By Niall Anderson
If we only really see the big Oscar contenders in December and January, then this is the period in which we begin to see the outliers and the chancers: the films that need a strong headwind and decent box office in the Anglosphere to compete.
This is particularly true of non-English language films and films where the star wattage comes from a single obvious source. We saw this last week with Drive, where the appeal of a stellar cast (including the prettily robotic Ryan Gosling) is balanced against the rather less obvious draw of director Nicolas Winding Refn, previously known only to suburban misanthropes with violent dreams.
Filling the Drive spot this week is Refn’s compatriot Lars Von Trier with Melancholia, his latest attempt to beguile the world through the casual mistreatment of American actors:
Lars may have shot his awards bolt this year through his impassioned appeals to the Nazi in all men (though if you can’t feel sorry for Hitler in the bunker, when can you feel sorry for him?), but his films do have a record of putting his leading ladies in the Oscar spotlight. Filling the Emily Watson/Björk “intense and crazy masochist” role is Kirstin Dunst – whose conspicuous bravery in the role appears to consist of walking naked through a garden and being slightly more nuts than Charlotte Gainsbourg.
The Debt may lack the cute-chick-in-the-nude factor, and the whole interplanetary destruction angle, but it has a sober “come hither, awards” look about it, and a still more sober cast. A heavily retrospective tale of Israeli spies and fugitive Nazis, it stars Helen Mirren, Tom Wilkinson, Jessica Chastain and the forever marginal Ciarán Hinds – an actor whose billing on a film never seems quite to equal the number of lines he actually has to speak.
As noted in previous Mostly Links posts, 2011 has been a very good year for documentaries, particularly from or about the Middle East. Ali Samadi Ahadi’s The Green Wave looks like a particularly tricksy example of the species: an assembly of CCTV, camera phone and animated sequences that attempts to make piecemeal sense of the Iranian uprising of 2009.
The week’s other documentary is Cane Toads: The Conquest 3D. The film tells of Australia’s attempt to control the agricultural ravages of cane beetles by importing cane toads to eat them. The toads, unfortunately, seemed indifferent to eating beetles and rather more interested in sex: multiplying to such an extent that they became a far bigger threat. The 3D aspect of the film seems a rather flippant extra touch to a story of environmental devastation, but I like to think that this makes it a nicely provocative counterpoint to Von Trier’s Melancholia. Next time you want to show us the death of all hope and life as we know it, do it in 3D, using only toads – okay Lars?
Next week on Mostly Film, we look at films that divide audiences and critics, and films whose curious distribution seems to divide them from audiences outright. We also have a special announcement about the London Film Festival. In the meantime, here’s Marlon Brando dancing: