85th Academy Awards nominees and predictions

11 January 2013

Australians in contention for Oscars glory

I was on ABC News Breakfast this morning to discuss the 85th Academy Awards nominees and give a few predictions. You can view all the nominees on the Oscars website and watch me discussing them on the ABC website.

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Favourite Films of 2012

28 December 2012

Hugo

I had a bit of fun this year keeping count of the number of films I watched and discovered that on average I saw six films per week. A large portion of my viewing was of films that received a theatrical release in Melbourne during 2012 and therefore qualify for the parameters in which I select my favourite films of the year. I saw over half the films that had a general release somewhere in Melbourne and while there are about 30 films that I still would like to catch up with, I feel fairly confident that I saw everything that would qualify for consideration for the list below.

I was tempted to not order or rank my favourites, but I changed my mind after another critic encouraged me to do so by saying that if there is one time during the year to be frivolous it is when compiling such lists. Besides, I’m calling these my favourite films – not making any claims about them being the best – so why not have fun?

Favourite ten films with a theatrical release in Melbourne, Australia in 2012:

1. Hugo (Martin Scorsese, 2011)

Hugo

Hugo is a perfect encapsulation of Scorsese the artist, film historian and pioneer – a technologically advanced 3D spectacle celebrating the craft and imagination of early cinema.’ Full review

 

2. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (Tomas Alfredson, 2011)

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

‘Everything about this film is economical – dialogue, acting style and visual style – so that from the very opening shot the audience are themselves playing the part of spies, attempting to piece together information and looking for clues.’ Full review

 

3. Weekend (Andrew Haigh, 2011)

Weekend

Weekend is one of the most impressive films ever made about love. Haigh’s confidence and intelligence as a filmmaker, has resulted in a sincere and emotionally engaging film.’ Full review

 

4. Holy Motors (Leos Carax, 2012)

Holy Motors

‘The very existence of a film like Holy Motors is cause for celebration. It demonstrates that playful can be profound, bewildering can be meaningful and randomness can have precision. It undermines so many cinematic conventions and yet is a loving tribute to cinema.’ Full review

 

5. The Deep Blue Sea (Terence Davies, 2011)

The Deep Blue Sea

The Deep Blue Sea best combines Davies’s representation of memory with a traditional narrative structure. The result is his finest film to date.’ Full review

 

6. Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (Bir zamanlar Anadolu’da, Nuri Bilge Ceylan, 2011)

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia

‘An epic meditation on morality, civilisation, masculinity and how every generation suffers the sins of the one before it.’ Full review

 

7. Beasts of the Southern Wild  (Benh Zeitlin, 2012)

(Quvenzhané Wallis), (Gina Montana)

Beasts of the Southern Wild combines big scale ideas about the natural world and how humans relate to it, with a very personal and subjective portrayal of a young girl reconciling what is happening to her father and community.’ Full review

 

8. Lore (Cate Shortland, 2012)

Lore

‘Shortland has done an extraordinary job making such a bleak story into a deeply fulfilling and beautiful film. Lore is an impressionist survival film and an existential war film, and also something truly singular and remarkable.’ Full review

 

9. Killing Them Softly (Andrew Dominik, 2012)

Killing Them Softly

‘Incorporating several stunning stylised moments with a grim, gritty reality, Killing Them Softly is an engrossing vision of hell where status, money and image have become the ultimate goal and human life is just another commodity to be traded.’ Full review

 

10. Frankenweenie (Tim Burton, 2012)

Frankenweenie

‘A tribute to the type of cinema and cinematic techniques that originally inspired Burton, while growing up as something of an outsider in suburban California during the 1960s and 1970s, finding solace in monster movies and animation.’ Full review

Honourable mentions:

11. Searching for Sugar Man (Malik Bendjelloul, 2012)

12. The Master (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2012)

13. Shame (Steve McQueen, 2011)

14. The Sessions (Ben Lewin, 2012)

15. Margaret (Kenneth Lonergan, 2011)

16. The Kid with a Bike (Le gamin au vélo, Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne, 2011)

17. A Separation (Jodaeiye Nader az Simin, Asghar Farhadi, 2011)

18. The Interrupters (Steve James, 2011)

19. The Grey (Joe Carnahan, 2012)

20. Berberian Sound Studio (Peter Strickland, 2012)

Favourite ten films not given a full theatrical release

This is where the list making becomes extremely personal since it is based on the films I happened to see out of a very large selection of festival and speciality programmed screenings held for the public somewhere in Melbourne in 2012. I am aware that there are several films that would probably have made this list if I had seen them. It is also worth noting that the top five films on this list are either confirmed or more than likely to receive a general release in 2013:

Amour

1. Amour (Michael Haneke, 2012)

2. ParaNorman (Chris Butler and Sam Fell, 2012)

3. Broken (Rufus Norris, 2012)

4. Tabu (Miguel Gomes, 2012)

5. Ernest et Célestine (Stéphane Aubier, Vincent Patar and Benjamin Renner, 2012)

6. Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory (Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky, 2011)

7. Kauwboy (Boudewijn Koole, 2012)

8. Only the Young (Elizabeth Mims and Jason Tippet, 2011)

9. Keyhole (Guy Maddin, 2011)

10. The Legend of Kaspar Hauser (La leggenda di Kaspar Hauser, Davide Manuli, 2012)

Special mention:

It’s Such a Beautiful Day (Don Hertzfeldt, 2012) – feature length edit of Hertzfeldt’s previous three short films, released on DVD through bitter films.

