Thursday, 27 October 2016


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

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


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


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


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

Wednesday, 26 October 2016


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

Tuesday, 25 October 2016


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

Friday, 21 October 2016


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

Thursday, 20 October 2016


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gotham Award Tributes
Amy Adams
Ethan Hawke
Arnon Milchan
Oliver Stone


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


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

Tuesday, 18 October 2016


Werner Herzog just doesn't stop, and too right too. Hot on the heels of Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World comes Into the Inferno, his acclaimed documentary on active volcanoes. With a premiere in Telluride and a subsequent showing in Toronto earning the film critical acclaim already, the film will be released by Netflix on the 28th of October in the US. Looks fantastic!


With the 60th BFI London Film Festival having now graciously agreed to shut up shop and give me a break from watching masterpieces, it's time to conclude SOS' coverage of the fest with my LFF 2016 awards! Lots of brilliant films at this year's event, indeed so many that there are several deserving award-winners that barely even got a look in! To clarify, only one award was allocated per film, so there may be some cases where a film would have claimed more than one award, but was relegated to runner-up status by virtue of having won a different award. You can check out last year's winners at this link, and this year's below:

Best Film
My Life as a Courgette (Claude Barras)

Best Film - Special Mention
Raw (Julia Ducournau)
Runners-up: The Woman Who Left (Lav Diaz), The Death of Louis XIV (Albert Serra), Toni Erdmann (Maren Ade)

Best Direction
Lav Diaz (The Woman Who Left)
Runners-up: Claude Barras (My Life as a Courgette), Maren Ade (Toni Erdmann)

Best Performance by a Female Actor
Kirin Kiki (After the Storm)
Runners-up: Charo Santos-Concio (The Woman Who Left), Rooney Mara (Una)

Best Performance by a Male Actor
Jean-Pierre Leaud (The Death of Louis XIV)
Runners-up: John Lloyd Cruz (The Woman Who Left), Ben Mendelsohn (Una)

Best Screenplay
Maren Ade (Toni Erdmann)
Runners-up: Claude Barras, Morgan Navarro, Celine Sciamma and Germano Zullo (My Life as a Courgette), Lav Diaz (The Woman Who Left)

Artistic or Technical Achievement
Paul Atkins, Matthew Bramante, Erik de Boer, Dan Glass, Kevin O'Neill and Bruce Woloshyn (Voyage of Time: Life's Journey) - cinematography and visual effects
Runners-up: Lav Diaz (The Woman Who Left) - cinematography, Olivier Affonso and Amelie Grossier (Raw) - makeup


Edgardo Castro dives head-first, deep into the depraved solitude that is a life on society's outskirts, yet in its physical centre. In documenting existence in its mundane, monotonous hopelessness, and in doing so with unflinching candour, Castro's La Noche is a valuable exercise for the new director, and a tender work of art with a singular vision. But its mundanity is altogether too oppressive, and its commentary upon it barely developed; yes, we see this existence, but what of it? Am I desensitized by so many films of a similarly graphic nature? Am I unmoved by the simple depiction of a culture with which I'm already familiar? Or is La Noche just a hollow, albeit noble, piece of cinema? Castro strives for utmost honesty, and indeed he achieves it, though seemingly expending all of his artistic energy on its creation - the tenor of individual moments is vivid and immediate, the intimacy of the camera work ever heightening the intensity. The navigation of a procession of sexual encounters, their varying physical and emotional characters skilfully mapped, form the majority of La Noche's narrative concerns, though it's often in its non-sexual, even daylight-set scenes that the film makes its strongest impressions, the fluid editing turning downtime into comedown time. Yet the opacity of Castro's psychological inquiries stymies the film from making the kind of meaningful statements it readily could have made, stranding this virtuous portrait of society's outcasts in a shallow sea of simplicity.

