The Golden Plantpots 2013
Plantpots time is here again, and I have on my sparkly costume, the pockets filled with golden envelopes. Directors shun the opinions of the Cannes judges at this time of year because they know the Plantpots will soon be revealed. This is a fact.
With the odd mainstream cinema film inbetween, this review of the year comes from the following festivals:
So in order for the year to be rounded out properly and the assorted filmistas of the world to know what DVDs to buy, here are this years' pots.
Best Film - Little World (Spa)
There is something so positive and uplifting about the story of young Albert and his worldly travels. At such a young age he has kept his cheeky teenage spirit and yet seen more of the world and the kindness of it's people than many of us ever will. It's a film about love and separation, the kindness of strangers, and the positivity of what might happen if you just keep going. I defy anyone not to be inspired by this film.
The Reluctant Fundamentalist (Ind/Pak) - A challenging and entertaining adaptation of the best-selling novel, presents a complex and clouded view of right and wrong in today's fear-fuelled society.
Nebraska (US) - An ageing Bruce Dern as Woody - stubborn, cranky and a little bit off his rocker, initiating a father-son road movie full of warmth and laughter. One of the highlights of Leeds this year.
Captain Phillips (US) - Superior to A Hijacking earlier this year (which in itself is a good film), Tom Hanks again manages to shake off his mainstream persona and give one of the best performances of his career.
The Rocket (Australia) - A slightly macabre story of a cursed child trying to win a rocket competition to get his family out of debt isn't going to win any prizes for originality (spoiler: they win) but the setting is unique, the characters lively and entertaining, and the journey is equal parts funny and tragic.
From Up on Poppy Hill (Jpn) - Though Miyazaki Jnr. still has some way to go before he can take over the reins from his recently-retired dad, (the permanence of which remains to be seen) this father-son collaborative effort is richly evocative of previous real-life Ghibli films (sometimes very much so) and shows that he has come some way since Earthsea.
The Look of Love (UK) - Although the subject matter - the life of notorious pornographer Paul Reymond - may put some people off (along with the large amount of female flesh that comes with such a study), this film makes a good job of portraying the man behind the bodies without any rose-tinting, although some of his closer acquaintances will probably complain at some of the bits they missed out.
Pearblossom Hwy (US) - The story of the unfortunate life of Cory; a young, effeminate man living uncomfortably and in secret in the deep south with a tough army guy for a brother could go many ways, some very depressing I would guess. But this low budget offering manages to keep the situation realistically edgy while also giving hope that people can change their perceptions and not let differences come in the way of family.
Best Short Film - The Livelong Day (UK)
This affectionate look at the lives of model train enthusiasts is a perfect example of the sort of short film that works most effectively - highlighting a passion or a person that would normally stay hidden from the world. Subtly mixing model train footage with actual engines going through the American mountains, it's just long enough to make you look with different eyes at an oft-demeaned hobby.
The Globe Collector (Australia) - A film in a similar vein to the winner, and there was little to choose from between them. Andrew probably drove his mother mad with his stacks and stacks of hoarded lightbulbs, but the film was filled with affection and made his passion interesting.
Jerry and Me (US) - A woman's fond memories of the films of Jerry Lewis as she grew up in an increasingly unstable Iran gave an effective, personal account of the shifting perceptions of the outside world during that era.
Rocket (UK) - The winner of the Virgin Shorts competition opened the Bradford festival this year, and charmed us with a dog who wanted to fly to the moon. Adorable.
Miniyamba (Den/Fra) - The story of an old man taking a perilous journey to Spain for a better life is beautiful and bittersweet.
Best Animation - Patema Inverted (Jpn)
This year's choices were a bit thin on the ground for animation and as usual, anime dominated it. There were a few slight disappointments and even though Patema Inverted was another take on two kids from opposing sides of a war coming together, with a slightly ridiculous plot mechanic, it was still the best of the bunch, although Poppy Hill managed to be up there too.
From Up On Poppy Hill (Jpn) - The collaboration between Miyazaki's senior and junior had it's faults (and retreaded some pretty familiar ground) but it was leagues ahead of Earthsea and up there with the best of Ghibli's 'real life' films.
