07 August 2013

Review of 2012: best and worst

I meant to post these lists at the end of 2012, but I didn't get around to it. Better late than never, I suppose…

I didn't see a great deal of mindblowingly good films in 2012. In the process of moving to another country and starting a new job I haven't been able to dedicate as much time to watching movies as I have previously, and I've had to use Netflix much more than I would like. I hope to get back on track and start renting DVDs by post again soon though.

Let me know what you thought of the movies below (I've just copied and pasted what I tweeted at the time). Is there anything good that I have missed?

Best new films
The best fairly recent films that I saw in 2012:

1) The Descendants (2011)
"The Descendants (2011), another excellent film from Alexander Payne, has it all. Flawed, believable, interesting characters. Love it."

2) Hugo (2011)
"I'm so happy I hadn't missed my chance to see Hugo (2011) in wonderful 3D, which Scorsese uses well. Another love poem to cinema's past."

3) The Artist (2011)
"The Artist (2011) works as a silent film and also as a film about silent film. A few clever, inventive moments will stick in the memory."

4) SUPER (2010)
"Shakily filmed SUPER (2010) might qualify as the world's first realist superhero movie. The results are ugly, shocking and darkly funny."

5) Moneyball (2011)
"Do you look at the numbers or act on instinct? I don't know much about baseball, but found Moneyball (2011) quite interesting."

Best old films
The best older films that I saw for the first time this year:

1) The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)
"The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) is gold. Striking black and white images. Tangible, atmospheric... Nice story too. #drinkyermilk"

2) Funny Games U.S. (2007)
"Funny Games U.S. (2007) -- even harder to watch in your own language. And it also has a point to make. Intelligent, original, and menacing."

3) Hard Candy (2005)
"Hard Candy (2005) is quite refreshing, albeit disturbing. Full of surprises. It was hard to second-guess, right until the end."

4) Harvey (1950)
"I quite enjoyed Harvey (1950). An invisible giant rabbit stars alongside Stewart, who plays a tipsier-than-usual version of himself."

5) A Trip to the Moon (1902)
"I saw A Trip to the Moon (1902) at the Deutsches Museum in Munich. I'm amazed at how much cool stuff Méliès managed to cram into each shot."

Worst films
The worst films that I saw this year:

1) Troll 2 (1990)
"The other night we kicked off a crap movies night with Troll 2 (1990). Wooden acting. Frustrating. Accidentally funny in places."

2) The Room (2003)
"Late-night cult smash The Room (2003) really is one of the worst films I have ever seen. Just horribly, hilariously bad."

3) Sex and Death 101 (2007)
"Sex and Death 101 (2007) is stupid. Shallow self-fancying scumbag repeatedly cheats on his fiancée, learns nothing, and ends up happy. Why?"

4) The Perfect Man (2005)
"Started watching The Perfect Man (2005) and made the mistake of finishing it. Silly plot. Selfish, annoying characters."

5) Cowboys & Aliens (2011)
"Cowboys & Aliens (2011) is tripe. My advice to Ford: play more cowboys, and never work with aliens again (don't you learn?!)."

Best rewatched
The best films that I rewatched this year:

1) Apocalype Now (1979)
"Rewatched Apocalype Now (1979). It may have been a troubled shoot, but they got heady, explosive results. Stunning. Almost perfect."

2) Magnolia (1999)
"It takes a lot of guts to make a movie like Magnolia (1999), my favourite film post-1970s, and a genius visionary director to pull it off."

3) Groundhog Day (1993)
"Rewatched work of genius Groundhog Day (1993). The second half digs deep into what it is to be human and makes you want to be better at it."

4) Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (1974)
"Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (1974) is even more wonderful than I remembered it. So sad Cimino's career nosedived after his great first two."

5) Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)
"Rewatched the divinely silly Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975). Probably my favourite non-Hitchcock Britflick."

17 January 2012

Review of 2011: best and worst

I saw 158 films in 2011 -- fewer than I did in 2010, but enough to keep me busy.

Let me know what you thought of the movies below (I've just copied and pasted what I tweeted at the time). Is there anything good that I have missed?

