Archive for the ‘Sweden’ Category

The European movie scene is unique and marvellous. Look beyond the top 10’s and you will find movies that bombard your senses and leave you deep in thought.

Movies with subtitles is something that surprisingly few in the UK seem to enjoy. We’re not quite sure why? To shake things up a bit, here’s a list of European movies that will make you laugh, weep, shiver and think.

Armour (Love) – dir. Michael Haneke / Austria | France | Germany

After Anne (the late Emmanuelle Riva) suffers a stroke, Georges’ and Anne’s life together hit a point of no return. The two retired pianists suddenly face the perhaps toughest challenge of the lifelong love: old age and the deterioration of mind and body.

Brutally honest, Armour portrays aging love and the helplessness that follows when a loved one slowly succumbs to the ravages of old age.

We follow Georges’ struggle to accept the inevitable, as Anne suffers from early dementia and a series of strokes, reducing her to little more than a helpless child.

“In the course of two hours, Haneke suggests that the ultimate test of a lifelong passion may come not in its first flourish, but in the compassion of its very last days, and that while love cannot conquer death, it can give life’s bleakest moments a run for their money” David Hughes

Jagten (The Hunt) – dir. Thomas Vinterberg / Denmark | Sweden

In this critically acclaimed Danish thriller, Thomas Vinterberg shows how a close- knit small community can crumble in no time when rumours are on the run.

Lucas, a small town nursery teacher, is falsely accused of sexually abusing his best friends daughter.

As we follow the slightly awkward but charming divorcé being torn apart and shunned by the local community, we are reminded of how relentlessly a smaller group can turn on you when you need it most.

“Vinterberg sets our suspicions twitching from the off, which makes us wonder later, with no small measure of guilt, which side of the mob we would have been on.” Robbie Collin

La Tête en friche (My Afternoons with Marguerite) – dir. Jean Becker / France

La Tête en friche is a heartwarming atypical love story. Germain is a very self- conscious, bloated man-baby in dungarees. Marguerite an articulate, fraile, and intelligent 95-year-old.

In a public square in a small French village, Marguerite and Germain form a close friendship over literature. Marguerite’s subtle love for words and Germain’s quirky wonder over them brings them closer day by day.

“Germain suffers through flashbacks to his unhappy childhood, but seems on the whole serene. He loves Annette but he declares himself “in love” with Margueritte.

So are we, a little. She is bright-eyed and high-spirited, and never overplays the heart-tugging” Roger Ebert

Les Émotifs anonymes (Romantics anonymous) – dir. Jean-Pierre Améris / France | Belgium

With both main characters suffering from awkward bashfulness, emotif, this french comedy is a quirky but adorable story of how two very shy chocolatiers, Angélique and Jean-René, fall in love.

As the chocolate enterprise takes its worst toll, Angélique, originally hired for sales, anonymously develops a new line of special chocolates. Through their passion for chocolate, the two chocolatiers finally find a way to communicate.

“The tale of two pathologically shy chocolate makers who are meant for each other but are too afraid to connect is a mug of warm cocoa with marshmallow topping that produces a comfy feel-good glow” Stephen Holden

Bal (Honey) – dir. Semih Kaplanoğlu / Turkey | Germany | France

This award winning film is set in the densely forested region of north-eastern Turkey. Yakup and his family lives in an isolated mountain area, and he makes a living by climbing trees to harvest wild honey.

Yusef, Yakup’s son, struggles in school. He is lonely, has a stammer and is desperate for attention.

One day Yakup doesn’t come home.

In an astonishing scenery, we watch Yusef slip into silence as his mother Zehra’s heart breaks.

“It is a film whose unhurried pace must be allowed to grow on you, but once it has, there is something engrossing about the tragedy unfurling slowly and indirectly before our eyes” Peter Bradshaw

Kon-Tiki – dir. Petter Skavlan / UK | Norway | Denmark | Germany | Sweden

This spectacle of a film is based on the true story of the Norwegian ethnographer Thor Heyerdahl, who set out to prove that people from South America could have settled in Polynesia in pre- Columbian times.

We follow Thor (a pompous Norwegian man who cannot swim) in his adventure to raise money, build a balsa- wood raft, and draft from South America to Polynesia (4,300 miles). With a crew of several Norwegian men trapped on an ocean raft, arguments unfold and their craft of a raft, ‘Kon-Tiki’ is put to the test.

“What the film doesn’t skimp on is spectacle. Brilliantly shot in a rugged National Geographic-like way by the cinematographer Geir Hartly Andreassen, it captures the sailors’ feelings of both awe and terror about their self-inflicted predicament” Geoffrey Mcnab

About the author

At Global Language Services Ltd we’re passionate about languages and language nuances. We’re a language service agency based in Scotland, supplying interpretation and translation services locally, nationally and internationally.

