The Golden Plantpots 2008

Since I've seen so many films this year at Cambridge and Leeds, I thought I'd have a little fun in an Oscars stylee, bigging up respec' to the best output I've seen this year. There are also a couple of awards for the stinkers out there in the shape of the Cracked Pots, or the 'Manky Sankeys'.

If you take issue with the decisions I've taken, please tell me what you would include instead.

Best Film - Black Ice (Germany/Finland)

There were funnier films and films with more impact, but Black Ice had great big gobs of suspense, emotion, some good laughs, a twisting unpredictable plot, and believable characters revolving around the concept of a highly spun web of lies. It won because it was the most complete film.

Honourable Mentions:

- Moscow Belgium (Belgium)
A funny, sharp and brilliantly acted slice of life story of a harassed 40-something woman and her chance encounter with a disgruntled truck driver, giving them both something they were missing in their lives. A really good film and top of the list for a long while.

- Empties (Czech Republic)
Growing old is not about giving up on life. This warm, funny end to the trilogy of Jan Sverak was consistently entertaining to the end.

Best Short Film - The Pearce Sisters (UK)

Comparing short films against full length features is unfair, so I separated them out. The Pearce Sisters is a fantastic animation that leaps out of the screen at you. A tight story, never dragging shows the desperate, lonely and often disgusting lives of two sisters living on a beach, making use of the flotsam that washes ashore.

Honourable Mentions:

- There's Only One Bob Latchford (UK)
Nostalgia for childhood is exploited to the full in this funny and warm tribute to young love and collecting football stickers.

- Skhizein (France)
An inventive animation which is told in an entertaining and accessible way. What would happen if you occupied a space that was a metre away from where you should be?

- You, Me and Captain Longbridge (UK)
An emotional window onto the world of a son who has lost his father and uses his imagination and the beautiful countryside he lives in as a way of coping.

- On the Line (Germany)
A short film about the power to make decisions and the consequences of doing them (or not). On The Line stirred up emotion and built suspense very well.

- Mother, Mine (UK)
A woman's seemingly innocent attempt to reunite with her mother starts as a quiet, personal journey, before taking a very dark and unexpected twist.

Best Animation - Mind Game (Japan)

Mind Game was a rollercoaster ride philosophising over the nature of existence, second chances, love and sex, and the human will to overcome and survive. These relatively normal themes were wrapped into a selection of comstantly morphing unique animation styles, with an inventiveness off the scale to the extent it felt like the brain-dump of a madman. You will never see anything like it.

Honourable Mentions:

- Sword of the Stranger (Japan)
This anime won no awards for originality, but it had a solid, complex plot, a recognisable, smooth style (from a good lineage) and kept up pace right to the end.

- The Pearce Sisters (UK)
The smoothness of the animation was a thing to behold in this short film, each character was given three-dimensional life on a 2D surface.

- Skhizein (France)
A unique concept and a likeable style made this short film very watchable.

Best Documentary - One Minute to Nine (USA)

This powerful and disturbing film opens up slowly to reveal the true extent of the devastation of one womans' life and her actions to protect her children. Quietly played without all the kerayzee zoom-in-zoom-out becoming typical of American 'factual' programs these days. Well made and effectively chilling to the bone.

Honourable Mentions:

- The End of Poverty? (USA)
The sheer amount of information packed into this film cannot be ignored, it attempts and succeeds to explain just how the world economy has got to this point; where slavery is more alive than ever and on a truly global scale.

- 1000 Journals (USA)
An entertaining account of an experiment. Send out 1000 plain journals into the world to encourage anyone who picks it up to express themselves in the pages. For such a simple concept, the film didn't drag and remained entertaining throughout.

- Blood Trail (UK)
The passion and determination of one man to do what urges him on - to go to the most war-torn parts of the world and commit whatever he sees to film is an accomplished chronicle of the last fifteen years of his life.

- Fire Under the Snow (USA)
The Tibetan monk Palden Gyatso spent many years in prison, suffering horrendous torture and seeing his fellow peaceful demostrators break and die, all for standing up for their right to practice the Buddhist faith. This film is testamount to the endless patience and forgiveness of the man, who is still actively involved in demonstrations today.

- Chomsky & Co (France)
Though this film suffered a little for being largely in French with subtitles, and thus sometimes hard to keep up with, it was still a fascinating look into the mind of the much acclaimed and criticized intellectual Noam Chomsky, his supporters and his opponents as they share their views on war propaganda, marketing and how people use words, not swords to get their way these days.

