UK DVD & Blu-ray Releases: Monday 27th February 2012

DVD & BLU-RAY PICKS

The Conformist (Arrow Video): Bernardo Bertolucci’s adaptation of Alberto Moravia’s novel is a dazzling exploration of his country’s facist past. When an Italian bureaucrat (Jean-Louis Trintignant) becomes an assassin for Mussolini‘s secret police, we see his troubled past in flashback, as he attempts to kill a former mentor now living in Paris. A landmark in cinematography, Vittorio Storaro’s compositions and lighting are some of the best of the 1970s and not only proved influential but led to work with directors such as Coppola (Apocalypse Now) and Beatty (Reds). A haunting portrait of Europe in the 1930s under the spell of Facism. [Buy the Dual Format DVD/Blu-ray from Amazon UK]

We Need to Talk About Kevin (Artificial Eye): Lynne Ramsay’s return to films after nine years is a dazzling adaptation of Lionel Shriver’s novel is a bold and unsettling drama that borders on horror. Depicting the anxieties of a middle class American mother (Tilda Swinton) it charts her disturbing relationship with her son  over a number of years: the young toddler (Rocky Duer), the creepy 6-8 year old (Jasper Newell) and the malevolent teenager (Ezra Miller). Brilliant audio-visual design and a predictably great performance from Swinton are just some of the highlights, as the film homes in with laser-like precision on the darkest fears of motherhood. [Buy the Blu-ray or DVD from Amazon UK] [Read our full review]

The Mizoguchi Collection (Artificial Eye): A Blu-ray release a box set with four films by Japanese director Kenji Mizoguchi, renowned for his renowned for his carefully constructed takes and emotional purity. It contains the following films:

[Buy it on Blu-ray or DVD box set]

ALSO OUT

In Time (20th Century Fox Home Ent.) [Blu-ray / Normal]
Mr Popper’s Penguins (20th Century Fox Home Ent.) (Blu-ray / Normal)
Paranormal Activity 3 (Paramount Home Entertainment) [Blu-ray / Normal]
Rise of the Planet of the Apes (20th Century Fox Home Ent.) [Blu-ray / Normal]
Sleeping Beauty (Revolver Entertainment) [Blu-ray / Normal]
The Front Line (Showbox Media Group) [Blu-ray / Normal]
The Scorpion King 3 – Battle for Redemption (Universal Pictures) [Blu-ray / Normal]
The Three Musketeers (Entertainment One) [Blu-ray / Normal]

Recent DVD & Blu-ray picks
The Best DVD and Blu-ray releases of 2011

The Best Films of 2011

Although it was a year with a record number of sequels, there was much to feast on if you really looked for something different.

The year will be remembered for momentous events which overshadowed anything Hollywood could come up with: the Arab Spring, the Japanese Earthquake, Hackgate, the death of Osama Bin Laden and the continuing meltdown of the global economy.

But cinema itself underwent some seismic changes: in April the thorny issue of the theatrical window raised its head, whilst James Cameron suggested films should be projected at 48 frames per second instead of the usual 24.

But by far the biggest story was the news that Panavision, Arri and Aaton were to stop making film cameras: although the celluloid projection will effectively be over by 2013, it seems the death of 35mm capture is only a few years away.

So the medium of film, will soon no longer involve celluloid. That’s a pretty big deal.

As for the releases this year, it seemed a lot worse than it actually was.

Look beyond the unimaginative sequels and you might be surprised to find that there are interesting films across a variety of genres.

Instead of artifically squeezing the standout films into a top ten, below are the films that really impressed me in alphabetical order, followed by honourable mentions that narrowly missed the cut but are worth seeking out.

THE BEST FILMS OF 2011

A Separation (Dir. Asghar Farhadi): This Iranian family drama explored emotional depths and layers that few Western films even began to reach this year.

Drive (Dir. Nicolas Winding Refn): Nicolas Winding Refn brought a European eye to this ultra-stylish LA noir with a killer soundtrack and performances.

George Harrison: Living in the Material World (Dir. Martin Scorsese): Scorsese’s in-depth examination of the late Beatle was a passionate and moving tribute to a kindred soul.

Hugo (Dir. Martin Scorsese): The high-priest of celluloid channelled his inner child to create a stunning digital tribute to one of the early pioneers of cinema.

Jane Eyre (Dir. Cary Fukunaga): An exquisite literary adaptation with genuine depth, feeling and two accomplished lead performers that fitted their roles like a glove.

Margin Call (Dir. J.C. Chandor): The best drama yet to come out the financial crisis is this slow-burn acting masterclass which manages to clarify the empty heart of Wall Street.

