Permanent Plastic Helmet has already done its Top 10 of 2011. You can (and should!) read it HERE. The following is a list of some other film-related things from 2011 that have been on my chest. I’ve decided to get them off it.
THE ONE FILM I WISH I HADN’T SEEN – Snowtown
Unlike my dear Granddad, I don’t believe that films should only serve the purpose of providing pure escapism. However, I would have preferred more from Snowtown than the feeling of stomach sickness that it left me with when I emerged blinking from a mid-morning press screening at the LFF. Justin Kurzel’s dramatisation of Australia’s notorious barrel murders was a tawdry – if technically accomplished, well acted and fiercely, atmospherically oppressive – fiesta of animal abuse, male rape, paedophilia, torture, and dodgy haircuts. I guess I can see what people got out of it, but I’ll be honest: it seemed more like depiction than interrogation or illumination to me, and – yep – I wish I hadn’t seen it.
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THE FILM THAT I DESPISED AND SEEM TO BE IN THE VAST MINORITY IN DESPISING – Melancholia
After an astounding opening sequence, Lars Von Trier’s latest turned into a thunderingly dull slab of navel-gazing with a first half that played out like a student version of a David Lynch movie, and a second in which you could you go for a curry and a reiki session and not miss anything. Stunning visuals and some good acting (especially from Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourg) just couldn’t make up for the crashing boredom. Ever divisive, Von Trier left me way on the other side of the line with this one. I found Ballast to be a much more powerful and rich study of depression and its effects.
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THE HIDDEN SUCCESS STORY OF THE YEAR – The Story of Lovers Rock
Menelik Shabazz’ excellent, important slice of black British cultural history The Story of Lovers Rock had a troubled conception, being stuck in development and rights hell for a few years. However, thanks to tireless work from Shabazz himself and a loyal team of supporters, the documentary has weathered the tough times (Shabazz, for example, went to the Birmingham VUE only to find that not only were the posters for the film not up, the film itself hadn’t even been delivered!) and in January 2012 it’ll enter its fifth month in UK cinemas. To date, it’s enjoyed a string of sold-out, vibrant Q+As in cinemas across the country, and has rolled out into prestigious venues like The Tricycle and Riverside Studios. Despite very limited, lukewarm press coverage (a piece in Time Out gave the film a mildly positive review, yet signed off with the dismissive “for fans only” line), it’s taken a very respectable £50,000+ at the UK Box office. It seems that the people wanted this film, and they got it. Its continued success represents a victory for black British independent cinema and the power of the consumer. [interview with Menelik Shabazz]
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THE PERFORMANCE OF THE YEAR – Ben Mendelsohn in Animal Kingdom
Honourable mentions go to Uggie the dog from The Artist, Brad Pitt in The Tree of Life, Michael Shannon in Take Shelter, and everyone in A Separation (there’s loads more but there’s also loads more end-of-year-lists that’ll do this sort of thing in more detail. And the Oscars, I guess). However, the turn that’s lingered longest in my mind is Ben Mendehlson as the seedy, villainous and utterly psychopathic uncle Pope from Aussie crime drama Animal Kingdom (which I saw way back in January). I can’t remember having such a visceral reaction to a fictional character since the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man from Ghostbusters gave me sleepless nights years ago.
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THE RETURNING BLOG COMMENTER OF THE YEAR – “Truthteller”
Last year, I published a short piece praising Errol Morris’ tricky, entertaining documentary Tabloid (which tells the confounding tale of former Miss Wyoming Joyce McKinney). Imagine my surprise when I returned to my computer to discover an 801-word screed by somebody named ‘Truthteller’ in the comments section. Well, I did another post this year to announce the film’s UK release date, and lo and behold ‘Truthteller’ came back with another rant. This time “they” branded me “a heartless, gossiping moron”. “They” were at least a third right. I would suggest my assailant was Joyce McKinney herself, but if I did that I’d be in all sorts of legal hot water.
It was Joyce. IT WAS JOYCE!
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THE COMPANY OF THE YEAR - Dogwoof Documentary
For upping their game to match their compelling USP (to wit: UK distribution for social issue films and documentaries) with a consistently intriguing and often brilliant slate. In 2011 alone Dogwoof pictures provided us with PPH’s film of the year Dreams Of A Life, Steve James’ astonishing The Interrupters, Errol Morris’ Tabloid, the paean to newspaper journalism Page One: Inside The New York Times, Mark Cousins’ The First Movie, and chess doc Bobby Fischer Against The World, to name but a few. Bravo.
