Friday, 30 December 2011

Intermission: Slut Awards 2011

Aha! After looking back at my review of 2010, I though I'd resurrect some or all of the same categories as last year, including the all-important Top Ten. N.B. this is my 2011 we're talking about, which is to say films out on general release in the UK in 2011. Hence the mentions for King's Speech, True Grit and so on, and the absence of The Artist, The Muppets and others that I'm hoping will be of note in early 2012

The Biggie - The Multiplex Slut Top Ten Films of 2011:

1. Melancholia
2. Animal Kingdom
3. Senna
4. Rango
5. Neds
6. 13 Assassins
7. Drive
8. We Need to Talk About Kevin
9. The King's Speech
10. Submarine 

[It's worth noting here that, having now seen The Skin I Live In, films from Drive downwards would all drop a place - with Submarine being displaced from the list - as Almodovar's latest would take the number seven slot. A Better Life would have a fair shout of knocking The King's Speech out of tenth place as well]

And... the bottom five films of the year:

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Film #74 Drive

Better late than never... Manchester's lovely Cornerhouse cinema are re-running some of 2011's top films, giving laggards such as myself chance to catch up on films they should have seen earlier this year. So from the top - here's Drive...

Set in a contemporary Los Angeles and starring Ryan Gosling (I'm resisting the temptation to call it a vehicle...) as a nameless getaway driver/movie stuntman; a monosyllabic outlaw in the mould of Steve McQueen or Clint Eastwood. Whilst also working for mobbed-up car mechanic Shannon (Bryan Cranston), he becomes entangled with neighbour Irene (Carey Mulligan) and her ne'er-do-well ex-con husband (Oscar Isaac), ultimately being drawn into a violent confrontations with a variety of goons in see-thru socks and local Jewish mobsters Bernie (Albert Brooks) and Nino (Ron Perlman).

So the story is pretty functional stuff, offering little more than, say, Fast Five; there is a built-in allowance for some reflection on the nature of criminality etc. but the moral universe is essentially that of a pessimistic Leone western - even the good guys are bad, redemption can only be found by way of the damsel (or child) in distress.

So what's so interesting about Drive? Well:

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Film #73 My Week With Marilyn

A quickie on this. Based on the true-life memoir of Colin Clark (bon viveur brother of political diarist Alan Clark), it recalls the privileged Clark's entry into the UK movie industry in the 1950s under the wing of family acquaintance Sir Laurence Olivier. Assigned as third AD to a corny Olivier vehicle (The Prince and the Showgirl) starring the original manic pixie dream-girl Marilyn Monroe, Clark finds himself unofficially drafted as Marilyn's companion, initially to keep an eye on her but ultimately succumbing to her charms, becoming besotted with the troubled star.

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Film #72 Another Earth

At first glance, this might appear to be a companion piece to Lars Von Trier's Melancholia, but don't be fooled - the similarities are superficial only. So the titular rogue plant - apparently an exact replica of our own dear Earth - pops up not on a collision course, but hangs wistfully in the night sky, distracting a DUI teen (Brit Marling) into crashing her vehicle into that of a Yale music professor (William Mapother), putting him in coma and killing his wife and child. We then jump to a few years down the line; Marling has left prison and is working as a cleaner, eventually coming to work for the very man whose life she ruined (N.B. he doesn't know who she is). Alongside this, she has entered a competition to travel to this other Earth for reasons of seeing how things have panned out for her interplanetary counterpart.

All of which is a device to facilitate some pretty sixth-form noodly philosophising about the nature of 'choice' and decisions/timelines and so on. This is actually a bit irritating, as, if the intergalactic Maguffin wasn't there we'd actually have a fairly interesting investigation into redemption, worked into a two-lovers-with-a-secret-that-will-tear-them-apart stock story.

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Film #71 Hugo

It's the new Martin Scorsese film - always a cinematic event, even if he hasn't directed a genuinely excellent film since 1995's Casino (a film of such genius that I really can bore for England about it). Since becoming part of the establishment his films tend to be plot-driven amusements (e.g. Shutter Island, The Departed) or whimsical expositions (The Aviator, Kundun). Hugo actually falls between the two. Based on Brian Selznick's inventive novel, it permits Scorsese combine his interest in early cinema with an orphan-boy-quest kids' movie.

