Monday, 23 January 2017

37th Critics' Circle Film Awards: words and pictures...

These three ladies were the stars of Sunday night's 37th London Critics' Circle Film Awards, held at the May Fair Hotel. I'm the chair of the event, so spend most of the year organising it with a hard-working committee, lots of helpers and some great sponsors. And we spread the winners around this year. Above: Kate Beckinsale won British/Irish Actress, Isabelle Huppert won both Actress of the Year for Things to Come and the Dilys Powell Award for Excellence in Film, and Naomie Harris won Supporting Actress for Moonlight.

Here's the team: me, our actor-filmmaker hosts Alice Lowe and Steve Oram, and Critics' Circle President Anna Smith.

When Isabelle Huppert was presented with the Dilys Powell Award - an honour we have wanted to bestow on her for years - the audience rose for a standing ovation.

Tom Bennett won Supporting Actor for Love & Friendship, Ken Loach won British/Irish Film of the Year for I, Daniel Blake.

Lewis MacDougall won Young British/Irish Performer for his work in A Monster Calls, while writer-director Babak Anvari won Breakthrough British/Irish Filmmaker for Under the Shadow.

Naomie Harris poses with her award alongside her Moonlight costar Alex Hibbert, who accepted the Supporting Actor award for Mahershala Ali. And on the right, director Brady Hood with his lead actress Jessica Bardem - winners of British/Irish Short Film of the Year for Sweet Maddie Stone.

Some winners who couldn't be with us recorded video messages. These included Casey Affleck, who won Actor of the Year for Manchester by the Sea, and Andrew Garfield, who was named British/Irish Actor of the Year. Two winners sent written messages: Kenneth Lonergan for Screenplay accepting Manchester by the Sea, and Maren Ade accepting Foreign-Language Film for Toni Erdmann.

Damien Chazelle recorded his video to accept Film of the Year for La La Land on his phone just after landing on a flight to China. Laszlo Nemes sent thanks for Director of the Year for Son of Saul from the middle of pre-production on his new film in Hungary. And cinematographer Sturla Brandth Grovlen thanked the critics for his Technical Achievement Award for Victoria from Montserrat.

Nominees celebrating with us for the evening included Dave Johns (I, Daniel Blake), Sennia Nanua (The Girl With All the Gifts) and Ferdia Walsh-Peelo (Sing Street).

More nominees: writer-director Mia Hansen-Love (Things to Come), filmmaker Otto Bell (The Eagle Huntress) and composer Mica Levi (Jackie).

Special guests with us included Love & Friendship costars Morfyd Clark and Emma Greenwell, as well as George MacKay.

And finally, here are a couple of snaps of me - on the left with Kristina Rihanoff and Ben Cohen, and on the right with Kate Beckinsale. The Sun ran this photo hinting that I was her "dapper" date for the evening.

Thursday, 19 January 2017

Critical Week: Muscle power

There were two big decades-later sequels screened to critics in London this week. XXX: Return of Xander Cage returns Vin Diesel to his extreme-sports spy 15 years after he last played him. The movie is just as preposterous, but thankfully has a sense of humour about it. And T2 Trainspotting is a 20-year reunion for the cast and crew of the cinema-changing Scottish drama. Danny Boyle cleverly adapts the film's kinetic style to a new middle-aged vibe, with a resonant running theme about the nature of nostalgia and growing up. And Viceroy's House is Gurinder Chadha's personal account of the independence and partition of India in 1947 (more about the film closer to the release date).

We also got to see John Waters' "lost" 1970 black comedy Multiple Maniacs in a restored digital projection. It looks fantastic, and is jaw-droppingly unmissable - outrageous even after all these years. And I also caught up with a timely HBO documentary...

Bright Lights
dir Alexis Bloom, Fisher Stevens; with Debbie Reynolds, Carrie Fisher 16/US ****
Warm and intimate, this documentary traces the close relationship between mother and daughter Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher. Anchored largely by Fisher's wry ongoing commentary, the film traces the careers of both actresses, as well as their private lives. It reveals that these two were tight friends who supported each other through the ups and downs of their lives with earthy humour and a fascinating balance of realism and optimism. It's a beautiful portrait of both women, and it also offers a bracing look at the life of Hollywood royalty over the past half century or so. From Carrie's astonishing singing talent to Debbie's unrequited passion to protect Hollywood's legacy, there's plenty in this movie that makes it an important document. But it's also emotionally moving, especially poignant following their deaths. Notably, the film was completed more than six months earlier. A must see for fans of Hollywood's golden age, from Singin' in the Rain to Star Wars.

