Tuesday, 24 February 2009
As expected, host Hugh Jackman brought a splash of musical theatre to the night, with two full-on song and dance numbers. The change in the theatre was terrific, with nominees gathered around the stage, making the whole night feel more intimate. And the acting awards being presented by five former winners was a great idea that probably worked even better than the show's producers thought it would. I'd love to see them do this for writers and directors as well.
The funniest presenters were Steve Martin and Tina Fey, who gave out the screenwriting awards. It was great to see Martin recapture his surreal comedy genius. The most heartfelt thank-you came from screenwriter Dustin Lance Black, whose powerfully personal speech included a blast of honest politics. And the most memorable moment was when Philippe Petit balanced the Oscar for Man on Wire on his chin.
And after sleeping in until noon on Monday, I was back at work. This week's press screening schedule includes this year's most anticipated blockbuster (to date) Watchmen, the new Peter Morgan-Michael Sheen collaboration The Damned United, Renee Zellweger's New in Town, Jennifer Aniston's Marley & Me, Paris Hilton's Repo! The Genetic Opera, the indie British rom-com I Can't Think Straight, the indie British prison drama Bronson, the indie British rites-of-passage drama Shank, Bruce Campbell's self-mocking My Name Is Bruce, the Norwegian award winner O'Horten and the Swedish award winner Everlasting Moments.
Monday, 16 February 2009
The picture above is what they call the "family" photo - all the winners and presenters from the awards ceremony on Saturday night gathered on stage for a final bow. And as I start to get my own reviews written, here are my 10 best films of the festival...
- Garapa (Jose Padilha, Brazil)
- Ander (Roberto Castón, Spain)
- North (Rune Denstad Langlo, Norway)
- All Around Us (Ryosuke Hashiguchi, Japan)
- The Reader (Stephen Daldry, UK)
- Cheri (Stephen Frears, UK)
- The Bone Man (Wolfgang Murnberger, Austria)
- The Messenger (Oren Moverman, US)
- Eden Is West (Costa-Gavras, France)
- In the Electric Mist (Bertrand Tavernier, US)
Sunday, 15 February 2009
Eden Is West
dir Costa-Gavras 09/Fr ****
Almost criminally charming, this immigration fairy tale follows the young, handsome Elias (Riccardo Scamarcio) as he escapes an overloaded boatlift and ends up at a posh beach resort, where he's quickly mistaken as a staff member. After fixing a very nasty toilet and getting entangled with a couple of guests and staff, he goes ont he run, meeting every imaginable ethnicity as he crosses Europe en route to Paris. Scamarcio is so likeable in the role that we have no trouble understanding why every woman, man, child and dog he meets falls madly in love with him. And the constant present of police in pursuit adds a terrific dark edge to the whole film as it bounces from anecdote to anecdote. It's also remarkably light-handed, never trying to give Elias a noble "quest" or a heart-rending romance. An intriguingly crowd-pleasing movie about a very big issue.
All Around Us
dir Ryosuke Hashiguchi 08/Jpn ****
Although it runs nearly 2 and a half hours, this marital drama accomplishes something we rarely see on film: it starts with a very young couple and shows us the stresses and strains in their relationship, and then as it progresses through the years, it explores the unusual ways they deal with these issues in order to reach some stability in their life. And these are not minor issues by any means - they are some of the most wrenching things anyone has to go through in either work or family situations. And the film's raw, natural approach works perfectly - no one seems to be acting at all, and the span of time (through the 1990s) catches a strong sense of history as well. A remarkable film that's well worth seeking out.
Saturday, 14 February 2009
Before all of that, I managed to see a few more movies...
dir Andrzej Wajda 09/Pol ***
Shot with Wajda's usual expert skill, this somewhat difficult film centres on grief and blurs the edges by telling a multi-plane story about a middle-aged actress who delivers oddly disconnected monologues about the death of her husband. Meanwhile, we see the film she is now making, in which she's the one who contracts a fatal disease, and then befriends a 20-year-old boy. And we also get several behind the scenes glimpses of the film crew, all connected by the sweet rushes growing along the river, which smell like life on one side and death on the other. It sounds pretentious, but it's not. It is, however, not an easy film to get a grip on, and is pretty relentlessly sad, as you'd expect from the theme.