The technology of the 21st century is remarkable, but however good the translation technology is, it cannot yet pick up the subtleties of a language, the culture that underpins it, or even the humour that oils many of our conversations.

When Alexa and Siri say nae we say yae!

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1) CAROL (DIR. TODD HAYNES, USA)

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By far the best film that I’ve seen this year, Haynes serves up another sumptuous melodrama focusing on societal prejudices. Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara play the two lesbian lovers torn apart by 50’s conservatism.

2) THE LOBSTER (DIR. YORGOS LANTHIMOS, GREECE)

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Funnier than most comedies and darker than most dramas, Lanthimos’ weird sci fi was one of 2015’s strangest offerings. Colin Farrell plays a heartbroken single man sent to a eccentric rural match making hotel- if he doesn’t find a true companion there he will be ‘terminated’.

3) BITTER LAKE (DIR. ADAM CURTIS, UK)

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Veteran essayist Curtis turns his focus on the ‘simplification’ of modern politics in order to mask truths, exploring the West’s involvement in the Middle East in particular. Distilling hundreds of hours of fascinating footage and ethereal ambient/pop music, Curtis has created a film that is dreamy, poetic and ultimately unsettling.

4) THE TRIBE (DIR. MIROSLAV SLABOSHPITSKY, UKRAINE)

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An unusual take on the mobster drama, this peculiar Ukrainian film sees a young deaf mute enrol in a boarding school for the deaf and dumb, only find to himself embroiled in ‘The Tribe’, a group of young thugs. The cliches of the gangster film are all here, but the film gains a strange power in its use of silence.

5) TANGERINE (DIR. SEAN BAKER, USA)

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This effervescent LA comedy drama sees Sin-Dee, a trans working girl just out of prison and on the lookout for her cheating pimp boyfriend. Shot just on iPhones and using real locations, Tangerine has a chaotic buzz and naturalism to it that is reminiscent of John Cassavetes’ work.

6) FORCE MAJEURE (DIR. RUBEN ÖSTLUND, SWEDEN)

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An icy oddity that left viewers debating whether it was best to laugh or cry, this had echoes of Ulrich Seidl’s films. Set on a ski holiday in the French Alps, a near fatal avalanche leaves a Swedish family in a world of confusion and reproach.

7) TOKYO TRIBE (DIR. SION SONO, JAPAN)

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Madcap hip hop gangster musical from the deranged mind of Sion Sono. Warring gangster clans vie for power in a neon lit, rain drenched Tokyo, as vicious hip hop beats flow over the soundtrack and gore splashes across the screen.

8) A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT (DIR. ANA LILY AMIRPOUR, USA)

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Like Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive, this US-Iranian effort seductively subverted the vampire film genre. A young woman stalks the Iranian Bad City, looking for male prey. The story is thin but the film is atmospheric and eerie, gleefully turning the male predator cliche on its head.

9) STRAY DOGS (DIR. TSAI MING LIANG, TAIWAN)

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It takes a while to settle in to the pacing and tone of Tsai Ming Liang’s languorous films, but once you are in, you are in. A father desperately tries to provide for his young family on the drizzly streets of Taipei, as they find shelter in an array of abandoned and decrepit buildings. Moments of real poetry amidst the decay.

10) WILD TALES (DIR. DAMIÁN SZIFRÓN, ARGENTINA/SPAIN)

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A Tarantino film for people who don’t like Tarantino, this collection of mini films thrills and chills in equal measure. Loosely based around a theme of retribution, we see an often mundane beginning quickly escalate into something ludicrous and often bloody. It’s testament to director Szifron that the films remain both silly and gripping.

 

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1) TIMBUKTU (DIR. ABDERRAHMANE SISSAKO, FRANCE/MAURITANIA)
TimbuktuA tremendously moving modern tragedy set in contemporary Mali, but filmed in director Sissako’s native Mauritania. Timbuktu tells a story of a community fractured by a group of power-hungry Islamist militants intent on controlling the population by undermining the people’s existing cultural and religious practices. In spite of its bleak outlook, the film also captures the incredible music of the region and possesses a sense of spirited defiance in the face of tyranny.

2) MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (DIR. GEORGE MILLER, AUSTRALIA/USA)
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In the hands of another director Mad Max: Fury Road would likely have been an unnecessary and unwelcome reboot, but in the hands of Mad Max originator George Miller it was a triumph. The film is a relentless post-apocalyptic dash from A to B (then B to A), in which Tom Hardy’s petrol head grunt overcomes his misogyny in the service of fighting totalitarianism. It felt surprisingly prescient.

