Byzantium

Gemma Arterton in Byzantium

 

A movie for every day of the year – a good one

 

 

26 November

 

 

Vlad the Impaler becomes ruler of Wallachia for third time, 1476

On this day in 1476, Vlad III, Prince of Wallachia became ruler of Wallachia for the third time.

His father, Vlad II, had become a member of the chivalric Order of the Dragon (Drache in German, Dracul in Romanian) in 1431. As the son, Vlad III carried the patronymic Dracula, son of Dracul (he signed himself Wladislaus Dragwlya).

Vlad III spent a good deal of his life asserting his claim on Wallachia. He was first installed as a ruler by the Ottomans – Vlad III had been brought up in the Sultan’s court as a hostage, to ensure his father’s loyalty to the Ottoman empire – and they put him on the throne to prevent encroachment by the Hungarians.

This failed. Vlad III secured his second reign by allying himself with the Hungarians against the Ottomans. He established strict rule over his new country, impaled any who stood in his way and built up a fiercely loyal special guard to protect him against assassination. This second period of rule was marked out by relentless conflict with the Ottomans who maintained that Wallachia was part of their Empire. To which Vlad responded by impaling any Ottoman soldier he found on his territory – the higher the rank, the longer the stake.

This made Vlad III a popular figure in Western Europe, where there were always worries about Ottoman plans for aggrandisement. However, Vlad III was finally routed by his own brother, Radu the Handsome, on behalf of the Ottomans, in alliance with Vlad’s own nobility.

Vlad III seems to have spent the years following his defeat as a prisoner in Hungary. In 1475 Radu died and Vlad immediately declared himself voivode (military ruler) of Wallachia. After only two months of uneasy rule Vlad III was assassinated. No one is sure exactly when, or where, or by whom.

Exactly how cruel Vlad III was, and how many of the tales of his evil deeds were political spin put about by enemies (and he had plenty) is hard to tell, though there are stories of babies being roasted and fed to their own mothers, and of 20,000 corpses impaled on the outskirts of Targoviste, Vlad’s capital, a sight which is said to have sickened the Sultan, himself a notable impaler.

 

 

 

Byzantium (2013, dir: Neil Jordan)

Since Bram Stoker borrowed the Dracula name for his 1897 novel, the character of the vampire has almost inevitably been gothic in character – favouring the night, pale, sickly of aspect, dressed in sombre colours, sexy, voracious.

Bucking that trend was the very modern, urban IKEA version found in Let the Right One In, the most influential vampire film of recent years/decades. Neil Jordan’s film is a beautiful collision of the two – on the one hand we have buxom gothic vamp Clara, played by Gemma Arterton. On the other there’s wispy Eleanor, played by Saoirse Ronan, who only drinks blood when she absolutely has to.

Are they sisters? Mother and daughter? Or eternal friends? The answer to that question is more or less the plot of the film. And while we’re following it we’re being given an object lesson in atmospherics by Neil Jordan, whose last dabble in this area was 1994’s Interview with the Vampire, starring Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise.

This is the better film, more sure of itself, less caught up in the machinations of stars and their agents. Thematically, though it’s closer to Jordan’s 1984 fairytale excursion The Company of Wolves – with the exploitation of women and class as a factor in daily (and eternal) life both ringing bells. As you might expect with a screenplay for The Company of Wolves by Angela Carter and for Byzantium by Moira Buffini, both feminists (though Buffini’s feminism is more oblique than Carter’s).

Taking notes from reactions to The Company of Wolves, perhaps, Jordan keeps his themes in the background, leaving front of curtain to the actors and production designers. And he is rewarded royally – it’s difficult to imagine better casting than Arterton and Ronan. Then there’s Caleb Landry Jones as a young man with haemophilia, Jonny Lee Miller as an utter bounder, Tom Hollander as a dithery teacher who believes Arterton might be interested in him (she is, Tom, just not in the way that you think).

As for Byzantium itself, a rundown seaside hotel somewhere on the South Coast of England, it’s a glorious rotten bundle of a place complete with an old cathode ray TV on which the girls watch old films – a Hammer horror vampire flick at one point. Very homely.

 

 

Why Watch?