Monday, 17 October 2016


How to describe The Woman Who Left? Even the briefest appraisal of a single strand of its inquiries would take as long to write as the film itself takes to watch. There are those constant features of Lav Diaz's technique that never cease to impress, to serve such powerful purpose in the expression of story, theme and emotion. They need referenced only to again stress their integrity and Diaz's brilliance in employing them - the hi-def digital photography revealing all, yet only ever what Diaz wants us to see, when he wants us to see it. A great naturalist with his actors, he's also a great formalist with the rest of his mise-en-scene, and continues to create stories that are ours to interpret, not his characters' to inhabit. Then there's the obsession with environment, the appreciation of the nature of a particular place's effect upon the particular psychology of each particular person, the breathtaking astuteness with which Diaz places his figures within their specific physical milieu. And the sympathetic, provocative dissection of social and historical practices and conventions, with a focus on the lives of the disenfranchised, society's rejects, those whose control over its standards is as limited as its impact on them is profound. Law is in perpetual combat with justice in Diaz's films, and the many ways in which humans seek to pervert their most essential qualities are revealed as a rot within our character. Then there are the facets unique to The Woman Who Left: a loosening of Diaz's style, a new purpose for his personal brand of rigorous lyricism - this is among his most overtly emotional and humorous films. Also the critique of institutional systems of religion and spirituality, with the bold and sensational alternative Diaz proposes placing those rejects at the top of his church, part of this film's integral reconfiguration of gender and sexual politics. If this is, indeed, the church of Lav Diaz, then I'm more than ready to be baptized.

Sunday, 16 October 2016


Remember how female filmmakers dominated the London Film Festival awards last year? That's right, a completely fair and democratic set of voting processes resulted in an unbiased outcome that yet prioritized women in film. Well, the juries at this year's LFF have done the exact same thing. Half of this year's recipients were women, with Kelly Reichardt claiming the fest's top prize for her film Certain Women, and two awards going to women in the First Feature competition. A promising sign of the state of the international film industry both at present and in the future. Let's keep this momentum up! Check out all the winners right here.

Best Film - Official Competition
Certain Women (Kelly Reichardt)

The Sutherland Award for Best Film - First Feature Competition
Raw (Julia Ducournau)

Special Commendation - First Feature Competition
Oulaya Amamra (Divines)

The Grierson Award for Best Film - Documentary Competition
Starless Dreams (Mehrdad Oskouei)

Best Film - Short Film Competition
9 Days - From My Window in Aleppo (Issa Touma, Floor van der Meulen and Thomas Vroege)

BFI Fellowship
Steve McQueen


A defiant assertion of identity and a bold retort to the West comes in the form of a tender love story from Niger. Rahmatou Keita's film is as non-combative as they come, stressing the value of respect above all else; The Wedding Ring remains a pointed critique of Western exploitation in Africa yet, in demonstrating the pitfalls, but also the pride, in an isolated instance of a reversal of such exploitation. Even the more opaque elements of Keita's cultural immersion are amplified in her commitment to her cause, a statement of the validity of this dying culture, and of existence outside of the scheme of Western lifestyles. It is thus that The Wedding Ring becomes impossible to evaluate by usual standards, since it stringently refuses to adhere to them - many of the film's apparent flaws can be swiftly dismissed as such, though others cannot. One has cause to query the integrity of Keita's direction, with slack showing through in a number of sequences, sloppy editing, and an unnecessarily intrusive score diminishing the quality of an otherwise admirable production. Yet her outlook on her characters' lives is rich in detail and empathy, positing an ambiguous commentary on the effects of Western influence on regional African communities, and insisting on the inherent virtues of their ways of life, with an implicitly feminist message that is skilfully interwoven into its fellow thematic threads. And The Wedding Ring is an uncommonly, almost imperceptibly beautiful film, burgeoning with striking imagery to the extent that it almost becomes commonplace. It's this kind of powerful declaration and celebration of self of which African cinema ought to produce more, or of which it ought to be permitted to produce more!

