Friday, 15 December 2017

Film Highlights of 2017

To be followed shortly (I hope) by my top 10 films of 2017. I've inserted numerous links which you can click on for further information if you wish to learn more. Here are my film and film related highlights of 2017:

Film discovery of the year:
- In 2017 I got to see many great films of yesteryear but my major "discovery" over the last 12 months would have to be Bill Forsyth's 1987 feature Housekeeping.
After languishing in semi obscurity for decades this truly wondrous film has been given the presentation it so richly deserves on the UK dual format release, courtesy of Powerhouse films/Indicator label.

- From a viewing standpoint the 52 films by women challenge was undoubtedly my most worthwhile undertaking of the year. I made some great discoveries and realised more than ever before that the disproportionately low amount of films directed by women is one of cinema history's biggest failings. The viewing challenge would sadly take on an added relevance as numerous allegations of discrimination and harassment towards women within the film industry was unquestionably the major talking point in the world of film this year.

- 2017 Leeds International Film Festival, 1st-16th November

- John Ford's criminally underrated 1961 western Two Rode Together got a fabulous dual format release by Eureka/Masters of Cinema in March. Casually dismissed by Ford himself, I feel this has long been unfairly overshadowed by his similarly themed (and wildly overrated) earlier western The Searchers (1956) but hopefully the film is slowly getting some of the appreciation it deserves.

-Best filmgoing experience: Peppermint Soda at Hyde Park Picturehouse (19/9/17).

- After many delays and setbacks, Shin Godzilla finally got a UK release.

- News that Guillermo del Toro is working on a documentary about Michael Mann.

- 'The Cotton Club Encore', a longer cut of Francis Ford Coppola's 1984 gangster musical was shown at the Telluride Film Festival in September. I'm interested in seeing this as it sounds like the additional footage is fairly significant and could greatly improve a very flawed work.

- In October I attended a screening of Suspiria at the National Science and Media Museum in Bradford. This was the restored 4K version and it looked as glorious as ever.

- 'We Are the Martians: The Legacy of Nigel Kneale', edited by Neil Snowden. A collection of articles, essays and reviews on the writer and his work.

- Isabelle Huppert's Best Actress Oscar nomination for Elle.
I'm not much interested in the Academy Awards, but on rare occasions a very surprising and deserving candidate sneaks through. Past instances include Spirited Away being awarded Best Animated Feature, The Fugitive getting a Best Picture nomination at the 1993 awards, Marion Cotillard's Best Actress nomination for Two Days, One Night, Terrence Malick's Best Director nomination for The Thin Red Line, David Lynch's Best Director nominations for Blue Velvet and Mulholland Drive and Martin Scorsese getting a nod for his highly controversial feature The Last Temptation of Christ.

- Jacques Becker was the subject of a BFI season in March. A director I've long admired based on the few available works I've been able to see. In the UK other works have been granted exposure, notably with home video releases of Edward and Caroline and Montparnasse 19.

- Edward Yang's Taipei Story has been restored and made available as part of 'Martin Scorsese's World Cinema Project No. 2'.
Like Jacques Becker, I've only been able to view a small portion of Yang's work but what I've seen is exceptional. Here's hoping more restorations and rereleases are planned.

- A rare early short film by Jean-Luc Godard, 'Une Femme Coquette' surfaced earlier this year having been thought to be lost and was made available on YouTube and vimeo.

- News emerged that Netflix is said to be restoring and releasing Orson Welles's unfinished final film 'The Other Side of the Wind'. It should be available to watch in 2018. Fingers crossed.

- Speaking of Welles, the New York Times reported that numerous writings and materials by the great man are to be archived by the University of Michigan.

- 'Stephen King on the Big Screen': A BFI season of film adaptations of King's work coincided with cinema releases of The Dark Tower and It in September. I was pleased to read that King named William Friedkin's Sorcerer as his favourite film when asked by the BFI to name some personal favourites.

- A mubi notebook piece on James Whale's little-seen final film Hello Out There.

- Notable viewings:
Who Am I This Time? (1982, Jonathan Demme) - I watched this shortly after Demme's death earlier this year and it was a fitting tribute.
A Great Day in the Morning (1956, Jacques Tourneur) - I've wanted to see this for years and was fortunate to catch a rare showing of this on BBC 2. It was every bit as great as I'd expected.

- Favourite DVDs/Blu-Rays:
Raising Cain (Arrow), Mildred Pierce (Criterion), Othello (Criterion), Destiny (Eureka), Eight Hours Don't Make a Day (Arrow), The Man Between (Studio Canal), Spotlight on a Murderer (Arrow), The Informer (BFI), Fat City (Indicator), One-Eyed Jacks (Arrow), Sorcerer (Entertainment One), Madame de... (BFI), The Life of Oharu (Criterion), Psycho II (Arrow), The Wages of Fear (BFI), The Saga of Anatahan (Eureka/Masters of Cinema), Peppermint Soda (BFI)

Friday, 17 November 2017

31st Leeds International Film Festival, 1st-16th November 2017

As an active filmgoer the period between Halloween and Christmas is by far my busiest time of year. Seeking out contenders for the "year's best" I try to find possible highlights that have been mentioned in lists, journals, reviews, blogs and various websites. The deadline for my annual top 10 is roughly mid-December so it does feel a bit like a race at times. Sometimes I will extend this deadline for exceptional cases but the roundup inevitably loses a layer of interest by the time January comes around. Stuff I may have missed earlier in the year is usually available to rent or showing online by this stage. In addition there's usually a wealth of new releases from arthouse to blockbuster titles that are worth seeking out. Best of all though is the Leeds film festival which begins in early November. For roughly two weeks it gives me the chance to see advanced screenings of obscure and acclaimed new titles from all over the globe.

