Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Oscar Rewrites, resurrected


They said...

Charles Durning (The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas)
*Louis Gossett, Jr (An Officer and a Gentleman)
John Lithgow (The World According to Garp)
James Mason (The Verdict)
Robert Preston (Victor/Victoria)

I say...

*Rutger Hauer (Blade Runner)
James Mason (The Verdict)
Ricardo Montalban (Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan)
William Sanderson (Blade Runner)
Paul Winfield (White Dog)

With apologies to Mickey Rourke (Diner) and Sean Penn (Fast Times at Ridgemont High), who are thereby deprived of rehearsing for their Wrestler Milk showdown...

Thursday, August 16, 2012

2012, at the halfway mark

Best Film

Magic Mike
Nostalgia for the Light
War Witch

Best Director

Miguel Gomes (Tabu)
Patricio Guzmán (Nostalgia for the Light)
Mia Hansen-Løve (Goodbye, First Love)
Kim Nguyen (War Witch)
Steven Soderbergh (Magic Mike)

Best Actor

Kacey Mottet Klein (Sister)
Deon Lotz (Beauty)
Mads Mikkelsen (A Royal Affair)
Seth Rogen (Take This Waltz)
Paud Rudd (Wanderlust)

Best Actress

Marina Foïs (Polisse)
Clotilde Hesme (Angel & Tony)
Nina Hoss (Barbara)
Michelle Williams (Take This Waltz)
Deannie Yip (A Simple Life)

Best Supporting Actor

Tom Cruise (Rock of Ages)
Paul Giamatti (Cosmopolis)
Matthew McConaughey (Magic Mike)
Dallas Roberts (The Grey)
Joey Starr (Polisse)

Best Supporting Actress

Brid Brennan (Shadow Dancer)
Alice de Lencquesaing (Polisse)
Karin Lischka (Breathing)
Harriet Walter (The Wedding Video)
Michaela Watkins (Wanderlust)

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

2011's best films not made in 2011

I inaugurated this feature last year, and here it is again, by popular demand: the thirty best films I saw for the first time in rep, or screened myself, over the last twelve months. (Thanks are due again to Masters of Cinema, the BFI, Freeview's more enterprising programmers, the British silent film festival, the Criterion Collection, San Sebastián, and all the friends I saw these with, especially Maxie Szalwinska.)

1. The Ballad of Narayama (Shohei Imamura, 1983) A+
2. Les enfants du paradis (Marcel Carné, 1945) A 
3. The Last Laugh (F.W. Murnau, 1924) A
4. Love Me Tonight (Rouben Mamoulian, 1932) A
5. The Wind (Victor Sjöström, 1928) A–
6. La peau douce (François Truffaut, 1964) A–
7. Floating Clouds (Mikio Naruse, 1955) A– 
8. Pavement Butterfly (Richard Eichberg, 1929) A–
9. Bad Timing (Nicolas Roeg, 1982) A–  
10. My Neighbour Totoro (Hayao Miyazaki, 1988) A– 
11. The Ascent (Larisa Shepitko, 1977)  A–   
12. Far From the Madding Crowd (John Schlesinger, 1967)  A–   
13. Je t'aime, je t'aime (Alain Resnais, 1968) A–
14. Michael (Carl Theodor Dreyer, 1924) A–
15. Cria Cuervos (Carlos Saura, 1975) A–
16. Taipei Story (Edward Yang, 1985) A– 
17. A Summer's Tale (Eric Rohmer, 1996) A–
18. Insignificance (Nicolas Roeg, 1985) A–
19. Profound Desires of the Gods (Shohei Imamura, 1968) B+
20. Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (John S. Robertson, 1920) B+
21. Peau d'âne (Jacques Demy, 1970) B+ 
22. Summer Interlude (Ingmar Bergman, 1951) B+
23. La collectionneuse (Eric Rohmer, 1967) B+
24. Liebestraum (Mike Figgis, 1990) B+
25. Cœur fidèle (Jean Epstein, 1923) B+
26. Taxi Zum Klo (Frank Ripploh, 1980) B+
27. Queen Kelly (Erich von Stroheim, 1932) B+
28. Deep End (Jerzy Skolimowksi, 1970) B+
29. What Have I Done to Deserve This? (Pedro Almodóvar, 1984) B+
30. The Pawnbroker (Sidney Lumet, 1965) B+

Monday, December 26, 2011

2011: My Top Ten

1. Margaret
2. Weekend
3. The Tree of Life
4. A Separation
5. Bombay Beach
6. Tomboy
7. Tuesday, After Christmas
8. Snowtown
9. Senna
10. Love Like Poison

Monday, October 10, 2011

LFF: updated guidance


Current tally: 40

360 (DHammerhead thesis — sex compromises! — woven into by-the-numbers anomie quilt. Whole cast might as well be in bad wig and raincoat