Emotional Kick - Time To Die (Poland)

Time to Die doesn't reveal itself completely at the start of the film. This slow burner took a good long while to get going, but by the end of the film, it surprised me just how much I cared about the central character, and the ending stirred up the strongest emotion of all films I've seen this year. If you decide to go to Time to Die, and I encourage you to do, be prepared for a slow burner.

Honourable Mentions:

- Blind Loves (Slovakia)
This documentary-but-not was very good at sharing the four stories with the audience. There was no voice-over narration, so it was left to the camera (and some affectionate animation effects) to tell their stories without judgement. A very nice film.

- Out of Time (Germany)
The ever-disappearing sight of bespoke shops on the highstreet, many of which have supported several generations of family is not one restricted to any part of the world, and this collection of stories of those who face the end of an era was increasingly touching as the film progressed.

- One Minute to Nine (USA)
The story of one woman's final days of freedom before being sent to prison for the crimes she committed was a powerful and affecting work.

Twist Award - Mother, Mine (UK)
The beauty of this short film was its ability to creep up on the viewer and change your perception of everything you had watched, in the last few minutes of celluloid.

Honourable Mentions:

- Black Ice (Germany/Finland)
The ability of Saara to move from contented housewife to amateur spy to spinner of tangled webs of deceit to get close to her prey was full of twists and turns as the stakes got higher and she teetered on the edge of being found out.

Cleverest Film - Black Ice (Germany/Finland)

The amount of inventiveness in the plot of this thriller means it gets another plantpot. There was no telling what was going to happen next or how Saara was going to handle it. Compelling to the end.

Honourable Mentions:

- Mind Game (Japan)
How to mess with the head. This film was inventive to a fault and had my mind racing long after it all ended.

- Rumba (Belgium/France)
Rumba gets in because it contained some of the cleverest physical scenes I've seen. The dancing silhouette scene in particular is extremely well done, especially as there are no computers involved.

- Dream (South Korea)
Kim Ki-Duk's latest was a solid effort, and the theme of two people locked together by their dreams was a great plot device.

- Skhizein (France)
The computer concepts of 3D space and transformations are made into accessible entertainment here as a man is knocked out of his own space by a meteorite.

Biggest Laugh - Dachimawa Lee (South Korea)

You can always leave it to the eastern countries to create the crazy stuff, and this year was no exception. Dachimawa Lee played like a cross between James Bond, Bruce Lee and Austin Powers, with a little bit of Dick Tracy thrown in for good measure. Constantly pacey, camp, clumzy, smart and slick, it kept everyone laughing to the end.

Honourable Mentions:

- Detroit Metal City (Japan)
Just a fraction below Dachimawa Lee, Detroit Metal City shows the contrasting persona's of a man trying to express himself in the worlds of cutesy bands and death metal rock. Funny, energetic, mad and more than a little rude, this had the audience in stitches many times.

- The Juche Idea (Korea)
Though this film had a number of weak areas, the loud orange man who took part in the 'English as a Capitalist Language' sections was so unintentionally hilarious as to make the whole film worth it.

- Mind Game (Japan)
It was just too mad not to be funny. Mind Game grabbed hold of you and didn't let go to the very end, entertaining and often amusing greatly as it went.

Best Indie to Show Your Friends - Black Ice (Germany/Finland)

It's got to be Black Ice simply because it has everything - high suspense, complex plot, emotion, laughs. It's the perfect all-rounder.

Honourable Mentions:

- Rumba (Belgium/France)
Rumba is particularly suited because it is largely devoid of dialogue, instead leaving it to the principal characters to express their feelings via their dance numbers. It sounds a bit rough on paper, but worked really well.

- My Name is Bruce (US)
If you love horror films, then this one is an ideal crossover into the area of comedy and spoof, with Bruce Campbell sending himself up brilliantly. If you don't like horror films, don't worry - there's enough laughs without including the horror film references, and the baddies are deliberately unconvincing to give that authentic B-movie feel.

- Dachimawa Lee (South Korea)
A great film to show people if they have any doubts an eastern film can be funny. Sharp and entertaining, and plenty of laughs both in dialogue and some excellent physical gags.

The Manky Sankey Awards

These awards are given to some true stinkers that I had the displeasure to see.

Biggest Let Down - She Unfolds By Day (USA)
This was just such a missed opportunity. The first warning sign was that the director of the film requested that a synopsis be read out prior to the screening. Then there was the fact that the film had been rejected once a few years ago and only accepted after heavy editing. Much less than a serious biography into the slow loss of a person to Altzeimers, and much more a choppily edited set of indulgant, repetitive holiday movies about the guys' dog, which ended inconeivably with the son and carer leaving the old bag to fend for herself.

