The Oscar nom for Best Foreign Language Film will bring a whole new wave of publicity and (hopefully unprepared – just to see their faces!) viewers to this insane, disturbing, tar-black comedy from Greece. If it wins, it will just about make up for last year’s travesty when Haneke’s The White Ribbon and Jacques Audiard’s A Prophet were trumped in this category by the glossy thriller The Secret in Their Eyes.
Why I’m Sad:
No acting nominations for the brilliant Ryan Gosling (Blue Valentine), Andrew Garfield or, for that matter, Justin Timberlake (both The Social Network). Neither, perhaps unsurprisingly, for Joaquin Phoenix’s confoundingly committed portrayal of himself as a barking mad twat in I’m Still Here.
Why I’m not really best-placed to comment on the Best Picture award, but will anyway:
I’ve yet to see a number of the big hitters – to wit: Winter’s Bone, True Grit, The King’s Speech and The Fighter. Of the nominees I have seen, I would have to say I probably found The Social Network, 127 Hours and Toy Story 3 equally enjoyable.The Social Network, for its lightning topicality, snappy script and understated, super-tight direction from David Fincher, probably has the best case of the three.
Contrastingly I found Inception to be a glittering, occasionally visually stunning cavity, hopelessly in love with how clever it believed it was being. And as for Black Swan, well, I think we’ve found the next Moulin Rouge. It’s neither analogous in form or content to Baz Luhrmann’s disgusting shower of multicoloured cinematic piss, but I think it will divide people in the same way. I’ve yet to meet anyone ambivalent about either film.
Why, despite being sufficiently motivated to write a blog post, I don’t really care that much:
Because this is the Oscars, for Christ’s sake. Yes, they are high in glamour and excitement, but after all, they are far from a true barometer of quality. In the case of Dogtooth and Winter’s Bone (fantastic, I’m told), the Oscars can do a great job in raising the status of smaller pictures. However, let us not forget that this is the same awards ceremony that gave the Best Picture Oscar to Driving Miss Daisy when Do The Right Thing wasn’t even nominated. Oh, and Crash too, which is possibly the worst film ever made.
So that was 2010. A year of financial turmoil, protest, bizarre environmental catastrophes, and the rise to fame of a ubiquitous Gordon Ramsay lookalike with a silly name and the fundamental inability to keep a secret. More importantly though, this was the year in which I stayed true to my New Year’s resolution, and managed to maintain a blog to a reasonable standard beyond a couple of months.
In the coming paragraphs, I will celebrate the year in film according to my tastes, and take the opportunity to deride those deserving of my vitriol. (There is no room here for Mel Gibson’s beaver). Before that, I would like to say A BIG THANK YOU to everybody who has read the blog or plugged it on any one of a variety of social networking sites. It is much appreciated – hits keep a blogger in the game!
Film of the year: A Prophet
Tahar Rahim as Malik El-Djebna in A Prophet
It feels odd writing about A Prophet as a film from this year, given that it has been doing the rounds since Cannes 2009, and I first saw it at the London Film Festival last year. However, the subject of Permanent Plastic Helmet’s first ever blog post was released on Jan 22, and there has been simply nothing else to touch it in terms of epic sweep and mastery of pure, muscular cinematic technique. Featuring a remarkable, intuitive performance from first-time actor Tahar Rahim, and an inspired soundtrack (which runs the gamut from Talk Talk to Nas via Sigur Ros), A Prophet is intelligent, thrilling, disquieting and strangely uplifting. Oh, and totally unmissable.
Not since Gus Van Sant’s Elephant have I seen a cinema so quiet at a film’s conclusion. Greek drama Dogtooth’s tale of a deeply mundane father exerting total control over his family has parallels with the nightmarish Josef Fritzl case, and mines a vein of deep, dark black humour. Be warned, Dogtooth is no date movie, unless you happened to have found a partner who smiles upon unsimulated incest in graphic close-up.
