‘McQueen’

mcqueenA great documentary for the togs and sheer spectacle of Alexander McQueen’s visionary presentation but as an insight into the man himself, Ian Bonhote & Peter Ettedgui’s documentary is sadly lacking.

Undoubtedly a tortured genius, Lee Alexander McQueen, the London chav, son of a taxi driver, took the fashion-world by storm prior to his suicide in 2010. Candid interviews with colleagues, friends and family provide a certain insight into the man, but there’s a great deal more left out or merely touched upon (cocaine abuse, HIV, child abuse). And it’s this imbalance that leaves the rags to riches tale as a lost opportunity.

Rating: 64%

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Best of Year (2017) – Film

moonlight-poster-lgA very good year but not quite vintage. There were quite a few films that fell into the 70-80% bracket (including the best Australian film, Lion, and best animated feature, Loving Vincent) but 12 films comfortably headed the list, with the top three significantly clear of the rest of the field.

My top 10 films of the year (God’s Own Country and the best documentary, I Am Not Your Negro, just missed out) are:

10: Detroit
9: The Salesman
8: The King’s Choice
7: Land of Mine
6: Baby Driver
5: Blade Runner 2049
4: Insyriated
3: Manchester by the Sea
2: Dunkirk
1: Moonlight

Kathryn Bigelow’s Detroit was a distressing powerhouse, an immersive experience of police brutality and racism during the 1967 riots. The film boasted an excellent ensemble cast although I singled out Will Poulter as the police officer in charge in my top five male performances of the year.

The second film by director Asghar Fahardi to win the Best Film in a Foreign Language Oscar (the first was the magnificent A Separation), The Salesman is a surprisingly quiet narrative as a teacher looks to discover the identity of the person who assaulted his wife in their new home.

Based on historical fact, King Haakon VII of Norway is forced to make a decision that will impact on his country and millions of lives. It’s April 1940 and Nazi Germany has invaded under the pretext of protection from aggressive Allied Forces. The King’s Choice is whether to accept their protection – or declare war.

2017 was a good year for Scandinavian films – the Danish Land of Mine also features in the top 10 as young German POWs are forced to clear the land mines from the beaches immediately following the end of World War II.

An unexpectedly huge box-office hit, Baby Driver with Ansel Elgort as the ubercool getaway driver, is entertaining with a capital ‘e’ with a blast of a soundtrack. But following accusations of inappropriate sexual behaviour, Baby Driver could well be the last time we see Kevin Spacey on the big screen.

The original was one of the coolest sci-fi films of its generation. Thirty years later a sequel was finally released – and its one of the coolest sci-fi films of its generation. Blade Runner 2049 – thanks to its director Denis Villeneuve and the superb cinematography of veteran Roger Deakins – is a cerebral spectacle and makes my top five films of the year.

The shattering Lebanese/Belgian Insyriated is in fourth. My pick of films seen at the Melbourne International Film Festival, headed by Hiam Abbass (the female performance of the year), the claustrophobic drama finds a middle-class Syrian family (and a couple of neighbours) holed up in their Damascus apartment as civil war rages around the streets.

Casey Affleck may well have won all the awards (including my vote for best actor of the year), but the cast and creatives of Manchester by the Sea certainly picked up their own accolades. Emotionally destroyed by tragedy, Affleck returns to his hometown following the death of his older brother where he needs to face his demons to find closure.

Visually stunning, Dunkirk is a film of few words with its emotional sweep and visceral beauty and a jigsaw of narratives, separate but creating a cohesive whole as 300,000 British, French and Belgian soldiers are rescued from the beaches of northern France.

But top of my list – and Oscar winner for best film – is Moonlight. Yet another indie ensemble piece (it was a good year!), small in scale, ambitious in scope, Moonlight is a minor masterpiece, pure melancholic poetry. What a turn up for the books when it beat La La Land to best film!

‘Voyeur’

RYVY8vSA fascinating documentary centred around the figure of Gerald Foos, a former Colorado motel owner who bought into the business so that he could secretly watch guests through specially designed ceiling vents.

