My Year in Film: 2015 in 21 memorable moments

There’s been more than enough pieces written on the best films of 2015, including two lists (which include Tom McCarthy’s Spotlight, pictured above) to which I already contributed – Sight & Sound and CineVue – so here at Cinematic Investigations, we’ll refrain from adding further to what was considered ‘best’* last year. Instead, this annual review will focus on the complete year’s viewing, including television, films re-watched and those seen at festivals and at home. In a year in which I attended 10 film festivals, viewed 262 films, of which 68 were short and 125 were new** features, this is a way of considering what was personally most memorable, and not necessarily the films themselves, but the whole experience of viewing, discussing, sharing and thinking about film.

  1. Filmmaker interviews at IFFR 2015

As I reported back in January, I was selected to be part of International Film Festival Rotterdam’s Trainee Programme for Young Film Critics. A great honour that allowed me to meet some brilliant people, and conduct interviews with Remy Van Heugten via Skype about his film Gluckauf, in person with Ingo Haeb about The Chambermaid Lynn, on the phone to Martin Radich to discuss Norfolk and via email with Nicolas Steiner for his remarkable documentary, Above and Below.

  1. Tired Moonlight at IFFR and EFG

Britni West’s enthralling, ambiguous Tired Moonlight was the last of 31 films I saw at IFFR. By that point I was exhausted and longing for my own bed, and West’s Super 16mm shot ode to her hometown of Kalispell, Montana gradually lifted me from apathy to pure joy. When I screened it for the Edinburgh Film Guild audience in December, it temporarily made us forget there was a freezing downpour going on outside.

  1. Family cinema trip: Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure

My favourite ‘Come and See’ screening at Filmhouse in 2015.

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The Tribe

  4. Brutal cinema part 1: The Tribe

Being a fairly miserable Ukrainian drama in which the only dialogue is un-subtitled Russian sign-language, Miroslav Slaboshpitsky’s The Tribe was a hard sell to the friends I asked to accompany me, but I suggested it could be unlike anything we’ve seen before. It certainly proved more divisive than anything else, sparking a heated debate about whether such depictions of violence are deliberately and unnecessarily provocative.

  1. Orange is the New Black series 3

Particularly episode four, Finger in the Dyke written by Lauren Morelli and directed by Constantine Makris, in which Big Boo’s (Lea DeLaria) backstory is revealed; where an initially playful persuasion by her father to get her to wear a dress as a child, develops into complete parental rejection of her lesbian identity. This series frequently deals with characters struggling with who they are, and this episode showcased DeLaria’s ability as a performer to convey someone who courageously asserts herself, in the face of those who would prefer she pretend to be someone else.

  1. Experimental film and rolling hills – nice one, Alchemy Film & Moving Image Festival.

  2. Amy

Asif Kapadia’s expertly made documentary about Amy Winehouse just about broke me.

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I stay with you (me quedo contigo)
  1. Brutal cinema part 2: I stay with you (me quedo contigo) at IFFR and EIFF.

At IFFR, I saw Mexican artist Artemio Narro’s I stay with you, a deliberately deceptive, willingly provocative experiment in putting female violence on screen and right in the viewer’s face. In an upcoming issue of the Slovenian journal KINO!, I discuss the film and violent women generally with fellow writer Tina Poglajen, but on first viewing I really didn’t know what to make of it. When EIFF Artistic Director, Mark Adams, selected it to screen at EIFF, I looked forward to meeting with Narro again and talking more about the film, having allowed its brilliance and flaws to fully sink in. Narro proved to be one of the best guests at the festival – he’s certainly aware of the challenging nature of the film, and was prepared to lose a good proportion of the audience during the screening.

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With Artemio Narro during the Q&A at EIFF

At his Q&A, I asked him about the film’s wider reception, about his intentions for the film, and the audience too, quizzed him on the random appearance of a horse (actually a unicorn, Narro loves them, even has a unicorn tattoo, which went down well in the country for whom they are the national animal), and the film’s unsettling tonal shifts. It was a film that inspired what any artist can hope for – passionate, thoughtful (and in this case, angry) engagement from the audience.

  1. EIFF’s Doc of the Day: Stand By for Tape Back-Up and other special events, including Haskell Wexler himself.

As programme coordinator at Edinburgh International Film Festival last year, I had the pleasure of planning and delivering a lot of truly special events; a gig reuniting legends of the Scottish post-punk/indie music scene following Grant McPhee’s Big Gold Dream; a Skype Q&A with the Angulo brothers, subject of Crystal Moselle’s incredible The Wolfpack, and In Person events with Neil Innes and Barry Purves. One of my films of the year however turned out to be Ross Sutherland’s Stand by for Tape Back-Up, an autobiographical, semi-experimental documentary that plays with time and memory and incorporates The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air into musings on the afterlife. It’s a film that’s now deeply embedded in my mind as one of the most intriguing and moving I’ve seen.