Short Cut to Hollywood
dir Marcus Mittermeier and Jon Henrik Stahlberg 09/Ger ***
From Germany, this rowdy fake-doc follows a lively, slightly crazy young guy (played by co-director Stahlberg), who dubbs himself John F Salinger and heads to the USA with his two goofy pals with just one goal: to become globally famous. The way he achieves this is pretty outrageous, and the film contains some bracingly sharp satire of celebrity culture and the voracious demands of the media. But the tone is all over the place, from broad slapstick to dark emotion, with a bit of grisliness and sex as well. It's great fun to watch, but never quite comes together to deliver the final gut punch.
dir Nick Oceano 09/US ****
Written by DustinLance Black (Milk), the script for this film is extremely strong and carries us through the slightly TV-movie production values. The cast is fairly strong as well, as it tells the true story of Pedro Zamora, who rose to fame in 1994 on the MTV Real World series for being so outspoken about his HIV status. Indeed, Zamora was a pioneer activist who made a real difference in the lives of people he met - and spoke to in theatres, on radio and TV. His story is truly inspirational, and it's told here with a real sense of emotion and honesty that cuts through the out-of-sequence structure. The makes him into a saintly figure, and isn't afraid to dip into heavy sentimentality - but if you take those two things with a grain of salt, the film has real power.
Friday, 13 February 2009
My One and Only
dir Richard Loncraine 09/US ***
Renee Zellweger stars in this lively, snappy romp based on the young life of George Hamilton. She plays his mother, Ann Devereaux, who takes her sons (Logan Lerman and Mark Rendall) on a 1953 cross-country road trip after leaving her cheating bandleader husband (Kecin Bacon). It's thoroughly entertaining, and very well written and directed. But although she's very goodin the role, Zellweger seems oddly miscast, especially since every other character continually tells her how beautiful she is.
dir Rune Denstad Langlo 09/Nor ****
First-time filmmaker Lango shows considerable skill with this "off-road movie" about a troubled young man who ditches his job and heads off across the icy hills and snowy fields and frozen lakes to sort out his life. Along the way he meets a series of people who have fairly outrageous stories of their own - and the way they kind of help each other on their respective journeys makes the film thoroughly engaging and entertaining. Darkly comical and sometimes extremely twisted, it also looks fantastic, with the expanses of white snow and blazing blue skies.
The Fish Child
dir Lucia Puenzo 09/Arg ***
After XXY, Puenzo and her young lead actress Ines Efron had a lot to live up to, so this slightly more straightforward thriller is a bit of a let-down. But it's an evocative movie, lushly filmed and extremely well acted as Efron's character, daughter of a wealthy judge, goes on the run after a plan with her childhood friend, a poor maid, goes wrong. Told out of sequence, it takes awhile for the events to come into focus, and when they do it's somewhat disappointing, as the plot has several gaping holes in it. But the deeper themes still resonate.
Thursday, 12 February 2009
An unexpectedly long film meant I had four, not five, films today, which gave me time for a long, relaxed dinner. And these are the movies...
An Englishman in New York
dir Richard Laxton 09/UK ***
A sequel to 1975's The Naked Civil Servant, this sensitive, straightforward drama traces the final decades in the life of Quentin Crisp, again played on screen by John Hurt. It's a great story, even if the film is a bit simplistic and TV-movie like. And there are two things that make it worth seeing: first is, of course, Hurt's astonishing performance, which conveys Crisp's attitude and age through the years in thoroughly affecting ways. And the other thing is the waythe film delicately tosses so many important themes around, covering issues from gay rights to Aids, but mostly looking at how we can develop the courage to be ourselves. And how we will never be happy until we can.
