Twelve Ace Movies From the Past Year That You Can Stream Right Now If You Missed Them in Cinemas
Thanks to lockdowns and restrictions, heading to the flicks hasn't been a straightforward task over the past 12 months — but you can now watch these gems at home.
Since Australian cinemas started reopening more than 12 months ago, following the country's first nationwide lockdown, new films have been hitting the big screen each and every week. But, depending on whether another round of stay-at-home conditions happen to be in place, or even just restrictions, heading to the flicks hasn't been as straightforward a pastime as it was before we'd all ever heard of COVID-19.
Even if you're the biggest movie buff there is, that means that you probably haven't been to the cinema as much as you normally would've. If you're the kind of film-goer who is happy to just head along every now and then, you might've been more selective with your viewing choices. Or, juggling your schedule to fit in a trip to the pictures mightn't have been your biggest priority.
Thankfully, a heap of the past year's cinema gems have now made their way to various streaming platforms, so you can catch up on plenty of great movies at home. Here's 12 that'll keep you busy right this moment — whether you're in lockdown, the weather is average or you just feel like some extended couch time.
There may be no catchier lyric in music history than "same as it ever was", the five words repeated in Talking Heads' 1981 single 'Once in a Lifetime'. As uttered again and again by the band's inimitable frontman David Byrne, it's a looping phrase that burrows into your skull and never leaves. So when American Utopia opens with the musician sat at a table holding a brain and talking about what its various parts do, it feels as if Byrne is acknowledging what everyone already knows in the deepest recesses of their consciousness: that Byrne long ago got cosy in our craniums and has been nattering away to us ever since. As he stares at grey matter while wearing a grey suit — a perfectly fitting one, unlike the famed big number he wore in iconic 1984 Talking Heads concert film Stop Making Sense — he has something else on his mind, however. American Utopia starts with the part of our bodies where we all mentally reside, but slowly and smartly evolves from the cerebral to the communal. It segues from one man alone on a stage lost in his own thoughts to 12 people singing, dancing, playing instruments and connecting, and also pondering the state of the world and how to better it in the process. And it takes its titular concept seriously along the way, confronting America's political and social divisions in Byrne's witty, wise and impassioned between-song chats, but never satirising the idea that the US could be improved to the benefit of everyone.
American Utopia is a concert film like its predecessor but, as that masterpiece proved, the whole notion means more to Byrne than merely standing in front of a camera and busting out well-known hits.From the sublimely soothing 'This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)' to the punchier 'Burning Down the House', plenty of Byrne's best-known songs do grace American Utopia. 'Once in a Lifetime' is among them, of course, as are 'Road to Nowhere' and 'Everybody's Coming to My House', with the film's playlist spanning his career with Talking Heads and solo. Across a range of styles and tempos, each track is a wonder, and not just in the way that fans already know. As should be obvious from the way in which Byrne has conceptualised this stage performance — which he toured in 2018, then adapted for Broadway in 2019, and has now turned into this standout movie directed by Spike Lee — this is a meticulously crafted work. Basking in the glory of Byrne and his band is inevitable and would happen regardless, but soaking in everything that American Utopia does is another marvel entirely. Before the film forces you to do so, you probably won't have realised how enlivening, wondrous and cathartic it is to see the act of connecting so firmly thrust to the fore. It takes an incredible amount of work to make something so tightly constructed seem so loose and natural, and that's just one of the reasons that American Utopia is yet another of the star's masterpieces.
BILL & TED FACE THE MUSIC
When it comes to goofy and sweet movie concepts handled with sincerity, the Bill & Ted franchise has always proven most triumphant. In 1989's Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, the big-screen comedy series introduced the world to Californian high schoolers Bill S Preston, Esq (Alex Winter) and Ted 'Theodore' Logan (Keanu Reeves), who are apparently destined to write the rock song that unites the universe — if they can first pass their history exam by travelling back in time in a phone booth to recruit famed past figures like Beethoven and Socrates to help, that is. The idea that Bill & Ted's affable, air guitar-playing slackers would become the world's salvation was a joke that the film itself was in on, and the movie struck the right balance of silliness, earnestness and affection as a result. So, the end product was joyous. And, it inspired two follow-ups: 1991's even loopier but still entertaining Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey, and now Bill & Ted Face the Music's affectionate dose of warm-hearted lunacy almost three decades later.