Argentine thriller The Secret in Their Eyes defeated both A Prophet and Michael Haneke’s magisterial The White Ribbon to claim the Best Picture in a Foreign Language award at this year’s Oscars. It shouldn’t have. But there was one moment so visceral, so gripping, that when it finished, I realised I was literally both breathless and on the edge of my seat; a one-take chase sequence that begins high up above a football ground, sweeps across the pitch, into the crowd and ends in the bowels of the stadium. Filmed at Argentine team Huracan’s stadium, the scene took a scarcely believable three months of pre-production, three days of shooting and nine months of post production to complete.
Scene of the year #2: Malik’s first murder // A Prophet
Placed in an impossible position (either kill or be killed), our young anti-hero Malik readies himself for his decisive encounter with a fellow inmate in a dank, dingy prison cell. What follows in an absolute masterclass in ratcheting up tension, and, if you’ll excuse the slight crassness of the expression, doing violence “well”. Every time I have seen this film in the cinema, the communal audience reaction (gasps, shocks, faces buried into partner’s shoulders) is one to cherish. Razor-sharp film-making.
What was this all about? Well, we know that director Casey Affleck confirmed that his film, to all intents and purposes, was a hoax. It was also a total box-office flop. However, hoaxes are not usually played out at the potential risk of one’s career across an entire year. Phoenix, an actor at the peak of his powers, throws himself into the role, stumbling, stuttering and totally convincing as a failed, tragic version of himself; a colossal shambles. By the way, other performances I particularly enjoyed were Andrew Garfield in The Social Network (a sensitive, measured portrayal of a decent chap amongst a band of total arseholes), and Nicolas Cage back to his unhinged, moon-eyed best in Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans.
Movie meme of the year: Nicolas Cage losing his shit
I’M A VAMPIY-UH! I’M A VAMPIY-UH! I’M A VAMPIY-UH! I’M A VAMPIY-UH! I’M A VAMPIY-UH! I’M A VAMPIY-UH! Watch, and watch again. And again. And again.
“Celebrity” fan of the year: —– ——–
In October, I published a short, thoroughly inoffensive piece praising Errol Morris’ tricky, entertaining documentary Tabloid (telling the confounding tale of former Miss Wyoming Joyce McKinney), which I had seen at the 54th BFI London Film Festival. Imagine my surprise, therefore, when I returned to my computer to discover an 801-word rant by somebody named ‘Truthteller’.
Highlights (there were many) included:
Get your suit pressed, you’re going to court . (And PS she has sued creeps like you before and always wins damages into thousands of dollars, so we hope you have lots of dough to pay it off. Be sure and bring a “rape” charge sheet to court with you. (Hint Bright Boy: Since Joyce has never been charged with it– one doesn’t exist, HA HA, and you will have egg on your face.)
So pal you better get your butt in gear, save yourself, and get this sick perverted article OFF your website or you will find yourself with a big lawsuit, a lot of court appearances, and paying out damages to her.
In November, my mystery commenter returned with a further screed. This time it was less entertaining, more sad. And who was/is ‘Truthteller’? Well, I don’t want to get myself in hot water, but I think we can all guess. I have my ‘rape charge’ sheet ready, just in case.
Disappointment of the year: Brighton Rock // Surprise Film at BFI London Film Festival
"Go on. Tell me again that I look like Pete Doherty"
I was less than impressed with a number of this year’s much vaunted releases (namely the horribly hollow, pretentious and dull Inception, and the under- powered, curiously unengaging Scott Pilgrim vs. The World) but the biggest groan-fest of the year was without question the Surprise Film at this year’s LFF. Brighton Rock, which will be released next year and no doubt trumpeted as a big deal for British cinema, was insipid, lacking in content and tension and – the biggest crime of all – totally pointless. Must try harder.
The Leonardo di Caprio award for acting with your jaw wired shut, and generally being a little bit dull, even though ShortList magazine hails you as better than Robert de Niro:
Leonardo di Caprio in Inception
Unexpected voice actor of the year: Timothy Dalton as Mr Pricklepants // Toy Story 3
Timothy Dalton in the marvellous Toy Story 3
And a list of some films that I really wanted to see at the cinema, but didn’t quite get round to (there’s always the DVD):
Of Gods and Men, The Kids Are All Right, Carlos, My Son My Son What Have Ye Done?, World’s Greatest Dad, The Killer Inside Me, Enter the Void.
