I'm not a huge cinema fan these days as the multiplexes are all rather expensive and noisy so DVD it is. I can easily rent seven or so films with various Blockbuster deals for the price of just one cinema ticket so I wait for stuff I like to come on disc. Here are my favourite films from 2009! ----Best ... Animation----
Wall-E for me was miles ahead of anything else on DVD, animation/cartoon wise. It was grown up and multi-layered so something for all the family. With its eco message, sweet robot love story and brilliant scene setting and thought out narrative it's a must see for those that normally turn their noses up at this stuff. It's as funny as it's is smart and as with all cartoons if you can nail the descriptive narrative side of things with your animation skills and wild imaginations then you are on to a winner. Wall-E does all these things in spades and like no other animation has ever done.
-MAN ON A WIRE-
ANVIL: The STORY OF ANVIL
It was a dead heat for me between these two.
The Oscar winning Man on a Wire is an extraordinary piece of documentary film making, telling the true story of French daredevil Philippe Petit, the guy who tightrope walked between the newly constructed Twin Towers back in the 1970s...with no harness!!! One slip in the swirling wind and he and his 30ft balance pole fell 1523ft on to the Manhattan side walk. Splat!
With obvious 911 conations and an a-typical, full of himself Frenchman in full show off mood, the film really gets into the minds of these guys that have the death wish. To see him up their on the wire with cops either side telling him to come down, only for him to 'sit down' on the tiny cable, is mind bogglingly queasy as it is unbelievable. It's such a great piece of work on a story little told, something so astounding its hard to believe this wasn't made quicker.
Anvils film is just as good but in other ways, some you wouldn't expect. It's a 'where are they now film' and looks at the life of Canadian thrash metal band Anvil, who in the 80s where the next big thing on the scene and playing the biggest rock festivals, but twenty years later the guys are washed up and working in warehouses and as delivery drivers, but still keeping the band going. It's really funny and also a lesson in life that things sometimes don't work out when they should, even if you are playing to 30,000 metal heads at Donnington in 1985. Rock fans or not this is almost the film of the year in any genre I have listed here.
For me Iron Man trounced the Dark Knight, 'HellBoy 11: The Golden Army' well clear in the silver medal position of last years big multiplex action adventures that came through to DVD in 2009. I haven't seen District 9 so excuse me on that one. Batman Begins was fabulous with Bale but the genre is boring again and the return of Robert Downey Junior to comic book film has thankfully moved things up a gear. He's getting great reviews for a similar energetic performance in Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes movie and I thought he was just superb in Iron Man. He's funny, smart, eccentric and always on the ball in his stuff and his colourful past just adds to his role here, a tale to be told for every crease and line on his aloof mush.
I always feel these superhero movies are aimed at 14-year-olds and when a grown up one comes along that's contemporary and edgy to represent these troubled political times then it has to go to the top of the pile. Iron Man is the smartest action packed movie for a while and for once a superhero movie that doesn't patronise or camp it up.
-LARS AND THE REAL GIRL-
This was a genuine treat, a superb quirky script supported by an excellent lead performance by Ryan Gosling, making for a cool American low budget. Juno, what the movie hacks raved about all last year and what films like this are now measured against, became what American indie films should be for some reason, mid budget efforts cast with TV actors to look like indie films. But Lars and the Real Girl is a true indie because it's not trying to be an indie, if you see what I mean.
It's about a loner (Gosling) in a small town who didn't deal with his parent's death very well and his latest retreat into solace sees him buy himself a life size and life like doll off the internet, but makes her come alive with his imagination so to become her boyfriend, which, at first is all too weird for the local community, but once its greed with the local GP that the only solution to fix his mental condition is by making him believe they too think the doll is real the film really comes alive. It's a great piece of gentle and smart film making and must see if you need a dose of indie off the cheap rack.