3) SELMA (DIR. AVA DUVERNAY, USA)
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With Selma Ava DuVernay declared herself a directorial force to be reckoned with in 2015. Telling the story of the civil rights marches led by Martin Luther King in Selma, Alabama in 1965, DuVernay marshals a remarkable ensemble of actors with a superb David Oyelowo as Dr King. The film is most exhilarating thanks to DuVernay’s focus on King’s tactics, making for a timely film that reveals both the tough decision making, as well as the sacrifice behind the cause.

4) A PIGEON SAT ON A BRANCH REFLECTING ON EXISTENCE (DIR. ROY ANDERSSON, SWEDEN)
A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on ExistenceRoy Andersson’s latest work is a film of light amusement, deadpan wit and grandiose horror; as the final film in a trilogy about being human, it is an apt achievement. In Pigeon… Andersson’s view on humanity – as found in his advertising work – is one of stale compartmentalised existence, yet there are also moments of painful history, which intrude at uncomfortable intervals. It’s a telling take on modern Western life and a haunting look at our place in history.

5) A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT (DIR. ANA LILY AMIRPOUR, USA)
A Girl Walks Home Alone At NightUndoubtedly the coolest film of the year was the brilliant directorial debut of Ana Lily Amirpour, who transitioned from a prolific career in shorts. Though an American production, the film is an Iranian vampire flick in spirit with Amirpour’s Farsi script and excellent troupe of Iranian-American actors. The real success of the film is Amirpour’s perfect blending of the vampire genre with film noir and Fellini & Leone-esque cinematic stylistics. It’s a film buff’s dream.

6) WELCOME TO LEITH (DIR. MICHAEL BEACH NICHOLS & CHRISTOPHER K. WALKER, USA)
Welcome To LeithWelcome To Leith is a brilliant example of how documentaries are becoming increasingly suited to the cinema environment. Telling the story of the residents of Leith as they face off against notorious white nationalist Craig Cobb, filmmakers Nichols and Walker use Western genre tropes to tell both sides of the story and build unbearable tension. It’s a disturbing tale of intolerant ideology and vigilante action in modern America.

7) WILD TALES (DIR. DAMIÁN SZIFRÓN, ARGENTINA/SPAIN)
Wild TalesBrilliantly pulling off perhaps the most challenging film format, the anthology film, Damián Szifrón’s Wild Tales tells a number of disaster stories – from vehicular disasters to weddings gone awry – in an almost-continuously exhilarating two hours. Particular highlights include tales of a jaded demolition expert and a case of rural road rage.

8) IT FOLLOWS (DIR. DAVID ROBERT MITCHELL, USA)
It Follows 2The long held horror tradition of punishing the sexually promiscuous comes to its inspired conclusion in It Follows, in which a curse is passed on through the act of sex. Mitchell creates an atmosphere of dread seldom seen since Hideo Nakata’s Ring in 1998 and the direction recalls the artful horror tropes of John Carpenter, making this a rare American horror classic among recent genre entries.

9) PASOLINI (DIR. ABEL FERRARA, FRANCE/BELGIUM/ITALY)
PasoliniAbel Ferrara’s look at the life of Italian cinematic maestro and social critic Pier Paolo Pasolini is something of an oddity. It features a gravely Willem Dafoe and numerous fantastical sequences from an unrealised Pasolini project; yet it is also an atmospheric, passionate, even mysterious tribute from a student to a master. So evocative in style, it’s a film that begs to be revisited and Dafoe is captivating under Ferrara’s direction.

10) FORCE MAJEURE (DIR. RUBEN ÖSTLUND, SWEDEN)
Force MajeureNo film comes close to Force Majeure in the race for the most cringeworthy filmic effort of 2015. This story of a Swedish family on a skiing holiday in the French Alps becomes a hilariously excruciating watch, after the father fails to exhibit the expected alpha male traits in a crisis situation. Director Ruben Östlund amps up the tragicomedy with his use of glorious cinemascope, which makes every awkward line and humiliating detail seem embarrassingly colossal.

HONORABLE MENTION – JOHN WICK (DIR. CHAD STAHELSKI, USA)
JohnWickThe Matrix aside, Keanu Reeves has not exactly been a reliable source of cinematic greatness – but in Chad Stahelski’s John Wick he contributes so perfectly to the film’s understated wit and panache that we should probably think again. Based on a premise of such hilarious simplicity, this is the revenge flick that Nicolas Cage and Liam Neeson have been relentlessly competing to make for about a decade.

