Thursday, 23 February 2012

Not Quite Hollywood: 10 Prison Movies You Need To See

Perhaps "Not Quite Hollywood" will become a regular feature here on InCamera, but on the other hand, perhaps it won't. For now though, I have come up with a list of movies that need to be seen by more people. In fact, two of those movies need to be seen by me! They are all prison-themed (some interpretations of "prison" are more liberal than others), and none of them are Hollywood productions. You won't see any Shawshank Redemptions, Great Escapes or Green Miles on this list. They are ranked according to what I thought of them, with the liberal interpretations and unseens taking up the last few spaces. Finally, they are all fairly new. Make a plan and broaden your film experience, after the jump.

1. Un Prophète (France, 2009, dir. Jacques Audiard)

My favourite prison movie of all time, regardless of origin. In fact, it is one of my favourite movies of all time full stop. It's devastatingly powerful, both realist and magical, and explains perfectly how prisons make criminals rather than rehabilitate them. It was also nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the 2010 Oscars (losing out to the equally terrific El Secreto De Sus Ojos).

2. Oldboy (South Korea, 2003, dir. Park Chan-Wook)

This is more than revenge than prison, but what better way to inspire bloody vengeance than being locked up in a quasi-hotel room for 15 years for no reason? It loses out to Un Prophète only because it is not as purely prison-themed. Winner of the Grand Prix at Cannes 2004, this movie should not be missed by anyone (except children, and sensitive viewers). Witness it, and be instantly propelled into a world of love for South Korean cinema.

3. Hunger (Ireland, 2008, dir. Steve McQueen)

The debut film of director Steve McQueen (Shame) and the break-out performance for Michael Fassbender (he said so himself), Hunger is the true story about hunger-striking Irish republican Bobby Sands. It's bleak, harrowing, and features one of the longest single takes of dialogue in any film ever. As if that isn't enough, Fassbender went all Christian Bale-like on this one, up to the point when the doctors told him he had to stop losing weight.

4. Chopper (Australia, 2000, dir. Andrew Dominik)

There are so many reasons to love this true story about Mark "Chopper" Read, Australia's craziest criminal. Eric Bana in his best performance by far is a cocktail of fat, brawn, insanity, charisma and bloody terror-inducement; Chopper Read is a Robin Hood-like career criminal who cut off his own ears, claims to have murdered something like 19 drug dealers, and who is also Australia's best selling author; and then there is this Youtube clip (it's not really him by the way):

5. Lady Vengeance (South Korea, 2005, dir. Park Chan-Wook)

Similar to Oldboy, this is Park's third instalment in the highly acclaimed Vengeance Trilogy. This one involves a wrongfully imprisoned woman who, after some 13 years in the clink, has a bone to pick with the man who put her there. It also features stunning cinematography and a climax which could be seen as the ultimate expression of purist vengeance. For maximum impact, don't watch the trailer, but here it is anyway...

6. Bronson (England, 2008, dir. Nicolas Winding Refn)

Charles Bronson is to England what Chopper Read is to Australia. Except, Charles Bronson's real name is Michael Gordon Peterson, and he is still in jail this very day. He started out with a 7 year sentence for robbing a post office. More than 30 years ago. The shit he got up to in jail is beyond comprehension, and the surreal way in which it is depicted by Tom Hardy (as the title character) and director Nicolas Winding Refn (Drive) is, well, crazy. Oh, and if you ever wondered if Tom Hardy could pull off Bane in TDKR, this film will allay all fears.

7. Celda 211 (Spain, 2009, dir. Daniel Monzón)

This is the film which inspired me to start this list: an intense thriller about a young guard trapped in the midst of a prison revolt, who poses as an inmate in a desperate attempt to survive the ordeal. Brilliantly made with plenty political punch, it is well worth watching.

... and here starts the movies I either haven't seen or are not technically "prison" films...

8. Carandiru (Brazil, 2003, dir. Hector Babenco)

I have this film on DVD but it is yet to be watched. The queue is long. Apparently also based on a true story, it involves AIDS and a riot in Brazil's largest prison. Looks incredible...

I will add Kiss of The Spider Woman to this as well, coming from the same director 'n all, and also seemingly prison-related. It was nominated for 4 Oscars including Best Picture (and William Hurt won for Best Actor). Under which rock have I been sleeping?

9. Das Experiment (Germany, 2003, dir. Olivier Hirschbiegel)

Another one I haven't seen. It's based on a prison experiment rather than a prison itself, and I'm told it's a must-see (don't watch the crappy Adrien Brody remake):

10. Dogtooth (Greece, 2009, dir. Giorgos Lanthimos) and Martyrs (France, 2008, dir. Pascal Laugier)

These two aren't strictly prison movies, but I couldn't possibly do this post without mentioning them both. Dogtooth is a bizarre and Oscar-nominated Greek film about a seemingly ordinary family. Except, the three teenage children are confined to their homes and have absolutely no idea of what's going on in the outside world. It may as well be another planet. Martyrs is French torture porn at its best: it involves a fair amount of involuntary detention and will leave you sick to your stomach. Not for sensitive viewers, this is Hostel on roids.

Did I miss any? Incendies came to mind, but just because a film has a jail scene it doesn't mean it's a prison movie.

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