Fox Searchlight Pictures via Everett Collection
The Independent Spirit Awards used to honor the innovation and creativity of filmmakers who made great films under limited budget constraints. In 1985, the first ISA for Best Feature went to Martin Scorsese's After Hours, an ambitious dark comedy that was ignored at the Oscars. This was before a Scorsese picture opened on 3,000 screens, and before the American public began to embrace his work. In short, the award recognized a talented filmmaker who dared to challenge cinematic conventions and push the limits of artistic expression.
Now, Film Independent, the non-profit organization that selects the nominees and winners for the annual Independent Spirit Awards, merely exists to boost small films that don't need the attention. Its purpose, it seems, is to celebrate films and performances that are already being lauded by critics and other, more popular awards shows like the Golden Globes and the Oscars.
For example, the nominees for the 2014 Independent Spirit Awards, which airs on IFC on Saturday, March 1 at 10 PM, include 12 Years a Slave, Nebraska, Inside Llewyn Davis, Blue Jasmine, and Dallas Buyers Club. These titles sound familiar to anyone who hasn't been living under a rock for the past year, precisely because they're the most critically acclaimed films of the year, and have received awards attention from nearly every group including the Oscars. The frontrunners for the major Oscar categories are similarly nominated for Independent Spirit Awards this year, including 12 Years a Slave for Best Feature, Matthew McConaughey for Best Actor, Cate Blanchett for Best Actress, Jared Leto for Best Supporting Actor, and Lupita Nyong'o for Best Supporting Actress.
The films and performances nominated by Film Independent this year are certainly worthy of our attention and admiration. However, they don't belong at the Independent Spirit Awards. The whole point of this awards show, after all, is to give credit to films that aren't on the average moviegoer's radar, and to celebrate filmmakers who don't get acknowledged with a Golden Globe and Oscar. The point is not to give another trophy to Cate Blanchett.
What has happened, it seems, is that the Independent Spirit Awards have lost their independent spirit. If you revisit past years, you'll find that only a few films nominated for Independent Spirit Awards are also recognized at the Oscars. Now, the overwhelming majority is Oscar bait.
Claire Denis' Bastards, Amy Seimetz's Sun Don't Shine, Frederick Wiseman's At Berkeley, and Ben Wheatley's Sightseers are just a few independent films that weren't recognized by the Independent Spirit Awards this year. The ones that have been recognized, like Blue is the Warmest Color and All is Lost, you've already heard of.
Walt Disney via Everett Collection
Tom Hiddleston is a busy man. The actor has just signed on to star in High-Rise, an adaptation of J.G Ballard's classic thriller of the same name. The film, which will be directed by Ben Wheatley and penned by Amy Jump, will follow a man who must survive in a futuristic high-rise building where the residents are cut off from society and lose their grip on reality. Aside from this new project, Hiddleston has also replaced Benedict Cumberbatch as the lead for the upcoming Guillermo del Toro horror flick Crimson Peak, and is featured in the upcoming Muppet film, Muppets Most Wanted. If all that wasn't enough, you can all but hear the cries from Marvel and Disney for him to come back and reprise his role as Loki, because for all the success that Marvel has had in creating their cinematic universe, they haven't managed to create a villain as sinister or alluring as the Asgardian trickster god. But if you take a close look at all of these films that the actor has lined up for the next couple of years, something interesting begins to stand out. Hiddleston has a del Toro Horror film, a puppet comedy, and a new dystopian thriller on his docket, but there's not a drama in sight? In fact, all of his upcoming films are some form of genre fare, which leads to the question: where are all the dramas?
After conquering the world, the box-office, and a sizeable chunk of Tumblr as Loki in The Avengers and the two Thor movies, you would expect the actor to take a step back from genre flicks and take some time to do some smaller projects. In fact, many young actors like to take a post-genre cleanse after reaching blockbuster success. Some like and take on some Sundance-ready indies, or put some prestigious dramas under their belts. James Franco did it after Sam Raimi's Spider-Man series limped its way to the finish line. Taking a step back and focusing on both drama and genre films netted him an Oscar nomination for 127 Hours, but also revealed the actor's hidden depths and versatility. Now he's a guy who can turn a role in a boisterous comedy This Is the End, and then move on to creating an adaptation of William Faulkner's As I Lay Dying. Shia LaBeouf also took a step back from genre films after finishing off the Transformers series, though his reputation is probably worse off after the bizarre Howard Cantour plagiarism scandal that baffled the entire movie-watching world in late 2013.
The thing is, we want to see Hiddleston expand his role choice to include smaller and quieter films, like 2011's The Deep Blue Sea. Maybe take a romantic dramedy for a spin, or even something like a historical dramedy. It's not that we don't want to see him play Loki anymore, it's more that we want to see the actor spread his talent to a more diverse set of movies. We want to see thee actor apply that same epic gravitas to something more grounded than another film set in the clouds of Asgard, or whatever loopy dreamscape del Toro has in mind for Crimson Peak. Hiddleston is a actor with a deep background in Shakespeare (something readily apparent when you see his tragic take on Loki), and we want to see the actor really flex his acting muscles.
