Thursday 29 August 2019

For what it's worth...

Top Ten Films at the UK Box Office 
for the weekend of August 23-25, 2019:

1 (new) Angel Has Fallen (15) **

2 (1) Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood (18) ***
3 (2) The Lion King (PG)
4 (3Fast & Furious: Hobbs & Shaw (12A) **
5 (new) Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (15) ***
6 (4) Dora and the Lost City of Gold (PG) ***
7 (new) Crawl (15)
8 (5Toy Story 4 (U) ***
9 (6) Good Boys (15)
10 (10) Casino Royale - Secret Cinema (12A)

(source: BFI)

My top five: 
1. Inna de Yard: The Soul of Jamaica

2. Pain & Glory
3. Hail Satan?
4. It: Chapter 1
5. Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

Home entertainment Top Ten (DVD/Blu-Ray/Download): 

1 (new) Avengers: Endgame (12) **

2 (4) Hellboy (15)
3 (1) Shazam! (12) **
4 (2Dumbo (PG) **
5 (18) Red Joan (12)
6 (5) Captain Marvel (12) ***
7 (33) Wonder Park (PG) **
8 (7) Aquaman (12)
9 (3) Pet Sematary (15)
10 (new) Wild Rose (15) ****


My top five: 
1. Wild Rose

2. The Sisters Brothers
3. Benjamin
4. In Fabric
5. Mid90s

Top five films on terrestrial TV:
1. A Matter of Life and Death [above] (Wednesday, BBC2, 3.30pm)
2. Bridge of Spies (Saturday, C4, 9pm)
3. The Wooden Horse (Friday, BBC2, 3.45pm)
4. Hacksaw Ridge (Saturday, five, 11.20pm) 
5. The King's Speech (Sunday, BBC1, 12midnight)

"Inna de Yard: The Soul of Jamaica" (Guardian 30/08/19)

Inna de Yard: The Soul of Jamaica ****
Dir: Peter Webber. Documentary with: Ken Boothe, Derajah, Winston McAnuff, Judy Mowatt. 99 mins. Cert: 12A

Potentially tricky territory here. Back in 2017, the white British filmmaker Peter Webber travelled to Jamaica to document a musical reunion destined to remind seasoned arthouse patrons of Wim Wenders’ Buena Vista Social Club. The Inna de Yard sessions gathered reggae veterans on a rickety porch in Kingston to rerecord their best known standards acoustically – mirroring that unplugged tradition prevalent in MTV circles almost since the electric guitar’s invention, while venturing a Jamaican analogue to the Great American Songbook. As one interviewee puts it: “Some countries have diamonds, some have pearls, some have oil; we have reggae.” As with all those resources, the spectre of exploitation has never been far away; Webber’s entirely disarming tactic is to allow the musicians to tell their own stories in their own words. Few require much prompting.

For some, the sessions are a resumption of careers put on hold; for others, a return to the one constant in their lives. For many, they’re a means of reclaiming these songs from companies that wrung more money from them than was ever allowed to trickle down Kingston way. Webber's business isn’t exploitation but celebration, commemoration: he rightly senses, as did Wenders and the directors of the Scorsese-produced series The Blues and the 2002 doc Standing in the Shadows of Motown before him, that there’s a historical urgency in getting seventy- and eightysomething subjects on the record about their experiences and craft. The movie’s a great night out, but you sense it’ll also become a priceless resource.

Viewers with drone-shot allergies may start itching, though Webber’s do illustrate the uneven lay of this landscape, and everything else his camera does brings us closer to a culture that might appear remote from the perspective of this overcast and never more uptight island. We spot the glee (and, yes, privilege) Webber feels at being next to the microphone as vocals are laid down; he knows he’s capturing magic when Ken Boothe reprises “Everything I Own” amid a tumbledown dancehall, or explains the longevity of his marriage while adjacent to Mrs. B on their plastic-covered sofa. It’s one of those docs that wins you over with its spirit: the collected histories reframe the music as one of resistance, resilience, survival, and the tried-and-tested beats pulsing through the cinema sound system can’t help but back them up. 

Inna de Yard: The Soul of Jamaica opens in selected cinemas from tomorrow.

