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Ian Briggs » belfast film festival

Favourite Films of 2012

Posted by: Ian Briggs on 23rd December 2012 at 10:36 am

Categories: Films | Tags: , , , , , , | No comments

In what is likely to be my last post of 2012, and seeing as I have no plans to get to the cinema before the year is out, I thought I would do the same thing as last year and write a blog about some of my favourite films of the year. In alphabetical order:

Top films of 2012

Amour

The latest film from one of my favourite directors, Michael Haneke, was unsurprisingly brilliant. An emotional tour-de-force that extracted every ounce of skill from the two lead actors (Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emanuelle Riva), this was one of the films I was most looking forward to this year; it did not disappoint!

Argo

Usually, seeing Ben Affleck's name on the poster would discourage me from seeing the film. However, based on a glowing recommendation, we braved it and Argo turned out to be one of the best of the year. Tense, gripping and beautifully shot, this was a brilliant thriller that avoided most of the stereotypes associated with 'good-versus-bad' films and simply told a good story.

The Artist

Although technically released in 2011, I didn't get to see this in the QFT in Belfast until January 2012. What can I say except that it was stunning?! I loved the concept and it would be the only film I saw twice this year. On the second viewing, my enthusiasm remained high!

Good Vibrations

Local films have tended to be hit or miss over the last few years. Good Vibrations, however, was an absolute winner. Shown at The Belfast Film Festival in May, this was funny, politically charged and featured an excellent punk soundtrack. It gave a fresh perspective on The Troubles and avoided the usual clichés.

Le Havre

This film by Aki Kaurismäki was a real delight. Bleak, cold and poverty-stricken, the story provided the only warmth of the film. Darkly funny in parts, it was a nice visual continuation of Carné's stunning Le Quai des Brumes (in which Jean Gabin was wonderful), also set in Le Havre, which was shown at the BFI earlier this year.

The Kid With A Bike

The first Dardenne film I have seen, and it was a rather nice story of a boy who lost his father (and his bike) and ended up being cared for by a kind stranger. Some good moments throughout, which made up for the slightly soppy ending.

The Master

I didn't know what to expect going into this film, apart from something loosely based on L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology. Joaquin Phoenix delivered a devastating performance but for me it was Philip Seymour Hoffman who stole the show. His character was perfectly played and his emotional, rage-filled outbursts were perfectly-placed punctuation marks for the pent-up aggression displayed throughout the film.

Tabu

I think I would describe this film as a 'sleeper'. Not many people saw it, but it was a film that was full of charm and told an interesting, well-crafted story. Told in two halves, it showed off some beautiful cinematography and the opening scene with the camera spinning round the main character was beautiful. The quasi-silent, historical second half was a nice counterpoint to the modern first half the film.

The Turin Horse

The interminable passing of time…and that was just watching the film! Slow, methodical and two-and-a-half hours long, but never a wasted scene. Supposedly Tarr's final film, it was full of his trademark long takes and featured even less dialogue than usual, underlined with a simple repetitive score. It felt like he was describing the end of time, and the end of his film-making with one profound full-stop.


Other notable films

La Grande Illusion

I saw this when it was re-released at the BFI in London, and it was a real gem (Jean Gabin again). One of the most incredible films I saw this year, it was beautifully composed, funny, and way ahead of it's time for a film made in 1937. A true classic!

Incendies

This film did not get great reviews: many complaints about the “contrived and even bizarre final revelation…” (Peter Bradshaw, Guardian) but to be honest, I still enjoyed the film. Yes the ending was too strange to be true, but this is cinema…it's not real!

Moneyball

With a story written by Aaron Sorkin, I was expecting this to be good. And thankfully, it was. A good, fun story, with 1000 words per minute, and decent performances from Brad Pitt and Philip Seymour Hoffman.

Shadow Dancer

This film by James Marsh was premiered at the Belfast Film Festival. I didn't like it as much as others did, and the reviews I've seen since are positively glowing. That said, it was still a decent attempt in the 'Norn-Irish-film-about-The-Troubles' genre, though I felt it painted a slightly rosy picture of the situation, apart from it's mock-shock ending.

Skyfall

Bond is back! Was exactly what I expected, which is to say: mindless fun. Bond meets Bourne with some action-packed entertainment and the return of the DB5.

Ted

I'm a Family Guy fan, so this film was always going to make me laugh. I liked Mark Wahlberg and Mila Kunis, and Seth Macfarlane was free to do all the stuff that was too rude for Family Guy! Easy watching, switch-off-your-brain fun.

