HFF Films of 2019 - 2020

These are the films that we had intended to screen this year. It probably hasn't been a vintage year because releases started to dry up as soon as the virus became known. There were, however, some fine films out there - as there always is - but one generally had to search deeper for them. Great talent is still emerging with a number of excellent directorial debut films but there was little of worth that came out of Hollywood.

We would be interested in your own reviews of the films below and any suggestions for best films of the year you may have seen and we missed.

TRANSIT (Dir. Christian Petzold Germany 2019)

A German refugee tries to flee what's coming and ends up in Marseille. That a 1945 novel is transferred to now seems initially odd but the shift works remarkable well and produces a very good existential dram that is disquieting.

BABYTEETH (Dir. Shannon Murphy Australia 2020)

Just released and not yet seen this debut film but it has been on our radar for most of the year.

FIRE WILL COME (Dir. Oliver Laxe Spain 2019)

Pure cinema delight about the rhythm of nature and events that happen when an arsonist returns home to Galacia.

FIRST LOVE (Dir. Takashi Miike Japan 2019)

Miike was born to make films and he has made many across all genres. This is a rollercoaster crime story full of carnage and mayhem but with the director's typical mix of tenderness and fun.

NEVER LOOK AWAY (Dir. Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck Germany 2019)

Epic drama based on the German artist Gerhard Richter through war and cold-war by the director of The Lives of Others. Beautifully filmed and hugely enjoyable.

MONOS (Dir. Alejandro Landes Chile 2019)

Strange, mysterious and powerful cinematic experience that crosses Kubrick and Malick with Coppola's Apocalypse Now.

CUSTODY (Dir. Xavier Legrand France 2018)

Terrific tension-gripping debut about a bitter divorce and the custody battle over the child.

KINGDOM (Dir. Shinsuke Sato Japan 2019)

Last year's top selling Japanese film is all you could want from a warrior action film set in ancient China.


She seems to get better and better as an actress and any film she is in is always worth watching.

NON-FICTION (Dir. Olivier Assayas France 2019)

Not everyone liked it but others found this portrait of high-class people and low-class values from the bad-boy of French cinema very funny and an interesting take on social media and publishing.

WHO YOU THINK I AM (Dir. Safy Nebbou France 2018)

Adapted from the novel of the same name this is a wonderful take on the challenges of dating in the digital age, especially for an older woman. No doubt Hollywood will copy and ruin it.

BY THE GRACE OF GOD (Dir. Francois Ozon France 2018)

Another fine film from Ozon based on the child abuse scandal in the Catholic Church in Lyon which is exposed by long-term local victims. It lingers in the memory.

THE TABACCONIST (DER TRAFIKANT) (Dir. Nickolas Leytner Austria/Germany 2019)

Enjoyable coming-of-age drama based on the best-seller book by Robert Seethaler set in Vienna on the eve of war with the ever watchable Bruno Ganz as Sigmund Freud.

CORPUS CHRISTI (Dir. Jan Komasa Poland 2019)

Poland's entry to the Oscars is a tale of religion and crime with a stunning central performance by the young Bartosz Bielenia.

THE HATER (Dir. Jan Komasa Poland 2020)

Komasa's new film on social media trolling, also looks interesting.

DARK WATERS (Dir. Todd Haynes US 2019)

Unusually low-key but passionate thriller from Haynes based on a true New York Times investigation of environmental deaths caused by a major corporation. Stars the every reliable Mark Ruffalo.

A WHITE, WHITE DAY (Dir. Hynur Palmason Iceland 2220)

How does Iceland with a population of 364,000 manage to produce a stream of excellent films when the UK struggles to produce any (THE LAST TREE by Shola Amoo did show promise). A White, White Day will not to be everyone's taste - slow and deliberate - but this semi-thriller drama of a widower's psychological disintegration is superbly filmed and has a number of touches which suggest this a major talent. The follow-up to the brilliant Rams - a widow farmer takes on the local co-op mafia - is a slighter work but well-worth watching.


Two directors to watch out for...
Italian cinema has been in the doldrums for some time but Genovese is producing excellent popular films.


You may not know this... but the screenplay of PERFETTI SCONOSCIUTI (PERFECT STRANGERS 2016) is the most filmed of all time with many different national versions. Things fall dramatically apart at a dinner party when someone suggests they use their mobile phone. A tightly composed screenplay typical of Genovese.


THE PLACE (2017) has a hint of the complex stories of writer/director David Mamet. Good watch.




Both this and THE CANDIDATE star Anonio de la Torre whose well-worn and weary face is ideal for these tales of crime and corruption which dog contemporary Spain.


Two other Spanish speaking films worth searching for are QUIEN A HIERRO MATA (EYE FOR AN EYE Dir. Paco Plaza Spain 2019) and ROJO (Dir. Benjamin Naishtat Argentina 2018).



INSTITUTE BENJAMENTA (Dir. Quay Brothers Germany 1996)

If some studios are not producing great films at least we can dip into cinema's rich history and screen forgotten classics and hidden gems.

This dream school for training servants is a visual treat. A real must-see gem.

