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Where have all the foreign language movies gone?

Posted by Roy Stafford on 1 February 2014

In the last few years, January has become a desert as far as diversity in UK cinemas is concerned. The US/UK ‘awards films’ fill all the specialised cinema screens that would usually take a major foreign language film release. Distributors are discouraged from competition with Hollywood and mainstream independent distributors. So, currently, 12 Years a Slave (eOne), American Hustle (Columbia/Entertainment) and Gravity (Warner Bros) are still in cinemas alongside The Wolf of Wall Street (Universal). Dallas Buyers’ Club (Universal) and Her (Warner Bros/Entertainment) are to open soon. We did get The Missing Picture the Cambodian entry for Foreign Language film (in French) a couple of weeks ago but only in a very small number of cinemas and the Palestinian entry Omar has not yet been released in the UK.

I’ve complained about this before but it is getting worse and as Charles Gant reported in Sight and Sound (February), 2013 was the worst year for foreign language films at the UK box office since he started monitoring data in 2007. I genuinely fear that we are going to lose the audience for these films. The two most dynamic film industries in the world in terms of production and domestic success in 2013 are China and South Korea. When was the last time you saw a Chinese or Korean film at the cinema? I should point out that both exhibitors and distributors are part of the problem, but both are likely to rely on perceptions of what audiences want. Where do these perceptions come from? If younger audiences have never had the chance to see foreign language films how can they form a view about them?

It’s very important to support any foreign language films you can find on release. We do get regular South Asian films in our multiplexes but they remain ghettoised. Please, please go and see what is on offer. I’m hoping to catch a Pakistani film today and a Chinese film on Tuesday (a special screening at Cornerhouse by the indispensable Chinese Film Forum UK). I’m also looking forward to tonight’s last two episodes of The Bridge on BBC4. The popularity of foreign language drama on UK TV is one of the few pluses at the moment.

February should bring the new Claire Denis film Bastards and Lukas Moodysson’s We Are the Best – while the former is most likely to attract devotees, the latter sounds like a return to more accessible filmmaking. I’m sure both will feature on the blog and I hope they find their audiences in cinemas.

Posted in Film audiences, Film awards lists, Film culture, Film exhibition, Film industry | Tagged: , , , | 3 Comments »

“And the Award goes to … “

Posted by keith1942 on 27 January 2014

Nominated for Best Documentary Feature.

Nominated for Best Documentary Feature.

There has been much coverage of the Film Awards season in the media: The Golden Globes, The Screen Actors Guild, The BAFTAS, and The Academy Awards. The last two have yet to arrive, but there is already an amount of speculation, and apparently betting. Most of the media only discuss the major awards: credit though to BBC2’s Newsnight which had short interviews with the filmmakers involved in two ‘minor’ awards – Best Documentary Feature – “The Square” Jehane Noujaim and Karim Amer and Best Documentary Short Subject – “Karama Has No Walls” Sara Ishaq
Some critics like Peter Bradshaw in The Guardian already fear that ‘the best film will not win’. Which raises the question ‘whose best film’? None of my favourites for the year received a nomination; not surprising. Only one film in the Sight & Sound (January, 2014) top ten in its list for the year made it into the major awards. Of the other main contenders only 12 Years a Slave managed a position, at joint fourteen. The nominations, with the exceptions of the Best Foreign Language Film, Best Documentary Feature, Best Documentary Short Film, Best Animated Short Film and Best Live Action Short Film, are all taken from mainstream Box Office successes. In fact, the general audience have presumably already voted at the Box Office. And as Peter Bradshaw in The Guardian pointed out, there is an observable gap between the Box Office choice and that of the Academy members.

What is more worrying about the Academy members’ choices is on what basis they choose. Peter Bradshaw bemoaned that not all the members would watch the nominated films on the DVDs provided. I rather think they have now moved on to Blu-Ray. Whatever, this is not strictly film and certainly not cinema. I suspect that a large number of votes at the Screen Actors’ Guild, the BAFTAS and the Oscars will be based on watching video. Of course, it may be high definition and it may be on 50 inch Television or Plasma screens. One assumes that the Foreign Press Association do actually watch films at the cinema.