It's Such a Beautiful Day

 

Favourite retrospective screenings and re-releases

The most personal list of all is this one, where I acknowledge the screenings of older films that brought me the most joy this year. Some of these were revisits of old favourites, seeing them on the big screen for the first time, while many were new discoveries:

Raiders of the Lost Arc 

1. Raiders of the Lost Ark (Steven Spielberg, 1981) – re-released at The Astor Theatre

2. America America (Elia Kazan, 1963) – The Melbourne Cinémathèque, Elia Kazan: The Outsider season

3. Time Regained (Le temps retrouvé, Raúl Ruiz, 1999) – The Melbourne Cinémathèque, Immortal Stories: The Living Cinema Of Raúl Ruiz season

4. Great Expectations (David Lean, 1946) – The Astor Theatre, David Lean Tribute

5. Solaris (Solyaris, Andrei Tarkovsky, 1972) – The Australian Centre for the Moving Image, (ACMI) Space on Film program

6. Suddenly, Last Summer (Joseph L. Mankiewicz, 1959) – ACMI First Look

7. Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills (Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky, 1996) – ACMI First Look

8. Brand Upon the Brain! (Guy Maddin, 2006) – ACMI, Nocturnal Transmissions: The Cinema of Guy Maddin program

9. Beau Travail (Claire Denis, 1999) – The Melbourne Cinémathèque, Borderlines: Selected Works by Claire Denis season

10. House (Hausu, Nobuhiko Ohbayashi, 1977) – ACMI, Nocturnal Transmissions: The Cinema of Guy Maddin program

Special mentions:

Seeing Goblin play their score to Suspiria (Dario Argento, 1977) live at ACMI as part of Melbourne Music Week was also pretty special. Finally, it would be remiss of me not to mention the re-release of Labyrinth (Jim Henson, 1986) at the Astor Theatre, especially as it was also the film that the theatre screened on its Protect the Astor day, which was part of a larger campaign that achieved considerable success in 2012.

Labyrinth

Thomas Caldwell, 2012

This list was originally compiled for the Senses of Cinema 2012 World Poll

PS Feel free to comment and add your thoughts and comparisons. Please note that the spirit of this post is celebratory so long rants about stuff you didn’t like or grand declarations of outrage probably won’t make it through the moderation process!


Film review – Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012)

13 September 2012
Beasts of the Southern Wild: Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis)

Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis)

If you could bottle the dreams, perception and imagination of a six-year-old girl and then project what you have captured, then you may get something that resembles Benh Zeitlin’s Beasts of the Southern Wild. However, this extraordinary example of subjective cinema is not just through the eyes of any six-year-old girl, but it’s the view of the world as experienced by Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis), a tough and resilient young resident of a fictionalised bayou community in the south of the US.

Known as the Bathtub, the film’s setting is a composite of isolated southern American fishing communities. In particular, Zeitlin has drawn inspiration from communities affected by rising sea levels and extreme weather as a result of climate change. Imagery from post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans also weighs upon the film in its portrayal of a proud community that refuses to have its spirits crushed by disaster, regardless of how much is lost. This spirit is also reflected in the dynamic between Hushpuppy and her father Wink (Dwight Henry). The pair live on the same piece of land, but in separate ramshackle houses, and alternate between annoying each other and caring for one another. The spirit of defiance against all adversity is put to the test in the film’s most touching scenes where Hushpuppy is being told by Wink to put on a brave face while confronted with the knowledge of his illness.

The depiction of the fictional Bathtub community is similarly affectionate with reservations. While the film is viewed through the eyes of Hushpuppy, who sees the world as infinitely magical and wondrous, details such as the extreme poverty that the community live in and the constant drinking remain throughout the film. So rather than romanticising a particular way of life, Beasts of the Southern Wild is more accurately described as providing a magical realist depiction of an isolated US southern community, where Hushpuppy has embellished the joyous and celebratory aspects while attempting, without completely downplaying the neglect and threatening situations.

Magical realism is also employed to express the film’s circle of life themes. The sound design and the use of close up and handheld camera create a remarkable sense of texture for all the shots of animals and meat. Preparing and consuming food is often in the foreground of scenes, linking characters together by their shared meals, but also linking the humans with the animals that they keep as pets and as a food source. The sound of heartbeats that Hushpuppy can hear emanating from all living creatures frequently appears on the soundtrack. Catching, killing, preparing, cooking and eating are part of a natural cycle and at the top of the food chain are the human characters who decide when an animal becomes meat. The found object aesthetic throughout the film also helps to place the characters within the food chain rather than detached from it, as the inventive approaches to creating shelter and other resources from whatever is on hand contains echoes of when the human race lived as hunter/gatherers, living directly off the land and from the sea.

