25 February 2009

Unhappy Endings & Barefaced Cheek

Jesse Bradford, Lisa Kudrow and Bobby Cannavale in Happy Endings

One of Happy Endings (Don Roos, 2005) many problems were its awful inter-titles scattered throughout. They function as character introductions (with roughly eight main characters in the film, they have their work cut out) and reveal choice plot points in a twee, chatty manner. One self-referentially says: “it’s a comedy; sort of”. And the film is a comedy. Sort of. But it’s just not really that funny.

The problem with these inter-titles is that they do what the script itself should’ve done naturally. I don’t know, I found it more lazy than amusing. It points to a lack of confidence in the script, and suspiciously whiffs of afterthought due to, perhaps, a test audience’s confusion with all the different characters. It’s not really that hard to follow though. For all the Short Cuts (1993)-style interweaving of desperate lives, it’s actually easy to get to grips with all the comings and goings of its LA inhabitants. Roos is treating his audience like idiots if he thinks they need extra pointers as to what’s going on.

There’s a whole host of issues that Happy Endings maps out, and Roos ambitiously sets them up: infidelity, adoption, trials of the loved and the lovelorn, sexual identity, parenting, coming out troubles, and so on. It reads like a check-list of themes for an Oprah book club title though. And this is where its problem lies. In covering such a vast amount of self-help issues, it doesn’t really find the space to cover any of them fully or allow for any depth. I could’ve done without at least half of the above plot strands and had the film simply concentrate on a choice few, so that the characters experiencing these varying tribulations could blossom more fully within their own situations. Instead it spends too much time on three or four plot threads and leaves the remaining ones inadequately explored (in this respect it feels a lot like 2001’s similarly multi-charactered, 13 Conversations About One Thing).

The acting by everyone is good, though. Lisa Kudrow (in arguably her best role yet), Maggie Gyllenhaal, Tom Arnold and Laura Dern (who is always worth watching) stand out more prominently than the rest because their characters are well defined. Jesse Bradford, Steve Coogan, Jason Ritter, David Sutcliffe and Sarah Clarke get the short end of the stick, particularly the last three; their characters get less attention from the script and are, by and large, merely there to support their on-screen companions or amble around the edge of the action.

Maggie Gylenhaal, Jason Ritter and Tom Arnold in Happy Endings

There are some nice scenes between Bradford and Kudrow. As a woman who’s being blackmailed by a novice filmmaker – a motor-mouth whipper-snapper in the mould of Tarantino – Kudrow plays well with Bradford. Their coupling is quite affecting despite the implausibility of the premise; their meeting created to transpire into a quirky and charming mismatch, but feeling more like a shoehorned contrivance ultimately. Their scenes together, once we get to know both better, are quite sweet. The best storyline, however, concerns Maggie Gyllenhaal’s gold-digging bar singer, who essentially gets to play the Christina Ricci ‘bitch-in-a-bathing-suit’ role from Roos’ overall much sharper, funnier The Opposite of Sex (1998) only with more flair and a harder edge (there’s even a poolside seduction scene just like in that film, but more than anything it exposes Roos’ rather shallow puddle of ideas).

The film feels longer than it should be, too. Robert Altman (with Short Cuts, The Player (1992) and Nashville (1975), for example) and P.T. Anderson (with Magnolia (1999) and Boogie Nights (1997)) wrote a wider range of complex characters to sustain their respective films’ long running times, but Roos’ stories are stretched out thinly even at just over two hours. By two-thirds of the way through, a feeling of déjà vu sinks in, and the only thing I was actually happy about was the ending: it finally had one.

Broken-backed Moaning

One thing, extraneous to the events in film but still linked integrally to it, concerning Roos feelings for another recent gay-themed film, Brokeback Mountain (Ang Lee, 2005), struck me as hollow. I remember reading an interview at the time of the film's release about Roos disliking Brokeback for its lack of real gay feeling and retrogressiveness. He complained that Lee’s film “tells the same old story… it’s sad, it’s really lonely, people hate you. It’s tragic.” But I think he’s missing the point. Brokeback may be solemn in tone and concern an age-old gay issue, but it ultimately explores it as a proactive thing, despite all its prolonged heartache and inclusion of period social taboos.

Roos wants pro-activeness for his film – albeit under different circumstances – but he doesn’t quite achieve it. There’s a big difference between Endings and Brokeback, of course (they are after all only really tenuously alike), but bemoaning a more successful gay-themed film (one made by a straight man) for what he sees as a lack of honest gayness smacks of obtuse envy. Roos forgets that Lee’s film deliberately bypasses socio-political ambition to focus on snatched moments of intimacy and the painful, lifelong straining effects of repressed desire. His whole rant, in reference to why Ennis and Jack don’t elope together - “Guys, get a map. Go to New York. Go to LA. Your problems will be over if you just get a map!” - is the same (now actually quite old-hat) retort that I’ve read many times before by easily-displeased critics and audiences when looking for simplistic explanations.

