Some recent reviews…

Links to reviews I’ve recently done for theatre paper The Stage:

Lolita (The Lord Stanley) ★★
Imaginative staging does little to realise the spark of Nabokov’s landmark novel

The Dog, the Night and the Knife (Arcola) ★★★
Darkly atmospheric, this Dog growls with tension, but rarely bites

The Glasshouse (Tristan Bates) ★★★
A poignant, if overlong production that sheds light on a shameful episode of the Great War

Everyman (St Bartholomew the Great) ★★★★
An intelligent and fresh adaptation of a challenging 16th century allegorical text

Those films of 2013

The end of the year has brought us to film journalists’ annual navel gazing, including for yours truly – it’s the Top 10 list!

But 2013′s been just too good a year for film – perhaps the best of my short film-going life (see Robbie Collin’s comment that this is the best year since 1999) – so I’m extending this year’s list to 20.

There are, as every year, a few I haven’t seen: Short Term 12, What Maisie Knew, Kings of Summer, and most notably The Act of Killing (which topped Sight & Sound‘s and the Guardian‘s poll) are still on my list to see. Oh, and I’m only including films released in the UK in this list, so no Under The Skin or 12 Years a Slave, and only those released after the February awards season, so no Zero Dark Thirty or Lincoln. Have a gander:

THAT TOP 20!

20. The World’s End (dir. Edgar Wright)

Edgar Wright’s finale to his Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy was no Shaun of the Dead or Hot Fuzz, but still it packed laughs amongst a scatterbrained sci-fi narrative. As a coming of age film – albeit for 40-year-olds – it was warm hearted, and very British, and the end packed an unexpected emotional punch.

19. Star Trek into Darkness (dir. JJ Abrams)

Abrams sets himself up for Star Wars with this gripping second round of the Star Trek reboot, with the omnipresent Benedict Cucumberface as the year’s coolest villain (we won’t name him).

18. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (dir. Francis Lawrence)

I never thought I’d be in a position to put a Hunger Games film on this list, but this year’s sequel was hard-hitting, tense and had an edge of political fire in its scenes of masses rising up against an elitist system (headed by the superbly hammy Donald Sutherland). Oh, and Jennifer Lawrence, as ever, is terrific.

17. A Field in England (dir. Ben Wheatley)

Ben Wheatley has proved himself a bit of a polymath – before we kitchen sink drama, horror, black comedy, and this year we had a civil war mindfuck, a drug-fuelled trip through the muddy fields of 17th century England, with the kind of imagery you just don’t find in British cinema.

16. Philomena (dir. Stephen Frears)

A great script from Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope lift Stephen Frears’ movie from TV-movie-of-the-week territory to an extraordinary tale of lost children and faith in the face of malevolence. Philomena is surprisingly raw, even if it is a much lighter revision of Paul Mullan’s The Magdalene Sisters, which touched on the same topic of Catholic schools for “fallen women” in Ireland. Judi Dench and Coogan make great ideological foils, so different from each other that they can only be great friends at the end.

15. Something in the Air (dir. Olivier Assayas)

An impeccably realised vision of post soxiante-neuf France, Olivier Assayas’ film is one of the great films of political, social and sexual coming of age – a better film than Bernardo Bertolluci’s 1968-set The Dreamers. It’s also a sneaky, but somewhat powerful, indictment of today’s teenagers’ lack of political anger in the face of worsening prospects for themselves – where are the students of today crying out about bankers’ bonuses?

14. Only God Forgives (dir. Nicholas Winding Refn)

Violent, dramatic, and just a little bit silly, the second Refn-Gosling match up (after Drive) was a deranged descent into a purgatorial Bangkok, with a mercenary cop and a barnstorming performance from Kristen-Scott Thomas.

12 = A Hijacking (dir. Tobias Lindholm)
12 = Captain Phillips (dir. Paul Greengrass)

Both of this year’s hijacking dramas were gripping, thought provoking, even if they were remarkably different films. A Hijacking has stayed with me since I saw it in the panorama section at Venice 2012, a taught, finely balanced thriller where the sweat and horror of the situation has almost documentary precision. Paul Greengrass’ action drama is more explosive, but no less nuanced, with Tom Hanks’ best performance in recent years that culminates in a special final scene.

