Saturday, 7 January 2017

best of home-watching 2016

Here’s a list of  the top films I saw at home during this year.

Eastern Boys
Robin Campillo, 2013, France. 
A fascinating gay drama that moves into thriller motifs without losing focus. The early party invasion scene is brilliantly elongated and credible, a thorough masterclass on how to play out a moment in all its tones. It’s cool, slightly detached approach leaves many questions unanswered and thereby capturing an open-ended realism.

Song of the Sea
Tom Moore, 2013, Ireland-Denmark-Belgium-Luxumbourg-France.
A dazzlingly beautiful animation mixing the modern with Celtic Myths. With loss as its central theme, it avoids patronising its potentially young audience and bears a pleasing melancholic tone despite its exuberance and constantly startling with its visuals. 

           Aleksei German, 2013, Russia
Overlong, maybe, but this is the kind of film-making that is haunting, surreal and hallucinatory and bizarre without any use of cinema trickery, just divining those qualities from the oddness of humour behaviour and set design.

Alan Clark, 1974, UK
A film that captures the variety of overlapping themes that characterise many bildungsroman in literature but often abridged in cinema. Baffling and dated it may be for some, but rarely has the complex shifting of a young person’s delusions been so richly captured.


Andrey Zvyagintsev, 2014, Russia
Where Zvyagintsev’s ‘The Return’ bore immediate emotional resonance, ‘Leviathan’ is far more insidious. Small town politics prove an insurmountable obstacle and overwhelmingly mean-spirited force that destroys anyone that gets in its way. 

Slow West
John  Mclean, 2015, UK-New Zealand
Possibly the opposite of the more naturalistic style of modern Westerns such as ‘The Homesman’ and ‘Bone Tomahawk’, nevertheless ‘Slow West’ has an artiness that comes across like a perfectly contrived short story. With the excellent closing shoot-out, the narrative reveals its true colours.

       Radu Jude, 2015, Romania-Bulgaria-Czech Republic-France
Not so far from ‘Embrace of the Serpent’ in conjuring up another era to explicate on a lost culture and the timelessness of prejudice.


Microbe and Gasoline
          Michel Gondry, 2015, France
Wherein the rough and sensitive nature of adolescence finds perfect juncture with Gondry’s magic realism, inventiveness and sad-sack humour. A film whose attitude doesn’t seem to care what the adults think.

         James Ward Byrkit, 2013, USA-UK
A sci-fi horror story about reality failing you. A triumph of low-budget film-making where the puzzle-box narrative dominates.

      John Favreau, 2016, UK-USA
Nope, it’s not as cuddly as the original animation and there be objections to the differences, and maybe I felt it more threatening than others did (but then it’s been called ‘The Revenant’ for kids by more than one reviewer), but I was beguiled at its oddness and the rendering of talking animals. One can also see a message of hope with the ultimate all-coming-together-to-defeat-a-common-foe. It doesn’t quite fully gel all its elements but it cheekily cherry-picks the best from the original animation while staking out more of a tone that feels closer to ‘The Lord of the Rings’.

The Assassin
  Hsiao-Hsien Hou, 2015, Taiwan-China-Hong Kong-France
Another film that won me over due to its oddness and elusive qualities, as well as being lush and literary. Another film where multiple viewings will reveal more and more.

Force Majeure
  Ruben Östlund, 2014, Sweden-France-Norway-Denmark
Against the backdrop of brochure cleanliness and clarity plays out a tale of the more undesirable attributes that make up a personality: attributes like cowardice. That clean look and the precise style make this fell like a dissection of a family where being on holiday can't protect you from your flaws.

The Firm
           Alan Clarke, 19890, UK
Clarke’s no-nonsense portrait of a community of football hooligans, unable to band together to beat a perceived common foe because they can barely express themselves beyond insults and posturing. 

      Lucile Hadzihalilovic, 2015, France-Belgium-Spain
Another triumph of oddness, the kind ordinarily relegated to short films and all too rare in horror cinema. Surreal, mysterious and disturbing.

       Toke Constantin Hebbeln, 2006, Germany
A small tale of a boy losing it all and then getting out of town dressed up in a fairy-tale like atmosphere and the appearance of magic-realist diversions, even if fantastical things don’t really happen. 

Captain Phillips
        Paul Greengrass, 2013, USA
Where Greengrass’ hand-held style proves ideal for the claustrophobia of a ship being hijacked. Tom Hanks has probably never been so good: earnest, trained, afraid and smart. Those final moments where he can finally let go of the composure he has shown all along are riveting and exemplary, the camera joining in with the professionals around him by never letting him alone.   

Re-uniting with:
Films I watched again and found better than ever

The Brood
        David Cronenberg, Canada, 1979
The pinnacle of domestic drama finding such chilling expression through horror. There's something furiously aggrieved in here. Oliver Reed’s quiet, silky tones prove the film’s secret weapon, never allowing his character to overbalance the whole thing into trite melodrama of “mad scientist” tropes.

Sidney Lumet, USA, 1976
Prescient, chilling and insightful, now more than ever.

I should know better, but…

       Eduardo Sanchex, 2014, USA
Despite everything, that final close-up of the sasquatch meant I forgave so much.

        Noel Marshall, 1981, USA
It’s been called the most dangerous film-shoot of all time… well, it’s certainly a pinnacle in the WTF files of film-making. It doesn’t even come into the so-bad-it’s-good pile– it’s something else.

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