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Sight & Sound’s Greatest Documentaries List

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

DVD and Blu-ray Picks - June 2014

DVD & Blu-ray Picks: June 2014

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

Philip Seymour Hoffman in Magnolia

Philip Seymour Hoffman (1967-2014)

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

Brit Marling in The East

The East

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

January Backlog 2013

The January Catchup

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