Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Critical Week: Nicole's on fire

London critics had a double bill of Nicole Kidman this week, as she vamped her way through both Lee Daniels' The Paperboy and Park Chan-wook's Stoker. Both are the kind of movie you talk about - full of style and passion, colourful characters and controversial situations. And costars on fine form too: Zac Efron, Matthew McConaughey, John Cusack in one, Mia Wasikowska and Matthew Goode in the other.

The other big films included the funny-cruel British anti-romcom I Give It a Year, starring Rafe Spall, Rose Byrne, Stephen Merchant, Minnie Driver and everyone else they could rope into it. An even more outrageous cast populates the harshly unfunny Movie 43, which wasn't shown to the press (I bought a ticket Friday morning with all the other critics) and which is being sold on its Oscar-calibre cast alone. More likeable were the low-budget British films Papadopoulos & Sons and Do Elephants Pray, both of which yearn for simpler times by undermining a workaholic businessman. Neither is a classic, but the former is at least likeable.

We also had a trilogy of terror in Mama, a cleverly creepy horror starring Jessica Chastain; Chained, some effectively grisly nastiness from Jennifer Lynch; and Crawl, a twisted pitch-black comedy from Australia. More artful freakouts were had in the bracingly well shot and edited Danish ship-board thriller A Hijacking and the darkly artful Korean animated bullying drama The King of Pigs.

This coming week we have Ben Affleck in Terence Malick's To the Wonder, Al Pacino and Christopher Walken in Stand Up Guys, Nicholas Hoult in the zombie romance Warm Bodies, the undersea animation Sammy's Great Escape, the 3D crazy-stunt movie Nitro Circus and the Turkish drama Home (Yurt).

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Critical Week: London's gleaming

UK critics last week got to see the upcoming London crime thriller Welcome to the Punch, starring James McAvoy and Mark Strong. Our comments are embargoed ahead of the March release date, but the still above gives a pretty good idea of filmmaker Eran Creevy's sleek, glassy approach. We also watched Pierce Brosnan's gentle and rather enjoyably sweet romance Love Is All You Need, which is actually a Danish film (directed by Susanne Bier and costarring Trine Dyrholm and Paprika Steen) set mostly in Italy.

Speaking of Italy, we also caught up with last year's surprise Berlinale winner Caesar Must Die, a clever twist on Shakespeare by the Taviani Brothers. And we were glued to the harrowing genius of Alex Gibney's latest documentary Mea Maxima Culpa, which compellingly, lucidly sets the abusive-priest scandal in the context of a staggering global conspiracy.

This coming week I have a few more films to catch up with - since I took a bit of time out last week to work on the London critics' awards ceremony. I'll be seeing Rafe Spall and Rose Byrne in the rom-com I Give It a Year, Mia Wasikowska and Nicole Kidman in the acclaimed Sundance film Stoker, Brandon Cronenberg's Antiviral, the British drama Papadopoulos & Sons, the festival hit A Hijacking, the anime horror The King of Pigs, and the indie horror Crawl.

Monday, 21 January 2013

33rd London Critics' Circle Film Awards

It wasn't just another Critics' Circle ceremony for me: this year I was chair of the awards committee, so the whole evening was my baby. And it was odd to see every tiny detail I've agonised over for the past few months slot into place so nicely, despite some significant obstacles. We lost four nominee attendees at the last minute due to the snow (Tom Hooper) and the flu (Andrea Riseborough, Will Poulter and Jacqueline Durran), and others couldn't come because they were working far, far away. But everyone who made it had a great night.

The day started on Sunday morning as I looked out the window to see snow falling. It's been a snowy week in London, with the usual travel chaos any change in the weather brings. But we were in motion, and couldn't be stopped. I headed from home via replacement bus (my Tube line was helpfully closed) to the May Fair Hotel in Mayfair, where the production team ran through the show in the theatre at noon. Then there were fine-tuning adjustments, printing up the winners cards for the envelopes, collating the speeches from those who couldn't be there to accept their award, and of course changing into our finery for the show. The critics who were presenting awards arrived at 5pm to run through their parts of the presentation with our host Richard Herring (who has blogged brilliantly about his experience).

