Best Movies of the Decade (personal faves)

Considering I study film and everything surrounding it, you would think that I would have more blog posts dedicated to the topic; though there are a handful on the site already. Up until I decided to start pursuing the subject as a degree full time, I always saw films as time-fillers. I know, I can sense film fans and students alike cringing at that statement. But it’s true, I’m afraid!

When I think back on my experience with films, I remember those awkward pre-adolescent sleepovers where we’d stock up on all kinds of junk food, wearing the craziest clothes just to sit in your best friends bedroom or lounge, where everyone would gather round the television to watch Mean girls, Wild Child, Bridesmaids, Juno…or something of the sort. As I write this, I suddenly realised that a lot of these “girly” films that we’d watch have very similar themes. ANYWAY, besides the point.

What I’m saying about this list is that it has not come from a critical point of view, by all means necessary you don’t HAVE to agree with whatever I put on this list. Most of my considerations are personal, for example, I could have grown up watching it, or it could have been the first film to really make me feel something, or it could have even been the first film to make me really appreciate the art of cinematography aesthetics. Etc.

Most of these reviews initially appeared on my contribution to Outtake Magazine’s 100 Top Films pf the 10’s, but I thought I’d condense them down to just a few of my decade-defining films that I consider to be significant. So without further ado, (within no particular order) here they are!

Coco (2017)
As far as 3D-animated Spanish fantasy films go, there aren’t many of them. However, if this was a common genre, Coco would still make it to the top three. In more areas than one, Pixar seriously stepped up their game with this one; this is more than a story of a boy chasing his dreams. There’s something more refreshing about this film besides the typical Disney tropes used within Coco with it’s engaging, vibrant and neon-lit boroughs that creates an overall spectacular motion picture. I’m not usually an animation fan, but this film certainly made me more open to them.

Inception (2010)
Christopher Nolan is consistently known for his thrilling and complex concepts that can just about send anyone into a state of mental vertigo. Inception in particular, is the pinnacle of all of this- this fantasy thriller shares a mixture of his iconic action scenes of Batman- The Dark Knight and the layered examination of The Prestige. Christopher Nolan actively weaves a mysterious dreamworld with a dream cast, with a plot so complex that it leaves the spectators contemplating the films reality as well as their own for weeks. Just watch it. Lord knows I have, too many times. Shoutout to my big brother.

The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)
Liberated filmmaker, artistic visionaire, colour-coding genius, symmetrical mastermind…you get the gist. These are just some of the many descriptions that come to mind when you think of Wes Anderson and are very much justified. Amongst this, you’ll find that his filmography follows suit- if you don’t know where to start in the catalogue, watch The Grand Budapest Hotel. From Bill Murray to Tilda Swinton, cast members are near unrecognisable once they’re stepped into Anderson’s vision. It’s not just all aesthetic, though part of its appeal, there’s an exciting cat-and-mouse chase, a deadpan but humorous script and an engaging story line. Check-in to The Grand Budapest Hotel!

The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) dir. Wes Anderson
The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) dir. Wes Anderson

Get Out (2017)
2017 detected a real shift in the horror landscape, Jordan Peele being the instigator to this. Earlier this year, Jordan Peele said that he’s seen enough White-led horror movies. This was met with plenty of criticism (as expected) but he had a point and he made it masterfully. As a comedy king, he was one of the least likely to come out with such a multi-layered and clever horror masterpiece. Yet, he did. As well as being a horror, Get Out exposes a far more stealthy motive behind the eerie characters and the United States as a whole; hyperbolic or not, Get Out does a wonderful job at exposing the racist underbelly within the third world and every ethnic minority’s unspoken worst nightmare.

Shoplifters (2018)
Shoplifters is a devastatingly beautiful film, a cinematic embodiment of the phrase “The Rose That Grew from Concrete”. Living in the poverty invested fringes of a Japanese city, Shoplifters is a fine blend of a family comedy and a crime thriller, exposing a harsh reality that isn’t always tragic despite it’s circumstances, exhibiting intimacy and tenderness in a dog-eat-dog world. Writer-director Hirokazu Koreeda exposes subtle compassion in each line and frame,yet never creates one dim moment as it rightfully earn it’s 99% approval rating.

