The Golden Plantpots 2011

Slightly belated, my film recommendations are here. Again I managed to miss the delights of Cambridge, but Bradford, Edinburgh and Leeds each managed to showcase some genuinely brilliant films, as well as a couple of duds. Again, the quality of the selections on show was really high, although all three festivals (and what I saw of the Cambridge spread) seemed to be suffering from some squeezed middles. Leeds in particular cut back on the film output during the lean dinnertime hours.

But anyway, the films (with the exception of the occasional ones I watched outside of festivals) are from the collections below:
Feel free to add your views.

Best Film - The Artist (Fra)
The last festival film of the year just edges it from Snowtown and As If I Am Not There, whose shocking imagery may have put some off.

A daring revival of the silent film, The Artist feels like a work crafted with a deep love for the medium and a megaphone to remind us of the qualities we miss when our ears are battered by complicated soliloquies, cheesy one-liners and shouty-swearythons. As the vocals fade away the picture becomes more vivid; we notice more, and we concentrate more. It is a beautiful (though deliberately well-trodden) tale of a rags-to-riches screen siren meeting a suave silent film star in the limelight of his career, with brief cameo roles for people who almost seemed to beg to be crowbarred into this labour of love. Go see it, it's in the cinemas now.

And help Uggie to get an Oscar!

Honourable Mentions:

- Snowtown (Aus) - A biopic of Australia's most violent criminal just missed out on the top spot, only because, once you have seen it you won't want to step outside for a while. A harsh, violent upbringing for young James Vlassakis, whose life is invaded by the scary face of John Bunting, whose self-righteous attitudes towards others turn increasingly extreme, and James, an impressionable teen finds it difficult not to bond to the gruesome father-figure. Powerful, brooding and more able to disturb than the bloodiest horror film.

- As If I Am Not There (Irl/Mac/Swe)
For the same reason as Snowtown, you won't want to see this if you are in a cheery mood; but the terrible ordeal of young Sarajevo student teacher Samira when she chooses the wrong time to move to a remote Bosnian village, just as the war is about to start. Referencing real-life accounts of some of those who made it through alive, its ultimate message of the need to keep your humanity through the worst or not make it at all, raises it to the league of films such as Schindlers List.

- Symbol (Jpn)
Symbol just made me smile so much, long after I left the cinema. Completely crazy, unpredictable and refreshing, with an ending sequence that took the audience on a 2001-style odyssey. The audience is trapped in the room with the unnamed man as he struggles like a rat in a maze. Nothing else like it out there.

- Together/Tillsammans (Swe/Den/Ita)
Although it's a few years old, Together's warm glow of affection for the disfunctional family it portrays gave it an Elling-style effect of good humour and the cosy feeling of a fireside view, of a group of disparate people working out the creases as someone new arrives and a new chapter opens in the house.

- Tyrannosaur (UK)
Powerful and emotionally charged right from the off, the first film by Paddy Considine stays just on the right side of heart-wrenching as it describes the lives of two wretched souls who find some solace in each other, only once they are honest with both each other and the viewer. Olivia Coleman is excellent as the quiet and unassuming Hannah, whose final scenes will have your eyes pointed unblinking at the screen.

- Small Town Murder Songs (Can)
The Coen Brothers-style story of a murdered woman, and the village cop trying to find out who did it is sharpened by Walter's hidden past, and his ingrained opinions of the residents of his community clouding his judgement. Evoking biblical scripture writ large on the landscape and the hard-edged melodies of backwater fireside songs, the film becomes more than it's story alone and has a distinct style of its own.

- 22nd of May (Bel)
What could have been a very annoying experimental film turned out to be an excellent way of bamboozling the viewer just short of them loosing a handle of the story. A security guard at a shopping mall survives a terrorist bomb, but his psychosis takes over when he flees, as he meets with the ghosts of the victims, including the bomber.

- The Borrower Arrietty (Jpn)
A Ghibli film in the mix? Surely not. Arrietty didn't have Miyazaki at the helm but he was there in the wings, as Hiromasa Yonabayashi takes his turn as the next hopeful who can carry on the studio's legacy. Arrietty is a beautifully-drawn animation in the traditional Ghibli style, and refreshingly free of computer graphics.

- The Guard (Irl/UK)
Brendan Gleeson and Don Cheadle on a Scottish moor chasing gangsters. Your argument is invalid. This smart and sharply written film balances comedy, tragedy and action nicely as Gleeson's cosy world is bothered by an American agent sent in to sort out the bad guys.

- Point Blank (Fra)
As breathless action films go, Point Blank could have casualties by the closing credits. A young medic gets involved in layers of police corruption and has to risk his neck to get his pregnant wife back. You will not see a finer action film this year.

Best Short Film - The First Step (UK)
Shown as part of a collection of home-grown short films on the nature of mental health, The First Step is a clever, sensitive and witty study of a woman under her duvet, as she imagines all the things she will be able to do today, if only she can take that first step.

Honourable Mentions:

- Lost At Sea (UK)
A beautifully folk-y music video from Cashier No9, which deserves much recognition.

- Bottle (US)
More traditional stop motion is used to bring to life the amorphous blobs of sand and snow, who conduct a present-swapping session from opposite ends of the sea. A perfect mix of funny and sad.

- Silent Things (UK)
Delicately handled, the simple lives of autistic couple Jake and Amy are disrupted by a young woman who decides to flirt with Jake for a laugh, not realising the damage she is doing.

