American Animals (2018)

Bart Layton | 117 mins | digital (HD) | 2.39:1 | UK & USA / English | 15 / R

American Animals

I don’t want this to turn into a rant about IMDb — there’s a time and a place for those, certainly, but what’s meant to be a short review of one film is not one of them — but the way they’ve devalued the documentary in recent years is not also depressing but also inaccurate. Because anything that has the genre Documentary is now marked as “(documentary)” on someone’s filmography, and therefore IMDb, and/or its contributors, are reluctant to use it about anything that isn’t 100% a documentary. Something like, say, American Animals.

To be clear: American Animals is unquestionably a documentary. It tells a true story, about some students who plan to rob a library of its rare books. It features interviews with the real people involved, both the students and others. But it’s mostly told via reenactments starring actors, several of them fairly recognisable faces. The real people appear as talking heads scattered throughout, particularly at key moments. So, it’s also unquestionably a hybrid of documentary and fiction. On the surface, it can look a lot like any fictionalised adaptation of a true story; but it’s hidebound to be more accurate than those often are, because it’s also got all these interviews. IMDb isn’t built for nuance such as this.

Prior planning prevents piss-poor performance... possibly

The film’s director, Bart Layton, previously made widely-praised definitely-a-documentary The Imposter. In my review of that, I described his style as “flashy” and “over-eager”, wondering if “perhaps he better belongs in fiction filmmaking? Perhaps that’s where he wants to go in future”. Here, I guess he’s moving to bridge that divide; but the blurred line means that, when the film says “here’s the real [person X]”, you kind of question it. Especially as, if a crime was committed, how come they’re interviewing the criminals?

That latter thought contributes to a genuine tension and suspense throughout the film. How far will this plot go? Do they even actually attempt it? One of the guys keeps saying, “I expected there to be something to stop us”, and you think maybe something will stop them… but the fact this film exists, and there’s all the chat about how the boys let their parents down and whatever, shows something happened. (No spoilers!) Yet it’s also surprisingly funny, like a bit where we’re shown the “Ocean’s Eleven version” of the robbery, complete with Elvis song on the soundtrack.

Some have criticised these kinds of flights of fancy, or the whole hybrid form, for inviting us to sympathise with these guys rather than condemn their actions. I think there’s room for both. The film seeks to explore what led these pretty normal guys to do such a thing, and (to an extent) how it has affected them since. I think you can both disapprove of what they did and seek to sympathise with them — to understand how it happened is not to condone it.

4 out of 5

American Animals was #107 in my 100 Films in a Year Challenge 2020.
It is streaming on All 4 until 10th February.

Blindspot 2022

There may be numerous changes around here for 2022 & onwards, but one thing that remains the same is the Blindspot challenge, which I’m undertaking for the tenth year running (though I called it “What Do You Mean You Haven’t Seen…?” back at the start. Now, WDYMYHS is a whole additional thing — details of the 2022 version are here).

For those still unfamiliar with it, Blindspot’s premise is simple: choose 12 films you should have seen but haven’t, then watch one a month throughout the year. (Those 12 also contribute to my All-New 100 Films in a Year Challenge.) Below, I’ve listed my selection for this year, and afterwards I’ll talk a bit about how I chose them.

The films are listed alphabetically, using the titles they’ve most recently been released under in the UK. Some of those are different to those used by, say, the Criterion Collection (we don’t automatically translate titles into English over here, what with us being more sophisticated ‘n’ all), but if you have to Google them, hey, at least you’ll have learnt something new.


L’avventura

L'avventura

Come and See

Come and See

Les enfants du paradis

Les enfants du paradis

La grande illusion

La grande illusion

High and Low

High and Low

A Man Escaped

A Man Escaped

Mirror

Mirror

Los olvidados

Los olvidados

Paris, Texas

Paris, Texas

To Be or Not to Be

To Be or Not to Be

A Woman Under
the Influence

A Woman Under the Influence

Yi Yi

Yi Yi


Some people just pull their 12 films out of who-knows-where. Personally, I’ve largely taken a more ‘scientific’ approach, using lists of great and/or popular films to try to shape some or all of my choices each year. This year is no different. But although I’ve made the process fairly complex some years — with lots of different contributing lists, sometimes weighted in different ways, or with additional rules — this year, I’ve kept it pared back.

