Category Archives: Film awards lists

BIFF 2013 #21: European Features Competition

Maria Dragas, star of 'Kill Me' speaking after receiving the European Features award on behalf of Emily Latef – watched by Tom Vincent and Neil Young, Festival Directors.

Maria Dragus, star of ‘Kill Me’ speaking after receiving the European Features award on behalf of Emily Latef – watched by Tom Vincent and Neil Young, Festival Directors.

BIFF19logoLast year’s inaugural European Features Competition featured six films by debutant directors. This year there were another three first-timers plus three established filmmakers. Again the six films have not achieved UK distribution and Festival Director Tom Vincent told us at the award ceremony that this was the chief aim of the prize – to highlight films that UK distributors had missed and should perhaps reconsider. The festival brochure doesn’t tell us what the judging criteria are – which strikes me as problematic. There were three jurors: Stephanie Bunbury is a film journalist from Australia, Hannah McGill is well-known in the UK as one-time director of the Edinburg International Film Festival and is now a critic and film journalist and Martijn Maria Smits is a writer-director from the Netherlands.

As far as I’m aware, the three judges saw all six films at the beginning of the festival and none of them were present at the announcement on Sunday evening. It seems to me that operating in this way, the judges will not have had any sense of how audiences reacted to the films. I wonder therefore if they will have judged the films on the basis of their appeal as ‘festival films’. By this I mean a film that appeals directly to festival professionals and audiences who seek out festivals rather than to a mainstream or arthouse audience. People generally watch films differently in festivals I think.

I thought before the official announcement that the judges may well choose Kill Me directed by Emily Atef. This was the only one of the six entries that I hadn’t blogged on – for the simple reason that I had missed the opening 15-20 minutes and I didn’t want to comment without seeing the whole film. Emily Atef has won several festival prizes for her work and I thought her film would appeal most to the judges. My guess proved correct and though the director wasn’t present, the young star of the film Maria Dragus had flown into Bradford specially. She was clearly delighted that the film won the prize. I had planned to watch the opening of the film so I stayed on for the screening – knowing I would have to leave after about 30 minutes for a meeting. Unfortunately, I was sat directly in front of Ms Dragus so I hope she wasn’t offended when I sneaked out. Now I’ve seen the whole film I will write it up, but if you are wondering, it offers the unlikely pairing of a teenage girl on a farm in Germany who runs off with an escaped prisoner. The odd couple has an uneasy relationship which is explored in a form of ‘road movie’.

Apart from Kill Me, there was a ‘special mention’ of A Night Too Young and its director Olmo Omerzu was present. The young boy’s face in that film with its young/old appearance will stay with me for some time and I certainly support the judges in singling out a film and a filmmaker that both deserve more attention. All six films in the competition were worth consideration for wider distribution and it was a strong field. The award this year was sponsored by ‘Bradford First UNESCO City of Film’ and its director David Wilson presented it to Maria Dragus. I think the ideas behind the award are very good and it is something that BIFF could build on, but to actually convince a distributor to take up any of these films in the UK is going to require more – perhaps several festivals could combine to give European films more focus. The New British Cinema Quarterly scheme sees a package of British films getting a limited release. How about a New European Cinema Quarterly? Britain is the toughest market in Europe for ‘European’ films so anything might help. But for now, let’s celebrate the European Features Award. Kill Me review to follow.

That was 2012 in film

We’ve been trying to put together some ideas about what we’ve seen over the last 12 months. For me personally, 2012 was a great year. I largely ignored Hollywood and I don’t feel that I’ve missed much. Apart from Prometheus (which I argued was a British movie) I’ve watched only Hugo, The Hunger Games and Fincher’s The Girl With a Dragon Tattoo. Scorsese’s film was interesting but the Fincher film was irrelevant. The Hunger Games was worth watching and the franchise shows potential but I’m not over-excited. I am intrigued by the prospect of Tarantino’s Western in a few weeks time, but otherwise Hollywood holds few attractions. American indies have also been so-so. Instead, I’ve seen the French blockbuster Intouchables, which I enjoyed but seem not to have written about – a mistake. Bollywood and Chinese blockbusters were also missing this year, though I enjoyed the Tamil remake of 3 Idiots, Nanban. But mostly 2012 was the year of the jaw-dropping specialised release. Trying to choose just five films to put on a pedestal was very difficult and I could easily have listed ten or even 15.

Eventually I came up with this list of the five films on UK cinema release in 2012 which made most impact on me:

1. Monsieur Lazhar (Canada)

A gem of restraint, an almost perfect story.

