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Sight & Sound’s Greatest Documentaries List

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Sight and Sound Doc Poll

Sight and Sound have recently released the results of a poll of critics and filmmakers to find the greatest documentaries of all time.

The Critics’ Top 10 documentaries are:

1. Man with a Movie Camera, dir. Dziga Vertov (USSR 1929)

2. Shoah, dir. Claude Lanzmann (France 1985)

3. Sans soleil, dir. Chris Marker (France 1982)

4. Night and Fog, dir. Alain Resnais (France 1955)

5. The Thin Blue Line, dir. Errol Morris (USA 1989)

6. Chronicle of a Summer, dir. Jean Rouch & Edgar Morin (France 1961)

7. Nanook of the North, dir. Robert Flaherty (USA 1922)

8. The Gleaners and I, dir. Agnès Varda (France 2000)

9. Dont Look Back, dir. D.A. Pennebaker (USA 1967)

10. Grey Gardens, dir. Albert and David Maysles, Ellen Hovde and Muffie Meyer (USA 1975)

The poll report is released in the September edition of Sight & Sound published today, Friday 1st August.

The full lists of all the votes received and films nominated will be available online from 14th August.

You can join in the debate at Twitter using the hashtag #BestDocsEver.

> Sight and Sound
> More on documentary film at Wikipedia

Written by Ambrose Heron

August 1st, 2014 at 4:01 pm

DVD & Blu-ray Picks: June 2014

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DVD and Blu-ray Picks - June 2014

DVD & BLU-RAY PICKS

> DVD & Blu-ray Picks for May 2014
> The Best DVD and Blu-rays of 2013

Written by Ambrose Heron

June 9th, 2014 at 10:42 pm

Philip Seymour Hoffman (1967-2014)

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Philip Seymour Hoffman in Magnolia

The acclaimed actor passed away in New York yesterday aged 46.

Hoffman was a true modern great, second only perhaps to Daniel Day-Lewis (but far more prolific), who made the breakthrough from a great supporting actor to lead since the late 1990s.

He won the Oscar for Best Actor with his remarkable turn as Truman Capote in Capote (2005) and was also nominated three times for Best Supporting Actor, as well as receiving three Tony nominations for his work on stage.

Although he cropped up in minor roles in movies during the 1990s, such as Scent of a Woman (1992) and Twister (1996), he really started to come into his own with memorable roles in Happiness (1998) and The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999).

But it was his collaborations with writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson that brought him to a wider audience and linger in the memory: the shy boom operator in Boogie Nights (1997); the male nurse in Magnolia (1999); and most recently as a cult leader in The Master (2012).

In the DVD extras for Magnolia there is a 75 minute documentary, which is one of the best of its kind, and one of the highlights is seeing Anderson working with Hoffman.

His smaller roles in Anderson’s Hard Eight (1996) and Punch-Drunk Love (2002) were also examples of his working chemistry with the director who seemed to have a special connection with him.

Whilst I wasn’t the biggest fan of The Master (2012), he was sensational in it, bringing a unique charm and intensity to the character of Lancaster Dodd.

Hoffman was also a versatile supporting presence in mainstream films like Mission Impossible III (2006) and The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013) whilst maintaining his presence in classier fare like Charlie Wilson’s War (2007), The Savages (2007), Doubt (2008), Moneyball (2011) and The Ides of March (2011).

Roles in bleaker films such as Love Liza (2002) and Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead (2007) hinted at an ability to portray addictive characters, although whether or not this came easily to him, only he will have truly known.

In such a celebrated and varied career (around 50 films), it seems remarkable that he should be gone at the age of 46.

Time will tell what will be seen as his greatest role, though the sheer volume of work makes that difficult.

The obvious pick is Capote, but his role as theatre director Caden Cotard in Synedoche, New York (2008) would be my choice.

Charlie Kaufman’s directorial debut was a strange, puzzle-box of a movie but Hoffman’s performance was integral to the film, which remains a highly inventive and haunting meditation on how humans age and die.

One can only speculate on Hoffman’s inner demons that led him back to drugs and an early death, but for now the world of acting has lost one of its finest practitioners.

> Philip Seymour Hoffman at the IMDb
> Find out more about Philip Seymour Hoffman at Wikipedia

Written by Ambrose Heron

February 5th, 2014 at 12:49 am

Posted in News

Tagged with

The East

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Brit Marling in The East

An intriguing thriller about the penetration of an eco-terrorist group provides a reminder that interesting ideas realised on a lower budget can be highly effective.