Bill (Winter) and Ted (Reeves) are back, obviously. They're older, definitely not wiser, and yet again take a few leaps through time. The fate of life as everyone knows it is still at stake. And, as always, the loveable pair's motto — "be excellent to each other" — is pivotal. Combine all of the above with marital malaise, chip-off-the-old-block daughters Theadora (Ready or Not's Samara Weaving) and Wilhelmina (Atypical's Brigette Lundy-Paine), multiple Bills and Teds, and a 77-minute deadline to write the tune the changes the future, and Face the Music saunters casually forward with a purposeful sense of familiarity. Thankfully, though, this film isn't merely trying to relive past glories. In fact, the very notion that some dreams don't come true sits at the core of this tender and loving movie. Naturally, it's a delight to see Winter and Reeves reprise their roles. They step back into Bill and Ted's shoes with ease, expertly conveying the characters' lingering immaturity, middle-aged malaise and ever-present kindness. They're also clearly having a blast as different versions of the duo, and their enthusiasm is infectious. But when Face the Music finds a plethora of ways to illustrate the merits of their characters' optimistic and warm mindset, it's at its best. Far from bogus, the heartfelt happiness it brings is 100-percent excellent.
When Evan Rachel Wood played a troubled teen in 2003's Thirteen, the then 16-year-old received a Golden Globe nomination. For her work in Westworld since 2016, she has nabbed multiple Emmy nods. So when we say that the actor puts in her best performance yet in Kajillionaire — the type of portrayal that deserves several shiny trophies — that observation isn't made lightly. Playing a 26-year-old con artist called Old Dolio Dyne, Wood is anxious but yearning, closed-off yet vulnerable, and forceful as well as unsure all at once. Her character has spent her entire life being schooled in pulling off quick scams by her eccentric parents Robert (Richard Jenkins, The Shape of Water) and Theresa (Debra Winger, The Lovers), who she still lives with, and she's stuck navigating her own street-wise brand of arrested development. Old Dolio knows how to blend in, with her baggy clothes, curtain of long hair and low-toned voice. She also knows how to avoid security cameras in physical feats that wouldn't look out of place in a slapstick comedy, and how to charm kindly folks out of reward money. But she has never been allowed to truly be her own person — and, from the moment that Wood is seen on-screen, that mournful truth is immediately evident.
Kajillionaire introduces Old Dolio, Robert and Theresa as they're falling back on one of their most reliable swindles: stealing packages from post office boxes. But two developments drive its narrative, and make Old Dolio realise that she's far more than just the third part of a trio. Firstly, to make a quick $20 to help cover overdue rent, she agrees to attend a parenting class for someone she meets on the street, and is struck by how far removed its teachings are from her own experiences. Secondly, on a return flight back to Los Angeles from New York as part of a travel insurance grift, her parents meet and befriend outgoing optometrist's assistant Melanie (Gina Rodriguez, Annihilation). So accustomed to playing the role dictated to her by Robert and Theresa, and never deviating from it, Old Dolio isn't prepared for the emotions stirred up by both changes to her status quo. But July's poignant and perceptive movie — a film that's a quirky heist flick, a playful but shrewd exploration of family bonds, and a sweet love story — is perfectly, mesmerisingly equipped to navigate her protagonist's efforts to reach beyond the only loved ones and the only type of life she has ever known. In fact, the result is one of the most distinctive, empathetic and engaging movies of the year.
