Tag Archives: Practice of Film Criticism 2022

Fran Hughes on 20th Century Women (Mike Mills, 2016)


Mike Mills stated has stated “feelings are my genre.” 20th Century Women is his semi-autobiographical 21st reflection on masculinity.

The film is led by matriarch, Dorothea (Annette Bening) who is coming to terms with the changing world around her, both socially in 1979 and personally as her son is a teenager becoming his own man.

She wants her son Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann) to know he does not have to conform to traditional, damaging notions of masculinity. Dorothea tells him “Men always feel that they have to fix things for women, but they’re not doing anything. Some things just can’t be fixed. Just be there, somehow that’s hard for all of you”.

Handyman William (Billy Crudup) is a positive male role model that Dorothea feels Jamie (can look up to, while having his friend Julie (Elle Fanning) and lodger Abbie (Greta Gerwig) can teach him how to be a feminist man who understands the issues the women face.

The film could as easily be retitled 20th Century Family, as the characters become each other’s surrogate, chosen family and share many formative experiences together.  This dynamic highlights how by 1979 many people are living outside the traditional nuclear family typical of previous generations. They share joyful moments but are all there for each other during their most difficult times. As Dorothea states in the film “the people that help you might not be who you thought or wanted, they might just be the people who show up.” These characters show up for each other when it matters most, that’s what being family means to them.


All the characters have been shaped by different eras and attitudes of the 20th century. Each central character has their own section somewhere within the non-linear narrative introducing spectators to key moments from their lives. Montage means put together or assemble in French. Here Mills decides to use several montages to highlight events and life experiences that have shaped each central character, in other words experiences that have assembled their current persona. This is cleverly illustrated through scrapbook-style montages that depict political and personal events that have become pieces of who they are. Mills uses a mixture of character photos and archival footage to create an insightful snapshot of their memories.

For Dorothea he uses archival footage from the Great Depression to reflect on how growing up in that time created her resilient personality.  Benning’s performance is electric and unforgettable, one of the strongest of her career.


Throughout the film the characters narrate parts of their past prior to 1979 and refer to events in their future further illustrating the importance of this period of their life, being still significant to them, a foundational time in their lives. It feels as if they are in conversation with their younger 1979 selves updating them on where they are now. This feels poignant as it causes the spectator to reflect on their youth, how their life turned out and the people who helped shape who they are today. As Gerwig’s Abbie states “Whatever you think your life is going to be like, just know, it’s not gonna be anything like that”.

Fran Hughes

Luke Brown on Shin Godzilla (

Shin Godzilla Review

by Luke Brown


From a terrifying metaphor for unspeakable horrors, to a friendly protector, to an undead embodiment of the souls lost at war, Godzilla has gone through many iterations in its lifespan. Shin Godzilla redefines the character once again, shaping Godzilla into an unstoppable force of nature. Unlike other versions, this Godzilla does not act out of pre-determined thought, but rather animalistic instinct. Shin Godzilla (Hideaki Anno, Japan, 2016) returns to the roots of the characterization of Godzilla, the creature being mutated due to radiation, however, in a modern world this takes the shape of radioactive waste dumped into Tokyo Bay rather than nuclear weapons testing. Not only does this function to update the character to represent more topical, modern-day fears, but also reclaims a back-story seemingly lost amongst the many adaptations. There are scenes throughout the film that directly mirror news footage of the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami, and the subsequent Fukushima nuclear disaster, that took place in 2011. Once again these scenes function to reclaim the identity that Godzilla originally had: a monstrous, physical representation of the horrors that have beset Japan.

While the film functions as a national catharsis, it also functions as a scathing indictment of the countries government. There are numerous scenes throughout the film that display the comical levels of bureaucracy present in Japanese government, meetings adjourning only for all the present parties to move to another room to begin a different meeting, a ludicrous amount of people needing to give permission for action to be taken. It is clear that Hideaki Anno, the films writer and one of its directors, has very little faith in the government’s ability to aid its own citizens, which was one of the greatest critiques of the nation following the previously mentioned disasters in 2011.

Shin Godzilla may, at first, appear to be a dire, mournful film, but it is also quite clearly one full of hope and national pride. When the shackles of bureaucracy are shed, the Japanese people unite in order to find a way to save their country from further destruction, just as was seen in Godzilla (1954). The film has a clear pride in Japan’s ability to rise up after even the most devastating events have occurred, and it’s people’s ability to repair that which has been destroyed.

Shin Godzilla is not only interesting for its narrative, however, but the visual effects that are present in the film warrant note as well. While the American’s had, at the time of release, already released two Godzilla films utilising computer graphics, Shin Godzilla is the first Japanese film in the franchise to create an entirely CGI Godzilla. While miniatures are still used throughout the film, the King of the Monsters himself is created through motion capture and CGI, the tradition of men in rubber suits done away with entirely. Shin Godzilla both updates and reclaims the character in ways that are reminiscent of its past, while being aware of Japan’s present, ushering in a new era of Japanese Godzilla films.


Luke Brown

Harry Watts, The Practice of Film Criticism Podcast 2022, no. 2, Once Upon a Time in America (Sergio Leone, 1984)

A thoughtful, exploratory discussion of a landmark gangster film, a story about America made by one of Italy’s greatest directors. We discuss how the film might have re-defined the gangster genre; the film’s aesthetic and how particular choices serve expression, we talk of the violence in the film and the charges that it might be misogynist; the distinctions between script and mise-en-scène; what the film shows and the film’s pov on those actions; the relative lack of dialogue and the focus on faces; we discuss the significance of the closing shot…and much much more, not least Robert De Niro’s extraordinary performance.

The podcast may be listened to here:


José Arroyo and Harry Watts.