Saturday, 15 October 2016


Real talk! Because the bullshit is real, the effects are real, and the struggle is real. Kleber Mendonca Filho and Sonia Braga are done holding back, and they together confront the literal rot seeping down from the top of Brazilian society in Aquarius. The apartment block in which Braga's character is the sole remaining resident is as the film itself is constructed - symbolic, maybe a little impractical, but a statement against the societal evils devised and perpetuated by elitist corporations. Aquarius hails the simple yet profound beauty of art, indeed striving to achieve the same in itself, and prioritizes the basic human needs of love, respect, common sense, sex, and the integrity of one's home above all else. It's a generous film, stressing the value of communal experiences of joy, and indeed of pain, and inviting its audience to share in those experiences, with elongated, intimate scenes, the film's essential energy maintained in Mendonca Filho's delightful way with dramaturgy. His more expressive details are arguably a little too overt, set as they are within a film that largely eschews excessive displays of affectation, but his grasp of character is exemplary - whether it's delineated through the direction, the writing, the cinematography, the editing. The boldness to which Mendonca Filho sporadically resorts may be an easy option for the emotional catharses he's equally inclined to resist as he is to indulge, but they have an appropriate power, given the nature of the narrative. And anyway, holding back is for wusses. This brash piece of termite art burrows its way to heavenly heights, and brings every willing viewer along with it on its joyous ascent.


The permanence of the essential virtues of art courses through the films of Eugene Green, even as he establishes his reputation as a true modernist. The contradiction is not so, however, since his preference for idiosyncratic innovation chimes rather harmoniously with the achievements of the artistic masters he so reveres, not least in its own essential virtue, put to a new test in the comical The Son of Joseph. Green emphasizes the playfulness of his stylistic schemes, inviting self-parody into his self-aware mise-en-scene. It's a charming development for an auteur too often dismissed as overly serious, as Green ensures that the apparent contrivances that this mirthful approach exposes are not merely employed to serve this humour but to engender it. Thus, The Son of Joseph defines its character, a new work of art that's as modern as it is classical. A master filmmaker himself with a deep respect for the full spectrum of artistic creation, Green stages several enrapturing sequences focusing upon the characters' response to painting, or architecture, or musical performance; spectators within the screen and before it - these are wondrous scenes. In formulating a work of comparative spiritual significance, however, The Son of Joseph's cute provocations may be appealing, but they're paper-thin - as much as Green acknowledges each cliche upon encountering it, his film is highly reliant on them, and its thematic core is weak, even from an objective viewpoint. And yet what better advertisement for this director's singular brilliance? A basically bad story, yet a rather terrific movie! Artistic virtue indeed!

Friday, 14 October 2016


The past filters into the present, indeed even becomes it, in Koreeda Hirokazu's After the Storm, sifting through how we come to define ourselves in direct relation to our heritage and our expectations. Koreeda organically constructs one of those second-half awkward shut-in devices, designed to purge that which its characters insist on concealing and thus reconfiguring their outlook upon life; his technique is typically subtle, intelligent and legitimate in the corresponding construction of both theme and character. His staple elements are all present and correct, and put to particularly productive use in this personal, original story: food and drink defining or complimenting the mood, or reflecting it; expressive, economical framing in static shots that permit the on-screen action the ability to create its own shape and movement; gentle, telling friction in cultural and generational divisions. The more laidback, meandering, non-contrived Koreeda's narrative, the more these details acquire their intended strength, here rooted in the diegesis of After the Storm. With respectful commentary on different perspectives in class, age and gender, Koreeda forms one of his finest analyses yet of the contemporary Japanese conundrum of how it integrates its past into its present, ever struggling admirably, though with little evident strain, to conceive fitting solutions. Per each person in its main ensemble, Koreeda shapes this analysis around who we wanted to be, expected to be, wish we were and might someday actually become, and also what we take from and give to those closest to ourselves, intentionally or otherwise. With generous humour, and great skill in creating a sense of plot through simple character development, After the Storm is one of the most successful distillations of this great filmmaker's artistic and societal concerns to date.


Not to be confused with 'Rouge One,' the similarly-titled film which many online seem to think is being released worldwide in mid-December, though on which I can find no actual information. Curious that. Anyway, this is the second full-length trailer for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, due to be released in North America and the British Isles on the 16th of December, and virtually everywhere else some time between the 14th and the 16th.