THE PAINTER AND THE THIEF
Asked why he broke into Oslo's Gallery Nobel in 2015 and stole two large oil paintings in broad daylight, Karl-Bertil Nordland gives perhaps the most honest answer anyone could: "because they were beautiful". He isn't responding to the police or providing an excuse during his court appearance, but speaking to Czech artist Barbora Kysilkova, who wanted answers about the theft of her work. Captured on camera, the pilfering of Kysilkova's Swan Song and Chloe & Emma initially appeared to be a professional job. As the two pieces were removed from their frames in such an exacting manner, it was presumed that experts were behind the crime. But Nordland and his accomplice didn't plan their brazen heist, or have a background in purloining art. Thanks to the effect of illicit substances, Nordland can't even remember much about it, let alone recall what happened to the stolen works that Kysilkova desperately wants back. That said, as the thief tells the painter when she first talks with him, he does know that he walked past Gallery Nobel often. He's aware that he saw her photorealistic pieces — the first of a dead swan lying in reeds, the second of two girls sat side by side on a couch — many times, too. And, he's candid about the fact that he marvelled at and was moved by the two canvases long before he absconded with them. As a result, he doesn't seem surprised that his life led him to that juncture, and to snatching Kysilkova's creations.
A victim confronts a perpetrator: that's The Painter and the Thief's five-word summary, and it's 100-percent accurate. But such a brief description can't convey how fascinating, thoughtful, moving and astonishing this documentary is as it unfurls a tale so layered and wild that it can only be true — a story that stretches far beyond what anyone could feasibly anticipate of such an altercation and its aftermath, in fact. Nordland was arrested and charged for his crime, with Kysilkova initially making contact with him at his trial. From there, the skilled carpenter and heavily tattooed addict unexpectedly gained a friend in the woman whose works he took. Kysilkova first asked to paint Nordland as part of her attempts to understand him, and he then became her muse. As all relationships do, especially ones forged under such unusual circumstances, their connection evolved, adapted and changed from there. As Norwegian filmmaker Benjamin Ree (Magnus) pointed a camera in their direction for three years, the duo weathered their own ups, downs, twists and turns, as did their friendship. If Nordland's reply to Kysilkova feels disarmingly frank and unguarded, that's because it is. The same tone remains throughout The Painter and the Thief's entire duration. Absent the usual tropes and stylistic markers that true-crime documentaries are known for, the film eschews the standard mix of talking heads, re-enactments and explanatory narration in favour of truly observing and stepping inside its subjects' unique bond.
A relic of a time when women were considered wives, mothers and little else, the public need to comment on whether someone has a baby or is planning to have a baby is flat-out garbage behaviour. In your twenties or thirties, and in a couple? Yet to procreate? If so, the world at large apparently thinks that it's completely acceptable to ask questions, make its judgement known and demand answers. Baby Done offers a great take on this kind of situation. Surrounded by proud new parents and parents-to-be at a baby shower, Zoe (Rose Matafeo) refuses to smile and nod along with all the polite cooing over infants — existing and yet to make their way into the world — and smug discussions about the joys of creating life. An arborist more interested in scaling trees at both the national and world championships than starting a family, she simply refuses to temper who she is to fit society's cookie-cutter expectations. Her partner Tim (the Harry Potter franchise's Matthew Lewis, worlds away from his time as Neville Longbottom) is on the same wavelength, and they visibly have more fun than everyone else at the party.
