This was a really, really great year for film. It was full of reflective elegies by aging masters; sophomore features that delivered on their predecessors’ promise in spades; and at least one or two blockbusters with some guts. There were so many films that could have been contenders any other year – the sweetness of Paddleton, the daring weirdness of Velvet Buzzsaw, the meditative exploration of masculinity in Ad Astra – that just ended up getting squeezed out. I mean, Happy Death 2 U was a masterpiece. Some years it’s hard to scrape together enough nominations in some categories – this year it was heart-breaking to make cuts. This is one of those years that we’ll remember.
The film year, for the record, we define as “films that came out in 2019 in Ireland unless they were eligible for the Oscars last year as well as films that came out in 2020 in Ireland if they were eligible for this year’s Oscars.” Perils of being a film fan outside of North America.
We can’t really claim that these are what we think should have been nominated at the Oscars, or should win, since we can’t even be sure if any film that wasn’t nominated was eligible. But if we were the only two members of the Academy, and we only cared about the eight major awards – we care about most of the others (except for the fake awards like Best Original Song) but this post would be absurdly long if we picked those too – this is what you’d get: the Sundae Film Awards 2020.
We each did out our personal nominees and then selected the winner by consensus, so the winners only come from films that both of us have seen and nominated, but we’ve each picked a personal runner-up regardless of whether the other has seen or nominated it. We also each picked a Special Achievement Award for something not covered in the major categories. You can see each of our full slates of nominees at the bottom of this post, which we strongly encourage you to check out if you’re looking for recommendations. There were so many brilliant films this year, and we only got to award a small fraction of them.
BEST PICTURE – Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
Ciara: “It seems like eons ago now, but when ‘Quentin Tarantino’s Manson murders movie’ was first announced, it made me queasy with dread. Tarantino is one of my favourite directors, but I – foolishly, it turns out – doubted his ability to handle the material with sensitivity and grace. But Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood has that sensitivity and grace in spades, and so much more besides. It beautifully melds dozens of genres, from TV western to splatter comedy, but it is, ultimately, a fairy tale. It lovingly recreates the Hollywood of the sixties – the city streets, the radio stations – not just how it was, but how it might have been. The title isn’t, it turns out, just a Sergio Leone tribute.
I saw Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood in the cinema four times. Every time, I immediately wanted to see it again, to spend a few more hours hanging out in this world with these characters. I wanted to watch Cliff (Brad Pitt) make dinner, and Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) go the cinema, and Rick (Leonardo DiCaprio) tell a little girl about the book he’s reading. I want to see Michael Madsen show up for thirty seconds and acting the ever-living fuck off the screen. Robbie Collin (in an excellent review that you should watch right now) said that the film is about wasting time when there’s no time to waste. The characters don’t know what we know is coming – the Manson murders and with it, the death of the 1960s – which manages to make the film both the ultimate hangout movie and an elegiac goodbye. I loved it instantly, and I can’t wait to watch it again. And again. And again.”
Ciara’s Runner-Up: The Irishman – “The Irishman is about post-war America, masculinity, violence, class, capitalism, Catholicism and cinema itself. In other words, it’s a Martin Scorsese movie, and one of his best. It’s an extraordinary film about coming towards the end of your life, as Frank (Robert De Niro) looks back and never quite realises it was all pointless bullshit. It’s a deeply moving film – I’m thinking particularly of certain moments with Al Pacino’s Jimmy Hoffa, who is rescued from history to be portrayed with such love and complexity – but also a hilarious one. Is it too long? No! Grow up.”
Dean’s Runner-Up: Marriage Story – “It’s a cliché at this point to say Noah Baumbach has a particular gift for making films about dysfunctional families and failed relationships, but it’s also true. He understands how to take his characters’ emotions seriously but not solemnly. Marriage Story made my belly ache from laughing and my throat ache from crying. It’s about parents in pain struggling to separate without hurting their child and also has a bit where Wallace Shawn tells a story about getting a blowjob from Katharine Hepburn apropos of absolutely nothing. It’s a crazy-making descent into the madness of the US family court system and also features several visual gags about Adam Driver being way taller than the rest of the cast. It’s just a great film.”
