Tag Archives: Searching for Sugar Man

The Failed Critics Awards – Editor’s Choice

The votes have been cast, and the polls are now closed for the first ever Failed Critics Awards. While you’re going to have to wait until New Year’s Eve for the results, James Diamond (Founder, Editor, and all-round Svengali of the site) presents his personal picks of 2012.

Best Films of 2012

Sightseers10. Sightseers

From the opening bars of Soft Cell’s Tainted Love, to the epic climax featuring The Power of Love by Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Ben Wheatley’s third feature is gloriously British and reminiscent of a time that many of us have long-forgotten. It’s also very, very funny – like Mike Leigh directing the League of Gentlemen.

9. Holy Motors

The few of you who caught Holy Motors will not have seen anything else like it this year, or possibly ever. Leos Carax’s surreal odyssey stars Denis Lavant as a performer travelling Paris by limousine and performing ‘assignments’ along the way – including kidnapping Eva Mendes and licking her armpits, singing with Kylie Minogue, and leading the finest marching accordion band committed to film.

8. Untouchable

The kind of film you imagine Hollywood screwing up royally (and we’ll know for sure when the inevitable remake appears), Untouchable tells the true story of a millionaire paraplegic and his assistant from the clichéd ‘wrong side of the tracks’. What lifted this film above my low expectations of a saccharine-saturated heart-warmer is its cutting and cynical humour and brilliant central performances (particularly Omar Sy as Driss).

berberian sound studio7. Berberian Sound Studio

This wonderful exploration of the use of sound in cinema reminded me of David Lynch at his creepy best. Toby Jones is sublime as the sound engineer summoned to Italy to work on the sound for the intriguing giallo film-within-a-film The Equestrian Vortex. Funny, and spine-chilling in equal measure.

6. Argo

Who would have guessed back when he was starring in Gigli that Ben Affleck would become one of the most reliable directors in the business. After serving his apprenticeship on low-key films like Gone Baby Gone and The Town, Affleck nailed the classic Hollywood thriller with Argo – the ‘true story’ of the showbiz-facilitated extraction of US Embassy staff during the Iranian uprising. I’ve backed this as my outside bet for Best Picture at the 2013 Oscars, which guarantees it won’t win, sadly.

5. Avengers Assemble

In my humble opinion the best blockbuster of a year that saw the conclusion of the Nolan Batman series, the reboot of Spider-Man, and the return to the Alien franchise of Ridley Scott. Joss Whedon’s supergroup of a comic book adaptation improved on every single Marvel lead-up movie, and more. Featuring a typical Whedon script that managed to be funnier than most ‘comedies’ (I’m looking at you two in particular, The Dictator and Ted), as well as introducing a number of children to the year’s best insult (“you mewling quim”), Avengers Assemble has it all. Except a decent name in the UK. With Whedon already planning a sequel, and Shane Black (Lethal Weapon and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang screenwriter) in charge of Iron Man 3, Marvel looks to have stolen a march on DC Comics who are frantically trying to pull together a Justice League film to retaliate.

4. Safety Not Guaranteed

Finally getting a UK release on Boxing Day, this smart and funny film from first-time director Colin Trevorrow is full of charm, humour, and no little romance. I saw it at Sundance London in May, and wouldn’t shut up about it for the following seven months. I challenge you not to fall in love with Aubrey Plaza as Darius, the magazine intern who is investigating a small ad that simply reads:

Wanted: Somebody to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. You’ll get paid after we get back. Must bring your own weapons. Safety not guaranteed. I have only done this once before.

The man who placed the advert is seemingly dangerous loner Kenneth (Mark Duplass), and the resulting film is part-adventure/part-romance in true 1980s Amblin style.

3. The Imposter

This is one of those documentaries that hammers home the cliché that truth really is stranger than fiction. It tells us the story of a young French man who impersonated a missing 13-year-old boy from Texas, ensconcing himself within the family home and their community with tall tales of being trafficked by the military. What makes this film more than a weird Channel 5 documentary is its innovative use of recreated flashbacks and, most importantly, interviews with the people at the centre of this strange situation – including the con-man himself. A true story that plays out like a Coen Brothers thriller, this film really has everything.