11. Gloria (dir. Sebastián Lelio)

A powerhouse performance from Paulina García is not all that makes this Chilean drama one of the year’s best. How often do you see a film that understands and cares for the trials and tribulations of the middle-aged, divorced, looking for love?

10. Ain’t Them Bodies Saints (dir. David Lowery)

David Lowery’s Malickian western is a subtle, sumtuous rural romance between Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck that has dashes of Bonnie and Clyde, with a cool musical score and a thrilling climax.

9. Nebraska (dir. Alexander Payne)

Bruce Dern is brilliant as an irascible old timer developing dementia, returning to his home town in rural Nebraska with his son on his way to pick up a million dollars he believes he has won. Like Sideways before, Alexander Payne gives us a twisted take on the road movie, where the unexpected comes around every street corner.

8. The Selfish Giant (dir. Clio Bernard)

Andrea Arnold’s hard realism blends with a kind of poetry in Clio Bernard’s expressive state-of-the-nation fable, adapted from Oscar Wilde’s story. Two kids (stunning newcomers Conner Chapman and Shaun Thomas) run amok nicking copper cable from railways, turning tragic when they realise that the money to be made from selling it.

7. Blue Jasmine (dir. Woody Allen)

Perhaps Woody’s best film since Husbands and Wives in the early-nineties (although I have a soft spot for 2008′s Vicky Christina Barcelona), this scabrous comedy drama is most striking for its unexpected political undertone, and of course, Cate Blanchett’s fiery performance.

6. The Place Beyond the Pines (dir. Derek Cianfrance)

Unfairly overlooked by many, Derek Cianfrance goes up a gear from Blue Valentine, in this expansive family saga, that had the expressiveness of a Greek tragedy. Mesmerising performances from the entire cast (including a Bradley Cooper finally revealing hidden acting depths) add to the garlands this film has missed.

5. Gravity – only in IMAX 3D (dir. Alfonso Cuaron)

Mammoth in scope, but unexpectedly intimate in outlook, Gravity launched at Venice to wowed audiences, and seeing it at the BFI Imax screen revealed – for the first time – the true value of 3D to cinema. Alfonso Cuaron delivers a wondrous thrill ride that, even if lacks depth in its characters, still has the power to awe at our own smallness in the universe.

4. All Is Lost (dir. JC Chandor)

Robert Redford has no dialogue, all alone at sea, but this is still a crowning achievement of his great career.

3. The Great Beauty (dir. Paolo Sorrentino)

Paolo Sorrentino’s sprawling, Fellini-esque trip through modern Rome is gorgeous filmmaking, a contemplative mirror not just to a modern Italy, but to a rapidly evolving world. The whole film seems like a change of the guard in the world, and that makes Toni Servillo think again about his choices in his own life.

2. Before Midnight (dir. Richard Linklater)

Before Midnight is less a film, more revisiting old friends you’d forgotten. But it’s as powerful a drama of modern family as any I’ve ever seen.

1. Blue is the Warmest Colour (dir. Abdellatif Kechiche)

A passionate, devastating cri de coeur about love’s both creative and destructive forces, Abdellatif Kechiche leaps into the big league of European auteurs, bringing out the performance of the year – or any year – from the astonishing Adele Exharpoulos. It’s one of the great love stories of recent cinema.

Best Shot Robert Redford looks towards the storm at the top of his mast in All is Lost

Best Scene James Franco sings Britney in Spring Breakers

Best Score Daniel Hart’s music to Ain’t Them Bodies Saints

Screenplay Before Midnight

Biggest waste of money The Great Gatsby

Biggest waste of money on wigs American Hustle

#Venice2013: In review

There’s a lot to take home from Venice, not least a bit of sun tan and the pesky mosquito bites we’ve been subjected to for the last week. There’s also my uncharacteristic optimism to the state of upcoming cinema that I didn’t have last year. Granted, this is only my second trip to Venice and, even more granted, I didn’t even see Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master when it screened on the Lido 12 months ago, but to think my favourite films last year were Olivier Assayas’ Something in the Air, A Hijacking, or a lesser Brilliante Mendoza film, is startling. Perhaps because I’m more initiated, or more likely because the films were just better, this year was a huge improvement. A strong showing from the Brits in Under The SkinPhilomena and Still Life, Nicolas Cage, Lukas Moodysson and Stephen Frears back on form, Tom Hardy finally proving himself, Terry Gilliam making a good (if not great) film again with The Zero Theorem, a handful of strong docs, and of course the endless (and very good) free coffee in the press room, made a sterling year.

