In this semi-regular feature, I discuss some of the best films which had low box office earnings, found little audience, or have otherwise been forgotten about over time.
So far, this column has looked at a cult Japanese musical, an award-winning Irish drama, and a bleak American character study. Whilst all three films failed to find the audience sthey deserved, at least they received some acclaim (The Happiness of the Katakuris was beloved by Takashi Miike’s fanbase, What Richard Did was the highest-grossing Irish film of 2013, and Afterschool earned an Independent Spirit nomination). The film I want to highlight today didn’t earn similar levels of acclaim when it premiered in 2009. It debuted at the Edinburgh Film Festival to mixed reviews, few people saw it during its limited British theatrical run, and those who did found it to be a thoroughly-disturbing experience. An unnerving character study of an unemployed, antisocial loner who turns to murder, this isn’t one for the faint-hearted.
Tony (also known as the more exploitative Tony: London Serial Killer) is an unusual entry into the longstanding tradition of British Social Realist Horror. Most of these films tend to demonise hoodies (Eden Lake, Harry Brown) or infuse the mundane with a nightmarish other world (Kill List, The Ghoul), but director Gerard Johnson seems less interested in standard tropes; for long stretches of the film, you might not even suspect Tony of being a genre film. The setting and supporting characters wouldn’t look out of place in Nil By Mouth, while Tony himself – a lonely loser with a brush moustache and ill-fitting glasses played by Peter Ferdinando – could be the comic relief in a Mike Leigh film. It’s only when Tony picks up a hammer that you understand how horrific the film will get.
Since her 1999 directorial debut Ratcatcher, Lynne Ramsay has graced cinemagoers with just three subsequent films. 2002’s Morvern Callar stripped a novel famed for its first person-narration of any inner monologue, giving Samantha Morton her greatest role as a quiet checkout girl who reacts blankly when her boyfriend commits suicide. Nine years later, she returned with 2011’s We Need to Talk About Kevin, another radical and disturbing book adaptation which took a fragmented, hallucinatory-approach to the story of a grieving mother and her demonic son.
After another seven years of waiting, Ramsay has finally returned with You Were Never Really Here, an adaptation of a Jonathan Ames novella that, upon first glance, seems like it could be a Taken-style vigilante thriller. Starring Joaquin Phoenix as a tormented former soldier sent to rescue a senator’s daughter (Ekaterina Samsonov, unforgettable) from a child prostitution ring, You Were Never Really Here sounds like a change of pace for the auteur, but within minutes, it’s clear Ramsay is back with a vengeance.
After a closely fought battle in which it held off Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and Get Out, Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water took home Best Picture at the 90th Academy Awards. A beautiful, violent, entirely-unique mixture of romance, fantasy and fairy tale, The Shape of Water seemed an unlikely Oscar favourite but ended up being the most successful film of the night, winning awards for Best Production Design, Best Score, and Best Director for del Toro.
Was it my favourite of nominees? No. Did I think it would win? I put my money on Three Billboards. However, The Shape of Water is a genuinely original, entertaining studio film, and it’s hard to begrudge a filmmaker as talented or as personal as del Toro his big victory.
Three Billboards may have lost the big fight, but its talented cast were handsomely rewarded with Best Actress for Frances McDormand and Best Supporting Actor for Sam Rockwell. Both were terrific, and both deserved their prizes. While I’m not quite as keen on Gary Oldman and Allison Janney winning Best Actor and Best Supporting Actress (much more interesting performances were ignored for their “Oscar-friendly” roles), it’s hard to begrudge the Academy awarding actors for a lifetime of great work.
While it was disappointing to see Lady Bird walk away with nothing and Phantom Thread gain a single Best Costume Design win, there were pleasant surprises throughout the night. Jordan Peele’s Get Out was reward with Best Original Screenplay, making Peele the first black writer to win the award. Dunkirk’s fantastic technical work earned it prizes in Sound Editing, Sound Mixing and Editing (sadly beating Baby Driver). Best of all, Roger Deakins proved 14th time lucky, finally winning Best Cinematography for his beautiful work on Blade Runner 2049.
My predictions weren’t 100% correct, but I can’t deny the Academy got it mostly right this year. Great films were nominated, outstanding actors were rewarded, and a weird little romance about a woman fucking a fish took home Best Picture.
See you again next year.
By Harry J. Ford
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It’s nearly time! Sunday night is Oscar night, the conclusion to one of the strangest and most unpredictable awards seasons in years. No clear front runners, controversies surrounding major award contenders, damaging think pieces about every Best Picture nominee – it’s been a brutal scrap since the Golden Globes. If one thing defines the 90th Academy Awards, it’s one of a genuine time for change. Beyond the black dress-wearing protesters of the #MeToo movement, 2018 has seen Greta Gerwig become only the 5th woman in history nominated for Best Director, Jordan Peele’s fiery satirical horror Get Out earn 4 nominations (including Best Director and Best Picture), and Rachel Morrison becoming the first woman ever nominated for Best Cinematography.
So why do I get the feeling nothing groundbreaking will happen on March 4th? Looking at the rundown of nominations, I find it hard to imagine any genuinely surprising or challenging winners. Despite the progress being made with nominations, it would take a genuine upheaval of old guard Oscar voters to be bold in more than a few categories. There may be the odd pleasant surprise scattered throughout, but when it comes to the main awards, I have a feeling it’s going to be predictable.
Last night (18th February), Hollywood and the British Film Industry’s finest gathered to celebrate the best films of the last year. That’s right, the 2018 BAFTAs have concluded, and honestly? It was a rather tame night. No huge upsets, no underdogs, no ground-breaking achievements. There were a couple of pleasant surprises in the smaller categories (the thrilling The Handmaiden defeating heavyweights Elle and The Salesman in the Best Foreign Language Film category, I Am Not a Witch triumphing over Lady Macbeth in the Outstanding British Debut award), but otherwise, this was about as predictable an awards show as we’ve seen in years.