50/50 (C+) Overproud of its cancercom "bravery", esp when all diagnosis/treatment played for schtick. Central pairing does tickle and touch

LAS ACACIAS (B) Simple and strong, in rich tradition of Argentinian road movies. A lovely debut

ALPS (B+) Might have been hallucinating, but nervy and suggestive in all the ways I'd hoped. Can't wait for a second go-round

AMERICANO (C+Suffers TTAC (total third act collapse) after decent first hour. Plenty good to look at, and I've never liked Hayek more

THE ARTIST (B+Pure pleasure, luminously charming, and melancholy about its ever-shifting medium. Not wild about the music

THE AWAKENING (C–) Love old-school spookery but this snoozes on job. Stiffer than it is elegant, succumbing to coy hysteria and batty reveals

BLACK POWER MIXTAPE 1967-1975 (B+Hard to fail with footage this great, and fail they don't. A sequential scrapbook: more fury than filth

CARNAGE (C) Brittle and dwindling, a crabbiness convention hitting oddly flat highs. Play already a relic, like out-of-print art catalogue

A CAT IN PARIS (C+) Perfectly diverting, even if undercooked design and ho-hum story elements cap your enthusiasm

CORIOLANUS (B–A jaggedly functional read on the play; contemporising hits and misses, but Redgrave is awesome

CORPO CELESTE (B+Faith at a low ebb, a priest who's given up, and a young girl choosing her own rites of passage. Hums with unruly life

DARK HORSE (D+Listless schlubcom, unredeemed by half-ironic empathy, and this from someone who usually has time for Solondz

DARWIN (BNot quite BOMBAY BEACH, but dustily eccentric community doc with the flavour of mad home brew. Pop 35 Nevada shantytowns FTW

THE DEEP BLUE SEA (BVelvety, classical staging, terrific Weisz performance, a slight air of Davies falling back on old devices

THE FORGIVENESS OF BLOOD (B–) Marston's story of Albanian blood-feud feels a little dutiful and box-ticking, but it's certainly not bad

THE FUTURE (C+Hemlock for many, and often exasperating, but some ideas do stick

HERE (C–) Cartography-as-metaphor comes off as studenty as it sounds; experimental inserts feel, well, inserted. And loooong

THE HOUSE (CComposed with skill, but ruthlessly on-the-nose in its symbols and conflicts

HUT IN THE WOODS (B–) Didn't need such a dungeon-dim look, but brave & quite affecting, like Andrew Kötting with a gentler hair shirt 

LAST WINTER (B–) Shivery lensing plunges you into the Hardy-esque setting, but protag and his plight remain frustratingly opaque 

LIKE CRAZY (C+Tender, plausible, but no lift-off: it's too hung up on the glum practicalities of across-the-pond dating. Jones good

MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE (B+Sculpted in shards, unnerving in both timeframes. A brittle thing, but woozily accomplished. Olsen rivets

NATURAL SELECTION (CMatt O'Leary scores, but Rachael Harris' biological stepmom is a tiresome main character. All a bit rotely Sundancey

NOBODY ELSE BUT YOU (POUPOUPIDOU) (CShaggy-dog neige noir needs brighter lead 'tec, more pulse, point. Quizzical tone gets tiresome

OSLO, AUGUST 31st (B+Day-out-of-rehab thinkfest earns despair with clear eyes; it's about craving oblivion when all the wrong people care

PARIAH (BOvercomes hurdles of cliché with vigour and fresh feeling. Nicely tentative, and doesn't grope too hard for gift-wrapped closure

SARAH PALIN: YOU BETCHA! (C) Too little too late, failing to marshal obstacles to access into any kind of revealing narrative

SHAME (B+) Questionable material, especially at the climax, but bracing, bruising stuff in every area of style and performance

SHE MONKEYS (B–Familiar but supple debut about girl-on-girl teen desire, with side order of equestrian acrobatics

SHOCK HEAD SOUL (C+) Egghead psychiatry curio will win fans, but leaves us little the wiser about fin-de-siècle madness. Preferred BODYSONG

SLEEPING SICKNESS (A–My pick of the Berlinale: a spellbinding Conradian drama about going native in Cameroon

SNOWTOWN (A–Not for gran, unless she's Rose West. Sordidly devastating, and puts the "bleak" in "oblique", while digging its way into you

THE SUN-BEATEN PATH (D+Cookies for anyone who keeps their eyelids open through the whole of this "New Tibetan" road-trip non-event

TALES OF THE NIGHT (B–A portmanteau grab bag with lovely sections for Ocelot fans, though it's middling for him

VOLCANO (BIcelandic retirement drama, keenly shot, judged and acted, with vivid relationships

WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN (A–) Coolly shattering, a jigsaw of grief and self-recrimination, with peak Tilda