I did. On the day that the Oscar nominations were announced I went to see Nairobi a Half Life (Kenya, 2012), a film proposed for the Academy’s awards but which did not manage a nomination in the Foreign Language Film category. It is an uneven film but I thought it better than at least one title in the Sight & Sound list. My enjoyment was partly fuelled by the gasps etc by fellow audience members at moments of tension and our shared laughter at the macabre but witty moments. Watching it on video would be only half the experience.

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BIFF 2013 #21: European Features Competition

Posted by Roy Stafford on 22 April 2013

Maria Dragas, star of 'Kill Me' speaking after receiving the European Features award on behalf of Emily Latef – watched by Tom Vincent and Neil Young, Festival Directors.

Maria Dragus, star of ‘Kill Me’ speaking after receiving the European Features award on behalf of Emily Latef – watched by Tom Vincent and Neil Young, Festival Directors.

BIFF19logoLast year’s inaugural European Features Competition featured six films by debutant directors. This year there were another three first-timers plus three established filmmakers. Again the six films have not achieved UK distribution and Festival Director Tom Vincent told us at the award ceremony that this was the chief aim of the prize – to highlight films that UK distributors had missed and should perhaps reconsider. The festival brochure doesn’t tell us what the judging criteria are – which strikes me as problematic. There were three jurors: Stephanie Bunbury is a film journalist from Australia, Hannah McGill is well-known in the UK as one-time director of the Edinburg International Film Festival and is now a critic and film journalist and Martijn Maria Smits is a writer-director from the Netherlands.

As far as I’m aware, the three judges saw all six films at the beginning of the festival and none of them were present at the announcement on Sunday evening. It seems to me that operating in this way, the judges will not have had any sense of how audiences reacted to the films. I wonder therefore if they will have judged the films on the basis of their appeal as ‘festival films’. By this I mean a film that appeals directly to festival professionals and audiences who seek out festivals rather than to a mainstream or arthouse audience. People generally watch films differently in festivals I think.

I thought before the official announcement that the judges may well choose Kill Me directed by Emily Atef. This was the only one of the six entries that I hadn’t blogged on – for the simple reason that I had missed the opening 15-20 minutes and I didn’t want to comment without seeing the whole film. Emily Atef has won several festival prizes for her work and I thought her film would appeal most to the judges. My guess proved correct and though the director wasn’t present, the young star of the film Maria Dragus had flown into Bradford specially. She was clearly delighted that the film won the prize. I had planned to watch the opening of the film so I stayed on for the screening – knowing I would have to leave after about 30 minutes for a meeting. Unfortunately, I was sat directly in front of Ms Dragus so I hope she wasn’t offended when I sneaked out. Now I’ve seen the whole film I will write it up, but if you are wondering, it offers the unlikely pairing of a teenage girl on a farm in Germany who runs off with an escaped prisoner. The odd couple has an uneasy relationship which is explored in a form of ‘road movie’.

Apart from Kill Me, there was a ‘special mention’ of A Night Too Young and its director Olmo Omerzu was present. The young boy’s face in that film with its young/old appearance will stay with me for some time and I certainly support the judges in singling out a film and a filmmaker that both deserve more attention. All six films in the competition were worth consideration for wider distribution and it was a strong field. The award this year was sponsored by ‘Bradford First UNESCO City of Film’ and its director David Wilson presented it to Maria Dragus. I think the ideas behind the award are very good and it is something that BIFF could build on, but to actually convince a distributor to take up any of these films in the UK is going to require more – perhaps several festivals could combine to give European films more focus. The New British Cinema Quarterly scheme sees a package of British films getting a limited release. How about a New European Cinema Quarterly? Britain is the toughest market in Europe for ‘European’ films so anything might help. But for now, let’s celebrate the European Features Award. Kill Me review to follow.

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Favourites from 2012

Posted by keith1942 on 17 January 2013

Anatoliaopens

Once upon a time in Anatolia

I am afraid I am the last to post a listing for 2012, however I have been laid low with a viral infection: fortunately there were not a lot of exciting new releases around. However, unlike Des, I thought 2013 was a great year for films.

Five favourite new releases:

Once upon a Time in Anatolia / Bir zamanlar Anadolu’da, Turkey / Bosnia-Herzegovina 2011.
I saw this film three times. It retained its luminous images and sounds but increased in complexity at every viewing.

The Nine Muses, UK 2010
A documentary by John Akomfrah and some of his colleagues from the old Black Audio Film Collective. The film was challenging but beautifully filmed and recorded with highly intelligent content.