The thing is, it wasn’t about just “getting away” for them. Of course it was about them finding a place of their own, but it was also about the pull of family commitment on their psyches (especially where Ennis was concerned). “The furthest I’ve travelled is around the handle of a coffee pot”, states Ennis at one particularly crucial point in Brokeback: he wasn’t one for travelling far, such was the familiarity and tight grip of mountain life. Roos possibly missed this little nugget of acute dialogue.

The irony is, as a gay filmmaker himself he hasn’t particularly made a film that wholeheartedly gets to the core of gay lifestyles. The two films are miles apart, but both in their own ways want to pro-actively say the same things; I thought Roos would at least put his money where his mouth is, but he doesn’t. Sure, he’s attempting contemporary social comment with his upwardly mobile gay dads and pained stories of rich L.A. teens’ coming out woes, but these issues aren’t fully explored as much as they could have been. And the fact Endings features three full-on straight sex scenes, but only one gay kiss is a bit hard to swallow coming from the man who readily vents his distaste for others’ attempts to convey gay relationships in a more all-encompassing manner. I couldn’t really believe his gall. Brokeback isn’t exactly explicit, but at least there’s that tent scene. Roos’ gay characters just meander down the middle somewhere, not really saying or, more precisely, doing anything significant to make them feel real at all.

© Craig Bloomfield 2009

23 February 2009

Masters of Horror: joy on and off a television screen

"Care for a... slice?"

One Sunday night back in 2006 I sat down to watch the first episode in Mick Garris’ largely very good ‘Masters of Horror’ series of hour-long films, Incident On and Off a Mountain Road (Don Coscarelli, 2005). There seemed nothing more perfect to me than a late night, no fuss, honest-to-goodness bite-size 60-minutes of trashy televised gore. I watched it again recently, and because it was the first one I saw, and for all the above reasons and then some, it's therefore stayed with me the longest. There were a few better episodes in the series - namely John carpenter’s excellent Cigarette Burns (also 2005) - and I still have a few more yet to see, but this one struck a chord with me.

Incident was the perfect introduction to the series. Its key theme fits directly into one of the fundamental joys of watching horror: the act of looking with fearful eyes. Eyes reveal a horror movie victim’s fears; moonlit, their teary glint can give away their whereabouts in an isolated forest clearing, as it does in Incident – and trembling, these teary orbs are the prized organs that the killer here values so much.

It opens on familiar territory, which invokes the title from the start: a car snaking its way down a mountain road in the dead of night, lit solely by the moon’s luminous glare. Its driver, Ellen (Bree Turner), crashes into an abandoned car. There is no sign of a driver and something sinister is stirring in the surrounding trees. A forest dwelling half-man-half-creature (John DeSantis) has killed the driver and now sets his sights on Ellen. A panicked chase ensues, where Ellen uses some cunning tricks to evade the monster, thanks to some survival lessons from her militarist husband (Ethan Embrey), weaved throughout the slim-lined plot as a series of flashbacks that allow an insight into Ellen’s past and reveal something intrinsically terrifying about her current situation.

Under Garris’ tutelage, Coscarelli was given free reign to film whichever scary tale he desired. He chose to revisit the short fiction of novelist Joe R. Lansdale (who wrote the short story for his Bubba Ho-Tep(2002)). Incident – perhaps because it was first in the series – is a rather traditional and straightforward introduction, and slightly tamer than many of the resulting episodes. Takashi Miike’s Imprint (which, due to its excessively visceral nature, was refused an airing on US television) and Dario Argento’s Jenifer, for example, narratively played around with genre conventions and the extremities of televised gore, but there are still a few giddy, twisted thrills in Incident that, although having been somewhat previously road-tested in the likes of I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997) and the two Jeepers Creepers (2001/2003) films, effectively convey a sense of fear through the set up, then unravelling, of queasy situations in an ultimately surprising manner: those flashback lessons are deployed for an inspired and unexpected reason.

Incident features the standard heroine in peril – the typical final girl scenario is adhered to – but it’s one of the only entries that does this. Others (Carpenter’s Cigarette Burns, Stuart Gordon’s Dreams in the Witch House) focus on male protagonists. This adds to Incident’s conventional feel, though Coscarelli does mess with the tradition somewhat. But by the time Ellen finds herself tied up in a basement, with only a demented old man (Coscarelli veteran Angus Scrimm) for company there are only so many outcomes available.

