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Oscars 2022 Predictions

Oscar week is here and if you’re anything like me, it snuck up on you! This year I was really hoping to do a big old write up of all sorts of categories, but I am running up against quite a few deadlines and still trying to do the obligations that no one expects from me but me. So here we are! Six big categories to run through, my amateur opinion to run through them with. As ever, I am not responsible for you using my advice in any sweepstakes you may be involved in, especially because my own predictions have changed since I submitted my predictions at my work sweepstakes. But this is all a bit of fun, awards are pointless and nothing matters, especially because Belfast will win and ruin any good will I had for the ceremony. So hell to it, let’s predict wildly! And while we’re at it, let’s lament those potential better winners! Oscars!

Best Supporting Actress

Will Win: Kirsten Dunst for The Power of the Dog

Should Win: Jessie Buckley for The Lost Daughter

Setting the trend early, the Best Supporting Actress category is filled with some incredibly worthy nominees and some that, while not necessarily bad, feel puzzling. Chief of these examples is Judi Dench for Belfast. Dench is a filler vote, someone for voters to choose because they know who she is and not because she actually gave one of the five best supporting performances of the year. There was room for so many other incredible nominees to break through, but instead Dench’s wobbly accent and Cats-PTSD inducing monologue made it. She’s a great actor, but that doesn’t mean all of her performances deserve recognition. I also don’t feel strongly about Aunjanue Ellis in King Richard, though that may be because the film itself leaves me so cold. She has one great monologue in a kitchen, it will be the clip they show at the ceremony, I don’t want to besmirch a performance from a film I barely remember.

Now we get to three amazing performances from three actors who I think may stand a chance at taking the trophy. Ariana DeBose seems to be the bookies favourite at the moment, for her joyous performance as Anita in West Side Story. She was a totally new actor to me when I saw the film, but her and (the cruelly snubbed) Mike Faist have been my strongest impressions since seeing West. DeBose completely lit up the screen and has frankly earnt her place here for the “America” number alone. Something in my gut though says that Kirsten Dunst will pip her to the post, for The Power of the Dog. I feel like I am way overestimating the winning power of the Dog (classic me, betting on losing dogs), but this feels like the right time for Dunst. After decades in the industry, she has finally secured her first Oscar nomination and it’s for a great role. What should be the cliched “housewife turns to substance abuse” type role is lent a delicate fading of hope by Dunst, in what is my favourite turn from her since Fargo. Speaking of Fargo, the season four star Jessie Buckley is my favourite performer of the bunch for her work in The Lost Daughter. I think Buckley is one of the greatest working actors today and she finally gets Oscar recognition for a character who has to be understandable to the audience despite also making irrational and unlikable decisions. Despite being unlikable though, there is something in Buckley that draws us deep into the character and her work lends the film an anchor from which Colman can work in the present day sections. Her win here seems unlikely, but I can live with that because Buckley will almost certainly be back again to pick up that trophy some other year.

Best Supporting Actor

Will Win: Troy Kotsur for CODA

Should Win: Kodi Smit-McPhee for The Power of the Dog

This is a weird category, in that I think that every actor in the category is a really great actor, but not all are giving particularly great performances in their nominated films. Case in point, Ciarán Hinds for Belfast. Hinds is an actor who has had a wide and brilliant career, even giving good performances in delightful trash like Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance. However, he is in Belfast. We’ll talk more about the film itself later, but his role is kind of thankless, just off to the side. I guess he’s one of the best things in the film, but that is low praise. Similarly, Being the Ricardos is a bad movie, yet the brilliant J.K. Simmons is in it. He got nominated because his character appears one note and yet opens up to show another side. But also, he’s incredibly watchable, because he’s an actor who can string bronze out of hay. Again, he is one of the best parts of a film that is not good.

The other three actors however are all very worthy nominees for the roles they’ve played. Two of those three are from The Power of the Dog. Jesse Plemons has never given a performance I didn’t like and this is no exception. He’s a great counter balance to Cumberbatch’s lead, offering a genuine loveliness. One line delivery from him properly warmed my heart, in ways you wouldn’t expect from a film like this. Also not being what is expected is Kodi Smit-McPhee, an actor who has never wowed me but has a knack for choosing films I like (one day Dawn of the Planet of the Apes will get the acclaim it deserves). In Power, his character is a coiled spring, slowly unravelling until he pops. It’s a treat to watch and his performance is my favourite one of this category. For a while, Smit-McPhee was the frontrunner but at the last minute, it seems like Troy Kotsur will take it for CODA. This is no crime. CODA is not a film I am crazy on, but Kotsur is absolutely brilliant. His brutish presence hides a softness and while it’s hardly a big secret, it’s one that made me smile to see appear. He is funny and gross and has the biggest emotional moments of the whole film. If CODA deserves recognition for anything, it’s for Troy Kotsur.

Best Actress

Will Win: Nicole Kidman for Being the Ricardos

Should Win: Olivia Colman for The Lost Daughter

I am not exactly enamoured with this field of nominees. Again, it’s a selection of very talented actors but absent of any career best roles. I will get it out of the way now, I haven’t seen The Eyes of Tammy Faye, so have no idea if Jessica Chastain is any good in it. She wears a lot of prosthetics, plays a real person and has been playing the awards season game well. I have a manager who thinks she’ll take the prize but I’m doubtful personally. I’m also going to be controversial, I don’t think Kristen Stewart is that great in Spencer. It hurts me to say that because the film has not seen the love it deserves, but I found Stewart’s performance (the sole Oscar nomination for the film) alienating in all the wrong ways. She has also not been getting much recognition this season, so I don’t think a win is on the cards, but her performance of Diana is one that will attract many voters regardless. Penelope Cruz is deserving of her place here though, for great work in Parallel Mothers. The film is a rollercoaster of melodramatic emotions and without someone to latch onto, many audiences would feel lost. Cruz is exactly that figure though, someone who the audience can latch onto with ease. There is something about her in Spanish speaking roles where she suddenly is an amazing actress (especially her collaborations with Almodovar), which is a trend Parallel Mothers thankfully falls into.

It is a toss up about who my favourite actress of the race is, between Cruz and Olivia Colman in The Lost Daughter, but I think I settle on Colman. She plays the same character as Jessie Buckley (talked about a little earlier up the page), yet does so in a way that feels totally unique. I think it’s a credit to the two actors to say that they make the same character feel totally separate and of course, Colman brings her best with her interpretation. She bubbles under the surface, being hard to read and yet paradoxically never too hard to understand. She’s not as great as in The Favourite, but she’s still the best of this bunch. Unfortunately though, I have a gut feeling that Nicole Kidman will win for Being the Ricardos. I can’t put into words why I think she’ll win, but I just feel it. That’s a special shame because her performance is terrible and exactly the kind of performance I hate. She plays an existing (and beloved) figure, looks unrecognisable and has multiple showy monologues. It hits you over the head with capital a Acting and I never believed it for a second. Yet I still feel like it’s where the Academy will lean. Let that show you how low my estimations of that strange little group are.

Best Actor

Will Win: Will Smith for King Richard

Should Win: Benedict Cumberbatch for The Power of the Dog

In most years, the Best Actress category is the one with the performances I like the best whereas Best Actor is just men being gruff and playing historical figures. In a move of progressiveness though, this year the Best Actress category is uninteresting and Best Actor is full of some genuine gold. Not among that genuine gold is Javier Bardem for Being the Ricardos. Again, I don’t like this film and its reliance on big Acting, that abandons subtlety or grace for long monologues about old actors. I’m happy Bardem is getting a chance to play roles other than weird bad guys, but this is not the direction I want him to move in. We’ll brush over this briefly, I have not seen The Tragedy of Macbeth yet. I’ll try and see it before the actual ceremony but it has me intrigued. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to have captured the attention of the Academy, as Denzel Washington is one of very few nominations for the film. I wish him luck, but he’s another actor who is here so often that a loss won’t be a big blow.

Big three time. Isn’t Andrew Garfield great? Just, in everything. He’s done stuff I liked more than Tick Tick Boom but this remains an impressive display of his talent. It is literally all singing, all dancing and so while it’s showy, what it shows is that Garfield is very talented indeed. He’d be a great outsider winner. That almost certainly won’t happen though, as one of these two gentlemen will take it. Current favourite is Will Smith for King Richard. I don’t like this film and I’m also not crazy on Smith as an actor (apologies to anyone offended). This is certainly some of his best work, but from me that’s low praise. But, he’s overdue an Oscar, maybe this is his year, before I Am Legend 2 or Bright 2 obliterates the actors existing good will. I’d personally go with the early frontrunner Benedict Cumberbatch for The Power of the Dog. He’s an actor who I’ve liked before but never been that crazy on, yet in this role I was totally absorbed by him. His character has this rough exterior and it fades through the film, allowing you to glimpse through at the layers crafted underneath. I have no doubts that another watch would reveal even more to this great performance, but I’ll just appreciate it this much for now.

Best Director

Will Win: Jane Campion for The Power of the Dog

Should Win: Ryûsuke Hamaguchi for Drive My Car

I wouldn’t always talk about Best Director in my Oscar predictions, but this year I feel like there’s actually decent reason to discuss this category as well as Best Picture. As ever, I should clarify that as an observer it’s always hard to break down what makes a great director, but I’ll do my best to justify why these directors do or don’t stand a chance in the running. We’ll start with everyone’s favourite menace to society Kenneth Branagh, nominated for Belfast. He is nominated alongside four complete titans in the field and for a film that feels almost accidentally made. The only reason he could win is because it does feel very much like a personal film from him, but I wouldn’t write that acceptance speech if I were Ken. Similarly, a win for Steven Spielberg seems unlikely, despite him being Steven Spielberg. Don’t get me wrong, West Side Story is a cracking little film, but it has been very underseen and is Spielberg being the usual brilliant Spielberg. He’s great, but that’s no surprise. Similarly low in the odds for running is Paul Thomas Anderson for Licorice Pizza. It’s a film that has been really well loved by many and one that demonstrates the trademark attention to detail that PTA brings to all of his films. However, it feels like a lot of the hype has died down, we’ll see how well it does at the actual ceremony.