2. A Royal Affair (Denmark/Czech/Ger/Swe)

Philosophy, history, politics and romance – a heady mixture.

3. Tabu (Portugal/Brazil/France)

Strange, beautiful and a subtle satire – a unique meditation on the colonial imagination.

4. A Simple Life (Hong Kong)

The title says it all, a Chinese melodrama with enormous emotional power.

5. The Hunt (Denmark)

Thomas Vinterberg makes a triumphal comeback with a multi-layered story and Mads Mikkelsen’s second great performance of 2012.

It’s obvious that I like melodramas since that generic classification is the one factor shared by these five titles. Three of them are also about memory and all of them are powered by terrific performances. Mads Mikkelsen is the actor of the moment (i.e. in both A Royal Affair and The Hunt) and Danish and Québécois cinema have dominated my 2012.

We are also listing the five films that we’ve seen either as re-releases or education screenings, in festivals or on DVD or TV in 2012. Here’s my ‘other’ five:

1. War Witch (Canada 2012)

Kim Nguyen’s film about a young girl caught up in the Congolese civil wars would have been a strong contender for my first list but bizarrely it hasn’t yet got a UK release. It has been seen at many festivals and won several prizes already. It has made the ‘long shortlist’ for the Foreign Language Oscar and I hope it wins.

2. Dreams for Sale (Japan 2012)

The best film I saw at the London Film Festival. Contemporary Japanese films are fascinating but don’t seem to sell well internationally at the moment. I hope this proves to be the exception.

3. The Eternal Breasts (Japan 1955)

The Leeds Film Festival came up trumps with its Tanaka Kinuyo retrospective. I’m not sure why, but 1950s Japanese cinema seems to have become my most reliable source of pleasure in the cinema.

4. It Always Rains on Sunday (UK 1947)

A long post on this re-release is nearly complete. The BFI’s digital releases in 2012 included several interesting titles but this was the revelation for me. I’d seen the film before, but I hadn’t understood the power of Googie Withers’ performance until I saw it on the big screen. Part of the BFI’s huge Ealing retrospective I found that this film raised issues about the critical reaction to Ealing’s output that I want to explore.

5. Tess (France/UK 1979)

I watched Tess on DVD earlier this year while I was preparing for an event on Michael Winterbottom’s Trishna and reading the Hardy novel which was the original source of both films. Polanski’s Tess blew me away on DVD – much of it watched on my laptop on a train. I can’t remember why I didn’t see it at the time and I was surprised to read about the difficulties it had in getting distribution in the UK. There is a restored digital print of Tess circulating in the UK and I must track it down.

Nick and Rona have both sent me their lists, so perhaps we can get some debate going? Nick’s (more extensive) lists are also on his own blog – the two here were what he sent to me (and he’s now added his own comments):


I agree with Roy that Hollywood produced little (nothing?) of note last year; I enjoyed Prometheus but the superhero franchises left me cold.

Nick’s list of UK 2012 cinema releases:

The Hunt

Utterly gripping and, the dreadful child protection procedures apart, completely convincing.

About Elly (Iran 2009)

Another melodrama that mixed thriller with humour in devastating fashion.

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (Turkey/Bosnia-Herzogovina 2011)

Wonderfully slow paced narrative, the absurdities of which were completely engaging.

The Iron Lady (UK-France 2011)

A surprise for me because Thatcher is one of the few people I hate to the core of my being. However, as a film about old age and dementia this will take some beating.

Anna Karenina (UK 2012)

Very impressed by Joe Wright’s artifice, making this period drama refreshingly modern.

and the top 5 films revisited:

Vertigo (US 1957)

It doesn’t deserves the moniker of ‘best movie of all time’, as Sight & Sound suggests, but then no movie does. However, it’s tale of obsession, love and loss is still riveting.

Gattaca (US 1997)

A dystopian thriller that combines SF and noir brilliantly.

Ashes and Diamonds (Poland 1958)

Wajda remains one of my favourite directors, he is able to take a microcosm – here the end of WWII – and instil momentous events within it.

Battle for Haditha (UK 2007)

Nick Broomfield not only brilliantly recreates the madness of the Americans in Iraq, he humanises both the protagonists and antagonists (choose your side).