Melancholia (Dir. Lars von Trier): Despite the Cannes controversy, his stylish vision of an apocalyptic wedding was arguably his best film, filled with memorable images and music.

Moneyball (Dir. Bennett Miller): The philosophy that changed a sport was rendered into an impeccably crafted human drama by director Bennett Miller with the help of Brad Pitt.

Project Nim (Dir. James Marsh): A chimpanzee raised as a human was the extraordinary and haunting subject of this documentary from James Marsh.

Rango (Dir. Gore Verbinski): The best animated film of 2011 came from ILMs first foray into the medium as they cleverly riffed on classic westerns and Hollywood movies.

Senna (Dir. Asif Kapadia): A documentary about the F1 driver composed entirely from existing footage made for riveting viewing and a truly emotional ride.

Shame (Dir. Steve McQueen): The follow up to Hunger was a powerful depiction of sexual compulsion in New York, featuring powerhouse acting and pin-sharp cinematography.

Snowtown (Dir. Justin Kerzel): Gruelling but brilliant depiction of an Australian murder case, which exposed modern horror for the empty gorefest it has become.

Take Shelter (Dir. Jeff Nichols): Wonderfully atmospheric blend of family drama and Noah’s Ark which brilliantly played on very modern anxieties of looming apocalypse.

The Artist (Dir. Michel Hazanavicius): An ingenious love letter to the silent era of Hollywood is executed with an almost effortless brilliance.

The Descendants (Dir. Alexander Payne): Pitch-perfect comedy-drama which saw Alexander Payne return to give George Clooney his best ever role.

The Guard (Dir. John Michael McDonagh): Riotously funny Irish black comedy with Brendan Gleeson given the role of his career.

The Interrupters (Dir. Steve James): The documentary of the year was this powerful depiction of urban violence and those on the frontline trying to prevent it.

The Skin I Live In (Dir. Pedro Almodovar): The Spanish maestro returned with his best in years, as he skilfully channeled Hitchcock and Cronenberg.

The Tree of Life (Dir. Terrence Malick): Moving and mindblowing examination of childhood, death and the beginnings of life on earth.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (Dir Tomas Alfredson): Wonderfully crafted John le Carre adaptation which resonates all too well in the current era of economic and social crisis.

Tyrannosaur (Dir. Paddy Considine): Searingly emotional drama with two dynamite lead performances and an unexpected Spielberg reference.

We Need To Talk About Kevin (Dir. Lynne Ramsey): Audio-visual masterclass from Ramsay with a now predictably great performance from Tilda Swinton.

Win Win (Dir. Thomas McCarthy): Quietly brilliant comedy-drama with Paul Giamatti seemingly born to act in this material.

HONOURABLE MENTIONS

A Dangerous Method (Dir. David Cronenberg)
Anonymous (Dir. Roland Emmerich)
Another Earth (Dir. Mike Cahill)
Attack the Block (Dir. Joe Cornish)
Bobby Fischer Against The World (Dir. Liz Garbus)
Confessions (Dir. Tetsuya Nakashima)
Contagion (Dir. Steven Soderbergh)
Four Days Inside Guantanamo (Dir. Luc Cote, Patricio Henriquez)
I Saw the Devil (Dir. Kim Ji-woon)
Into the Abyss (Dir. Werner Herzog)
Life in a Day (Dir. Kevin MacDonald)
Martha Marcy May Marlene (Dir. Sean Durkin)
Midnight in Paris (Dir. Woody Allen)
Page One: Inside The New York Times (Dir. Andrew Rossi)
Super 8 (Dir. JJ Abrams)
The Adventures of Tintin (Dir. Steven Spielberg)
The Beaver (Dir. Jodie Foster)
The Deep Blue Sea (Dir. Terence Davies)
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Dir. David Fincher)
The Ides of March (Dir. George Clooney)

2010 FILMS THAT CAME OUT IN 2011

Armadillo (Dir. Janus Metz)
Beginners (Dir. Mike Mills)
Cave of Forgotten Dreams (Dir. Werner Herzog)
Submarine (Dir. Richard Ayoade)
Cold Weather (Dir. Aaron Katz)
Tabloid (Dir. Errol Morris)

Find out more about the films of 2011 at Wikipedia
End of year lists at Metacritic
> The Best Film Music of 2011
The Best DVD and Blu-ray Releases of 2011

London Film Festival Award Winners 2011

The winners have been announced at this year’s London Film Festival Awards.

BEST FILM: We Need To Talk About Kevin (Dir. Lynne Ramsay)

On behalf of the jury John Madden (Chair) said:

“This year’s shortlist for Best Film comprises work that is outstanding in terms of its originality and its stylistic reach. It is an international group, one united by a common sense of unflinching human enquiry and we were struck by the sheer panache displayed by these great storytellers. In the end, we were simply bowled over by one film, a sublime, uncompromising tale of the torment that can stand in the place of love. We Need to Talk About Kevin is made with the kind of singular vision that links great directors across all the traditions of cinema.”