WEEKEND (A) Modestly breathtaking, gorgeously real. Pillow talk so searching and intimate it left me floating on a cloud

WITHOUT (B+A sideswipe building from nowhere; ploughs into alarming, depressive territory after lullingly affectless start

WUTHERING HEIGHTS (B–Wholly admirable formally, even if it's intractable and laboured in the retelling


Saturday, September 17, 2011

2011, thus far

Nick Davis has beaten me to the punch, but before all the touted movies from the autumn come out, I thought I'd also list my favourites of the year so far. There are quirks on these lists: to make them more interesting, I'm intentionally excluding films that haven't received their UK release yet. So, though I'm already on record as having flipped for Vanessa Redgrave in Coriolanus, for instance, she'll have to wait until the year-end honours to get listed; ditto such other potential contenders as We Need to Talk About Kevin, The Deep Blue Sea, Wuthering Heights, Melancholia and Tyrannosaur (though I have seen all of those). The one exception I'm making is for Radu Muntean's Tuesday, After Christmas, on the basis that it doesn't, to my knowledge, even have a UK distributor, let alone a release date. And therefore needs all the help it can get. (Before you ask, I really do like Oldman in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, but he came in sixth.)


The Tree of Life
A Separation
Love Like Poison
Tuesday, After Christmas
Kill List
Elite Squad: The Enemy Within


Romain Duris (The Big Picture)
Tom Fisher (Treacle, Jr)
Brendan Gleeson (The Guard)
Peyman Mooadi (A Separation)
Adam Scott (Passenger Side)


Clara Augarde (Love Like Poison)
Zoé Héran (Tomboy)
Liana Liberato (Trust)
Mia Wasikowska (Jane Eyre)
Kristen Wiig (Bridesmaids)


Tom Hardy (Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy)
Chris O’Dowd (Bridesmaids)
Jack O’Connell (Weekender)
Christopher Plummer (Beginners)
Hugo Weaving (Oranges and Sunshine)


Valeria De Franciscis Bendoni (The Salt of Life)
Sarina Farhadi (A Separation)
Mary Page Keller (Beginners)
Mirela Oprişor (Tuesday, After Christmas)
Maria Popistaşu (Tuesday, After Christmas)

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Providence (1977)

Alain Resnais’s Providence begins with an eerie up-the-garden-path approach, a bit Rebecca, a bit Citizen Kane, into the eponymous mansion of a dying, depleted novelist (John Gielgud) in the act of redrafting various lives – his own, partly, but mainly those of his near, dear, and not so dear. We don’t behold Gielgud’s face for a good ten minutes, but see an arthritic hand tip something off a side table, and spend most of our later scenes with him writhing in bed, whether he’s administering suppositories, complaining of the shooting pain up his arse, or chuckling to himself about the small victories he’s managed to hold on to, amid the many resentments and outbursts of vitriol which otherwise sour his memories.

“Sour” is certainly a keyword for the concocted situations this unforgiving patriarch authors from his deathbed, in which he features omnipresently as puppetmaster, rewriter, and manipulator of who’s on screen, but not at all, until the very end, as a living participant. It’s clear, in fact, that he considers himself in all practical senses dead already: when the family doctor intrudes on camera and manages to hog a close-up or two, Gielgud’s Clive (who provides an acrid voiceover for most of his own imaginings) wants him yanked off screen, but next casually wonders if the cadaver this minor character is in the act of examining might even be his own.

For the ensuing 90 minutes or so, until a structurally crucial coda breaks the spell, we are almost entirely in Gielgud’s devious hands, and his performance, both vocally and during our intermittent bedside visits, is deeply comfortable with the English idioms of literary conceit, waspish character assassination and grandiloquent gamesmanship, sufficiently so that we never doubt him as the plausible author of what we’re given to see. The question that does remain is whether what we’re seeing was worth authoring, and indeed worth watching. Providence gives such a disproportionate amount of its screen time over to the curdled theatrics of an old man getting his own back on his fractious kin, by fictionalising and intentionally misrepresenting all of their implied relationships, that it risks sabotaging the most basic audience connections to who these people are, and why we should give a damn. In particular, Clive’s feelings about his son, a successful lawyer who spends the first major scene viciously haranguing an accused soldier for the illegality of a mercy killing, are so inexhaustibly contemptuous that Dirk Bogarde has no choice in how to play the part: spitefully and archly, up to the hilt, in what has to be a sustained act of virtual self-parody. It’s the only possible approach to the character, and you can hardly fault him, like almost every scene which Gielgud allows him to preside over, for being perfectly unbearable. The accused soldier, Woodford (David Warner), becomes a puzzling hanger-on in a grey turtleneck pullover for most of the movie, until we twig that he’s a version of Bogarde’s half-brother in disguise, whom Gielgud entangles in semi-romantic trysts with his other son’s American wife (Ellen Burstyn) just for the hell of it; and the fifth major character is a mistress-figure called Helen (Elaine Stritch), recruited into proceedings out of the blue because of her close resemblance to Gielgud’s suicidal wife Molly, whom Stritch also plays, at one point switching roles without warning in the space of a scene.