My Week with Marilyn, USA / UK 2011
Not a great film, but a great performance by Michelle Williams. In one scene she poses at the foot of a stairwell for the working members of the royal household – you could be back in the 1950s actually watching Marilyn.

About Elly / ‘Darbareye Elly’, France / Iran 2009.
This film received a UK cinema release because of the success of the director’s more recent Nader and Simin, A Separation / Jodaelye Nader az Simin, 2011. Unfortunately his earlier film Fireworks Wednesday (2006) is apparently only being made available on DVD.

Amour, France / Germany / Austria 2012.
The film has fine direction from Michael Haneke, but what most impresses are the performances – Jean-Louis Trintignant, Isabelle Huppert and, notably, Emmanuelle Riva. Emmanuelle Riva’s first film was Hiroshima mon Amour (1958); now 85, and fifty five years later comes Amour – what a spring and winter of a career.

Five re-issues or restorations on film and other formats.

Die Weber

Die Weber

Die Weber / The Weavers, Germany 1927
This classic silent political drama has been restored by the Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau Stiftung [the film archive in Wiesbaden]. I was fortunate enough to see this both at Il Cinema Ritrovato in Bologna where the film enjoyed a musical accompaniment of a soundtrack on the print. Then I saw it a second time at Il Giornate del Cinema Muto where it was accompanied by a live piano accompaniment. Both occasions used the DCP format: the transfer seemed pretty good, but the black and white image did lack the tonal range likely on 35mm. Even so it impressed, as did the cast that included William Dieterle and Arthur Krauβneck. They are part of a C19th Weaver’s revolt against lowering wages and the introduction of machines – territory paralleling the studies of E P Thompson.

Girls of Dark / Onna bakari no yoru, Japan 1962.
This was one of the most interesting films in the Tanaka Kinuyo retrospective at the Leeds International Film Festival. It looked good in black and white Tohoscope. And it was a fascinating women’s drama with a memorable final sequence.

Tess, France UK 1979.
Roman Polanski’s adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s novel has been restored by Pathé and Éclair using digital technology. It is released in the UK in 2013 and should be in a 4K digital version. I saw it at Il Cinema Ritrovato in Bologna’s Piazza Maggiore. The screening started at 1030 p.m. so I only planned to watch the first hour – but it looked so good I was seduced into the whole three hours.

Marcel Ophüls and Jean-Luc Godard: The St-Gervais Meeting, Switzerland 2011.
This recording was filmed and screened in a digital format at the Bradford International Film Festival and runs for 44 minutes. We witness a conversation between two of the most intelligent, intriguing but utterly contrasting filmmakers in modern cinema. The meeting is fascinating, illuminating and extremely witty.

James Cagney DVDs.
I found three DVDs in a 50p basket outside a local shop – Public Enemy 1931, Roaring Twenties 1939 and White Heat 1949. I watched them one evening after another over the weekend. Another revival this year was a 1980s Parkinson television interview with Orson Welles. At one point Welles claimed that Cagney was the greatest screen actor of all, [he presumably was thinking mainly of Hollywood]. An unusual choice, but after watching these three classics I think he could be right.

And, finally the least favourites ….

Beasts of the Southern Wild, USA 2012.
I thought this the most over-praised film of the year: and now its up for Oscars!

A Dangerous Method, UK 2011
I thought this contained the most over-praised performance of the year.

The Master, USA 2012-12-22
I found this the most interminable film of the year.

I should add that the above film was actually surpassed by one I watched on Film Four – The Notebook, USA 2012. However, this last film did bring to my attention my favourite caustic comment I read this year – Peter Bradshaw’s Guardian review quoted in Halliwell’s DVD & Video Guide:

“Dentistry in the Renaissance could not have been more painful than watching this.”

Posted in Festivals and Conferences, Film awards lists | 1 Comment »

That was 2012 in film – Des 1967’s lists

Posted by des1967 on 5 January 2013

Happy New year to everyone and apologies for the delay in my contribution. Just recovering from chaos of Hogmanay.

I didn’t find 2012 as good as the previous few years but I managed to miss some films which I was very keen to see, including Holy Motors, The Master (I thought Anderson’s Magnolia one of the best films of the 1990s), About Elly, This is Not a Film, Berberian Sound Studio, Shadow Dancer. Some of these will no doubt appear on my 2013 DVD list.