The name of the game in modern Hollywood is versatility, and an actor as seemingly talented shouldn't limit his gifts to genre entertainment when there's a whole wide world of film that could use more of the man behind the horns of Loki. All of this is not to say that genre films are a somehow lesser form of art, or that they require less talent, but an actor like Hiddelston could do wonders in more soulful parts now that he's muscled his way into the mainstream. Let's hope he finds some time between superheroes and horror flicks to find projects that really show off his range as an actor.
GettyThe makers of Doctor Who are certainly ringing in the changes for the upcoming eighth series of the BBC's sci-fi drama. Alongside a brand new doctor in the shape of The Thick Of It star Peter Capaldi, its first two episodes will be directed by Ben Wheatley, the cult auteur responsible for some of the most twisted and deliciously dark British films of the 21st Century. While the 41-year-old will inevitably be forced to tone down his pitch black sense of humour and fondness for the macabre for teatime audiences, it still seems a certainty that he'll bring back the 'hide behind your sofa' element that has largely been missing in recent years. For the uninitiated, here's a look at his five big-screen ventures.Down TerraceFilmed over just eight days on a shoestring budget of less than ten thousand dollars, Wheatley's lo-fi directorial debut was a Mike Leigh-esque portrayal of a disturbing and dysfunctional family attempting to seek out the rat in their criminal operation. Tense, darkly comic and often brutal, it set the blueprint for his career.Kill ListHowever, Down Terrace looked like a Richard Curtis rom-com compared to its follow-up, a hugely unsettling tale of two former British soldiers-turned-hitmen who accept a kill list which becomes increasingly bizarre. Featuring one of the most baffling and divisive endings in contemporary cinema, it will leave you recoiling in either absolute horror or complete frustration.SightseersThe fact that this violent, if often very funny, road movie about a suburban couple who turn into serial killers while on a caravanning holiday is classed as Wheatley's most light-hearted film tells you everything you need to know about his body of work.U Is For UnearthedThe 21st short to appear in the 2012 horror comedy anthology, The ABCs of Death, Wheatley's contribution was a typically bloody affair filmed from the point of view of a vampire who becomes the hunted rather than the hunter.A Field In EnglandNotable for receiving a cinema, DVD, pay-per-view and national TV premiere all on the same day, A Field In England is Wheatley's most impenetrable film, a black-and-white and avant-garde historical thriller set during the 17th Century English Civil War which resembled an even trippier take on Witchfinder General.
Hungarian director Janos Szasz triumphed at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival in the Czech Republic on Saturday (06Jul13) after he was awarded the top prize for his war drama The Notebook. The movie was named the winner of the Grand Prix Crystal Globe, while the Special Jury Prize was awarded to British filmmaker Ben Wheatley for A Field in England.
The Czech Republic's own Jan Hrebejk earned the Best Director honour for Honeymoon and Olafur Darri Olafsson was named the Best Actor for Icelandic movie XL. The female equivalent was awarded jointly to Bluebird stars Amy Morton, Louisa Krause, Emily Meade and Margo Martindale.
The final day of the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival also included a special prizegiving for John Travolta and Oliver Stone, who both received the Crystal Globe Award for Outstanding Artistic Contribution to World Cinema.
"She was only fif... teen... years... old."
Perhaps the most iconic piece of dialogue in contemporary international cinema, depicting the climactic, shuddering horror in a man's descent from glory to grief. The philistines will no doubt associate this phrase with its origin in the '69 crime epic The Italian Job. But those with a more sophisticated palette will recognize the most artistic recitation of this line as that belonging to Michael Winterbottom's The Trip: a meandering wonder of nuanced comedy that starred Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon as themselves on a tasting tour throughout England. After feasting primarily on their own senses of self-aggrandizement, Steve and Rob will return again for another road comedy send-up in The Trip to Italy, which Deadline reports has just been picked up for American distribution by IFC Films.
The Trip is one of those rare gems that was perfect in its individual form but whose characters and style are entirely condusive to another round of comedy. There are always more movies to quote and impressions to duel over. And now that Steve and Rob are high-tailing it to Italy, we wonder which residents of the boot will receive the Michael Caine treatment?
The obvious first choices are Robert De Niro and Al Pacino (impersonated in The Trip), but what about some authentic first generation Italians? Roberto Benigni, Isabella Rosellini, and Joel McHale (hey, he was born in Rome)? We look forward to each and every one of the pithy, passive-aggressive conversations shared by the contentious comedians in The Trip to Italy. And yes, we'll even take another round of nothing but Caine-isms.
