Tag Archives: dreams of a life

Dreams Of A Life released on DVD

Hurrah! My favourite film from last year, Carol Morley’s haunting Dreams Of A Life is released on DVD today via Dogwoof. Here’s what I had to say about it in my Top Ten Films of 2011 (where it placed at the summit):

“Carol Morley’s haunting, unclassifiable (OK well, it’s kind of a Rashomonumentstruction if I must) and frankly rather weird film is that rare beast: a true original. Ostensibly an attempt by the director to discover more about Londoner Joyce Vincent (who died in her Wood Green flat in 2003 at 38, and was found an incredible three years later), what emerges is a chilling, poetic and determinedly personal parable about how we as humans (fail to) connect with each other in our supposedly hyper-connected world. Featuring amazing use of music and a radiant performance from Zawe Ashton as a near-ghostly iteration of Vincent, it’s disturbing, ultra-contemporary stuff, which I suspect will be studied in film schools for years to come. It also boasts the most powerful final shot I can remember for ages”

I also interviewed Morley last year. Here’s a brief excerpt:

PPH: Thematically it has a lot in common with your earlier film The Alcohol Years, in which you yourself were the subject. Other than the hard work and time you put into it, how much of your inner life did you put into this project?

Carol Morley: Weirdly, and I’m not sure if they meant it as a compliment, someone emailed me and said “How long did it take you to find another film to make about an absent person?” and I thought, “Oh my God! That’s not what I set out to do!” But I must be attracted to this idea of absence and I think with Joyce, I never could have made the film if it was about a man that had died in front of that TV. There was some connection in this film being about what it is to be a woman in today’s world. When someone says in the film “it’s bad enough being 40, yet being 40 and alone”, it’s those anxieties that women have I found interesting. With Joyce – and without me wanting to sound like a nutter – it felt like I was chosen to do the film. When I met the family, I found that they never called her Joyce, they called her Carol. We were the same age. I wanted to be a singer, like Joyce. Her mum died when she was 11 and my dad died when I was 11. I really understood the idea of how losing a parent early on in life can destabilise you. I didn’t want to impose my life on Joyce but I didn’t want to just make a film like “look at that person over there!” I wanted to make the connection to a real, breathing person.

You can read the full interview here.

The DVD is packed with special features, including Morley’s short film I’m Not Here, an interview between Morley and Marley director Kevin Macdonald, a featurette entitled Recurring Dreams, and a bunch of  trailers and video diaries. Go get it.

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PPH in 2011 Part 1: Top Ten films of the year

10. WIN WIN

A dark-edged family comedy anchored by a fantastic lead turn from the ever reliable Paul Giamatti, Tom McCarthy’s Win Win is a movie for our recession-hit modern times; a character-driven and ultimately cheering melange of Only Fools and Horses-style pathos, Arthur Miller’s socio-political incision, and the rambling charm of peak-era Robert Altman. Its thunder will doubtless be stolen by Alexander Payne’s tangentially similar but immeasurably glossier The Descendants come awards time in 2012, but don’t be fooled; Win Win is the real deal. [full review]

9. BALLAST

Stunningly shot by British cinematographer Lol Crawley, this unorthodox, extraordinarily powerful drama about depression and the frailty of family relationships finally saw the light of day in the UK three years after its creation and subsequent success at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival, where it picked up awards for Directing and Cinematography. With nods to Charles Burnett’s Killer Of Sheep and Lodge Kerrigan’s desperately underseen Clean, Shaven, Ballast is one of the great lost films of our time. Make it a priority to check it out. [full review]

8. SENNA

Asif Kapadia’s doc about the life and death of charismatic Brazilian Formula One star Ayrton Senna is gripping from the first minute to the last, and achieved the unthinkable: people coming to the cinema in their droves to watch a film about the most boring sport there is! A haunting portrait of a driven, near-messianic presence, Senna is full to bursting with unforgettable scenes of tension and conflict culled from hours of archive footage (it was edited down to 100 minutes from 5 hours). It’s technically brilliant, illuminating about the politics of the sport, a nerd’s dream – just how many different film stocks were used? – and deeply moving. Senna is not just one of 2011’s best sports-themed films, but one of the best full stop.

