My March course is now SOLD OUT but my 2 day weekend Screenwriting Course will take place again in central London on May 12-13 2018, with special guest speakers, screenwriters VINAY PATEL, REGINA MORIARTY and literary agent MATTHEW BATES (Sayle Screen). There are currently 2 places still available.
Happy New Year! This week I am indebted to JOE WILLIAMS for this excellent look back at his favourite feature films of 2017.
‘Firstly, thank you, Philip, for allowing me the opportunity to share my ramblings with you! To introduce myself, I work as Head of Development for Vox Pictures, a film and TV production company based in Cardiff and London, run by veteran producers Pip Broughton and Adrian Bate. In the past year, we produced ‘Keeping Faith’ – a bilingual 8-part drama for S4C and BBC Wales starring Eve Myles, which I also script edited. The series ran on S4C before Christmas and is due to appear on the BBC in February. Prior to ‘Keeping Faith’ we produced ‘Aberfan: The Green Hollow’, a drama in verse commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Aberfan Disaster, which was nominated for a Best Single Drama BAFTA. This year, through our sister company Cliff Edge Pictures, we are producing ‘Eternal Beauty’, Craig Roberts’ second film as a director, which will star Sally Hawkins. We are currently working on a number of film and television projects, including Maxine Peake’s directorial debut, ‘Caravan’, written by the excellent Katie Wimpenny, who I first met while working as a Shadow Script Editor on the 2014 Channel 4 Screenwriting Course.
At the end of 2017, the medium of film seems to be in a state of flux: mid-budget films are becoming a rarer commodity, auteur directors are increasingly swapping the silver screen for the small screen, while Hollywood appears to be in a state of existential crisis through its frequent reboots and reliance on superhero movies. Nonetheless, in this turbulent climate, great content is still being made and last year saw the release (in the UK) of a number of striking, distinctive and thought-provoking works from across the world…
Top of the list for me last year was David Lowery’s singularly offbeat and profoundly moving supernatural drama, A GHOST STORY. I went in knowing little about it – to the point where I thought it was a horror film – and was knocked for six by its sombre and at times devastating depiction of grief. If you know about it, it’s likely for two things: Casey Affleck spending most of the film wearing a sheet, and Rooney Mara spending an absurdly long time eating a pie. Both of which, I promise, make sense in the context of the film! In today’s world when it’s so easy to get distracted by phones and tablets (and I’m guilty as charged here), it’s a film that demands absolute concentration and immersion. As a result, it’s not for everyone, but those who can get onto its wavelength will be rewarded by a rich and humbling cinematic experience.
Equally challenging, though in completely different ways, I was shaken to the core by two outstanding French films: veteran Paul Verhoven’s so-called ‘rape comedy’ comeback, ELLE, and Julia Ducournau’s coming-of-age horror debut, RAW. Featuring a magnetic central performance by the always-excellent Isabelle Huppert, when I saw ELLE about a year ago, I tweeted that I still needed time to process the thematic implications of it. I’m not sure that time has yet come to an end. I have seen very few films that can pack in so many abrupt shifts in tone, yet can still come across as coherent. It’s the type of film where you can’t sit on the fence; you need to have an opinion on it. With RAW, Ducournau breathes life into the horror genre, delivering the requisite scares and violence, combined with intelligence, thematic richness and even grace. I can’t wait to see what she does next. Staying with horror for a moment, I’d be remiss if I didn’t single out Jordan Peele’s GET OUT, which reaches AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON heights in balancing horror and comedy, while delivering more insight into race and prejudice than all of last year’s ‘Oscar films’ put together (yes, including MOONLIGHT).
While Hollywood continues to eat itself with endless superhero films (though I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy SPIDERMAN: HOMECOMING, WONDER WOMAN, and LOGAN) it was encouraging to see that the US can still deliver the goods in regards to comparatively ‘intimate’ fare. I particularly fell for the charms of THE BIG SICK thanks to its winning central pairing of Kumail Nanjiani and Zoe Kazan, along with its ability to leap from charm to heartbreak in a single stroke. On the more serious end of the scale, THE FLORIDA PROJECT established Sean Baker as one of the American’s most promising and visionary filmmakers, while Kenneth Lonergan’s MANCHESTER BY THE SEA, cements his reputation as a master chronicler of downtrodden working men, comparable to Richard Yates and Philip Roth. While I have predictable issues with the running time of BLADE RUNNER 2049 there’s no doubt it’s an important and visionary film that stays true to the spirit of its seminal predecessor. On a similarly hyped scale, now that the fuss and ensuing backlash has died down over LA LA LAND, further consideration actually reveals it to be a genuinely charming film that houses a subtly buried subversive streak. I’m keen to watch it again soon.
It was also an interesting and eclectic year for British films, across all budgetary levels. Arriving as an early Christmas treat, PADDINGTON 2, completely charmed the pants off me; featuring a warm and witty script, strong performances (particularly from Hugh Grant as the baddie), and remarkable special effects, it’s the best family film I’ve seen since, well, PADDINGTON. This year also saw three excellent off-beat comedy films in the shape of: Alice Lowe’s low-budget directorial debut, PREVENGE; the hilarious crime/comedy spoof, MINDHORN; and Armando Ianucci’s razor-sharp DR STRANGELOVE-esque THE DEATH OF STALIN. Regarding more serious fare, I was also impressed with the darkly comic DAPHNE and especially by Hope Dickson’s Leach striking debut, THE LEVELLING, featuring a powerhouse performance from Ellie Kendrick (herself, a very talented writer and C4 Screenwriting alumnus). The final moments of the film are among the most heartbreaking scenes I’ve come across this year.
As is often the case, many of the most interesting and complex films released in 2017 came from abroad. TONI ERDMANN, while unfortunately sold to viewers as a ‘comedy’ was an alternately quirky and devastating family drama that beautifully deconstructed the parent/child relationship. The same can also be said of the equally excellent GRADUATION from Christian Mungiu, a masterclass in depicting a simple story with extraordinarily complex themes below the surface in a manner that would make Di Sica and Rossellini proud. Truly a ‘world film’ if there ever was one, CALL ME BY YOUR NAME, was a beguiling, stylish and hypnotic film that deserves every award coming for it in the forthcoming gong season. Lastly, I’d like to single out two charming and singular animated titles: THE RED TURTLE and MY LIFE AS A COURGETTE. The former, a beautiful, yet complex tale of loss and regret; the latter, an outrageous, charming and sensitive little film, set in a children’s’ home.
All in all, 2017 proved to be an eclectic and varied year for film across all countries, budgets, and cultures. I can’t wait to see what 2018 has in store for us.’
Thank you very much Joe.
The next newsletter will be on Jan 26th.
All the best
Jan 12th 2018