The nominations for the BAFTA film awards have been announced this morning, and once again those compiling the nominations have between them managed to prove at best case that two good performances are all you need to make a good film, and and worst that the British film is simply a pandering lapdog still craving the attention and validation of America rather than attempting to stand on its own two feet. The nominations in particular for Best British film have left me so irked that I’m currently sat in the cafeteria at Stonehenge trying to get this off my chest, having toured one of the world’s great heritage sites full of 5,000 year old monuments and I’m left to wonder if these stones could talk, would they come up with a more contemporary, relevant and worthy set of picks. Each year I publish a handful of posts in the run-up to the Oscars in an effort to remind myself that awards are meaningless and just because they don’t reflect my own opinion, it shouldn’t ruin my day when they’re announced.
But wow, this year takes the biscuit in a category already renowned for encouraging the receipt of flour-based baked goods. In the time since I started blogging, an era during which the BAFTA film awards have moved to a pre-Oscar slot in a desperate attempt to secure an influx of Hollywood glitterati and so seem pointlessly relevant, the following films have been the “Best” British Film:
– In 2011 The King’s Speech beat out Another Year and Four Lions
– In 2012 Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy overcame Shame, Senna and We Need To Talk About Kevin
– In 2013 Skyfall came out on top of Anna Karenina and Les Misérables
– Last year, Gravity beat The Selfish Giant and Philomena
The awards twelve months ago embodied everything wrong with the dual main categories: no-one in their right mind would have considered Gravity a British film, with it beating not only a stunning piece of work from deserving British director Clio Barnard but also arguably a better awards season type film in Philomena. But the Best Film was 12 Years A Slave, and this wasn’t even nominated for Best British Film despite a sufficient qualifying connection, a British director and two outstanding lead performances from British actors.
So what’s gotten me so riled up this year, that’s possibly even worse than last year’s farrago? Part of the problem stems from what’s actually been an outstanding year for British film, in which we are so spoiled for choice that you could fill British film two or three times over with quality picks. What the voters of BAFTA have come up with for Best British film is:
The Imitation Game
The Theory Of Everything
Under The Skin
That’s not a bad list, and there are a couple of excellent films on it. The first problem is that those films are Paddington and Under The Skin, and the two films from that list that have made it to the Best Film overall list are certainly the two least interesting and arguably the two worst: The Imitation Game and The Theory Of Everything.
The Imitation Game is a real frustration as its only two positives are the performances of Benedict Cumberbatch – a man now so all powerful he can get a lead role in an animation about penguins despite being demonstrably unable to say penguins – and Keira Knightley. Other than that it’s a film that fudges its issues and has barely the merest pretence of drama, an Emperor’s New Clothes of acting mannerisms with a narrative that does poor service to both the war effort and Turing himself; no mean feat when it actually overplays his war contribution in many ways.
I enjoyed The Theory Of Everything, but again it’s a film that survives on the performances of its two leads and precious little else. Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones are both exceptional, but the rest of the film is placid to a fault and it’s a chocolate box Cambridge that explains science politely and tries its hardest not to cause offence at any other time. It’s not a patch on director James Marsh’s last two films, Man On Wire and Shadow Dancer. I still believe that Under The Skin will be being discussed in ten years’ time; I find it hard to believe that too many people will remember The Theory Of a Everything in ten weeks.
But not only have the two films most likely to find the common denominator even though they’re not very good made the Best Film, I would argue that there are at least another ten films more worthy of a place on the Best British Film list for last year. In descending order of greatness, they are:
Next Goal Wins
Kajaki: The True Story
The Possibilities Are Endless
(And possibly an eleventh: I haven’t seen The Testament Of Youth as it’s not out yet.)
I can accept that you may believe not all of these ten films or the four in the Best British Film category are better than The Imitation Game or The Theory Of Everything, but if you can sit there with a straight face and tell me that none of them are – for that is the implication of the BAFTA nominations – then can I politely suggest that you don’t watch enough films. Anything on that list of fourteen which didn’t make the Best Film list above would be an ideal way of starting to put that right.
But before I go, I must also mention the most egregious omission from the nominations. As I’ve indicated, Mr Turner didn’t make it into the nominations, but Mike Leigh has at least picked up awards for various categories in the past for Secrets And Lies and Vera Drake. However, the snub handed out to what to me was the performance of the year by Timothy Spall has left me incredulous. There truly is no justice at awards time, but that probably won’t stop me getting my knickers in a twist when the Oscar nominations come out. Joy of joys.
The Pitch: How to make a good impression(ist).
