Donald Clarke

Whingeing about cinema and real life since 2009

What’s the most overlooked film of the year?

On Friday, you will all be up bright and early to grab The Ticket and — having set the day aside — begin perusing our choices of the best film and music of the year. (Because you all buy the …

Mon, Dec 6, 2010, 22:37


On Friday, you will all be up bright and early to grab The Ticket and — having set the day aside — begin perusing our choices of the best film and music of the year. (Because you all buy the print edition. Don’t you? DON’T YOU?) I am not going to reveal any “spoilers” (horrible word), but, as a taster, I do think it’s worth considering what the most overlooked films of the year might be. Now, I don’t mean the most underrated. I mean those films that, despite their high quality, completely flew beneath the radar, unnoticed — as opposed to hated — by audiences or critics.

A not-particularly-rare glimpse of Sean Bean on a horse.

Two very different films spring to mind. Firstly, let’s celebrate a gorgeous Russian picture entitled A Room and a Half. Playing here only in The Light House and the Irish Film Institute,¬†Andrey Khrzhanovsky’s hilarious, moving treatment of poet Josef Brodsky’s exile from St Petersburg got decent reviews, but never picked up the head of steam it dearly deserved. Featuring lovely animation and (my late chum Michael Dwyer would have approved) the best cinematic cat of the year, this strange entity struck Screenwriter as that most rare of beasts: a movie that shows no obvious influences. The critics in the screening with me all agreed. “Where the hell did that come from? How come no major festival gave it any sort of serious recognition?” Okay, it wasn’t the best looking film I’ve ever seen. So what. Adrian Lyne’s movies look nice and they’re pure effluent. Did any of you see it?

The other film I would like to drag out of undeserved obscurity is ¬†Christopher Smith’s Black Death. Now, here I must own up to a degree of bias. If there is one subgenre I love it is the warty folk horror. You know what I mean. Films such as Witchfinder General or Blood on Satan’s Claw in which gnarled peasants confront inexplicable horrors called up by the likes of Vincent Price or Donald Pleasence. Featuring Sean Bean as a rough sort (no?) who is puzzled to discover a village that has somehow escaped the Black Death, the film was exciting, nasty and nicely muddy. Most surprisingly, it had important things to say about the ways in which religion can undermine good sense. Seek it out.

Why did these two go unnoticed? One answer is that I’m wrong and neither is any good. Obviously, this is a ridiculous notion that can be dismissed out of hand. As a foreign language film, A Room and a Half was never going to compete with Iron Man 2, but a few festival wins would have helped it connect with corduroy-wearing mung-bean scoffers. Somebody wasn’t pushing it at that level.

In the case of Black Death, the distributors made no effort at all. I never saw a poster. There was no press show in Ireland and I only managed to get a screener DVD of the thing on the week of release. It seems clear that the chaps in charge of getting it into cinemas had no faith whatsoever. As it happened, the picture ended up getting very good notices from quite a few highbrow critics (I do not include myself in that number). All this was, incidentally, also true of Witchfinder General.

Anyway, are any other films that, despite getting released in cinemas, made no impact whatsoever on punters or commentators? Let us know.