"Asterix: The Secret of the Magic Potion" (Guardian 30/08/19)

Asterix: The Secret of the Magic Potion **
Dirs: Alexandre Astier, Louis Clichy. Animation with the voices of: Ken Kramer, C. Ernst Harth. 87 mins. Cert: PG

At risk of sounding like Grumpycritix, the movies have treated Asterix almost as poorly as they have Tintin. The brand fell into pantomimic disrepair with those live-action super-productions that cast Gérard Depardieu as Obelix shortly before the actor packed up for Russia; it rallied, briefly, with 2016’s The Mansions of the Gods, a brisk, spirited digimation lent additional pep by the ragbag British comedians (Matt Berry, Dick and Dom) drafted in for the UK theatrical version.

Alas, the English-language dub of this follow-up has been pitched with mercenary precision at the American market: hand-drawn inserts strive to explain who the key players are, and our indomitable Gauls now sound like actors manning the background of a Hallmark Channel melodrama. The deft cultural and linguistic gags Goscinny and Uderzo once traded in are mostly lost in homogenisation.

The visuals provide some consolation. If it doesn’t sound like an Asterix movie, it at least looks like one, with conglomerations of pixels that bear closer resemblance to the original illustrations than did Depardieu in a fatsuit, and a pleasing contrast between the rough-edged pencil backstories and the slickly processed main business that feels like the animators tipping their collective chapeaux to their inspiration.

Business it is, though, in the main: what’s most striking is how grounded the plot is in boardroom thinking. Getafix’s succession pushes Asterix and Obelix onto the sidelines; the quest to improve the formula of the wise elder’s signature elixir is a near-complete non-event in terms of action or spectacle. Under-tens who don’t have an MBA will want far less digimated R&D and way more Roman-thumping.

We finally get there – with a last-reel dust-up set to Dead or Alive’s “You Spin Me Round”, a cue to quicken any pulse – but it’s all too clearly the kind of family film that has to creep out towards the end of the holidays, when Pixar has loosened its grip on the marketplace and parents are casting around for anything to get the kids to sit still. The equivalent of the last comic on the shelf at the campsite supermarket, it may provide some distraction, but don’t expect much. 

Asterix: The Secret of the Magic Potion opens in selected cinemas from tomorrow.

In memoriam: Edward Lewis (Telegraph 26/08/19)

Edward Lewis, who has died aged 99, was a film producer whose exceptional run of credits from the 1960s onwards may be less significant than the place he inhabits in Hollywood history.

For his third feature-length production, Spartacus (1960), Lewis hired the screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, who had been blacklisted by the entertainment industry for refusing to testify before the House Un-American Affairs Committee thirteen years before. Lewis agreed to serve as Trumbo’s “front” – the creative whose name would grace the script pages turned in to the project’s backers Universal.

Sharper eyes may have spotted evidence of subversion in the film’s rousing climax, where the hero’s fellow slaves defy their Roman interrogators, each in turn claiming the identity of the fugitive Spartacus. Yet the behind-the-scenes masquerade continued for much of the shoot’s duration.

In his 2012 memoir I Am Spartacus: Making a Film, Breaking the Blacklist, star Kirk Douglas suggested that Lewis found it tricky to maintain the pretence: “Every time Eddie Lewis told someone he was writing Spartacus, it embarrassed him.” Yet only when the film was well into production – making it hard for the heavily invested studio to pull the plug – did Lewis reveal his screenwriter’s identity, insisting that Trumbo be given full credit and salary.

Universal’s acquiescence led to protests from the American Legion, yet upon its October 1960 release, Spartacus was hailed as a triumph, going on to win four Oscars, a Golden Globe, offhand approval from the newly inaugurated John F. Kennedy (“it was fine”) and a lasting place in the cinematic canon.

More importantly, however, the film’s success changed the way the industry perceived those who had been blacklisted. After writing Otto Preminger’s Exodus (1960), Trumbo was rehired by Lewis – this time without the need for subterfuge – to write the Universal-released The Last Sunset (1961) and Lonely Are The Brave (1962). In return, Trumbo gifted his former front a copy of his novel Johnny Got His Gun bearing the inscription “To Eddie Lewis – who risked his name to help a man who’d lost his name.”

Edward Lewis was born in Camden, New Jersey on December 16, 1919 to furniture maker Max Lewis and his wife Florence (née Kline). He was a restless youth, quitting Bushnell University to attend dental school, which he also left to serve as an Army captain in England during World War II.

After his service, he moved to Los Angeles, and met Mildred Gerchik; they wed in 1946, and were married until her death this April. According to their children, it was Mildred, whose mother was an activist and whose brother had fought in the Spanish Civil War, who nudged Edward’s politics leftwards.