I first attended the festival in 2005 when I saw an early UK screening of Michael Haneke's Hidden and have got a single pass each year since 2013, which allows me to see as many titles as I can squeeze in to the time available. Occasionally this calls for tough decisions about what to see and what will have to be missed due to schedule clashes. Needless to say, having all this so close to home is a real godsend. Other parts of the UK are less fortunate.

Admittedly the festival preview in October - a 45 minute selection of trailers from highlighted films - didn't exactly fill me with excitement but that probably says more about the quality of trailers in contemporary cinema than anything else. Studying the programme over the coming days got my hopes up. Going through the contents and trying to come up with a workable timetable is all part of the fun. Now the festival is over I'm slightly reluctant to look again at the guide as it will no doubt reveal a plethora of enticing films that I managed to miss.

The Square
Several titles from this year's Cannes film festival were featured. Palme d'Or winner The Square was a prestigious opening film. New works by filmmakers such as Michael Haneke (Happy End), Hong Sang-soo (Claire's Camera), Todd Haynes (Wonderstruck) & Philippe Garrel (Lover for a Day) all appealed to my auteurist sensibilities. On a local level it was good to see Yorkshire represented by Dark River, which also had a Q&A with writer/director Clio Barnard and producer Tracy O'Riordan. The closing film was the much hyped Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, which would go on to win the audience award.

 Lu Over the Wall
 Big Fish & Begonia
The animation Sunday (including Lu Over the Wall, Big Fish & Begonia Mutafukaz) was a little underwhelming compared to previous years and the Horror selections that I saw (Thelma, The Mimic, Tokyo Ghoul & Veronica) were further signs of the exhaustion, boredom and repetition that I see in much of today's genre fare. However the Fanathon: Manga Movie Marathon on Sunday 12th was an inspired addition. It consisted of 4 live action Manga adaptations, 3 of which (The Mole Song, JoJo's Bizarre Adventure Blade of the Immortal) were directed by the prolific Takashi Miike.

The retrospective selection was extremely impressive this year and it's unfortunate that I had to miss so many interesting films of yesteryear. There was a dazzling selection of 1960s and 1970s European political thrillers, including The Mattei Affair, Investigation of a Citizen Above SuspicionZ, State of Siege, Seven Days in January, The Lost Honour of Katharine Blum, The Man on the Roof, The Flight, The Deputy and The Day of the Jackal. The works of Jan Nemec were featured, including Diamonds of the Night and Mother and Son. Alas I had to skip the silent films with live music accompaniments - Alfred Hitchcock's The Lodger and F.W. Murnau's Tabu: A Story of the South Seas. It seems like every year I get a chance to see one of my all time favourites in the Town Hall and I have to pass up the chance. In 2016 it was Michael Mann's Heat, this year it was Perfect Blue. As I've already mentioned the focus for me is on new titles. However I allowed myself one major indulgence this year by seeing Michelangelo Antonioni's 1970 cult classic Zabriskie Point in the Town Hall. For all its flaws it really is a phenomenal experience when viewed on the big screen.
Zabriskie Point
There were a few casualties of timetable clashes and delineating between essential and secondary choices, as well as preferred venues. In terms of what I missed I don't have too many regrets. I would like to have found room for The Endless, primarily due to my inevitable interest in any film described as "Lovecraftian" or "Lovecraft-inspired". I saw Andrey Zvyagintsev's previous feature Leviathan at LiFF in 2014 and wasn't overly impressed so his new film Loveless was omitted from my choices due to fierce competition. Despite being in the lineup I decided to wait until after the festival ended to see The Killing of a Sacred Deer and The Florida Project. Both of these will be showing at Hyde Park later in the month and so it seemed less crucial to see them at this point in time.

In total I saw 21 titles at the 2017 Leeds International Film Festival. The same number as 2016, although lower than prior years. I figure if I can see at least 3 or 4 standout titles over the course of the fortnight then it has been worthwhile. This year I'd say there were 6 that were exceptional. In previous years later films have suffered due to a fatigue factor but the second week offered a host of treats, some of which I will discuss in my yearly roundup in December. I was also able to add four more titles to my 52 films by women in 2017 project - The BreadwinnerDark RiverOh Lucy! and You Were Never Really Here.
You Were Never Really Here
My one major qualm was that I didn't feel like I had a great "discovery" this year. The films I enjoyed most were all the ones that I was most excited about from the beginning, mostly by well established filmmakers and that I had known about well in advance from other festivals earlier in the year. In prior years there has always been at least a couple of films that I watched on impulse or to fill a gap that unexpectedly blew me away. For example Persistence of Vision (2012), Garden of Words (2013), Stations of the Cross (2014), The Case of Hana & Alice (2015), Harmonium (2016) and A Silent Voice (2016). Unfortunately 2017's selection wasn't so fortuitous. Even the excellent thriller Good Time had garnered a lot of buzz among members of the Letterboxd community and cannot be classed as a "find" in any real sense.

The festival seems to have grown considerably over the years. Seeing high turnouts for such obscure or specialist titles is really encouraging at a time when the need for more diverse and adventurous product in cinemas feels as urgent as ever. Its importance in my film calendar cannot be overstated. Prior to this year's film festival 2017 was looking to be an almost total washout as a filmgoer. This festival certainly gave me a renewed sense of hope.

Sunday, 5 November 2017

Brian Eno & Kevin Shields - Only Once Away My Son

Very excited to hear this new collaboration. Kevin Shields is playing a live show in Iceland in late December and has announced there will be live shows and a new album by My Bloody Valentine in 2018.