With a title such as Baby Done, it shouldn't come as much of a surprise when this New Zealand comedy soon upsets Zoe and Tim's status quo. She discovers that she's expecting and, while he starts dutifully preparing to an almost unnervingly sensible extent, she also struggles to face the change that's coming their way. Comedies about the trials and tribulations of parenthood, and of the journey to become parents, are almost as common as people asking "when are you two having kids?" without prompting at parties. But this addition to the genre from director Curtis Vowell and screenwriter Sophie Henderson (both veterans of 2013 film Fantail) approaches a well-worn topic from a savvy angle. Zoe clearly isn't a stereotypical mother-to-be, and doesn't experience the stereotypical feelings women have been told they're supposed to feel about having children — and Baby Done leans into that fact. Also pivotal in her first big-screen lead role is comedian Matafeo. Indeed, it's easy to wonder whether the movie would've worked so engagingly and thoughtfully with someone else as its star. Brightly shot and breezily toned, there's still much about Baby Done that's familiar; however, charting one woman's pregnancy experience, and her backlash to the widely accepted notion that motherhood is the be all and end all of a woman's life, proves poignant and charming more often than not here.
We can only hope that one day, likely in a far distant future, documentaries will stop doubling as horror films. That time hasn't arrived yet — and as Collective demonstrates, cinema's factual genre can chill viewers to the bone more effectively than most jump- and bump-based fare. Nominated for Best Documentary Feature and Best International Feature at the 2021 Academy Awards (only the second time that's ever happened, after last year's Honeyland), this gripping and gut-wrenching Romanian doco starts with a terrible tragedy. On October 30, 2015, a fire broke out at a metal gig in Bucharest, at a club called Colectiv. Twenty-seven people died in the blaze, and 180 people were injured as they tried to escape via the site's lone exit; however, that's just the beginning of the movie's tale. In the four months afterwards, as burn victims were treated in the country's public hospitals, 37 more passed away. When journalist Cătălin Tolontan and his team at The Sports Gazette started investigating the fire's aftermath and the mounting casualty list, they uncovered not only widespread failures throughout Romania's health system, but also engrained corruption as well. This truly is nightmare fuel; if people can't trust hospitals to act in their patients' best interest after such a sizeable disaster, one of the fundamental tenets of modern society completely collapses.
Early in Collective, director, writer, cinematographer and editor Alexander Nanau (Toto and His Sisters) shows the flames, as seen from inside the club. When the blaze sparks from the show's pyrotechnics, hardcore band Goodbye to Gravity has just finished singing about corruption. "Fuck all your wicked corruption! It's been there since our inception but we couldn't see," the group's singer growls — and no, you can't make this up. It's a difficult moment to watch, but this is a film filled with unflinching sights, and with a viscerally unsettling story that demands attention. Nanau occasionally spends time with the bereaved and angry parents of victims of the fire, even bookending the documentary with one man's distress over the "communication error" that contributed to his son's death. The filmmaker charts a photo shoot with Tedy Ursuleanu, a survivor visibly scarred by her ordeal, too. And yet, taking an observational approach free from narration and interviews, and with only the scantest use of text on-screen, Collective's filmmaker lets much of what's said rustle up the majority of the movie's ghastliest inclusions.
Frances McDormand is a gift of an actor. Point a camera her way, and a performance so rich that it feels not just believable but tangible floats across the screen. That's true whether she's playing overt or understated characters, or balancing those two extremes. In Fargo, the first film that earned her an Oscar, McDormand is distinctive but grounded, spouting midwestern phrases like "you betcha" but inhabiting her part with texture and sincerity. In Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, her next Academy Award-winning role, she's an impassioned mother crusading for justice and vengeance, and she ripples with deep-seated sorrow mixed with anger so fiery that it may as well be burning away her insides. Now, in Nomadland, McDormand feels stripped bare and still a commanding force to be reckoned with. She's tasked with a plucky but struggling part — defiant and determined, too; knocked around by life's ups and downs, noticeably; and, crucially, cognisant that valuing the small pleasures is the hardest but most rewarding feat. It'll earned her another shiny Oscar just three years after her last, in fact. Along with the attention the movie received at the Golden Globes as well, this is highly deserved outcome, because hers is an exceptional performance and this was easily 2020's best film.