After trying unsuccessfully to set up an organisation to house returning veterans, the pair were inspired by friends to write a screenplay: the resulting adaptation of de Balzac’s The Lovable Cheat (1949) wasn’t especially well received, but it succeeded in carrying them into the entertainment sector.

Edward served an apprenticeship in TV before joining Douglas’ Bryna Productions in 1956, claiming “I couldn’t make a living as a writer, so I became a producer”. After Spartacus, he worked consistently for two decades, producing many of the director John Frankenheimer’s strongest films, among them the Cold War thriller Seven Days in May (1964), the enduringly cult Seconds (1966) and a four-hour adaptation of The Iceman Cometh (1973) starring Lee Marvin.

Politics remained central to Lewis’s work. He resumed his writing career with Brothers (1977), about the relationship between black activist Angela Davis and jailed Black Panther Geoffrey Jackson, then produced Costa-Gavras’s Palme d’Or-winning Missing (1982), on the Chilean coup d'état. After overseeing the wildly successful The Thorn Birds (1983) for TV, Lewis saw his final production, farmland drama The River (1984), nominated for four Oscars.

In retirement, Lewis travelled, collected art and took up the pen again, writing fiction and several stageplays. In a 1987 Los Angeles Times piece promoting his musical The Good Life, he mused on its protagonist: “[He’s] a man who’s principled, believes in things — and at 70, remains a militant, optimistic person... And, you know, that’s been the theme of my own life. I’m bothered by the cynicism and negativity everywhere today. I’m an optimist; I believe there can be a good life.”

He is survived by two daughters, Susan and Joan Lewis.

Edward Lewis, born December 19, 1919, died July 27, 2019.

Wednesday 28 August 2019

On demand: "Happy as Lazzaro"

This year, a prominent strain of European cinema has busied itself meshing together 20th and 21st century settings, as to insinuate that - even in our moment of entirely hooked-up enlightenment - we're still struggling to evolve beyond that which came before us. (A glimpse at the headlines would suggest the filmmakers have a point.) Christian Petzold's just-released Transit maps the refugee crisis Europe faced in the 1940s onto the streets of latter-day Paris and Marseilles; the Italian writer-director Alice Rohrwacher's Happy as Lazzaro uses its two hours to transport us from the rural to the urban, mirroring the wider social migrations of the past century. It begins in an agricultural backwater with the doubtless-symbolic name of Inviolata, where a shortage of lightbulbs (one or two per house, to be shifted from room to room as required) and the fulsome eyebrows of the village daughters indicate we're some distance removed from the present tense. The Kodachrome curves at the corners of Rohrwacher's frames provide their own form of carbon dating, pinning the action down to some time between the 1960s and 1980s; that we're at the latter end of this timescale is established via the appearance of a first-wave mobile phone and a Sony Walkman. These relics are somewhat startling as, up until then, Rohrwacher's camera has devoted itself exclusively to the recording of feudal ways, much as the Tavianis and Ermanno Olmi did in what was perceived as the arthouse's golden age. Here are an extended family of farmers, in debt to a chilly, chainsmoking marchioness (Nicoletta Braschi); here is a humble young farmhand, Lazzaro (Adriano Tardiolo), planning to elope with the beloved he's seen serenading in the opening scene, only to be told there can be no escape from this place for those such as he. Peasant, know thine place.

The crypto-Marxist parable that follows will refute that instruction absolutely - Lazzaro will get around - yet the social stasis Lazzaro has been born into poses no immediate issue to the film, busy setting out a world with something remarkable to be spotted everywhere one looks. The marchioness's house alone offers up such hidden treasures as images of saints secreted under mattresses and on the sides of drawers for good fortune; a fresco of Inviolata on a bedroom ceiling that serves as a road map for the film entire; not to mention a bearded ghoul our host's right-hand man has to shoo away from the front drive. Rohrwacher's previous feature, 2014's beekeeping drama The Wonders, announced the arrival of a filmmaker with a honeydrip patience and a back-to-basics sensibility, capable of taking pleasure and finding fascination in the simplest of things. The Inviolata scenes display an adoring eye for unprimped, lived-in faces that Pasolini would have thrilled to, and an outright delight in warmed-through exteriors: here is a director who palpably enjoys being out in the field, feeling the sun on her back. One of the reasons Happy as Lazzaro has been so enthusiastically embraced by the critical fraternity since its debut at the Cannes festival last year is that it's clearly been conceived as oppositional: grounded and analogue, rooted in the day-to-day realities of those born without undue powers, wearing the grain of the film it was shot on like some artisanal badge of honour, it's nothing if not a break from all those digitised exercises in citytrashing currently blowing up the multiplex.