As a distant memory conjures up only a fleeting image in one's mind, so too do the opening credits of Lion scurry past before fading away, as the film itself seems destined to. Early and often, emphasis is placed upon emphasis alone, an attempt at hammering home the potent dramatic tenor of this incredible true story, with little attention toward developing that which might make the viewer share in its characters' emotional turmoil. Empty stylistic gestures gently adorn Lion, cooking up the occasional memorable image, but otherwise of little actual impact. Trauma is co-opted under the strictures of convention for a commercialized fantasy, and one can only wonder what effect the film might have had under the guidance of more sensitive hands. Luke Davies' screenplay prioritizes reverence to factual truth over emotional truth, and Garth Davis conspires in sacrificing the potential for genuine affective heft in favour of excessive adherence to narrative credibility, yet with deviations in the direction of cliche throughout. Should I just stop kicking this film while I've already got it down? I think so, because there remains a lot to like about Lion. Even under questionable creative direction, the power of such an astonishing true story told with kindness gives the film undeniable purpose, and gives the cast a wealth of strong material with which to work. Nicole Kidman and Sunny Pawar are excellent, and Dev Patel delves deep into his role in order to rise above his film, handling a highly difficult task with apparent ease. Hollow actors' showcases have never been my thing, but Lion gets by on at least not being the worst.

Thursday, 13 October 2016


Bursting onto the cinema scene like a severed artery in full flow, Julia Ducournau assaults both her audience and her predecessors in the New French Extremity. Raw is like a belated bookend and corrective to that tiresome phase of filmmaking, an endlessly surprising and thrilling film that toys with our perceptions in unveiling one new slant on genre tropes after another. It's a vigorous assertion of a shocking new artistic vision, just as its protagonist forges a radical path of her own upon attending her first year at veterinary school. From different angles a critique of arbitrary family ties and a curt acceptance of (literal) blood ties, a sneering dismissal of a culture that exalts values of masculinity and heteronormativity, and a bold depiction of a particularly rapid, extreme coming-of-age process, Raw is thematically rich, but primarily it is a stylistic masterclass. Ducournau has total command of her developing mise-en-scene, devising methods of intensification, deflection, diversion and outright mockery (of her characters and of her audience) that embolden the film, give its presentation of almost every fluidic expulsion conceivable an added edge of provocative verve. It's gleefully nasty, the brilliant strain of black comedy arising from the essential interlacing of vivid, aptly raw body horror and the tender character drama that cultivates around it. Thus Raw is not simply exemplary filmmaking for a gory horror movie, it's exemplary filmmaking for any movie.


"Whoever approached the spirit will feel its warmth, hence his heart will be lifted up to new heights." Opaque and specialized as hell, though ravishing as heaven, Joao Pedro Rodrigues' The Ornithologist repurposes religion for its own sake, a blasphemous yet curiously reverent appropriation of spiritual tales; as with many of the most meaningful, it ties transcendence to perversion. A tactile soundscape, striking camera motions and compositions, and consistently corporeal concerns make Rodrigues' spiritual odyssey an accessible, tangible experience for the viewer, and recalibrate the specifics of the St. Anthony legends (alongside some other christian myths) in a manner far more relevant to director and viewer alike. The Ornithologist is an openly personal film, dealing with our director's own identity in a frank fashion; as our protagonist reacquires his sense of self, it is with a perspective rendered anew by a series of alarming occurrences, sexual connotations both overt and obscure, in processes of losing and receiving. This interior odyssey is precipitated by carnal encounters, and violent ones, and always the attractive idea that we come to know ourselves, and our purpose in life, not in internal reflection but in external experiences. If The Ornithologist means little to you, as indeed such a singular work of art is likely to, you might at least be drawn to its artistic achievements, which themselves seem designed solely to provide the film its worth, its stature as a work of art at all defined by the artistry on display. As vague and unyielding as its peculiarities may appear, their gleeful oddity, and the film's supreme technical beauty, are reason enough to indulge in this ever-surprising, highly satisfying piece of profoundly personal expression.