- Tetleys: Quality Pays (UK)
An enjoyable and deceptively deep mini documentary about the Tetley's brand, and the new owners' decision to get rid of the traditions behind it and brew it abroad.

- The Visit (Sir)
Initially sombre, a visit by a long-distant son to the death-bed of his father is cleverly turned on its head in the final moments.

- The Secret Friend (Bra/US)
The heavy breather chooses the wrong (or maybe right) old granny to call, whose loneliness causes her to revalue her experience.

- The Monster of Nix (Bel)
Verging on a feature-length film, this computer generated short animation is highly polished and well written, and the notion of existence and storytelling being intertwined are cleverly approached.

- Luminaris (Arg)
Funny and clever. A painstaking process of stop motion animation involving people, rather than clay characters tells of a surreal world where people make lightbulbs in their mouths, and half-inching office supplies can realise a dream.

- Fawn (UK)
A sad but beautiful tale of the ghosts of children murdered on the moors. That's all you need to know.

Best Animation - The Borrower Arrietty (Jpn)
Few other titles can compete when a new Ghibli film appears (although this is already eclipsed by the imminent From Up on Poppy Hill).

Arrietty is a skilful retelling of the Borrowers tales, using the main characters and framework, and transporting them to a quiet Tokyo suburb, where Arrietty meets Sho, a fragile boy with a heart condition who stays with his aunt, whose tales of the little people she is sure she has seen are realised in the garden one day. Beautiful, and well worth a second watch.

Honourable Mentions:

- Colorful (Jpn)
If there were no Arrietty, this would take top spot this year. Colorful has roughly the same action level as Mai Mai Miracle from last year, (i.e. none, so action-nuts should stay clear) and although it doesn't quite reach the level of praise I threw at that film, it is still a well drawn and intelligently written film, though the big surprise twist at the end is eminently guessable.

- Mars (US)
This low-budget semi-comedy from America won't be pushing up the Oscars list but while the money was flowing, they produced a sharp and funny lament on the space race coming to a close, and the people who may come in to fill the void. The visual style of colouring in live-action and mixing it with chunky computer graphics covered some of the budgeting cracks, and added to the appeal of the film.

- La Detente (Fra)
A clever short animated film about a soldier's delusional re-imagining of the Somme battlefield of World War One, a coping mechanism where his childhood toys and memories replace the horrific scenes in front of him are both sensitively handled and an ingenious portrayal of the torturous effect on the minds of young men about to be killed. A nice companion to The Stars Don't Twinkle in Outer Space.

- The Gloaming (Fra)
A short film with the reach of a feature. The entire history of human conflict played out as an earth-like sphere develops in front of a man, who looks on perplexed and with dismay at the wasted lives.

- Grave of the Fireflies (Jpn)
This Ghibli classic is nearly a quarter century old now, but it has lost none of it's power to leave audiences sobbing. Showing at Leeds this year, it's the sort of film with the oomph to mean you don't need to watch it again for a while. The effects of World War Two on a brother and his younger sister as their meagre rations run out and the adults around them are too busy looking after themselves is heart breaking but also life-affirming.

- Children Who Chase Lost Voices from Deep Below (Jpn) - Though I am still unconvinced of Shinkai's ability to become 'The Next Miyazaki' after seeing this film, it is clear that he has a considerable talent, honed since his one-man epic Voices of a Distant Star. It loses some ground with a bit of well-trodden storyline and some weak dialogue at the beginning, but it is undeniably beautiful and enough to have me hungry for his next work.

Best Documentary - Gnarr - (Ice)

There were a lot of brilliant documentaries on all sorts of subjects this year, and with a lot of thought I gave it to Gnarr, but most of the ones below could easily be swapped in. Jon Gnarr's rise from satirical comedian to mayor of Iceland is hilarious, jaw-dropping and ultimately joyful. So much politics these days depresses the hell out of me. If it does the same to you, watch this film. You will be so happy by the end of it.

Honourable Mentions:

- Bobby Fischer Against the World (UK/US/Icl)
Shown recently on BBC4, this documentary about the chess legend had me enthralled, despite the fact I had no interest in chess whatsoever. Bobby Fischer was a complicated soul with much going for him, but also a destructive personality which eventually made him a stranger in his own land. This masterful look back over his life caught me completely by surprise and turned out to be one of my favourite films at Bradford this year.

- Killing Kasztner (US)
Kasztner helped 1600 Jews escape the clutches of the Nazis in World War Two, but he did it by negotiating with them. For many people at the time, this was unacceptable, and some years after Kasztner was murdered in cold blood. Told with the help of his surviving daughter who bravely meets with his murderer many decades later, this powerful and mesmerising film sheds light on a relative unknown from the age.

- Jane's Journey (Ger)
Jane Goodalls life work is told with the the help of Jane and her toy monkey, and her friends, acquaintances and family in a genuinely warm account of an elderly but still very active woman who has performed much good in the world.

- Senna (UK/Fra/US)
Though F1 nuts will get the most from this film of the life of perhaps the most charismatic driver of the sport for the last half century, this brilliant character study is an enthralling account of the man, and the political wranglings that went on in the sport at the time, and continues to do so now. It gave me a fresh perspective on the man.

- I Am Jesus (Ita)
Quietly able to drop jaws at the sheer lunacy of the belief being exhibited here, fake Jesii (many of whom basically get a free lunch and everything done for them) are dotted all over the globe, wherever they can find someone to believe in them. But this film chooses not to take the easy path of lampooning them; instead the cameras silently capture the human side to these people's existence, and though they are clearly barmy, they are also happy with where they have fallen.