But what begins as an exploration around voyeurism and the extreme lengths Foos goes to satisfy his needs evolves into a tale of two narcissists. Long retired, Foos manipulates or omits information to ensure he remains centre of attention. Iconic investigative journalist Gay Talese overlooks the veracity of a few pertinent facts as deadlines for the The New Yorker article and publication of his book loom.

Oddly enough, the interest in Foos declines as the documentary progresses (there’s only so much that can be said about watching people through a ceiling vent) as debonair septuagenarian Talese wrests control of the film from the filmmakers, Myles Kane (Journey to Planet X) and Josh Koury (Journey to Planet X, Standing By Yourself) .

Rating: 50%

‘Gaga: Five Foot Two’

 

lady-gagaA vulnerable Lady Gaga behind-the-scenes as this fly-on-the-wall documentary provides a voyeuristic insight into the preparation for her half-time Super Bowl gig.

But it’s not all music studios, dance barres and costume changes. It may well be carefully orchestrated but this is Lady Gaga unplugged, Stefani Germanotta at home with family, her insecurities, pain management of a stage injury and the release of her highly personal latest album, Joanne.

Director Chris Mourkabel (Banksy Does New York) gets up close and personal but Gaga: Five Foot Two would have benefitted from a little more judicious editing.

Rating: 60%

‘I Am Not Your Negro’

9780525434696“The history of America is the history of the Negro in America. And it’s not a pretty picture.”

A powerful, deeply personal account of race relations in the US based on author James Baldwin’s book, Remember This House, unfinished at the time of his death in 1987. Filmmaker Raoul Peck (Lumumba, Sometimes In April) envisions the book from the 30 pages of the manuscript using only Baldwin’s own words, drawn from his writings and televised interviews and speeches.

It’s an examination of past and present with Baldwin’s words ringing oh so very true in 2017 as they did 40-50 years ago when three of the writer’s friends, ‘activists’ Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King were all assassinated.

Baldwin’s words resonate – with Peck, judicious snatches of contemporary news footage and a voiceover from Samuel L Jackson adding to the impact of this timely film.

Rating: 79%

‘Mountain’

mountainA gloriously immersive and poetic documentary, director Jennifer Peedom (Sherpa, Miracle on Everest) takes us on a journey through our fascination in the stunning majesty that is the world’s highest peaks.

With a beautifully modulated commentary from Willem Defoe, spectacular cinematography from Renan Ozturk (Sherpa, Valley Uprising) and a truly soaring soundtrack from Richard Tognetti and the Australian Chamber Orchestra, Mountain literally leaves you gasping for air – whether it be at the clouds rolling into the Himalayan valleys, the intense close ups of rock climbers on sheer rock faces in Monument Valley or mountain bikers travelling hell for leather on narrow paths high in the Austrian Alps.

It’s simultaneously cerebral and emotive in the extreme – and Vivaldi’s Four Seasons and Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No 5 in E Flat Major have never sounded or ‘looked’ better.

Rating: 61%

‘Namatjira Project’

00001-002A meandering, unfocused documentary, the Namatjira Project explores the legacy of one of the earliest successful Australian aboriginal painters, Albert Namatjira. The first indigenous Australian to be granted citizenship back in the 50s, his extended family has battled to reclaim their heritage since his death in 1959.

The problem for Sera Davies’ film is its failure to determine its main subject. Is it Namatjira himself? His family? The battle to regain copyright? Or is it simply following the theatre production that is Albert’s life (a superb performance by Trevor Jamieson – Rabbit Proof Fence, Bran Nue Dae)? The result is a frustrating mishmash of unresolved questions.

Rating: 53%

‘Faces Places’

MV5BNmE1MTJlM2QtM2JmZC00ODVlLTgzMzctYTkxZDVkOGYzODI2XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNDY2NDMxNDY@._V1_A charming documentary with multi-award winning Belgian director Agnes Varda (The Beaches of Agnes, The Gleaners and I) teaming up with photographer/muralist JR. A picaresque road trip ensues as filmmaker and stills maker create large scale works they plaster in public places in rural France.