It's even more than that, however: a film that stands in its own right as a knotty, appreciably complex vision of class relations and social progress. The centre of Happy as Lazzaro is the unlikely alliance that forms between our hero and the marchioness's rebellious son Tancredi (Luca Chikovani), a name carrying echoes of that great Italian epic of page and screen The Leopard. After Tancredi runs away from the home he, too, has started to find constricting, he asks Lazzaro to play the role of his kidnapper - thus securing a ransom payment that will help them travel a little further down the road; the winding path they cut through the rocky, wolf-infested countryside beyond Inviolata mirrors the twists and turns in the pair's relationship. Cinemagoers who've seen what the ruling classes have done to the world in the first years of the 21st century will be aware of a tension in this relationship that the characters themselves aren't: we know that this bond is a fragile and temporary one, not necessarily the helping hand the guileless Lazzaro maybe thinks it is, and we suspect that it's liable to be complicated further (or loosened entirely) when a price is put upon it. I don't think many of us will be expecting just how fragile and temporary it is, however - which is one way of saying that Happy as Lazzaro is very much a film of surprises: even stumbling across it on a streaming platform a full year after its Cannes premiere and six months on from its UK theatrical release, I found it wrongfooting me in places, bowling me over completely in others. I gasped at one unexpected development on a clifftop, and there's a lurch, possibly a great leap forward, around the halfway mark that may well be signalled by the title, but still requires some going along with. 

That runs the risk of reducing the movie to no more than a cute conceit or, worse, a Shyamalan-ish bag of tricks; that the Cannes jury awarded it the Best Screenplay gong strikes me as something of a backhanded compliment. Yet Rohrwacher does such good, rigorous, engaged work in the first hour that she seduces us into going along with her and her characters: we want to see how her holy innocent hero is going to fare in the new world he eventually finds himself in. It isn't just the landscape that compels us, in other words; it's how Rohrwacher guides us through it. I won't spoil what's best discovered en route, but the second half is both a cracking job of redirection and quite a funny joke about direction: how there remain certain places on this planet where you can point a camera one way and see nothing but modernity, yet point it another and seem to be staring decades into the past. (In doing so, Rohrwacher passes sly comment on the gap not just between past and present, but also between plenty and poverty.) This camera, you feel, could go anywhere - it spirals off to explore that thin strip of territory separating religiosity from what we could call Peter Pumpkinheadism come the final reel, threatening to give up some of the grip Rohrwacher has exerted on our imagination for two hours. It's only at the very end, looking back, that you realise the distance in space and time this small, quiet miracle of a film has bridged.

Happy as Lazzaro is available on DVD through Modern Films, and to stream via Curzon Home Cinema and the BFI.

Tuesday 27 August 2019

The work: "Pain & Glory"

Pedro Almodóvar last graced our screens with 2016's slightly underrated Julieta, a layered adaptation of Alice Munro's short fictions that struck these eyes as an appreciable refinement of the storytelling this one-time enfant terrible began in earnest with 1995's The Flower of My Secret. His new film, Pain & Glory, feels like an attempt to apply the lessons learnt on that project to more personal material - the story of a pill-popping filmmaker enduring a moment of crisis or transition. As many observers have pointed out in the months since the film's Cannes premiere in May, this is Pedro's 8 1⁄2, his Day for Night, perhaps even his Sunset Blvd.: Pain & Glory even opens with a body in a swimming pool, a lengthy knife wound visible along its spinal column. The wound is but a surgical scar, however, and the body is just about still alive, that of a survivor found in suspension: the Madrid-based writer-director Salvador Mallo, greying lion of the Spanish film business, played by Antonio Banderas with hair and beard groomed in a recognisably Almodóvarian fashion. Mallo is not the first filmmaker to appear in what we might now call New Almodóvar - you'll recall Harry Caine (Lluis Homar), the ailing tyro of 2009's Broken Embraces - yet Salvador Mallo looks some distance closer to a self-portrait, and it's the first time Almodóvar has used a whole movie to anatomise a creative personality, inside and out.

