Here we are: the end of 2020.

After yesterday’s mostly maudlin selection, here are some films with a more pensive and inspiring outlook for life’s problems.

Here’s hoping 2021 gets the message.

My final reviews for the year: Hong Khaou’s MONSOON (UK/Vietnam), Nathan Grossman’s I AM GRETA (Sweden/USA), Barnaby Thompson’s PIXIE (UK) and Viggo Mortensen’s FALLING (USA)

MONSOON: Reflections on a Different Country.

Director/Screenplay: Hong Khaou

Watch now on Amazon Prime Video

When Vietnamese immigrant Kit (Henry Golding) returns to Vietnam after living most of his life in the UK, he must reflect on a different country. Not only a nation still recovering from the war and entering a new chapter, but a past he barely remembers.  

Hong Khao’s sensitive drama is soaked in nuances and insights as the private turmoil of its central character simmers throughout. Golding wanders through a landscape that’s made to be culturally and emotionally alienating to him; Khao’s camera holding close to his perfectly strained yet understated performance. While Monsoon is disappointingly open-ended and listless at times, Khaou touchingly captures the struggle with estrangement and finding inner peace.      

My Verdict // ★★★☆☆

I AM GRETA: Surprisingly Intimate Documentary of a Young Voice Gone Global.

Director: Nathan Grossman

Watch now on BBC iPlayer or Watch now on Hulu

I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic’, 16-year-old Greta Thunberg told the World Economic Forum at Davos in 2019. Her speech gave a provocative warning on the dangers of climate change, earning her both supporters and detractors. Despite the necessary stridency of its young subject, Nathan Grossman’s new documentary I Am Greta is a surprisingly intimate portrait. 

Thunberg’s strength and struggles from the first school strike to her voyage across the Atlantic Ocean to attend climate conferences in the US are documented with polish (though this is curious – has Grossman really been following her from day one?). Thunberg’s voice is raised into a passionate renunciation of the inadequate international action on the climate crisis. Few working in current political circles are spared her occasionally withering looks or remarks. UN Secretary General António Guterres and President Jean Claude-Juncker are reduced to patronising posturers.

While necessarily limited to Thunberg’s impact on drawing young people into the global movement (which, it needs to be said, has existed for many decades), Grossman does edge into slight idolisation (the only naysaying of Thunberg given in personal, offensive remarks from right-wing pundits). It is highly doubtable whether fuelling an icon will truly help this urgent cause. Ironically, I’m sure Greta would be the first to agree.

My Verdict // ★★★☆☆

PIXIE: Thompson’s Irish Western Comedy Is Good and Bad, But Not Ugly.

Director: Barnaby Thompson / Screenplay: Preston Thompson

Olivia Cooke sparkles as The Woman With No Shame in Barnaby Thompson’s amusing, on-the-lam comedy. When two young men (Ben Hardy and Daryl McCormack) get caught up in the consequences of a dangerous heist, they are forced to flee across Northern Ireland. Their situation is made worse by Pixie (Cooke), a mercurial lass whose schemes run rings round the gullible beaus. Her own ambitions soon drive them into a shoot-out between vicious local gangsters (led by Colm Meaney) and some corrupt members of the clergy.    

While set in the rugged Irish countryside and with its fair share of grim humour, Thompson’s Western-inspired road-trip is a much lighter affair than say John Michael McDonagh’s The Guard or Calvary. While this feel-good romp doesn’t really amount to much, the attractive cast are a delight, especially Cooke’s whip-smart, amoral lead. And who doesn’t want to see Alec Baldwin slightly hamming it up as a murderous, gun-toting priest? 

My Verdict // ★★★☆☆

FALLING: Henrikson Is Not Going Out Gently In Mortensen’s Earnest Directorial Debut

Director/Screenplay: Viggo Mortensen

Watch now on BFI Player

Viggo Mortensen’s directorial debut is quiet and sincere yet can pack an emotional wallop. Willis (Lance Henrikson) is an aging, raging Illinoisan farmer who must contemplate leaving the family homestead to live with his son John (Mortensen) in California. But, hovering on the ravaging edges of dementia, Willis isn’t going quietly. 

Shifting across Willis’ unravelling memories, Mortensen weaves together a difficult family drama on the limits of forgiveness. The director is gifted by Henriksen, the actor providing an outstanding performance as the film’s rotting, embittered core. There are no smooth edges on his Willis or escape from the melodrama of masculinity that tears down all his relationships. It’s arguable whether we should indulge another aged movie bigot with our sympathy, but Mortensen never allows the film to soften to him completely. Sometimes, enough is enough.    

My Verdict //★★★