15 Filmmaking Predictions for 2015

Originally published by Raindance.

The film industry has often been at the forefront of technological advances and emerging trends, utilising new discoveries to create consistently awe-inspiring cinematic experiences. Our foresights for 2015 see an industry increasingly revolving around online platforms, with filmmaking becoming ever more entrepreneurial, digitalised and dictated by audiences.

 

1. Franchises

Benedict-Cumberbatch-Dr-StrangeThe monopoly of the franchise looks set to continue, with Star Wars Episode VIISpectre a.k.a Bond 24, DC’s Suicide SquadFrozen 2 and Marvel’s Dr. Strange (with Benedict Cumberbatch as the titular hero) all set for release in 2015.

Also on the theatrical agenda, Viacom’s (VIA) Paramount Pictures will release a sixth Paranormal Activity film and a fifth Mission: Impossible instalment. Besides its final Hunger Games movie, Lions Gate will open a second Divergent film. Comcast’s (CMCSA) Universal Pictures will release the seventh Fast & Furious, which will include footage of the series’ late star, Paul Walker. It’s also adding a fourth incarnation of the 1993 hit Jurassic Park. Studios aren’t exactly sparkling with originality at the moment, and seem to be stuck in a lather, rinse, repeat sort of rut.

Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn has stated that “Execs and producers and sometimes even directors are focused on the big picture, without perfecting the task directly in front of them – making a great movie. And studios are trying to grow franchises from non-existent films or middling successes. It’s like they aren’t taking audiences into account at all anymore”.

Whilst he’s not against franchises full stop, Gunn certainly cautions against the endless proliferation of sequels and reboots for the sake of profit over the desire to make quality entertainment. Here’s hoping that next year’s line up of superheroes and second outings puts a premium on storytelling, as well as special effects.

 2. Neighbourhood Watch

Community curation could be the next big thing in 2015, wherein ratings become a cross-section of your friend’s, relative’s, neighbour’s and even pet’s (ok maybe that’s a few years off) filmic recommendations. There are apps in the throws of being designed and crowd-funded that would utilise your social network to cross-index your friends’ film ratings then filter the results through a tagging system. You’ll be able to either search via tag (eg. movie star, subject matter, milieu, etc.) or via friend or network. The result would be the most meaningful recommendations possible. By comparing your taste in films with a friend’s, an app such as this can give you insight into any film they recommend or pan, using the tagging system and ratings you’ve both contributed to the database. Therefore rather than ratings being an arbitrary symbol of whichever critic reviewed the film, they reflect the opinion of a wider audience, with similar tastes as yours.

 3. Niche genres

Corresponding with the idea of a rating system set to become increasingly personalised, films themselves – and how they are packaged – are evolving to outgrow the obsolete concept of genre. Much in the same respect that we wouldn’t buy an outfit two sizes too big, audiences are increasingly demanding a niche experience wherein film descriptions are tailored to their tastes.

The idea in development is that a comprehensive database of tags will let a person search for (or filter out) any aspect they want. The two companies that are already cornering this market are Netflix, wherein they ask subscribers to complete genre-based surveys, giving them a basis upon which to recommend films on their roster, and The Black List. Although the latter is designed for screenplays, it’s a system that could easily transfer to the finished cinematic product. They market themselves on the basis you can ‘search by over 1000 tags to find exactly what you’re looking for’. There’s little reason the same ethos can’t be applied to the world’s growing library of films.

4. The iPhone 6

iPhone-6-renderCome 2015, there’ll probably be an iPhone 16. But Apple’s latest design – the iPhone 6 – is thought to be the sleekest, cleverest and most advanced yet. What’s more, they’ve installed a vastly improved camera that should cater to budding filmmakers. The camera boasts the ability to grab 1080p high-definition clips at 60 frames per second, take 240-fps slow-motion shots, provide cinematic video stabilisation, and offer up to 128 gigabytes of storage. The main element however, thought to wet the filmmaker’s appetite, is the addition of ‘Focus Pixels’, which Apple believes will give faster autofocus and improved clarity to your shots. There are already iPhone film festivals, which indicate a market for this sort of guerrilla filmmaking and as improvements only continue to be made, in 2015 making a film could be as simple as reaching for your back pocket.