Best horror has to be 'The Mist', Shawshanks, Frank Darrabont teaming up with Stephen King once again after a ten year break, all of them winners. This one really does feel like one of Kings book has come alive for once as Darrabont captures the pure essence of the world's best selling horror writer. That hasn't happened much of late with Kings work and who can ever forgive the makers of Dreamcatchers! As always King lives his life vicariously through his work, here, yet again, the handsome writer by the lake who will face his greatest fears.
This is genuinely quite creepy stuff and very atmospheric, one of the grimmest endings to a movie you will see. Because the cast is little known it really does feel the real deal and although some didn't like the monsters I thought it was a great premise for a film in what is very tired genre now. Let's face it; we have had some stinkers in American horror over the years. This one will rejuvenate your faith.
---Surprise Action Hits---
Perhaps borderline DVD releases for 2008, Death Race and Taken were surprisingly under-rated and little recognised for the cool action films they are. Statham has the cult following in oddball films like Crank and the Eurotrash of the enjoyable Transporter films but Death race moved him up a gear into the A-list of action hero's if you ask me. It's not a remake of the original; this not set on the open road but in a prison complex, but it is the same sort of silly violent gory fun. Our Jase is as charismatic and tongue-in-cheek as ever and delivers an enjoyable Mad Max style action flick here. He takes his shirt off for the girls on queue and delivers for the lads, this his best movie yet for me.
In recent years semi sub-titled films have started to pop up in the mainstream and Slumdog Millionaire was the victory in that genre waiting to happen. With the brilliant Danny Boyle behind the controls it swept the boards at the Award ceremonies, bagging the coveted best director/movie double. Some say it did so well because the Indian movie industry bailed at Hollywood in the credit crunch that year whilst others like me say it was because its a great little unconventional movie, mixing postcard India we know with the corrupt and brutal one we don't know, but all done with great humour and sweetness. It has to be in my top three movies of the year.
Clint Eastwood proclaimed this was his last lead performance in a film and what a way to go out, literally retiring on screen in a blaze of testosterone like only Clint could. Gran Torino is almost a mini biopic in itself, a film all about one of cinemas great icons getting very old on screen and putting that icon to bed. He is America recent history.
It's the story of racism in America's melting pot and how you have to earn your place in the racial pecking order, Eastwoods grumpy Polish born American character snarling at his Korean neighbours for most of the movie before coming around to the fact they are just like him and trying to find their feet in America and so its time we all got along. If Clint says that's the case then that's the case. It's funny, edgy in places, but ultimately full of plenty of home truths on race and ghettoisation in America, powered on by Eastwoods cracking performance of the world weary man tired of the b/s he has to put up with in modern America. This is Clint's best film for ages and a must see for all of those who want to see what a retired and creaky Dirty Harry would do if he didn't like his neighbours.
---Best British Film---
-THE DAMMED UNITED-
It's between this and Looking for Eric as my best British film of the year and I'm sure if Michael Sheen doesn't win a BAFTA for this he will for Frost/Nixon. He's a brilliant mimic, spoken and physical, and absolutely nails Brian Clough in this enjoyable biopic. The family were less than impressed with some aspects of the film that looks at Cloughs reign at then unfashionable clubs Derby County and Nott's Forest (the writer littering it with made up situations and contrived scenes) which he and his side-kick Peter Taylor (ludicrously cast with Timothy Spall) took to two European Cups and three first division championships in the 70s and early 80s, as well as three League Cups. It was an extraordinary time in Midlands's football and this joyous film is apt homage to those glory years and the charismatic Clough. Oh to have a character like that in the Premier League now!
---Dumbest but fun movie of the year---
'Knowing' is indeed very silly but you will be hooked in early on as the intrigue builds. Nick Cage is perfect for the role, father to a boy and other local kids, whilst in a trance, begin to receive coded number sequences that point to the coming end of the world. Once the reveal kicks in it does get barmy but there's enough here to keep you on board for the dénouement and feel entertained enough with a fun popcorn head spinner. If something in the future wants to tell us what to do to avoid disaster this is not the way to go about it. It's a shame the same dark forces who know their sums couldn't tip off Cage about his six million tax shortfall...