dir Roberto Castón 09/Sp ****
A bit too slow-paced for mainstream audiences, this Basque drama carries a massive emotional kick as it tells the story of Ander, a young farmer living with his mother and sister in an isolated village in the Pyrenees. Through slice-of-life anecdotes we see his slightly awkward interaction with his best pal and the local prostitute, and how everything changes when he breaks his leg and must hire a handyman - a young Peruvian guy who has loads of experience working on farms, and also helps Ander work out a few things about himself. It's a beautifully understated, slow-boiling little gem of a film.
dir Jose Padilha 09/Br *****
If his breakthrough documentary Bus 174 was a bit overwrought and his last film Elite Squad (which won the Golden Bear here last year) felt somewhat forced, Padhilla throws all criticism aside with this masterful documentary, shot in 16mm black and white to look like a cross between Satyajit Ray and Italian Neorealism. The topic is hunger, and he quietly observes three families that are slowly starving to death in Brazil. The photography and editing are seamless, and he gently captures the key information without any narration or commentary. Pure and gripping, the film will forever change the way you look at world poverty, and it will also make you furious that we are allowing this to happen when we could end it tomorrow.
Ruckenwind: Light Gradient
dir Jan Krüger 09/Ger ***
This German improvisational film looks absolutely breathtaking as it follows two young cyclists through the countryside, where they have a few adventures and end up in an isolated farmhouse with a woman and her teen son. A sense of tension and impending tragedy infuses the whole film, and we never have a clue what might happen as the characters swirl around each other. On the other hand, the characters never deepen beyond the surface - there's no backstory at all - and what actually happens, while photographed and edited with real skill, remains just a bit too elusive in the end.
Wednesday, 11 February 2009
It drizzled all day today, which seemed a bit strange, since it normally snows this time of year. Made the mad dashes across Potsdamer Strasse between cinemas all the more exciting with puddles gathering all around and drivers seeming to aim for them. So here are those five films - and I'll have another five tomorrow...
dir-scr Julie Delpy 09/Fr ***
After her fabulous comedy 2 Days in Paris, Julie Delpy shifts gears drastically for this dark period thriller about 17th century Hungarian Countess Bathory (Delpy), who notoriously believed that the blood of virgins could keep her young. The film is gloomy and grisly, with stiff dialog and oddly paced drama. But it also has a deranged charm, dryly hilarious wit, plus enjoyably nutty acting from Delpy as well as Anamaria Marinca, William Hurt and Daniel Bruhl. Pictured at their photo call are actor Sebastian Blomberg, actress Marinca, writer-director-star Delpy and producer Andro Steinborn.
dir Stephen Frears 09/UK ****
Frears reteams with both writer Christopher Hampton and star Michelle Pfeiffer from Dangerous Liaisons to make another lively Parisian period comedy-drama (based on the Collette novel) about twisted, manipulative relationships. Playful and extremely witty, this one centres on a fading courtesan (Pfeiffer) who launches into an affair with the 19-year-old son (Rupert Friend ) of one of her now-retired colleagues (an hilarious Kathy Bates). Pfeiffer and Friend have superb chemistry, with oddly mirrored facial features, and the whole cast relishes the sharp Oscar Wilde-type dialog as the inter-relationships are put through the wringer.
dir Nicole Haeusser 09/US ***
This straightforward doc follows the life of Joe Dallesandro from his childhood through his years in Andy Warhol's factory to his career in European B-movies and finally his renaissance as a bit player in top Hollywood movies. It's all narrated by Joe himself, using interviews to link together a wonderful selection of clips, home movies and gorgeous still photos. But that's about it, really. While Dallesandro is revealingly frank about himself and his career, and the people he has worked with, we get no other perspectives on him at all. Yes, he might be the most photogenic man who ever lived, but surely a more rounded portrait would dig a bit deeper.
dir Lone Sherfig 09/UK ****
It's fairly obvious, even without the title credit, that this film is based on a memoir, as it takes a deeply personal look at a pivotal time in the life of 16-year-old Jenny (Carey Mulligan) in 1961 London. Her father (a wonderful Alfred Molina) is terrified of virtually everything she gets up to, but for some reason goes along with it when a well-to-do man (Peter Sarsgaard) asks to take her out. And then for a weekend in Oxford with his lively friends (Dominic Cooper and Rosamond Pike). And then to Paris. The problem is that Jenny is a bright student who has a promising university career ahead of her, and this romance could jeopardise all of that. There are terrific themes in here, and superb performances, even if it never quite cracks throough the nostalgic gloss.