 5. A New App For An Old Look

A vintage aesthetic could be at your fingertips with an app on the newly released iPhone 6. Last year, the wildly popular documentary Searching for Sugar Man became the first film shot partly on an iPhone to win an Academy Award. When film director Malik Bendjelloul’s budget ran dry during production for Searching for Sugar Man, he turned to the 8mm Vintage Camera app. Created by Nexvio, the app realistically mimics retro-looking 8 mm film, which he used to shoot scenes of his award-winning documentary to get an authentic effect of ’70s-style footage. So if you want your film to look charming, quaint and antiquated, look no further than this app. Like Instagram there are several filters, vignettes and contrasts to alter your image and it even offers a feature to make your film jitter to resemble real frame shakes produced by 8 mm projectors. As if celluloid film wasn’t already feeling completely irrelevant, this app replicates its signature look for a small percentage of the cost.

 6. The YouGov App

A nifty new app launched by the polling company YouGov could revolutionise how marketing teams target audiences when promoting their films. By quintessentially outlining the types of people who like certain types of things (e.g.informed stereotypes), the YouGov profiler should allow advertisers, distributors and indeed filmmakers to deliver content aimed specifically at audience behaviour. No more second-guessing or stabbing in the dark, the YouGov profiler enables you to search for any ‘person, brand or thing’ and gain a sense of where they shop, what they like and what products they use. From Kit Harington to KitKat, Topshop to Top Gun, the YouGov search engine then pulls statistics from its database of profiles on the demographics and lifestyle of the types of person who have stated an interested in said brand. The data is built on surveys conducted with about 190,000 members of the British public, giving us a fairly accurate insight into the traits, behaviours and most importantly for marketing purposes – the consumer habits of the average person. And if nothing else, the clean and efficient design of the website is a wonder to behold. I dare you not to get addicted.

 7. Branded Content

Farmed-and-Dangerous-ChipotleAdvertising Funded Programming (AFP) or ‘branded content’ could move up into the big leagues next year. Earlier this year, Viacom created an entire division devoted to it, and more brands are getting in on the action, creating sketches, short films and even TV series to entice customers. John Lewis offer a salient example in their annual Christmas ads, which lean towards emotive storytelling than promotion of specific products. 90-second commercials are expensive to make and it’s harder to see their effectiveness, with viewers able to skip ads, download episodes or otherwise eschew commercials. Branded content on the other hand offers something more in the way of entertainment for the viewer. Examples of successful campaigns utilising branded content are Dove’s ‘Real Beauty’ sketches and Chipotle’s ‘Farmed and Dangerous’, as well as Samsung’s partnership with ‘The X Factor’. However, branded storytelling could diversify and expand towards feature film. Extending beyond traditional product placement or sponsorship, brands could be the sole or primary production backer. Following on from the development that Netflix are planning to fund and debut original films directly on their platform, brands could jump on this bandwagon and become more engaged with the creative process. As with the YouGov app, this could be another means by which advertisers directly target their audience. Unlike the purchase of TV spots, this enables you to target a more specific audience by only promoting your content to the right people, and not wasting money advertising in the wrong areas. Certainly, branded content is an innovation that we’re likely to see more of in the future.

