Okay, let’s get this shit started!
Just to point out, I liked every film I saw in this festival. I’m either getting better at picking them or this is one of the strongest years ever for the Cork Film Festival. None of the films here will be making my worst list, not a chance. Keep that in mind as I list them from least favourite to…not.
28 films, three I saw out of competition (2 new release, 1 classic), let’s do this! Starting with:
28 Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool
This movie is absolutely saved by the amazing central performances from Annette Bening and Jamie Bell. Bening in particular is spellbinding as a washed-up Hollywood starlet reaching the end point of her life with her much younger lover, an unknown actor from Liverpool. Unfortunately, a lot of the heart just simply isn’t there. There’s very little insight in to Gloria Grahame’s character, mostly because this isn’t her story and she wasn’t the author of the memoirs this is based on, but because of that the most fascinating part of the film, its core, is left a tad undercooked. It’s also a bit too flashy with the transitions for my taste-Paul McGuigan seems like a director who is good with actors but not so much with cinematic language. Still, if the story interests you, it’s worth a watch, but it’s a forgettable and very mediocre weepy held up by a fantastic central cast.
27 The Man Who Invented Christmas
I wanted to like this one more than I did. Partially because this was the first public screening of this film, and the crew behind it seemed great and really gung-ho, but also the story of how A Christmas Carol really revived the celebration of the holiday is a really interesting one. But good God, ‘wears its influences on its sleeve’ is an understatement. I really hate when movies try to obnoxiously visualise the creative process in the way they have the author interact with his subject matter, even if it’s more thematic to what Dickens is going through, and the homages are *painfully* overdone. The film also never settles down to a comfortable tone. Still, Christopher Plummer makes a great Scrooge. Has he ever been in a straight Christmas Carol adaptation before?
26 The Young Karl Marx
The conversations in this, while a tad overwritten in places, really make the heart of this film, and the acting is solid. That’s pretty much all I can praise for this dry and by-the-numbers recounting of the meeting and friendship of Karl Marx and Fredrich Engels. Considering their impact on the world, I expected something a bit more alive and integrated, and while their surroundings are appropriately squalid and murky, I never felt this was truly doing justice to these great men of history. For hardcore Marxists oniy.
I really dug the premise of this, and unfortunately so did the movie. Take away the whole ‘A severely autistic man has a normal relationship!’ thing and there isn’t a lot to hang this narrative on in terms of interest. They’re both pretty likeable, the background of Dina herself is really tragic, there are definitely a lot of fun funny moments sprinkled throughout and it has an achingly sweet final shot, but the aimlessness and lack of anything to hook my interest in this couple and their story really killed it for me. A very sedate doc.
24 Saturday Night Fever
Yes, I went there. I’ll fucking go there. And I know this movie is a lot different from what my expectations were, that didn’t affect my opinion of the movie. Hell, the fact that it is such a bleak, dark, weirdly deliberately contrasted kitchen sink drama about a working class schlub down on his luck that can only find escape through disco is pretty interesting. But damn, the film has aged terribly in terms of its politics, Tony Manero is a *loathsome* fucking character that you’re expected to like, the subplot with the brother just goes nowhere and the final act is just fascinating in how jarring and bleak they push it. There is a lot to gain out of this movie-it’s definitely a sobering look at working class life in post-Vietnam America, the acting is solid, the dancing is great and so are the Bee Gees, but I was hoping when hearing this movie was different that I’d still be able to connect with it in some way. Maybe the sequel would be more to my liking.
23 Just Charlie
While it’s a bit too afterschool special for my own personal taste, and while the lead is great there are some issues in a cis actor playing a trans part in a movie all about the struggles of transitioning, it’s still a really solid movie with a good message of acceptance. I like how nobody is really demonised for how they react (‘cept maybe at the end, but that is deservedly so), and everyone feels so real outside of some tacked on statements. The family is really endearing and the conflict with the father coming to terms with both his daughter’s transitioning and his own binary view on masculinity is delicately handled and incredibly real. I also appreciate them for showing how a teenager can transition without necessarily going for HRT, which is a pretty common myth around the topic of young people transitioning. A solid if unremarkable film about an important topic.