The Review: I’ve not got a great relationship with art. While music and I have been comfortable bedfellows over the years, and I even have a passing fondness for photojournalism and other photographic art, true painted art and I largely parted ways after a disastrous art exam at the age of 14 saw me score a pitiful 15%. An exercise to paint two silver taps ended in me creating two amorphous, faintly luminous silver blobs on a piece of paper, which would have happily received the title “Nightmare In Silver” many years before Neil Gaiman’s Doctor Who episode of the same title. I can actually think of a hundred different ways I’d approach that brief now – none of which would involve silver paint – but I’ve not always grasped the connection between the brain of the artist, his eye and what you see on the canvas. What Mike Leigh’s latest film attempts to do, rather successfully, is to bridge that bond between the brain of the artist and the eye of the beholder through examining the life and works of one of Britain’s finest artists, Joseph Mallord William Turner.
Leigh follows his established pattern when working with his actors of rehearsed improvisation around a narrative framework, and the film calls on quite a number of actors from Leigh’s formidable ensemble. At the centre is Timothy Spall, Leigh’s chosen Turner who spent many hours with a paintbrush in hand in meticulous preparation for the role. Often Spall is the comic relief or part of the Greek chorus on the sidelines, but here he’s in nearly every scene and his Turner is shamelessly fascinating (which he needs to be for the film’s hefty two and a half hour running time). Here as he’s portrayed, Turner is no more and no less than an ordinary man with exceptional talents, but is all the more remarkable for it. Spall’s creation spits, grunts and groans his way through the upper echelons of society that his talent have granted him privilege to, but the performance wisely steers well clear of caricature and readily embraces both Turner’s flaws and foibles and captures brilliantly his outpourings of natural genius.
Mike Leigh’s films often rely heavily on structure, deftly weaving together numerous plot strands, but despite the long duration of Mr Turner the film is more episodic, filling out the detail in the life of its title character with his creative process, his high society life and his regular anonymous trips to Margate to seek creative inspiration. Leigh’s thesis seems to be that Turner the artist is defined by his relationship with his surroundings and Turner the man by his relationships with his women, or in some cases the lack thereof. It seems that a guttural snarl, much like a painting, can convey a thousand words, and Spall’s primal growling and swift room departure whenever confronted with his first mistress (Ruth Sheen) and their mutual children tell you all you need to know. He can be perfectly mannered, as with the Margate landlady (Marion Bailey) who he grows ever closer to on his frequent visits, but equally his frustrated encounter in a house of ill repute speaks volumes with the merest of dialogue. The most normal, articulate relationship with any other human is of that with his father (Paul Jesson), but it also inevitably leaves a mark on Turner in very visible ways. As well as its concerns with the past, Mr Turner also looks to the future, the passing of era’s and Turner’s own recognition that his medium could soon be usurped by upstarts such as the coming of photography.
Mr Turner wears its heart on its sleeve and lets out its soul through Turner’s animalistic grunting. but it’s through its vision that it truly soars. Leigh composes images and scenes which evoke some of Turner’s famous paintings and in turn become some of the most striking images of Leigh’s long career, so often previously tethered to the metaphorical kitchen sink. Turner’s style, which might have influenced the impressionists, is best seen in Leigh’s approach to characterisation but he lets the views of Turner’s masterpieces speak for themselves with simple, subtle camerawork. In contrasting Turner’s personal life with backdrops that inspired Turner’s most famous paintings such as The Fighting Temeraire the film truly captures the sense of the artist as seen and felt within the paintings themselves. Leigh’s regular cinematographer Dick Pope does great work in grasping the sense of these images without the need to slavishly imitate Turner’s style in his crisp cinematography, but it’s through Turner’s life and Spall’s magnificent performance that we truly come to understand the inner workings of a great artist’s mind. Art and I might have wisely parted company two and a half decades ago, but Mr Turner’s insights into the mind and process of an artistic genius may inspire many others to pick up their easels and paintboxes again with renewed appreciation for life’s diverse pleasures.
Why see it at the cinema: The artistic highlights of Turner’s career, writ large on the cinema screen in flesh and blood, coupled with Turner’s performance make this a cinematic delight.
What about the rating? Rated 12A for moderate sex and sex references. I’ve long held a grudge against the BBFC for their decision to allow breasts (or in the case of Titanic, breast) to be shown at 12A, long after the time when my 12 year old self would have been able to benefit from / be suitably embarrassed by their appearance. I thought for a brief moment that my twelve year old self would have loved Mr Turner, and he probably would, but not for that reason.
My cinema experience: The last film of a quadruple bill at the Cambridge Arts Picturehouse, and a sold out cinema which seems to have become the norm during first couple of weeks of Mr Turner’s run – always the best way to see any film so willing to engage the emotions of its audience.