Just three lists were used: the IMDb Top 250 Movies (they’ve finally put “250” back in its official name, hurrah!); the Letterboxd equivalent, the Official Top 250 Narrative Feature Films; and the mother of all great movie lists, TSPDT’s The 1,000 Greatest Films. I limited the last one to its top 250, for equality. All lists were weighted equally, with a film gaining points inverse to its position on a list — i.e. #1 would get 250 points, #250 would get 1 point, etc. I also factored in how many different lists the films appeared on at iCheckMovies (10 points per list), and gave a little nudge (of 11 points) to anything I already owned. That last one didn’t actually have much impact, merely serving to change the final film that made the cut. Still, it means I already have copies of seven of the films, rather than only half of them.

In fact, ensuring I could reasonably get hold of the films was something I checked before finalising the list, especially as Los olvidados doesn’t have an English-language Blu-ray release (in fact, according to Blu-ray.com, it’s only been released on BD in Japan). The only other factor I implemented was my longstanding “no repeat directors” rule. That took out Edward Yang’s A Brighter Summer Day (in favour of Yi Yi), as you can see in the list below. One previous rule I didn’t enforce this year was that, if I fail to watch a film one year, it’s locked out the next. I failed with Come and See in 2021, but it also topped the chart this year, so I’ve let it back in immediately. I won’t make the mistake of leaving it ’til December this time, though.

So, as promised a moment ago, here are the final 13 films with their points tallies…

  • Come and See — 777 points
  • High and Low — 573 points
  • Yi Yi — 571 points
  • A Brighter Summer Day — 566 points
  • To Be or Not to Be — 533 points
  • Mirror — 524 points
  • Les enfants du paradis — 509 points
  • La grande illusion — 509 points
  • A Man Escaped — 491 points
  • A Woman Under the Influence — 488 points
  • Los olvidados — 450 points
  • L’avventura — 444 points
  • Paris, Texas — 423 points

    Finally, a couple more stats about the films. Last year, many of the films were exceptionally long — the average running time came out at 2 hours 36 minutes, with only three of the films running under 2 hours; but with the shortest being just 1 hour 10 minutes and the longest 7 hours 19 minutes, there was quite a range. Compared to that, 2022’s extremes don’t seem so, well, extreme: the shortest film is Los olvidados at 1 hour 21 minutes, while the longest is Les enfants du paradis at 3 hours 9 minutes, and five films (almost half) are under 2 hours… although there is a half-hour jump between the longest film under 2 hours (La grande illusion, 1 hour 53 minutes) and the shortest over 2 hours (a three-way tie between L’avventura, Come and See, and High and Low, each running 2 hours 23 minutes). Nonetheless, the average is down from last year, to a slightly more reasonable 2 hours 13 minutes.

    Although it wasn’t a conscious decision, the films are quite well spread around this year, both temporally and geographically. For the former, there’s one from the 1930s, two each from the 1940s, 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, and then one from the 2000s. For the latter, France comes out on top with three titles, followed by two each for Russia and the USA, and one apiece from Germany, Italy, Japan, Mexico, and Taiwan. In the latter case, I’m taking (what I believe to be) the primary country of production — several of the films can lay claim to multiples.

    Finally, half of the films are by directors whose work I’ve never seen before. They are Michelangelo Antonioni, Luis Buñuel, Marcel Carné, Elem Klimov, Wim Wenders, and Edward Yang. And with the other films’ directors including the likes of Robert Bresson, John Cassavetes, Akira Kurosawa, Ernst Lubitsch, Jean Renoir, and Andrei Tarkovsky — a real mix of artists whose work that I’ve seen has either struck me as fantastic or… well… — it should be an interesting year.

  • Blindspot 2021: What do you mean you haven’t seen…?

    Now that all my “looking back at 2020” posts are done, it’s time to start the first full week of 2021 wi— sorry, what? Second week? Where did the first one go?! Alright, well, it’ll have to do. So, dragging myself belatedly into the same year as everyone else, it’s time to present my Blindspot picks for 2021.

    The Blindspot challenge (for the benefit of those still unfamiliar with it) involves choosing 12 films you should have seen but haven’t, then watching one a month throughout the year. I started doing this eight years ago, calling it “What Do You Mean You Haven’t Seen…?” (WDYMYHS for short), but then someone else came up with the same idea independently and gave it a much snappier moniker, and that caught on.

    My 12 films for this year are below in alphabetical order. After that there’s a few stats, and then I’ll explain how and why I chose them.