 

  • Fabulous production design by Simon Elliott
  • Really top class casting
  • Shame and Place Beyond the Pines cinematographer Sean Bobbit
  • Women as the vampires, not the victims

 

 

© Steve Morrissey 2013

 

 

Byzantium – watch it/buy it at Amazon

I am an Amazon affiliate

 

 

 

 

23 September 2013-09-23

Saoirse Ronan in Byzantium

Out in the UK This Week

 

Byzantium (StudioCanal/cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)

Ah, the burden of being a vampire. It’s been done to death in the movies recently but Neil Jordan is at the helm here and knows how to spice things up. Here he adds a touch of the same mix he used on The Company of Wolves nearly 30 years ago. In other words there’s added social critique, class and gender being the targets of both Jordan and writer Moira Buffini. Saoirse Ronan and Gemma Arterton are the two vampires searching for a new home, the former a Let the Right One In waif, the latter a lusty Hammer horror vamp – both of them poor girls from the 18th century wronged by their social superiors and condemned to wander down the centuries. Anyone who has seen either actress in anything will already be thinking “but that casting is absolutely perfect”. And so much of this film is – pasty Caleb Landry Jones as a haemophiliac, Jonny Lee Miller as an utter cad and rotter, Tom Hollander as a silly teacher. The fact that much of the action takes place in a rundown old hotel on the rundown British seaside. The way that Jordan understands how to extract maximum wow from Arterton’s figure (many directors try but fail). The shift in gear towards the end as Jordan marshals everything for a climactic showdown he and Buffini have been teasing us with from the get-go. Great, fabulous, 360 degree entertainment.

Byzantium – at Amazon

 

 

Black Rock (Metrodome, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)

OK, so Katie Aselton, actor, director, partner of indie king Mark Duplass, has made a revenge horror movie, about three attractive girls (Aselton, Lake Bell and Kate Bosworth) on a secluded island who suffer bad stuff at the hands of three lairy guys. So what difference does it make when a woman is behind the lens, these revenge movies usually being the preserve of men with a developed interest in women’s saucy bits? Well, Aselton does seem interested in turning things on their head, to an extent. The girls are not all loveliness and virtue – one of the friends having slept with the guy of one of the others, way way back. Nor are they entirely blameless – it’s a bit of cockteasing that starts the guys off on their murderous rampage. On the other, more traditionally exploitative, hand two of the three girls (guess which) take all their clothes off because that’s the way to warm up when you’re wet. Or something. Its amusing nudity aside, Black Rock is a competent, atmospheric exercise in film-making that never quite fully engages the emotions. Maybe that’s because of the games Aselton and co-writer Duplass are playing. I’m not sure. Which more or less doubles as a verdict on the whole thing. I’m not sure.

Black Rock – at Amazon

 

 

Stories We Tell (Curzon, cert 12, Blu-ray/DVD)

Being a fan of Sarah Polley’s work as an actress and as a director, I was looking forward to this documentary by her about the life and premature death of her vivacious actress mother. And though it initially looks like little more than a stylish, intelligent home movie by someone who, you suspect, is a little too fond of herself, there’s some meat in here too. Not least the way Polley starts off telling one story – “here’s my lovely, beautiful mother in an array of grainy footage from the 1970s” – and then springs another story on us, the “who’s my real dad?” mystery. Stories We Tell is arch, for sure, but at least its contrivance is worn quite overtly. What makes it also worth a peek is the way that Polley manages to pull off the same trick – swapping one story out for another one entirely – at least twice more. And as she does she starts calling into question a lot of what we’re watching. Is that really her mother in the old footage? If so, who is the woman we see in hair and make-up with the director over the end credits? And yes, as the film progresses, things do tend a bit towards the meta, the refuge of the scoundrel. Misgivings aside, I remain a fan.

Stories We Tell – at Amazon

 

 

Populaire (E One, cert 12, Blu-ray/DVD)

Since Down with Love, the Renee Zellweger/Ewan McGregor 1960s “sex comedy” pastiche of 2003, there’s been a steady trickle of similar films. Populaire being the latest, French, example. It stars Romain Duris as the sexist boss, Déborah François as the girl whose horizons stretch as far as being a secretary and no further. And like some French version of a Richard Curtis romantic comedy, the girl has a cute trick up her sleeve – she’s a demon typist. And before you can say asdf;lkj (the home keys on a typewriter), she’s become his ticket to fame, as proud boss of a competitive typist who is, quite possibly, unbeatable. Populaire is frivolous, it’s retro-charmant, it’s the visual equivalent of lounge music. And Duris is in it. And Duris can do no wrong, even when he’s required to do little more than pull a variety of “boff” faces. What Populaire isn’t, though, is fully sure of what exactly it is about. So it flails a bit – one minute it’s a beautiful period drama, the next it’s pastiche. The same problem afflicted Down with Love. Approach with caution.