Moonlight (2016)
As soon as A24 (every film they do is a masterpiece to be frank) dropped its intense yet beautiful trailer for Moonlight four years ago, viewers and spectators alike were instantly engulfed in all things Black and Chiron. Winning best kiss at the MTV Movie Awards, it becomes evident as to why. Based on the semi-autobiographical novel In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue by Tarell Alvin McCraney, this stunning picture is an emotionally devastating quagmire as it intersects the unlikely subjects of black masculinity, homosexual relationships and vulnerability. Barry Jenkins’s direction allows room for the entire cast to embody their roles and interact in a way that is brutally real. Illuminating, heartbreaking and everything in between- a must see.

Moonight (2016) dir. Barry Jenkins
Moonight (2016) dir. Barry Jenkins

The rise of ‘eco-anxiety’ in an Extinction Rebellion era

In the midst of the US President’s continued active denial of climate change and Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s unclear stance on the issue, we sit in the most brutally severe heatwave we’ve had since 1911. It’s easy for anybody to feel discouraged and anxious about the environmental trajectory.

As a student or young person, there are a lot of things in life that tend to make us feel anxious. The looming dread of adulthood, rising rent prices, feeling lost about what you’re going to do with your life, Brexit, the temperature, the temperature, the temperature.

The warmth was nice for a little while but isn’t it getting a little, I don’t know, excessive? And people are protesting at the Houses of Parliament? And stripping naked in the House of Commons? And protesting outside the houses of MPs? Who are the Extinction Rebels?

The full notion of the tragedy that is climate change is unravelling before our eyes. And it’s extremely overwhelming. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, we have 12 years to fix the crisis. However, a recent BBC article argues that the next 18 months are absolutely vital to acting on our global warming crisis.

According to environment correspondent Matt McGrath, the loss of biodiversity “threatens to unravel the planetary web of life.” One million species are at risk of extinction and human civilisation faces total collapse if radical changes to our socioeconomic system are not made now.

For some people, climate change may feel like an inevitable event that is totally out of our control. For others, the knowledge of this can be overwhelming to the point where they feel powerless.

Yet, since the pioneering 16-year-old Greta Thunberg popularised the climate strikes late last year, the awareness surrounding just how dire the climate crisis is has risen and become more pressing. This has been good for action and productivity, especially with social media becoming a catalyst for global issues and bringing them to the forefront. Many countries, including the UK, have subsequently declared climate emergencies.

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Image Credit: World Economic Forum via Flickr

In one of her most powerful speeches to British MPs, condemning their stance on climate change, Greta said, “You lied to us. You gave us false hope. You told us that the future was something to look forward to. “You don’t listen to the science because you are only interested in the solutions that will enable you to carry on like before.”

However, being aware of the current state of the environment doesn’t come without compromise. In this case, it’s towards your mental health – it has a name and, most notably, it’s nothing new. The group that this disorder tends to heavily affect are indigenous communities that live close to the equator as well as those that depend on the natural environment, who can experience disproportionate mental health impacts.

Climate anxiety is a relatively recent phenomenon, but the concern is spreading. The phrase doesn’t have an official meaning, yet variations to the definition exist; such as the broader description explaining it as the “worry or agitation caused by concerns about the present and future state of the environment”.

Eco-anxiety, then, is ultimately having a strong feeling of unease surrounding ecological disasters and threats to the natural environment, such as pollution and climate change. An issue that doesn’t only show physical symptoms, such as insomnia, loss of appetite, irritability and panic attacks, but also the results of a constructive or adaptive reaction associated with pro-environmental attitudes and actions.

A very small number of mental health professionals in the UK have begun to mobilise against the phenomenon, but there are plenty of online forums and support groups gaining momentum.

Whether you’re feeling the heat of eco-anxiety or not, here are just a few simple steps that can help make a difference if you are feeling resigned to climate change doom. As we all know, charity begins at home and no man is an island, yet if we all collectively commit to these small acts, the world will ultimately become a better place. Plus we’d be doing our girl Greta proud.