I’ve chosen ten on the UK cinema release list because I can’t find an obvious five which are far better than the next five and these are not necessarily in any order:

Rust and Bone (France/Belgium)

I usually have to psyche myself up to watch films featuring severe physical injury but the performance of Cotillard in particular made me overcome my squeamishness. Also a fine performance by Matthias Schoenaerts whose character’s lack of emotion at the beginning helped Stephanie to get beyond self-pity and rebuild her life. Alain couldn’t stay frozen forever and his transformation was incredibly well done.

Le Havre (Finland/France/Germany)

A Chaplinesque good-hearted fairy-tale about a group of ‘small people’ in the port area of Le Havre conspiring to help an immigrant boy on his way to join his mother in London keep out of the hands of the police. A sort of Finnish hommage to French poetic realism.

Goodbye First Love (France/Germany)

I’ve never been a fan of Rohmer but this film has the qualities fans of Rohmer often describe.

Anna Karenina (UK)

Costume drama needs a rethink and this is one of the most radical.

The Hunt (Jagten, Denmark/Sweden 2012)

Seems to be a common denominator among contributors so it must have something special going for it.

Liberal Arts (USA)

34-year-old Nat visits his old university and falls for Zibby, the bright 19-year-old daughter of his former professor’s friends. Could be classed as a romcom but the term doesn’t quite catch the mood and tone of the film. Terrific performances, especially by minor characters and by Elizabeth Olsen who threatens to put in the shade  her more famous sisters Mary-Kate and Ashley. Something  endearingly old-fashioned about the contact of the two protagonists – by letter. Here’s a clip of the couple’s correspondence rendered by voice-over which catches the flavour of the film.:

Your Sister’s Sister (USA)

Another American indy production. Interesting relationship triangle between a man and two sisters, witty and engaging. A bit of a rough diamond of a romcom.

Untouchable (France)

An uplifting comedy about the friendship that develops between a wealthy quadriplegic and his carer, Driss, an ex-convict. Has become the most seen film in French history and already doing better abroad than The Artist.

The Snows of Kilimanjaro (France 2012)

A union official made redundant and his wife struggle to apply their long-held socialist principles faced with adversity.

Monsieur  Lazhar (Canada)

There seems to be a real flourishing of film in Quebec in recent years and this is a fine example.

An honourable mention to The Angels Share and a dishonourable mention to two American comedies which were both immature and very funny: Ted and 21 Jump Street.

______________________________________________________________________

DVD/TV/Festivals etc.

Once Upon a Time The Revolution/Duck You Sucker (Italy 1971)

Tends to be overlooked in comparison to the other two “Once Upon a Time” Leone films (The West and America) but still great, ebullient film making.

The Minister  (France/Belgium, 2011) (TOTAL French Film Festival)

Terrific performance by Olivier Gourmet (whom I’d only seen in Dardennes Brothers films such as The Son) in which he plays a government minister under pressure.

Sarah’s Key   (France, 2010)

Two time periods, Paris in 1942, during the notorious round-ups of the Jews by the Paris police, and present-day Paris and New York. A journalist (Kristin Scott-Thomas) suspects her in-laws may have benefitted from the Jews’ misfortune over 60 years before. In some way more effective in portraying these events than La Rafle.

The First Day of the Rest of Your Life (France, 2008)

Family melodrama which follows the story of a tumultuous family over five important days in their lives.

C.R.A.Z.Y. (Canada, 2005)

Another family melodrama, this time set in Canada. It tells the story of conservative father (a great country fan – which will explain the title) and his relationship with his five sons, in 1960s and 1970s Quebec and in particular Zac, a young gay man dealing with homophobia. 

Café de Flor (Canada/France, 2011)

Another Quebec film (also written and directed by Jean-Mark Vallé) which cuts between two seemingly unrelated stories. One set in Montréal dealing with the relationship between a successful DJ, his new, younger girlfriend and his still-complicated relationship with his ex-wife who can’t let go. The other, set in 1960s Paris, stars Vanessa Paradis as a fiercely protective single mother of a child with Down syndrome

Even the Rain  (Spain, 2010)

While a director and his crew shoot a controversial film about Christopher Columbus in Cochabamba, Bolivia, local people rise up against plans to privatize the water supply.

 

The final two are Spanish films directed by Fernando Trueba, a Christmas gift from Madrid. Probably on my list as seen most recently but they refuted the common claim that in Spain there is only Almodóvar.

