Blind Spots is an ongoing project from film site The Matinee, and this year I’m joining in. The idea is to pick 12 well known or highly rated films you’ve not seen but feel you should have, and vow to watch them all by the end of the year. If you write your own film blog, feel free to join in at any time. My list is here, all selected from IMDb’s top 250.
I've actually done a triple-bill this month, and one of those is a trilogy in itself, so five films in total. The reason is that I have hundreds of titles on my Lovefilm rental list (Amazon UK's equivalent of Netflix by post), and although you can prioritise the discs you want sent out next, most of the time I just watch whatever arrives randomly. This month all of these happened to be sent out, so I thought why not just review them all now, if I reach my 12 before the end of the year I can always expand the list. It also helps that they were all absolutely tremendous and films I urge anyone reading to seek out asap.
Denis Villeneuve is a director suddenly on my radar. Why? Because Incendies is one of the most shocking, remarkable films I’ve ever seen. In her will, a woman leaves letters to her children with instructions to carry out her dying wish, leading them on a journey from Canada to the war torn Middle East. Jumping forward and back through the family’s timeline, in a structure that at times gets dizzyingly complex, we slowly start to grasp what’s going on. The performance of Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin, in the lead role of the woman’s daughter, is astonishing. There’s a moment when she realises something, and that gasp. Wow. I’ve never had a movie create such a sudden, horrible feeling in the pit of my stomach. Added to all of this is the unexpected and inspired use of Radiohead soundtracked over slow motion footage, the effect is pure cinema. The reason I try to avoid spoilers is precisely because of films like this - all I can emphasise is that it’s essential to view without prior knowledge of the story, and that it’s an absolute must-see. It’s also one I will need to see again to fully absorb, and of course to come at it with knowledge of the outcome. Villeneuve went on to direct the likes of Prisoners (2013) and Sicario (2015), both of which I enjoyed even if they’re not nearly at the same level as this, and I’m looking forward to seeing what he does next.
Before Sunrise (1995), Before Sunset (2004), Before Midnight (2013)
I’ve been aware of these films for a while, but doubted they would be my sort of thing. I was wrong. Very, very wrong. The setup involves a man and woman, played by Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, who meet on a train in Europe. They get chatting, and by the time they reach Vienna, she has to make a decision - get off the train with him, or continue her journey alone and risk regretting the one who got away. The fact they made a trilogy out of their story suggests it doesn’t end on the train, so it’s not really a spoiler to say that the remainder of the first film spans that day and evening as they wander around a dreamlike Vienna ruminating on life, literature, art, love etc. Will they fall in love? Will they part and never see each other again? There are many moments when you just don’t know and really want to, and that’s down to the quality of Linklater’s writing. It also helps to have two leads who are so likeable, and by the time Sunrise finished, I was desperate to see the next part. It’s a marvellous thing to discover a trilogy that you can see together one after the other, originally I would have had to wait 9 years to see what happened next (twice!) - that would have been excruciating given how the first one ends. I was less keen on the direction the final part of the trilogy took, even if it’s one of the most honest portrayals of love and getting older that I’ve seen in any film, the indefinable magic in the first two isn’t quite there. The fact that Richard Linklater likes to makes films over many years, also the case with Boyhood (which I haven’t seen yet - one for my next blind spot list perhaps), means that he can tell a story that shows how people change physically and emotionally in real time, rather than faking it with the costume and makeup department. It’s risky filmmaking but such a unique way to tell a story. I was hooked on this throughout, got swept up in the will they/won’t they scenario in a way I rarely do with romance films, and found the whole thing entirely captivating. It proves why it’s worth keeping an open mind about your taste in films, in the end all I want is to be told a good story, and in spite of my preconceptions, this is definitely that.
Untouchable (The Intouchables) (2011)
Best film I’ve seen so far this year? It’s a contender (as are the others above). One of the most inspirational and joyful films I’ve ever seen? It’s a contender for that too. Warm, funny, moving, charming… there are many ways to describe Untouchable, but it’s best summarised as: “yaaaaaaaaaaahoooooo!” It’s a film that makes you want to leap up from your boring life, throw your arms in the air and scream something very silly at the top of you lungs. Or parachute off the side of a mountain. Or get in your car and drive stupidly fast (up to and no further than the speed limit, of course). Something that will make you feel alive, and glad to be so. The story concerns Philippe (François Cluzet - the spitting image of Dustin Hoffman), a man who was paralysed in an accident, and the life-changing experiences he comes to have under the care of Driss (Omar Sy). From entirely different backgrounds, one a wealthy aristocrat and the other coming from a life in the projects, and with seemingly opposite personalities, their relationship forms into something unexpected and wonderful. It takes a very skilful filmmaker to create scenes that are hilariously funny, woven between a drama of such emotional depth and power. Two actors that are new to me have taken that story, which I might add is true, and delivered performances that made it something very special. I am so glad to have happened upon this Blind Spots idea, just as I’d hoped it has lead me to see stupendously good films that I might have missed otherwise, and this is the pick of them so far. It’s a little like the Amelie effect - I defy anyone not to like this film.
From next week, I'm going to have a go at expanding my "Three Great Movies" series, now that I'm getting the hang of (read: obsessed with) this blogging lark. There might even be a new title for it, and one or two other new ideas. More on these exciting developments during the week.