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The Ultimate Choice: Lockdown Edition

It has now been just over a year since most of the world went into lockdown, and is has certainly been an interesting year for film fans. With cinemas shut down and movie releases postponed, many of us scraped the bottom of the barrel for new releases and relived some of our favourite tales. I wanted to get my fellow film friends to write a piece on the best film they saw during lockdown. It could be old or new, a first time watch or a classic, whatever they watched that brought them joy for that short amount of time. Here is what everyone picked.

Back to the Future

Chosen by Amy Smith

Yes, this is my favourite film of all time and yes, I obviously watched it during lockdown on numerous occasions. However, there is a particular reason why I have listed it here. After numerous years of being in love with the film, the cinemas re-opening in August and with a lack of new releases coming out, I was finally able to see this film on the big screen and have the full cinematic experience.

Having that experience of not only watching this film, but the entire trilogy (even with a few technical issues with Part III) was something that I am so glad I was able to do. These are films that thrive in the cinematic experience. The visual effects come to life on the big screen, with the film still being a crowd pleaser 35+ years on.

During lockdown, many of us would have wanted our own Delorean and been able to go back or forward into a time that lockdown wasn’t essential and where we would get new releases and the biggest blockbusters. However, having these films to watch numerous times, whenever it was shown on TV or on the big screen, was enough of a comfort for me to know that a better time is coming. Whenever I am in a rough spot in my life, I know I can pop in the disc and enjoy a couple of hours of fun entertainment in the form of the best film to exist.

I Saw the Devil

Chosen by Jed Wagman: Twitter | Wagman Studios

As soon as one lockdown ends it’s straight back into the next but the one benefit of not being able to go anywhere is that there’s so much more time to watch films! The best film I saw during lockdown was the 2010 Korean film I Saw the Devil directed by Kim Jee-woon starring Lee Byung-hun and Oldboy’s Choi Min-sik.

It’s a film about a psychopathic killer so it’s definitely the joyful and uplifting film we all want to watch during a global pandemic but even so, it was utterly captivating and compelling. Despite it being one of, if not the single most disturbing and brutal film I’ve ever seen, it’s impossible to tear your eyes away from the screen. I Saw the Devil boasts incredible cinematography and fantastic performances from the two leads meaning that despite the truly fierce and horrible subject matter and despite all the blood and gore, it’s such a gripping and enthralling film.

It’s not just the best film that I saw in lockdown but it’s the best revenge film ever made and it’s one of my favourite films of all time. Clocking in at 143 minutes, it’s quite long but nonetheless, it’s a really tense experience for the entire runtime and it’s full of so many horrible and bloody action scenes, but you just can’t look away as you’re totally engrossed in the film’s story. It’s definitely not a film for everyone, if you don’t like the sight of blood then it’s definitely one to avoid but this Korean action-horror flick will definitely stay with you for a very long time. It manages to be simultaneously beautiful and terrifying as there’s lots of genuine and real emotion to the film but at the same time it’s completely unrelenting and brutal in everything that it depicts. I Saw the Devil is a truly compelling and riveting film that makes you want to look away and yet you can’t, not even for one second.

Schindler’s List

Chosen by Chay Strudwick: Twitter | Letterboxd

The past year has been a film fan’s worst nightmare and biggest dream. Numerous delays to movies we have all been eagerly anticipating has seen a bleak year for cinema. But these delays and the year-long lockdown has given fans a chance to see movies they otherwise wouldn’t see and also given the time to check out those films on our continuously growing watchlists! Picking a favourite film that I have watched over the course of the pandemic is no easy task. There has been the Before Trilogy, Do the Right Thing, Leon, Lawrence of Arabia, Portrait of a Lady on Fire – all without including 2020 releases!

Even with all these wonderful films, the honour has to go to Schindler’s List – a harrowing tale of war, choosing to focus on the horrors of Nazi Germany in a way we are not used to seeing. Following the true story of Oskar Schindler, we see a Nazi officer show compassion towards the Jewish people in Auschwitz which gives him the desire to save as many people as he possibly can. With a runtime of over 3 hours and the use of black and white, it may not seem like the most accessible film. However, that could not be further from the truth. The grand nature of the running time is essential in showing the horrors of the holocaust and also to put you in Schindler’s headspace. Throughout the film, I was fully understanding of his motivations and could see what gave him the strength to do what he did, despite being a high-ranking Nazi officer.

