The Golden Plantpots 2012

Another year already, and another chance to trawl through the best and worst of the year.  Cambridge was excellent, we saw some of the best festival output there, but Leeds and Bradford both fell a little short.  Overall though there was a lot of good stuff out there.  Most of these films were shown during 2012 at:
Feel free to add your views.

Best Film - Samsara (US)

Picking out a single film is so difficult, but Samsara is unique, breathtaking, epic and captivating - a visual chronicle of humanity in the Qatsi-style, but outclasses the dated trilogy in every way.  Each scene (aside from the weird clay man) manages to grab your attention and never let go, the first of what may be a slew of visually intense films shot on 70mm format in the future.

Honourable Mentions:

Albert Nobbs (UK/Irl) - Glenn Close worked hard to perfect her alter-ego after playing him on stage many times; this big screen version of the story of a well-loved butler with a secret to hide from his adoptive family is visually sumptuous and just stays short of overdoing the schmaltz to bring a tear to the eye.

War Witch (Can) - Visually arresting, brutal and heartbreaking, but ultimately beautiful.  War Witch brings the tragedy of the conflicts raging in Africa to the screen from the perspective of those worst affected - the children.

Starbuck (Can) - A surprisingly meaty comedy drama that is already down for a Hollywood remake.  The premise brings together a lot of familiar film elements and pastes them together into something fresh and a bit different.

Sing Your Song (Ger) - If the name Harry Belafonte doesn't make you sit up and pay attention, it's probably because if you know him at all, it's for the songs your mum used to like.  Sing Your Song opened my eyes to the other part of his life, as a humanitarian and activist.

Call Me Kuchu (Uga) - One of the most emotionally draining films, seeing the relentless persecution of homosexuals in Uganda, where despite the threats and killings, media witch-hunts and government-approved death sentences, a few brave souls stand up for who they are.

Comic-Con Episode 4 (US) -  A joyous celebration of 'geek' culture from a US perspective from Morgan Spurlock, following the attendees of the San Diego Comic Con as they construct outfits, purchase figures and fall in love.  Well worth your time.

The Raid (Ind/US) - An unrelenting, hyper-violent ballet of a film, where a group of cops attempt to take down a crime boss on the top floor of a tower block.  The action left me breathless.

Argo (US) - Somehow drowned out in the sea of other quality films this year, Argo is still a suspenseful, top-notch thriller chronicling 'the Canadian Caper'.  Director and lead actor Ben Affleck is more than matched by his compatriots with some quality acting by a group of big-haired diplomats on their way out of Tehran under the guise of film-makers.

Carlos (Fra/Ger) - This shortened film version of the 6-hour miniseries is an epic retelling of the rise and fall of 'The Jackal', a passionate terrorist for the Palestine liberators whose reach exceeded his grasp.

Best Short Film - Don't Hug me I'm Scared (UK)

A brilliant, subversive pastiche of a childrens' TV show where the childish characters are allowed to follow their creative instincts just a little too far, guided along by a magical notepad whose questionable techniques would have the puppeteer taken aside for a quiet word, had this been the real world and not some fantastic alternate reality.  Best of all, you can see it for free!

Honourable Mentions:

Aeolian (UK) - The life of a strange little blob, finding out about the world as it grows in size is cute and charming, with some masterful blending of real life and CGI.

The Last Bus (Slo) - Mute forest animals take the last bus out of town, with a hunted fox along at the last minute to provide some tension.  Real-life but also stop motion, the slightly macabre taxidermied masks and the eerie night journey make this come alive.

Ab Morgen (Ger) - A quietly affecting film about a man coming face to face with his decision to get an illegal transplant when he realises just who he shared a room with the night before.

Dr Breakfast (US) - Wholly crazy, echoing some of the madcap humour of Ren and Stimpy, where a couple of well-spoken deer help a man get ready for the morning when Dr. Breakfast launches out of his eyeball.  Go here to see it.

I am Tom Moody (UK) - A moment of stage fright is captured forever, as Tom Moody junior comes back from the recesses of his mind at a crucial moment.  Taps right into the heart of nervousness.

Dylan's Room (UK) - A quiet look at the life of a woman left behind when her globetrotting son disappears and how she manages to make a reconnection of sorts.  The sort of film that will mean different things to different people.

Walk Tall (UK) - An elderly man who has earned the right to tell youngsters to sit up straight.  A delightful short film that manages to preach without being preachy.