BEST DIRECTOR – Martin Scorsese for The Irishman
Dean: “Martin Scorsese has been so good for so long, it seems almost unfair. The weakest decade of his career would be the best of almost anyone else’s and The Irishman is the crowning achievement of possibly his best decade yet. From the opening tracking shot through Frank’s nursing home, a direct visual reference to his iconic restaurant tracking shot from Goodfellas, right through to the final image of Frank alone in his room at Christmas (‘Don’t shut the door all the way. I don’t like that. Just… leave it open a little bit.’), there’s not a wasted moment. Scorsese never lacks for style even as he shoots scenes of violence in an uncharacteristically flat, perfunctory, matter-of-fact manner.
I could cite any number of brilliantly-directed moments – the way the camera meanders outside during the barbershop assassination and just sits on a flower shop as gun shots pop off-screen – but what lingers most is its intimacy. Frank and Russell dipping their prosciutto bread in wine and talking about the war. Frank and Jimmy at the hotel in their powder blue pyjamas, Jimmy so nervous to ask Frank to take over Union 326, not even sure why he worried Frank would say no. Every single scene of Jimmy enjoying his ice cream. Without ever taking its eyes off its grander themes of violence, class, masculinity and all the ways they shape and are shaped by the spectre of the American Dream, The Irishman hunkers down with its characters and roots its story in their relationships.
It’s a tribute to Scorsese’s apparently limitless ability to constantly grow and innovate as a director, to make every film feel like its own beast, without ever sacrificing his signature vision. I saw it twice in the cinema. Seven hours well spent.”
Ciara’s Runner-Up: Josh and Benny Safdie for Uncut Gems – “The Safdie brothers are among the most exciting directors working right now, and Uncut Gems is a case in point. It follows a gambling addict played brilliantly by Adam Sandler, and like Good Time, the Safdies’ previous film, Uncut Gems is incredibly stressful to watch. It’s a two-hour panic attack. The Safdies’ direction is all propulsive momentum, never letting us stop to breathe, yet it’s never careless. The opening sequence alone – in which the colours inside an opal become Sandler’s intestines during a colonoscopy – is a masterclass. I can’t wait to see what the Safdies do next.”
Dean’s Runner-Up: Quentin Tarantino for Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood – “Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood is one of those films where you can just feel how much its director enjoyed putting every shot together. It’s simultaneously Tarantino at his most restrained and lush with beautiful camera movements, swooping slowly over rooftops and bobbing back and forth in parallel with driving cars. I’ve loved so many movies about Hollywood, but never before has the sunlight felt so rich and vibrant. I feel like I could write a whole book just on its use of matching cuts, like when Charlie Manson exists stage left and Rick appears on screen left in his evil hippie cowboy costume. It’s the sweetest, most joyful movie where a woman is incinerated with a flamethrower.”
BEST ACTOR – Adam Driver as Charlie Barber in Marriage Story
Dean: “Adam Driver is at his best in two modes: deadpan and overflowing with emotion. His portrayal of divorcé-to-be Charlie Barber is solidly in the latter category, a man who just has so many feelings bursting out of him but can’t express them. Well, that’s not true, he’s perfectly capable of expressing them, in fact, the problem is that he can’t stop himself in tonally inappropriate situations. He’s always just a bit too much for the moment, whether it’s his naïve eagerness to settle the divorce quickly in his meetings with his lawyers or his counterproductive insistence on trick-or-treating with his son on the Hollywood Strip. He must feel, but he can’t feel, because every time he does, he fucks something up, and he just lurches horribly, awfully through that tension until it all explodes in the film’s most famous scene, when Charlie and Nicole finally unleash all their pent-up resentments at each other in a fit of rage. It’s heartrending.
People who haven’t seen Marriage Story like to mock that scene on social media for being ‘the most acting’ instead of the best acting. They’re full of shit. And the proof is in the two big scenes that follow it. Charlie has to spend an evening with his son observed by a social worker and accidentally cuts his arm open almost wrist to elbow. His attempt to pretend he’s not bleeding horribly is some of the most horrifying and hilarious acting on screen this year. Months later, at a showtune bar in New York, he sings ‘Being Alive’ from Company at karaoke. It’s a scene you’ve seen a dozen times in a dozen movies, as the character realises the song is more meaningful to them than they expected and becomes suddenly aware of not only their own feelings but the very public vulnerability they’ve unwittingly stumbled into. It’s a classic, but in Driver’s hands, it feels fresh all over again, this final permissible release of feeling, half-hidden in performance, plausibly deniable but obviously sincere. It’s heartrending all over again.