Forwards and backwards, too: the plot of Pain & Glory proves to be two-way traffic, showing us where its protagonist came from, and where he's headed. In the present, there is the matter of a fraught reunion with one of his actors, Alberto (Asier Etxeandia), ahead of a public screening of a film the pair made in the 1980s before falling out. Intermittent flashbacks, meanwhile, describe Mallo's underprivileged childhood, with Penelope Cruz assuming her now-regular Mother Courage role, nurturing her sensitive son in a sparsely furnished cave that can't help but appear somewhat womb-like. (Maybe that's what the adult Salvador is doing in the swimming pool: awaiting rebirth.) For a long while, this contraflow of images is the only real movement in Pain & Glory: the film feels a little sluggish, even before Salvador takes to smoking heroin as a means of alleviating his aches and pains. The post-screening Q&A makes for a lively scene, conducted long-range over the phone, with Salvador taking snorts of coke to deal with especially tricky questions: here's the Almodóvar who made a spiked gazpacho an essential component of his 1988 breakthrough Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. Yet we've generally come to this director's films to witness his vast empathy turned outwards; redirecting it towards a figure so close to himself risks leaving the resulting film looking a shade self-involved. Could it be that in 2019, with the Amazon burning and nationalism back on the rise, one of the maestros of modern cinema, a man feted in almost every corner of the globe, has made a woe-is-me movie about a director taking refuge in drugs?

Well, there is at least detail, rich and vivid, in the woe; in Pedro's world, even the doldrums retain compelling textures. While we wait for Salvador to get his head straight, scene after scene offers something to pique the eye: the idiosyncratic way our hero crushes his pain medication, as if preparing a meal, or his manner of tossing a cushion to the floor before taking a knee; his aspirational kitchen, with its gleaming cabinets set out in a shade we must now refer to as Almodóvar Red (much as there is Yves Klein Blue); at one point, just before rehearsals begin for a one-man play based on a confessional short story Mallo has penned about his addiction experiences, the screen fills with rows of empty theatre seats - a struggling director's worst nightmare. It becomes clear that Pain & Glory is trying to dramatise and visualise those depressive ruts and stupors creatives sometimes find themselves in, and the ways in which they come to be pulled - or pull themselves - out of them. Understandably, it's a more mellow, introspective Pedro we find at work here, but his writing still engages us, and there are elements that quietly leap off the screen. You can tell something's turned in the reclusive Mallo's thinking, for example, just from a brief yet oddly lingering shot of Banderas making vigorous use of a shoehorn: finally, we think, this dude's getting it together, heading out, going somewhere. P&G commits to giving its protagonist a reason to leave the house: a small triumph, but one beyond the reach of so many of our friends and loved ones, in these most depressed and depressing of times.

I wonder whether the film would be as resonant without Banderas in the lead role. Not unlike Cruz, he's been wasted in L.A. - or, more specifically, he's been asked to represent a very limited idea of masculinity. Almodóvar asks more of his star than any director has for some time, chiefly to put aside his cape and sword and open up to the camera, to let us see scars both within and without. If he isn't an exact stand-in for Almodóvar, a little more weathered by fifty years of countercultural activity, it's still a darn good approximation, and during the movie's simple, lovely single shots of Salvador listening or gently sobbing - shots that display exactly the admiring attention you'd hope one old friend might bestow upon another - you may start to wonder whether Almodóvar has, in fact, made what used to be known as a woman's picture, only about a man, or about himself. Almodóvar may now be at an age when publishers have started to hound him for some form of autobiography (imagine the pre-sales! Imagine the illustrations!), and Pain & Glory does look very much like a response to that: get some of the old gang back together (aside from Banderas and Cruz, there are roles for Cecilia Roth and Julieta Serrano) and make a movie about the way his world turns on a day-by-day basis. There's nothing as rapturous in that as there was in Julieta or Talk to Her, still the apex of this filmmaker's mature phase; it's closer to the talking through of a process, Pedro showing his workings. That's interesting, of course, as it always is to find out how artists see an idea through - it's just you may have to be the type who'd show up to an Almodóvar Q&A to get the most out of it.

Pain & Glory is now playing in selected cinemas.