Son of Babylon (Iraq/UK/Fra/UAE/Lebanon/Egypt 2009)

I missed this in the cinema; like Haditha it encapsulates the Iraqi experience of war. Maybe if everyone watched films like these the opposition to war would be so great that politicians, even when urged on by the industrial-military complex, wouldn’t dare to defy public opinion.

and Rona‘s lists (a Top 9 and a Top 4):

The Hunt

The Master (US 2012)

Shadow Dancer (UK 2012)

7 Psychopaths (UK 2012)

The Hunter (Australia 2011)

Argo (US 2012)

Holy Motors (France 2012)

The Turin Horse (Hungary/Fra/Ger/Switz/US 2011)

Swandown (UK 2012)

Berberian Sound Studio (UK-Germany 2012)

DVD-wise (return through study)

L’Avventura (Italy 1960)

Taxi Driver (US 1976)

The Conversation (US 1974)

The Passion of Joan of Arc (France 1928)

So far then, only one agreement – that The Hunt is one of the films of the year. We hope to hear soon from Des and Keith. Perhaps they will be posting their own lists first? Any thoughts on the lists so far? Please add in the ‘Comments’ below.

2011 End of Year Lists

It’s that time again and the lists of ‘best’ films. ‘favourite’ films etc. are appearing everywhere. Keith has already commented on the Sight and Sound list and here it is in the January 2012 issue (with links shown to our posts):

The Tree of Life, Terence Malick, US

A Separation, Asghar Farhadi, Iran

The Kid With a Bike, Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne, Belgium/France/Italy

Melancholia, Lars von Trier, Den/Swe/Fra/Ger/Italy

The Artist, Michel Hazanavicius, France

6=  The Turin Horse, Bela Tarr, Hungary

6=  Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, Nuri Bilge Cylan, Turkey/Bosnia & Herzogovina

We Need to Talk About Kevin, Lynne Ramsay, UK/US

Le quattro volte, Michelangelo Frammartino Italy/Ger/Switz

10=  This Is Not a Film, Jafar Panahi & Mojtaba Mirtahmash, Iran

10=  Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Tomas Alfredson, UK/Fra/Ger

The list is based on the 5 top films nominated by 100 ‘international critics’ (although the selection of ‘critics’ seems skewed towards the UK and several of the UK names are unknown to me.) Titles are included if they have been seen this year. Several of the films selected have yet to be released in the UK (although some have appeared in festivals here). It’s interesting that between us we’ve covered all of the Top 11 that have received a UK release. S & S editor Nick James gives a brief summary of how the votes went. The most significant observation is perhaps that few European critics have much time for the Lynne Ramsay film which has been snubbed by the European Film Awards apart from the award for Best Actress to Tilda Swinton. We’ll no doubt return to Kevin, which Keith was less taken with than Rona and Roy, at some future date (Melancholia won Best Film) The other surprises were that Senna didn’t make the Top 10 nor Wim Wenders’ Pina. As an overall comment, it’s worth pointing out that the list has two Iranian films but nothing else from Asia. Latin America is also not mentioned though Las acacias, released in the UK this week is ‘bubbling under’ – having won many festival prizes over the last twelve months. Apart from Ramsay there are no other women as directors in the Top 11.

Here’s my selection of the 11 new films that have most impressed me over the last twelve months in UK cinemas (leaving out films that have only appeared in festivals). In no particular order:

A Separation, Asghar Farhadi, Iran

We Need to Talk About Kevin, Lynne Ramsay, UK/US

Le quattro volte, Michelangelo Frammartino Italy/Ger/Switz

Wuthering Heights, Andrea Arnold, UK

Incendies, Denis Villeneuve, Canada-France

Poetry, Lee Chang-dong, South Korea

Bal, Semih Kaplanoglu, Turkey-Germany

Senna, Asif Kapadia, UK

A Screaming Man, Mahamat-Saleh Haroun, Chad/France/Belgium

Meek’s Cutoff, Kelly Reichs, US

Mademoiselle Chambon, Stéphane Brizé, France

I should point out that it isn’t necessarily the story or the theme of these films that makes me want to single them out, but rather their cinematic qualities in terms of ideas and imagination, performance, cinematography, editing, direction, use of sound/music etc. A review of Senna will appear when I get time. This has been a particularly strong year for British Cinema and that is reflected in my choices. I haven’t watched as many Indian films as I would have liked and although I’ve seen several interesting Latin American films in festivals, few have got a UK release. I have seen four new Japanese films on release and I was tempted to include at least one. I realise that I’ve also left out Black Swan, which was released in the UK in January and is an astonishing film in many ways, but perhaps not so much in need of a boost.

Comments? Other suggestions?