Adam Driver is one of the finest actors of his generation and I just want to watch him work forever.”
Ciara’s Runner-Up: Antonio Banderas as Salvador Mallo in Pain and Glory – “Antonio Banderas’s performance as Salvador, a fictionalised version of director Pedro Almodóvar, is subtle and poignant. He’s had a life full of mistakes and missed opportunities: professionally successful, he is incredibly lonely and in a great deal of pain, both physical and emotional. He doesn’t write because there’s no point if he can’t direct, too, and he thinks he isn’t physically able. In Banderas’s hands, Salvador is both damaged and tender. The subtleties of his facial expressions as an old boyfriend tells him about his new family are heart-breaking.”
Dean’s Runner-Up: Taron Egerton as Elton John in Rocketman – “Rocketman isn’t just a biopic about a musician, it’s a proper musical with big showy dance numbers and extravagant setpieces. I’ve thought Taron Egerton was a good actor since his breakthrough role in Kingsman, but I was absolutely blown away by how well he rose to the challenge of this role, giving it his all in both the quiet emotional moments and the showstoppers. He manages to marry the big stage energy of Hugh Jackman in The Boy from Oz and the kitchen sink realism of a Ken Loach protagonist. Just a perfect movie musical performance.”
BEST ACTRESS – Lupita Nyong’o as Adelaide Wilson and Red in Us
Ciara: “Lupita Nyong’o plays both the protagonist and antagonist in Us: Adelaide, a middle-class mother of two, and Red, her evil underground doppelganger. They’re both diametrically opposed and tethered together, and Nyong’o does it all perfectly.
Her performance as Red is the showier half, instantly becoming the best horror monster of recent history. The voice Nyong’o uses as Red is probably the scariest sound in the world, even as it simultaneously hints at a life full of pain and trauma. It’s a particularly great physical performance: alongside her voice, Red’s movements establish the uncanny differences between Red and Adelaide. Red moves so gracefully, almost gliding, as if every movement has been perfected.
But it’s the Adelaide half that really elevates it. Adelaide is our protagonist, and we implicitly relate to her. She’s clearly hiding something, and we assume she’s hiding the things that we the audience already know from her family. The Adelaide half of Nyong’o’s performance has to, and does, work on two levels: based on what the audience assume and based on what the audience subsequently learn.
Red and Adelaide contrast one another in obvious ways, but they’re also two sides of the same coin. Just as Nyong’o establishes their differences with her physicality, she collapses them the same way. The classroom fight scene is where this climaxes: the film goes on to explain everything with flashbacks, but you just see the way Adelaide moves and you’ve got it. It’s some of the best acting of the year and it’s absurd that Nyong’o hasn’t gotten the recognition she deserves for it.”
Ciara’s Runner-Up: Saoirse Ronan as Jo March in Little Women – “Saoirse Ronan was born to play Jo March. It’s the best performance of her stellar career. There are shades of her performance in Lady Bird – Jo is the antecedent for dozens of defiant, unconventional teenage girl protagonists, after all – but pushed further, dug deeper, grown older. The interplay between how Ronan plays the young Jo in flashback and the present-day Jo illuminates the best parts of both. I think all the time about her telling her mother that she’s so sick of being told love is all women are good for – furious with injustice – only to tearfully admit that she’s so terribly lonely.”
Dean’s Runner-Up: Florence Pugh as Dani Ardor in Midsommar – “Midsommar is a weird movie and it calls for some incredibly strange acting. It’s not hard to see how it could have gone horribly wrong. Luckily, this is the year of Florence Pugh. Her slow unwinding over the course of this film made me feel like my guts were spilling out in real time. The sympathetic screaming scenes at the end of the film, as the cult members match her grief and encourage her to wail it out is so bizarre and cathartic and hypnotic that I still think about it every day months later. It was a fantastic year for horror performances and Pugh was right there at the top of the pack.”
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR – Al Pacino as Jimmy Hoffa and Joe Pesci as Russell Bufalino in The Irishman
Ciara: “Al Pacino and Joe Pesci are each among the greatest living actors and each give one of the best performances of their long careers in The Irishman. Their performances are basically each other’s opposites: Pesci as Russell is reserved and subtle, oozing power in the quietest of moments, and Pacino’s Hoffa is huge, a human tornado who will almost certainly call you a cocksucker. But at opposite ends of the spectrum, both give extraordinary performances that I haven’t stop thinking about since.