- Disfarmer: A Portrait of America (Can)
An unusual though welcome biopic of Mike Disfarmer, an atheist photographer who found himself in the heart of bible belt America in the early 20th Century. Using the slow-exposure cameras of the age, he captured the expressions of the bewildered, the impatient and the impassive people who sat for an age as motionless as they could. The Disfarmer portraits had their own look and personality, and after a while descendant families learned that they might have a Disfarmer treasure trove in their lofts, with collectors paying good money for a print.

- Happy People: A Year in the Taiga (Ger)
The better of the two Herzog documentaries for this year (the other being Cave of Lost Dreams), the Taiga people were followed intimately through the seasons as they deal with the harsh Russian snow and ice.

- Mama Africa (Ger/SA/Fin)
I can't find reference to this elsewhere on the internets, but it does exist I assure you. Mama Africa is the pet name of Miriam Makeba, who became an icon for anti-apartheid uprisings in the fifties and sixties, which earned her exile from her country. A singer and songwriter as well as an activist, she helped popularise the South African style of music around the world.

- Shut Up Little Man! (Australia)
A comical and ultimately touching review of the cult craze that swept through America on audio cassette in the late eighties, the unplanned result of a couple of semi-stoned twentysomethings who rent a flat next to a pair of squabbling old men. Their recorded conversations show a genuine love for each other, wrapped in copious swearing and insults, and the second half of the film follows the now middle-aged men as they try and contact the unwitting stars, if they are even still around.

- Outside the Law: Stories from Guantanamo Bay (UK)
The repeated flouting of the rules and guidelines laid down by the Geneva Convention and the Nuremburg Principals at Guantanamo Bay are revealed here. Things you might expect from war-torn, unethical countries such as DRC are found to be going on at the hands of the US and the UK. The shoestring budget is taken up entirely packing the film full of information, but concentrates on the cases of four men on the receiving end of western justice. Shocking and enlightening.

- The World According to Ion B. (Rom)
Ion B. is a nondescript-looking tramp living on the streets of Romania, whose life on a mattress in a kindly woman's back yard is discovered by a young filmmaker. An artist of sorts, who uses magazine cut-outs to create satirical collages, often of Ceausescu, whose regime derailed him from his businessman career and into the streets. This uplifting film profiles the man just as his work is being discovered.

- Amos Vogel and Cinema 16 (US)
The subversive underground movement of Cinema 16, a film-enthusiast's attempt to bring to the fore strange, controversial and ignored titles from all walks of life and on all subjects, intended to give his audience food for thought whether they liked the lineup or not. This film struck a chord with me, a kindred spirit trying to highlight those many celluloid expressions that would otherwise never be seen by the masses.

Enjoy The Journey Award - Symbol (Jpn)

A man wakes up in a high-walled room in daft pyjamas. Switches of a dubious nature appear on the wall, and when he presses them strange, random things happen. We are right in there with him, and the journey is joyously unpredictable and strange.

Honourable Mentions:

- Karate-Robo Zaborgar (Jpn)
When the film is all about Power Rangers-style fighting and adolescent boob and crotch shots, you can only sit there and stare slack-jawed at the latest attempt by Japan to be as outlandishly odd as possible. Even with your hardest grumpyface expression on, you will find it hard not to crack a smile on the final showdown on a pair of giant metal breasts.

- Modern No 2 (Jpn)
There is little else to do with Modern No 2, but watch as the hypnotic morphing shapes move with the bouncy, happy music.

- Las Acacias (Arg/Spa)
The viewer is taken on a quiet and gentle journey with a lonely truck driver and an illegal immigrant and her newborn daughter across spain as they slowly begin to warm to each other, thanks mainly to the adorable child who finally melts Rubens heart as well as those of the audience.

- The Lost Town of Switez (Pol)
An allegorical journey for a confused man in this short computer animation leaves the viewer with many questions about what they just saw.

- Journey to Cape Verde (Por)
Another short animated film, retracing the journey that will shape a young mans life as he decides to up sticks and see the world outside his home city. Full of the wonderment of experiencing the new and unusual, and the kindness of strangers along the way.

- The River Used to be a Man (Ger)
Though a little long, this film does get a nod as it (in a similar style to Journey to Cape Verde) takes the viewer on a journey with the main lead, as he tries to return to civilisation after becoming lost and alone when his guide through the African outback dies overnight.

- Le Quattro Volte (It/Ger/Swe)
The four times refer to four lives that become loosely connected as we pass through a thread of existence. Dialogue is missing completely, and the film stands on it's quiet meditation of life as it goes by. A beautiful tale of life and death.

After the Credits Roll - Snowtown (Aus)

The events of Snowtown's horrific dealings with the likes of John Bunting and his sadistic sidekicks will stay with you long after the film is over. A terror-filled film, with powerful imagery and a building, sickening violent streak. The quietly evil expression worn by actor Daniel Henshall will stay with you for a long time too.

Honourable Mentions:

- As If I Am Not There (Irl/Mac/Swe)
By the time that we have followed Samira on her journey through hell we have enough perspective on our relatively danger-free lives to re-evaluate them completely.

- Symbol (Jpn)
I still have no idea why, but Symbol stayed with me on the train ride home in the form of a big, stupid smile on my face. It took a full day to leave.