All but guaranteed to walk away with Best Director is Jane Campion for The Power of the Dog. There’s a lot of cynical reasons for this. Her name has been front and centre for the marketing of the film, it’s a way of celebrating a Netflix film without letting it win Best Picture and it looks progressive having a woman win Best Director two years in a row. There is also an uncynical reason for Campion winning and that is that she has crafted a brilliant film. She has wrangled in top tier editing, cinematography and performances, all in a film that feels incredibly controlled. It’s hard as an outsider to know what else to credit directors for other than that. However, Campion is not my choice. Instead, Ryûsuke Hamaguchi is my choice for the miraculous Drive My Car. Like Campion’s film, control is the word. This film is three hours long, yet somehow feels perfectly balanced. The longer a film is, the more it has to justify every minute and yet justify Hamaguchi does. I would not cut a single scene. I love Drive My Car and am backing it in every race this year, but this is one category where its loss would not feel a tragedy. Four titans (and one Branagh) enter the thunderdome, only one can leave.

Best Picture

Will Win: Belfast

Should Win: Drive My Car

It is the one everyone scrolls down to read every year, because it’s the only one that matters! Unfortunately, it’s not exactly a selection to set my soul on fire. There’s some good stuff, sure, but we have to shovel our way through the shit before we get to it, and even then we may discover yet more shit. Speaking of, Don’t Look Up! I don’t like this film and I don’t really know anyone who does. Yet, it seems to have some swell of support behind it. If it won, it would be pretty much the funniest possible outcome, causing an immense shitstorm through all sections of the internet. I am almost rooting for it. Not as bad but more unlikely a winner, King Richard is nominated for Best Picture. How? Moving on. CODA is being touted by many as the current favourite, but I am prepared to once again underestimate this film and its odds. It does nothing for me aside from a few nice scenes and some great performances, yet many like it. There’s a chance of victory, I’d rather something else win though, a win would seriously damage the films legacy when much greater films are in contention.

We now start to move more towards worthy nominees, but ones that also don’t stand a chance. Case in point, West Side Story. It’s gorgeous, an entertaining watch and a take on material that has previously won Oscars. However, it stands no chance. Dune also stands no chance. It’s a brilliant blockbuster made with genuine craft, yet it is big space nonsense. Maybe when Dune: Part Two comes out it will pull a Return of the King and get enough awards for the whole franchise, but this first entry will have to be happy with some technical awards through the night. Licorice Pizza is also a really well made and really likable movie, but it is rocking around with too many controversies in its boat to be a slam dunk of a choice. I liked it quite a lot when I first saw it, but I haven’t thought about the film much since, probably a bad omen. Elsewhere, we find Nightmare Alley, an excellent film made by an Oscar winner that no one saw and that most people who did see thought was too dark or too long. I, however, loved it. It’s big and indulgent, sure, but it’s a true craftsman getting to indulge so I was happy to be there. It also has no chance. So it goes.

Big three time! For most of this season, The Power of the Dog has been the Best Picture frontrunner, and why shouldn’t it be? It has big themes, it looks amazing and it just gives more and more to you as you continue to think about it. There are two reasons I don’t think it’ll get Best Picture though. First, its heat has faded. Awards season is all about riding the rollercoaster for as long as you can, but it seems like Power hasn’t quite got there. Second, it’s a Netflix film. That still feels like a big bridge for the Academy to cross, I don’t think we’re quite there yet. No, I think we’re at Belfast. I hate Belfast. The last three months have allowed a bad impression to only further sour, letting this poorly made film fester under the spotlight of my brain. But it’s in black and white, it plays songs people know and it has “crowd pleaser” written all over it in big gold font. With the way Best Picture is voted on, it is exactly the middle of the road kind of rubbish that could Green Book its way to a win. Exactly the kind of win that would shut out a worthy competitor like Drive My Car. It is the film in this race I am most in love with by a large margin, a patient ode to the transformative power of love, grief and art. The fact it could even be nominated here is honestly enough of a win for me, because it stands no chance of winning. But man, if it won, I would almost certainly throw my back out again celebrating, like I did with Parasite. It seems like my spine may be safe though, sadly.

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Reviews

Review – Heart Failure

I should get some disclosure out of the way upfront. Heart Failure is a short film made by Will Wightman, a dear friend of mine. We went to sixth form together, I visited him a few times at Uni and he has asked me to write this piece about his short film to try and spread the word about it. I also helped fund Heart Failure during its Kickstarter campaign, for which I am thanked in the credits. These things are important for me to get out of the way at the start because I believe in some form of integrity. If I don’t have a large readership and I barely have talent, I might as well have integrity. If I thought Heart Failure was not worth your time, I would not be writing this review about it. Fortunately, it is my absolute pleasure to indulge Will’s request because having seen his previous short films, I am delighted to say that this one is his best yet, a true delight from start to finish.

Also it’s a musical. Filmed during COVID-19. Made by students.

The story of Heart Failure may sound familiar to you. A guy (Frank) and a girl (Lizzie) meet in a club, have a one night stand and then fail to do that bit at the end where they don’t see each other again. They begin dating but Frank has to face up to having caught feelings after getting a “we need to talk” text from Lizzie. This is a short film, so we’re not exactly going for 2001: A Space Odyssey here, we can’t chart the evolution of mankind in ten minutes. What we can chart is the evolution of one man, having to go through a situation that a lot of young men go through, depicted in all its drunken highs and downbeat lows. Oh, and also it’s a musical. That was filmed during the COVID-19 lockdown that the UK had in 2021. Made by students. This is the time to realise how impressive everything about this film is.

The thing I love most about Heart Failure is it has this incredible propulsive energy, with each scene flowing together all buttery smooth like. Will has been a huge fan of Edgar Wright for as long as I’ve known him and you feel that through his editing style. It bounces and moves and it’s hard to know how else to describe it other than it is put together in a way that makes the ten minutes absolutely fly by. Helping the film go down easy is the music that fuels this musical, written by Will W and his partner in crime Will Marchant. The two have a history in assorted teenage bands but somehow this information feels like I’m underpreparing you for what to expect from their EDM musical. It’s not a genre of music I know much about, I’ll admit, but their take on it is very catchy. The songs have been going through my head ever since I saw the film and I’m very ready for them to start streaming online soon.

I should take a moment now and make sure I give massive credit to all of the cast and crew who helped make Heart Failure the triumph it is. I keep referring to Will because it’s easy, he’s the director and my mate, but he has surrounded himself with people who are just as (if not even more) talented than he is. I’ve already mentioned Will Marchant, also doing duty as the director of photography and giving Will W someone to go insane with. While the two of them do their thing behind the scenes, their cast work magic in front of the camera. Leon Newman leads as Frank and is fab, Izzie Fryman leaves a real impression with her fleeting performance as Lizzie, but my favourite of the cast is Harry Hancock as Ali. They have the smallest role of the three but get to play deliciously into and against genre convention, making the very most of every second they’re onscreen. These five had help from countless others, but to name a few there’s Cleo Yeomans as producer, Georgia Cunningham as 1st assistant director and Adam Pemberton as 1st assistant camera. It’s hard as a viewer to place who behind the scenes is responsible for what part of the final product, so I just wanted to throw out a couple of names as a way of saying “everyone here clearly did a great job because the film just works”.

I found myself struck by the immense passion Heart Failure is filled with.

As one final note, I found myself struck by the immense passion Heart Failure is filled with. I mentioned it at the start, but I visited Will a few times while he was studying in Falmouth and watching his film, you feel this overpowering adoration for the town. The production didn’t have the budget to create sets or even borrow someone else’s set, so it’s all filmed in and around Falmouth. A couple of shots of the horizon particularly capture the magic of this magical town and it certainly separates this film from Will’s previous Cambridge set ones. The humour of those films remain but with the change in location, there comes too a slight change in tone. I know this isn’t deliberate because despite my recommendation he still hasn’t seen it, but there’s a hint of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind to the plot, in which we’re encouraged to celebrate poor and cyclical decision making in the face of love. It’s not heavy or even unfamiliar feeling, just a new wrinkle of emotional complexity being added and feeling right at home.

Like I’ve said, take my opinion with a pinch of salt but I love this film. The fact it exists is a minor miracle and therefore the fact that it’s this good does force me to consider the fact that Will Wightman may have sold his soul to whatever the filmmaking equivalent of the devil is. I cannot recommend enough checking it out. It’s only ten minutes, it’s a hell of a lot of fun and Will would seriously appreciate the support. If you are interested, the film is embedded below, give it a look!

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Oscars 2022 Nomination Predictions

As the year continues to lurch on and we fail to be wiped out by a disaster, either man-made or natural, we approach one of lifes few certainties; the Oscars will arrive and the nominations will be delighting, underwhelming and frustrating all at once. While we wait for the big moment to arrive in just six short days time, it’s fun to predict how disappointing the results will be. I do this every year and I’ll be honest, it’ll be hard to top the 100% success rate of last years predictions, especially with the very unpredictable slate of this year. This year though, you can still expect the usual mix of me grumbling about bad films doing well, sheepishly predicting incredible things for films I haven’t seen (but promise to have seen by the time of the final predictions) and then trying to push for some stuff that has no chance in hell in an awards ceremony not run by deviant freaks like myself. Buckle in, guess along and hope for the worst for Belfast with me!