22 32 Pills: My Sister’s Suicide
A documentary about a woman who goes through her sister’s possessions after 7 years to try to figure out exactly why she took her life. I love the guerrilla-style of this film and how it genuinely goes in a direction I was not suspecting. It reminds me of other HBO documentaries like the Paradise Lost trilogy or the excellent Tickled where the doc starts in a very different place to where it ends. While I feel it runs in place at parts, and the stuff going into the sisters’ past could have been a bit better integrated into the narrative, it’s a daring, uncomfortable and rather heartbreaking film about loss and coming to terms with the idea that sometimes you may never get closure when a loved one dies.
This was played in conjunction with the original adaptation of the novel The Wages of Fear two nights prior to this one. While the film was an infamous bomb and kind of took a hit at the then-untouchable William Friedkin’s career, it’s certainly not without its merit. Friedkin really knows how to get this nihilistic tone right into every frame of his work while still creating a story and world worth caring about. The tension is really palpable, it’s got a great central performance from Roy Scheider, there’s a wonderful sequence near the end that just perfectly encapsulates paranoia and it’s got a killer soundtrack. Unfortunately, it doesn’t carry that punch, it’s thematic substance of not being able to run from your problems in an uncaring world is half-baked, the characters are not very memorable and the ending is weak. But it’s definitely worth a check out. Definitely more maligned than it needs to be.
20 Good Time
Where we’re reminded for the billionth time that Robert Pattinson can actually act. And he’s great in this! The one great thing about this new outing from the Safdie brothers is that you really know where exactly it’s going to go next. It’s got a genuinely unpredictable edge to it, and Pattison is utterly magnetic as he’s in the vast majority of the scenes. I feel that the story peters out far too early, and its tendency to drop important characters can sometimes hurt your investment, but it’s a funny and surprisingly heartfelt thrill-ride exploring the genuine love from a genuinely despicable person. Highly worth checking out.
19 Ask the Sexpert
Dr Mahinder Watsa is a gynaecologist and a popular columnist in Mumbai offering sex advice for the people of India. This is a light and really funny look into the life of this gruff, no-nonsense old man as he rather acerbically offers potent and important sex advice in a somewhat sexually repressed nation. It’s an interesting little insight into the long struggles of sexual openness in the country, but mostly a character study of an eccentric but endearing old man. While I think the subplot with the sex-negative activist was a bit tacked on and I wish they explored more of his family, it’s a quaint and breezy little film about how one man can help so many people in a surprising way.
18 Paddington 2
Paddington was not a movie I ever expected to love, so knock me over with a feather if its quaint charm and tastefully handled modernising of the mannerly brown bear from Peru with a marmalade fixation didn’t win me over. The sequel had a hard act to follow, and goddamn them if they don’t match this task. It manages to match the kooky nature of the original with a cast full of colourful new characters, the highlights being our own Brendan Gleeson as a gruff prison chef with a heart of gold and Hugh Grant as a vain actor with a desire for treasure. It’s silly, charming, bright, well-paced, heartwarming and subtly subversive in how the bear fits into his community. A wonderful little adventure for all the family.
17 Condemned to Remember
Really, it’s lack of director flourish and slight repetition is the only reason this isn’t higher. This is the latest in a series of films focused on Tomi Reichental, a Slovakian Holocaust survivor who recently went public to challenge modern day denialism of the atrocity and take down the rise of fascism in Europe. This time, he goes to his own country to see the rise of the far right there, as well as celebrate his 80th birthday at a Dublin mosque. Tomi is a remarkable man; no-nonsense but incredibly friendly and very willing to engage his opponents. It’s an important documentary and a reminder of how the evils of this planet can be fought, either through persistent challenging or compassion for other cultures.
Damn, was this film a ride! A loving tribute to Nicolas Roeg, while being entirely its own entity, this looks at a woman with a fashion fetish who, after finding out her husband cheated on her, gravitates towards another man with a pretty dangerous streak. Amanda Fuller is the absolute highlight in this honest and very daring performance, and the non-linear unreliable narrator style of how the story is told is perplexing and engaging while also benefiting the story by getting into our protagonist’s mindset. Unfortunately the other characters seem really undercooked. The husband needed to be a little more likeable for something that happens later and he really isn’t, the rich guy she sees I’m amazed didn’t start monologuing about his favourite Genesis album, and there’s this homeless guy who kind of…apparates when he’s needed. Everything could be a bit tighter without sacrificing the surrealist nature, and the ending is pretty disappointing. Still, this is exactly what director Simon Rumley wanted, and I respect him for getting his vision across. Well wroth the gander.
