Tuesday, 25 November 2014


141 live action short films have been screened for AMPAS, and they've carried out their annual process of culling the vast majority of eligible titles to come up with a shortlist prior to nomination. Next month, members will meet in Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco in the US, and London in the UK, to decide upon three to five nominees in the Best Live Action Short category, depending on the strength of the year's crop. Just for once, I'd like to see an Oscar ceremony in which the maximum amount of films was nominated in every single category, and that includes expanding the Best Makeup category. Oh well, one way or another, Oscar nominations are announced on the 15th of January. Here are the ten live action short films vying for a spot in the race:

Aya (Oded Binnun and Mihal Brezis)
Baghdad Messi (Sahim Omar Kalifa and Kobe van Steenberghe)
Boogaloo and Graham (Ronan Blaney and Michael Lennox)
Butter Lamp (Julien Feret and Hu Wei)
Carry On (Li Ya Tao)
My Father's Truck (Mauricio Osaki)
Parvaneh (Stefan Eichenberger and Talkhon Hamzavi)
The Phone Call (Mat Kirkby and James Lucas)
SLR (Stephen Fingleton and Matthew James Wilkinson)
Summer Vacation (Tal Granit and Sharon Maymon)


Birdman, Boyhood and Selma lead the Spirit Award nominations, the first major group to announce its contenders for their picks of the year, and the penultimate group to actually finalise those picks. Six for Birdman, though critics' darling Boyhood may have an edge with a competitive five nominations. Ava DuVernay's Selma also racks up five; as does Nightcrawlerthough it's not up for the top award, Best Feature. Birdman, Boyhood and Selma at the top of the pack? Watch for something similar come Oscar time, though not the The Imitation Game snub. Women outnumber men as nominees in four major categories. Winners will be announced on the evening of Saturday the 21st of February. All of Film Independent's impressive choices, including a nomination for my favourite film of 2013, Lav Diaz's Norte, the End of History in the exceptionally strong Best International Film category, right here:

Best Feature

Birdman (Alejandro González Iñárritu, John Lesher, Arnon Milchan and James W. Skotchdopole)

Boyhood (Richard Linklater, Jonathan Sehring, John Sloss and Cathleen Sutherland)

Love Is Strange (Lucas Joaquin, Lars Knudsen, Ira Sachs, Jayne Baron Sherman and Jay van Hoy)

Selma (Christian Colson, Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner and Oprah Winfrey)

Whiplash (Jason Blum, Helen Estabrook, David Lancaster and Michael Litvak)

Best Director

Damien Chazelle (Whiplash)

Ava DuVernay (Selma)

Alejandro González Iñárritu (Birdman)

Richard Linklater (Boyhood)

David Zellner (Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter)

Best Male Lead

André Benjamin (Jimi: All Is By My Side)

Jake Gyllenhaal (Nightcrawler)

Michael Keaton (Birdman)

John Lithgow (Love Is Strange)

David Oyelowo (Selma)

Best Female Lead

Marion Cotillard (The Immigrant)

Rinko Kikuchi (Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter)

Julianne Moore (Still Alice)

Jenny Slate (Obvious Child)

Tilda Swinton (Only Lovers Left Alive)

Best Supporting Male

Riz Ahmed (Nightcrawler)

Ethan Hawke (Boyhood)

Alfred Molina (Love Is Strange)

Edward Norton (Birdman)

J. K. Simmons (Whiplash)

Best Supporting Female

Patricia Arquette (Boyhood)

Jessica Chastain (A Most Violent Year)

Carmen Ejogo (Selma)

Andrea Suarez Paz (Stand Clear of the Closing Doors)

Emma Stone (Birdman)

Best Screenplay

Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski (Big Eyes)

J. C. Chandor (A Most Violent Year)

Dan Gilroy (Nightcrawler)

Jim Jarmusch (Only Lovers Left Alive)

Ira Sachs and Mauricio Zacharias (Love Is Strange)