Dishonourable Mentions:

- 57000km Between Us (France)
A film declared as a look into a family who is distanced despite the prevelence of technology around them that should enhance it descended into an arthousy flick that was French in all the wrong ways.

- From Inside (USA)
The premise of a film made by a single person has been done many times, often with an endearing and forgiveable roughness to it. Makoto Shinkai's Voices of a Distant Star springs immediately to mind. Even though From Inside was far from awful, its disjointed storyline and use of a computerised train from all different angles became tiring and in some places, where it tried to be deep and meaningful, became the source of guffaws from the audience, who had clearly had enough.

- Drifter (Brazil)
The documentary was about the loneliness of the drifter on the streets of Brazil, and as such, you might rightly expect some of it to include quiet, sombre moments. However, it was full to the brim with them, the scene with the two streetlights and the annoying screechy music for five or more minutes being the worst, causing a good third of the audience to walk out.

Most Pretentious - 57000km Between Us (France)
There is nothing more unhelpful than showing your friends an indie film that just doesn't work and having them not wanting to touch another non-mainstream film as long as they live. This film is one such example, its depiction of perversion and stupid vomit-inducing closeups and drowning transvestites must have made the director think they were saying something very clever, but they were not.

Dishonourable Mentions:

- Akmeni [Stones] (Latvia)
A man with some green plastic bags looks for men and boys for a mysterious purpose. Sounds like a reasonable pretence for a short film. Let me save you the trouble. The green bags meant nothing. The men and boys requirement meant nothing, because they could easily have been female. They were being rounded up to stand in a field to act as placeholders for some art git to place stones in their place for some sort of artistic statement. I wanted to hit them in the face.

- Drifter (Brazil)
Hugely pretentious. The actual content of this film could be extracted to make a half-hours TV documentary, including the many advert breaks you would get in something like that. The rest of the 80 minutes were taken up with filler, the director betting with himself how long he can keep a camera trained on a scene with nothing happening.

Most Drawn Out Scene - Drifter (Brazil)
It couldn't be topped. Drifter was made out of several stretched out and largely pointless scenes that stayed long beyond what a normal person would think of as a 'a reflective consideration of the hours of nothingness spent as a drifter' and well into the realms of 'I have nothing else to put in this film, so lets have five minutes of streetlamps'.

Dishonourable Mentions:

- She Unfolds By Day (USA)
There were plenty of scenes which were repeated over and over, barely changing each time, but the worst one was a protracted trial of endurance in the centre where the dog - the most bearable part of the film - spent many minutes running about the snow in the back garden. Again, and again, and again. What might be lovely for the director is not of much interest to the average filmgoer and was just an exercise in selfish indulgence.

- Halib Ix-Xitan [Hells Dispite] (Malta)
The twin drawn out scenes in question involved a snails-pace panning across the scene of an accident, first from the front of the car to the stunned occupants inside, and lastly from the front wheel to the woman sprawled out on the floor several feet away. Slow reveals are all well and good, but this took the mick right royally.

- Going to Sleep is Something Absolutely Certain in Life (Italy)
Though it was not the worst film of the festival by a long shot, the entire thing was one shot on a train, moving through the night and looking out of the window, only the light from the train to illuminate the scenes of devastation beyond. It had moments of shock as you got to see the effects of some serious natural catastrophe or the sticking plasters put in place here and there to get things working again, but largely it was fallen tree followed by knackered fence.

Most Annoying Film - 57000km Between Us (France)
A film that managed to actually feel malace towards it, it was so bad. The camera angles, the disjointed switching between story segments, the 'why did that just happen' moments... it went on and on, and we were clock-watching almost from the start.

Dishonourable Mentions:

- Battery (UK)
Surrealism is often a subject that can divide opinions, and this short film just bothered me from the start. The ditchable scrawly art style, if it can even be called that was annoying, and the whole thing had no purpose. Bloke sat down to dinner with bird-people, who melted, and then he said something and then they were back again. Rubbish, rubbish, rubbish.

- Drifter (Brazil)
Truly annoying. When you pay good money and end up looking at 5-minute segments of streetlamps and hazy back roads with a muzakal accompaniment that will set the teeth on edge, you know you've hit festival rock bottom.

Right. That's definitely all my festival output for the year. I don't care if I never see another film again. At least not till next time.

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