Though it lacks originality, there is a nostalgic thrill to the film. The palpable joy from watching a concise horror played out with efficient skill from a film-maker who clearly respects and relishes the genre remains throughout its short duration. It plays up to the kinds of workaday ‘80s video horrors that paved the path for an event like Masters of Horror. Although it never pushes the genre’s limits, it proves to be a serviceable, bite-size introduction to a series that is welcome viewing for any horror aficionado.

© Craig Bloomfield 2009

Cosy Christmas films: the case against

The Family Stone: Diane Keaton realises that she used to be in good films like Annie Hall

If you’re not a full-tilt, liberal-minded, vaguely bohemian middle-class-type, you won’t fit inside the Stone family’s cosy Christmas bubble. This is the vibe that The Family Stone (Thomas Bezucha, 2005) surreptitiously gives off as its guiding ethic. It’s Christmas and the family are going about their dizzy festive business. In comes a woman (Sarah Jessica Parker), about to marry one of Stone parents Craig T. Nelson and Diane Keaton’s sons (Dermot Mulroney), but she doesn’t quite fit their cuddly template. They run her over the hot coals as some kind of liberal attitudes test, and then, when she proves to be an alien entity (i.e. not a walking greetings card sentiment), they proceed to try and oust her from Mulroney’s affections. So, not so liberal after all then.

Without any reluctance I found myself championing Parker’s character. Indeed, her “cold, uptight bitch” had more characterisation than the entire Stone clan put together: daughter Rachel McAdams signals her stroppiness purely by complaining about her bedroom; Tyrone Giordano and Brian J. White – as the deaf, gay son and his black boyfriend - are there to up the look-at-how-painfully-inclusive-we-all-are quotient and little else; Diane Keaton, as the insufferable matriarch, conveys her terminal illness by looking vacantly out of the window at opportune moments; and Nelson is pretty much absent for most of the story.

Parker’s (who gives a taut and credible performance, her best post-Sex in the City TV show – and was rightly singled out for a Golden Globe nomination here) scenes with eternal slacker and brother-in-law-to-be Luke Wilson are the best in the film. They are the only two characters that literally stand out from the bunch by not conforming to their exclusive love fest. Everyone else is either a flat-pack variation on Hollywood’s all-purpose, box-ticking PC package (black and deaf homosexuals!) or they’re drawn-from-stock family members with equally standard personality traits.

One scene has the clan around the table for Christmas dinner: the subject of ‘nature or nurture’ regarding homosexuality comes up. Before the meal, the family, behind Parker’s back, bemoan, “she isn’t making an effort to get to know [them]”. At the dinner Parker attempts to engage in the gay debate by offering up the age-old idea that, given the option, "someone wouldn’t necessarily choose to be gay." Because there are two token gay characters present, the over-sensitive family take it upon themselves to be outraged. Parker’s character – not shown to be any kind of homophobe at all anywhere in the film – is told to shut up, and she duly flees the scene. “If I had my way, all of my son’s would be gay – that way they’d never want to leave me,” intones Keaton. So, all gay men would instinctively and permanently cling to their mother’s bosom eh, Ms. stone? The family’s counter argument here is the weakest of retorts; its forced, over-the-top correctness becomes noisome, and the line between genuinely well-intended inclusiveness and clichéd offensiveness is straddled without ado. It’s all so blatantly, falsely ingratiating.

Everyone of course gets on famously at the end, after a bit of rote tragedy and some life-affirming lessons (well, only after Parker proves that she’s not actually a bitch after all by giving everyone a surprise heartfelt Christmas present – she literally has to buy their affection), and all is well in their world. Lesson learned, then. The Family Stone is less like a Christmas gift, and more like the used wrapping paper that ends up on the floor.

© Craig Bloomfield 2008

21 February 2009

Carlos Reygadas: Old (master) before his time?

Carlos Reygadas is a fairly young filmmaker at 38, but it seems that just after three features – his 2002 debut Japón, Battle in Heaven/Batalla en el cielo (2005) and Silent Light/Stellet licht (2007) – he’s attempting to prematurely plough himself a path as an old master, it seems. It's especially visible in Silent Light, his latest. It feels as if he’s deliberately made the kind of film – slightly too po-faced or high-minded, the kind of beloved title that festival-goers are keen to quickly lavish praise upon – that may well goad critics into spouting a few BIG WORDS and pronouncements to cement him a quick reputation in certain circles as one of the new significant art film auteurs of our times. But is he... yet? Though, if anything, all the raves will read well as strap-lines on the poster.

