Something different about Cinema?
These longest and darkest months of the year are the time I spend in equally dark rooms watching endless movies. At least one a day and often two. It’s awards season and there are BAFTA’s to vote for. Yet, there’s something different this year. Whether it means changes are afoot is a good question to mull over. As I type, beside me is a pile of DVD screeners and looking at the titles there are two things that stand out.
Firstly, is 2016 the year of the ‘Based on a True Story’ genre? In no particular order already I have seen The Man Who Knew Infinity – based on the true story of an Indian mathematics genius who found himself in Cambridge at the outbreak of WWI starring Dev Patel. This actor is also the lead in another ‘This is a True Story’ film, Lion, directed by Garth Davis – an Australian weepie about a lost Indian boy taken from the streets of Calcutta and adopted by a caring family in Tasmania and his journey back to find his mum.
Hollywood gives us Christine, starring Rebecca Hall who plays the real life TV presenter who committed suicide whilst reading the news, Jackie starring Natalie Portman who is awesome playing the widowed Mrs Kennedy between assassination and the funeral – a terrific film by the way. These two films are also two of a large number of very compelling performances for lead actresses – something that is rare in Hollywood at the best of times. Another, ‘Based on Real Events’ but this time starring three black actresses playing mathematical wiz-kids who get John Glenn into space, is worth watching if for no other reason that their story is extraordinary and the performances are stellar. Pure fiction yes, but I cannot leave out the engrossing performance by Annette Bening in the remarkable 20th Century Women with a magnificent cast including Greta Gerwig and Elle Fanning who had beautifully written parts.
When it comes to true stories about men we have The Founder, starring Michael Keaton as the failing salesman who took McDonalds global. Not a bad film and, again, a true story. Then there is Moonlight. Set in a public housing estate in Miami and based on a play by Tarell Alvin McCraney who grew up in the neighbourhood. Moonlight is written and directed by Barry Jenkins who grew up in the same Miami ghetto and whose mother, like the hero in the film, was a crack addict – powerfully played by the way by the English actress Naomi Harris.
From the UK we have Queen of Katwe with wonderful performances by Madina Nalwanga playing a chess genius from the slums of Kampala, Uganda and Lupita Nyongo who plays her mum. David Oyelowe plays the chess coach who transforms lives and we see him again as an African prince from Botswana in another remarkable but true story about an English rose marrying said prince, against the wishes of everyone it would appear, in United Kingdom.
Then there is Denial starring Rachel Weisz who puts in a fantastic performance as American Holocaust academic Deborah Lipstadt who finds herself in court defending a libel suit taken out by the notorious Holocaust denier David Irving, chillingly played by the ever versatile Timothy Spall. Tom Wilkinson plays Lipstadt’s barrister, Richard Rampton in a beautifully written David Hare screenplay. Less successful in my opinion is Anthropoid, a moody re-telling of the WWII Operation Anthropoid to assassinate The Butcher of Prague SS General Reinhard Heydrich. If you don’t know what happened in reality I won’t spoil it for you.
I could go on. Is there something changing in film culture? Why not make it something to check out in 2017. Just how many wonderful scripts for women were produced and how many little-known or unknown true stories were re-told. I really hope that we are now going to see, as a matter of course, powerful scripts for great actresses and so long as a true story is stranger than fiction I’ll keep watching.