Monday 26 August 2019

My Top 100 of the Decade (As Things Stand)

Because it's getting to that point. As of 25/08/19:

1. The Social Network [above] (David Fincher, 2010)

2. Roma (Alfonso Cuarón, 2018)

3. Toni Erdmann (Maren Ade, 2016)

4. Mad Max: Fury Road (George Miller, 2015)

5. Take Shelter (Jeff Nichols, 2011)

6. Apollo 11 (Todd Douglas Miller, 2019)

8. Gravity (Alfonso Cuarón, 2013)

9. Heal the Living (Katell Quillévéré, 2016)

10. Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (Nuri Bilge Ceylan, 2011)

11. Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (A. Weerasethakul, 2010)
12. mother! (Darren Aronofsky, 2017)
13. The Last of the Unjust (Claude Lanzmann, 2013)
14. Our Little Sister (Hirokazu Kore-eda, 2015)
15. The Lost City of Z (James Gray, 2016)
16. Leave No Trace (Debra Granik, 2018)
17. First Reformed (Paul Schrader, 2017)
18. I Am Not Your Negro (Raoul Peck, 2016)
19. NO (Pablo Larraín, 2012)
20. The Raid 2 (Gareth Evans, 2014)

21. Before Midnight (Richard Linklater, 2013)
22. Home from Home: Chronicle of a Vision (Edgar Reitz, 2013)
23. Son of Saul (László Nemes, 2015)
24. The Illusionist (Sylvain Chomet, 2010)
25. Neruda (Pablo Larraín, 2016)
26. Day & Night (Teddy Newton, 2010)
27. London: The Modern Babylon (Julien Temple, 2012)
28. Bridge of Spies (Steven Spielberg, 2015)
29. Post Mortem (Pablo Larraín, 2010)
30. Beauty (Oliver Hermanus, 2011)

31. An Impossible Love (Catherine Corsini, 2018)
32. I Am Not a Witch (Rungano Nyoni, 2017)
33. Private Life (Tamara Jenkins, 2018)
34. The Death of Stalin (Armando Iannucci, 2017)
35. A Cambodian Spring (Chris Kelly, 2016)
36. How We Used to Live (Paul Kelly, 2013)
37. A Hijacking (Tobias Lindholm, 2012)
38. Monsters (Gareth Edwards, 2010)
39. Lilting (Hong Khaou, 2014)
40. Loving (Jeff Nichols, 2016)

41. The Pearl Button (Patricio Guzmán, 2015)
42. Mr. Turner (Mike Leigh, 2014)
43. Eden (Mia Hansen-Løve, 2014)
44. Warrior (Gavin O'Connor, 2011)
45. The Florida Project (Sean Baker, 2017)
46. Manchester by the Sea (Kenneth Lonergan, 2016)
47. The Wild Pear Tree (Nuri Bilge Ceylan, 2018)
48. Inside Out (Pete Doctor and Ronnie del Carmen, 2015)
49. Widows (Steve McQueen, 2018)
50. Foxcatcher (Bennett Miller, 2014)

51. Love is Strange (Ira Sachs, 2014)
52. 120 Beats Per Minute (Robin Campillo, 2017)
53. Silence (Martin Scorsese, 2016)
54. Train to Busan (Sang-ho Yeon, 2016)
55. Lady Bird (Greta Gerwig, 2017)
56. 12 Years a Slave (Steve McQueen, 2013)
57. Baahubali: the Beginning (S.S. Rajamouli, 2015)
58. Moneyball (Bennett Miller, 2011)
59. The Golden Dream (Diego Quemada-Diez, 2013)
60. Inside Llewyn Davis (Joel and Ethan Coen, 2013)

61. Wildlife (Paul Dano, 2018)
62. Carol (Todd Haynes, 2015)
63. Leviathan (Andrey Zvyagintsev, 2014)
64. Meek’s Cutoff (Kelly Reichardt, 2010)
65. Melancholia (Lars von Trier, 2011)
66. Himizu (Sion Sono, 2011)
67. Baahubali 2: The Conclusion (S.S. Rajamouli, 2017)
68. It’s Such a Beautiful Day (Don Hertzfeldt, 2012)
69. Under the Skin (Jonathan Glazer, 2013)
70. The Salesman (Asghar Farhadi, 2016)

71. Like Someone in Love (Abbas Kiarostami, 2012)
72. The Queen of Versailles (Lauren Greenfield, 2012)
73. Custody (Xavier Legrand, 2017)
74. Endless Poetry (Alejandro Jodorowsky, 2016)
75. Weiner (Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg, 2016)
76. Sweet Country (Warwick Thornton, 2017)
77. The Rover (David Michôd, 2014)
78. Oslo August 31st (Joachim Trier, 2011)
79. A Separation (Asghar Farhadi, 2011)
80. The Tree of Life (Terrence Malick, 2011)