The use of black and white is perhaps the strongest of any film I have ever seen in the modern technicolour era. It’s a style of filmmaking we have rarely seen past the 1960s and many films that deploy this can make it seem gimmicky. That is not the case with Schindlers List. The lack of colour only makes you appreciate the story more and adds so much levity to such a horrific in human history. All of this culminates in what is one of the greatest endings in cinema history. I don’t think it’s possible to get to the end of this movie and not at least shed a tear when you hear Oskar utter those chilling words – “I could have done more”. Schindler’s List is truly breath-taking filmmaking. 

Brooklyn

Chosen by Russell Bailey: Twitter | Not Just For Kids Podcast

We’ve all needed an escape of late. With all that has been going on, journeys to the past, steeped in romance, have proved very appealing to this viewer. And none have moved me quite as much as John Crowley’s beautiful melodrama, Brooklyn.

Following an immigrant who leaves Ireland in the 1950s for America, it is a quietly moving, deeply powerful watch. Love, tragedy, hope and despair clash together in Brooklyn, sometimes in the same scene. And all this is anchored by a remarkable performance from Saoirse Ronan (alongside many others since she made waves with Atonement).

Ronan’s turn, nominated for Best Actress at the 2016 Academy Awards, is understated, brimming with emotions that are barely contained under the surface. But she is not the only asset in a cast that includes career-best work from the likes of Domhnall Gleeson and Emory Cohen, as well as wonderful supporting turns from Jim Broadbent, Julie Walters and Jane Brennan.

Nick Hornby’s script is effective without giving in to the excess of some examples of the genre. Yves Bélanger’s cinematography is as striking as it is in the likes of Arrival, Dallas Buyers Club and Wild, and pairs wonderfully with Michael Brook’s score.

In the quiet splendor of Brooklyn, the viewer can find an escape for a few hours from all that is going on in the world around us. This is why this film proved such a special watch for me. 

Host

Chosen by Samuel Preston: Twitter | Rotten Tomatoes Critic Page

On the 23rd of March last year, on the day Lockdown was announced, the only film I watched that day was the 2010 documentary Catfish, a tale of someone met online not being who you think they are. Little did I realise it would represent the beginning of a year unlike any other. At the time I was unemployed, having been made redundant the previous September, and the next year consisted of watching new films galore (including rewatching Contagion the same week) to fill the time. There were an abundance of documentaries, such as 2019’s amazing Diego Maradona, 2018’s shocking Three Identical Strangers, 2015’s Amy and 2018’s Whitney, there was 2017’s Spielberg, a classic magnum opus in Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy. There were independent comforts such as 1999’s Election, 2012’s delightful Robot & Frank, the Southern Gothic nature of 2012’s Mud. There included my introduction to Kubo And The Two Strings, Grave of the Fireflies (still as emotionally brutal as ever), the excellent Your Name, Studio GhibliA surprising amount of horror films, such as the subtextual brilliance of It Follows, Wes Craven’s original The Hills Have Eyes, the grim 2009’s The Road, Ari Aster’s instantly beloved Hereditary, the little known Sea Fever from 2019, the complex examination of faith in Saint Maud, my first ever viewing of The Exorcist.

I was able to use the extra time to watch Parasite in black and white, which was impossible to tear my eyes from. Even the underrated The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and the Award-winning Gladiator I enjoyed watching for the first time. I fell in love with the independent musical Once from 2007, I finally watched the philosophical brilliance of The Man From Earth. Even when I began my new job in August, working from home allowed me to spend more time expanding my horizons with films I’d never seen before, and it was with that in mind that I tried to choose my favourite watch of lockdown. I originally leaned towards naming Hamilton, due to it becoming an undoubted comfort over the last year, rewatching it and listening to the soundtrack to the point of obsession. But I realised that whether lockdown had occurred or not, I was going to watch it, as I’d already bought Disney+ in December. There was Netflix’s Enola Holmes, that had me smiling daftly by the end, or possibly Gerard Butler’s best performance in over a decade with last year’s Greenland on Amazon Prime. The answer though was obvious really, I had to choose a film that I never would have watched if I’d never entered lockdown, and it quickly dawned on me that the answer would be something from the streaming site, Shudder.