But it isn’t so much the thought of all the none-too-hasty, gushing adoration that might be applied to him so far that feels slightly over-the-top, it’s the way in which nearly every image in Silent Light comes dressed in ostentatious flourishes that seem to beg nothing less than nonpareil reverence, or demand some kind of unequalled, if rather empty, awe. Whether or not he deserves such high praise quite yet, I’m not sure. I think he may be a bit hurried in his desire to be a Big Name before his time, to be already seen as the next Andrei Tarkovsky or the new Carl Th. Dreyer, or whoever he wishes to simulate next (these two venerable wizards of world cinema, along with Kiarostami, are the likes of whom he’s name-checked himself). It’s no bad thing essentially. He’s certainly an ambitious filmmaker, and should of course be applauded for this; his films often feel singular and in certain instances look uncommonly out-of-step with many art cinema trends, but his visual invention often comes unattached to solid emotional content. He’s staunch in his determination to dazzle, and overall he favours the expansive image over the temperate. But with Silent Light I felt like I was watching an artist only flexing his technical expertise, exerting cleverness with a camera because he can, not because he has something indispensable to say.

Silent Light is much less then the sum of its parts. There are indeed some awesome (and awesomely astounding) sequences and a few smaller moments that are impressive, too: for instance, a slow tracking shot into a darkened garage space that gradually reveals a blossoming light inside is filled with a curious beauty. But moments like this are segmented from the overall arc of his sparse narrative and are too few and far between to contribute to a whole, truly great film. The atmosphere is heavy, often too heavy, with loaded symbolism, earnest signifiers of The Other and scenes of human suffering so painfully, tediously lofty that it drags the film along almost like a burden; a lot of it feels like dead weight.

Some parts are immediately stunning: the bookend shots that open and close the film, of dawn breaking and night encroaching, elapsing in single, long-held shots, did make me gasp at how pretty they were, and curious as to how he attained them, but they were nothing but examples of look-at-me visual elegance – and Godfrey Reggio pulled similar time-lapse tricks nearly thirty years ago, with Koyaanisqatsi (1982) etc, anyway. And a scene of the main protagonist’s (a Mennonite who’s embarks on an illicit extra-marital affair) children swimming and washing purposelessly in a lake, occasionally staring vacantly at the camera, has a light and unprocessed feel – although another way to look at it was as if Sofia Coppola was making a shampoo ad featuring the Children of the Damned.

His other two films worked much better, though they, too, still felt slightly laden with too much influence, although not as consciously so as in Silent Light. Battle in Heaven, in particular, felt more controlled and stylistically more open to organic development, more his own; I saw fewer borrowed traits in it. Its visuals contained a vigorous pull, the content contained moments of fury and questioning, all of which nicely enhanced the entire film, more than just providing filling for the sexually explicit, controversy-baiting bookend sequences. And at least by attempting to explore new ground in Battle Reygadas earned all the controversy, it was his to defend, and the images appeared largely undiluted by overt influence. For me, the 'difficult second film' issue didn't apply. It went one better too: it felt like a film made by a 38-year-old director vividly experimenting with the film frame and searching for a truth beyond mere imitation.

© Craig Bloomfield 2009

19 February 2009

Attack of the Loons: Dirty Sanchez: The Movie vs Jackass: The Movie

Which one is better? There's only one way to find out: Fight!

Dirty Sanchez: The Movie (2006) reminded me of how well gross-out gags can be done – when it goes by the name of Jackass: The Movie (2002), that is.

It wishes it were Jackass though. It isn’t and won’t ever be; Johnny Knoxville and co. got there first, and did it better. The Welsh imitators will never have the crude sense of cheeky abandon that they had. The games of juvenile one-upmanship here pale in comparison to their US predecessor’s roughly strewn inventiveness; they can replace Knoxville’s water-rocket bikes with as many fish-hooks to the foreskin as it takes, it just doesn’t seem either shocking or flinch-worthy this time around. It just comes off as hackneyed déjà vu.

Sanchez has some needless, misdirected homophobia concerning the identity of some Thai transsexuals they happen across (and then a bit more elsewhere) and a brush (a gross-off?) with a Japanese collective equivalent that do actually seem to have some of the Jackass charm (and the Sanchez chancers look scared stiff of them), but everything seems to somehow miss the point.

Knozville’s gang were likely to be offensive to some people’s tastes, but they were all-embracing, inclusive pranksters, targeting their skits playfully at one and all: from Hollywood stars (Brad Pitt) to random passers-by, though mostly at each other, all in the name of a good belly laugh. Sanchez are too cliquey and hetero-centric by comparison; their forcibly high testosterone levels seem to induce a kind of standoffish mean-spiritedness and prevents them from actually engaging with their foils.

There’s only so much vomit drinking and inane mugging to camera to be consumed before this jejune crap gets rapidly boring and reaches tedious overkill; any laughter evaporates all a bit too quickly, and disappears without much of an enduring result. There was something wonderfully charming, and lastingly funny, about Knoxville merely riding his upgraded bike into a lake, or Steve-O getting trapped in an upside-down portable toilet: they performed the stunt, cracked the joke and were effortlessly on to the next thing with no fuss. Sanchez clearly aren’t fussy either, but they tend to hang around after their gags, like a bad smell, and ensure each other definitely, like, got it, man. Jackass were simply more intuitively funny.

