Saturday, 29 November 2014


Few could accuse Cahiers du Cinema of trying to influence the Oscar race, but as a part of SOS' 2014 critics season, I'll let them pitch into it all the same. Though more eclectic than Sight & Sound's choices from earlier today, Cahiers' list betrays their own agenda tastes just as succinctly. On the whole, it's a very strong selection from the group, even if I'll never share their affinity for Hong Sang Soo.

  1. Li'l Quinquin
  2. Goodbye to Language 3D
  3. Under the Skin
  4. Maps to the Stars
  5. The Wind Rises
  6. Nymphomaniac
  7. Mommy
  8. Love Is Strange
  9. Le Paradis
  10. Our Sun Hi


The critics at BFI's Sight & Sound have converged to decide upon their favourite films of 2014, the first major organisation to do so, thus kicking off SOS' 2014 critics' season! Their list is an attractive combination of major American / English-language features, some of which look set to make appearances through awards season as a whole, and international titles. Their Top 20 (due to their voting procedure, there's a lot of ties) is below:

1.     Boyhood

2.     Goodbye to Language 3D

3.     Horse Money


5.     Under the Skin

6.     The Grand Budapest Hotel

7.     Winter Sleep

8.     The Tribe

9.     Ida


11.    Mr. Turner

  National Gallery


  The Wolf of Wall Street

15.    The Duke of Burgundy

16.    Birdman

  Two Days, One Night

18.    Citizenfour

  The Look of Silence

  The Wind Rises

Friday, 28 November 2014


There's a lot to be said for a movie that makes you laugh, and a lot of laughter goes a long way in Theodore Melfi's amiable comedy St. Vincent. Though far from the year's most ambitious film, or even its most ambitious comedy, St. Vincent displays Melfi's impeccable knack for comic timing, as well as his excellent way with dialogue, proving that comedies can be as technically demanding to produce as any other genre of film. It's debatable whether or not anything more stylistically elaborate, even anything slightly more so, could be of benefit here, or would it only intrude on the gentle simplicity in which the humour finds so fertile a ground. That simplicity makes St. Vincent difficult to recommend beyond the quality of the jokes, and who could argue at least against a more competent, less derivative score than Theodore Shapiro's listless effort. That's where a touch more artistry, or at least a touch more sensitivity, wouldn't go amiss. Nevertheless, what this film thrives off of is that aforementioned (and, by now, much mentioned) sense of humour, generously employed, and with such verve too. Melfi's style is old-fashioned, in that it is deliberate, largely verbal character comedy. It doesn't rely on self-aware snark or silly slapstick, but evokes bygone styles of comedy that set the precedents on which those modern styles were built, and which they can never surpass. Whether in roles designed as brash comedic counterpoints (Naomi Watts) or staid, dramatic ones (Melissa McCarthy), the cast is charming and effective, particularly Bill Murray in the lead.

Thursday, 27 November 2014


An unhinged artist discovers form, and the value of adhering to it, in The Dance of Reality, an autobiographical film that proves the banality of the autobiography by mocking and embellishing it. This subject, and this artist, being Alejandro Jodorowsky, barely a frame passes without some expectation shattered, some convention gutted, some invention gleefully shoehorned in to fill these gaping holes in the film's basic structure. Jodorowsky seems resigned to his innate inadequacy as a visual stylist, therefore dedicating his efforts toward rendering all of his many ideas with great panache, and toward investing in a genuine, emotionally-driven narrative. The Dance of Reality aspires not to intellectualism, nor to metaphorical grandeur (though Jodorowsky's occasional insistence on indulging in both such pursuits is only permissible due to his infectious enthusiasm), but to provide entertainment. No matter how they were once envisioned, Jodorowsky's films have largely been used to this very end since their premieres; in embracing his charmingly low-brow style as a filmmaker, he has, perhaps, enhanced it. The Dance of Reality, with its linear plot and its basic, but brilliant, imagery, may read on paper as one of this iconic director's most regressive projects, but it's the opposite in effect. It takes a certain type of unhinged artist not only to discover the value of adhering to form, but also the technique required to achieve as such. Technical aspects overwhelm the film, with colourful sets and an incessant musical score - they're all worthwhile additions to this typically maximalist enterprise from a forward-thinking filmmaker.

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.