----Comeback of the Year----
This gritty grown up movie sees the return to form (and from the dead by all accounts) of Mickey Rourke, brilliant as the washed up fighter, a man who has lived the life he plays out here on screen, this the perfect role and performance for him.
The Academy bottled the Oscar and went safe with Sean Penn playing a Jewish gay guy, perhaps more representative of Hollywood than a steroid popping minor league Wrestler. You need to watch The Wrestler just for Rourke alone and it's also the return to form for Marisa Tomei, who picked up the most bizarre Oscar for 'My Cousin Vinny' in the mid nineties. She and he are very good here.
-LOOKING FOR ERIC-
Has to be Ken Loaches surprisingly light hearted comedy, very much a film of two halves. The first bit is very funny as a depressed Manchester postie (Steve Evets) begins to have hallucinations of an imaginary friend, for him the great Eric Cantona; Eric's all time favourite player for United. The second half is a different movie altogether and far more Ken Loach, Eric's teenage son getting involved in gangs and guns. Cantona is hilarious though and Evets totally convincing as the guy suffering the working mans mid-life crisis as he pines for his long lost love that kept all that at bay, true love often stopping reality rushing in. If you going to see another British film alongside the Dammed United this year on DVD then this is the one for you, football finally finding a winning formula for the big screen.
I think its fair to say people either loved or hated this, Sacha Baron Cohen again on hilarious form, this time as an extremely gay Austrian TV fashion Presenter sending up z-list celebrity and the absurd fashion industry. Admittedly the jokes do get puerile at times but the point with Cohen is his he is able like no other to lace his silliness with disguised intelligent humour that gets real people to expose their prejudices on camera, often the most put upon minorities who claim racism the most being the most prejudice of all, as proved the case here. Where you're non-white you don't have to tread on eggshells over race and sexuality and Cohen exposes that, along with many other things. Everyone to those minor American celebrities to prominent US politicians are snared here as the belly laughs pile up. When you watch this you are not laughing at gay people but the exact opposite, the film showing just how much power minorities have these days. If you think this is homophobic you are way off.
-Best Foreign Film-
-THE BOSS OF IT ALL-
-THE BOTHERSOME MAN-
It's a tie, two Scandinavian films sharing the gold medal, Lars Von Triers 'The Boss of it All' and 'The Bothersome Man' from Iceland/Finland. Von Triers dogma school of film making really delivers here with this hilarious tale of a jobbing actor (Jens Albinus) who is employed by a nefarious company boss (Peter Gantzler) to play the phantom director of his company, the same boss created six years ago to keep the staff in line at his technology company. The Boss of it all has to be real so he can sign some important contracts with another company. But the "actor" gets carried away and starts to take the role rather too seriously, dragging out the 'performance' and so the negotiations to hilarious effect, exposing the real boss's nefarious actions over the years. It's a fabulous foreign film and if you need your dose of sub-titles then get this one from Blockies.
The Bothersome Man is a far more enigmatic affair, a black comedy from Iceland that sees a suicide jumper plunge under a train and wake up in a strange land, unaware how he got there, but a job, apartment and pleasantly accommodating women awaiting him in his new life. It's all very surreal and it may well be heaven, no kids or sense of taste and smell adding to the oddness of it all. But the film is also full of other messages, consumerism and the rat race interpolated into the clever narrative, this one of the most enigmatic and beguiling movies I have seen for a while.
Happy 2010 film viewing guys and thanks for all your rates and nominations! After my 100th film crown this week I'm a very happy bunny! I know this is not quite in the right slot but dooyoo didn't want to add best films of 2010. I'm sure you appreciate my need to write this piece...
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London Film Festival
The London Film Festival is something that, as a film buff, I have always wanted to go to but been a bit too timid about travelling around London to go to. Thankfully, my girlfriend lives in London so I'm used to the Tube now and decided to try and catch a screening this year. The festival screens a lot of obscure and also Oscar-caliber ... films months before their general release, utilising the numerous cinemas in Leicester Square as well as some more further-afield ones too.
