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Screenshot from Parallel Mothers by Pedro Almodovar/YouTube.

Magic in the Dark: What’s playing at Ottawa’s independent cinemas for the rest of February

By Barbara Popel on February 14, 2022





Want to escape the stresses of those unwanted visitors to our city? Give yourself a break while supporting two outstanding local businesses, and go to the movies! Here’s my list of recommended films at Ottawa’s two independent cinemas — the ByTowne and the Mayfair — for the rest of February.

We’re leading up to the Academy Awards, so the ByTowne is awash in Oscar nominees. These include…

The Power of the Dog scored the most Oscar nominations — nine if I counted correctly. It’s a front runner for best picture, director (Jane Campion), actor (Benedict Cumberbatch) and both supporting actor (Jesse Plemons and Kodi Smit-McPhee) and supporting actress (Kirsten Dunst). I’m flummoxed about why it wasn’t nominated for best cinematography — this is a drop-dead gorgeous picture of both wide-open Wyoming spaces and dark interiors. You can see it Feb. 18, 19 and 21 (two shows on the 21st).

Belfast, Kenneth Branagh’s semi-autobiographical film about his childhood, continues its run Feb. 15 and 16. It won the People’s Choice award at this year’s TIFF, which is always a reliable stamp of approval; it usually presages Oscar nominations. Sure enough, it’s nominated for best picture, best supporting actor (Ciarán Hinds) and actress (Judi Dench), original music, sound and original screenplay. And the little boy who plays Branagh is really good.

Based on the rapturous reviews I’ve read (it seems to be on every major critic’s “best films of 2021” list) and my own enjoyment of the film, Drive My Car may very well win the best foreign film Oscar or best director Oscar. It’s a dark horse for best picture Oscar, too. This slow-paced but intriguing Japanese film touches on spousal betrayal, grief, memory and artistic expression. Not for everyone, but, as they say about some other unusual things, if you like it, you’ll like it a lot. It continues its run on Feb. 15 and 16.

Another contender for best foreign film is Flee, which is a mostly animated Danish feature film. It tells a true story about a young man who, for the first time, tells the story of his harrowing journey as a child refugee from Afghanistan to Denmark. I saw this recently — what an excellent use of animation and news footage to tell a true story! I was very impressed and so was the audience I was in, who applauded at the end of the film. In addition to being nominated for best foreign film, it’s nominated for animated feature film and documentary feature — a rare trifecta. Flee has its last showing on Feb. 17. Don’t miss it!

The film I’m most eager to see is director Joel Coen’s The Tragedy of Macbeth. Shakespeare’s Scottish play is one of the most difficult to bring to the screen, but the reviews of Coen’s film have been glowing, and the film is up for these Oscars: best actor (for Denzel Washington), cinematography (it’s black and white!), and production design (it’s dramatic and atmospheric). Given her talent as an actress, I’m surprised that Frances McDormand was not nominated for her performance as Lady Macbeth. You can (and should) watch this film Feb. 25, 26 and 27.

Pedro Almodovar’s Parallel Mothers is purported to be one of his best. And the reviews I’ve read rave about Penelope Cruz’s performance as a mother who, when in hospital giving birth to her daughter, befriends a teenager who is also giving birth. Years later, they reconnect, but only after tragedy has struck them both. An underlying story is Cruz’s quest to find the remains of her great-grandfather who was “disappeared” during the time Franco ruled Spain. Cruz is up for the best actress Oscar, and the film for original music. You have plenty of opportunities to see Parallel Mothers Feb. 18 to 28.

The Norwegian film The Worst Person in the World scored big at Cannes — best actress for Renate Reinsve — and with the critics. Now it’s up for the best international feature Oscar, as well as best original screenplay. The latter suggests the strength of the film, which explores the life of an aspiring artist whose life is defined by her messy, complicated relationships with men. The Globe and Mail’s reviewer wrote, “Reinsve’s charismatic, heart-rending performance is relatable for anyone who’s ever done stupid things for love.” That would be all of us, wouldn’t it? The film is screening Feb. 18 to 24.

Now, let’s look at a couple of films at the ByTowne that the Academy ignored but probably shouldn’t have…

Compartment No.6 was awarded the Grand Prix at Cannes…a big honour. It’s a sweet predictable romance between two very different people — a reserved Finnish archeology grad student and a brash Russian construction worker whose favourite pastimes usually involve vodka. They are thrown into each other’s company because they’re sharing a compartment on a very long train journey north to the Arctic Circle. I saw this film at last year’s TIFF and was charmed. You can see it Feb. 25 to 28.

The next on my list wins the prize for the most bizarre film title of 2021: Bad Luck Banging or Looney Porn. No, it’s not a porn film; it’s a satire of the hypocrisy surrounding societal norms. An elementary school teacher finds her career and reputation in jeopardy when a personal sex tape she and her husband made is leaked to the internet. It won the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival. It’s being screened Feb. 15 and 17.

And finally, three gems from the vault…

Killer of Sheep is a film made in 1978 by Charles Burnett. In a style reminiscent of Italian neo-realism, it portrays the culture of a Black community in Los Angeles’ Watts District. If you’re a student of film, take the opportunity to see this on Feb. 16.

The Last Picture Show is a genuine classic by Peter Bogdanovich. Filmed in atmospheric black and white, it’s about two high school seniors who are on the cusp of manhood in a dying Texas town, and their relationships with two women and the old guy who runs the local movie theatre. The acting is uniformly superb. See it on Feb. 27 and you’ll see why it’s considered a masterpiece from the 1970s.

Last but not least, a blast from the past — Repo Man, starring a very young Emilio Estevez and the always-watchable Harry Dean Stanton in a cult classic about a professional car repossession agent, a nuclear physicist, and a ’64 Chevy Malibu with a mysterious deadly something in its trunk. Equal parts weird and laugh-out-loud, with some excellent car scenes and quotable quotes. A Metacritic “must-see” film from 1984 (how appropriate a year!). You can (should!) see this on Feb. 17.

Now, on to the Mayfair

First, an apology. Since the Mayfair’s schedule for Feb. 18 to 28 isn’t yet available, my info about these days at the Mayfair is incomplete.

The sci-fi blockbuster Dune is playing at the Mayfair Feb. 15 and 16. I caught it at the ByTowne just before the last lockdown. Besides the acting, I was really impressed with the BIG SCREEN cinematography, the special effects and the design. Wow! This is one of those films you really must see as it was intended to be seen. Dune is nominated for best picture, adapted screenplay, cinematography, production design, sound, visual effects, costume design, film editing, makeup and hairstyling, and music but, oddly, not for best director. (I’ve said for decades the Academy members have very odd selection criteria when selecting nominees.)

There’s House of Gucci for those of you who adore historical melodrama and/or Lady Gaga. She won the best actress award from the NYC Film Critics and BAFTA, but was snubbed by the Academy. The Academy did, however, nominate the film for best makeup and hairstyling, despite Jared Leto’s often commented-on makeup. It is being screened Feb. 15 and 17.

And here’s something really exciting! The Mayfair is doing a mini-James Bond festival. They already showed Dr. No, the film that started this amazing franchise in 1963. Next up: the thrilling From Russia With Love. On Rotten Tomatoes, 93 per cent of the top critics classified this film as “certified fresh.” Come see why. Playing Feb. 16 and 17.

February’s schedule, screening times and tickets for the ByTowne are here. Dates, times and tickets for the Mayfair are here.