7. THE ARTIST

The audience favourite of the London Film Festival was – by a mile – Michel Hazanavicius’ wondrously uplifting homage to the silent era, starring Jean Dujardin as a devilishly charismatic silent star left behind by the advent of the talkies. Although it flags slightly in the second act, it gets itself together with style for the big finale. The Artist is technically exceptional, incredibly funny (can dogs be nominated for Oscars?) and emanates the rosy glow of the pure cinematic joy of days of yore. It might be a bit of a novelty hit, but as they go, it’s more ‘Your Woman‘ by White Town than ‘Shaddup You Face‘ by Joe Dolce.

6. THE SKIN I LIVE IN

Taking nipping and tucking to unprecedented levels, Pedro Almodovar’s warped tale of a broodingly insane plastic surgeon (Antonio Banderas on fine, smouldering form) provoked the most entertaining audience reaction I’ve been party to this year; a veritable cacophony of gasps, howls of nervous, shrill laughter and the rattle of spilled popcorn. It would be wrong to go into too much plot detail, but let’s just say that this brutally funny satire of male vanity and controlling impulses goes where few films woud dare. Oh, it looks absolutely fantastic, too, with gleaming cinematography and astonishingly detailed production design which drops subtle clues everywhere you look. Fans of Franju’s Les Yeux Sans Visage and Cronenberg’s Dead Ringers will find much to admire here.

5. WEEKEND

To paraphrase – or indeed completely misquote – the former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith: “do not underestimate the power of the quiet film”. In a year full of bluster at the box office, Andrew Haigh’s low-key, intimate gem tells of a whirlwind Nottingham romance between Glen (Chris New) and Russell (Tom Cullen). It’s fresh, beautifully shot and full of sparkling, honest dialogue which never crosses the line into verbosity or pretentiousness. Like a British Before Sunrise, Weekend is simply one of the most enjoyable, evocative and sensuous films of the year. Superbly acted, too.

4. THE INTERRUPTERS

Steve James’ documentary, which follows three hardy souls in Chicago who intervene in conflicts to stop violence, is the kind of engrossing, deeply-felt human story which makes us wonder why we even bother with fiction in the first place. Full of suspense, humour and unexpectedly galling moments, The Interrupters is marked by its bracing immediacy, memorable characters and the tangible bravery of the filmmaking team. It burrows deep under the surface of media hyperbole and music video posturing to remind us – tragically – that devastating violence is so frequently borne of insecurity, minor conflict and a fundamental lack of education. Utterly heartbreaking and totally essential, it’s a film for our troubled times. Furthermore, it’s no coincidence that a recent transmission of the film on the BBC was subtitled: How To Stop A Riot. [feature and interview]

3. NEDS

The powerful Scottish actor Peter Mullan starred in one great film this year. Nope, it wasn’t the much vaunted Tyrannosaur, but rather his own directorial effect NEDS. While Paddy Considine’s beautifully acted debut often betrayed the signs of a novice (namely frequent recourse to crashing symbolism, and never quite knowing when to put the misery ladle back in the pain bowl), Mullan’s third film after Orphans and The Magdalene Sisters signals the development of a singular talent; brave, compassionate, and ear-to-the-ground earthy. Rather oddly titled and marketed, NEDS (Non Educated Delinquents) unspools the tale of an intelligent young man’s descent into psychological hell in the bleak environs of 1970s Glasgow. If you were expecting a tearaway lads-on-the-town romp, you’d be sorely mistaken. Unusual and disturbing with a few nods toward magical realism (and in some cases full-on hallucinogenic mental-ness – a punch up with Jesus, anyone?), NEDS is further distinguished by an excellent central performance from Conor McCarron.

