After months of lockdowns, it may seem counter-intuitive to hunker down indoors, but with SBS World Movies serving up six weeks of spectacular films in its Summer of Discovery, the line-up is just too good to miss.
Kicking off with Robert Redford in The Old Man and the Gun on Friday 17 December, Summer of Discovery screens Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights, with other highlights including Bong Joon-ho’s multi Academy Award-winning Parasite and the Ralph Fiennes-directed The White Crow, which tells the story of dancer Rudolf Nureyev’s defection in the 60s.
The talented line-up on screen includes Matthew McConaughey, Helen Mirren, Ewan McGregor, Robert Carlyle, Shia LaBeouf, Song Kang-Ho, Robert De Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer and Tommy Lee Jones.
So invite your mates round to a spectacular festival of cinema you can enjoy at home that’s packed full of stars and offers up a little something for everyone, whether you’re into romance, kooky comedies or gripping crime dramas.
Week 1: Bowing out in style, dirty politics and a mega Oscar winner
It’s always a good time to watch stalwart of the screen Robert Redford at work, and The Green Knight director David Lowery’s The Old Man and the Gun (17 December) is a cracking showcase. Telling the eye-opening true story of septuagenarian prison escapee and bank robber Forrest Tucker, it’s a sweet send off to a storied career.
Political animals will get a kick out of Christian Bale’s almost unrecognisable turn as infamous US Vice President Dick Cheney in Adam McKay’s follow-up to The Big Short, Vice (18 December).
And if you somehow missed the wildest Best Film Oscar-winner of recent years, read nothing, dive into South Korean director Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite (19 December) and let jaw drops commence.
Week 2: Dancers, chancers and working-class mum dramas
Combining smooth balletic moves with East-West political pirouettes, The White Crow (24 December) tells the incredible story of celebrated dancer Rudolf Nureyev’s defection in the 60s. Newcomer Oleg Ivenko impresses in the lead role, with director Ralph Fiennes also appearing as Nureyev’s mentor Aleksandr Pushkin.
Sequels that show up decades later are often sunk by empty nostalgia, but Danny Boyle’s electric return to the mean streets of Edinburgh in T2 Trainspotting (25 December) is a master-class in character focus. It’s an emotional wallop to see Ewan McGregor, Jonny Lee Miller, Ewen Bremner and Robert Carlyle back together.
Sienna Miller is a winner in American Woman (26 December), a devastating drama about the aftermath of child abduction, as a working-class woman trying to pull her life back together in rural Pennsylvania.
Week 3: School’s out, office gigs and a double act in doubt
Actor-turned-director Olivia Wilde’s feature debut Booksmart (31 December) is one of the most fun films in recent memory. A glorious ode to friendship and the great, wide-open joy of ambitious futures, it sings on the back of stars Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein.
Sticking with comedy, if you ever found yourself wondering whatever happened to the world’s worst boss, Ricky Gervais revisits the antihero of The Office in David Brent: Life On The Road (1 January). He’s trying to turn things around by gigging with his band Foregone Conclusion, with predictably poor results.
And vintage comedy greats Laurel and Hardy, as played by Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly, steal hearts in bittersweet biopic Stan and Ollie (2 January), depicting the wobbly latter days of their unforgettable partnership.
Week 4: Gold-diggers, crims under cover and ageing lovers
America keeps serving up intriguing parables about the ills of unfettered capitalism, and that’s exactly what you get with the plundering bastardry depicted in Matthew McConaughey movie Gold (7 January). Playing an infuriating con man, you’ll nevertheless be unable to look away from his riotous performance, ably assisted by an ever suave Édgar Ramírez.
The Fifth Element director Luc Besson casts cinematic titans Robert De Niro and Michelle Pfeiffer as a mafia power couple in witness protection, overseen by Tommy Lee Jones in violently bonkers The Family (8 January).
And while we’re on the topic of incredible actors, it’s an unexpected joy to see Diane Keaton fall gradually for a crotchety Brendan Gleeson in London-set Autumnal years rom-com Hampstead (9 January). It’ll buoy hearts in need of a new year’s pick-me-up.
Week 5: Hollywood hangovers, Harlem lovers and a last hurrah
Shia LaBeouf sometimes seems like he’s playing a satirical take on a young Hollywood star in his ‘real’ life. But the sublime, semi-autobiographical tearjerker Honey Boy (14 January) reveals more of the real deal. He plays an alcoholic father opposite Noah Jupe’s young son in a scenario not unlike LaBeouf’s own childhood.
While we’re feeling raw, Barry Jenkins followed up his Oscar-winning masterpiece Moonlight with If Beale Street Could Talk (15 January). A Harlem-set love story starring newcomers KiKi Layne and Stephan James, it was penned by the late, great James Baldwin and tackles racism head on.
And if you’re a big fan of films that play to the grey dollar, you’re going to love the heartsore comedic hum of road movie The Leisure Seeker (16 January) starring Helen Mirren and Donald Sutherland as a couple facing up to their end of days together.
Week 6: Missing musicians, crime epics and literary lovers
If you have an ear for classical music and an eye for history, The Song Of Names’ (21 January) requiem for the deep wounds of the Holocaust should command your attention. A non-linear story, it focuses on a young Jewish violin prodigy evacuated to London who later disappears. A haunting tale, it’s hung on powerful performances by Tim Roth, as the adoptive brother left behind, and Clive Owen.
Blue Valentine director Derek Cianfrance re-teamed with Ryan Gosling for sweeping crime drama The Place Beyond The Pines (22 January). A triptych, it follows Gosling’s thieving stunt rider, Bradley Cooper’s cop rooting out corruption, and their impact on the lives of two teenagers (Dane DeHaan and Emory Cohen).
Last but not least, Aussie Elizabeth Debicki takes up the baton from countrywoman Nicole Kidman to play literary hero Virginia Woolf (minus a fake snoz) in swoonsome Vita & Virginia (23 January). Their Finest star Gemma Arterton plays her lover and Orlando muse Vita Sackville-West in this lush period drama coupling.
The Summer of Discovery runs on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights at 8.30pm on SBS World Movies, starting Friday 17 December till Sunday 23 January.
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