- Bellflower (US)
The construction of the first half of this film was ultimately undone in the second, and it was the feeling of emptiness that Bellflower gave as it turned from light-hearted teen romance to dystopian nightmare meant that it could not quickly be forgotten.

- Grave of the Fireflies (Jpn)
Anyone who sees this film to it's end (which is a feat in itself) will not forget it in a hurry.

Emotional Kick - As If I Am Not There (Irl/Mac/Swe)

Samira's sheltered life is completely replaced with one of hellish torture, rape and the constant threat of a horrible death at the hands of strange men occupying the village she has recently moved to and called home. As she emotionally detaches from the situation, the audience fills the void.

Honourable Mentions:

- Tyrannosaur (UK)
Though you will feel for the predicament of Joseph, it is Olivia Colemans' powerful performance as the initially kind and unassuming Hannah that will really get to you. There is a beauty in the depths of the sadness in the film and it's this that lifts it up as one of my favourites of the year.

- My Magic (Sng)
Singapore is not known for its films, even in festivals, so it is nice to see one that is both very good and has a powerful emotional angle to it. The story of the ever optimistic Raju as he cares for his alcoholic father, whose only way of paying for his son to go to school is through often painful magic tricks, builds to a powerfully emotional ending.

- Together/Tillsammans (Swe/Den/Ita)
The fragile family unit grabs hold of the hearts of the audience as one, as it falters and tries to keep standing when new capitalist members infultrate the hippy commune already balanced on a knife edge. The ending is a satisfyingly emotional release of relief.

- Tackling Judgement (UK)
A young PTSD and depression sufferer uses YouTube as a sounding board to explain about how she is learning as she grows to cope with the disorder. Some of her accounts of the harder days are quite moving.

- Take Shelter (US)
What is for the most part an indie American flick with good scripting and a decent storyline, becomes deeper and more emotional in it's last few minutes, as Curtis's mental state leaves him powerless to stop himself from barricading his family in his new storm shelter. Only then do we realise just the extent to the emotional damage this man is feeling.

- The Fatherless (Austria)
Another film about a family coming to terms with itself after a long period apart, but The Fatherless has a much stronger emotional thread running through it than previous festival films. the complex intertwining of lives was familiar but well done and carried with it the ability to shock and generate genuine empathy for the broken lives.

- Grave of the Fireflies (Jpn)
Again, if you don't cry during 'Theres no place like home', then you are clinically dead.

- Jane's Journey (Ger)
Jane Goodall has done so much in her life, and this film highlights both her work and her terrifically down to earth nature. Her life story will grab you as it has with the people she has worked with.

- Seesaw (Jpn)
This entire film basically takes an hour to run up to the audience and hit them with an emotion bomb just as we are getting used to this promising young family.

- Silent Things (UK)
Even though the young girl who comes between the delicate Jake and Amy has no bad intentions, we feel wrenched at the idea of this couple who we have just met being damaged by her actions.

- When We Leave (Ger)
A film to perfectly highlight the dangers of deeply ingrained religious dogma, masquerading as tradition, in the generations of a family. Umay and her young son are trying to leave her abusive husband, fleeing Istanbul for Germany, but fathers and brothers turn against her for fear of dishonour on the family, leaving Umay to take desperate action to get away.

- Killing Kasztner (US)
Kasztner's tragic story is lived and relived through the collected stories of the film, some by his only daughter Zsuzsi who bears much of the emotional baggage left by the events of the last century. A meeting with his killer at the end of the film is powerfully charged with all sorts of raw emotions that the audience feels almost as strongly.

Twist Award - The Other Side of Sleep (Irl/Ned/Hun)

Arlene's mental state is thoroughly explored as she attempts to make sense of the previous night; waking up next to a dead body in a forest. As her behaviour becomes more erratic trying to keep her life together, the viewer is kept completely in the dark about the outcome, which is unpredictable but satisfying.

Honourable Mentions:

- Sennentuntschi: Curse of the Alps (Swi)
Although this film was a little patchy, it did have the unpredictable quality to it that made the mystery of the strange feral girl and her origins keeping the audience guessing about the truth until the very end. A very clever twist to make you re-evaluate everything you just saw comes at you right at the end.

- Seesaw (Jpn)
There is no way you would expect the bombshell to fall where and how it did in this film of a young and promising couple.

- Wake Wood (Irl/UK)
Hammer Horror films are making a comeback, and Wake Wood is the first out there. A more serious take on films such as Hot Fuzz and Rocky Horror, the gentle village of the title holds dark, poweful secrets that might just get Patrick and Louises' daughter back from the dead, but not without it's price. And that's when things start getting seriously twisty.

- Symbol (Jpn)
Symbol is refreshingly unpredictable throughout, but the final sequences and their ultimate connection to the real world puts the final, big twist on the viewer.

Cleverest Film - 22nd of May (Bel)

The quiet life of a shopping mall security guard goes mental when a bomb blast rips the place apart. What could have been a weird experimental film turns out to be a really well-thought and accomplished work, being just mysterious enough to keep people from being 100% sure they have a grip on what they are seeing. It's a fine balance and 22nd of May is one of the rare films that manages it.

Honourable Mentions:

- Forest (Hun)
It stopped short of the list, but Forest was clever in it's initial scene of a crowded shopping mall, and then coming to know each person within in the coming scenes, the brief moment in the mall itself being the only connection between the many characters.