    Aguirre,
    Wrath of God
    Aguirre, Wrath of God


    The Birth of a Nation
    The Birth of a Nation


    Cinema Paradiso
    Cinema Paradiso


    Come and See
    Come and See


    La Dolce Vita
    La Dolce Vita


    Frankenstein
    Frankenstein


    La Haine
    La Haine


    The Life and Death
    of Colonel Blimp
    The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp


    Pather Panchali
    Pather Panchali


    Rain Man
    Rain Man


    Sansho Dayu
    Sansho Dayu


    Sátántangó
    Sátántangó

    Here’s a few stats about this year’s list…

  • The average running time of the films is 2 hours 36 minutes. Yes, that’s the average. While the shortest film, Frankenstein, runs a measly 1 hour 10 minutes, there are only two others below the two-hour mark, and four that run over 2½ hours. And the longest, Sátántangó, is a whopping 7 hours 19 minutes — that’s longer than six Frankensteins.
  • There’s a spread of exactly 80 years between the oldest film (1915’s The Birth of a Nation) and the newest (1995’s La Haine). Of course, that means the most recent film here is over a quarter of a century old…
  • Exactly eight decades are represented, too. The most prolific is, amusingly enough, the ’80s, with three films. The ’50s and ’90s have two each, and there’s one apiece from the 1910s, ’30s, ’40s, ’60s, and ’70s.
  • The films come from nine countries: three from the USA, two from Italy, with the rest being from France, Germany, Hungary, India, Japan, the Soviet Union, and the UK.
  • There are eight different main languages spoken, plus one silent film. English is the most common with three films, two are in Italian, and the rest encompass Bengali, French, German, Hungarian, Japanese, and Russian.
  • Six of the films are from directors who I’ve never seen a feature from before. They are D.W. Griffith, Werner Herzog, Elem Klimov, Satyajit Ray, Béla Tarr, and Giuseppe Tornatore. (I have seen a short by Griffith before, but this is his first feature for me.)

    I tend to mix up my method for choosing films each year, but for 2021 I’ve retained one thing from last year — itself a legacy of the couple of years where I did two 12-film lists — and that’s to have six films ‘chosen for me’ via a consensus ranking of various “greatest movie” lists, and then to choose the other six myself from my massive unwatched disc pile. Inevitably, the latter seems to get influenced by films that piqued my interest in the former, but, eh, why not? (If you fancy a challenge, feel free to guess which six films belong to which selection process. Answers coming up.)

    The lists that contribute to the “poll of polls” selection can only be varied so much. I mean, there are probably thousands of such lists out there, but there are only a handful that are well known and respected (to one degree or another), and so I tend to use a lot of the same ones every year. You might think that makes which films appear a foregone conclusion — surely they’re the ones that narrowly missed out last year? — but things do change on some of these lists. For example, when I chose last year’s selection, Come and See was ranked 7th on Letterboxd; this year, it’s 2nd. That’s not an insignificant change: when I’m combining multiple lists, a jump like that at the top of a list could be the difference between inclusion and not quite making it. Besides, I do vary my lists and how I count them every year, precisely so as to keep things slightly unknowable.

    This year’s contributing lists were:

  • Letterboxd’s Official Top 250 Narrative Feature Films
  • IMDb’s Top Rated Movies (aka the IMDb Top 250)
  • the Reddit Top 250
  • Empire’s The 500 Greatest Movies of All Time (aka the Empire 500)
  • Empire’s The 100 Best Films of World Cinema
  • Sight & Sound’s 2012 poll, using the 250-film version listed on Letterboxd (the official list only goes to 100)

    A notable absentee this year is They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They?’s The 1,000 Greatest Films, itself a “poll of polls” that is therefore one of, if not the, definitive lists of greatest movies. That’s why I normally include it, and that normality is why I didn’t this year: it’s gone just for the sake of a change. In its place (sort of) is the Empire World Cinema list. It’s shorter than the others, so under my scoring system (which I’ll explain in a moment) it contributed somewhat less than the other lists. That means it served to tweak which foreign films got in, rather than acting to wipe out US/UK films — although, as it turns out, no US films made it through that way.

    So, each poll was scored out of 250 (250 points for 1st place, 249 for 2nd, etc), except the Empire World Cinema one, which was out of 100. Any film beyond 251st place on the Empire 500 earnt one point; and there were 10 additional points for each list a film appeared on (i.e. every film got 10 bonus points, because every film had to be on one list; but if it was on two it got 20, etc.) The full chart ended up including 230 films — that’s everything I hadn’t seen from the Letterboxd, IMDb, Reddit, and Empire World Cinema lists, plus those from the top 150 on Sight & Sound and the Empire 500 (by the time I got to those, I figured any films further down that weren’t on another list didn’t stand a chance; of course, I did include their rankings for all films that were on another list). Further to the plain scores, I also applied other rules — “no repeat directors” is the main one. I used to limit myself to films I already own, but not anymore; and I try to ensure variety in the kinds of films included, to get a spread of ages, countries, genres, etc.

