Saturday, 28 November 2015


Maiwenn le Besco's Mon Roi likely began its existence as a promising conceptual work, an intense and intensely-focused depiction of a relationship from conception to culmination. I mean, I don't actually know that this is how Mon Roi's existence began, but how else to justify the film that it eventually became? Formally, thematically, artistically, this is an entirely rote relationship drama, with few signs (if any) of whatever conceptual impetus ever begat such a work. Something must have gone wrong somewhere, right? Observing this couple from conception to culmination is surely the more satisfying the more invested you are in said couple. That's a deeply subjective process; for me, I felt intrigued about and frustrated by Emmanuelle Bercot's Tony, though at least I felt something constructive - I felt passionate disdain for Vincent Cassel's Georgio, and le Besco's apparent assertion that we're bound to forgive his immense shortcomings due to his charming good humour and joie de vivre is misplaced. From there, Mon Roi develops quickly into one of the year's most bizarre, baffling stories, as Tony is submitted to extraordinary levels of emotional abuse by her partner, and barely bats an eye! I kept willing her to sue the cunt, until I finally recalled that... she's a lawyer, a detail which both I and, seemingly, le Besco had forgotten. You could impose upon Mon Roi that it is a film about our ability as human beings to put ourselves through unconscionable punishment for the sake of others, or an opaque comment on the opacity of a woman's heart - good for you if that's what you take away from it (truly, good for you), but I'm not so keen to give the filmmakers so much credit. If the character development is shaky, it's far from the actors' fault, though, as Cassel impresses (in a role that he could do just as well in his sleep, albeit), and Bercot astounds, misjudging not one miniature moment in a highly demanding role.

Friday, 27 November 2015


Many excellent titles from this year (and last) on Cahiers du Cinema's Top 10 of 2015... and Mia Madre. In a decision that would be inexplicable for most critic polls, but which is almost predictable for the ever-independent Cahiers critics, Nanni Moretti's film beats titles from Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Miguel Gomes and, of all people, Larry Clark. Get your daily wtf fill below:

Cahiers du Cinema's Top 10 of 2015
1. Mia Madre
2. Cemetery of Splendour
3. In the Shadow of Women
4. The Smell of Us
5. Mad Max: Fury Road
6. Jauja
7. Inherent Vice
8. Arabian Nights: Volume 1 - The Restless One / Arabian Nights: Volume 2 - The Desolate One / Arabian Nights: Volume 3 - The Enchanted One
9. The Summer of Sangaile
10. Journey to the Shore


Hou Hsiao Hsien's The Assassin may not have picked up the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival in May, but it has gained another prestigious accolade - the honour of being named the best film of 2015 by British publication Sight & Sound. The film joins other Cannes award winners (it won Best Director there) Son of Saul and Carol on the list, which features female leads for its top three titles and for seven of its top ten. Check out the full 20 below:

Sight & Sound Top 20 of 2015
1. The Assassin
2. Carol
3. Mad Max: Fury Road
4. Arabian Nights: Volume 1 – The Restless One / Arabian Nights: Volume 2 – The Desolate One / Arabian Nights: Volume 3 – The Enchanted One
5. Cemetery of Splendour
6. No Home Movie
7. 45 Years
8. Son of Saul
9. Amy
Inherent Vice
11. Anomalisa
 It Follows
13. Phoenix
14. Girlhood
 Hard to Be a God
 Inside Out
19. Horse Money
 The Look of Silence


You'll forgive Rick Alverson's Entertainment, in the end, for having so little to say about society. It poses as a reflection upon society, and ends up commenting more upon itself than upon anything else. Its sad self-reflection is manifested in scene after scene of melancholic despair, the morose mood accentuated by Lorenzo Hagerman's astute cinematography. The effect is subtle and insidious, beguilingly so in that it's achieved via such overt means - Entertainment is an unashamedly, essentially caustic film, an anti-comedy with so sharp a sardonic streak it even seems to cut into itself. Little wonder all it can do is navel-gaze, as it spews bile, blood and shit out of self-inflicted incisions. Formally, the film is surprisingly well-crafted, though it lacks the depth of purpose that similarly-composed films take upon themselves; Entertainment is necessarily shallow, but such serious shallowness never feels like it amounts to much. As the screenplay progresses, it becomes ever more apparent that it's merely hitting all the expected targets en route to a typically bleak, desperate denouement - hitting them with precision and panache, targets that at least bear a callous, offbeat quality, the whole enterprise satisfyingly strange in the simplest way. Gregg Turkington has the tics of his comedian character down to the tiniest tee, and convinces with his creation, which may be the principal reason that Entertainment doesn't wither away entirely. He's a fragile figure, but Turkington's single-minded strength turns him into a cohesive force for the film. You'll forgive it all its flaws, in the end - there's fine work on display here.