All That Glisters (UK) - Told using tatty fabric dolls to give a little distance between the viewer and the subject matter, a young girl makes the most of the time left that she has with her dad.

Walking the Dogs (UK) - Emma Thompson gives a convincing performance as The Queen in a retelling of an actual event, where an unhinged man makes it past the guards and into her bedroom for a chat.

Kinderspiel (Ger) - What appears to be a kidnap and ransom situation turns on it's head.

Fear of Flying (Ire) - Dougal is a bird that can fly, but won't because he's scared to.  So he walks.  A happy and comical little film with some sharp animation.

Ora et Labora (Austria) - An old man sits in front of his TV, seemingly able to control the destinies of the people in the world outside.  Brings up a variety of emotions.

What's Opera, Doc? (US) - I'm not going to clutter up the short film section with the dozens of Chuck Jones cartoons I saw at Bradford this year, so What's Opera Doc?, the pinnacle work from the best of the Warner Bros. Cartoon years, will exemplify the way to write a slapstick cartoon with hidden depth.

Much Better Now (Aus/Ita) - A happy, charming film about a little bookmark, given a new lease of life thanks to a carelessly opened window.
Best Animation -
Berzerk: The Golden Age Arc 1 and 2 (Jpn) 

Accomplished director Toshiyuki Kubooka brings us the latest incarnation of the Berzerk story in a three-film epic (the third, unfortunately isn't out until next year). The first two are so incredibly impressive, from the intricate and breathtaking animation, to the meaty story, that there was little to separate the two.  Some may be a little disappointed that the level of violence is toned down a little from the original, but what you get in return is well worth the trade. If you are fortunate to have them showing on the big screen where you are, go see them.

Honourable Mentions:
Wolf Children (Jpn) - From Summer Wars/Girl who Leapt Through Time director Mamoru Hosoda, who is quickly becoming a banker for quality anime, comes another high quality film.  Once the whole concept of wolfy sexytime is over and done with (a momentary weakness in the film) it goes from strength to strength as a tale of a young but determined woman left to bring up her unusual offspring alone.

Ernest and Celestine (Fra) - A beautiful, gentle, watercolour painting of a film that couldn't be further from the style of the director's previous effort - A Town Called Panic.  Bear Ernest and mouse Celestine form an unlikely friendship in a world where the two species distrust each other intensely.

Dr Breakfast (US) - A beautiful crayon-effect style is expertly used to picture a day in the life of two sentient deer and the lonely man they meet.

Asura (Jpn) - A tragic tale of a young feral child, abandoned by his mother and unable to distinguish right from wrong, in a feudal Japan where few people have time to take in an orphan or show kindness.  The computer-generated 3D versions of the standard flatly drawn cells takes a little getting used to, but overall it's an excellent big screen version of the original manga.

Tiger and Bunny: The Beginning (Jpn) - Leeds isn't Leeds without one crazy anime, and Tiger and Bunny did not disappoint.  Satirizing the current trends of reality TV and consumerism in a future America of sorts, Tiger and Bunny blends shiny metallic 3D backgrounds with traditional cell animation and computer generated cyber suits for a blast of colour, noise and a good few laughs.

Beowulf (US) - A few years old now, and showing a little pixillation here and there compared to the newest CGI efforts, Beowulf is still an impressive piece of animation, certainly not for the children.

My.. My.. (Chi) - An interesting and inventive short film from China, evoking memories of old video games as a stick man tries to get his clothes back.

The Pirates! (UK) - Not part of the festival circuit, but The Pirates is the latest Aardman effort with a healthy splodge of British humour, the usual high-quality claymation and a constantly inventive plot.  It will certainly struggle in Bible Belt America, where it's outrageous inclusion of 'Chucky D' in anything other than a devil suit eating babies is unacceptable, but those people can go screw themselves.  It's a cracking film.

Wrinkles (Spa) - An unusual subject matter for an animation - the final years of the inhabitants of an old folks home - is nevertheless expertly told with charm and cheeky humour.

Best Documentary -
Call Me Kuchu (Uga)

And again, there are so many documentaries released this year to choose from. Samsara came close as the winner, but I question whether it can be actually described as a documentary (hence it's omission here). In the end, it was a close race between Call Me Kuchu and Sing Your Song, with the hard-hitting and expertly reported atrocities of the former earning it the place.