Belle Époque (Spain/Portugal, 1992)

Set in Spain in 1931 Fernando, a young soldier, deserts from the army and is welcomed by the owner of a farm due to his libertarian political ideas. The man has four daughters, all of whom Fernando is attracted to and they to him , so he has to decide which one to love. Despite the subtext consisting of the issues that lead to the Civil War 5 years later, this is really a fairy-tale. I  think I would have hated it back in 1992 when it first came out, when Spanish film (and Spanish political culture generally) avoided any real issues to do with the Civil War (the so-called “pact of forgetting”). But seeing it now,  really enjoyed it and its utopian aspirations.

Chico and Rita (Spain/UK, 2010)

An animated feature-length film, the story of Chico, a pianist, and Rita, a singer, is set against backdrops of Havana, New York City, Las Vegas, Hollywood and Paris in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Strange having such a sexy animated film (outside Japan!). I probably still associate, subconsciously, animation with kids’ films. Good story, excellent animation, wonderful music.

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What of 2013? Looking forward to seeing the films mentioned by other contributors, and want to fill a lacuna in my viewing experience by getting to grips with Kenji Mizoguchi. As for telly, looking forward to Season 4 of Engrenages/Spiral and the final half season of  Breaking Bad, one of the best US series but almost invisible in the UK.

And a New Year Resolution – not to go and see blockbusters because influential reviewers tell me how good and original they are – such as Skyfall, the latest Bond film, which bored me to tears after half an hour.

Posted in Film awards lists | 2 Comments »

That was 2012 in film

Posted by Roy Stafford on 3 January 2013

We’ve been trying to put together some ideas about what we’ve seen over the last 12 months. For me personally, 2012 was a great year. I largely ignored Hollywood and I don’t feel that I’ve missed much. Apart from Prometheus (which I argued was a British movie) I’ve watched only Hugo, The Hunger Games and Fincher’s The Girl With a Dragon Tattoo. Scorsese’s film was interesting but the Fincher film was irrelevant. The Hunger Games was worth watching and the franchise shows potential but I’m not over-excited. I am intrigued by the prospect of Tarantino’s Western in a few weeks time, but otherwise Hollywood holds few attractions. American indies have also been so-so. Instead, I’ve seen the French blockbuster Intouchables, which I enjoyed but seem not to have written about – a mistake. Bollywood and Chinese blockbusters were also missing this year, though I enjoyed the Tamil remake of 3 Idiots, Nanban. But mostly 2012 was the year of the jaw-dropping specialised release. Trying to choose just five films to put on a pedestal was very difficult and I could easily have listed ten or even 15.

Eventually I came up with this list of the five films on UK cinema release in 2012 which made most impact on me:

1. Monsieur Lazhar (Canada)

A gem of restraint, an almost perfect story.

2. A Royal Affair (Denmark/Czech/Ger/Swe)

Philosophy, history, politics and romance – a heady mixture.

3. Tabu (Portugal/Brazil/France)

Strange, beautiful and a subtle satire – a unique meditation on the colonial imagination.

4. A Simple Life (Hong Kong)

The title says it all, a Chinese melodrama with enormous emotional power.

5. The Hunt (Denmark)

Thomas Vinterberg makes a triumphal comeback with a multi-layered story and Mads Mikkelsen’s second great performance of 2012.

It’s obvious that I like melodramas since that generic classification is the one factor shared by these five titles. Three of them are also about memory and all of them are powered by terrific performances. Mads Mikkelsen is the actor of the moment (i.e. in both A Royal Affair and The Hunt) and Danish and Québécois cinema have dominated my 2012.

We are also listing the five films that we’ve seen either as re-releases or education screenings, in festivals or on DVD or TV in 2012. Here’s my ‘other’ five:

1. War Witch (Canada 2012)

Kim Nguyen’s film about a young girl caught up in the Congolese civil wars would have been a strong contender for my first list but bizarrely it hasn’t yet got a UK release. It has been seen at many festivals and won several prizes already. It has made the ‘long shortlist’ for the Foreign Language Oscar and I hope it wins.

2. Dreams for Sale (Japan 2012)

The best film I saw at the London Film Festival. Contemporary Japanese films are fascinating but don’t seem to sell well internationally at the moment. I hope this proves to be the exception.

