<iframe src="//www.googletagmanager.com/ns.html?id=GTM-PWMWG4" height="0" width="0" style="display:none;visibility:hidden">

Arty films to look out for in 2024

29 December 2023

Occupied City, dir. Steve McQueen

In dealing with tragedy, Steve McQueen has been exploring ways to invest camerawork with new kinds of resonance and power. Grenfell, his half-hour installation at the Serpentine Gallery last spring, used an airborne camera to investigate and memorialise – from every angle and in silent anger – the charred remains of the high-rise block that burnt down in June 2017, killing 72 people. His latest, Occupied City, is an unhurried but provocative four-hour exercise in juxtaposition: an impassive narrator relates the horrors of Nazi-occupied Amsterdam over shots of the city filmed since the Covid-19 pandemic. With no editorialising except for where McQueen decides to cut, this work forces viewers to draw their own conclusions about how the workings of state power and grassroots resistance may or may not have changed since the 1940s.

In UK cinemas from 9 February

Occupied City (2023). Courtesy Modern Films

Showing Up, dir. Kelly Reichardt

One of the most deeply-felt disappointments among film lovers this year has been the lack of a UK theatrical release for Kelly Reichardt’s latest movie, Showing Up. Its arrival on Blu-ray in February, however, may prove some consolation. Initially conceived as a biopic of the Canadian painter Emily Carr, it evolved into a film about the fictional Lizzy, a sculptor from Oregon preparing for an exhibition and gently bickering with her friend (and landlord) Jo, who is also an artist. Like all Reichardt’s work, it’s a gentle, observant film, and its patient charting of a creative life – and the intrusions, chores and obligations that impinge on it – is refreshingly unvarnished, but not without grace notes.

On DVD and Blu-ray from 19 February

Michelle Williams as Lizzy in Showing Up (2022). Courtesy A24

Frida, dir. Carla Gutierrez

Having edited documentaries about Ruth Bader Ginsburg (R.B.G., 2018) and the TV chef Julia Childs (Julia, 2021), Carla Gutierrez will be making her directorial debut with Frida, about Frida Kahlo, which premieres at the Sundance Film Festival next month. Told through Kahlo’s own words, from diary entries, interviews, letters and essays, the film incorporates animation in the artist’s distinctive style. Given the evergreen appeal of its subject, the film will likely get picked up for wider release in the UK – though Kahlo superfans can watch the film in January on Sundance’s online viewing platform for $25 (£20).

Available to view on the Sundance Film Festival online portal from 18 January

Frida Kahlo in Frida (2024). Courtesy Sundance Institute; © Lucienne Bloch

Fantastic Machine, dir. Axel Danielson & Maximilien van Aertryck

Attempting to chart 200 years of photographic history, from early 19th-century French innovations to the disorienting power of TikTok and the uncanny ability of live-streaming and reaction videos to glue millions of people to their screens, this playful documentary tracks how our relationship to images has changed over time. With its dizzyingly rapid montage of photo after photo, clip after clip, it illustrates the slippery potency of images in all sorts of contexts, from the trivial to the barbaric.

In UK cinemas from 12 April

Fantastic Machine (2023). Courtesy Picturehouse Entertainment; Photo © Louis Daguerre

Exhibition on Screen: John Singer Sargent 2024, dir. David Bickerstaff

The ‘Exhibition on Screen’ initiative has, over the years, produced a stream of 90-minute films about the work of famous painters, including Old Masters. They tend to hinge around major international exhibitions devoted to those artists – Vermeer this year, Pissarro the year before – and so, to accompany ‘Sargent and Fashion’, which opens at Tate Britain in February, painter and film-maker David Bickerstaff has directed an accompanying documentary that trains its lens on the master portraitist’s sitters and considers how they were dressed. Expect fashion mavens as well as curators to weigh in.

In UK cinemas from 16 April

Ena and Betty, Daughters of Asher and Mrs Wertheimer (1901), John Singer Sargent. Tate Collection. Photo: Joe Humphrys; © Tate

The End, dir. Joshua Oppenheimer

If this year was the year of Oppenheimer, next year could be the year of Oppenheimer – the film-maker Joshua Oppenheimer, that is, who made the groundbreaking documentary The Act of Killing (2012), followed it up with companion piece The Look of Silence (2014) and promptly disappeared for a decade. In those two films, Oppenheimer made artistic practice, artificiality and performance the bedrock of his method. Attempting to gauge the morality of the Indonesian military and political classes who ordered or carried out the murder of half a million suspected leftists in the mid 1960s, he encouraged the goons, who have been living at large, to re-enact the killings as if they were in a pulpy genre film. The result was a truly nightmarish documentary and the world has been waiting to see what Oppenheimer would do next. No one could have predicted that it would be a post-apocalyptic musical starring Tilda Swinton, George MacKay and Michael Shannon, but that’s what we’re getting – and once again, guilt will be a major theme. A Cannes premiere is likely; a wide release in 2024 is hoped for.

Release date unannounced

Poster for The End (2024). Courtesy Final Cut for Real