The Third Man

I finally got round to seeing this and it went straight on to my non-existent list of favourite films! Welles was magnificent as Harry Lime and the photography was amazing: full of Dutch angles and a gleaming black and white print.

Tyrannosaur

Paddy Considine's brutal film was another cracker, and Peter Mullan and Olivia Colman starred. Eddie Marsan as the sadistic husband was also impressively horrible.


Worst films of 2012

Amongst all these 'favourite' films, why not a section for some of the most dreadful tripe I saw this year? Here are a few of the notable 'worst' films I saw this year…

Les Infideles

“The players”, to give it it's English title featured Oscar-winner Jean Dujardin. I can say little more than it was lousy…except to say, ridiculous. In many ways. Maybe I just wasn't in the mood for it…

Sightseers

Billed as “Bold, and Blisteringly Funny” on the poster, the trailer for this was indeed quite funny. Unfortunately, the funny bits in the trailer were the only funny bits in the film. The rest was silly, contrived or just plain dull.

But the award for the worst film I saw this year goes to:

Elles

Such a shame that the usually-impressive Juliette Binoche was stifled by a rubbish story. Though she did her best to drag a good performance out of it, the film was genuinely awful and described by Peter Bradshaw in the Guardian as “massively preposterous and supercilious” as well as “toe-curlingly predictable”. That just about sums it up.

 

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Belfast Film Festival Preview

Posted by: Ian Briggs on 28th May 2012 at 9:46 am

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The Belfast Film Festival kicks off later this week and in preparation, here are the films that I have booked to see along with a brief description from the festival’s website.

Good Vibrations

Terri Hooley is a radical, rebel and music-lover in 1970s Belfast when the bloody conflict known as the Troubles shuts down his city. As all his friends take sides and take up arms, Terri opens a record shop on the most bombed half-mile in Europe and calls it Good Vibrations. Through it he discovers a compelling voice of resistance in the city’s nascent underground punk scene. Galvanising the young musicians into action, he becomes the unlikely leader of a motley band of kids and punks who join him in his mission to create a new community, an alternative Ulster, to bring his city back to life.

Starring: Richard Dormer, Jodie Whittaker, Michael Colgan, Karl Johnson, With Liam Cunningham, Adrian Dunbar, Dylan Moran

Screenplay: Colin Carberry, Glenn Patterson

Producers: Chris Martin, Andrew Eaton, David Holmes.

BBC Films presents with the participation of Bord Scannán na hÉireann/IFB and Northern Ireland Screen. In association with Immaculate Conception Films a Canderblinks Film & Music, Revolution Films and Treasure Entertainment production.

Directed by Lisa Barros D’Sa, Glenn Leyburn. United Kingdom / Ireland 2012, 102min 

The Verdict

Screening at Belfast’s Royal Courts of Justice. Introduced by a prominent member of the Northern Irish legal profession. 

In Sidney Lumet’s powerful courtroom drama Paul Newman stars as Frank Galvin, an alcoholic Boston lawyer who tries to redeem his personal and professional reputation by winning a difficult medical malpractice case. He is assisted by his new girlfriend, Laura (Charlotte Rampling),. Frank, down on his luck, is presented with the case of his life when he is approached by the family of a woman who has been left in a coma following an operation in a large hospital. Helped by his assistant Mickey (Jack Warden), he agrees to take the case, hoping for a fast settlement. When he visits the victim in the hospital, he becomes emotionally involved, turns down a sizable settlement offer made by the hospital, and decides to bring the case to trial despite the formidable opposition of the Church and their lawyer, (James Mason). Oscar-nominated for “Best Picture” and “Best Director” (Lumet) as well as for “Best Adapted Screenplay” (David Mamet).

Directed by Sidney Lumet. USA 1982, 129min

Woody Allen: A Documentary

Beginning with Allen’s childhood and his first professional gigs as a teen – furnishing jokes for comics and publicists – Woody Allen: A Documentary chronicles the trajectory and longevity of Allen’s career: from his work in the 1950s-60s as a TV scribe for Sid Caesar, standup comedian and frequent TV talk show guest, to a writer-director averaging one film-per-year for more than 40 years.

