Friday, 28 February 2014


10. Charlotte Gainsbourg (Nymphomaniac)

You can always trust Charlotte Gainsbourg to get down to it. Get down and go down. A tough role and an intellectually-stimulating film rather than an emotionally-stimulating one, she is nevertheless as compelling here as in any of her flashier performances.

9. Sally Hawkins (Blue Jasmine)

Few major English-language actors understand the nature of how human beings behave as comprehensively as Sally Hawkins. She approaches each role with an emphasis on naturalism and believability rather than establishing vivid character traits, and her Ginger is among her most impressive performances to date.

8. Adele Exarchopoulos (Blue Is the Warmest Colour)

Did any actor last year give as much as Adele Exarchopoulos? It had to be the French, didn't it? Bold and brilliant, Exarchopoulos surrenders wholly to the role and to Abdellatif Kechiche's penetrative filmmaking, and produces one of the most fully-rounded performances of the year.

7. Isidora Simijonovic (Clip)

This is the third post, bar my review of Maja Milos' Clip, that I've made, raving about the young Isidora Simijonovic's performance. It's a vivid portrayal of a teenager whose behaviour has been unhinged by a restrictive society, and it's one of the most startling debuts on screen that I can remember.

6. Judi Dench (Philomena)

That marvellous icon of acting, Judi Dench, has never been subtler and never stronger than she is in Philomena. She is every bit the old catholic Irish lady, clad in cosy knits and unashamedly thrilled by so much as a trip abroad, that I know ever so well. A performance of great depth and insight.

5. Bruce Dern (Nebraska)

It's in Bob Nelson's pitch-perfect screenplay, and in Alexander Payne's sensitive direction. But Bruce Dern's wonderful performance as Woody Grant elevates the character into iconic territory. He barely seems to be acting, yet the impact is immeasurable. One for the years, I expect.

4. Miles Canapi (Norte, the End of History)

As Fabian's stifling sister, and the eventual victim of his increasingly-warped social politics, Miles Canapi has rather less to do than many of the stars of Lav Diaz's latest Filipino epic. But she makes an indelible imapct with this vibrant and ultimately harrowing performance.

3. Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine)

So much has been written about Cate Blanchett, and about her work in Woody Allen's Blue Jasmine as the titular character, destroyed by her dead husband's philandering and by her own willful ignorance. But so much more could be written about this outstanding performance, and it would still be not nearly enough.

2. Luminita Gheorghiu (Child's Pose)

A performance so deeply-felt and so hard-hitting that it turns Calin Peter Netzer's otherwise excellent familial drama into one of the year's most unforgettable films. It's not just incredible fictional characterisation Gheorghiu pulls off here. It feels so real that the film has the air of documentary when she is on screen. Quite amazing.

1. Isabelle Huppert (Abuse of Weakness)

The Isabelle Huppert, in the most challenging performance of her career to date, certainly physically, and quite possibly even emotionally. I was left astounded by what she achieved in the role of a film director ruined first by a stroke and then by her baffling devotion to a con artist to whom she signs away unthinkable sums of money. It's the year's most riveting performance, and despite an extremely strong slate of contenders, there was surely no real competition.


For all its gauche excesses in style and art, Victorian Britain was still very much that - Britain, and thus very British. So no heaving bosoms and bursting corsets for Ralph Fiennes in this sedate but scintillating period drama, in which he examines the effects of Charles Dickens' love on a young aspiring actor, and her travails in adjusting to her rapidly changing life. Its title is apt from a historical perspective, yet Felicity Jones' Nelly Ternan is most visible indeed in Fiennes' film from Abi Morgan's eloquent screenplay. She is lit and framed as an icon of statuesque beauty, despite her modest attire and her petite physique. Jones' thorough and sympathetic performance, combined with Fiennes' eagerness to allow these women's exploration of this essential figure in literature to be given as extensive a berth as possible, contributes to one of the most potent portrayals of a young woman's mind in film this year. It is not a condescending portrayal, nor a seedy one, but a generous one, almost theatrically generous, in the classical (and rather Dickensian) manner in which she is so fully fleshed-out. Succumbing to the inevitability of this true tale, Fiennes instead insists on the immediate, on crafting individual scenes of grace and a subtle power, sturdy pieces of filmmaking enhanced by fine technical work - he elicits career-highs from cinematographer Rob Hardy and composer Ilan Eshkeri, and the production and costume designs by Maria Djurkovic and Michael O'Connor are exemplary, in being so thoughtfully created, with a crucial 'lived-in' aspect to their appearance. The narrative device of the extended flashbacks as the core of the story is an overused one, though it is well-employed here, since the magnitude of Nelly's troubling recollections warrants so much rumination on their every detail, both broad and intimate, and since the chronologically latter portions of the film are potentially its most compelling.