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Of late, Norwegian, Danish and Swedish television and film has – deservedly – received a lot of attention and adoration. The countries have their masters in crime, drama and comedy genres, yet few of us would know their names. Hopefully with Force Majeure, the name Ruben Östlund will start to become commonplace, and the rest of his career will continue to impress.

Force Majeure [Turist] is an example of very high-class filmmaking, elegant yet simplistic. Whereas some films use the medium to present vistas of sheer beauty, others choose to quietly tell a tale. This is a mixture of both, focusing on a family holidaying in the French Alps, experiencing some drama once an avalanche incident spotlights some shaky parenting. östlund brought the film to Cannes 2014 where it was awarded the Un Certain Regard Jury Prize – it got many critics talking (and laughing), proving its worth before general release. It looks terrific and centres on some fantastic performances.

To explain the story would spoil the pleasure in watching the scenes unfold naturally. It is, to synopsise it as briefly as possible, a look at a family dynamic eroding after a distressing event. Much like Funny Games, there is a twisted glee to seeing a WASP family lose their dignity over something they never expected. Johannes Kuhnke as the father Tomas is simply wonderful. A very handsome, intelligent father, he looks like the perfect role model. When our perception of him changes, as it does for his wife (Lisa Loven Kongsli) and kids, you can see him play on that external judgement. It is a gradual alteration, spanning over the 120 minute runtime, but it is judged perfectly. The time elapses without many superfluous elements felt, concluding eloquently, with a very realistic (and comedic) presentation of a domestic dispute having preceded it.

Chapters [Ski Day X] are punctuated by the controlled explosions of the Alps, set to the frantic violin of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons III. In many respects it’s an obvious artistic play to show tension and outbursts – common tropes of the film – yet it also links to the playfulness all round. There is a beauty to the film, but at its core, it is a low-budget black comedy. So, it uses symbolism in due part, still preserving its domesticated, grounded heart. The drama that pulsates through the film is so recognisable for anyone who has had some familial outburst on holiday. And so you watch on with heightened attention, curious to know how things will be resolved, and entertained by the hurdles that impede Tomas and his wife and children.

It is not a film that has any twists or spoilers to wow the audience (and even though this review reads like it wants to detract you from knowing much, it is only to keep the film fresh upon viewing), but it is constructed around very stark images and themes. Force Majeure will stay with you – tickling you or itching at you (depending on how you react to the neuroses on show). Whatever your perception may be, you will certainly remark on the superb talent– cast and crew – able to make such an unadorned movie laden with insightful, enjoyable moments.

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Cannes was not kind to Only God Forgives. Yet, Nicolas Winding Refn is not a director who requests niceties. He has facetiously called himself a pornographer, which is not literally true; however in Only God Forgives he allows his camera to linger on dialogue empty scenes so long, that it might seem invasive and gratuitous. While this film might provoke some viewers to recoil, it is a bold, stylish and strangely meditative thriller, which speaks with figurative brilliance about the loss of sexual innocence and the violence of the adult world.

Literally speaking though, Only God Forgives takes place in Bangkok, Thailand. A stoic Ryan Gosling plays Julian, an US expat, boxing club owner and drug smuggler. Julian’s brother Billy (Tom Burke) is murdered by gangsters, after he murdered a sixteen-year-old prostitute. The gangsters are advised by the devilishly God-like swordsman Lt. Chang (Vithaya Pansringarm.) Billy’s death ushers in the arrival of their mother Crystal (played brilliantly by a nauseating Kristin Scott Thomas), who arrives from the US to see Billy’s body. Crystal and Chang initiate a whirlwind of violence, stemming from her monstrous, sexualised angst and his brutal discipline.

At its heart Only God Forgives is a deeply Oedipal film about two men dealing with their mother’s sexual depravity; a depravity that may stem from the violent death of her husband. Crystal claims to have had a particularly “special” relationship with deceased son Billy (in one memorable scene she describes his penis as “enormous”) and yet Julian seems sidelined, impotent, and childlike (hence Gosling’s ruthlessly low-key performance.) Like his mother, Billy was also sexually deviant; his ultimate fantasy involved abusing minors. Julian seems traumatised by his own family, as well as his failings to impress and satisfy his mother (and the prostitute he pays to see regularly,) so he trades his sexuality for his fists.

Visually Refn has created a unique orientalism, with which to locate the story. Shooting on the streets of Bangkok, as well in sets dressed to look like ornate brothels and grandiose boxing rings, Refn depicts a hellish, womb-like dreamscape. Shifts from location to location are not handled with clarity, but rather the viewer floats through the film (with the help of Cliff Martinez’s absorbing score) gradually being drawn in, or maybe repelled. Refn’s nightmarish visuals have frequently been compared to Gaspar Noé and David Lynch, but in terms of shooting style there is more in common with Takeshi Kitano’s violent minimalism. Side-on tracking shots recall ones from Refn’s own Bronson, but may actually be inspired by Alejandro Jodorowsky’s transgressive masterpiece The Holy Mountain.

