Give a big welcome to Chris Inman, our brand new writer on the site. Better known to many as Spanky Patterson, Chris is a long-time listener of the podcast and has now moved on to become the first writer (outside of Sam) to join the site.
As a way of introduction, to allow you all to get to know him a little bit, here’s his five favourite movies of 2009, in ascending order, with his favourites of the decade to come in the next few days.
As we are prone to do, it feels like to kick-off the Oscar buzz season as awards from major film festivals begin to roll in and the ceremony approaches. I realise that this may feel like the kind of wishing-life-away feeling that it given as you walk into shops in mid-September and see Christmas stock out all over the place, but these will get more frequent as we get closer and can begin to actually predict what could win. This is more to provide an interesting gauge of how buzz works, how it changes and how wrong we could well end up being by the time the awards come around.
So, just for the big few categories, here’s what seems like it’s going to cause a stir this year: Continue reading →
So, in the wake of Transformers revenging the fallen all over our minds, we were in need of cooling down from the sheer anger and exhaustion felt in the studio. Though Sunshine Cleaning should have been a great example of an indie to bring us back onto home turf, it ended up an underwhelming experience. The eminently crushworthy pairing of Amy Adams and Emily Blunt, along with the solid Alan Arkin and roles for Steve Zahn and Clifton Collins Jr, just couldn’t quite drive us into anything beyond a tepid lack of satisfaction. Ideas involved were strong, but the execution was half-hearted, even if all of the above tried really hard to elevate the material. Continue reading →
Perversity amongst filmmakers can often be intensely offputting for audiences, that sense amongst some of the so-called enfant terribles of modern European cinema to poke fun at audiences in increasingly self-reflexive and judgemental ways. Last year’s most visible example of this came in the form of Michael Haneke’s US remake of his own Funny Games, seemingly an attempt to make audiences try to understand the urge to witness violence on screen through presenting a film which revelled in such detail.
Funny Games US didn’t work and Antichrist doesn’t either. I would posit that Lars von Trier is not seeking to punish or berate his audience in the way that Haneke was, but he does have a history of making films which make little, or no, concession to his audience. Dancer in the Dark, for all its moving brilliance, is as emotionally murderous as anything you will ever see.
Antichrist feels like his attempt to make a personal film which challenges its audience to try and understand the deepest, darkest recesses of his memory. Von Trier was reportedly going through a heavy bout of depression during the gestation of this film and that’s written all over the increasingly violent, self-flagellating scenes which he forces upon the viewer. This is a man seeking to exercise demons through the most primal, vicious imagery he can command and by inflicting such intense abuse on the film’s characters.
The film follows a couple, played by Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg, in the aftermath of the death of their young child. The death occurs mid-coitus for the two with the child venturing onto a table in their home and stepping out the window. By this point in the film, for those keeping score, we have already been treated to full penetrative sex and the death of a child within around four to five minutes of screen time, all film in pristine black-and-white and cut slow-motion.
The two, he a therapist and her seeking to finish her thesis on female suffering through the ages, then decide to go to a cabin in a place called Eden and proceed to try and work through the pain and grief of their loss, all the while indulging in increasingly violent sex and witnessing nightmare-like images throughout their travels.
From here on in, the film takes a turn towards Von Trier’s darkest impulses. The escalation of the sexual violence between the two results in her hitting him in the penis, drilling a hole in his leg in which to put a kind of axel attached to a stone wheel, before finally giving him a handjob which results in the ejaculation of blood. The film goes on from this point to have Dafoe attempt the murder of a crow with a stone and culminates eventually in Gainsbourg’s character lying next to him in the cabin and slicing off her clitoris.
There are arguments to be made on all sides for the validity of Von Trier’s vision, but the fact is that none, literally none, of the violence in the film is ever earned. The scenes towards the start with the two characters are so oblique that you fail to become even remotely involved in the world of these two people. When the eventually denouement comes, you are completely removed from the film with every escalating piece of violence or imagery because there is no involvement.
