Brain Cancer Appeal

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You may have noticed that there has been a reduction in posts over the last couple of years on this website.

The fact of the matter is that since the summer of 2012 I have had Grade 3 brain cancer and have been getting treatment for it ever since.

This has meant an unfortunate decline in FILMdetail activity (although I still post to Twitter).

Getting a cancer is bad (obviously) but staying alive has made me reassess things somewhat.

That’s why this special post is to inform you that I’m doing a sponsored walk on Sunday 12th October in Windsor (yes, the one where the Queen lives most of the time).

It is for The Brain Tumour Charity, which is a UK charity dedicated to research and more understanding of the illness.

If you would like to donate just visit my JustGiving page:

Any donation goes direct to the charity and it is a fairly straightforward process.

If you want to see the early stages of the cancer website I’m building, you can find it at

Life for me online is now divided between films and health, but I hope that one day I’ll be able to go back to focus on the films.

> Help me raise funds for The Brain Tumour Charity via JustGiving
> Find out more about Brain Tumours at Cancer Research UK

Documentaries Lists News

Sight & Sound’s Greatest Documentaries List

Sight and Sound Doc Poll

Sight and Sound have recently released the results of a poll of critics and filmmakers to find the greatest documentaries of all time.

The Critics’ Top 10 documentaries are:

1. Man with a Movie Camera, dir. Dziga Vertov (USSR 1929)

2. Shoah, dir. Claude Lanzmann (France 1985)

3. Sans soleil, dir. Chris Marker (France 1982)

4. Night and Fog, dir. Alain Resnais (France 1955)

5. The Thin Blue Line, dir. Errol Morris (USA 1989)

6. Chronicle of a Summer, dir. Jean Rouch & Edgar Morin (France 1961)

7. Nanook of the North, dir. Robert Flaherty (USA 1922)

8. The Gleaners and I, dir. Agnès Varda (France 2000)

9. Dont Look Back, dir. D.A. Pennebaker (USA 1967)

10. Grey Gardens, dir. Albert and David Maysles, Ellen Hovde and Muffie Meyer (USA 1975)

The poll report is released in the September edition of Sight & Sound published today, Friday 1st August.

The full lists of all the votes received and films nominated will be available online from 14th August.

You can join in the debate at Twitter using the hashtag #BestDocsEver.

> Sight and Sound
> More on documentary film at Wikipedia


DVD & Blu-ray Picks: June 2014

DVD and Blu-ray Picks - June 2014


> DVD & Blu-ray Picks for May 2014
> The Best DVD and Blu-rays of 2013


Philip Seymour Hoffman (1967-2014)

Philip Seymour Hoffman in Magnolia

The acclaimed actor passed away in New York yesterday aged 46.

Hoffman was a true modern great, second only perhaps to Daniel Day-Lewis (but far more prolific), who made the breakthrough from a great supporting actor to lead since the late 1990s.

He won the Oscar for Best Actor with his remarkable turn as Truman Capote in Capote (2005) and was also nominated three times for Best Supporting Actor, as well as receiving three Tony nominations for his work on stage.

Although he cropped up in minor roles in movies during the 1990s, such as Scent of a Woman (1992) and Twister (1996), he really started to come into his own with memorable roles in Happiness (1998) and The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999).

But it was his collaborations with writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson that brought him to a wider audience and linger in the memory: the shy boom operator in Boogie Nights (1997); the male nurse in Magnolia (1999); and most recently as a cult leader in The Master (2012).

In the DVD extras for Magnolia there is a 75 minute documentary, which is one of the best of its kind, and one of the highlights is seeing Anderson working with Hoffman.

His smaller roles in Anderson’s Hard Eight (1996) and Punch-Drunk Love (2002) were also examples of his working chemistry with the director who seemed to have a special connection with him.

Whilst I wasn’t the biggest fan of The Master (2012), he was sensational in it, bringing a unique charm and intensity to the character of Lancaster Dodd.

Hoffman was also a versatile supporting presence in mainstream films like Mission Impossible III (2006) and The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013) whilst maintaining his presence in classier fare like Charlie Wilson’s War (2007), The Savages (2007), Doubt (2008), Moneyball (2011) and The Ides of March (2011).

Roles in bleaker films such as Love Liza (2002) and Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead (2007) hinted at an ability to portray addictive characters, although whether or not this came easily to him, only he will have truly known.

In such a celebrated and varied career (around 50 films), it seems remarkable that he should be gone at the age of 46.

Time will tell what will be seen as his greatest role, though the sheer volume of work makes that difficult.

The obvious pick is Capote, but his role as theatre director Caden Cotard in Synedoche, New York (2008) would be my choice.

Charlie Kaufman’s directorial debut was a strange, puzzle-box of a movie but Hoffman’s performance was integral to the film, which remains a highly inventive and haunting meditation on how humans age and die.

One can only speculate on Hoffman’s inner demons that led him back to drugs and an early death, but for now the world of acting has lost one of its finest practitioners.

> Philip Seymour Hoffman at the IMDb
> Find out more about Philip Seymour Hoffman at Wikipedia


The East

Brit Marling in The East

An intriguing thriller about the penetration of an eco-terrorist group provides a reminder that interesting ideas realised on a lower budget can be highly effective.

It also marks another auspicious development in the partnership between writer-director Zal Batmanglij and co-writer/star Brit Marling, whose previous collaboration – The Sound of My Voice (2011) – explored similar themes.

Whilst that film revolved around a cult, this one is set amongst a secretive organisation of eco-activists called ‘The East’, who stage disruptive events (or ‘jams’ as they call them) as payback for companies who dump toxic waste or other damaging environmental activity.

In a prologue we see a mysterious masked gang break in to the house of an oil executive and stage their own oil spill, as punishment for his company’s activity.

The focus then shifts to Sarah (Brit Marling), an eager operative working for a private intelligence firm as she has to convince her skeptical boss (Patricia Clarkson) to allow her to go deep undercover and penetrate The East.

After slowly gaining their trust, she finds a new home amongst the group who include a skeptical Izzy (Ellen Page), a medical student (Toby Kebbell) and the de facto leader Benji (Alexander Skarsgard). Slowly she begins to find out more about their philosophy and activities.

These early sequences are the most effective as they are genuinely unpredictable and intriguing: we see a highly unusual communal meal, the gripping infiltration of a drinks party and the ever-growing tension that Sarah might go native with the group she is investigating.

Although it shows its hand a little too early, the narrative is filled with satisfying twists and turns demonstrating again the screenwriting chemistry between Marling and Batmanglij, more than fulfilling the promise of their auspicious debut.

Marling’s performance demonstrates her undeniable screen presence that she established in both Sound of My Voice (2010) and Another Earth (2010) which may have been partly down to her own writing contributions, which mark her out amongst her contemporaries.

In some ways this is a reverse of Batmanglij’s first film in which Marling played the cult leader, whereas here she plays the outsider trying to get in to a cult-like organisation.

The political issues are blended in cleverly with the plot: in one sequence we see how tensions and ethical dilemmas run deep within the protagonist and also the wider group.

It is also executed with considerable technical panache: Roman Vasyanov’s widescreen visuals and the editing by Andrew Weisblum and Bill Pankow give the film an extra polish often absent in films on this kind of budget (reportedly around the $6m mark).

The icing on the cake is Halli Cauthery’s score (working from themes by Harry Gregson-Williams), which lends the film more layers of mood and tension.

Over the last few years studios have shied away from mid-budget films like this by making a few blockbusters and lame comedies. (Credit to Fox Searchlight for making this with Ridley Scott’s production company, Scott Free).

The film’s tagline “Spy on us. We’ll spy on you” is eerily prescient in light of the recent NSA revelations and it may well be that in years to come this is a film people will see as emblematic of the Occupy Wall Street era.

> Official site
> Reviews of The East at Metacritic

News Thoughts

The January Catchup

January Backlog 2013

For US and UK audiences, January mostly represents a barren month where studios dump their bad films as the awards season heats up.

It can also be a strange time at the multiplex, as distributors of Oscar and BAFTA front-runners (which this year include Lincoln, Life of Pi and Zero Dark Thirty) seek to get a publicity boost from the nominations.

Meanwhile, a film like Texas Chainsaw 3D is showing in the screen next door.

I always feel like I’m playing catchup given the end-of-year rush to get the contenders out to voters.

On the more commercial side, it is also a salutary reminder that life is too short to waste on bad films (unless there is an interesting angle) and how quickly the hoopla surrounding Best Picture fades into the ether.

At the end of every year I try to watch as many as possible in order to compile an end-of-the-year list, but for various reasons that didn’t happen in 2012 – a shame since this is probably the most interesting set of Oscar nominations in years.

However, I’ve now seen most of the awards season heavy hitters and nearly completed my annual list of the best DVD and Blu-ray discs, both of which will be posted soon.

> Oscar Nominations
> The Best DVD and Blu-rays of 2011

Lists News

Sight And Sound’s Top Films Of 2012

This year’s Sight and Sound end-of-year poll has been topped by Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master.

As usual, the UK film magazine polled around 100 critics and but have refrained from publishing it online for now.

But my print copy arrived in the post this morning and I can confirm that the list is as follows:

1. The Master (Paul Thomas Anderson, USA)

2. Tabu (Miguel Gomes, Portugal/Germany/France)

3. Amour (Michael Haneke, France/Germany/Austria)

4. Holy Motors (Leos Carax, France/Germany)

5. Beasts of the Southern Wild (Benh Zeitlin, USA)

=  Berberian Sound Studio (Peter Strickland, UK/Germany)

7. Moonrise Kingdom (Wes Anderson, USA)

8. Beyond the Hills (Christian Mungiu, Romania/France/Belgium)

= Cosmopolis (David Cronenberg, Canada/France/Portugal/Italy)

= Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Turkey/Bosnia & Herzegovina)

= This is Not A Film (Jafar Pahani & Mojtaba Mirtahmaseb, Iran)

N.B. Because of the crossover of UK and US release dates some titles have been duplicated from last year’s list.

Sight and Sound on TwitterFacebook and YouTube
> 2012 reviews at Metacritic
Wikipedia on 2012 in film


Rewind 2012

Although there’s grumbling every year that films are getting worse, 2012 did seem to be a lean year for cinema releases and the wider industry is still struggling to readjust from the financial and technological shocks of the last four years.

However, some notable events included:

Among the DVD and Blu-ray releases that came out were:

I’ll try to do as many ‘rewind’ posts as possible to cover some of the above, as well as notable end of year releases such as Argo, Amour and The Master.

If there is anything you want to ask about, just leave a comment below or get in touch.

> 2012 in film at Wikipedia
> Worldwide box office figures at Box Office Mojo


Back to Blogging

So, regular blogging finally resumes after a 6 month break.

A more detailed post explaining my absence lies somewhere in the future, but for now it feels good to be back.

P.S. Can anyone name the film the image above is taken from?


Film Notes #14: Following (1998)

Christopher Nolan’s debut film is #14 in our Film Notes series.

For newcomers, this series of posts involves me watching a different film every day for a month, with the following rules:

  • It must be a film I have already seen.
  • I must make notes whilst I’m watching it.
  • Pauses are allowed but the viewing must all be one session.
  • It can’t be a current cinema release.

Hopefully it will capture my instant thoughts about a movie, providing a snapshot of my film diet for 30 days and some interesting links to the film in question.

Here are my notes on Following (1998) which I watched on DVD on Friday 6th April.

  • The debut film of Christopher Nolan that he made for just £6,000
  • Originally conceived as ‘no budget’ movie, it is just 78 minutes long
  • Idea of the narrative was to not just tell a story chronologically but to construct a modular narrative that consists of three sections that pull at one another
  • The plot is about a young writer in London who starts following random strangers but when he comes across a burglar named Cobb, he gradually becomes sucked into a web of deception.
  • We absorb the story of the film in the fractured, fragmented way we do in real life.
  • Shot in and around London – principally Central London, Southwark and Highgate
  • Bolex wind up camera used to shoot Central London scenes at the beginning
  • There is a shot of Hungerford Bridge by Charing Cross Station
  • Nolan used a lot of natural light and real locations that he was able to get some kind of access to.
  • Although he often only had a day’s notice to shoot scenes on location, his actors had done 6 months rehearsal so they could adapt pretty easily to most situations
  • They shot without permits using real locations, which often included flats belonging to friends or family.
  • Did they use Framestore CFC as the location for the cafe?
  • Producer Emma Thomas can be seen in the background of that cafe scene early in the film.
  • Nolan got the idea for the film when he lived in Central London and constructed a story around the idea of focusing on one person in the crowd.
  • The story explores the barriers we put up by virtue of having to live in a city. In a sense it covers similar themes to TAXI DRIVER (1976) and CROCODILE DUNDEE (1986).
  • Note that the burglar character is called Cobb – also the name of Leonardo DiCaprio’s character in INCEPTION (2010).
  • The other influence on the script was when Nolan’s flat was burgled in the early 90s and he realised that it wasn’t the lock on the door keeping them out but social convention.
  • Police told Nolan after his robbery that thieves often steal a bag during the robbery to their things in. He worked this into the script.
  • All the flats belonged to relatives or friends.
  • Shooting on rooftops is a handy way of getting a landscape view of city without permits.
  • Nightclub scenes shot at a bar called Detroit in Covent Garden.
  • Only had 3 or 4 lights to use in the nightclub – although it was “murderous” lighting job, it would have been harder to do in colour.
  • Note that make-up gets less severe as the film progresses
  • The Batman logo is on the door of the flat they rob!
  • Theobald’s physical appearance is a signifier of where the plot and narrative is at.
  • Nolan used an ARRI BL camera to shoot
  • The film plays very different on subsequent viewings – even then Nolan was very interested in the narrative possibilities of cinema.
  • Cobb knows the hidden side of London, which is what Nolan used for the locations.
  • Fractured narrative recalls Nic Roeg’s BAD TIMING (1980)
  • The guy who has his skull smashed looks a lot like Harry Potter
  • It would be interesting to know what system Nolan edited this on. It was just as digital, non-linear systems were becoming mainstream.
  • Black and white lighting is used to very good effect – gives it a film noir vibe
  • Typewriter and Minolta camera Theobald uses are actually Nolan’s.
  • Dialogue is a bit on the nose in parts but given the unusual structure that’s perhaps intentional.
  • Lucy Russell’s line on the intercom was ADR’d by Emma Thomas at the last minute as they needed it for the sound mix the next day.
  • The rooftop fight sequence posed a problem for post-synching as most no-budget films can’t really afford it.
  • Nolan got around this by maintaining the rough, unpolished vibe of the piece. The sound mix works within the world of the film.
  • You can see the seeds of MEMENTO (2000) in this film: haunted protagonist, fractured narrative, people deceiving each other and the rug being pulled out from the audience
  • Director’s uncle John Nolan is the policeman questioning Theobald at the beginning and end.
  • Note the pacing and editing as the film reaches its climax.
  • Final shot of the film was done at waist height so no-one could look into the camera (although if you look carefully somebody does for a split second).
  • The film was written and designed for the budget it was shot on – it made very good use of it’s limitations.
  • Is this the lowest budget feature film of all time?
  • It premièred at the San Francisco Film Festival in 1998 and Nolan got an agent and attention from other festivals including Slamdance, Amsterdam and Toronto.
  • He began principal photography on MEMENTO (2000) in September 1999 and it later had its world première at Venice in September 2000.

News Thoughts

Women on Film

It’s International Women’s Day today (Thursday 8th March), so here’s some of my favourite examples of inspiring female movie characters ranging from silent pioneers to animated superheroes.

This PBS special on Mary Pickford shows how she became one of the biggest stars of the silent era before being one of the founders of United Artists:

Several generations of female icons in one scene: Bette Davis, Marilyn Monroe and Anne Baxter in All About Eve (1950):

A strikingly different kind of performance was given by Bibi Andersson and Liv Ullmann in Ingmar Bergman’s classic Persona (1966).

A few years later, Bergman would a film about the relationship between three sisters, played by Harriet AnderssonKari Sylwan and Ingrid Thulin, in Cries and Whispers (1973).