Thursday, 26 November 2015


One of Japan's most recognisable film stars is no longer with us; it has been announced that Hara Setsuko died on the 5th of September 2015 at age 95. Her death was due to pneumonia. Aida Mase took up acting in the mid-1930s, changing her name for her career, and worked prolifically for the following three decades, despite health problems and some societal controversy. During this time, she worked with some of her home nation's most popular filmmakers, including Kurosawa Akira on No Regrets for Our Youth, and became one of the faces of Japan's post-war cultural revival. Her best-known roles were with Ozu Yasujiro, including her moving, memorable performances in Late Spring, Early Summer and Tokyo Story, known as the Noriko Trilogy. Her connection to Ozu over their six collaborations led to Hara quitting the industry after his death; her final film was released in 1966. Audiences around the world will continue to enjoy her sensitive work in some of the most seminal films of her era for years to come, ensuring that Hara may be missed, but never forgotten.


La Nouvelle Vague comes to Mexico, only it's not so nouvelle any more. Gueros is a hipster's dream, and a perfect hipster's dream. It's so hyped up on its metatextual referentialism, so indebted to a form of filmmaking whose influence was understandably strong, that it's not just pretentious - it's actually quite good. The familiarity of Alonso Ruizpalacios' film, that deflating feeling that you're watching just another quirked-up, black-and-white tale of teen ennui, subsides once Ruizpalacios even begins to employ these borrowed techniques. The scenario is old hat, but the screenplay develops its revolutionary fervour with insight and its characters with perceptiveness. The static shots and close-ups are mostly mere aesthetic decoration (to say nothing of the monochrome), but Ruizpalacios permits a welcome objectivity to be superimposed upon his most subjective images, thus letting his audience form a connection with these characters, one that all this fluffy formality would normally repel. And if his disaffected youth storyline is brimming over with the usual ideological optimism and romantic defeatism, he at least convinces that these notions are legitimate, that they have roots in reality and applications in it too. Gueros is shot through with many missteps - a byproduct of the process of artistic appropriation when applied this liberally - Ruizpalacios isn't entirely set on whose story he's actually telling here, and he never finds a compelling argument for the grandiosity that his narrative seeks to transmit. But these are, frankly, expected - La Nouvelle Vague is dead, after all. What's unexpected is how much life Gueros shoots back into it.

Wednesday, 25 November 2015


The process of artistic creation - the sculpture and the film. Artisans alike both before and behind the camera lens, their techniques documented by the objectivity of the unyielding, unthinking materials employed in this process, examined by the subjectivity of the ever-thinking people who employ those materials. Hand Gestures is no less about those before the camera lens than those before the cinema screen, observing and consuming, completing the process of artistic creation by interpreting the nature of this art in its intended habitat. Francesco Clerici intends us to understand the detail, rather than any kind of identifiable intention - Hand Gestures is about movement and manipulation, materials and their qualities, their essential artistic value that allows them to be manipulated at all. Rough, unformed substances in shabby surroundings, that value brought forth in Hand Gestures' sumptuously clear sound design and in the simplicity of Clerici's direction. He captures these processes with a candour that makes them transfixing to behold - transfixing, entrancing... you may fall into a trance yourself, so slight is this unassuming documentary, so resolute is Clerici never to stress the innate profundity of what he documents here. It's a film that may not stay with you, though one's memory of what Hand Gestures represents may just, nestled in the depths of one's mind. It's certainly not a film that you'll want to forget.

Tuesday, 24 November 2015


Look out for this to be a recurring theme this awards season: Todd Haynes' Carol leads the nominations for the Film Independent Spirit Awards for 2015. Traditionally an early announcer of nominees, the group actually waits until the eve of the Academy Awards to hand out its main prizes. Last year, they mirrored Oscar with their choice of Best Feature, which has also been more common in recent years than in those gone by. But if Film Independent's choices of winners aren't especially inspiring come February, they'll at least likely be deserved. And we can enjoy a rich feast of surprises and smart decisions today: true independent spirit celebrated in the likes of Tangerine and Songs My Brothers Taught Me, the latter of which also represents for female-directed films like The Diary of a Teenage Girl. International fare shows up with films like Mediterranea, and innovations in filmmaking (Anomalisa) and production (Beasts of No Nation) are given prominent Best Feature slots. The ceremony will take place on the 27th of February 2016.

Best Feature
Beasts of No Nation

Best Director
Sean Baker (Tangerine)
Cary Fukunaga (Beasts of No Nation)
Todd Haynes (Carol)
Duke Johnson and Charlie Kaufman (Anomalisa)
Tom McCarthy (Spotlight)
David Robert Mitchell (It Follows)

Best Female Lead
Cate Blanchett (Carol)
Brie Larson (Room)
Rooney Mara (Carol)
Bel Powley (The Diary of a Teenage Girl)
Kitana Kiki Rodriguez (Tangerine)

Best Male Lead
Christopher Abbott (James White)
Abraham Attah (Beasts of No Nation)
Ben Mendelsohn (Mississippi Grind)
Jason Segel (The End of the Tour)
Koudous Seihon (Mediterranea)