I’d been slightly reluctant to try Shudder, believing that it was unlikely I’d find enough horror movies to interest me on a monthly basis, but when Shudder offered a free deal for the month, I found it impossible to not try. Very quickly, I came to appreciate the range of options offered from the streaming site, with some of the highlights from Shudder including the educational Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror, the massively underappreciated Behind The Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon, the evocative and empowering nature of 2017’s Revenge, the all-encompassing In Search of Darkness: A Journey Into Iconic 80’s Horror. A year on, I find myself still subscribed to Shudder, regularly excited for the next possible masterpiece to originate from the site. And the reason for this, and my choice for my favourite film of lockdown, is Rob Savage’s Host. Combining voyeuristic direction, a tone of isolation, and a legitimate chemistry between the real-life friends, Savage effortlessly uses the real-world lockdown to create an engrossingly brisk narrative. In the vein of James Wan’s The Conjuring 2 or John Krasinski’s A Quiet Place, Savage incorporates familiar tropes to craft an excellent horror film. The film also has extra resonance for me, as it was my first ever Rotten Tomatoes-approved review for Cultured Vultures.

Sweet Smell of Success

Chosen by Carlo Giovannetti: Twitter | Thief’s Monthly Movie Loot Podcast

Lockdown in Puerto Rico started in mid-March 2020. It has been a little over a year since we started, and like many places in the world, we have gone through spikes and sags in COVID  cases, political changes and rushed attempts to reopen, most of which has been fueled by twisted facts and misinformation. How ironic is it that the best film I have seen during this year is a film about twisted facts and misinformation? The film in question is Alexander Mackendrick’s Sweet Smell of Success

This is a film I had barely heard of until I stumbled upon it in May 2020, roughly two months after lockdown started. It follows Sidney Falco (Tony Curtis), a sleazy and egocentric press agent that is willing to do anything to win the favors of morally corrupt columnist J.J. Hunsecker (Burt  Lancaster) and thus win the “sweet smell of success”. For Falco or Hunsecker there is nothing sacred; not colleagues, not friends, not family, and certainly not the truth, as long as they can get money and success out of it. So when Hunsecker asks Falco to use his influences to undermine the relationship of his sister with an aspiring musician, Falco is more than willing to oblige. 

This was the kind of film that, even as I was watching it, I knew I was watching a masterpiece.  Every single aspect of it seems to be flawless, from its gorgeous black and white cinematography and the edgy script, to its extremely dark and cynical look at New York life. But most importantly, the great performances of Curtis and Lancaster, both of which were acting against type.  

One of the main aspects of the film is how the apparent facade of glamour from the big city serves to hide the bleakness and amorality of the institutions and characters that inhabit it;  from the scheming press to the corrupt police force, all of which end up betraying their oaths and failing their constituents. I can’t think of a more appropriate film to serve as the highlight of this last year.

Soul

Chosen by Alex G: Twitter | The Rank List Podcast

It’s crazy to think we’ve been in and out of lockdowns since March last year. The past 12 months have been lost completely and they’re all a bit of a blur. One thing that isn’t a blur however is the sheer amount of films I’ve been able to watch in that time. When it came to picking for this edition of The Ultimate Choice I had so many to pick from, Spirited Away, Brokeback Mountain, Rocks, and Dick Johnson is Dead to name but a few, and I almost wish I could have written about them all. But if you know me at all it will come as no surprise that the film I’ve landed on is Pixar’s latest flick, Soul!

Picture the scene. In the UK we are deep into the second lockdown, and things seem to be more bleak than earlier in the year. There isn’t really any end in sight to the stay at home order nut then, Soul comes over the horizon like the beacon of light we’ve all been waiting for and for me, it was all that and more. 

As a big fan of Pixar’s CCO, and Director, Pete Docter I was incredibly excited for the film as it was. Then it got announced that the film would be dropping on Disney+ on Christmas Day. With us not being able to celebrate Christmas as usual in 2020 it really felt like Disney and Pixar were offering us an ultimate Christmas present. 

It’s a clear fact now that Pete Docter never misses, and Soul is no different. It’s a complete masterpiece in every sense of the word. From the stunning visuals, both on Earth and in the Great Before, to the punchy and witty dialogue, a cast of wholly likeable characters, and a soundtrack that rivals some of the best ever made. It’s a complete joy to watch and it sits firmly at the top with my favourites from Pixar.  

But finally, Soul fully embraces the studio’s journey into maturity and deals with existential issues that during lockdown we’ve all had to face. I personally think this is why it resonated with me so much. In a year in which we had a lot of time to ourselves and a lot of that time spent thinking and thinking, it felt as though Soul had all the answers. The film gracefully teaches us to focus in on the little details of life and not get so bogged down by the bigger picture. Through job troubles and health issues it really got me to celebrate the positivity from the last year, spending time with friends (albeit virtually), getting accredited for my first official Film Festival as Press, meeting some amazing people on Twitter and starting my own Podcast. Soul proves that in a world that can be so draining, and bleak at times, there will always be a Spinning Jenny. 

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