Ripley’s last stand in Alien (1979) was not just a key scene for Sigourney Weaver but showed that female characters could survive without the  help of men (interestingly the ship’s computer is called Mother):

Ripley’s Last Stand
Alien at

Obsession isn’t always a bad thing in a young journalist…:

Future News People
Broadcast News at

…especially if they grow up to be TV producers like Holly Hunter’s character in Broadcast News (1987):

Then there’s the moving scene of female friendship in Babette’s Feast (1987) and cooking for a real reason – not just because men want their food on the table:

Anyone who has put up with sexist ‘banter’ in the workplace will appreciate this scene from Working Girl (1988) as Tess McGill (Melanie Griffith) gets revenge on her boss (Oliver Platt) who has tricked her into a date with his boorish colleague (Kevin Spacey):

Concerned about Hollywood’s reluctance to create female superheroes?

Pixar and director Brad Bird did their bit with The Incredibles (2004):

Any others you want to add?

> International Women’s Day
> More female performances at Movie Clips
> IMDb list of female icons

Festivals News

Sundance London 2012 Lineup

The line-up for the inaugural Sundance London festival was announced today with 14 films having their UK premiere, after showing at the US festival back in January.

Sundance founder Robert Redford has said:

“I welcome the opportunity to see how people in the UK experience these films. While they are American productions they speak to universal experiences and global challenges. Sundance London also is the perfect opportunity to continue our long-time commitment to growing a broader international community around new voices and new perspectives.”

Director of the festival John Cooper has also said:

“Sundance London grew out of our desire to help American independent filmmakers expand their reach, and we are happy that these 14 filmmakers are joining us on this adventure. Their participation has helped us to not only create a programme for Sundance London that reflects the diversity of our film festival in Park City, but also that helps build an enduring legacy of American stories that speak to international audiences.”

In addition to the films, Sundance London will host live music performances and events each evening, including an Opening Night event An Evening With Robert Redford And T Bone Burnett, Placebo in concert and Tricky and Martina Topley-Bird performing Maxinquaye.

There will also be panels, a short film programme, special events and additional music performers.

Programme information and ticket packages are available from the official wbsite at and individual tickets will go on sale in early April.


  • 2 Days in New York (Director: Julie Delpy, Screenwriters: Julie Delpy, Alexia Landeau): Marion has broken up with Jack and now lives in New York with their child. A visit from her family, the different cultural background of her new boyfriend, an ex-boyfriend who her sister is now dating, and her upcoming photo exhibition make for an explosive mix. Cast: Julie Delpy, Chris Rock, Albert Delpy, Alexia Landeau, Alex Nahon.
  • Chasing Ice (Director: Jeff Orlowski): Science, spectacle and human passion mix in this stunningly cinematic portrait as National Geographic photographer James Balog captures time-lapse photography of glaciers over several years providing tangible visual evidence of climate change. Winner of the Excellence in Cinematography Award: U.S. Documentary at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival
  • Filly Brown (Directors: Youssef Delara, Michael D. Olmos, Screenwriter: Youssef Delara): A Hip Hop-driven drama about a Mexican girl who rises to fame and consciousness as she copes with the incarceration of her mother through music. Cast: Lou Diamond Phillips, Gina Rodriguez, Jenni Rivera, Edward James Olmos.
  • Finding North (Directors: Kristi Jacobson, Lori Silverbush): A crisis of hunger looms in America and is not limited to the poverty stricken and uneducated. Can a return to policies of the 1970s save our future? Features interviews with activists including Witness to Hunger’s Mariana Chilton, Top Chef’s Tom Colicchio and Academy Award®-winning actor Jeff Bridges, as well as original music by T Bone Burnett & The Civil Wars.
  • For Ellen (Director and screenwriter: So Yong Kim): A struggling musician takes an overnight long-distance drive in order to fight his estranged wife for custody of their young daughter. Cast: Paul Dano, Jon Heder, Jena Malone, Margarita Levieva and Shay Mandigo.
  • The House I Live In (Director: Eugene Jarecki): For over 40 years, the War on Drugs has accounted for 45 million arrests, made America the world’s largest jailer and damaged poor communities at home and abroad. Yet, drugs are cheaper, purer and more available today than ever. Where did we go wrong and what is the path toward healing? Winner of the Grand Jury Prize: U.S. Documentary at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival
  • Liberal Arts (Director and screenwriter: Josh Radnor): Bookish and newly single Jesse Fisher returns to his alma mater for his favorite professor’s retirement dinner. A chance meeting with Zibby – a precocious classical music-loving sophomore – awakens in him long-dormant feelings of possibility and connection. Cast: Josh Radnor, Elizabeth Olsen, Richard Jenkins, Allison Janney, John Magaro, Elizabeth Reaser.
  • LUV (Director: Sheldon Candis, Screenwriters: Sheldon Candis, Justin Wilson): An orphaned 11-year-old boy is forced to face the unpleasant truth about his beloved uncle during one harrowing day in the streets of Baltimore. Cast: Common, Michael Rainey Jr., Dennis Haysbert, Danny Glover, Charles S. Dutton.
  • Nobody Walks (Director: Ry Russo-Young, Screenwriters: Lena Dunham, Ry Russo-Young): Martine, a young artist from New York, is invited into the home of a hip, liberal LA family for a week. Her presence unravels the family’s carefully maintained status quo, and a mess of sexual and emotional entanglements ensues. Cast: John Krasinski, Olivia Thirlby, Rosemarie DeWitt, India Ennenga, Justin Kirk. Winner of the U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Prize for Excellence in Independent Film Producing at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival.
  • An Oversimplification of Her Beauty (Director and screenwriter: Terence Nance): A quixotic young man humorously courses live action and various animated landscapes as he tries to understand himself after a mystery girl stands him up. Cast: Terence Nance, Namik Minter, Chanelle Pearson.
  • The Queen of Versailles (Director: Lauren Greenfield) — Jackie and David were triumphantly constructing the biggest house in America – a sprawling, 90,000-square-foot palace inspired by Versailles – when their timeshare empire falters due to the economic crisis. Their story reveals the innate virtues and flaws of the American Dream. Winner of the Directing Award: U.S. Documentary at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival.
  • Safety Not Guaranteed (Director: Colin Trevorrow, Screenwriter: Derek Connolly) — A trio of magazine employees investigate a classified ad seeking a partner for time travel. One employee develops feelings for the paranoid but compelling loner and seeks to discover what he’s really up to. Cast: Aubrey Plaza, Mark Duplass, Jake Johnson, Karan Soni. Winner of the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival.
  • Shut Up and Play the Hits (Directors: Dylan Southern, Will Lovelace): A film that follows LCD Soundsystem front man James Murphy over a crucial 48-hour period, from the day of their final gig at Madison Square Garden to the morning after, the official end of one of the best live bands in the world.
  • Under African Skies (Director: Joe Berlinger): Paul Simon returns to South Africa to explore the incredible journey of his historic Graceland album, including the political backlash he sparked for allegedly breaking the UN cultural boycott of South Africa, designed to end Apartheid.

>; Sundance London
>; Connect with them on Facebook ( and Twitter (@sundancefestUK)
>; More on the history of the Sundance Film Festival and The O2 at Wikipedia

Awards Season News

84th Academy Awards: Winners

The Artist won five awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, (Michael Hazanavicius) and Best Actor (Jean Dujardin).

Meryl Streep (The Iron Lady) was awarded Best Actress, whilst in the supporting categories Christopher Plummer (Beginners) and Octavia Spencer (The Help) won for their respective roles.

Hugo was the big winner in the technical categories, winning Cinematography, Sound Editing and Mixing, Art Direction and Visual Effects.

The Artist also became the the first silent film to win Best Picture since Wings (1927), which won the same prize at the very first Academy Awards.

So in a year that has seen great changes as cinema shifts from celluloid to digital, there was something appropriate in the big winners being tributes to the silent era and one of its true pioneers, Georges Méliès.


Official Oscar site
> Explore the 84th Academy Awards in depth at Wikipedia


Remembering Bingham Ray

Although often overshadowed by more famous rivals, Bingham Ray was one of the key figures in independent film over the last 25 years.

Just a few days ago I posted a piece on what the phrase ‘indie film’ means in 2012.

What does independent mean when a subsidiary of a large media company (Fox Searchlight) releases movies like The Tree of Life and Shame?

Or when two of the UK’s highest grossing films of 2011 are genuine independents (The King’s Speech and The Inbetweeners)?

Part of that post meant going back to Peter Biskind’s Down and Dirty Pictures: Miramax, Sundance and the Rise of Independent Film.

The 2004 book essentially told the story of the modern independent film movement from 1989 until the early 2000s.

Much about the movie landscape has changed since then, notably the economic crash of 2008, the reduction of ‘dependent arms’ and the creative rejuvenation of Sundance from 2009 onwards.

Two large characters dominate the history of modern independent film: Robert Redford, the founder of the Sundance film festival and Harvey Weinstein, who co-ran Miramax Films with his brother Bob.

Both sets of characters seem to embody the ideals, commerciality and contradictions of indie film over the last twenty five years.

But there was a third man: Bingham Ray.

He sadly passed away last month during the Sundance festival and Redford’s statement on hearing the news was reflective of the many tributes that poured out at the time:

“He was a valued member of the Sundance family for as long as I can remember, and he is responsible for mentoring countless seminal storytellers and bringing their work to the world.”

The recent memorial services in New York and Los Angeles, along with a Sundance fellowship set up in his honour were testament to the esteem in which he was held.

A key figure in the indie film world the company he co-founded, October Films, began as a genuine independent, in an ecosystem where the distinctions could get blurry.

Among the directors he championed in his career were Mike Leigh, Lars von Trier, Jim Jarmusch and David Lynch.

As a producer-distributor, Ray was that rare breed who could not only identify talent but package them for critical and commercial success.

After studying at Simpson College in Iowa, he moved to New York where he became manager at the Bleecker Street Cinema in Greenwich Village.

He later worked in marketing and distribution at the Samuel Goldwyn Company and then in the summer of 1987 was hired by Columbia Pictures, which was then under the brief reign of David Putnam.

In 2001 he recounted the story of his brief time there in the late 1980s:

But soon after he really made his mark by forming October Films with fellow indie stalwart Jeff Lipsky.

Named after Eisenstein’s classic film of the same name and the month the two founders were born, Ray later explained their philosophy:

“I’m not some avant-gardist, I know the difference between something that’s truly experimental and something that’s wholly mainstream, but I’d like to think that somewhere in the middle is a comfort zone where there’s an audience. It might not be the largest, or the most lucrative, but for me the rewards are the greatest.”

The first film they released was Mike Leigh’s Life is Sweet (1990), which appropriately opened in the US during October 1991, and grossed over $2 million – then a considerable sum for an indie release.

After that they released such films as D.A. Pennebaker’s documentary The War Room (1993), Guillermo Del Toro’s debut Cronos (1993) and John Dahl’s The Last Seduction (1994).

Another creative and commercial plateau was to come at the Berlin film festival in 1995.

Ray demonstrated his nose for talent after sitting through five hours of Lars Von Trier’s The Kingdom (1994) – a TV series which screened at festivals – by acquiring it.

He not only added a key European auteur to his already impressive stable of directors, but this relationship led to October acquiring US rights to Von Trier’s next film, Breaking the Waves (1996).

Originally set to star Gerard Depardieu and Helena Bonham Carter, they were ultimately replaced by Stellan Skaarsgard and (a then unknown) Emily Watson.

Ray saw a cut of Breaking the Waves in early 1996, which he said “blew him away”.

Going into Cannes that year he also had a new Mike Leigh film, Secrets & Lies (1996).

It would turn out to be a triumphant festival for October Films as Leigh’s film scooped the Palme d’Or and Best Actress (for Brenda Blethyn) but Von Trier’s film also claimed the Grand Prix.

You can still see him basking in the glow of that Cannes experience on this Charlie Rose appearance alongside Janet Maslin of the New York Times and David Ansen of Newsweek:

[The piece begins at 24:17]

On the surface, the subsequent awards season was dominated by Miramax.

Fuelled with Disney cash from their acquisition in 1993, they redefined the indie world through a combination of marketing genius and clever targeting of Academy voters.

The English Patient represented the high watermark of Miramax movie of that era: a period piece with literary pedigree it went on to win Best Picture and do excellent box office worldwide.

But the wider story that year was how the major studios had been trumped by the independents, as Jerry Maguire was the only Best Picture nominee to come from a big Hollywood studio (Sony).

There was no more remarkable independent that year than October Films.

Secrets & Lies went on to open the New York Film Festival that year, garner great reviews and eventually receive five Academy Award nominations (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress, Best Original Screenplay).

Even Breaking the Waves found an audience and a Best Actress nomination for Emily Watson was a sign that they were punching well above their weight.

This MSNBC piece profiling Ray and the company shows the excitement that year as the nominations were announced.

Although they didn’t win any awards on the night, the nominations were a stunning achievement and put October on another level.

I remember watching that ceremony overnight in my first year of college and marvelling at how Mike Leigh and the Coen Brothers were being granted the worldwide TV exposure of the Oscar ceremony.

Their backing of David Lynch’s Lost Highway (1997) and Todd Solondz’s Happiness (1998) was testament to their faith in projects by visionary directors.

Later on when Universal acquired a majority stake in October, that became a point of conflict as Ray clashed with the new corporate owners.

One of the paradoxes of the indie film boom of the 90s was that it was – to varying degrees – supported by corporate dollars.

In the case of Miramax, though they had autonomy, Pulp Fiction was ultimately released by the same corporation that owned Mickey Mouse.

As for October, the trail they blazed to the Oscars in early 1997 was always a tricky – one of the paradoxes of financial success was that it ultimately pushed them towards the safety of a large owner.

But still they pushed the world cinema envelope.

It is remarkable to think that around this time they were releasing Jafar Panahi’s The White Balloon (1995) and Thomas Vinterberg’s Festen (1998) at US cinemas.

The costly flop they were dreading happened to be David Lynch’s brilliant but defiantly uncommercial Lost Highway (1997) – the first half of which still happens to be amongst his greatest work.

October sold a majority stake to Universal and Ray left after a complicated corporate merry go round which saw Universal sell its stake to Barry Diller in 1999.

He then formed USA Films and merged it with Gramercy Pictures, before Vivendi (new French owners of Universal) acquired Good Machine in 2002.

The combined companies were all merged together as Focus Features, which is still Universal’s indie arm today under James Schamus.

Ray later served on festival juries and after a serious car accident in 2000 he returned to the business at United Artists.

The indie boom during the 1990s saw larger studios try to imitate the Miramax model by starting their own specialty arms.

United Artists were certainly not the creative powerhouse they had been in their heyday and after the disaster of Heaven’s Gate (1980) seemed stuck in an ever more complex relationship with MGM.

But in the 2000s it was rebranded as a specialty studio and Ray was asked to run it.

His successes there included Danis Tanovic’s Balkan War drama No Man’s Land (2001), Michael Moore’s Oscar-winning documentary Bowling for Columbine (2002), Pieces of April (2003) and Hotel Rwanda (2004).

During his time there he also marshalled the indie sector into opposing the ban on DVD screeners during the 2003 Oscar season.

In what seems like a forerunner to the recent SOPA affair, this was where the seven major studios issued a ban on Oscar voters being sent screener discs at their home.

Although in theory voters should go to see films at a cinema, for many smaller companies it is much more cost effective to send voters a DVD to their homes.

For a specialty film an Oscar nomination – let alone a win – was vital to publicity and box office.

In late 2003 Ray organised a meeting of the then major indie players: UA, Sony Classics, Focus Features, Paramount Classics, Fine Line and Miramax.

The subsequent open letter to MPAA head Jack Valenti (who was representing the big studio view) was drafted on behalf of the indie companies by James Schamus:

“The consumer has a completely cynical attitude towards the companies that make the product, viewing them as gigantic greedy corporations who want to control everything. And stamp out anything of interest that’s unique or individual. You just did that, for the movie business, man. Under the rubric of fighting piracy, in one week, you have created precisely the market conditions that have destroyed the record industry”.