Thursday, 27 February 2014


This might have been an entirely different result. Actually, it was always gonna be Ernest & Celestine since I saw this wondrous film, though had I seen Miyazaki Hayao's The Wind Rises or Takahata Isao's The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, this gorgeous French film might have had to have taken a backseat. But I didn't, so those films will have to wait. It's directed be Benjamin Renner alongside the directors behind the fabulous stop-motion film A Town Called Panic, Stephane Aubier and Vincent Patar. And it's an utter delight. And you truly must see it. The animation style is traditional hand-drawn and beautiful, and the tonal style is a marvellous, deft blend of sweet, observational comedy and touching drama. Hooray for Ernest & Celestine, one of 2013's finest films.


Would you like to know how deep my obsession for this thing runs? Kk, here it is: each year, I make a comprehensive tally of all of the major critic organisations' choices for the best of 2013. I assign each of their picks a score, with the ultimate score for a win in any category or on any list being 10 points. From there, based on a value I assigned to each individual group, I multiply these scores by as much as 10, thus weighting the overall results in favour of the more influential (slash intelligent) groups. And the critic awards season has now reached its close, and the results are below:

Best Picture
12 Years a Slave (Dede Gardner, Anthony Katagas, Jeremy Kleiner, Steve McQueen, Arnon Milchan, Brad Pitt and Bill Pohlad)
American Hustle (Megan Ellison, Jonathan Gordon, Charles Roven, David O. Russell and Richard Suckle)
Gravity (Alfonso Cuarón and David Heyman)
Her (Megan Ellison, Spike Jonze and Vincent Landay)
Inside Llewyn Davis (Ethan Coen, Joel Coen and Scott Rudin)

Best Director
Alfonso Cuarón (Gravity)
Ethan Coen and Joel Coen (Inside Llewyn Davis)
Spike Jonze (Her)
Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave)
David O. Russell (American Hustle)

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role
Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave)
Bruce Dern (Nebraska)
Oscar Isaac (Inside Llewyn Davis)
Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club)
Robert Redford (All Is Lost)

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role
Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine)
Sandra Bullock (Gravity)
Judi Dench (Philomena)
Adèle Exarchopoulos (Blue Is the Warmest Colour)
Brie Larson (Short Term 12)

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role
Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club)
Barkhad Abdi (Captain Phillips)
Michael Fassbender (12 Years a Slave)
James Franco (Spring Breakers)
James Gandolfini (Enough Said)

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role
Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave)
Sally Hawkins (Blue Jasmine)
Scarlett Johansson (Her)
Jennifer Lawrence (American Hustle)
June Squibb (Nebraska)

Best Original Screenplay
Spike Jonze (Her)
Woody Allen (Blue Jasmine)
Ethan Coen and Joel Coen (Inside Llewyn Davis)
Bob Nelson (Nebraska)
David O. Russell and Eric Singer (American Hustle)

Best Adapted Screenplay
John Ridley (12 Years a Slave)
Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope (Philomena)
Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke and Richard Linklater (Before Midnight)
Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber (The Spectacular Now)
Terence Winter (The Wolf of Wall Street)

Best Cinematography
Emmanuel Lubezki (Gravity)
Sean Bobbitt (12 Years a Slave)
Roger Deakins (Prisoners)
Bruno Delbonnel (Inside Llewyn Davis)
Phedon Papamichael (Nebraska)

Best Editing
Alfonso Cuarón and Mark Sanger (Gravity)
Alan Baumgarten, Jay Cassidy and Crispin Struthers (American Hustle)
Daniel P. Hanley and Mike Hill (Rush)
Thelma Schoonmaker (The Wolf of Wall Street)
Joe Walker (12 Years a Slave)

Best Production Design
K. K. Barrett (Her)
Jess Gonchor (Inside Llewyn Davis)
Catherine Martin and Karen Murphy (The Great Gatsby)
Andy Nicholson (Gravity)
Adam Stockhausen (12 Years a Slave)

Best Music
Hans Zimmer (12 Years a Slave)
T-Bone Burnett (Inside Llewyn Davis)
William Butler and Owen Pallett (Her)
Thomas Newman (Saving Mr. Banks)
Steven Price (Gravity)