Populaire – at Amazon

 

 

Shun Li and the Poet (Artificial Eye, cert 15, DVD)

Sounding like a film set in ancient China, but actually one set in modern Italy, Shun Li and the Poet follows the travails of an illegal Chinese immigrant woman who finds herself working in a quayside bar with an ageing clientele. One of those gentle dramas whose strong suit is the observation of daily ritual, Andrea Segre’s film is at its best dealing with Shun Li’s regulars rather than the woman herself – what they drink, how they drink – and observes almost dispassionately as one local (actually, he’s from former Yugoslavia, for reasons which mean nothing initially) forms a tentative bond with the quick witted, self-contained but homesick barkeep. Zhao Tao is a fabulous actress, delivering a performance of deceptive simplicity, which is matched by the spare score of accordion, piano, clarinet – simple, wistful, deceptive. Where the relationship between the ageing Yugoslavian and the younger Chinese woman leads is in spoiler territory but I can say that it isn’t what the light performances and soundtrack, the airy, sunny locations have been suggesting. Making this an honest, sweet natured drama with real issues bubbling away beneath its slow-moving surface.

Shun Li and the Poet – at Amazon

 

 

 

La Notte (Eureka, cert 12, Blu-ray)

La Notte was made in 1961 and is the last of Michelangelo Antonioni’s black and white films, before he moved into lush colour for Il Deserto Rosso and his three English language films, Blow Up, Zabriskie Point and The Passenger. But what black and white this is, gorgeous, and in this Blu-ray debut, it’s brighter, sharper, has improved contrast and there’s a lot more visible on the left and right of the screen than in previous iterations. The vibrant cinematography is in stark contrast to the arid interior lives of the married couple (played by Marcello Mastroianni and Jeanne Moreau) at its centre, who we join as they start to flirt with the idea of infidelity, in an attempt to keep their union viable, or to precipitate its ending. That “good life gone bad” theme makes it sound like this is Antonioni’s take on Fellini’s La Dolce Vita, but La Notte is a far more internal film, as Antonioni’s films usually were, a portrait of emotional desolation, delivered by two actors with faces ideally suited to the task. And there’s Monica Vitti, at her most alluring, as the escape ladder that Mastroianni starts climbing. Not much happens in La Notte – the classic complaint against Antonioni – but what does cuts to the quick.

La Notte – at Amazon

 

 

 

Dead Man Down (E One, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)

The received wisdom is that a Colin Farrell film is fine as long as Farrell’s not doing all the lifting (so, In Bruges is good, Total Recall is not). Here Farrell is the star, in a gangster movie with bizarre arthouse aspirations, playing a Hungarian who has spent years eliminating his accent, in the process picking up an Irish one, wouldn’t you know. This intensely private gangster strikes up the most unlikely of unlikely relationships with a timid young woman (Noomi Rapace) who eventually puts pressure on him to get payback against the man who caused her to be scarred in a car crash. The reason why she is able to strongarm this hoodlum is because she has witnessed him killing someone in his apartment one night. And on it goes, the unlikelihood. Talking of which, meet Rapace’s mother – played by Isabelle Huppert, for reasons which must have something to do with director Niels Arden Oplev’s ancient adolescent fantasy, because she serves absolutely no purpose in this film, good though Huppert always is (and, if you want to see someone genuinely doing something with absolutely nothing, this is where to look). Nothing in this film really makes sense – Rapace is meant to be French, but clearly isn’t; Farrell seems to be a mastermind of electronic gadgetry, but only when it suits the plot’s purposes; he has a giant lock-up warehouse out in the city somewhere, yet lives in the meanest accommodation. I’m dignifying this movie by going on about it. It looks like it ought to be something, it’s very well done, but the bottom line is that not for a single second is anyone believable nor does anything ring true.

Dead Man Down – at Amazon

 

 

© Steve Morrissey 2013

 

The Best Films I Saw in 2013

The cast of You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet
Updated 2013-12-30

 

Here they are, the best films I saw in 2013. It’s a Top Ten job with the best in no particular order, followed by a list of films that made the top ten at some point in the year, then got bounced. This is not a Best of 2013, let me quickly point out, just the best films I’ve seen this year. So a film everyone else has seen but I haven’t won’t be here (I’ve not seen American Hustle yet, f’rinstance). And there might be stragglers from 2012 in here which caught up with late. It really is “the best films I have seen this year”. If you’re wondering what to do with that Amazon voucher and your tastes generally aren’t multiplex, this might be a useful place to start.