85 countries have submitted films for official consideration for the Oscar Foreign Language Film award. Here's how the voting process now proceeds: six separate committees of Academy members, comprised of volunteers from various branches, will each view roughly a sixth of the full selection, and vote for their favourite. The first place finisher in each race progresses to Round 2. An executive committee, designed to introduce more varied fare into the lineup, which has notoriously been among the Academy's most artistically conservative categories, will then select three further titles from the remaining bunch, making a total of nine choices for voters to make in Round 2. That nine is whittled down to five for the actual nominees, due to be announced on the 24th of January. Check out all 85 films below:

3,000 Nights (Mai Masri) - Jordan
About Us (Hernan Jimenez) - Costa Rica
Afterimage (Andrzej Wajda) - Poland
The Age of Shadows (Kim Jee Woon) - South Korea
Alias Maria (Jose Luis Rugeles) - Colombia
Amanat (Satybaldy Narymbetov) - Kazakhstan
Apprentice (Boo Jun Feng) - Singapore
The Ardennes (Robin Pront) - Belgium
Barakah Meets Barakah (Mahmoud Sabbagh) - Saudi Arabia
Beautiful Pain (Tunku Mona Risa) - Malaysia
Before the Fall (Ian White) - Cambodia
The Black Hen (Min Bahadur Bham) - Nepal
The Black Pin (Ivan Marinovic) - Montenegro
Breadcrumbs (Manane Rodriguez)- - Uruguay
Call Me Thief (Daryne Joshua) - South Africa
Chevalier (Athina Rachel Tsangari) - Greece
Chromium (Bujar Alimani) - Albania
Clash (Mohamed Diab) - Egypt
El Clasico (Halkawt Mustafa) - Iraq
Cold of Kalandar (Mustafa Kara) - Turkey
The Companion (Pavel Giroud) - Cuba
Dawn (Laila Pakalnina) - Latvia
Death in Sarajevo (Danis Tanovic) - Bosnia and Herzegovina
Desierto (Jonas Cuaron) - Mexico
The Distinguished Citizen (Mariano Cohn and Gaston Duprat) - Argentina
Elle (Paul Verhoeven) - France
Eva Nova (Marko Skop) - Slovakia
A Father's Will (Bakyt Mukul and Dastan Zhapar Uulu) - Kyrgyzstan
Fire at Sea (Gianfranco Rosi) - Italy
A Flickering Truth (Pietra Brettkelly) - New Zealand
From Afar (Lorenzo Vigas) - Venezuela
Hang in There, Kids! (Laha Mebow) - Taiwan
The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Maki (Juho Kuosmanen) - Finland
Home Sweet Home (Faton Bajraktari) - Kosovo
House of Others (Rusudan Glurjidze) - Georgia
Houston, We Have a Problem! (Ziga Virc) - Slovenia
I Am Nojoom, Age 10 and Divorced (Khadija Al-Salami) - Yemen
The Idol (Hany Abu-Assad) - Palestine
Interrogation (Vetri Maaran) - India
It's Only the End of the World (Xavier Dolan) - Canada
Julieta (Pedro Almodovar) - Spain
Karma (Kanittha Kwunyoo) - Thailand
Kills on Wheels (Atilla Till) - Hungary
The King's Choice (Erik Poppe) - Norway
Land of Mine (Martin Zandvliet) - Denmark
Letters from Prague (Angga Dwimas Sasongko) - Indonesia
Letters from War (Ivo M. Ferreira) - Portugal
The Liberation of Skopje (Danilo Serbedzija and Rade Serbedzija) - Macedonia
Little Secret (David Schurmann) - Brazil
Losers (Ivaylo Hristov) - Bulgaria
Lost in Munich (Petr Zelenka) - Czech Republic
Ma' Rosa (Brillante Mendoza) - Philippines
Mah-e-Mir (Anjum Shahzad) - Pakistan
A Man Called Ove (Hannes Holm) - Sweden
A Mile in My Shoes (Said Khallaf) - Morocco
Mother (Kadri Kousaar) - Estonia
My Life as a Courgette (Claude Barras) - Switzerland
Nagasaki: Memories of My Son (Yamada Yoji) - Japan
Neruda (Pablo Larrain) - Chile
On the Other Side (Zrinko Ogresta) - Croatia
Paradise (Andrey Konchalovskiy) - Russia
Port of Call (Philip Yung) - Hong Kong
The Salesman (Asghar Farhadi) - Iran
Salsipuedes (Ricardo Aguilar Navarro and Manolito Rodriguez) - Panama
Sand Storm (Elite Zexer) - Israel
Sealed Cargo (Julia Vargas Weise) - Bolivia
Seneca's Day (Kristijonas Vildziunas) - Lithuania
Sieranevada (Cristi Puiu) - Romania
Sparrows (Runar Runarsson) - Iceland
Stefan Zweig: Farewell to Europe (Maria Schrader) - Austria
Such Is Life in the Tropics (Sebastian Cordero) - Ecuador
Sugar Fields (Fernando Baez) - Dominican Republic
Tanna (Martin Butler and Bentley Dean) - Australia
Toni Erdmann (Maren Ade) - Germany
Tonio (Paula van der Oest) - Netherlands
Train Driver's Diary (Milos Radovic) - Serbia
Ukrainian Sherrifs (Roman Bondarchuk) - Ukraine
Under the Shadow (Babak Anvari) - United Kingdom
The Unnamed (Tauquir Ahmed) - Bangladesh
Very Big Shot (Mir-Jean Bou Chaaya) - Lebanon
Videophilia (and Other Viral Syndromes) (Juan Daniel F. Molero) - Peru
Voices from Chernobyl (Pol Cruchten) - Luxembourg
The Well (Lofti Bouchouchi) - Algeria
Xuan Zang (Huo Jian Qi) - China
Yellow Flowers on the Green Grass (Victor Vu) - Vietnam