Strella: A Woman's Way
dir Panos H Koutras 09/Greece ****
This bold, ambitious drama is set in Athens, where a man gets out of prison and, as he's searching for his estranged son, meets a pre-op transsexual. Their relationship goes through some serious twists and turns, drawing in side characters and personal history along the way for a strikingly emotional look at people living on the fringe of 'normal' society but facing the same issues as everyone else in perhaps even more intense ways. It's all a bit melodramatic, but is also strongly involving and challenging.
Tuesday, 10 February 2009
And up on the screen it can be pretty brutal as well, with movies dealing with subject matter that's much heavier than normal multiplex diversions. Although for a film critic, it feels like taking a holiday from mindless fluff. Even when you see a bad movie here, it's usually provocative and intriguing. And of course there's also the star spotting! On Monday, I caught a glimpse of Keanu Reeves (here with Rebecca Miller's latest film) as well as the foursome above from The Messenger: Steve Buscemi (also seen here in Sally Potter's Rage), director Oren Moverman, Woody Harrelson and Ben Foster. Speaking of which...
dir Oren Moverman 09/US ****
Sensitive and devastating, but a bit too straightforward to be a masterpiece, this post-war drama stars Ben Foster as a young veteran assigned to casualty notification with a bitter, twisted veteran of Iraq War I, played with a lot of steely emotion by Woody Harrelson. An offbeat romantic plot involving war widow Samantha Morton constantly threatens to become seriously yucky, but stays thoughtful and surprisingly haunting. It's also extremely well directed, with a raw sense of silence.
The Good American
dir Jochen Hick 09/Ger ***
This low-fi doc about male escort promoter Tony Weisse tells a fascinating story of a man who moved to America and then disappeared illegally into the system, where he turned to prostitution to survive and eventually helped launch the most successful rent boy website on earch, accompanied by a circuit of parties. The film follows him around America and then as he returns to Berlin for the first time in oevr a decade, knowing he might never be able to go back to New York. It's all rather indulgent, never quite sure whether it's documenting the man or his business. But it's lively and entertaining, sometimes almost uncomfortably intimate, and when it sticks to one aspect of the story, pretty revealing. Filmmaker Hick, along with Weisse and many of the guys from the film, took to the stage at the end for an intriguing Q&A that centred on what it was like to live with a camera peering at your every move the years the film was in production.
dir John Greyson 09/Canada ***
This is another outrageously inventive rant from Greyson, similar to his pop musical Zero Patience, but this time playfully using opera to look at the life of notable Aids activists Tim McCaskell from Canada and South African Zackie Achmat. Mixing new interviews with film clips, satirical songs, animation and Gertrude Stein's opera Four Saints in Three Acts, this film keeps us mesmerised with its multi-screen, subtitled lyricism, constant comical touches and an underlying sense of anger at the greed of pharmaceutical companies and government inaction (or worse) that have resulted in the loss of literally millions of lives. It's extremely bold and inventive, and well worth seeing, but will never cross over to mainstream viewers. Greyson was at the screening, and fielded a wonderfully articulate, entertaining Q&A session afterwards.
Monday, 9 February 2009
The Bone Man
dir Wolfgang Murnberger 09/Aut ****
This gritty dark comedy from Germany takes off and barely pauses for breath as a sardonic repo man goes off the grid in a remote country inn, where he starts to believe something nefarious is going on. Indeed, the people he meets there are deeply twisted, most notably the owner who grinds up chicken bones from his restaurant to send to the farm as feed - and you just know that bone grinder could have other uses. Throw in some blackmailing Russians and a missing man who might be hiding right under their noses, and the film keeps us thoroughly entertained - both laughing and quirming in our seats.