Here, leading a cast that also includes real people experiencing the existence that's fictionalised within the narrative, she plays the widowed, van-dwelling Fern — a woman who takes to the road, and to the nomad life, after the small middle-America spot where she spent her married years turns into a ghost town when the local mine is shuttered due to the global financial crisis. A slab of on-screen text explains her predicament, with the film then jumping into the aftermath. Following her travels over the course of more than a year, this humanist drama serves up an observational portrait of those that society happily overlooks. It's both deeply intimate and almost disarmingly empathetic in the process, as every movie made by Chloe Zhao is. This is only the writer/director's third, slotting in after 2015's Songs My Brothers Taught Me and 2017's The Rider but before 2021's Marvel flick Eternals, but it's a feature of contemplative and authentic insights into the concepts of home, identity and community. Meticulously crafted, shot and performed, it truly sees everyone in its frames, be they fictional or real. Nomandland understands their plights, and ensures its audience understands them as well. It's exquisitely layered, because its protagonist, those around her and their lives earn the same term — and Zhao never forgets that, or lets her viewers either.
FIRESTARTER — THE STORY OF BANGARRA
More than three decades since it was first formed, Bangarra Dance Theatre is still going strong. In just the last ten years alone, the Sydney-based organisation has unleashed the beauty and potency of works such as Blak, Patyegarang, Lore, OUR land people stories, Bennelong and Dark Emu across Australia's stages, and repeatedly confronted the nation's colonial history head-on in the process. As an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander arts outfit, it can't avoid it. It similarly can't ignore the impact that the country's past has had upon Indigenous culture, and the trauma that's rippled across generations as a result. And so, as excellent new documentary Firestarter — The Story of Bangarra tells the company's tale, these struggles are firmly part of the narrative. Co-directors Wayne Blair (The Sapphires, Top End Wedding) and Nel Minchin (Matilda & Me, Making Muriel) know their power. Indeed, the two filmmakers are well aware that they can't step through Bangarra's history without placing the acclaimed dance theatre in its rightful social, political and cultural context. What audiences have seen on stage over the years is stunning, astonishing and important, of course, but all of those exceptional performances haven't ever existed in a vacuum.
For those unacquainted with the details of Bangarra's origins, evolution, aims and achievements, Firestarter recounts them, starting with its leap out of the National Aboriginal Islander Skills Development Association and the Aboriginal Islander Dance Theatre. Actually, it jumps back further, not only stepping through Bangarra's predecessors, but also charting how Stephen, David and Russell Page became its most famous names. Just as it's impossible to examine the dance company's accomplishments and influence without also interrogating and chronicling Australia's history, it's simply unthinkable to do so without focusing as heavily on the Page brothers as Blair and Minchin choose to. Stephen would become Bangarra's artistic director, a role he still holds. David was its music director, while Russell was one of its best dancers — and their path from growing up in Brisbane in the 60s, 70s and 80s to helping shape and guide an Aussie arts powerhouse is a pivotal component of Bangarra's overall journey thus far. If it sounds as if Firestarter has been set a hefty task — doing triple duty as a celebration, a record of Australia's past and a portrait of three siblings with dreams as big as their talents — that's because it has. But this dense and yet also deft documentary is up to the immense feat, and dances through its massive array of material, topics and themes as skilfully as any of Bangarra's performers ever have.
The sight of streaming sunlight, South Florida's scenery and a blissful young couple shouldn't hit like a gut punch, but in Waves, it does. When this magnificently moving film opens, it does so with high-schooler Tyler Williams (Kelvin Harrison Jr) and his girlfriend Alexis Lopez (Alexa Demie). They sing and drive with carefree exuberance — buoyed by both youth and first love — with their happiness not only captured by fluid, enticing camerawork that circles around and around, but mirrored by the use of Animal Collective's upbeat, energetic 'FloriDada' on the soundtrack. Waves continues its sinuous cinematography and alluring tunes as it follows Tyler through a snapshot of his teenage existence, too. Viewers meet his upper middle-class family, who dote on his every word. We witness his prowess on the school wrestling team, where he's a star. We see how infatuated he is with Alexis, and vice versa. But, as intoxicatingly sensory as all of this is — and as expertly calibrated by writer/director Trey Edward Shults to convey exactly how Tyler is feeling — its glow fades quickly when the agonised glimmer in Tyler's eye becomes evident. It's only there when he's alone, looking in the mirror, but it's a picture of heartbreak.