Wednesday, 12 October 2016


A protracted tease that's all in the characters' imaginations, not our own, though Marco Berger and Martin Farina don't let us get away with our salacity - Taekwondo is pure smut, but it has a plot and it has a purpose, and our arousal is our responsibility. The scenario is that of many hundreds of gay porn productions, the objects, actions and situations are designed for maximum erotic potential, but Berger and Farina's greatest achievement is that they both form their film from these overtly sexual details and formulate further sexual potency from their film. Their compositions are unabashedly suggestive, even downright explicit; Taekwondo is literally the cockiest film of the year, but then it's arguably also the ballsiest, and the taintiest... The eroticism that spurts forth from the film is used to more intellectual ends alongside its more sensual objectives, as a subtle, sensitive critique on the damage that cultural standards of masculinity have upon men, both hetero- and homosexual (or bisexual). It's a silly scene every time one of Taekwondo's brashly macho hunks feels the urge not only to suppress their aggression no longer but to actively release it, and a sad scene every time German, our watchful gay protagonist, played beautifully by Gabriel Epstein, or one of his fellow vacationers exposes their incapacity to keep up with these standards. It's a tender, ironic film, seductive and intimate in its lush close-ups, never unduly exploitative of its innate conceptual sexuality, though generous in what exploitation in which it does engage. Eye candy and intelligence attractively furnish this perceptive examination of the specificity yet the universality of the gay experience, its pain and its pleasures alike.

Tuesday, 11 October 2016


If this is Bertrand Tavernier's journey, and his alone, it's a remarkably selfless one. Selfless, but not impersonal, like an autobiography that's about the writer's friends and acquaintances, rather than themselves. Journey Through French Cinema is expansive enough to see further, and clearer, into the character of its subject than most of its own viewers, insightful enough to proffer appraisals of genuine quality and validity, rich enough to justify its runtime, brief enough to leave one in an appropriate state of reverence and excitement, specialist enough to leave one in a somewhat distant state of apathy by its end. Tavernier's knowledge is impressive and his intelligence even more so, and his openness to such a great variety of perspectives, opinions, styles and much else still results in a cinematic essay that's as persuasive in its purpose as you're likely to find. Yet this dense voyage into an encyclopaedic artistic mind is as esoteric as it is educational, despite the individual worth of all of its observations. Tavernier understands not only French cinema but the two things separately: France and cinema, and that's as apparent here as in any of his best films. One instantly observes parallels between himself and those artists profiled: a simultaneous embrace and mistrust of American cinema, a humanistic sentiment, an appreciation for classical craft yet an insistent rebuke of nostalgia, an empathy with misunderstood men, undefinable filmmakers as Tavernier is too. In him, as in a select few others, what is referred to here as French cinema remains alive today, in 2016, yet you'd hardly know it - Journey Through French Cinema is fixated upon the past, perhaps as an invaluable exercise in archiving, perhaps as a quiet lamentation for techniques lost to history. Tavernier's journey alone, but our lesson, and their party: Becker, Renoir, Gabin, Carne, Jaubert, Kosma, Constantine, Greville, Melville, Godard, Sautet, and many more!