Refn dedicates this film to Alejandro Jodorowsky and has described Only God Forgives as his “Jodorowsky film.” As with Jodorowsky’s films, Only God Forgives sets itself up as a challenge. It is a film that asks the viewer to dissolve completely into the subtext, rather than take each scene literally. Refn assembles scenes that comment on his Oedipal themes, rather than compel the narrative with plot. Ultimately the film discourages rational thought, asking for the viewer to metaphorically connect its ideas (male genitals are equated with fists, weapons serve to bring impotence & innocence, wounds are orifices for penetration, adults destroy innocence); this occurs in a manner like Jodorowsky’s rejection of logic, inspired by Buddhist koans.

By coupling its psychosexual themes and meditative style (and some rousing karaoke numbers from Chang), Only God Forgives finally betrays a tragic hilarity. As Julian propositions Chang with the words “wanna fight?” Chang looks judgingly at his crotch. This moment is protracted as if to summarise the film’s ideas about sex and violence and yet it also revels in the absurdity of Refn’s filmmaking. Only God Forgives may appear a challenging ninety minutes, but it is a bold stab at a different kind of storytelling, not without moments of Refn’s roughish showmanship.

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1) THE TREE OF LIFE (DIR. TERRENCE MALICK) – USA

A confession– I had been waiting for years for Terrence Malick’s new film to come out, listening out intently for snippets of information on its long production. So forgive my bias, but there is simply no other contender for film of the year. In all honesty ToL is not a perfect film. Some scenes work, some scenes don’t. But when they do work, they soar. I’d take 20 minutes of some scenes from ToL over the whole year in cinema. Pitt and Chastain perfectly convey the complexities of parenthood, while the young boys are a revelation. Lubezki’s roaming camera combined with the beautifully operatic classical pieces is utterly glorious. Malick’s most personal, sincere and adventurous film to date.

2) WUTHERING HEIGHTS (DIR. ANDREA ARNOLD) – UK

Scottish auteur Arnold updates the classic Bronte novel with hyper real cinematography and naturalistic performances. The young Cathy and Heathcliff are excellent as the bruised lovers, while the Yorkshire valleys take on a wild, oppressive life of their own. One of the few British films to use the landscape in a refreshing and exciting way.

3) SLEEPING SICKNESS (DIR. ULRICH KOHLER) – GERMANY & CAMEROON

This beguiling odditiy comes across as a mix of Claire Denis, Uncle Boonmee and David Lynch, combining jungle environment with hallucinatory, surreal touches. A German doctor is working in an unnamed African hospital, where he deals with the ‘Sleeping sickness’ bug, a condition that makes the sufferer feverish and hallucinate. His family have to leave the country without him, and then things start to get weirder on his own…

4) TRUE GRIT (DIR. THE COEN BROS) – US

The Coen’s are so consistently good, it’s almost boring. Here they turn their meticulous hands to full on western, and master the genre in one fell swoop. A remake of Henry Hathaway’s original, the brothers stick to a more traditional approach, harking back to the classic Westerns of the 40’s and 50’s, but with a few of their own surreal touches for good measure. Jeff Bridges seems to be one of the few leading actors of the 70’s not to have settled into semi –retirement, and is a wizened joy here.

5) NORWEGIAN WOOD (DIR. ANH HUNG TRAN )– JAPAN

Based on Japanese author Haruki Murakami’s 60’s set doomed romance, Vietnamese director brings an exquisite visual style to the books foundations. Garnering only luke warm reviews, this is for me one of the more underrated films of the year. Taking his cues from his earlier films, Hung Tran combines lush, sensual cinematography with subtle, restrained emotions. On top of that, it has an excellent soundtrack featuring CAN and The Velvet Underground.

6) SENNA (DIR. ASIF KAPADIA)– UK

Painstakingly compiled from endless hours of footage, Kapadia’s documentary of the golden F1 driver Ayrton Senna introduces a whole new legion of fans to a sport they thought they hated. Or at least for a couple of hours or so he does, anyway. Made up of grainy interviews and races, with only voiceover to compliment them, the film takes on a hypnotic, compelling quality as we follow the charismatic Senna through his highs and lows.