Best Ensemble Cast
Amy Adams, Christian Bale, Louis C. K., Bradley Cooper, Paul Herman, Jack Huston, Jennifer Lawrence, Alessandro Nivola, Michael Pena, Jeremy Renner, Elisabeth Rohm and Shea Wigham (American Hustle)
Stephanie Beatriz, Alex Calloway, Kaitlyn Dever, Lydia du Veaux, John Gallagher, Kevin Hernandez, Brie Larson, Rami Malek, Diana-Maria Riva, Keith Stanfield, Frantz Turner and Melora Walters (Short Term 12)
Abigail Breslin, Chris Cooper, Benedict Cumberbatch, Juliette Lewis, Margo Martindale, Ewan McGregor, Dermot Mulroney, Julianne Nicholson, Julia Roberts, Sam Shepard, Meryl Streep and Misty Upham (August: Osage County)
Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Dano, Garret Dillahunt, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Paul Giamatti, Scoot McNairy, Lupita Nyong'o, Adepero Oduye, Sarah Paulson, Brad Pitt, Michael Kenneth Williams and Alfre Woodard (12 Years a Slave)
Bruce Dern, Missy Doty, Tim Driscoll, Will Forte, Rance Howard, Stacy Keach, Terry Kotrous, Angel McEwan, Bob Odenkirk, Devin Ratray, Melinda Simonsen, June Squibb and Mary Louise Wilson (Nebraska)

Best Animated Feature
Frozen (Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee)
The Croods (Kirk De Micco and Chris Sanders)
Despicable Me 2 (Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud)
Monsters University (Dan Scanlon)
The Wind Rises (Hayao Miyazaki)

Best Documentary
The Act of Killing (Joshua Oppenheimer)
20 Feet from Stardom (Morgan Neville)
Blackfish (Gabriela Cowperthwaite)
Leviathan (Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Verena Paravel)
Stories We Tell (Sarah Polley)

Best Foreign Language Film
Blue Is the Warmest Colour (Abdellatif Kechiche)
The Great Beauty (Paolo Sorrentino)
The Hunt (Thomas Vinterberg)
The Past (Asghar Farhadi)
Wadjda (Haifaa Al-Mansour)


10. HELI (Amat Escalante, D.P.: Lorenzo Hagerman)

Yeh. That's a kid's dick on fire. Dunno about 'best' for that reason, but certainly memorable. And Lorenzo Hagerman's unflinching yet coolly haunting cinematography definitely ranks among the best of the year. Amat Escalante's most mature work to date is full of some of the year's strongest imagery.

9. PRISONERS (Denis Villeneuve, D.P.: Roger Deakins)

A much less explicit but equally horrible image of unthinkable violence. An apparently expressionistic shot of ultimate shadow, a bruised and filthy face only glimpsed by the slightest hint of artificial light from some distant source. The expressionism is imaginary, though, since for this suspected child killer, that enveloping blackness is his reality.

8. JUST THE WIND (Benedek Fliegauf, D.P.: Zoltan Lovasi)

We've only heard of this danger, the danger of death, at the hands of racist murderers. That's dumbing it down a bit, into a sentence's worth. For the family at the centre of Bence Fliegauf's slow-burning eventually startlingly bleak drama, it's a day-to-day concern, at least in recent days. They too have only heard of this danger. Until it is manifested in a mere suggestion, confined to the corner of Fliegauf's frame. He has lit the flame of tension, at long last, and from here on out, it won't let up.

7. THE BLING RING (Sofia Coppola, D.P.: Christopher Blauvelt, Harris Savides)

This isn't even the life she has stolen. This is the life she already had. A kitchen clad in a rosy shade of beige, the family figures' golden complexions blending in to their surroundings, even the hideous white balls of fluff contributing to the sickening shade of nouveau-riche American Dream afforded and abused.

6. NYMPHOMANIAC (Lars von Trier, D.P.: Manuel Alberto Claro)

After all that supposed nonsense in which she so steadfastly held onto, her very own fantasy in a world that denies her access to usual, regular fantasy, comes confirmation. Here's Joe's soul tree, staring her directly in the face. It has taken years of searching to find it, and hours of climbing, and still the divide between Joe and her spiritual representation in nature exists, but so too does that tree. It's as weary and as badly-weathered as she is, but there it stands. There it stands.

