Friday, 21 October 2016


The history of the United States: framed by education as an alternative, subversive history, reframed by Ava DuVernay as the country's only true history, as legitimate an experience as that of the privileged, those who concocted that education, and far more profound. 13th is a blistering dagger through the heart of blind hope, reminding the oppressed of the permanence of the threat against them and the validity of their discontent, and informing the oppressors of their victims' awareness of their malicious actions. DuVernay must hurtle through her history for the sheer size of it, thus to ever make her point as clearly and forcefully as it demands, but 13th's early sections are diligent in their detail, and necessary in establishing the foundations for the film's principal arguments, themselves already painfully apparent by this stage, and in proposing that this vile legacy be refashioned as the defining characteristic of America's past and present attitudes toward race, rather than as a debatable adjunct. Her approach is gently combative, refusing to imply that change is in effect, not insisting upon a celebration of black identity by restricting her purview to black voices but by expanding it further than expected, wilfully letting contemporary conservatives hang themselves with their own bigoted cords. And for all that they may protest those inferences drawn from 13th's unambiguous suggestion that racism lies behind even the most seemingly benign of sociopolitical policies in the U.S., DuVernay allows them to express it anew, in pathetically defensive to-camera responses that wither in comparison to the bold, unapologetic criticisms put forth by the majority of her interviewees. So, while 13th may be, in essence, a simple CliffsNotes examination of the racism at the core of American identity, it's a particularly compelling and intelligent summary.

Thursday, 20 October 2016


Nominations have been announced for the 26th annual Independent Filmmaker Project Gotham Independent Film Awards. Specially selected committees voted across seven categories, alongside a special Gotham Jury Award for the cast of Moonlight, and previously-decided Gotham Award Tributes. IFP members will pick this year's winners, which will be revealed at the awards ceremony on the 28th of November. Take a look at all the nominations just below:

Best Feature
Certain Women (Neil Kopp, Kelly Reichardt, Vincent Savino and Anish Savjani)
Everybody Wants Some!! (Megan Ellison, Richard Linklater and Ginger Sledge)
Manchester by the Sea (Lauren Beck, Matt Damon, Kenneth Lonergan, Chris Moore, Kimberly Steward and Kevin J. Walsh)
Moonlight (Dede Gardner, Barry Jenkins, Jeremy Kleiner and Adele Romanski)
Paterson (Joshua Astrachan, Jim Jarmusch and Carter Logan)

Best Actor
Casey Affleck (Manchester by the Sea)
Jeff Bridges (Hell or High Water)
Adam Driver (Paterson)
Joel Edgerton (Loving)
Craig Robinson (Morris from America)

Best Actress
Kate Beckinsale (Love & Friendship)
Annette Bening (20th Century Women)
Isabelle Huppert (Elle)
Ruth Negga (Loving)
Natalie Portman (Jackie)

Best Screenplay
Jim Jarmusch (Paterson)
Barry Jenkins and Tarell McCraney (Moonlight)
Kenneth Lonergan (Manchester by the Sea)
Taylor Sheridan (Hell or High Water)
Whit Stillman (Love & Friendship)

Best Documentary
Cameraperson (Kirsten Johnson and Marilyn Ness)
I Am Not Your Negro (Remi Grellety, Hebert Peck and Raoul Peck)
O. J.: Made in America (Ezra Edelman, Deirdre Fenton, Nina Krstic, Erin Leyden, Tamara Rosenberg and Caroline Waterlow)
Tower (Megan Gilbride, Keith Maitland and Susan Thomson)
Weiner (Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg)

Bingham Ray Breakthrough Director Award
Robert Eggers (The Witch)
Anna Rose Holmer (The Fits)
Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (Swiss Army Man)
Trey Edward Shults (Krisha)
Richard Tanne (Southside with You)

Best Breakthrough Actor
Lily Gladstone (Certain Women)
Lucas Hedges (Manchester by the Sea)
Royalty Hightower (The Fits)
Sasha Lane (American Honey)
Anya Taylor-Joy (The Witch)

Special Gotham Jury Award for Ensemble Performance
Mahershala Ali, Naomie Harris, Alex Hibbert, Andre Holland, Jharrel Jerome, Janelle Monae, Jaden Piner, Trevante Rhodes and Ashton Sanders (Moonlight)

Gotham Award Tributes
Amy Adams
Ethan Hawke
Arnon Milchan
Oliver Stone


Mad Max and Draco Malfoy star in Logan, or at least that's what I got from this trailer. OK, so maybe my eyes are deceiving me a bit with some of the cast here, but I'm claiming 20/20 on the apparent quality of this new Wolverine film. Honestly, this looks that very last thing I expected it to look: good. Out on the 2nd of March in the British Isles and on the 3rd in the US.