Please be warned that some of these movies aren't to everyone's tastes. For every born-again Malick fan this summer, there was someone else walking out during The Tree of Life. It might be worth reading a fuller description of these movies before adding them to your own rental lists.

Best new films
The best fairly recent films that I saw in 2010:

1) The Tree of Life (2011)
"The Tree of Life (2011) deserves more than just a one-tweet review. Here goes: bit.ly/pztJo0"

2) Alamar (2009)
"Soon be separated from his young son, a fisherman makes the most of the time he has. Alamar (2009) is a spellbinding, beautiful film."

3) Senna (2010)
"Senna (2010)'s characters are fascinating, so the film would have been amazing even if Kapadia's film had been less than the triumph it is."

4) Chico & Rita (2010)
"Simple and sensuous, Chico & Rita (2010) lovingly renders the jazz world and era in ways no live action film ever could. Magnificent film."

5) True Grit (2010)
"Funny, beautiful True Grit (2010) is clearly the best Coen effort post-2001. The boys should cut their losses and just make westerns now."

Best old films
The best older films that I saw for the first time this year:

1) Ikiru (1952)
"Dying council worker decides it's time to cut through the red tape and actually do something for his community. Ikiru (1952): amazing film."

2) The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)
"Three cheers for The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), a homecoming drama bursting with personality. Like Beautiful Girls but better."

3) 3 Women (1977)
"I'm loath to say it after just one viewing, but I think 3 Women (1977) qualifies as a work of genius. Persona came first, sure, but still..."

4) Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959)
"Simple, elegant visuals... Clever, poetic narrative... And there's much more to Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959) than first meets the eye."

5) High Noon
"High Noon (1952) is more than just a crisp, clean, good-looking western. It's about society and responsibility, and the ending is supercool."

Worst films
The worst films that I saw this year:

1) Lesbian Vampire Killers (2009)
"Poor acting, weak humour, no actual nudity... Beyond the title itself, there is no fun to be had in watching Lesbian Vampire Killers (2009)."

2) Jackboots on Whitehall
"Jackboots on Whitehall (2010) is Team America's feeble-minded cousin: all stereotypes, cliches and weak jokes repeated ad nauseam."

3) American Hot Babes (2009)
"The less said about American Hot Babes (2009), the better."

4) Van Wilder 2: The Rise of Taj (2006)
"Bad jokes, bad acting, outdated misguided stereotypes, no attention to detail... Van Wilder 2: The Rise of Taj (2006) is a waste of time."

5) The Box (2009)
"The Box (2009) poses a silly moral dilemma and then veers off in a number of silly directions without reaching any conclusions. Annoying."

Best rewatched
The best films that I rewatched this year:

1) Boogie Nights (1997)
"Rewatched Boogie Nights (1997), a fave. There's something charming about the naive, optimistic 1970s (but not the harsh, confusing 1980s)."

2) Back to the Future Part II (1989)
"Back to the Future Part II (1989) is my favourite: the one where they go to the past (again) to clean up the mess they made in the future."

3) The French Connection (1971)
"Rewatched The French Connection (1971). I love the way each scene just seems to happen naturally, rather than being staged. Still a fave."

4) Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997)
"This weekend I rewatched Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997). Everyone should do that from time to time."

5) Knocked Up (2007)
"Rewatched Knocked Up (2007) on TV. Was pleased to see it again. There's plenty of nice, grown-up stuff behind its childish facade."

19 July 2011

Review: The Tree of Life (2011)

Terence Malick has put some beautiful things on the big screen in his time. I can think of no other filmmaker who makes the natural world around him seem so rich, so beautiful, so full of life. I gather his secret is that his movies are only partly in his head when he starts making them. The things that bring his films to life are the things that happen around him when he’s there, in the moment, in the wild – the wind in the grass, say, or the sun shining on a tree, or a small animal going about its animal business without giving any thought to the nearby humans going about their human business. He patiently waits for nature to inspire him, and he puts it on film, all with a little help from mind-blowingly talented cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki.