And… that’s all folks! Thanks again, and see you in the New Year!
In the past week I’ve seen two very different, but equally controversial films that call to mind recent, all-pervasive tabloid issues: Greek director Giorgios Lanthimos’ chilling domestic horror Dogtooth which evokes the nightmarish, incestuous netherworld of Austrian rapist Joseph Fritzl, and British satirist Chris Morris’ long-awaited comedy Four Lions which takes as its basis the continued menace of homegrown suicide bombers. The success of both films lives and dies by the satisfactory creation and sustenance of their respective cinematic/imaginary worlds.
Most of the action in Dogtooth takes place in a spacious, yet utterly cut-off family household, in which the mother and father keep their two daughters and son captive in splendid (and very creepy) isolation. The father – mundane, measured, dominant – comes across like an X-rated version of Arrested Development’s uncle-from-hell J. Walter Weatherman, unsmilingly dishing out perverse lessons, and scrupulously maintaining the fictional world he has created for his brood (who have yet to be exposed to the outside world, despite being in their late teens/early 20s). Although she is complicit, the mother’s silent tears leave you in no doubt as to who the real monster of the piece is. Grotesque images are lingered on dispassionately; sexual, physical and psychological horrors pile up graphically, and are never commented upon nor judged, never questioned by any of the characters
The influence of Michael Haneke has been regularly invoked in writings on the film, and indeed, Dogtoothshares the cool, detached style and outbursts of shocking violence associated with the Austrian. However, where Dogtooth outperforms Haneke (and in particular his recent Palme d’Or winner The White Ribbon), is in its lazer-sharp evocation of the absurd banality of abuses of control. The White Ribbon, whilst undoubtedly the work of a master craftsman, ultimately could be about a number of things; the coming rise of the Nazis, the German psyche, the nastiness of children… or the austere, moustache-twirling brilliance of Haneke. Part of my issue with The White Ribbonwas the nagging image I had of Haneke, chuckling away to himself in a dastardly manner about how, yet again, he’d confounded his audience. I see Lanthimos as having no such such satisfaction, just a sober acknowledgement of his superb presentation of the conditions under which pure evil can so unquestioningly flourish. Dogtooth is deeply disturbing, even upsetting, but blackly funny at the same time. Genuine laughter in the dark – astonishingly brave performances from the actors, too.
Conversely, as intermittently funny and biting as it is, where Four Lions falls down is in the consistent maintenance of the world it sets up. Morris’ dazzling, disturbing past creations hit home with great force over short periods of time, but he seems to really struggle with sustaining this strength over feature length, and his first problem lies in the weak characterization of his principal cast. Morris has spoken of his research into homegrown (and otherwise) terrorist cells, and has been struck by how incompetent and ill-disciplined these would-be killers often were. However his characters in Four Lions, in the parlance of our times , are totally retarded. Their total lack of intellect renders them little more than cardboard cut-outs, and consequently Morris’ satire, sadly, of the sledgehammer variety.
Having watched yet another peerless episode of South Park the night before, I also couldn’t help but feel Four Lions would have worked better as an animation; in this context, South Park can make its satirical points, then disappear into a world of ludicrous, cartoonish fantasy without surrendering its potent thrust. Morris hamstrings himself in his pitifully undercooked representation of protagonist Omar’s home life (featuring none other than Eastenders’ Syed’s wife), and friendship with a security guard. These strands strain for a realism that is at odds with the cartoonish nature of the rest of the film and its characters. Furthermore, an early trip to Pakistan falls flat, feeling jarring and totally unconvincing. Ultimately, Four Lions feels like three or four separate films stapled together, and the closing attempts at profundity don’t have the impact they should have. All this said, there are still Morris-ian flashes of brilliance dotted throughout, and plenty of laughs to be had. I also have a strong suspicion the film would benefit from repeat viewings.
In this battle between dogs and lions, however, only one shows real teeth.