When Frank (Robert De Niro) first meets Russell (Pesci), he thought he owned the gas station where he bumped into him, because you could tell this guy owned something. Pesci sells this quiet power beautifully, how he puts out hits without saying a word. But every time I watch The Irishman, I’m more drawn to the moments where he doesn’t seem powerful at all: most notably, a small scene where he comes home covered in blood, and his wife gets him cleaned up. Pesci doesn’t say a word; his facial expression says it all.
Pacino’s performance as Hoffa is what you might call ‘over the top’ if you were a total rube. But Pacino doesn’t go over the top, he is the top; the top is where he eats. He is, of course, extremely funny – the shorts in a meeting scene alone! – but he also imbues Hoffa with such depth and humanity. It would be easy to play Hoffa as just a crook, but Pacino never does: when he talks about solidarity and justice, he’s being sincere. Pacino plays Hoffa with a big heart that he wears on his sleeve, even as he’s ruthless and power-hungry. He tells the mob ‘this is my union’, and it’s one of my favourite line readings ever, full of layers and layers of meaning, not least because he emphasises ‘my’ and ‘union’ equally.”
Ciara’s Runner-Up: Anthony Hopkins as Pope Benedict XVI in The Two Popes – “Pope Benedict initially seems like the villain of The Two Popes, but even at his worst, Hopkins always plays him just a bit offbeat. It’s a performance that focuses in on eccentricities: the Pope really likes an Austrian cop show about a dog detective, and he doesn’t know about Abba or The Beatles or football, and when they order pizza he spends way too long saying grace. It would be easy for this to be pretty shallow, especially when we spend a lot of time on Francis’s backstory. But Hopkins makes it incredibly humanising, painting a portrait of a man who knows it’s not his time. Not anymore.”
Dean’s Runner-Up: Jonathan Pryce as Javier Sanchez in The Man Who Killed Don Quixote – “Five or so actors were attached to this role before Jonathan Pryce, including the late Jean Rochefort and John Hurt, and it’s unfortunate how much turmoil and suffering had to happen for Pryce to end up in it. But I can’t imagine anyone else playing Javier – an elderly cobbler who believes he’s Don Quixote – with such sweetness and silliness and pitiful sadness. Pryce has been playing world-weary tragic weirdos better than anyone else for the bones of forty years now and if Javier’s not his best yet, that’s a testament to his track record, not a slight on this marvellous performance.”
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS – Jennifer Lopez as Ramona Vega in Hustlers
Dean: “I don’t know whether J.Lo always had it in her or the wisdom of experience gave her the tools she needed to deliver on her promise, but it happened. Jennifer Lopez gave the best performance of her career – in any medium – and made it look effortless.
The dancing is the least of it, though it must be said that she knocked it out of the bloody park in a film where she shared the screen with multiple actors with a stripping background. It’s one of those performances that’s so obviously brilliant you can hardly explain why, just totally lived-in and committed and natural, but without the studied, over-exerted ‘naturalism’ that makes the worst method actors so unbearable. I find myself reaching for cinematic references – she’s Cristal from Showgirls, but with Nomi’s obliviousness to good taste; she’s Robert De Niro in Goodfellas, the quiet potential for violence always coiled in her body; she’s Velma from Chicago in the key of hip-hop – and there’s something to be said for placing her performance in a lineage of iconic crime film performances. Her ‘I know it was you, Fredo’ moment with Constance Wu is as close as I’ve seen anyone but Pacino come to that sublime moment of heartache and betrayal and unbreakable love.
But it’s also completely unique and original and no one but J.Lo could have done it. Screw the Oscars for not nominating her. Just another nail in their coffin.”
Ciara’s Runner-Up: Margot Robbie as Sharon Tate in Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood – “One of the dumbest controversies of the year was about Robbie not having enough lines in Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood. It was dumb not just because that’s a terrible way to evaluate films, but because Robbie’s Sharon is the undisputed heart of the film. She shines, radiating warmth and goodness, and I could watch her dance forever. In one of the film’s most famous scenes, she goes to see her new film, The Wrecking Crew, in the cinema with an audience. Robbie does so much silently here: her pure delight is just about the most human thing I’ve seen on screen this year.”