Honourable Mentions:

Sing Your Song (Ger) - This biopic of singer, activist and humanitarian Harry Belafonte opened my eyes to the extraordinary work of the man, now in his eighties, whose work to bring people together has spanned the last fifty plus years.

Big Boys Gone Bananas!* (Swe) - The original Bananas! film, about the mistreatment and hazardous working conditions of the Dole fruit pickers was for several years bullied out of the cinemas by the fruit giant themselves.  This meta-documentary is a big middle-finger to the corporation and a celebration of the eventual triumph of justice over corporate bullying.

Shadows of Liberty (UK) - One of the first in what will likely be a slew of documentaries chronicling the history of press freedom and what it means to actually have a truly free source of news in these times of corporate control.  If this film doesn't get your gander at just some of the examples of media oppression from all sides, then you don't deserve to live in a free society.

Jiro Dreams of Sushi (Jpn) - A fascinating and privileged view into the highly-regarded sushi restaurant, tucked away quietly in the corner of a Tokyo railway station.  The elderly Jiro and his dedicated team of chefs cook for the great and the good, but remain humble and likeable, just plying their trade.

José and Pilar (Por) - A quiet and beautiful documentary about the lives of prolific Portuguese author Jose Saramango, and his force of nature that is his wife, Pilar, as their increasing years and José's frailty begin to come to the fore and force them to rethink their busy schedule.

King of Comics (Ger) - Ralf Konig's work as a cartoonist lampooning the minutae of the lives of his fellow gay men has earned him a following that goes beyond the homosexual scene and into the mainstream, but it is his edgier, more serious work that has earned him his highest respect. 

Winter Nomads (Swi) - Weathered veteran Pascal and his new companion Carole embark on a long journey across the harsh winter countryside of the modern Swiss landscape, with a few hundred sheep in tow just as it has been for centuries.  This charming and bittersweet documentary quietly treads in their footprints as a way of life slowly disappears.

Jason Becker: Not Dead Yet (UK/US) - The potential mega-stardom life of a rock giant is cut short when Jason Becker got ALS, the degenerative muscle disease.  This beautiful film is a testament to the courage and the will to keep going no matter what your throw of the dice turned up.

1/2 Revolution (Egy/Den) - A highly valuable view of the Egyptian uprisings from the centre of the action, captured on film by a group of friends in the centre of it all, watching their communities overcome first with elation and joy, and then suspicion as the death-throes of the Mubarat regime play dangerous politics with people's lives.  With the situation on the decline once more, the other half is yet to come, it seems.

Beauty is Embarrassing (US) - A biopic of Wayne White, one-time Pee-Wee Herman set producer, now a prolific artist using a number of mediums.  White's characteristic free-spirited inspiration for random and innovative new works is infectious, as is his don't care attitude to any stuffy critics that might come along.

Tales of the Waria (US/Ind) - The Waria are the transgender men of Indonesia.  Though by good fortune they are tolerated due to ancient tradition, their lives are still difficult and are often not accepted into their highly religious community.  This sensitive and affecting film focuses on several men living as women, and the lives they touch.

Comic-Con Episode 4 (US) - A fantastic celebration of what it means to be a nerd, a geek or whatever derogatory term you want to slap on people who like cult stuff, in the place where any self-respecting follower is bound to go - Comic-Con.  Morgan Spurlocks' finest film so far.

Fire in the Blood (India) - A compelling and inciteful documentary showing the downright unjust efforts of the large pharmaceutical industries to control the distribution of their drugs - and the cheap, equally-effective generic versions - around the world, putting their profits ahead of the livelihoods of millions.

Persistence of Vision (UK) - The wildly ambitious film The Thief and The Cobbler, a project and labour of love of it's director Richard Willams for 20 years, was never released, thanks to his inability to leave alone and let things complete.  The travesty of Arabian Knight - a poor-quality film knocked together from stuff that did get completed, cruelly dubbed on release as an Aladdin cash-in even though it preceded it by years - is an especially tragic pill to swallow. 

The Last Buffalo Hunt (US) - The antics of the modern-day hunters on the last American Bison herds makes the blood boil.  This subversive film, sitting back and allowing the hunters to show themselves in the light they made for themselves, perhaps isn't the picture they were thinking was going to get painted.

Fightville (US) - A peek into the bare-knuckled world of extreme mixed martial arts, where the combatants come out of the cage with much more than a bloody lip, is filled with much more than the expected meat-heads, meeting with the sparrers, organisers and the family and friends growing up in the community around it.  The fights are tough to watch, and the hits are all real, but there is much more to see here.