7) MARGARET (DIR. KENNETH LONERGAN)– USA

Kenneth Lonergan’s long gestating follow up to indie hit You Can Count On Me was riddled with studio and editing troubles, and on it’s eventual release it almost went unnoticed. Thankfully a few major critics rallied around it and it looks like it has at least cult appeal. Following a brattish New York teenager, played by Anna Paquin, as her life is turned upside down by a shocking road accident. Regarded as a response to the confusion 9/11 brought to American life, Margaret is a raw, sprawling drama that leaves the audience to work out their own point of view.

8) BIUTIFUL (DIR. ALEJANDRO GONZALEZ INARRITU) – SPAIN

There was a sense that Inarritu was starting to get ahead of himself, with the bloated Babel and the split with writer Arriagas, but with Biutiful the director has gone back to basics. Anchored by a towering, moving performance from Javier Bardem as a people tracker who starts to have a change of heart. Inarritu shows a side of Barcelona that the tourists won’t see.

9) MELANCHOLIA (DIR. LARS VON TRIER) – SWEDEN & DENMARK

Based on Lars Von Trier’s own struggles with depression, this unusual, elegant film is an effective distortion of the Hollywood disaster movie. Kirsten Dunst plays a bride to be in the midst of the illness, and sees a kinship with the hovering blue planet Melancholia that threatens to engulf the world. The lush visuals and subtle performances elevate this above your standard apocalypse film.

10) CONFESSIONS (DIR. TETSUYA NAKASHIMA)– JAPAN

A fairly low key release this year, this Japanese film was a strange mixture of high school drama, thriller and who dunnit. A teachers child is killed by one of her students, and like Battle Royale, the adults end up having the last laugh. Multiple view points tell the story, and the film is notable for its inventive, playful visual style and soundtrack featuring the XX and Radiohead.

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1) DRIVE (DIR. NICHOLAS WINDING REFN) – USA

Drive is a Hollywood film directed by a distinctly European director. Danish director Nicholas Winding Refn rethinks the Hollywood crime thriller with minimal dialogue, strong colour, offbeat casting and an idiosyncratic soundtrack. While embracing it’s influences Drive also subverts numerous cliches and Refn shows a remarkable talent for crafting scenes that are emotionally gripping and utterly tense.

2) ANIMAL KINGDOM (DIR. DAVID MICHOD) – AUSTRALIA

David Michod’s debut feature feels like the work of an accomplished Australian equivalent to Michael Mann. Animal Kingdom tells the story of a naive young man in the midst of a dangerous crime family and the havoc he causes them. With an impressive cast including Ben Mendelsohn and Jackie Weaver, Michod rarely puts a foot wrong, from the staging of each scene to his choice of music. Not only an extremely impressive debut, but a great Australian film.

3) INTO THE ABYSS (DIR. WERNER HERZOG) – GERMANY & CANADA

Werner Herzog has been working hard lately, with the release of Cave of Forgotten Dreams and Into The Abyss premiering at various festivals in 2011. Out of the two unique documentaries Into The Abyss hits the hardest, with some of the best interviews Herzog has ever conducted. Probing the subject of death row Herzog puts together a restrained, yet unmistakably Herzogian investigation, which places moral  questions centre stage.

4) THE SKIN I LIVE IN (DIR. PEDRO ALMODOVAR) – SPAIN

Pedro Almodovar’s The Skin I Live In is an intriguing, intelligently structured and stylish film that successfully pulls the rug from under the audience’s feet in a manner that is as entertaining as it is unsettling. Almodovar blends classic horror with the themes he is famous for and gains great performances from his cast. Antonio Banderas turns in a dark, well judged portrayl and Elena Anaya brilliantly gains the audiences empathy within an utterly bizarre scenario.

5) MIDNIGHT IN PARIS (DIR. WOODY ALLEN) – USA

Midnight In Paris sees Woody Allen at the top of his game. Owen Wilson plays a screenwriter (Gil), who aspires to become a novelist. He falls in love with Paris while on holiday with his fiancé (and her parents) and begins wandering the streets at night revelling in the city’s mythology. Upon meeting a number of unlikely personalities, including F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemmingway and Salvador Dali among others, Gil becomes far removed from his normal life to wonderfully Allenesque effect.

6) TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY (DIR. TOMAS ALFREDSON) – UK

Where Drive was an American production directed by a Dane, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a British one directed by a Swede. Tomas Alfredson brings a distinctly Scandinavian approach to this classic cold war story. Like his vampire film Let The Right One In, Tinker Tailor makes use of wide open spaces juxtaposed with dingy interiors to create an appropriate paranoia. Alfredson’s remarkable ensemble cast create numerous memorable performances, particularly Gary Oldman as George Smiley.