The enigmas about life, death and art one would hope this meta-fiction might spawn and illuminate, far from proliferating as richly as they do in something like Synecdoche, New York, remain curiously stifled here if they’re given any real birth at all. Really, the movie, which is to say the construct Gielgud intends as a memoir but which we’re experiencing as a movie, is hammering away at one tone – venomous camp – and giving its characters almost interchangeable aperçus to deliver, which vary from the distantly witty to the merely brittle and pompous. It becomes hard to separate the conceit of the Gielgud character in doling these out from the conceit of the script, by playwright David Mercer, in letting him dole out quite so many, and in general getting so carried away with the Nabokovian possibilities of handing over responsibility for authorship to a “literary genius” so full of unquenchable contempt and schadenfreude. If the whole edifice comes across as smug, Mercer can blame it on Clive, but enduring it is such a chore that we may not feel inclined to let either of them off the hook.

Nabokov, and Kaufman, manage to stretch and massage their narrative gambits, to offset the dangers of self-satisfaction by making them pliable, allowing other viewpoints to intrude, or letting their similarly hermetic visions balloon to the point where they burst and backfire on their own authors. Mercer just plonks us in the same toxic biosphere for seven-eighths of a movie, not bothering with air conditioning, and it’s a real disappointment that Resnais lets him get away with it so easily, abetting the general sense of imprisonment with greenish-hued hothouse lighting, ostentatiously “artificial” outdoor sets, and oppressive interior décor with paintings by HR Giger and others adorning the walls above white curving marble steps that compositionally trap the eye. Drawling and drinking endless glasses of chilled white wine, the enclosed quartet of characters lounge on beds, sometimes gesturing towards taking their clothes off, but thinking better of it: “I don’t smell sex,” comments Bogarde on finding Burstyn and Warner together. “Has there been any?” Once or twice, Mercer’s imagination rises to the occasion of its own self-congratulatory, sinister weirdness – sorry, Clive’s – as when Warner admits to being particularly troubled at having an erection, proffering the simple explanation: “It’s not mine”. Gielgud is determined to foist Freudian relations between Bogarde’s Claud and his own mother, more or less, and to cuckold him using his bastard brother, and to make all this lot regularly swap identities to fire off fresh volleys of accusatory bile at each other, so why not have them share sexual organs as well?

The film’s intermittent cleverness, and the kind of deftness you’d expect from Resnais with its interior rhythms, erasures and transitions, makes it possible to justify almost everything it’s doing with this or that crafty strategy, but it offers few workable solutions for the actors, other than Gielgud, to navigate through it with anything like nuance. Thrusting his role into one hissy key, Bogarde, if anything, has the best of it; Warner can’t help making his mostly-inconsequential wannabe-astronaut Woodford into someone we simply want booted out, and Burstyn, whose doleful daughter-in-law is admittedly and accurately described as “opaque”, seems particularly lost, wanting to oscillate between bitter self-absorption and a faraway pathos, but hitting her lines as if she can’t quite decide.

Only in the final scenes, which switch into an altogether softer and more lyrical mode as the whole clan, minus Stritch, gather for an al fresco birthday lunch in Clive's honour, is some balance and integrity restored: we feel we’ve stepped outside Gielgud’s scribbled revenge fantasies and entered a closer approximation to the reality of these relationships, or else a more gently-delineated alternative vision of how he’d like them to be. Burstyn and Warner don't particularly register in these scenes, but Gielgud suddenly has three other players to respond to, and Bogarde is an instant revelation, an entirely different, sadder and more anxiously loving figure who nonetheless feels himself a disappointment to his father and wishes it were otherwise. Watching him downplay this final section, pretty masterfully even by his standards, is not only a relief after the preceding assault, in which he’s often felt like a supercilious MC who hates his job, but provides an entirely new-found way into the movie, from the deferred perspective of a son grievously misunderstood by his father and given no credit for wishing they were closer. Whether Resnais and Mercer have a clue what they’re doing in making us wait so long for this metamorphosis, and whether it truly rescues the remainder of the film or makes it feel like even more of an exasperating waste, will be questions each viewer answers for themselves. All I can say is that having found long chunks of Providence basically purgatory, I came out with at least half a sense, salvaged at the last minute, both maddening and tantalising, that it was purgatory on purpose. C

Monday, January 10, 2011

2010's other best movies

I'm shamelessly stealing this idea from Nick Davis (and bulking my list out to thirty titles). These are the best films I saw for the first time in repertory, on DVD, Blu-ray or TV last year. Whatever the merits of 2010's new vintage, I'm not sure I've ever seen as many masterpieces in a single year before, for which huge thanks are due to the British Film Institute, Eureka's Master of Cinema series, the programmers at Berlin, and whoever schedules the stuff on Freeview. The top ten movies here will be jostling to get into my forthcoming revised Top 100, as and when I dare confront that.