Amid the infernal hope that Sony might ever be capable of constructing a successful franchise comes Inferno. As Robert Langdon himself grows seemingly more and more tired, we accompany him on his descent into a hellish slumber, with Ron Howard's never-more-workmanlike direction ably navigating our way. The silliest thing about Inferno is that it actually trims out much of the overt silliness of its two predecessors, resulting in a drier, less distinctive thriller, although one that still makes time for such cracking quips as "Are we in the wrong basilica?" It's in this pallid picture of perfunctory chase scenes and repetitive logical leaps that Dan Brown's story assumes such a particularly infuriating quality, its incessant twists and baffling backstory forming a narrative design so convoluted it almost seems to be intentionally alienating its audience, that we might better settle into the film and ignore its fundamental ridiculousness. That's easy enough, since Inferno isn't exactly an awful work of craft, and it maintains sufficient intrigue and preposterousness to make the experience more agreeable than it deserves to be. All returning cast and crew members, and many newcomers, appear on autopilot here, though Irrfan Khan has far more fun than he should with the film's best only decent role. And the filming locations of Florence, Venice and Istanbul mostly Budapest, actually, are undeniably ravishing. Yes, they're in the wrong basilica, and the wrong city, and I'm in the wrong screen.

Tuesday, 18 October 2016


Werner Herzog just doesn't stop, and too right too. Hot on the heels of Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World comes Into the Inferno, his acclaimed documentary on active volcanoes. With a premiere in Telluride and a subsequent showing in Toronto earning the film critical acclaim already, the film will be released by Netflix on the 28th of October in the US. Looks fantastic!


With the 60th BFI London Film Festival having now graciously agreed to shut up shop and give me a break from watching masterpieces, it's time to conclude SOS' coverage of the fest with my LFF 2016 awards! Lots of brilliant films at this year's event, indeed so many that there are several deserving award-winners that barely even got a look in! To clarify, only one award was allocated per film, so there may be some cases where a film would have claimed more than one award, but was relegated to runner-up status by virtue of having won a different award. You can check out last year's winners at this link, and this year's below:

Best Film
My Life as a Courgette (Claude Barras)

Best Film - Special Mention
Raw (Julia Ducournau)
Runners-up: The Woman Who Left (Lav Diaz), The Death of Louis XIV (Albert Serra), Toni Erdmann (Maren Ade)

Best Direction
Lav Diaz (The Woman Who Left)
Runners-up: Claude Barras (My Life as a Courgette), Maren Ade (Toni Erdmann)

Best Performance by a Female Actor
Kirin Kiki (After the Storm)
Runners-up: Charo Santos-Concio (The Woman Who Left), Rooney Mara (Una)

Best Performance by a Male Actor
Jean-Pierre Leaud (The Death of Louis XIV)
Runners-up: John Lloyd Cruz (The Woman Who Left), Ben Mendelsohn (Una)

Best Screenplay
Maren Ade (Toni Erdmann)
Runners-up: Claude Barras, Morgan Navarro, Celine Sciamma and Germano Zullo (My Life as a Courgette), Lav Diaz (The Woman Who Left)

Artistic or Technical Achievement
Paul Atkins, Matthew Bramante, Erik de Boer, Dan Glass, Kevin O'Neill and Bruce Woloshyn (Voyage of Time: Life's Journey) - cinematography and visual effects
Runners-up: Lav Diaz (The Woman Who Left) - cinematography, Olivier Affonso and Amelie Grossier (Raw) - makeup


Edgardo Castro dives head-first, deep into the depraved solitude that is a life on society's outskirts, yet in its physical centre. In documenting existence in its mundane, monotonous hopelessness, and in doing so with unflinching candour, Castro's La Noche is a valuable exercise for the new director, and a tender work of art with a singular vision. But its mundanity is altogether too oppressive, and its commentary upon it barely developed; yes, we see this existence, but what of it? Am I desensitized by so many films of a similarly graphic nature? Am I unmoved by the simple depiction of a culture with which I'm already familiar? Or is La Noche just a hollow, albeit noble, piece of cinema? Castro strives for utmost honesty, and indeed he achieves it, though seemingly expending all of his artistic energy on its creation - the tenor of individual moments is vivid and immediate, the intimacy of the camera work ever heightening the intensity. The navigation of a procession of sexual encounters, their varying physical and emotional characters skilfully mapped, form the majority of La Noche's narrative concerns, though it's often in its non-sexual, even daylight-set scenes that the film makes its strongest impressions, the fluid editing turning downtime into comedown time. Yet the opacity of Castro's psychological inquiries stymies the film from making the kind of meaningful statements it readily could have made, stranding this virtuous portrait of society's outcasts in a shallow sea of simplicity.