Freedom For Birth (UK) - It got a little preachy, but the subject matter was important enough to make it worth inclusion.  Focusing on the injustice of midwife Agnes Gereb, under house arrest for assisting home births in Hungary.

A Lot With A Little Award - Sawdust City (US)

A new award this year, recognising that there are plenty of films out there that are created on a shoestring budget, and some of them manage to outclass some major big-budget releases.

Sawdust City and Frank were the main contenders, with the former managing to be a little more enjoyable and sensible where Frank's macabre leanings may put some people off.  Sawdust City is all about the re-connection of two brothers split by circumstance and commitment, and brought together again to get their father back for Thanksgiving.  The tiny budget allowed the actors to concentrate on fleshing out the characters on their many alcoholic stopoffs.

Frank (UK) - An extremely low-budget UK flick freed from the boundaries of pandering to the audience.  The resulting degenerating life of a lonely man with mental problems, who comes across a body washed up on the beach is fascinatingly macabre, inventive and gruesome interpretation of a broken mind coming to terms with his daily stresses.

Tower Block (UK) - Though not as enjoyable as the bigger-budget The Raid, Tower Block has comparable levels of tension, as the colourful residents of a high-rise block are picked off one by one, by an unknown gunman.

Grandma Lo-Fi (Den/Ice) - A deliberately frugal budget to celebrate the life of a charming woman who became an Icelandic cult figure in her old age, putting together tapes of her home-made masterpieces with none of the fancy kit the professionals use.

The Lord's Ride (Fra) - Using only the members of a local community of gypsies, director Jean-Charles Hue manages to bring together a loosely controlled but well-acted tale of a man convinced of the calling to a higher purpose, just as he is needed to do some scally nicking of stuff.

Wrinkles (Spa) - Wrinkles was well made and acted, and for it's budget, animated very well, although some sections the frame-rate got a little choppy, it was overall funny, affecting and very enjoyable.

The History of Future Folk (US) - Though not quite as entertaining as it's proponents suggest when they liken it to Flight of the Conchords, Future Folk is a solidly-acted, funny film in a similar vein about the antics of a pair of aliens that come to earth intent on destruction, until they discover music.

Enjoy The Journey Award -
The Raid (Ind/US)

If there was an award for the most painful film to watch, this would get it hands down. I can't remember the last time I stopped breathing for such a length of time as with this film, a relentless, hyper-violent yet balletic tale of a group of police infiltrating the tower-block hideout of a powerful gangster. I saw the DVD on sale for six quid yesterday. You have no excuses!

Honourable Mentions:

Don't Hug me I'm Scared (UK) - When things kick off, all you can do is sit back and hope you survive the unusual glitter painting.

Aaltra (Bel/Fra) - A squabbling pair of neighbours, left disabled in a freak farming accident, decide to visit the manufacturers of the offending machinery to sue the pants off them.  A minimal, occasionally hilarious road movie with a difference.

Come as You Are (Bel) - Choosing to make a comedy-drama road movie of the lives of three disabled schoolfriends is going to be pretty ballsy, especially as the destination is a brothel.  This film is a surprisingly nuanced take on such a concept, the director concentrating on building the characters rather than the slapstick.

Vikingland (Spa) - Though I would not recommend this film particularly much, it did do something right, and that was to present the life of the mysterious man in the old video tapes in a captivating way, at least when things moved on a bit.

Avé (Bul) - The deadpan, dark humour of a young man on a road trip with a strange girl who just won't let him go to the funeral of his friend in peace makes for an unusual mix of emotions, but the film makes it work.  Avé's bare-faced cheek mixed with Kamen's dour facial expressions lifts this road movie a little higher.
After the Credits Roll -
Samsara (US)  
It had to go to Samsara, given the sheer number of beautiful, beguiling images and scenes, showcasing the best and worst of nature and humanity in an intense blast of cinematography.

Honourable Mentions:

Vanishing Waves (Lit) - Leaving aside the gorgeous Jurga Jutaite for a moment, this film is chock full of some of the most visually intense scenes you are ever likely to see, short of Samsara anyway.

2001: A Space Odyssey (US/UK) - We managed to see a digital reprint of Kubricks seminal work on the big screen in Leeds Town Hall, where the speakers, not at their best when putting out dialogue, were ideal for the trippy, universe-stretching third act - a succession of iconic scenes that for many people have remained in the mind for many years since.