Best Supporting Actor

Likely Bets:

Kodi Smit-McPhee for The Power of the Dog

Jamie Dornan for Belfast

Jared Leto for House of Gucci

Unlikely But Worthy:

Mike Faist for West Side Story

When it comes to Oscar predictions, the general stance I take is expect the worst but hope for the best. We will get to that corduroy elephant in the room in a moment. As for the other potential nominess, Kodi Smit-McPhee stands a chance at being nominated for The Power of the Dog, a film I have not seen. However, Netflix are putting its weight behind the film in marketing and Smit-McPhee fits the trend of being a young performer who could score a first nomination for a film that is well liked by many. Another classic narrative is the redemption arc, which Jamie Dornan could be looking for, bouncing back from the Fifty Shades films with Belfast. As you have probably worked out by now, I do not like Belfast, but Dornan is one of the few things I do like, his nomination would not be bad news at all. What would be bad news is Jared Leto getting nominated for his “work” on House of Gucci. I like the film more than most, but Leto seems to be deliberately sabotaging the film with his performance. And yet, his work is captivating people, he’s already picked up awards nominations, including from the prestigious Screen Actors Guild. Leto’s performance is the kind of one that should only get nominated when it’s a weak selection, but if he gets a nomination and Mike Faist doesn’t, something terrible has happened. West Side Story is a big film full of big performances, but I was swept away most by Faist. Every scene where he wasn’t on screen, I started to slip away. He is the heart of the film and should be recognised for his stellar work, more so than gibbering whale buffoon Jared Leto.

Best Supporting Actress

Likely Bets:

Ariana DeBose for West Side Story

Caitríona Balfe for Belfast

Kirsten Dunst for The Power of the Dog

Unlikely But Worthy:

Cate Blanchet for Nightmare Alley

I was just waxing lyrical about Mike Faist in West Side Story, but if I were to have a second favourite actor in the film, it would be Ariana DeBose. Again, it’s the narrative of a newcomer breaking onto the scene, but DeBose is sensational and lights up the screen with her singing, dancing and comparatively less flashy acting. Her expected nomination would be well deserved. Like with the supporting actor category, we can expect another appearance from Belfast in the form of Caitríona Balfe. She’s good, I guess. I dunno, it’s hard for me to talk about Belfast, such little about it inspires joy in me. This will just be another nomination for the pile. My final sure bet is Kirsten Dunst for The Power of the Dog. She’s in the classic category of being an actress away from the awards spotlight for a while (because no one saw her in Fargo apparently) and so no, I haven’t seen her film yet, but she’s reliably great in most stuff I’ve seen her in, I’ll predict a nomination for her. If I could squeeze another actress in, I’d go for Cate Blanchett in Nightmare Alley. This isn’t a totally unreasonable outcome but I think this and her role in Don’t Look Up will split votes, which is a huge shame because her work in Nightmare is some of the best she’s ever done. She’s a femme fatale who rips up the screen and casts this totally intoxicating sexual energy over Bradley Cooper’s character. I absolutely adore this performance, I want the best for Blanchett here, but I’ll settle for a Don’t Look Up nomination because it at least means more recognition for one of our great living actors.

Best Actor

Likely Bets:

Will Smith for King Richard

Benedict Cumberbatch for The Power of the Dog

Andrew Garfield for tick, tick… BOOM!

Unlikely But Worthy:

Nicolas Cage for Pig

There’s something about the Best Actor category which always seems to reward exactly the wrong kind of performances (looking at you Rami Malek and Gary Oldman) when there’s some brilliant and patient work out there. Case in point, Will Smith for King Richard. I found the film totally forgettable and I also wasn’t crazy on Smith, but it’s the closest he’s done to respectable work in a likable film in years, he’ll get a nomination. Benedict Cumberbatch will probably also get a nomination for The Power of the Dog because apparently every actor in this film will. He does an accent, it’s been a while since his last nomination, why not? And speaking of why not, who fancies a musical? Andrew Garfield hadn’t professionally sung before making tick tick… BOOM! and that fact alone could get him the nomination, because Oscar voters love an underdog story. Plus, he is genuinely good, so he’d deserve the nomination, only his second in a really impressive career for a young actor. But let’s put our hands together and pray for Nic Cage to see some justice for Pig. Cage has done so many great performances that it would feel dishonest to say Pig is his best, but it is up there for me even so. If nothing else, it’s the only performance of his that has made me cry and while I don’t know if the voting body will have had the same experience, I can only hope they do, giving this quietly hulking performance from a master of his craft the respect it deserves.

Best Actress

Likely Bets:

Kristen Stewart for Spencer

Nicole Kidman for Being the Ricardos

Lady Gaga for House of Gucci

Unlikely But Worthy:

Agathe Rousselle for Titane

The slightly funny, slightly sad thing about the Best Actress category is that the nominees here very rarely line up with the nominees for Best Picture, always something to bear in mind when making predictions, and also something for someone much smarter than me to analyse in huge depth. A perfect example of that trend is Kristen Stewart for Spencer. Though there’s a chance she could still be snubbed, her performance as a recognisable public figure is total awards catnip and the reasons I’m not a huge fan of the performance are exactly the reasons voters will like it. An even better example of this nomination trend is Nicole Kidman for Being the Ricardos. Have you seen this film? No. I also haven’t. Someone probably did. But Nicole Kidman is in it, wears heavy makeup and pretends to be a recognisable public figure. Catnip time. Different catnip comes in the form of Lady Gaga in House of Gucci. Her accent is all over the place and the film itself is messy to say the least, but she’s a real firecracker. Gaga stole a lot of attention with her last push for awards glory and while I don’t know if this one will be successful in the end, a nomination is all but guaranteed. All but guaranteed not to happen is a nomination for Agathe Rousselle’s work on Titane. I’ll get to the film in a minute, but it has essentially been shut out of pretty much the entire ceremony. Not a surprise but a disappointment regardless, because Rousselle will not get the love she deserves for a performance that is genuinely transformative and transcendental in ways that the other three are only on a surface level. The things she does in Titane are incredible and if Oscar voters won’t bang that drum, I will. She’s amazing, so is Titane, but you know my thoughts on that grand sexy nightmare already.

Best Picture

Likely Bets:

Belfast

Licorice Pizza

West Side Story

The Power of the Dog

Don’t Look Up

The Tragedy of Macbeth

Unlikely But Worthy:

Titane

Red Rocket

It’s the one you scrolled down to the bottom of the post to read! Best Picture! I think it’ll be one of those years where so many excellent films are passed on so that a handful of mediocre efforts can sneak in but there’s always a few diamonds, no matter how rough the rough is. One such diamond is not Belfast, a film that is bad. I don’t get it, but people are lapping it up. It is a film that is good in one way, by which I mean it’s good at convincing people that it’s good. It is obviously the frontrunner for Best Picture. I think Licorice Pizza will also be nominated, a film that is much more worthy. It has issues, ones that I understand some people struggle to see past, but it’s fabulously crafted and very easy to watch, but it will eventually win pretty much nothing. Speaking of fabulous craft, West Side Story! It’s Spielberg, it’s a great big musical and it’s based on a film that already has Oscar history. There’s a chance it might not get nominated but it’s not a big one.

Into the streaming section of the predictions, a section created by me accidentally while writing this (the subconscious works in mysterious ways). There are two Netflix movies I think will be in contention. First is The Power of the Dog, apparently the greatest film I’ve never seen. It is this year’s big prestige movie from the service and it has a big marketing push. Never underestimate the spending power of Netflix. But an outsider is Don’t Look Up, which everyone (including me, actually, for once) watched over Christmas. It has half of Hollywood in it and can be taken as a well meaning if unhelpful warning about climate change, so again, catnip. If Vice can get nominated, this film can too. Finally, I think The Tragedy of Macbeth stands a chance at nomination. I was either thinking this or CODA from Apple but Macbeth feels more like a safe bet. It’s a Shakespeare adaptation, made by a frequently nominated director, starring frequently nominated actors. I haven’t seen it yet, but why not, seems like it ticks a lot of boxes (this is me being very cynical, I do quite want to see it).

I’m not in the business of safe bets though, I want us to worship weird shit, the weirdest of all being Titane. It has not made the shortlist for Best International Feature and even before then, Drive My Car was the film most likely to break out of that category. But Titane owns my heart. It goes to places no other film does and does them in ways that makes me feel emotionally confused in the good ways. Nothing is like Titane, which is why it’s my everything. I’d also like to see (and feel safe knowing I won’t see) Red Rocket get some love. It is a film whose protagonist is about as despicable as they come, but that’s the entire point. Sit back and marvel at what an incredible piece of shit Mikey Saber is, delivered to us in ways that are consistently funny and upsetting and scary. It is also incredibly divisive, exactly because its lead is so detestable. I get peoples objections, I just love the hot trash of the world too much to refuse falling into it. But it isn’t in black and white, scored by charming songs or nauseatingly nostalgic, so Belfast will take it all the way to the end instead. So it goes.

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End of Year Favourites, top 7

Top 7 – My Favourite Films of 2021

It’s the big one! The list that I spend my entire year building up to, so that people can look at it and validate all of the hours of my life I have spent watching films to get great taste. And while 2021 has proven to be another not great year in general, I think there’s been a lot of incredible films to distract us from all the everything. So incredible in fact, that even excellent films like Dune, Spencer and Judas and the Black Messiah have failed to crack the honourable mentions. As per usual, my rules are simple. It needs to have been released in the UK during 2021, it must be a feature film and this whole list is entirely subjective. You can find my full ranking of all the 2021 releases I saw here on my Letterboxd, which will allow you to judge me more thoroughly and understand which films didn’t make the cut because I didn’t see them. I’m also going to link to any posts I’ve written about any of the films mentioned, in case you want to know more about them. With all of this said, into the honourable mentions!

Honourable Mentions

Pig – Nic Cage has done many incredible things throughout his career, but with Pig he does something he’s never done before: he made me cry. In a career spanning decades, Pig has immediately marked itself out as a special film for Cage.

Evangelion: 3.0+1.0 Thrice Upon a Time – If you are not into Evangelion then this film will not convince you in any way, but those (like me) who are completely on board with the whole nonsense of this franchise, you are in for a treat that goes as big visually as it does emotionally.

