Blindspot 2020: What do you mean you haven’t seen…?

The Blindspot challenge (for the benefit of those still unfamiliar with it) is where you pick 12 films you feel you should’ve seen but haven’t, then watch one a month throughout the year. I started doing this in 2013, calling it “What Do You Mean You Haven’t Seen…?” (WDYMYHS for short), but then someone else came up with the same notion independently and gave it a much snappier moniker, and that caught on.

My fortunes with the Blindspot / WDYMYHS challenge have been up and down over the years. I’ll spare you a full potted history, but last year I set myself two lists of 12 films each and didn’t complete either — although between them I did watch 17 movies. I braved 24 films because for two years before that I’d done 22 and completed it with relative ease. So maybe I should aim for 24 again this year…

…but I’m not going to. In the same way that the second half of 2019 was a bit unpredictable (leading to my failures), I’m not wholly sure what the future holds, so I’m going to rein it back to the original 12 and see how it goes. And besides, if I find 12 unchallenging then I’ve got the seven remaining films from last year I could move on to; plus one from 2015 that I never got round to. That’s a pretty big ‘buffer’ to work on.

Now, I’ll jump ahead to the main event: the 12 films I must watch, in alphabetical order. Afterwards, I’ll explain how they were chosen.


8½


All Quiet on
the Western Front
All Quiet on the Western Front


An American Werewolf
in London
An American Werewolf in London


Andrei Rublev
Andrei Rublev


The Battle of Algiers
The Battle of Algiers


Do the Right Thing
Do the Right Thing


Fanny and Alexander
Fanny and Alexander


The French Connection
The French Connection


In the Mood for Love
In the Mood for Love


Ordet
Ordet


Ugetsu Monogatari
Ugetsu Monogatari


Under the Skin
Under the Skin

So, some people just pick their 12 films. When I did two lists, that’s what I did for one of them. But the rest of the time I’ve let consensus decide, by compiling “great film” lists in various different combinations to suggest the films other people feel I should’ve seen. I quite like both methods, so for 2020 I’ve picked six with one and half-a-dozen with the other. That said, my ‘free choice’ six were influenced by some of the films that didn’t quite make it into the ‘preselected’ six. (Feel free to guess which films belong in which six. Fun and games! Answers in a mo.)

This year, the selection process involved the following lists:

  • Letterboxd’s Official Top 250 Narrative Feature Films
  • IMDb’s Top Rated Movies (aka the IMDb Top 250)
  • The 1,000 Greatest Films by They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They? (aka TSPDT)
  • the Reddit Top 250
  • Empire’s The 500 Greatest Movies of All Time (aka the Empire 500)
  • Sight & Sound’s The 100 Greatest Films of All Time (2012 edition)

    Because TSPDT takes Sight & Sound’s voter ballots as its foundation, I counted the Letterboxd scores twice as a way of evening it out a bit and not letting S&S be too dominant. It only worked up to a point. For example, Harakiri is ranked 4th on the Letterboxd list and 33rd on IMDb, but it’s a lowly 647th on TSPDT and nowhere on the other lists. So as I started adding the lists together (in the order I’ve credited them above), Harakiri was right at the top, then gradually fell right back. But that’s kinda the point of counting multiple lists: it’s getting a consensus of consensuses. Letterboxd users clearly think Harakiri is one of the very greatest films of all time; IMDb voters aren’t quite as enthusiastic, but it’s up there; everyone else… not so much.

    But it’s not just about the raw numbers of which films top the list: I have some rules. Chief among them, I’ve previously only selected films I already own on DVD/Blu-ray or have access to on Netflix/Prime/etc. This year, I let the door open to anything, though I did first make sure I could reasonably source a copy. So, top of the list was Andrei Rublev, followed by Federico Fellini’s . Next, in a somewhat ironic turn of events, my new “open door” policy actually led to some high-scoring films being eliminated. While sourcing copies of Come and See and Sátántangó, I discovered that both have recently been restored and are expected to get Blu-ray releases in 2020. You might think that’s perfect timing, but what if one or both slipped to 2021, or were insanely overpriced? So I decided to adopt a “wait and see” approach. Maybe they’ll be on 2021’s list.

