Hitchcock is my Homeboy Top 2015

The end of the year is already there and 2015 surely was a fantastic one for the international film industry. We witnessed the release of many blockbusters like Mad Max: Fury Road, Jurassic World, the long awaited 50 Shades of Grey, Fast & Furious 7, Avengers: Age of Ultron, The Martian, Spectre and many many more. Only recently Star Wars Episode VII was released and by now already shattered all box office records with over 106 million dollars in only 12 days. I expect nothing different from The Revenant or Tarantino’s  The H8teful Eight, that premiered last week.

Tradition implies us filmcritics to come up with our own top 10 of every year’s films, but I will provide you with my very own Hitchcock is my Homeboy-awards.

Best film

Youth by Paolo Sorrentino

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Sorrentino’s Youth is a well-balanced feel good film about an ageing composer who retreats in a hotel in the sunny Swiss Alps. Here he finds out what it is to actually grow older and get confronted with the concept of modern-day ‘youth’. With splendid performances by Sir Michael Caine, Harvey Keitel, Jane Fonda and Rachel Weisz as Caine’s daughter. Youth was my personal favourite at the Cannes Film Festival in May.

Best foreign language film

Las Elegidas (The Chosen Ones) by David Pablos

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Pablos’ film tells the very dramatic story of Sofia and Ulysses, a young couple living in Tijuana near the Mexican-American border. Although he loves her, he tricks her into child prostitution. Pablos uses asynchronic sound and images as a means of suggestiveness and to confront the audience with reality of Mexican sex trafficing.  All close-ups are focused on the eyes, as they are the mirror of the soul. Las Elegidas is a confronting love story, which apparently is not so far from reality as one might think.

Best Belgian film

D’Ardennen by Robin Pront

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D’Ardennen is a dramatic thriller set in the 90’s Belgian ‘Johny & Marina’ scene -think bomber jackets, loads of hair gel and house-/hardstyle music. The soundtrack of D’Ardennen therefore is one full of 90’s beats that almost make you jump up from your chair, like the end credits theme. The title of the film refers to the Walloon part of Belgium, but is a dialectal use of the original word ‘Les Ardennes’

Pront could count on the participation of a good cast and crew, full of professionals. Veerle Baetens, who plays the female lead, is internationally renowned since her part in Felix van Groeningen’s The Broken Circle Breakdown (2012). But she is not the one who steals the show in this gem, but the male leads Jeroen Perceval and Kevin Janssens, who go into deep to become the violent -almost marginal-, but humane brothers Kenneth and Dave.

Keep an eye on Robin Pront, because his productions may seem somewhat on the ‘dark side’, but are set out very carefully to assure perfection.

Best cinematography

Life by Anton Corbijn

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In the last few years, the Dutch photographer Anton Corbijn focussed more on filmmaking, but nonetheless, you can still find traces of his main profession in his productions. Life is his 4th feature film and a biopic about the famous 50’s actor James Dean (Dane DeHaan) and his friendship with Dennis Stock (Robert Pattinson), a photographer for magazines. All of Corbijn’s shots are beautifully stylised, so the film more or less becomes one consecutive series of photographs. But his mise-en-scène does not necesarilly overshadow the narrative or the character’s development. The latter are complex human beings, who one might identify with.

Best  Animation

The Little Prince by Mark Osborne

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Based on the books by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, director Mark Osborne tells the story of a Little Girl who is getting prepared for the adult world, but loses herself in a fantasy world when she meets her elderly neighbour, the Pilot. The main plot gets intertwined with pieces of the little girl’s fantasy world, in which Little Prince and his planet are creatively constructed out of papier-maché.  Provided with a beautiful soundtrack by Hans Zimmer and the focus on respect, friendship and childhood fantasy The Little Prince definitely becomes the perfect film for quality time with the entire family.

Best Performance International Male

Tim Roth

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He already played a lot of remarkable parts, like Mr Orange in Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs (1992). But in 2015, I loved him the most in Chronic as well as in Tarantino’s The H8teful Eight. Roth easily switches from modest roles in the character-driven Chronic to up-tempo and cynical ones in The H8teful Eight. At the age of 54 he already has an impressive record of achievements due to his talent.

Best Performance International Female

Saoirse Ronan in Brooklyn.

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Brooklyn is a romantic drama by John Crowley, that stars Saoirse Ronans in its leading part, who is only 21 years old, but already played in big Hollywood productions like Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014). Brooklyn gives her the opportunity to act in her mother tongue, namely Irish, which adds up to the credibility of the story. Moreover, her natural way of acting makes the love story between an Irish immigrant (Ronan) and Italian boy (Emory Cohen) in Brooklyn to be one of the most heartwarming since Cassavetes’ The Notebook (2004).

Best Belgian Performance Male

Jeroen Perceval/ Matteo Simoni

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Jeroen Perceval proved himself a talented actor in the abovementioned D’Ardennen by Robin Pront as the criminal, but sensitive Dave. Who knows Perceval, would know that this is not his first stand-out performance.

Matteo Simoni is famous for his parts in commercial productions, but he should be admired for being a multitalent. Whatever role he is given, he plays it with dedication and never gets typecasted . In 2015, he played the clumsy and caricatural poser and party animal ‘Smos’ in Safety First, the filmversion of the similar television series about a securityteam at events. I can’t imagine anyone not laughing or symphatising with his well-meant stupidities.

Next television season, he will be playing a strappy callboy in a television series.