BEST BRITISH NEWCOMER: Candese Reid, Actress in Junkhearts

Chair of the Best British Newcomer jury, Andy Harries said:

“Candese is a fresh, brilliant and exciting new talent. Every moment she was on screen was compelling.”

SUTHERLAND AWARD WINNER: Pablo Giorgelli, director of Las Acacias.

The jury commented:

“In a lively and thoughtful jury room debate, Las Acacias emerged as a worthy winner, largely because of the originality of its conception. Finely judged performances and a palpable sympathy for his characters makes this a hugely impressive debut for director Pablo Giorgelli.”

GRIERSON AWARD FOR BEST DOCUMENTARY: Into the Abyss: A Tale of Life, A Tale of Death (Dir. Werner Herzog)

The award is co-presented with the Grierson Trust (in commemoration of John Grierson, the grandfather of British documentary) and recognises outstanding feature length documentaries of integrity, originality, technical excellence or cultural significance. The jury this year was chaired by Adam Curtis.

BFI FELLOWSHIP: Ralph Fiennes and David Cronenberg (as previously announced)

Greg Dyke, Chair, BFI said:

‘The BFI London Film Festival Awards pay tribute to outstanding film talent, so we are delighted and honoured that both Ralph Fiennes, one of the world’s finest and most respected actors and David Cronenberg, one of the most original and ground-breaking film directors of contemporary cinema, have both accepted BFI Fellowships – the highest accolade the BFI can bestow. I also want to congratulate all the filmmakers and industry professionals here tonight, not only on their nominations and awards, but also for their vision, skill, passion and creativity.’

Jurors present at the ceremony included: Best Film jurors John Madden, Andrew O’Hagan. Gillian Anderson, Asif Kapadia, Tracey Seaward and Sam Taylor-Wood OBE; Sutherland jurors Tim Robey, Joanna Hogg, Saskia Reeves, Peter Kosminsky, Hugo Grumbar, and the artist Phil Collins.

Best British Newcomer jurors Anne-Marie Duff, Tom Hollander, Edith Bowman, Stephen Woolley and Nik Powell; and Grierson Award jurors Mandy Chang of the Grierson Trust, Charlotte Moore, Head of Documentary Commissioning at BBC, Kim Longinotto and Adam Curtis.

> LFF official site
> Previous winners at the LFF at Wikipedia

LFF 2011: We Need to Talk About Kevin

Director Lynne Ramsay’s return to films after nine years is a dazzling and disturbing adaptation of Lionel Shriver’s novel.

Cleverly adapting the epistolary form of the book with a flashback structure, Ramsay and co-writer Rory Kinnear have crafted a bold and unsettling drama that borders on horror.

It depicts the fears and anxieties of a middle class American mother, Eva (Tilda Swinton) as we see her disturbing relationship with her son over a number of years.

There is the doubtful pregnancy, where she seemingly regrets the loss of independence motherhood brings, and the different stages of Kevin.

We see the young toddler (Rocky Duer), the creepy 6-8 year old (Jasper Newell), the malevolent teenager (Ezra Miller) and the period after where Eva must shape a new life for herself.

Along the way, we see how events affect her husband (John C. Reilly) and younger daughter (Ashley Gerasimovich) as things spiral out of control.

It isn’t an exaggeration to describe this as a kind of horror movie, as it not only channels classics of the genre such as Rosemary’s Baby (1968) and The Omen (1976) but homes in with laser-like precision on the darkest fears of motherhood.

It’s effectiveness is such that I would warn expectant mothers to realise that this may do for parenthood what Psycho (1960) did for showering in remote hotels or Jaws (1975) did for swimming on a beach.

Nonetheless, this only speaks to the skill with which the book has been visualised for the big screen and the core themes and questions are all still here.

How much do the formative early years of childhood shape a character? Is it possible for evil to be an innate characteristic? Do ambivalent mothers somehow transmit their feelings to their offspring? Do parents and children pick sides in a family?

It is to Ramsay’s great credit that she has dealt with these uncomfortable concepts with such verve, whilst preserving the ambiguous, tantalising details which continually make us question characters and their actions.

The film looks stunning with the director and her cinematographer Seamus McGarvey opting for carefully composed widescreen images, which not only isolate Swinton’s protagonist but accentuate the little details which make up the visual fabric of the film.

Opting to use the colour red at every conceivable opportunity, the film seems to be referencing a similar visual motif from Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now (1971), an idea made more intriguing when you realise Luc Roeg (Nic’s son) is one of the producers.