Kill Daddy Good Night
dir-scr Michael Glawogger 09/Aut ****
Twisty and complicated, this film weaves togethes several strands that take place from 1959 to the present, centring on a guy issues who creates a videogame to take out his anger against his politician father. But as he travels to New York to help a friend witha special project, he's thrown into a situation that's linked to atrocities against Lithuanian Jews during WWII. The film is jammed with big ideas, provocative themes and intriguing characters, all of whom keep us utterly glued, although the off-handed approach may alienate some viewers.
dir-scr Sally Potter 09/UK ****
Now this is a very difficult one: the whole movie is made up of to-camera interviews by some very big stars (Jude Law, Judi Dench, Dianne Wiest, Steve Buscemi, Eddie Izzard) as if they're talking to a young guy working on a school project backstage during a fashion show. Someone dies tragically during the show, and then the bodies start to pile up - but all off-screen, as we only see these characters' reactions to the events. Despite the starry cast, this is a resolutely uncommercial film that will drive most audiences mad, but it also has some extremely clever things to say about our YouTube culture, experiencing the world second-hand, and being guided by the emptiness of celebrity.
dir-scr Catherine Breillat 09/Fr ***
Taking her typically girl-power view and applying it to a fairy tale, Breillat creates a deeply undettling period tale about two sisters who are obsessed with the story about the resident of the nearby castle - and expecially the way his wives have all gone missing. When they get a chance to meet him, they play it as an audition, and sure enough, one is chosen as the next wife. But things don't go as expected - or maybe they do - as tables are turned and promises are broken. It's a tricky, difficult film to unpack, but there's some fascinating stuff inside. We were fortunate to have Breillat there to chat to us about why she told the story in this way after the screening. What a force of nature she is!
Saturday, 7 February 2009
dir Hans-Christian Schmid 09/Ger ****
Kerry Fox is terrific in this Euro-thriller about a war crimes tribunal at The Hague, struggling to keep the case alive after the key witness lies under oath. From here, the courtroom tension is deepened with an unsettling look at the evils of war and the just-as-awful way these things are covered up in the name of politics. Anamaria Marinca (4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days) is terrific as a woman who reluctantly agrees to speak the truth.
In the Electric Mist
dir Bertrand Tavernier 09/US ****
Southern gothic noir as directed by a veteran French filmmaker with an ace American cast led by Tommy Lee Jones in a twist on his usual sardonic detective mode. Set in Louisiana, where young girls are being killed, old skeletons are found in the swamps, and a big movie star couple (Peter Sarsgaard and Kelly Macdonald) are making a movie, the film has a surreal twist as the past invades the present in provocative ways that add to the central mystery.
dir Chaude Chabrol 09/Fr ***
The master of understated suspense is back with another muted thriller, this time starring Gerard Depardieu as an optimistic detective on vacation who can't help but get involved in a case that seems to be being botched by his rival. It's talky and a bit strange, but keeps us gripped as the plot circles around the characters. We never have a clue what might happen next, and the whole cast delivers intriguing, insinuating performances.
dir Gary Yates 09/Can ****
Timothy Olyphant leads a bunch of opium-addicted ex-cons (Rossif Sutherland, Joe Anderson, Stephen Erik McIntosh) on a bank heist that would be pretty clever if they weren't all so wasted. The result is very, very funny, and also sometimes painfully tragic as these sharp young men dull their wits and look likely to destroy their lives over the course of one disastrous day. A lively and entertaining film. Yates and his cast were at the screening, which they said was the first public screening in the world, for a very surreal Q&A.
I headed straight for the middle of the festival at Potsdamer Platz, to make the first meeting of the Fipresci Jury, and as I got out of the car my first view was of Kate Winslet running the gauntlet of paparazzi and fans on her way into the press centre. After the meeting I headed to my hotel, then back up to Potsdamer to look around. The press centre is a bit on the cramped side, and there's no wi-fi at all, so I will only be able to update this blog late, late at night when I get back to my room. I did manage to see two films...