    With all that considered, I think this is the first year I’ve simply accepted the films at the top of the chart without having to eliminate any. The only film to appear on all six lists was Come and See, so perhaps it’s no surprise that it came first with 810 points. Mind you, only one film appeared on five lists (Paris, Texas) and that came 17th, so being on fewer lists with higher ranks could beat merely appearing on many lists. In second place was La Dolce Vita with 647 points; third was Cinema Paradiso with 510; fourth was Pather Panchali with 502; fifth was Sátántangó with 461; and in sixth, just behind it with 460, was The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp. Regular readers (or those who’ve clicked and read some of the links in this article) may remember that Come and See and Sátántangó both qualified for the 2020 list, but were removed because new restorations were on the way. Those have now materialised: Come and See on a Criterion disc that I imported, and Sátántangó on very different UK and US discs (it’s also available to rent digitally, which is how I intend to view it).

    As for my ‘free choice’ films, three have a spot on that consensus ranking. They were La Haine (13th, 413 points), Sansho Dayu (16th, 398 points), and Aguirre, Wrath of God (38th, 262 points). You’ll note that none of those films are American, and so my only three picks that are not on the consensus ranking (The Birth of a Nation, Frankenstein, and Rain Man) are also my only three US films. Make of that what you will.

    I’ve spent most of 2021 so far working towards one self-imposed deadline after another, to get all of these end of year/new year posts done, so now I’m looking forward to catching up on other blogs — and actually watching some films!

  • The IMDb New Filmmaker Award 2020

    Last night on AMPLIFY!, FilmBath presented the 9th annual IMDb New Filmmaker Award, in which a trio of industry judges choose the best short film by a new filmmaker (clue’s in the name). The winner gets £1,000 cash, £1,000 in gear hire for their next project, a natty trophy, and an IMDb pin badge (normally only given to IMDb employees). If you missed the evening, never fear: the whole 90-minute event is available to rewatch for free, worldwide, here.

    Why would you watch an awards show after it’s happened? Well, in this case, you get to hear the judges’ musings on what makes a good film — and when those judges are BAFTA-nominated director Coky Giedroyc (The Virgin Queen, How to Build a Girl), Oscar-nominated and BAFTA-winning producer Amanda Posey (An Education, Brooklyn), and the CEO of IMDb, Col Needham, those are opinions worth listening to. Even better, you get to watch the five nominated shorts in full, and they’re good a bunch.

    But don’t just take my word for it: take my, er, word for it, in the form of these reviews…

    If you do intend to watch the awards, fair warning: I’m going to ‘spoil’ who won.

    Under the Full Moon

    Taking the films in the order they were shown, first up is Under the Full Moon (2020, Ziyang Liu, UK, English, 9 mins, ★★★★☆), about a guy who has his phone pickpocketed and decides to confront the mugger. The most noteworthy aspect here is the whole short is achieved in a single unbroken eight-minute take. I love stuff done in single long takes; at this point it’s a bit of a cliché to enjoy such things — a real film nerd kind of obsession — but, sod it, it’s still cool. To do a thriller storyline like that — something which requires management of tension and suspense, and of information being revealed at the right time in the right way — is even more impressive. You might say, “well, that’s what theatre is — a drama performed in ‘one take’”, but theatre doesn’t have to factor in camerawork; making sure we’re seeing the right stuff at the right time, framed in the right ways. Under the Full Moon manages every different element almost perfectly, the only real flaw coming right near the end, when the camera fails to clearly capture a phone screen with an incoming call, so the director resorts to a subtitle to make sure we get this final ironic twist. And that’s the other thing: this isn’t just a technical stunt, or an exercise in escalating suspense, but a dramatic work with some neatly-drawn character parts and a sense of dramatic irony. Really strong work.

    The winner (told you I’d spoil it) was Flush Lou (2020, Madison Leonard, USA, English, 9 mins, ★★★★★), and I entirely agree. It’s a black comedy about the reaction of three women to the death of a man: his daughter (who narrates), his wife, and his mother. It’s got a quirkiness that could be inappropriate, but the tone is juggled just right that it remains hilarious rather than at all distasteful. It’s there in the performances, the shot choices, the editing — the piece really works as a whole to hit precisely the right note. It might call to mind the work of someone like Wes Anderson, but it’s far from a rip-off; it also reminded me of certain just-off-reality American-suburbia-skewering TV shows, like The Riches or Suburgatory (I’m sure there are some more mainstream examples that are eluding my reach right now). Also, it manages to pack eight chapters into its eight minutes, without ever feeling like that’s an unnecessary affectation; if anything, it helps clarify the structure, which is exactly the kind of thing chapters are good for. A huge success all round.