It also marks another auspicious development in the partnership between writer-director Zal Batmanglij and co-writer/star Brit Marling, whose previous collaboration – The Sound of My Voice (2011) – explored similar themes.

Whilst that film revolved around a cult, this one is set amongst a secretive organisation of eco-activists called ‘The East’, who stage disruptive events (or ‘jams’ as they call them) as payback for companies who dump toxic waste or other damaging environmental activity.

In a prologue we see a mysterious masked gang break in to the house of an oil executive and stage their own oil spill, as punishment for his company’s activity.

The focus then shifts to Sarah (Brit Marling), an eager operative working for a private intelligence firm as she has to convince her skeptical boss (Patricia Clarkson) to allow her to go deep undercover and penetrate The East.

After slowly gaining their trust, she finds a new home amongst the group who include a skeptical Izzy (Ellen Page), a medical student (Toby Kebbell) and the de facto leader Benji (Alexander Skarsgard). Slowly she begins to find out more about their philosophy and activities.

These early sequences are the most effective as they are genuinely unpredictable and intriguing: we see a highly unusual communal meal, the gripping infiltration of a drinks party and the ever-growing tension that Sarah might go native with the group she is investigating.

Although it shows its hand a little too early, the narrative is filled with satisfying twists and turns demonstrating again the screenwriting chemistry between Marling and Batmanglij, more than fulfilling the promise of their auspicious debut.

Marling’s performance demonstrates her undeniable screen presence that she established in both Sound of My Voice (2010) and Another Earth (2010) which may have been partly down to her own writing contributions, which mark her out amongst her contemporaries.

In some ways this is a reverse of Batmanglij’s first film in which Marling played the cult leader, whereas here she plays the outsider trying to get in to a cult-like organisation.

The political issues are blended in cleverly with the plot: in one sequence we see how tensions and ethical dilemmas run deep within the protagonist and also the wider group.

It is also executed with considerable technical panache: Roman Vasyanov’s widescreen visuals and the editing by Andrew Weisblum and Bill Pankow give the film an extra polish often absent in films on this kind of budget (reportedly around the $6m mark).

The icing on the cake is Halli Cauthery’s score (working from themes by Harry Gregson-Williams), which lends the film more layers of mood and tension.

Over the last few years studios have shied away from mid-budget films like this by making a few blockbusters and lame comedies. (Credit to Fox Searchlight for making this with Ridley Scott’s production company, Scott Free).

The film’s tagline “Spy on us. We’ll spy on you” is eerily prescient in light of the recent NSA revelations and it may well be that in years to come this is a film people will see as emblematic of the Occupy Wall Street era.

> Official site
> Reviews of The East at Metacritic

Written by Ambrose Heron

June 28th, 2013 at 2:12 am

Posted in News

Tagged with , ,

The January Catchup

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January Backlog 2013

For US and UK audiences, January mostly represents a barren month where studios dump their bad films as the awards season heats up.

It can also be a strange time at the multiplex, as distributors of Oscar and BAFTA front-runners (which this year include Lincoln, Life of Pi and Zero Dark Thirty) seek to get a publicity boost from the nominations.

Meanwhile, a film like Texas Chainsaw 3D is showing in the screen next door.

I always feel like I’m playing catchup given the end-of-year rush to get the contenders out to voters.

On the more commercial side, it is also a salutary reminder that life is too short to waste on bad films (unless there is an interesting angle) and how quickly the hoopla surrounding Best Picture fades into the ether.

At the end of every year I try to watch as many as possible in order to compile an end-of-the-year list, but for various reasons that didn’t happen in 2012 – a shame since this is probably the most interesting set of Oscar nominations in years.

However, I’ve now seen most of the awards season heavy hitters and nearly completed my annual list of the best DVD and Blu-ray discs, both of which will be posted soon.

> Oscar Nominations
> The Best DVD and Blu-rays of 2011

Written by Ambrose Heron

January 13th, 2013 at 10:26 pm

Posted in News,Thoughts

Sight And Sound’s Top Films Of 2012

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This year’s Sight and Sound end-of-year poll has been topped by Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master.

As usual, the UK film magazine polled around 100 critics and but have refrained from publishing it online for now.