Best Cinematography

Darius Khondji (The Immigrant)

Emmanuel Lubezki (Birdman)

Sean Porter (It Felt Like Love)

Lyle Vincent (A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night)

Bradford Young (Selma)

Best Editing

Sandra Adair (Boyhood)

Tom Cross (Whiplash)

John Gilroy (Nightcrawler)

Ron Patane (A Most Violent Year)

Adam Wingard (The Guest)

Best Documentary

20,000 Days on Earth (Dan Bowen, Iain Forsyth, Jane Pollard and James Wilson)

Citizenfour (Mathilde Bonnefoy, Laura Poitras and Dirk Wilutzky)

The Salt of the Earth (Juliano Ribeiro Salgado, David Rosier and Wim Wenders)

Stray Dog (Debra Granik and Anne Rosellini)

Virunga (Joanna Natasegara and Orlando von Einsiedel)

Best International Film

Force Majeure – Sweden (Ruben Östlund)

Ida – Poland (Pawel Pawlikowski)

Leviathan – Russia (Andrey Zvyagintsev)

Mommy – Canada (Xavier Dolan)

Norte, the End of History – Philippines (Lav Diaz)

Under the Skin – UK (Jonathan Glazer)

John Cassavetes Award

Blue Ruin (Richard Peete, Jeremy Saulnier, Vincent Savino and Anish Savjani)

It Felt Like Love (Eliza Hittman, Shrihari Sathe and Laura Wagner)

Land Ho! (Christina Jennings, Aaron Katz,Mynette Louie, Sara Murphy and Martha Stephens)

Man from Reno (Dave Boyle, Joel Clark, Michael Lerman and Ko Mori)

Test (Chris Mason Johnson and Chris Martin)

18th Annual Piaget Producers Award

Chad Burris

Elisabeth Holm

Chris Ohlson

21st Annual Kiehl’s Someone to Watch Award

Ana Lily Amirpour (A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night)

Rania Attieh and Daniel Garcia (H.)

Chris Eska (The Retrieval)

20th Annual Lenscrafters Truer Than Fiction Award

Sara Dosa (The Last Season)

Dan Krauss (The Kill Team)

Darius Clark Monroe (Evolution of a Criminal)

Amanda Rose Wilder (Approaching the Elephant)

Best First Feature

Dear White People (Effie T. Brown, Ann Le, Julia Lebedev, Angel Lopez, Justin Simien and Lena Waithe)

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (Ana Lily Amirpour, Justin Begnaud and Sina Sayyah)

Nightcrawler (Jennifer Fox, Dan Gilroy, Tony Gilroy, Jake Gyllenhaal, David Lancaster and Michael Litvak)

Obvious Child (Elisabeth Holm and Gillian Robespierre)

She’s Lost Control (Mollye Asher, Kiara C. Jones and Anja Marquardt)

Best First Screenplay

Desiree Akhavan (Appropriate Behaviour)

Sara Colangelo (Little Accidents)

Justin Lader (The One I Love)

Anja Marquardt (She’s Lost Control)

Justin Simien (Dear White People)

Robert Altman Award

Inherent Vice (Paul Thomas Anderson, Josh Brolin, Benicio del Toro, Martin Donovan, Cassandra Kulukundis, Jena Malone, Joanna Newsom, Joaquin Phoenix, Eric Roberts, Maya Rudolph, Martin Short, Serena Scott Thomas, Katherine Waterston, Michael Kenneth Williams, Owen Wilson and Reese Witherspoon)

Special Distinction Award

Foxcatcher (Anthony Bregman, Steve Carell, Megan Ellison, E. Max Frye, Dan Futterman, Jon Kilik, Bennett Miller, Mark Ruffalo and Channing Tatum)