7) HUGO (DIR. MARTIN SCORSESE) – USA

An ode to cinema by Martin Scorsese, Hugo tells the tale of French film director George Meilies through the eyes of a young boy called Hugo Cabret. Directed with a youthful flare by Scorsese, we follow Hugo’s journey to fix an automaton left behind by his late father, which leads him to a discovery of Meilies forgotten cinema career. The story of a young man discovering cinema and it’s possibilities for the first time is clearly one close to Scorsese’s heart; that’s why Hugo is such a good film.

8) DREAMS OF A LIFE (DIR. CAROL MORLEY) – UK

Dreams of a Life and it’s central character Joyce Vincent captured the hearts and minds of cinema goers this Christmas. Joyce Vincent died in 2003 in her North London bedsit and went undiscovered for three years. She had been a popular, outgoing and successful young woman who became increasingly alienated in the years preceding her death. Director Carol Morley investigates the circumstances that lead to Joyce’s death and meets with friends, boyfriends, colleagues and others to paint a portrait (using excellently performed reconstructions and talking head interviews) of a woman who no one would expect society to leave behind.

9) SNOWTOWN (DIR. JUSTIN KURZEL) – AUSTRALIA

John Bunting, Australia’s most notorious serial killer is the subject of Snowtown. Directed by Justin Kurzel, with cinematography by Animal Kingdom DOP Adam Arkapaw, this film is a gruelling telling of a series of crimes orchestrated by Bunting between 1992 and 1999. The film’s graphic style is tough going even for hardened film viewers, but Daniel Henshall’s intelligent and rounded performance as Bunting demands the audience’s attention. Along with Animal Kingdom, Snowtown shows contemporary Australian cinema in a very good light.

10) PINA (DIR. WIM WENDERS) – GERMANY

Wim Wender’s tribute to the late Pina Bausch contains perhaps the best use of 3D seen in 2011. The film, made after Pina’s death, sees Wenders stage the choreographers work in a manner that complements her work effectively. The juxtaposition of Pina’s choreography and Wender’s choice of locations, camera work and music creates a kind of posthumous collaboration, which functions as both a moving tribute to and preservation of Pina’s remarkable style of choreography.

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Honorary mention:

The Story of Film: An Odyssey (Dir. Mark Cousins) – UK

A remarkable television series for Channel 4 telling the history of film in Mark Cousins’ unique style.

http://www.channel4.com/programmes/the-story-of-film-an-odyssey

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Melancholia begins with a series of slow motion, ethereal scenes of an apocalypse enveloping the main characters. It is one of the most striking openings you’ll see in a cinema this year, or any other. A ghostly bride is imprisoned by grey flowing threads shackling her ankles. A young boy is cradled by his mother as their feet sink and merge into a golf course like quicksand. A black horse collapses in on itself in front of our very eyes.

Director Lars Von Trier sets the tone for this unusual film, a beguiling mix of disaster movie ala Deep Impact and a psychological drama by Ingmar Bergman. The film is set in a large country house in picturesque grounds by the sea. Guests are gathered together for the wedding rehearsal of a young couple, Justine (Kirsten Dunst) and Michael (Alexander Skarsgard), organised by her sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and husband John (Kiefer Sutherland).

Quickly the film morphs into Festen territory at the rehearsal, as cracks begin to show in the family. Justine’s mother (Charlotte Rampling) decries her disgust for marriage, and the presence of her ex-husband (John Hurt) does little to help matters. Meanwhile John and Claire struggle to understand Justine’s erratic mood swings in the midst of their precious arrangements. Justine, we learn is descending into a deep depression, yet finds an odd kinship with an encroaching pale blue planet, aptly titled Melancholia.

This enigmatic, ominous planet occupies a shadowy presence in the film. As Justine’s condition worsens, Melancholia journeys nearer to it’s collision with earth. It is an excellent, effective metaphor for depression, a silent force that takes hold over the victim. Some viewers have argued that Melancholia is a vacuous exercise in prettiness, a work of self indulgence by Von Trier. Yet when you take into account Von Trier’s own vocal struggle with depression, it seems more likely that the elegant, lush visuals only serve to cushion the rawness of Von Trier’s message. Like a Morrissey lyric, Melancholia coats the razor sharp bitterness with beauty.

At first I had my reservations in Dunst’s abilities in conveying such a complex emotional state. However, she has an icy, distant quality which lends itself surprisingly well to a condition that is often elusive and difficult to gage on the surface. The supporting cast are all very good, a mixture of narcissism and misunderstanding permeating through the characters. Gainsbourg in particular radiates existential fret and sisterly anxiety to great effect.

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A halloween themed top 10, with a world cinema angle.

