In cinemas now
As Daniel Craig’s last outing, discussions abound about his place in the James Bond pantheon. In 2006, after Casino Royale’s gritty black and white opening sequence, it was clear that Bond had been reinvented for a 21st-century audience attuned to new artistic values, new ideas about global politics and, perhaps most interestingly, an entirely new take on a politics of identity. In the world of Craig’s 21st-century Bond – the Bond of Skyfall, Spectre and No Time to Die – even Sean Connery’s elegance and 1960s cool recedes further into the past. No Time to Die is a glorious summation not only of Craig’s career as Bond, but of Bond’s enduring cinematic legacy. What remains to be seen, as the final credits roll, is whether a future exists for 007.
In cinemas now
Dune looks, sounds and feels like the biggest Hollywood spectacle of the decade. It reminds us that, for good or bad, the movies have gone further towards digital and computer enhanced images. The film is a visionary blockbuster but, against some of the claims about the ‘reality’ of the desert world, Dune shows us once again that the future of movie fantasies are big spectacles effected by CGI and visual effects wizardry, with formulaic stories elevated to operatic proportions.
Dune also faces the central challenge of all big budget Hollywood franchises: how do you make an unfinished film into a blockbuster? After Peter Jackson's benchmark The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Dune delivers an incomplete story – the plot covers the first half of the novel – half-filled in characters and the promise of an even grander sequel.
Following Arrival, Blade Runner 2049 and now Dune, Denis Villeneuve reveals himself to be the great visionary auteur of sci-fi blockbuster cinema. Dune is Villeneuve’s chance to demonstrate a genuine cinema of ideas in blockbuster packaging and, based on box office receipts, it seems to have paid off.
Streaming now on Netflix
It’s wonderful to see a filmmaker of the calibre of Jane Campion producing a film of the calibre of The Power of the Dog through Netflix. And it’s hard to believe what Netflix has become as an art film production machine since 2018’s Roma.
Campion returns with another film that explores the complex tapestries of desire and power that will recall her masterpiece of 1993, The Piano. But why I love this film so much is because it is, at its core, another great Western genre makeover, with glorious settings, deft cinematography, and a mythic sensibility that takes us in equal measure to John Ford and Ang Lee’s sublime Brokeback Mountain.
And, of course, you must pause the film midway through: and spot the dog in the landscape before moving on!
Released Boxing Day
Macbeth has always been my favourite Shakespeare; it’s just so brutal in its depiction of the complex dramas of power, sex and violence. What makes this adaptation intriguing is that it is helmed by Joel Coen, one half of the auteur duo, The Coen Brothers. The Coens have always brought an unconventional aesthetic sensibility to their work (recall the glorious Mike Yanagita sequence in 1996’s Fargo), and I’m intrigued to see how a Shakespearean tragedy translates within this world of oddball characters, hyperviolence and weirdly unprompted philosophical meditation. Francis McDormand should be spellbinding as Lady Macbeth, alongside Denzel Washington who will play Macbeth.
Released Boxing Day
Why, 20 years on, are we returning to The Matrix? I was fortunate to catch a preview screening a couple of weeks before the film opens, and regardless of what I thought of the film as a whole (I’m prevented from saying anything, so please don’t read an evaluative position in this blurb!), as the film started with its iconic digital rain, I could not suppress the broadest geeky grin.
The Matrix was, and perhaps still is, the most sophisticated pop culture franchise to explore what it means to live in a digital world, to be a digital citizen, and to navigate what Morpheus calls “digital self-images”. This new film is especially intriguing: the Wachowskis are important filmmakers because their films trace a philosophy and politics founded upon transformation, in gender and sexuality, in ways of knowing the world, and in how we imagine collective futures. The challenge for this film is to see what Lana Wachowski does with the digital matrix of our lives, now on the back end of the social media revolution, the Trump era, and the explosion of identity politics.
Released Boxing Day
A Steven Spielberg film is always a major event in the calendar. But West Side Story has attracted special attention because it seems, at least on the surface, something of a departure for the director. I for one am thrilled that Spielberg has opted to return to his roots in a more spectacular genre of cinema, and there is no more spectacular genre than the musical. I’m anticipating a wonderful musical melodrama from one of the most interesting filmmakers of the modern era, and early reviews are glowing.
Released 20 January
If you’re like me, you’ve unfortunately gone down the rabbit-hole of British royalty spun through our pop culture machine. Princess Diana’s already mythic status is elevated further in The Crown’s Season 3 and the forthcoming Season 4, and the documentary Diana: In Her Own Words appeared on Netflix in 2020, which provides an intimate portrait of her early life within the British royal family.
Spencer chronicles the turbulent Christmas spent at the Sandringham estate. Of course, I’m intrigued to see how Kristin Stewart interprets the mythology of Princess Di, but perhaps the greatest allure of the film is the promise of the Jonny Greenwood score, which has been received with even greater acclaim than his work on The Power of the Dog, which is saying something.
Released 1 January
I love Gaga. So, in one sense, I’m dashing out to see House of Gucci simply to take stock of her performance. But the reports are that this is an uneven, unwieldy, unhinged film – and that appeals to me because big Hollywood studio films tend to be conservative in their aesthetic sensibilities. The wonderful cast, with Adam Driver and Robert Duval, are an added attraction.
Associate Professor Bruce Isaacs is senior lecturer in Film Studies.