Andrey Zvyagintsev's Leviathan adds yet another major festival award to its trophy case. Poland's prestigious Camerimage festival, which specifically honours films for their cinematography, handed its top honor to Mikhail Krichman for his strong work on the Oscar contender. The jury, which was headed by director Roland Joffe (two of whose films have received Academy Awards for their cinematography) presented Ehab Assal with the second place citation for his work on Omarand Andre Turpin the third place citation for his work on Mommy. Recipients of awards in other sections of the festival were, thankfully, from more obscure titles, at a festival which included screenings of restored Michael Powell / Emeric Pressburger prints, Oscar hopefuls like Birdman and The Imitation Game showing, and appearances from major celebrities such as Martin Scorsese and Philip Kaufman. Full details of winners below:

Golden Frog
Leviathan (Mikhail Krichman and Andrey Zvyagintsev)

Silver Frog
Omar (Ehab Assal and Hany Abu-Assad)

Bronze Frog
Mommy (Xavier Dolan and Andre Turpin)

Golden Frog - 3D Films
Beyond the Edge (Richard Bluck and Leanne Pooley)

Best 3D Feature Film
The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet (Thomas Hardmeier and Jean-Pierre Jeunet)

Golden Frog - Polish Films
Hardkor Disco (Kacper Fertacz and Krzysztof Skonieczny)

Golden Frog - Grand Prix for Feature-Length Documentary
Blood (Yura Gautsel, Sergei Maksimov and Alina Rudnitskaya)

Special Mention for Feature-Length Documentary
Monte Adentro (Nicolas Macario Alonso and Mauricio Vidal)

Directors' Debut Competition
Theeb (Naji Abu Nowar and Wolfgang Thaler)

Cinematographers' Debut Competition
When Animals Dream (Jonas Alexander Arnby and Niels Thastum)

Golden Tadpole - Laszlo Kovacz Award for Student Film
Berlin Troika (Andrej Gontcharov and Julian Landweer)

Silver Tadpole for Student Film
The Shadow Forest (Andrzej Cichocki)

Bronze Tadpole for Student Film
Do You Even Know (Arthur Lecouturier and Clemence Warnier)

Special Award for Student Film
Room 55 (James Blann and Rose Glass)

Golden Frog for Short Documentary
Starting Point (Przemyslaw Niczyporuk and Michael Szczesniak)

Special Mention for Short Documentary
Shipwreck (Morgan Knibbe)

Lifetime Achievement Award
Caleb Deschanel
Philip Kaufman

Polish Filmmakers Association Award
German Film and Television Academy


A relationship is strengthened in its undoing in Ira Sachs' heartfelt but contrived Love Is Strange. Continuing from Keep the Lights On, the New Yorker's latest film concerns a gay couple in Sachs' home city, whose personal complications arise not from one another, this time, but from influences beyond their control. It's thus easier for this more seasoned couple to adapt, and Love Is Strange is a cheerier film than his last. This couple is forced apart when employment issues strike and send them out of their apartment to reside in separate locations; the struggles they face relate less to their distance than to the situations in which they find themselves, either detached and out-of-touch with their new housemates or coping with becoming a burden to them. Sachs is an ace with character, and most expertly fashions scenarios in which none of the human participants are right, yet their reasonings seem sound. The addictive disharmony of co-existence with people and the futility of co-existence with the institutions to which we are enslaved are themes. There's too great a reliance on them, though, and Sachs enslaves himself to these constructs - the film is much too neat as a result, too cosy in its depiction of relationships as being easily-identifiable entities. The central relationship is gratifyingly untouched by such forced development - in isolating his leads from each other, Sachs conveys the intensity of their bond, as they unite intermittently for touching scenes of true emotional beauty, and actors John Lithgow and Alfred Molina excel in expressing the precise character of a relationship so long of tooth and so full of heart.