By 5.30pm the first attendees were assembling on the red carpet and facing the press line. The cameramen of course latched on to the glamorous women, including Helena Bonham Carter (recipient of our top honour, the Dilys Powell Award for Excellence in Film), Emily Blunt (nominee for British Actress), Samantha Barks (nominee for Young Performer) and Olivia Colman (last year's British Actress winner, who generously came to help me present the award this year).
Also very popular with the press was young Jack Reynor, nominated as Young Performer, who has just been named as the star of Transformers 4. He had a great night, knowing he was heading home to Dublin in the morning to begin four months of physical training for the film. Although I told him he really needs to take a break to celebrate his 21st birthday this week!
I had a chance to talk to all of our special guests as they arrived, including Ben Drew (nominated for Ill Manors), Charlie Creed-Miles and Dexter Fletcher (nominatees for Wild Bill), and three nominees from the superb British film My Brother the Devil: writer-director Sally El Hosaini, actor Fady Elsayed and cinematographer David Raedeker. At 6.30pm the champagne reception was shifted into the theatre for the awards ceremony, which clipped along thanks to Richard Herring's snappy hosting. Several early winners weren't present: Anne Hathaway's Supporting Actress award was accepted by Les Miserables producer Debra Hayward, and Philip Seymour Hoffman was unable to be here to get his Supporting Actor award, Emmannuelle Riva sent a lovely video message from Paris to accept Actress, and Joaquin Phoenix wrote the thank-you note of the night* to accept Actor.
But most of the British winners were on hand to collect their prizes. Above: The Impossible's Tom Holland with his Young Performer trophy, Rafe Spall turned up to accept the Director award for his Life of Pi director Ang Lee, and The Imposter's Bart Layton took home the award for Documentary. Below: Alice Lowe and Steve Oram were multiple nominees for British Actress and British Actor, and won Breakthrough Filmmaker for their Sightseers script.
Andrea Riseborough won the British Actress award, which I presented, but she'd had to cancel her attendance at the last minute due to illness. So last year's winner Olivia Colman accepted the award and read a message from her. Toby Jones (below) won the British Actor award, and then came back to the stage with sound designer Stevie Haywood (a Technical Achievement nominee) to claim British Film of the Year for Berberian Sound Studio.
There was a warm acceptance video from Bill Westenhofer, who won Technical Achievement for the visual effects in Life of Pi. And Michael Haneke sent two thank-you videos - accepting his awards for Screenplay and Film of the Year for Amour. He's in Madrid at the moment staging a version of Cosi Fan Tutte

The highlight of the evening was Mike Newell presenting the Dilys to Helena Bonham Carter: "She's like a kaleidoscope, she is able to deliver these wonderful, vivid characters again and again. They're all full of variety, full of wit and energy and I think people long to see what she's going to try next. She's become an institution. Working with her is always surprising, always harmonious. Not one tiny little bit of foot-stamping or tantrum-throwing."

Her speech was hilariously witty, warm and honest, and she later told the press: "It feels like a rash. It suddenly seems like I've got a contagion of diseases - I mean awards! But it's nice, it's a nice feeling. It's so weird, because I'm only 46. A lifetime achievement award - it feels like 'I'm not over yet'. I hope they're not trying to say it's time to stop. I'm only just getting the gist of it." She clearly had a great evening, and she and Tim Burton were among the last to leave, happily chatting to everyone throughout the after party. I left shortly after them, sharing a cab through the snowy streets to North London with fellow critic and awards committee member Pauline McLeod (that's us below).
I didn't open my goody bag until this morning - quite a haul! I need to thank our charity partner Missing People and our amazing sponsors for making this happen. And now I feel like I need a holiday before I start thinking about 2014....

Critics' Circle Film Section - top 10 films of 2012:

  1. Amour
  2. The Master
  3. Life of Pi
  4. Argo
  5. Beasts of the Southern Wild
  6. Zero Dark Thirty
  7. Once Upon a Time in Anatolia
  8. Django Unchained
  9. Tabu
  10. Rust and Bone

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Critical Week: An actor's second skin

For me, the biggest event of the week was a visit to the V&A's Hollywood Costume exhibition, showcasing hundreds of iconic movie costumes - from the silent era up to this past year. It's a mind-boggling collection, and difficult to pick favourites. Obvious ones include gowns worn on screen by goddesses like Judy Garland, Marilyn Monroe, Joan Crawford, Marlene Dietrich and Greta Garbo. But I really enjoyed the two Harrison Ford items - an expanded exploration of each item of Indiana Jones' costume, and the actual Han Solo outfit. There's also a superb section featuring Meryl Streep and Robert De Niro, and several round-table discussions between actors, costume designers and directors (for example: Tippi Hedren, Edith Head and Alfred Hitchcock "discussing" The Birds). Unmissable.