To nobody’s surprise, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri was the night’s big winner. Despite the negative attention in the last few months, it’s still a brilliantly written and performed film that’s struck a nerve (both good and bad) with audiences and critics. That’s mostly down to Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell, two tremendous actors who deservedly took home Best Actress and Best Supporting Actor. Without McDormand’s brittle determination and Rockwell’s swaggering hatred, the film wouldn’t work half as effectively.
Is Paul Thomas Anderson the U.S.’s greatest living filmmaker?. Since the release of his mainstream breakthrough Boogie Nights in 1997, Anderson has released multiple masterpieces, each one completely different from the last. Even his lesser films, like 2014’s messy Inherent Vice, offer great performances and stylish cinematography, whilst his best films, like 2007’s Oscar-winning There Will Be Blood, rank as some of the very best of the decade.
Three years after his last film, Anderson is back with Phantom Thread, a 1950s-set romance chronicling the intense relationship between fashion designer Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) and his muse, a young waitress named Alma (Vicky Krieps). A self-proclaimed bachelor, Woodcock is fastidious, irritable, and a brilliant dressmaker, passionate about elaborate breakfasts and weary of any disruption to his routine. Living with his sister Cyril (Lesley Manville), Woodcock is haunted by his mother’s death and clearly needs a strong-willed woman to guide him – even if he refuses to admit so. Into this messy, creative household comes Alma, whose sharp tongue and compassionate ways may just be what Reynolds desires.
After making a name for itself as one of the smartest, darkest TV shows around upon its Channel 4 launch in 2011, Black Mirror went global in 2016 with its move to Netflix. No longer just a cult hit, Black Mirror became one of Netflix’s most popular originals, with the transatlantic move providing bigger budgets, bigger stars, and six episodes per season.
However, the show’s Netflix run has been somewhat patchy so far. While season three featured some of creator Charlie Brooker’s finest writing to date (especially the jubilant San Junipero and the horrifying Shut Up and Dance), it also featured mediocre instalments like Men Against Fire and Playtest. Unfortunately, season four is even more inconsistent; while there are a few enjoyable episodes, none rank among the best ever episodes, while three episodes rank as some of the worst Brooker has written. Let’s break it down episode by episode:
Tackling the online world of possessive fan culture and misogynistic internet trolls through a pitch perfect Star Trek-homage, the feature-length U.S.S Callister is a fun, inventive start to the season. Starring Jesse Plemons (Breaking Bad, Fargo) as a creepy tech programmer, U.S.S. Callister is reminiscent of both White Christmas and The Entire History of You, presenting a world in which digital clones can be uploaded into computer games (the clones function like the ‘cookies’ of White Christmas).
After just over a week of writing, the Ford On Film Awards came to an end yesterday. With everything wrapped up, I decided to put together a handy list with links to every single category and write-up, to save you having to trawl through the home page for every award. Enjoy:
By Harry J. Ford
Follow Ford On Film on twitter: @Ford_On_Film
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Today is a sad day, for its time for me to hand out the last of my awards. As well as film and television, I’ve decided to expand this year to incorporate music. I know, I know, this is ‘Ford On Film’ not ‘Ford on all forms of popular culture’, but fuck you, this is my blog and it’s been a phenomenal year for music.
To give you an idea of how strong this year has been for music, two of my favourite albums, The National‘s Sleep Well Beast and Wolf Alice’s Visions of a Life, only managed to get honourable mentions. It’s a diverse top ten, featuring new talents, old favourites, unashamed pop, melancholic folk, a future-legend of rap and a newcomer to the game, and a bloke from Nottingham ranting a lot. Also, it’s worth mentioning that it has been a fine year for female artists; four solo artists and two female fronted bands have made the list. Here are my picks for the ten best albums of 2017:
Sleaford Mods – English Tapas
The most divisive band in Britain, Nottingham-based punk/hip hop two-piece Sleaford Mods remain as angry and funny as ever on English Tapas. Uniquely British lyrics, simple bass tracks and the hungover, moody rants of singer Jason Williamson propel standout tracks ‘Moptop’ and ‘Snout’.
Lorde – Melodrama
The best pop album of the year? Lorde’s comeback album Melodrama offers great production and endless catchy hooks, while single ‘Green Light’ is one of the standout anthems of the year.
We’re officially a week into the Ford On Film Awards 2017, and it’s time to wrap up the television section of this year’s awards with my prize for Best TV episode. This is another competitive category; so many shows released killer episodes last year, including programmes that didn’t make my top ten but had at least one outstanding episode within them. Sorry Detectorists and Game of Thrones, you came close but not quite close enough to secure a top ten spot. Apologies also to Charlie Brooker and Black Mirror – Hang the DJ was the best episode of season 4, but I saw it too late to be included in this countdown.
From hilarious comedies to devastating dramas, rewarding character studies to abstract nightmares, it’s been a diverse year for television, and a brilliant one at that. In a year of quality television, these ten episodes stood out the most, with one in particular being so great, it’s taken home the prize for Best TV Episode of 2017. Here’s how the list looks:
‘Late’ – The Handmaid’s Tale
The bleakest episode of the bleakest show of the year, Late shifted its focused from lead June (Elizabeth Moss) to Ofglen (Alexis Bedel) as she is put on trial and subjected to the most horrific punishment imaginable. The scene in which her lesbian lover is forcibly parted from her and sentenced to death is the among the most disturbing images ever shown on television.