    Flush Lou

    At the other end of the seriousness spectrum was the winner of the audience vote, The Monkeys on Our Backs (2020, Hunter Williams, New Zealand, English, 8 mins, ★★★★★), a documentary about the mental health of farmers in New Zealand. I think we often have a very positive view of New Zealand — they seem like nice people; their government is doing awesomely well; they make great movies; they’re good at rugby; and so on. But the country has one of the highest suicide rates in the developed world, and mental health problems disproportionately affect those living and working in isolated rural communities. This is not only a succinct explanation of the problems, with real-life examples as well as expert opinions, but also talks about the solutions, what help is out there and how it’s working. Plus it’s a beautifully shot film (some outtakes in black & white at the beginning show the fundamental quality underlying the colour photography in the rest of the film), with lovely views of countryside life, as if to help remind you that the world is a wonderful place. A wholly different film to Flush Lou, but an equally deserving winner.

    The shortest of this year’s five is Players (2020, Ava Bounds, UK, English, 3 mins, ★★★★☆), but that’s not the most noteworthy thing about it. This is: it was made by a 14-year-old. But you’d never guess, because it has a competency and, more strikingly, a surrealism that belies someone much more experienced. Heck, the sound design most reminded me of David Lynch! And the comparison goes beyond the sound work, with an ending that calls to mind some of Lynch’s work where nature and technology clash. Subtitled “a clearly confused film”, I think that was somewhat how the judges felt about its mix of retro costumes and music, computer-generated vocals, and a sci-fi sting in the tail. It’s the kind of film that clearly doesn’t work for everyone — just another way it’s a natural successor to Lynch, then. A 14-year-old making a competition-worthy short film is incredible in itself, but that it also merits so many comparisons to David fucking Lynch? Remarkable.

    The Monkeys on Our Backs

    The final film was Home (2020, Hsieh Meng Han, UK, English, 10 mins, ★★★☆☆), in which a girl living with her mother in a single room in a dingy apartment block finds the communal toilet locked, but then hears music coming from a nearby ventilation grill. Climbing through, she finds herself in a brightly-lit world of opulence, with people in elegant clothes dancing to genteel music, and an array of luscious food on offer. She even makes a friend. But then uptight officiousness arrives in the form of a stuffy manager, who refuses to let her use the toilet. It’s like a modern socially-conscious take on Alice in Wonderland, though I’m not sure what point it was ultimately making — kindness is nice and everyone deserves to be allowed to use the toilet?

    If any of that tickles your fancy, don’t forget you can still watch the whole event, free, here.

    Disclosure: I’m working for AMPLIFY! as part of FilmBath. However, all opinions are my own, and I benefit in no way (financial or otherwise) from you following the links in this post or making purchases.

    Blindspot 2020: What do you mean you haven’t seen…?

    The Blindspot challenge (for the benefit of those still unfamiliar with it) is where you pick 12 films you feel you should’ve seen but haven’t, then watch one a month throughout the year. I started doing this in 2013, calling it “What Do You Mean You Haven’t Seen…?” (WDYMYHS for short), but then someone else came up with the same notion independently and gave it a much snappier moniker, and that caught on.

    My fortunes with the Blindspot / WDYMYHS challenge have been up and down over the years. I’ll spare you a full potted history, but last year I set myself two lists of 12 films each and didn’t complete either — although between them I did watch 17 movies. I braved 24 films because for two years before that I’d done 22 and completed it with relative ease. So maybe I should aim for 24 again this year…

    …but I’m not going to. In the same way that the second half of 2019 was a bit unpredictable (leading to my failures), I’m not wholly sure what the future holds, so I’m going to rein it back to the original 12 and see how it goes. And besides, if I find 12 unchallenging then I’ve got the seven remaining films from last year I could move on to; plus one from 2015 that I never got round to. That’s a pretty big ‘buffer’ to work on.

    Now, I’ll jump ahead to the main event: the 12 films I must watch, in alphabetical order. Afterwards, I’ll explain how they were chosen.


    8½


    All Quiet on
    the Western Front
    All Quiet on the Western Front


    An American Werewolf
    in London
    An American Werewolf in London


    Andrei Rublev
    Andrei Rublev


    The Battle of Algiers
    The Battle of Algiers


    Do the Right Thing
    Do the Right Thing


    Fanny and Alexander
    Fanny and Alexander


    The French Connection
    The French Connection


    In the Mood for Love
    In the Mood for Love


    Ordet
    Ordet


    Ugetsu Monogatari
    Ugetsu Monogatari


    Under the Skin
    Under the Skin

    So, some people just pick their 12 films. When I did two lists, that’s what I did for one of them. But the rest of the time I’ve let consensus decide, by compiling “great film” lists in various different combinations to suggest the films other people feel I should’ve seen. I quite like both methods, so for 2020 I’ve picked six with one and half-a-dozen with the other. That said, my ‘free choice’ six were influenced by some of the films that didn’t quite make it into the ‘preselected’ six. (Feel free to guess which films belong in which six. Fun and games! Answers in a mo.)