 8. The Rise Of VOD

VOD continues to go from strength to strength and looks set to become an important player at the deals tables. Fewer distributors are taking the traditional theatrical route in the release of their films and there are now more companies investing in video on demand, to the extent that it’s impacting the financing of films. Though the finite details on digital success is hazy, with Deadline reporting that “distributors are reluctant to release VOD and digital receipts… [perhaps because they are] hesitant to volunteer disappointing numbers, while others suspect distribs are hiding their VOD/digital successes lest competitors or filmmakers want a bigger slice of the pie”. It’s clear that VOD is becoming integral to the conversation about film distribution and a key component in a film company’s digital revenues. Certainly in TV, broadcasters are pushing to drive growth in the digital arena, and make significant profits solely through online avenues. Some broadcasters have predicted that the future of television could be entirely Internet based, and it’s not hard to see the film industry following suit. Especially with developments such as EE dropping their 2for1 cinema ticket scheme.

 9. The Disappearance Of The Mid-Budget Film

Part and parcel with changes in home video distribution, mid-budget films are declining at an accelerated rate. Jonathan Wolf, Managing Director of AFM (American Film Market) says “the change we’re seeing more of is what we call the bifurcation of the industry… [there are] more films with bigger budgets and more films with smaller budgets, and fewer films in the middle.”

It’s becoming increasingly hard to finance movies that aren’t at two opposing ends of the budget spectrum. Back in the 1980s and 1990s, it was fairly commonplace, for either studios or independent companies to finance mid-budget fare (anywhere from $5 million to $60 million). But gradually, this dynamic has shifted to the point that mid-budget films are being squeezed out of the equation. Studios are staking all their time and money on franchises and blockbusters, operating under the belief that substantial investment promises substantial return. Genres that don’t comply with this category (basically anything not featuring a superhero) are relegated to the artistically prosperous, but resource-starved realm of independent film. As Mad Men’s Matthew Weiner has stated: “Nobody can make a movie between $500,000 and $80 million.” Perhaps this is why we’re seeing directors like Steven Soderbergh, Cary Fukunaga and Jane Campion directing shows or mini-series such as The KnickTrue Detective and Top of the Lake, respectively. That’s not to say that the mid-budget film couldn’t be revived, as trends are frequently recycled. But for the time being it appears to be well and truly dormant.

 10. Is this the real life, or is this just fantasy?

minority-reportAugmented Reality (AR) has been used in movies before in the likes of Minority ReportAvatar and Iron Man, wherein the layering of digital information or CGI on top of reality was utilised to make everything look cool, high-tech and futuristic. Essentially, it’s an enhanced perception of the world; like digital contact lenses. However as AR technology develops, we’re looking at increasingly immersive cinema, as opposed to merely the mimicry or replication of the spectacle. For cinema to really benefit from AR, the narrative must embrace this interactivity and embed the technology in a way that it feels like more than a gimmick and actually sustains audience interest. It will be fascinating to see whether films beside Sci-Fi’s can utilise this technology in a way that feels natural and organic.

 11. Scouting For Toys

Filmmaker Robert Carrier launched an online prop sourcing and location-scouting platform called ‘The Scoutr’. Essentially a service provider, it allows users to source a range of different props, tools and locations from one place. No more running around like a headless chicken ensuring everything is good to go.

With The Scoutr, the public can list homes, private businesses, cars, motorcycles, trucks and boats for rent. Creatives, such as filmmakers and photographers, can then rent these items for use in their art and commercial projects. The transactions occur directly through the website, so cash never needs to change hands, and the renter and rentee are able to communicate beforehand to arrange logistics and determine an appropriate rental period. Perhaps best of all, there’s transparency to the entire process – the rentee sets the price and the renter pays it, picking the time that works for him or her. It’s pre-production, prop sourcing and location scouting made easy. Launched earlier in 2014, 2015 could be the year it becomes an on-set must have.

 12. World Domination for Dolby

Having conquered the sound market, Dolby are diverting their attention to the world of images. Contending with industry leader Imax, Dolby are looking to launch their own cinematic experience which will combine two pre-existing technologies; Dolby’s Atmos sound and Dolby’s Vision video. Whilst the former is up and running and already in use around 800 international cinemas, the latter will require the installation of a new projection system. As a result of this rather expensive addition, cinema tickets would retail at about 50% higher than normal.