THE CRANES ARE FLYING (Dir. Mikhail Kalatozov USSR 1957)

Superbly crafted post-Stalin Cannes winner set as war is about to explode. Seeing the cranes fly by the river... Landmark film.

Z (Dir. Costa Graves France 1970)

Rarely seen classic thriller of a political murder in Greece with Yves Montand of a kind they don't make nowadays.

THE EAR (Dir. Vlastimili Venclik, Czechoslovakia 1969)

Scathing and wonderful satirical political-noir about State surveillance post Prague Spring. How did the Czechs manage to produce so many great films in the 1960s. And how we miss them.


Managed to track down a copy of Francesco Rosi's 1987 rarely seen CHRONICLE OF A DEATH FORETOLD, the Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel. Quirky but worth seeing a young Rupert Everett.



The Festival is committed to campaigns on climate change and this year has seen some extremely good films connected to the subject and environmental action in general.

AQUARELA (Dir. Victor kossakovsky US 2019)

Glorious and stunning film of the Oceans displaying of the beauty and power of water.

ANTHROPOCENE: THE HUMAN EPOCH (Dirs. Jennifer Baichwal, Nicholas de Pencier & Edward Burtynsky Canada 2018)

A truly cinematic and sensory experience of humanity's treatment of the planet.

RUBEN BRANDT: COLLECTOR (Dir. Milorad Krstic Hungary 2020)

Magnificent and utterly stylish award-winning animation of a psychotherapist who becomes 'The Collector, a stealer of works of art.

BUNUEL IN THE LABYRINTH OF THE TURTLES (Dir. Salvador Simo Busom Spain 2019)

A curious and charming animation looking at the behind-the-scenes production of Bunuel's controversial documentary, Land Without Bread, which was funded by a lottery win 1930.


We don't screen as many documentaries as we like to or as we used to. Unfortunately, Netflix and Amazon in their thirst for material often buy them up without issuing a DVD which makes it impossible for us to obtain a licence to screen them. It's good for the producers who receive an income, though in fact a very small one, but means many excellent documentaries are virtually unseen on the big screen.


Fascinating love letter to cinema's first and largely forgotten female feature director, revealing the true story of her rise and fall.

THE BOOKSELLERS (Dir. D. W. Young US 2019)

Engrossing look at New York's rare book dealers and bookstores which sadly are mostly disappearing. A video, WELCOME TO THE LAST BOOKSTORE on Vimeo is worth watching.


The success of the first Trappist brewery in UK is vital for keeping the historic counter culture alive at the Mount St Bernard Abbey). Great documentary.

RONNIE'S (UK 2020)

The Life of Ronnie Scott and his world famous jazz club (UK 2020) had been booked to screen following the success of the Miles Davis documentary last year.


Enjoyable POPULAR FILMS this year included LITTLE WOMEN, EMMA which was better than the reviews, the thoroughly enjoyable and BAD EDUCATION about a US public-school scandal with a very good Hugh Jackman,

We had hoped to do a special season of Japanese films to coincide with the BFI promotion of its cinema but hope to do so next year.





The Festivals, Oscars, critics and audiences praised PARASITE (Dir. Korea 2019), MARRIAGE STORY (Dir. Noah Baumbach US 2019), PORTRAIT OF A LADY ON FIRE (Dir. France 2019) though there were dissenting voices.
It was good to see a subtitled film winning the Oscar but though Parasite was very good did I enjoy it as much as Bong Joo-Ho's previous films? No. Brilliant acting in Marriage Story but it seemed too long (a common fault nowadays in most films) and fell away. Portrait of a Lady on Fire was to my mind the film of the year. Gorgeous to look at with a fresh eye on composing shots, there was something about it, almost magical, that makes it linger in the mind when most films vanish at the end of the credits. But then, there were those who thought it was tosh.
If I were to choose another great film of the year it would be BACARAU (Dirs. Kleber Mendonca Filho & Juliano Dornelles Brazil 2019), a distinctive and decidedly weird but absolutely memorable modern western about villagers fighting injustice in an isolated village in Brazil that simply disappears off the map. I also admired LA BELLE EPOQUE (Dir. Nicholas Bedos France 2019) which unfortunately seems to have disappeared off the radar. The truly wonderful Daniel Atueuil stars in a very French-style romantic, nostalgic comedy-drama that was utterly delightful and entertaining.
Unfortunately, Parasite, Marriage Story (and Roma) were exclusive to Netflix, and La Belle Epoque to Amazon, which meant that we would not have been able to screen them. Streaming does have serious down-sides.

Stephen Dorril, Director Holmfirth Film Festival.
26 November 2020

LA BELLE EPOQUE (Dir. Nicholas Bedos France 2019)

BACARAU (Dirs. Kleber Mendonca Filho & Juliano Dornelles Brazil 2019)

PORTRAIT OF A LADY ON FIRE (Dir. Céline Sciamma France 2019)

PARASITE (Dir Bong Joo-Ho Korea 2019)

MARRIAGE STORY (Dir. Noah Baumbach US 2019)