- Involuntary (Swe)
In a similar flavour to Forest, Involuntary took several unconnected situations and followed them, round-robin style as they explored the notion of one person's involuntary participation at the behest of others.

- We Have a Pope (Ita)
Either they used some very elaborate sets, or they got some seriously privileged permission from the vatican to film on location, the surreal story of the ordination of a new, and as it turns out, reluctant pope who legs it. A mixture of the gloriously absurd and the quietly meditative come together in a cleverly thought out film.

- The Visit (Sir)
The little twist at the end of this short film made everything you saw until that point completely change it's meaning. Alongside that, the film turned from sombre to comic in a heartbeat.

- Blooded (UK)
Low-budget films must have a clever angle, and Blooded's was about hunting humans as we do other animals. Four young adults wake in their underwear in a field after a party, and are soon finding themselves being shot at. Wobbly hand-held cameras mean the viewer is in the thick of it with as much clue to the fate of these people as they have.

- Missed (UK)
An emotionally charged short film about making the most of now. A man learns of the death of a colleague he secretly loved.

Biggest Laugh - Hobo With a Shotgun (US/Can)

The Grindhouse-inspired feature length film that does exactly what it says is thoroughly ridiculous and hilarious with it. Don't expect more than that and you'll love it.

Honourable Mentions:

- Karate-Robo Zaborgar (Jpn)
Sit back and enjoy the craziness of the latest attempt by Japan to show that they are the most stylistically insane people on the planet. The humour is juvenile, gross and slapstick. And funny.

- We Have a Pope (Ita)
Of the many funny scenes in this film, the Father Ted-style volleyball tournament between the bishops (arranged by an atheist psychologist!) is by far the most absurdly brilliant of the lot, and is well worth the ticket.

- Inbred (UK)
A horror film by Yorkshiremen, for Yorkshiremen. Plenty of humour of the dumb backwater Yorkshireman style - if that sort of thing appeals to you - as the members of the young teens group got slowly off-ed in a variety of gruesomely funny ways.

- Love Child (Swe)
A quick nod to Love Child, which in its' final short seconds managed to befuddle and amuse the audience greatly.

A Thousand Words - Disfarmer: A Portrait of America (US)

There is something eerie about the hundreds of pictures of people, in various states of impatience coming together as a family or a group of friends, and having their image forever committed to a cell, and eventually becoming the focus of an improbable art movement.

Honourable Mentions:

- The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec (Fra)
The Indy-lite French offering had a serious crisis of original ideas, but it sure was beautiful, even if much of it had been brought to it's colourful life by the use of computers.

- Aita (Spa)
This very slow moving film permitted the viewer to see the gradual restoration of both the beautiful old house and the life of the old man residing within.

- Essential Killing (Pol/Nor/Irl/Hun)
Light on dialogue films must rely instead on visuals, and Essential Killing took us through the harsh beauty of the Afghanistan countryside, taking in the more familiar sand and scrubland as well as more unexpected snowy wastes.

- Killing Kasztner (US)
Though the film was heavy with information, it could also be appreciated for it's evocation of the mood and conditions of the Second World War, using photos and film to recreate the desperate situation Kasztner went to every length to save people from.

Best Indie to Show Your Friends - Stake Land (US)

Stake Land just about won out. Even for those who hate zombie films, this has a depth to it that most of these films do not include. Played straight rather than for teenage kicks, it has a good balance of social commentary, black humour, building empathy with the characters, and of course a good chunk of violence, although most of what you actually see is the aftermath, leaving your imagination to sort the rest out. It covers a lot of bases and most people will find something they like in it.

Honourable Mentions: (subtitled films have a *)

For friends who prefer Action films, I would say Point Blank* (Fra), The Borrower Arrietty (Jpn)

Or good choices for romance/relationship films would include Take Shelter (US), Shame (UK), Submarine (UK) or Together (Swe/Den/Ita)

If you want to give them a shock, choose Hobo With a Shotgun (US/Can), Snowtown (Australia), Bellflower (US), Tyrannosaur (UK) or As If I Am Not There* (Irl/Mac/Swe).

Good documentaries would include the brilliant Gnarr* (Ice), Jane's Journey (Ger), Senna (UK/Fra/US) or Shut Up, Little Man! (US)

Or if you just something to change their expectations of what a film can show them, go for Sound of Noise* (Swe), The Artist (Fra) or 22nd of May* (Bel)

The Manky Sankey Awards

Mankeys are the films that, in my humble opinionation, are best avoided, because they frustrated, angered, confused, wasted my time, or rendered me comatose.

Biggest Let Down - Wuthering Heights (UK)

I had dusted off an old copy of the novel and worked my way through it to try and get ready for the opening film of the Leeds festival. While the book is a beautiful and engaging tale of enduring love and revenge, the film deals only with the first half of the book, cuts out a major character (effectively the reader/viewer) and replaces the carefully constructed dialogue with by-eck Yorkshire-isms and copious swearing. For someone who had not read the book beforehand I would also suspect it wouldn't have been very easy to work out what was going on either. A bad miss.

Dishonourable Mentions:

- Children Who Chase Lost Voices from Deep Below (Jpn)
Far from terrible, but I was told that Makoto Shinkai was the next prodigal to fill Miyazaki's boots, but judging by this film - the first of his I have seen - he's got a bit to go yet.

