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: Keep the Lights On, The Girl, Jennifer’s Body and an assortment of fairytales.

The festive week’s film viewing, rather than including the usual Christmas fare (I didn’t even manage to watch A Muppet Christmas Carol!) for the most part; either reinforced exactly the same ‘magical’ feeling that Christmas is supposed to be about – only in fairytale form or; centred around issues of female identity and gender stereotyping – depending on which way you look at it.  JENNIFERS-BODY-photos-lesbi

On Christmas eve whilst many round the country were at midnight mass, I was thoroughly enjoying Jennifer’s Body (2009), the Megan Fox starring high-school horror/comedy in which Mean Girls’ Amanda Seyfried dons spectacles to play the titular cheerleaders’ BFF. Diablo Cody’s witty screenplay and Karyn Kusama’s thoughtful direction combine to produce a hugely enjoyable critique of the female teen experience. Not to mention a nice satire of the ubiquity of US indie rock bands. A comment about the myth of PMS comes to take on new meaning when Jennifer (Fox) is possessed by a blood-hungry devil, who – when not satisfied – reduces her appearance to dank hair and pallid skin; or does this ‘beauty’ simply look like every other teenage girl at their ‘time of the month’. Needy (Seyfried) must then find a way to stop Jennifer’s murderous rampage, whilst keeping the friendship intact (or not). Rather than a will-they won’t-they love story, Jennifer’s Body puts female friendship at stake and refreshingly examines loyalty across presumed social barriers. It’s also very funny indeed. Giselle-enchanted-1992210-1024-768

Next up – fairytales and parody in Tangled (2010), Enchanted (2007) and Sleepless in Seattle (1993) – the latter being a film I’ve seen more times than I care to mention. Tangled on release followed The Princess and the Frog (2009) in being a fairytale princess tale harking back to the times of Snow White and Cinderella, but with the twist that their heroines are more autonomous and quit-witted than previous incarnations of the Disney female. Tangled’s Rapunzel may be surrounded by fairytale archetypes such as the mean witch/mother who won’t let her out of her tower but she determinedly breaks out of her comfort zone to pursue her own goal.

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Likewise, in Enchanted, Giselle – having been pushed out of fairytale land Andalasia and into Manhattan – ends up fighting the evil queen to save the man she loves, rather than marry the traditional prince with whom she is supposed to share true loves’ kiss. In Sleepless in Seattle, Meg Ryan’s Annie fantasises that a man she has never met could be ‘the man of her dreams’ and we, the audience are complicit in the fantasy as Nora Ephron’s sweet and clever film persuades us of the couple’s compatibility with a huge bucket of charm. Believing in a fairytale, whether you’re aware of it or not is a simple part of life, apparently. In my festive line up of fantasy females though, I think Jennifer and Needy win.

the-girl-ay_99779624HBO/BBC’s The Girl also dealt with female autonomy and male sexual fantasy whereby the fairytale of Hollywood stardom comes with a heavy price.  Sienna Miller and Toby Jones portrayed Tippi Hedren and Alfred Hitchcock during the making of the legendary directors iconic films, The Birds (1963) and Marnie (1964) and Hitch is shown to have manipulated his star, sexually harassed her and put her under physical and emotional distress. Based on interviews with Hedren and members of Hitchcock’s crew, Gwyneth Hughes and Donald Spoto’s screenplay nevertheless makes it hard not to question the veracity of the events portrayed, as Hitch comes off as a sleazy, impotent creep, an image contrary to the loveable, black-humoured national treasure he is considered by many to be. Indeed it has been reported that Hitchcock’s former crew have spoken out about his portrayal in The Girl claiming that he has been misrepresented. Truth or fiction aside, the level of period detail and recreation of film sets and locations is a singular achievement and Miller and Jones both perform with conviction and authentic emotion.

2_e_Ira-Sachs-_Keep-the-Lights-OnGetting back to the cinema I was thrilled to see Keep the Lights On by Ira Sachs. Unfortunately I hadn’t managed to avoid the praise for this film (I like to keep an open mind) but nevertheless it proved to be an intelligent and mature approach to a contemporary romance about a couple, one half of which is struggling with drug addiction. Thure Lindhardt as Erik was a luminous, enchanting presence on screen and well matched by Zachary Booth as his troubled boyfriend, Paul. That it was shot on super 16 film not only renders the whole film completely gorgeous but lends the aesthetic a romantic feel and grounds the form in line with its protagonists profession as a filmmaker – cinematographic warmth translates to deep affection for the characters, indicating a very personal story. The use of Arthur Russell on the soundtrack is also an excellent element that coheres with the emotion of the screenplay demonstrating a freshness that saves it from sentimentality.

Coming soon, my most memorable – rather than best of – 2012 and a list of those I’d rather forget.