But when you have already immortalised the beauty of so many places, from the shores of Virginia and fields of Texas to the Dakota badlands and the Solomon Islands, where do you take your audience next? In his latest film, Malick takes us on a voyage through time and across the universe. We watch single-celled organisms evolve into dinosaurs. We see majestic nebulae, erupting lava and gaseous orbs. And it is stunning. I defy you to show me another film whose imagery is as sumptuous. Accompanied by sublime classical music, these sequences can move you in profound ways. The cinematography in the scenes set in and around the protagonists’ Texas home is almost as beautiful. The shots don’t linger – you’re treated to a fresh awe-inspiring vision every few seconds.

Visually, The Tree of Life is simply breathtaking. I can’t praise it enough for that. And that’s why it breaks my heart that the film doesn’t quite live up to its potential as a whole. Its imperfection has nothing to do with Malick’s obsession with mood and tone. I’m completely down with the idea of making a film that is all mood and tone, like The New World, where the role of the characters is secondary to that of the look and feel and sound of what Malick put on the screen.

The problem with The Tree of Life is that it tries to achieve something else, something more than just mood and tone. Regardless of his intention, in making the audience spend so much time with his characters Malick lulls us into thinking that he is going to tell us a story. He isn’t; not really – not in the same way he did in Badlands or Days of Heaven. In The Tree of Life, the characters look, feel and sound like real people, and we do develop an emotional bond with them. But watching and listening are not the same as knowing – we’re missing the traditional elements of a story that help us to make sense of the characters.

Of course, you could argue that this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Who says that filmmakers need to tell a story anyway? Isn’t it valid for Malick to work towards a different goal? He does, after all, say something about what it means – and how it feels – to be a father, a mother, a son, a brother. In some respects he is capable of getting much closer to finding the human truth in those relationships than any traditional filmmaker could – and often with a gesture as slight as a glance, a touch or a smile.

But he didn’t need to make a 139-minute film just to do that. I think what Malick is trying to achieve, rather than tell us a story, is meditate on how dear and fragile life is. Something like that. And I think it’s because he brings God and Job and Biblical dullness into the equation that his film, though beautiful, loses some of its intellectual or spiritual appeal for those of us who regard God as an irrelevant, superfluous fantasy. The film drags quite a bit. I haven’t seen so many people leave a cinema mid-film since Soderbergh remade Solaris. They’re philistines, sure, but it’s still a big ask to make people sit through all the floaty meditation without giving them the narrative payoff that cinema has taught them to expect.

Judge The Tree of Life on its greatest moments and it’s a masterpiece; judge it as a whole, and it leaves you frustrated.

13 January 2011

Review of 2010: best and worst

I saw 175 films this year. Some of them were great; others were less great. I hope these four lists help someone out there to choose what to watch (and what not to watch) in 2011.

Please let me know what you thought of these movies. And if you saw anything good this year, give me a heads-up. I'm always looking for stuff to add to my rental list.

NB: I apologise for my sloppy blogging. Instead of writing new descriptions for each film, I've just copied and pasted whatever I tweeted at the time...

Best new films
The best fairly recent films that I saw in 2010:

1) The White Ribbon (2009)
"I imagined The White Ribbon (2009) would be boring, pretentious and undeserving of its hype. I was wrong. This is storytelling at its best."

2) 35 Shots of Rum (2008)
"I found 35 Shots of Rum captivating. So natural and full of love."

3) Mesrine: Public Enemy No. 1 (2008)
"Mesrine: Public Enemy No. 1 (2008), the second part of the tale, is also a thrill to watch. Cassel is electric. Go out and rent both parts."

4) Avatar (2009)
"Avatar at the IMAX took my breath away, but for a 3D movie it had a lot of 2D characters."

5) Still Walking (2008)
"Still Walking (2008) is a beautiful little film about love, death, family idiosyncrasies... I recommend it if you like that kind of thing."

Best old films
The best older films that I saw for the first time this year:

1) Stalker (1979)
"Check out Stalker (1979). Not sure what I'd find in the 'Zone' myself, but I think I'm happier seeing it through Tarkovsky's eyes."

2) F for Fake (1973)
"F for Fake (1973) is one of a kind. Orson Welles was such an engaging storyteller -- his voice, his eyes, his creative mind."