81. Our Children (Joachim Lafosse, 2012)
82. Maidan (Sergei Loznitsa, 2014)
83. Ruby Sparks (Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, 2012)
84. The Artist (Michel Hazanavicius, 2011)
85. Moonlight (Barry Jenkins, 2016)
86. Senna (Asif Kapadia, 2010)
87. The Raid (Gareth Evans, 2011)
88. The Master (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2012)
89. Gimme the Loot (Adam Leon, 2012)
90. Room (Lenny Abrahamson, 2015)

91. Lincoln (Steven Spielberg, 2012)
92. The Second Mother (Anna Muylaert, 2015)
93. Little Men (Ira Sachs, 2016)
94. Knight of Cups (Terrence Malick, 2015)
95. Embrace of the Serpent (Ciro Guerra, 2015)
96. Julieta (Pedro Almodóvar, 2016)
97. John McEnroe: In the Realm of Perfection (Julien Faraut, 2018)
98. Arbitrage (Nicholas Jarecki, 2012)
99. The Wailing (Hong-jin Na, 2016)
100. Lootera (Vikramaditya Motwane, 2013)

The full Top 250 can be found by clicking here.

Friday 23 August 2019

In memoriam: Richard Williams (Telegraph 19/08/19)

Richard Williams, who has died of cancer aged 86, was a legendary figure in the field of hand-drawn animation whose name will be most closely linked with two projects, one polished to a superlative degree, the other notoriously uncompleted. Taken collectively, they illustrate the rewards and risks of the many painstaking hours Williams spent hunched over the drawing board.

In the mid-1980s, the greying Williams was appointed as animation director on Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988), Disney’s wildly ambitious hybrid of cartoon and human characters. Shepherding the popeyed lupine Roger through a combination of real and virtual locations, Williams arrived at something both multidimensional and vastly more dynamic than the flat animated landscapes of old.

The attention to detail – at all points matching Roger’s eyeline to that of Bob Hoskins’ flesh-and-blood PI – paid off spectacularly: having accumulated blockbuster box-office, the film earned Williams two Oscars at the 1989 ceremony, one (for Best Visual Effects) shared, the other an individual Special Achievement award.

Roger Rabbit’s success tempted Warner Bros. to funnel funds into The Thief and the Cobbler, an immersive folktale the animator had started working on in 1964 with an eye to creating the greatest animated film ever made.

Yet production was slow-going even by animation standards, and by 1992, with the resurgent Disney’s vaguely similar Aladdin looming, the plug was pulled on Williams’ endeavours. Existing footage was then recut and issued twice by impatient producers keen to get some return on their investment: first as The Princess and the Cobbler (1993), then – when rights reverted to Harvey Weinstein’s Miramax – as Arabian Knight (1995).

Neither cut found much of an audience, and whatever greatness lay in Williams’ original vision appeared to have been lost forever. Understandably bruised, Williams refused to watch either of the commercially available versions, reasoning: “My son… told me that if I ever want to jump off a bridge, I should take a look.”

Yet Williams’ own pencil-test workprint of Thief eventually appeared online, leading fans to assemble what became known as the Recobbled Cut, preserving those surreal, shimmering flourishes hacked from earlier variations. In recent years, Williams toured the world with this version, sharing what he’d taken from this long, troubled process.

He was born Richard Edmund Williams in Toronto on March 19, 1933, the son of Kenneth and Kathleen Williams (née Bell), an illustrator who’d once been offered a job at Disney. “She took me to see Snow White when I was five and said that I was never the same again,” Williams recalled in a 2013 interview. “Not that I was scared like all the other children who thought the creatures were real. I knew they were drawings, and that’s what fascinated me.”

A keen scribbler, he visited the Disney studios aged 14: “I was a clever little fellow, so I took my drawings and I eventually got in… I was in there for two days.” After art school, he headed to Ibiza in 1953 with the ambition of making it as a painter; soon, however, he found “the paintings were trying to move”. He relocated to London in 1955 and found work in various animation studios, including those of the emergent Bob Godfrey: “I worked in the basement and would do work in kind, and he would let me use the camera… [it was] a barter system.”