But before we get too indignant about this sky-rocketing price, there are several high-end features in the Dolby Cinema which could justify this expense. The first is a film-specific entrance, akin to the theatricalised experience of ‘secret cinema’, as well as colossal screens and enhanced sound. But what’s really piquing the interest of filmmakers is the system’s ability to project “high dynamic range,” a process in which whites appear whiter and blacks blacker. Gravity’s Oscar-winning cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, for one, has said he’s eager to make use of HDR. In fact, many insiders from Hollywood’s technology community believe that consumers will see a noticeable difference with HDR, compared with the more widely touted “Ultra HD” 4K resolution and high frame rates.

Films will need to be processed specifically for Dolby Cinema, so the movie studios need to get on board too. Disney has been tipped as an early adopter, so it could well be that Star Wars: The Force Awakens will be one of the first major Dolby Cinema films. Come December 2015, Dolby could be well and truly transporting us to a galaxy far, far away.

 13. That’s Bond. @JamesBond007

SpectreAdvertising will become digitally concentrated, and increasingly take its business to online forums as opposed to traditional print avenues. Rather than saturating the market all at once with a barrage of promotional material, cinematic marketing strategies are looking to build anticipation and audience engagement. Instead of the usual posters, billboards and newspaper ads, we’re being drip-fed announcements, teasers, and clips across online platforms. Take for instance the latest Star Wars instalment, which is already drumming up serious buzz ahead of its December 2015 release. The cast were announced 2 months ago, and the hotly anticipated teaser trailer has just been dropped. Bond 24 is following a similar strategy, having just announced it’s title and main cast and soon after, the Twittersphere was alive with debate and speculation surrounding the film. The UK is predicted to become the first country in the world where more than half of all advertising spend goes to digital media. Next year more money will be spent on internet advertising than in traditional media such as newspapers, magazines, TV, cinema, radio, and billboards, posters and buses combined.

 14. Collaborative Software

 Filmmakers have oft applauded online sharing platforms like Dropbox for simplifying the organisational process behind planning and producing a film. So Webbmedia’s 2015 Trend Report should be music to their ears. The report placed emphasis on new productivity tools which combine the best of instant messaging, email, social media and cloud storage to create a more sleek and efficient communication experience. For production companies that trade countless emails back and forth between writers, directors and talent agents, this could increase productivity and decrease time-wasting as you sift through previous message to find certain details.

 15. An Exclusive Experience

Os1_-d0__400x400One for the fan girls and fan boys out there, filmmaker and digital wizard Sarah Tierney has launched a new video-on-demand platform that connects great filmmakers to passionate fans. The platform is focused on early audience engagement, sustainable marketing and the monetisation of additional behind-the-scenes content. Like the additional featurettes, interviews and blooper reels that sometimes feature on DVDS, ‘We Are Colony’ markets itself on showcasing not just the film, but a plethora of material to compliment it. Combining the concepts of bundling and short-form content, We Are Colony packages its film alongside extras, titbits and clips to round out your film experience. Extending the outfit metaphor that’s been a running theme in this post, it would be like purchasing shoes, bags and jewellery alongside the main feature that is the dress. This new platform gives filmmakers the chance to monetize every aspect of their film, creating ancillary revenues. So alongside selling the film online for, as an example, £2.99, you could create a short behind-the-scenes documentary and sell this for 99p or copies of the screenplay or even dinner with the lead actor, though presumably that would considerably more expensive. Kickstarter and the increasing popularity of crowd funding has initiated this scheme of perks and benefits to reward those that invest in the film. As well creating a way to increase revenue, We Are Colony is encouraging filmmakers to create an ecosystem of content around their film.

If you have anymore predictions, or thoughts on emerging trends tweet me @Nicole6293 or comment below!