5. 12 YEARS A SLAVE (Steve McQueen, D.P. Sean Bobbitt)

Sean Bobbitt and Steve McQueen have a habit of producing some of my favourite movie imagery in their cinematic collaborations' respective years of release. Most of you probably know that I could have chosen any one of many shots from 12 Years a Slave, but this one resonated the longest. The slate grey aesthetic interrupted by the burnt orange shade of Adepero Oduye's dress - it's not a pleasant colour combination, though. It's a horrifying one, a gut-punch of a picture, as these black bodies, secreted in the back of a trailer, are uncovered by their white tormentors, and shuttled off on the next stage in their hopeless travels south.

4. THE ACT OF KILLING (Joshua Oppenheimer, D.P. Anonymous, Carlos Arango de Montis, Lars Skree)

I covered this particular shot a few days back, as my most unforgettable movie moment from 2013. It's not so much the shot composition, but rather the content. It's the year's most shocking shot, as monstrous mass murderer Anwar Congo suffers sudden, uncharacteristic retributive illness... or does he? One way or another, truth or lie, fact or fiction or both, it's certainly one of 2013's best shots.

3. THE GRANDMASTER (Wong Kar Wai, D.P. Philippe Le Sourd)

Philippe Le Sourd's cinematography wasn't perhaps the perfect match for Wong Kar Wai's inimitable style of filmmaking, but their collaboration yielded some stunning visual results. Chief among them, this one of Zhang Ziyi, approaching the fight of her life. She's coming to get ye!

2. GRAVITY (Alfonso Cuaron, D.P. Emmanuel Lubezki)

Alfonso Cuaron's incredible space-set thriller is mostly comprised of shots which would each merit a position on this list were they inserted into any of the other films on this list. But it's not about plain old visual beauty. It's about context as much as content, and it's this heroic closing shot that had me whooping and cheering! Inside my head, obvs. I'm British. Dignity and decorum and that, yanno.

1. WADJDA (Haifaa Al Mansour, D.P. Lutz Reitemeier)

As Haifaa Al Mansour quietly but bravely rails against strict Saudi society, so too does her protagonist. She now can and now will ride her bike, which she has rightfully earned. And she will ride it to the very limits of what she can achieve, and further still. This small, slight, black-clad figure, meeting a male-led country adapting to selective aspects of modern life; on her two-wheeled, manually-driven vehicle, she is quiet, but in this fabulous display of gutsiness, she is as brave as they come. Here she sits, on the edge of a busy main road, a road which we know this young girl will cross. And she'll have no-one to thank for that but herself. The most optimistic image in film from 2013.


It's never a good thing when you almost catch an actor acting. In The Monuments Men, you catch the actors almost acting, and that's worse. George Clooney goes to Europe in search of art, and finds rather a lot of art in Europe, though you won't find much in his film. After a good half dozen scenes of multi-national men wandering around staring at sculptures and paintings, you realise that Clooney's just showing off. I suppose I would too, if I was that rich. In this tiresome exercise in filmmaking buffoonery (an appropriate reflection of the characters of his partly-fictionalised subjects), George abandons all the sense and sensitivity he has displayed as director of superior films in the vain search not of art, but of yet another Oscar or two. Desperation's not nearly as cool as he seems to believe it to be, and nor is blatancy, and far too many times do we almost catch Clooney directing. The smugness with which he operates here, bolstered by the presence of an insufferable ensemble of actors, turns this potentially diverting tale into a nauseating reverie for his facial features; worst of all is a hideous scene in which his character delivers a speech on the profundity of his mission that ought to go down as one of the most embarrassing instances of self-satisfaction in American film history (and you know it has some fierce competition). On the off-chance that you were unaware of the magnitude of Clooney's achievements here, the film is photographed in shades of sepia and shadow for ultimate gravitas, and then drowned out by an egregious musical score by none other than the wondrous Alexandre Desplat. Strains at comedy are underwritten and underperformed, and sit most uneasily with the otherwise grossly sincere tone Clooney adopts. The only decent parts all - literally, all - feature Cate Blanchett, whose character's story is far more interesting than that of these detestable men, and whose performance puts everyone else to utter shame. And you'll never catch her acting.