    Next in the running was In the Mood for Love, followed by Ordet. Then my only still-standing regular rule came into play: one film per director. That meant the next film — La Dolce Vita, which shares Fellini with — was cut. After that is actually where Sátántangó was ranked (keeping up? I don’t blame you if you’re not), followed by Mirror — but Mirror is directed by Andrei Tarkovsky, the same as Andrei Rublev, so out it went too. But now we do finally reach the end: the next two high-scorers were Fanny and Alexander and The Battle of Algiers, which (as you’ll know from their inclusion in the list above) were fine.

    And with those six settled upon, I turned to picking six more from my DVD/Blu-ray collection. There’s less to say about these: I made a long-list of 127 ‘maybe’s; narrowed it down to 38 ‘very possibly’s; and then picked six, based on a mix of intuition about what I ‘should’ have seen and things I’ve personally been wanting to see for a while. I did also try to keep some variety in terms of the films’ ages, genres, countries, and languages… but almost all the ones that made my short-list were in English, so, er, oops. It meant Ugetsu Monogatari was an easy choice, anyway; and I was sure to include some British films (or British co-productions, at least); and Do the Right Thing may be American, but it’s also the only one of the 12 from a black filmmaker. (No female directors, though, which is an unfortunate oversight.) Still, on balance there are more films not in English (seven vs five), and the B&W/colour split is exactly 50/50.

    Four of my six ‘free choices’ do appear further down the rankings I’d compiled. That’s coincidence rather than design, although I suppose seeing them on the list might’ve helped push them to the forefront of my mind. Those four were Do the Right Thing (18th), Ugetsu Monogatari (23rd), An American Werewolf in London (127th), and The French Connection (162nd). I don’t know about you, but I was a little surprised All Quiet on the Western Front didn’t make it. Well, of the lists I’ve used this year the only one it’s on is TSPDT, at a lowly 742nd. (I’m not surprised Under the Skin wasn’t on any, what with it being so recent. For one thing, it hadn’t even been released when the Empire and Sight & Sound polls were conducted.)

    And that’s all that thoroughly over-explained.

    (Did anyone read all this?) (Hello future-me, who surely will re-read all this at some point, sad egocentric that I am.)

    Finally, if I manage those 12 and want more, the eight left outstanding from 2015 and 2019 are…

  • All About Eve
  • All the President’s Men
  • The Breakfast Club
  • Ikiru
  • The Ipcress File
  • The Royal Tenenbaums
  • The Thin Red Line
  • To Kill a Mockingbird

    This is hardly a chore — there are some great-looking movies there — so hopefully I’ll find time for all 20. It would only be fitting, given the year…

  • Shorts of FilmBath Festival 2019

    Across the 2019 FilmBath Festival programme, 46 short films were screened — 23 attached to feature films, 17 at a dedicated ‘Shorts Showcase’, and six at the IMDb New Filmmaker Award ceremony (five in competition, one the film made from the winning screenplay of the IMDb Script to Screen Award). I saw 14 of these, one way or another, and have compiled my reviews into this (commensurately long) post.

    First, the five films that competed for the IMDb New Filmmaker Award.

    Gladiators on Wheels

    The winner chosen by the judges was Gladiators on Wheels (2019, Souvid Datta, UK & India, Hindi, 6 mins, ★★★★☆), a documentary about the ‘Well of Death’ — an attraction at Indian circuses where daredevils ride motorbikes and drive cars around 60ft vertical walls, literally defying gravity. It’s both impressive and terrifying, especially considering they’re doing it without any kind of safety gear — no helmets or padded suits here, never mind nets or something. But the film isn’t just about the actual act, also touching on the way of life, and how it’s fading. It’s a well-shot bit of filmmaking, especially impressive when you learn it was all filmed in a single day. The script was compiled from interviews with the drivers, then voiced by actors, but if anything it’s a little cliché — lots of talk of “living on the edge” and how dangerous it is but how they wouldn’t have it any other way, etc. Still, like many of the best documentaries, it’s a fascinating glimpse at another world.