1. Sanshō the Bailiff (Kenji Mizoguchi, 1954) A+
2. The Fall of the House of Usher (Jean Epstein, 1928) A+
3. The Bill Douglas Trilogy (Bill Douglas, 1972, 1973, 1978) A
4. The Burmese Harp (Kon Ichikawa, 1956) A
5. Cleo from 5 to 7 (Agnès Varda, 1962) A
6. The Last Command (Josef von Sternberg, 1928) A
7. Pandora's Box (G.W. Pabst, 1929) A
8. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (Elia Kazan, 1945) A
9. The Private Life of Henry VIII (Alexander Korda, 1933) A
10. A Day in the Life: Four Portraits of Post-War Britain (John Krish, 1953-1964) A
11. La Notte (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1961) A–
12. Ugetsu monogatari (Kenji Mizoguchi, 1953) A–
13. Wild River (Elia Kazan, 1960) A–
14. A Brighter Summer Day (Edward Yang, 1991) A–
15. The Misfits (John Huston, 1961) A–
16. The Bridge on the River Kwai (David Lean, 1957) A–
17. The Lodger (Alfred Hitchcock, 1927) A–
18. The Docks of New York (Josef von Sternberg, 1928) A–
19. The Band Wagon (Vincente Minnelli, 1953) A–
20. The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (Robert Wiene, 1920) A–
21. The Devil and Daniel Webster (William Dieterle, 1941) A–
22. Sons and Lovers (Jack Cardiff, 1960) A–
23. Red Dust (Victor Fleming, 1932) B+
24. Dillinger (Max Nosseck, 1945) B+
25. From Here to Eternity (Fred Zinnemann, 1953) B+
26. Battleground (William Wellmann, 1949) B+
27. Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? (Frank Tashlin, 1957) B+
28. Ivan the Terrible, Part I (Sergei Eisenstein, 1944) B+
29. On the Town (Stanley Donen, 1949) B+
30. Forbidden (Frank Capra, 1932) B+

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

2010: list time

I still haven't come to terms with how good this was, overall, as a movie year. A few things seem clear: it was a stellar 12 months for animation, with two wildly different specialised releases inside my final ten, two mainstream ones (Toy Story 3 and the delightful How to Train Your Dragon) hovering just below, and one belatedly released claymation gem (Mary & Max) justifying everyone's enthusiasm too. It was a pretty weak year for documentaries, with due apologies to Frederick Wiseman's luminous La Danse and a pair of exciting, slippery indie wind-ups in Catfish and Exit Through the Gift Shop. And it really wasn't much of a year for things big and loud from Hollywood, was it? There was a serious lack of basic fun in that department, whatever we extracted from the overambitious Inception; I remember an early summer of Titans, 2012s and Alice in Wonderlands that seemed to go on forever, and the par for even Apatowian comedy and, heaven help us, Katherine Heigl vehicles dipped alarmingly. I still think Tony Scott's Unstoppable might be the most proficient straight action ride I saw this year, but there weren't enough Unstoppables. There weren't even enough Salts.

Anyway, my gratitude for such succulent pickings in the Euro and Asian art-house zones will be pretty clear from the below ten, and it's worth mentioning how many solid-to-good British debuts (Down Terrace, Monsters, Shed Your Tears and Walk Away) buttressed the Leigh and Mullan entries, even speaking as someone much less enamoured of Clio Barnard's The Arbor than most. Having already voted under stricter criteria for the London Critics' Circle Awards and Evening Standard Film Awards, I've cut loose a little here, including several yet-to-be-released movies I saw at festivals, so it's not exactly a level-playing-field list for either UK or US readers, but having put White Material at #4 on my 2009 run-down, this seemed like the most sensible way to go.

PS. I am bound to have forgotten things/people, particularly on the runners-up lists for acting, so will continue to tweak after posting and put any additions in bold.