Room 237 (US) - Sticking with Kubrick, this fan-made and not remotely official film about the minutiae of little things the director may or may not have consciously placed in The Shining made me want to immediately turn back time and look at the film in a new light.

The Raid (Ind/US) - Relentless is a word that I have used repeatedly for this film, and once the credits do roll, you're left breathless, winded and seriously impressed.

 Emotional Kick - War Witch (Can)

The story of Komona was heartbreaking enough before you realise that this story is based on the horrific experiences of many thousands of child soldiers in the African conflicts.  War Witch is full of terrible, beautiful imagery that will stay for a long time.

Honourable Mentions:

Wolf Children (Jpn) - Though obscured through the lens of fantasy of a world where human-wolf hybrids exist, the experiences of a young woman in the middle of the chaos of bringing up two young children alone are recognisably universal.  Wolf Children masterfully depicts a growing, family where tastes diverge and the need to let go.

José and Pilar (Por) - The love of the almost indestructible husband and wife team as they go through some of the most important stages in their life will leave a lump in the throat.

Amour (Aus/Fra/Ger) - A slow moving but ultimately beautiful tale of enduring love between Georges and Anne, his elderly wife who begins to succumb to the ravages of old age in the form of successive strokes.  It is a truly heart-wrenching journey of the heart.

Tabu (Por) - An epic tale of the life of Aurora, an elderly spinster living out her final years in a Portugese flat in the first half of the film, and a beautiful spirit fated never to be with the love of her life in the second.  A complete rounding of a character and an emotional thumper of a film.

My Sweetheart (Fra) - A sweet, short film dealing with the sensitive issue of the 'first time' between a young couple with learning difficulties, and the carer who has to step in when things get out of hand.

Golden Slumbers (Cam/Fra) - A film lamenting the fledgeling Cambodian film industry, which was brutally cut off just as it got going by the intolerant Khmer Rouge, who saw it as a decadent western influence.  Those few who survived the assassinations, along with a cult following of those early pioneers tell their fascinating story.

Rust and Bone (Fra/Bel) - A surprise 'film zero' of Leeds, Rust and Bone was the surprisingly powerful adaptation of a collection of short stories, melded together into one narrative about a woman losing her legs in an accident, and the hot-tempered bouncer she meets shortly before.

Call Me Kuchu (Uga) - Few films have the emotional impact of this, both a tribute to the assassinated civil rights campaigner David Kato, and a light shone on the horrendous intolerance set upon the few homosexuals in Uganda that dare raise their hands.

Volcano (Ice) - In a similar story to Amour, Volcano managed to hit the emotional highs when Hannes has to deal with a sudden and stunning tragedy.

Goodbye First Love (Fra/Ger) - A deeply personal and touching account of a young first love, with all it's mistakes and imperfections, and the aftermath when it ends, and two people carry on their separate ways.

Twist Award -
Blind Spot (Lux)

Blind Spot became this year's Point Blank, a favourite of 2011.  A cop, emotionally involved in the latest crime and a bit unhinged, is brought back onto the force by his trusting super so they can get the job done.  As with The Killing, there are plenty of twists as to the culprit before the end credits, and it's a satisfying, intense ride until the end.

Honourable Mentions:

The War Zone (Ita/UK) - Ray Winstone's unsettling father figure forms the centre of the massive twist in what would otherwise be a family melodrama, with director Tim Roth deftly hooking an unexpected left into decidedly darker territory without warning.

Don't Hug me I'm Scared (UK) - The childrens show takes a decidedly unexpected twist in the final few moments, as the poor characters get to let their creativity run a little too free.

Kinderspiel (Ger) - What appears to be a kidnapping quickly transpires into something much more complex in this German short film.

Irma (US) - Unassuming elderly woman Irma doesn't let you into her secret until she has ambled down to her local gym, at which point she lets her muscles do the talking.

Cleverest Film -
VOS (Cat/Spa)

VOS attempted to be a film within a film, using the characters to play meta-characters in a play, melding seamlessly with the private lives of the characters both in and out of the sets, playfully wrong-footing the viewer as to exactly what they were watching. It very nearly pulled it off, although it did bog down a little in the complexities in the middle.