Hal (Jpn) - A short from Production IG with a sizeable story eclipsing some films twice it's length. It's gentle and quirky, sci-fi while retaining it's down to earth humanity, and not completely predictable.
Evangelion 3.0 (Jpn) - Eva 3 has several reasons not to watch; a depressingly wrecked world, hundred mile an hour conversations and even faster action sequences and a complicated story canon behind it so if you hadn't seen the first two films recently you'd be well out of your depth. But Anno has [re-]created a desolately, horribly beautiful film with 20-year old fully-rounded out characters. I await next years' final conclusion.
Best Documentary - Little World (Spa)
There were many documentaries to choose from but Little World was always going to be up there. Albert's attitude to life and the people he meets, despite his paralysis is an inspiration.
The Last Dogs of Winter (NZ) - The unlikely pairing of an ageing hippy and an ex-teenage TV celebrity working together to preserve the packs of unwanted eskimo hunting dogs gives a window into a desolate and beautiful world where passion and sense of duty create something unique.
Grasp the Nettle (UK) - The story of one of the more well-known Occupy movements and their origins in a plot of undeveloped waste ground, living outside the norm and supporting themselves. Many a cynical eye will have seen the makeshift tents and structures and sneered, but this film gives voice to the movement, and it's diverse characters.
William and the Windmill (US/Mal/SA) - A fly on the wall documentary that exposed perhaps more than enthusiastic Tom might want to have shown, as he guides the naive and agreeable William from his small African hometown, through interviews alongside gawping celebrities and book and movie deals whether he likes it or not. A multilayered film with a story behind a story behind a story, the crassness of publicity and the need to not always be so polite.
Tokyo Waka (Jpn) - A beautiful meditation on the city and it's birds and people, and how they interact. Slow and purposeful, almost zen-like documentary.
A Lot With A Little Award - Nebraska (US)
Road movies are traditionally low budget bankers for a good laugh and a decent story, but Nebraska in particular used what seemed to be a very thin shoestring to deliver a very high-quality film, so long as you don't get hang-ups about seeing something in black and white. Grumpy Woody, his sons and family, and the people they meet are the perfect companions on a road trip across dysfunctional America.
Pearblossom Hwy (US) - The bittersweet tale of an awkward young man and his bolshy brother coming to terms with their approaches to life even borrowed the characters from another film to keep costa down.
Secret City (UK) - Though it could have done with some tidying up and a bit of fat trimming off, Secret City contained a lot within it's zero-budget runtime.
Much Ado About Nothing (US) - I hesitated in including Joss Whedon's take on the Shakespearean tale since he's not short of a bob or two, and the film is littered with celeb-types from his various other works; but if you'll believe the stories, this was all done over a weekend after they had all come over to his house for a bit of a knees-up, so technically they didn't spend a dime. Maybe.
A Night Too Young (Cze/Slo) - Set entirely inside a cramped apartment, A Night Too Young makes for an awfully uncomfortable night for two young boys stumbling on the world of the adults and realizing it's not somewhere they should be. Troubling to watch but masterfully acted.
Enjoy The Journey Award - The ABC's of Death (US/Various)
There is little else to do with the ABC's of death other than to just sit there and watch, open mouthed, as many people meet with an inventive array of gruesome deaths. The clever twist of getting a different director to do each of the 26 five-minute pieces makes for a refreshingly entertaining take on the horror film, if that's your thing.
Little World (Spa) - It can be watched in many ways; an inspiration to stop making excuses about your personal limitations and get out there, to restore faith and trust in your fellow human, or just simply to enjoy as a nonchalant trip around the earth.
Tokyo Waka (Jpn) - A gently meditative look at the existence between man and nature in the largest metropolis on earth, taking it's time and popping off on indulgent tangents as it went.
Leviathan (Fra/UK) - It's repetitive nature grated after the first twenty minutes or so, but one thing this film did do correctly was give a warts-and-all peek into the horribly fishy, stormy, undulating lives of the poor fishermen catching our food day and, more often, night.
Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning (US) - Never going to win any intellectual prizes, the latest, and probably last, Universal Soldier film was a surprisingly good bullet-fest that kept the eyes from glazing over right up until the pitted and worn faces of Lundgren and Van Damme at the end.
After the Credits Roll - The Tax Free Tour (Ned/UK)
Perhaps an odd choice, but the subject matter of the film - how the corporations we know and love are screwing their host countries out of millions of pounds in tax avoidance - was a talking point between friends and family for some time afterwards. See also Secret City.
Dysmorphia (UK) - A deeply disturbing film about a man whose own limbs cause him revulsion.
After Lucia (Mex/Fra) - Perhaps the most difficult film to watch this year; After Lucia is a very powerful testament to the cruelty of children in the years before a moral conscience develops. This may be a cathartic or horrifying experience for a viewer if they were the victim of bullying during childhood, but there is no doubt it was a fantastically played film.
Captain Phillips (US) - Tom Hanks gives a particularly fragile and nuanced performance as the titular captain in this true-life story of a container ship hijacked by somali pirates. The final scenes of the broken man as he is brought out of the danger zone stay in the mind for some time after.
Little World (Spa) - It was hard to come out of this film and not reflect on my own achievements. Young Albert put them to shame.
Emotional Kick - After Lucia (Mex/Fra)
Make no mistake; this is not an easy film to watch, but the emotions will run high throughout this tale of a poor girl on the receiving end of some serious bullying. And it will stay with you.
My House Without Me (Pol) - The quiet life of an old Polish grandmother in a dilapidated farmhouse is momentarily returned to the most upsetting period of her life, through the memories she recounts of uprisings and seizures and losing everything as the war machine bulldozed it's way through her life sixty plus years ago.
Twist Award - Hal (Jpn)
Hal was one of those films that didn't quite make sense until you experienced the twist near the end, and everything slipped satisfyingly into place.
The Reluctant Fundamentalist (Pak/Ind) - An array of characters with satisfyingly obscure motives meant you were constantly being shifted one way and another between whether or not to fully trust Riz Ahmeds' character.
Patema Inverted (Jpn) - Can I put this here? Twists were a bit thin on the ground this year, and there were plenty of (non-narrative) twists thanks to the gravity dynamic.
Echo (UK) - A mid-film twist turns what you saw before completely on it's head, showing a woman's city centre predicament as not all that it seems.
Cleverest Film - Patema Inverted (Jpn)
A clever inversion of gravity concept behind the film is a little silly (since it's for some reason affecting only some people) but what it does with it feels like a refreshing breeze into the occasionally stagnant anime genre.
The ABC's of Death (US/Various) - Horror may not be your thing, but the sheer inventiveness here is something to be admired.
Computer Chess (US) - Not completely honest to it's audience, it's difficult not to admire a film for it's ability to keep you guessing between documentary and parody for the first twenty minutes.
The Ballad of Maria Lassnig (Austria) - A charming little film celebrating the life of a woman and her work, in her own words, songs, and costumes.
Biggest Laugh - Nebraska (US)
Constantly entertaining with a wide range of foil characters for Woody to bounce off.
The ABC's of Death (US/Various) - Once you've seen the final letters, you'll see why this is here. The Japanese and American directors vie it out for most over the top, ludicrous ways to die.
Beware of Mr. Baker (US) - Mister Baker wields a fist at the interviewer within the first minute. He's a grumpy old sod with a sardonic sense of humour.
The Perfectionists (Spa) - A perfectly judged mickey take of the seriousness put into method acting, in a film just short enough not to be annoying.
Best Indie to Show Your Friends - The ABC's of Death (US/Various)
It was difficult to choose this years' best for introducing friends, but this death-fest is the best contender based on entertainment value, variety and occasional jaw-dropping wtfunniness.
Honourable Mentions: (subtitled films have a *)
The Rocket * (Australia) - A charming tale of a young boy overcoming his 'curse' and getting his family out of debt is as entertaining as it is improbable.
The Reluctant Fundamentalist (Ind/Pak) - Complex and entertaining, it stays just this side of confusing not to be a barrier.
Nebraska (US) - Again gets a mention. Consistently funny, warm and entertaining.