Sound of Metal – I don’t know whether to celebrate Sound of Metal for its unbelievably brilliant lead performance, its emotional reckoning with the unavoidable or the way it gave the Deaf community the stage many of us never knew it needed. I don’t have to choose though, all three are worthy reasons.

Censor – As we will get to a couple of times more on this list, I seem to love horror films that everyone else falls out of love with because of something weird in the third act. Censor is that perfectly, a film I am so deeply in love with that its idiosyncrasy only enhances it.

Last Night in Soho – My most controversial choice I’d imagine, I saw Last Night in Soho twice in cinemas and had a blast both times. It might be Wright’s weakest fiction film, but it’s also a lot of fun and an experience I have kept thinking about since release.

Invisible Life – You have not heard of this film. After playing festivals in 2019 under a longer name, Invisible Life has had to wait until 2021 for a UK release, which even then was in very few cinemas. Please, I urge you to check it out, it’s a sensational Brazilian melodrama that will pull you in so slowly that you won’t realise how deep you’re in until you start crying.

Promising Young Woman – I almost put Promising Young Woman higher up the list, but I haven’t seen it since release and feel like it could do with a second watch to confirm some feelings. As it stands though, note perfect casting and some tricky emotional wire walking have had me thinking non-stop all year.

With these very honourable mentions done, into the full ranked list!

7. The French Dispatch

There is a criticism surrounding The French Dispatch that it is too much of Wes Anderson’s style and artifice. After my first watch, I kind of got that. This is an anthology film that is so full of different visual quirks and character moments that you may not have time to actually form any emotional attachments. But then there was the second watch. Again, I was a really big fan of the film the first time, as I say in my review. That second viewing though, man. It opens this entire film up into something approaching one of Anderson’s best. The jokes are funnier, the visuals are even more impressive and finally, that emotional core so many believed to be absent opens up. In the second story, much maligned by detractors, I found myself welling up at the denouement. It is the culmination of this collection of stories about beautiful things taken away before their time is over but being forced to face that truth and enjoy the melancholy nostalgia of the past. Genuinely, I cannot recommend enough watching this film twice, at least. Your appreciation will soar and you too will realise that The French Dispatch is one of the best films of 2021 and one of the best in a filmography that is hardly full of duds.

6. Drive My Car

I’ll get it out the way now, Drive My Car is three hours long. That in itself is probably going to put most people off but believe me when I say that every minute in all three of those hours is essential. Drive My Car is the second excellent film adaptation of a Murakami short story in the last few years, but much different from the simmering tension of Burning. It is the story of a theatre director and actor who, after facing a personal loss, is attempting to adapt Uncle Vanya using a cast all speaking different languages. While putting on this production, he is required to have a driver driving his car and during these drives the two listen to tapes that contain the voice of a ghost on them. I’m aware this doesn’t sound thrilling so far, but believe me when I say it works because it is so hard to put your finger on what the film is. After seeing it, I said to one of my colleagues that I was surprised how sexy it was, which garnered the response “actually I thought it was really sad.” This conversation is testament to the brilliant fluidity that powers Drive My Car, a film that manages to be three hours long yet still leave room for interpretation. Set aside that time, put your phone away and settle in for this film which will quietly and slowly draw you in very deep.

5. Malignant

I watched Malignant at home and spent, as an educated guess, half of it slapping my bed with complete giddy joy. Most of this list is full of cerebral films that make me seem very smart (though I am letting weird ones slip through more than ever this year), but there is something about really powerful genre films that allows them to circumvent my consciousness and hit the middle of the monkey brain. A lot of the time it happens with really fun bad movies, but Malignant is a top-tier seat slapper the likes of which I haven’t experienced in a big budget movie this past decade. The story is barely important, something about a woman who had a surgery when she was younger and is now experiencing hallucinations of murders seemingly as they are committed. What is important, is that the story is a means of servicing some wild twists, very silly performances and a healthy portion of absolutely gonzo set pieces. Everything I love about bad genre movies is here, but done genuinely well and with deliberate intent. The fact that I’ve only seen this the once and by myself is frankly the only thing that holds Malignant this far back on the list. It is some of the most fun I’ve had with any film this year, you should have it too.

4. Never Gonna Snow Again

It’s finally here. I finally get to talk about Never Gonna Snow Again again. Back when I was covering the virtual London Film Festival in 2020, this film snuck up on me and became my favourite of the festival. The problem was, I didn’t know when I’d see it again. Being my most extensive stint at a festival to date, I realised that while some of the higher profile films already have distribution, a lot of smaller but still excellent films can fly under the radar and remain in film purgatory. Fortunately, Never Gonna Snow Again was picked up by Picture House Entertainment (who, full disclosure, are my employers) and it came out. For real. For finally. Having gotten what I’ve asked for though, I now have the difficult task of explaining this film to you. It’s a fairy tale about a masseuse in an upper class suburb, who may or may not have magical powers, but it’s also not that. It’s a comedy, a tragedy, a modern day myth about the destructive nature of late capitalism. It feels special in its uniqueness and has gone cruelly under appreciated before and since its release. So please, seek out Never Gonna Snow Again, a film that has to be seen to be felt to be believed.

3. Bo Burnham: Inside

I don’t care if you don’t think it’s a film, Bo Burnham: Inside is a feature film in my eyes and an excellent one at that. It’s also part of a very specific time in my life, where despite my degree being over I was still in a weird emotional limbo and feeling very stranded in the midst of a pandemic that remains a huge part of our lives. For as long as he’s been performing, Bo Burnham has been great at verbalising these tricky emotions that make up modern life, but he brought his A-game for his finest project to date. At first, Inside appears to be more of the same, a series of fun songs about modern life that contain a hint of darkness, but then it grows into something bigger. It gets a lot darker as the film develops, with Burnham visibly starting to crumble, yet I think even this is an attempt to mislead the audience. Inside is definitely a look into the emotional reality of living during the pandemic, but it’s also very specifically about being a creative person and how you separate your own life from your art. This thin line that divides reality and performance is one of my very favourite themes to see explored and at every turn, Inside tackles it. I think it is very special and to be incredibly honest, it became a part of me. Of course it made the list.

2. Petite Maman

Cėline Sciamma almost made the top spot on my best of the year list for a second year in a row, but take that only as a comment on how much I loved the top film this year and not even a shadow of a suggestion that Petite Maman isn’t as close to perfection as a feature film has gotten since Paddington 2. It’s a film about a young girl who, in the wake of her grandmothers death, returns to the home her mother grew up in and makes a new friend while adventuring in the woods. Importantly, it is also a film that is 72 minutes long. When was the last time you saw 1. a film that short or 2. a film that short that still manages to feel so full of affection? More than that makes Petite Maman special though, everything else about it is special too. The sparse but powerful use of music is special, the way editing is used to time travel is special and the two lead performances are incredibly special. Sciamma has yet again made a film that feels like an already timeless classic. She is too powerful. Arguably, she may need to be stopped. Until we stop her though, may we continue to get more knockout masterpieces like Petite Maman.

1. Titane

I’m tempted to just leave my thoughts on Titane as 😈. Words can only do so well at conveying how delicious the cinematic chaos hidden inside this film is, why not finally succumb to emojis? I also am tempted to leave it there because I don’t want to be the one who spoils Titane for you, a film so full of treats to unwrap, some of which may contain razor blades. In an inverse of the way I love Petite Maman because of its simple perfection, I adore Titane because of its chaotic mess. There is A LOT going on with this film. We’re talking serial killers, we’re talking the performativity of gender roles and we’re talking human relations with machines. Those all happen in the first fifteen minutes. If you didn’t know by now, Titane is a hell of a ride. The film uses the language of extreme cinema to speak to an innate truth about the extraordinary human capacity for love. It’s not that the extremity is all smoke and mirrors per se, more that it is a necessary leap of faith to get audiences to release their inhibitions. I do not doubt that this film will not be for everyone. A few years ago, it wouldn’t have been for me. But now it is. It really is. Titane is a lot of things to a small(ish) group of people and I am proud to consider myself in that number. You might be too. Take a bite and find out. 😈

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End of Year Favourites

My Favourite Video Game of 2021 – Inscryption

I’ve warmed to card games as a genre recently. For a long time it felt like there wasn’t much middle ground between the exploitative whirlpool of games like Hearthstone or the absurd depth that leads to total inaccessibility that I found in things like The Lord of the Rings: Adventure Card Game. Then I discovered Slay the Spire and fell in love with the possibilities of the genre. Much as I like its open ended and endless nature though, it means that there isn’t really room in my life for another endless card battler. Which is why Inscryption is so great.

Before I say another word about Inscryption, it’s worth knowing that this is one of those games that is best experienced when you don’t know anything about it. I’m going to try not to give away any of its secrets, but I played it fairly blind and would recommend you try the same too. For those who want to know more though, it is a card battling game based in the lodge of a being whose identity is mysterious. He narrates your journey and asks you to play his game so that he may do something nefarious with you. Between matches, you are allowed to explore his cabin and find what he is hiding, which may aid you in your future battles. But something here is wrong. When you started the game, why did it only let you click continue? What are all these greyed out buttons on the pause menu? Is this card talking to me?

(Spoiler alert, he probably is)

All of this fun meta storytelling would be totally worthless if the game itself wasn’t actually fun to play. Fortunately, the card battling in Inscryption is built on rock solid foundations and feels strangely fresh. There’s a central mechanic which requires you to sacrifice cards you already have on the table in order to place strong cards, a mechanic I’ve never seen before. It took a little while for me to work it out, as well as work out the further mechanics the game later adds on top, but once it clicks it feels properly satisfying. Sometimes I found the learning curve a little steep, like a section in the third act that I had to grind away at for over an hour to make any progress on, but it was otherwise a take on a tired genre that plays in fresh ways as well as subverting the old ways narratively.

Inscryption is the break from formula you need.