Addendum: Just received the list of winners at the British Independent Film Awards and reminded that we haven’t mentioned Tyrannosaur. I haven’t seen the film – largely because I have seen the original short film which was extended by Paddy Considine to feature length. That was excellent but harrowing and I wasn’t sure I was ready for the full-length version. Here is the list of BIFA winners:


BEST DIRECTOR Lynne Ramsay for We Need To Talk About Kevin


BEST SCREENPLAY Richard Ayoade, Submarine

BEST ACTRESS Olivia Colman, Tyrannosaur

BEST ACTOR Michael Fassbender, Shame

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS Vanessa Redgrave,Coriolanus

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR Michael Smiley, Kill List




BEST TECHNICAL ACHIEVEMENT Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Maria Djurkovic (Production Design)




THE RICHARD HARRIS AWARD (for outstanding contribution by an actor to British Film) Ralph Fiennes



10 from 2010

By dint of catching four festivals this year, my cinema visits have topped 100 in 2010 – the first time I’ve managed such a total for many years. I’ve chosen ten of the best films I saw on the big screen, leaving out the three Hollywood films that got the most press (Shutter Island, Inception and The Social Network), not because they were poor but because they don’t really need any more coverage. All the films on my list were first released in the UK in 2010. Here they are, not necessarily in rank order (with links to original postings on this site):

1. Winter’s Bone, dir. Debra Granik (US 2010)

I think that this is the film which hit me hardest in terms of an emotional response.

2. Skeletons, dir. Nick Whitfield (UK 2010)

. . . and this is the film which struck me as the most original.

3. Still Walking, dir Kore-eda Hirokazu (Japan 2008)

Just perfect?

4. Un prophète, dir Jacques Audiard (France 2009)

I’m not sure why I didn’t write about Un prophète when it came out – possibly because I used it in an event almost straightaway, meaning I watched it twice over a period of a few days. It was such an intense experience, I probably felt unable to write about it again. I must try to do so soon.

5. Vincere, dir Marco Bellocchio (Italy 2009)

I’ve enjoyed many films during festivals this year. Watching festival films is quite liberating as usually I know little about the films in advance and therefore respond to them very directly. I loved the high melodrama of Vincere and I was rather taken aback by many of the lukewarm reviews when the film was released. I’ve been impressed with several Italian films over the last few years.

6. Whip It, dir Drew Barrymore (US 2010)

My original review suggested that this was a little ‘baggy’ and overlong, but having watched it again a couple of times and shown it to a student group, I’ve decided that it all works. The fact that it has a relatively poor box office record says something about contemporary taste and perhaps ideologies. Perhaps in time it will find the audience it deserves.

7. The Ghost, dir Roman Polanski (France/Germany/UK 2010)

The brilliance of Polanski’s film seems to have been overshadowed by his re-arrest and subsequent release. No doubt this affected the film’s reception in North America. OK, it is perhaps an ‘old-fashioned’ film, but anyone who loves cinema must surely relish the sheer skill with which this is made? Kudos to Robert Harris for adapting his own novel and to Olivia Williams and Ewan McGregor for responding to Polanski’s direction.

8. I Am Love, dir Luca Guadagnino (Italy 2009)

This is the film that seemed to divide audiences the most – it even divided us and Keith didn’t like it. Whatever one thinks of it, it is certainly audacious in terms of visual style, a score using the music of John Adams and a strong performance by Tilda Swinton.

9. 24 City, dir Jia Zhangkhe (China/Japan/France 2008)

Jia Zhangkhe has now emerged as the major figure in Chinese independent cinema – and as a leading international auteur. I hope to be writing more about him in 2011.

10. The Time That Remains, dir Elia Suleiman (Palestine/France/Italy/Bel/UK 2009)

The recent history of Palestine is such that Sulieman’s surrealist approach seems like almost the only possible response. I enjoyed this film immensely at the same time as feeling so angry that the persecution of Palestinians under Israeli occupation is allowed to continue. This is probably the most important film of the year and the one that needs to be seen and discussed.


And here is an extra one. Chris Morris could be an irritating man, as some talented people unfortunately are (e.g. Stephen Fry), but he generally keeps a low profile and allows his work to speak for itself. Having shown Four Lions to three large student audiences and experienced some excellent discussions, it is most encouraging to think that wit and intelligence can thrive in British Cinema. Given the low budget, I suspect that this is the most profitable British film of the year – and it deserves much more acclaim than it has got so far. (The idiocy of awards means that it lost out at the British Independent Film Awards to The King’s Speech – even though that film is not released in the UK until 2011).