Also at EIFF, I met again with award-winning cinematographer Seamus McGarvey (High Fidelity, Atonement, The Avengers, We Need to Talk About Kevin, Godzilla) who had brought legendary cinematographer Haskell Wexler to the festival to discuss his work and the issues most important to him. Wexler wanted to spend most of his onstage time praising Seamus, but the latter carefully persuaded him to share some of his experiences from his life’s work, which includes One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, and Medium Cool. Sadly Wexler passed away in December aged 93, I’m privileged to have met him.
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10. Cats Are Cinema: Noel Marshall’s Roar

In which Noel Marshall and wife Tippi Hedren spent eleven years bringing to the screen a film they were sure would raise awareness of the poaching of African big cats and the unfair treatment of big cats in captivity. The result was a shoot with over one hundred cats – lions, tigers, jaguars etc. – seventy injuries to the crew and several near death experiences. The film itself is a completely bonkers and terrifying tribute to the cats, and Marshall and Hedren’s foolhardy commitment to their cause. A late night at EIFF, in which I laughed long and hard.

11. There’s how many teaspoons of sugar in one tablespoon of ketchup?! The influence of That Sugar Film.

There’s four. Four teaspoons of sugar in one tablespoon of tomato ketchup. Thank you Damon Gameau for making That Sugar Film and forever changing my feelings about the sweet stuff. When I met Gameau at EIFF I learned I was the eighty-fifth person to host a Q&A with him – he said I did a good job. What a pro.

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12. Family Cinema Trip: Magic Mike XXL

My sister was ssshhh’ed for whooping during the opening credits – those Edinburgh Cineworld audiences take their fun seriously! And it was, seriously fun.

13. Singing and crying: Hedwig and the Angry Inch at Filmhouse

Only the second time I’d seen John Cameron Mitchell’s cult musical (the first being a Blockbuster video rental sometime around 2002) but this time it was a sing-a-long screening and I soaked up the film’s emotion and wit, impressed by my friends lyrical knowledge and shared sensitivity to Hedwig’s identity crisis.

14. Live narration: Miso Suchy whispers in my ear at Bratislava International Film Festival!

15. Endings: The West Wing

Finally finishing The West Wing brought with it the satisfaction of seeing it through and the sadness that there were no new episodes to see. When we first started it, we found W.G. Snuffy Walden’s score unbearably patriotic (what did we expect?!) but by the end it felt triumphantly appropriate. Other highlights of viewing: assessing Josh’s hair, loving and then missing Sam Seaborn, doing impressions of Bruno’s ‘kelp’ speech, noticing which episodes had a Parks and Recreation version, saying ‘Blues explosion’ during the credits when John Spencer appears.
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16. Jess-i-caaaaaaaa!!!! Jones

A superhero show in which the villain is literally the patriarchy? Yes please. A thousand times yes.

17. All in one night: Master of None

So many brilliant episodes in this series, I loved how each was themed, I loved the compassion and honesty of it, I loved its representation of friendship and millennial anxiety. I loved that it was flawed.

18. Aniston forever and ever and ever

In case you didn’t know, 2015 brought you the blog series you’ve always wanted: a critique of the megastar that is Jennifer Aniston. Watching her films has so far been a mix of irksome, joyful and hilarious, more coming soon.
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19. Carol

I summarised what makes Todd Haynes’ latest so special, and my film of the year, for CineVue, so I’ll simply quote myself here: ‘That it’s so highly lauded is assuredly deserved, as Director Todd Haynes and screenwriter Phyllis Nagy have created a richly realised depiction of romantic love that envelops the viewer completely in its characters’ world. Both Rooney Mara as shop clerk and aspiring photographer Therese, and Cate Blanchett as the titular married woman, falling in love in 1950s New York, give exceptional performances, and have a chemistry palpable in every glance. The result is a film the very texture of which, highlights Carol and Therese’s relationship as one defined by both their unnameable intimacy and the distance between them, agonisingly reconciled in the film’s last, brilliantly tense final scene.’

