Daniel Evans, Rhianna Greensmith, Tim Ovenden and Will Watts
As 2021 draws to a close, Impact’s Reviews Team share their thoughts on some of their favourite films of the year, featuring The Green Knight, The Mauritanian, Spencer, Gunda and Dune.
The Green Knight (Daniel Evans)
If you were waiting eagerly for a surrealist take on a 14th century tale of Chivalry, then The Green Knight is perfect for you. If, by some strange set of circumstances, you were not waiting for that, I would still highly recommend this film. Stylistically one of the most interesting of the year, I found myself totally engrossed by its cinematography and score.
Dev Patel is brilliant as Gawain and there is an interesting take on the ending for those already familiar with the tale. It has the rare quality of nearly every frame having the capability to be a painting, and its slow linear pace puts us in the shoes of Gawain as he undertakes his quest. I cannot recommend this film highly enough and hope it gets the recognition it sorely deserves.
Spencer (Rhianna Greensmith)
At first glimpse, Kristen Stewart seems an unlikely candidate for the role of the ‘people’s princess’, but her performance in Spencer is nothing short of stunning. Set over one weekend during the Christmas period of 1991, the film depicts the challenges Diana was presented with as she was forced into the royal traditions of Sandringham. This occurs alongside the additional weight of her troubled marriage.
a refreshing take on her true character
The pain and mental struggle felt just transfers through the screen; it’s difficult not to find a large portion of the film gut-wrenchingly sad. Yet, painful images of her eating disorder struggles are alternated with touching scenes spent with William and Harry. Diana is determined to create memories with her two sons that transcend the level of childhood magic that can be found in royal traditions. My personal favourite scene in this vein sees Diana taking the boys out for a KFC, purely to bask in life’s simple pleasures.
The film’s sympathies are felt to lie with Diana throughout, but it does not occupy itself with engaging in gossip or scandal. That being said, Kristen’s Lady Diana is bound to offend traditional royalists with her frequent swearing and impulsive nature. Personally, I found this to be a refreshing take on her true character, and thus is a highlight of the film.
The Mauritanian (Daniel Evans)
I have to admit that going into this film I was expecting a more predictable story of US torture and illegal extradition and was expecting it to follow many of the same beats. Where this film is separated from the others is in the outstanding central performance from Tahar Rahim, who provides the film with a much-needed human centre.
This is not to say that Jodie Foster and Benedict Cumberbatch were not just as good as they always are, and is not an indictment on the cinematography or direction. However, without Rahim, the film would have lacked the heart and charisma he provides and could have been a more run of the mill legal drama.
The story of Mohamedou Ould Salahi is a terrifying and devastating one, and the film does justice to him by presenting Salahi not as a one-dimensional victim, but as a rounded human being throughout. His depiction is also not a lecture – it is not a political rant or Hollywood virtue signalling and is all the more effective for it.
The film follows much the same path as many legal dramas. However, the central focus is on a man struggling against the odds for his freedom, and the focus on the victim is what set this film apart for me. I would highly recommend watching this film; both to educate yourself on the story upon which it is based, but also because of Tahar Rahim. An actor I hope to see much more of in the future.
Gunda (Tim Ovenden)
Whether it’s indicative of the calibre of movies that came out this year or of my dwindling commitment to keeping up with new releases, I did not expect a black and white documentary without a soundtrack or any dialogue to be my favourite film of the year.
Guaranteed, it just so helps that Gunda centres around the day-to-day farm life of piglets, the cutest animals in the world (and that’s not debatable). Only the film really is an endurance test at times. Shots hold for well beyond the suitable length; there are scenes of piglets sucking on teats, for example, that feel like they go on for eternity.
pretentious, yes, but never preachy
Like fellow Russian auteur Andrei Tarkovsky before him, director Viktor Kossakovsky truly pushes audiences to the limits of their patience before making a cut. Quite thankfully, there are other farm animals sprinkled into the runtime to help break up any swine-fuelled monotony. Never has a 10-minute interval of a one-legged chicken hopping along or a slow-motion stampede of cattle been more appreciated and earned.
The ending ties the movie together perfectly and promotes vegetarianism without ever presenting any on-screen harm to animals or feeling preachy – pretentious, yes, but never preachy. While I believe the film should have been edited to be more engaging throughout and thus more accessible, I respect the meditative pace and the film has still stuck with me considerably.
Unfortunately, this movie-going experience has also reminded me how difficult it is for art to change people’s perceptions: my housemate was brought close to tears while watching the plight of these piggies, then went home and made himself a ham sandwich.
Dune (Will Watts)
One of the most hotly anticipated releases of 2021, Denis Villeneuve’s Dune embraces the mammoth task of depicting the first half of Frank Herbert’s 1965 novel. Similar to his 2017 sequel of Blade Runner, Villeneuve remains faithful to the original story while boldly stepping out from under its shadow. Dune lays the foundations for the next chapter of the saga, but also stands alone as an exhilarating audio-visual experience, making it one of the strongest films of this year.
the on-screen chemistry of the cast is seamless
While the House Atreides, led by Oscar Isaac’s Duke Leto, navigate a fierce rivalry with the House Harkonnen amongst the sandy vistas of the planet Arrakis, Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet) is preparing himself as a future leader – both physically and emotionally – under the guidance of Duncan Idaho (Jason Momoa) and Gurney Halleck (Josh Brolin). The on-screen chemistry of the cast is seamless; they deliver an onslaught of mystery, affection, wit and hatred.
Some viewers were left weary by the 2.5-hour runtime. Clearly, Dune is not a snappy sci-fi thriller. Nor was it ever intended to be. The scenes are beautifully drawn out in a way which is remarkably similar to the prose of the novel, no doubt thanks to the sweeping, almost abstract, cinematography of Greig Fraser which graces the screen in a tangerine haze. Visually, this film is a feast for the senses.
Hans Zimmer – known for the galactic soundtracks of Interstellar and Blade Runner 2049 – delivers a haunting score which thunders in harmony with Fraser’s visuals. It emphasises the otherworldly mystery of the Bene Gesserit sisterhood, while also bringing the end of the movie to an overwhelming climax. It’s deceptively easy to forget that this is only the first part of a much longer epic. The final chapter of Dune is due to be released October 2023.
Daniel Evans, Rhianna Greensmith, Tim Ovenden and Will Watts
Featured image courtesy of Alex Watkin. Permission to use granted to Impact. No changes were made to this image.
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