1. Dogtooth
2. I Am Love
3. Poetry
4. Raging Sun, Raging Sky
5. The Illusionist
6. The Fighter
7. The Headless Woman
8. How I Ended This Summer
9. City of Life and Death
10. A Town Called Panic

runners-up: Another Year, Au Revoir TaipeiNeds, La danse, Carlos, Toy Story 3, Father of My Children, Mary & Max, How to Train Your Dragon, The Maid, Winter's Bone, Beeswax, The Social Network, Whip It, Fish Story, The Temptation of St Tony


Lee Chang-dong (Poetry)
Julián Hernández (Raging Sun, Raging Sky)
Yorgos Lanthimos (Dogtooth)
Lucrecia Martel (The Headless Woman)
David O. Russell (The Fighter)

runners-up: Luca Guadagnino (I Am Love), Jessica Hausner (Lourdes), Lu Chuan (City of Life and Death), Sylvain Chomet (The Illusionist), Peter Mullan (Neds), Frederick Wiseman (La danse), Mike Leigh (Another Year), Arvin Chen (Au Revoir Taipei), Sergei Loznitsa (My Joy)


Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network)
Ryan Gosling (Blue Valentine)
Louis-do de Lencquesaing (Father of My Children)
Edgar Ramirez (Carlos)
Andy Serkis (Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll)

runners-up: Ben Mendelsohn (Animal Kingdom), Robert Hill (Down Terrace), Dragos Bucur (Police, Adjective), Mark Ruffalo (The Kids Are All Right), Eugene Byrne (The Be All And End All), Riz Ahmed (Four Lions), Jim Broadbent (Another Year), Colin Firth (The King's Speech), James Franco (127 Hours), Jay Baruchel (She's Out of My League), Mathieu Amalric (On Tour), Eric Elmosnino (Gainsbourg), Grigoriy Dobrygin (How I Ended This Summer)


Juliette Binoche (Certified Copy)
Yoon Jung-hee (Poetry)
Catalina Saavedra (The Maid)
Kristin Scott Thomas (Partir)
Tilda Swinton (I Am Love)

Extra-close runner-up, but I just couldn't do it to Tilda... Emma Stone (Easy A)

runners-up: Ruth Sheen (Another Year), Annette Bening (The Kids Are All Right), Julianne Moore (The Kids Are All Right), Sally Hawkins (Made in Dagenham), Greta Gerwig (Greenberg), Jennifer Lawrence (Winter's Bone), Anne Dorval (I Killed My Mother), Nicole Kidman (Rabbit Hole), Kristen Stewart (The Runaways), Kim Hye-ja (Mother), Hilary Swank (Conviction), Michelle Williams (Blue Valentine/Mammoth), Brenda Blethyn (London River), Tilly Hatcher (Beeswax), Maggie Hatcher (Beeswax), Sylvie Testud (Lourdes)


Christian Bale (The Fighter)
Jemaine Clement (Gentlemen Broncos)
Sergei Puskepalis (How I Ended This Summer)
Steven Robertson (Neds)
Peter Wight (Another Year)

runners-up: Miles Teller (Rabbit Hole), Jackie Chan (The Karate Kid), Lawrence Ko (Au Revoir Taipei), Rhys Ifans (Greenberg), John Hawkes (Winter's Bone), Michael Shannon (The Runaways), Colin Farrell (The Way Back), Dan Byrd (Easy A), Eddie Marsan (Heartless), Yvan Attal (Partir), Andrew Garfield (The Social Network), Geoffrey Rush (The King's Speech), Mickey O'Keefe (The Fighter), Cillian Murphy (Inception), Kieran Culkin (Scott Pilgrim vs the World), Armie Hammer (The Social Network), Sam Rockwell (Conviction), Pete Postlethwaite (The Town), Jeremy Renner (The Town), Tom Noonan (The House of the Devil), Dakin Matthews (True Grit), David Thewlis (London Boulevard), Daryl Sabara (World's Greatest Dad)


Dale Dickey (Winter's Bone)
Monica Dolan (The Arbor)
Julianna Margulies (City Island)
Anita Reeves (The Maid)
Dianne Wiest (Rabbit Hole)

runners-up: Mia Wasikowska (The Kids Are All Right), Imelda Staunton (Another Year), Lydia Leonard (Archipelago), Jacki Weaver (Animal Kingdom), Amy Adams (The Fighter), Juliette Lewis (Conviction), Karina Fernandez (Another Year), Greta Gerwig (The House of the Devil), Charlotte Rampling (Life During Wartime), Kate Fahy (Archipelago), Claudia Celedón (The Maid), Mila Kunis (Black Swan), Melissa Leo (The Fighter), Kimberley Elise (For Colored Girls), Anika Noni Rose (For Colored Girls, mainly the monologue), Emily Watson (Cemetery Junction), Rosamund Pike (Made in Dagenham), Rebecca Hall (Please Give), Amanda Peet (Please Give), Cher (Burlesque), Elina Löwensohn (Lourdes)


Andrew Bujalski (Beeswax)
Mia Hansen-Løve (Father of My Children)
Aaron Katz (Cold Weather)
Efthimos Filippou/Yorgos Lanthimos (Dogtooth)
Corneliu Porumboiu (Police, Adjective)

runners-up: Adam Elliot (Mary & Max), Jessica Hausner (Lourdes), Götz Spielman (Revanche), Derek Cianfrance/Joey Curtis/Cami Delavigne (Blue Valentine), Alexei Popogrebsky (How I Ended This Summer), Sergei Loznitsa (My Joy), David Michôd (Animal Kingdom), Luca Guadagnino etc (I Am Love)