Little World * (Spa) - It's difficult not to recommend this even with the language barrier, which is the only reason it didn't win.
The Look of Love (UK) - A heady mixture of female flesh, seedy back rooms and Alan Partridge playing a straight part results in a nicely judged film about a man many would find deplorable.
The Manky Sankey Awards
Consequently, the lack of films overall means less to complain about as well.
Biggest Let Down - Batman: The Dark Knight Returns (US)
With a story canon as important as a major DC comics character, and millions of fans hoping for an impressive big budget tribute to the life of the man in black, what we got was a stitching together of two direct-to-DVD films that have the budget of the average Saturday morning cartoon. Camp without the 60's TV series charm, grumpy and violent without the finesse of the latest films or the cartoons of the 90's, it tries to straddle the markets for kids and adults and ends up suitable for neither. And it got an indulgent documentary for some reason.
Kill Me (Ger/Fre/Swi) - My main problems with this film are the rather clumsy attempts to steer the audience to an opinion of the escaped convict and his 'hostage', and the complete lack of surprises in the story. It was by no means a bad film, but just disappointing.
The Strange Little Cat (Ger) - Though it had the potential to be a clever, thoughtful film that relied on character development to keep interest up, there just wasn't enough to the characters - even the appealingly cheeky daughter - to make it pleasurable to watch.
An Anthropological Television Myth (Ita) - What could have been an engrossing documentary about the political and cultural upheavals during the Sicilian upheavals of the 1980's was bogged down with dull footage and a lack of clear narrative.
Garden of Words (Jpn) - There was a time when Makoto Shinkai had the expectations of being the next Miyazaki, and while its certainly the case that he is a talented artist, his storytelling is constantly melodramatic and his trademark quick scene changes and birds in flight becomes tiring. Garden of Words manages to be watchable but nowhere near the heights of storytelling that would accompany visuals of this caliber.
Leviathan (Fra/UK) - Though it managed to convey a rugged and fishy-smelling life aboard the vessels bobbing about on the seas of the world, it became too repetitive and slow-moving to become entertaining.
Cold Eyes (S Kor) - Though praised by the people at Cannes, it contained too many stock action items and became a bit too Inception-y to stand out on it's own.
Most Pretentious - Remote... Remote... (US)
The sixpackfilm is a goldmine of pretentious idiocies of film, freshly found this year with the sixpackfilmclassics strand. Top of this list comes Remote... Remote..., a 'classic' short film involving a woman cutting her fingernails and cuticles until they bleed while some idiot bangs a paint pot with a stick. This is not genius. It is rubbish.
Ballhead (Austria) - Sixpackfilm provides a woman typing with her bandaged head as she bleeds profusely. Stupid sound effects play behind. Awful.
Self Mutilation (Austria) - Another sixpackfilmclassics entry. A person. Paint, wires, dull-blade knives. Idiocy.
Most Drawn Out Scene - Leviathan (Fra/UK)
There wasn't many films this year with such scenes, but Leviathan had several prime examples. Sure, these scenes were effective in showing the often disgusting slop and dangerous conditions rife in such a profession, but they went on far, far too long, and repeated themselves when the director thought we had forgotten about them.
Trees in Autumn (Austria) - Trees. In Autumn. With loads of knackered film footage.
Habitat (US) - A ten minute long montage made from images of buildings overlaid on each other, with the odd tree included here and there. The usual scratchy soundtrack didn't help.
Most Annoying Film - Ballhead (Australia)
There are any number of the six pack films that would count as annoying, but Ballhead gets inclusion here. A woman self-mutilates (a common theme in these films, it seems) and then dresses her bloodied head, and then uses it as a typewriter. It goes beyond annoying and into meaningless wrongness. I wish I could have shown you how wrong it was but no online footage seems to exist.
Computer Chess (US) - Though it had it's funny bits and was less annoying once you had accepted and adjusted to the parodical rather than documentary nature of the film, Computer chess still managed to annoy throughout because I was constantly thinking about what a missed opportunity this film was. An affectionate look at early computer intelligence competitions with found footage and interviews would have made for a far more enjoyable film, but instead the director decided that sneery derision in the form of unlikable characters would be more fun.