Tributes are being paid around the world to the great Polish filmmaker Andrzej Wajda, who died on Sunday, the 9th of October. He was 90, and had only recently premiered his final feature film, Afterimage, at the Toronto International Film Festival. Since making his first films in the 1950s, Wajda was responsible for more than 40 features in total, which brought him acclaim throughout his career from all across the globe. His war film trilogy of the 1950s, consisting of A Generation, Kanal and Ashes and Diamonds, and his 'Man of...' films, including Man of Marble and Man of Iron, were among his most celebrated, alongside titles such as Danton and Katyn. Four Foreign Language Film Oscar nominations came Wajda's way over the years, as well as other prestigious awards such as two BAFTAs including an Academy Fellowship, two European Film Awards including a Lifetime Achievement Award, a special award from the NYFCC, four FIPRESCI prizes, three awards from the Berlin International Film Festival with a lifetime contribution award and an Honorary Golden Bear among them, a Career Golden Lion from the Venice Film Festival, and five awards from the Cannes Film Festival, with a Palme d'Or for Man of Iron. Quite the list of accolades for quite the accomplished artist, and he will be missed very greatly indeed. He is survived by his daughter Karolina and his widow and fourth wife, the costume designer Krystyna Zachwatowicz.


The view from within, a sight of a most public figure yet also one most secluded and now, approaching death, most isolated. Alone in his experience, yet surrounded by doctors, advisers and valets, facing down a situation wholly unusual and profound to the individual, yet entirely universal, Albert Serra depicts the Sun King, Louis XIV, from a perspective that only he could have devised, or realized in such a fashion. The Death of Louis XIV is sumptuous - bright, burnished gold and blood red sizzling through the screen, an entire world created in a single room, ably populated by a cast of characters inhabited vividly yet subtly by a fine ensemble. It is absurd - the degrading humanization of a man regarded as more than a mere human, the plain, unavoidable, unpretentious physicality of his agonizing descent toward death, yet plied with Alicante wine to simply dribble over his closed lips, or dressed in a fur stole atop his drab bedclothes. It is palpably real - close confines and excellent performances render this extraordinary environment realistic, even amid grandeur and artifice, both artistic and emotional. Serra pushes Jean-Pierre Leaud further than any other director in recent years, and pushes himself to refine his outlook without abandoning the distinctive philosophical and stylistic character of his alternative historical essays, and both succeed magnificently. With typically piquant, gently irreverent humour, The Death of Louis XIV is a genuine intimate epic, and Leaud's presence (and sporadic, eventually oppressive absence) permits it further import for the contemporary audience: the death of a cinema legend in the death of a historical one.


Fiona Tan ascends into the depths of grief in Ascent, an experimental work of its own remarkable depth of meaning and intelligence, and thus perhaps a needlessly difficult sit. Images frozen in time given new motion by supple editing and soundtrack, this 'photo-film' is a fascinating collage of contradictions, though this fascination too rarely develops into full comprehension - Tan is content for Ascent to leave only an impression, and indeed it is an artful one with considerable emotional import. The one constant among the contradictions is Mount Fuji, and Tan's dense explorations of the cultural, physical, historical character of her subject yields a array of artistic and intellectual content. Uniting much of her inquiry is the notion, itself fittingly contradictory, of the mountain as a void, and then of the void as an object with the potential to be filled. Tan finds some sort of solace in Fuji, its constancy a reassuring quality amid a melancholic world of death and loss. 'Falling is the essence of a flower,' giving a peculiar, but thoroughly persuasive identity to this ascent. Tan's style is rigorous yet meandering, and her techniques are resolutely laudable, even as some are more effective than others. Her intentions too are commendable, and the reach of her exploratory mind is utterly gargantuan - so much so that Ascent lacks focus and clarity. But that may be the point - in the thin, cold air of the peak, along the dangerous precipice, that grief-stricken loneliness that defines this film both refines and rebuts clarity. The film is a contradiction in itself.