Director John Waters has openly acknowledged his love and appreciation of the Jackass lot’s TV shows, and he even appeared in their film's follow-up. That’s more like it. After all, he’s the one who really started all this: Divine scoffing poodle shit at the end of Pink Flamingos back in 1968 set the bar high for all this scatological japery. The Dirty Sanchez crew talk shit, but I bet they’d never be caught dead eating it.

© Craig Bloomfield 2009

18 February 2009

What can a canon live without?

Abbas Kiarostami, pondering the validity of images (or simply just on a lunch break)

I recently finished reading Jonathan Rosenbaum’s excellent book Essential Cinema: On the Necessity of Film Canons, and am also in the midst of contributing a few personal selections to an ongoing online film canon, so the idea of film canonisation is forefront in my mind at the moment. One film, which I didn’t originally put forward as a selection, but perhaps should have, was Abbas Kiarostami’s Ten (2002).

On reading Rosenbaum’s book, and in the playing of the “canon game” online, I've been (re)introduced to some exemplary films, some of which weren’t obvious canonical titles – unlike, say, a lot of the AFI’s list or Sight & Sound’s ten-year polls – but that’s not to say they were necessarily obscure films - although some indeed are (and why not, of course - this is one way of getting some of the more unheralded or unseen films noticed; and shouldn’t fresh canons start this way anyhow?). Though who's to really say what's obvious and what's not; one person's long-time favourite is another's fresh discovery.

Ten may be obscure to some, a likely candidate for others (like so many possibly unobvious contenders one might conjure up), or even anti-cinema (in its approach to resolute minimalism) in some other people's eyes. But it's the named director – along with his or her general reputation - that can often be a deciding factor in creating canons. Is it a hearty signifier of quality, perhaps? Or just the way things are? This may be why the usual line-up of “greats” (like Welles, Bergman, Antonioni etc) are so many in number on a great deal of canons.

Kiarostami certainly has a large number of admirers who would surely like to see most of his output cemented in Official List Form (indeed, he's a "great" in his own right), but is Ten the obvious contender? Is it his best? What about his follow-up, Five (2004)? There's the highly-acclaimed Koker trilogy (Where Is the friend's House? (1987), And Life Goes On... (1992), Through the Olive Trees (1994)), or Taste of Cherry (1997) too? Does it really matter if Ten is or isn't believed to be his "best"?

Rosenbaum’s list, by-and-large, leans toward the personal, with a healthy tip of the hat towards a film's overall international impact, reception and accepted status among those who may have been lucky enough to have seen some of his choices. I think this is one way, indeed a good way, in determining what might be held up as a Significant Example of Filmmaking. Each to his or her own, of course: the joy of having so many canons available to mull over is the variety of choice. And what's personal to me may be anathema to you. But I like the idea of including something that may at first seem anti-canonical make a canon (I detected this in the Rosenbaum book, too). The interesting thing about Ten (among many, many interesting aspects) is that it questions directorial intent and the role of the director (or director-as-auteur)* And there should be at least a few films that challenge this in any film canon.

Many impassioned film buffs and writers of course like to love, love to like, or at the very least confirm and acknowledge, the idea of auteurism and so could perhaps be, with a gentle nudge in the ribs here and there, open to contemplating titles that question its place in shaping film content. Should a film be canonised because of the director’s conscious input, or because of the lack of it? Ten pokes a stick in the spokes.

Mania Akbari as the Driver in Ten

Kiarostami is questioning auteurism with Ten. To me he seems to be addressing the complaints of the 1920s-on New Criticism (first suggested by US theorists W.K. Wimsatt and Monroe Beardsley in their essay "The Intentional Fallacy" (1946, rev. 1954)) and their idea that the author's intention is not important, by, directly or indirectly, almost removing himself from the film’s construction. Whatever meaning his camera might draw from the narrative and the images is posited as separate from him; he acts as the displaced conduit.

There may be some speculation as to what Kiarostami intends with Ten, as he makes anonymous his signature, used distinctively in his work before this film. But by making the film Kiarostami suggests he’s wiped his slate clean; he’s questioning what direction means and implies that the viewer do the same. But even more so than in some others’ films (Michael Haneke's work, say) Kiarostami seems somewhat glad to hand over the reigns to us to control as we want (though he handed them over and actively walked away on Five, which I also aim to write about at some point).