Best Supporting Female
Robin Barlett (H.)
Marin Ireland (Glass Chin)
Jennifer Jason Leigh (Anomalisa)
Cynthia Nixon (James White)
Mya Taylor (Tangerine)

Best Supporting Male
Kevin Corrigan (Results)
Paul Dano (Love & Mercy)
Idris Elba (Beasts of No Nation)
Richard Jenkins (Bone Tomahawk)
Michael Shannon (99 Homes)

Best Screenplay
Charlie Kaufman (Anomalisa)
Donald Margulies (The End of the Tour)
Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer (Spotlight)
Phyllis Nagy (Carol)
S. Craig Zahler (Bone Tomahawk)

Best Cinematography
Cary Fukunaga (Beasts of No Nation)
Michael Gioulakis (It Follows)
Edward Lachman (Carol)
Reed Morano (Meadowland)
Joshua James Richards (Songs My Brothers Taught Me)

Best Film Editing
Ronald Bronstein and Ben Safdie (Heaven Knows What)
Tom McArdle (Spotlight)
Nathan Nugent (Room)
Julio C. Perez (It Follows)
Kristan Sprague (Manos Sucias)

Best Documentary
Best of Enemies
Heart of a Dog
The Look of Silence
The Russian Woodpecker

Best International Film
Embrace of the Serpent
A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence
Son of Saul

Best First Feature
The Diary of a Teenage Girl
James White
Manos Sucias
Songs My Brothers Taught Me

Best First Screenplay
Jesse Andrews (Me and Earl and the Dying Girl)
Jonas Carpignano (Mediterranea)
Emma Donoghue (Room)
Marielle Heller (The Diary of a Teenage Girl)
Russell Harbaugh, Myna Joseph and John Magary (The Mend)

John Cassavetes Award
Christmas, Again
Heaven Knows What
Out of My Mind

Robert Altman Award


Constructed using only the finest of materials, cut to perfection and figure-flattering in all the right places. The dresses, not The Dressmaker. Jocelyn Moorhouse's Aussie orgy of a film is a most compelling oddity, compelling not because of everything it gets right but because of, well, everything, both right and wrong. The talented editor Jill Bilcock produces her most talentless display of editing yet: The Dressmaker is a decidedly simple enterprise with a decidedly shambolic result. Miike Takashi would be jealous at the sheer messiness, and ashamed at the fact that this messiness appears entirely unintentional. If you can bear to sit through a film where the plot literally ceases two-thirds through, where liberally-employed ADR sounds like it was recorded on another continent, where we're supposed to judge the oscillating character of a person by... the position of the sun in the sky (I don't know)? If you can, then The Dressmaker offers a lot in return for your patience, from spirited performances from an excellent cast excellently used, to dazzling dresses by Marion Boyce and Margot Wilson. And sit through it once, and you might be tempted to sit through it again - it's the kind of film that's so unyielding to expectation that you'll need that first viewing to adjust them; it'd no doubt be better consumed when you know what it is you're about to encounter. Affable and sporadically successful, but blighted by wild tonal issues and bizarre narrative slackness.

Monday, 23 November 2015


So this is it... sort of. The Producers Guild of America is one of the most prestigious film industry guilds in the world, and they unofficially kicked off awards season 2015-16 today with the announcement of their Documentary Theatrical Motion Picture nominees. Acclaimed titles all five of them, with some high profile names among them. They'll reveal their nominees for other categories, alongside the specific credits for this category, on the 5th of January, and their awards ceremony will take place on the 23rd of January. All the deets below:

Outstanding Producer of Documentary Theatrical Motion Picture
The Hunting Ground
The Look of Silence
Something Better to Come


Fan service has rarely been less fun! But what The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2 lacks in good humour (and fuck me is it lacking), it recompenses with a suitable show of strength. It's a solid film, direct and uncomplicated for the most part, assembled with less a sense of artistry than of duty. With a level of seriousness that borders on severity, Mockingjay - Part 2 almost appears embarrassed by the prospect of commercial cliche, yet repeatedly finds itself forced to adhere to it. It's a strain of a film, sober and dogged, and admirable for these traits, even if they rather sap away most of the potential enjoyability. The concessions made in that direction, though, are consistently the film's weakest sections - a sewer attack straight out of Resident Evil, a tacky coda set in the future, an air of silliness that slips in every time it succumbs to some degree of dramatic hubris. The simplicity of the objective that drives Jennifer Lawrence's hero eventually comes to mitigate the political complexity that arises from a narrative that keeps all strands strung up until near the end, before gradually dismantling them. For a film whose demeanour is tough and physical, Mockingjay - Part 2 is strikingly cerebral and philosophical; the screenplay lacks the depth of perception to truly know how to wield this attribute, but it gives the film's overlong final act a sense of purpose and uncertainty, much like the former films in this franchise. This too is no fun - when the liveliest thing in your blockbuster is Donald Sutherland recalling memories of Bernardo Bertolucci, something's surely amiss - but it's nevertheless the best thing about Mockingjay - Part 2: driven by intellect and emotion, and awakening those things in its audience.