Wednesday, 26 February 2014


The reviews weren't promising for the two largest new releases last weekend in the U.S., and both 3 Days to Kill and Pompeii were roundly beaten by The LEGO Movie, continuing to slaughter the competition in its third frame. Who would have expected that it'd be in the record books, with the second-highest third weekend for an animation in box office history? $31.3 million was well over twice as high as its nearest rival: 3 Days to Kill; between its lacklustre $12.2 million and Pompeii's $10.3 million (in third place), the overall performance of these newcomers ensured that the weekend was ruled by the holdovers. Or that one holdover, since many of the others did rather shocking business: Valentine's Day romances lost all their steam, with About Last Night, Endless Love and Winter's Tale all dropping more than 70% on last weekend's takings, which weren't all particularly impressive anyway. There was a fair few limited openers, though not many of note. The Wind Rises made it to 25th place in just 21 theatres, and will expand next weekend, while Berlin Silver Bear winner from over a year ago, Child's Pose won over not so many among the American public, opening in 63rd.

Top 10
  1. The LEGO Movie ($31,305,359)
  2. 3 Days to Kill ($12,242,218)
  3. Pompeii ($10,340,823)
  4. RoboCop ($9,805,051)
  5. The Monuments Men ($7,912,276)
  6. About Last Night ($7,534,816)
  7. Ride Along ($4,623,390)
  8. Frozen ($4,403,797)
  9. Endless Love ($3,967,520)
  10. Winter's Tale ($2,173,455)


Gilles Bourdos' stiflingly tasteful slice of blah, Renoir, inspired such confidence in people that it was chosen as France's official submission to the Oscars in the Best Foreign Language Film category, and drew praise from critics for Michel Bouquet's lead performance and Lee Ping Bin's cinematography. Well, fair enough. The Academy likes middle-of-the-road fare like this, and Bouquet and Lee did decent jobs. And that's about it. But it's otherwise a dull and unambitious film, with acting as poor as Bouquet's was impressive (Vincent Rottiers as Jean Renoir is a disaster). It's completely overrated. I was just dying for it to end. Fernando Trueba's similar The Artist and the Model was no masterpiece last year either, but that fictional film thoroughly showed up Bourdos' factual effort.

Tuesday, 25 February 2014


A short and unhappy film, which at least acknowledges the banality of its unhappiness and the prosaicness with which it approaches its story in being so short. Boris Khlebnikov's film is, narratively and thematically, ever on the verge of expanding into something of considerable depth, passion and significance, though tonally, Khlebnikov's admirable and possibly appropriate detachment restrains any of said passion from breaking through. Maybe he was alert to the triviality of the plot. Maybe he intentionally tried to create a film of startlingly low impact. How futile it is to search this film for answers, since its vague social awareness is the closest it gets to ever implying anything beyond the strict details of what occurs before the camera lens. Khlebnikov has, however, mastered that cool, enigmatic style of filmmaking favoured by a number of contemporary Russian filmmakers, in response to the more lavish styles of many of their colleagues and predecessors. It's just a shame to see him apply it to a screenplay so spare it has the air of a skeleton draft, a blueprint upon which to build, a short film devoid of all context and much content. In its brevity, A Long and Happy Life is at least able to sustain some sense of tension and importance, as one awaits impending developments that might give purpose or prestige to what material we have witnessed. And then the film reaches a curious climax, absurdly positioned as the culmination of all that has so far come to pass - a more intelligently thought-out reason behind this event may have served as a sturdy springboard off of which to launch a more compelling story. Quite literally, this was the verge of expansion into a film of considerable depth, passion and significance. A Long and Happy Life is simply none of those things.


Popular comic director, writer and actor Harold Ramis has died. The respected filmmaker behind such celebrated comedies as Caddyshack and Groundhog Day had been suffering from autoimmune inflammatory vasculitis, and passed at the age of 69 in his hometown of Chicago, on Monday the 24th of February. His impressive resume included writing and acting gigs in films such Animal House, Stripes and Ghost Busters, and among the accolades distinguishing his career in comedic cinema were a BAFTA and special awards from the Chicago Film Critics Association and the American Screenwriters Association. He is survived by his widow, Erica, and his three children, Violet, Julian and Daniel.

Monday, 24 February 2014


Joshua Oppenheimer's unforgettable documentary focuses on the state-sanctioned mass murderers of suspected communists in 1960s Indonesia, still hailed as heroes in their homeland today, and the lavish recreations they choreograph of their disgraceful acts that half-century ago. In the film's outstanding final sequence, Oppenheimer's subject, Anwar Congo, unwittingly reverses the scenario, producing an unrehearsed act of dishonesty under the guise of honesty. It's the antipode of what Congo has presented all along: from fictionalised versions of the truth, here is a truthful depiction of a great lie - outwardly, an attempt to admit responsibility and the unspeakable personal consequences that entails, but inwardly, it's as vile an act of emotional violence he has committed in all his dreadful life. It's a horrible, riveting scene, and certainly the most memorable of any in the cinema of 2013.