    The audience at the ceremony also got a say, favouring Hey You (2019, Jared Watmuff, UK, English, 5 mins, ★★★★★), which is about gay men hooking up via text messaging. At first it feels like a lightly comedic bit of fun, possibly with some drama in that one of the men is closeted, but then it develops into something more serious. It’s a very well made short, in particular the shot choices and editing at the climax, which combine to produce some incredibly striking imagery. It’s tricky to say why it’s such an effective and vital film without spoiling where it goes in that finale, but it’s a meaningful piece that’s worth seeing if you can. It would’ve been a worthy winner.

    Facing It

    The three other finalists were … Tight Spot (2018, Kevin Haefelin, USA & Switzerland, English, 4 mins, ★★★★☆), a comedy bit about a shoe shiner and a suspicious customer, which was amusing albeit a little predictable; although it did, again, look nice … When Voices Unite (2017, Lewis Coates, UK, English, 4 mins, ★★★☆☆), a mini tech thriller that was suitably tense in places, but really needed some kind of twist or final development to give it a reason to exist … and Facing It (2018, Sam Gainsborough, UK, 8 mins, ★★★★★), which presented an imaginative visualisation of a relatable social difficulty. Rendered in a mix of live-action and stop-motion animation, it’s by far the most technically impressive short here, but all in service of telling its story and conveying the requisite emotion. Another one that would’ve been a more than worthy winner.

    (You can watch Gladiators on Wheels and When Voices Unite on Vimeo. Sadly the others aren’t publicly available, although there is a short making-of for Facing It which I recommend for appreciating the filmmaking skill on display there.)

    Of the other shorts I saw, my favourite was definitely Pleased to Eat You! (2019, Adrian Hedgecock, UK, English, 7 mins, ★★★★★). It’s a beautifully designed and hilariously funny musical comedy short… about cannibalism! Its colourful and clever staging evokes the handmade movie-reality worlds seen in films by the likes of Michel Gondry or Charlie Kaufman, while the full-blown song-and-dance number is like the best of old-fashioned Hollywood musicals, albeit twinned with a pun-filled cheekiness in its subject matter. An absolute delight from beginning to end.

    Pleased to Eat You!

    If I were to rank all the other shorts too, I’d probably put Woman in Stall (2018, Dusty Mancinelli & Madeleine Sims-Fewer, Canada & UK, English, 10 mins, ★★★★☆) in second place. A very timely thriller, it sees a woman innocently enter a public bathroom cubicle to get changed, only for a man to turn up outside and start chatting, her wariness of him trapping her inside. Is he a predator she’s right to fear? Or is she just being paranoid? Part of the short’s cleverness lies in the way it plays with our emotions and expectations, swinging us back and forth into where our trust should lie. Working with a limited setting, it’s neatly shot — never dull, but without going OTT to try to jazz things up — and gets edge-of-your-seat tense as it goes on. Regular readers will know how much I love a “single location thriller”, and this is a perfect mini example of the form.

    Quince: Fifteen (2018, Peiman Zekavat, UK & Peru, Spanish, 10 mins, ★★★★☆) is a real-time single-shot drama about a 15-year-old Peruvian schoolgirl whose carefree PE lesson turns into a tumult of life-upending dismay in just a few minutes following an unexpected discovery on social media. It’s another timely issue, and this is mostly a well-made short — I do love a single take, and the real-time aspect puts you in her shoes quite effectively. Unfortunately, it’s a bit inconclusive — it just stops, with no hint of how she’s going to deal with her new problem longer term, or what’s going to happen to her beyond a handful of initial reactions. It’s not bad as it is, but there’s also more to be told here.