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THE MOST TEMPTING CHRISTMAS PRESENT TO BUY FOR SOMEONE YOU HATE
Sadly the price – coming in at well over the £0.01 to £1.00 bracket that I’m prepared to spend on joke presents – proved prohibitive. Note also the steadfastly tripartite approach to titling. Triads, yardies and onion bhajees! Well I never.
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THE TV OF THE YEAR – The Story Of Film/Black Mirror -’15 Million Merits’
Across 15 spellbinding weeks, writer and broadcaster Mark Cousins’ passionate, jet-setting documentary The Story of Film was an absolute joy to watch. I loved his emphasis on world cinema, his fiercely personal take on things and his slightly mental metaphors (“The bauble!” “The gorilla!”). I learned a lot, enjoyed every minute and now, as a result, have a viewing list as long as my arm.
The biggest surprise of the year TV-wise was the second instalment of Charlie Brooker’s techno-dystopian trilogy Black Mirror, entitled ‘15 Million Merits’, co-written with his wife and ex-Blue Peter presenter Konnie Huq. It depicted a terrifyingly realised (and horribly imaginable) near-future in which humanity now consists of bored subordinates participating in a never-ending videogame to accumulate points. And what can you do with those points? Enter an X-Factor-style reality music show, or watch porn. It was beautifully shot and designed, deeply disturbing, and rising star Daniel Kaluuya was brilliant as the stoic yet vulnerable hero.
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THE MOST VIEWED ARTICLE ON PERMANENT PLASTIC HELMET IN 2011
Earlier this year I discovered that the erstwhile host of kids’ TV show Art Attack had a side career as the guitarist in a metal band called Marseille. Despite it having literally nothing to do with the site’s film-specific remit I decided to post about it anyway, and it’s racked up thousands of hits. Although most people have found their way to the article by enquiring via search engine (Q. ‘is+Neil+Buchanan+dead+?’ A. I hope not), I’m amazed at the levels of interest it’s generated. Perhaps I should knock the film thing on the head and dedicate the blog instead to the whereabouts of 90s TV entertainers. Whither Jonathan Morris?
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THE BEST YOUTUBE VID THAT WE POSTED THIS YEAR
It had to be Guillaume Gendron‘s discovery of Joe Pesci’s short-lived career in gangsta rap, which had me laughing like a drain for days every time I thought about it. “A lovely day for a drive-by” indeed. Enjoy:
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THE MOST HILARIOUS NON-FILM RELATED ARTS REVIEW OF THE YEAR – The Daily Express on ‘Let England Shake’ by PJ Harvey
You’ll find the “review” underneath the player. Enough said:
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THE “WHAT WE’RE MOST EXCITED ABOUT FOR 2012″ AWARD(S)
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Thank you for reading. There’s one more post to come in our look back at 2011, and it will be packed to the gills with bad language. Don’t say you haven’t been warned.
The 55th BFI London Film Festival continues apace, and it’s time for another brief round-up of some of the things we’ve seen recently.
Though it would be morally repugnant to complain in any way about getting to see lots of films for free, it can still sometimes be a little jarring to be exposed to certain material first thing in the morning at press screenings. A couple of years ago, for example, I watched the Coen Brothers’ A Serious Man and was so profoundly affected by its bleak, misanthropic take on life that I was unable to do any work for the rest of the day. (My boss simply didn’t understand).
My first instance of that particular phenomenon this year came in the form of SNOWTOWN, a relentlessly sordid Australian crime drama packed to the gills with graphic scenes of rape, torture and animal abuse, which I sat down to enjoy at 10 a.m. Needless to say, it comprehensively ruined my day.
Snowtown is the dramatisation of Australia’s notorious barrel murders between 1992 and 1999, in which 11 people – mostly suspected (not proven) paedophiles – were slain. 16 year-old Jamie Vlassakis, played by newcomer Lucas Pittaway, strikes up a friendship with a charismatic older man, who, sadly for him, turns out to be John Bunting, aka Australia’s most notorious serial killer (a fully-bearded, impressive turn from Daniel Henshall).
Snowtown is a harrowing, upsetting film; a dark and dingy wallow in the sad lives of some deeply disturbed individuals. It’s well-made, atmospheric and excellently acted, but I couldn’t personally recommend it, quite simply because I wish I hadn’t seen it. I’m by no means climbing aboard a moral high horse (if that is indeed a phrase), but there’s so much awful stuff that goes on in the world on a day to day basis that I feel I need more from films like this than to be essentially told: some people are bigoted and some terrible things happened once.