The Score: 9/10
It’s been a long summer, full of mutants, monkeys, giant fighty robots, some additional giant fighty monsters and Jon Favreau cooking, but now the nights are drawing in and there’s no better time to be in the cinema. Admittedly I can’t think of a bad time to be in the cinema, but I was never the best role model. Having had a busy summer, followed by a month-long binge on two of the country’s foremost film festivals, this feature has had a rest for the past couple of months but now it’s back,
better than ever largely the same as ever, bringing you the six most tantalising two minute compilations of films released in UK cinemas this calendar month.
If you’re a long time reader, you’ll remember that the first rule of The Half Dozen is that you don’t talk about… no wait, that’s Fight Club. The first – and indeed – only rule of The Half Dozen was that these were trailers for films I hadn’t seen. This was a fairly flexible rule, to the point where one month it was only films that I’d seen. I’ve also not stuck rigidly to six on occasions. So if we’re going to do this again, then there are no rules. Who needs rules anyway! Apart from these being films which will at some point in October be shown in a UK cinema, having not previously been shown in UK cinemas outside of festivals. So there’s a kind of rule. Whatever.
I can offer one improvement on this post over previous efforts – I’ve added release date details on each film! Don’t say I never get you anything. Anyway, on with this month’s not particularly anarchic selection of promos.
Speaking of rules, there used to be a rule that all even-numbered Star Trek films were great and odd-numbered not quite so great. That rule has fallen apart over the years, what with ten and twelve being complete bobbins and three actually not that bad, then eleven was one of the best of the series. A rule you can put much more faith in is that David Fincher saves his best work for his even numbered films: while Alien³, The Game, Panic Room, The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo have been various shades of interesting, the films sandwiched in between – Seven, Fight Club, Zodiac, The Social Network and now Gone Girl – are all likely to become established as classic films with a bit of distance. I hope to have a review of Gone Girl up this weekend to explain my reasoning behind that in more detail, but for now rejoice in this surprisingly non-spoilery trailer.
Gone Girl has been on nationwide release since 3rd October, and it’s been rated 18.
I have to confess that most of what occurred in Northern Ireland while I was a child mystified me – TV news had a lot of assumed knowledge, and coming to it as a young child all I knew is that the IRA from time to time blew up either places where the families of people I knew worked or occasionally train stations that I was about to pass through. So it will be interesting to see how this film manages to keep the balance between the action movie it’s clearly trying to be, and the backdrop of the conflict in which it’s set. Casting Jack O’ Connell, so great in the likes of Eden Lake and Starred Up, is a good first step in whatever you’re trying to achieve.
’71 has been on release since 10th October, and is still playing at a reasonable selection of cinemas. It’s a certificate 15.
Having been running this blog for nigh on five years, I get a whole load of e-mails offering me film related opportunities. In five years, barely any of them have actually been worth taking up, but when I was offered a screener for this film I jumped at the chance. The one thing the trailer skips on is the language – this is a proper, rough, Northern with a capital N film (and I’m half Northern by birth, so I can say that, even though my normal speaking voice is Queen’s English with a hint of estuary) but it’s also got one of the best soundtracks of the year.
Northern Soul is out today (17th October), and is on limited release, also rated 15. It is also available to book via OurScreen, an initiative to allow you, the viewer, to decide what ends up in cinemas. You just need to ensure a certain amount of tickets get sold for the cinema to actually show the film. Genius. You’ll see a whole host of Northern Soul screenings on the website if you head over there now. It’s also out on DVD and Blu-ray to buy on Monday.
I saw this at FrightFest, it’s the best film I saw at FrightFest and one of my favourites of the year (currently residing at 11th on my provisional top 40), people were actually screaming, people were even freaked out by the trailer, if you even vaguely like horror movies or just decent films then go see. Put some of that on the poster, but be a good editor. (“People were actually screaming”? “The 11th best film of the year”? Maybe just “Go see”.)
The Babadook is on wide release from next Friday, 24th October, and is also rated 15.
Over the years I’ve taken great pleasure in ticking off some of the names of our finest directors and seeing films of theirs in the cinema for the first time. Since my cinema going reached epic levels after moving to Cambridgeshire, I’ve seen both Happy-Go-Lucky and Another Year, and both were great, so my anticipation levels for Mr. Turner should be described as high. At some point I do need to go back and revisit the rest of Mike Leigh’s forty year career, but I consider that a mere technicality at present.
Mr. Turner is out on October 31st, painting up a storm in art house cinemas near you, and is rated 12A.
Just think, there was a time when none of us knew how to pronounce Gyllenhall. Actually, that’s probably still now, isn’t it?
Nightcrawler is also out on October 31st, and is also rated 15. Seriously, are there no kids’ films out this month?