- Red Psalm (Hun)
I was hoping that a 70's musical with massive long takes about the oppression of a small village by an invading force may have a similar gravitas to As If I Am Not There, and wouldn't have to resort to, say, casual nudity in order to keep people's attention. It didn't, and it did.

- Let the Bullets Fly (Chn/HK)
The dishonest trailer didn't help it's cause, but the big budget blood-fest-that-wasn't was bogged down in politics, hammy acting and a dearth of action. I had a headache afterwards.

Most Pretentious - Sailor (Pol)

I can sort of see where the director of Sailor was coming from; the frustrated musings of a lecturer via the only medium he knows how - that of repeated graphs and charts, theories and models in a film that was more of a powerpoint presentation than anything else. With subtitles, and often without any visuals.

Dishonourable Mentions:

- Red Psalm (Hun)
Interpretive dance is pretentious almost by definition. If you want to tell us something, say it, film it or draw it. Don't prance about like a ponce. And don't do it en masse in a field with an annoying git with a guitar strumming constantly, who seems somehow not one of those who is killed.

- Stranger Than Paradise (US/Ger)
Director Jim Jarmusch also did Broken Flowers, which I felt was also a bit meandering and too expectant of the audience to do the work that the film should be doing. This earlier film noir wastes it's time on a couple of badly cast dropouts, moping around a scruffy flat, and then going for a ride with another dropout, where not an awful lot happens. It was one of those films just competent enough to sit between 'ugh' and 'meh' in someone's list of their favourite films.

- The Last Days of Edgar Harding (UK)
Not a bad film when taken as a whole, but the fashionista underpinnings of the wholly uninspiring but apparently popular band, and the need to suspend your disbelief that these people were actually successful at what they did made it feel terribly false and difficult to swallow. Some of the dialogue was pretty cheesy/creaky as well.

- A Night for Dying Tigers (Can)
Gil Bellows lends his finite talents to his lead role as the head of a dysfunctional family in a dysfunctional family film about a dysfunctional family trying to make itself more functional as a family. There have been plenty of other choices (as noted in the various reviews) which are better, and this one felt overworked with a pretentious title that bore little relation to the content of the film.

Most Drawn Out Scene - Sailor (Pol)

As we watched the powerpoint presentation, several scenes left us with line after line of subtitled dialogue at the bottom of a completely black screen. Not the best of ideas.

Dishonourable Mentions:

- Endeavour (Austria)
An honourable enough film about the space shuttle, a paean to the closing of an era in the space race. Four views of the rocket lifting off and reaching outer space sounds good, if you could see them in a split-screen way, but this was just a mishmash of each of them on a round-robin cycle which made me queasy and annoyed.

- Inbred (UK)
Though the film had much going for it, the intro annoyed me. Peaceful long-shot country scenes are all well and good when you are out for a stroll, but not when reading the list of who did what waiting for the damn film to start.

- The Quick Brown Fox Jumps Over The Lazy Dog (Austria)
Imagine a film which is just 3 minutes of random cells of other films; a barrage of sound and light hitting your retinas with nothing at all to do other than sit there and try to recognise the occasional scene as it flashes by.

- Summer of Goliath (Mex/Can)
How long does it take for a mother to explain to her son what she wants him to say to a friend? Ten minutes, or thereabouts. Ten terrible, dragging minutes, as she checks through the letter again, and again. And again.

Most Annoying Film - Summer of Goliath (Mex/Can)

A deeply odd film that seems to conclude that mexican women are mad. Not just hormonal mad but out and out batshit. We also have some unpleasant soldiers and an old woman selling merchandise on the street. Things happen but rarely are connected. Then it ends and we are free.

Dishonourable Mentions:

- Sailor (Pol)
Again, you do not endear your audience by bathing them in darkness for long periods and being generally annoying in what you say.

- A History of Mutual Respect (Por)
The (admittedly deliberately provocative) attitudes of the two male leads made my blood boil with this film, a couple of idiots completely unaware of the connection between their actions and the misery they cast on both the people they meet and themselves.

- The Red Machine (US)
The lazy scope and decision to rehash every plotline ever made this film so painfully average as to leave me with no impression at all other than that the clock hands had moved forward by a couple of hours.


So with 2011 over, there should be a short break until the reachable festivals begin once more. Bradford usually starts in late March, and then it all begins anew.

A Short Occupy Post

The Occupy movement has not gone unnoticed. People around the world have sacrificed so much to stand up and protest. Since October, Rich people have moaned, students have been assaulted by police and thousands have gathered in tents in the freezing night air to show their support, wary that their health or life could be in danger, often due to attacks by their so-called 'public servants' for standing up for what is right, when others have become bored of the rage du jour, and have moved onto other frivolous or disturbing subjects.

For such a massive effort co-ordinated by social media, it's remarkable that so little of it has spilled into violence or crime, and it shames those of the August riots who claimed to be working to the same ends.

And shame on those who walked past the scruffy piles of tents and told the inhabitants to 'get a job' or similar. Your passive ignorance of the gravity of the situation, and the symbolism of the protests will help ensure the continuation of the problem for years to come.

Leeds Film Festival 2011: Day 18

The Artist (Fra) (site)

This film will almost certainly not work in the modern cinema. Exactly why was demonstrated today when, halfway through this UK première screening of the first silent film to be made for eighty years or more, some insensitive clod in the audience pulled out the most massive and noisy bag of crisps and started crinkling and crunching. In an era when idiot dropout teens chew gum and chat to their idiot friends sat an aisle across from them whilst in the fricking theatre, and fatty, snacky, noisy treats are for sale and make up a considerable part of the revenue for a cinema, silent films just do not fit.