20. Finally saw Frozen and understood its genius (see video below)

21. Best Christmas film: Sean Baker’s Tangerine.

 

 

 

 

*For the record my official Top Ten, offered to CineVue is:
1. Carol
2. The Diary of a Teenage Girl
3. Spotlight
4. Stand by for Tape Back-Up
5. Dreamcatcher
6. It Follows
7. Arabian Nights
8. The Forbidden Room
9. Anomalisa
10. Force Majeure
** Any film that had its first screening in 2015, internationally.

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My week in film: Sightseers, Magic Mike, For a Good Time, Call… and more

The week began playing catch-up with seemingly everyone in the UK (or at least the hundreds of enthusiastic tweeters) who had seen Sightseers (2012) on opening weekend. Ben Wheatley’s third feature following Down Terrace and Kill List emerged at Cannes this year to great acclaim and having just last night won the Best Screenplay Award at the Moet British Independent Film Awards; it looks set to take the US by storm when it premieres at Sundance in January. sightseers-2012-001-chris-and-tina-up-mountain-posing-to-camera_0

The film follows a road trip undertaken by Chris and Tina (writers Steve Oram and Alice Lowe) to Yorkshire from Birmingham, caravan in tow, in the hope that Chris will finding his writers ‘oeuvre’ and Tina will temporarily escape her world of dogs, knitting and her mother. These romantic aspirations reach darker territory when Chris allows his bitterness and resentment to take violent form and Tina is soon enthralled by the opportunity to unleash her id upon the world. As uncompromisingly bloody as Wheatley’s previous work, Sightseers is also comically broader and delights in musical juxtapositions that render the whole exercise innately fun. Caricatures they may be, but Chris and Tina are also distinctly British creations that ring true as representations of national reserve abandoned in favour of unchallenged, manic, fervour. Chris is aghast at Tina’s newfound rage, a far cry from the ostensible rules of choosing a victim that he initially employs. Unlike other examples of couples on the run however (see Bonnie & Clyde review, below), Wheatley offers another dark comic twist by skewing the idea of lovers united forever in death – but I won’t spoil the ending for you.

I also caught up with a couple of this year’s earlier releases in what turned out to be an excellent double bill. magic-mike-0

Magic Mike (Steven Soderberg) and For a Good Time, Call… (Jamie Travis) both reconsider assumptions about sex-related work (stripping and sex lines, respectively) with a focus on male/male and female/female friendships where business is a component of their intimacy. Despite what you might assume about a film about male stripping, Magic Mike is poignantly as much to do with ageing and the impressionability of youth as it is a fantastic demonstration of Channing Tatum’s dancing and Matthew McConaughey’s depth as an actor. for-a-good-time-call-movie-review

 

For a Good Time, Call… plays out like a rom-com only this time its female solidarity that’s at stake and the chemistry between Ari Graynor (the new Goldie Hawn that Kate Hudson wishes she was) and Lauren Miller is infectious. They’re also both very funny and entertaining films.

 

 

A new addition – though whether it will prevail is questionable – Phantoms (Joe Chappelle, 1998) is my bad film of the week and could safely be considered to include some of the worst acting and dialogue in a film that also features Peter O’Toole. One spectacular example, Sheriff Hammond (Ben Affleck) to Deputy Stu (Live Schreiber) “Are you OK? ‘Cos I need you to be OK, OK?” befophantoms027dh3re they take on the ‘ancient enemy’ in a small, Colorado town. The film does manage to provide some effectively unsettling images in the third act, notably when O’Toole’s Dr Timothy Flyte challenges the ‘phantom’ to reveal itself, only to be faced with the whole town’s possessed inhabitants staring out from the darkness. Live Schreiber is also brilliantly creepy and puts in a sterling effort to bring charisma to a highly derivative, Invasion of the Body Snatchers/The Thing creature horror.

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Finally I ended this week’s viewing in much the same way it started, with a couple-on-the-run classic, nay, the classic, Bonnie and Clyde (1967). Arthur Penn’s highly successful and critically acclaimed cinematic account of real-life criminals Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, who robbed many and killed thirteen people in depression era America proved to be even better than I expected. What stood out for me was the complexity of Clyde’s feelings for Bonnie (Faye Dunaway) – that he is portrayed by Warren Beatty as deeply conflicted about corrupting his accomplice and holds off from consummating their attraction to each other until quite near the film’s end. Also a surprise treat was Gene Wilder as car-thief victim turned temporary tag-along, expressing a fearful glee at his captors wild abandon and shock on learning that is female companion is older than he thought – a nice comedic touch.

 

Also watched: X-Men First Class (Matthew Vaughn, 2011) a very entertaining super-hero movie that reminded me – through the ethical dilemmas and character’s identity anxiety – why the X-Men are my favourite heroes.