As many of you will know, we have entered the part of the year where mainstream film distributors – after saving up such films for the majority of the year – saturate the market with ‘more intelligent content’ in the race for the Oscars. Of course it is mad to assume that audiences only want to see intelligent mainstream films in the Autumn/Winter period, yet, as I work in a cinema, I can at least say that this does in fact constitute our busiest time. Whether this is down to the quality and accessibility of the films on offer, the weather, Oscar buzz, seasonal-affective-disorder or Christmas spirit, the jury still remains out. At the time of writing, we are currently in the lull between 2015’s two audience-drawing giants, Sam Mendes’ Spectre and J.J. Abrams’ Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and can fortunately be treated to the smaller and arguably, at least from my perspective, more interesting films on offer at present. Last week, I watched Todd Haynes’ Carol and Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies, two meticulously crafted works set within 1950s America (and in the latter, East Berlin too), where the reconstruction of a historic past is very impressive. If Spielberg let himself down with his foray into sentimentalism at the film’s end – and this was of course to be expected – Haynes’ film is excellent in all the categories at the film critic’s disposal: photography, editing, acting, script, sound design etc. It is truly one of those films that has it all.
Some readers will know that I began undertaking an MA in Modern History at Durham University in October and have unfortunately had to neglect some of my film criticism duties since then. I haven’t seen everything this Autumn, but I have watched a few great films which deserve a mention. Jafar Panahi’s Taxi Tehran has so far been one of the highlights of the year and is a film which works as a postmodern taxi ride through the great auteur’s filmic history, with characters and situations from his back catalogue reappearing and engaging with Panahi, as the taxi driver, along the way. It is also a highly political film, one which criticises the Iranian government’s stance on his filmmaking, through the figure of his young niece Hana who is given a film project to conduct by her teacher. Hana, who is also hilarious in this role, seems to be obsessed by what is ‘distributable’, arguing that the avoidance of ‘sordid realism’ is of paramount importance, and is forever searching for filmic ways to placate her teacher. This film was so interesting and full of life and hope, it deserves a more extended analysis in these [digital] pages, one I hope to include in the near future.
Danny Boyle’s Steve Jobs was mostly brilliant – combining the intelligent machine-gun-fire-dialogue and the walking-talking-steadicam scenes we have come to expect from Aaron Sorkin with interesting aesthetic choices – if not a little contrived in its arrangement of key personal crises set minutes before key historical product launches. However, I did in fact admire the decision to ignore the conferences in full, and to focus on the backstage events, portraying Jobs – until the realisation of his faults in the denouement – as a cruel and malevolent force.
As an advert for the work of NASA, Ridley Scott’s The Martian triumphs; as a film, I have my reservations. I’m not a fan of the ending and much of the unfolding of the plot, however, the photography and attention to detail is very impressive. While U.S.-Mexican relations are ever recurring subjects of twenty-first century U.S. film and television, with drugs, violence and law enforcement as key components of such works, Denis Villeneuve’s Sicario skips past the banality of what we have come to expect from this genre. It does not have much extra to say, yet is constructed with real style and ability. Sarah Gavron’s Suffragette is definitely worth a watch, and Carey Mulligan excels in her role as a feminist activist who works to enact change in the unfair and chauvinist world of early 20th century UK politics. Yorgos Lanthimos’ second feature Dogtooth – I have unfortunately not seen Kinetta and Alps – was one of my favourites of 2009, and so I would expect to get something out of his first English-language feature The Lobster. Lanthimos fulfils his promise, offering one of the most strange and intriguing films of the year. If you feel like something different, watch this film.
Pedro Costa’s Horse Money had me stumped this Autumn, yet did fascinate and entice through its extended weirdness. And I was again a little puzzled with what Gaspar Noé was trying to achieve in Love, a film which left me cold, without the aesthetic brilliance of his previous work. However, I do admire Noé’s attempt to show sexual relations with realism, and his avoidance of the automation of mainstream pornography. These two films are definitely worth a watch and perhaps deserve a second viewing from this critic.
At home, I have jumped on the ‘golden age of television’ bandwagon. Although I am not convinced that television is doing more interesting things than cinema at the moment, such an argument is of course flawed, I have been impressed by the sheer quality of what is now available. UnREAL and Mr. Robot are two televisual favourites of 2015, and I have rewatched The Sopranos in its entirety, surely the greatest work of U.S. television as of yet.
As the winter holidays come around, I plan to become more active on this blog. So far, I am intending to write a piece on Newcastle Brown Ale’s foray into the hipster American market and one on the brutalist architecture of Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Gateshead. These will hopefully appear sometime in late December and early January.