2. ANIMAL KINGDOM

Although no thriller blew me quite as far away this year as Jacques Audiard’s A Prophet did last, this Australian crime family saga was the one that ran it closest. It stars Francis Jeffers lookalike James Frecheville as the deliberately blank canvas 17-year old J, who is swiftly drafted into a down-and-dirty family of robbers after his mother’s death from a heroin overdose. Following a measured start, it soon transforms into a gripping, unbearably tense monster. Despite the plaudits and Oscar nom for Jackie Weaver’s brilliant portrayal of the family’s evil, manipulative granny*, Animal Kingdom is stolen by Ben Mendelsohn as the initially unassuming, but soon terrifying uncle Pope. Blood is supposed to be thicker than water, but this film tests that theory to the limit, and sheds lots of the claret stuff along the way.

*Sometimes I wish they wouldn’t give films like this one token nom, because when they do it just draws attention to the fact that they should have nominated it for many, many more.

1. DREAMS OF A LIFE

Carol Morley’s haunting, unclassifiable (OK well, it’s kind of a Rashomonumentstruction if I must) and frankly rather weird film is that rare beast: a true original. Ostensibly an attempt by the director to discover more about Londoner Joyce Vincent (who died in her Wood Green flat in 2003 at 38, and was found an incredible three years later), what emerges is a chilling, poetic and determinedly personal parable about how we as humans (fail to) connect with each other in our supposedly hyper-connected world. Featuring amazing use of music and a radiant performance from Zawe Ashton as a near-ghostly iteration of Vincent, it’s disturbing, ultra-contemporary stuff, which I suspect will be studied in film schools for years to come. It also boasts the most powerful final shot I can remember for ages. [interview]

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HONOURABLE MENTIONS

There was lots of great stuff that didn’t quite make the final cut, including Kelly Reichardt’s compellingly glacial Western Meek’s Cutoff [full review], the barnstorming cricket doc Fire In Babylon [full review], Errol Morris’ hilarious, confounding Tabloid [full review], the raw yet beautiful Blue Valentine and – however uncool it might be to say so – The King’s Speech, which I found to be a rousing, expertly crafted piece of filmmaking. Had Terrence Malick ditched the ludicrous NGO advert-style stuff and aimless shots of Bono Sean Penn wandering around, The Tree of Life would have been in there too, because the middle portion of the film, with its hypnotic, unique take on childhood and superb performance from Brad Pitt, was easily some of the best cinema of the year. Ben Wheatley’s Kill List had perhaps the best first half of any film this year, but sadly devolved into an enervating, overcranked and ill-disciplined mash-up of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, which would have been fine for a comedy, but less so for a hitman-themed horror/thriller.

Furthermore, there remains a handful of 2011 films I’ve yet to see which, according to a number of critics whose opinions I respect, would have almost certainly been in with a shout. These include A SeparationPoetryLe Quattro VolteMysteries of LisbonAttenberg and Project Nim. They’re on my list.

EDIT 8/1/12: I’ve now seen A Separation, and it would certainly have been in competition for the Top Ten. On account of having seen them well over a year ago at time of writing, I also forgot to mention 13 Assassins which would have garnered an honourable mention, if not fought it out for a position in the lower reaches of the Ten.

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AND THE WORST?

The worst film I saw this year – bar none – was Whit Stillman’s airless, devastatingly awful Damsels In Distress (as the Surprise Film at the London Film Festival); a so-called comedy which instead played like a bitter pseudo-intellectual old man raping the corpse of Heathers, while Mean Girls looked on in horror, bound and gagged with its brains bashed in. However, as it’s not released over here until ’12, it doesn’t qualify. Luckily, there’s another film all too ready to step into its diseased breach…

Less a turkey, more a strutting peacock with Jeremy Clarkson’s Malteser-sized brain jangling around inside its tiny head, The Hangover Part II went beyond unfunny laziness into the territory of indefensible offensiveness. I saw more boring and less technically competent films than The Hangover Part II this year, but none as vile or singularly hateful. A disgrace to the artform, and an insult to audiences – who still went in their droves – the world over. [full review]

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Thanks for reading! Please feel free to share your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below.