I’m also totally in love with the audio and visual design of the game. The tone feels a bit like it’s in the horror genre, almost entirely because of the weird noises of the world. It is the kind of game that is best suited to playing late at night, in the dark, with your headphones turned loud. The cabin creaks, the wind howls, the knives sound like they really hurt. Pair that with minimal but chilling visuals, it works immaculately. There’s a clear understanding from Daniel Mullins (the creator of the game) of what this genre needs to be satisfying at a fundamental level, which allows for playful visual subversion throughout. Again, I won’t say more to avoid spoilers, but as the game changes, the visuals also change and set the tone for what’s to come. It never feels like an attempt to be weird just to be unpredictable, but always a natural continuation of the previous events.

So if you, like me, also remain tired of games that takes weeks to finish through hours of unrewarding grinding, Inscryption is the break from formula you need. It’s got a cool story to explore, feels great to be spending time with and has damn good gameplay to boot. Quite honestly, if you’re not already interested it’s not for you. It certainly is for me though.

Honourable Mentions

Overboard! – A video game adaptation of the “good for her” film genre, Overboard! (yes, the exclamation mark is in the title) asks you to help a new widow get away with the murder of her husband while on board a boat. How you do it is up to you, whether it involves seduction, sabotage or further acts of murder. Whatever you choose, great writing keeps each new attempt fresh.

Genesis Noir – A jazzy noir thriller about the life of the universe as imagined through the metaphor of a breakup. Explaining the plot of Genesis Noir gets us nowhere, but it looks great, sounds awesome and has an ending to drool over.

Maquette – It’s the requisite Annapurna game! Some of the puzzles in Maquette felt frustratingly oblique to me, but it is all based on this genuinely great hook of transferring items between spaces in which size is all relative.

Before Your Eyes – For the second year in a row, a video game made me cry. It feels a little like cheating that Before Your Eyes did it, because it relies on the player resisting blinking for as long as possible, but this gimmick is used in a way that never actually feels like a gimmick and is festooned with a narrative that would still probably have made me cry even if my eyes were experiencing normal function.

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End of Year Favourites

My Favourite Album of 2021 – Solar Power by Lorde

Like I said last year, I feel weird doing end of year rankings for music, TV or video games. Sure, it’s all my opinion anyway, but I feel like I miss out on so many things that I could eventually come to call my favourites. So again, we’re doing this. I’m not ranking the best stuff I heard or played this year, I’m just talking quite in depth about a few things I loved and then throwing some extra love around as well for good measure after. Sound good? Good. Let us begin.

I could have told you last year that Lorde’s new album would be my favourite album of 2021. And here we are, surprise, it is. With Pure Heroine and Melodrama, Lorde created the soundtrack to my time at University. She gets the agony and the ecstasy of being a young adult in ways that few artists do, at least for me. And so naturally Solar Power, her first album since 2017, was an album that I had been hotly anticipating. What I hadn’t anticipated was the change in emotional tone. We’ll get more into the whole album in a minute, including the sections of it that don’t fit what I’m about to say, but it feels like talking to a friend you haven’t seen in a while. They’ve been struggling with their mental health for years but you ask them how they are and they smile. They pause for a moment and say “you know, I’m actually really good”. And you both know that they mean it.

That change in tone is what has made Solar Power a somewhat divisive album, with Lorde celebrating her newfound confidence in the life she has found. Take the title track as an example. It’s a song all about the joys of liberating yourself from the ties of your mobile phone or the expectations society puts on you, kicking loose and vibing out in the sun. It is a lot of fun, and also often cheeky with lines like “I’m kinda like a prettier Jesus”. You can sense the joy Lorde feels emanating through her music in ways that even her most joyous songs before couldn’t do. No, it’s not the most comforting feeling in the world if you’ve had an absolutely awful time this year, but as someone who has been able to find joy it works for me.

She’s still attuned to emotional complexities though, which the song “California” highlights. It’s a song about moving away from the toxic world that Los Angeles can create, as well as being a metaphor for an old relationship. She’s talking about moving away from “that California love”, something that is undeniably the right move but that comes accompanied with sensory triggers of all those good moments. At its best, the song is melancholic, accepting the need to move on from a moment which is fun but certain to be fleeting. Other songs on the album acknowledge this too, like “The Man With the Axe”, a song about still falling in love through all the red flags that are visible. Lorde has always been good at making songs with complex emotional layers hidden under cheery exteriors, and Solar Power is another album still full of those songs.

Solar Power is a 40 minute plea from Lorde not to let her be the voice of a generation and yet ironically she pleas in a way that once again speaks to and for millions of voices.

But then it’s also an album that is ready to rip your heart out at the right moment. The absolute song of the album, I think even my song of the year, is “Stoned at the Nail Salon”. Like I said, Solar Power is an album about being happy with the place where you’ve found yourself, but “Stoned” is a song about this terrifying fear that everything you’ve worked towards is wrong. This whole world you spent so much time and effort building and making completely concrete might not be the dream you want to live forever. It’s a song haunted by the ghosts of the past, visions of “two former hell raisers” threatening to ruin the tranquillity of now. It also features the absolutely devastating line “all the music you love at 16 you’ll grow out of” which as a 22 year old is starting to prove more and more true. Lorde being only a few years older than me, her lyrics can’t help but speak to the equivalent moment in my life. So even though I don’t really have it all sorted out right now, the idea this song posits of creating your dream life and still being unhappy terrifies me.

There is a sense that Lorde is the voice of a generation, specifically the one I find myself in. I know this sense exists, because I have called her exactly this on many occasions. But I think the genius of Solar Power is that it’s an album on which Lorde explicitly denies this responsibility. If “Leader of the New Regime” doesn’t convince you, with its pleas for someone to take over this world in which paranoia reigns supreme, the final lines on the album should convince you. As “Oceanic Feeling” fades out on a quiet note, lazing on the beach that so much of this album revolved around, Lorde sings “I’ll know when it’s time to / Take off my robes and step into the choir.” Solar Power is a 40 minute plea from Lorde not to let her be the voice of a generation and yet ironically she pleas in a way that once again speaks to and for millions of voices. Pure Heroine was the album for people whose blood has just started rushing, Melodrama the album for that blood being shed, but Solar Power is the album to let that blood finally cool down, “wherever that leads.” For my life and for hers, I think I am now ready for whatever this all leads onto.

Honourable Mentions

Blue Weekend by Wolf Alice – A close second favourite album this year, Blue Weekend is everything I want from a rock album. It kicks ass, breaks your heart and has only gotten better the more I’ve listened to it this year. Blast it loud, blast it now.

Daddy’s Home by St. Vincent – In hindsight, of course St. Vincent was going to struggle to top Masseduction, but Daddy’s Home is a valiant attempt. It goes all in on evoking the coolness and griminess of the seventies and is all the better for it.

Sour by Olivia Rodrigo – I’m not a teenager with a broken heart, but I still act like I am, so of course I loved Sour. It’s an incredible debut from Rodrigo and one that promises more excellence to come, whether her heart is broken again or not.

Long Lost by Lord Huron – There’s always been a Twin Peaks vibe from Lord Huron but they embrace it completely on Long Lost, climaxing with a fourteen minute instrumental song that might as well be made by Angelo Badalamenti. Of course I loved it.

Civilisation by Kero Kero Bonito – This album has to be on the list, if only because seeing it performed live this year is one of my most memorable nights of the year. Kero Kero Bonito were the only band I saw live in 2021, but it was such a high bar to clear that I’m glad I didn’t give any other artists a look in.

Jubilee by Japanese Breakfast – Thank you to everyone this year who has attempted to rehabilitate my taste in music, this album is a stand in for all the new discoveries I made. In particular, Jubilee is an album George recommended me and that I’ve loved walking to all year. I listen to it, think of him and smile.

Home Video by Lucy DacusHome Video is here entirely because of the song “Brando”. No song has ever made me feel so picked apart as this one, analysing all the ways that I am a shitty person romantically, despite the fact Lucy Dacus and I have never met. It’s incredible.

Happier Than Ever by Billie Eilish – The first time I listened to this album, I was pretty apathetic for the first half. But then the last four songs happen. They completely recontextualise the album and deliver an incredible emotional punch that I am happy to suffer over and over again.

Woman on the Internet by Orla Gartland – Orla Gartland has been releasing music that knocks my socks off for a while, first with her Why Am I Like This? EP and then “Did It To Myself” broke my heart in Normal People. Her debut album delivers on everything those incredible projects promised.

star-crossed by Kacey Musgraves – Following on from Golden Hour, an album all about how happy Musgraves’ marriage makes her, we have star-crossed, an album all about her divorce. It’s a hard emotional turn, but one that pays off in all its complicated reflection.

You Signed Up For This by Maisie Peters – I don’t mean to sound cruel when I say this, but I’m not a big fan of Peters’ online presence. However, her music makes me forget all that, with densely written songs that evoke the best of Taylor Swift.

Seventeen Going Under by Sam Fender – Sam Fender is Bruce Springsteen from the north of England. His appeal is that simple. He has great talent on a guitar but also an anger in many of his songs, an anger that is very specifically targeted, but always at things that are universal for young British listeners. Try not to love the guy.

An Evening with Silk Sonic by Silk Sonic – I’ve never really liked Bruno Mars, but on teaming up with Anderson .Paak, he has created the grooviest record of the year. It is banger after banger after banger, all soaked in serious style.

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Reviews

Review – Petite Maman

Do you remember late February/early March of 2020? It feels like a lifetime ago, doesn’t it? For a lot of people, or at least certainly for me, it feels like the last normal days before the chaos we still live through hit like a freight train. I bring this up not to bring the mood down (though sorry for that side effect), but to remind you that one of the last great things to happen was the release of Celine Sciamma’s Portrait of a Lady on Fire. It was a gorgeous and overwhelming film which dropped me dead on my first viewing and has continued to do lasting damage ever since. It was also the last film I saw in a cinema before the pandemic forced them all to close, so it quickly secured a strong place in my heart. In that period since, while most of us were slowly collapsing inside, Sciamma made her newest film. It is Petite Maman and its appearance in cinemas is akin to installing a fireplace in every screen it plays.