Review: Obvious Child

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Obvious Child, US, 2013. DIR. Gillian Robespierre. Starring: Jenny Slate, Jake Lacy, Gaby Hoffmann, Polly Draper

That the film opens with the startlingly frank statement: ‘I used to hide what my vagina did to my underpants’, sets the tone for the rest of the film. This is confrontational, hilarious and on-point storytelling. It shows life for the messiness it can sometimes be, but in a light that is thoroughly hopeful, endearing and painstakingly true.

13917-3We meet Donna Stern (SNL alumni Jenny Slate) on the precipice of her quarter-life crisis. She’s staving off unemployment and student loan bills whilst dealing with divorced parents, break-ups, and one night stands, all whilst moonlighting as a stand-up comic in a Brooklyn dive bar. Oh and then there’s the small matter of her abortion…

Gillian Robespierre’s razor-sharp writing and confident direction, paired with Slate’s bewitching charm and dirty laugh make for a thoroughly entertaining and authentic exploration of one’s bumbling through their mid-twenties. It will draw comparisons to Girls, (not least because it stars Gaby Hoffmann as Donna’s acerbic, feminist and staunch BFF) but it feels less satirical and contrived – like an episode of said show that isn’t trying so hard to be funny and relevant. It just happens to be that way.

1401875190752.cachedRobespierre tackles everything from drunk dialling, humiliation, awkward dates and dancing with strangers in your undies, to more emotionally hefty fare, such as taking responsibility for your actions. All of this is achieved with candour and a feeling of spontaneity that won’t have you gagging at how gosh darn hipster it all is (e.g. Donna works at the bookstore “Unoppressive and Non-Imperialist Bargain Books).

Equally, it tackles the issue of abortion with sensitivity and clarity; and a warmth that feels like an old friend handing you a cup of tea and saying ‘everything is going to be ok’. In Robespierre’s hands, you feel it just might be.

I have a lot of issues with the film Juno. For all its lovable quirk, kitschy vernacular and self-conscious indie branding (I’m looking at you Moldy Peaches), there lurks a distinctly conservative and regressive undercurrent. Abortion is mentioned as an option for Juno, but is just as quickly brushed under the carpet and the clinic that features in the film bristles with intrusion and depravity.

Obvious Child on the other hand, and by extension, Donna, deals with the procuring of an abortion with maturity and neutrality. It’s always treated as not just her choice, but also her right to make the decision. What’s more, Robespierre seems determined to reveal how commonplace abortions are in modern society and however alone or scandalous you might feel; there are other women in exactly the same situation.

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The chemistry between Jenny Slate, and her straight-laced, boat-shoe wearing one-night-stand, Jake Lacy (familiar to US The Office fans), is palpable and decidedly adorable. It’s another means by which the film breaks out of convention and by which Donna learns that growing up might mean being a tad more sensible, but that that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Their interactions have that nervous flirtatiousness and it literally feels like the most honestly realised depiction of a relationship in its early stages that I have ever seen.

This is a well-intentioned and well-executed humdinger of a film that could easily have you ROFL-ing one minute and blubbering the next. Plus any film that features poo and fart jokes, whilst maintaining dignity is a winner in my book.

It’s bravery in demystifying the thorny issue of abortion and not sitting on the political fence, makes this film not just deliciously accomplished, but also fucking important.

N.B. I want Jenny Slate to be my friend.

Verdict: Smart, sensitive and progressive. You should obviously see it.

Review: Ida

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Ida, Poland, 2014. DIR. Pawel Pawlikowski. Starring: Agata Kulesza, Agata Trzebuchowska, Dawid Ogrodnik

A 1962 period piece about Polish nuns might not get ones pulse racing immediately, but let this stark, slow-burning piece de resistance from director Pawel Pawlikowski wash over you and it will be anything but a baptism of fire.

