Posts Tagged ‘David Oyelowo’

2016 has been a strange year of film viewing for me (partly on account of getting married, which it turns out takes up a lot of time and energy.) I’m yet to watch a number of essentials (Toni Erdmann, PatersonSieranevada, I Am Not Your Negro, Elle), but I’ve also been plesantly suprised by films I might otherwise have missed. Here are the films that left an impression on me in this craziest of years.

1) ONE MORE TIME WITH FEELING (DIR. ANDREW DOMINIK, UK/FRANCE)

Of all the films I saw in 2016, none was more mesmerising than Andrew Dominik’s documentary following the recording process of Nick Cave’s excellent album Skeleton Tree. The film captures a terribly troubling time for the Cave family, following the loss of 15 year old Arthur Cave and this runs through the film making it feel like a painfully private affair. It is a testament to Dominik’s handling of the situation that the Cave family were willing to release the film and it is also the director’s best film next to sprawling epic The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.

2) THE QUEEN OF KATWE (DIR. MIRA NAIR, USA)
Mira Nair’s The Queen of Katwe is a film that sneaks up on you with an emotional undercurrent that pays off extraordinary well by the final sequence. Telling the story of Ugandan chess prodigy Phiona Mutesi, Mira Nair casts newcomer Madina Nalwanga in the central role and surrounds her with established talent David Oyelowo and Lupita Nyong’o, as well as numerous child actors. A potentially challenging production from Disney – shot on location with many non-actors – it succeeds thanks to the director’s talent for straddling different worlds of production. A big hearted film for all audiences.

3) INTO THE INFERNO (DIR. WERNER HERZOG, UK/GERMANY/CANADA)
Of the two documentaries released by Werner Herzog in 2016 (the other being internet doc Lo and Behold), Into The Inferno was the most cinematic and most truly Herzogian. In Inferno Herzog tackles volcanoes, not a new subject for him (see 1977’s La Soufrière), but here he expands the subject to explore North Korea, Ethiopia, Indonesia and Iceland. Along the way Herzog discovers some amazing civilisations and wonderfully eccentric characters, particularly the larger than life Paleoanthropologist Tim D. White. Herzog’s recent drone footage, as well as the archive of volcanologists Katia and Maurice Krafft make for majestic, frightening scenes.

4) CHI-RAQ (DIR. SPIKE LEE, USA)
One hell of a Spike Lee joint! Chi-Raq is an adaptation co-written by Lee and Kevin Willmott, based on Aristophanes’ Lysistrata, a Classical Greek play in which women withhold sex from their husbands as punishment for fighting. While the film was criticised by some (including Samuel L. Jackson at the Dubai Film Festival) for not dealing with America’s gun violence in a direct fashion, it is none-the-less one that frequently represents Lee at the height of his polemical powers. Teyonah Parris is a forceful presence as Lysistrata and appearances from Sam Jackson & Wesley Snipes are welcome, alongside John Cusack as a fiery white pastor.

5) ALI, THE GOAT AND IBRAHIM (DIR. SHERIF EL BENDARY, EGYPT/FRANCE)
One of the most refreshing films I saw this year was this tragicomic feature debut from emerging Egyptian director Sherif El Bendary. Set in contemporary Egypt and telling the story of two friends with different afflictions (one loves a goat, the other hears excruciating noises), Ali, The Goat and Ibrahim takes us across Egypt to its major water bodies as the characters attempt to remedy their problems. What exactly the film says about life in contemporary Egypt is hard to define, but its mischievous absurdity is pitch perfect for this most unusual of years.

6) NOCTURNAL ANIMALS (DIR. TOM FORD, USA)
For those in doubt of Tom Ford’s credentials as a film director, Nocturnal Animals goes some way towards quelling those feelings. This is a meta thriller, which makes fantastic use of Jake Gyllenhaal, Amy Adams and Michael Shannon, to explore a failed relationship (the main thread) through a violent fictional narrative written by Adams’ character. I am rarely a fan of duel narratives such as these – as often the intended effect simply falls flat – but in this case Ford creates a compelling, disturbing tapestry which is thoroughly gripping and emotionally complete.

7) A UNITED KINGDOM (DIR. AMMA ASANTE, USA/UK/CZECH REPUBLIC)
Amma Asante’s follow up to 2013’s excellent Belle is a very moving rendering of the true story of Sir Seretse Khama (David Oyelowo) – the first president of Botswana – and his English wife Ruth Williams Khama (Rosamund Pike), as they struggled with family, apartheid and the British empire to assume power after Botswana’s independence. Although the supporting characters are more swiftly sketched in, the film finds power in two highly impressive, emotionally engaging central performances by Oyelowo and Pike. With carefully crafted period visuals – contrasting a moody noir-esque London with the sun-kissed plains of Botswana – the film is a pleasure to watch, making Asante’s next film Where Hands Touch highly anticipated viewing.

8) HIGH-RISE (DIR. BEN WHEATLEY,  UK/BELGIUM)
Ben Wheatley’s most ambitious film so far is one that – once again – harks back to the psychedelic British cinema of Nicolas Roeg and Donald Cammell, perhaps more overtly than any other he has made. Taking JG Ballard’s original text and adapting it into a relatively plotless, decadent extravaganza, Wheatley gives us a film of surreal delights in which Tom James Bond Hiddlestone glides through sequences that would look at home in the films of Russell and Fellini. Wheatley’s body of work is one that feels organic, developing, never perfect, but always alive; more please.