    This year, the selection process involved the following lists:

  • Letterboxd’s Official Top 250 Narrative Feature Films
  • IMDb’s Top Rated Movies (aka the IMDb Top 250)
  • The 1,000 Greatest Films by They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They? (aka TSPDT)
  • the Reddit Top 250
  • Empire’s The 500 Greatest Movies of All Time (aka the Empire 500)
  • Sight & Sound’s The 100 Greatest Films of All Time (2012 edition)

    Because TSPDT takes Sight & Sound’s voter ballots as its foundation, I counted the Letterboxd scores twice as a way of evening it out a bit and not letting S&S be too dominant. It only worked up to a point. For example, Harakiri is ranked 4th on the Letterboxd list and 33rd on IMDb, but it’s a lowly 647th on TSPDT and nowhere on the other lists. So as I started adding the lists together (in the order I’ve credited them above), Harakiri was right at the top, then gradually fell right back. But that’s kinda the point of counting multiple lists: it’s getting a consensus of consensuses. Letterboxd users clearly think Harakiri is one of the very greatest films of all time; IMDb voters aren’t quite as enthusiastic, but it’s up there; everyone else… not so much.

    But it’s not just about the raw numbers of which films top the list: I have some rules. Chief among them, I’ve previously only selected films I already own on DVD/Blu-ray or have access to on Netflix/Prime/etc. This year, I let the door open to anything, though I did first make sure I could reasonably source a copy. So, top of the list was Andrei Rublev, followed by Federico Fellini’s . Next, in a somewhat ironic turn of events, my new “open door” policy actually led to some high-scoring films being eliminated. While sourcing copies of Come and See and Sátántangó, I discovered that both have recently been restored and are expected to get Blu-ray releases in 2020. You might think that’s perfect timing, but what if one or both slipped to 2021, or were insanely overpriced? So I decided to adopt a “wait and see” approach. Maybe they’ll be on 2021’s list.

    Next in the running was In the Mood for Love, followed by Ordet. Then my only still-standing regular rule came into play: one film per director. That meant the next film — La Dolce Vita, which shares Fellini with — was cut. After that is actually where Sátántangó was ranked (keeping up? I don’t blame you if you’re not), followed by Mirror — but Mirror is directed by Andrei Tarkovsky, the same as Andrei Rublev, so out it went too. But now we do finally reach the end: the next two high-scorers were Fanny and Alexander and The Battle of Algiers, which (as you’ll know from their inclusion in the list above) were fine.

    And with those six settled upon, I turned to picking six more from my DVD/Blu-ray collection. There’s less to say about these: I made a long-list of 127 ‘maybe’s; narrowed it down to 38 ‘very possibly’s; and then picked six, based on a mix of intuition about what I ‘should’ have seen and things I’ve personally been wanting to see for a while. I did also try to keep some variety in terms of the films’ ages, genres, countries, and languages… but almost all the ones that made my short-list were in English, so, er, oops. It meant Ugetsu Monogatari was an easy choice, anyway; and I was sure to include some British films (or British co-productions, at least); and Do the Right Thing may be American, but it’s also the only one of the 12 from a black filmmaker. (No female directors, though, which is an unfortunate oversight.) Still, on balance there are more films not in English (seven vs five), and the B&W/colour split is exactly 50/50.

    Four of my six ‘free choices’ do appear further down the rankings I’d compiled. That’s coincidence rather than design, although I suppose seeing them on the list might’ve helped push them to the forefront of my mind. Those four were Do the Right Thing (18th), Ugetsu Monogatari (23rd), An American Werewolf in London (127th), and The French Connection (162nd). I don’t know about you, but I was a little surprised All Quiet on the Western Front didn’t make it. Well, of the lists I’ve used this year the only one it’s on is TSPDT, at a lowly 742nd. (I’m not surprised Under the Skin wasn’t on any, what with it being so recent. For one thing, it hadn’t even been released when the Empire and Sight & Sound polls were conducted.)

    And that’s all that thoroughly over-explained.

    (Did anyone read all this?) (Hello future-me, who surely will re-read all this at some point, sad egocentric that I am.)

