Top Dogs (or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Puns)

I’ve always had a thing for the underdog, so much so that I used to wish I was one. From the age of four when asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would reply: ‘a dog,’ before crawling off, barking. I wore through every pair of trousers I had at the knees.

It was a crushing disappointment, aged roughly six, when I realised it wouldn’t in fact be possible, and to regroup I immersed myself in the world of canine cinema.

I thought choosing my top ten dog films of all-time would be easy, but the more I watched, the more I realised it’s actually a difficult genre to define. We all know that the delightful Jack Russell Uggie stole the show during The Artist, but does that make it a ‘dog film’, or is the title reserved for kiddy cartoons starring our four-legged friends? Then there’s how you define a good work in a genre that covers children’s animations, life action and even dog films with no dogs in them?

To settle it I divided them into cat(sorry)agories:

Kids’ films
I’ve always been fond of 101 Dalmatians, but if it came down to one top dog, I would have to say Lady and The Tramp. This was my first ever VHS (presented to me after I’d fallen into a patch of nettles) and it obviously sparked not only my love of dog themed cinema, but my feminist leanings, as I always wanted to be the Tramp. He seemed to have much more fun sleeping in a railway station and eating spaghetti than Her at Home.

Best scene-stealers
Jack Russells seem built for this category, and while Uggie is the obvious contender, I have a soft spot for wire-haired Arthur from Beginners, who really made the film stick in the mind long after watching. I particularly enjoyed watching Ewan McGregor giving him a guided tour of his apartment, both of them doleful-eyed and loveable, and – fact fans – so strong was their bond that Ewan immediately went and got his own four-legged companion after filming.

Best non-dog dog films
Not a pooch in sight in Reservoir Dogs, Slumdog Millionaire, Dogma, Dog Day Afternoon or Dogtooth. Shame.

The charming, if more than a tad bleak, Swedish film My Life As a Dog has mere glimpses of the main character’s dog, as well as mournful references to Laika, the first dog in space. It’s a brilliant work about a grim childhood, only lightened by boxing and boxers (well, a terrier actually, but that doesn’t sound as good.)

Also, weirdly, Must Love Dogs is surprisingly dog-light…I think they just liked the title. The central characters meet at a dog park, with borrowed pets (including one called Mother Theresa) who are quickly relegated to bit parts. Big mistake in my view, as MT was much more cute and cuddly than John Cusack.

Best in show
A good canine film ought to be funny, endearing and full of character, and Argentine film Bombon El Perro is hard to beat. I’d never heard of an Argentine Dogo before, but if they’re all like Bombon – sign me up! Enormous, slathery-chopped and strikingly white, he’s just what down-on-his-luck former garage worker Coco needs, when he’s given the pedigree specimen. Cue a fantastic shot of the two of them driving through the stunningly barren landscape, en route to various dog shows. It’s charming to see the renewal of Coco’s life, as well as exploring the many sides of dog behaviour – from blind aggression to obedience, all in the most expressive of canine faces.

Red Dog, the little Aussie hit that made it big is well worth a watch too. Following another little known breed – the gorgeous, auburn Kelpie – it’s the story of how one stray dog brought together a mining community. It’s more ‘blockbuster’ than the wonderfully understated Bombon, but if you’re looking for a more mainstream affair you can’t go wrong with Red. Based on a true story, it’s moving, silly and one of very few films with a ginger hero.

I also love adult animation My Dog Tulip, a whimsical reflection on the life of a dog owner. Based on a book of the same name written in 1956 by JR Ackerley about rescuing Tulip, a German Shepard, from an abusive home, this film can’t fail to make you smile and well up in equal measures. Beautifully narrated by Christopher Plummer, you really should see it now.

So, in summary, whether you’re an underdog, top dog, or just dog tired, there’s a canine film to suit every mood. Now in order to be fair I’m going to go and watch cat films for a while.

BAFTA 2012 Debrief

Last night BAFTA presented their annual film awards to an excited crowd of famous people, and I managed to forget that the ceremony was happening due to having a fun weekend and the fact that BAFTA somehow forgot to invite me along to the event.

BAFTA made some wise choices last night as they threw plenty of awards at The Artist, (Best Film, Best Actor, Best Original Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Film Music and Best Costume Design) and showed some much-needed love for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (Outstanding British Film and Best Adapted Screenplay).

Meryl Streep took home an obvious win for her role in The Iron Lady making her Oscar win so certain it isn’t that exciting any more (and makes me think I should really make an effort to see the film). Christopher Plummer took home Best Supporting Actor for Beginners, a great role in a charming film which hopefully more people will seek out now that Plummer is winning awards all over the place.

Senna picked up Best Documentary and Best Editing making this the first year I can actually see what makes the editing in a certain film superior to others. As Senna was cut and pasted together from archive footage with nothing new being filmed for the documentary it is a pure feat of editing. It’s the equivalent of taking all of your old home movies and trying to cut together a BAFTA winning documentary, probably not worth the effort.

Further down the list of winners The Skin I Live In was dubbed Best Film not in the English Language and Rango won Best Animated Feature Film. Both films from my Top 20 Films of 2011 and both deserving winners, not least because I haven’t really seen any of the other nominees.