Eventually a compromise was reached and the screener ban eventually lifted.

After United Artists, Ray then joined Sidney Kimmel Entertainment – where he reportedly couldn’t persuade them to make a script called The King’s Speech.

He later left for roles at the Film Society of Lincoln Center, the Independent Film Channel and Snag Films before just recently becoming Executive Director of the San Francisco Film Society.

It was somehow fitting that he would pass away during the festival that meant so much to him and helped shape the modern indie film movement.

In 2010, he paid tribute to his friend Bob Berney at the 2010 Woodstock Film Festival:

Last summer he featured on an indieWire panel, which was a celebration of the last 15 years of the website and the possible online future.

(The phrase “everything is possible but nothing works” is genius).

Moderated by Dana Harris, the discussion included Richard Abramowitz, Amy Heller, Bob Berney, Ira Deutchman, Mark Urman, Arianna Bocco and Jeanne Berney.

It is a must-watch for anyone interested in film distribution.

But notice what Ray’s answer to the question ‘What do you hope you’ll be doing in another 15 years?’ at 1:02:03:

“I’d like to be celebrating the 30th anniversary of indieWIRE”

It is a real shame he won’t be around to see it.

Recently he took up the position of Executive Director of the San Francisco Film Society and someone has posted a speech he gave just after taking up the role.

One of the features of the current age is just how much of our lives ends up on YouTube.

So, it was only appropriate that footage of his New York Memorial Service was put online:

A lot has changed since 2004 when Biskind’s book came out, but I couldn’t help noticing the final paragraph.

It is actually a quote from Ray and it describes his indie film philosophy perfectly:

“No matter where I go – the only thing consistent is me. I bring out the best and the worst in some of these people. This was all about money, and I still believe that there are decisions that you make that aren’t motivated by financial gain. The independent world isn’t like the Hollywood world. The motives are different, the goals are different, people aren’t necessarily trying to get rich and powerful, they’re trying to push art first whilst thinking everything else will take of itself. That’s the naive part of it, it doesn’t happen that way. You can’t even talk about that with a straight face or people will laugh you off the planet. But there’s a big big part of me that really does believe that. And will always believe that”


>; Obituraries at the NY Times and IndieWire
>; IndieWIRE with tributes from Rachael Horovitz, Cassian Elwes and Michael Moore on his passing
>; Sasha Bronner on The Bingham Ray 101 Film Syllabus
>; Peter Biskind on Miramax
>; Down and Dirty Pictures at Amazon UK


Emmanuel Lubezki wins the ASC Award

Emmanuel Lubezki has won the ASC award for his work on The Tree of Life.

The American Society of Cinematographers awarded his stunning work on Terrence Malick’s film on Sunday night at the Hollywood and Highland Grand Ballroom in Los Angeles.

The Mexican-born Lubezki had previously won the ASC Award for his groundbreaking work on Alfonso Cuarón’s Children of Men (2006), and has been nominated for five Academy Awards.

He was also shortlisted for Cuarón’s A Little Princess (1995) and Malick’s The New World (2005).

The Tree of Life is quite simply one of the best looking films in recent history. Maybe one of the best ever.

Todd McCarthy’s review in The Hollywood Reporter nailed it:

“Emmanuel Lubezki outdoes himself with cinematography of almost unimaginable crispness and luminosity. As in The New World, the camera is constantly on the move, forever reframing in search of the moment, which defines the film’s impressionistic manner”

When they first teamed up, Malick and Lubezki created a series of creative constraints that evolved during the making of that film and spilled over into this one.

In an interview with American Cinematographer Lubezki revealed that rules were part of his creative process:

“In all the movies I’ve done, I always worked with a set of rules — they help me to find the tone and the style of the film. Art is made of constraints. When you don’t have any, you go crazy, because everything is possible.”

Or as Kathryn Bigelow might say (when quoting Andre Gide):

“Art is born of restraint and dies of freedom”

The same article went on to describe the parameters they used on the film, which the cinematographer and crew members nicknamed ‘the dogma’:

  • Shoot in available natural light
  • Do not underexpose the negative Keep true blacks
  • Preserve the latitude in the image
  • Seek maximum resolution and fine grain
  • Seek depth with deep focus and stop: “Compose in depth”
  • Shoot in backlight for continuity and depth
  • Use negative fill to avoid “light sandwiches” (even sources on both sides)
  • Shoot in crosslight only after dawn or before dusk; never front light
  • Avoid lens flares
  • Avoid white and primary colors in frame
  • Shoot with short-focal-length, hard lenses
  • No filters except Polarizer
  • Shoot with steady handheld or Steadicam “in the eye of the hurricane”
  • Z-axis moves instead of pans or tilts
  • No zooming
  • Do some static tripod shots “in midst of our haste”
  • Accept the exception to the dogma (“Article E”)

Lubezki also noted:

“Our dogma is full of contradictions! For example, if you use backlight, you will get flares, or if you go for a deep stop, you will have more grain because you need a faster stock. So you have to make these decisions on the spot: what is better in this case, grain or depth?”

“The most important rule for me is to not underexpose. We want the blacks; we don’t like milky images. Article E does not apply to underexposure!”

One thing that was striking about the film was its amazing use of natural light:

“When you put someone in front of a window, you’re getting the reflection from the blue sky and the clouds and the sun bouncing on the grass and in the room. You’re getting all these colors and a different quality of light. It’s very hard to go back to artificial light in the same movie. It’s like you’re setting a tone, and artificial light feels weird and awkward [after that].”

Shooting on the Arricam Lite and Arri 235 with Kodak film stocks, his decision to shoot in 1:85 and not anamorphic or Super 35 was also interesting:

“Even though anamorphic has more resolution, we decided on 1.85 because the close focus was going to be extreme — we were so close to the kids, their faces, hands and feet. And we didn’t want the grain of Super 35.”

It is well worth reading the full interview here.

The full list of winners from the evening were:

  • Feature Film: Emmanuel Lubezki, The Tree of Life
  • Television Episodic Series/Pilot, One Hour: Jonathan Freeman, Boardwalk Empire (Ep. 21)
  • Television Episodic Series/Pilot, Half Hour: Michael Weaver, Californication (Ep. Suicide Solution)
  • Television Movies/Miniseries: Martin Ruhe, Page Eight

The Honorees were:

  • Board of Governors Award: Harrison Ford
  • ASC Lifetime Achievement Award: Dante Spinotti
  • ASC Career Achievement in Television Award: William Wages
  • ASC Presidents Award: Francis Kenny
  • ASC Bud Stone Award of Distinction: Fred Godfrey

> The Tree of Life review


Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer discuss The Help on Tavis Smiley

Two stars of The Help recently gave an impassioned defence of their roles in the film.

On Tavis Smiley’s PBS show Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer got into a discussion about race, Hollywood and the Oscars.

The Davis quote from the interview that got the most attention was her response to Smiley’s ambivalence about the film:

“…that very mindset that you have – and that a lot of African-Americans have – is absolutely destroying the black artist…”

But you should really watch the whole 24 minute discussion here:

Watch Actresses Viola Davis & Octavia Spencer on PBS. See more from Tavis Smiley.

> Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer at the IMDb
> The Help
> Oscar Nominations

News Short Films

Vimeo Festival + Awards 2012

Video sharing site Vimeo is preparing for its second Festival + Awards.

This is a combination of a film festival and awards ceremony designed to showcase the best in original online video and judges this year include director Edgar Wright, actor James Franco and Radiohead bassist Colin Greenwood.

Along with YouTube, the site has proved a valuable outlet for filmmakers of all ages and levels from around the world.

Director of the Vimeo Festival + Awards, Jeremy Boxer recently said:

“The aim of the Vimeo Festival + Awards is to become the gold standard for creative online video. We designed the program to focus on discovering the best new talent and to give that talent a platform that will catapult their careers to the next level. We are proud to reveal our new panel of esteemed judges.”

Submissions are not limited to works that have appeared on Vimeo but the original content must have either premiered online or have been created between July 31, 2010 and February 20th 2012.

Vimeo have said that winners in each category will get a $5,000 grant to make a new film.

The overall winner gets an additional $25,000 grant.

Complete rules and restrictions are available at Vimeo’s award site, so be sure to check them out here.

If you haven’t entered already, submissions close on February 20th, 2012.

Here are last year’s awards:

Here are the links to last years:

This year, it has recruited the following people as judges in these different categories (some of which are new):














> Vimeo Awards Site & Tumblr
> More on Vimeo at Wikipedia


Is the Internet becoming HAL 9000?

What does the resignation of an England football manager have to do with a science fiction film made in 1968?

The connection lies in lip reading, John Terry and Stanley Kubrick.

Let me clarify those three things before we see how they intersect.

  • Lip reading is a technique of understanding speech through the visual movements of the lips, face and tongue with information.
  • John Terry is the Chelsea footballer who was caught up in a racism row, which ultimately triggered the resignation of England manager Fabio Capello.
  • Stanley Kubrick is the director of 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), in which two astronauts are caught lip reading by the ship’s computer HAL 9000.

But how precisely do the worlds of football and cinema collide?

Well, let’s take the John Terry case first.

The England national team manager Fabio Capello resigned yesterday, which was front page news in the UK.

Over the last few months a storm had been brewing over an alleged racist incident involving Terry.

It finally exploded when the Italian manager resigned after he felt that his bosses at the FA had mismanaged the whole affair.

The controversies section on his Wikipedia entry are a reflection of how Terry’s personal life has affected his professional activities.

This was the case on October 23rd, when during a game with West London rivals Queens Park Rangers he was involved in an altercation with an opposing player Anton Ferdinand.

The incident was serious enough for him to be questioned by police and later charged by the Crown Prosecution Service.

One of the factors that may yet influence the case was footage that quickly spread online as people posted links to YouTube videos via Facebook, Twitter and forums.

Here is just one example, captured by Jonny Gould on his iPhone whilst watching the game on television.

He later posted it to YouTube where – as I write this – it currently has 117,119 views:

It shows how a site built for sharing videos has also become something of a social hangout as well as the largest media library ever built.

People can like or dislike and exchange comments on videos that can be seen instantly around the globe.

This is how one gamer and football fan responded, inviting viewer comments to his YouTube channel:

In previous years, when something like this happened organisations or rich individuals could place an injunction, effectively silencing newspapers until everything was public knowledge.

We now live in a digital world where controversial claims can be dissected at dizzying speed before they are even investigated, let alone brought before a court.

Footballers like Ryan Giggs can’t stop all the speculation being posted about them on Twitter, whilst Joey Barton (@joey7barton) and Wayne Rooney (@waynerooney) can stamp it out by using their own accounts as their own 140 character press office.

What is a pest for some is useful for another.

In the case of John Terry, how is all the online speculation going to affect his court case?

His defence lawyers might argue that the current videos on the web unfairly prejudice his case, but the prosecution could equally argue they be used as Exhibit A in evidence.

It is a matter for the judge to decide whether or not video from a site currently outside of UK law is admissible in this particular case.

But how does Stanley Kubrick fit it to all this?

His film 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) managed to have a profound influence on both cinema (e.g. Star Wars, Alien and The Terminator series), technology (e.g. the iPad and Siri) and even US game shows.

His thoroughness in releasing his films also helped shape the modern box office report.

Just four months after Kubrick’s death in March 1999, Steven Spielberg spoke of how his friend told him about the profound importance the Internet would have:

“Stanley predicted that the Internet was going to be the next generation of filmmaking and filmmakers …and when I woke up on Sunday morning, I do what I do every morning. I clicked on AOL to get my headlines …and it said ‘Kubrick dead at 70’.

It was only days later that the irony, that that’s how I would discover that Stanley had moved on, was going to come from the technology that Stanley had sort of – both with giddiness, excitement and also with profound caution – told me was going to be the next generation that might change the form of cinema…”

Kubrick was correct about the profound effects of the Internet, not just on cinema (e.g. piracy, distribution and marketing) but about how it has become this vast abyss into which we push and pull information, some highly personal, on a daily basis.

When I saw Jonny’s video of John Terry (which passed from Sky Sports to his iPhone and then on to YouTube) my first thought was of this scene from 2001: A Space Odyssey where the spaceship’s computer HAL 9000 lip reads the astronauts who are discussing him in (what they think) is a private space:

The parallels with the Terry case are striking: he could yet be convicted by a lip reading video in the same way that Kubrick’s two astronauts were rumbled by a supercomputer.

The Internet has, in a sense, become HAL 9000.

If you haven’t seen the film I won’t spoil the ending, but the solution to a problematic super computer is remarkably similar to what governments and politicians from around the world have proposed in the light of leaked US cables, uprisings, revolutions, riots and copyright infringement.

In a broader sense the automated distribution of vast amounts of personal data via sites like Facebook (which currently has 845 million users), may yet have profound effects on our lives and the world we live in, whether we use them or not.

As different forms of social media spread and continue to reshape our lives maybe Kubrick’s sci-fi film will become even more relevant?

> More on John Terry, The Internet and Stanley Kubrick at Wikipedia
> BBC News report on the Terry case and the Capello resignation


Camden Council Robocop

A video surfaced last night of a Camden resident recording what appears to be a North London version of ED-209.

Jim Jepps writes on The Big Smoke blog:

Just getting home from a photo-taking expedition in the snow and my neighbour points the camera out to me.

Now, the flash camera has been there for a while, we’ve complained about it before and we’ve been told the objective is to move people on. Seeing as this is our communal garden I’ve never really felt that was an adequate explanation.

There’s no illegal activity here, no anti-social behaviour. The worst it ever gets is the kids running round which, I understand, some people might not like, but frankly kids should run round – it’s their job.

But this was new. Watch the film and be aghast!

Indeed, do watch:

He then posted a link to the video on Twitter:


My first thought was of this scene from John Carpenter’s Escape From New York (1981) where Snake Plisskin (Kurt Russell) is  ‘processed’ just before he gets the offer of rescuing the President:

But of course, the most infamous robot law enforcer designed by city bureaucrats is ED-209 from Robocop (1987):


To paraphrase The Old Man (played by Dan O’Herlihy): “Camden, I’m VERY disappointed”

It is all a bit different from Detroit, where a Robocop statue is going to get built after a Kickstarter campaign began after someone tweeted the Mayor’s office.

By the way, this Robocop inspired rap by DJ Mayhem & MC Mouthmaster Murf (posted by YouTube user robomayhem) is genius:

> Original post on The Big Smoke
> Camden Council
> Find out more about Camden and Robocop at Wikipedia
> Detroit will get a Robocop statue


Ben Gazzara (1930-2012)

Ben Gazzara passed away yesterday at the age of 81.

As an actor he starred in many significant films, both in lead and supporting roles.

His CV includes films with such directors as Otto Preminger (Anatomy of a Murder), John Cassavetes (several films including Husbands), Giuseppe Tornatore (The Professor), Peter Bogdanovich (They All Laughed), David Mamet (The Spanish Prisoner), The Coen Brothers (The Big Lebowski), Vincent Gallo (Buffalo 66), Todd Solondz (Happiness), Spike Lee (Summer of Sam) and Lars von Trier (Dogville).

On hearing the news, my immediate thought was his riotous appearance on The Dick Cavett Show, promoting Husbands in 1970 with John Cassevetes (a regular collaborator and friend) and Peter Falk.

Here it is and it reminds you of the days when chat show appearances weren’t filled with PR-led soundbites:

Here are some clips from his career, including interviews:

Monster Truck

Road House


The classic scene from The Big Lebowski can be found by clicking here (I didn’t embed it as it features an annoying autoplay ad, but its worth waiting for).

> The New York Times story
> IMDb entry

Festivals News

Beasts of the Southern Wild at Sundance

One of the breakout films from this year’s Sundance film festival has been Beasts of the Southern Wild, the directorial debut of Benh Zeitlin.

Based on a play called Juicy And Delicious, this is the official synopsis from the Sundance catalogue:

Hushpuppy, an intrepid six-year-old girl, lives with her father, Wink, in “the Bathtub,” a southern Delta community at the edge of the world. Wink’s tough love prepares her for the unraveling of the universe; for a time when he’s no longer there to protect her. When Wink contracts a mysterious illness, nature flies out of whack—temperatures rise, and the ice caps melt, unleashing an army of prehistoric creatures called aurochs. With the waters rising, the aurochs coming, and Wink’s health fading, Hushpuppy goes in search of her lost mother.