That Williams was deviating from the Disney norm became evident from his early shorts. The Little Island (1958), which won the Best Animated Film BAFTA, was a half-hour allegory in which three figures representing truth, beauty and goodness jostle for supremacy. Subsequent productions – The Wardrobe (1958), A Lecture on Man (1962), Love Me, Love Me, Love Me (1962) – confirmed his rising status.

Williams’ early work on Thief was funded by a new revenue stream: providing title sequences and animated inserts on big-budget features. As London swung, he contributed graphics to What’s New, Pussycat? (1965), A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1966), Casino Royale (1967) and, most prominently, The Charge of the Light Brigade (1968), where he rendered warring national forces in satirical penstrokes. His opening credits for The Return of the Pink Panther (1975) and The Pink Panther Strikes Again (1976), rendering the misadventures of a flamingo-coloured cat burglar to Henry Mancini’s jazzy score, are arguably better remembered than the features themselves.

His company Richard Williams Productions, bolstered by veteran animators laid off by cost-cutting studios, enjoyed an early triumph with their 25-minute adaptation of A Christmas Carol (1971), winner of the 1972 Oscar for Best Animated Short.

Less successful was the feature-length Raggedy-Ann and Andy: A Musical Adventure (1977), which Williams took on only after original director Abe Levitow died, whereupon he underwent several draining creative clashes with studio Fox: “The lesson I learnt was the Golden Rule – whoever has the gold makes the rule.”

Yet he won an Emmy in 1982 for Ziggy’s Gift, a Christmas TV special based on a newspaper comic strip, and crafted memorable work in the commercial sector, animating Tony the Tiger and the Cresta Bear among other adworld avatars.

He won the Winsor McCay award, named after a previous animation pioneer, in 1984, and alongside his fourth wife, the producer Imogen “Mo” Sutton, received another Oscar nod in 2016 for Prologue, a mesmeric study of Spartan and Athenian warriors, based on an idea he’d had as a fifteen-year-old. (Its working title, according to the then-eightysomething Williams, was “Will I Live to Finish This?”)

By then, he’d become an avuncular elder statesman, assembling The Animators’ Survival Kit, a do-it-yourself guide published in 2001 and later reconfigured as an iPad app. Working out of Aardman’s Bristol studios, he embraced Twitter, offering real-time mentoring, while reflecting on his legacy: “If I did things again, I would be wiser, but you get wise too late. I was so interested in the work that it blinded me to what was going on. And the work is just so damn fascinating you feel as if nothing else matters."

He is survived by Sutton and six children from three previous marriages, including the animators Claire and Alex Williams, and the painter Holly Williams-Brock.

Richard Williams, born March 19, 1933, died August 16, 2019.

For what it's worth...

Top Ten Films at the UK Box Office 
for the weekend of August 16-18, 2019:

1 (new) Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood (18) ***

2 (1) The Lion King (PG)
3 (2) Fast & Furious: Hobbs & Shaw (12A) **
4 (new) Dora and the Lost City of Gold (PG) ***
5 (3Toy Story 4 (U) ***
6 (new) Good Boys (15)
7 (4) Blinded by the Light (12A) ***
8 (6) The Angry Birds Movie 2 (U) ***
9 (5) Spider-Man: Far from Home (12A) ***
10 (9) Casino Royale - Secret Cinema (12A)

(source: BFI)

My top five: 
1. Notorious

2. Leto
3. Transit
4. Oldboy
5. Photograph

Home entertainment Top Ten (DVD/Blu-Ray/Download): 

1 (3) 
Shazam! (12) **
2 (1) Dumbo (PG) **
3 (38) Pet Sematary (15)
4 (4) Hellboy (15)
5 (2) Captain Marvel (12) ***
6 (new) Batman: Hush (15)
7 (7) Aquaman (12)
8 (5Alita Battle Angel (12)
9 (8) Mary Poppins Returns (U) ***
10 (11) Bohemian Rhapsody (12A)


My top five: 
1. Wild Rose

2. The Sisters Brothers
3. Benjamin
4. Mid90s
5. Pin Cushion

Top five films on terrestrial TV:
1. Total Recall (Saturday, ITV, 10.30pm)
2. Hacksaw Ridge (Sunday, five, 9pm)
3. The King's Speech (Friday, BBC1, 10.35pm)
4. 20th Century Women (Saturday, BBC2, 10.45pm)
5. Die Hard 4.0 [above] (Saturday, C4, 9pm)