Most popular posts of 2010

4 01 2011

 

… And if you’re still game for pointless lists, here are the 5 posts that proved most popular on this ‘blog with you, the readers, in 2010:

'Paranormal Activity'

1

Location, Location, One Location December 2009
2 comments

Luis Buñuel

Buñuel on set

2

The Luis Buñuel Film School February 2010
1 comment

Christoph Waltz in 'Inglourious Basterds'

3

Mind Your Language September 2009
2 comments

Mad Men

Draper thinks about smoking a fag

4

At The Movies with Don Draper March 2010
1 Like on WordPress.com,

Bad Santa? Michael Haneke

5

Happy Haneke November 2009
3 comments

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The Other Psycho

2 04 2010

Carl Boehm in 'Peeping Tom'

Two films are released this week to mark the 50th anniversary of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. The first is Psycho itself, re-released in all of its stab-happy, monochrome glory just in time for the Easter holidays. The second is Johan Grimonprez’s Double Take, a sly and elusive piece about the place of doubles both in Hitchcock’s work and in wider American culture during the Cold War.

But if Hitchcock’s most famous film is justly fêted for its innovative and visceral impact, then the work of another British director has, it seems, been overlooked. Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom was released just three months before Psycho, and covered much the same ground as the American shocker. Starring Carl Boehm and Anna Massey, it tells the story of a lonely, voyeuristic cameraman, who is obsessed with murdering women so that he can film their last moments. 

The reception that the two films received couldn’t have been more different. Hitchcock’s film played to packed houses and took a healthy 11 million dollars at the box office, while Peeping Tom was pulled from UK cinemas after just a week, in the wake of an unprecedented critical backlash.

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Notable Films of the Noughties

18 12 2009

Walking the walk. 'Elephant'

And so here, with all of the usual caveats, and in no particular order, is a list of films that have moved, excited and inspired me over the last ten years.

The Great

Elephant (Gus Van Sant, 2003)

A long, lazy stroll around the scene of a gathering storm, Elephant uncovers both the very particular, private world of the American teenager and the kind of wider social malaise that finds an outlet in the occasional high school massacre. It’s an angry film in some ways, but also by turns calm, dreamlike, and level-headed, and filled with unforgettable moments (that scene with the bulimic girls: need I say more?).

Syndromes and a Century / Sang sattawat (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2006)

I’ve said it elsewhere on this ‘blog recently, but to my mind Apichatpong Weerasethakul (or ‘Joe’ to his friends) is one of the few contemporary film-makers who’s genuinely interested in finding new and exciting possibilities in cinema. This 2006 film tells mirrored stories of love in a rural and an urban Thai hospital, and is my favourite of his. Like all of Apichatpong’s work, the film is split into two halves, with scenes that unfold with a gentle, unforced naturalism, and much to think about once you’ve left the cinema. If you let it (and you should) Syndromes… will hypnotise you. In a good way, of course…

Hidden / Caché (Michael Haneke, 2005)

A thriller of sorts from everyone’s favourite Bad Santa Michael Haneke. Here the subject matter is class and colonial guilt, and the director’s gaze has never been harsher. Juliette Binoche is intense and French, Daniel Auteuil is conflicted, and the film itself is a veritable puzzle box for the unpicking. Also contains possibly the most shocking cut (so to speak) in Noughties cinema. Ouch!

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Happy Haneke

12 11 2009
The White Ribbon

'The White Ribbon'

OK, I admit it: that title doesn’t make a lot of sense. Pun-notwithstanding, there are very few film-makers working today who are less likely to branch out into light romantic comedy than Michael Haneke. In the last decade, with work like The Piano Teacher, Code Unknown and Hidden, the Austrian director has established a reputation for himself as the master of certain kind of austere, serious and confrontational cinema that is about as far from Hollywood schmalz as it’s possible to get.

This week sees the UK release of Haneke’s latest film, The White Ribbon (Das weisse Band), in which he tells the story of a small German farming community plagued by a series of unexplained outrages sometime before the outbreak of World War One. A barn is burned down, a tripwire throws a doctor from his horse, and the local baron’s son is beaten by assailants unknown. The powers-that-be – the baron, the pastor, the doctor – respond to this anarchy with a wave of violent discipline against their social inferiors and the children of the village. These latter will, we realise, grow up to form part of the Nazi generation, and Haneke has spoken of setting out to explore the movement’s roots in the kind of repressive, petty and suspicious community portrayed in the film. 

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Mind Your Language

24 09 2009
Christoph Waltz in 'Inglourious Basterds'

Christoph Waltz in 'Inglourious Basterds'

There’s a nice moment early in the 1983 Mel Brooks film To Be or Not To Be when the dialogue suddenly switches from one language to another. Brooks and his co-stars play a troupe of Polish actors, caught in Warsaw during the Nazi occupation. In the first scene, as the curtain of their theatre goes down after a performance, the actors hold a panicky behind-the-scenes conference in gabbled, subtitled Polish. “Can’t we just switch to English?” someone suggests. The actors sigh with relief and, for the rest of the film, everyone speaks in American-accented English.

It’s a good joke, and one that highlights a problem that English-speaking directors face when making films for English-speaking audiences about non-English-speaking people. Do you employ local actors and subtitle everything? Or do you throw realism to the wind and cast, say, Ray Winstone as a gondolier or Tom Cruise as a Nazi? 

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