A ruminative piece as the two form an unlikely friendship – she, the 88 year-old grande dame of the French New Wave; he, a cool and hip Parisian. And whilst ultimately lacking any depth, the art for art’s sake odyssey is witty, compassionate, warm and life-affirming.

Screened in the Melbourne International Film Festival.

Rating: 67%

’13th’

the13th_27x40_1sheetThe thirteenth amendment to the United States Constitution abolished slavery and involuntary servitude – except as punishment for a crime. The stirring documentary 13th explores how, since the abolition, crime enforcement has perpetuated a link to modern day slavery and social inequity.

A hugely disproportionate number of black males are incarcerated in US prisons, many the result of the policies of US presidents Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton along with sentences handed out to black offenders as opposed to white. Statistics show a white male has a 1 in 17 chance of being imprisoned sometime during his life: for a black male this statistic is 1:3.

Director Ava DuVernay (Selma, Middle of Nowhere) explores the results of these policies alongside historically restrictive laws and practices in an Oscar-nominated documentary that ought to be mandatory viewing (particularly in the US).

Rating: 79%

Best of Year (2016) -Film

i-daniel-blakeAs mentioned in an earlier post, 2016 was not awash, in my opinion, with great films. Lots of good ones, a few that didn’t quite live up to expectations or some abject failures. Hence my top 10 for the year is noticeable by its lack of US ‘studio’ films and dominated by European ‘sensibility’. There’s little room for last year’s big critical darlings – only Spotlight making the cut from the Oscar nominated best films. No The Revenant or The Big Short (the latter sitting just outside the top 10).

To be honest, I was a little surprised by the way my list panned out – but it’s all based on my own percentage rating and rings true. ‘Story’ dominated – whilst I’m not averse to action and adventure, it’s the narrative that is all-important. So the indie productions are well-represented.

My top 10 films for the 2016:

10=: Captain Fantastic (Canada) w/Viggo Mortensen
Mr Gaga (Israeli documentary) dir/Tomer Heymann
7=:    The Hateful 8 (US) w/Samuel L. Jackson
Hunt for the Wilderpeople (New Zealand) w/Sam Neill
The Embrace of the Serpent (Colombia)
5=:    Spotlight (US) w/Michael Keaton
Hell or High Water (US) w/Chris Pine
4:      Indignation (US) w/Logan Lerman
3:      Nocturnal Animals (US) w/Amy Adams
2:      Mustang (Turkey/France)
1:      I, Daniel Blake (UK) dir/Ken Loach

Quiet, social commentary films are there in numbers – the devasting Ken Loach Cannes Palme d’Or winner, I Daniel Blake sitting atop the list as my favourite film of the year. That was a little unexpected knowing La La Land was my last film of 2016. Going by critical response, I anticipated the Damien Chazelle homage to Hollywood musicals of the 50s to be the film of the year. It was good – but not that good, as indicated by its failure to feature in my top 10.

Both Mustang and The Embrace of the Serpent were nominated for last year’s best foreign language film – but they lost out to the Hungarian Holocaust drama, Son of Saul. You can see my opinion (Son of Saul came in around 15th for the year on my selection). The other foreign language film on the list, Mr Gaga, is the superb documentary focussing on Israeli contemporary dance choreographer, Ohad Naharin.

Both Hell or High Water and Nocturnal Animals share the presence of a Texan sheriff as crucial to the storyline – the underrated Michael Shannon in Tom Ford’s elegant suspense feature and the show-stealing Jeff Bridges in Hell or High Water.

Disappointing not to see a local Australian film in the list but the Antipodes is represented by the most successful New Zealand film ever made – the irrepressible Hunt for the Wilderpeople. And its back-to-nature setting is mirrored by the alternative upbringing of the (large) Cash family in the Washington State wilderness of Captain Fantastic.