And that's a damnable shame, because The Artist is getting all sorts of attention at the moment; part of it is the novelty of a major new silent film, but also because it is damn good too. If you didn't recognise John Goodman or a fleeting Malcolm McDowell you could quite easily be fooled into thinking you were watching a digitally restored print of an ancient film. The aspect ratio is the old 4:3 format, the credits appear on static cards and are accompanied at the start by a mono-sounding orchestra, and when characters speak, only choice phrases are turned into the intertitles, the written substitute for dialogue of the era. There are also more subtle methods used to really bring in the spirit of the age, such as soft focus, restricted camera freedom (basic track and pan shots, but mostly a static mount) and old-fashioned fade-outs and ins. For all it's attempt to look basic and 'primitive' - for want of a better word - we get a beautifully-realised facsimile of a golden era where the work that has gone into it gives it beauty.

Even the story evokes a previous age of film. Taking place just as silent films are being replaced by 'talkies', distinguished, suave (and slightly slimy) actor George Valantin - a typical slicked back actor of the age with a bounder's pencil moustache and an eye for the ladies, has a successful silent film career but a less than perfect relationship with his silently seething wife. A chance meeting with Peppy, a beautiful young woman (the mesmerising Bérénice Bejo) at a red carpet reception doesn't help, and her opportunistic kiss on his cheek propels her to the front cover of the days news, and eventual stardom as an accomplished actress. At the same time George's film company ditches the comfortable silent film and starts on the talkies, but George cannot make the leap, and as Peppy's fame skyrockets, George ends up losing it all.

You have a beautiful woman, an older man on the edge of his career (echoing the themes of Limelight), you have romance and scandal, success and failure, comedy and tragedy, a talented canine (the adorable Uggy won the Palm Dog this year) and a cracking dance number worthy of Rogers and Astaire at the end. When the credit's rolled, the film received the loudest and most sustained round of applause I had witnessed at any festival; it felt a little like this film had an indefinable something that eighty years of talkies had somehow lost, and for a single film at least, we had witnessed it's return. I loved it, and provided you can catch it when there isn't an inconsiderate fool with a bag of crisps in there with you at the same time, you will too. A great film to end the festival with. 8.5/10

PS: Even though it's a French film, it's all in English, so don't worry about bringing someone along who turns their nose up at subtitles.

Leeds Film Festival 2011: Day 17

Children Who Chase Lost Voices From Deep Below (Jpn) (site)

Unusually, despite my penchant for big budget, beautiful animé, I had somehow yet to watch any Makoto Shinkai film, so I have been looking forward to this all through the festival.

Asuna is a young girl in a rural Japanese village. Her mother is often away working as a night nurse, leaving her to pick up the slack at home. Her father died some time ago. Her little hidey hole where she goes for a bit of solitude, at the top of a nearby hill overlooks a forest and she spends much of her time there in peace, until a strange, bear-like creature attacks her on the way. She is only saved by a mysterious boy, Shun, who seems to leave shortly afterwards, but not before some shadowy agent types begin to snoop around, following rumours that the beast was guarding an entrance to some underground world.

Children Who Chase Lost voices (he has a habit of giving his films long names) is the latest from an artist who raised some eyebrows with his almost entirely one-man produced Voices From a Distant Star a decade ago, and has since come to be thought of in some circles as the next Miyazaki.

Perhaps this comparison has reached his own ears, because the film is VERY much in the style of several Ghibli films. Shun is a dead ringer from Arren from Tales of Earthsea, and the beautiful underground world inhabited by tall humanoid beasts and strange night spectres raises comparisons with Laputa and Mononoke especially, and Mimi the little cat that befriends Asuna is a dead ringer for Nausicaa's Teto. This would be okay, if a little cheap if it didn't feel like a direct lift of some of the themes, and in a very clinical way. There doesn't feel to be much heart underneath the undeniable beauty of the animation, with it's gorgeous starry skies and sunsets, and the usual pillow shots of incidental wildlife. Only half-way in does it start to feel anything other than melodramatic, and even then I didn't care so much about the characters to really identify with the perceived messages of love and loss.

I did enjoy the film as a whole, and while there is no doubt that Makoto Shinkai is a major talent in the animé field, and he has certainly managed to get the visuals sorted out, he still has a long way to go before the story underneath can hit the sort of levels achieved by his inspiration. 7/10

We Have a Pope (Ita) (wiki)

I had the good fortune to see this, as it had been given a second run due to it's popular reception. Habemus Papam is the exclamation traditionally given when a new pope is elected. As the streets of Rome fall silent and the masses gather to see the black smoke turn white, a decision is being made among the cardinals deep in the recesses of the Vatican on who should have the 'honour' - something that none of them actually want. When a late surge of votes comes in to relative unknown Cardinal Melville, he agrees to changing one silly uniform for another, if only out of shock. As it dawns on him of the weight of the situation, panic ensues, though fortunately out of the public gaze and before he is named.

Bringing in a psychologist (whose hands are tied - he can't ask the pope about anything near the subject of sex!) gets nowhere, so while he is locked in for security's sake, Melville is driven out to the next best psychoanalyst in town - and promptly disappears at the earliest opportunity.