Ida begins with the brevity, austerity and artistry that will quickly become its trademark. It’s landscapes and set pieces are all but empty, reflecting the pious lifestyle of our protagonist, Anna (newcomer Agata Trzebuchowska). Anna is an orphan and novitiate nun on the precipice of taking her vows, a beacon of innocence, simplicity and devoted faith, she has never left the convent and therefore has no experience outside of it. That is until her Mother Superior, in possession of more information concerning Anna’s past than she has hitherto let on, orders Anna to visit her last living relative before wholly committing to the faith.

ida_1That relative turns out to be Aunt Wanda (Agata Kulesza), a sharp-tongued and cynical former judge, disillusioned by her Communist politics and repenting for having sent ‘Enemies of the People’ to death with a chain of smoking, drinking and fornicating. Wasting no time with saccharine family reunions, she expeditiously informs Anna that she was christened Ida Lebenstein and orphaned after her Jewish parents were killed during Nazi occupation. All of which young Anna takes on-board without batting an eye-lid, as if the second generation just had to absorb the stain of history into their being and learn to live with it. For all their political, religious and characteristic differences, these two women are stoic and brave in their own ways.

And so they embark on a road trip, a spiritual journey of discovery if you will, in the hopes of finding where their loved ones are buried and how they came to their untimely end. Together the women paint a picture of past and future, Communist and Catholic, embittered and naïve, and whilst they begin their journey as disparate entities, there is a sense that by the time the credits roll they share more than a surname.

Rather than alienating us, as perhaps German expressionism does, Pawlikowski’s decision to employ black and white cinematography engrosses and immerses the audience in the time period. Moreover, the austere and striking look of the film augments the atmosphere of loneliness and haunting, rendering us sympathetic to a nation in mourning.

ida-1There’s not a shot that isn’t meticulously and masterfully constructed. Each frame is its own masterpiece, recalling Vermeer, Godard, Bergman and the French New Wave, but revelling in its own abstraction. This is fiercely original cinema. Vast, empty skies and cavernous corridors often dominate the frame, reducing the people in it to specs on a greying horizon. Faces and heads are frequently relegated to the bottom third of the frame, again minimalized in contrast to augmented and expansive interiors. There is one scene set in a hotel wherein the entire ceiling appears as if to balance on Anna’s head. Indeed the weight of chapel columns, building facades and gloomy weather seems to form a perpetual cloud over these people; Wanda too, seems consistently enshrouded by a cloud of her own smoke, resembling the despairing fog that cloaked the post-war Polish nation, and perhaps a subtle reminder of Poland’s complicity or perpetuation in certain aspects of the war.

The holocaust casts a long shadow over Pawlikowski’s film, and interactions – especially between Wanda and others – simmer with bitterness and distrust. She is unsurprisingly and perhaps justified in her caustic wariness, wherein an overwhelming aura of hardship, sadness and residual tension threaten to spill over at anytime.

Like it’s aesthetic, the script is sparse and all the more effective for it. Silences echo around vast buildings; metal clattering against ceramic as the nuns consume soup in almost oppressive quiet (Ida’s escaped, girlish giggle is fantastically defiant in a latter scene of similar acoustics). What’s left unsaid in dialogue is more than filled in with striking, enduring close-ups. Pawlikowski frequently closes in on Ida’s face, a blank canvas for corrupted innocence, temptation and conflict. There is a beguiling platitude to her expressions and yet her eyes flicker with bouts of knowing and intensity, and she reveals a capacity for rage and passion that belies her ethereal stillness; perhaps symbolic of Poland’s dormant vivacity after years of oppression.

Ida, Sundance Film Festival 2014

From the outset, this is a film that intentionally and expressively uses silence, portraiture and composition – its style is its substance. In an age of increasing studio budgets and awe-inspiring special effects, Ida provides a welcome counterpoint; an exercise in restraint and austerity that reveals the power of saying a lot with a little. Its stillness and focus demand your attention, but rewards it with a film so utterly captivating you almost wish the running time was longer.

ida2_7094944The two Agata’s are astonishing in their respective roles, and with piercing stares, wry smiles and blind determination, carry the film on their shoulders. Ms. Kulesza’s Wanda is poised, sardonic and ruthless, but capable of excavating past her tough exterior to reveal a grieving woman at breaking point. Ms. Trzebuchowska, (a university student discovered in a café by a friend of Pawlikowski’s) is a serene and enigmatic screen presence. She appears to us a clean slate, with no history to her name. As she gradually unveils her identity and carves out her own future, Trzebuchowska’s eyes sparkle with curiosity and her lips curl with mischief and one realizes they have become fully invested in this young woman’s journey.

