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Ian Briggs » haneke

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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Film essay

Posted by: Ian Briggs on 8th October 2010 at 1:11 pm

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

As part of the film course I attend at the University, we were asked to write an essay entitled “A film/actor/director that changed my life for the better and forever”.  I have finally got around to putting my essay on my blog, so have a read and feel free to leave comments:
A few years ago I was shown a film by a former colleague which had a huge effect on my interest in cinema. Prior to this, I hadn’t taken too much notice of foreign-language films and would only infrequently venture to the cinema, usually to see the latest James Bond release or something similar. But when I saw this film, it inspired me to search for other films by the same director, which in turn has inspired me to watch things that previously I wouldn’t have dreamt of seeing. The film in question was Caché, by Austrian director Michael Haneke.
Although I could talk about Caché and how it changed my outlook on cinema as a medium, I want to go further than this and explain how it was an interest in Haneke himself that has sparked my real interest in films.
Firstly though: understanding why Caché struck a chord. For me, it told a complex story in a way that was not immediately clear or easy to understand. It became an enjoyable exercise in piecing together the various aspects of the story and I found it had an ability to be both touching and emotional, followed by a sudden change to suspense and shock. More importantly, it was the first film I had seen that did not resolve itself in a way I could have anticipated, and indeed most of the film, including the final scene posed more questions than it answered. What seemed at the outset to be a mysterious thriller about a family hounded by a stalker turned out to be something much more, with a lot of the film having to be pieced together and extrapolated; full of ‘what-ifs’.
Following Caché , I was inspired enough to see some of Haneke’s other works, and to date these include The Seventh Continent, Funny Games, Code Unknown and most recently The White Ribbon. What has become apparent in the majority of his films is, not just the strength of the narrative, which is usually captivating, but rather the reaction that the films provoke from the viewer.
The majority of reviews of Haneke’s films that I have read in the papers and websites seem to focus purely on the content of the films themselves; and thus they pick up on things like his use of graphic violence and exploitation. However, to focus on this alone is to miss the point of what he has set out to achieve; that is, the reason for having such scenes is to both provoke a reaction from the audience, and to provoke the viewer into examining this reaction and exploring what it means for them.
I have subsequently listened to some interviews with Haneke that are added to some of the DVD releases of his films, and he is clear to never admit what the ‘correct’ reaction should be to the films, or if there even is such a thing. He lets us make up our own mind about whether we should be shocked, angry, amused or fascinated and if different people have different thoughts, he seems happy with this outcome. He also likes to carry an audience along with him, quite happily following the story, only to abruptly stop (literally in the case of Funny Games) and make the audience aware of what they are watching and what they are feeling. It didn’t surprise me to read, in researching this essay that he studied philosophy at university and though he does not describe himself as a philosopher, I believe there are deep philosophical issues reflected in most of his work, in the style of a true auteur perhaps.
Funny Games in particular stands out as one of my favourite Haneke films, not just for the content, which in itself was terrifying and disturbing, but rather for the way in which the film openly showed us its ‘raison d’être’; when suddenly at a key point in the story, as the suspense is building to a climax, the main (unlikeable) character looks straight to the camera and talks to us directly – the viewer is suddenly aware that they are part of the story and are complicit in the actions we are seeing on screen. Similarly, when the main kidnapper is shot dead by one of his victims, we feel immense relief and are certainly glad that he is dead, only for the film to pause, rewind and re-tell the story in the ‘true’ way where he is not shot. This action of rewinding and replaying the action is enough to make us sharply aware of the reaction we just had to this moment of violence – in true thriller methodology we are pleased when the bad guy is killed, and this provides a stark moment of reflection on our views of violence in cinema as a whole. This sort of depth and detail in film-making is something I had never experienced before, and why I think it has sparked my interest so much.
This does not mean, and should not imply that I have some sort of gruesome fascination with violent films – I like a nice thoughtful story as much as the next person, but I have come to realise that what I personally want to see in cinema, and what it has taken me until now to find, are films that can maturely tackle challenging subjects and provoke some kind of reaction, positive or otherwise, from the audience. I think this is why I felt disenchanted with typical Hollywood cinema – too often the story asked nothing of the audience and they could sit through an entire film without thinking too hard as the plot was explained and resolved for them. It seems that in order to be successful in Hollywood terms a film must too often obey a standard genre format – the very antithesis of what Haneke’s films are about. As Wood (2009) says, “In an age of mindless blockbusters, [Haneke] has revived the prestige that arthouse cinema enjoyed in the 1960s”. However, this is probably a subject best developed in more detail elsewhere.
I am intrigued by some of the technical aspects Haneke uses in his work. Most are familiar from the Hitchcockian thriller genre: static shots, long takes, inferences or untold stories, and action happening off screen can be seen in many of his films. One scene that particularly comes to mind is the scene in Funny Games where the child has been murdered. The camera fixes on the room for an age with the only sound the breathing of the parents. This powerful scene serves to lengthen the discomfort and anticipation of what may follow.
Extending this theme of spectator discomfort further, most of Haneke’s films present some kind of ethical issue for us to examine, and like other thrillers, he likes us to empathise with the victims and despise the villains. But only up to a point. Haneke does not want his films to be as easy to understand as that and rarely presents a simple good-versus-bad story that we could all understand. Instead, rather than just present this narrative, the appeal lies in his desire to focus our attention more on the ethical relationship between the viewer and the film itself, and I am drawn back to the pause-rewind scene from Funny Games that I mentioned above. Film critics who focus solely on the ethical issues told in the narrative are missing this key point to his films.
I should also mention the fact that I don’t think every Haneke film I’ve seen is brilliant. Code Unknown remains a mystery to me, with its disconnected, long-take scenes seeming to leave me empty and lacking a meaning or compelling reason to bring them together. But I have heard other people hold it in high esteem so it will be watched again until sense is made of it.
In conclusion then, Michael Haneke’s films, although only introduced to me fairly recently, have sparked an interest in what cinema can really offer me as a viewer. Previously unaware of most foreign-language films I am now scrambling to make up lost ground. The joys of the film festival have been discovered both in Belfast and where I previously lived in Cambridge, and I now watch films with more than just a desire to be entertained with a shallow plot. Instead I have become fascinated by films that make me think: either about the challenging issues they discuss or, more subtly, by examination of the reaction I feel upon watching them.
Haneke has inspired me to watch films that are not always easy to find, not always easy to understand, but which reward those who go to the effort of watching them.

——— Bibliography ———

Cousins, M. “The story of film” Pavilion Books, 2004.

Frey, M. “A cinema of disturbance: the films of Michael Haneke in context” Senses of Cinema, Issue 28, 2003.

Wheatley, C. “Michael Haneke’s cinema : the ethic of the image” Berghahn Books, 2009.

Wood, G. “High points of the noughties”, Guardian: Reviews of the Decade, 2009.

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