3. The Eternal Breasts (Japan 1955)

The Leeds Film Festival came up trumps with its Tanaka Kinuyo retrospective. I’m not sure why, but 1950s Japanese cinema seems to have become my most reliable source of pleasure in the cinema.

4. It Always Rains on Sunday (UK 1947)

A long post on this re-release is nearly complete. The BFI’s digital releases in 2012 included several interesting titles but this was the revelation for me. I’d seen the film before, but I hadn’t understood the power of Googie Withers’ performance until I saw it on the big screen. Part of the BFI’s huge Ealing retrospective I found that this film raised issues about the critical reaction to Ealing’s output that I want to explore.

5. Tess (France/UK 1979)

I watched Tess on DVD earlier this year while I was preparing for an event on Michael Winterbottom’s Trishna and reading the Hardy novel which was the original source of both films. Polanski’s Tess blew me away on DVD – much of it watched on my laptop on a train. I can’t remember why I didn’t see it at the time and I was surprised to read about the difficulties it had in getting distribution in the UK. There is a restored digital print of Tess circulating in the UK and I must track it down.

Nick and Rona have both sent me their lists, so perhaps we can get some debate going? Nick’s (more extensive) lists are also on his own blog – the two here were what he sent to me (and he’s now added his own comments):

Nick’s

I agree with Roy that Hollywood produced little (nothing?) of note last year; I enjoyed Prometheus but the superhero franchises left me cold.

Nick’s list of UK 2012 cinema releases:

The Hunt

Utterly gripping and, the dreadful child protection procedures apart, completely convincing.

About Elly (Iran 2009)

Another melodrama that mixed thriller with humour in devastating fashion.

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (Turkey/Bosnia-Herzogovina 2011)

Wonderfully slow paced narrative, the absurdities of which were completely engaging.

The Iron Lady (UK-France 2011)

A surprise for me because Thatcher is one of the few people I hate to the core of my being. However, as a film about old age and dementia this will take some beating.

Anna Karenina (UK 2012)

Very impressed by Joe Wright’s artifice, making this period drama refreshingly modern.

and the top 5 films revisited:

Vertigo (US 1957)

It doesn’t deserves the moniker of ‘best movie of all time’, as Sight & Sound suggests, but then no movie does. However, it’s tale of obsession, love and loss is still riveting.

Gattaca (US 1997)

A dystopian thriller that combines SF and noir brilliantly.

Ashes and Diamonds (Poland 1958)

Wajda remains one of my favourite directors, he is able to take a microcosm – here the end of WWII – and instil momentous events within it.

Battle for Haditha (UK 2007)

Nick Broomfield not only brilliantly recreates the madness of the Americans in Iraq, he humanises both the protagonists and antagonists (choose your side).

Son of Babylon (Iraq/UK/Fra/UAE/Lebanon/Egypt 2009)

I missed this in the cinema; like Haditha it encapsulates the Iraqi experience of war. Maybe if everyone watched films like these the opposition to war would be so great that politicians, even when urged on by the industrial-military complex, wouldn’t dare to defy public opinion.

and Rona‘s lists (a Top 9 and a Top 4):

The Hunt

The Master (US 2012)

Shadow Dancer (UK 2012)

7 Psychopaths (UK 2012)

The Hunter (Australia 2011)

Argo (US 2012)

Holy Motors (France 2012)

The Turin Horse (Hungary/Fra/Ger/Switz/US 2011)

Swandown (UK 2012)

Berberian Sound Studio (UK-Germany 2012)

DVD-wise (return through study)

L’Avventura (Italy 1960)

Taxi Driver (US 1976)

The Conversation (US 1974)

The Passion of Joan of Arc (France 1928)

So far then, only one agreement – that The Hunt is one of the films of the year. We hope to hear soon from Des and Keith. Perhaps they will be posting their own lists first? Any thoughts on the lists so far? Please add in the ‘Comments’ below.