Shauna Cross (Whip It)
Sylvain Chomet/Jacques Tati (The Illusionist)
Tamio Hayashi (Fish Story)
Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network)
William Davies/Dean DeBlois/Chris Sanders
(How to Train Your Dragon)

runner-up: Floria Sigismondi (The Runaways)

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE (click titles for excerpt)

Jeff Grace (The House of the Devil)
Dickon Hinchliffe (Winter's Bone)
Daft Punk (TRON: Legacy)
Trent Reznor/Atticus Ross (The Social Network)
Simon Whitfield (Skeletons)

runners-up: Michael Brook (The Fighter), Alexandre Desplat (The Ghost — and only The Ghost), Hans Zimmer (Inception), Jon Hopkins (Monsters)


Kirk Baxter/Angus Wall (The Social Network)
Ivan Lebedev (How I Ended This Summer)
Christopher Rouse (Green Zone)
Moon Sae-kyoung (Mother)
Dylan Tichenor (The Town/Whip It)

runners-up: Teng Yun (City of Life and Death), Jonathan Amos/Paul Machliss (Scott Pilgrim vs the World), Ti West (The House of the Devil), Walter Fasano (I Am Love)


How to Train Your Dragon
Valhalla Rising
Winter's Bone

runners-up: The Social Network, Inception, The Temptation of St Tony


Thimios Bakatakis (Dogtooth)
Philipp Blaubach (The Disappearance of Alice Creed)
Martin Gschlacht (Lourdes/Revanche)
Oleg Mutu (My Joy)
Y. Mingmongkor/S. Mukdeeprom
(Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives)

runners-up: Pawel Edelman (The Ghost),  Bárbara Álvarez (The Headless Woman), Barry Ackroyd (Green Zone), Harris Savides (Greenberg), Kim Hyun-seok (Poetry), Andrew Reed (Cold Weather), Michael Fimognari (Au Revoir Taipei), Matthew Libatique (Black Swan), Yorick Le Saux (I Am Love), Alejandro Cantú (Raging Sun, Raging Sky), Benoît Debie (Enter the Void), Matt Gray (Heartless)


Antonella Cannarozzi (I Am Love)
Robin Fitzgerald (The House of the Devil)
Beatrix Aruna Pasztor (The Brothers Bloom)
Catherine Marie Thomas (Whip It)
Amy Westcott (Black Swan)

runners-up: Jeffrey Kurland (Inception), Carol Beadle (The Runaways), Mark Bridges (The Fighter), Ruth E. Carter (Black Dynamite)


Donald Graham Burt (The Social Network)
Adam Elliot (Mary & Max)
Bjarne Hansen (The Illusionist)
Stavros Hrysogiannis (Dogtooth)
Hao Yi (City of Life and Death)

runners-up: Francesca Balestra Di Mottola (I Am Love), Bob Pauley (Toy Story 3), Ryu Seong-hie (Mother)


Monsters (for resourcefulness, not perfection)
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
The Social Network (for the Winklevi, not the digital breath)
Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives


Another Year
The Fighter
Whip It
On Tour


Monday, September 27, 2010

Saturday, September 25, 2010

San Sebastián: NEDS

[No major plot spoilers, as long as you know it's about non-educated delinquents. Which is the title acronym.]

Watching Peter Mullan's Neds at a Spanish-subtitled screening in San Sebastián's Teatro Principal was an experience both electrifying and frustrating in ways an immediate tweet-response and grade can't really take into account, so I'm glad I've had the benefit of a few days and an unexpectedly epic homebound journey to ponder it further, particularly since it's now been awarded the Best Film and Best Actor awards. I remain thoroughly on the film's side, some clearly wobbly sequences notwithstanding, but an especially tricky problem was posed by the sound: this soft Southerner struggles to comprehend thick Scottish accents at the best of times, but every single English-speaking viewer I bumped into afterwards had the same complaint about huge quantities of mumbled Glaswegian slang falling by the wayside. (Trust me, the leeway Mullan gives his locally-sourced actors in this makes Trainspotting sound like An Ideal Husband.) There were insults and laugh-lines only the local viewers found hilarious, thanks to the benefit of being able to read the Spanish — if it weren't for the embarrassment, I'd have turned to my neighbours and asked "What was that uproarious thing he just said?" more times than I was able to count. Though the Principal's acoustics may have been partly to blame, my strong hunch is that Mullan will be asked to subtitle the movie for English (and surely American) audiences too; I think it's customary to find this silly or appalling, but in this case I actively look forward to catching it a second time and being able to relish all the rude catcalls and bits of bullying invective I missed, on top of the many excellent scenes that rang out loud and clear.