2. Amour

Michael Haneke’s second Palm d’Or-winning film is a brutal study of the inevitability of death, ever-so-slightly tempered by a wonderful portrayal of octogenarian love. With his trademark long-takes allowing space for the incredible performances of Emmanuelle Riva and Jean-Louis Trintignant to breathe, Heneke has created a near-perfect film that immerses the viewer into a world more than the technical wizardy of 3D and 48fps could ever hope to. As patrons left the screening I attended no-one wanted to speak to each other. The silence was a sign of the sheer power of this film.

rust-and-bone1. Rust and Bone

Beaten by Amour at Cannes, and unlikely to renew battle at the Oscars after France nominated Untouchable for the Foreign Language award, at least Rust and Bone director Jacques Audiard can take consolation in grabbing the number one spot on this list. I fell in love with this film back in November, and I have struggled to communicate exactly why since. I mean, it’s the story of a killer-whale trainer who loses her legs in a tragic accident, and her heart to a drifter and single parent who finds his niche in bare-knuckle boxing. It sounds ridiculous, but it is an incredible study of romance, and the importance of finding ‘the one’. Marion Cotillard is incredible, but Matthias Schoenaerts holds his own as her extremely flawed lover. Yet another brilliant Alexandre Desplat score (surely the best composer working in cinema right now) is backed by an eclectic soundtrack, with an unbelievably moving use of Katy Perry’s Firework. Honestly.

I’ve seen 75 films so far this year, so some great films were always going to miss out, and the following were very close to making my top ten.

The Muppets – A wonderful mix of the anarchic Muppet humour, the charm of Jason Segal and Amy Adams, and the brilliant songs of Brett ‘Flight of the Conchords’ McKenzie. The most fun I’ve had in a cinema for years.

Shame – The second Steve McQueen/Michael Fassbender collaboration, I enjoyed this even more than Hunger. A fascinating study of addiction, with plenty of The Fass and Carey Mulligan on show for those who are interested in that kind of thing.

The Raid – Quite literally the best pure-action film I’ve seen since Hard Boiled. The action world has a new star in Iko Uwais.

Skyfall – After the mess that was Quantum of Solace, this was a welcome return to form for 007. Equally influenced by the TV series Spooks and Home Alone, it featured the best Bond villain in years.

Holy Motors Denis LavantBest Performance

Denis Lavant (Holy Motors) and Marion Cotillard (Rust and Bone)

Best Soundtrack

I can’t choose between three very different soundtracks. Rust and Bone for its fantastic score and eclectic track selection; The Muppets for the best original songs in the cinema this year; and Searching for Sugar Man for introducing me to the wonderful story and music of Sixto Rodriguez.

Biggest Surprise

I have spoken about Matthew McConaughey’s rebirth as a credible actor at length, so I’ll have to give this jointly to 21 Jump Street and Goon for being far funnier (and more sweet and charming) than Ted or The Dictator.

Worst Film

This Means War was an abomination with even Tom Hardy looking confused. Dark Shadows though, was the film that made me loudly and involuntarily exclaim “oh, for fuck’s sake!” in a reasonably busy cinema.

The Failed Critics Awards will be presented during the Failed Critics End-of-Year Podcast Special.

Secret Screenings – Searching for Sugar Man

Jim Shaughnessy went to watch an unnamed film, and is here to tell us what he saw. PLEASE NOTE: IF YOU ARE PLANNING TO SEE SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN YOU MAY WISH TO AVOID THE REST OF THIS POST. OR DON’T. WE’RE NOT THE BOSS OF YOU.

For years, Secret Cinema has been charming the skinny, turned up pants off London’s hip community, taking their guests on a journey deep into the heart of the films they are watching, with events packed full of actors who could have walked straight off the screen and into whichever disused warehouse had been appropriated for the film’s screening.

Now Secret Cinema’s cousin, Secret Screenings, has returned. Similar to Secret Cinema in that no one knows what film they will be watching until the opening credits lurk onto the screen, Secret Screenings differs in one key area – rather than showing old classics or current blockbusters, Secret Screenings shows ‘important but unseen’ films. Films that, although very much worth watching, may not pop up on your personal radar.