3) Touch of Evil (1958)
"Wow! Touch of Evil (1958) is cooler than cool. Every shot is a work of art, and yet the story is earthy and rugged. Beautiful, exhilarating."

4) The General (1926)
"The General (1926) is even better than the last Buster Keaton film I saw. Lots of action with a little slapstick thrown in. Riveting stuff."

5) They Shoot Horses, Don't They? (1969)
"Depression-era USA is the setting for the most miserable, fucked up reality show of all time: They Shoot Horses, Don't They? (1969)."

Worst films
The worst films that I saw this year:

1) My Life in Ruins (2009)
"My Life in Ruins: a contender for the stupidest film I've ever seen. Full of clichés and scenes doing nothing to develop the story."

2) Dear John (2010)
"Dear John is a typical Hallström film: sentimental, manipulative, with characters that don't begin to resemble real people."

3) X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)
"X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009) is clichéd, predictable nonsense. Not remotely interesting. Still, at least it's better than The Last Stand."

4) New Moon (2009)
"New Moon is shockingly bad. Vampires and werewolves might give a crap about Bella, but I struggled to do the same. Bad script. Bad acting."

5) Nine (2009)
"Nine (2009) is a dull musical with tiresome, generic songs. Chicago and Moulin Rouge seem less crap now. Daniel Day Lewis can do better."

Best rewatched:
The best films that I rewatched this year:

1) The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966)
"Also finished rewatching The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966), which has the trilogy's best story, best lines and best soundtrack."

2) The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada (2005)
"Rewatched The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada (2005). Exciting, moving and funny. Still my favourite film of the last 10 years."

3) Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
"Many action heroes have silly gruff voices. Rewatched Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) last night -- Indy sounds normal (human) by comparison."

4) The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)
"Rewatched The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), which I love. Such a palpable sense of foreboding. And then vrrrrrrmm! Vivid, claustrophobic."

5) Napoleon Dynamite (2004)
"Just shared Napoleon Dynamite with my parents. And, shock, horror, I think they enjoyed it as much as I do."

30 December 2009

My top 50 films of the 00s

So here it is. After I compiled a list of my top 100 movies from the last 10 years, I found that numbers 50 through 100 weren’t actually that amazing. But while the 00s hasn’t been the greatest ever decade for film, it hasn’t been the worst either – not by a long shot.

Let me know what you think of my list, and let me know if I’ve missed out on anything special. Thanks!

1) The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada (2005)
An excellent modern-day western. After a trigger-happy border guard shoots dead the titular Melquiades Estrada, Tommy Lee Jones (directing himself) decides to give his friend the burial he deserves. The story ambles along at the right pace to enjoy breathtaking landscapes and some nice comic touches.

2) Sideways (2004)
Two friends head for Napa Valley. One wants to share his love of wine; the other wants to enjoy his last moments of not being married. They meet girls and fun stuff happens. The visual style evokes 70s Hollywood, when great character films like this weren't so hard to come by.

3) Wonder Boys (2000)
A one-hit-wonder blocked writer (Michael Douglas, in his best role by far) reluctantly takes a fresh new writing talent under his wing. Both have their fair share of personal issues to resolve. A smart, funny, perfectly executed character film.

4) Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
In reality it might not be possible to erase someone from your memory, but it's a deceit that gives this surreal, creative gem plenty more bite than other love stories. The source material is wild, although pretty standard for master of invention Charlie Kaufman.

5) Adaptation (2002)
Screenwriter Charlie Kaufman is the hero of this film, which he wrote himself about writing a screenplay for another film. He shares the screenwriting credit -- and Oscar nomination -- with his brother Donald, who doesn't actually exist. Just go with it.

6) Napoleon Dynamite (2004)
There is much we can learn from gangly daydreamer Napoleon, who goes through life doing what his heart tells him. This quirky comedy is a love poem of sorts -- to Idaho's host of likeable losers and oddballs -- and finishes on a high: the most entertaining high school election bid of all time.

7) Doubt (2008)
A nun suspects a priest of molesting a boy, and things get out of hand. The dialogue-heavy script raises questions about morality and paves the way for big, powerful performances from Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman.