This weekend I have been consumed with my role as chair of the 37th London Critics' Circle Film Awards, the fifth year I've organised the event. The star-studded ceremony is on Sunday at The May Fair Hotel and I'll have a full report with photos here as soon as possible. I also have screenings this coming week of Mindhorn, Spaceship, The Odyssey and Who's Gonna Love Me Now. I know nothing about any of them.

Thursday, 12 January 2017

Critical Week: Say what?

I was able to catch up with the London Film Festival gem Their Finest this week, a lightly handled drama about government-sponsored filmmakers during the Blitz. With a sharp cast anchored by Gemma Arterton, Bill Nighy and Sam Claflin and clever direction by Lone Scherfig, it's a telling story packed with engaging detail. Ben Affleck's Live by Night is a great-looking gangster movie, with another superb cast (including Chris Cooper, Sienna Miller and Zoe Saldana), but it's a bit too glacial to grab hold. And James McAvoy plays a man with multiple personalities in M Night Shyamalan's thriller Split. It's unnerving and sometimes full-on freaky, but rather messy.

Outside the mainstream, Bitter Harvest, a chronicle of the horrific Stalin-forced famine in the Ukraine in 1932-33, starring Max Irons, Samantha Barks and Terence Stamp. And Anna Biller's The Love Witch is a hilariously lurid 1960s-style pastiche of magic, romance and murder. Both films are clearly passion projects, and both feel rather overlong due to their choppy editing and in-your-face messages.

This coming week we have the 20-years-later sequel T2 Trainspotting, Woody Harrelson's real-time adventure Lost in London Live, the resurrected franchise XXX: Return of Xander Cage, the British/Indian drama Viceroy's House, the football icon doc Best and John Waters' long-lost Multiple Maniacs.

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Critical Week: Follow your nose

In the New Year so far, there have been no actual press screenings, so my movies have been on the small screen. This includes a couple that were made for TV. Benedict Cumberbatch was back for Sherlock: The Six Thatchers, an enjoyable mystery that continued this sporadic series' drift into insufferably smug tricksiness. This includes Sherlock's obsession with Twitter, swiftly abandoned when the plot needs to move. Let's hope upcoming episodes are more focussed on solid storytelling and character development. I also finally caught up with the pilot for The Get Down, directed by Baz Luhrmann. It's a hugely engaging movie set amid the burgeoning rap scene in 1977 New York. There's plenty of whizzy style, as expected, but also a clever depth of character that developed nicely through the following five episodes. I also caught the financial thriller The Crash, which has a starry ensemble cast good enough to make the film watchable despite a startlingly dull script.

My Scientology Movie
dir John Dower; with Louis Theroux, Marty Rathbun, Marc Headley, Andrew Perez, Rob Alter 16/UK ***.
British journalist Louis Theroux seems to fall into the Twilight Zone as he tries to make a balanced and open-minded, sympathetic documentary about Scientology. Despite never setting out to be combative, he keeps running into bizarre roadblocks, inexplicable reactions and aggressive resistance. Even the ex-members he talks to seem to be less than forthcoming. Some elements of this film don't work very well (such as all of the repetitive driving around or hiring actors to play prominent church members like Tom Cruise), but the film paints an intriguing portrait of an organisation that doesn't want any scrutiny at all - friendly or otherwise. And while Theroux goes out of his way to find the positive aspects of their beliefs and practices, Scientology's rather comically intimidating, incessant meddling ultimately makes it impossible for the audience to remain objective. Which of course ends up being the point.

Before the Flood
dir Fisher Stevens; scr Mark Monroe; with Leonardo DiCaprio, Barack Obama, Ban Ki-Moon, Pope Francis, Elon Musk, Alejandro Inarritu 16/US ****
This documentary may be rather pushy, but then it's about what should be the most important issue facing humanity at the moment: climate change. The film follows DiCaprio as he travels around the world for two years as a United Nations messenger of peace, asking questions, talking with leaders and experts, exploring the situation from devastated boreal forests to melting ice caps to burnt-out jungles to the flooded streets of Miami. Scientists have almost never so wholeheartedly agreed on any issue, including what needs to be done to slow the changes and avert catastrophe. And yet idiots (most of whom are paid off by oil company lobbyists) continue to deny that this is taking place, unforgivably jeopardising future generations. This isn't about ignorance, it's about evil. And there's plenty we can do if we can muster up the will. This clear-eyed, beautifully assembled documentary is a bit gimmicky, but it carefully highlights the issue for anyone who wants to know the truth.