The first thing worth mentioning is that tickets go FAST. There is a BFI Members priority, and then they get a general release a week or so later, but they go within a few hours at most, so make sure you're quick off the mark or you will get stitched up! I got to most of the bookings too late, but did manage to book tickets for a screening of the brilliant THE ROAD (due out in January), and so ended up seeing it almost 3 months early! This is quite a satisfying feeling in itself, as well as the buzz that you're seeing the film with a really grateful and buzzed audience.
The fact that this is so welcoming to those outside of the industry is a plus; gala tickets are quite expensive and I hope to grab a bunch of galas next year, but if you catch the matinee screenings you end up paying only about £8, which is a steal to see a film months in advance if you ask me. The staff are generally very friendly and it is a very exciting time to be around in London. I will definitely aim to be quicker off the mark next year and hopefully catch some screenings with the cast and crew actually in!
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Sequels to Films - Are they any good?
There are many hasty remarks made about sequels both among the hordes of regular movie goers and the more professional echelons of critics. The hasty remark voiced by the average movie viewer is that vast majority of sequels are worse than the original. The hasty remark by critics, specifically those who write for mainstream movie ... magazines, is that decent sequels have only really started appearing in the 21st century. I consider both views to be gross generalizations at best.
The critics' generalization is disproved with 1935's The Bride of Frankenstein. This is often considered a vast improvement on James Whale's atmospheric original Frankenstein. Whale had the opportunity to really cut loose on Bride using black humour and a subtle play of hammy campiness not really appreciated until many decades later. The Godfather Part II won more awards and is also considered by many to be a better sequel than the original. And who can forget The Empire Strikes Back. Far from being cynical, the film took chances with a darker tone for a mainstream family movie way back 1980 and is perhaps the most incomplete part of the original trilogy. Yet critics and fans alike look upon it with extreme fondness, so much so that it is arguable that it is more responsible for the negativity the third film received off fans than the first film. Likewise the third instalment of the Star Wars prequels has received more acclaim than its two predecessors.
Still before the 21st century superhero revival and Batman Returns may have seen a decline in box office revenue from its original, but looking back it is perhaps a much better film. Into the 21st century and we see Christopher Nolan scoring with perhaps one of most all round successful sequels to date, 2008's The Dark Knight. This film would also be the sequel that would give the superhero genre their first Oscar for an acting role with Heath Ledger's Joker. Also in the superhero genre we find Spider-Man 2, which is an improvement, in many ways, over the original film.
Most professional drama has seen sequels. Yet we have come to see the movie sequel as little more than an attempt to cash-in on a successful or semi-successful original film. "The Fall of a Nation" was Thomas Dixon Jnr's attempt to cash-in on the first full length feature film "The Birth of a Nation", which was the feature film. Apparently Dixon didn't receive a penny for the first film, so decided to direct his own sequel the following year. It is now considered a lost film, but film critics look to it, in hindsight, as the blueprint for the first attempt to milk an original film with a follow on feature. However, if we look at the history of the novel, the play and even the epic poem we see that there was often a need to continue a story, which was justified in the form of a sequel. A similar argument could be made for remakes, but I will save that for another article.
Few professors of English literature would look favourably upon the view that Shakespeare's Henry VI parts II and III, and Richard III were cynical soulless cash-ins on Henry VI part I. Furthermore, and it is worth mentioning considering we are in a time of prequels and especially considering the bashing the Star Wars prequels have met, it worth considering that the prequels to VI, Richard II, Henry IV part I and II and Henry V are often viewed as superior plays to the Henry VI trilogy and Richard III. The popular view is that William Shakespeare was older when he wrote the first parts of history cycle and therefore more mature, intellectual and philosophical in his writing, whereas the latter part of the cycle were written with more melodrama and although still brilliant aimed for a broader audience in order to pay the bills.
One might argue the point that the aforementioned plays were the work of the same person whereas many movie sequels are the work of hacks employed by cynical production companies. This might be a valid point if we consider the second Godfather, Spider-Man 2, the Lord of the Rings' two sequels, X-Men 2, Evil Dead 2, Romero's first two Dead sequels, The Bride of Frankenstein and Superman II*. The Empire Strikes Back may have had a different director, but the writing and creative control were all in the hands of the same man who directed the first film. The argument might be taken further if we think of what happened to the franchise after the man behind the original left. The third X-Men film wasn't a bad superhero film to be fair, but stank by contrast to the first two. The Universal horror sequels that followed The Bride of Frankenstein are charming and fun, but they become exactly what sequels are often considered to be: blatant cash-ins.
However, this can all be considered confirmation bias or selective arguing. After all Sam Raimi made Spider-Man 3 as he did the first two, and most agree it is not a patch on the rest of the franchise. Romero's long time coming fourth and fifth Dead sequels fizzled rather than exploded. We have already George Lucas's work on Star Wars, but it is worth mentioning here to illustrate a point. After Empire, Return of the Jedi prompted the beginning of a phenomenon in fandom known as "Lucas bashing". This was far from assuaged when the auteur took the full helm again with the most eagerly awaited prequels in cinema history. Each successive prequel was hated a little less, but for all their huge financial success, there are many casual cinema goers and militant Star Wars fans alike that agree they were either badly executed or never should have been made in the first place. The big problem many had with the Star Wars prequels was the retconning. In the minds of many there was an established mythology and by adding to it the great auteur ruined the perceptions of many. What, of course, is often forgotten is that Lucas had messed around with Star Wars since the announcement of The Empire Strikes Back when he added "Episode IV: A New Hope" to the opening crawl of the re-released version of the original Star Wars. Even the original trilogy's plots are full of changes that makes Lucas's supposed grand plan dubious at best.
So what makes a good sequel? Essentially I think viewers are impressed by a feel that the sequel progresses naturally from the original. Going back to the plays of Shakespeare and his contemporaries - not to mention the epic works of antiquity - we can see that audiences were drawn to the ominous warnings, prophesies and dramatic irony that had been set up in the preceding work. If done correctly there is a particularly delicious soliloquy delivered by Richard Duke of Gloucester in Henry VI Part III as, towards the play's final acts, he suddenly reveals his Machiavellian intentions to seize the crown in the sequel, Richard III. Subsequently Richard III, which is mostly viewed, read and studied as a self-contained work, has a significant portion of its speeches and conversations centred on actions that have occurred in previous plays. In fact, the whole play is about the conclusion of the original sin committed in Richard II. In this respect, Richard III is perhaps an ideal representation of the sequel.
Bryan Singer's X-Men and X2 work as if they are two parts of the same film. The same thing happens in Superman and Superman II, which were filmed at the same time. In fact, the sequel is often better in these instances because of the events that set it up in the original. Similarly Sam Raimi's Spider-Man 2 is an excellent example of a much-loved middle sequel, a la The Empire Strikes Back, because it not only fulfils events set up by the first film, but then takes other matters and leaves them with tantalizing cliffhangers for the third part. Unfortunately this ball is well and truly dropped in X-Men: The Last Stand and even fumbled with in the overblown Spider-Man 3. In the former case a different director could be blamed, in the latter it could be argued that Raimi was under considerable pressure that compromised his position. The same could be said by the much belated "The Godfather Part III". Back in 1974 Francis Ford Coppola was pretty much given full creative control with his sequel to The Godfather Part II, even to the extent that he was able to change convention in having the first sequel to have name "Part II" added**. However, according to Coppola this was not the case with 1990's The Godfather Part III, a film he would have liked to have called "The Death of Michael Corleone". However, as we have already discussed, giving an auteur complete control of a franchise does not always guarantee critical success.