Hushpuppy is not just the film’s heroine; she’s its soul. Beasts of the Southern Wild exists entirely in its own universe: mythological, anthropological, folkloric, and apocalyptic. Benh Zeitlin’s first feature (a Sundance Institute Feature Film Program project) employs a cast of nonactors—reflecting its grassroots production—to fiercely portray the bond between father and daughter in a world where only the strong survive. Standing defiantly at the end of the world, Hushpuppy affirms the dignity of telling their own story: that they were once there.

Here is Zeitlin discussing the film with the Sundance Channel before the festival:

He also did a Q&A with Filmmaker Magazine:

Filmmaker: What is the tone of Beasts of the Southern Wild? Who is this film for?

Zeitlin: The film is for everyone. The movie’s weird, because we made the it in a way that no one else would really be stupid enough to try, but, I know that the feelings it’s trading in are universal. It’s all about hope, glory, courage, wisdom, in the face of loosing the people and places that made you. It’s not a brooding, mopey, art film. Even though it has this folkloric poetic-ness that you don’t generally get in the AMC palace, the AMC palace is deeply present in the energy of the movie. People from both sides of the multiplex / art house line are going to relate to it.

Zeitlin’s short film Glory at Sea (2006) had led to Filmmaker Magazine listing him in their 2008 list of the 25 New Faces in Independent Film.

It was uploaded to YouTube in 2008 and you can watch it here:

There is also this interview with Zeitlin from 2009, about the short:

But reception to his debut feature has been on another level, with some effusive reactions in Utah.

Variety’s Peter Debruge wrote:

“…a stunning debut. Despite limited means, Zeitlin and his Court 13 collective conjure an expansive world in which to set this richly textured bayou pastoral”

Todd McCarthy of The Hollywood Reporter (who has seen a few Sundance sensations in his time) is also highly impressed:

“One of the most striking films ever to debut at the Sundance Film Festival. …Benh Zeitlin’s directorial debut could serve as a poster child for everything American independent cinema aspires to be but so seldom is”

So the two major US trade journals are buzzing, but what about other outlets?

Ty Burr of the Boston Globe is dazzled:

“It doesn’t happen often here, but it’s a heady experience when it does: An unknown Sundance movie that grips you from its very first images, follows through on its promise (and even raises the stakes), then sends you out dazed with other festivalgoers to wonder if you all witnessed the same minor miracle.

Eric Kohn of Indiewire is more tempered:

“Zeitlin offers up a majestic encapsulation of a child’s worldview. Supremely ambitious and committed to profundity, “Beasts” sets the bar too high and suffers from a muddled assortment of expressionistic concepts, but it still manages to glide along its epic aspirations. Beasts is bound to generate Sundance buzz for its sheer jaw-dropping scope, but it’s simply too odd to garner more than a limited theatrical release (or perform well if it’s released any wider).”

Comparisons have already been made with a young Terrence Malick and Noel Murray of the AV Club says:

“a live-action Miyazaki film, with Days of Heaven narration”

Jeff Wells of Hollywood Elsewhere praises its atmosphere:

“The passionately praised Beasts of the Southern Wild, …is everything its admirers have said it is. It’s something to sink into and take a bath in on any number of dream-like, atmospheric levels, and a film you can smell and taste and feel like few others I can think of.”

Anthony Kaufman of Screen Daily doubts it will break out of the cineaste festival circuit:

“It’s all original and weird enough to be watchable, but not coherent or concise enough to be commercial. Beasts is a curiosity, to be sure, likely headed for worldwide festival play, but not much business”

Here is Peter Sciretta and Germain Lussier of /Film:

Fox Searchlight, one of the remaining powerhouses in the US indie world, bought the rights soon after.

It was presumably a sign that they want to be in business with Zeitlin for his next couple of films and reminiscent of last year when they acquired Sundance breakout Another Earth.

Another film they acquired this week was The Surrogate – a drama with John Hawkes and Helen Hunt, which sounds like a cross between My Left Foot (1989) and The 40-Year Old Virgin (2005), which has already been attracting awards season buzz for next year’s Oscars.

> Official site, Twitter and Facebook
> Benh Zeitlin at the IMDb
> Interview with Benh Zeitlin from 2008


Eureka to release Double Indemnity and The Lost Weekend

Double Indemnity (1944), The Lost Weekend (1945) and Lifeboat (1944) are getting dual-format DVD and Blu-ray releases in the coming months.

It is amongst a clutch of interesting titles that Eureka Entertainment are releasing through their Masters of Cinema label.

The full press release is as follows:

Eureka Entertainment is pleased to announce its forthcoming releases for the months of April, May and June 2012. There will be seven new releases added to the Masters of Cinema series (DOUBLE INDEMNITY, THE LOST WEEKEND, LIFEBOAT, ISLAND OF LOST SOULS, RUGGLES OF RED GAP, SANSHO DAYU and UGETSU MONOGATARI) as well as one non-Masters of Cinema release, namely Takashi Miike’s YATTERMAN. Eureka also continues its ongoing association with Bounty Films (responsible for the UK release of THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE) with the release of Yamaguchi’s DEADBALL.

Curator, Founder and Production Director of the Masters of Cinema, Nick Wrigley: “We’re very excited to finally be welcoming British legend Alfred Hitchcock into the Masters of Cinema Series. He made LIFEBOAT during WW2, his only film for Fox, and the same year he made two shorter films for the war effort – BON VOYAGE and AVENTURE MALGACHE – both collected here, in new HD restorations as a sumptuous Dual Format special edition.

Our two best selling Mizoguchi titles, the enormous Japanese masterpieces SANSHO DAYU and UGETSU MONOGATARI will receive the upgrade treatment in April when they appear in new HD restorations / Dual Format editions alongside OYU-SAMA and GION BAYASHI, also in HD.

May 2012 sees a Charles Laughton double-bill. One of England’s most-loved actor/directors (his only directorial effort – THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER – being one of the most remarkable one-offs in the history of cinema), Scarborough-born Laughton has a marvellous time in the pre-Code Universal horror classic ISLAND OF LOST SOULS. Three years later he starred in Leo McCarey’s amazing RUGGLES OF RED GAP.

The director of MAKE WAY FOR TOMORROW directs Laughton who plays an English valet whisked away to the American west. Banned on release by Nazi Germany because of Laughton’s moving recitement of the Gettysburg Address.

In June we welcome the great Billy Wilder into the Masters of Cinema Series with two of his very greatest achievements on Blu-ray only – DOUBLE INDEMNITY (1944) starring Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck, and THE LOST WEEKEND (1945), which stars an Oscar-winning performance by Welshman Ray Milland.”

Full line up is as follows:

Released on 23 April 2012
Alfred Hitchcock’s only film for Fox, made at the height of WW2, stars a first-rate ensemble cast, led by grande dame of the stage Tallulah Bankhead, as the survivors of a Nazi attack set adrift on a lifeboat in the Atlantic Ocean, pitted against interpersonal animosities, creeping paranoia, and the captain of the Nazi sub that placed them in their current predicament…

Mizoguchi’s intensely poetic tragedy consistently features on polls of the best films ever made. This new HD restoration is the film’s first appearance on Blu-ray anywhere in the world, and is accompanied by an HD presentation of Mizouguchi’s 1951 classic OYÛ-SAMA.

One of the most critically revered films in Japanese cinema history, Mizoguchi’s deeply affecting classic has been newly restored in HD and appears here on Blu-ray for the first time anywhere in the world, and is accompanied by an HD presentation of Mizoguchi’s 1953 classic GION BAYASHI.

Classic seventies anime series Yatterman flies to the silver screen in a brilliant crime-fighting explosion of candy-coloured camp, over-the-top adventure, and pure popcorn entertainment. Directed by legendary cult director Takashi Miike (13 ASSASSINS, ICHI THE KILLER, AUDITION) and featuring a brand new plot and re-imaged characters, this live action debut of Yatterman will re-define the robot action adventure genre.

DEADBALL DVD (Released by Bounty Films)
A hilariously offensive, politically incorrect sports splatter comedy, DEADBALL is director Yudai Yamaguchi’s follow-up to his earlier zombie baseball classic BATTLEFIELD BASEBALL, and once again features action star Tak Sakaguchi (VERSUS, BE A MAN! SAMURAI SCHOOL).

Released on 28 May 2012
For the first time in the UK, one of the most imaginative and nightmarish fantasies from Hollywood’s golden age of horror – starring the legendary Charles Laughton. Originally rejected by the BBFC, this first and best screen adaptation of H. G. Wells’ THE ISLAND OF DR MOREAU, is one of Hollywood’s wildest pre-Code pictures.

The UK home viewing premiere of one of the finest films of Leo McCarey (MAKE WAY FOR TOMORROW, AN AFFAIR TO REMEMBER) finds Charles Laughton in one of his greatest roles as a personal valet shipped off to America in the service of the brash and wealthy Egbert Floud (played, coincidentally enough, by Charlie Ruggles); a sophisticated comedy of rude manners ensues.

Released on 25 June 2012
Billy Wilder and Raymond Chandler team up to create one of the greatest, and quintessential, films noirs of the studio era, a classic of the hard-boiled genre nominated for seven Oscars, and whose performances by Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck, and Edward G. Robinson have been leaving audiences breathless for almost 70 years. Now, exclusively restored by The Masters of Cinema Series for its first ever release on Blu-ray anywhere in the world.

An Academy-Award-winning (including Best Picture) triumph from the great Billy Wilder, with Ray Milland as a writer’s-block-ridden and booze-sodden author spiralling into a days’-long rock-bottom binge crafted by Wilder with expressionist fervour. This gorgeous Blu-ray edition is the first available anywhere in the world.

Further details of the Masters of Cinema releases can be found at and Eureka’s new Facebook site

Eureka are also upgrading a batch of their previous releases to DUAL FORMAT EDITIONS on 13 February 2012. These upgrades are for Kurosawa’s TOKYO SONATA, To’s MAD DETECTIVE, Godard’s UNE FEMME MARIEE, Imamura’s VENGEANCE IS MINE, Laloux’s LA PLANETE SAUVAGE, Tashlin’s WILL SUCCESS SPOIL ROCK HUNTER, Ichikawa’s BURMESE HARP & Jia Zhangke’s THE WORLD (not previously available in a DVD format

> Recent DVD & Blu-ray releases
> The best DVD and Blu-ray releases of 2011

Awards Season News

84th Academy Awards Nominations

Below are all the nominees for the 84th Academy Awards which will be held on February 26th.

In terms of numbers, Hugo (11) and The Artist (10)  lead the field, but there is an interesting cross section of films below them with Moneyball (6), War Horse (6), The Descendants (5), The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (5) and The Help (4).


  • The Artist (Thomas Langmann, Producer)
  • The Descendants (Jim Burke, Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor, Producers)
  • Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (Scott Rudin, Producer)
  • The Help (Brunson Green, Chris Columbus and Michael Barnathan, Producers)
  • Hugo (Graham King and Martin Scorsese, Producers)
  • Midnight in Paris (Letty Aronson and Stephen Tenenbaum, Producers)
  • Moneyball (Michael De Luca, Rachael Horovitz and Brad Pitt, Producers)
  • The Tree of Life (Nominees to be determined)
  • War Horse (Steven Spielberg and Kathleen Kennedy, Producers)


  • The Artist – Michel Hazanavicius
  • The Descendants – Alexander Payne
  • Hugo – Martin Scorsese
  • Midnight in Paris – Woody Allen
  • The Tree of Life – Terrence Malick


  • Demián Bichir in “A Better Life”
  • George Clooney in “The Descendants”
  • Jean Dujardin in “The Artist”
  • Gary Oldman in “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”
  • Brad Pitt in “Moneyball”


  • Glenn Close in “Albert Nobbs”
  • Viola Davis in “The Help”
  • Rooney Mara in “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”
  • Meryl Streep in “The Iron Lady”
  • Michelle Williams in “My Week with Marilyn”


  • Kenneth Branagh in “My Week with Marilyn”
  • Jonah Hill in “Moneyball”
  • Nick Nolte in “Warrior”
  • Christopher Plummer in “Beginners”
  • Max von Sydow in “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close”


  • Bérénice Bejo in “The Artist”
  • Jessica Chastain in “The Help”
  • Melissa McCarthy in “Bridesmaids”
  • Janet McTeer in “Albert Nobbs”
  • Octavia Spencer in “The Help”


  • The Descendants” Screenplay by Alexander Payne and Nat Faxon & Jim Rash
  • “Hugo” Screenplay by John Logan
  • “The Ides of March” Screenplay by George Clooney & Grant Heslov and Beau Willimon
  • “Moneyball” Screenplay by Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin Story by Stan Chervin
  • “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” Screenplay by Bridget O’Connor & Peter Straughan


  • “The Artist” Written by Michel Hazanavicius
  • “Bridesmaids” Written by Annie Mumolo & Kristen Wiig
  • “Margin Call” Written by J.C. Chandor
  • “Midnight in Paris” Written by Woody Allen
  • “A Separation” Written by Asghar Farhadi


  • “A Cat in Paris” (Alain Gagnol and Jean-Loup Felicioli)
  • “Chico & Rita” (Fernando Trueba and Javier Mariscal)
  • “Kung Fu Panda 2″ (Jennifer Yuh Nelson)
  • “Puss in Boots” (Chris Miller)
  • “Rango” (Gore Verbinski)


  • “The Artist” Production Design: Laurence Bennett; Set Decoration: Robert Gould
  • “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2“ Production Design: Stuart Craig; Set Decoration: Stephenie McMillan
  • “Hugo” Production Design: Dante Ferretti; Set Decoration: Francesca Lo Schiavo
  • “Midnight in Paris” Production Design: Anne Seibel; Set Decoration: Hélène Dubreuil
  • “War Horse” Production Design: Rick Carter; Set Decoration: Lee Sandales


  • “The Artist” Guillaume Schiffman
  • “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” Jeff Cronenweth
  • “Hugo” Robert Richardson
  • “The Tree of Life” Emmanuel Lubezki
  • “War Horse” Janusz Kaminski


  • “Anonymous” Lisy Christl
  • “The Artist” Mark Bridges
  • “Hugo” Sandy Powell
  • “Jane Eyre” Michael O’Connor
  • “W.E.” Arianne Phillips


  • “Hell and Back Again” Danfung Dennis and Mike Lerner
  • “If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front” Marshall Curry and Sam Cullman
  • “Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory” Charles Ferguson and Audrey Marrs
  • “Pina” Wim Wenders and Gian-Piero Ringel
  • “Undefeated” TJ Martin, Dan Lindsay and Richard Middlemas


  • “The Barber of Birmingham: Foot Soldier of the Civil Rights Movement” Robin Fryday and Gail Dolgin
  • “God Is the Bigger Elvis” Rebecca Cammisa and Julie Anderson
  • “Incident in New Baghdad” James Spione
  • “Saving Face” Daniel Junge and Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy
  • “The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom” Lucy Walker and Kira Carstensen


  • “The Artist” Anne-Sophie Bion and Michel Hazanavicius
  • “The Descendants” Kevin Tent
  • “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall
  • “Hugo” Thelma Schoonmaker
  • “Moneyball” Christopher Tellefsen


  • “Drive” Lon Bender and Victor Ray Ennis
  • “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” Ren Klyce
  • “Hugo” Philip Stockton and Eugene Gearty
  • “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” Ethan Van der Ryn and Erik Aadahl
  • “War Horse” Richard Hymns and Gary Rydstrom


  • “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” David Parker, Michael Semanick, Ren Klyce and Bo Persson
  • “Hugo” Tom Fleischman and John Midgley
  • “Moneyball” Deb Adair, Ron Bochar, Dave Giammarco and Ed Novick
  • “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” Greg P. Russell, Gary Summers, Jeffrey J. Haboush and Peter J. Devlin
  • “War Horse” Gary Rydstrom, Andy Nelson, Tom Johnson and Stuart Wilson