dir-scr Rie Rasmussen 09/Fr ****
This fascinatingly bold drama centres on a woman (played by writer-director Rasmussen, who starred in Luc Besson's Angel-A) reliving her horrific past during the ethnic cleansing war in Kosovo as she tries to reassemble her life in Marseilles. Stylish and energetic, with a fiercely feminist attitude, it's a clever look at the issue of refugees mixed with an examination of how much of our identity comes from our nationality. It's a bit populist and Besson-like, but keeps you thinking. Rasmussen and her costar Nick Corey were at the screening for a perhaps too-chatty Q&A.
dir Dominic Murphy 09/UK ***
An intriguingly dark and twisted story set in West Virginia, this British-made film takes the true story of Jesco White and spins it into a grisly fiction about a man (played by Edward Hogg) addicted to lighter fluid and other things, who splits his brain into multiple personalities as a lover, an avenging angel and Elvis. It gets increasingly gruesome as it goes - and some of the acting and storytelling isn't hugely believable. But there's a wonderful role for Carrie Fisher, and it's so unhinged that we never have a clue where it will go next. Murphy, Hogg and a series of writers, producers and crew members (the film was shot in the US and Croatia) took the stage for a fascinating Q&A afterwards - especially when they recounted anecdotes about the real Jesco, who sounds a lot more full-on than the movie character.
Friday, 6 February 2009
And we had specially taped thank yous from Kate Winslet (Actress), Mickey Rourke (Actor), Tilda Swinton (Supporting Actress) and David Fincher (Director). Meanwhile, celebrities present included Ben Kingsley, Dev Patel, Nicholas Hoult, Liam Cunningham, Mark Strong and Mike Leigh. All in all a lively and enjoyable evening, as usual. Here's the full list of winners:
FILM OF THE YEAR
THE ATTENBOROUGH AWARD: BRITISH FILM OF THE YEAR
FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM OF THE YEAR
Waltz With Bashir
DIRECTOR OF THE YEAR
David Fincher - The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
BRITISH DIRECTOR OF THE YEAR
Danny Boyle - Slumdog Millionaire
ACTOR OF THE YEAR
Mickey Rourke - The Wrestler
ACTRESS OF THE YEAR
Kate Winslet - The Reader and Revolutionary Road
BRITISH ACTOR OF THE YEAR
Michael Fassbender - Hunger
BRITISH ACTRESS OF THE YEAR
Kristin Scott Thomas - I’ve Loved You So Long
BRITISH ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
Eddie Marsan - Happy-Go-Lucky
BRITISH ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
Tilda Swinton - The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
SCREENWRITER OF THE YEAR
Simon Beaufoy - Slumdog Millionaire
THE NPCC AWARD: YOUNG BRITISH PERFORMER OF THE YEAR
Thomas Turgoose - Somers Town and Eden Lake
BREAKTHROUGH BRITISH FILM-MAKER
Steve McQueen - Hunger
THE DILYS POWELL AWARD: EXCELLENCE IN FILM
Dame Judi Dench
Thursday, 5 February 2009
So I can't make any comments about the glamour of the red carpet on opening night (the film is The International, which I was supposed to see on Monday but the London screening was cancelled due to the snow).
On the other hand, I was out last night at the London Film Critics' Circle Awards, which was very glamorous, star-studded and great fun too. I plan to have some photos and commentary soon - watch this space.
Anyway, I'll be back at the airport first thing in the morning. But I'm more than a little nervous about reports that it's supposed to snow again tomorrow. Sigh.
Monday, 2 February 2009
Then the next day I head off to Berlin for the 59th Berlinale - I'm a member of the jury for the Fipresci Panorama prize. I'm still not sure how many films I have to see, but I know there are a lot I want to see outside the Panorama - so we'll see how it goes. Most of the films are world premieres, so much of Hollywood will be on the scene. And I hope I get invited to some of the parties at least. I'm there for the entire run of the festival, and plan to update this blog daily, so watch this space.
Meanwhile, I have a few screenings before I leave London, including Drew Barrymore's He's Just Not That Into You, which hasn't yet been screened for the press, which may or may not mean something; Jennifer Aniston's doggy drama Marley & Me; and Clive Owen's The International, which also happens to be the opening film in Berlin.