Friday, 20 November 2015


Don Hertzfeldt's World of Tomorrow is our world of today. Humanity has a remarkable knack for destruction, why imagine our clones would be any different? This is where the Western World is leading us, an immersion into a technological realm over which we imagine, naively, we harbour control. World of Tomorrow is Hertzfeldt's imagination, or at least some marvellous, minuscule fragment of it - just glance at this great filmmaker's other output and you'll find this film not to be the grand unleashing of an artist's invention, rather the intricately-formed details therein. A great filmmaker, since he is so generous: World of Tomorrow is hilarious, terrifying, intellectually challenging, heartbreaking, baffling, all in turn and together, like a miniature symphony of emotion filtered through the absurd and the unfamiliar. We're presented with a world in which we are the playthings, where technological advancements have overtaken our pitiful capacities as intelligent entities - it is the reverse of what we think we know, and the absence of clarity and security is unnerving, not least in that it so succinctly highlights the value of such qualities. In our opposite, we observe that which we are not, and thus that which we are; opposite sides on a coin, but it's still the same coin. Tomorrow is not today, but it's still the same dimension, shuttled back and forth in an unreliable time machine from World of Tomorrow to the world of today. From your digital screen to your actual life. Prescient and profound, and appropriately unforgettable.

Thursday, 19 November 2015


Documentary as art - by virtue of existing, not least within what is widely considered an art form, these films are beacons of honesty and justice, exposing truths and shaping them into stories. The Hunting Ground is, thus, a most successful work of documentary and a most essential work of art. And, despite the disquiet it may cause in its viewers, it represents just about the least that could be done. Director Kirby Dick and producer Amy Ziering seek to discover some sort of remedy for the problem of sexual assault on American university campuses, contributing what they can to the cause by forming the most accessible and cohesive record to date on the magnitude of that problem. They did the same for rape in the army with their last feature, The Invisible War; to compare the two is like comparing different cases of rape - not especially advisable, though both of these films are brilliant and harrowing. The Hunting Ground is less harrowing because it presents some sort of solution, the beginnings of what appears to be a remedy, in the outstanding efforts of some rape survivors to bring national attention to this topic. This optimism is possibly detrimental to the film's emotive power, probably necessary for those involved, almost certainly tantamount to the most admirable delusion. You'll need only cast your mind back five minutes into The Hunting Ground to remember why. But awareness is an essential step toward achieving power and equality, to wrestle it back from the abusers, and thus this optimism is undeniably right. It helps make this film the essential work of art that it is.

Wednesday, 18 November 2015


These are baby steps, salacious little baby steps. Before I let cynicism and insensitivity get the better of this review, let me state this: Chemsex is a mediocre documentary. It exposes a secret within the sadder corners of London's LGBT+ community, or one that's been spun into a secret - the issues here are the misuse of drugs and the fucked-up perceptions of sexuality fostered in gay men from a very early age. Chemsex is the warped, wishful interpretation of that, a problem undeniable due to the intimacy of this doc, facilitated by the filmmakers' extensive access, and subscribed to by it too. Outcasts who have experienced varying levels of acceptance in society throughout their lives present a confused picture of reality, and directors William Fairman and Max Gogarty buy into this distortion for cinematic purposes, spinning salacity out of sadness in refuting the former and overemphasising the latter. Chemsex is deadly serious, and rightly so, but to the point of melodrama; this issue requires a more concentrated, constructive approach, rather than subdued sensationalism. Fairman and Gogarty style these stories as subjects worthy of documentary coverage by adhering to standard documentary style - a film reliant on its content to be groundbreaking, to overcome the conventionality in its direction, and this content just doesn't cut it. Even the least perceptive of viewers should hopefully pick up on the dubiousness of some of Fairman and Gogarty's interviewees - their instability, their bias, their sheer eagerness to contribute on camera - but they do discover some truly touching tales, which momentarily elevate Chemsex a little closer to the film it wishes to be. But those are only baby steps.

Tuesday, 17 November 2015


Formalism is fun in Peter Greenaway's Eisenstein in Guanajuato, less a loosening of this filmmaker's directorial didacticism than a reinvigoration of it! This is a limber examination of the process of producing works of art, primarily for the screen, expressed mainly through Greenaway's own appraisal of the techniques he employs herein. You can almost sense his inquisitiveness, something close to indecision in the brash stylistic choices he puts to memorable use throughout this film, and how they each encourage a new interpretation on the material that Greenaway presents us. He places these formal concerns in unusual isolation in Eisenstein in Guanajuato, stranded amid a narrative directness and a thematic simplicity that will be new to those better versed in recent Greenaway than in his older works. There is what happens, the basic details of the plot, and there is the particular presentation of that plot through creative technical and artistic manipulation; it's typically dense (how many sex scenes can you recall that relate their inherent carnality to complex colonial histories?) yet bracingly frivolous. Eisenstein in Guanajuato is the most lively this filmmaker has permitted himself to be in too many years, embracing the surprising joy to be mined in all this formal experimentation. The fake 3D effects are carefully layered, other camera effects delightfully disorientating, and Greenaway even seems to turn split-screen editing into structural punchlines. But before, and beyond, all this innovation is a highly effective dedication to drama, a warmth to the director's touch that extends an inviting hand to the viewer, and permits us to fully appreciate what's being achieved here. The film is sexy, funny, beautifully lit and excellently performed. It's strictly arthouse fun, naturally - it's too strictly strict to be anything else - but it's fun all the same.


