Films to escape to this New Year

The new year period, January through to March, is generally the best time of the year for independent cinemas. Multiplexes see a pick-up during the August school holidays because that’s blockbuster season, but for us, winter is busy season. It’s when spectacular indie films from around the world get a bit of the blockbuster treatment. It’s Oscars season.

For reasons I need not explain, this year looks very different. Usually in January, I end up in the cinema at least weekly (it’s nice that it’s also too freezing cold to do anything else) and this time last year there was plenty on offer; 1917, Parasite, Jojo Rabbit, Uncut Gems, The Lighthouse and The Personal History of David Copperfield, to name a few.

So this year I’m feeling a little lost. I need something dazzling before I retire back to watching quieter, more thoughtful films that usually come in spring, and given the way everything is going, I’m also after some escapism. But where to start?

If you’ve got an Amazon Prime account, or don’t mind renting from the service, Sylvie’s Love is an excellent choice. A sumptuous romance set in 1950s Harlem, this is a proper old-fashioned love story, with the spirit of Hollywood’s golden age and a swooning jazz soundtrack. Something to spend an evening getting lost in.

Also streaming on Amazon Prime is the excellent One Night In Miami, the directorial debut from Regina King. Set in 1964, One Night In Miami imagines a gathering with Sam Cooke, Malcolm X, Cassius Clay and Jim Brown. A conversational set piece where the four men weigh up their roles as Black men in society, and in the civil rights movement. King has managed to capture the spirit of each larger than life character in a way that is respectful, layered and heartfelt, and though her film is timely and politically urgent, I also found it somehow deeply comforting. Perfect for a Sunday afternoon.

If you're looking for something you can stream for free, and aren’t particularly bothered about watching something brand new, two of my favourite indie hits from the past few years are also currently streaming on BBC iPlayer: Armando Iannucci’s The Death of Stalin (if you’re in need of some really black comedy), and Phantom Thread, which stars Daniel Day-Lewis and Vicky Krieps in a twisted romance, from Paul Thomas Andersson.

I have an inkling that the dazzling would-be hits of Oscar’s season are waiting round the corner. Thanks to the postponements of 2020, and the films actually scheduled for 2021, we should be looking at a bumper year when cinema’s finally do open.

This article first featured in the Sheffield Telegraph on Thursday 7 January 2021.


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