Honourable Mentions:-

Alois Nebel (Cze/Ger) - A good-to-average plot was not the main draw of this film, but was instead the impressive rotoscoping animation technique, producing a fittingly stark representation of the1980's Czech Republic.

Alps (Gre) - Lacking the praise heaped on Dogtooth, this work by the same director fell a little flat, although it's premise - a group of people volunteering to replace missing loved ones in their families was a neat way to increase the dimensions of each of the lead actors.

I am a Good Person/I am a Bad Person (Can) - The diverging lives of a newly-separated filmmaking mother, and her teenage daughter had some innovative use of Bradford film festival footage as part of the film, showing at Bradford (just to confuse).  Just a shame the second half let it down.

 Biggest Laugh - Starbuck (Can)  

Surprisingly emotional and deeper than it's mainstream concept would suggest, Starbuck can also boast a load of belly-laughs as well.  What more could you ask for?

Honourable Mentions:

Dr. Breakfast (US) - A crazy, free-spirited animation likely to appeal to anyone who likes Spongebob.

The Pirates! (UK) - A great British comedy, playing to our island strengths, handled expertly by world-renowned animation experts, Aardman.  No film featuring Brian Blessed has the capacity to be anything less than funny.  Maybe a sequel is in the works?

Tiger and Bunny (Jpn) - Not as over-the-top as previous WTF Japan? examples shown at Leeds, but still capable of raising plenty of laughs.

Come as You Are (Bel) - Filled with guilty comedy potential from the start, this road movie featuring three disabled teens journeying to a brothel is surprisingly more high-brow than the premise suggests, but there are still plenty of laughs.

Seven Psychopaths (UK) - Punchy, unpredictable and featuring some stellar performances from Sam Rockwell and Rutger Hauer, this film managed to come near the top of the Leeds favourite list.

The History of Future Folk (US) - A charming and warm tale of narrowly averted world destruction, with some good sight and sound gags along the way.  If they had employed Brett and Germaine for the songs, they would have had an absolute winner.

Aaltra (Bel/Fra) - The premise alone of two wheelchaired men who hate each other finding whatever transport they can (seriously abusing the kindness of others along the way) is comedic without a cell of film going through the projector.  Though the finished product misses a few targets, there is enough in here to ensure a lot of guilty laughs.

John Dies at the End (US) - A funny and well-made low budget offering, full of comedy splatterhouse scenes, if that's your thing.

A Thousand Words - Samsara (US)

No contest, really. Samsara contains wonder and beauty in almost every shot, helped on enormously by the unorthodox 70mm print, only a few places in the UK can show it at it's full intensity.  Bradford, luckily, being one of them.

Honourable Mentions:

War Witch (Can) - Full of terrible yet beautiful images of a country war-torn and ravaged. Komoma's journey through it is experienced in it's raw and uncompromising glory by the awe-struck audience.

1/2 Revolution (Egy/Den) - A film full of personal imagery, shot on location at the very heart of the disturbances while they were happening.

The Hyperwomen (Bra) - The silent director and a quietly following camera relays to us the lives of a people a world away, with rare and fascinating footage of a disappearing community that builds as it goes on.

Vanishing Waves (Lit) - A plethora of stark, erotic, challenging images assault the senses.  Vanishing Waves wowed the audiences with looks as much as anything else.

Winter Nomads (Swi) - Gently following a farmer and his young apprentice on a journey of transhumance across the bleak and beautiful Swiss countryside with several hundred doomed livestock.

Best Indie to Show Your Friends -
Comic-Con Episode 4 (US)

Other films are more impressive to look at, have deep stories or cover more serious themes, but when considering a mainstream audience, Morgan Spurlocks' latest documentary has all the boxes ticked. A subject matter guaranteed to fascinate no matter which side of the nerd fence you sit, love, suspense and intrigue and a slew of people who you come to know and love.

Honourable Mentions: (subtitled films have a *)

Samsara (US) - The Qatsi films are beyond the patience of your average cinema-goer (even I find parts of them difficult to sit through), but Samsara is something else - senses are assaulted and eyes become glued to the screen.

Ernest and Celestine* (Fra) - Charming, intelligently written and beautifully drawn, this film from the Town Called Panic creators is perfect for small children who don't mind a little reading with their fairytales.

Robot and Frank (US) - Perfect for an older crowd, Frank Langella is the perfect curmudgeon to get behind and the Asimo-like robot is a character in itself.