Monday, 24 November 2014


The good and the bad of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 can be distilled into its duelling purposes: as a product of its time, and as an inspiration for times to come. Past and future collide in the present, combining to form a varied and diverting fantasy film that's more surprising in its now-familiar formula than in any of its narrative or stylistic decisions. Condensed into two books, rather than one, Suzanne Collins' novel Mockingjay technically provides sufficient material for this Part 1, but the filmmakers' efforts to shoehorn that material into a three-act structure feels phony and forced. Central to Mockingjay - Part 1 is the growth of the rebel movement in Collins' dystopian Panem, thereby setting the stage for the expected showdown between these forces and their oppressors in Part 2. Part 1's plot concludes with a rescue mission, though, one somewhat extraneous to the film's core concern, and thus the film feels incomplete - like the opening part of a two-hander, alas.  Despite this structural misstep, what invigorated both of this film's predecessors remains intact. There's only enough narrative meat on Part 1's bones due to its focus - how many studio blockbusters can claim so psychological a perspective, so complex a lead character, so accomplished a performance as Jennifer Lawrence gives here? Francis Lawrence's film would be positively arthouse were it not for the Hollywood action film flourishes (in this film's war movie incarnation, meticulously handled), in its devotion to lingering close-ups of its lead's face, her pensive, intelligent gaze encouraging Jo Willems' camera inward, and our thoughts onto hers. In so doing, and in its status as a largely female-dominated feature (as the love interest, Liam Hemsworth has an opportunity to experience the ignominy of inhabiting such a role), it sets a strong bar for future blockbusters to aspire to. Aside from Ms. Lawrence, there's some decent acting and some dreadful, while the film remains as technically solid, though far from spectacular, as the two that preceded it in this franchise.

Sunday, 23 November 2014


Thomas Vinterberg takes on Thomas Hardy with Far from the Madding Crowd, the latest director to tackle the esoteric Wessex writer's work, but can he possibly aspire to match John Schlesinger, Julie Christie and Terence Stamp? He's not behind the screenplay, however, which is my main source of concern for this film, since it comes from David Nicholls, whose work I roundly do not enjoy. This is one of a handful of period dramas that has opted for a 2015 release rather than join the current Oscar race, like the now-pretty-much-officially-pushed-back Suite Francaise (also starring Matthias Schoenaerts with an equally impeccable English accent), and Alan Rickman's tepidly-received directorial debut, TIFF holdover A Little Chaos. With its curious 1st of May release date in both UK and US alike, however, perhaps Vinterberg's film isn't being aimed at awards voters next year; maybe it'll make an appearance at Berlin 2015. The gratifyingly female-dominated crew includes Vinterberg's DP on The Huntthe very talented Charlotte Bruus Christensen doing the cinematography.

Saturday, 22 November 2014


Kim Ki Duk takes us to one side for One on One, a nihilistic and pedantic discussion on the violence inherent in society. The character of his filmmaking finally stripped to what seems to be its barest, Kim exercises a cheap and callous form of identification with his characters and their circumstances, engaging with them in their activities. As banal as his plotline is, and as rudimentary as his supposedly incendiary commentary is too, there's an admirable purity to Kim's approach. The dialogue may reduce the principal issues here to crass indictments of politics and of the abandonment of personal responsibility that the system indirectly advocates, but the film suggests a more complex reality. An expanding web of participants casts concentric circles of guilt outwards, each implicitly questioning the origin of our violent, or vengeful, or fearful nature. Kim himself may have little of genuine substance to say on such matters, but a glance at his filmography to date reveals the validity of his concerns, and the pervasive pessimism of his current perspective. One on One represents a filmmaker utilising the tools of their trade to produce a fully self-reflexive condemnation not only of the culture in which it exists, but of said tools and said trade. Technical details are defiantly low-grade, the scuzzy digital lighting and the hollow, DTV score emphasising the disposable futility of Kim's message. One on One is a cold, unpleasant experience, but one whose purpose lies concealed within its nastiness, a richly rotten core beneath a repellent shell.


