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My 12 for ’18: “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” & All This Anger, Man

It’s that time of year. I’ll counting down my top twelve films of the year daily on the blog between now and New Year. I’ll also be discussing my top ten on the Scannain podcast. This is number five.

All this anger, man. Penelope said to me the other day: it just begets greater anger, you know? And it’s true.

Everybody is angry.

The modern era has been defined as an “age of anger.” Anger has been demonstrated to travel faster through social networks than other emotions like love or joy. Studies suggest that Americans are particularly angry, with almost seventy percent of the country angry over the direction of the nation. Anger and resentment are calculated to be among the largest factors in the election of Donald Trump, and the passing of the Brexit referendum.

Of course, not all anger is created equal. Some anger is justified, perhaps even by centuries of oppression and systemic violence. Some anger is useful, in that it motivates grassroots activism that works towards a constructive good. Indeed, there is an argument that short control releases of anger might actually be healthy in the long term, something of a venting mechanism to prevent things from escalating to the point of an explosion.

If anything is clear, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is not about that kind of anger. It is about the combustible, explosive kind.

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Non-Review Review: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

“All this anger. It only begets more anger.”

Ironically enough, given the title, the anger in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri never seems to ebb. Martin McDonagh’s small town black comedy drama is a parable about grief that metastasises into all-consuming rage. Fire is a recurring fixation for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, a potent metaphor for both the scorched earth left behind by trauma and the tendency of such anger to swallow up everything in its path. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a cautionary fable.

Reading the signs.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri benefits from a number of different factors. McDonagh’s script is smart and well-constructed, wry in the right places and emotional when it counts, imbuing the characters and their surroundings with an organic and lived-in quality that enriches the story built around them. The locations are atmospheric and effective, creating a sense of place that extends beyond mere geography. The cast is fantastic, particularly supporting turns from Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell.

However, Frances McDormand is the engine that drives Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. While the film features several set pieces built around fire, the hottest flame burns at the heart of the central character. As enraged mother Mildred Hayes, McDormand captures the energy and the depth of a woman raging against a system that let her down, an unjust world that denies her closure, and her own sense of guilt and responsibility.

Ebbing and flowing.

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My 12 for ’12: The Cabin in the Woods & The Virtues of Constructive Criticism

I’m counting down my top twelve films of the year between now and January, starting at #12 and heading to #1. I expect the list to be a little bit predictable, a little bit surprising, a little bit of everything. All films released in the UK and Ireland in 2012 qualify. Sound off below, and let me know if I’m on the money, or if I’m completely off the radar. And let me know your own picks or recommendations.

This is #4

The horror movie has always been a bit of an ugly stepchild when it comes to film genres. It seems, for instance, that horror movies (and directors) have to wait longer to receive recognition for the work that they’ve done. The Shining, for example, earned several Razzy nominations in the year of release, but is now regarded as one of many classics within Kubrick’s oeuvre. There are lots of reasons that the horror genre is easy enough to dismiss or ignore.

You could argue that there’s something so basic about fear that it isn’t considered as much of an artistic accomplishment to scare the audience. There are legitimate arguments to be made about the sexist connotations of various horror films. Perhaps more than any other genre, successes within the horror genre have a tendency to lead to self-cannibalisation – sequels, remakes, knock-offs – that dilute and erode any credibility that the original film had earned. The innovation of Paranormal Activity is harder to recognise after half-a-decade of found-footage imitations. The cleverness of the original Saw becomes harder to distinguish amongst a crowd of “torture porn” wannabes.

All of these are very legitimate criticisms to make about the nature of the genre as a whole, and perhaps they speak to why films within that niche are so easily dismissed. I will aggressively argue that several horror films are among the most important films ever made, but I will also concede that there is (as with everything) a lot of trash out there, and a lot of things we need to talk about. Cabin in the Woods feels like a genuine attempt to have that sort of conversation, and to raise those questions. More than that, though, it comes from a place of obvious affection for the genre and all that it represents. This isn’t a stern lecture about the inherent inferiority of a particular type of film,  but constructive criticism from a bunch of people who care deeply about the genre as a whole.

cabininthewoods8

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Non-Review Review: Seven Psychopaths

“Meta” is a concept that can be very rewarding, but it’s very difficult to do right. Often, it seems a little heavy-handed, a little self-indulgent. The art of writing fiction about fiction can easily descend into a writer documenting his own process, or become clever for the sake of being clever – offering an easy way out of virtually any dramatic situation, and allowing the script to answer pretty much any question with “because the writer says so.” Nevermind that movies about movie are prone to become a little self-congratulatory, or a little too self-focused. Seven Psychopaths never completely falls apart, but it occasionally struggles with these sorts of problems a little bit in the middle. Martin McDonagh has produced a very thoughtful and clever exploration of the traditional revenge film, but the execution feels a little bit too clunky at times.

I understand that this might be the point, but there are times when Seven Psychopaths feels like more of a narrative experiment than a compelling story in its own right. Still, it’s witty and funny and bold and smart and charming. Those attributes aren’t the easiest to come by, and certainly not in this combination. Seven Psychopaths might not be the incredible success that In Bruges was, but it’s a film that takes chances, and which tries to push both the genre and its audience a little out of their comfort zone. It is very hard not to respect that, and I’d be lying if I didn’t admit I was fairly consistent charmed throughout its runtime.

The write stuff…

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Non-Review Review: In Bruges

Possibly one of the best depictions of Irish humour that I’ve seen captured in celluloid, In Bruges is a fascinating little story of honour, loyalty, stupidity and a small little town in Belgium. The movie was a highlight in the very solid pantheon of 2008. Featuring a sharp script, a fantastic cast and some really lovely scenery, the movie stabnds as one of the best comedies I’ve seen in yonks. And a yonk is a long time.

bruges

Irish charm...

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