Realism is further accentuated by the sound design, which only uses diegetic music and has a startling clarity and delicacy to it. Wanda plays sombre and elegiac classical Mozart, which is punctuated by the haunting jazz anthem ‘Naima’ by Coltrane, over which Anna and a handsome young saxophonist promising excitement connect.  Dialogue or music is often layered with external elements, such as wind or rain, as if the omnipresence of the outside world will always linger; the wind rattling eerily through the forest, the severity of spade hitting ground as bodies and truths are uncovered and the chaste clinking of holy cutlery in the convent. This complexity of sound, with clarity of image coalesces to resonant effect.

For all its measured, mannered compositions, there is an abundance of emotion present within each frame and its understatement endures even in the most tragic of scenes. I doubt whether anything can prepare you for such an ending. A truly eye-opening experience for all involved.

Verdict: Haunting, startling and revelatory. As much a beautiful and tragic coming-of-age story, as it is a stunning feat of cinema.

Review: Still Alice

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Still Alice, US, 2014. DIR. Jonathan Glatzer, Wash Westmoreland. Starring: Julianne Moore, Alec Baldwin, Kristen Stewart, Kate Bosworth, Hunter Parrish.

Based on the 2007 novel by Lisa Genova, this Toronto Film Festival release places Julianne Moore at the centre of an emotional tour de force that illuminates the experience of Alzheimer’s disease.

Moore plays Alice Howland, a distinguished linguistics professor at Columbia University, who is particularly fascinated by the relationship between memory and communication. Signposting her demise from the get-go, the film carefully drops hints that Alice’s sharpness might be going blunt. A conversational mistake here and there, a name forgotten or a momentary fumbling for words. The stakes are immediately clear – this is a woman whose everyday existence depends and thrives on her grasping of language, just as she appears to be losing it.

KSF-SA2014Intellect is Alice’s currency, her way of understanding the world – she supports her daughter’s law career and her son’s medical career, but her youngest daughter’s aspirations to become an actor are deemed frivolous and unrealistic. Everything she has defined herself by centres around academia, and use of the mind. The devastation of Alice’s diagnosis of early onset Alzeheimer’s is compounded by the possibility of it being hereditary and the risk that if her children were carrier’s they would be 100% likely to also suffer from the disease. Eventually, when Alice’s lectures become increasingly erratic and muddled and she’s forced to let her employees know of her medical condition, so unravels a fear of being redundant and useless.

There is a quote from The Great Gatsby that seems to illustrate Alice’s experience well: “he must have felt that he had lost the old warm world… He must have looked up at an unfamiliar sky through frightening leaves and shivered as he found what a grotesque thing a rose is and how raw the sunlight was upon the scarcely created grass”. Everything that seemed stable and simple now appears to her as strange or complex; her familiar sky has become incoherent. The film does a brilliant job of communicating this gradual deterioration of the mind.

When Alice goes for a run for example; she loses her bearings. Moore’s frightened and disoriented expression becomes all the powerful considering this is her normal, repeated route. Camera movement and cinematography firmly locate our perspective with Alice’s, employing blurred visuals and 360 degree rotations, as Alice becomes increasingly panicky, to simulate her sense of being untethered and utterly lost. This is also effectively contrasted throughout the film with crisp and focused close-ups; of ice on a branch, seashells in a bowl, etc., so when specifics become increasingly difficult for Alice to grasp and her mind become vague and unfocused, the cinematography becomes all the more potent.