But who’s to say? Anyone can glean from it whatever they darn well want to.The positioning of the camera/audience in Ten is only really initially determined by the choice to make a film set solely in a car: the camera is static, a stationary tool for recording conversations, whilst everything around it is in motion. That is, apart from those two crucial cuts away. Filmmaking (in the traditional sense), in the form of an edit, does then intrude. But then maybe he couldn’t help imposing himself just a little bit... and is merely placing the camera on the dashboard an act of direction anyway? This is all very elastic and debatable, but that’s what makes it a perfect contender for film canonisation in my view; the boundaries between director and viewer are subtly and carefully blurred. A healthy film canon, one that wants to truly show breadth of choice in what is possible in filmmaking, needs to have just one or two, maybe smaller in scope, films that try to flip over the auteurist cart.

I read a quote, back in 2002, that filmmaker Catherine Breillat gave on the film: “[it’s] perfect Kiarostami, because there’s no more image, no more Mise-en-scène, just a camera and intelligence, and pure thought.

Now, a film which uses image, and more importantly authorial intention, as frugally and cautiously, and as beautifully as Ten does, and then regardlessly allows the mind to enter the gaps that the images have vacated, demands to be held up for re-evaluation. Fire your canons, folks.

* see Kiarostami's companion-piece documentary, 10 on Ten (2004), for his own views on the film.

© Craig Bloomfield 2009

9 February 2009

Top Ten Films and Performances of 2008

Here is my list of what I saw as the best films of last year. Also, as per usual, I've included my favourite ten male and female performances, and also a bit on a few unexpected and/or underrated mini gems - those that may not necessarily be exactly the best, but have what I consider some great qualities about them (whether that be purely genre pleasures or films that have left a small but memorable mark). All films by-and-large received a theatrical release in the UK between January 1st and December 31st.

Male Performances:

Top row: 10 - 6; Bottom row: 5 - 1

01. Michael Fassbender as Bobby Sands in Hunger
02. James Franco as Saul Silver in Pineapple Express
03. Michael Shannon as Son Hayes in Shotgun Stories
04. Pat Shortt as Josie in Garage
05. Thomas Turgoose as Tomo in Somers Town
06. Eddie Marsan as Scott in Happy-Go-Lucky
07. Mos Def as Mike in Be Kind Rewind
08. Albert Finney as Charles Hanson in Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead
09. Tommy Lee Jones as Hank Deerfield in In the Valley of Elah
10. Karl Urban as Nick Harvey in Out of the Blue

Also good, in no order: Colin Farrell In Bruges / Michael Pitt Funny Games U.S. / Diego Luna Mister Lonely / Ricky Gervais Ghost Town / Gary Oldman The Dark Knight / Benicio del Toro Things We Lost in the Fire / Brad Pitt Burn After Reading / Samuel L. Jackson Lakeview Terrace / Baki Davrak The Edge of Heaven / Toby Jones The Mist

Female Performances:

Top row: 10 - 6; Bottom row: 5 - 1

01. Julianne Moore as Barbara Baekeland in Savage Grace and as doctor's wife in Blindness
02. Asia Argento as Vellini in Une vieille maîtresse
03. Jennifer Jason Leigh as Pauline in Margot at the Wedding
04. Juliette Binoche as Suzanne in The Flight of the Red Balloon
05. Sally Hawkins as Poppy in Happy-Go-Lucky
06. Isabelle Huppert as Jeanne Charmant-Killman in A Comedy of Power and as Pascale in Private Property
07. Anamaria Marinca as Otilia in 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days
08. Helena Bonham-Carter as Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
09. Mary Beth Hurt as Ruth in The Dead Girl
10. Marcia Gay Harden as Mrs. Carmody in The Mist

Also good, in no order: Nicole Kidman Margot at the Wedding / Jennifer Garner Juno / Pauline Malefane Son of Man / Galina Vishnevskaya Alexandra / Wei Tang Lust, Caution / Maria Bello Butterfly on a Wheel / Hanna Schygulla The Edge of Heaven / Samantha Morton River Queen/Mister Lonely / Cynthia Nixon Sex and the City / Melonie Diaz Be Kind Rewind

Top Ten worst and 10 disappointments:

Worst, in order: 01. Funny Games US (Michael Haneke) / 02. Wanted (Timur Bekmambetov) / 03. Scar 3D (Jed Weintrob) / 04. Charlie Wilson’s War (Mike Nichols) / 05. The Happening (M. Night Shyamalan) / 06. Smiley Face (Gregg Araki) / 07. My Blueberry Nights (Wong kar-wai) / 08. Ghost Writer (Alan Cumming) / 09. Sex and the City (Michael Patrick King) / 10. Pathology (Marc Schoelermann)

Disappointments, in no order: Dan in Real Life (Peter Hedges) / Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (Steven Spielberg) / The Orphanage (Juan Antonio Bayona)/ Redacted (Brian De Palma) / Reservation Road (Terry George) / Quantum of Solace (Marc Forster) / Changeling (Clint Eastwood) / Diary of the Dead (George A. Romero) / Gone Baby Gone (Ben Affleck) / Eagle Eye (D. J. Caruso)