This is the case of a great premise being let down by a tepid plot. It’s lucky, then, that the premise is so clever and a really snarky commentary on consumerist culture that it’s very easy to overlook how daft and banal the story is. A rather Swiftian satire on our ability to turn methods of world safety into commodities, our inability to come up with salient solutions to end our own destruction, and our narcissism in believing we really do any of this for anything other than ourselves. The premise of downsizing just breaks into exactly how a ridiculous idea like this would be implemented, and how privilege and the shortsighted nature of humanity may make it moot. It’s well cast, the highlight of which being Hong Chau, and shows off Alexander Payne’s ability to combine high concept ideas with his own cynical view of the human race.
14 Pin Cushion
An excellent depiction of social isolation and what it means to be the one everyone looks down on. A lot of this is down to the amazing central performances by Joanna Scanlan and Lily Newmark, who play a mother and daughter trying desperately to fit into a new town and their respective social brackets. While I think the daughter gets much better development than the mother in regards to her social standing, there is a bit of tonal weirdness due to a first-time director establishing her voice and I really have a problem with the ending, it’s still a well-thought out, insightful and hard-to-watch film about outsiders in just the best way.
13 Legend of the Mountain
A rather left field horror outing from legendary Taiwanese martial arts director King Hu, this is an out there film to say the least. The plot has an appropriately epic and intricate feel, yet is focused on a really boring main character. It’s beautiful and shot masterfully, and yet is way too long. It has some really engaging lore and you honestly want to know what’s going on, but holy hell are the flashbacks badly integrated here! It’s an odd little film, full of hokey acting, naft effects and pretty dodgy sound design, and yet I can’t help but kind of love it all the same. It’s not at all what I was expecting, but with pungent atmosphere and a great villain from her acting to her backstory, it’s not an experience I regret in any fashion.
12 Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story
Hedy Lamarr is, without question, one of the most fascinating figures in Hollywood. She got recognised for some pretty risqué work, was the model for the designs of Disney’s Snow White and DC’s Catwoman, was a inspirational figure for her time in the limelight, escaped the Nazis after being married to a man who was financially supported by them, a string of love affairs and marriages, created a ski lodge, was marred in controversy near the end of her public life. Oh, and she invented the technology that was a precursor for Wi-Fi. It’s not hard to see why she’s a subject matter of much curiousity, but this documentary explores exactly just how fast and hard a star can crash, and how genius and talent can be ignored because of one’s gender. An excellent portrait of an amazing woman.
11 Michael Inside
A probing insight into the Irish prison system and its cycle of imprisonment and recidivism. While the first act can be a bit too dragged out, it does offer insight into the situation of our lead and his grandfather. The cast are great, especially supporting players Lalor Roddy and Moe Dunford. It’s really well detailed and the story plays out very naturally, being a cautionary tale of how we look down on convicts whilst not feeling preachy or overwrought. There are a few issues with the audio (similar to the director’s previous work), but it’s got a sense of authenticity and soul that make it stand out from other low budget flicks. Highly recommended.
10 The Square
This film was an absolute blast and had me immersed in its hilarious commentary on the fakeness of modern culture. While I don’t know if it’s exactly worthy of the Palme D’Or, this filmmaker has the ability to really dissect the selfishness and cowardly nature of humanity in ways I’ve rarely seen others manage. While I’m not wild about the directions the plot takes in certain areas, like how the two promoters don’t really stay a thing or how randomly the lead’s family is introduced, and it could have benefited from ending about 20 minutes before it did, it’s a biting and really, really funny look at just how weak the ways we present ourselves to the world can really be. Whether it horrifies or amuses.
9 Tarzan’s Testicles
This highly bizarre but utterly fascinating documentary takes a look at a medical experimentation lab in the city of Sukhumi, capital city of the barely recognised nation of Abkhazia. As well as using this as a front to delve into the war-torn, former USSR territory’s fascinating history, there’s an interesting metaphoric composition between the monkeys being experimented on and humanity. It’s a strange, cerebral, oftentimes poetic piece that has the stamp of a director with a lot on his mind despite it being non-fiction. Not for everyone, but if you’re in the mind for something different, give it a watch.
8 Rat Film
Like Tarzan’s Testicles, Rat Film uses an animal as a metaphor for the struggle of a place with a pretty sordid history. Except this time it’s Baltimore, and it’s a lot more straightforward. I love the exploration of segregation and historical boarders this doc displays, as well as cutting between following ordinary people that make the town. While the computer game-esque moments can be a bit overdone, they display in a certain mood a sense of where the city is going and the souls of the people that inhabit it. It’s a bold, poetic piece asking us to question history and societal structures, prepped up with some excellent character exploration via incredibly probing interviews of fascinating individuals that make this city what it is.
