Friday, February 12, 2016

PAFF: Lamb


In an era where “bigger is better”, it’s always refreshing to see a simple story that’s well told. Such is the case with Yared Zeleke’s debut feature "Lamb", Ethiopia’s official selection for this year’s Oscars. This tenderly wrought tale follows a young boy and his lamb, growing up in a world that threatens to tear them apart.

Read more at The Awards Circuit

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

PAFF: Necktie Youth


Back in 1994, South Africans went to the polls to vote for their first democratically elected president Nelson Mandela. After many years of apartheid rule, there was renewed hope among the people, especially those who had previously suffered. Sibs Shongwe-La Mer’s "Necktie Youth" takes place in this new post-apartheid era, focusing on a group of privileged youth who benefited from the new paradigm. But far from the enthusiastic cries of “Amandla!” heard throughout the years of struggle, this contemporary piece presents a more dismal outlook, framed by a pair of suicides which seem to reflect a pervading feeling of discontent.

Read more at The Awards Circuit

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

PAFF: Stories of Our Lives


One of the films that best embodies the ethos of the Pan African Film Festival this year is "Stories of Our Lives", an anthology film directed Jim Chuchu. Reenacting personal stories from the lives of various members of the oppressed LGBT community in Kenya, this stirring film gives a voice to those who have been silenced. Indeed, while the film has banned in its home country, its important message has deservedly been given a platform at various festivals around the world.

Read more at The Awards Circuit

Sunday, February 7, 2016

PAFF: Where Children Play


After blazing the screen in "Dear White People" and "Chi-Raq", Teyonah Parris adds another compelling performance to her growing resume through "Where Children Play". In this new drama from Leila Djansi, Parris plays the lead role of a woman who is forced to face a tragic past. And as she digs through her character’s scars, this rising actress proves her ability to elevate even the most conventional narratives.

Read more at The Awards Circuit

Saturday, February 6, 2016

PAFF: America is Still The Place


In a recent Hollywood Reporter discussion on diversity in film, an important point was brought up about narratives featuring minority protagonists. Namely, the fact that these films often have to be about “the most amazing person of that race who’s ever lived” in order to be successful. White protagonists on the other hand, are allowed to be just regular people who “did a thing”. Director Patrick Gilles attempts to challenge this dichotomy however, with his second feature film "America is Still The Place", a biopic about a black everyman who fights for his small share of the proverbial American pie.

Read more at The Awards Circuit

Monday, February 1, 2016

MOVIE OF THE WEEK: As I Open My Eyes


This week's top pick "As I Open My Eyes" takes us to North Africa for the rare Tunisian film to make it big on the world scene. Premiering at the Venice Film Festival, "As I Open My Eyes" is the promising debut feature from Leyla Bouzid. Telling a poignant story of personal and social revolution, it's easy to see why this French-Tunisian co-production has already won festival plaudits for both Best European Film and Best Arab Feature.

Set during the eve of the period of social upheaval known as the "Arab Spring", the film follows 18-year old Farah (Baya Medhaffer), a bright young woman living in the Tunisian capital with her mother Hayet (Ghalia Benali). Having recently passed her college entrance exams with flying colors, Farah has a bright future ahead. But exactly what that future holds is the source of contention between the mother-daughter pair. As lead singer of a rock band gaining in popularity on the basis of overtly political music, she hopes to develop her skills by studying musicology. But Hayet insists on a more sensible and crucially, safer career in medicine. Both refuse to compromise however, and Farah continues to play the music circuit in the local bar scene, a decision which could lead to dangerous consequences.

"As I Open My Eyes" refers to the lyrics of one of Farah's songs, which laments the state of the nation as injustice grows rampant and opposing voices are silenced. To see her perform it, you can immediately understand the gist of its intentions, as Medhaffer's eyes convey all the sorrow in each phrase. In an eye-opening debut role, Baya Medhaffer delivers an emotional honesty that completely draws you in, as one of the film's fascinating central female characters.

Indeed, "As I Open My Eyes" joins recent films like Haifaa al-Mansour's "Wadjda" in its complex approach to depicting Arab women. With her curly hair and carefree demeanor, Farah looks like your typical Western teenager, living in a comfortable middle class home where her independent mother is the head of the house (the father is mostly absent for work). But even as they could easily fit in with a more progressive lifestyle, Farah's impending adulthood reveals how longstanding societal norms can stifle even the most free-minded individuals.