A Few Underrated/mini gems, in no order: Tu£sday (Sacha Bennett) / P2 (Franck Khalfoun) / The Dead Girl (Karen Moncrieff) / Butterfly on a Wheel (Mike Barker) / The Duchess (Saul Dibb) / Awake (Joby Harold) / Black Water (David Nerlich/Andrew Traucki) / All the Boys Love Mandy Lane (Jonathan Levine) / The Good Night (Jake Paltrow) / What Happens in Vegas (Tom Vaughan) / WTC View (Brian Sloan)

Top Ten films:

10: Our Daily Bread/Unser täglich Brot (Nikolaus Geyrhalter/Germany, Austria)

09. Garage (Leonard Abrahamson/Ireland)

08. The Mist (Frank Darabont/USA)

07. The Flight of the Red Balloon/Le Voyage du ballon rouge (Hsiao-hsien Hou/France)

06. Shotgun Stories (Jeff Nichol/USA)

05. Private Property/Nue propriété (Joachim Lafosse/Luxembourg, Belgium, France)

04. Blindness (Fernando Meirelles/Canada, Brazil, Japan)

03. Margot at the Wedding (Noah Baumbach/USA)

02. Still Life/Sanxia haoren (Zhang Ke Jia/China, Hong Kong)

01. Hunger (Steve McQueen/UK, Ireland)

Films, 11-20: 11. Savage Grace (Tom Kalin) / 12. Summer Hours (Olivier Assayas) / 13. You, the Living (Roy Andersson) / 14. Out of the Blue (Robert Sarkies) / 15. Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead (Sidney Lumet) / 16. Somers Town (Shane Meadows) / 17. Mister Lonely (Harmony Korine) / 18. Happy-Go-Lucky (Mike Leigh) / 19. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (Tim Burton) / 20. Une vieille maîtresse (Catherine Breillat)

Also good, in no order: Pineapple Express (David Gordon Green) / The Edge of Heaven (Fatih Akin) / Be Kind Rewind (Michel Gondry) / Alexandra (Aleksandr Sokurov) / The Savages (Tamara Jenkins) / [●Rec] (Jaume Balagueró/Paco Plaza) / WALL·E (Andrew Stanton) / My Winnipeg (Guy Maddin) / We Are Together (Paul Taylor) / 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days (Cristian Mungiu)

2 February 2009

Looking back to 2007: Films and Performances

Male Performances '07:

Top row: 10 - 6; Bottom row: 5 - 1

10. Will Smith as Robert Neville in I Am Legend
09. Stephen Graham as Combo in This Is England
08. Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum
07. Ali Barkai as Atim in Daratt
06. Andrew Garfield as Jack Burridge in Boy A
05. Gordon Pinsent as Grant Anderson in Away From Her
04. Will Oldham as Kurt in Old Joy
03. Casey Affleck as Robert Ford in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
02. Chris Cooper as Robert Hanssen in Breach
01. Ryan Gosling as Dan Dunne in Half Nelson

Also good, in no order: Viggo Mortensen Eastern Promises / Andy Griffith Waitress Nick Frost Hot Fuzz / Sami Bouajila Days of Glory / Toby Kebbell Control / Mark Ruffalo Zodiac / Giacomo Rizzo The Family Friend / Gabe Nevins Paranoid Park / Tadanobu Asano Invisible Waves / Ben Foster Alpha Dog

Female Performances '07:

Top row: 10 - 6; Bottom row: 5 - 1

10. Samantha Morton as Deborah Curtis in Control
09. Adélaïde Leroux as Barbe in Flandres
08. Shareeka Epps as Drey in Half Nelson
07. Grace Zabriskie as Visitor #1 in Inland Empire
06. Molly Shannon as Peggy in Year of the Dog
05. Judith Diakhate as Gabi in The Night of the Sunflowers
04. Kierston Wareing as Angie in It’s a Free World…
03. Tilda Swinton as Karen Crowder in Michael Clayton
02. Margo Martindale as Carol in Paris, je t'aime
01. Laura Dern as Nikki Grace/Susan Blue in Inland Empire

Also good, in no order: Melinda Page Hamilton Sleeping Dogs / Angelina Jolie A Mighty Heart / Tannishtha Chatterjee Brick Lane / Leslie Mann Knocked Up / Ebru Ceylan Climates / Gillian Anderson Straightheads / Laura Linney Jindabyne / Marion Cotillard La Vie en Rose / Archie Panjabi A Mighty Heart / Lily Tomlin A Prairie Home Companion

Top Ten Films:

10. Breach (Billy Ray/USA)

09. Syndromes and a Century/Sang sattawat (Apichatpong Weerasethakul/Thailand, France, Austria)

08. Ratatouille (Brad Bird/Jan Pinkava/USA)

07. Paranoid Park (Gus Van Sant/USA)

06. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (Andrew Domink/USA, Canada)