    Finally, if I manage those 12 and want more, the eight left outstanding from 2015 and 2019 are…

  • All About Eve
  • All the President’s Men
  • The Breakfast Club
  • Ikiru
  • The Ipcress File
  • The Royal Tenenbaums
  • The Thin Red Line
  • To Kill a Mockingbird

    This is hardly a chore — there are some great-looking movies there — so hopefully I’ll find time for all 20. It would only be fitting, given the year…

  • Shorts of FilmBath Festival 2019

    Across the 2019 FilmBath Festival programme, 46 short films were screened — 23 attached to feature films, 17 at a dedicated ‘Shorts Showcase’, and six at the IMDb New Filmmaker Award ceremony (five in competition, one the film made from the winning screenplay of the IMDb Script to Screen Award). I saw 14 of these, one way or another, and have compiled my reviews into this (commensurately long) post.

    First, the five films that competed for the IMDb New Filmmaker Award.

    Gladiators on Wheels

    The winner chosen by the judges was Gladiators on Wheels (2019, Souvid Datta, UK & India, Hindi, 6 mins, ★★★★☆), a documentary about the ‘Well of Death’ — an attraction at Indian circuses where daredevils ride motorbikes and drive cars around 60ft vertical walls, literally defying gravity. It’s both impressive and terrifying, especially considering they’re doing it without any kind of safety gear — no helmets or padded suits here, never mind nets or something. But the film isn’t just about the actual act, also touching on the way of life, and how it’s fading. It’s a well-shot bit of filmmaking, especially impressive when you learn it was all filmed in a single day. The script was compiled from interviews with the drivers, then voiced by actors, but if anything it’s a little cliché — lots of talk of “living on the edge” and how dangerous it is but how they wouldn’t have it any other way, etc. Still, like many of the best documentaries, it’s a fascinating glimpse at another world.

    The audience at the ceremony also got a say, favouring Hey You (2019, Jared Watmuff, UK, English, 5 mins, ★★★★★), which is about gay men hooking up via text messaging. At first it feels like a lightly comedic bit of fun, possibly with some drama in that one of the men is closeted, but then it develops into something more serious. It’s a very well made short, in particular the shot choices and editing at the climax, which combine to produce some incredibly striking imagery. It’s tricky to say why it’s such an effective and vital film without spoiling where it goes in that finale, but it’s a meaningful piece that’s worth seeing if you can. It would’ve been a worthy winner.

    Facing It

    The three other finalists were … Tight Spot (2018, Kevin Haefelin, USA & Switzerland, English, 4 mins, ★★★★☆), a comedy bit about a shoe shiner and a suspicious customer, which was amusing albeit a little predictable; although it did, again, look nice … When Voices Unite (2017, Lewis Coates, UK, English, 4 mins, ★★★☆☆), a mini tech thriller that was suitably tense in places, but really needed some kind of twist or final development to give it a reason to exist … and Facing It (2018, Sam Gainsborough, UK, 8 mins, ★★★★★), which presented an imaginative visualisation of a relatable social difficulty. Rendered in a mix of live-action and stop-motion animation, it’s by far the most technically impressive short here, but all in service of telling its story and conveying the requisite emotion. Another one that would’ve been a more than worthy winner.

    (You can watch Gladiators on Wheels and When Voices Unite on Vimeo. Sadly the others aren’t publicly available, although there is a short making-of for Facing It which I recommend for appreciating the filmmaking skill on display there.)

    Of the other shorts I saw, my favourite was definitely Pleased to Eat You! (2019, Adrian Hedgecock, UK, English, 7 mins, ★★★★★). It’s a beautifully designed and hilariously funny musical comedy short… about cannibalism! Its colourful and clever staging evokes the handmade movie-reality worlds seen in films by the likes of Michel Gondry or Charlie Kaufman, while the full-blown song-and-dance number is like the best of old-fashioned Hollywood musicals, albeit twinned with a pun-filled cheekiness in its subject matter. An absolute delight from beginning to end.

    Pleased to Eat You!

    If I were to rank all the other shorts too, I’d probably put Woman in Stall (2018, Dusty Mancinelli & Madeleine Sims-Fewer, Canada & UK, English, 10 mins, ★★★★☆) in second place. A very timely thriller, it sees a woman innocently enter a public bathroom cubicle to get changed, only for a man to turn up outside and start chatting, her wariness of him trapping her inside. Is he a predator she’s right to fear? Or is she just being paranoid? Part of the short’s cleverness lies in the way it plays with our emotions and expectations, swinging us back and forth into where our trust should lie. Working with a limited setting, it’s neatly shot — never dull, but without going OTT to try to jazz things up — and gets edge-of-your-seat tense as it goes on. Regular readers will know how much I love a “single location thriller”, and this is a perfect mini example of the form.