  • “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2″ Tim Burke, David Vickery, Greg Butler and John Richardson
  • “Hugo” Rob Legato, Joss Williams, Ben Grossman and Alex Henning
  • “Real Steel” Erik Nash, John Rosengrant, Dan Taylor and Swen Gillberg
  • “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” Joe Letteri, Dan Lemmon, R. Christopher White and Daniel Barrett
  • “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” Scott Farrar, Scott Benza, Matthew Butler and John Frazier


  • “Bullhead” Belgium
  • “Footnote” Israel
  • “In Darkness” Poland
  • “Monsieur Lazhar” Canada
  • “A Separation” Iran


  • “Albert Nobbs” Martial Corneville, Lynn Johnston and Matthew W. Mungle
  • “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2″ Edouard F. Henriques, Gregory Funk and Yolanda Toussieng
  • “The Iron Lady” Mark Coulier and J. Roy Helland


  • “The Adventures of Tintin” John Williams
  • “The Artist” Ludovic Bource
  • “Hugo” Howard Shore
  • “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” Alberto Iglesias
  • “War Horse” John Williams


  • “Man or Muppet” from “The Muppets” Music and Lyric by Bret McKenzie
  • “Real in Rio” from “Rio” Music by Sergio Mendes and Carlinhos Brown Lyric by Siedah Garrett


  • “Dimanche/Sunday” Patrick Doyon
  • “The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore” William Joyce and Brandon Oldenburg
  • “La Luna” Enrico Casarosa
  • “A Morning Stroll” Grant Orchard and Sue Goffe
  • “Wild Life” Amanda Forbis and Wendy Tilby


  • “Pentecost” Peter McDonald and Eimear O’Kane
  • “Raju” Max Zähle and Stefan Gieren
  • “The Shore” Terry George and Oorlagh George
  • “Time Freak” Andrew Bowler and Gigi Causey
  • “Tuba Atlantic” Hallvar Witzø

In June Academy President Tom Sherak announced that there would be changes to the following categories:

  • Best Picture: The final nominees can now range from anywhere between 5 and 10. The nomination voting process will be the same (through preferential balloting) but now only films that receive a minimum of 5% of total number one votes are eligible for Best Picture nominations.
  • Best Animated Feature: This is now a permanent competitive category, and no longer requires annual ‘approval’. It was only introduced in 2001, so there was perhaps an anxiety that there wouldn’t be enough animated films of sufficient quality, but clearly the last decade has seen a massive change in mainstream animation. There has also been increased flexibility in how many individuals can be nominated.
  • Best Documentary Feature: Here the eligibility period has been modified. Prior to this year, documentaries that screened theatrically between September 1 and August 31 of the following year were eligible. Now that period has changed to match the calendar year from January 1 to December 31. (As a transition, this year documentaries will be eligible if they were released between September 1, 2010 to December 31, 2011)
  • Best Visual Effects: Before there were 7 shortlisted VFX contenders announced several weeks before the official nominations announcement, but this now been expanded to 10 to coincide with last year’s enlargement of the category from 3 to 5 nominees.

My predictions as to what will ultimately win on February 26th are:

  • Best Picture: The Artist
  • Best Director: Michel Hazanavicius – The Artist
  • Best Actor: George Clooney – The Descendants
  • Best Actress: Meryl Streep – The Iron Lady
  • Best Supporting Actor: Christopher Plummer – Beginners
  • Best Supporting Actress: Bérénice Bejo – The Artist or  Octavia Spencer – The Help

Official Oscars site
The 84th Academy Awards at Wikipedia
> Analysis at Awards Daily and Hitfix

Awards Season News

Oscar Nominations Live Stream

The 84th Academy Awards Nominations Announcement is being streamed on YouTube.

You can also watch it on BBC News and the official ABC Oscar site.

Because of the recent voting changes no-one is sure how many Best Picture nominees there will be this year.

For the last two years the Academy have increased the number of films nominated for Best Picture to 10.

The new rules mean this year there could potentially be anything from 5 to 10 Best Picture nominees.

> Official Oscars site
> The 84th Academy Awards at Wikipedia
> Analysis at Awards Daily and Hitfix

News Thoughts

British Film 2012: DCMS Report

The publication of a recent policy report into the UK film industry sparked kneejerk headlines but is actually a detailed blue print for the future.

This post is a general introduction to the report which was titled A Future for British Film: It Begins With the Audience.

It will explore who was involved in it and the wider context of British film as it stands in 2012.

But it will also be the first of several dedicated ones around the different sections, which break down into the following areas: growing the audiences of today and tomorrow, the digital revolution, exhibition, how films are developed and distributed, the role of major UK broadcasters, international strategies, skills and talent development, our screen heritage, research and knowledge and the expanded role of the BFI after the closure of the UK film council.

Aside from “what is your favourite film?” amongst the questions I am most frequently asked is:

“what is the state of the British film industry?”


“Has it been a good year for British films?”

At this point I try to gauge whether or not they are actually interested in the state of UK film or more concerned about whether British actors are going to win an Oscar.

But if they are serious it remains a question that deals with the complex interplay between art, commerce and business.

However, there is no doubt in my mind that historically as a culture the British have tended to favour theatre (going back to Shakespeare) and television (which still dominates pop culture in this country).

Attitudes have changed since the advent of home video in the 1980s and a generation who have had access to DVD and YouTube, but there still lingers a sense that film is somehow inferior or less respectable.

This isn’t to say British audiences dislike it as a medium but if you compare this country to the US or France, cinema is embedded in their cultural DNA in a way that it hasn’t been in the UK.

Even now, releases tend to be viewed through the prism of low-brow (“Hollywood blockbusters”) or high-brow releases (“Art house”).

Media coverage of this very report repeated a lot of the old line about “commercial” vs “obscure” and whilst these distinctions do exist they actually reveal a lot more about deeper cultural divisions in the UK.

This is then fuelled by mainstream media coverage that can often focus on the trivial (e.g. celebrity gossip or obsession with the BBFC certificate) over the substantial.

It doesn’t help that the very term “British film” can be a slippery one, which is why I wrote about the three types of British film back in September:

  1. Home grown productions financed by British companies (e.g. Slumdog Millionaire)
  2. International co-productions financed from two or more countries (e.g. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy)
  3. Iconic franchises which are essentially funded by US studios (Harry Potter, James Bond).

Often the media coverage gets a little over the top when quality British films either win awards (Chariots of Fire, The King’s Speech) or flop badly (Sex Lives of the Potato Men and Lesbian Vampire Killers).

That is because UK films are to varying degrees reliant on public money and this creates extremes of opinion: it seems every year there is an article in which British films are utter crap or totally brilliant.

This is accentuated around awards time, when Oscar success is unhealthily equated with the overall state of the wider industry.

Which is why this report is so interesting.

It is probably the most in-depth look at the British film industry in well over a decade and is actually backed up by research, hard data and facts.

Not that you would know this from some of the initial reports in the mainstream media.


The immediate headlines that pre-empted the actual publication were along the lines of BBC News: “UK films urged to be more ‘mainstream’ in new report”.

So before many people had even read it, the general media framing of the argument was ‘Cameron wants British films to rival Hollywood‘ or about the danger of losing our recent art house success.

There were more measured and insightful pieces by the likes of Maggie Brown in The Guardian, an experienced media reporter who probably had taken the time to read the whole thing.

Main UK industry publication Screen International reflected a range of views with key UK organisations, such as the FDA, PACT and Film4 mostly giving a positive response (I suspect this was because they had been listened to in the consultation process).

Of course it was a canny, if questionable, political tactic of Cameron’s spin doctors to leak the review with the angle of “PM wants more successful films” because what director, producer or exhibitor could disagree with that line?

They were hardly going to say they wanted failures.

There was a lot of instant reaction on Twitter (hashtag: #FilmPolicyReview) but the whole report was pretty long, so instead of just regurgitating media angles I thought I’d read all 37,708 words and comment on the bits that stood out.

N.B. It is available as a Word Document or PDF file on the DCMS website – I would strongly suggest you read it if you are in any way involved with the industry.


Back in May, the coalition announced that former Culture Secretary Chris Smith would head a panel of eight film industry experts to review the Government’s film policy.

This came in the wake of the closure of the UK Film Council and questions over public finances during a recession.

Their broad remit with the report was the following:

  • Provide greater coherence and consistency in the UK film industry
  • Determine how best to set policy directions for the increased Lottery funding
  • Identify ways to develop and retain UK talent
  • Increase audience demand for film, including independent British film.


Who were on the panel?

A pretty good selection of people as it turns out.

I personally would have liked to see a representative from one of the major UK art house chains (like Curzon or Picturehouse) but overall there was a wealth of experience at all levels on the review team.

  • Chris Smith, former Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Chairman): Experience of a relevant government department and by no means a Coalition stooge as one of the culture ministers from the early Blair era.
  • Will Clarke, Independent film distributor, founder and former CEO, Optimum Releasing: Founded leading UK indie distributor Optimum in 1999 before selling it to French company Studiocanal in 2010. Now a producer in his own right with Attack the Block and the upcoming Embassy and Filth.
  • Julian Fellowes, writer and actor: Experience of working as an actor (Baby, Secret of the Lost Legend, Tomorrow Never Dies), screenwriter (Gosford Park), director (Separate Lies) and of creator of ITV hit series Downton Abbey.
  • Matthew Justice, UK film producer and Managing Director, Big Talk: His company has been involved in producing that rare British thing: genuine critical and commercial successes such as Shaun of the Dead (2004) and Hot Fuzz (2007).
  • Michael Lynton, Chairman & Chief Executive Officer, Sony Pictures Entertainment: The big US studio angle was represented by a man who has worked at Hollywood Pictures (Disney’s live action arm), Penguin, AOL and now heads up Sony Pictures Entertainment.
  • Tim Richards, Chief Executive, Vue Entertainment: Former Warner Bros executive who started one of the leading UK cinema chains in the late 1990s. Has overseen stadium style seating and the digital upgrade to cinemas up and down the land.
  • Tessa Ross, CBE, Controller of Film and Drama, Channel 4: After the demise of the previous version of Film Four in 2002, she has helped spearhead a remarkable run of critical, commercial and Oscar successes including The Last King of Scotland, Slumdog Millionaire and most Shame.
  • Libby Savill, Head of Film and Television, Olswang LLP: The legal/producing/finance angle (often an overlooked area by the national media) is covered by someone with extensive experience of film financing going back to the early 1990s with various Miramax productions and most recently The King’s Speech.
  • Iain Smith, OBE, film producer and Chair of the British Film Commission Advisory Board: Experienced producer whose credits include British films like Chariots of Fire (1981), Local Hero (1983) and later on major studio fare like The Fifth Element (1997), Spy Game (2001) and Children of Men (2006). He’s also on Twitter: @iainsmith

It isn’t clear who exactly did what but there’s a lot of insight of both production and exhibition that could be gleaned from this group.

It actually looks like civil servants did their research in finding the right panel.

But what did did they actually come up with?

The final report contains 56 recommendations to Government, industry and the British Film Institute (BFI) which can broadly be summarised as:

  • Audience: The audience must be at the heart of film policy (which has been misinterpreted by some media outlets)
  • Digital: A commitment to combat piracy but also to unlock the potential of the digital age
  • Cinemas: A scheme to bring digital screens and projectors to village and community halls across the country.
  • Development: The investment in skills for the next generation of filmmakers.
  • Broadcasters: A (surprising but welcome) call for ITV and BSkyB to invest more in independent British films.
  • International: Continuation of tax relief and a partnership with BBC Worldwide to invest and promote UK films
  • Skills: To build on the current skills base and encourage more diversity and an entrepreneurial approach.
  • Heritage: UK archives should be preserved, digitised and made accessible to a wider audience.
  • Research: The establishment of a research and development fund to both navigate and exploit the current digital ag
  • BFI: Build on the current work being done but make it less London-centric

Each of the above themes are pretty vital (and will be explored later in individual posts) but it is worth examining the wider context of the time in which this report has been published.


The introduction states:

British film is going through something of a golden period. A run of really good, successful, British-made and British-based movies has been taking not just British cinema audiences but many others around the world by storm.

As someone who has experience of watching a lot of British films on a regular basis since the late 1990s, the last three years have indeed felt like a golden age.

Perhaps the current era seems so shiny because the previous one was so disastrous.

There was optimism in the mid-to-late 1990s surrounding previous home grown British hits such as Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994) Trainspotting (1996) and The Full Monty (1997).

With some notable exceptions what followed was largely a lottery-fuelled sea of crap, which reached an absolute nadir for me with The Principles of Lust (2003) and One for the Road (2003).

Parochial, wildly indulgent and imbued with a peculiar naffness, they were sadly typical of the worst British cinema of this period, which often it seemed like bad television projected on a big screen.

But slowly the tide began to turn.

Around the mid-2000s films like Shaun of the Dead (2004), Dead Man’s Shoes (2004) and The Descent (2005) showed that British films from different genres could connect with audiences.

This was then followed by Hot Fuzz (2007), Hunger (2008), Man on Wire (2008), Slumdog Millionaire (2008), Son of Rambow (2008), Fish Tank (2009), In the Loop (2009), Another Year (2010), Four Lions (2010), The King’s Speech (2010) and Never Let Me Go (2010).

Again this was a variety of films of real distinction that connected with both critics and/or audiences.

In the last year Submarine (2010), Attack the Block (2011), The Deep Blue Sea (2011), Jane Eyre (2011), We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011), Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011) and Shame (2011) have followed this path.

Certainly not all have been box office hits, but the sheer range and quality has been stunning.

In the early 2000s this would have seemed unimaginable when – if I’m really honest – I approached a British film with the expectation that on some level it would be at least a bit rubbish.

But in August 2009 when Jason Solomons published an article in The Observer bemoaning the state of British films, it prompted mixed feelings.

For critics who see a lot of films on a weekly basis – and not just the good ones – the trip to a Soho screening room to yet another British misfire could feel like a cultural death sentence.

Solomons wrote that the Edinburgh film festival was often an alarming bell weather for the mediocrity of British film:

…years of covering Edinburgh have depressingly demonstrated that actually, the deeper you go inside the British film industry, the thinner the pickings, the slimmer the plots, the ropier the ideas. In truth, there’s always a decent winner (Moon this year, or Control in 2007, or My Summer of Love in 2004), but it’s often a lone star, so far ahead in a competition that is, for the most part, embarrassing in its lack of professionalism and quality. Many of the films in the line-up will never see a paying audience, and neither, indeed, are they worthy of taking people’s hard-earned cash on a night out. Their very meekness seems to acknowledge this within the first, fatalistic 10 minutes.

It was hard to disagree with him, but on the other hand things were improving.

Emerging directors from different backgrounds like Edgar Wright, Steve McQueen and Andrea Arnold were making contrasting films of quality and distinction.

The last 18 months have been astonishing, with not only home grown blockbusters (The King’s Speech and The Inbetweeners) but also a wide range of challenging fare (Project Nim, Senna, Tyrannosaur, We Need To Talk About Kevin, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Shame).

So good in fact, that I’m concerned that there will be the inevitable downturn as the combination of art and commerce can be inherently unpredictable.

The main change has been the transfer of power from the UK Film Council to the British Film Institute.

Although it caused a stir at the time the report acknowledges the opportunity of having a public funded body under one roof:

The Film Council had accomplished a lot during its decade or more of existence, and The King’s Speech stands as a rather fitting tribute to its achievements. But there is now a real opportunity for the sole, focused leadership of British film – cultural, creative, commercial, educational and representative – to be brought together in the single entity of the BFI. The challenge is for the BFI to use its new-found clout to inspire and nurture and strengthen British film, and we set out some ideas in our Report which we hope will help in this.

With that in mind, they received over 300 submissions of evidence, interviewed hundreds of people involved in all aspects of the industry.

The final report is encouraging because it is wide ranging diagnosis of the UK film industry, that also offers potential solutions and a solid ground work on which to build.