You can always rely on the International Cinephile Society. Sure, I had little to complain about when AMPAS announced its nominees for the best in film last year, but the ICS' even stronger picks have resulted in some equally strong choices for their awards. Only one of their outright winners in the top categories is even nominated for the Oscar: Alfonso Cuaron in Best Director for Gravity - a sign of the strength of Cuaron in that category is that Gravity is only the ICS' 7th favourite film of the year (only 7th?! It must be shit!). Preferred by voters were Inside Llewyn Davis, which wins four honours including Best Picture and places second for two further, and Blue Is the Warmest Colour, which also wins four and places just behind Llewyn in Picture. You can find their full nominations here.

Best Picture
1.        Inside Llewyn Davis
2.        Blue Is the Warmest Colour
3.        Her
4.        Frances Ha
5.        The Great Beauty
6.        Laurence Anyways
7.        Gravity
8.        Spring Breakers
9.        The Wolf of Wall Street
10.     12 Years a Slave
11.     Before Midnight

Best Director
1.        Alfonso Cuarón (Gravity)
2.        Ethan Coen and Joel Coen (Inside Llewyn Davis)

Best Actor
1.        Leonardo DiCaprio (The Wolf of Wall Street)
 Oscar Isaac (Inside Llewyn Davis)
2.        Joaquin Phoenix (Her)

Best Actress
1.        Adèle Exarchopoulos (Blue Is the Warmest Colour)
2.        Juliette Binoche (Camille Claudel 1915)

Best Supporting Actor
1.        James Franco (Spring Breakers)
2.        Anton Adasinski (Faust)

Best Supporting Actress
1.        Léa Seydoux (Blue Is the Warmest Colour)
2.        Scarlett Johansson (Her)

Best Original Screenplay
1.        Ethan Coen and Joel Coen (Inside Llewyn Davis)
2.        Spike Jonze (Her)

Best Adapted Screenplay
1.     Abdellatif Kechiche and Ghalia Lacroix (Blue Is the Warmest Colour)
2.        Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke and Richard Linklater (Before Midnight)


This America of house parties, of Gap-clad teens drinking from red cups and discovering themselves, of white people problems so white that the only black character in the movie has to ask his girlfriend's white ex how to deal with them. Does this America exist? Or is it one dreamt up by lazy novelists and screenwriters, wishing to bask in the insipid glow of teen movie culture, so nostalgic for these pitiful dreams that they implant them in the not-so-spectacular now, refusing to let them die? Sutter Kiely claims to be the life and soul of the party, which amounts to having a girlfriend, jumping into pools and wearing checked shirts over white tees. He goes to school and goes to teen-themed shindigs with the local stereotypes, before heading home to his comfortably-fractured private life. He meets Aimee Finnicky, who luckily is played by Shailene Woodley, though she's just neat enough a fit for the role that she's too neat, and her sickeningly trite character arc can be telegraphed almost as soon as we first glimpse her face, just minutes into the film. Love, life and relationships - gosh, isn't it all so profound? Isn't it all so moving? Isn't it all so... banal? I know that there exists an audience for this kind of film, where there's a scene set at a prom just for the sake of ticking another box, and one set on the bleachers at graduation. And where there's a sudden tragedy - which is genuinely quite tragic, because Woodley is the sort of actor for whom you naturally feel - among several more drawn-out ones, though these are only tragic when viewed through that white-people-problems screen. And where none of these problems, no matter how sudden nor drawn-out nor exclusively-white, can't be solved with a bit of earnest self-reflection, a gesture of goodwill and a hug. Well then, here's a bit of earnestness: James Ponsoldt, your film is a bit shit. Try solving that with a hug.