Starbuck* (Bel) - Though you could wait for the Hollywood treatment, there is ample opportunity to show sceptical friends that they needn't fear the written word

The History of Future Folk (US) - A family-friendly, low budget film where aliens from another planet have buckets on their heads, do funny things, and fail to annihilate the human race.

The Raid* (Ind/US) - Any issues with the dialogue will be forgotten in the relentless barrage of violence that explodes out of the screen at you.

Last Shop Standing (UK) - A shorter length film (about an hour), celebrating the humble indie music shops of the UK.  Remembering the passing of thousands and celebrating those who have found new ways to come back to popularity.

Seven Psychopaths (UK) - Sharp and witty dialogue, well-known faces and a crackling storyline means it's not too far out of the average cinema-goers' comfort zone. 

Beauty is Embarrassing (US) - A great introductory documentary about an anti-establishment artist who does things his own way.

The Rise and Fall of The Clash (UK) - When this aired, the cinema was full of individuals I hadn't seen at any of the other films.  A perfect film to take a music aficionado or an old punk to.

Frank (UK) - For those who don't mind their humour to be dark and twisted, this excellent example of microcinema on a budget will generate plenty of laughs in among the squirms.

The Manky Sankey Awards

Not so many Mankeys this year, but there were some stinkers and disappointments.

Biggest Let Down -
Alps (Gre) 

Alps would have been put in the 'simply forgettable' pile were it not for it's pedigree.  Coming from the same hand that gave us the excellent Dogtooth, I was hoping for something with a comparable wow factor.  Though Alps had a few innovative moments and certainly wasn't a terrible film, it felt unfocused and direction-less, and was surpassed in every way by it's predecessor.

Dishonourable Mentions:

Faust (Rus)- The famous Russian fable would always be a combination of a herculean effort to bring to the big screen, and to make such that an audience largely unfamiliar with it might manage to keep up, but Faust - operatic in drama and sumptuous and extravagant in setting, remained too gloopy and impenetrable for many of it's viewers - including myself - to sit through the 2+ hour runtime.

In Love with Alma Cogan (UK) - Though there was nothing you could say was 'wrong' about this low-budget TV-movie, it failed to earn it's place on the big screen in any way.  The songs came from an end of pier band who seemed to be revelling in their screen time for a bit of publicity, the British sitcom character cast inhabited one-dimensional, neutered British sitcom roles and the whole thing felt so much like it had been stripped of verve and energy that it had been made specifically for an over-70's audience.  It was plain and predictable, with nothing within it's beige, no-frills shell to raise even the slightest emotion either way.  It is truly the Nissan Sunny of films.

Damsels In Distress (US) - For a festival launch film, Damsels In Distress felt like such a disappointment compared to some much worthier (but perhaps less mainstream) films on show at Bradford.  A mixture of unappealing and narrowly defined characters, a feeling that it thought it was funnier than what it was and a bit of self-indulgent faffing around towards the end (when it hadn't earned it) soured the taste still further.

Heretic (UK) -For a film showcasing the best of local northern talent, the cast and crew that came to Leeds for the premiere not having seen the finished product may have gone away with their noses a little bent out of shape.  Difficult to take seriously with some shoddy sound quality and off-putting accents, and some downright annoying camera work and manipulative effects, Heretic managed to miss most of it's targets.

Most Pretentious -
Voluptuous Sleep (US)
Voluptuous Sleep, a film by Terminator 2 special effects artist Betzy Bromberg gets the vote by some margin. Water splashing on the ground. Bubbling. Swooshing and swirling about. For hours.  The poor audience allowed themselves to have this done to them, on the back of the director's reputation, without being warned that it belonged firmly in the 'experimental film' dump-bin in the corner.

Dishonourable Mentions:

Beyond the Black Rainbow (Can) - I stayed up late for this, and I could have gone home for some much needed sleep.  But in order to give the film the best of my attentions, I didn't.  And it was for little reward.  Black Rainbow left too much in the hands of the viewer to fill in the blanks around the mute, inactive girl or the evil, slow talking scientist, relying all too heavily on the atmospheric but depressing 1980's vision of the future to carry things through.

Damsels In Distress (US) - There was something self-aware and self-congratulatory about this film, especially at the end where the characters gleefully get up for a bit of a song and dance as if to say, 'we've made a really great film that has touched your hearts, so now we're going to let our hair down and just be, like your buddies..'.  No, Damsels, you didn't.  Your film missed the bits where I was meant to get to like the characters.  I had no desire to see them arsing about on screen.