> Official DCMS website (where you can download the full report)
> BBC News, The Telegraph and The Guardian with their take on the report
> Splendor Cinema and Bigger Picture Research with their take


Universal Restoring Classic Movies

As part of their centennial celebrations Universal are restoring some of their classic films on Blu-ray.

The titles include some of the crown jewels of the studio archive, including:

  • All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)
  • Dracula (1931)
  • Frankenstein (1931)
  • To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)
  • The Birds (1963)
  • Jaws (1975)
  • E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial (1982)

This featurette explains some of the restoration processes:

It is a good demonstration of how digital tools can be used to preserve a studio’s celluloid heritage.

> Official Tumblr site for Universal’s 100th Birthday
> From Celluloid to Digital

Awards Season News

BAFTA Nominations

The BAFTA nominations were announced earlier today and The Artist leads the field (12 nominations), closely followed by Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (11 nominations).

I think its a given already that George Clooney (The Descendants) and Meryl Streep (The Iron Lady) are hot favourites in the actor category – although Dujardin and Bejo could surprise.

Like the Oscars I still think The Artist is the one to beat for Best Picture.

But the main talking points are:

  • The absence of Olivia Colman for Tyrannosaur
  • The weird snub of Hugo from Best Film
  • The surprise inclusion of Drive for Best Film and the absence of Albert Brooks in Best Supporting Actor
  • The scandalous absence of The Tree of Life in both cinematography (Emmanuel Lubezki) and visual effects (Dan Glass & his team)
  • The love for The Help in Best Film and Screenplay which suggests it hits a comfort zone in voters of a certain age.
  • Senna winning a (richly deserved) editing nomination, which is rare for a documentary.
  • Carey Mulligan’s nomination for Drive instead of her (superior) work in Shame
  • The absence of The Interrupters from Best Documentary
Here are the nominations in full:


  • THE ARTIST Thomas Langmann
  • THE DESCENDANTS Jim Burke, Alexander Payne, Jim Taylor
  • DRIVE Marc Platt, Adam Siegel
  • THE HELP Brunson Green, Chris Columbus, Michael Barnathan
  • TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Robyn Slovo


  • THE ARTIST Michel Hazanavicius
  • DRIVE Nicolas Winding Refn
  • HUGO Martin Scorsese


  • THE ARTIST Michel Hazanavicius
  • BRIDESMAIDS Annie Mumolo, Kristen Wiig
  • THE GUARD John Michael McDonagh
  • THE IRON LADY Abi Morgan


  • THE DESCENDANTS Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon, Jim Rash
  • THE HELP Tate Taylor
  • THE IDES OF MARCH George Clooney, Grant Heslov, Beau Willimon
  • MONEYBALL Steven Zaillian, Aaron Sorkin
  • TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY Bridget O’Connor, Peter Straughan


  • BRAD PITT Moneyball
  • GARY OLDMAN Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
  • GEORGE CLOONEY The Descendants
  • JEAN DUJARDIN The Artist


  • BÉRÉNICE BEJO The Artist
  • MERYL STREEP The Iron Lady
  • MICHELLE WILLIAMS My Week with Marilyn
  • TILDA SWINTON We Need to Talk About Kevin
  • VIOLA DAVIS The Help


  • JIM BROADBENT The Iron Lady
  • JONAH HILL Moneyball
  • KENNETH BRANAGH My Week with Marilyn


  • JUDI DENCH My Week with Marilyn
  • MELISSA MCCARTHY Bridesmaids


  • MY WEEK WITH MARILYN Simon Curtis, David Parfitt, Harvey Weinstein, Adrian Hodges
  • SENNA Asif Kapadia, James Gay-Rees, Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Manish Pandey
  • SHAME Steve McQueen, Iain Canning, Emile Sherman, Abi Morgan
  • TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY Tomas Alfredson, Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Robyn Slovo, Bridget O’Connor, Peter Straughan
  • WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN Lynne Ramsay, Luc Roeg, Jennifer Fox, Robert Salerno and Rory Stewart Kinnear


  • ATTACK THE BLOCK Joe Cornish (Director/Writer)
  • BLACK POND Will Sharpe (Director/Writer), Tom Kingsley (Director), Sarah Brocklehurst
  • (Producer)
  • CORIOLANUS Ralph Fiennes (Director)
  • SUBMARINE Richard Ayoade (Director/Writer)
  • TYRANNOSAUR Paddy Considine (Director), Diarmid Scrimshaw (Producer)


  • INCENDIES Denis Villeneuve, Luc Déry, Kim McGraw
  • PINA Wim Wenders, Gian-Piero Ringel
  • POTICHE François Ozon, Eric Altmayer, Nicolas Altmayer
  • A SEPARATION Asghar Farhadi
  • THE SKIN I LIVE IN Pedro Almodóvar, Agustin Almodóvar


  • PROJECT NIM James Marsh, Simon Chinn
  • SENNA Asif Kapadia


  • RANGO Gore Verbinski


  • THE ARTIST Ludovic Bource
  • THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross
  • HUGO Howard Shore
  • WAR HORSE John Williams


  • THE ARTIST Guillaume Schiffman
  • HUGO Robert Richardson
  • WAR HORSE Janusz Kaminski


  • THE ARTIST Anne-Sophie Bion, Michel Hazanavicius
  • DRIVE Mat Newman
  • HUGO Thelma Schoonmaker
  • SENNA Gregers Sall, Chris King


  • THE ARTIST Laurence Bennett, Robert Gould
  • HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS – PART 2 Stuart Craig, Stephenie McMillan
  • HUGO Dante Ferretti, Francesca Lo Schiavo
  • TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY Maria Djurkovic, Tatiana MacDonald
  • WAR HORSE Rick Carter, Lee Sandales


  • THE ARTIST Mark Bridges
  • HUGO Sandy Powell
  • JANE EYRE Michael O’Connor


  • THE ARTIST Julie Hewett, Cydney Cornell
  • HUGO Morag Ross, Jan Archibald
  • THE IRON LADY Marese Langan
  • MY WEEK WITH MARILYN Jenny Shircore


  • THE ARTIST Nadine Muse, Gérard Lamps, Michael Krikorian
  • HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS – PART 2 James Mather, Stuart Wilson, Stuart Hilliker, Mike Dowson, Adam Scrivener
  • HUGO Philip Stockton, Eugene Gearty, Tom Fleischman, John Midgley
  • TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY John Casali, Howard Bargroff, Doug Cooper, Stephen Griffiths and Andy Shelley
  • WAR HORSE Stuart Wilson, Gary Rydstrom, Andy Nelson, Tom Johnson, Richard Hymns


  • HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS – PART 2 Tim Burke, John Richardson, Greg Butler, David Vickery
  • HUGO Rob Legato, Ben Grossman, Joss Williams
  • RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES Joe Letteri, Dan Lemmon, R. Christopher White
  • WAR HORSE Ben Morris, Neil Corbould


  • ABUELAS Afarin Eghbal, Kasia Malipan, Francesca Gardiner
  • BOBBY YEAH Robert Morgan
  • A MORNING STROLL Grant Orchard, Sue Goffe


  • CHALK Martina Amati, Gavin Emerson, James Bolton, Ilaria Bernardini
  • MWANSA THE GREAT Rungano Nyoni, Gabriel Gauchet
  • ONLY SOUND REMAINS Arash Ashtiani, Anshu Poddar
  • PITCH BLACK HEIST John Maclean, Gerardine O’Flynn
  • TWO AND TWO Babak Anvari, Kit Fraser, Gavin Cullen



> Analysis at Awards Daily and Hitfix


DVD & Blu-ray Releases: Monday 16th January 2012


The Guard (StudioCanal): Brendan Gleeson plays a small town Irish cop in this smart and hilarious comedy which co-stars Don Cheadle as a visiting FBI agent. Written and directed by John Michael McDonagh, it is stylish and also the most successful independent Irish film of all time. Highly recommended. [Buy it on Blu-ray or DVD]

Alien Anthology (20th Century Fox Home Ent.): I’m not sure why Fox are re-releasing their outstanding Alien Blu-ray box-set with new packaging. But all the films, 12 hours of in-depth documentaries, nearly 5 hours of additional video, all for just £13.99 I think we can safely say this is a bargain. [Buy it on Blu-ray] [Find out more details here]


Killer Elite (EV) [Blu-ray / Normal]
The Whistleblower (High Fliers Video Distribution) [Blu-ray / Normal]

> Recent UK cinema releases
> The Best DVD and Blu-ray releases of 2011

Awards Season News

BAFTA Longlist

This year’s BAFTA longlist has been announced for the upcoming awards and the field is led by My Week with Marilyn and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy with 16 mentions each.

The way it works is that members have a first round of voting which whittles down 15 contenders in each category, which are then reduced to five final nominees.

The animated film and documentary category longlist five films each, which are then reduced to three nominees in the final round.

All BAFTA members vote in the first two rounds for all categories except Documentary, Film Not in the English Language and Outstanding British Film, which are voted for by Chapters (groups of over 80 members with specialist skills or experience in a particular area).

The asterisks below signify the top five selection of the relevant Chapter.

In the final round, winners are voted for by specialist Chapters in all categories except for Best Film, Outstanding British Film, Documentary and Film Not in the English Language and the four performance categories, which are voted for by all members.


Best Film

  • The Artist
  • The Descendants
  • Drive
  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
  • The Help
  • Hugo
  • The Ides of March
  • The Iron Lady
  • Midnight in Paris
  • Moneyball
  • My Week with Marilyn
  • Senna
  • Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
  • War Horse
  • We Need to Talk About Kevin


  • The Artist*
  • The Descendants
  • Drive*
  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
  • The Help
  • Hugo*
  • The Ides of March
  • The Iron Lady
  • J. Edgar
  • Midnight in Paris
  • Moneyball
  • My Week with Marilyn
  • Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy*
  • War Horse
  • We Need to Talk About Kevin*

Leading Actor

  • Antonio Banderas (Robert Ledgard) – The Skin I Live In
  • Brad Pitt (Billy Beane) – Moneyball*
  • Brendan Gleeson (Gerry Boyle) – The Guard
  • Daniel Craig (Mikael Blomkvist) – The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
  • Eddie Redmayne (Colin Clark) – My Week with Marilyn
  • Gary Oldman (George Smiley) – Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy*
  • George Clooney (Matt King) – The Descendants*
  • Jean Dujardin (George Valentin) – The Artist*
  • Leonardo DiCaprio (J. Edgar Hoover) – J. Edgar
  • Michael Fassbender (Brandon) – Shame*
  • Owen Wilson (Gil) – Midnight in Paris
  • Peter Mullan (Joseph) – Tyrannosaur
  • Ralph Fiennes (Caius Martius Coriolanus) – Coriolanus
  • Ryan Gosling (Driver) – Drive
  • Ryan Gosling (Stephen Meyers) – The Ides of March

Leading Actress

  • Bérénice Bejo (Peppy Miller) – The Artist*
  • Carey Mulligan (Sissy) – Shame
  • Charlize Theron (Mavis Gary) – Young Adult
  • Emma Stone (Skeeter Phelan) – The Help
  • Helen Mirren (Rachel Singer) – The Debt
  • Jodie Foster (Penelope Longstreet) – Carnage
  • Kate Winslet (Nancy Cowan) – Carnage
  • Kristen Wiig (Annie) – Bridesmaids
  • Meryl Streep (Margaret Thatcher) – The Iron Lady*
  • Mia Wasikowska (Jane Eyre) – Jane Eyre
  • Michelle Williams (Marilyn Monroe) – My Week with Marilyn*
  • Olivia Colman (Hannah) – Tyrannosaur
  • Rooney Mara (Lisbeth Salander) – The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
  • Tilda Swinton (Eva) – We Need to Talk About Kevin*
  • Viola Davis (Aibileen Clark) – The Help*

Supporting Actor

  • Alan Rickman (Prof. Severus Snape) – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2
  • Albert Brooks (Bernie Rose) – Drive
  • Ben Kingsley (George Méliès) – Hugo
  • Benedict Cumberbatch (Peter Guillam) – Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
  • Christopher Plummer (Hal) – Beginners*
  • Colin Firth (Bill Haydon) – Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
  • Eddie Marsan (James) – Tyrannosaur*
  • Ezra Miller (Kevin – Teenager) – We Need to Talk About Kevin
  • George Clooney (Mike Morris) – The Ides of March
  • Jim Broadbent (Denis Thatcher) – The Iron Lady
  • John Hurt (Control) – Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
  • Jonah Hill (Peter Brand) – Moneyball*
  • Kenneth Branagh (Sir Laurence Olivier) – My Week with Marilyn*
  • Paul Giamatti (Tom Duffy) – The Ides of March
  • Philip Seymour Hoffman (Paul Zara) – The Ides of March*

Supporting Actress

  • Alexandra Roach (Young Margaret Thatcher) – The Iron Lady
  • Bryce Dallas Howard (Hilly Holbrook) – The Help*
  • Carey Mulligan (Irene) – Drive
  • Emily Watson (Rosie Narracott) – War Horse
  • Evan Rachel Wood (Molly Steams) – The Ides of March
  • Jessica Chastain (Celia Foote) – The Help* Orange British Academy Film Awards in 2012 – Longlist Page 5
  • Judi Dench (Dame Sybil Thorndike) – My Week with Marilyn*
  • Kathy Bates (Gertrude Stein) – Midnight in Paris
  • Kathy Burke (Connie Sachs) – Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
  • Marion Cotillard (Adriana) – Midnight in Paris
  • Melissa McCarthy (Megan) – Bridesmaids*
  • Octavia Spencer (Minny Jackson) – The Help*
  • Olivia Colman (Carol Thatcher) – The Iron Lady
  • Shailene Woodley (Alexandra King) – The Descendants
  • Zoe Wanamaker (Paula Strasberg) – My Week with Marilyn*

Film Not in the English Language

  • Abel
  • As If I Am Not There
  • The Boy Mir – Ten Years in Afghanistan
  • Calvet
  • Dhobi Ghat (Mumbai Diaries)
  • Incendies
  • Little White Lies
  • Pina
  • Post Mortem
  • Potiche
  • Le Quattro Volte
  • A Separation
  • The Skin I Live In
  • Tomboy
  • The Troll Hunter

Outstanding British Film

  • Arthur Christmas
  • Attack the Block
  • Coriolanus
  • The Guard
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2
  • The Iron Lady
  • Jane Eyre
  • My Week with Marilyn
  • Senna
  • Shame
  • Submarine
  • Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
  • Tyrannosaur
  • War Horse
  • We Need to Talk About Kevin

Original Screenplay

  • 50/50
  • Anonymous
  • Arthur Christmas
  • The Artist*
  • Beginners
  • Bridesmaids*
  • The Guard*
  • The Iron Lady
  • J. Edgar
  • Midnight in Paris*
  • Senna
  • Shame
  • Super 8
  • Tyrannosaur
  • Young Adult*

Adapted Screenplay

  • The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn
  • Coriolanus
  • The Descendants*
  • Drive
  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2
  • The Help*
  • Hugo
  • The Ides of March*
  • Jane Eyre
  • Moneyball*
  • My Week with Marilyn
  • Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy*
  • War Horse
  • We Need to Talk About Kevin


  • The Artist*
  • The Descendants
  • Drive*
  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo*
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2
  • Hugo*
  • The Ides of March
  • J. Edgar
  • Jane Eyre
  • Midnight in Paris
  • My Week with Marilyn
  • Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy*
  • The Tree of Life
  • War Horse
  • We Need to Talk About Kevin


  • The Artist*
  • The Descendants
  • Drive*
  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2
  • Hugo*
  • The Ides of March
  • The Iron Lady
  • Midnight in Paris
  • Moneyball
  • My Week with Marilyn
  • Senna*
  • Tinker Tailor Solider Spy*
  • War Horse
  • We Need to Talk About Kevin

Production Design

  • Anonymous
  • The Artist*
  • Coriolanus
  • Drive
  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2*
  • The Help
  • Hugo*
  • The Iron Lady
  • J. Edgar
  • Jane Eyre
  • Midnight in Paris
  • My Week with Marilyn
  • Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy*
  • War Horse*

Make Up & Hair

  • Anonymous
  • The Artist*
  • Bridesmaids
  • Coriolanus
  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2*
  • The Help
  • Hugo*
  • The Iron Lady*
  • J. Edgar
  • Jane Eyre
  • Midnight in Paris
  • My Week with Marilyn*
  • Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
  • War Horse

Costume Design

  • Anonymous*
  • The Artist*
  • Coriolanus
  • A Dangerous Method
  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2
  • The Help
  • Hugo*
  • The Iron Lady
  • J. Edgar
  • Jane Eyre*
  • Midnight in Paris
  • My Week with Marilyn*
  • Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
  • War Horse

Special Visual Effects

  • The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn*
  • The Artist
  • Captain America: The First Avenger
  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2*
  • Hugo*
  • Midnight in Paris
  • Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
  • Rise of the Planet of the Apes*
  • Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
  • Super 8
  • Transformers: Dark of the Moon*
  • War Horse
  • X-Men: First Class


  • George Harrison: Living in the Material World
  • Life in a Day
  • Pina
  • Project Nim
  • Senna


  • The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn*
  • The Artist
  • Drive
  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2*
  • Hugo*
  • The Iron Lady
  • Midnight in Paris
  • Moneyball
  • My Week with Marilyn
  • Senna
  • Super 8
  • Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy*
  • War Horse*
  • We Need to Talk About Kevin

Original Music

  • The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn*
  • The Artist*
  • Drive
  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2
  • The Help
  • Hugo*
  • The Ides of March
  • The Iron Lady
  • Jane Eyre
  • Moneyball
  • My Week with Marilyn
  • Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy*
  • War Horse*
  • We Need to Talk About Kevin

Animated Film

  • The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn*
  • Arthur Christmas*
  • Gnomeo and Juliet
  • Puss in Boots
  • Rango*

Note: Documentary, Outstanding British Film and Film Not in the English Language are Chapter votes in Rounds One and Two of voting.