 

1. You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet (2012, dir: Alain Resnais)

Alain Resnais, now in his nineties, proves there’s life in the new wave dog yet with an amazingly convoluted meta-drama based on two Anouilh plays, thick with formal experiment and managing to weld classical theatre to 21st century techniques. Amazing, and you can bet it made both Lars Von Trier and Todd Solondz chuckle too.

 

2. Aurora (2010, dir: Cristi Puiu)

The Romanian Cristi Puiu made The Death of Mr Lazarescu and also stars in what might be considered a follow-up, a film that tells a story while also running an audit on the current state of the homeland. The story: a very odd one, following what must the dourest hitman (Puiu) through concrete-coloured Bucharest as he goes about his often incredibly mundane business. Shot in long takes, in blue light, in the most unprepossessing of locations, with many shots half through doorways and focusing on the main character and him alone, it’s unique, remarkable and often quite baffling.

 

3. The Heat (2013, dir: Paul Feig)

Because no one is funnier than Melissa McCarthy right now, a buddy-cop comedy in which Sandra Bullock plays the uptight FBI agent reluctantly partnering a wildcat local cop (McCarthy). The plot is slender, but is just enough for Bridesmaids director Paul Feig to hang a few funny set pieces off. Better than that it gives a chance for the two actors to riff rude, with McCarthy inevitably getting the better of Bullock when it comes to being the swearier and more prepared to make herself look a fool. Fancy Bullock being in the best comedy of the year and its most popular sci-fi (which is not on my list because I haven’t seen it yet, for shame).

 

4. Angel & Tony (2010, dir: Alix Delaporte)

Big aah, a simple, short love story about a troubled beautiful young woman and the shy, fat middle-aged fisherman she rather unexpectedly hooks up with. Rather simply, this one’s all about the transformative power of love and is about as bloody lovely as films get.

 

5. I Wish  (2011, dir: Hirokazu Koreeda)

Hirokazu Koreeda’s drama is ostensibly about a kid who wants to make a wish, and believes that by making it at the exact point where two bullet trains’ paths cross, it is sure to come true. In fact he’s just the starting point for a whole series of lightly interconnected transgenerational stories, which the writer/director joins and rejoins. Everything about this film shouts genius – the placing of the camera, the casting, the acting, the editing. It’s also one of the sweetest films, so full of hope and life, I’ve ever seen.

 

6. The Kings of Summer (2013, Jordan Vogt-Roberts)

A coming-of-ager that has the raucous “fuck you” comic edge of Superbad and the elemental undertow of Stand By Me, The Kings of Summer is about a group of boys who head off to the woods one summer, mostly to escape their obnoxious, bullying, clever-clever parents, but partly just to do a bit of growing up. There they trap animals (or make out that they do), grow facial hair, invite girls over and get their hearts broken. It’s strange to find a film that intercuts comedy and heartache so well, that catches that great feeling of freedom that total irresponsibility allows, and which punctuates these switches between the two ends of the dramatic spectrum with contemplative “Ozu shots” of prairies and water and flowers, set to a soundtrack that manages to be both familiar and leftfield.

 

 7. She Monkeys (2011, dir: Lisa Aschan)

A Swedish drama that’s all about girls, power, sex and equestrian vaulting. Expect no fluffy bunnies in this one – in one of its twin-track stories we have a five-year-old girl sexually grooming her older babysitting cousin; in the other a butter-wouldn’t-melt blonde making a sumo-style All About Eve assault on a rival. Cool, unusual, brilliant.

 

8. Sightseers (2012, dir: Ben Wheatley)

A pair of incredibly dim British caravan enthusiasts set off on a tour of esoteric sites of special interest – museums dedicated to pencils or trams etc – and indulge in increasingly psychotic episodes of murder for light relief. A deadpan Natural Born Killers that will have you snorting liquid down your nose.

 

9. The Gatekeepers (2012, dir: Dror Moreh)

The best documentary I saw this year comes from director Dror Moreh, who somehow managed to get all the surviving former heads of the Israeli security agency Shin Bet to talk to him. What he have is little more than a series of talking heads explaining to Moreh how Shin Bet operates. But it is the way that Moreh structures the entirely stereotype-busting revelations dropping from these guys’ mouths – and they each look like a Bond villain of one sort or another – that makes this “jaw to the floor” viewing.