Interview with Dreams Of A Life director Carol Morley

Dreams Of A Life is a compelling new feature documentary/drama which examines the tragic tale of Joyce Vincent, a lady of 38 who died alone in her North London flat in 2003 and lay there for three years before being discovered. I met up with director Carol Morley recently to discuss the process of piecing together Joyce’s life, what attracted her to the story, and her own filmic influences.

When did the title of the film come to you?

The title came immediately. I didn’t know anything about Joyce, and what was in the newspapers was so anonymous [Morley first heard about Joyce when she picked up a copy of The Sun on the underground] that I knew anything I did would reflect a dream of somebody else’s life. As the film and research progressed, dreams also stood for her aspirations and her hope for a life. We have ‘The Things That Dreams Are Made Of’ by Human League on the soundtrack, a tunnel with the word dreams scrawled on it, there’s other songs that mention dreams. I think somehow there’s a dreamlike quality to a life that’s gone, and it felt like what I was trying to summon up.

Thematically it has a lot in common with your earlier film The Alcohol Years, in which you yourself were the subject. Other than the hard work and time you put into it, how much of your inner life did you put into this project?

Weirdly, and I’m not sure if they meant it as a compliment, someone emailed me and said “How long did it take you to find another film to make about an absent person?” and I thought, “Oh my God! That’s not what I set out to do!” But I must be attracted to this idea of absence and I think with Joyce, I never could have made the film if it was about a man that had died in front of that TV. There was some connection in this film being about what it is to be a woman in today’s world. When someone says in the film “it’s bad enough being 40, yet being 40 and alone”, it’s those anxieties that women have I found interesting. With Joyce – and without me wanting to sound like a nutter – it felt like I was chosen to do the film. When I met the family, I found that they never called her Joyce, they called her Carol. We were the same age. I wanted to be a singer, like Joyce. Her mum died when she was 11 and my dad died when I was 11. I really understood the idea of how losing a parent early on in life can destabilise you. I didn’t want to impose my life on Joyce but I didn’t want to just make a film like “look at that person over there!” I wanted to make the connection to a real, breathing person.

In the flashbacks I found it hugely effective that often Joyce is isolated in the frame. But Joyce is described as petite and Zawe Ashton [who plays Joyce] is 6’ tall! Was this a stylistic choice or a necessity?

When you see her dancing in the club with the guys she looks tall, doesn’t she! I chose someone to play Joyce because I just liked this idea of a character drawing you through the film. I wanted her to appear like a ghost, a bit out of time, and when she’s in the nightclub with people, it’s just the three guys. And when she’s at the party she’s sitting there at the table and you don’t see the others. I liked this idea of an absence of people around her because, of course, that did happen in the end. We focused on the people around her for the testimonies and interviews, but when it was her, it really was about her so that was important. It wasn’t the height. The reason I went for Zawe is that when she walked in the room, she lit it up. She had that charisma and that was what was more important than getting everything right.

Zawe Ashton as Joyce Vincent

Had you seen Zawe in anything else before?

No, but the casting agent said her name and I looked up St. Trinians and I said “Ooh, I dunno!”, so it wasn’t from what she’d been in, it was how she was at the audition. She did two auditions, she got recalled because I wanted to be absolutely sure. We did workshop things together. We’d play music and she’d look at photographs, but she never saw any of the interviews. I never wanted her to come to the role through the people, I wanted to come to the role from the inside, not from something external. The only time she saw the interviews was on the TV; I did put those on the TV for real, it’s not added on over the top. When they popped up in the bedsit, that’s when we filmed them.

Joyce died before the full social media age flourished. Did you get a sense from the interviewees that she might have been saved if her situation had happened 5 years on?

It’s not in the film, but there were two colleagues who said that they thought Joyce would have been on Facebook because she was so sociable. It’s weird, though, because people have 300-plus Facebook friends and you wonder if you’d notice if one of your friends dropped off the list. If you have a closer friend, you don’t normally just do Facebook, you’d use the phone, contact them properly. I don’t think it necessarily would have [saved her]. Although the people from work said that Joyce told them she was going to New York and would’ve expected to see that on their Facebook page, the thing is that if someone goes abroad you get the feeling they’re just too busy. Actually, I think it [Joyce’s situation] is more likely to happen now. In the days when you had milk delivered and there was 18 milk bottles built up outside the flat, people would notice. I think it’s more likely to happen because the communication is less physical.