8) Hotel Rwanda (2004)
Account of how a hotel manager (played by Don Cheadle) protected Tutsis from murderous Hutus in 1994. A graphic and blood-chilling warning to Western governments: do nothing, and terrible things happen.

9) Mulholland Dr. (2001)
Mulholland Dr. is a weird surrealist dream-like mess of a film, but however you interpret it, you will find it darkly intriguing. Quite possibly Lynch's best. This is what cinema is all about, or should be.

10) Spider-Man 2 (2004)
The War on Terror is the decade's most engaging news story, so the Spider-Man 2 script was bound to grip audiences: Spidey is the USA, Doc Ock is international terrorism, and the police are the UN. The best comic book adaptation to date.

11) Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)
Fast-paced detective comedy. Few understand its intricate plot on first viewing, but that doesn't make it any less enjoyable. Robert Downey Jr's anti-hero is a riot.

12) The King Of Kong (2007)
Two men compete for the Donkey Kong world record: one is a likeable family man; the other is a cartoon villain. It gets pretty nasty, and all the tension you see is real. Documentary gold. You couldn't make it up.

13) Juno (2007)
A schoolgirl gets pregnant and must decide what to do about it. The story, characters and actors are all charming, although the snappy, wise-ass dialogue often seems contrived.

14) Team America: World Police (2004)
Trey Parker, the genius behind South Park, near his satirical, controversial best, serves up a raucous comedy about dicks, assholes (like Kim Jong Il) and pussies (like Tim Robbins). With marionettes.

15) The Kite Runner (2007)
A very bad thing happens to a young Afghan boy. It's a shock to the system, and a turning point in his relationship with his best friend. The storytellers and leading actors are so likeable and natural that you want to forgive them for manipulating your emotions.

16) The Lives of Others (2006)
It isn't easy being conscientious in the Stasi if you grow to like the people you're meant to be spying on. Ulrich Mühe, now sadly deceased, is excellent in this personal, moving drama.

17) Erin Brockovich (2000)
Julia Roberts surprised the world, playing against type and doing it well, as a lowly single mum taking down an unscrupulous water company. Will we remember this as director Steven Soderbergh's last moment of brilliance, or will he return to interesting character films again someday?

18) In the Bedroom (2001)
The pain and anger at the core of this story is dark and raw enough to sustain an uncommonly simple storyline for one and a half hours. Nearly every scene is tense, frightening, full of anguish. Tom Wilkinson's performance might be the best of his 40 or so to date.

19) There Will Be Blood (2007)
Power, religion, milkshake... I can't remember exactly what this film was about, but it is another ambitious work from Hollywood's most promising director, both funny and distressing at the same time. Daniel Day Lewis is larger than life in the leading role.

20) Borat (2006)
The layman's limited knowledge of Kazakhstan meant Sacha Baron Cohen could make his Borat character as ridiculously silly as he wanted. His actual nationality was irrelevant; the point was that by appearing foreign, he could poke fun at the West. That Borat also inadvertently offended the PC brigade and much of Kazakhstan itself made it all the more entertaining.

21) Together (2000)
The best Swedish film of the 00s is about kids growing up in a 70s commune. Lukas Moodysson's subsequent films have been experimental and thoroughly depressing, but his early work reminds us that they can also be funny and entertaining, regardless of whether that's what he wants.

22) Synecdoche, New York (2008)
An auteur hires actors to act out his life, and they do so for decades, without an audience. This is one of very few films that dare confront the fact that we're all slowly dying -- not the kind of subject matter that gets bums on seats, but intriguing in its own special, morbid way.

23) No Country for Old Men (2007)
Javier Bardem is the inhuman, devil-like Anton Chigurh, killing left, right and centre in the Coens' most gripping film of the decade. To be completely honest, I don't really understand what it was all about, but it's a thrill to watch all the same.

24) O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)
It's Homer's Odyssey, only Deep South style, so look out for hair pomade, the Ku Klux Klan and a bluegrass-revivalist soundtrack. As unpredictable as The Big Lebowski, and as daft as Raising Arizona.