Part of the magic of Petite Maman is that it uses science fiction tropes in gentle and effortless ways.

The story is simple. After her grandmother’s death, a young girl joins her mother in clearing out the grandmother’s house. While here, the young girl goes on an adventure. She discovers things in the house, little creations in the woods outside and then discovers a new friend. I think for the purpose of my review, I’m going to keep the identity of this friend secret. Petite Maman is a very short film and so while it wouldn’t exactly be a spoiler to reveal the identity, I want to give you as much to discover as possible. What I will say though is that part of the magic of Petite Maman is that it uses science fiction tropes in gentle and effortless ways. Don’t get me wrong, I love full blown sci-fi, but I am also in love with seeing the genre applied to low-key situations. Chances are, most people won’t even consider this film to have sci-fi elements, but that’s just one example of how many things are going on under the deceptively light surface.

Poster for Petite Maman (2021)

There are very few actors in Petite Maman. Sure, part of that is the smallness of the story, but there is also the fact that this film was filmed during the pandemic. That such a moving picture can come from such a terrible time feels special on its own, but the lack of cast list means the few actors who are here need to pull their weight. Pull they do. Nina Meurisse is wonderful as the mother, but the impact of the film ultimately comes down to the stellar work of Joséphine and Gabrielle Sanz, who play the two young girls. Often, child actors are complimented on their performances because there’s a maturity to their performance that is uncommon for young actors. With the Sanz sisters, it is the exact opposite. They perfectly embody that eight year old spirit of being still too small for the world, but assuming a familiarity that imbues them with a confidence. It is one of those things that is hard to verbalise but on screen, easy to love. In a year when there’s been a lot of great child performances, these are easily the best.

I love the gorgeous simplicity of everything about Petite Maman. It extends into every aspect of the filmmaking and creates an absolutely effortless feeling film. The fleeting runtime I’ve already mentioned, but it’s present in the score too. Like the other of Sciamma’s films that I’ve seen, there is very little music used, but it is saved for moments that can create the maximum impact. In particular, a moment where the girls put on a pair of headphones is gorgeous, featuring solely non-diegetic sound to create an otherworldly level of emotional catharsis. I don’t talk about this a lot because in many films it’s hard to notice, but I also adore the editing of Petite Maman. There’s a famous moment in Lawrence of Arabia where Lawrence blows out a match and it cuts to the desert, often referred to as one of the greatest cuts in cinematic history. I think Petite Maman has a moment that comes close. It has many brilliant moments where Sciamma chooses to cut a moment short or let it hang, but there’s one in particular that I am perpetually failing to forget.

I think Petite Maman is a minor miracle of a film.

In honour of its 72 minute runtime, I’m going to keep my thoughts on Petite Maman short and end here. I think it’s a minor miracle of a film, an aching act of perfection that I’m desperate to return to. You owe it to yourself to check it out. I’m in love with it, a film which I think could be the finest of the year. If it isn’t at the top of the pile come the end of December, that only speaks to the brilliance of cinema in general this year, as Petite Maman deserves to be (and should be) remembered for years to come.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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Features

A Beginner’s Guide to Trash

Hi everyone. My name is Henry Jordan and I love trash. I love trash food, I love trash music and I especially love trash films. I love trash films so much that I wrote my undergraduate dissertation on them (and if you’re interested in a more academic spin on the article you’re about to read, let me know and I can send you a copy). But I often have difficulty explaining that love to other people. Which is where this post comes in. With this being a new dawn for my blog, it feels right that I should get in a post as early as I can about the joys of trash and where trash virgins (not to be confused with trash virgins, if you catch my drift) can get their first fix.

I’ve tried to explain before what it is that makes trash films so great, but it’s very difficult without the help of a therapist, able to psychoanalyse why my brain is as broken as it is. So instead, I want to introduce you to five key films that show you different aspects of the badfilm experience. If any of these take your fancy, there’s a whole world of trash behind them that I’m trying to open the door for. They each come with a follow-up recommendation and I’m more than happy to supply any additional recs to those still curious for more. But essentially, if you’ve ever wondered what the deal is with bad films/trash films/however we want to define them, these are the ones I think you should start with. So gather round with your friends and your intoxicant of choice. Let’s dive down into this nightmare together.

The Room

If you’ve seen any film on this list, it’s probably The Room. However, this being a beginner’s guide, I still feel like we absolutely have to touch on The Room. It is the insane brainchild of Tommy Wiseau, a film which he directed, wrote, produced and starred in. The plot is… Well, like so many of the films we’re going to cover, the plot is inessential, but let me give it a shot anyway. There’s a man named Johnny, who has a girlfriend named Lisa. Lisa is cheating on Johnny with his best friend Mark, which creates tension and drama between them all. Around this is a boy named Denny who keeps popping into the titular apartment, Lisa keeps meeting up with her mother (who definitely has breast cancer) and there’s a whole host of other characters who do nothing and have no purpose. They all come in and out of this room in San Francisco (why San Francisco we do not know), until the film is over. This is The Room.

But a simple description of plot can’t do justice to The Room. Only watching it can, because only when watching it do you realise how poorly all its elements fit together. Johnny comes home to Lisa, complains about his job and then they have sex. It’s quite a long sex scene and a very uncomfortable one, but it’s one we will see again so buckle in for that. Then Mark (who again, is Johnny’s best friend, please remember this) comes round to also sleep with Lisa. This sex scene is less awkward to watch but still not great. Another sex scene comes ten minutes later and then the whole thing really goes off the rails. Random characters come and go (sometimes changing actor with no fanfare), Johnny does important chores like buying flowers and in case you forgot where this film is set, there’s occasionally a filler shot of an iconic San Francisco landmark. This continues for the entire 99 minute runtime with absolutely no reprive.

This nonsense string of events, tied together by apparently only the delusion of the screenwriter-cum-lead actor, is made even more excruciatingly brilliant by Wiseau. His performance is dire, every line sounding like it barely managed to escape his mouth, though not without being tainted by his very thick accent. You might think that other actors would do better but no, they’re also hampered by Wiseau’s awful dialogue and terrible direction, direction that is legendarily terrible. The infamous moniker of “the Citizen Kane of bad movies” is not unnearned, as every single time I rewatch The Room I spot a new terrible detail that rocks my world. The most notable one was that on viewing number five, I realised that the rainy window prop used for one of the sex scenes is actually a stand-alone part of the room, not even connected to the wall. It’s the reason why group viewings are so valuable to your experience of The Room, because a new pair of eyes can often reveal a mystery that you hadn’t even considered.

The Room embodies the kind of badfilm that exists because of single minded lunatics, one of the most fruitful genres there is. As such, it’s hard to find only one film to recommend here, but I’m going to go with Ben and Arthur. It has been called The Room for the homosexual community and that feels fairly spot on. Again, it is terrible dialogue, used to fill scenes that feel completely unrelated to each other, before leading to an entirely unearned conclusion of extravagant melodrama. Though once quite hard to find, I believe Ben and Arthur is currently kicking around somewhere on YouTube, so give it a look if you’ve already enjoyed the many pleasures The Room has to offer.

Miami Connection

If you’re planning on experimenting with badfilm, films that sit very comfortably within genres are one of the safest bets you can have. More specifically, horror and action seem to deliver reliably, because even their failures end up becoming endearing. While there are plenty of bad horror films I could recommend, I’m sticking to action today and recommending Miami Connection, one of my most treasured discoveries. It is the timeless tale of a rock band who must use their taekwondo skills and friendship to stop a gang of drug dealers and ninjas from bringing their stupid cocaine into Orlando. You know, one of those tales.

In the same way that The Room is frontloaded with a lot of sex scenes, Miami Connection is frontloaded with a lot of musical numbers. Fortunately, the songs are all absolute bangers and you will be streaming them as soon as the film rolls credits. To give you an accurate idea of how rad the band are, all I have to do is tell you their name; the one, the only, Dragon Sound. Though the lyrics are dorkily charming (such as those in their song “Friends“, about being friends for eternity, loyalty, honesty), the vocals and guitar playing genuinely rock. I love them so much that I bought a Dragon Sound shirt, which has been recognised twice in public to my intense delight. If you don’t find yourself humming at least a few of the songs days after a viewing, something has gone wrong.

The other thing that takes up the majority of the runtime in Miami Connection is fight scenes. Sometimes those fights are with guns, sometimes with swords, but mainly with awesome taekwondo skills. And if you’re thinking “hang on, but how do the main characters all know taekwondo?” then fear not, we have training montages, in which our band (who are also housemates and orphans and seem to share one tank top between them all, don’t ask) slow mo punch each other in the face. It is truly giggle worthy stuff that is essential to the film because it also paves the way for our finale, an action spectacle that ramps up the melodrama in totally unexpected ways. Even in the world of cheesy action movies, there are very few things like it, especially its closing message.

Speaking of the world of cheesy action movies, there are so many other choices for recommendation, but I know where my heart goes. My heart goes to Wakaliwood, the Ugandan action studio that makes and distributes its action movies from a slum on the outskirts of Kampala. Their films are low budget but high passion and even better, their best film Who Killed Captain Alex? is available for free on YouTube. If you enjoy it, buy merch from them and support their work, because this is that lovely little area where independent filmmaking and badfilm obsession cross over. It’s where the magic happens.

Showgirls

I don’t think Showgirls has a genre, but if had I to categorise it, it would be in the genre of Hollywood excess. It’s one of those films that cost a lot of money, made very little of it back and was a completely intoxicating trainwreck to watch happen. Lots of debate has been had in the 25 years since release regarding whether the film is secretly a masterpiece or is actively dangerous, including at the cinema I work at. One of my managers is very insistent that Showgirls is in fact a masterpiece, an insistence that is not shared by the other members of staff. I do not believe that Showgirls is a misunderstood masterpiece (as its place on this list proves, sorry Lorcan), but I remain captivated by it regardless. It took up a huge section of my dissertation, as I attempted to muddle my way through how the film works and after 3000 words I still didn’t get to the bottom of it.