†: As there was a tie in the Chapter vote in Supporting Actress, six individuals are flagged in this category.

> More on the awards at Wikipedia


UK Cinema Releases: Friday 6th January 2012


The Iron Lady (Fox/Pathe): A biopic of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher (Meryl Streep) told in flashback. Directed by Phyllida Lloyd, it co-stars Jim Broadbent, Olivia Colman, Richard E. Grant and Aktan Abdykalkov. [Nationwide / 12A]

Goon (Entertainment One): Comedy about a man (Sean William Scott) who leads a team of misfits to semi-pro hockey glory, with unconventional methods. Directed by Michael Dowse, it co-stars Jay Baruchel, Sean Patrick Thomas and Liev Schreiber. [Nationwide / 15]


Mother and Child (Verve Pictures): An ensemble drama, which follows the intersecting lives of a 50-year-old woman, the daughter she gave up for adoption 35 years ago and a blackwoman looking to adopt a baby. Directed by Rodrigo García, it stars Naomi Watts, Annette Bening and Kerry Washington. [Selected cinemas]

Despair (Park Circus): Re-release of Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s 1978 adaptation of Vladimir Nabokov’s novel, which stars Dirk Bogarde as a Russian émigré and chocolate magnate during the Nazis rise to power. [Selected cinemas]

> Get local cinema showtimes at Google Movies or FindAnyFilm
> The Best Films of 2011
> The Best DVD & Blu-ray Releases of 2011
Recent UK DVD & Blu-ray releases

News Thoughts

Kodak on the Brink

The news that Kodak is preparing for bankruptcy protection signals another chapter in the death of celluloid.

It was one of the most iconic companies and brands in the world, synonymous with the photographic image, but in recent years profits have declined and costs risen.

Once a hub of innovation that attracted America’s most talented engineers, it was essentially the Apple or Google of its day.

But in the digital era processing film stock is a much more expensive business than manufacturing SD cards.

Last November, Kodak said that it might not even survive 2012 if it couldn’t secure $500 million in new debt or sell their digital imaging-patents, rumoured to be worth between $2bn and $3bn.

In a report for the Wall Street Journal, Mike Spector and Dana Mattioli describe the current situation:

The 131-year-old company is still making last-ditch efforts to sell off some of its patent portfolio and could avoid Chapter 11 if it succeeds, one of the people said. But the company has started making preparations for a filing in case those efforts fail, including talking to banks about some $1 billion in financing to keep it afloat during bankruptcy proceedings, the people said.

A filing could come as soon as this month or early February, one of the people familiar with the matter said. Kodak would continue to pay its bills and operate normally while under bankruptcy protection, the people said. But the company’s focus would then be the sale of some 1,100 patents through a court-supervised auction, the people said.

The reversal is a notable one, especially as Kodak invented the modern digital camera in 1975.

In this interview Steven Sasson describes how he invented the camera in the midst of an era that was decidely analogue.

Inventor Portrait: Steven Sasson from David Friedman on Vimeo.

But like Xerox – which failed to capitalise on essentially inventing the modern computer interface – the company declined to build upon this innovation, presumably because it was seen as a threat to the then core business of film processing.

Gradually over the last decade their efforts to diversify into printers were also hit by the rise of digital images being stored on devices (like smartphones) and the web (through sites like Flickr and Facebook).

But where does this leave the motion picture business?

Projection on celluloid is effectively going to be over by the end of 2013, but how long has film-based capture got?

Kodak and Fuji are the two primary celluloid manufacturers who supply the actual film stock from which most major movies are still made.

Although the past year has seen many notable productions (e.g. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) shoot digitally, there still is a reluctance amongst some cinemtographers to go fully digital.

Kodak’s No Compromise campaign over the last few years has been bullish about the merits of film based capture as opposed to digital.

Rob Hummel spoke at the Cine Gear Expo earlier this year and described why film was still a superior medium for capturing images.

But if Kodak don’t stave off bankruptcy, then who will actually make the stock on which movies are shot?

One wildcard suggestion was that noted film adherent Steven Spielberg could buy the company:

Whilst I think this is highly unlikely, there are people who want to help Kodak anyway they can.

On the recent audio commentary for his film The American, director Anton Corbijn stated that he wants to support Kodak as long as they are still going because Tri-X film was the still the gold standard for stills photography.

The late Sydney Pollack once said that Stanley Kubrick used to give him Kodak Tri-X film to use for taking still pictures.

At the aforementioned Cinema Expo, cinematographer John Bailey highlighted the future archival problems of movies that are ‘born digitally’:

When it comes to cinema, perhaps Kodak could spin off its motion picture arm?

Despite the march of digital pioneers like David Fincher and James Cameron, I suspect that a large portion of cinematographers still want to use film.

If Kodak goes into bankruptcy does photochemical filmmaking as we know it just die?

> WSJ report on Kodak’s financial troubles
> More on Kodak at Wikipedia
> From Celluloid to Digital


Bert Schneider (1933-2011)

The producer who helped kicked start the New Hollywood era passed away on Monday at the age of 78.

Due to the varied nature of their role, and the dominance of the auteur theory since the 1960s, producers don’t tend to get as much credit as directors.

But Bert Schneider was a key figure in the New Hollywood era, producing landmark films such as Easy Rider (1969), Five Easy Pieces (1970) and The Last Picture Show (1971).

For someone who tapped into the radical counter culture in such a big way, he was was the son of former Columbia Pictures chairman Abraham Schneider.

It was whilst working in New York for Columbia that he and Bob Rafelson came up with the idea for The Monkees, a manufactured pop group modelled on The Beatles.

Consisting of Davy Jones, Mike Nesmith, Micky Dolenz and Peter Tork, they had a sitcom which ran from 1966-1968 but also had chart hits including (Theme From) The Monkees and I’m A Believer.

Their success allowed Schneider to move into feature films, beginning with Head (1968), which was directed by Rafelson and co-written by Jack Nicholson.

Heavily influenced by psychedelic drugs, it alienated the core fan base of the group and bombed at the box office, but remains an interesting snapshot of late 60s counter-culture.

However, the overall financial success of The Monkees (they have since sold 65 million records worldwide) allowed him the creative freedom to pursue his ambitions as a producer.

It was with his next film – this time as an executive producer – that Schneider would really make a mark in Hollywood and the wider culture.

At the time the major studios were churning out costly musicals such as Dr. Dolittle (1967) and Paint Your Wagon (1969) which were failing to tap into younger audiences in the way the a film like The Graduate (1967) was doing.

Mike Nichol’s film landed like a bombshell – an independently financed phenomenon that ultimately grossed over $104m on a budget of just $3m, it would have raised the eyebrows of many studio executives.

Just as importantly it spoke to a younger generation and oiled the wheels for a film to really break the mould.

Easy Rider (1969) was just that movie – something which tapped right into the late 1960s zeitgeist in a way that the declining studio system was failing to do.

The story of two bikers (played by Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper) travelling through the American Southwest and South with the aim of achieving freedom, it was made for under $400,000 and went on to make $41m at the box office.

Directed by Hopper from a script co-written with Fonda and Terry Southern, it remains a landmark film, partly due to an iconic soundtrack featuring The Byrds and Steppenwolf, and also made Jack Nicholson a star even though he was in a supporting role.

Interestingly, the crucial use of music in both The Graduate and Easy Rider also paved the way for the modern soundtrack tie-in as studios gradually realised that a tie-in album or song could be another income stream.

The enormous success allowed Schneider and Rafelson to team up with Stephen Blauner to form BBS Productions (an acronym for Bert, Bob and Steve).

Their next film was Five Easy Pieces (1970), a classic drama about a disaffected pianist (Jack Nicholson) caught between the counter-culture and Nixon’s silent majority, it caught a mood and grossed $18m on a budget of just $1.6m.

It established Nicholson as a star, earned several Oscar nominations and remains a classic study of class and alienation in America.

The following year he went on to produce another classic film of its era, Peter Bogdanovich’s The Last Picture Show (1971).

A beautiful coming of age story set in a 1950s Texas town, it featured an outstanding ensemble cast (Timothy Bottoms, Jeff Bridges, Cybil Shepherd, Ben Johnson, Ellen Burstyn, Cloris Leachman and Randy Quaid) and some gorgeous black and white cinematography by Robert Surtees.

Paying tribute to Hollywood’s Golden Era, especially Howard Hawks and John Ford, Bogdanovich crafted a poetic tribute for the America that was vanishing, that chimed perfectly with the disillusionment of the early 1970s (and perhaps 2011?).

There were creative and commercial misfires during this period with Henry Jaglom’s A Safe Place (1971) and Nicholson’s directing debut Drive, He Said (1971), although they remain interesting examples of independent movies in the pre-Sundance era.

The following year he reteamed with Bob Rafelson for The King of Marvin Gardens (1972), a downbeat drama about a late night radio host (Jack Nicholson) in Philadelphia and his older brother (Bruce Dern).

Co-starring Ellen Burstyn, its portrait of crushed dreams was perhaps too close to the bone for audiences who largely stayed away, even though it has since been reappraised.

Schneider went on to produce Hearts and Minds (1974), Peter Davis’ powerful documentary about the Vietnam conflict which earned an Oscar for Best Documentary.

In his acceptance speech during the ceremony – held just 12 days before the fall of Saigon – Schneider scandalised members of the audience by reading out a telegram from the Viet Cong Ambassador (Dinh Ba Thi) thanking the anti-war movement “for all they have done on behalf of peace”.

The equivalent today would be the producer of a documentary about the Afghanistan conflict, reading out a telegram from the Taliban.

Elderly Academy members were scandalised, with Frank Sinatra later reading out a letter from Bob Hope (another presenter on the show) saying:

“The academy is saying, ‘We are not responsible for any political references made on the program, and we are sorry they had to take place this evening.'”

He later went on to produce Terrence Malick’s Days of Heaven (1978) after Paramount CEO Barry Diller offered him a deal to produce films for the studio.

Retaining creative control – by guaranteeing the budget himself and taking responsibility for all cost overruns – Schneider fell out with Malick after a difficult shoot and tortuous two year post-production period.

Schneider was upset with the director due to his unconventional working methods and cost overruns, but the end result was one of the crown jewels of American cinema.

In a rare case of corporate owners displaying great taste, Gulf & Western chairman Charlie Bluhdorn actually loved the movie.

His oil company owned Paramount at the time and he was so impressed he even gave Malick an annual retainer to essentially work on whatever he wanted.

This resulted in pre-production on Q – a drama set in prehistoric times, which may have been the inspiration for what would ultimately become a key section in The Tree of Life.

A strange postscript, is that twenty years later Rupert Murdoch’s money (via 20th Century Fox) would result in The Thin Red Line (1998), which not only ended Malick’s 20 year career hiatus but also provided us with one of the most unusual films ever made at a major studio.

But for Schneider Days of Heaven ultimately resulted in the end of an era – his last film as a producer was the little seen Broken English (1981) and after that he dropped out of the mainstream producing game.

He died of natural causes aged 78 in his Los Angeles home on Monday.

One person to pay tribute to him on Twitter today was producer and agent Cassian Elwes (given the nature of Twitter, you’ll have to read these excerpted messages from the bottom up):

At some point in recent years his house burnt down and this video surfaced in 2009 of the remains:

Last year Criterion issued an outstanding Blu-ray boxset of BBS films called America Lost and Found: The BBS Story featuring Easy Rider, Five Easy Pieces, The Last Picture Show, The King of Marvin Gardens, Head, Drive He Said and A Safe Place.

He was perhaps a reminder that producers can find a way to buck the system and enable talented directors and actors to produce outstanding work against the commercial grain.

A generation of filmmakers have grown up with the legacy of New Hollywood directors such as Coppola, Spielberg, Scorsese and Lucas, but it took a maverick producer like Schneider to really kick things off.

> NY TimesLA Times and MUBi Notebook obituraries
> Bert Schneider at the IMDb
> DVD Beaver with a detailed review of the Crtierion BBS Blu-ray box set

News Thoughts

Earth 2

The discovery of an Earth-like planet coincides with the UK release of a film about …an Earth-like planet.

Back in January a film called Another Earth debuted to considerable surprise and acclaim at the Sundance film festival.

The central premise involves a student (Brit Marling) and music teacher (William Mapother) whose fates intersect amidst the discovery of another planet identical to Earth.

It was one of the most acclaimed titles of the festival, winning the Alfred P. Sloan Prize and getting acquired by Fox Searchlight Pictures for distribution.

Then in February, astronomers announced that the advanced Kepler Space Telescope had helped them identify around 54 planets, five of which were “Earth-sized” and where conditions could possibly sustain life.

Yesterday, NASA revealed further developments at the first Kepler Science Conference, where they confirmed the existence of an Earth-like planet.

Named Kepler 22-b, it lies around 600 light-years away, is about 2.4 times the size of earth and is the closest confirmed planet to our own.

Although it is unclear if it is made mostly of rock, gas or liquid, the main reason it has been dubbed an “Earth 2.0” is because it revolves around a star and circles around it every 290 days.

The Wikipedia entry does the numbers:

The planet’s radius is roughly 2.4 times the radius of Earth; it is 600 light years away from Earth, in orbit around the G-type star Kepler 22.

If it has an Earth-like density (5.515 g/cm3) then it would mass 13.8 Earths while its surface gravity would be 2.4 times Earth’s.

If it has water like density (1 g/cm3) then it would mass 2.5 Earths and have a surface gravity of 0.43 times Earth’s.

The distance from Kepler-22b to its star is about 15% less than the distance from Earth to the Sun, hence its orbit is about 85% of Earth’s orbit.

One orbital revolution around its star takes 289.9 days.

The light output of Kepler-22b’s star is about 25% less than that of the Sun.

Another Earth opened in the US at selected cinemas during the summer and got released on Blu-ray and DVD there last week.

It opens in UK cinemas this week and in an age where online agencies are desperately trying to drum up interest with phony virals, here is a genuine one that has fallen right into their lap with perfect timing.

IndieWire recently hosted a deleted scene from the film which shows a news clip of the discovery and there is another scene where Brit Marling’s character looks up the website for a chance to travel to Earth 2:

This isn’t possible in real life yet as 600 million light years presents a challenge for even the fastest rocket.

That said, this year did see the basic foundation of modern physics rocked by two experiments at CERN, which appeared to demonstrate that neutrinos may travel faster than light, even though some later cast doubt on that.