25) Elephant (2003)
The moments leading up to a Columbine-style school massacre, seen over and over from different perspectives (see also Last Days). It's hard to watch even the most inane teenage chitchat when you can smell the impending doom in every scene.

26) Inglourious Basterds (2009)
A group of Jewish soldiers set out to scalp some Nazis in an alternative WW2 universe. Tarantino's latest changes its mind, its genre and the focus of its story every couple of scenes, but despite its incongruity succeeds in being exciting, beautiful and funny.

27) Memento (2000)
Upon first viewing, it's hard to figure out what exactly what happens and when. Memento's narrative structure is unusual, fitting for an unusual story about an amnesiac tracking down his wife's killer. The risk pays off: rewatch and be impressed.

28) Monsters, Inc. (2001)
Pixar's best film to date. Monsters are more scared of kids than kids are scared of monsters. They have an ulterior motive for acting scary. Inventive and endearing.

29) Little Miss Sunshine (2006)
Feelgood road movie about a family on its way to a sickening beauty pageant for kids. Funny and offbeat.

30) Kill Bill Vol. 2 (2004)
A Quentin Tarantino western, with plenty of eastern thrown in. Uma Thurman continues her mission to wipe out her would-be assassins, but encounters a few surprises along the way. Stylish, compelling and visually enthralling.

31) Born and Bred (2006)
This Patagonia-set film is as depressing as any I've seen in the last decade. Tragic death, suffering, descent into madness: tick, tick, tick. But somehow it doesn't feel like gratuitous crap. The characters are credible and the cinematography is excellent.

32) The Descent (2005)
A thoroughly unpleasant species has evolved in a network of underground caves. We follow a group of women who enjoy caving. Or used to, at least. Great suspense, and convincing enough to scare the hell out of you.

33) Good Bye Lenin! (2003)
East German mum awakes from coma; son goes to great lengths to pretend the modern reunited Germany outside isn't really there. Funny, touching, intelligent script.

34) Last Days (2005)
The last moments of a rock star's life (loosely based on Kurt Cobain), seen over and over from different perspectives (see also Elephant), as was Gus Van Sant's custom at the time.

35) The Baader-Meinhof Complex (2008)
A study of conflicting ideologies within a super-violent 1970s German terrorist group. Riveting stuff.

36) Grizzly Man (2005)
Haunting documentary about Timothy Treadwell, a man who loves bears and gets way too close to them. Treadwell is one of the strangest individuals you could ever hope to see on film, so his source material is a goldmine for director Werner Herzog.

37) Tsotsi (2005)
A hoodlum acquires a baby in a bungled carjacking, and learns to deal with the responsibility. Simple premise, thought-provoking story.

38) Knocked Up (2007)
An unlikely couple get together and, thanks to an unexpected visit from the stork, stay together. Funny script, well-rounded characters, nice acting... The best Apatow since Freaks and Geeks.

39) Little Children (2006)
Another grown-up drama from Todd Field (see also In the Bedroom). The characters feel so real that the suspense is sometimes difficult to handle.

40) Kill Bill Vol. 1 (2003)
Unlike most one-note martial arts flicks, Quentin Tarantino's eastern has the benefit of sassy western dialogue and delivery. Mass revenge killing never looked so good.

41) The Pianist (2002)
Adrien Brody's Jewish musician must escape the Polish ghetto in WW2. Auteur Roman Polanski was there himself, so his story draws from first-hand memories. Amazing story, gripping film.

42) WALL•E (2008)
Stunning Pixar animation. In the future, people laze around in big chairs, endlessly consuming junk food, completely oblivious to the universe around them. Is that the future, or are we pretty much there already?

43) Moon (2009)
Moon is close to being a one-man show, casting Sam Rockwell as a one-man moon-based power plant for the folks back home. Most audiences will find it more accessible than more arty films like 2001 and Solaris.

44) Tokyo Sonata (2008)
A portrait of an unhappy family in Japan: nobody shares; each character is fragile and keeps secrets from the others.

45) Human Nature (2001)
This film takes a close, deep look at, well, human nature. It's a lot more interesting than you might expect a film starring Rhys Ifans to be. Criminally underrated work from Michel Gondry and Charlie Kaufman.