A soulless biopic of a man almost all of whose contemporaries collectively and individually attempted to denounce as soulless in one way or another. In its efforts to be so many things, to capture the many quirks and qualities of Alan Turing, one of Britain's most interesting figures of the 20th Century, The Imitation Game loses any identifiable sign of a heart, functioning instead as a variety of machines sustaining the film, and thus the viewer's attention, to a sufficient level. Sufficient to win awards, I suppose. Turing's qualities are here isfted out from one another, compartmentalised into separate strands of the story Graham Moore's screenplay wishes to relate. That's a disservice to such a gifted and degraded figure as Turing, and an insult to the many who'll identify with him. Gratifyingly, Benedict Cumberbatch ensures that such identification will endure, with a performance that alters not a jot to accommodate the script's whims, its nasty segregation of these supposedly distinct aspects of his character. Morten Tyldum directs in a humdrum manner, staging rote scenes of triumph and of humiliation to maximal middle-brow impact, extracting measured, apathetic responses from the audience. He's content with the fact that Turing's fascinating story is sustenance enough to buoy The Imitation Game to its end smoothly and successfully; he's largely right, to my dismay. Moore's screenplay is frightfully didactic, and one can detect his awards-baiting intent without even meaning to. He follows the biopic model of screenwriting that determines that a person's life can be distilled to a select few pithy soundbites, while Tyldum follows the biopic model of directing that determines that a biopic is its own genre. They imitate lesser works of art, here dealing with one of recent history's greater human beings. I suspect it is they, and Mr. and Mr. Weinstein, who are the soulless parties after all.

Friday, 21 November 2014


A close-knit neighbourhood in New York substitutes for the innermost thoughts and feelings of the characters in The Drop. Secrets and lies abound, the criminality of the district keeping truth and honesty at bay; the sensation is one of palpable nervousness, of a wide-eyed terror brimming below bar-tops and beneath wary glares. Roskam's interpretation of Dennis Lehane's pompous mythology (Lehane wrote the short story on which this film is based) transmutes it into personal importance, rather than a broader societal one - with the aid of a talented cast of actors, he forms a small assemblage of passionate persons, their agendas hidden in plain sight. There's a peculiar, though winning, quality to Roskam's tone that enhances the gently frictional, tangibly tense feel to The Drop: verbal exchanges between characters elicit comical idiosyncrasies in their individual relationships, highlighting the little quirks in their behaviours that reside in our memory, fuelling the feeling that not all is exactly as it appears to be amongst them. Meanwhile, Marco Beltrami's string-dominated score undulates between insidiously chromatic chords, expressively signalling inwards, beneath those glares. What Lehane had to say initially may dull the impact, its triteness preventing The Drop from developing a mythology of its own that could have exalted the film to exceptional heights, but the fact that Roskam and this cast is evidently capable of achieving such a feat remains vividly obvious in their diligent and sensitive approach.


For all its supposed intellectual heft, Christopher Nolan's Interstellar functions as a film only when one abandons the head and follows the heart. Nolan himself takes a similar route through time and space to arrive at his cornball conclusion - it's gratifyingly earnest in its intentions, though off-putting in its methods. How far a film succeeds on its intentions generally boils down to the extent to which one's personal convictions align with the filmmaker's; thank goodness Nolan is so technically adept as a director, then. He produces consistently stunning images via a combination of canny production design and beautiful effects work, then arranges this alongside a bombastic soundscape to create a high-impact, maximalist style of filmmaking that's less original than it is effective. He puts it to its best use in conjunction with his human characters, enhancing the most potent elements of his story and thereby endowing otherwise wanting material with a tangible raison d'etre. He's more comfortable, and more successful overall, when he resigns the emotional components of Interstellar to baffling incompleteness, and devotes due attention to the film's creative content. Interstellar is actually less of a through-and-through stunner than the mind recalls - Nolan employs a resourceful approach toward his universe-spanning imagery, and the lasting impact is thus more vivid than the immediate one. It's this region of the brain, the one that responds to sensory stimuli, to which Interstellar makes the strongest connection, by a considerable distance. A troubling drama with a number of narrative missteps, and a questionable smart sci-fi, it makes up for its shortcomings by being an enthralling space epic on its own, curious terms.