Posted in Film awards lists | 9 Comments »

2011 End of Year Lists

Posted by Roy Stafford on 5 December 2011

It’s that time again and the lists of ‘best’ films. ‘favourite’ films etc. are appearing everywhere. Keith has already commented on the Sight and Sound list and here it is in the January 2012 issue (with links shown to our posts):

The Tree of Life, Terence Malick, US

A Separation, Asghar Farhadi, Iran

The Kid With a Bike, Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne, Belgium/France/Italy

Melancholia, Lars von Trier, Den/Swe/Fra/Ger/Italy

The Artist, Michel Hazanavicius, France

6=  The Turin Horse, Bela Tarr, Hungary

6=  Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, Nuri Bilge Cylan, Turkey/Bosnia & Herzogovina

We Need to Talk About Kevin, Lynne Ramsay, UK/US

Le quattro volte, Michelangelo Frammartino Italy/Ger/Switz

10=  This Is Not a Film, Jafar Panahi & Mojtaba Mirtahmash, Iran

10=  Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Tomas Alfredson, UK/Fra/Ger

The list is based on the 5 top films nominated by 100 ‘international critics’ (although the selection of ‘critics’ seems skewed towards the UK and several of the UK names are unknown to me.) Titles are included if they have been seen this year. Several of the films selected have yet to be released in the UK (although some have appeared in festivals here). It’s interesting that between us we’ve covered all of the Top 11 that have received a UK release. S & S editor Nick James gives a brief summary of how the votes went. The most significant observation is perhaps that few European critics have much time for the Lynne Ramsay film which has been snubbed by the European Film Awards apart from the award for Best Actress to Tilda Swinton. We’ll no doubt return to Kevin, which Keith was less taken with than Rona and Roy, at some future date (Melancholia won Best Film) The other surprises were that Senna didn’t make the Top 10 nor Wim Wenders’ Pina. As an overall comment, it’s worth pointing out that the list has two Iranian films but nothing else from Asia. Latin America is also not mentioned though Las acacias, released in the UK this week is ‘bubbling under’ – having won many festival prizes over the last twelve months. Apart from Ramsay there are no other women as directors in the Top 11.

Here’s my selection of the 11 new films that have most impressed me over the last twelve months in UK cinemas (leaving out films that have only appeared in festivals). In no particular order:

A Separation, Asghar Farhadi, Iran

We Need to Talk About Kevin, Lynne Ramsay, UK/US

Le quattro volte, Michelangelo Frammartino Italy/Ger/Switz

Wuthering Heights, Andrea Arnold, UK

Incendies, Denis Villeneuve, Canada-France

Poetry, Lee Chang-dong, South Korea

Bal, Semih Kaplanoglu, Turkey-Germany

Senna, Asif Kapadia, UK

A Screaming Man, Mahamat-Saleh Haroun, Chad/France/Belgium

Meek’s Cutoff, Kelly Reichs, US

Mademoiselle Chambon, Stéphane Brizé, France

I should point out that it isn’t necessarily the story or the theme of these films that makes me want to single them out, but rather their cinematic qualities in terms of ideas and imagination, performance, cinematography, editing, direction, use of sound/music etc. A review of Senna will appear when I get time. This has been a particularly strong year for British Cinema and that is reflected in my choices. I haven’t watched as many Indian films as I would have liked and although I’ve seen several interesting Latin American films in festivals, few have got a UK release. I have seen four new Japanese films on release and I was tempted to include at least one. I realise that I’ve also left out Black Swan, which was released in the UK in January and is an astonishing film in many ways, but perhaps not so much in need of a boost.

Comments? Other suggestions?

Addendum: Just received the list of winners at the British Independent Film Awards and reminded that we haven’t mentioned Tyrannosaur. I haven’t seen the film – largely because I have seen the original short film which was extended by Paddy Considine to feature length. That was excellent but harrowing and I wasn’t sure I was ready for the full-length version. Here is the list of BIFA winners:

BEST BRITISH INDEPENDENT FILM Tyrannosaur

BEST DIRECTOR Lynne Ramsay for We Need To Talk About Kevin

THE DOUGLAS HICKOX AWARD [BEST DEBUT DIRECTOR]Paddy Considine, Tyrannosaur

BEST SCREENPLAY Richard Ayoade, Submarine

BEST ACTRESS Olivia Colman, Tyrannosaur

BEST ACTOR Michael Fassbender, Shame

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS Vanessa Redgrave,Coriolanus

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR Michael Smiley, Kill List

MOST PROMISING NEWCOMER Tom Cullen, Weekend

BEST ACHIEVEMENT IN PRODUCTION Weekend

THE RAINDANCE AWARD Leaving Baghdad

BEST TECHNICAL ACHIEVEMENT Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Maria Djurkovic (Production Design)

BEST DOCUMENTARY Senna

BEST BRITISH SHORT Chalk

BEST FOREIGN INDEPENDENT FILM A Separation

THE RICHARD HARRIS AWARD (for outstanding contribution by an actor to British Film) Ralph Fiennes