That initial tweet reaction ("messy but inspired") is still roughly where I'm at, but inspiration and mess tend to go hand in hand here: the film has superb, sustained passages which jostle right up against chunks of stuff that plain don't work. Everyone will draw their own conclusions about the following: the whole last act, dramatically choppy and schizoid in ways that bothered me less than the too-organised flaggy allegory of Shane Meadows's This is England, to which it's already being compared; the ostentatiously metaphorical final sequence, which I'm still mulling over; slightly earlier and even bolder, a druggy, go-for-broke encounter with a kick-ass manifestation of Christ; and Mullan's own supporting performance as the main character's permanently wasted, abusive father, a fierce and gurning turn which is right on the edge of being simply too much.

Then again, Mullan's best work as a director is almost always dancing on this very precipice. For every viewer who mentally checked out of The Magdalene Sisters when Eileen Walsh started shouting "You are naart a man of Gaard!", I know someone else who thinks it's the film's bravest and most brilliant coup. What's particularly outstanding here is the school stuff, and there's a (very) good hour of this. The journey of John McGill from milksop swot to vicious sociopath, charted through jagged phases that I believed far more palpably than the textbook conversion of Shaun in the Meadows film, is quietly tragic and unobtrusively affecting: we watch his intelligence curdle, this bright, diligent mind reorient itself to discover a kind of animal cunning. Neds never feels like lecturing sociology, serving up the mitigating circumstances to explain why John falls in with the ASBO crowd. It's significant that he hardly spends any time with his older brother Benny (Joe Szula), a notorious wrong 'un, because Mullan consistently keeps them at arm's length, more interested in the disparities between these siblings, in age, interests and scholarly drive, than the temperamental common ground forced on them by domestic circumstances. "Problems at home" may not have been so specifically dramatised since Nil By Mouth, albeit in a glancing, intentionally banal way here. The repeated shots of Mullan hollering at his wife from the base of the stairs have a harsh, lurid, debatably overacted menace, but he's even scarier as this faceless, disarticulated presence moving through rooms, violently opening drawers, a dark midriff passing silently behind the dinner table. It's entirely apropos that we want to spend as little time in this fearful household as humanly possible.

At school, Mullan resists any tempting Magdalene urge to ham up an ensnaring sense of institutional oppression. It's a place of apathy, mockery, and just muddling along, which is nonetheless desperately likely to fail all its students (and indeed staff) in offhand yet brutally life-altering ways. John, played as an uncertain youngster by Gregg Forest, fights his bookish little corner to begin with, but Mullan only needs a judicious moment for a forward jump and older actor (Connor McCarron, the gong-winner) to suggest what has changed, a certain light that's gone out, a hardening against the idea of being exceptional in the herd. Among the various teachers, played with chippy charm by Crying with Laughter's Stephen McCole, whose wrong side you would not want to see, ineffectual palliness by David McKay in a terrific one-scene cameo, and Gary Lewis, whose introduction, offering John a piggy-back through the school's main entrance, is a bizarre and unsettlingly deadpan tour de force, the most significant is Mr Bonetti (Steven Robertson), who welcomes John into Latin lessons and has wily methods of encouragement which carry frequent risks of backfiring. Robertson's scenes are almost unfailingly the film's best, I think, not only because his performance, as the most guardedly optimistic character, has places to go the other supporting turns lack, but because Mullan builds him into the pivotal moment when John conclusively turns his back on academic ambition, throwing this kindly, exasperated mentor to the wolves when he calculates what classroom cred he can gain from an act of insolent insurrection. McCarron is at his strongest here too, stepping up to a level of performative cockiness pitched carefully to John's peers — he manages to combine wicked assurance with shrugging indifference, and win the fight hands down.

The patchier second half never reaches these formidable peaks, though two scenes on a bus come close. John steals money from a driver at knife-point, a charged, indelible, oddly intimate encounter that lasts mere seconds, and later taunts his posh ex-friend Julian (Martin Bell) from the seat behind, cruelly flicking the ear of a black companion he's never met, and whose only moment in the film this is. Anyone who has ever sat through an uncomfortable or hostile experience on British public transport will feel the excruciating power and precision of that flick, more for the point it's proving than the token pain caused: it made me wince more than any of the all-out scenes of Clockwork Orange-esque gang beatings, the scrabblings with knives in school bathrooms, or the clonking of a character on the head with a loose gravestone, acute though Mullan's staging control often is in these outbursts. I don't want to dwell here on what's simply disorganised towards the end of Neds, which seems strangely unclear whether it's disappearing inside John's swirling head or backing away into abstract metaphor, because the limitations of the movie are easily the least interesting thing about it. What Mullan grasps here he grasps with clenched fists, and shakes often enough to sock his points home: that adolescent unhappiness and intellectual promise can be about the worst possible bedfellows, and the deadliest thugs, in another, more privileged life, might have been shoo-ins to Oxbridge. B+