An act of culumative cognitive dissonance, achieved through the analysis of nymphomania. In making any one point, Lars von Trier simultaneously rebuts it, apparently concluding that no study of psychology can ever provide concrete evidence to support a certain, individual claim. He once again presents himself as a figure of extreme, caustic duality, and launches an exploration - of the human mind and, specifically, of his own, and also of the medium of cinema. In the former, he is as thorough as one could expect him to be, even absorbing his many digressions into the thematic centre of his film. In the latter, he is more brazen than ever before, submitting wholly to each and every stylistic demand his dense, erratic screenplay makes of him. It's a show of dedication to his principle concern (which is never the tone of Nymphomaniac, but the intellectual content) and a show of carefree confidence. All the film's little quirks von Trier seems to insist upon not merely as reasonable but as essential, and even if you're too distracted by his outright arrogance to appreciate how correct he often is and how much artistry he charges all these affectations with, surely you can see the artistry in being so bold at all. With attentions deflected from tonal matters, Nymphomaniac is mostly, and most appropriately, cold and cerebral, engaging the brain rather than the eyes and ears, though not even Lars would be so cruel to his audience as to deny us some sensory pleasures, which include a number of typically stunning shots: alas, there are few in mainstream cinema with so gifted a sense for mise-en-scene, much as he may attempt to eschew this gift here. There is, especially for so frequently gloomy an enterprise, rather more broad humour than expected; I have never found Lars von Trier's films as funny as many do, and this is particularly true of Nymphomaniac, in which the comedy is palpable indeed, but woven so deeply into the fabric of this generally tragic tale that its odd, sneering presence is willfully exposed as pure provocation. Not sex, not politics, not even psychology - Lars von Trier has finally fully embraced his role as the most arch of international cinema's contemporary masters by pushing our buttons with humour, or perhaps with those contradictions this film is so full of. That unsettling cognitive dissonance that pervades it. And one can imagine how, as we laugh at the characters on screen, he too is laughing off screen, only not at them, but at us.

Sunday, 23 February 2014


Is it rly only a week until the Oscars? Oh wait yeh it is.

Best Picture
12 Years a Slave (Dede Gardner, Anthony Katagas, Jeremy Kleiner, Steve McQueen and Brad Pitt)

Best Director
Alfonso Cuarón (Gravity)

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role
Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club)

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role
Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine)

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role
Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club)

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role
Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave)

Best Original Screenplay
Spike Jonze (Her)

Best Adapted Screenplay
John Ridley (12 Years a Slave)


My favourite movie music of 2013 is a predictable choice, which, incredibly, may also be the Academy's choice! A dazzling, dominating score from Steven Price, and not to forget the overall music supervision from Alejandro de la Llosa - heck, let's certainly not forget the contribution from the film's director himself, Alfonso Cuaron, whose extraordinary vision this whole film was. And all it takes to warm me back around to this brilliant film, when I begin to resent the fact that it may beat 12 Years a Slave to the Best Picture Oscar, is to hear a snippet of Price's fantastic score.


It took until after having to sit through the three execrable shorts directed by Adam Wingard for different anthology horror films for me to see You're Next, which was received with little fanfare at the box office last year, two years after its initial premiere in 2011. It took Rex Reed 15 minutes until he walked out of V/H/S/ 2 and gave the entire film a monumentally undeserved score of 0 on Metacritic, on the basis of Wingard's opening segment, 'Clinical Trials'. It's the worst of Wingard's oeuvre (that I've had the misfortune to witness), and worst of all is his frighteningly embarrassing performance as a man disturbed by visions after receiving a retinal implant. That's not even an original idea. This ranks among the worst acting performances I've seen in all my life.


In the tight race to the sound Oscars, Gravity has taken the lead over closest rival Captain Phillips with a win from the Cinema Audio Society. And this marks the end of the guild awards, with the awards tally as follows: 12 wins for tech behemoth Gravity, 8 for animated frontrunner Frozen, 3 for 12 Years a Slave, American Hustle, Captain Phillips and Dallas Buyers Club, 2 for Blue Jasmine, The Great Gatsby and Her, and one for a lot of other films, do you rly care?

Outstanding Achievement in Sound Mixing – Live Action
Niv Adiri, Christopher Benstead, Gareth Cousins, Skip Lievsay, Adam Mendez, Chris Munro and Thomas J. O’Connell (Gravity)

Outstanding Achievement in Sound Mixing – Animated
David E. Fluhr, Gabriel Guy, Mary Jo Lang and Casey Stone (Frozen)


Is it a sign of respect for beloved veteran costume and production designer Patricia Norris? Or is it a sign that the love for 12 Years a Slave extends beyond just (just!) Best Picture? Either way, 12 Years' win at the Costume Designers Guild probably doesn't suggest a similar win at the Oscars next weekend - they'll probably opt for flashier fare, like predicted winners The Great Gatsby or American Hustle. Elsewhere, Trish Summerville wins for Sarah Burton's designs for The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, but my favourite of the CDG's picks is Suzy Benzinger for Blue Jasmine - an excellent choice. Interesting to note that all three of the victors here are women, whereas women are outnumbered 3-2 in the Best Costume Design Oscar category.