So why does Showgirls compel me so? Let’s start with the plot. A woman named Nomi Malone (do you get it? No Me, I’m Alone) travels to Las Vegas to make her name as a showgirl. Though she starts off in the sleazy strip clubs on the outskirts of the strip, she soon dances her way up to the big leagues as an erotic dancer. The path to fame is littered with sex and scandal and more sex. I mean holy shit, there is so much nudity in this film. The original advertising played hard on this, clearly trying to bring in the horny men in their hordes, a tactic which backfired quite dramatically on the film. That fact becomes more hysterical the more you watch the film, as the nudity loses any eroticism and the films excesses become more and more absurd. The best big budget disasters are exactly this, films that collapse under their own excess. The fun of Showgirls in particular is just that the excess is an excess of the flesh (and you’d better believe there’s a late capitalist reading of that, see my dissertation for proof).

As with so many of the the films on this list, Showgirls is also brilliant because its dialogue is terrible. Instead of wasting all my time writing out my thoughts, I could have just put down three paragraphs of Showgirls quotes and you’d have understood. In that spirit, I’ll give you a couple of my favourites: “It must be weird, not having anybody cum on you”, “She looks better than a ten-inch dick and you know it!” or “I used to love Doggy Chow” to choose but three. These lines are delivered with admirably straight faces by the actors, whose playing it straight is one of the things that makes Showgirls compulsively watchable instead of nightmarish. David Lynch’s favourite boy Kyle MacLachlan is a sleazy guy with interesting pool habits, Gina Gershon is a screen-chewing starlet and as Nomi, Elizabeth Berkley is commendably committed. Berkley in particular suffered from cruel reviews on initial release and in supporting Showgirls so voraciously, I feel like I’m sticking a middle finger to the misogyny that nearly ruined her life. I’m also laughing at the film, but people are complex, we’re capable of both at once.

The trick with big budget disasters is picking ones that are terrible in interesting ways. A film like Pan is blandly bad, where Catwoman is so insane it works. A lot of it comes down to personal taste, so I’ll instead look a little lower budget for excess and recommend you the Patrick Swayze action film Road House. In Road House, Swayze is a bouncer for dodgy bars, brought into a particularly dodgy bar to clean the place up. He succeeds, by puching people in the face a lot. Then at one point, there’s some guy who turns up who wants to take over the entire town. Something about monster trucks, there’s a helicopter, an entire town becomes thirsty for blood. It’s action packed and homo-erotic and no, maybe not the same vibe as Showgirls, but it is a film as addicted to the same excess, making it also legendarily bad.

Vampire’s Kiss

Nicolas Cage is such an incredible actor that his films become something of a genre unto themselves. His films are sometimes genuinely brilliant or sometimes painfully boring, but he is always irrefutably watchable. Again, narrowing down options has been my only difficulty. Face-Off is prime Cage but too much of a good film to include, whereas Cage is brilliant in Deadfall until he is prematurely killed off and the film takes a dive. In the end though, it had to be Vampire’s Kiss. If you, like me, spent a lot of the early 2010s watching Nic Cage freakout compilations, a lot of Vampire’s Kiss is going to be very familiar to you, as it’s where so much of the best stuff comes from. This is Cage, in his prime, going all out on a concept that requires total dedication. You bet your sweet ass that Cage puts his all into it.

The setup is simple. While clubbing, Nic Cage’s character picks up a woman who he later believes to have been a vampire. He finds bite marks on his neck and therefore assumes that he is now becoming a vampire. We’ve all been there. It’s left ambiguous whether this is actually the case but regardless, he must deal with his “transformation” while still doing his job at the marketing house he runs. Cue Cage freakouts. Though the audience are left uncertain if Cage really has been bitten by a vampire, Cage believes it fully. He chases women through his building, hides from sunlight and even buys himself a pair of fake teeth to fit the part. It is the purely illogical, taken to its logical extremes.

As I’m hopefully getting across, this film is only as brilliant as it is because of Nic Cage. There are some truly vintage moments in here, even excluding all the ones that are such brilliant acting gestures that words couldn’t communicate them. As I list these scenes off to you, please bear in mind that these are all real scenes that really exist from a real movie. In one moment, Nic Cage screams the alphabet to his therapist (yes, the whole thing). In another, he attempts to crush himself under the weight of his own sofa. In one climactic moment, Cage is walking down the street with a piece of wood and begging passers by to kill him. Cage has done so much brilliant work in the field of the subtle over the years, but when he wants to go full insane, no one does it better.

To recommend another film, the only place I can turn is another Nic Cage film and this time we’re going to The Wicker Man. Please don’t confuse it with the original and actually great Wicker Man from the seventies, this is a terrible remake with Cage singlehandedly saving the entire film from obscurity. It is the origin of the iconic “No, not the bees” clip, as well as a film in which Nic Cage spends much of the third act running around in a bear costume punching women in the face. It is as stupid and brilliant as you could hope for from Nic Cage, it’s your next port of call for when you want to get back in the Cage.

Fateful Findings

And finally, we end on another single minded maniac. The one, the only; Neil Breen. Breen is, like Cage, a genre unto himself, although his roles are more numerous than Cage. You see, Breen is an independent filmmaker who stars in, directs, writes, produces and does so much more for his films. He does so much work on his films that he makes up fake company names for makeup or catering companies, to hide yet more work he has done. So far he has made five films and all of them are exactly the same flavour of completely batshit filmmaking, plot and acting, blended together to make the weirdest smoothie you’ll ever drink. Of all his films though, Fateful Findings may just be the crowning achievement.

For all the films I’ve covered, I’ve attempted to explain the plot to you. I am going to struggle doing that with Fateful Findings, as there is simultaneously no plot and too much plot. Let me try and explain it, stop me if it sounds like I’m having a breakdown. Breen plays a writer, who as a child discovers a magical rock in the woods with his crush (“it’s a magical day” we are told). Breen gets hit by a car, taken to hospital but it turns out he’s fine. His wife is addicted to pills and is stealing his painkillers because she is addicted to pills. She is addicted to pills. Please, it’s important. There’s also another couple, where the husband is an alcoholic and the wife is a former porn star, probably. They have a daughter who tries to hit on Neil, but then the childhood crush comes back and then “NO MORE BOOKS” and then the wife dies and then “I’m gonna shoot this damn car full of holes” and then “I can’t believe you comitted suicide” and then government secrets and then “I resign as president of the bank” and then it’s a happy ending, what a magical day. Got it? Good.

Even after all my time watching bad films, there is nothing like the films of Neil Breen. Sure, other films have bad acting or bad dialogue or awkward editing, but not like this. This is a whole other level of bad and it makes Breen’s films so consistently refreshing. Be warned though, there are times where the experience of watching his films can feel like the experience of reading the plot summary I gave. It’s a lot to take in and you may feel like your brain is trying to escape through your ears. All of Breen’s films are like this, whether it’s Fateful Findings or I Am Here… Now (a film in which space Jesus Neil Breen comes down to heal humanity) or Twisted Pair (Neil Breen plays mutant twins who are battling each other and it has nothing to do with testicular trauma). Though they can be hard to find, Breen’s films are worth tracking down, to experience one of the greatest artistic voices badfilm has ever given us.

In honour of Breen, let’s go back in time for the final recommendation, to another auteur whose terrible films are truly legendary. Badfilm fans already know it, it’s Ed Wood, specifically his masterpiece Plan 9 From Outer Space. Both Breen and Wood heavily use stock footage to pad their runtimes, but that’s not the only similarity between our two auteurs. Breen uses plenty of terrible digital effects, but it’s not hard to imagine that a version of him in the fifties would have used practical effects and sets in a similarly poor way to Wood. Wood also makes films where the plot is total incoherent nonsense and will cause your brain to break beyond belief. I had an experience with Plan 9 where I watched it while a flatmate was listening to the song “Somewhere Beyond the Sea” and I started laughing so hard that my flat had to come check I was alright. It’s transcendentally terrible. When you’ve enjoyed the work of the modern master, go back and honour one of the greats.

I had way too many films to pick for this list. Once you start digging through trash, you’ll be amazed how deep it goes, whether you’re in the straight to VHS era in the eighties or the “there’s no way this was in multiplexes” era of the past decade. I didn’t even mention some of my favourites, like Cyborg Cop (and its magnificent sequel), Hard Ticket to Hawaii and the entire Andy Sidaris catalogue, Ma, Troma’s War, Samurai Cop and Troll 2, to name only the best examples I’ve found over the last five years. There’s a whole terrible world out there and if you ever need a guide, I am always here to be your Virgil for this trash inferno. I love recommending trash to people and not just because it gives some purpose to the hours of my life that would otherwise be judged to have been wasted on this finite time we have on Earth. Recommending is fun, you’re having an existential crisis, shut up. Just come dumpster diving with me, lets find some trash and have a terrible time together.

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Reviews

Review – The French Dispatch

I’m finishing my London Film Festival coverage with a film that everyone can finally see this very weekend, which is really exciting news. It’s fun seeing films early and feeling special, but films this great deserved to be shared and The French Dispatch is one such great film. As everything about its aesthetic should tell you, The French Dispatch is the newest film from Wes Anderson, the beloved mind behind Fantastic Mr Fox and The Grand Budapest Hotel, among other wonderful and charming films. His newest outing is an anthology tale, consisting of tales from the final edition of The French Dispatch, a France-based journal that is part of the Liberty, Kansas Evening Sun.