7 In a Lonely Place
Humphrey Bogart gives a haunting performance as a man accused of murder, while the woman he falls in love with (Gloria Grahame), inadvertently because of the case, faces the full brunt of the backlash this occurs with the surly, ill-tempered alcoholic. The depiction of domestic abuse is uncomfortably potent and the script is witty, well-balanced and gives both leads their fair place to shine. It’s subtly grim and surprisingly mean-spirited, but for where it brings its characters and the audience it’s a suitably dramatic tale about a very intimate ordeal. A genuine classic, well worth seeking out.
6 Close Encounters of the Third Kind
It’s hard to describe what exactly works about Close Encounters-it’s just magical. From the model shots and matte paintings that still hold up, to it being an excellently paced story about discovery and wonder. While Richard Dreyfuss can be kind of a jerk here, you really feel his hunger for exploration, and this is played up as such an event-it’s really hard not to feel sucked in by the ending. There’s not much you really can say about this movie anymore-it’s cinema as its purest and rightfully beloved. Just let yourself be swept up by the majesty and one of John Williams’ best scores.
5 The Wages of Fear
While the opening to The Wages of Fear can drag in places, what makes it stand proudly in comparison to it remake is its focus on the sociological struggle of post-war Puerto Rico and its excellent attention to character. There are some of the most intensely nerve shattering scenes here, and the set up of them having to transport nitro-glycerine really adds to the stakes. A damning critique of capitalism and man’s struggle to survive, it brings out the worst in its cast and leaves a dark, sullen impression without it ever being too gloomy or hard to watch. It’s even really well lit! Excellent and intelligent filmmaking.
4 Happy End
Michael Haneke’s follow-up to Amour is a subtle and unsurprisingly bleak portrait of the nature of humanity. While these are themes Haneke has explored before, the way we disconnect ourselves from the world’s issues and even our own is cleverly handled and endlessly engaging. I just don’t know what it is about these characters or the rather bland situations they find themselves in-I just can’t help but wonder what will happen next. An extremely well balanced cast with not one actor stepping out of line, some of the best usage of social media I’ve seen in any movie, and leaves you on a note that sourly funny and uncomfortably eye-opening. Only a master can put your in a story this emotionally multi-layered while finding its power in being as ordinary as possible.
3 The Florida Project
I think the ending is really odd and sometimes its meandering nature feels like a detriment, beyond that I think this film is great! It takes the slice-of-life feel and colourful aesthetic of the director’s previous movie Tangerine and just runs with it. While a plot does emerge, it’s not entirely the focus-it’s more about a child’s perspective on the impoverished environment she’s growing up in, with the humanising eye Sean Baker has for the ‘trashy’. Brooklyn Prince really is a revelation in the role, and Bria Vinaite just oozes screen presence. This is also one of Willem Dafoe’s best roles in years. While the characters are not always likeable, they feel real and interesting. It’s a world that feels lived in, and that’s always a talent to show off as a director.
2 North By Northwest
Can’t go wrong with Hitchcock! It’s really hard to criticise this movie, outside of some hokey dialogue between Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint and a plot contrivance near the end. Razor sharp script just bursting with great dialogue and scenarios for our lead to escape. Cary Grant owns the damn thing as the everyman caught up in a mad scheme, and the spy angle really helps you buy into everything going on. It’s crisply shot, brazenly over the top, exciting and fun lead by characters you genuinely want to see. It truly succeeds at being perfect Hitchcock, a Bond film to rival all Bond films 3 years before Connery hit the scenes, and contains some of the most beloved and oft-referenced set pieces in movie history. You’re a fool to miss it.
So there’s a perfectly good reason I picked some taut divorce melodrama over one of the most beloved filmmakers in history. Simply because I liked it more. This is one of the most perfect displays of soured love, propped up by an absolutely fascinating cast. The two leads are horrible and yet feel so real. I love the use of phones, both as a distraction piece and a commentary of our cut off nature, taking themes from Happy End and The Square and incorporating them into a mindfield of narcissistic pontificating and glorious self-destruction. I shan’t give away too much, just to say outside of some dragging in the final act there’s nothing I disliked about this film. One of the best I’ve seen all year, elevating a tragic love with tragic consequences of it.