Nevertheless, The Lord of the Rings stands as a gleaming example of what happens when sequels are filmed and fully conceived as part of one whole continuous project by the same creative team. In this instance each film generally received more praise, acclaim and awards than its predecessor. There becomes less need for retconning and new characters appear more fluidly. Much like the first two Superman films, the second two parts of the Back to the Future and Matrix trilogy demonstrated the benefits of back-to-back filming. Like Lord of the Rings, the third instalment is generally considered by casual and professional critics alike to be better than the second, which is very rare in film land. *** One might speculate that viewers are more forgiving with a third instalment if it, at least, keeps a solid and fluid continuity with its predecessor even if it is somewhat disloyal to the original.
Then there are those sequels that break all the rules and still do a good job. "What Becomes of the Broken Hearted" differs considerably from all the sequels, I have mentioned, by not being a genre movie. Although it will always be overshadowed by the viscerally intensive and dramatically impressive first film, "Once Were Warriors", it is still an excellent sequel. What is most impressive is that the first film left no obvious doors open, which judging by the many examples I have given is pretty much a requisite for a sequel to have a chance. However, WBBH does have one advantage over other sequels; it is based on an original novel. It earns other good sequel marks by having most of the original cast. Where it works and shouldn't is by killing off a character from the first film at the beginning and creating a totally new angle to base the rest of the film on. This is normally a sign of desperation in the world of sequels, but with WBBH it results in creating the epilogue to the first film (and novel) that it seems we needed after all.
Likewise, when it comes to the world of bad movies or should I say "films that are so bad they are good" we find that only by being totally audacious with the rules can a film sometimes stand out for the right reasons. Such is the case with "Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives". The films were already illogical, far-fetched and, quite frankly, ridiculous, but never before had the main protagonist since Part II been officially considered supernatural. The sixth part completely threw caution to the wind by bringing the villain back in Universal horror style, with a bolt of lightening sent through his rotting corpse and so was born zombie Jason. By setting up the ludicrous the rest of the picture didn't miss a beat. Like the third A Nightmare on Elm Street, it used the humour wisely without turning the whole film into a complete parody. It was nowhere in the same league as the Nightmares, but it began to demonstrate signs of slasher self-awareness long before Wes Craven used it to good effect in "Scream" a decade later.
For me, sequels vary much as any original film does. You have good ones and you have bad ones. Some are complete insults to the original (American Psycho 2), others just don't measure up to the original but our essentially decent films in their own right (Meet the Fockers), some are respectable continuations (Psycho II), some equal the original (Blade II) and there are a fair few that surpass the original (Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me). I definitely feel they work best if they are carefully set-up and plotted plausibly in the first film and then follow a close continuation throughout the franchise, not discounting the events in any part of the chain. In this respect it is a momentous task and perhaps far more credit should be given to a production company who can deliver a critically and commercially well received sequel beyond the first one.
*Superman II was originally directed by the same man who directed the first film, Richard Donner. Donner filmed an estimated 75%, but was taken off the film due to - depending on who you believe - artistic differences with the studios or going over budget or both. Nevertheless, I have included in the list as it was shot at the same time as the original and with essentially the same creative team, at least until Richard Lester took over as director.
**The first commercial film to feature 2 or II in the title was 1957's "Quatermass 2", the sequel to 1955's "The Quatermass Xperiment". It was also based on a TV series entitled "Quatermass II". In the US the titles for both the original and the sequel were not used, which is perhaps why many American movie historians overlook this when discussing the history of the sequel. Movie geeks are quick to point out that "Jaws 2" is the first film to actually mention the whole title of the original movie followed by a number. Looking at the way many films have difficulty getting the numbering system right - think First Blood's sequels, Rambo First Blood Part II, Rambo III and Rambo - it is little surprising we find difficulties with continuity in their storylines.
***For sequel haters, the third instalment is regularly considered - to quote the third sequel of the Blackadder series - "The crowning turd in the waterpipe".
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Archive Movie / 3D adventure with characters from the Simpsons and Antz.
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Archive Movie / Yearly in August as part of the 'Edinburgh International Festival'.
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