Thursday, 27 October 2016


Our first Oscar shortlist of the year has arrived, and it's for the Documentary Short race. Ten titles have been chosen, advancing to the second stage of selection, after which five nominees will compete to win the Oscar itself. Nominations will be announced on the 24th of January. Take a look below.

4.1 Miles (University of California, Berkeley)
Brillo Box (3c Off) (Brillo Box Documentary)
Close Ties (Munk Studio - Polish Filmmakers Association)
Extremis (f/8 Filmworks in association with Motto Pictures)
Frame 394 (Compy Films)
Joe's Violin (Lucky Two Productions)
The Mute's House (The Jerusalem Sam Spiegel Film School)
The Other Side of Home (Feeln)
Watani: My Homeland (ITN Productions)
The White Helmets (Grain Media and Violet Films)


A twee hipster indie comedy that rather beats the viewer about the head with its barrage of affectations, yet does so with a verve that turns it unusually affable, unusually fast. Much as it may ride on the originality its filmmakers divine from their peculiar premise, Swiss Army Man is actually a fairly prosaic, unoriginal film, both tonally and conceptually. But it's a vapid, vulgar buddy comedy with just about enough innovation in its technical construction, and just about enough honesty in its dramatic construction to get by. Now, that's only my opinion, but then you're only here for my opinion and mine only, so the following is equally a point worth making and one entirely moot: Swiss Army Man will not be for everyone. And indeed, it's often not for me - its male-centric perspective on life follows the formula of so many other obnoxious indie 'dramedies,' burdened down by quirks as they relentlessly puff up the half-baked ennui of their privileged outsider protagonists. So it was to my surprise that Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert were able to reel me in, tickling my funny bone frequently throughout, cooking up all manner of imaginative sequences, and taking their film down curious, though only momentary, diversions. The last of those promises to be the film's finest, until 'Daniels' decide to have their cake and eat it; their willingness to boldly flout the conventions of tonal consistency keeps Swiss Army Man afloat, farting along like a flatulent corpse, but it floats off in two directions when it needed just the one. An awkward end to a film that otherwise made clever use of its own awkwardness, and flouted a few more conventions to winning effect.


Scott Derrickson was once the director of films I very much wanted to see, and then very much never wanted to see again. That changes with Doctor Strange, as it appears Marvel too is changing - learning, adapting, reverting back rather than forging relentlessly forth. Whether it be studio, director, or any other member of the vast team of artists and technicians working on this fantasy action film, Doctor Strange benefits from a synergy of style and intent that seeks to re-energize the Marvel superhero movie template, if only to an extent. Amid the constraints of brand and business, trumping all artistic concerns in the modern landscape of big-budget moviemaking, the creators at hand here expand their understanding of what can be accomplished within such a narrow model, and produce a cookie-cutter concoction that's flavoured with a little extra spice. The film is thus more like the comic book adaptations of old, less reverent to the demands of franchise and formula, a film on its own terms and with its own character. The script is witty, the performances strong, the aesthetic positively wonderful, and there's a mere couple of verbal references to the cinematic universe of which the film is a part. Odd, then, that Doctor Strange should actually falter on its own terms too, even as its franchise obligations are ultimately what prevent it from achieving its full potential. Whether knowingly or not, the story remains one of the redemption of the heterosexual white man and the realization of his true talent and importance, further holding the film back from its aspirations. But at least Doctor Strange aspires to anything at all, unlike so many of its MCU brethren.


It's with tremendous sadness that I report today upon the death of production costume designer Janet Patterson. The Australian designer, who frequently collaborated with filmmaker Jane Campion, was known for her stylish, striking outfits, with bold colours and strong silhouettes, often working in the 19th Century period. Although known for her wardrobe creations, Patterson was also an accomplished production designer, commencing her film career in both faculties at the same time. During her career, despite only working on a total of nine films, she earned four Oscar nominations, an award from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, and a BAFTA. Among her credits were acclaimed titles such as The Piano, The Portrait of a Lady, Oscar and Lucinda, Bright Star and Far from the Madding Crowd; all but two of her films were directed by women, and every one was an Australian production. Her contribution to film will continue to be valued as deeply as it is today for many years to come, and she will be much missed.