Monday, 17 October 2016


How to describe The Woman Who Left? Even the briefest appraisal of a single strand of its inquiries would take as long to write as the film itself takes to watch. There are those constant features of Lav Diaz's technique that never cease to impress, to serve such powerful purpose in the expression of story, theme and emotion. They need referenced only to again stress their integrity and Diaz's brilliance in employing them - the hi-def digital photography revealing all, yet only ever what Diaz wants us to see, when he wants us to see it. A great naturalist with his actors, he's also a great formalist with the rest of his mise-en-scene, and continues to create stories that are ours to interpret, not his characters' to inhabit. Then there's the obsession with environment, the appreciation of the nature of a particular place's effect upon the particular psychology of each particular person, the breathtaking astuteness with which Diaz places his figures within their specific physical milieu. And the sympathetic, provocative dissection of social and historical practices and conventions, with a focus on the lives of the disenfranchised, society's rejects, those whose control over its standards is as limited as its impact on them is profound. Law is in perpetual combat with justice in Diaz's films, and the many ways in which humans seek to pervert their most essential qualities are revealed as a rot within our character. Then there are the facets unique to The Woman Who Left: a loosening of Diaz's style, a new purpose for his personal brand of rigorous lyricism - this is among his most overtly emotional and humorous films. Also the critique of institutional systems of religion and spirituality, with the bold and sensational alternative Diaz proposes placing those rejects at the top of his church, part of this film's integral reconfiguration of gender and sexual politics. If this is, indeed, the church of Lav Diaz, then I'm more than ready to be baptized.

Sunday, 16 October 2016


Remember how female filmmakers dominated the London Film Festival awards last year? That's right, a completely fair and democratic set of voting processes resulted in an unbiased outcome that yet prioritized women in film. Well, the juries at this year's LFF have done the exact same thing. Half of this year's recipients were women, with Kelly Reichardt claiming the fest's top prize for her film Certain Women, and two awards going to women in the First Feature competition. A promising sign of the state of the international film industry both at present and in the future. Let's keep this momentum up! Check out all the winners right here.

Best Film - Official Competition
Certain Women (Kelly Reichardt)

The Sutherland Award for Best Film - First Feature Competition
Raw (Julia Ducournau)

Special Commendation - First Feature Competition
Oulaya Amamra (Divines)

The Grierson Award for Best Film - Documentary Competition
Starless Dreams (Mehrdad Oskouei)

Best Film - Short Film Competition
9 Days - From My Window in Aleppo (Issa Touma, Floor van der Meulen and Thomas Vroege)

BFI Fellowship
Steve McQueen


A defiant assertion of identity and a bold retort to the West comes in the form of a tender love story from Niger. Rahmatou Keita's film is as non-combative as they come, stressing the value of respect above all else; The Wedding Ring remains a pointed critique of Western exploitation in Africa yet, in demonstrating the pitfalls, but also the pride, in an isolated instance of a reversal of such exploitation. Even the more opaque elements of Keita's cultural immersion are amplified in her commitment to her cause, a statement of the validity of this dying culture, and of existence outside of the scheme of Western lifestyles. It is thus that The Wedding Ring becomes impossible to evaluate by usual standards, since it stringently refuses to adhere to them - many of the film's apparent flaws can be swiftly dismissed as such, though others cannot. One has cause to query the integrity of Keita's direction, with slack showing through in a number of sequences, sloppy editing, and an unnecessarily intrusive score diminishing the quality of an otherwise admirable production. Yet her outlook on her characters' lives is rich in detail and empathy, positing an ambiguous commentary on the effects of Western influence on regional African communities, and insisting on the inherent virtues of their ways of life, with an implicitly feminist message that is skilfully interwoven into its fellow thematic threads. And The Wedding Ring is an uncommonly, almost imperceptibly beautiful film, burgeoning with striking imagery to the extent that it almost becomes commonplace. It's this kind of powerful declaration and celebration of self of which African cinema ought to produce more, or of which it ought to be permitted to produce more!