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Ben Wheatley has made quite a name for himself with his strikingly original films like Kill List and Sightseers. The British director's next film promises to be equally genre-defying: A Field in England is set during the English Civil War, but as the newest teaser trailer indicates, it's much more than a typical British period piece.
Starring Michael Smiley, Julian Barratt, Peter Ferdinando, and Reece Shearsmith, A Field in England tells the story of a few deserters who are captured by an alchemist. Their captor then forces them to help him find a treasure hidden in a magical mushroom field. After they eat the powerful mushrooms, the men enter a state of chaos and paranoia as they make their way through this mysterious field.
Based on movie's director and premise, it is perhaps unsurprising that the newest trailer is a whirl of psychedelic colors and mind-jarring imagery. A Field in England promises to be one of Ben Wheatley's most interesting projects to date. We may have to wait a little while to see it here in the States, but the movie will be available in theaters and on VOD in the UK on July 5.
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Director Ben Wheatley will make movie history in July (13) when his new English Civil War film A Field In England is released simultaneously in cinemas, on DVD and video-on-demand. It will be the first U.K. film to be released is such a fashion. The black and white film features Reece Shearsmith and Julian Barratt.
Sightseers has your eyes from start to finish. From the opening shots of a moaning old woman, clutching fast to the soul of her adult-child daughter Tina (Alice Lowe), through the visual spectacles that follow Tina and her boyfriend Chris (Steve Oram) on their cross-country caravan tour, you're engaged. And quite often in the unsettling feature, this works against you. Ben Wheatley's film, conceived and written by his two starring players, doesn't want you slump comfortably into a comical story about a road trip around Great Britain. What it wants, instead, is to jar you inside and out.
After its soft-spoken introduction, the film shifts abuptly to a platform of physical and emotional violence: validating everything that Tina's sadistically overbearing mother (Eileen Davies) warned her about, Chris transforms from a good-natured romantic to a sociopathic murderer. Not a metaphor, the dude starts killing people left and right, with provocations as slight as littering, heated arguments, and judgmental eye-rolls. The murders prove a cinematic outlier — embedded in far greater realism than the likes of Tarantino, sensationalized well beyond the average death you'd see in an action-adventure. You're pulled in full force to every one of Chris' prideful, wrathful murders, begging for the scene to change back to a tepid conversation between the fellow joureyers.
But then, even these scenes become scathing. Although we're chauffered through some of Chris' darker turns at close proximity to the mad explorer, our real journey is with Tina, whose horror and amazement with her beau's deeds are all so morbidly steeped in her desperate need to feel good about herself. Tina's arc has her fleeing the grasp of her mother for the first time to pioneer a bout of self-efficacy, unprepared for the hurdles that amount when Chris rears his bizarre hobby, or undertakes an adulterous transgression with an intoxicated bachelorette partier.
Every ounce of Tina, from the first seconds of the film throughout, is drenched in a lonely, anxious pain. Her proverbial road trip offers up countless speed bumps on the path to a gratification she seems to have dreamt up or seen on television, never having received any sort of kindness from her mom, whose only affections appear to have been reserved for the pet terrier that Tina inadvertently killed one year prior. And as we watch her struggle and shrivel at the whim of her own tormented, self-unaware psyche, it's almost too much to handle.
But luckily, Wheatley makes Sightseers manageable. Operating alongside all the darkness and pain, the galaxy of loathing that is this story, is an odd air of color. Shot like a marvelous picture book, the movie doesn't marry its subject matter with gritty aesthetic, but with a bright, beautiful visual spectrum. Even the smaller, personal scenes look pristine — the arguments inside the camper are terrifically staged, the mobile cocoon of Chris' eccentric pal a delight for the eye.
And of course, the comedy. In spite of yourself, in spite of the goings on onscreen, you'll laugh at Sightseers. You'll laugh at Chris' outbursts, knowing full well that they are building toward certain horror. You'll laugh at Tina's misgivings, completely aware that they stem from a lifelong solitude and self-loathing. Somehow, the movie manages darkness and brimming light at the same time. When you're laughing, you're not forgetting about the turmoil, you're just accepting it.
Again, the only shortcoming of the film might be that it is at times too powerful. With such a visceral experience carrying throughout, it lands in a conclusion that seems to spring from, and lead to, nowehere. We're hard-pressed to figure out what we're meant to have learned, understood, or even experienced in Sightseers. For some, this will translate as a flaw — if you like to walk away from a movie with new thoughts and ideas, you'll find frustration in Sightseers. But if you're content just feeling, vividly, for an hour, and leaving the theater a little bit shaken as a result, then you'll have a fun, albeit tremendously upsetting, time with Sightseers.