Wednesday, 26 October 2016


When the highest praise which one can afford a film is that it at least does its job, it hardly qualifies as praise. Surely that is the mandate of every film, though if every film too defines its own mandate via existing in whatever form it takes, then this is praise affordable to all films. Thus, one must critique the intentions, not the technique, of the filmmakers, and so Queen of Katwe arrives onto screens, flawed from the outset, though aren't we all? And yet the respectful simplicity that Mira Nair brings to this respectful, simple telling of an inspirational true story thoroughly feels worthy of praise, so rare is it that so large an audience is granted so complete a picture of ordinary African life. Katwe, Kampala is rendered real in Nair's vivid anthropological approach, reduced in this Disnified depiction yet legitimized by very virtue of being depicted at all. Queen of Katwe is ultimately, unavoidably remiss in merely skirting past the essential complexity in its central sport, chess, but Nair keenly keeps the film's focus upon its characters and their emotions, rather than their exploits, emphasizing the personal effects of their precise locational and societal circumstances. As much as one cannot fault Nair for these sound artistic choices, one can neither rejoice in the ambition that they consistently lack. Queen of Katwe is an appealing film from first frame to last - indeed, it's virtually all appeal, with too little in the manner of identifiable conflict - but it's never much more than just that.

Tuesday, 25 October 2016


Andrea Arnold lets loose in American Honey, a bold diversion from a filmmaker whose rigid control has yielded such brilliant results in the past. Her empathy must transform into our tolerance in this meandering cultural portrait, and that's a process with which she has some difficulty. Capturing the ephemeral, vivid highs and the wretched lows of the prolonged procrastination of a generation abandoned by broader society is one thing, and it's one thing that Arnold and cinematographer Robbie Ryan do very well. Making it mean something, however, is another thing, and though Arnold makes her statements plainly and with unabashed honesty, American Honey spills forth from the screen as aimlessly as its characters journey through the arse-end of America, living hand-to-mouth with reckless glee. The spirit of camaraderie is joyous, the willingness to offend deliciously disarming, and Ryan's saturated colours, caught in his customary digital burnish, are vibrant and beautiful. But what of it? Intentionally bereft of structure or much sense of forward motion, American Honey swiftly becomes a tiresome experience, its characters increasingly enervating, its lack of direction increasingly frustrating. While Arnold knows what she wants to say, and indeed succeeds in saying it loud and clear, there's little enjoyment to be had in hearing her say it over and over for close to three hours. She lets her commitment to looseness deprive her style of the piercing rigour that once lent it such remarkable energy and impact, and lets American Honey suffer in turn.

Friday, 21 October 2016


The history of the United States: framed by education as an alternative, subversive history, reframed by Ava DuVernay as the country's only true history, as legitimate an experience as that of the privileged, those who concocted that education, and far more profound. 13th is a blistering dagger through the heart of blind hope, reminding the oppressed of the permanence of the threat against them and the validity of their discontent, and informing the oppressors of their victims' awareness of their malicious actions. DuVernay must hurtle through her history for the sheer size of it, thus to ever make her point as clearly and forcefully as it demands, but 13th's early sections are diligent in their detail, and necessary in establishing the foundations for the film's principal arguments, themselves already painfully apparent by this stage, and in proposing that this vile legacy be refashioned as the defining characteristic of America's past and present attitudes toward race, rather than as a debatable adjunct. Her approach is gently combative, refusing to imply that change is in effect, not insisting upon a celebration of black identity by restricting her purview to black voices but by expanding it further than expected, wilfully letting contemporary conservatives hang themselves with their own bigoted cords. And for all that they may protest those inferences drawn from 13th's unambiguous suggestion that racism lies behind even the most seemingly benign of sociopolitical policies in the U.S., DuVernay allows them to express it anew, in pathetically defensive to-camera responses that wither in comparison to the bold, unapologetic criticisms put forth by the majority of her interviewees. So, while 13th may be, in essence, a simple CliffsNotes examination of the racism at the core of American identity, it's a particularly compelling and intelligent summary.