Best Costume Design - Period Film
Patricia Norris (12 Years a Slave)

Best Costume Design - Fantasy Film
Trish Summerville (The Hunger Games: Catching Fire)

Best Costume Design - Contemporary Film
Suzy Benzinger (Blue Jasmine)

Friday, 21 February 2014


I agree with the critics. The Act of Killing is the best documentary of 2013, and one of the most harrowing, excoriating film experiences of the year too. I was first made aware of the film when it was seen on the 2012 festival circuit and lauded by many, including veteran documentary filmmaker Werner Herzog. And then I saw it last year, and discovered what all the fuss had been about. And then everybody else saw it, and it started winning major awards, including a BAFTA last weekend, and earned an Oscar nomination on sheer critical acclaim. 18 months ago, this was an obscure, controversial independent film, barely even certain to receive much international distribution. Today, it's arguably the frontrunner to win the Academy Award for the Best Documentary of 2013. Which it is.

Thursday, 20 February 2014


So delighted I got to see Pirjo Honkasalo's excellent Concrete Night last week, since I had been looking forward to doing so for several months. One of the finest elements of this exceptionally well-designed film is Peter Flinckenberg's gorgeous cinematography. Dusky lighting, as if the image had been submerged under milky water, the sunlight and artificial light streaming through windows and gaps in the clouds, it's a magical composition Flinckenberg has created. And despite its astounding beauty, the photography in Concrete Night never overshadows the story Honkasalo is telling, nor the themes she is stressing. My favourite cinematography of 2013:

  1. Peter Flinckenberg (Concrete Night)
  2. Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Verena Paravel (Leviathan)
  3. Claire Mathon (Stranger by the Lake)
  4. Lauro Rene Manda (Norte, the End of History)
  5. Kiko de la Rica (Blancanieves)
  6. Emmanuel Lubezki (Gravity)
  7. Edward Lachman and Wolfgang Thaler (Paradise: Faith)
  8. Anthony Dod Mantle (Rush)
  9. Manuel Dacosse (The Strange Colour of Your Body's Tears)
  10. Philippe Le Sourd (The Grandmaster)


When BAFTA followed the crowd on Sunday evening, picking 12 Years a Slave for Best Film and little else, and picking Gravity for Best Director and plenty else, they only confirmed what we already know: that this year's Oscar Best Picture race is pretty precarious. In fact, it may be the most unpredictable Best Picture race since I began covering the Oscars, ten years ago. 12 Years a Slave has won all of the major BP awards in the latter, more important half of the season, but has picked up little heat among remaining category's respective races. To me, this represents clear and considerable support for the film as the best of the year, since voters are evidently eager en masse to declare it their favourite of 2013, even if they've failed to lead it to a majority haul at any big awards shows. In the common consensus, Gravity remains a formidable opponent, and with that I cannot argue. But all the evidence implies that Alfonso Cuaron has Best Director sewn up and that, despite a PGA win (in a tie, mind) and a bucketload of cash at the box office, the film is not the Best Picture frontrunner.


Anton Corbijn is directing the true story of the trans-american journey taken by James Dean and photographer Dennis Stock in 1955, when Stock was assigned the job of shooting Dean for Life magazine. Ben Kingsley has just been added to the cast, which includes Dane DeHaan as Dean and Robert Pattison as Stock, as studio mogul Jack Warner.

Wednesday, 19 February 2014


I'll be raving about Isidora Simijonovic's extraordinary breakthrough performance in Maja Milos' enormously-underrated film Clip for some time yet. And the young Serbian's (she was just 14 at the time of filming) debut film role was also the best performance by a young actor in 2013. And that's the second accolade she's picked up from me for last year, so I'll move on to declare my Top 5 youth performances of the year:

  1. Isidora Simijonovic (Clip)
  2. Tessa Ia (After Lucia)
  3. Nell Cattrysse (The Broken Circle Breakdown)
  4. Mana Ashida (Pacific Rim)
  5. Elyes Aguis (The Past)


I mean, I knew Chris Pratt was in it. And I knew it looked mega-dorky. But I didn't know it'd look mega-goofy too. Maybe that's for the best! Who knows? It's another white-guy-saves-the-world movie, I suppose, only this time it's the galaxy. But that white guy's Chris Pratt, so there's that. Most of the world will see this in the early weeks of August.