We’re gifted with three tales, although there’s five or six parts if you really want to be picky about it. There’s an introduction to the city in which The French Dispatch is based (deliciously called Ennui-sur-Blasé), a city which has slowly found itself gentrified and liberated from its grimy history. The three stories find plenty of grime to roll in though. First is the story of an incarcerated painter, whose work inspires a fellow inmate. Second is the tale of student protests and the romantic connections that spring up in the heat of revolution. Finally, we find the tale of a chef who aids the police chief he works for in searching for a missing child. All of these tales, themselves presented in the wider fabric of the film, are told by their (fictional) authors, though for Anderson fans this shouldn’t feel unfamiliar. Similar to how the core of The Grand Budapest Hotel was hidden under a few layers of matryoshka dolls. French Dispatch is a series of dolls, with a handful of layers each. Though it sometimes means you may struggle to fully invest in more than a few characters, it creates what I can only describe as a picnic feel. You get to sample a whole host of different ideas from Anderson, all interesting in their own ways, and all of course beautifully presented.

It’s a bloody good cast doing bloody good work.

Being an anthology, there’s a lot of actors needed to bring the stories to life and holy hell, what a cast. It says a lot about how stacked your cast list is when actors like Saoirse Ronan, Christoph Waltz and Edward Norton don’t even get main billing (find them and many others hidden in that little list near the bottom of the poster). This all means I’m going to have to do that thing I do quite a lot and say that all the cast are brilliant. You know that they’re brilliant though, so many of these actors are ones you already love from other films and they’re great here too. I’d struggle to say that many are giving career best performances, but that’s far more an indication of their quality of roles than their weakness here. It’s a bloody good cast doing bloody good work.

Poster for The French Dispatch (2021)

But I should spotlight a few of them, and spotlight I will. Going loosely in order of appearance, my first fave is Tilda Swinton. I adore Swinton in everything she does and she’s a brilliant comedic presence when given Anderson’s dialogue. Here, as the journalist J. K. L. Berensen, she gets to exercise her best comedic muscles, by putting on a silly accent and acting pompous. It’s not ground breaking, but seeing her on screen again always made me smile. I also really enjoy Timothée Chalamet as Zeffirelli, a student activist who is amusingly pretentious. He captures all the over-arrogance of young people involved in politics, playing a straight man to a silly world. I hope it encourages him to do more comedies, he works well in these worlds. Finally, I’m also a big fan of Jeffrey Wright as Roebuck Wright, the author of the third story. There’s a way that he manners his voice, which navigates between the deadpan and the comic, and which I remain totally entranced by. The way he speaks has been one of the things that has most stuck with me after viewing the film and I can’t explain why it works, only that it very much does.

Wes Anderson being Wes Anderson though, there’s a style that you’re here to watch and once again, it seems the man has bested himself. Any one single frame would let you know immediately who the man is steering this ship and likewise, any one of those frames would warrant hanging on a wall. His stunningly symmetrical shots are back, so is the twee score courtesy of returning collaborator Alexandre Desplat and many of your other favourite trademarks. But there’s also a sense of exploration. By now, even those of us who didn’t spend four years studying film know what a Wes Anderson film looks like, so it’s time to play with the formula a bit. We’ve got shots that move or spin in new ways, random animated sequences and some really stunning freeze frames that I fell in love with the first second they showed up and continued to love as they reoccurred. It is, quite simply, another Wes Anderson film. If you’re already on board with his aesthetic and acoustic tastes, you’re going to be very happy indeed.

These are the stories of a world that has already passed. I found myself genuinely quite sad at the end of every story, each signalling a goodbye of its own to someone or something.

When we discuss Wes Anderson though, it often comes down to these discussions of his style to such an extent that a lot of reviewers (and I’ve been guilty of this too) forget to talk about the emotional response. Anderson’s films connect and are beloved because we fall in love with their characters, be it M Gustave in The Grand Budapest Hotel or our titular fox and his family in Fantastic Mr Fox. It’s probably this area though where The French Dispatch is at its weakest. As I said earlier, the anthology nature of the film means we don’t spend much time with any character, and therefore can only ever make minimal connections with them. Fortunately, it’s not a totally cold film, as you end up (and bear with me on this) feeling this melancholy love for the French Dispatch itself. It’s a magazine that is ending, and a type of magazine that hasn’t much time left in our world. Inherently then, these are the stories of a world that has already passed. I found myself genuinely quite sad at the end of every story, each signalling a goodbye of its own to someone or something. Again, it’s very hard to put into words, because it just works. That lingering emotional impact allows itself to be tainted with hope (with the final line being “what next?”) but it’s melancholy nonetheless. A damn fine melancholy it is though that Anderson has crafted.

Like I said then, it’s another Wes Anderson film. If you like his other stuff, it would be very strange if you didn’t like this. It’s beautiful, it’s held up by a cast all giving 100% and its emotional aftertaste has lingered on me like a cigarette kiss. I thought it was wonderful and on Friday, it’s yours to enjoy too. Treasure it and all its whimsy. (But probably also go see Dune, which I haven’t seen yet but will also presumably highly recommend.)

Timothée Chalamet as Zeffirelli in The French Dispatch (2021)

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.
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Review – Titane

I am going to have a really difficult time reviewing Titane, because so much of its joy comes in knowing so little. As such, I would like to open by saying that if you have a strong stomach and enjoy a heavy dose of weirdness, you will love Titane as much as I did. It is completely unlike any single film I have ever seen before and it deserves the rabid hype it is conjuring. It is gross and hilarious and heart-warming, refusing to conform to any single genre or emotional response for more than about a minute. My words can only do so well at capturing the magic of this film and therefore I completely understand (and even somewhat encourage) reading no more of the review in order to preserve the magic. But if you would like to stay, I’ll happily attempt to explain what the hell Titane is to you.

Our lead character is Alexia. We first see her as a child, when she is in a car accident (that she is partly responsible for) and has to have titanium placed in her skull, titanium in French being “titane”. After this event, we meet Alexia as an adult, dancing at a car show. While here, she has to deal with an overly eager fan and then while inside cleaning up… No, that’s it, that’s all you’re getting. I refuse to be the one to spoil this film for you. I’ll say that there’s a firefighter, a missing persons case and an overriding theme of family, but that’s your lot. Spending as much time as I do reading about films, I assumed that I’d had quite a lot of this film spoiled for me but in actual fact, everything I knew was from the first fifteen minutes. Partly that’s savvy reading on my part, partly that’s because Titane moves in unpredictable ways. Thinking back over it, I really struggle to place it onto a typical three act structure, or find myself able to explain everything that happens in a way that won’t make me sound like a crazy person. So I won’t. Just trust me when I say you should not read much about Titane and know that you’re going to have a hell of a time working out where the film is taking you next.

The genius of [Rousselle’s] performance is that she never lets the audience completely in, allowing some distance so that you’re not so hooked to Alexia that other characters feel obtuse.

When the narrative of your film is as bonkers as Titane is, you need a really good cast to anchor the film and create a sense of believability to the unbelievable spectacle. Fortunately, in its two leads Titane has just that. As Alexia is acting newcomer Agathe Rousselle. She has a lot of work to do, the majority of it without dialogue, but she is sensational. Again, it’s almost impossible to discuss without spoilers, but there are things Alexia does or lets happen to her that are very difficult to understand, yet Rousselle gives us a window through which to understand them. The genius of her performance is that she never lets the audience completely in, allowing some distance so that you’re not so hooked to Alexia that other characters feel obtuse. Likewise, Vincent Lindon is also brilliant. It’s one of those performances that requires a very intense physical presence in order to hide a very delicate emotional one, those two elements always working in tandem. At first, his character is very difficult to understand, but there’s something in Lindon’s eyes that slowly lets you in. It’s tough to explain but by the end, he’s another character whose very puzzling actions you completely understand.

Poster for Titane (2021)

There’s a second reason that Titane is near impossible for me to review and that’s because it is intensely overwhelming in its craft. Everything is baked to perfection! Perhaps chief to be praised are the visual effects, with Titane often finding itself in the genre of body horror. The things that Titane show us are… Hmm, we’re rubbing up against spoilers here, but a lot of them are unbelievable. They are things that our world as we know it are not capable of, and yet in their presentation we come to believe them. Fair warning, these things are also absolutely grotesque to witness. Even in a press screening, full of people who queued for over an hour because they knew what they wanted and they wanted it badly, there were plenty of screams and groans at a handful of scenes. However, Titane is also really good at eliciting those responses by showing you less than you think you saw.

It’s one of those things that is very hard to explain, but there are lots of scenes in cinema history that create such an overwhelming mood that your brain becomes convinced that it has seen more than it actually did. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Seven are both prime examples of this, in using mood to create much more terror than is actually on screen and I think the prime thing films use for that is sound. There’s one scene in particular in Titane that occurs on a toilet, in which all we are given is the setup, a grimacing face and sound effects. I think this scene might be the hardest to watch in the entire film, as we are guided through the procedure by nothing but squelching nastiness through the speakers. It is simply cinema wizardry of the highest order. Aside from the sound effects, the score of the film is also brilliant, another fantastic job with Jim Williams adding to his already strong portfolio that includes Raw, Possessor and Beast (as well as films that are more than one word long). His compositions are mixed with some pre-existing music to create a symphony of scenes that are unforgettable and that will play in my mind for years to come, for reasons both delightful and disgusting.

I was unprepared for Ducournau to yet again storm out of the gate with another singular masterpiece.

When I first saw Raw a few years ago, it truly did blow me away. Though intangibly shy of perfection, it lingered in my brain and I knew (as all others who loved the film did too) that writer and director Julia Ducournau would be a filmmaker to watch out. Even on guard as I was, I was unprepared for Ducournau to yet again storm out of the gate with another singular masterpiece. There is no one film that is like Titane, which is why everyone is falling over themselves to recommend it so heartily. It can’t be emphasised enough that out of all the films I saw at London Film Festival this year, Titane is the one with the smallest audience due to its extreme content (cinema employees, prepare for walkouts), but it’s also the one that has most completely captured me. It is a searing blast of cinema into the brain and heart, designed to make you stand on your feet and scream “Huzzah! Cinema!”. And scream I do.

Agathe Rousselle as Alexia in Titane (2021)

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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