And how did you get your head around the 3 years undiscovered thing? 

It is incredible. It’s a long time. The film took five years to make, and when I was at the three year point – which was a long time, a lot of things had happened – I thought “God, that is such a long time in people’s lives for that to pass”. For me it feels like a sign that the film needed to be made. It’s so extreme. When the story unfolds and Joyce is the opposite to how you’d expect it’s important because you realise, “Oh my God, if someone like her can go unnoticed, then what else are we missing?” It makes you take a look around you.

The situation has an almost horror film-esque quality…

It does, because you know that she decomposed, became skeletal. I did a lot of research at the British Library to find out what would have happened to her body which is horrible, but it’s more an internal horror. I didn’t want to show it as such, only the things happening at the flat [with the police and cleaners who arrive]. But after 3 months there wouldn’t have been a smell anymore; it wouldn’t have gone on forever. It doesn’t get worse and worse. It just goes away.

Notably, the film is very restrained. It doesn’t take the route of reflecting the style of the tabloids that the story appeared in in the first place. How did you approach it to make sure you were being tasteful?

I spoke to a coroner and did research. I knew there wouldn’t be loads of flies. I wanted to be accurate. There wouldn’t have been what you see in CSI. I knew I didn’t want to focus on that side of it. It’s why I found the story interesting; concentrating not on how she died but on how she lived. While you do need to present the story, you need to do it in a way that’s not exploitative or just tawdry.

One of the most interesting things about the film is the almost Rashomon-esque way that the men in her life give directly contradictory views on Joyce. She remains elusive. Would you describe it as a feminist film and did you develop a distaste for any of the men?

I didn’t at all. What I felt was fantastic about them was that they were prepared to actually talk and I know that John who’s in the film [and talks about sex a lot] said afterwards “I’m a complete pillock!” Rather than being conscious of how they spoke, they brought themselves and their attitudes to it, and I respected that because it would have been easy to have not done so. They are very honest, and I was thankful because they gave an indication into the male psyche and also an insight into how Joyce was around men and how they perceived her. It’s a film about Joyce but also not a film about Joyce. It’s about how Joyce was constructed by a lot of people. She did seem to have more male associates than female, so it’s going to tell that story. I think it is a feminist film in that it’s engaging with ideas of what it means to be a contemporary woman. But I wanted to explore, so once you start to say “THIS FILM WILL DO THIS”, you shut everything down. I was very open with the people. I didn’t want them to hold back, otherwise that does a discourtesy to Joyce, and to themselves in a way.

Do you see a movement developing around the film along the lines of “Talk to your neighbour”?

I think that’s happening because there’s a lady on Twitter who came to a preview in London and has since held a street party; she said she’d been isolated from her neighbours and her community. For me, I never wanted to make a sentimental film about Joyce, I never wanted to make a film that revelled in tragedy so I think that people aren’t leaving the film and feeling terribly impotent, it’s like people are leaving and wanting to do something, whether phoning people up or just reflecting on life. I think if Joyce’s legacy is to create a more humane world, then that’s a great thing for all concerned. But hopefully people will find different things that they love about it, maybe the music! There’s an energy to it rather than a negative, sapping feel. Joyce just wasn’t that kind of person.

The real Joyce Vincent

What about the recurring TV motif?

It was the TV being on [for the 3 years that Joyce lay dead] that made me want to make it more than anything. It just seemed to invoke the modern age. We’re so tied up with images. And Joyce was tied up with that too, because everyone was going on about how she looked. We have the interviews playing on a TV in her bedsit and that was quite an early decision; to have the bedsit as a departure point, and to have interviews on it. The TV is such an important character in it, and this idea of what played over her body for three years is astounding. When people are lonely they watch television. When you go to the cinema there’s people around you. I thought it was quite profound that there was people, quite literally, talking over her.

Music is everywhere in the film, can you tell me a bit more about the music in the film and the decisions you made around it?

