Amazing Grace (2018) Amazing Grace (2018)

A brief romp through the schedules remotely controlled by Mark Dee Smith

Hell or High Water (2016)

West Texas is the setting for this high-octane crime drama that’s part heist movie, part Western. A pair of aggrieved brothers with a Robin Hood mission to save their ailing family ranch is pitted against a soon-to-retire lawman played by the ever-reliable Jeff Bridges.

What prevents these fairly standard Hollywood tropes from lapsing into cliché is the film’s solid 99% post-Occupy sensibility. A reminder that the Hollywood mainstream can punch politically when it wishes to, and the epic resonance of the Western is rooted in its connection with reality of everyday life.

Available on Netflix.

Alcarràs (2022)

An intergenerational family drama set in present-day rural Catalonia that reminds us that the consequences of globalisation are still being played out. Members of the Solé family find themselves pitted against each other as the peach-farming mainstay of their livelihood becomes threatened by encroaching modernity.

The use of nonprofessional actors echoes Ken Loach’s approach, and there’s a whiff of Shameless to their rapscallion doings. Fellow filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar notes: ‘Behind Alcarràs’s apparent simplicity lies a meticulous director, with hundreds of hours’ worth of work to make this masterpiece look like a documentary.’

Available on Mubi.

Witness for the Prosecution (1957)

Minor Billy Wilder perhaps, this still runs rings round most Hollywood fare then and now. Based on an Agatha Christie short, this courtroom drama bristles with the tension between its High Tory source material and Wilder’s sardonic post-Weimar sensibility.

Tinsel-town A-listers Tyrone Power, Elsa Lanchester, Charles Laughton and Marlene Dietrich ensure a roller-coaster pace that shifts scenes and tones with a bravura effortlessness. Russell Harlan’s keen cinematography prevents any lapse into staginess. Legal thrillers don’t come any sharper.

Scheduled for BBC2 and available on iPlayer.

Amazing Grace (2018)

An all-killer, no-filler concert film starring ‘Queen of Soul’ Aretha Franklin at the height of her powers. Professionally shot by Sydney Pollack at the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles in January 1972. An electrifying performance that bridges the church’s historic role in Black US culture to the politics of a new era.

Franklin’s brother Cecil reflected: ‘I see Amazing Grace as the sacred moment in the life of black people. Think back. We had lost Martin; we had lost Malcolm; we had lost Bobby Kennedy. We were still fighting an immoral war. We had Tricky Dick in the White House. Turmoil, anger, corruption, confusion. We needed reassurance and recommitment. We needed redirection.’

Scheduled for BBC2 and available on iPlayer.

The Battle of Algiers (1966)

A unique beast, as revered in cinephile circles as it is among the left, The Battle of Algiers depicts actual events between the Front de Liberation Nationale and the French state in the late 1950s, during the Algerian war of independence. It is a dramatic film of such powerful authenticity, largely derived from its 16mm b&w newsreel style, that it is routinely mistaken for documentary and used as a straight-up training film by organisations as disparate as the Black Panthers and the Pentagon.

Its contemporary relevance couldn’t be greater. The version available on Amazon Prime is the recent 4K restoration. Unmissable; nothing says Christmas quite like national liberation.

Available on Amazon Prime.

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