It’s been a hectic end of 2013/start of 2014 so my screen roundup has taken a back seat for a few weeks. Now though (before it really is too late) I’m knuckling down to thinking about what a very good film year it was. For the first time I managed to watch 100 films in a year: a drop in the celluloid ocean compared to some of my film friends but it’s pretty big for me. Cambridge Film Festival in September was hugely enjoyable, meeting lots of lovely new people, seeing many unexpectedly good (and a few bad) films and writing some reviews for Take One. I started a blog, penpaperaction.wordpress.com, where I post about film, theatre, books and anything else that catches my eye. The most-viewed posts are A Bit Of A Yarn: Knitting For The Cinephile and It’s A Stitch Up! (do have a look, click on titles), which are explorations of the connections between film and knitting and sewing. It’s a surprisingly fruitful thread, if you’ll pardon the pun.
2013’s films started for me with The Angels’ Share at the community cinema I help run; it went down very well and surprised many of the audience, some of whom hadn’t expected to be so brilliantly entertained. 2013 was a big year for community cinema generally, as it seems to have made a small mark on the BFI Film Forever plan, with promises of potential funding and support to develop the network. Organising a community cinema is huge fun, very rewarding and a lot of work. We’ve managed to achieve near or complete sellouts throughout the year, with just a tiny autumn dip in attendances, and we’ve been delighted to hear positive responses to A Separation, Les Diaboliques and The Spirit of ’45, amongst others. Our new line is offering (sold out) film classes thanks to a BFI/Cambridgeshire Film Consortium pilot scheme; so far we’ve enjoyed Hitchcock’s Women, Introduction to film, Millions Like Us: Home Front cinema and Close Readings of 10 films.
In September, the Competition Commission announced its bizarre and ill-informed decision that Cineworld, the Picturehouse chain owners, must divest themselves of three cinemas, most likely Picturehouses, in Aberdeen, Bury St Edmunds and Cambridge. This soaked up many hours of thinking, emailing and discussing and the outcome remains uncertain, despite a high profile media campaign that was even debated in the House of Lords. So we enter 2014 not knowing if the Arts Picturehouse, so important to Cambridge culture, will survive the year; meanwhile 2014’s programme forges optimistically ahead. The Movie Evangelist’s blog is the best place to find out the ins and outs of this shambles.
Way down in the hole: The Wire
One of the real joys of the year has been to finally catch up with The Wire. I knew it would be good and I wasn’t disappointed. I watched the entire five seasons, carefully rationed so that it wouldn’t be finished too soon, although I was desperate to find out what happened. The Wire is quite simply the most complete, intelligent, well-crafted screen wonder that I have ever seen. David Simon and his team have created a enduring legacy for high quality long-form TV with their impressive handling of the material. The plot perfectly hangs together over the five years, exploring the inter-relationships between foundation elements of Baltimore life (drug culture, trade and municipal corruption, education, media), with various characters developing, dying or disappearing; it’s captivating, believable and addictive. In a way I’m glad I didn’t watch it when it was first on TV – it would have been so hard coping with the end of episode cliff-hangars, let alone those at the end of each season. And how could anyone not love the characters that might have popped straight out of Dickens: Stringer, Omar, Bubbles, Bodie and Prez, or McNulty, Bunk, Kima and most heartbreakingly of all, Wallace in Series 1 and Frank Sobotka in Series 2. Unforgettable. I’m looking forward to revisiting the whole thing again this year.
A baker’s dozen of delights:
3 for 1 silent masterpieces: Underground / The Epic of Everest / Napoleon: Anthony Asquith’s sublime Underground (1929), with Neil Brand’s beautiful score, is a perfect example of British silent film in the late 1920s, luminous cinematography, impressive acting and a great story line. Plus it has one of the most affecting ‘mad scenes’ I’ve ever seen as Norah Baring loses her mind following her dodgy boyfriend’s scarpering. Two other terrific silents came my way this year, The Epic Of Everest (review here) and Napoleon, both remarkable films, although I concluded that Napoleon was an amazing experience rather than an amazing film (review here). Five hours, 45 minutes distributed over a whole day was a manageable way to watch this unique film. Everest was a memorable, emotional, sobering experience, with a compiled score by Eugene Goosens and Frederick Laurence beautifully played by the Cambridge University Chamber Orchestra: icy magic on a chilly November night.
Dead Cat, (above) a British film with, as yet, no distributor. How can that be? It’s a high quality, very British film, a delightful love-almost-lost story, with fine acting, great London locations and a satisfying, uncheesy ending. I LOVED Dead Cat, here’s my blog review.
A Highjacking, deeply affecting, horribly believable and claustrophobic political thriller set at sea on a tanker that had been taken hostage by Sudanese pirates.
The Place Beyond The Pines, a riveting, poignant story about men and about relationships between fathers and sons. I hadn’t realised that Bradley Cooper can act, although Ryan Gosling outshone everyone. On the other hand should I have chosen Mud, a very impressive, engaging film starring the previously maligned Matthew McConaughey, Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland.
Mushrooming, darkly hilarious Estonian film about a corrupt official who rather foolishly embarks on a mushrooming expedition in the kind of remote, dense forest that you just know isn’t a good idea to be in. Brilliant.
Frances Ha was possibly my favourite film of the year. A b/w coming of age film for 30-somethings that is joyous, funny, endearing, unsentimental, and with a fabulous soundtrack. Perfect.
The Story of Children And Film. Made by Mark Cousins. That is all. Take One published my review (here).
For Those In Peril, a first film by director Paul Wright, and starring lovely George MacKay, Peril touches on mysticism, memory and tradition in a Scottish fishing village. I’m looking forward to this director’s career.
The Selfish Giant, a difficult film to watch; two not very innocent young lads try to find their way in a harsh world. I struggled with the Oscar Wilde connection, and felt it was probably more Shakespearean anyway. Unforgettable
Caesar Must Die: this drama/doc follows a production of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar that’s being staged by inmates at a maximum-security prison in Rome. Immensely thoughtful meditation on the power of literature and education to free the soul, even of the body remains imprisoned. The final scenes pack a punch that’s rarely beaten on screen. My blog review is here and a trailer
Gravity. So, bearing in mind I’m not sold on 3D and I usually avoid Sandra Bullock’s films, I was utterly won over by Gravity. Not only is it a visual and aural treat, the narrative takes risks with the way it addresses death and manages to leave the viewer entirely in charge of the ending, in my head anyway.
There were of course some distinctly lo-lites, in no particular order:
Project Wild Thing, pretentiousness personified, I reviewed it for Take One (here);
We Went To War, a film that tried too hard to make a well worn point.
Pervert’s Guide To Ideology, dull, dull, dull;
Twice Born: there was I thinking Penelope Cruz probably wouldn’t be in a crap film. I was wrong. Should have gone to Gatsby instead.
Resistance, adapted from a brilliant book by the Welsh poet Owen Sheers and perhaps an impossible dream to capture it on film.
Honour: a disappointingly unsuccessful attempt to tackle the serious and growing problem of honour killing in the UK. Paddy Considine needn’t have bothered – in fact he barely did.
Big misses – must catch up with…
Sunshine On Leith
The Great Beauty
And no doubt many more!
So if you have been, thanks for listening and happy 2014. Just taking a nap now….