46) The Station Agent (2003)
Slice-of-life mood film that follows three unusual characters in an unusual setting. Nice pace, nice script, nice characters. Aah!

47) Lost In Translation (2003)
Sofia Coppola has a rare talent for evoking moods in her films. This film, like The Virgin Suicides before it, is all mood and not much else. You don't really follow it as much as absorb it, but that can be rewarding if you're in the right frame of mind.

48) Traffic (2000)
Traffic takes a look at disparate groups of characters and their relation to America's war on drugs. Cracking stuff. And who knew Catherine Zeta Jones could act?

49) Let the Right One In (2008)
Forget Twilight. Unless you're a teenage girl, if you want a film about a friendly vampire, you will find this one far more interesting.

50) Spirited Away (2001)
It seems churlish to call this animated film overrated, given that it is hand-drawn and beautiful, but for me it marks a turning point in Miyazaki's career. His new works are still beautiful and inventive, but somehow I feel as if I've seen it all before.

(PS You can follow me on Twitter if you do that kind of thing.)

15 April 2007

Down with Shawshank

I don’t like to review individual films on Celluloid Jungle, but I really have to vent my frustration about one film in particular: The Shawshank Redemption (1994). It lacks imagination. many of its characters are two-dimensional and its story is predictable.

It has some good dramatic moments, but instead of contributing to the protagonists' journey in a congruous way they're mostly there to pass the time, which for the audience would otherwise be as excruciatingly boring as it is for the inmates of the prison.

Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman in The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

The film presents a good way to waste an afternoon, but it doesn't leave you thinking about the world, or yourself, in a different way. Man shouldn't be in prison, is mistreated, gets out of prison... Whoopie-f*cking-hoo.

I don't actually hate the film. I just hate the way that it has made its way to the top of IMDb and some magazines' top 100 lists. It astounds me that anyone can find so little in the rich tapestry of life that they consider The Shawshank Redemption to be cinema at its very finest. Its success must be due to the film's values failing to offend anyone much: it's numero uno one due to a consensus of indifference.

In the film’s defence, Morgan Freeman’s performance is excellent, and the script – despite being pedestrian -- is a million miles from The Green Mile, another Stephen King-penned prison flick, whose characters are even more two-dimensional, whose plot drags on for an eternity without any direction, and which asks the audience to believe in a mouse that lives forever while at the same time denying children the chance to enjoy the spectacle by including Tom Hanks’ diseased genitals as another key plot point.

Regardless of this, it is wrong that Shawshank survives recency bias and 13 years on is second only to The Godfather in IMDb users’ estimation. Murder in the First (1995) tells a very similar story, and does so with more finesse, but relatively few people have ever heard of it… Maybe Shawshank is ‘a classic’ just because enough people have said so in magazines and culture supplements and enough part-time filmgoers failed to disagree.

24 February 2007

Decline and fall

I just cancelled my subscription to Empire magazine. Here is the email that I sent them:
Hi Empire

I have been an Empire reader since 1995 and subscriber since 1997. But today I cancelled my direct debit.

My reasons:
  1. You blur the lines between reviews and paid-for advertorials. It's difficult to know what sentiments are your own and what sentiments are included because they complement your advertisers' branding.
  2. You want to be the world's biggest movie mag so badly that more editorial space is given to films that people want to read than films that are actually worth seeing. It's fine, of course, that you give your customers what they want, but your nine-page Fantastic Four features and multi-issue War of the Worlds extravaganzas compromise your credibility and isolate many of your readers.
  3. You fancy yourself. Some of your writers are exceptionally good, but it troubles me that you write about them so often, and that you invent a reality TV-style competition where the ultimate reward is to join their hallowed ranks. I buy Empire to read about creative talent in the film industry, not to read about creative talent in journalism.
  4. You tried to make Empire an interactive community-type thing, inviting and publishing readers' views for features like DVD Club. If you're unfamiliar with a director's work, hire some writers who know what they're talking about. Don't just tell us what we've told you -- why would we want to pay for that?
Best of luck for the future. I hope the Lord of the Rings nerds keep your magazine running for many years to come.

Kind regards

Robert Hayward