Perhaps the category with the most interest for me, partly because of the great talent taking up each space on the short list and partly because this was a category for which the winner was not obvious, was the BAFTA for Outstanding Debut by a British Writer, Director or Producer. The award went to Paddy Considine for Tyrannosaur and is a great victory for a stunning debut. Frankly I would probably have had the same reaction for any of the nominees (though possibly not Coriolanus) as I have a lot of love for Black Pond, Submarine and Attack the Block.

For the full list of winners skip on down to IMDb.

Well done BAFTA, you did good.

A Few Obligatory Thoughts on the 2012 Oscar Nominations

In case you haven’t been lucky enough to have me mumble at you about the 2012 Oscar nominations in person, I thought I’d share with you some of my gut reactions to this year’s list of films of actor types that may win a fancy gold statue. For the full list of nominees have a look on IMDb, it’ll save me a lot of copying, pasting, and messing around with italics.

Extremely Lame & Poorly Reviewed
Somewhere amongst the nine nominees for Best Motion Picture of the Year is Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, the family drama about a young boy searching for the lock to match a key left to him by his father, a victim of 9/11. What makes this film stand out, beyond its terrifying poster, is that it is the worst reviewed film to get nominated for this award for the past 10 years. At the time of writing this potential Oscar winner has just 47% positive reviews over at Rotten Tomatoes with a pretty damning consensus; “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close has a story worth telling, but it deserves better than the treacly and pretentious treatment director Stephen Daldry gives it.”

Albert Who?
Noticing that a film called Albert Nobbs had gathered three nominations I decided to look into it. Turns out that Albert Nobbs is a woman in 19th century Ireland pretending to be a man in order to survive, and is played by Glenn Close. Curious to see what Glenn Close would look like as a man I bravely Googled on.

Thanks Glenn, I didn’t need to sleep tonight anyway.

Gary!
With Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy sadly missing out on a Best Picture nod it’s great to see Gary Oldman getting his first ever Best Actor nomination, and not for his role in Kung Fu Panda 2. In Tinker Oldman ably held together a weighty bit of British cinema and showed hipsters that some people actually wear oversized glasses for medical reasons. What a guy.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Mediocre Biopic
With Meryl Streep and Michelle Williams both getting nominated for Best Actress, it seems that it really doesn’t matter how lukewarm the reaction is to your film so long as you give a scarily accurate portrayal of an icon. In a way it’s reassuring to know that no matter how mediocre the film you’re in, there’s still a chance to act your way above the rest of the film.

Plummer!
It’s exciting enough that the little seen film Beginners might get some free press thanks to Christopher Plummer’s nomination, but the fact that Captain Von Trapp has been nominated for Best Supporting Actor twice out of the last three years is almost too much too handle. Excuse the hyperbole, I’m tired.

Woody’s Back
Woody Allen has another hit on his hands as Midnight in Paris garnered four nominations, and three of them are the kind that people actually care about. Shame I have 45 Woody Allen films to get through before I’m allowed to watch this one.

How Could They Leave Out ________?
For every nomination which warms the cockles of your heart there will be dozens of omissions which are completely outrageous and terribly short-sighted of the academy, only in your humble opinion of course. For me there’s not enough love for Drive and Olivia Colman has been robbed, robbed blind I say! I’m sure you have your own opinions, but how can they be as important as mine?

A Few Surprising Screenplays
The fact that fantastic Iranian film A Separation and delightful silent film The Artist are both nominated for Best Original Screenplay, a category normally filled with English scripts filled with dialogue, shows a fun bit of diverse nominating from the academy. It brings to mind the fact that the only time Buffy was nominated for a Golden Globe for writing was for the almost silent episode Hush. For anyone not sure why I’m rambling about Buffy, why not have a look at what the script for The Artist looks like, you can download it here.

The Difference Between Sound Mixing and Sound Editing is…
The same as the difference between Drive and Moneyball, apparently. These two categories, for Sound Mixing/Editing, have always baffled me and no more so than this year where they share a fourfilmnomineecrossover.

Is the Animated Feature Oscar Just for Kids?
I had a theory that Best Animated Feature only goes to the most accessible end of the animated film genre. With a few “proper” animated films on the shortlist, Chico & Rita and A Cat in Paris among them, I look forward to being proven wrong. The absence of Cars 2 from the list gives me hope.

If nothing else, at least we’ll get to see this fella again (I hope):

Top 20 Films of 2011

As 2011 comes to a close is it my obligation as a film blogger to put together my pick of 2011’s releases. I’ve gone for my top twenty as narrowing it down to just ten would be too harrowing a task and my only rule is that they must have been released in UK cinemas during 2011. This takes us from The Next Three Days (absolutely not in the list) to The Lady and The Artist and is only limited to films I have seen. I’ve also chosen not to speak to the wider Mild Concern team, mostly due to laziness, barring watching Waste Land at Kat’s insistence. This was a decision I have come to regret considering the rambling you will find below.

The scene properly set, let’s get onto the list. Looking back 2011 has been a great year for cinema, here are my top 20 releases of 2011:

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2012 Golden Globes Nominations

With awards season truly hotting up we are treated with the nominations for the 2012 Golden Globe Awards. They’re an interesting bunch, a lot of the more challenging and/or smaller films have been passed by. The Los Angles Times has it spot on when they say that the nominations seem to recognise those works featuring the A-list actors, more accessible films and less dark dramas. No Tyrannosaur or Like Crazy to be found below.

What you will find is my gut reaction and my opinions for each category (apart from Best Original Song and Best Original Score as that is not my strong suit) whether you want it or not. Continue reading