Saeed Jaffrey, among the most respected actors ever to have hailed from India, has died. The 86-year-old suffered a brain haemmorhage on Saturday the 14th of November 2015 at his home in London. Known worldwide for his roles in films and on TV, Jaffrey's career began on stage. Among the most notable achievements of many across his long career was becoming the first Indian actor to tour Shakespeare in the US, and also to play a starring role on Broadway. Later in life, he took to the screen, with memorable roles in films such as The Man Who Would Be King and A Passage to India for director David Lean, The Chess Players for Satyajit Ray, Gandhi for Richard Attenborough and My Beautiful Laundrette for Stephen Frears, for which he received a BAFTA nomination. He is survived by his three daughters Zia, Meera and Sakina, all from his seven-year marriage to fellow actor and cookbook writer Madhur Jaffrey, and by his widow, casting director Jennifer Jaffrey. His many contributions to drama, which saw him bestowed an OBE, will be enjoyed year after year by audiences across the globe.

Monday, 16 November 2015


The classic British comedy comes up less than classic in Nicholas Hytner's The Lady in the Van. Hytner / Alan Bennett collaborations are a vital part of what the modern West End is built upon; their transference to the screen either fails to explicate what all that fuss is about or, plainly, just fails. Bennett is a marvellous character writer but a substandard dramatist in almost every other regard - it's why Talking Heads is so good, and why parts of The Lady in the Van are too. Another performer in another time might have turned Miss Shepherd into the role of a lifetime, but Maggie Smith already has a fair few of those. She's so brilliantly vivid and bizarre, a showstopping turn of deceptive depth, the kind which requires some careful consideration to fully grasp. The film is cumbersome in fleshing out her history, diminishing Smith's depth by forecasting it with a crudeness that seems designed for the cheap seats, not for the cinema screen. Indeed, the whole film feels on full throttle throughout, seemingly bereft of a level of patience with which this most unique of characters might be better understood. Hytner rather leaves the characterisation to his capable lead, and focuses on overloading his film with forced whimsy - an invasive soundtrack, a bland visual scheme and a few too many cameos, though I did appreciate that as a comedic comment on the British acting A-list, so eager to star in an Alan Bennett production that they'd settle for 10 seconds of thankless screentime.

Saturday, 14 November 2015


It's all talk. No really, Danny Boyle's Steve Jobs is all talk. It illuminates the trick to making an Aaron Sorkin screenplay work - take all the talking and turn it into singing. There's rhythm in this rambling, only you'd hardly know it here. Boyle lets Sorkin's lines run furiously forward, a breathless tirade of information that's so extreme as to be ecstatic, or at least to try to. It's more exhausting than ecstatic, and the director allows the wordiness of the whole enterprise to expose flaws in his technique, flaws which weren't even there before - a general visual illiteracy, only alleviated by a handful of obvious aesthetic devices; an uneasy juxtaposition of sentimentality and cool. But bad Danny Boyle is still Danny Boyle, which is to remark that Steve Jobs is vivid and engaging, a popcorn movie crafted out of twisty technobabble and a theatrical structure that rather befits Sorkin's operatic stylisation. If it's baffling, it can be brilliantly baffling too, if it's irritating, it's only that way because it's so vigorous, so amped up on excitement for what it is creating that it can hardly help but leave us a little out of the loop. And maybe that's the point - maybe Steve Jobs is the future of filmmaking, a technical innovation to which our senses have not yet adjusted, a new frontier for its field. Maybe it's the latest, world-changing Apple gadget. Maybe. It just doesn't feel like it is to me. As far as I'm concerned, Steve Jobs is all talk.

Friday, 13 November 2015


I'll give Paolo Sorrentino this much: he does the best with what he's got, after he's insisted on getting it. His films are gauche and frivolous, but what sweetness he can sift out of the pseudo-profundity and stylistic theft that threatens to overwhelm his films (and does overwhelm Youth) can make them quite pleasant viewing experiences. For a filmmaker so concerned with culture, and with appropriating other artists' cultural contributions, he's remarkably tone-deaf about creating it - even satire has to hit its target with precision, and neither the self-conscious comedy nor the excruciatingly un-self-conscious drama in Youth convinces. We're left with (generally) pretty pictures and (generally) pretty sounds, and it's only in the assembling that Sorrentino is able to make anything attractive out of them. It's as ephemeral as it is ersatz, but it'll do until Jane Fonda arrives. Alas, for all that this writer / director is enamoured with the cute contrivances he forces his characters to endure, he's remarkably ill-informed about the way in which people live their lives - people like this barely even exist, and are evidently insufferable if they do. With a forgetful male gaze and the pomposity of a psychology dropout, Sorrentino spins frivolity into supposed shrewdness, indulging in crass cliches about ageing amid grandiose pontifications about life. That reads like a generalisation; it's not. The film is that simplistic, that presumptuous. I mentioned Jane Fonda, and with good reason: she's worth it, every silly second of Youth. She is what this film ought to be, wants to be, and certainly would be if its key contributors could see further than the inner end of their collective rectum. Remember when I gave San Andreas an extra star because of Kylie Minogue? That'd be too much for this tripe - half an extra star shall suffice.


The AFI Fest is better known as the final festival hotspot for Oscar contenders, whether successful (American Sniper and Selma last year) or less so (By the Sea and Concussion both underwhelming this year), than it is for screening a variety of the year's finest fest fare. But awards are indeed handed out, both by selected juries and by attending audience members, and this year's expansive slate of winners encompasses some of 2015's most acclaimed titles. Check out all those winners below:

New Auteurs Awards

Grand Jury Award
Land and Shade (Cesar Augusto Acevedo)

Special Jury Mention for Direction
Alice Winocour (Disorder)

Special Jury Mention for Screenplay
Lorenzo Vigas (From Afar)

Short Film Awards

Grand Jury Award for Live Action Short
Boys (Isabella Carbonell)

Live Action Short Special Mention for Innovative Storytelling
Rate Me (Fyzal Boulifa)

Live Action Short Special Mention for Nonfiction Filmmaking
The Reagan Shorts - Ronald Reagan Lights the Lights, Ronald Reagan Pardons a Turkey, Maryland Public Television Interviews the Reagans (Pacho Velez)

Grand Jury Award for Animated Short
World of Tomorrow (Don Hertzfeldt)

Animated Short Special Jury Mention for Screenwriting
Teeth (Tom Brown and Daniel Gray)

Animated Short Special Jury Mention for Creative Vision
Manoman (Simon Cartwright)

Audience Awards

World Cinema Audience Award
Landfill Harmonic (Brad Allgood, Graham Townsley and Juliana Penaranda-Loftus)

New Auteurs Audience Award
Mustang (Deniz Gamze Erguven)

American Independents Audience Award
James White (Josh Mond)

Breakthrough Audience Award
Ma (Celia Rowlson-Hall)

Thursday, 12 November 2015


As factual testament, documentaries possess a unique ability as works of art: they can validly claim to be definitive. They can commence a cultural discourse which they can also conclude, producing a portrait of their subject that is potentially whole, truthful and watertight. The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution aspires to be such a thing, and with noble cause - it's the first such doc about the revolutionary organisation, and a most thorough one too. In that sense, its definitiveness is certain enough as to convince this young, relatively uneducated reviewer; the film is functional, though not artless, in its depiction of the facts, and of those opinions which could only be dismissed as fiction by a certain type of person - a white snake, perhaps, rather than a black panther. Stanley Nelson's film doesn't capture the Black Panther movement's fervour, even if it does dutiful work at explicating its reasons for existing, nor does it replicate their revolutionary spirit. It's a serviceable work of documentation that happens to exist as art, by no means the vanguard within its artistic medium but an accurate and necessary article on one nonetheless. Fluid editing excellently choreographs a seamless tour through the organisation's central tenets and goals and its key events, and there's vital, characterful contextualisation from interviewees who were also members of the movement. With earnestness and respect, though without much else, The Black Panthers is indeed a fine piece of factual testament, and an ideal one to claim to be definitive.

Wednesday, 11 November 2015


Insofar as I ought to exercise a degree of impartiality as a film reviewer, I'll never be capable of achieving full objectivity. No-one could be - we are each unique, independent entities, and though I may be impartial toward different types of films, none of these films can aspire toward total impartiality toward our unique features. I'm a 25-year-old - He Named Me Malala is not a film for me. I respect it, I admire it, I appreciate what it does aspire toward, but I did not especially care for it. It's a film for youths - real youths, before anyone remarks that I'm still in my youth too - and as such it is lucid and profound, and likely perfectly pitched toward an audience eager for education and enlightenment. It positions Malala Yousafzai as a figure of our times and for future times, and pursues a portrait-style unpacking of her personality, both of influence to and in light of her status as a world leader in the fight for equality and peace. It's well-made, evidently expensive work from accomplished filmmakers, and it's hard to fault a film so sound on its principles; the execution in He Named Me Malala is simplistic and over-emotional, and too cliched to make a connection with me. But I'm a 25-year-old, and He Named Me Malala was not made for 25-year-olds. Malala is fighting the good fight (albeit one which will hopefully be regarded as regressive sooner rather than later, given society's ever-evolving understanding of gender), and this film is inspiration for those youths who only need the impetus to join her.