But my print copy arrived in the post this morning and I can confirm that the list is as follows:

1. The Master (Paul Thomas Anderson, USA)

2. Tabu (Miguel Gomes, Portugal/Germany/France)

3. Amour (Michael Haneke, France/Germany/Austria)

4. Holy Motors (Leos Carax, France/Germany)

5. Beasts of the Southern Wild (Benh Zeitlin, USA)

=  Berberian Sound Studio (Peter Strickland, UK/Germany)

7. Moonrise Kingdom (Wes Anderson, USA)

8. Beyond the Hills (Christian Mungiu, Romania/France/Belgium)

= Cosmopolis (David Cronenberg, Canada/France/Portugal/Italy)

= Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Turkey/Bosnia & Herzegovina)

= This is Not A Film (Jafar Pahani & Mojtaba Mirtahmaseb, Iran)

N.B. Because of the crossover of UK and US release dates some titles have been duplicated from last year’s list.

Sight and Sound on TwitterFacebook and YouTube
> 2012 reviews at Metacritic
Wikipedia on 2012 in film

Written by Ambrose Heron

December 1st, 2012 at 3:26 pm

Posted in Lists,News

Tagged with

Rewind 2012

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Although there’s grumbling every year that films are getting worse, 2012 did seem to be a lean year for cinema releases and the wider industry is still struggling to readjust from the financial and technological shocks of the last four years.

However, some notable events included:

Among the DVD and Blu-ray releases that came out were:

I’ll try to do as many ‘rewind’ posts as possible to cover some of the above, as well as notable end of year releases such as Argo, Amour and The Master.

If there is anything you want to ask about, just leave a comment below or get in touch.

> 2012 in film at Wikipedia
> Worldwide box office figures at Box Office Mojo

Written by Ambrose Heron

November 19th, 2012 at 4:07 pm

Posted in News

Tagged with

Back to Blogging

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So, regular blogging finally resumes after a 6 month break.

A more detailed post explaining my absence lies somewhere in the future, but for now it feels good to be back.

P.S. Can anyone name the film the image above is taken from?

Written by Ambrose Heron

November 19th, 2012 at 2:22 pm

Posted in News

Film Notes #14: Following (1998)

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Christopher Nolan’s debut film is #14 in our Film Notes series.

For newcomers, this series of posts involves me watching a different film every day for a month, with the following rules:

  • It must be a film I have already seen.
  • I must make notes whilst I’m watching it.
  • Pauses are allowed but the viewing must all be one session.
  • It can’t be a current cinema release.

Hopefully it will capture my instant thoughts about a movie, providing a snapshot of my film diet for 30 days and some interesting links to the film in question.

Here are my notes on Following (1998) which I watched on DVD on Friday 6th April.