Thursday, 20 October 2016


Nominations have been announced for the 26th annual Independent Filmmaker Project Gotham Independent Film Awards. Specially selected committees voted across seven categories, alongside a special Gotham Jury Award for the cast of Moonlight, and previously-decided Gotham Award Tributes. IFP members will pick this year's winners, which will be revealed at the awards ceremony on the 28th of November. Take a look at all the nominations just below:

Best Feature
Certain Women (Neil Kopp, Kelly Reichardt, Vincent Savino and Anish Savjani)
Everybody Wants Some!! (Megan Ellison, Richard Linklater and Ginger Sledge)
Manchester by the Sea (Lauren Beck, Matt Damon, Kenneth Lonergan, Chris Moore, Kimberly Steward and Kevin J. Walsh)
Moonlight (Dede Gardner, Barry Jenkins, Jeremy Kleiner and Adele Romanski)
Paterson (Joshua Astrachan, Jim Jarmusch and Carter Logan)

Best Actor
Casey Affleck (Manchester by the Sea)
Jeff Bridges (Hell or High Water)
Adam Driver (Paterson)
Joel Edgerton (Loving)
Craig Robinson (Morris from America)

Best Actress
Kate Beckinsale (Love & Friendship)
Annette Bening (20th Century Women)
Isabelle Huppert (Elle)
Ruth Negga (Loving)
Natalie Portman (Jackie)

Best Screenplay
Jim Jarmusch (Paterson)
Barry Jenkins and Tarell McCraney (Moonlight)
Kenneth Lonergan (Manchester by the Sea)
Taylor Sheridan (Hell or High Water)
Whit Stillman (Love & Friendship)

Best Documentary
Cameraperson (Kirsten Johnson and Marilyn Ness)
I Am Not Your Negro (Remi Grellety, Hebert Peck and Raoul Peck)
O. J.: Made in America (Ezra Edelman, Deirdre Fenton, Nina Krstic, Erin Leyden, Tamara Rosenberg and Caroline Waterlow)
Tower (Megan Gilbride, Keith Maitland and Susan Thomson)
Weiner (Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg)

Bingham Ray Breakthrough Director Award
Robert Eggers (The Witch)
Anna Rose Holmer (The Fits)
Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (Swiss Army Man)
Trey Edward Shults (Krisha)
Richard Tanne (Southside with You)

Best Breakthrough Actor
Lily Gladstone (Certain Women)
Lucas Hedges (Manchester by the Sea)
Royalty Hightower (The Fits)
Sasha Lane (American Honey)
Anya Taylor-Joy (The Witch)

Special Gotham Jury Award for Ensemble Performance
Mahershala Ali, Naomie Harris, Alex Hibbert, Andre Holland, Jharrel Jerome, Janelle Monae, Jaden Piner, Trevante Rhodes and Ashton Sanders (Moonlight)

Gotham Award Tributes
Amy Adams
Ethan Hawke
Arnon Milchan
Oliver Stone


Mad Max and Draco Malfoy star in Logan, or at least that's what I got from this trailer. OK, so maybe my eyes are deceiving me a bit with some of the cast here, but I'm claiming 20/20 on the apparent quality of this new Wolverine film. Honestly, this looks that very last thing I expected it to look: good. Out on the 2nd of March in the British Isles and on the 3rd in the US.


Amid the infernal hope that Sony might ever be capable of constructing a successful franchise comes Inferno. As Robert Langdon himself grows seemingly more and more tired, we accompany him on his descent into a hellish slumber, with Ron Howard's never-more-workmanlike direction ably navigating our way. The silliest thing about Inferno is that it actually trims out much of the overt silliness of its two predecessors, resulting in a drier, less distinctive thriller, although one that still makes time for such cracking quips as "Are we in the wrong basilica?" It's in this pallid picture of perfunctory chase scenes and repetitive logical leaps that Dan Brown's story assumes such a particularly infuriating quality, its incessant twists and baffling backstory forming a narrative design so convoluted it almost seems to be intentionally alienating its audience, that we might better settle into the film and ignore its fundamental ridiculousness. That's easy enough, since Inferno isn't exactly an awful work of craft, and it maintains sufficient intrigue and preposterousness to make the experience more agreeable than it deserves to be. All returning cast and crew members, and many newcomers, appear on autopilot here, though Irrfan Khan has far more fun than he should with the film's best only decent role. And the filming locations of Florence, Venice and Istanbul mostly Budapest, actually, are undeniably ravishing. Yes, they're in the wrong basilica, and the wrong city, and I'm in the wrong screen.