It's been a while since we've heard from Pixar about Finding Dory - they've had a packed (and, thus far, pretty successful) 2015, with both Inside Out and The Good Dinosaur hitting theatres worldwide. Now we have a first look at the sequel to 2003's Finding Nemo, this time focusing on Ellen DeGeneres' beloved character Dory. The film is due to be released through much of the world next June, including the US on the 17th, though a typically long wait is in store for British Pixar fans, as we'll receive Finding Dory on the 29th of July.

Tuesday, 10 November 2015


After History of Fear became an arthouse sleeper hit on the festival circuit last year, I was a tad disappointed when Benjamin Naishtat's follow-up feature, El Movimiento failed to make it from its Locarno premiere in August (in the Filmmakers of the Present section) to any further fall festivals, including London. This is the first trailer for the Argentinian director's acclaimed new film, which is awaiting both festival and theatrical distribution; by the looks of this trailer, it likely deserves them.

Monday, 9 November 2015


Paolo Sorrentino's Youth leads the European Film Award nominations for 2015 with five mentions. After an impressive, diverse slate of winners in the technical categories, EFA voters skewed somewhat more mainstream with their main category nominations; less-hyped titles still managed to break through, though, such as Grimur Hakonarson's Cannes award-winning Rams for Best European Film and Romanian Oscar entry Aferim! for Best Screenplay. Awards will be handed out on the 12th of December. All the details below:

Best European Film
The Lobster (Ceci Dempsey, Efthymis Filippou, Ed Guiney, Yorgos Lanthimos and Lee Magiday)
Mustang (Deniz Gamze Erguven, Charles Gillibert and Alice Winocour)
A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence (Roy Andersson and Pernilla Sandstrom)
Rams (Grimur Hakonarson and Grimur Jonsson)
Victoria (Jan Dressler and Sebastian Schipper)
Youth (Carlotta Calori, Francesca Cima, Nicola Giuliano and Paolo Sorrentino)

Best European Director
Roy Andersson (A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence)
Yorgos Lanthimos (The Lobster)
Nanni Moretti (My Mother)
Sebastian Schipper (Victoria)
Paolo Sorrentino (Youth)
Malgorzata Szumowska (Body)

Best European Actor
Michael Caine (Youth)
Tom Courtenay (45 Years)
Colin Farrell (The Lobster)
Christian Friedel (13 Minutes)
Vincent Lindon (The Measure of a Man)

Best European Actress
Margherita Buy (My Mother)
Laia Costa (Victoria)
Charlotte Rampling (45 Years)
Alicia Vikander (Ex Machina)
Rachel Weisz (Youth)

Best European Screenwriter
Roy Andersson (A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence)
Efthymis Filippou and Yorgos Lanthimos (The Lobster)
Alex Garland (Ex Machina)
Andrew Haigh (45 Years)
Radu Jude and Florin Lazarescu (Aferim!)
Paolo Sorrentino (Youth)

Best European Documentary
Amy (James Gay-Rees and Asif Kapadia)
Dancing with Maria (Miha Cernec, Ivan Gergolet, Igor Princic and David Rubio)
The Look of Silence (Signe Byrge Sorensen and Joshua Oppenheimer)
A Syrian Love Story (Sean McAllister and Elhum Shakerifar)
Toto and His Sisters (Hanka Kastelicova, Marcian Lazar, Catalin Mitulescu, Alexander Nanau and Valeriu Nicolae)

Best European Comedy
The Belier Family (Victoria Bedos, Thomas Bidegain, Stanislas Carre de Malberg, Stephane Celerier, Eric Jehelmann, Eric Lartigau and Philippe Rousselet)
The Brand New Testament (Thomas Gunzig, Daniel Marquet, Olivier Rausin and Jaco van Dormael)
A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence (Roy Andersson and Pernilla Sandstrom)


A movie as self-contained as it is self-satisfied, John Wells' Burnt is a guilty pleasure that pleads innocence, and purges most of the pleasure in the process. It opens with a series of scenes that suggest a higher purpose for itself, if only modestly - a story of redemption, or a tribute to good food - before supplanting this mild ambition with a narrative course that pays only the limpest lip service to any of these themes. Its true nature is uncovered, though who'd not have guessed it: Burnt may be cloistered and contained, but it operates mainly on a much more meta plain than its straightforward plot, operating as a vehicle for its A-list actors, probably with both eyes on securing several Oscar nominations. This is the movie's sole identifiable intent, and it masters it perfectly, if predictably, in its overall scheme, since it never lets its desperation show through; its rather lacking in flavour, however, as Wells perhaps takes too soft (though not subtle) an approach in his direction. But since Burnt is a movie about the people in it, isn't it best to judge it on their contribution? In that spirit: it's a typically male chauvinistic piece, and the males herein never overcome the burden that places upon their parts; the females provide what flavour this movie possesses, from a reliably fresh, unforced performance from Sienna Miller, to a true delicacy in the form of Emma Thompson, once again reinforcing the argument that any movie without her in it is a lesser movie for that fact.

