Cornerhouse AV Technician Dave Petty picks out some top films to look out for at the start of next year…
Cranking the feel-good factor up to eleven may for some be the ultimate put-off, but The Artist has garnered more than enough awards season buzz to dissuade any naysayers. This silent, inter-titled, black and white tale of Hollywood actor George Valentin, desperate to keep his career afloat during the introduction of ‘talking pictures’, while another bright young thing going by the name of Peppy Miller ascends into the limelight, is being touted as a pitch-perfect love letter to the golden years of Hollywoodland, and so genuinely unique that it’s hard not to fall for. Given the fact it’s a silent film, one could easily think this was some clever-clever technical exercise in arthouse filmmaking, but films that generate applause after a screening are a rare beast indeed these days, and The Artist has generated standing ovations by the bucketload.
Working at Cornerhouse when the latest Cannes Film Festival darlings make their way into our screens, it can sometimes be a let-down when said awards-botherers turn out to be dour, pretentious works of supposed staggering genius, only to end up dividing audiences or not quite having the impact that was expected. The Artist would appear to flout these conventions, and it makes such a difference to have a film garnering attention that is in no way ‘worthy’; you simply can’t complain when a film is a beautifully-executed, heartstring-tugging slice of genuine cinema.
The Iron Lady
Who expected the director of Mamma Mia! to follow up with this?! Populist entertainment it may seek to be, but that won’t stop the controversy swirling around this intense dramatisation of Thatcher’s rise to power – picket lines, form a disorderly queue.
Meryl Streep is the big draw here, by all accounts putting in a powerhouse performance as Thatcher, making everyone else appear mere window dressing (blink and you’ll miss Richard E. Grant as Heseltine). It’s this curiosity factor about how good Streep is, not to mention the curiosity about how the film might deal with certain key events such as the Falklands and the Poll Tax that should draw in a crowd no matter where it plays, from Salford to Southampton. See it on opening weekend, and gauge for yourself how well the real Iron Lady comes out of it.
Alexander Payne (Sideways and Election) is a director eschewing the ever-more-kooky road the likes of Wes Anderson has gone down with his auteur-esque oeuvre, his films similar in style but constantly evolving, becoming more mature offerings – still with streaks of black comedy and absurd silliness (George Clooney can’t help but look ridiculous running down a road in his slippers) but offset with genuine raw emotion. The Descendants continues that trend, and in style.
It follows Clooney’s journey as a husband who has to look after both a hefty estate sale that his family of Hawaiian descendants have been entrusted with, and his daughters, who end up potentially motherless after his wife is involved in a jet skiing accident. It’s these signature story quirks (real life with a twist of the absurd) that make Payne’s films a joy to behold, with Clooney following in the footsteps of Matthew Broderick, Jack Nicholson and Paul Giamatti as life’s lovable losers, characters that never feel too far away from someone you know. This also is the first of Payne’s films to be based on a novel, but far from feeling like a right-angle change of direction, it feels like it was written for Payne to get his teeth into from minute one. Another one to watch at the Golden Globes and the Oscars, if there’s any justice.
Roman Polanski’s latest really isn’t a cinematic event, in fact one could say it’s not that cinematic at all – based on a stage play where two very different middle-class families come together to resolve an issue between their respective sons that has resulted in one of them getting their tooth knocked out, it’s a four-hander in one room and stays that way throughout. That said, some of the best films keep things simple, and locking four A-listers in one room was clearly a canny idea from the get-go.
Much has been made of ‘the vomit scene’, being essayed in various film mags of late, and with a script that barrels along at a thousand miles an hour (it’s a mere 80 minutes long) there’s going to be little room to breathe between the dry heaves. Letting Kate Winslet, Christoph Waltz, Jodie Foster and John C. Reilly off the leash to let rip at one another seems like the perfect recipe for toe-curling, cringe-inducing fun, and like The Artist, watching actors play off one another rather than trying to compete for Oscar glory is no bad thing indeed.
Into The Abyss: A Tale of Death, A Tale of Life
Providing you can handle Herzog’s signature voiceovers (which have become more and more intrusive in recent years), Into The Abyss looks set to be a documentary with bite. Essaying the lives of two prison inmates, one on death row (now dead) and one awaiting release in around five years, both of whom were sentenced for a triple homicide over ten years ago. That’s a serious amount of emotional heft to get your teeth into, with no doubt plenty of arguments both for and against the death penalty to discuss post-screening.
For everyone who enjoys a crazy Norwegian thriller featuring a game of hide and seek in a portaloo (who doesn’t?), this film could well be for you. Focusing on Roger Brown (Askel Hennie)’s upper-tier role at a recruitment agency and his attempt to find a CEO for a company called Pathfinder, whilst also dealing with his forays into art theft in order to pay for his wife’s luxurious lifestyle, it promises to be a fast-paced thriller with little room for let-up.
Despite cars being driven off cliffs (with survivors!) and nano technology all being thrown into the mix, such a film veering away from so-called reality isn’t necessarily a bad thing – hey, if Steven Segal can make a career of it, so can the Norwegians – but this is in no way Segal-lite. A Hollywood remake is already being discussed, so if you want to catch it before it gets chewed up and spat out by A-listers ‘reimagining’ the best bits, give it a go in 2012.