1) SANTA SANGRE (DIR. ALEJANDRO JODOROWSKY, MEXICO, 1989)

At number one Santa Sangre is an exhilarating, wacky horror made by one of the worlds most extraordinary directors, Alejandro Jodorowsky. This film was inspired by a real life encounter that Jodorowsky had with a reformed serial killer in a Mexican bar. The film uses the killers story as its basis, but the film is very much a product of Jodorowsky’s imagination. A unique piece of world cinema and a unique horror film at the same time.

2) ANGST (DIR. GERALD KARGL, AUSTRIA, 1983)

Angst is a seriously cold and disturbing piece of European filmmaking. While not for the faint of heart this film pushes the boundaries of the horror film. Angst takes both performances and gore to an unparalleled level of realism while, using an unconventional style of camera work to create a sense of mania. Director Gerald Kargl largely shoots from extreme high and low angles using a rig whereby the 16mm camera seemingly floats above and around the action. This implants the audience in the mind of the serial killer, whether they want to be there or not. Perhaps it’s no surprise that Angst bankrupted the filmmakers, leading them to never make a film again.

3) SUSPIRIA (DIR. DARIO ARGENTO, ITALY, 1977)

The ultimate cross over between the art film and the horror film. Dario Argento’s Suspiria is without question his masterpiece, at least in visual and sonic terms. This film has one of the most powerful scores ever composed for a horror film (by Italian progressive rock band Goblin) and its expressive and colourful cinematography complement it perfectly. Perhaps the only downside to this film is its script, but Argento’s strong direction still manages to maintain huge levels of suspense regardless.

4) TOMBS OF THE BLIND DEAD (DIR. AMANDO DE OSSORIO, SPAIN, 1972)

This is a fairly classical and very spooky Spanish horror made back in the early 1970’s. It features ghostly figures on horseback carrying out satanic rituals and generally murdering attractive young Spanish ladies. Let’s be honest, what more do you want for Halloween?

5) VIDEODROME (DIR. DAVID CRONENBERG, CANADA, 1983)

Canadian director David Cronenberg’s sci-fi horror stars James Woods as a seedy television producer who stumbles upon a strange television channel (videodrome) seemingly dealing in nothing but torture and violence. This disturbing film deals with the effect that increasingly disturbing viewing habits have on the public. This idea manifests itself in the film as a tumor created by videodrome which gradually alters the subject’s perception of reality. This is an intense type of psychological horror unique to Cronenberg’s very particular sensibility.

6) THE EYE (DIR. THE PANG BROTHERS, HONG KONG, 2002)

The Eye is an intensely effective Hong Kong horror. Superbly directed for the majority of the film it falls down in the last act. This said the subtle handling of suspense and scares for the first two thirds makes this film one of the most effective horrors for the last decade or so. It is perhaps even scarier that Hideo Nakata’s The Ring series, which treaded into similarly freaky territory.

7) THE TENANT (DIR. ROMAN POLANSKI, FRANCE, 1976)

Roman Polanski’s French made The Tenant sees him on top form as both director and star. This film sees Polanski working in a claustrophobic setting, which nearly always guarantee’s success for this auteur. Polanski’s ability to show a character slipping gradually into insanity rivals his American made Rosemary’s Baby, but in a sense this film is even darker as the threat comes almost entirely from within. For this reason this is a very European film, as it suggests that sanity is a thin layer that hides our potential madness beneath.

8) GOZU (DIR. TAKASHI MIIKE, JAPAN, 2003)

This film by maverick Japanese director Takashi Miike is as nonsensical and probably as much fun as any Halloween party I’ve been to in recent years. Perhaps not strictly a horror film, it is a crazy mash up of genres with elements of the gangster film and road movie blended together with a good dose of surrealism. While I’m still not quite sure what happened here, it’s definitely one to watch for the moment a reindeer (at least I think that’s what is it!?) appears from nowhere and licks a man in the face.

9) PHANTOM CARRIAGE (DIR. VICTOR SJOSTROM, SWEDEN, 1921)

A super spooky silent film from Sweden, 1921. This film uses primitive filmmaking techniques, such as double exposures and high contrast lighting to tell the story of a legend told between a group of drunkards. The story goes that the last person to die each yeah, if he is a great sinner, will have to drive the grim reapers carriage for the whole of the next year collecting the souls of all those who die. One of the drunks dies at the stroke of midnight and it all goes a bit Christmas Carol from there. Scary stuff!

10) BRAINDEAD (DIR. PETER JACKSON, NEW ZEALAND, 1992)

Before he became one of the most insanely powerful filmmakers in the world Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings trilogy, King Kong, Tintin 3D, The Hobbit) made films in his native New Zealand, involving men massacring hundreds of zombies with a lawnmower. I know which part of his career I enjoy the most.

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