05. The Night of the Sunflowers/La noche de los girasoles (Jorge Sánchez-Cabezudo/Spain, France, Portugal)

04. Zodiac (David Fincher/USA)

03. Daratt/Dry Season (Mahamat-Saleh Haroun/Chad)

02. Old Joy (Kelly Reichardt/USA)

01. Inland Empire (David Lynch/USA, France, Poland)

Also good, in no order: When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts (Spike Lee) / Ten Canoes (Rolf de Heer/Peter Djigirr) / Half Nelson (Ryan Fleck) / The Bourne Ultimatum (Paul Greengrass) / Boy A (John Crowley) / Flandres (Bruno Dumont) / Away from Her (Sarah Polley) / This Is England (Shane Meadows) / I Am Legend (Francis Lawrence) / Bamako (Abderrahmane Sissako)

Note: I've just completed my list for 2008 and will post it up once I've done all the necessary tweaking and adjustments. Finding and editing the pictures seems to be taking a fair bit of time. It should be up by the middle of February.

© Craig Bloomfield 2009

Looking back to 2006: films and performances

For my 2006 and 2007 (to follow) year end list, and the years that precede them as and when I get time to compile them, I'll just be posting lists of the films (also with both male and female performances, and possibly worst/disappointments lists etc), without commentary, and which made the biggest impact on me. Doing these lists allows me to simply track, at a glance, what I've seen and enjoyed from each year. It's mainly for prosperity and to see how my tastes change, or indeed remain the same. It's a simple list format because I want to focus on writing about newer films here.

Male Performances:

Top row: 10 - 6; Bottom row: 5 - 1

10. Justin Long as Bartleby Gaines in Accepted
09. Jérémie Renier as Bruno in L'enfant
08. Owen Kline as Frank Berkman in The Squid and the Whale
07. Rob Brydon as Capt. Toby Shandy/himself in A Cock & Bull Story
06. Melvil Poupard as Romain in Time to Leave
05. Clifton Collins Jr. as Perry Smith in Capote
04. Ray Winstone as Captain Stanley in The Proposition
03. Rory Cochrane as Brad in Right at Your Door
02. Nicolas Cage as David Spritz in The Weather Man
01. Heath Ledger as Ennis Del Mar in Brokeback Mountain

Also good, in no order: Danny Dyer Severance / Alan Arkin Little Miss Sunshine / Clive Owen Children of Men / Robert Downey Jr. A Scanner Darkly / Christian Bale Harsh Times

Female Performances:

Top row: 10 - 6; Bottom row: 5 - 1

10. Fiona Shaw as Ramona Linscott in The Black Dahlia
09. Luminita Gheorghui as Mioara Avram in The Death of Mr. Lazarescu
08. Sigourney Weaver as Sandy Travis in Imaginary Heroes
07. Lorraine Stanley as Kelly in London to Brighton
06. Amy Adams as Ashley Johnsten in Junebug
05. Dina Korzun as Laura in Forty Shades of Blue
04. Emily Watson as Martha Stanley in The Proposition
03. Penelope Cruz as Raimunda in Volver
02. Déborah François as Mélanie Prouvost in The Page Turner
01. Kate Dickie as Jackie in Red Road

Also good, in no order: Juliette Binoche Hidden / Emily Blunt The Devil Wears Prada / Mary McCormack Right at Your Door / Charlize Theron North Country / Embeth Davidtz Junebug

Top Ten Films:

10. The Weather Man (Gore Verbinski/USA)

09. Zidane - A 21st Century Portrait/Zidane, un portrait du 21e siècle (Douglas Gordon/Philippe Parreno/France, Iceland)

08. Volver (Pedro Almodóvar/Spain)

07. Right at Your Door (Chris Gorak/USA)

06. The Page Turner/La tourneuse de pages (Denis Dercourt/France)

05. Children of Men (Alfonso Cuarón/Japan, UK, USA)

04. The Host/Gwoemul (Joon-ho Bong/South Korea)

03. The Proposition (John Hillcoat/Australia, UK)

02. Junebug (Phil Morrison/USA)

01. Brokeback Mountain (Ang Lee/USA, Canada)

Also good, in no order: Offside (Jafar Panahi) / Black Sun (Gary Tarn) / London to Brighton (Paul Andrew Williams) / Red Road (Andrea Arnold) / Forty Shades of Blue (Ira Sachs) / The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (Cristi Puiu) / The Squid and the Whale (Noah Baumbach) / An Inconvenient Truth (Davis Guggenheim) / Sisters In Law (Florence Ayisi/Kim Longinotto) / A Scanner Darkly (Richard Linklater)

© Craig Bloomfield 2009