RECYCLE – Use different bins for different things. Compost, plastics and glass should NOT be going in the same bin.
GO ‘SORT OF’ VEGAN – If you’re not vegan, I am not going to shame you into cutting meat from your diet entirely. However, I will encourage you to eat less pork and beef, and eat more food that uses fewer protein sources, i.e. organic soy.
PACKAGING – A recent viral internet thing has happened where people are calling out supermarkets for their unnecessary amount of plastic use. Think about packaging before you buy products.
BE PROACTIVE – Look around you. If you see rubbish on the floor, pick it up. Encourage your local community to do more. Or at least tell your friends, family and whoever you want to do their piece.

If you are experiencing symptoms of anxiety, generalised anxiety disorder or panic attacks, visit your local GP or wellbeing service to find out how you can be supported. For more information, visit Mind.

Andrew Thomas Huang: nature, aliens and the resurrection of FKA Twigs

An interview with American-Chinese director Andrew Thomas Huang on collaborating with artists such as Björk and FKA Twigs, connecting to his heritage and finding inspiration within nature.

Andrew Thomas Huang is someone that has never been just regular, proving himself time and time again that he is a creative force within the art world and beyond. Expressing his passion and interests through a deep immersion of digitally-rendered figures, puppetry, fine prints and surreal live action performance; Andrew has cemented his mark as a truly unique and pioneering individual who is definitely worth keeping on your radar. Just ask J.J. Abrams. Seriously.

I actually reached out to Andrew a few days after a very recent and special project of his became popular, in which to my surprise he responded almost instantly with great enthusiasm!! But due to exams, planning my 3-month trip to America and other errands, I’ve had to unfortunately delay the publishing of this interview. However, we are finally here and this feature is something that I have been looking forward to getting out for such long time as I couldn’t get enough of his saturated and phantasmagoric visions; and so with that in mind, I spoke with the artist about the creative process behind Cellophane, reconnecting to his roots and finding inspiration within nature.

Image courtesy of Andrew Thomas Huang

Since graduating from the University of Southern California in Fine Art and Animation, he has become a master at intertwining futuristic elements of future folklore, ultramodern queer cyborg and mystical surrealism; ultimately creating a universe of his own. Andrew’s imagination began to run wild through elementary and middle school when he was first introduced to puppeteer Jim Henson and his iconic 80’s films such as The Muppets (duh!), The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth; which originally inspired him to begin playing with his video camcorder where he would start creating stop motion. As he got older he got more into the fantasy adventure franchise of Star Wars which then further inspired his work “I would watch the behind-the-scenes making of those movies and try and replicate the process on my own. I started learning Maya and After Effects in high school and got hooked on building my own worlds!” Being such a diverse creative who works across an array of mediums, his catalogue of pieces and instalments stretches far and wide, however, when it comes to his favourite type to work with, he tells me “I think puppetry is the best combination of everything – performance, dance, bringing inanimate things to life, while also being sculptural and craft-driven”.

After his successful debut Doll Face in 2007, he has brought forth many other moving pieces; from his nine-part video series titled Flesh Nest, which explores and constructs a post-apocalyptic world inhabited by digital immortals “It is essentially my sci-fi Fraggle-Rock inspired trash opera, and so I built this project around the concept of afterlife. I wanted instead to construct imagery that had the same efficiency, weirdness and mythic vastness as a Hieronymus Bosch painting in which a multiplicity of characters and edifices are building up and crumbling down in the same hellish scrolling tapestry-like space. It was important for me that there is an honesty about the artifice of this universe”. To his newly short feature Kiss of the Rabbit God which premiered just a few weeks ago at the Tribeca Film Festival, where Huang explores his own personal identity, cultural heritage and queerness to which he proclaims to be a form of personal revelation.

The film follows a young Chinese restaurant worker’s journey of self-discovery through a sexual awakening, after falling in love with an 18th century Qing dynasty God named the Tu’er Shen (兔兒神) “This is my first narrative short in 10 years and also my most personal film to date! I started out directing narrative films, but left to pursue more art and experimental video-making. Rabbit God is my attempt now to return to narrative but more on my terms. The film is really a love story and I’ve never been brave enough until now to create a romantic film between two queer Asian men. So, this film in a way is a confession as much as it is a love letter to my LGBTQ+ Asian community”.