What this shows is that life can imitate art, as our technical realities catch up with our creative fantasies.

Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey seemed to predict the iPad and Siri, The Truman Show predicted the rise of reality TV in the 2000s and Minority Report foresaw multi-touch computing and the Kinect.

In terms of timing Another Earth seems spooky, but there are other films which had news stories dovetail with their release.

The China Syndrome (1979) – a drama about an accident at a nuclear power plant – was released on March 16th 1979, just 12 days before the Three Mile Island nuclear accident in Dauphin County, Pennsylvania.

In the film, someone actually says that the China Syndrome would render “an area the size of Pennsylvania” permanently uninhabitable.

John Frankenheimer made two political thrillers in the early 1960s – The Manchurian Candidate (1962) and Seven Days in May (1964) – which had creepy parallels with the Kennedy assassination and the Cuban missile crisis.

Wag the Dog (1997) – a satire about a spin doctor trying to cover up a presidential affair – opened just one month before the Lewinsky scandal blew up in January 1998.

Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia, which opened earlier this year, also featured a premise where there was another planet heading towards earth.

So whilst there are precedents, the news of another ‘earth’ in the same week Another Earth actually opens in the UK seems like viral marketing from a superior alien intelligence.

> Another Earth
> More about Kepler 22-b at Wikipedia
> Follow director Mike Cahill and actress-writer Brit Marling on Twitter

Awards Season News

BIFA Winners 2011

Tyrannosaur won three major prizes at the British Independent Film Awards in London tonight, including Best Picture and Best Actress.

The major winners were Lynne Ramsay (Best Director for We Need to Talk About Kevin), Michael Fassbender (Best Actor for Shame), Olivia Colman (Best Actress for Tyrannosaur), Vanessa Redgrave (Best Supporting Actress for Coriolanus) and Michael Smiley (Best Supporting Actor for Kill List).

Tyrannosaur also picked up three trophies for Best British Independent Film, Best Actress and Paddy Considine was awarded The Douglas Hickox Award for Best Debut Director.

The full list of nominations is below, with the winners highlighted in bold:

BEST BRITISH INDEPENDENT FILM (Sponsored by Moët & Chandon)

BEST DIRECTOR (Sponsored by The Creative Partnership)
Ben Wheatley – KILL LIST
Steve McQueen – SHAME
Paddy Considine – TYRANNOSAUR

Ralph Fiennes – CORIOLANUS
John Michael McDonagh – THE GUARD
Richard Ayoade – SUBMARINE
Paddy Considine – TYRANNOSAUR

BEST SCREENPLAY (Sponsored by BBC Films)
John Michael McDonagh – THE GUARD
Ben Wheatley, Amy Jump – KILL LIST
Abi Morgan, Steve McQueen – SHAME
Richard Ayoade – SUBMARINE
Lynne Ramsay, Rory Kinnear – WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN

BEST ACTRESS (Sponsored by M.A.C)
Rebecca Hall – THE AWAKENING
Mia Wasikowska – JANE EYRE
MyAnna Buring – KILL LIST
Olivia Colman – TYRANNOSAUR

Brendan Gleeson – THE GUARD
Neil Maskell – KILL LIST
Michael Fassbender – SHAME
Peter Mullan – TYRANNOSAUR

Felicity Jones – ALBATROSS
Vanessa Redgrave – CORIOLANUS
Carey Mulligan – SHAME
Sally Hawkins – SUBMARINE

Michael Smiley – KILL LIST
Benedict Cumberbatch – TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY
Eddie Marsan – TYRANNOSAUR

Jessica Brown Findlay – ALBATROSS
Craig Roberts – SUBMARINE
Yasmin Paige – SUBMARINE
Tom Cullen – WEEKEND


THE RAINDANCE AWARD (Sponsored by Exile Media)

Chris King, Gregers Sall – Editing – SENNA
Sean Bobbitt – Cinematography – SHAME
Joe Walker – Editing – SHAME
Maria Djurkovic – Production Design – TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY
Seamus McGarvey – Cinematography – WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN




THE RICHARD HARRIS AWARD (for outstanding contribution by an actor to British Film) [Sponsored by Working Title]
Ralph Fiennes

Kenneth Branagh

Graham Easton

> Official site
> More on the BIFAs and previous winners at Wikipedia

Lists News

Sight and Sound’s Top Films of 2011

This year’s Sight and Sound poll has been topped by Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life.

The UK film magazine polled around 100 critics and – as usual – the list has surfaced on various websites before the official one, even though they have confirmed the top two films on their Twitter feed:

“Most of you guessed right: our film of 2011 is The Tree of Life (by a country mile)”

Which begs the question, why has this film got the reputation of being critically divisive?

Whilst a minority booed at the Cannes press screening and it presumably baffled some audiences, if you look at the filtered critical consensus there is a lot of love for Malick’s opus: 85/100 on Metacritic, 84% on Rotten Tomatoes, 79/100 on Movie Review Intelligence and 7.3/10 on IMDb.

As is often the case, there is a good spread of European auteur royalty amongst the list (Von Trier, Dardennes and Tarr), which makes it read a bit like Thierry Frémaux‘s contacts book, but its good to see Michel Hazanavicius, Tomas Alfredson and Asghar Farhadi join the club with films of real distinction and class.

1. The Tree of Life (Dir. Terrence Malick).

2. A Separation (Dir. Asghar Farhadi).

3. The Kid With a Bike (Dir. Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne).

4. Melancholia (Dir. Lars von Trier).

5. The Artist (Dir. Michel Hazanavicius).

=6. Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (Dir. Nuri Bilge Ceylan).

=6. The Turin Horse (Dir. Béla Tarr)

8. We Need to Talk About Kevin (Dir. Lynne Ramsay).

9. Le Quattro Volte (Dir. Michelangelo Frammartino).

=10. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (Dir. Tomas Alfredson).

=10. This Is Not a Film (Dir. Jafar Panahi and Mojtaba Mirtahmashb)

Sight and Sound (follow them on Twitter or connect on Facebook)
Wikipedia on 2011 in film

News Technology

Hedy Lamarr – Movie Star Inventor

Hedy Lamarr was the one of the most glamourous actress of her day who just happened to pioneer a form of wireless communication that led to Bluetooth and wi-fi.

A new book by Richard Rhodes called Hedy’s Folly charts the incredible story of how a huge Hollywood star helped pave the way wireless technology which we now take for granted.

Sam Kean of Slate makes a good analogy in his review:

“Imagine that, on Sept. 12, 2001, an outraged Angelina Jolie had pulled out a pad of paper and some drafting tools and, all on her own, designed a sophisticated new missile system to attack al-Qaida. Now imagine that the design proved so innovative that it transcended weapons technology, and sparked a revolution in communications technology over the next half-century.”

Slate have also done this video montage:

Rhodes has written a diverse set of non-fiction books, including essays on America, writing itself, the SSJames Audubon and the definitive history The Making of the Atomic Bomb which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1988.

But who was Hedy Lamarr?

She was an Austrian-American actress who became a major star at MGM during their golden age of the 1930s and 1940s.

Her American debut was in Algiers (1938) and amongst her films in this period included Boom Town (1940), White Cargo (1942) and Tortilla Flat (1942).

Incidentally, she bore a remarkable resemblance to Vivien Leigh, the star of arguably MGM’s most iconic film Gone With the Wind (1939).

But it was after leaving MGM in 1945 that she had her biggest success playing Delilah in Cecil B. DeMille’s Samson and Delilah (1949), which was the biggest hit of that year.

But she was more than just a pretty actress and her life reads like the most outlandish of movies.

After growing up in Vienna, she absorbed a lot of information on long walks with her father and his detailed explanations of how – then modern – technologies like printing presses actually worked.

After an unhappy marriage to an arms manufacturer for the Nazis, she escaped to London after learning that Louie B Mayer of MGM was scouting for actresses.

She then turned down his original offer before getting on the same boat as him back to the US and by the time it docked she had secured a better contract.

In what reads like a real-life super hero(ine) story, she then set about inventing things in her spare time rather than drinking or going to night clubs.

She was obsessed with creative ideas throughout her life: sugary cubes that would mix with water and a “skin-tautening technique based on the principles of the accordion” were just some of those she came up with in between takes.

As a Jewish emigre she was deeply affected when in 1940, Nazi U-boats hunted down and sank a cruise ship evacuating British schoolchildren to Canada.

Seventy-seven children were drowned in the attack.

She decided to do something but instead issuing a press release about world peace through the MGM press office, she sketched out a revolutionary radio guidance system for anti-submarine torpedoes.

Her neighbour, the avant garde composer George Antheil, had already experimented with automated control of musical instruments.

Their ideas contributed to the development of frequency hopping: if you could shift around radio frequencies used to guide torpedoes, then it would make it very difficult for the Nazis to detect or jam them.

They got a patent and then promptly gave it to the US Navy, who were interested but perhaps not too receptive to being outsmarted by a Hollywood actress.

Although others had pioneered the concept, such as Polish engineer Leonard Danilewicz, it was still incredible that an A-list actress and her musican neighbour were doing this as a past-time.

Instead Lamarr was encouraged to use her fame to sell war bonds, raising around $25 million, which is $340 million in today’s money.

(If you’ve seen Flags of Our Fathers, there’s a whole sequence devoted to the war bond efforts, only in that film it involved soldiers from the Battle of Iwo Jima)

However, after the war the Navy did revive the idea when they developed a sonar buoy to detect enemy ships: the basic concept was used to disguise radio signals as they were transmitted from the buoy to aircraft overhead.

But perhaps the lasting legacy is the application of frequency hopping in modern computing technologies.

As the computer revolution gathered pace over time, frequency hopping and Lamarr’s ideas came of age.

Gradually engineers discovered that it could be usefully applied for modern computing devices that use radio frequencies in what is termed “spread-spectrum broadcasting“.

Devices such as mobile phones and wi-fi routers all have to avoid intereference when communicating with one another and use a form of frequency hopping.

The original patent had lapsed after the war but in 1997 the Electronic Frontier Foundation gave Lamarr an award for her contribution.

Their press release in March 1997 featured this killer line:

“In 1942 Lamarr, once named the “most beautiful woman in the world” and Antheil, dubbed “the bad boy of music” patented the concept of “frequency-hopping” that is now the basis for the spread spectrum radio systems used in the products of over 40 companies manufacturing items ranging from cell phones to wireless networking systems”

So the next time you use a Bluetooth headset or log on to a wi-fi router, think of the actress and the musician who played a part in making it possible.

> Buy Richard Rhodes’ book on Amazon UK and Amazon US
> Richard Rhodes
> Find out more about Hedy Lamarr and Frequency Hopping at Wikipedia
> EFF press release from March 1997

Awards Season News

The Hollywood Reporter Director’s Roundtable

The directors Alexander Payne (The Descendants), Mike Mills (Beginners), Steve McQueen (Shame), Jason Reitman (Young Adult), Bennett Miller (Moneyball) and Michel Hazanavicius (The Artist) all sat down recently for an awards season round table chat with Stephen Galloway of The Hollywood Reporter.

Part 1 

Where they talk about makes a great director and get into a discussion about Ryan O’Neil in Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon.

Part 2

Where they discuss the lack of female and black directors before Steve McQueen questions why more minorities aren’t cast in movies (this video has generated quite a lot of talk on Twitter, presumably because it hits on an uncomfortable truth)

Part 3

Where they discuss their best and worst experiences as directors, which includes tales of actors not memorising their lines and a crew member being fired.

A transcript of the session is here

> The Hollywood Reporter
> Latest on the awards season at Awardsdaily and In Contention

Interesting News Technology

James Cameron Accepts Popular Mechanics Award

James Cameron recently accepted the Popular Mechanics award for Breakthrough Leadership in 2011 where he discussed technology, filmmaking and the Avatar sequels.

Here is video of Popular Mechanics Editor-in-Chief Jim Meigs and Sigourney Weaver presenting the award to Cameron and his subsequent speech:

Earlier in the day he spoke at length to Meigs, where they discussed his early sci-fi influences, the importance of 2001: A Space Odyssey, why filmmakers should embrace technology, deep-sea exploration and the real-world influences on Avatar:

Here is the subsequent audience Q&A where he discusses higher frame rates, how the US can get its innovative edge back, the presentation of scientists on film and the experience of 3D in cinemas and the home.

> Popular Mechanics Archives
> Q&A print interview at Popular Mechanics
> Lengthy 2009 video interview where Cameron talks about the visual effects of Avatar
> More on James Cameron at Wikipedia
> Voice Cameos of James Cameron

Festivals London Film Festival News

London Film Festival Award Winners 2011

The winners have been announced at this year’s London Film Festival Awards.

BEST FILM: We Need To Talk About Kevin (Dir. Lynne Ramsay)

On behalf of the jury John Madden (Chair) said:

“This year’s shortlist for Best Film comprises work that is outstanding in terms of its originality and its stylistic reach. It is an international group, one united by a common sense of unflinching human enquiry and we were struck by the sheer panache displayed by these great storytellers. In the end, we were simply bowled over by one film, a sublime, uncompromising tale of the torment that can stand in the place of love. We Need to Talk About Kevin is made with the kind of singular vision that links great directors across all the traditions of cinema.”

BEST BRITISH NEWCOMER: Candese Reid, Actress in Junkhearts

Chair of the Best British Newcomer jury, Andy Harries said:

“Candese is a fresh, brilliant and exciting new talent. Every moment she was on screen was compelling.”

SUTHERLAND AWARD WINNER: Pablo Giorgelli, director of Las Acacias.

The jury commented:

“In a lively and thoughtful jury room debate, Las Acacias emerged as a worthy winner, largely because of the originality of its conception. Finely judged performances and a palpable sympathy for his characters makes this a hugely impressive debut for director Pablo Giorgelli.”

GRIERSON AWARD FOR BEST DOCUMENTARY: Into the Abyss: A Tale of Life, A Tale of Death (Dir. Werner Herzog)

The award is co-presented with the Grierson Trust (in commemoration of John Grierson, the grandfather of British documentary) and recognises outstanding feature length documentaries of integrity, originality, technical excellence or cultural significance. The jury this year was chaired by Adam Curtis.

BFI FELLOWSHIP: Ralph Fiennes and David Cronenberg (as previously announced)

Greg Dyke, Chair, BFI said:

‘The BFI London Film Festival Awards pay tribute to outstanding film talent, so we are delighted and honoured that both Ralph Fiennes, one of the world’s finest and most respected actors and David Cronenberg, one of the most original and ground-breaking film directors of contemporary cinema, have both accepted BFI Fellowships – the highest accolade the BFI can bestow. I also want to congratulate all the filmmakers and industry professionals here tonight, not only on their nominations and awards, but also for their vision, skill, passion and creativity.’

Jurors present at the ceremony included: Best Film jurors John Madden, Andrew O’Hagan. Gillian Anderson, Asif Kapadia, Tracey Seaward and Sam Taylor-Wood OBE; Sutherland jurors Tim Robey, Joanna Hogg, Saskia Reeves, Peter Kosminsky, Hugo Grumbar, and the artist Phil Collins.

Best British Newcomer jurors Anne-Marie Duff, Tom Hollander, Edith Bowman, Stephen Woolley and Nik Powell; and Grierson Award jurors Mandy Chang of the Grierson Trust, Charlotte Moore, Head of Documentary Commissioning at BBC, Kim Longinotto and Adam Curtis.

> LFF official site
> Previous winners at the LFF at Wikipedia

Interesting News

The Reel History of Britain

The BFI and BBC have teamed up to screen a series of archive films about British life.

Exploring life in this country during the 20th century, it covers subjects such as rural life in the 1930s, evacuation during World War II, teenagers in the 1950s, the NHS and package holidays in the 1960s.

A series of programmes hosted by Melvyn Bragg screens every weekday on BBC2 at 6:30pm and are also available via BBC iPlayer.

On the BFI website you can watch over one hundred films used in the series and find out more about the people who made them.

The videos aren’t embeddable, but you can watch them on the dedicated site.

> Reel History website
> Find out more about the History of Britain at Wikipedia