Screenings start up again on Monday, and I have the James McAvoy thriller Split in the diary. There's also Ben Affleck's mobster drama Live by Night, the 60s-style thriller The Love Witch and a German drama called Jonathan.

Saturday, 31 December 2016

A Year in Shadows: 2016

36th Shadows Awards: Happy New Year!

There's an even wider variety than usual in my top 10 this year, but all of these are films I simply couldn't forget, mainly due to the sheer skill of the filmmakers. Pablo Larrain brought unusual depth and complexity to his exploration of legacy and celebrity in Jackie; Gianfranco Rosi's Fire at Sea is a timely documentary, a heart-pounding adventure and a heart-rending drama at the same time; Damien Chazelle's La La Land is a joyous celebration of love and aspiration in a city known for making and crushing dreams. Those are just the top three, and I feel as strongly about all the movies in my top 50 this year. (Long lists happen when you see some 500 movies a year!) Full lists and then some are ON THE SITE...

  1. Jackie (Pablo Larrain)
  2. Fire at Sea (Gianfranco Rosi)
  3. La La Land (Damien Chazelle)
  4. Son of Saul (Laszlo Nemes)
  5. Moonlight (Barry Jenkins)
  6. Toni Erdmann (Maren Ade)
  7. Kubo and the Two Strings (Travis Knight)
  8. It's Only the End of the World (Xavier Dolan)
  9. The Woman Who Left (Lav Diaz)
  10. Under the Shadow (Babak Anvari)
Damien Chazelle (La La Land)

Barry Jenkins (Moonlight)

Isabelle Huppert (Elle, Things to Come)

Geza Rohrig (Son of Saul)

Naomie Harris (Moonlight, Our Kind of Traitor, Collateral Beauty)

Lucas Hedges (Manchester by the Sea)

  1. The Boss (Ben Falcone)
  2. Ride Along 2 (Tim Story)
  3. Stonewall (Roland Emmerich)
  4. Assassin's Creed (Justin Kurzel)
  5. Inferno (Ron Howard)
  6. Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates (Jake Szymanski)
  7. The Greasy Strangler (Jim Hosking)
  8. Bad Santa 2 (Mark Waters)
  9. London Has Fallen (Babak Najafi)
  10. Warcraft (Duncan Jones)

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Critical Week: Baby you're a firework

I've only had one actual press screening in the last week - Ang Lee's new drama Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk. It's a fascinating idea, made with a striking technical approach and a solid cast. But even they can't quite sell the rather simplistic dialog. On disc, I also caught up with the Swedish comedy-drama A Man Called Ove, a delightfully engaging story about a grumpy old man who begins to understand why he's like he is. Zero Days is another expertly assembled and deeply chilling documentary from Alex Gibney, this time about how a computer worm invaded the world and changed the nature of warfare. Another film doesn't have a UK release date, so here are my comments...

Hello, My Name Is Doris
dir Michael Showalter;
with Sally Field, Max Greenfield, Tyne Daly, Stephen Root, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Kumail Nanjiani, Peter Gallagher, Natasha Lyonne 16/US ***

The clever premise of this comedy is somewhat undermined by its slapstick slant. Field is terrific as the retirement-age Doris, who has been caring for her mother all her life, and is only now getting her first taste of freedom, so she develops a crush on a hot new employee (Greenfield) in her office. Where this goes is warm and funny, and sometimes movingly astute. But the film is infused with corny touches, from Doris' frankly absurd clothing to her quirky bumbling. Refreshingly, she's also realistically web-savvy and open to pop musicality, which allows Field to transcend the limits of the writing and direction. And the plot has some nice surprises up its sleeve, most of all the chemistry between Field and Greenfield. And it thankfully avoids sentimentality. And it's great to see not only Field in such a meaty role, but also the fabulous Daly as her lifelong pal. Both should really be on our screens all the time.

I don't have any screenings until January 10th, but I still have several unwatched screener discs at home to catch up on, plus an endless supply of screener links, if I can cope with watching movies hiccupping and buffering along the way. There are also unwatched TV series to catch up on, as well as hopefully some non-screen time if the weather isn't too terrible.