Exploring the ultimate “independent filmmaker’s” writing habits, directing, and relationship with his actors, acclaimed filmmaker Robert B. Weide travelled with Allen from the London set of You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger to the Cannes premiere of Midnight in Paris. He also filmed Allen at home, in the editing room and touring his childhood haunts in the Midwood section of Brooklyn. New interviews provide insight and backstory, with actors Antonio Banderas, Josh Brolin, Penelope Cruz, John Cusack, Larry David, Mariel Hemingway, Scarlett Johansson, Julie Kavner, Diane Keaton, Martin Landau, Chris Rock, Mira Sorvino, writing collaborators Marshall Brickman, Mickey Rose and Doug McGrath, longtime managers Jack Rollins and Charles H. Joffe, and Martin Scorsese, among many others.

Directed by Robert B. Weide. USA 2011, 92 mins

Come As You Are

Winner of two major awards at the Montréal World Film Festival, Come As You Are is an off-beat Belgian road movie about three young disabled men on a quest to lose their virginity. Jozef is nearly blind, Philip is a paraplegic, and Lars suffers from a disease that keeps him wheelchair-bound. These buddies enjoy the finer things in life, including wine and song; the only thing missing is the women. Isolated by their disabilities and cared for by their parents at home, they convince their families they need to go on a “wine tour” to Spain. But this is a cover for their true goal—a Spanish brothel, which Philip has heard caters to disabled men. Accompanied by a large woman caretaker named Claude who only speaks French, they take off in a beat-up van for the journey of a lifetime.

Never condescending and constantly unpredictable, this film provides a warm look at people whose bodies may not cooperate, but whose souls yearn to breathe free.

Directed by Geoffrey Enthoven. Belgium, 2011, 115min

Don Hertzfeldt

A special selection of cult animator and Academy Award nominee Don Hertzfeldt classic animated shorts, culminating in the exclusive premiere of his newest film, It’s such a beautiful day: the third and final chapter in a trilogy about a mysterious man named Bill.

Chapter One, Everything will be OK, won the Sundance Film Festival’s Jury Award in Short Filmmaking and was named by many critics as one of the ‘best films of 2007’. Chapter Two, I am so proud of you, received twenty-seven awards and was described by the San Francisco International Film Festival as, “[his] best yet… even the Hertzfeldt faithful may be too stunned to laugh.”

Nearly two years in the making, the 23-minute ‘It’s such a beautiful day’ is Don’s longest, and most ambitious, piece to date. Don Hertzfeldt is the creator of many short animated films, including the Academy-Award nominated Rejected. His animated films have received over 150 awards and have been presented around the world. He was the youngest director named in the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of The 100 Important Animation Directors of all time. In 2012, Hertzfeldt was ranked #16 in an animation industry and historian survey of the Top 100 Most Influential People in Animation.

Directed by Guillaume Canet. France 2011, 154min

Shadow Dancer

Even as a child, Collette was to experience at first hand the bloody consequences of the conflict in Northern Ireland when her little brother was killed by British security forces. Years later, Collette is herself now a mother and, like the rest of her family, still involved in the Republican cause. When she is arrested for her part in an aborted IRA bomb plot in London, a British secret service officer offers her a choice: lose everything including her little son and go to prison for twenty-five years or return to Belfast to spy on her own family. SHADOW DANCER is a psychological thriller in the truest sense of the term: it does not merely focus on the external elements of the plot; it also explores the moral dilemmas that face its protagonists. When the secret service man begins to worry about Collette’s safety she decides to feign interest in the agent – a duplicitous, risky game.

Director James Marsh depicts the conflict in Northern Ireland from the point of view of a woman whose daily life is a constant struggle for survival but who is nonetheless determined to create a better future for herself and her son.

Director James Marsh will introduce the film. Cast and crew will be in attendance.

Directed by James Marsh. UK / Ireland 2012, 101min

Witness For The Prosecution

Screening at Belfast’s Royal Courts of Justice.

Agatha Christie tale of a man on trial for murder: a trial featuring surprise after surprise.

Witness for the Prosecution casts the great scenery-chomper Charles Laughton in Agatha Christie’s courtroom play. Marlene Dietrich plays the wife of Tyrone Power, accused of killing an old lady for her money.

A delicious Billy Wilder mixture of humor, intrigue and melodrama, Witness for the Prosecution is distinguished by its hand-picked supporting cast and perfectly crafted dialogue. Wilder plays the suspense well, but this movie belongs to Laughton, who makes his every line resonate like music and thunder: “I am constantly surprised that women’s hats do not provoke more murders”.