So, this is no normal cinematic experience, and this is no normal film review. It’s as much a review of an experience as it is of anything else. That’s how Secret Cinema operates.

We were invited to London’s lavish Troxy, an old picture house in the up and coming (but not quite yet) Limehouse area of East London. We were told nothing about what to expect, except that South Africans and Americans had discounted entry. One of many mysteries that would be cleared up later.

We filed into the Troxy, past hastily erected second hand record stalls that we assumed had some relevance to the film, under a balcony bedecked in South African and American flags and took our seats, increasingly unsure as to what film could possibly necessitate this décor.

We found out soon enough. After the presentation of a truly wonderful short film that told the story of a blind, diabetic American (this wasn’t the reason for the flags) who had the largest archive of records in the world, standing at well over a million. He was trying to sell them but no one would buy them, even for well under their asking price. The evening started on such a note of pathos, the only direction in which it could go was up.

After a few words from our compere, we had lift off. A shot of a long, winding mountain road hove into view. Reedy folk music played as the camera settled on a middle aged man driving along. He starts telling us about himself. His name was Sugar, he was a huge music fan and he would play a huge role in making this story so amazing.

Then, the credits begin. The audience holds its collective breath as we await news of tonight’s feature presentation – what would grab our attention and emotions for the next two hours. Director of Photography slides across the page, then Producer, then we find out that the film we’ll be watching tonight will be Malik Benjelloul’s Searching For Sugar Man.

Benjelloul’s directorial debut tells the story of Sixto Rodriguez, an American (flags) singer working in the late 60s and early 70s who sold, in total, less than 100 records in the US. His flame burned dimly and briefly, and he disappeared from the public view without ever really arriving. His Bob Dylan meets Nick Drake style hadn’t appealed to his crowd, and his nervousness when playing meant he left audiences underwhelmed. He was through.

However, that tells only half of the story, for in South Africa (flags), Rodriguez had been selling records faster and in greater numbers than Elvis. He was a superstar, but as far as anyone could tell, he’d died before he could ever have found out.

Rumours of how Rodriguez died varied, but all were tragic. Some say he shot himself on stage. Others say he doused himself and lit a match. One thing people were sure of, however, is that Rodriguez was dead. So one question remained; who was getting the money from his record sales?

The hunt for the money takes the filmmaker around the world. He meets shady record executives, old friends of Rodriguez, South African journalists, South African detectives and Sugar, probably Rodriguez’ biggest fan. It’s a truly beautiful story, filled with heroes, tragedy, mystery and memories and it’s one that can’t be recommended highly enough. Magical moments abound – from Rodriguez’ daughters discovering his South African popularity to animated retellings of the lost icon’s final days.

By the end, there wasn’t a dry eye remaining. We picked ourselves up, dusted the popcorn from our knees and made for the exits, where we were told to wait. Of course! It wouldn’t be Secret Screenings without something special, a little something extra. As we turned, the screen was lifted, and out walked…Sixto Rodriguez.

It was intended not to reveal the twist of the film in this review, however it would be impossible to keep it quiet and put across how wonderful this evening was. Rodriguez isn’t dead, he just carried on with his life. He never heard about his fame in South Africa, so he carried on working construction in Detroit. When a South African detective contacted his daughter, she thought the whole thing was a hoax. It wasn’t. Rodriguez flew to South Africa and was greeted like a star, in the manner his music deserved. He’s since played sell out tours over there to tens of thousands of people – despite not being able to find a record store in the States that sells a single one of his albums.

The man himself. Sixto Rodriguez

So there he was, Sixto Rodriguez. Not there for the plaudits, or to make a speech. He was there to play. He unslung his guitar and played us every song we’d heard in the movie. The South Africans in the crowd screamed for their hero. Everyone else screamed for their newfound idol.

This really was an experience to be treasured. Secret Screenings excelled themselves in every possible manner, the film was incredible, Rodriguez’ set stirring. Secret Screenings has been confirmed as a pan European, monthly event, and though they won’t be playing Searching For Sugar Man again, we’d strongly recommend you do your best to be there next time.

Film loving, meat avoiding copywriter living entirely in denim. Buy my book when I write it. @Shaunuff