9) THE HATEFUL EIGHT (DIR. QUENTIN TARANTINO, USA)
A troubling film. When I emerged from watching The Hateful Eight at the start of 2016, I didn’t know what to think, but I certainly felt pretty dirty. A parlour game in which nefarious characters engage with one another in the most base of terms; the film is an old style exploitation flick and Sergio Corbucci would surely be proud. Each scene plays out at a snails pace, the drama brimming with racism and women hating. It is the most disturbing film of Tarantino’s career. Now at the end of 2016 – having witnessing the politics of the last 12 months – I think I understand The Hateful Eight a bit more and I still feel dirty.

10) ONLY MEN GO TO THE GRAVE (DIR. ABDULLA AL KAABI, UAE/IRAN)
An intriguing discovery from the 2016 Dubai Film Festival: Abdulla Al Kaabi’s arthouse melodrama Only Men Go To The Grave is a film that evokes the genre works of Almodovar, Fassbinder and Douglas Sirk (a big influence on the Emirati director.) Telling the story of a group of women, struggling to deal with an undisclosed secret of their late mother, Al Kaabi uses the film as a vehicle to deal with taboos present in his culture and unite unlikely artistic collaborators from Iran, Iraq & the UAE. The film’s constantly inventive shooting style and compelling acting signpost Al Kaabi as a talent to watch in 2017.

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In case there was any doubt about the sheer relevance of Ava DuVernay’s exemplary Martin Luther King, Jr. drama Selma, it is expressed succinctly in the lyrics from the closing song Glory by Common (who acts in the film) and John Legend: “Resistance is us, That’s why Rosa sat on the bus, That’s why we walk through Ferguson with our hands up.” As we well know at the beginning of 2015, the struggle for black civil rights against the willingly violent powers-that-be is still not over.

The story of Dr. King’s civil rights marches in Selma, Alabama illuminates (with shocking clarity) the means by which black voices have been forcibly silenced from American democracy. We only need to recall the horrific choking death of Eric Garner – an asthmatic man who was arrested and subsequently killed by police, when he had in fact just broken up a fight – to see how incidents like these create a climate of fear, in attempt to demoralise and oppress a minority.

During the protests in Ferguson, ex-Philadelphia cop Capt. Ray Lewis explicitly stated an utterance that could so easily be applied to the time depicted in Selma: “I want to try to get a message to mainstream America that the system is corrupt, that police really are oppressing not only the black community, but also the whites. They’re an oppressive organization now controlled by the one percent of corporate America. Corporate America is using police forces as their mercenaries.” Chilling words, given how closely this description resembles the events of 1965 depicted in Selma.

Selma is fascinating, because it clearly illustrates the power dynamic that allows this systematic oppression to function; and it does so with a richly drawn cast and elegant visual identity. Much has been said already about the film, with specific historical details being debated thoroughly, such as the extent to which President Lyndon Johnson (Tom Wilkinson) supported, or subjugated the civil rights movement. Selma’s relationship with history is of course deserving of analysis, but its emotional power comes from a genuine sense of the uncanny.

With his lead performance David Oyelowo has given the screen a benchmark representation of Dr. King. It is no small task to portray any historical figure, let alone one so revered. Oyelowo captures the unique rhythmic cadences of Dr. King’s voice, and the preacher’s delivery that gave his speeches a lyrical power. One of the most fascinating elements of the performance is the suggested sense of mortal anxiety felt (but seemingly overcome) by Dr. King as he bravely takes on the state. This quality is integral to DuVernay’s interpretation of the story, as King contemplates what might become of his family should he die.

The film’s great strength is in how it dramatises the hardball tactics employed by Dr. King in order to advance the civil rights movement. Deaths are a tragic byproduct of this power struggle and DuVernay goes to great lengths to humanise every loss; this is in part owed to a script that affords each character space to become relatable. The film’s cast is also exemplary, with powerful turns from Carmen Ejogo as Coretta Scott King, Oprah Winfrey as Annie Lee Cooper (who famously punched Selma Sheriff Jim Clark), Colman Domingo as Ralph Abernathy and Wendell Pierce as Rev. Hosea Williams.

Cinematographer Bradford Young’s colour pallet – faded sepias, naturalistic blues and crushed blacks – adorns the film with the melancholic qualities of an Edward Hopper painting (for the days) and The Godfather (at night). It is a beautiful film to look at and perhaps one of the finest uses of the Arri Alexa so far in feature filmmaking. The most impressive aspect of Young’s treatment, is that while the camera does evoke a time gone by, it retains a crucial sense of the now.

Through and through there is a timelessness to the filmmaking of Selma. It is a film that should, along with Twelve Years A Slave, The Butler and Belle, be celebrated for its fine cinematic storytelling and as a necessary examination of the folly of white supremacy and the solemnity of black resistance. Forget the transience of the awards season; Selma is a robust and elegant film and its impact will be felt for years to come.

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