 

10. Silver Linings Playbook (2012, dir: David O Russell)

David O Russell’s sweet but never cute drama about a guy fresh from the funny farm (Bradley Cooper) and his burgeoning relationship with brassy fellow medicatee (Jennifer Lawrence). Underneath the warty carapace this is perfect Hollywood – everyone gets what they deserve, big lessons are learned, there’s silver linings all round, in fact. Or you could just watch it for the performances – Lawrence so good that she forces Robert De Niro to act. Even Chris Tucker puts in a great performance.

 

 

The “Nearly” List

The Sapphires (2012, dir: Wayne Blair)

We keep being told about the revival of the musical (clinkers like Chicago usually), so how come this one about a girl group of aborigine soul singers on a tour of 1960s Vietnam isn’t better known? It’s got songs, jokes, a bit of love and a standout Chris O’Dowd in the lead role. And it’s a true story.

 

Thale (2012, dir: Aleksander Nordaas)

Made for nothing yet looking like it cost millions, this Norwegian horror fantasy about a couple of police clean-up guys who find a mythical creature out in the cellar of a shack in the woods has plot, characters, looks, tension and, a few seconds of ropey CGI apart, is almost perfect.

 

Elena (2011, dir: Andrey Svyagintsev)

Andrey Svyagintsev’s throttled-back thriller about a woman in Russia, her boorish rich husband to whom she’s little more than a nurse, and her Soviet-throwback son and his family, a bunch of layabouts living out in the tower blocks.

 

Mama (2013, dir: Andrés Muschietti)

One of the seven thousand films Jessica Chastain made in the last year or so, Mama is a superior horror film that welds together the haunted house and malevolent-child genres and then throws a lot of switched sympathies into the mix. Watchable as an exercise in genre manipulation alone, or as an out-and-out horror movie, or as a bravura exercise in visual effects, this is one of the best mainstream horror films in years.

 

Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God (2012, dir: Alex Gibney)

Close to The Gatekeepers for “well stap my vitals” revelations is Alex Gibney’s remarkable documentary about paedophilia in the Roman Catholic church, how the organisation has been aware for at least 1,700 years that the vows of celibacy and chastity tend either to attract weirdos or make people weird. And that the Church has, by virtue of its institutional power, been able to subvert secular legal systems. This is a gobsmacking documentary of the old-fashioned pavement-pounding sort whose conclusions are that, lovely Pope Francis or no, in terms of moral authority the Catholic church is a busted flush.

 

Shell (2012, dir: Scott Graham)

A star is born, in the shape (the face, mostly) of Chloe Pirrie, the focus of this lugubrious drama about a girl who works in an out-of-the-way petrol station owned by her father. Shell is the girl’s name, it’s the name of a petrol company too, a passing customer jokily quips to the girl, who responds with a deep lack of engagement. Which is what the film is about  – is she going to engage? With Adam, a guy in a hot hatch? With a passing travelling salesman? Possibly with her own father? God forbid. But on this slender “who?” and “when?” director Scott Graham hangs a powerful film as austere and dour as a low church chapel.

 

In the House (2012, dir: François Ozon)

François Ozon doesn’t make dumb films, and in In the House he’s made a film that on one level is about a superbright, sexually precocious, unsettlingly androgynous schoolboy (Ernst Umhauer) who starts writing increasingly personal stories for his teacher (the brilliantly disconcerted Fabrice Luchini). Before long the teacher is hooked, the boy has become a cuckoo in the nest, the wife (Kristin Scott Thomas) is discombobulated, and Ozon has crafted a drama of the sort you can imagine Jacques Derrida and fellow post-structuralists enjoying with beer and a pizza.

 

Byzantium (2012, dir: Neil Jordan)

Neil Jordan does something excellent with the vampire movie in Byzantium. He manages to weld the lush overheated velvet of the Hammer horror, all heaving bosoms and the male gaze, to the austere IKEA ambience of Let the Right One In. As two (possible) sisters of competing vampiric sensibilities we have Gemma Arterton (the busty, Hammer lust-bucket) and Saoirse Ronan (self-assembly vampiric waiflet). Add an abandoned seaside hotel in off season, a few luckless male victims, a couple of bounders and rotters who arrive from the girls’ past to help deliver a rousing Hollywood ending, and you’ve got a film that grips by the throat, teases, entertains and beguiles.