  • The debut film of Christopher Nolan that he made for just £6,000
  • Originally conceived as ‘no budget’ movie, it is just 78 minutes long
  • Idea of the narrative was to not just tell a story chronologically but to construct a modular narrative that consists of three sections that pull at one another
  • The plot is about a young writer in London who starts following random strangers but when he comes across a burglar named Cobb, he gradually becomes sucked into a web of deception.
  • We absorb the story of the film in the fractured, fragmented way we do in real life.
  • Shot in and around London – principally Central London, Southwark and Highgate
  • Bolex wind up camera used to shoot Central London scenes at the beginning
  • There is a shot of Hungerford Bridge by Charing Cross Station
  • Nolan used a lot of natural light and real locations that he was able to get some kind of access to.
  • Although he often only had a day’s notice to shoot scenes on location, his actors had done 6 months rehearsal so they could adapt pretty easily to most situations
  • They shot without permits using real locations, which often included flats belonging to friends or family.
  • Did they use Framestore CFC as the location for the cafe?
  • Producer Emma Thomas can be seen in the background of that cafe scene early in the film.
  • Nolan got the idea for the film when he lived in Central London and constructed a story around the idea of focusing on one person in the crowd.
  • The story explores the barriers we put up by virtue of having to live in a city. In a sense it covers similar themes to TAXI DRIVER (1976) and CROCODILE DUNDEE (1986).
  • Note that the burglar character is called Cobb – also the name of Leonardo DiCaprio’s character in INCEPTION (2010).
  • The other influence on the script was when Nolan’s flat was burgled in the early 90s and he realised that it wasn’t the lock on the door keeping them out but social convention.
  • Police told Nolan after his robbery that thieves often steal a bag during the robbery to their things in. He worked this into the script.
  • All the flats belonged to relatives or friends.
  • Shooting on rooftops is a handy way of getting a landscape view of city without permits.
  • Nightclub scenes shot at a bar called Detroit in Covent Garden.
  • Only had 3 or 4 lights to use in the nightclub – although it was “murderous” lighting job, it would have been harder to do in colour.
  • Note that make-up gets less severe as the film progresses
  • The Batman logo is on the door of the flat they rob!
  • Theobald’s physical appearance is a signifier of where the plot and narrative is at.
  • Nolan used an ARRI BL camera to shoot
  • The film plays very different on subsequent viewings – even then Nolan was very interested in the narrative possibilities of cinema.
  • Cobb knows the hidden side of London, which is what Nolan used for the locations.
  • Fractured narrative recalls Nic Roeg’s BAD TIMING (1980)
  • The guy who has his skull smashed looks a lot like Harry Potter
  • It would be interesting to know what system Nolan edited this on. It was just as digital, non-linear systems were becoming mainstream.
  • Black and white lighting is used to very good effect – gives it a film noir vibe
  • Typewriter and Minolta camera Theobald uses are actually Nolan’s.
  • Dialogue is a bit on the nose in parts but given the unusual structure that’s perhaps intentional.
  • Lucy Russell’s line on the intercom was ADR’d by Emma Thomas at the last minute as they needed it for the sound mix the next day.
  • The rooftop fight sequence posed a problem for post-synching as most no-budget films can’t really afford it.
  • Nolan got around this by maintaining the rough, unpolished vibe of the piece. The sound mix works within the world of the film.
  • You can see the seeds of MEMENTO (2000) in this film: haunted protagonist, fractured narrative, people deceiving each other and the rug being pulled out from the audience
  • Director’s uncle John Nolan is the policeman questioning Theobald at the beginning and end.
  • Note the pacing and editing as the film reaches its climax.
  • Final shot of the film was done at waist height so no-one could look into the camera (although if you look carefully somebody does for a split second).
  • The film was written and designed for the budget it was shot on – it made very good use of it’s limitations.
  • Is this the lowest budget feature film of all time?
  • It premièred at the San Francisco Film Festival in 1998 and Nolan got an agent and attention from other festivals including Slamdance, Amsterdam and Toronto.
  • He began principal photography on MEMENTO (2000) in September 1999 and it later had its world première at Venice in September 2000.

Written by Ambrose Heron

April 6th, 2012 at 4:25 pm

Posted in News

Tagged with ,

Women on Film

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It’s International Women’s Day today (Thursday 8th March), so here’s some of my favourite examples of inspiring female movie characters ranging from silent pioneers to animated superheroes.

This PBS special on Mary Pickford shows how she became one of the biggest stars of the silent era before being one of the founders of United Artists:

Several generations of female icons in one scene: Bette Davis, Marilyn Monroe and Anne Baxter in All About Eve (1950):

A strikingly different kind of performance was given by Bibi Andersson and Liv Ullmann in Ingmar Bergman’s classic Persona (1966).

A few years later, Bergman would a film about the relationship between three sisters, played by Harriet AnderssonKari Sylwan and Ingrid Thulin, in Cries and Whispers (1973).

Ripley’s last stand in Alien (1979) was not just a key scene for Sigourney Weaver but showed that female characters could survive without the  help of men (interestingly the ship’s computer is called Mother):

Ripley’s Last Stand
Alien at MOVIECLIPS.com

Obsession isn’t always a bad thing in a young journalist…:

Future News People
Broadcast News at MOVIECLIPS.com

…especially if they grow up to be TV producers like Holly Hunter’s character in Broadcast News (1987):

Then there’s the moving scene of female friendship in Babette’s Feast (1987) and cooking for a real reason – not just because men want their food on the table:

Anyone who has put up with sexist ‘banter’ in the workplace will appreciate this scene from Working Girl (1988) as Tess McGill (Melanie Griffith) gets revenge on her boss (Oliver Platt) who has tricked her into a date with his boorish colleague (Kevin Spacey):

Concerned about Hollywood’s reluctance to create female superheroes?

Pixar and director Brad Bird did their bit with The Incredibles (2004):

Any others you want to add?

> International Women’s Day
> More female performances at Movie Clips
> IMDb list of female icons

Written by Ambrose Heron

March 8th, 2012 at 11:11 pm