    Quince: Fifteen

    On a snowy winter’s day, a postie makes his rounds on a London estate. Meanwhile, one woman anxiously awaits his arrival… With its brief running time, Special Delivery (2018, Robert Hackett, UK, 4 mins, ★★★★☆) almost feels like an extended edit of one of those soppy commercials the big retailers always put out at Christmas — you know, the ones that have just started to pop up on the telly. Nicely shot in 2.35:1, it evokes a Christmassy feel without being overtly festive, and manages to avoid becoming quite as saccharine as those adverts, instead earning the story’s sentimentality. A sweet little slice of romance.

    Coming just behind those frontrunners would be Spooning (2019, Rebecca Applebaum, Canada, English, 6 mins, ★★★★☆), a one-woman-show of a mockumentary about a theatre actress who specialises in playing spoons. Not “playing the spoons”, like a musical instrument, but anthropomorphised spoons, like in Beauty and the Beast. It’s basically a comedy sketch as a short film, but it was largely funny so I don’t begrudge it that.

    I’m six films deep into this loose ranking now, but that’s not to discredit Allan + Waspy (2019, James Miller, UK, English, 8 mins, ★★★★☆). It’s about two working class schoolboys who hang out in the woods on their way to school each day, observing a bird’s nest full of chicks hatching and maturing — but one of the lads clearly has problems at home, and it all takes a very dark turn. Initially it’s a likeable slice-of-modern-life tale, managing to find an element of old-fashioned bucolic childhood even in a modern inner-city setting, and unfurling at a gentle pace by mixing shots of the surrounding world into the boys’ activities. But then there’s a thoroughly glum ending. It kinda ruined my day, but I liked it as a film nonetheless.

    Cumulus

    A young Welsh girl runs off from her dad and encounters a talking gull who’s worried about his kids leaving home in animation Cumulus (2018, Ioan Holland, UK, English, 9 mins, ★★★☆☆). Naturally, they both learn something from each other. It’s always nice to see 2D animation nowadays, especially when it’s as prettily designed as this, though it’s a shame that some of the movement is a little stilted and animatic-y. It’s also a bit longer/slower than it needs to be, but it’s still mostly charming.

    Perhaps the most disappointing short was My Theatre (2019, Kazuya Ashizawa, Japan, 5 mins, ★★★☆☆), a documentary about an 81-year-old in Fukushima who closed his cinema 55 years ago but keeps it alive as a kind of museum. That’s mainly what I gathered from reading blurbs before viewing, though, because the short itself lacks any real context or conclusion, just presenting vignettes of life in this rundown old movie house. It’s perfectly pleasant, but ultimately unenlightening. My Theatre is listed on other festivals’ websites as running 20 minutes, so perhaps the five-minute version submitted to FilmBath is just an excerpt — that’s certainly what it felt like. A longer edit, with more of a sense of why this is a place and person worth observing, would’ve been better.

    Finally, Terra (2019, Daniel Fickle, USA, English, 6 mins, ★★☆☆☆), which received some very negative feedback from a few audience members who didn’t feel it was appropriate for the film it was screened before, Honeyland. That’s a documentary about a traditional European way of beekeeping on the wane, whereas Terra is ostensibly about the tumultuous romantic relationship between two young Americans. The clue is in the title, though: it’s a metaphor for humankind’s relationship with Earth. Personally, I thought the analogy was a bit on the nose, but it seems others missed it entirely. The photography is quite pretty, in a no-budget-indie-drama kinda way, but other than that I didn’t think there was much to it. Other members of the FilmBath team were more impressed, so I think it’s fair to say it’s a divisive little number.

    Terra

    As I said at the start, there were 46 shorts screened at the festival, so this is just a small sampling of what was on offer (less than a third, to be precise). Although I didn’t love them all, I did enjoy most — and considering they would have entirely passed me by were it not for the festival, I’ll definitely take the handful of letdowns as part of the parcel for getting the good stuff.