Directed by Billy Wilder. USA 1957, 116min

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Film Review: No-one Knows About Persian Cats

Posted by: Ian Briggs on 6th May 2010 at 3:31 pm

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This Iranian film about setting up an indie rock band in the face of oppression and censorship was one that we hoped to see at the film festival but missed. Thankfully it was shown again this week and I can see why I have heard many people recently say that Iranian films are some of the best non-English language films out there.

It follows two young musicians Nagar and Ashkan and their would-be agent Nader (who was undoubtedly the best character in the film – think Jack Black in High Fidelity but with even more energy).  They try to set up a band and dream of leaving Iran to play gigs throughout Europe and desperately try to obtain false passports, visas and permits (on the friendliest of Black Markets) that would allow them to perform.

As the film reaches it’s climax the plan begins to unravel as their passport ‘fixer’ is arrested. This starts a chain of events that leads to a wonderfully unexpected Romeo and Juliet ending.

A beautiful and trendy score includes everything from indie rock to heavy metal to blues to trance and even a pretty good rap sequence, and provides a stunning narrative throughout the story, which itself is told in the most natural way with some excellent performances from the actors themselves.

I thought this was an excellent film that, throughout, lifts the spirits with its musical performances and moments of comedy only for them to be dramatically shattered in the final few moments.

No-one Knows About Persian Cats (2009): 5/5

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Film Review: The First Movie

Posted by: Ian Briggs on 4th May 2010 at 2:31 pm

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This incredibly powerful documentary by Belfast director Mark Cousins had an experimental feel to it. He took some hand-held video cameras to a small village in Iraq and handed them out to some of the young children to let them film their lives.

What followed was full of brilliant imagery and emotional story telling from the children themselves, focusing on their surroundings and stories from their imaginations, which prompts Cousins to reflect on his own upbringing in Belfast.

The director said in a post-show Q&A session that he needed to prove his cinematography skills in order to secure funding, and the result is some of the very best cinematography I have ever seen – long panoramic shots, close images of wildlife, and one particular scene involving the children playing with balloons were stunningly good cinema.

The film ultimately tries to tell us how film can influence and change lives, and it was an emotional and incredibly inspirational piece of film that deserves wider distribution.

This was the final film we saw at the Belfast Film Festival and what a way to end. It has been a brilliant two weeks and we have seen some fantastic films and listened to some interesting discussions. Hopefully the success of this year’s festival will lead to an even bigger event next year. In the meantime, the QFT is showing some of the festival films again over the next month or two so I may update my blog in the future with some other reviews.

The First Movie (2009): 5/5

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Film Review: The Battle of Algiers

Posted by: Ian Briggs on 4th May 2010 at 2:27 pm

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Set in Algiers between 1954 and 1960, this film tells of the struggle of the Algerian people to retake their city from the French colonials.

Having never seen it before, I didn’t go in to it with any real preconceptions, but it didn’t take long before I was hooked in to the drama that unfolded in an edge-of-the-seat kind of way.  The black & white format in which it was filmed only added to this.

Particularly pleasing were the musical motifs used to identify characters and stories through the film, and they were even used to highlight the differences in fighting methods between the Algerians and the French.

But perhaps the best thing about the film was the determination of the director to tell the story in a completely neutral way – the stories told were equally passionate and even-handed on both sides.

This film stands as a great piece of history – both in a political and film sense, that is as relevant today in all parts of the world as it was when it was made.

The Battle of Algiers (1966): 5/5

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Film Review: Double Take

Posted by: Ian Briggs on 27th April 2010 at 1:25 pm

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A difficult film to review here as right from the outset it doesn’t fit into a particular genre that well – it could just as easily be classed as a documentary, as it could a political thriller.

While there were many enjoyable moments, it seemed to strike an uneasy balance between providing lessons on history, paranoia, fear and politics; focusing particularly on the space race and the politics-of-fear culture present through the Cold War. For me it felt a little too pointed and even pretentious trying to draw parallels between Hitchcock’s fear of his double and the various pairings it drew attention to, including Nixon and Khrushchev.

Some amusing moments were created through the use of coffee adverts, though I’m still not sure if that was the intended reaction, and also Hitchcock’s introductions and apparent dislike (even fear) of television as a medium provided some light relief from the full-on political nature that the film developed.

I came out feeling that if I knew more Hitchcock films it would probably have helped; ‘The Birds’ provides the basis on which the story is built throughout along with multiple short clips from some of his other films. That said, it didn’t lose my attention even though I wasn’t familiar with all the quotes.