And Tunisia is an ideal setting for this story, being one of the more liberal nations in the Arab world. Many scenes involve heavy drinking and other vices, as Farah and her friends engage in typical teenage behaviour. As expected, Farah comes under the heaviest scrutiny as a female, as partiarchial customs frown on her liberal attitude towards sex and alcohol.

But what becomes uniquely interesting about this quintessentially feminist script is how we come to understand Hayet's perspective. Delivering even more subtext than what's on the page, Benali gives subtle hints that Hayet and her daughter are in fact, kindred spirits. And in doing so, the film shows how people's actions are so strongly influenced by societal pressures rather than personal beliefs. Even as the film insists on painting her as a villain - to almost murderous ends - we leave with the impression that, under different circumstances, Hayet would be rocking out in the front row in support of her daughter.

"As I Open My Eyes" ends with a simple utterance of "continue", referring to Farah's musical exploits in the face of adversity. And the scene speaks to the power of music, which pervades throughout both the film's content and the filmmaking itself. Indeed, the film excels most during Farah's performances, where both director and actor seem to be at their most passionate. But even outside of those moments, there's also an underlying musicality to the filmmaking overall, in the way the camera tracks Farah's movements, the smooth editing, and of course, the melodious score. If it's true that music is the universal language, it's therefore no wonder this film is such a compelling, empathetic success.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Best of 2015: Top 10 Films of the Year


And here we come to the big list, my Top 10 Films of 2015. As I think back on the year that was, I'm reminded of an article by the great Courtney Small of Cinema Axis, who opined that too many cinephiles were being unfair to the year's films, claimint that they were "good" but not good enough. From where I stand, I would tend to agree with the masses that there weren't as many stone cold masterpieces as in year's past. But Courtney does raise valid points however, as the year was far from disappointing for me. By my estimation, no less than 30 films merited a 4-star rating, which certainly suggests a satisfying year at the movies indeed.

As for the outstanding films below, they reflected a year full of unexpected gems, just like the year's best performances. In a year where when personal faves Ridley Scott, Joe Wright and Steven Spielberg brought new work to the table, my Top 10 instead comprised of 2 debut features, 2 documentaries and a wealth of variety in genres, countries and themes. And defiantly perched above them all was a trangender comedy that was shot on an iPhone. If that doesn't excited about the future of cinema, I don't know what will.

As we look towards another year, I therefore put forth the mantra to "Keep Calm and Enjoy The Movies". Too often critics over-analyze the art of films and forget that films are also entertainment.

So without further ado, here are my Top 10 Films of 2015, complete with gifs (we don't have the budget for a David Ehrlich video, sorry) and quotes from my reviews.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

OSCAR WATCH: SAG Awards


I probably sound like a broken record at this point, but...THIS AWARDS SEASON IS CRAZY! As expected, even the SAG Awards were unpredictable, highlighted by Idris Elba's win for Best Supporting Actor, making him the first ever SAG winner without an Oscar nomination. Elsewhere, had crucial win for Best Ensemble, proving that the race is far from over. Here are tonight's winners:

Best Ensemble
Spotlight

Best Actor
Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant

Best Actress
Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn

Best Supporting Actor
Idris Elba, Beasts of No Nation

Best Supporting Actress
Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl

Friday, January 29, 2016

OSCAR WATCH: SAG Predictions


You know it's a crazy awards season when you can't even predict SAG. Indeed, a number of categories this year have huge question marks surrounding them. Is The Big Short about surge ahead, or are we due for another gamechanger? Here's how I think it'll all go down:

Best Ensemble
The Big Short

Best Actor
Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant

Best Actress
Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn

Best Supporting Actor
Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies

Best Supporting Actress
Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Best of 2015: Top 20 Acting Performances


When I think back on the year's best acting performances in film, the first word that comes to mind is "surprise". Of the 20 performances I most anticipated at the start of the year, only 2 of them ended up on this final list. Instead, a slew of dynamic duos, breakout stars, comedians-gone-serious and A-listers at the top of their game came along and impressed me with their unforgettable turns. But most of all, 2015 was the year of the actress. Indeed, women dominated the top ranks of this Top 20, with a long line of other incredibly worthy performers just missing the cut. Compiling the following names was therefore as difficult as ever, but I'm happy with my choices. Here are the 20 performances that resonated with me the most in 2015:

Honorable Mention: Jason Mitchell in Straight Outta Compton