Posts Tagged ‘Michael Beach Nichols’

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)
Mad Max

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)
Screen Shot 2015-12-30 at 12.16.05
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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In the great Westerns of Sergio Leone (A Fistful of Dollars, For A Few Dollars More) and Clint Eastwood (Unforgiven) a man always comes to town. The man in question – like Eastwood’s Man With No Name in Leone’s films – is an imperfect protagonist (or anti-hero) who brings retribution to an also corrupt society. The brilliance of the documentary Welcome To Leith is that is also revolves around a man who comes to town, yet he is no hero, but a frightening real-life antagonist.

Leith, North Dakota was founded in 1910 and is one of America’s smallest cities, with a population of 16 as of the 2010 census. After the railroad was abandoned in Leith in 1984 it became deeply isolated, yet there is a close-knit community within the city. In 2012 Craig Cobb, the notorious white supremacist, rather anonymously moved into the town and quickly and easily began buying up land from the locals. Things became scary when he started moving neo-nazis into the town, stocking up on weapons and patrolling the streets.

Welcome To Leith picks up this story, initially from the point of view of the long-term locals, who become aware of Cobb’s plans to grow the town into a majority white supremacist enclave and endeavor to kick him out by any legal means necessary. While the film does deal with the legal aspects of this standoff, the real thrill of watching the film comes from the way in which the tension between Cobb and the town boils over into physical action. Much like a Spaghetti Western, the opposing forces frequently come into direct conflict, which makes the ideological struggle very real.

The film also offers Cobb and his supporters screen time, which sheds light on their perspective and builds tension, but it never plays in their favour (as the British TV documentary The Battle for Barking also didn’t for the BNP.) To hear Cobb’s views from the horse’s mouth leaves no doubt that this recalcitrant man offers a senseless vision of division, chaos and hopelessness. Only those whose political leaning comes from a place of irrational prejudice, entitlement and anger could be convinced.

Directors Nichols and Walker do well to create a real sense of isolation in Leith; beautiful cinematography of the sweeping landscapes outside of the town shows just how cut-off this community is. There is a vital sense in the film that Leith is really the frontier between a compassionate and accepting American way of life and a despair ridden white nationalism. Ultimately the film’s open ending leaves a sense of frustration in the viewer – perhaps there’s room for a sequel – but also a crucial sense of vigilance towards this ongoing struggle.

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