Friday, 6 November 2015


Brooklyn is not just set in the past, it's anchored there. It's designed in service of that setting and performed in mind of it, a smart and sensitive recreation not only of a bygone era but of the lifestyles therein. This is the most convincing element of Brooklyn - that it does convince, not as a period postcard world for modern-day notions of nostalgia but as a world equally tangible to this modern one, driven and defined by emotion. And what a depth of emotion there is to this film, between the writing (there's the smart) and the acting (there's the sensitive). Brooklyn balances its stakes quite perfectly, identifying that, though we may only be trading in matters so negligible to us 7 billion others as the comfort and security of one person, to this one person these matters are the very opposite. Director John Crowley devotes his craft to bringing forth clear, concise details as to the character of the protagonist, Saoirse Ronan's immigrant Eilis Lacey, and to her emotional state, and Ronan ensures that she brings forth our empathy too. Between their contribution and that of writer Nick Hornby, Brooklyn is sometimes too indebted to this character to inform its own character; only the arrival of Emory Cohen's impossibly irresistible Tony breaks up the feeling of pristine perfection and restraint, as Cohen provides a sweet spontaneity that makes the central relationship all the more winsome. He serves as a counterpoint to a film that benefits greatly from them - exploring national identity (specifically Irish identity, and with some accuracy) in the mid-20th Century in a manner that's entirely relatable today.

Thursday, 5 November 2015


The Oscar-nominated screenwriter behind some of the most beloved titles in recent decades had died. Melissa Mathison, the former wife of actor Harrison Ford and an Academy Award nominee for Steven Spielberg's E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, was 65 when she passed on Wednesday the 4th of November 2015 after suffering from neuroendocrine cancer. After attending Berkeley University, Mathison went on to enjoy a highly successful Hollywood career over a relatively small selection of films. Among her works were her debut, The Black Stallion and Martin Scorsese's Kundun; experiences working with the Dalai Lama on that film led to Mathison working as an activist for Tibetan freedom in recent years. Her first screenplay since that was for Spielberg's The BFG, due to be released next year. She is survived by her two children, both with Ford, Malcolm and Georgia. She will be much missed by movie fans across the world, who will surely savour her final film when it is released in 2016.


Creative recognition awards have been announced for the International Documentary Association's 2015 slate, alongside nominations for Best Feature and Best Short and a variety of other awards. Widely seen and acclaimed titles make up the Best Feature lineup, though the IDA voters have given a few mentions to some lesser-known docs. The ceremony will take place on the 5th of December, to be hosted by comedian Tig Notaro. All the nominations below.

Best Feature
Amy (James Gay-Rees and Asif Kapadia)
The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution (Laurens Grant and Stanley Nelson)
Listen to Me Marlon (John Battsek and Stevan Riley)
The Look of Silence (Signe Byrge Sorensen and Joshua Oppenheimer)
The Russian Woodpecker (Chad Gracia and Mike Lerner)
What Happened, Miss Simone? (Liz Garbus)

Best Writing
Peter Ettedgui and Stevan Riley (Listen to Me Marlon)

Best Cinematography
Artem Ryzhykov (The Russian Woodpecker)

Best Editing
Joe Beshenkovsky and Brett Morgen (Cobain: Montage of Heck)

Best Music
Jonathan Kirkscey (Best of Enemies)

ABC News VideoSource Award
(T)ERROR (Lyric R. Cabral and David Felix Sutcliffe)
Best of Enemies (Robert Gordon and Morgan Neville)
Don't Think I've Forgotten: Cambodia's Lost Rock and Roll (John Pirozzi)
Night Will Fall (Andre Singer)
What Happened, Miss Simone? (Liz Garbus)

Career Achievement Award
Gordon Quinn

Pioneer Award
Ted Sarandos

Amicus Award
Tony Tabatznik and the Bertha Foundation

Emerging Filmmaker Award sponsored by the Archibald Family Foundation
Lyric R. Cabral and David Felix Sutcliffe

Courage Under Fire Award
Matthew Heineman

David L. Wolper Student Documentary Award
The Archipelago (Benjamin Huguet)
The Blue Wall (Michael Milano)
El Cacao (Michelle Aguilar)
In Attla's Tracks (Catharine Axley)
Looking at the Stars (Alexandre Peralta)

Best Short
Body Team 12 (David Darg and Bryn Mooser)
Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah (Adam Benzine)
The Face of Ukraine: Casting Oksana Baiul (Philippa Campey and Kitty Green)
Last Day of Freedom (Dee Hibbert-Jones and Nomi Talisman)
Object (Paulina Skibinska)

Pare Lorentz Award
How to Change the World (Jerry Rothwell)