As played with a complicated mix of charm, arrogance, sadness, anger and vulnerability by the excellent Harrison, Tyler navigates his seemingly content life with an outward smile, while balancing on a knife's edge. He doesn't completely know it, though, although he can clearly feel the pressure mounting. Forceful in reminding him that African Americans are "not afforded the luxury of being average", his father Ronald (Sterling K Brown) is well-intentioned, but also stern and domineering. He pushes Tyler to be better at every turn and, when they train together for the teen's wrestling matches, even gets competitive. Stepmother Catherine (Hamilton's Renée Elise Goldsberry) is far more gentle; however the focus placed on Tyler compared to his younger sister Emily (Taylor Russell) is always obvious in her household. And so, when an injury threatens to undo his sporting future and his romance with Alexis breaks down, Tyler makes a series of self-sabotaging decisions. One leads to tragedy — and the fact that this isn't a joyful movie becomes devastatingly apparent.
On February 13, 2017, at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport, a man was assassinated in broad daylight. While standing by the self check-in kiosks at around 9am, he was approached from behind by two women. After they each rubbed their hands across his face, he was dead within the hour. For a plethora of reasons, the attack garnered global news headlines. Such a brazen murder, carried out not only in public but also in full view of the Malaysian airport's security cameras, was always going to receive worldwide attention. The use of extremely deadly chemical weapon VX obviously demanded scrutiny — and so did the fact that the victim was Kim Jong-nam, the estranged elder half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. But, despite the onslaught of newsprint, pixels and airtime devoted to the incident when it happened, the full details behind it took time to unfurl. As Assassins explores, those facts are fascinating, gripping and distressing in equal measure. Indeed, if a Hollywood screenwriter had cooked up the story at the centre of Ryan White's (The Keepers) meticulously documentary, they would've been told that it's too far-fetched. Not that the world needs any additional reminders, but real life really is far stranger than fiction here.
Across 104 minutes that relay an unmistakably and inescapably wild tale in an edge-of-the-seat yet never sensationalistic fashion, White asks the question that was on everyone's lips four years ago: why? That query has many layers. It starts with wondering why two women in their 20s — one from Indonesia, the other from Vietnam — with no clear political affiliations would kill an exiled North Korean who was once expected to lead his nation. From there, it expands to contemplate why Malaysian law enforcement officers and prosecutors were so content to believe that culprits Siti Aisyah and Doan Thi Huong acted without any involvement from North Korea, and why a number of the latter country's citizens were interviewed, but then released and allowed to return home without facing any legal repercussions. Aisyah and Huong certainly weren't afforded the same treatment. Charged with Kim Jong-nam's murder, they were put through a long trial, and faced the death penalty if convicted. The pair, who didn't know each other beforehand, pled their innocence from the outset. Both women were adamant that they had each been hired to make prank videos for a YouTube show and, as far as they knew, their efforts in Kuala Lumpur were part of their latest production.