It’s tempting to call Julianne Moore a revelation, because her performance is so convincing, nuanced and heart breaking. But of course, Moore has been giving us stalwart, versatile and brilliant performances for two decades. Her Alice is at once brave, terrified, defiant and practical about her inhibited future. As she painstakingly loses grip of her reality, Moore’s eyes become more vacant, her skin more colourless, her body cowers in frailty and vulnerability and finally, she loses her beloved words. It’s a transformative performance – physically and intellectually – that won’t fail to tug on your heart-strings.

Moore immaculately, and accurately, captures an experience of Alzheimer’s and the sheer degeneration of the mind that no-one can really prepare you for.

75-2Alec Baldwin meanwhile plays a subdued and supportive husband, whilst their three children: Anna, Tom and Lydia are depicted by Kate Bosworth, Hunter Parrish and Kristen Stewart respectively. As an ensemble they illuminate the variety of responses to dealing with Alzheimer’s, from obliviousness to compassion to pandering to the disease. In part down to the precision of the script, the cast provide impeccable, subtle support without ever stepping on Moore’s toes.

Stewart in particular reveals an attentiveness and vulnerability to her performance, as Lydia grows from being a distant, struggling actor to an emotional pillar of the family, and someone on whom Alice can rely. Her scenes with Moore are a testament to the virtue of stripped back storytelling, and together they articulate a stunning depiction of a mother-daughter relationship, tested by tensions, disparities and misunderstandings, but united by a profound love for one another.

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Still Alice also goes a long way to changing the perception of people living with Alzheimer’s. There’s a particularly heart-wrenching speech that Alice delivers at an ‘Alzheimer’s Association’ conference, which reveals her keen awareness of being patronised, ridiculed or victimised and how removed she becomes from the decision-making process which affects her life. But it’s in the quiet moments of despair and misrecognition that Still Alice is at its most compelling and devastating, when Alice suddenly mistakes Lydia for someone else or when her sense of time lapses. You can’t help but feel empathy and sadness for her struggle (it goes without saying that tissues should be close to hand).

The delicacy and sensitivity with which Alzheimer’s disease is realised could in part be down to the fact that writing/directing couplet Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland have had to deal with Glatzer’s diagnosis of ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease. Whilst Alzheimer’s attacks the mind, and ALS ravages motor-neurone functioning, their understanding of incremental setbacks and adjustments and of living with something that alters your perception of your self is very clear to see.

still-aliceThe soundtrack predominantly consists of piano or string compositions, which layer a melancholy into the narrative at times unnecessary. But there’s also a discordant buzzing or tense crescendo in moments of memory lapse or crisis, that reiterate Alice’s confusion, to terrifying and poignant effect. Integrated into the narrative are also snippet flashbacks of Alice’s childhood, distinguished by a sepia-toned and grainy effect, until they eventually blur to non-existentence. This compositional synaesthesia weaves colour, sound and editing into its exploration of the disease, and work to dramatic effect to create for the audience a tangible and visible emulation of Alice’s struggle. An especially striking compositional touch, was this shot to the right, where the several mirrors resonate with the idea that Alice perception of herself is fracturing.

Still Alice could be accused of putting a prettier face on the disease, choosing the elegant, athletic and 50 year old Moore, as opposed to a more senile protagonist. And in doing so suggesting that is somehow more painful and more of a loss to get Alzheimer’s when you’re well educated, middle-class and have everything to live for. Whoever you are and whatever ever age you are, the gradual disintegration of your memories and of all you’ve accumulated in life, is a harrowing experience to endure.

But ultimately, this is Alice’s story and by extension, Moore’s film. A story of one individual whose self-assurance and control is eroded, whose ability to remember and recall is lost, but whose intelligence and vitality will be remembered by her family, and whose memories are never entirely forgotten.

Verdict: One of the most understated, powerful and shattering films of the year. Julianne Moore gives herself over to portraying Alice and perhaps much like the disease’ effect on her, this adaptation will leave you speechless.