Monday, 10 October 2016


Well, well, well! Who'd have expected this? The 2016-17 awards season kicks off extra early this year, as the Broadcast Film Critics Association announces its nominees for its first ever Critics' Choice Documentary Awards. Previously, the BFCA had simply handed out one award for Best Documentary at their annual movie awards ceremony; like any organization desperate to remain relevant, several significant changes have been made to the Critics' Choice awards in recent years, mainly of questionable character, but this new development is a promising one. That's one fewer award to chuck out during the commercial breaks on their hopeless televized awards ceremony, and several more awards for documentary filmmaking, ever underappreciated by audiences. As a further sign of the blurring of the lines between film and TV, these awards feature projects from both media. Award winners will be declared at a ceremony on the 3rd of November. Check it all out below:

Best Documentary Feature
Fire at Sea
Life, Animated
O.J.: Made in America
The Witness

Best Direction of a Documentary Feature
Ezra Edelman (O.J.: Made in America)
Ron Howard (The Beatles: Eight Days a Week - The Touring Years)
Kirsten Johnson (Cameraperson)
Keith Maitland (Tower)
Clay Tweel (Gleason)
Roger Ross Williams (Life, Animated)

Best Song in a Documentary Feature
Tori Amos - 'Flicker' (Audrie & Daisy)
Common, Karriem Riggins and Robert Glasper - 'Letters to the Free' (13th)
Sharon Jones - 'I'm Still Here' (Miss Sharon Jones!)
Mike McCready - 'Hoping and Healing' (Gleason)
J. Ralph and Sting - 'The Empty Chair' (Jim: The James Foley Story)
Sia - 'Angel by the Wings' (The Eagle Huntress)

Best First Documentary Feature
Otto Bell (The Eagle Huntress)
David Farrier and Dylan Reeve (Tickled)
Adam Irving (Off the Rails)
Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg (Weiner)
James D. Solomon (The Witness)
Wang Nan Fu (Hooligan Sparrow)

Best Music Documentary
The Beatles: Eight Days a Week - The Touring Years
Gimme Danger
Miss Sharon Jones!
The Music of Strangers
Presenting Princess Shaw
We Are X

Best Political Documentary
Audrie & Daisy
O.J.: Made in America
Zero Days

Best Sports Documentary
Dark Horse
The Eagle Huntress
Fantastic Lies
Jackie Robinson
Keepers of the Game
O.J.: Made in America

Most Innovative Documentary
Kate Plays Christine
Life, Animated
Under the Sun

Best Documentary Feature: TV / Streaming
Amanda Knox
Audrie & Daisy
Before the Flood
Fantastic Lies
Holy Hell
Into the Inferno
Jim: The James Foley Story
Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures

Best Ongoing Documentary Series
30 for 30
Last Chance U
Morgan Spurlock Inside Man
This Is Life with Lisa Ling

Best Limited Documentary Series
The Circus: Inside the Greatest Political Show on Earth
The Eighties
The Hunt
Jackie Robinson
O.J.: Made in America
Soundbreaking: Stories from the Cutting Edge of Recorded Music

Best Director: TV / Streaming
Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato (Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures)
Rod Blackhurst and Brian McGinn (Amanda Knox)
Ava DuVernay (13th)
Werner Herzog (Into the Inferno)
Morgan Spurlock (Rats)
Fisher Stevens (Before the Flood)

Best First Feature: TV / Streaming
Everything Is Copy (Jacob Bernstein and Nick Hooker)
Holy Hell (Will Allen)
Mavis! (Jessica Edwards)
My Beautiful Broken Brain (Sophie Robinson and Lotje Sodderland)
Southwest of Salem: The Story of the San Antonio Four (Deborah Esquenazi)
Team Foxcatcher (Jon Greenhalgh)