Set in a kind of alternative Hollywood version of 1920s Paris, Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield) is the orphaned son of a watchmaker (Jude Law) who lives in the Gare Montparnasse, winding up the station clocks while avoiding the priggish station inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen) who is intent on sending little boys like Hugo to the orphanage. Eventually he falls in with grumpy toymaker Georges (Ben Kingsley) and his god-daughter Isabelle (Chloe Grace Moretz), inadvertently revealing Georges' secret history and, ultimately, helping him to come to terms with it.

Friday, 9 December 2011

List #7 Top Five... night club shootouts!

To be honest,this could've been a top-ten job: it's a surprisingly common movie trope, the old disco/crossfire combo, with lots of scope for kinetic, fun action - confusion, people screaming and running, shattered glass everywhere, discoballs and so on. Here are my favourites:

(And no, the Mos Eisley cantina does not count as a nightclub)

5. Collateral

Not my favourite movie, but a great scene. Silver fox (sort of) Tom Cruise is pleasingly ruthless as anti-hero Vincent carrying out a hit on a Korean mob boss. Let's be honest, we've all wanted to do that kind of nonchalant post-assassination stride that the unruffled Cruise manages after another clean(ish) kill.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Film #70 - Snowtown

I noted in my recent review of We Need to Talk about Kevin that it was a tough, tough movie. Snowtown makes it look like March of the Penguins. When a movie starts out with a single mother being told by the local transvestite that her new partner has been sexually abusing her three sons – and you realise in retrospect that that was a moment of relative levity – you know you’ve been watching something pretty harrowing.

Set in a working-class semi-rural Australian town, the film centres on the relationship between charismatic psychopath John Bunting (Daniel Henshall) and the boy for whom he becomes a father figure, James Vlassakis (Lucas Pittaway, uncannilly reminiscent of a young Heath Ledger). Both names are notorious in Australia, as ringleader and key participant respectively in the ‘bodies in barrels’ murders, a killing spree claiming twelve lives over seven years, real-life events which are portrayed unflinchingly in this film. So much for my scene-setting synopsis - frankly the events portrayed in this film are so traumatic that my brain has been hard at work repressing all memory of it.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Film #69 The Thing

A quickie here, I think...

All you cineastes will of course know that this is the third Thing - Howard Hawks did his back in the fifties; John Carpenter's better-known 1982 version was a remake in the loosest sense, staying truer to the original story (John W. Campbell's Who Goes There?) and generally making a better fist of it: the storytelling is taught and suspenseful, and the fabulously gross special effects still look great. This latest Thing is technically a prequel to Carpenter's, though is essentially a remake (and one suspects that the prequellian nature was tacked on part way through production) - essentially, a murderous, body-snatching space alien is on the loose in an isolated Antarctic research base; nobody knows who is human and who is alien etc. etc.

Sadly, where Carpenter's Thing is now recognised as a milestone in horror cinema, this film is just a shoddy rehash, a ersatz Thing. I made the mistake of rewatching the 1982 Thing before seeing this, and on every count it is inferior. Even the special effects - nearly thirty years on, remember - are nowhere near as visceral and stomach-churning. Pixels just don't look real. The acting is doesn't come close either, despite with the radiant Mary Elizabeth Winstead starring, and the director (Matthijs van Heijningen Jr.) fails to extract even the kind suspense that early X Files episodes routinely achieved on TV. And of course we go in knowing what will happen in the end, which hardly helps.

In isolation, I suppose this Thing would just be a ho-hum B movie, the kind of multiplex fodder that depressingly pads out the space between seasons; dull, but not awful. However, next to its far superior source it suffers badly, and slips further into ignominy by not even having the good grace to be original. No doubt it will turn a small profit, but the sooner everyone involved moves on to new projects the better, and this substandard remake/prequel can be quietly forgotten.


List #6 Top 20... Movies of the 00s

So, this post from I *Heart* That Film on the best films of the 2000s (that is, 1st January 2000 to 31st December 2009) definitely got me thinking. For some reason, I’ve never considered the first decade of this millennium as a discrete time period, though to be honest the novelty of being in the 21st Century still hasn’t worn off for me.

Stacking these in any order was a bit of a challenge. Number one was pretty clear, as it's is one of all-time favourite movies – but 2-20 are interchangeable depending on time of day, wind direction etc.

Anyway - enougha my yackin:

20. Hot Fuzz

A superior spoof of action movies packed with gags and probably gave me more laughs than any other movie this decade. Pegg, Frost and Wright’s best work to date.

19. Wall-E

My favourite Pixar of the decade – admittedly perhaps not a real kids’ favourite but I loved its charm, subtlety and intelligence