RAYA AND THE LAST DRAGON
Featuring a vibrant animated spectacle that heroes vivid green and blue hues, a rousing central figure who is never a stock-standard Disney princess and lively voice work from an all-star cast, Raya and the Last Dragon boasts plenty of highlights. Directed by Don Hall (Big Hero 6) and Carlos López Estrada (Blindspotting), co-directed by Paul Briggs and John Ripa (both Disney art and animation department veterans), and penned by Qui Nguyen (Dispatches From Elsewhere) and Adele Lim (Crazy Rich Asians), the Mouse House's new all-ages-friendly release also embraces southeast Asian culture with the same warm hug that Moana gave Polynesia and Pixar's Coco sent Mexico's way — and it's always detailed, organic, inclusive and thoughtful, and never tokenistic. But perhaps its biggest strength, other than the pitch-perfect vocal stylings of Awkwafina as the playful, mystical half of the film's title, is its timing. Disney first announced the feature back in August 2019, so the company can't have known what the world would suffer through from early 2020 onwards, of course. But a hopeful movie about a planet ravaged by a destructive plague and blighted by tribalism — and a feature that champions the importance of banding together to make things right, too — really couldn't arrive at a more opportune moment.
COVID-19 has no place in Raya and the Last Dragon; however, as the picture's introductory preamble explains, a virus-like wave of critters called the Druun has wreaked havoc. Five hundred years earlier, the world of Kumandra was filled with humans and dragons living together in harmony, until the sinister force hit. Now, only the realm's two-legged inhabitants remain — after their furry friends used their magic to create the dragon gem, which saved everyone except themselves. That's the only status quo that Raya (voiced by Star Wars' Kelly Marie Tran) has ever known. Her entire existence has also been lived out in a divided Kumandra, with different groups staking a claim to various areas. With her father Benja (Daniel Dae Kim, Always Be My Maybe), she hails from the most prosperous region, Heart, and the duo hold out hope that they can reunite the warring lands. Alas, when they bring together their fellow leaders for a peaceful summit, Raya's eagerness to trust Namaari (Gemma Chan, Captain Marvel), the daughter of a rival chief, ends with the Druun on the rampage once again. A movie about believing not just in yourself, but in others, Raya and the Last Dragon doesn't shy away from the reality that putting faith in anyone comes with the chance of peril and pain — especially in fraught times where the world has taken on an every-person-for-themselves mentality and folks are dying (or being turned to stone, which is the Druun's modus operandi). If the narrative hadn't been willing to make this plain again and again, including when it picks up six years later as Raya tries to reverse the devastation caused by Namaari's actions, Raya and the Last Dragon wouldn't feel as genuinely affecting
MAX RICHTER'S SLEEP
Since first opening its doors back in 1973, the Sydney Opera House has played host to a wealth of performances, spanning far further in genre than just the art form that gives the venue its name. But it was only during Vivid Live 2016 that the iconic locale serenaded visitors into an evening-long slumber, all as part of Max Richter's live recital of his eight-and-a-half hour work Sleep. Across 31 tracks comprised of 204 movements, the German-born British composer's concept album unfurls music based on the neuroscience of getting some shuteye. In its intonation, the ambitious yet soothing piece favours the range that can be heard in the womb for much of its duration. When performed for an audience, it is played overnight, with beds set up — and doing as the work's title suggests is highly encouraged. Attendees recline, listen and let Richter's blend of strings, synthesisers and soprano vocals lull them into the land of nod. If they'd prefer to stay awake, that's fine as well, but soaking in Sleep's ambient sounds while you're snatching 40 winks is all very much part of the experience.
In its live version, Sleep has echoed through spaces in London, Berlin and Paris, too; however, it's the first openair performance in Los Angeles' Grand Park in 2018 that takes pride of place in the documentary Max Richter's Sleep. A filmmaker was always bound to be so fascinated with the concept that they'd turn their lens Richter's way, and that director is Natalie Johns (an Emmy nominee for Annie Lennox: Nostalgia Live in Concert), who endeavours to capture the experience for those who haven't had the pleasure themselves. The resulting film doesn't run for more than eight hours, or anywhere close — but those watching and listening will quickly wish that it did. As a feature, Max Richter's Sleep isn't designed to advertise its namesake. Rather, it documents, explores and tries to understand it. Still, the movie so easily draws viewers into the music, and so deeply, that making its audience want to snooze in public while Richter and his band plays is a guaranteed side effect.
Published on July 16, 2021 by Sarah Ward