The soundtrack – but not the Barry Adamson score – came first. Once I started to get to know Joyce a bit I began to put together some of the music she liked. I knew she liked soul, and I knew she liked Kate Bush which we couldn’t clear the rights to, which may have been fortunate! And then I started to look at songs from the time she was born, and everything became connected to her. She had sung ‘Midnight Train To Georgia’ when she was 16 and really liked that song, that’s the one I’ve got her singing as a kid [in the film]. There was one song that didn’t make it in: ‘Missing That Girl’ by Tony Orlando and Dawn, and the backing singer is called Joyce Vincent. The music came first and the connection was very strong. Because she had wanted to be a singer it was important that the film was led by the music; it’s a very musical film.

There’s a very evocative feel for the music and the studios of the 80s and 90s…

The location person found the recording studio used in the film, and it was actually behind the flat where she died in Wood Green. But all the staff were from the 80s, like they’d never left. They had the computer stuff but they still had the same mixing desk and they had all the microphones, it was brilliant! I guess people don’t change as much as they do now but it was all original gear.

Which documentaries and documentarians have influenced your work?

I studied Fine Art and Film at St. Martins so I like experimental film, and when I first discovered what documentary could do it was through Errol Morris’ The Thin Blue Line and the Maysles Brothers’ Grey Gardens. One’s very constructive, one’s observational; cinema verite. Also, one of my heroes is Agnes Varda. With this film I was interested in Vagabond, which was a fiction film from the early 80‘s. It starts with a woman’s death, and goes through interviews with people on the street and they’re talking about her, and it’s almost a bit like An Inspector Calls; you wonder if they are all describing the same woman! And you see the last few days of this woman’s life. It’s a brilliant film. Also Cleo From 5 to 7, that woman is a singer so those that were on my mind. I also included an homage to Maya Deren’s Meshes Of The Afternoon, when the little girl looks at the window; I love that idea that if you’re a film buff, you can spot little references in there.

What’s next for you?

I’d like to adapt a book, but I can’t say any more than that for now because of rights. Also, I did a short film a few years ago about mass hysteria and I found an article from a 1970s medical magazine and it was the case histories and confessions of two girls and it was a case of mass hysteria that had happened in a North London comprehensive school for girls and the insight into it and the background is fascinating. I don’t know what form it’ll take, maybe a feature, but I have been trying to find the girls, or women as they’ll be now. Even if I didn’t I might still make it. There’s lots of interesting themes in it, and I’ve already started to think about the music too, what music they might have been listening to. That comes from Joyce, it’s a good way into a film.

A version of this interview first appeared on Little White Lies online.

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Dreams Of Your Life

It’s no secret I’m a huge fan of Carol Morley’s new doc/drama Dreams Of A Life, so I’m pleased to give a plug to this interesting digital development by Film4. With a narrative by writer A.L. Kennedy and some lovely time-lapse photography by Lottie Davies, ‘Dreams Of Your Life’ is an interactive, unique digital project that allows audiences to explore further the film’s themes of society, loneliness, friendship and love.  Click here to visit ‘Dreams Of Your Life’.

PPH @ LFF – The Final Reckoning

Just like that, the BFI London Film Festival is over for another year. It’s been a staggeringly enjoyable few weeks of film watching, note-taking, tiredness, putting Twitter handles to faces and socializing with some lovely, lovely people. Here, as promised, is a final round-up of LFF stuff: the good, the bad, the sad and the awkward.

PERMANENT PLASTIC HELMET’S FILMS OF THE FESTIVAL

1. SHAME

My favourite film of this year’s LFF was Steve’s McQueen’s powerful sex addiction drama, which features an astonishing performance in the lead role from Michael Fassbender, who is emerging as one the very best actors of his generation. It’s not perfect (the final third veers perilously close toward moral melodrama) but it is exceptional, vital, haunting filmmaking, and New York has never looked like this before. [Read full review here].

