anyway. Even without film festivals, we can still experience the excitement of cinema watching films at home. The 2020 Cannes Film Festival was supposed to take place from May 12th to May 23rd, and this would've been my 11th year attending. But the festival has "postponed", although it seems like it's cancelled for 2020, due to the coronavirus pandemic. They decided not to host a virtual festival and instead are considering some kind of online offering and/or a partnership with another festival in the fall. So what else is there to do during these 11 days in May? Watch more films anyway! I wouldn't want to be anywhere else besides in Cannes anyway, so in the spirit of the festival, I decided to host my own version at home and watched 15 extraordinary films over the last 11 days.
"The single biggest threat to man's continued dominance on the planet is the virus." A quote from Nobel laureate Joshua Lederberg, Ph.D, that is shown at the beginning of Outbreak. In just a few months, followed by a few weeks of frantic decision making, the entire world has been upended by a virus. We still don't know when things will get back to "normal", or if they'll ever get back to normal, but for the time being everything is changing before our eyes and there's nothing we can do besides wait and see. Stay at home and stay safe. Ride out the storm and wait for sunny skies after it's all over. The biggest change affecting this website, and every reader, is that cinemas worldwide have shut their doors. Most countries have passed emergency laws requiring all entertainment venues, including all cinemas, to close down until further notice. Thankfully we have digital libraries at our fingertips, but I still miss the cinema. I wish I could still see films in theaters…