The cinematography is incredible throughout, so kudos to Anthony Dod Mantle for his work on the film. But outside of that, this is a solipsistic slice of self-important nonsense which, for all its supposedly shocking moments, doesn’t involve you, or seek to involve you, and therefore earns absolutely none of the controversy or attention it so desperately seeks.
Michael Haneke has won the Palme d’Or for his acclaimed The White Ribbon (review by Peter Bradshaw at The Guardian). The film, described by IFC’s The Daily as “a two-and-a-half hour parable of political and social ideas set entirely in a north German village in 1913 and 1914”, marks the first Palme d’Or win for Haneke following a number of other awards successes for the German provocateur at the festival. He has in the past won prizes for Hidden, The Piano Teacher and Code Unknown, but this is his first win of the top prize.
Alain Resnais, an outside member of the Nouvelle Vague and creator of the time-warping masterpieces Last Year in Marienbad and Hiroshima, Mon Amour, was given the Special Jury Prize in honour of his Wild Grass (review by Daniel Kasman at The Auteur’s Notebook). The Grand Prix was given to Jacques Audiard’s The Prophet (review by Anthony Kaufman at indieWIRE). The director prize went to Brillante Mendoza for his violent drama Kinatay, already torn a new one by Roger Ebert. The eminent Chicago Sun-Times voice essentially opens his review with an apology to Vincent Gallo over his past assertion that The Brown Bunny was the worst film in the history of the festival.
Ebert goes on to say:
“After extensive recutting, the Gallo film was redeemed. I don’t think editing is going to do the trick for “Kinatay.” If Mendoza wants to please any viewer except for the most tortured theorist (one of those careerists who thinks movies are about arcane academic debates and not people) he’s going to have to remake his entire second half.”
Onwards with Cannes however, The Prix de Scenario for Best Screenplay was given to Feng Mei for the Lou Ye-directed Spring Fever (review by Sukhdev Sandhu at The Telegraph). That has itself been surrounded by controversy over the decision by Ye to screen the film in Cannes without the approval of the Chinese government.
The Camera d’Or for Best First Feature was given to Australian Warwick Thornton for Samson and Delilah (interview here and review, by The Telegraph’s Sandu, which indicates the love to have come for this film), his indigenous realist drama.
Very nicely, the Prix du Jury was given to Andrea Arnold’s Fish Tank (review by The Guardian’s Bradshaw) and Park Chan-wook’s horror film Thirst (review by Twitch’s Todd Brown). Arnold, whose outstanding Red Road won the Jury Prize in 2006, had been tipped for a possible Palme d’Or this time round but will instead have to settle for outstanding reviews yet again.
The acting honours provide the most curious choices. Tarantino’s lukewarmly received Inglourious Basterds (review by Spout’s Karina Longworth) saw Christoph Waltz take home the Best Actor Prize while Charlotte Gainsbourg won Best Actress for her performance in Lars von Trier’s hugely controversial Antichrist.
Probably the most notably absentees from the possible prize winners are Jane Campion’s Bright Star, her story of the love affair between John Keats and Fanny Brawn, and Ken Loach’s fondly-tipped Looking for Eric. Bright Star was another beloved by critics in the UK while Looking for Eric didn’t quite live up to all expectations but was mostly liked too. Gaspar Noe’s Enter the Void, his follow-up to the equally loathed and admired Irreversible, seemed to spark little in the way of notice for those attending the festival, but did at least bring some searching analysis from those who did take notice.
The trailer has come out for Lars von Trier’s Antichrist, a horror thriller hybrid starring Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg as a couple who go to a secluded cabin in the woods following the death of their son. This being von Trier, I don’t imagine too many basic shocks will be included in the film but, from the looks of the below trailer, it looks pretty disturbing with a great deal of religious and sexual undertones. We Europeans, we sure know how to make ’em.