Without wishing to be particularly damning, I think it is well worth another view (if only to try and spot more of the references) but on an initial viewing left me feeling a bit dazed and confused as to what the film was trying to tell us, except that it was unmistakeably an odd and even slightly disturbing film about Hitchcock.

Double Take (2009): 3/5

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Film Review: Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench

Posted by: Ian Briggs on 23rd April 2010 at 11:58 am

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Not knowing what to expect from this film, I was pleasantly pleased with what it turned out to be.

Filmed in 4:3 and black-and-white on a handheld camera, from the outset it had a feeling of a 1940’s musical – the score sounding brilliant and with periods of tap dance and beautiful, short songs in between the fairly sparse dialogue.

The musical scenes presented an intimate setting in various clubs and recording situations with trumpeter Guy and his small jazz ensemble playing some nice swinging tunes – again, complementing the period feel of the film.

As Guy descends into self-obsessed longing for his lost love, Madeline, his smoky music brilliantly echoes his feelings as does Madeline with her melancholic songs filled with desperatation as she tries to look on the bright side.

A simple story but lifted into a different class with a stunning orchestral soundtrack and jazzy interludes, it proved that modern films can still be full of moments reminiscent of the Fred and Ginger classics, mixed with a bit of Miles Davis and Charlie Parker of course.

Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench (2009): 4/5

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Film Review: Racing Dreams

Posted by: Ian Briggs on 23rd April 2010 at 11:55 am

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This documentary focused on three young kids, Brandon, Josh and Annabeth as they battled to win the World Karting Association’s National Championship and achieve their dream to make it big in NASCAR.

The story proved an unpretentious account of the lives (both racing and personal) of the three children as they and their families battled personal and financial issues to reach the top of their game. Filmed in such a way that it told the story beautifully without any direct interviews that so often over-power a documentary, it was a really nice film that appealed to even those who don’t like racing.

It perfectly highlighted the corporate nature of modern-day racing – the “I’d like to thank my sponsors, my tyre supplier and chassis builder” interviews with the race PA announcer that followed each win told how even ones so young knew the importance of the people giving them the money to race, and how desperate they are not to lose it.

An excellent story more about the kids than the racing, but with some real edge-of-the-seat action, coupled with a heart-warming personal edge makes this a truly spectacular film.

Racing Dreams (2009): 5/5

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Film Review: Mickey B

Posted by: Ian Briggs on 23rd April 2010 at 11:48 am

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This Northern Ireland adaptation of Macbeth was set in the maximum security Maghaberry prison with a cast of serving prisoners, and was shot as part of a prisoner rehabilitation programme by The Educational Shakespeare Company.

While it is difficult to criticise a film based on good intentions, for me, on pure entertainment, the film did not succeed. The acting was understandably shaky, although one or two standout performances provided some drama, and the colloquial language helped break the feeling that the actors were uncomfortable with their lines. It was, however, an otherwise flat production, which even though it only lasted one hour still felt too long.

That said, the value of this film is in its ability to promote prisoner rehabilitation. Some may question the choice of Macbeth (and a particularly violent portrayal of it) as the correct film to produce in this situation, however the underlying story parallels the prisoners’ situation – choose violence as your method of getting what you want and you live and deal with the consequences.

While the production quality (the prison surroundings, the shaky camera work and the cold blue screen cast) could have filled the story with edgy drama and tension, the unsteady acting killed any atmosphere that may have been created and made the whole thing feel a bit corny.

Not the best film we’ve seen at the festival by a long way but nonetheless a worthwhile project.

Mickey B (2007): 2/5

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Film Review: Down Terrace

Posted by: Ian Briggs on 20th April 2010 at 12:35 pm

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For me, this turned out to be a real surprise at the Festival. Expecting another pointlessly violent, cockney, Guy Ritchie-style British gangster film, it proved to be anything but, with some brilliant acting from recognisable TV stars, in the first film from director Ben Wheatley.

The film itself swings from moments of hippy-esque, drug-fuelled calm to spontaneous brutal violence, but interspersed with deadpan, almost slapstick comedy and genuine laugh-out-loud moments (especially from Belfast’s own Michael Smiley), in such a way that the audience is left constantly thinking “what next?”.

Moments of real intrigue in the storyline and brilliantly delivered humour, combined with the fact that the whole thing is all put together so naturally, make this one of the best British films I’ve ever seen.

Down Terrace (2009): 5/5

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