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The ABCs of Death, an anthology of 26 short films about people being killed in spectacularly gruesome, farcical, and universally disgusting ways, is scary in a way its makers may not have anticipated: it shows how deeply uninspired and visionless horror-movie filmmaking has become.
Ever since the genre stopped caring about bottling the sensation of fear in favor of shock and gore, it’s gotten away from true horror, a format that works best when deeply invested in the psychology of fear. Movies like the Saw franchise and its various torture-porn imitators have become less and less interested in messing with their audience’s brains than moving the goalpost of the grotesque ever further, an objective that ensures obsolescence. There are only so many severed limbs and plucked eyeballs you can see before you’re irrevocably desensitized. What haven’t we seen that could still shock us? The list of possibilities grows smaller and smaller. Tom Six actually managed to horrify us in a whole new way with The Human Centipede, but even that nightmare concept became commercialized, sequelized, and stale.
Twenty-seven directors, all supposedly luminaries in the horror movie world, were brought in to film two-to-four minute segments for The ABCs of Death, in an attempt to show the diversity the genre still posseses. Sadly, rather than expand the parameters of horror, these twenty-seven filmmakers mostly converge on the same tropes. There are three conditions for each short: they must begin and end on an image of red (guaranteeing that at least half of the shorts begin and end with a shot of blood), there must be one death, and they must correspond to a letter of the alphabet — meaning we get titles like “F is for Fart,” “L is for Libido,” and “W is for WTF.” That ensures the audience will experience acute B for Boredom on account of L for Laziness.
Anyone who’s made short films can tell you that cinematic storytelling in under 10 minutes tends toward heightened emotions, with narrative twists that seek to compress a feature’s worth of sensation into a tiny window. Add a requisite horror element and you get a succession of Jack in the Box effects. “D is for Dogfight” is transgressive, I suppose, in its depiction of a man graphically biting a dog, but it's diminished because, in the end, that short is entirely about how transgressive it is. And most of these films are just wafer-thin hooks for startling images. The opening salvo of a segment, “A is for Apocalypse,” about a wife taking care of her bedridden husband who reaches a drastic decision regarding his care, should play like a more gruesome version of Michael Haneke’s Amour. Instead it is robbed of any resonance because director Nacho Vigolondo provides no context to the couple's relationship.
However, the filmmakers here who successfully answer the question “What can still scare us?” locate that answer where great artists before them did: in real-world fears. Eli Roth’s Hostel movies stand as credible horror unlike the Saw flicks because they tap a uniquely insular (and uniquely American) fear of the rest of the world beyond the United States. In The ABCs of Death Hobo with a Shotgun auteur Jason Eisener does just that in “Y is for Youngbuck,” which translates a very real fear of childhood sexual abuse into cathartic revenge.
Similarly Simon Rumley’s “Pressure” taps a mother’s uncertainty about how to provide for her children, and shows just how far she is willing to go to support them. Lee Hardcastle’s “T is for Toilet” finds horror in what used to be an old standby in the heyday of Polanski: plumbing, and its function of keeping us blissfully unaware of where excrement goes. Ti West (The House of the Devil, The Innkeepers), possibly the most original American horror maestro of the last decade, dives deep into the realm of body horror with “M is for Miscarriage,” as do Amer masterminds Bruno Forzani and Héléne Cattet with the ode to David Cronenberg “O is for Orgasm.”
These shorts are the ones that actually get inside our heads. If our brains are our biggest erogenous zone, so is it also the nexus of our fears. Not our stomachs, nor our adrenal glands. That’s why you need story to fuel and contextualize the greatest scares. Without story giving context to sex, you’ve got YouPorn. Without story giving context to horror, you’ve got much of The ABCs of Death.
What did you think of the film? Let Christian Blauvelt know on Twitter @Ctblauvelt
[Photo Credit: Drafthouse Films]
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Bond's Skyfall was named Film of the Year, while Riseborough and Jones picked up the top acting trophies for their roles in Shadow Dancer and Berberian Sound Studio, respectively.
Jones' win was a shock to many as Daniel Day-Lewis was expected to continue his awards season dominance and pick up the Best Actor honour for his portrayal of former U.S. President Abraham Lincoln in Lincoln.
The prizegiving ceremony was held at the London Film Museum.
The list of winners is:
Film of the Year - Skyfall
Best Actor - Toby Jones (Berberian Sound Studio)
Best Actress - Andrea Riseborough (Shadow Dancer)
Best Screenplay - Malcolm Campbell (What Richard Did)
London Film Museum Award for Technical Achievement - Jacqueline Durran, Sarah Greenwood & Seamus McGarvey (Anna Karenina)
Peter Sellers Award for Comedy - Ben Wheatley (Sightseers)
Most Promising Newcomer - Sally El Hosaini (writer/director My Brother the Devil)
Best Documentary - The Imposter
Editor's Award - Sacha Baron Cohen