Saint Maud (2021) Written & Directed by Rose Glass
Religion and horror seemed tied together since the very beginning. Christianity has its fair share of dark & horrific elements. Just sit down and read through the Old Testament, and you’ll come across multiple gruesome stories about the wrath of God. Religious dogma in the hands of mentally unstable people can be a volatile combination. You can look across the American landscape and see a little under half the population caught up in a fervor fueled by a distorted understanding of the Bible. While filmmaker Rose Glass may not be living in the heart of the United States’s current madness, she certainly shows an understanding of how this particular poison can be so enticing to a person who is alone and unstable.
His House (2020) Written by Felicity Evans, Toby Venables, and Remi Weekes Directed by Remi Weekes
In the 19th, 20th, and now 21st centuries, Africa’s history is a testament to colonialism’s evil. There are constant think pieces published in the papers and magazines of note in the United States & Europe attempting to figure out what went so wrong for the continent. Recently, I saw one blaming it all on the tsetse fly. Colonists will do everything in their power to not accept their role in creating the horror inflicted upon the African people through the rabid extraction of resources. Sudan is an oil-rich country, and therefore massive conflict exists. Many people from Sudan and refugees that settled there having fled conflicts in their own regions have taken the dangerous trek up the Atlantic with dreams of possibly reaching Europe and the United Kingdom. His House is the story of two of these refugees and the horrors they face in their new home and those they bring with them.
Education (2020) Written by Steve McQueen & Alistair Siddons Directed by Steve McQueen
During the 1970s, it was discovered that some London councils were secretly following an unwritten policy to push Black children out of mainstream schools and into “subnormal” schools that were underfunded and poorly staffed. This practice was exposed by Bernard Coard, an education activist from Grenada who worked as a teacher in England. He found that this policy had a long-term effect of making children “neurotic about their race and culture.” This was yet another in a long line of exposure of systemic racism in Western culture directed at Black minds & bodies.
Mangrove (2020) Written by Steve McQueen & Alastair Siddons Directed by Steve McQueen
The summer of 2020 was a season marked by the continued spread of COVID-19 and a massive civil unrest movement that came out of a reaction to the state-sanctioned murders of a growing number of Black people in America. What followed in major cities across the country were all-out police riots with hordes of uniformed officers revealing what brutal thugs they indeed were. The media narrative pushed was that there were riots, but in hundreds of videos released across social media, anyone could see that these attacks from police were made on peaceful demonstrators who were being very direct about their thought on law enforcement in America. Steve McQueen reminds us that this is not merely an American phenomenon or even something specific to our point in history. Police and the justice system are inherently racist, and they cannot be engaged in good faith.
Red, White, and Blue (2020) Written by Steven McQueen & Courttia Newland Directed by Steven McQueen
In this film, director Steve McQueen explores the intersection of blacks & immigrants with the police. To say this is a politically and emotionally charged issue to take on would be an understatement. Much like the United States, England’s law enforcement has had a very tense relationship with Black and Asian communities. The majority of the London Metropolitan Police in the 1970s were white men from conservative backgrounds who saw any guff from a non-white civilian as an attempt to humiliate them. There was an ongoing sentiment that these populations need to be “put in their place” to hold up the law.
Attack the Block (2011) Written & Directed by Joe Cornish
In the wake of Edgar Wright’s success with Sean of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, there was suddenly a demand for smart takes on genre movies, and it seemed like the British were very talented at writing these stories. Joe Cornish was a comedian who co-hosted the popular Adam and Joe Show, a skit comedy series that ran on Channel 4 for five years. He went on to do a radio show with his writing partner Adam Buxton and that ended when production on Attack the Block began. After being mugged by youths from a housing project, Cornish started to wonder how these very tough kids would handle an alien invasion in their neighborhood, and the story was born.
Lovers Rock (2020) Written Steve McQueen & Courttia Newland Directed by Steve McQueen
I fell in love with director Steve McQueen’s work when I saw his first feature film, Hunger, a decade ago. The way he told the story of Bobby Sands, an IRA member who took part in a prisoner hunger strike and died standing up for his beliefs, was told beautifully. As someone who knew nothing about Bobby Sands beforehand, I was in tears during the beautiful final scene. McQueen hasn’t disappointed me since, and I consider every film he’s directed to be one of the best of that year’s releases. So, in 2020, a year that has been unconventional in every possible aspect, McQueen has done something unconventional with his filmmaking as well, releasing the Small Axe Anthology.
Oliver Twist (1948) Written by David Lean & Stanley Haynes Directed by David Lean
David Lean’s second attempt at adapting Charles Dickens is even better, in my opinion. This time around, instead of relying on other screenwriters, Lean and Stanley Haynes worked out the script together and managed to keep most of the story’s high points. Lean was audacious enough to add to the story with two critical bits at the beginning and end that work beautifully and are some of the best scenes of the entire film. Even more so than Great Expectations, we find the director leaning into noir-ish Gothic production design and lighting, which leads to an incredibly memorable viewing experience.
Great Expectations (1946) Written by David Lean, Anthony Havelock-Allan, Cecil McGivern, Ronald Neame, and Kay Walsh Directed by David Lean
The success of Brief Encounter rocketed David Lean into a level of acclaim that would only grow for the remainder of his career. His next projects would be adaptations of two classic Charles Dickens novels, starting with Great Expectations. The idea to adapt the story to the screen came after Lean saw a stage production that abbreviated the text and turned it into a digestible narrative while cutting away subplots. It took a couple of years of drafts, explaining the writing credits until Lean was satisfied with the final product. On Boxing Day (December 26) 1946, Great Expectations premiered in the U.K.
Billy Elliot (2000) Written by Lee Hall Directed by Stephen Daldry
In 1984 in the United Kingdom, the Thatcher government led an effort to shut down coal mines and oppose strikes as a means of union breaking. This led to violent clashes between striking miners and police to protect the corporation’s property and help get scabs into the mines. These strikes were declared illegal by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, and by 1985, the unions had been weakened to the point that they took concessions that were much less than they had been fighting for. This is the background of Billy Elliot, an unexpected time and place to set this story. When I first saw this film around 2001, I did not expect to be introduced to this conflict, and it is a pretty great thematic element for Billy’s story.