Best Belgian Performance Female

Martha Canga D’Antonio

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Before the summer of 2014 Martha Canga D’Antonio would never have imagined herself becoming an actress, let alone becoming an award-winning actress. Her part as Mavela in the Shakespearean love story Black by Bilall Fallah and Adil El Arbi (see below) got rewarded with plenty of selections at international film festivals and already won her one award for Best Actress at this year’s  Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival. The actress was only 19 years old when she played a gang member in Brussels, who falls in love with a Moroccan boy from a rival gang. She received standing ovations for her highly credible and modest performance, which are well-deserved.

Special mention also goes out to the rest of the young cast, who all proved themselves to be born actors, some of them surely are equally talented as Canga D’Antonio.

Best Soundtrack

Eden by Mia Hansen Løve

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Eden is a coming-of-age film about the Paris underground music scene in the 90’s and early 00’s. It tells the story of  Paul (Félix De Givry)’s youth as a DJ and the uncertainties he comes across. Eden has a rather  slow narrative, but is yet very vibrant because of the references to the rise of Daft Punk, the world famous French house pioneers (One More Time,…) Their pulsating beats pull us back to those early days of underground clubbing and fill us with melancholy.

Most Promising/ Upcoming Talent

Bilall Fallah and Adil El Arbi

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Black is their 2nd feature and might be a bit a-typical for Belgian cinema with its epic Hollywoodian style of narrative and shooting. But the least you could say, is that this director duo Bilall Fallah and Adil El Arbi comes up with a  ground-breaking production for the Belgian media by making a film with non-professional actors from different cultural backgrounds. A lot of fresh faces on the screen and a signed Hollywood contract as a remarkable result.

Most expected

The H8teful Eight by Quentin Tarantino

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The H8teful Eight is Tarantino’s 8th feature film, and one of the most awaited films in years since the overwhelming succes of Django Unchained in 2012. The film could count on a bunch of big names such as Tarantino’s sweethearts Samuel L. Jackson and Tim Roth, but also an impressive performance by Kurt Russell. What to expect: witty and cynical dialogues, violent and up-tempo action scenes and a musical score by the one and only Ennio Morricone (Bugsy, Kill Bill, Inglorious Basterds,…) This is a Tarantino as we like it!

Première “Life” – Anton Corbijn

On a rainy Monday night – September 21st, 2015 – I took the train to Bozar in Brussels, for one simple reason: the premiere of Life. The screening of the long-expected 4th feature film by the Dutch director Anton Corbijn, who is also a photographer by profession, was attended by the great man himself, after which he enthusiastically answered all of our burning questions.

life3The film depicts the friendship between the iconic 50’s actor James Dean (Dane DeHaan, star ofChronicle and Kill Your Darlings) and the photographer Dennis Stock (Robert Pattinson, Twilight). With the title of the film Corbijn refers to the US magazine for which Dennis Stock took pictures as a freelance photographer. Stock wanted his pictures of Dean to be more personal and not like those of the ‘red carpet maggots’. Therefore, he followed Dean to New York, Indiana and back to LA. Keep in mind that this all took place in the short period between East of Eden and Rebel Without a Case, after which Dean died at the age of 24.

The film seems divided in two parts, the first of which follows Stock, a very hardworking photographer, who almost has to stalk the slack, rebellious and egocentric Dean. The second part of the film, in which the two go for a trip to visit Dean’s Quaker family in Fairmont, Indiana, shows Dean open up, enjoying the little things in life, such as reading to his little cousin. There is then a reversal, and it is Stock who seems the arrogant and unthankful one, who forgets to actually ‘live’. Nonetheless, both of them are so self-fulfilled to think that they do each other a favour, Dean by posing for Stock and Stock by publishing pictures of him.

life2As a Corbijn fan, I felt very much pleased with Life, but can’t deny that he made a serious mistake by casting Robert Pattinson as Dennis Stock. Just like in every other film he acts in, his physical appearance remains static, and his acting is not really convincing due to his eternal poker face. Dane DeHaan on the other hand surprised me by showing some of his best method-acting skills. DeHaan has that cool aura that turns him into Dean – only, theSLOW, whispering speech made me wonder at times whether the real James Dean was a drunk with a never-ending hangover.

Unlike with his 2007 production Control, a biopic about the deceased Ian Curtis, lead singer of 80’s-band Joy Division, Corbijn shot this film entirely in colour. He told the audience at the premiere that although he initially wanted to shoot the film in black and white like Control, he eventually opted for full colour, to show the contrast with Stock’s original black and white images. Also worth noting is the accuracy of Corbijn’s film, namely how he manages to come close to copying Stock’s original and epic pictures of James Dean – for example, the well-known shot taken in Times Square in New York.

lifeDid I already mention that Corbijn is a professional photographer? He is mostly known for his artist photography, such as for U2, Depeche Mode and Michael Stipe (R.E.M). This similarity caught my attention. Both photographers, Corbijn and Stock, have their own protégées and muses – a good motivation for Corbijn to tell the story of Dean’s relationship with Stock. By making Life, Corbijn wants to convince the audience how a photographer and his subject mutually inspire and construct one another. It is not plainly a biopic. And this is how he told it at the premiere in Bozar, the passion flowing from his enthusiastic smile.

One could also tell from the visual and aesthetic style of the film, that Corbijn is more than a filmmaker. Every shot simply looks like a perfect picture in a frame. Everything fits in, such as colours, composition and camera angle.

Life, simply, is a visual masterpiece. Enjoy the complexity of every shot, how it is built up in several layers yet seems so simple at the same time. The director’s passion for photography is clear, and for those who loved his former work, this film will be another pleasure to the eye.

 Check the trailer on YouTube.