Making a farce out of one of the most important Catholic events certainly takes some guts, and director Nanni Moretti gently but decisively pokes fun of the ridiculous traditions of the church and the repressed lives of those of the cloth, who are often portrayed as helpless babies having their strings pulled by the slimy advisor, Radjski. As well as the satirical humour, this film has some truly surreal moments, not just limited to having a future pope wandering around the streets and chatting with the locals. One particularly glorious scene involves the trapped psychiatrist and a few dozen cardinals, trying to fill time before the pope will 'leave his room' by hosting an international volleyball tournament. It felt like Father Ted all over again.

The film did dip slightly towards the end, but in all it was a funny, gentle dig at the absurdities of the religion rather than the people. 7.5/10

Leeds Film Festival 2011: Day 16

Into the Forest of Fireflies (Jpn) (site)

I was due to see the Ken Loach TV film Family Life, but a mixture of not being able to get out of work early enough, and a general feeling that I wasn't in the mood for something stodgy in the minutes after getting out of the door made me switch to this last minute addition.

Fireflies is a gentle short film (about 45 minutes) based on a manga about a young girl named Hotaru (firefly) who becomes lost in a large and confusing forest and can't find her way out. She is saved by Gin, a mysterious young man in a keaton mask who guides her out, but cannot be touched. He is one of the many Yokai of the woods, cursed by the forest god and if he is touched by a human, he will disappear.

Returning the next day with a thank-you gift, they begin a friendship that passes through the years. They only meet in summertime as that is when Hotaru is at her nearby grandparents.

The animation quality is that of a lower-budget anime, some choppy framerates create jerky movements and there are a few liberties taken (like Gin's mask so we don't see him speak) to lower the cell count and thus the cost. Most of the film's beauty (and it is a beautiful film) is in the gently swaying piano music, and in the watercolour backgrounds; mostly starry skies and ancient sun-dappled forests. Story-wise, it is light and airy, it's not going to invoke tears of joy or sadness in many people as I suspect the director might be hoping for, but it is a pleasant tale that made the residual thoughts of a working day fall behind. 7/10

Grant Morrison: Talking With Gods (UK) (site)

Grant Morrison is a Scottish writer and one-time band member. His parents were both anti-nuclear activists and they encouraged him to lose himself in comics and graphic novels. His early life was quite solitary and insular, and he found pleasure in creating some comics in his teens, slowly gaining notoriety as an artist well before his years. As he got older and was given bigger projects (including writing works for some of the most iconic characters such as Superman and Batman) he teamed up with more established artists, and became a writer, providing the scripts (and some sketches) that the artist would then flesh out to the finished product.

This documentary, in a rather sequential art sort of way, proceeds through his life with Morrison providing most of the commentary (so much in fact - he just doesn't shut up!) about his works and how they coincided to major events in his life. Darker periods such as with family bereavements or the aftermath of 9/11, would translate into much more moody works, such as The Filth; in happier times where he would go on some more spiritual journeys both inside the mind (thanks to some light drug taking) and out, as he travelled the world and his perceived understanding of the world (not to mention some trippy Jesus hallucinations) changed his worldview, and the fate of the characters in his works, accordingly.

Not being much into comics (not a dislike as such or a conscious decision, I just never got round to it) some of the idol-worship laid upon him by his contemporaries, mixed with the 'deep understanding meditation' visuals (which I couldn't tell whether they were tongue in cheek or not) felt a little pretentious. And his trippy spiritual revelations which he seems to believe are a bit batshit. But I guess it's the mix of these things and the man himself which generates the enormous amount of creative output from the man, and the film did make me interested enough to look into trying a few issues of his work, like maybe The Invisibles six year epic, or the satirical Doom Patrol. 7/10

Shame (UK) (wiki/site)

A second directorial film from Steve McQueen (not him, another one) after Hunger debuted a couple of years back. The title encompasses the feelings that most people would have if they inhabited either of the lives of the two main parts. Brandon, played by a very open-minded Michael Fassbender is a somewhat oversexed man. His laptop is crippled with a thousand viruses from the porn sites he can't keep away from, and he just can't seem to leave the real-life ladies alone either. It's just as well that he has that certain something about him that keeps them heading towards his trousers. But his mysterious, distant attitude isn't just for show; he can't seem to get a connection going with anyone, and it's getting to him.

His detached inability to care extends to his little sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan), who is in need of a place to stay, and when her repeated calls are ignored, she breaks in and invades his life - which for a man with a flatful of booby mags and dirty, dirty hard drives, is going to lead to some uncomfortable confrontations. Sissy is the polar opposite of her brother; a beautiful cabaret singer, but clingy and emotional, constantly looking for love and never quite finding it, and she needs her brother's support as she is at her wits end.

Shame is carried along by an awful lot of nudeyness, and both sexes are well catered for, but I never once felt remotely aroused by what I saw; this is not pleasurable sex being portrayed here. They are the uncomfortable, unfulfilled and ugly acts to satisfy purely the base needs and desires of a broken and confused man. Sex is not the point here, but love and the need to be loved, about the importance of distinguishing from the other. It is an intimate and slow-paced look into Brandon and Sissy's life at a tipping point; the contrasting scenes of throwaway sex and beautiful musical numbers, (Mulligan's rendition of New York, New York is sublime) the orchestral scores and primal grunting makes for intriguing and occasionally compelling viewing, and the second half of the film ramps up both the emotion and the gratuity, working to a conclusion that in hindsight, like Brandon, you could have easily seen coming. It's candid, explicit, often shocking and sometimes beautiful. 7.5/10