Dean’s Runner-Up: Mikey Madison as Susan Atkins in Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood – “Mikey Madison is the final act of Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood. First, her hilarious monologue about ‘killing the people who taught us to kill’. I mean, the way she says ‘maaaan’ alone, the pig noises, it’s something else. And then, in the big fight scene, she delivers maybe the best slapstick performance in a film this decade. No human being before her has ever come so close to embodying the physicality of a Muppet as she does when flailing about in the pool. I can’t believe people had a dumb debate about whether it was misogynistic for Tarantino to hilariously murder Manson Family members when they could have just revelled in this performance.”
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY – Quentin Tarantino for Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
Dean: “Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood is the most ambitious screenplay of Quentin Tarantino’s career and it’s honestly difficult to fathom the scope of its genius, let alone describe it, but I’ll give it a shot. It does for Hollywood what the best westerns did for the frontier, simultaneously creating and critiquing the mythology of its own setting. Like the best westerns, it’s consumed by a sense that an end is coming – has already come, from the audience’s point of view – and wants desperately to hold on to the best of what was, even as it knows some things need to be left behind. But it’s also literally a western, with a tense ranch showdown and a black hat bad guy and a blood-soaked final confrontation between heroes and villains. It’s a fairy tale and a love story and a tribute to character actors. It’s a horror film and a hangout movie and a third of a biopic. It’s all this and more, not seamlessly, but with such grace and wit and obvious adoration for its subject matter that seeing the seams just makes you appreciate all the more how beautifully it’s put together.
I could sit here all day, poring over every joke, every monologue, every twist of the knife. How Cliff is the wittiest man in the world without ever drawing attention to himself. How what could be clunky exposition – like Steve McQueen explaining Sharon’s relationships with Jay and Roman to a random partygoer – is always a brilliant character moment. How it nails the dialogue style of TV westerns so it’s always funny but never mocking. You could teach a college course on this screenplay and barely scratch the surface. It has a movie called Kill Me Quick Ringo, Said the Gringo. It’s the best.”
Ciara’s Runner-Up: Noah Baumbach for Marriage Story – “Marriage Story is full of wonderful writerly details – from the joke that Alan Alda’s character never finishes to the letters that bookend the whole film – but more than anything, I love how it repurposes farce as tragedy. Like classic farce, it’s structured around a series of escalations and misunderstandings – Charlie gets a place in LA because his lawyer says he needs to, and then his lawyer says this has ruined any chance of having the case heard in New York – but it frames them as heart-breaking, stressful, suffocating. And yes, funny, too: the sequence where the evaluator monitors Charlie and his son is real laughing-crying stuff. ”
Dean’s Runner-Up: Ari Aster for Midsommar – “I’ve written before about how rare it is for even great art about grief to match the melodrama of going through it. But Ari Aster’s films pull it off. He has this amazing ability to write scenes where seemingly mundane and unrelated things are going on – like an argument over postgraduate research ethics – and charge it with the ever-present underlying emotional context that binds the story together. It’s more than just a knack for writing dialogue laced with double meaning, though it is that too. It’s an understanding that emotions can’t be contained in a scene, that they linger and accumulate, like poison in the blood. I can appreciate why Midsommar was polarising, but I can’t empathise.”
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY – Greta Gerwig for Little Women
Ciara: “Greta Gerwig’s Little Women instantly felt like the definitive Little Women, like any version before, the book included, was a rough draft that hadn’t figured the story out yet. Her most genius move is the most obvious: rather than telling the story in chronological order, the first half when the March sisters are teenagers is told in flashback. This both fixes the chief problem of film adaptations of Little Women – that the story reaches a climax in the middle and then effectively restarts – and strengthens the narrative as a whole. It becomes a film about nostalgia and the pain of growing older. The whole thing aches. Happy little childhood adventures suddenly break your heart.
But everything about how Gerwig uses the raw materials of the book is so clever: so many lines are directly taken from the novel, but repurposed, inflected with new meanings. Marmee (Laura Dern) says she’s angry every day of her life, but the script smartly shaves off the lesson that goes with it. Jo (Saoirse Ronan) gets almost the same lines in her reaction to news of Laurie and Amy’s marriage, but a new scene – where she writes Laurie a letter belatedly accepting his proposal – exposes their artifice. The negotiations between Jo and her editor are taken largely from the novel verbatim, but it’s repurposed into a framing device that, among other things, fixes the ending.