 

8 ½ (1963, dir: Federico Fellini)

This restoration of one of Fellini’s most famous films reminds us what a clever man he was, as well as a consummate film-maker. Taking as its starting point the non-starting Fellini after he had finished La Dolce Vita, it tells the story of a blocked director who hasn’t got the faintest idea what to do next. Which all sounds very indulgent and unnecessarily arthouse, until you actually watch as Fellini slowly starts to spin his on-screen phalanx of actors, make-up people, producers, the director’s diversions, dreams and fantasies into something elaborate, fantastical and even at times funny. Marcello Mastroianni is the Fellini stand-in, and the film is really helped by the presence of Claudia Cardinale and Anouk Aimée, about the hottest women on the planet back in 1963.

 

The Wall (2012, dir: Julian Pölsler)

A weird and wonderful re-imagining of Robinson Crusoe. But instead of a man, it’s a woman (Martina Gedeck). Instead of an island it’s the landlocked country of Austria, inside which a woman on a bit of a weekend break, or something, suddenly discovers that she’s locked inside her rural idyll by an invisible wall. And there she stays for years, making friends with various stray animals, writing her diaries, musing on what it is to be human, alone. A deceptively simple but wonderfully told story, which raises the question of how any of us might cope if suddenly cut off completely from civilisation. And Austria looks pretty fantastic too.

 

Broken Circle Breakdown (2012, dir: Felix Van Groeningen)

Bluegrass music in Belgium provides the sweetener for what looks for one awful moment like it’s going to be a film about a child getting a terminal disease and dying. A child does actually get a terminal disease but that isn’t really what this artfully shot, pungently written drama – about a much-tattooed beauty (Veerle Baetens) striking up a relationship with an ex-punk (Johan Heldenburgh) and becoming a singer in his bluegrass outfit – is about. And god can she sing.

 

Fireworks Wednesday (2006, dir: Asghar Farhadi)

Finally finding its way to some sort of release off the back of the Oscar success of his A Separation, Asghar Farhadi’s 2006 drama patrols a similar border, the one between traditional Islam and the blandishments of the West, and doesn’t so much wag his finger as point out the areas that are going to chafe. A simple story about a naive young girl who finds herself working for a family who seem to have adultery issues – and she’s about to get married herself – it is so well written, well cast and unobtrusively shot that it feels less like watching a movie more like eavesdropping.

 

Child’s Pose (2013, dir: Calin Peter Netzer)

Romania continues to come up with brilliant films, such as this dour drama about a horrible entitled mother trying to get her horrible ungrateful son off the charge of killing a poor child by dangerous driving. As much a portrait of the haves and have-nots of Romania and how justice is entirely in the service of only one of them (guess which), it is also a remarkable drama that withholds its true intentions. Hold on for the extended final sequence, when the mother goes to visit the dead child’s grieving parents, while the son waits out in the car, and remember to keep breathing.

 

The House I Live In (2012, dir: Eugene Jarecki)

Eugene Jarecki’s documentary about the sheer mess of US drugs policy points out the government has spent $1 trillion on the “war against drugs” since President Nixon initiated it, with the result that recreational drug use has changed not a jot. A well researched doc with the right talking heads, attitudinal but never strident.

 

Small Town Murder Songs (2010, dir: Ed Gass-Donnelly)

A drama that asks us to look at the character of an upstanding cop in a Mennonite community and divine the man he used to be – and it isn’t pretty. Peter Stormare’s hangdog features and impassive thousand yard stare make this hellish unusual type of film even more enjoyable.

 

The Queen of Versailles (2012, dir: Lauren Greenfield)

The documentary that asked us to feel billionaire pain, and succeeded. Starting out simply as a film about the building of the biggest private residence in the US, the enterprise somehow became something much more incisive – a story about financial mess we’ve all been going through, seen from the most rarefied of positions. Entirely fascinating.

 

Rust and Bone (2012, dir: Jacques Audiard)

Always making a bad film (Nine, Public Enemies) bearable and a good film (Inception, Contagion) better, Marion Cotillard is on absolute white hot form in this potentially blubbery drama about a woman who loses her legs and the bouncer (equally remarkable Matthias Schoenaearts) who gives her back her taste for life.

 

 

© Steve Morrissey 2013