11. Four Lions, dir. Chris Morris (UK 2010)


I’m conscious that the list above does not include any films from Central/South America, South Asia or Africa. The African situation is very serious with very few films seen on UK screens, even in festivals. There have been excellent films from Argentina, Mexico and India, however, and several could have appeared in the list – please don’t read anything into their absence.

My Year in the Cinema

This year has been my most productive in terms of cinema visits for a long time. Not counting multiple screenings of films for study events, I managed 75 screenings this year. One notable aspect of this was the relatively small number of Hollywood films in the list – only 13 titles and of these only three mainstream studio films. Star Trek was OK but watching a digital blow-up on an IMAX screen didn’t win me over to the new Hollywood action cinema. Gran Torino made me angry and Public Enemies was always interesting but in the end rather flat. The other American films were archive prints or new independents. There were the same number of British films and also a similar number of French and Hispanic films (Spain, Mexico and Cuba). So, two-thirds of all the films that I saw in cinemas came from four main industries. Partly this was because I taught courses on the French New Wave and attended screenings celebrating 50 years of the Cuban Revolution, but it is also a reflection on the limited numbers of films from other major producers that get significant distribution opportunities in the UK. So, for instance, I missed the one Korean film that got a significant release in the last year (The Good, The Bad and The Weird).

Here are some of my picks from what I saw at the cinema this year.

The ‘best’ film: 35 Rhums (Claire Denis, France/Germany 2008). No contest really.

The runners-up: Let the Right One In (Tomas Alfredson, Sweden 2008), Tokyo Sonata (Kurosawa Kiyoshi, Japan/Neth/HK 2008), Bright Star (Jane Campion, UK/France/Australia 2009), Looking For Eric (Ken Loach, UK/France/Italy/Belgium/Spain 2009), Three Monkeys (Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Turkey 2008)

Best first-time feature: Shifty (Eran Creevy, UK 2008) and Katalin Varga (Peter Strickland, UK/Romania 2009)

Most appreciated evening class screening: Eve’s Bayou (Kasi Lemmons, US 1997)

Best post-screening discussion: (Re Narrative study) Pour elle (Anything For Her, Fred Cavayé, France 2008)

The film I missed, but most wanted to see: Fish Tank (Andrea Arnold, UK 2009)

Most anticipated film to be released in 2010: Une prophète (Jacques Audiard, France 2009)

For comparison, Sight and Sound published its list compiled from the votes of 60 critics around the world in November (note that release dates vary and critics probably saw these films before release at international festivals):

1. Une prophète

2.= The Hurt Locker and 35 Rhums

4. Das weisse Band

5. Let the Right One In

6.= Up and White Material (Claire Denis)

8.= Bright Star and Antichrist

10. Inglorious Basterds

I don’t have any problems with this list. Amazingly, I’ve seen half the films (to be more accurate four and a half if you count Up on a long distance flight). There are three I’m keen to see and two I have chosen not to see (Antichrist and Basterds) – but I recognise that many people do and have found the experience worthwhile. The list is encouraging, especially with four films by women – including two by Claire Denis. More worrying is the lack of any films from outside Europe and North America.

International Critics’ Top 10 for 2008

Sight & Sound, January 2008 carries an article in which 50 critics around the world picked a Top 5 for 2008. Sight & Sound‘s team then worked out a ranking of 150 films to create an overall Top 10:

1. Hunger (UK)

2. There Will Be Blood


4. Gomorra (Italy)

=5. A Christmas Tale (France)

=5. The Class (France)

7. Of Time and the City (UK)

8. Happy-Go-Lucky (UK)

=9. The Headless Woman (Arg/Sp/Fra/It)

=9 Let the Right One In (Sweden)

Amazingly, I’ve seen the six films in the list that have been released in the UK. (I haven’t checked the other four yet, but I don’t think they’ve been released here.) Of those six, I can certainly see why five of them would figure in many lists. I didn’t really enjoy the Mike Leigh and I’m not a fan generally. Poppy was a truly irritating character, although overall the film was well made and there were pluses. 

I don’t do ‘best of’ lists as such, especially because I don’t see all the films. But I’m happy to list the films that have made the most impact on me and that I enjoyed watching the most. 

My top 5 (i.e. of the films I’ve seen this year) would be:

1. Couscous (France)

2. Auf der anderen Seite (Edge of Heaven) (Germany/Turkey)

3. Caramel (France/Lebanon)

4. El orfanato (France/Spain)

5. Faat Kiné (Senegal 2000)

So, what does everyone else think?