Everything about Andrew’s work opens up a portal to illustration of a digital multiverse- which hasn’t gone by unnoticed. He has championed a collection of awards and honours for his creative work, becoming more popular through music videos that he’s directed for the likes of Björk, Thom Yorke’s supergroup Atoms For PeaceKelela, Perfume GeniusSigur Ròs and many more; emerging through the mist. He tells me, Music videos are a wonderful medium to experiment and build worlds and draw people into the emotional message of a piece of music. I’ve learned nearly everything I know about directing from creating music videos: how to collaborate, delegate, communicate with a team of people. But, I would also say it’s my own personal work that has informed my videos. Doing the work on music videos has helped build my vocabulary of techniques to bring to my own work as well as my own practice that has fed the ideas that I bring to the music videos. It’s a two-way conversation! I need to know what each artist is trying to say and where they’re coming from in order for me to formulate a clear concept. I prefer to have personal conversations with each artist and really get to know them as people. I don’t like to go into a collaboration guessing what they’re going to like or what they’re going to respond to. Making videos with artists, in the best scenario, is building a relationship with them and dreaming the same dream together.”

Image courtesy of Andrew Thomas Huang

Back to the recent and special project that I mentioned earlier, just last month he collaborated with FKA Twigs on her emotionally charged single; Cellophane. A video that is filled with vivid mechanical creatures and bionic figures, accompanied by a blend of renaissance imagery and dystopian scenes, showcasing a contrast of life and death, birth and destruction. An idea that embodies a new chapter, to start anew and welcome a path-breaking world that hums with possibility; Andrew also added that it is an “miraculous Icarus tale: a dance-of-death striving towards unattainable perfection, the fall from grace and the fragility of putting yourself back together”. Alongside him and Twigs graced production designer Fiona Crombie, who was nominated for an Oscar last year for her work on The Favourite. “We really did have the perfect team come together on this. Cinematographer Dani Abello came on board who shot beautiful videos for Rosalía, and pole choreographer Kelly Yvonne, too! I actually started to develop the story with Twigs in June 2018, and then Twigs, Kelly and I would rehearse together in a dance studio in Los Angeles where we brainstormed to create some of the emotional and physical beats of the performance”

Since it’s release, Andrew has been extremely candid about the inspiration behind Cellophane, admitting to outlets that the concepts of the video stemmed from Twigs’ own personal struggles; from laparoscopic surgery that she underwent to have six fibroid tumours removed from her uterus, to public scrutiny and blatant attacks regarding her ex-fiancé Robert Pattinson. Yet, the formation of the video did not arise as naturally as the ideas behind it seemed to, the process to creating such a visually compelling film was complex as it was enjoyable. “I drafted my own visualisation and storyboard for a couple months before we shot the film in Kiev, Ukraine for two days. Fiona also worked with the Ukrainian team to build some beautiful sets, namely the 360° curtain world and the large clay pit. I edited the video myself and then worked closely for four months afterwards along with Analog Studio in London to create the visual effects”.

Taken from ‘Cellophane’.
FKA Twigs in ‘Cellophane’.

Despite the constant use of extraterrestrial figures in his art, it isn’t always deliberate, confessing “I actually always thought that Martians were kind of boring! (with the exception of the Martians from Mars Attacks). Extraterrestrials aren’t though, alien life is always fascinating…like the aliens in The Abyss or The X-files”.  yet, with everything that’s been going on in Andrew’s life, I concluded the interview by asking him what he does to unwind and how he finds new creative energy “Hmm. Detaching from society, for sure! And going into nature are the most nourishing things for me. My most vivid and connected moments in life have occurred when I’m hiking or by the ocean, or just spending time with my grandmother! I’m eternally working on the challenge of being present in the moment”.

Keep up with Andrew and his work;

Website- http://www.andrewthomashuang.com/Art.htm

Facebook Page- www.facebook.com/AndrewThomasHuangAndrewThomasHuang

Instagram: www.instagram.com/andrewthomashuang/

Twitter: @Andrew_T_Huang

Youtube Channel- http://www.youtube.com/andrewhu

Vimeo Channel- https://vimeo.com/user1293099

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Daniel Steegmann Mangrané, climate change and virtual reality

How Daniel Steegmann Mangrané effectively expressed the damages of climate change and colonialism through a virtual utopia.