The ending might be the best part. Gerwig’s script manages two impossible tasks: pulling off the ending which has so rarely worked and deconstructing it, drawing from Louisa May Alcott’s real life to create a metanarrative about women writers.”
Ciara’s Runner-Up: Scott Z. Burns for The Report – “An All the President’s Men-style political thriller, The Report mines high drama from people reading computer screens. It’s about the writing of the report on the CIA’s use of torture after 9/11, and there are a dozen things I love about its writing: its willingness to condemn the Obama administration alongside the Bush one, its structuring of the information to convey the full horror, the gut-punch of its postscript. Its very clever, funny use of Zero Dark Thirty. But more than anything, it made me feel so angry that I nearly threw up, and that’s a testament to the strength of its writing.”
Dean’s Runner-Up: Lorene Scafaria for Hustlers – “Hustlers has such a smart, slick, funny script it makes me jealous. It takes the conventions of crime films, with their traditional focus on working-class masculine camaraderie, and repurposes them in a feminine context. The interview framing device is used so cleverly – when Dorothy turns off the recorder! – and the way it’s structured around the 2008 financial crash is both a genius narrative conceit and a fantastic way to put its themes of class and capitalism literally and figuratively at its core. I don’t know why Lorene Scafaria ever wrote anything but crime films. She’s got the gift.”
SPECIAL ACHIEVEMENT AWARD – Alexandre Desplat for the score of Little Women
Dean: “I became really aware of scores this year, for some reason. Maybe it was just a switch flipping in my brain. Maybe the preponderance of marvellous scores in film this year simply made it impossible to ignore. I knew I wanted to award a score this year and I quickly found myself spoiled for choice, from Randy Newman’s beautifully subtle work on Marriage Story to Daniel Lopatin’s relentless wall of synth in Uncut Gems. But as I look back on one of the best years of cinema ever, possibly, it’s Alexandre Desplat’s score for Little Women that won’t stop rattling around my brain.
No other film this year looked like it sounded and sounded like it looked as much as Little Women. The cheeky way the volume rises and falls as Jo and Laurie dance on the porch. The frantic tempo and excess of instruments as the Marches hustle and bustle about their house. The gentle, hesitant piano when Father March returns from the war, each note dropping like a tear. There’s a stupid, destructive, fallacious idea about film scores that says they should be invisible (or inaudible, I guess). I suppose, to be fair, it’s not good if a score overwhelms an image. But the best film scores – and the best films – are those where sound isn’t just in service of vision, sound and vision are unified in a complete sensory experience.
Little Women is one of those scores. What more could you want?”
SPECIAL ACHIEVEMENT AWARD – Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese
Ciara: “Rolling Thunder Revue is a documentary about the 1975 Bob Dylan tour of the same name, which brought Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell, Allen Ginsberg and a dozen others in tow. Except: is it?
Rolling Thunder Revue definitely seems like a documentary, but it’s also full of fiction. It’s structured around one big lie: that the footage from the tour was filmed by director Stefan Van Dorp, played by Martin Von Haselberg, rather than consisting of outtakes from Dylan’s 1978 film Renaldo and Clara. But it’s not like it stops there. Michael Murphy reprises his role from the 1988 miniseries Tanner ’88 for some reason. Sharon Stone, as a fictionalised version of herself, tells a series of anecdotes about her and Bob Dylan during the tour, complete with doctored photographs. We’re never told what’s real and what isn’t, so outside of the verifiable facts, who knows?
So is it a documentary? Yes, and no, and it doesn’t matter. It collapses the difference.
Whatever it is, it’s amazing. It would be worthwhile just as an archival project: the concert footage is beautiful, powerful stuff – I’m an especially big fan of the rendition of ‘Isis’ included – and it’s tragic that it was locked away for so long. But there’s so much more going on. The film’s littered with old film clips that hint at the relationship between performance and magic: Georges Méliès’s The Vanishing Lady is juxtaposed with the title card, ‘Conjuring the Rolling Thunder Re-vue’. It’s a film about idealism in the era of Watergate, about masks and magic and art, about the inseparability of remembering and mythologising. This is an era where Dylan painted his face all in white, which becomes one of the film’s central images. He did it because he said someone wearing a mask always tells the truth. Or maybe he didn’t.”