We Need to Talk About Kevin plays like a weird contemporary reversal of that film: instead of the death of a child bringing tragedy upon a family, it is the birth of one that causes all the problems.

The intricate look is augmented by a rich audio design by Paul Davies, which brilliantly accentuates key sounds such as Kevin’s collicky screams against a builder’s drill or the grotesque eating of food to create a memorable ‘second layer’ to the film.

There is also the editing by Joe Bini (a veteran of Werner Herzog’s documentaries) which delineates between the different periods with consummate grace and also provides the film with a narrative drive as it circles around a key, revelatory event.

Jonny Greenwood’s atmospheric score isn’t quite up to the level of his work on There Will Be Blood (2007) but it does give the film a discordant quality, which syncs nicely with the rest of the film.

Despite the excellence of its construction, the film is dependant on a key lead performance from Tilda Swinton who more than delivers as Eva, reflecting the doubts, fears and weary disappointment of a woman caught in a living nightmare.

It is a very tricky character to play, by turns sympathetic and cold, but she delivers some of the best acting of her career here, which given her past roles is really saying something.

The supporting cast suffer a little from Swinton’s domination of the screen: John C Reilly feels a little miscast and Ezra Miller at times overdoes the demonic act to the point where some scenes feel like he’s auditioning for Damien: Omen II.

If there is a problem with the film, it may be that it is too effective for its own good.

Due to the collapse in the upscale indie market since 2008, Ramsay and the producers had to rework the script and budget in order to get the final financing in place.

I’m glad they did because this is a film that will stand the test of time, but as for its commercial prospects one can only wonder what the core audience for this film will think.

It could be that they appreciate the skill with which Shriver’s book has been adapted but also appalled at the way it burrows into their deepest fears and then explodes like an emotional dirty bomb.

I’ve already heard a couple of reactions to this film where members of the audience seemed viscerally angry with the way it dealt with a topic in a way which is probably still taboo.

Perhaps for some it will be too much and in the current recessionary climate its box office probably won’t be reflective of the sheer quality on display.

But over time I suspect it will be gain a certain status as a daring film and in the privacy of their own home many parents will sneakily watch it in the same way they used to sneakily observe horrors their parents banned them from seeing.

This is a unconventional family movie played as a tangible waking nightmare: there are Kevin’s out there and sometimes they happen to the best of parents.

> Facebook page
> Reviews of We Need to Talk About Kevin at MUBi

UK Cinema Releases: Friday 21st October 2011

KEY RELEASES

Contagion (Warner Bros.): Director Steven Soderbergh’s latest is an all-star disaster movie about a global killer virus – think Traffic, only with disease. Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jude Law, Kate Winslet and Jennifer Ehle star. [Nationwide / 12A]

We Need To Talk About Kevin (Artificial Eye): Director Lynne Ramsay returns after a 9 year absence with this adaptation of the Lionel Shriver novel about a mother (Tilda Swinton) who has to deal with an unusual son (Ezra Miller). Co-starring John C Reilly. [Selected cinemas nationwide / 15]

Paranormal Activity 3 (Paramount): The third installment of the low-budget/high profit horror franchise sees the makers of social media documentary Catfish direct. [Nationwide / 15]

ALSO OUT

Monte Carlo (20th Century Fox): Comedy about a teenager (Selena Gomez) who is mistaken for a British socialite and goes on a trip to Monte Carlo with her two friends. Directed by Thomas Bezucha, it co-stars Leighton Meester and Cory Monteith.

Restless (Sony Pictures): Drama about a teenage girl (Mia Wasikowska) who falls for a boy who likes to attend funerals (Henry Hopper) and sees the ghost of a Japanese kamikaze pilot. Directed by Gus Van Sant. [Selected cinemas / PG]

Reuniting the Rubens (Kaleidoscope Entertainment): Comedy about a Jewish man (Timothy Spall) who tries to re-unite his dysfunctional family in order to appease his ailing mother (Honor Blackman). Directed by Yoav Factor. [Selected cinemas / PG]

Judy Moody And The Not Bummer Summer (Universal): Comedy about a disgruntled girl (Jordana Beatty) whose boring summer is enlivened by a visit from her aunt. Directed by John Schultz, it co-stars Heather Graham.

Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975 (Soda Pictures): Documentary depicting the struggle for civil rights in the USA, resurrected from the vaults of Swedish TV. Directed by Göran Hugo Olsson. [Selected cinemas / 12A]

Blood in the Mobile (Dogwoof): Documentary about the connection between mobile phones and the civil war in the Congo. Directed by Frank Poulsen. [Selected cinemas / 12A]

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Recent UK DVD & Blu-ray releases