Pre-modern civilisation is most effectively evoked in the film by the presence of the large aurochs; cattle-like creatures that have been extinct for several centuries. They are released back into the world from melting icecaps, which are linked to the global temperature changes that have also creating the ferocious storm and flooding that the Bathtub community suffers. These events also occur during Hushpuppy’s realisation that her father is sick so that the destruction of Hushpuppy’s internal world manifests as the destruction of the rest of the world due to climate change. Just as a father’s illness threatens the way his six-year-old daughter experiences the world, climate change threatens the natural order. The release of the ancient aurochs symbolises the world fighting back and the personal demons that Hushpuppy must face.

Beasts of the Southern Wild combines big scale ideas about the natural world and how humans relate to it with a very personal and subjective portrayal of a young girl reconciling what is happening to her father and community. Similar to The Tree of Life grand universal themes are juxtaposed to an intimate personal story. The resulting film is a remarkable cinematic experience that is both profound and immensely moving. Zeitlin has coached remarkable performances from his non-professional actors and created an extraordinary world that remains recognisable despite being constructed and exaggerated. Even with the hardship and tragedy that befall that community, seen through the eyes of Hushpuppy it is a beautiful and magical place that is very hard to resist, a lot like the film itself.

Thomas Caldwell, 2012

MIFF 2012: Feature film picks

31 July 2012

The Melbourne International Film Festival opens this Thursday so I thought I’d share my festival picks, even though they are based on a somewhat random sampling of what I have just happened to have seen. Many of my favourite films in the festival are Shorts and the Next Gen films, but I’ve covered those two programs in detail already. Which brings me to the obligatory disclaimer that I work for MIFF in the programming department so have zero objectivity about the festival. Having said that, all the films discussed here are ones that I had nothing at all to do with selecting.

Beasts of the Southern Wild 

The textures and colour make this film a visual masterpiece, and when that is combined with an amazing performance by the film’s young star and an emotive coming-of-age tale that incorporates visions of prehistoric times with future climate change catastrophes, the result is a Magical Realist triumph. I cannot wait to see this film again.

Holy Motors

I am so thankful that films this playful, provocative and puzzling are still made. The latest by Leos Carax, who is the subject of a retrospective at the festival, is a fascinating exploration of dreams, film genres and the effect that technology is having on the way audiences experience cinema. At least that’s what I took from it.

Ernest & Celestine

As two of the three directors on this film are the geniuses behind the deliriously funny A Town Called Panic, I was not expecting it to be a traditional hand-drawn animation that would be so incredibly charming. This gorgeous parable about a mouse and a bear who become friends, despite being told that they should fear and hate each other, is not only funny but so sweet that at moments I was possibly a little misty eyed.

Tabu

Beautiful shot in black-and-white in 4:3, this mesmerising film set in Portugal and African uses selected techniques from early cinema to create a dreamlike story about illicit love, race, colonialism and melancholy.

[REC] Genesis

While not as strong as the original film, which is one of my favourite contemporary zombie films, this loose prequel is a lot of fun. It does abandon the found footage approach early on, but the resulting wedding-based flesh-eating mayhem is a lot of fun.

Side by Side

A really accessible,  in-depth and entertaining look at the way the film industry – on every level – is making the transition from film-based technology to digital. This documentary contains interviews with many of the major players in the film industry and gives voice to a wide range of viewpoints. It challenged and possibly even changed several of my opinions.

Maniac

A film shot in the first-person about a serial killer who scalps his victims after killing them gets points alone for audacity. This is a slickly made cinematic nasty that I really enjoyed being shocked and disturbed by. There is also some really impressive filmmaking on display, used to mimic the fractured way the delusional and deranged protagonist views the world.

Alois Nebel

The stunning black and white rotoscoping in this Czech animation perfectly complements the dark and sombre story about a loner train dispatcher whose experiences during World War II come back to haunt him. There is a remarkable sense of stillness in this film, which gives it a beautiful meditative quality.

Gainsbourg by Gainsbourg: An Intimate Self Portrait

Like its subject Serge Gainsbourg, this is a rambling film that is sometimes infuriating, something baffling, self-important, self-deprecating, all over the place and constantly fascinating. The combination of archival footage and audio recorded by Gainsbourg provides an impressionist portrait of the man, told out of chronological sequence and far more illuminating than the biopic about him that came out in 2010.

100 Bloody Acres

This horror/comedy is a tremendous amount of fun. As the two brothers with a creative solution to making fertiliser, Angus Sampson is wonderfully wicked while Damon Herriman is hilariously endearing.

Have a great MIFF everybody!

Thomas Caldwell
MIFF Shorts & Next Gen Coordinator