2. DREAMS OF A LIFE

A good measure of how passionate you feel about a film is how you react when someone else criticizes it. So when a fellow writer sneeringly dismissed Carol Morley’s devastating documentary Dreams of a Life as “The Arbor for ITV viewers” and I flew into a Basil Fawlty-esque rage, it was pretty clear just how much the film had burrowed under my skin. In combining interviews, reconstruction footage and the director’s own research, Dreams of a Life is a  dizzying attempt to piece together the sad story of 38 year-old Joyce Vincent, a North London resident who lay dead in her flat for three years without anybody coming to check on her. It’s about a million things (community, memories, loneliness, love, music, race, London), it’s brilliantly put together, and it will bounce around your head for days, if not weeks. Sad, staggering and totally unmissable.

3. THE ARTIST

The audience favourite of the festival was Michel Hazanavicius’ wondrously uplifiting homage to the silent era, starring Jean Dujardin as a devilishly charismatic silent star left behind by the talkies. Although it flags a bit towards the end, it’s technically brilliant, incredibly funny (can dogs be nominated for Oscars?) and totally in love with the cinema.

BUBBLING UNDER…

I had a clear top three, but there were lots of other excellent films I saw that I was unable to organize into a coherent top five or top ten. They included…

TAKE SHELTER – A slow-burn drama featuring Michael Shannon’s blistering portrayal of a family man on the edge. [Read full review here]

THE KID WITH A BIKE – The Dardennes Brothers’ affecting, naturalistic tale of a troubled boy coming to terms with abandonment by his feckless father. [Read full review here]

MISS BALA – More Gomorrah than Goodfellas, a bleak, punishing, deeply ironic Mexican drama about the evils of the drug trade. [Read full review here].

THE DESCENDANTS – George Clooney shines in a moving, yet satisfyingly dark Hawaiian-set tale of hard life lessons from the reliably excellent yet lesser-spotted Alexander Payne.

SUPERHEROES – Michael Barnett’s consistently amusing, moving and surprising documentary about the ever-growing community of have-a-go caped crusaders that are taking, rather foolhardily, to the streets of America to enforce their own brand of justice. [Read full review here]

MOST OVERRATED FILM

I was debating whether or not to include this category, because a) the concept of ‘overrating’ something is essentially meaningless, and b) it just feels a bit like more needless negativity thrown in for good measure. However, when I heard that WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN had beaten the far superior Shame and The Artist to the prize of LFF Best Film, my mind was made up. We Need To Talk About Kevin is a weirdly middlebrow horror film, which overdoes the symbolism to a ludicrous degree, and offers practically no further insight into its characters than Eva: not very nice, Kevin: bit of a nutter, The husband: a bit of a twat. Not terrible, then, but certainly not a ‘best film’. A bizarre choice. [Read full review here]

DISAPPOINTMENT & TURKEY ROLLED INTO ONE OF THE FESTIVAL

After the 360 opening night boondoggle, I was convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that I’d been exposed to the very worst that the LFF had to offer. At 10.06pm on Sunday 23rd October, however, as I stumbled out of the VUE cinema, confused and furious, it became apparent that I was wrong.

What was it that had discombobulated me so? Well, in a nutshell, a Surprise Film that had somehow managed to trump the previous years’ one-two punch of Capitalism: A Love Story and Brighton Rock for sheer disappointment. As surprises go, Whit Stillman’s appalling DAMSELS IN DISTRESS was less a turn up for the books, more like finding a cockroach in your soup.

It felt as though Stillman had begun writing it in the early 90s after watching Heathers, slipped into a coma while Clueless, Mean Girls and even, for Christ’s sake, Juno redefined self-reflexive, ironic teen-girl sass, and then farted this out in a half-sentient state after hoovering up the Wikipedia definition of ‘Mumblecore’.

It’s ostensibly a tale of four airheaded college girls at a privileged establishment, but the basics – coherent structure, narrative, characters you can invest in – are entirely absent, and countless scenes sputter to an unsatisfactory conclusion before they’ve really begun. If it deserves any credit, it’s for a singularity of aesthetic style, with the pastel colours and costumes and cloying TV-movie vaseline glow complemented by the relentless muzak on the soundtrack. (A plus point also for bringing The Wire’s tragic Dukie back to our screens in a small role).