As for screenings, there were two big action movies - Arnold Schwarzenegger and Forest Whitaker in The Last Stand and Mark Wahlberg and Russell Crowe in Broken City - and a big weepy - Josh Duhamel in Safe Haven. Sorry, but I can't say anything about these films just yet - embargoes apply. I can, however, confirm that the two revival films I saw this week were wonderful: the 3D conversion of my favourite Pixar movie Monsters Inc and a big screen revival of A Place in the Sun, starring Montgomery Clift and Elizabeth Taylor at their most achingly gorgeous. And I quite enjoyed the subtle, low-budget comedy The Men Next Door.

This coming week is pretty dominated by the 33rd London Critics' Circle Film Awards on Sunday night - I am the chair of the awards committee, so am thoroughly involved in organising the ceremony. It should be great fun as always - and I'll offer a full report. Screening-wise, we have James McAvoy in Welcome to the Punch, Pierce Brosnan in Love Is All You Need, and Alex Gibney's documentary Mea Maxima Culpa, among others.

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Critical Week: Welcome to digital

London critics got a look at the documentary Side by Side this week, in which Keanu Reeves chats with a series of a-list directors and cinematographers about the shift from using film to digital cameras. It's fascinating for any audience - perhaps too academic for mainstream viewers and too simplistic for serious film fans. But the line-up of interviewees makes it unmissable.

Otherwise, we had a rather low-key start to the year, with screenings of the creepy indie horror movie Midnight Son, an uneven twist on the vampire genre, and the riveting, award-winning sushi chef doc Jiro Dreams of Sushi. There were also two low-budget American gay films: the smart, sharply written and played New York comedy Gayby, and the introspective, sensitive Mormon missionary drama The Falls. Both avoid cliches to deal with some big issues in inventive ways.

Tonight I'm catching up with Ryan Gosling's Gangster Squad, which opens later this week. We also have screenings of Arnold Schwarzenegger's The Last Stand, Mark Wahlberg and Russell Crowe in Broken City, the sleeper awards-season darling Compliance and, finally, a chance to see Monsters Inc in 3D.

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

32nd Shadows Awards: Best of 2012

Here are my top 10 films of 2012, as well as my favourites in the main categories. Full top-10 lists in each category, and rather an awful lot more, are on the site...

TOP 10 FILMS OF 2012:
  1. Life of Pi (Ang Lee)
  2. Rust and Bone (Jacques Audiard)
  3. Holy Motors (Leos Carax)
  4. Safety Not Guaranteed (Colin Trevorrow)
  5. Amour (Michael Haneke)
  6. Chronicle (Josh Trank)
  7. Tabu (Miguel Gomes)
  8. The House I Live In (Eugene Jarecki)
  9. Sightseers (Ben Wheatley)
  10. Pitch Perfect (Jason Moore)
Ang Lee (Life of Pi)

Jacques Audiard, Thomas Bidegain (Rust and Bone)

Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook, The Hunger Games)

Denis Lavant (Holy Motors)

Anne Hathaway (The Dark Knight Rises, Les Miserables)

Eddie Redmayne (Les Miserables)

ENSEMBLE: Pitch Perfect

BREAKOUT FILMMAKER: Bart Layton (The Imposter)

BREAKOUT ACTOR: Dane DeHaan (Chronicle, Lawless)

MUSIC: The Master (Jonny Greenwood)

CINEMATOGRAPHY: Life of Pi (Cloudio Miranda)

EDITING: Argo (William Goldenberg)

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Berberian Sound Studio (Jennifer Kernke)

EFFECTS: Life of Pi

STUNTS: Haywire

~~~~~~~ ~~ ~~~ ~~~~
OK, so arriving back home with eight hours of jet lag on New Year's Eve is great if you want to stay up late, but it's not going to help me get back in the correct time zone very quickly. Especially since I have hours (if not days) of work ahead to get caught up after a few weeks away. On the flight home, I was able to revisit Pitch Perfect, cementing its place in my top 10 of the year (it's just as funny and clever the second time round). And ahead of me this coming week is a teetering stack of DVD screeners to catch up with. My first actual press screening will be the indie horror film Midnight Son on Friday, with Ryan Gosling's Gangster Squad, Arnold Schwarzenegger's The Last Stand and the film doc Side by Side following soon behind.