And that’s even when I’ve been informed that audiences at the press screenings were down on last year, but many of the public screenings I attended (all my accreditation would allow) were full or brimming to the edges. We didn’t get into Daniel Radcliffe-starrer Kill Your Darlings (despite the screening room holding 1,300 people), nearly had to stand at the 1,600-seater PalaBiennale for Philomena, and found ourselves having to settle for the overflow screenings of Night Moves, Child of God and even the trashy schlock of Paul Schrader’s The Canyons.

What’s changed over the last few years is the rapid rise of both Telluride and Toronto, which overlaps the end of the Venice festival, and to where a lot of delegates had taken flight by the end of the festival. That’s why many hadn’t even seen the eventual Golden Lion winner, Sacro GRA, a fly-on-the-wall documentary on Rome’s ring road, which screened on the penultimate day of competition.

Sacro GRA, respected but not highly praised, was emblematic of the festival with its top-prize win. Lots of films here were well-reviewed, but few had universal acclaim. Under The Skin, which received rave reviews from British critics, was booed and torn apart by Europeans, while festival favourite and Grand Jury Prize winner Stray Dogs, the Tsai Ming-Liang slow-burner, split audiences. Others such as Tom à la Ferme and Night Moves were liked by many, but rarely out-and-out loved. Only Stephen Frears’ Philomena communicated to the masses, a great big crowd-pleaser that Italians lapped up even more so than the British, but most viewed it as too safe an option to win the top prize, although it did win Best Screenplay for Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope.

It meant there was something for everyone – indeed, the friend I took thought Philomena was his best film, while it doesn’t register in my top five. A good deal of people I met really liked Night Moves, but to me it didn’t feel the breath of fresh air that I wanted from a top film. I found that in Jonathan Glazer’s extraordinary Under The Skin, which hugely impressed me right until its rather clumsy conclusion, but my favourite was Miss Violence, still the only film I’ve been brave enough to call a five-star movie here (although I can see that changing in future for UTS), a bruising, challenging, stunningly constructed that highlights the great art coming out of Greece’s tortured society.

Rounding out the top five is the heartbreaking British drama Still Life, starring Eddie Marsan as a council worker who traces relatives for those who have none, Lukas Moodysson’s sweet but hard-edged We Are the Best, and this festival’s winner of the Ed Frankl Batshit-Insane Award, the penis-chomping madness of Moebius.

So here’s that #EdFrankl Top 5:

1. Miss Violence
2. Under The Skin
3. Still Life
4. We Are the Best
5. Moebius

Also shoutouts to PhilomenaJoeTom à la FermeLocke and The Unknown Known, all of which I’d heartily recommend when they’re out in cinemas; or catch Under The Skin, We Are The Best, PhilomenaTom à la Ferme and Locke at next month’s London Film Festival, where reviewed films Night MovesThe Armstrong Lie, plus Venice-favourites which I didn’t see, Gravity and Kill Your Darlings will also be showing.

And the worst film? Undoubtedly Lindsay Lohan vehicle The Canyons, but dreary costume drama A Promise starring Rebecca Hall, which I saw on the last night, comes a close second.

#Venice2013: What the hell am i doing?

I’ve eschewed Edinburgh, the stalwart of my summer for four years, almost by accident, and now I’m off for a proper travel to Venice, for my second Mostra Internationale D’Arte Cinematographia, or Da Film Fest for short.

I’m gonna be reporting from the front line (of the queue) giving you reviews, videos, rants, moaning, complaints about how hot it is…

Follow me at @Ed_Frankl, see my Instagram page, or you’ll find me here, updating every few hours from my arrival THIS FRIDAY.

Arriverderci!

I have a blog!

The WordPress standard first post is “Hello World!” but i thought that’d be both unoriginal and wrong. I’ve had blogs before, but they never stuck. Even my housemate had a blog on me.

So like Doctor Who, I’ve regenerated into a blogger for EdFrankl.com. I hope you can distinguish me from the other Ed Frankls out there.

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