Whereas the tangentially connected (and far slicker) Aussie crime drama Animal Kingdom explored themes of family, loyalty and trust within its thriller framework, Snowtown is largely insight-free, more focused on depiction than investigation. If you’re going to subject yourself to it – an act which involves being implicated in some of the grisliest on-screen violence in ages – you’ll need a strong stomach.
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Another early LFF start came with Takashi Miike’s new film HARA-KIRI: DEATH OF A SAMURAI, a companion piece to last year’s excellent 13 Assassins. Other than an almost unbearably lengthy suicide-via-wooden-sword sequence, Hara Kiri is extraordinarily restrained stuff from the man who brought you such works of utter lunacy as Ichi The Kiler and Visitor Q. A remake of Masaki Kobayashi’s 1962 Harakiri, it tells the tale of a ronin samurai who arrives at the home of a feudal lord to request an honorable place to commit sapporu (aka ritual suicide). When the ronin inquires about a younger samurai who had arrived before him, however, a series of revelations take the story off in an unexpected direction.
Hari-Kiri… is a strong work, effective as both an elegantly crafted drama and a surprisingly fierce examination of the morality of ancient samurai codes and practices. Furthermore, there are modern parallels to be made in its unsparing depiction of a struggling working class and a desperate economic situation.
Even if the film feels slightly overlong, it is powerful, expertly structured stuff and a worthwhile addition to the Miike canon. There is one major gripe, however: the baffling use of 3D. You can’t blame an established, restlessly innovative director like Miike for wanting to experiment with new toys, but it adds absolutely nothing here. One or two weather sequences spring to life, but the film has a mostly dark, murky palette of blues and blacks, and the 3D actively takes away from the film in the final sequence, as an extended fight becomes incredibly blurry. For the most part, it’s only really the subtitles that stand out.
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Thankfully, the title of Roman Polanski’s brisk, four-character comedy of manners CARNAGE is the most distressing thing about it. A Manhattan-set adaptation of Yazmina Reza’s French play, Carnage exhibits the fallout of an incident in which one schoolboy badly injures the other with a branch. In a nice touch, the incident is shown underneath the opening credits in a Haneke-esque static long take.
The boys’ parents (the perpetrator’s played by Christoph Waltz and Kate Winslet, the victim’s John C Reilly and Jodie Foster) convene to sort out the mess, but before long they are arguing with other, and riffing on all sorts of issues of class, wealth and relationships. Also, it seems that deep down, they all really, really hate each other.
At just 79 minutes, Carnage is lean, but even so starts to feel a little stretched by the end, as the escalating hysteria of the characters (inspired by copious whisky consumption) becomes a touch enervating. The underlying theme is that adults are just as capable of behaving as appallingly as children, and the cast demonstrate this with absolute relish. Christoph Waltz has a field day as the unctuous, smug lawyer Alan, and Kate Winslet gives brilliant drunk. Jodie Foster’s portrayal of a neurotic writer feels rather forced, but it’s a type of role I’ve never seen her play before, and is least a refreshing change.
Although (*COLOSSAL INSIGHT ALERT*) Carnage feels rather stagey and contrived, the dialogue is sharp, the apartment set feels appropriately claustrophobic and there are plenty of laughs to be had, the majority of them excruciating. Fans of movie vomiting scenes will also be delighted to hear that there is a sequence (sickuence?) which nearly matches Team America: World Police for comedy/gross-out value.
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Also deserving of a mention – and in a totally different vein to the above – is ETERNITY, a sweet, moving and treacle-slow tale of courtship, love and death from Thailand which is clearly very personal to director Sivaruj Kongsakul. With a pace that reflects rural life, it’s the kind of film that would give Oliver Stone nightmares, a heart attack, or both; there’s probably no more than 100 cuts in the whole film.
It’s always good to go into a film without knowing too much, but in the case of Eternity, it would probably have helped to have known something. I didn’t read the blurb, and consequently I must confess to not knowing exactly what was going on for a fair amount of the time, for example that the prologue features a ghost riding a motorcycle! That I still enjoyed it speaks volumes for a film rich with beautifully observed moments and lush imagery. Eternity is a hidden treat, and highly recommended.
Permanent Plastic Helmet’s dedicated coverage of the 55th BFI London Film Festival will continue regularly throughout the duration of the event. You can follow us on Twitter @pplastichelmet, and subscribe to email updates by clicking on the +follow button at the bottom right of the homepage.