Furthermore, it’s not just unfunny, it’s actively offensive, making light of such delightful topics as anal rape and suicide without providing any context for doing so. It’s also rare to find a film that has as much contempt for its own characters as it does its audience; none of the characters seem to learn anything, improve or even develop. Unclear whether it’s supposed to be a parody of college films or simply of its own staggering awfulness, Damsels in Distress is would-be modish, pretentious, vapid garbage that’s destined to become the favourite film of people you’d jump in front of the 159 bus to avoid.

Despite my hatred of the film, however, the distribution company have been kind enough to provide me with its official trailer. Here it is:

DOWNER OF THE FESTIVAL

I’ve written about it here already, but it’s worth repeating that watching certain films first thing in the morning takes a bit of getting used to. The winner of the IT TOTALLY RUINED MY ENTIRE FUCKING DAY™ award this year was Justin Kurzel’s true-life Aussie crime drama SNOWTOWN. Its veritable cornucopia of paedophilia, incestuous rape, animal abuse and graphic scenes of torture were, quite frankly, a bit much for a 10 a.m. start. [Read full review here]

MOST AWKWARD MOMENT

As anyone who has ever been to the BFI will know, there’s a certain contingent of the audience who likes to laugh a little too hard and a little too loud at the most innocuous things, just to prove that they really got it. However, the daddy of all inappropriate laughs came during a screening of EARLY ONE MORNING in NFT1, a downbeat French drama concerning a depressed, humiliated banker who goes on the rampage. The film is barely two minutes old when said psychotic banker played by Jean-Pierre Darroussin (a hangdog genetic splice between Billy Bob Thornton and Iain Duncan Smith) storms into his office and guns down two colleagues in cold blood. You could have a heard a pin drop in the audience. Well, you could have, had it not been for the absolute bellend who let rip a monster guffaw at the first gunshot, probably imagining that by doing so he was striking a blow against capitalism, rather than embarrassing himself and shattering the spell of an incredibly powerful scene. Arse.

FILMS THAT I REALLY WANTED TO SEE BUT SADLY MISSED FOR WHATEVER REASON

Harry Belafonte in activism documentary SING YOUR SONG, Sean Penn Robert Smith-ing it up in THIS MUST BE THE PLACE, low-budget love Brit story WEEKEND by Andrew Haigh, Werner Herzog’s death row doc INTO THE ABYSS and Dexter Fletcher’s directorial debut WILD BILL. Hopefully the chance will come around soon for me to see all of these.

AND FINALLY…

I couldn’t be arsed didn’t have time to review everything I saw, so I’ve also given everything I did see a handy score, using the rating system of favourite culture website The A.V. Club:

Miss Bala B+

Take Shelter B+

The Black Power Mixtape B

Martha Marcy May Marlene B

Americano C

Coriolanus C

Dreams Of A Life A

360 D

The Kid With A Bike B+

We Have A Pope C+

Hara-Kiri: Death Of A Samurai B

Eternity B

Shame A

Rampart B-

Snowtown B

I’m Carolyn Parker B

Carnage B

Alps B

Early One Morning B

The Artist A-

The Ides Of March B-

The Descendants B

Restless City B-

Superheroes B+

We Need To Talk About Kevin C+

Sket C+

Damsels In Distress F

A Dangerous Method B

And… that’s all folks. I hope you’ve enjoyed the PPH @ LFF coverage. I certainly have, and I’m already looking forward to next year’s festival which will be the first under new Artistic Director Claire Stewart, who replaces the outgoing Sandra Hebron. Thanks for the memories Sandra!

APPENDIX/LINKS

PPH @ LFF – Round-up #1

PPH @ LFF – Round-up #2

PPH @ LFF – Round-up #3

PPH @ LFF – Round-up #4

PPH @ LFF – Adrift in New York: A review of Shame

PPH @ LFF – The First Born and the Last of the Silent Era

PPH @ LFF – We Need To Talk About Kevin

"SEE YA!"