    Quince: Fifteen (2018, Peiman Zekavat, UK & Peru, Spanish, 10 mins, ★★★★☆) is a real-time single-shot drama about a 15-year-old Peruvian schoolgirl whose carefree PE lesson turns into a tumult of life-upending dismay in just a few minutes following an unexpected discovery on social media. It’s another timely issue, and this is mostly a well-made short — I do love a single take, and the real-time aspect puts you in her shoes quite effectively. Unfortunately, it’s a bit inconclusive — it just stops, with no hint of how she’s going to deal with her new problem longer term, or what’s going to happen to her beyond a handful of initial reactions. It’s not bad as it is, but there’s also more to be told here.

    Quince: Fifteen

    On a snowy winter’s day, a postie makes his rounds on a London estate. Meanwhile, one woman anxiously awaits his arrival… With its brief running time, Special Delivery (2018, Robert Hackett, UK, 4 mins, ★★★★☆) almost feels like an extended edit of one of those soppy commercials the big retailers always put out at Christmas — you know, the ones that have just started to pop up on the telly. Nicely shot in 2.35:1, it evokes a Christmassy feel without being overtly festive, and manages to avoid becoming quite as saccharine as those adverts, instead earning the story’s sentimentality. A sweet little slice of romance.

    Coming just behind those frontrunners would be Spooning (2019, Rebecca Applebaum, Canada, English, 6 mins, ★★★★☆), a one-woman-show of a mockumentary about a theatre actress who specialises in playing spoons. Not “playing the spoons”, like a musical instrument, but anthropomorphised spoons, like in Beauty and the Beast. It’s basically a comedy sketch as a short film, but it was largely funny so I don’t begrudge it that.

    I’m six films deep into this loose ranking now, but that’s not to discredit Allan + Waspy (2019, James Miller, UK, English, 8 mins, ★★★★☆). It’s about two working class schoolboys who hang out in the woods on their way to school each day, observing a bird’s nest full of chicks hatching and maturing — but one of the lads clearly has problems at home, and it all takes a very dark turn. Initially it’s a likeable slice-of-modern-life tale, managing to find an element of old-fashioned bucolic childhood even in a modern inner-city setting, and unfurling at a gentle pace by mixing shots of the surrounding world into the boys’ activities. But then there’s a thoroughly glum ending. It kinda ruined my day, but I liked it as a film nonetheless.

    Cumulus

    A young Welsh girl runs off from her dad and encounters a talking gull who’s worried about his kids leaving home in animation Cumulus (2018, Ioan Holland, UK, English, 9 mins, ★★★☆☆). Naturally, they both learn something from each other. It’s always nice to see 2D animation nowadays, especially when it’s as prettily designed as this, though it’s a shame that some of the movement is a little stilted and animatic-y. It’s also a bit longer/slower than it needs to be, but it’s still mostly charming.

    Perhaps the most disappointing short was My Theatre (2019, Kazuya Ashizawa, Japan, 5 mins, ★★★☆☆), a documentary about an 81-year-old in Fukushima who closed his cinema 55 years ago but keeps it alive as a kind of museum. That’s mainly what I gathered from reading blurbs before viewing, though, because the short itself lacks any real context or conclusion, just presenting vignettes of life in this rundown old movie house. It’s perfectly pleasant, but ultimately unenlightening. My Theatre is listed on other festivals’ websites as running 20 minutes, so perhaps the five-minute version submitted to FilmBath is just an excerpt — that’s certainly what it felt like. A longer edit, with more of a sense of why this is a place and person worth observing, would’ve been better.

    Finally, Terra (2019, Daniel Fickle, USA, English, 6 mins, ★★☆☆☆), which received some very negative feedback from a few audience members who didn’t feel it was appropriate for the film it was screened before, Honeyland. That’s a documentary about a traditional European way of beekeeping on the wane, whereas Terra is ostensibly about the tumultuous romantic relationship between two young Americans. The clue is in the title, though: it’s a metaphor for humankind’s relationship with Earth. Personally, I thought the analogy was a bit on the nose, but it seems others missed it entirely. The photography is quite pretty, in a no-budget-indie-drama kinda way, but other than that I didn’t think there was much to it. Other members of the FilmBath team were more impressed, so I think it’s fair to say it’s a divisive little number.

    Terra

    As I said at the start, there were 46 shorts screened at the festival, so this is just a small sampling of what was on offer (less than a third, to be precise). Although I didn’t love them all, I did enjoy most — and considering they would have entirely passed me by were it not for the festival, I’ll definitely take the handful of letdowns as part of the parcel for getting the good stuff.