From the 16th February 2019, Nottingham Contemporary has been exhibiting the work of Daniel Steegmann Mangrané, showcasing his debut major show. A Catalan-born artist whose primary focus is the effect of post-colonialism in the rainforests through radical anthropology, aiming to investigate the prospects and abilities of technologies and diverse mediums. Curated by Abi Spinks, the show features new and existing works of hypnotic installations, a 16mm film, architectural sets and virtual reality goggles where spectators can explore the essences of nature from the gallery.

The Rio de Janeiro-based artist portrays bearings of the Mata Atlântica, Brazil’s Atlantic tropical rainforest, one which has suffered more within its ecosystem than any other large forest in the world. The Atlantic Rainforest is one of the most important biodiverse areas in the world, yet preserving only 7% of its original surface left. Originally stretching across Brazil’s coastline, it once covered parts of Paraguay, Argentina and Uruguay but today only survives in small, degraded patches and protected areas. Since as early as the 16th Century, Mata Atlântica has been through many conflicts; ranging from territorial, human, geographic and historical factors to scientific, ecological and economic components.

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These pressures have subjected the rainforest to a significant shift in its environment, with an array of competing demands of the territory creating a stimulation of relationships and a complex and impervious network. “The rainforest is a metaphor and model of thinking” Steegmann personifies. Influenced by the work of fundamental Brazilian anthropologist Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, who coined the term ‘Perspectivism’ in the 90s, a movement that supports the view that perception, experience, and reason all change according to the viewer’s relative perspective and interpretation.

Perspectivism is based on the Amerindian belief that everything has a form of spirit that is alive and well. This mirrors with Steegmann’s installations and the way he conveys his work, blurring the lines between material and immaterial. By applying differing patterns, configurations and technologies he uses different mediums to show how the environment can be represented. This approach highlights the limits of representation, also actively going against the opposite to Western thought since the onset of modernity making spectators rethink nature as we know it.

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April has seen over 130 galleries, museums, and creative institutions across the UK declare a ‘climate and ecological emergency’, calling for immediate action to combat the climate change crisis; an exhibition such as this one would deem fitting. Upon entry, we are immediately engulfed by Steegmann’s vision of a disintegrating ecosystem. The brand new 2019 installation of _C_A_N_O_P_Y_ demonstrates geometric forms in an organic fashion, by cutting certain shapes into the ceiling and letting the light seep through in a dark room in order to mirror sunlight penetrating the forest canopy.

The same room, contains a surreal virtual reality environment which is accessed through a HTC Vive Pro headset experienced with a Oculus Rift headset titled Phantom (Kingdom of all the animals and all the beasts is my name) (2015). A piece designed to engulf it’s users into a 3D scan of the deteriorating Mata Atlântica, the interactive yet devastating reality informs through a full headset that covers all your main senses while the VR-user describes their environment to onlookers through their movements, almost feeling the anxiety of the disappearing nature as it’s happening.

Just before entering the next gallery, within a small hidden room, is 16mm (2009-11) a 16mm film with synchronised 4-channel digital sound as part of this piece is a film that draws into the depths of the rainforest at the same pace as the footage roll, linking the film and the rainforest mechanically and abstractly and through a Structuralist approach, we are immersed into a montage of this verdant verdure.

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The final room exhibits the brand new 2019 artwork, Living Thoughts (2019). At first glance, the glass and epiphytic plants look as though they’re floating in thin air. Working alongside London-based glass-maker Jochen Holz, the two created hand-blown branches that are attached to orchids; mosses; cacti and bromeliads alike to mirror the multiple lives and layers that exist within the rainforest that coexist yet fight to survive.

Incorporating his interest of biology since early childhood, Daniel Steegmann Mangrané expresses his feelings of admiration yet reasonable concern over the earth’s current environmental state. While highlighting themes of climate change we are also made more aware through an interaction that is given beyond a way that we’re used to, but are able to consume-through technology. The Word For World is Forest gives an escapist feel of fantasy yet once you delve in deeper to its context, a brutal realisation surfaces that not everything is as it is perceived.

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