Fireworks (Fra) - How can we not have a French contender of the pretentious category?  Fireworks managed to sneak in there this year in a wave of pretentious faux common worker dialogue.

Most Drawn Out Scene -
Malaventura (Mex)

It wasn't helped by being started and restarted three times before the damn film would run properly, but the opening scene - where the sun slowly rises through the bedroom curtains and an elderly man wakes and starts his day, is one of the most tedious experiences in cinema history, and it didn't get much better from there on in.

Dishonourable Mentions:

Voluptuous Sleep (US) - Dripping, slooshing water.  Static camera shots, minutes long.  Ambient sounds in the background.  With luck someone might change the lightbulb and the colours change a bit.  Cack.

Faust (Rus) - After braving the first two acts of this epic, the viewer is asked to endure the third, where what little handle they might have had on the sprawling, messy story is quickly loosened, as the title character wanders aimlessly in distress about the harsh world (some moors) incensed by the choice he made.  I felt similar.

Beyond These Mountains (Swi/Ger) - Following these two girls on their journey of self discovery was tiresome, but the scene in their fancy apartment and the final, supposedly metaphorically significant mountain walk became an exercise in testing my patience.

Vikingland (Spa) - Though occasionally interesting, there were some pretty drawn out scenes to endure here.  The Christmas party; the crashing waves; the working day.  Much of it could have been lost and you would still have retained the sense of a lonely life on a ship.

Most Annoying Film - Beyond the Black Rainbow (Can)

There was nothing to come close to how annoying Black Rainbow was. Repetitive, overly reliant on atmosphere and for a thriller/horror, not remotely thrilling or horrifying. It just managed to annoy and deprive me of my much needed beauty sleep.

Dishonourable Mentions:

Black Brush (Hun) - There were literally no likeable characters in this bleak and depressing film about layabouts forgetting to do things and generally arsing about or being unpleasant.  The film gave no hints that any of them were going to mature, and the film was so dour that you couldn't even enjoy their antics as a guilty pleasure.

The Shine of Day (Austria) - Generally speaking, not a bad film - until the end.  After spending some time to build up to a third act climax, the film promptly ends and we never find out what happened, as if they run out of money, or imagination, or both.

Malaventura (Mex) - A film about the life of a lonely old man ought to be respectful and give us some reason to keep watching.  Malaventura didn't go anywhere; just having him shuffle through the streets, staring at younger people with a resigned look on his face.  Should have been a short film.


Sometimes the best things happen on a whim.  Meet Boone.

We had been thinking of getting a dog for a while, sort of on and off.  Well, a pet, anyway.  Ms. Plants was making worrying noises about maybe getting a cat, so something had to be done.  And when we saw some border collie pups for sale nearby, we had to go have a look.

I said that we were strictly just going to have a look.

The owners' house was filthy, there was no getting around it.  The couple in charge looked as if they had given over their small abode completely to their two collies and their litter of six or more, who were merrily falling over each other and generally producing all sorts of smells and substances that young dogs do.  They were 8 weeks old, healthy and adorable, and after getting used to the smell we spent a good hour cooing over them and playing like children.

We bought one on a whim.  That morning, I had been grouting.  Now we have a puppeh!

No more grouting was done that day, or for several days since.

He learns quick.  After 3 weeks, he can already sit and stay at heel, fetch sticks, and for the most part doesn't leave presents around the house.  Mostly.  But also he's learned where the food is, and learned to ignore us when we say don't raid the cupboards and eat it all.  Don't let those puppy-dog eyes fool you, he's a crafty one.

But overall it's fantastic having a dog again, and next week when his second injection has fully settled in, we can start to take him on walks (or he can take us).

A Hearty Haul

Yarr, a most precious haul of the finest.. metal.. in all the land!

Left to right: Lake Windemere 13-mile walk, York 10k, Leeds Half Marathon, Hull 10k, Leeds 10k, and the Liverpool Marathon medal at the bottom.

I don't care.  This year I managed to tick off one of the things to do in my life - run a marathon, and it was the culmination of a fantastic year of running for me.  I will never be a professional, but I don't care about that, just to be at a level of fitness to take them on makes me want to do more, and the Run for All's 2012 medals as souvenirs were an excellent form of encouragement to collect em all.  Next year, I'll be doing all the above and maybe some more too.  Looking forward to it.