THE VARIETY AWARD Kenneth Branagh

THE SPECIAL JURY PRIZE Graham Easton


Posted in Film awards lists | 8 Comments »

10 from 2010

Posted by Roy Stafford on 30 December 2010

By dint of catching four festivals this year, my cinema visits have topped 100 in 2010 – the first time I’ve managed such a total for many years. I’ve chosen ten of the best films I saw on the big screen, leaving out the three Hollywood films that got the most press (Shutter Island, Inception and The Social Network), not because they were poor but because they don’t really need any more coverage. All the films on my list were first released in the UK in 2010. Here they are, not necessarily in rank order (with links to original postings on this site):

1. Winter’s Bone, dir. Debra Granik (US 2010)

I think that this is the film which hit me hardest in terms of an emotional response.

2. Skeletons, dir. Nick Whitfield (UK 2010)

. . . and this is the film which struck me as the most original.

3. Still Walking, dir Kore-eda Hirokazu (Japan 2008)

Just perfect?

4. Un prophète, dir Jacques Audiard (France 2009)

I’m not sure why I didn’t write about Un prophète when it came out – possibly because I used it in an event almost straightaway, meaning I watched it twice over a period of a few days. It was such an intense experience, I probably felt unable to write about it again. I must try to do so soon.

5. Vincere, dir Marco Bellocchio (Italy 2009)

I’ve enjoyed many films during festivals this year. Watching festival films is quite liberating as usually I know little about the films in advance and therefore respond to them very directly. I loved the high melodrama of Vincere and I was rather taken aback by many of the lukewarm reviews when the film was released. I’ve been impressed with several Italian films over the last few years.

6. Whip It, dir Drew Barrymore (US 2010)

My original review suggested that this was a little ‘baggy’ and overlong, but having watched it again a couple of times and shown it to a student group, I’ve decided that it all works. The fact that it has a relatively poor box office record says something about contemporary taste and perhaps ideologies. Perhaps in time it will find the audience it deserves.

7. The Ghost, dir Roman Polanski (France/Germany/UK 2010)

The brilliance of Polanski’s film seems to have been overshadowed by his re-arrest and subsequent release. No doubt this affected the film’s reception in North America. OK, it is perhaps an ‘old-fashioned’ film, but anyone who loves cinema must surely relish the sheer skill with which this is made? Kudos to Robert Harris for adapting his own novel and to Olivia Williams and Ewan McGregor for responding to Polanski’s direction.

8. I Am Love, dir Luca Guadagnino (Italy 2009)

This is the film that seemed to divide audiences the most – it even divided us and Keith didn’t like it. Whatever one thinks of it, it is certainly audacious in terms of visual style, a score using the music of John Adams and a strong performance by Tilda Swinton.

9. 24 City, dir Jia Zhangkhe (China/Japan/France 2008)

Jia Zhangkhe has now emerged as the major figure in Chinese independent cinema – and as a leading international auteur. I hope to be writing more about him in 2011.

10. The Time That Remains, dir Elia Suleiman (Palestine/France/Italy/Bel/UK 2009)

The recent history of Palestine is such that Sulieman’s surrealist approach seems like almost the only possible response. I enjoyed this film immensely at the same time as feeling so angry that the persecution of Palestinians under Israeli occupation is allowed to continue. This is probably the most important film of the year and the one that needs to be seen and discussed.

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And here is an extra one. Chris Morris could be an irritating man, as some talented people unfortunately are (e.g. Stephen Fry), but he generally keeps a low profile and allows his work to speak for itself. Having shown Four Lions to three large student audiences and experienced some excellent discussions, it is most encouraging to think that wit and intelligence can thrive in British Cinema. Given the low budget, I suspect that this is the most profitable British film of the year – and it deserves much more acclaim than it has got so far. (The idiocy of awards means that it lost out at the British Independent Film Awards to The King’s Speech – even though that film is not released in the UK until 2011).

11. Four Lions, dir. Chris Morris (UK 2010)

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I’m conscious that the list above does not include any films from Central/South America, South Asia or Africa. The African situation is very serious with very few films seen on UK screens, even in festivals. There have been excellent films from Argentina, Mexico and India, however, and several could have appeared in the list – please don’t read anything into their absence.

Posted in Film awards lists | 1 Comment »

 
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