Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Best Of Decade


The New World (Both Versions) - The New World has two versions, both superior, moving works of artistic genius, about the colonisation of America. Have terrific, subtle performances, moments on otherworldly images amidst seemingly normal landscapes, and terrific use of voice-over to suggest lives living at the moment, unsure of the tragedies and joys that await the characters.

The Sun, Alexandre & Russian Ark - One is about The Japanese Emperor wandering around his garden at the end of World War, one is about an old woman wandering around a make-shift army base and the surrounding area during a war, one about Russian history. All are visually spectacular, subtly emotional masterpieces.

The Werckmeister Harmonies - A stunning Bela Tarr for this decade. Shot after lingering shot of compromised lives, all giving an accumulation of subtle character and mood. An amazing feat of film-making.

Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter… And Spring - The life of a Buddhist man and an elderly man trying to teach him how to survive with grace, the younger man making many tragic mistakes before finding his way, seen through the seasons. A wonderful look at life.

Saraband - Ingmar Bergman’s final film, the story of a once-married couple finding one another years later, seeing the tragedies that befell the other. This is the story of people facing up to their own, and others, flaws. Beautiful.

Femme Fatale - A European fairy-tale of a film, where stories are played then replayed carefully, images have many meanings, and cinematic sequences play out simply for the joy of being a film. One of DePalma’s best films, this has spell-binding sequences, and is the best use of suspense and humour for many years.

Animal Factory - A beautiful small-scale drama set in a prison, the story of a young man trying to survive in a system set-up to destroy him. Full of wonderful seemingly slight moments and sequences, this accumulates powerfully, with characters losing and trying to regain their souls in a mundane hell.

Miami Vice - A love story set in the drug world, a depressed cop goes undercover and begins to lose his bearings, in a brutally violent world. A beautiful, under-rated noir update.

The Agronomist - Jonathon Demme’s humane tale of Radio Haiti and the tragedies that befall it and its country.

Punch-Drunk Love & There Will Be Blood - Paul Thomas Anderson really came of age this decade with these two films, one a twisted love story on the paranoia’s and fears of self-revelation to another, both kind and ugly while the other is about self-destruction and mindless greed dominating a life, leading to psychopathic need for tragedy to everyone.

No Country For Old Men - Coen Brothers best film, a tragic, underplayed story of one simple decision, to go for a quick steal, leading to a brutal manhunt that no-one can escape, all for a money prize that is almost abstract. A tragic comedy.

Mulholland Drive & Inland Empire - Two moments of David Lynch genius, the first a love story seen from various viewpoints, all obscured by self-delusion and need for the relief of fantasy, the second a tragic tale of madness and self-obsession, when there is no real self. The visuals are amazing.

The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou & The Fantastic Mr Fox - Two wonderful Wes Anderson films, the first a comedy about a diver slowly losing control of his own little world, the second a similar set-up but done from a child-like POV, where people can fight back. Visually inspired both, two works of a unique, kind imagination.

Solaris & Bubble - Solaris is a wonderfully depressed remake of a depressed Russian film, about the fantasy of the person you think you love, while Bubble is about longing in a dead environment, where any achievement is brief. Both have wonderful human moments amidst the quiet darkness of their environments.

Elephant & Gerry - Two Gus Van Sant films of long shots and understated characters, one about a school massacre, another of two men lost in a desert. Both are addictive and focus on the build of people within what seems mundane, both about the accumulation of a life experience, not the artificial peak.

A History Of Violence & Eastern Promises - Two Cronenberg crime stories about identity, both about men lying about his past played by Viggo Mortnernson, both about that man finding life very confusing when pressure is put on lies, where the truth of his character is very ambiguous. Both films take time to appreciate.

AI: Artificial Intelligence - Spielberg makes a Kubrick project, sometimes a bit awkwardly in dialogue, but the film has an epic quality, as a robot boy travels the world to find a reason for being, discovering it in complicated ways that he himself cannot comprehend. It’s a sad tale, reminiscent of early Spielberg like The Sugarland Express of Close Encounters. The first third is especially brilliant.

Dave Chappelle’s Block Party - Its not entirely a documentary, nor is it a concert film, instead it follows the creation of a block party, introducing the reasons for the block party, slowly introducing the event while getting an understanding of the area it takes place in. The inter-cutting of music and neighbourhood is beautiful, with Chapelle acting as host. A beautiful little film.

The Devil’s Backbone & Pan’s Labyrinth - Two Guillimero Del Toro films, both about war-torn Spain, both with child protagonists, one set in a boy’s school and is about the sin of the war and death, the other about a little girl going to live with a fascist, with fairytale logic taking over amidst the tragic reality. Two wonderful films.

The Squid And The Whale - A lovely little drama about divorce, and how difficult people can be, both in the lead-up to, and during, a divorce situation. All the characters are complicated, can be selfish but are recognisably human, which gives the film its warmth.


The Prestige - A truly wonderful film about the mechanics of showmanship, deflection, misplaced rage, mixed with a real sense of the grandeur of magic. Easily Christopher Nolan’s best film.

Speed Racer - One of the most under-rated films of the decade, a kids movie that truly enters that visual head-space of a five to ten year old, throwing up a cartoony world with fast cars in day-glo colours, with split-screens moving from image to image with ease. The first twenty minutes is especially wonderful. Its horrible that a film this good was so totally ignored by all.

Anchorman - Will Ferrell’s finest hour, as a limited local news anchorman in the 1970’s, facing feminism amidst a series of truly oddball sequences (especially the animated sequences after Ron scores with his lady love. An amazing supporting cast, with Paul Rudd a standout as ladies man Brian Fantana. The added film Wake Up Ron Burgendy, is hilarious also, with three stand-out comedy moments cut from the original film, a bank heist gone wrong “I’m not giving you any money. You don’t deserve it. Your masks don’t make any sense.” Champ Kind’s declaration of love to Ron, and the amazingly sick “What I’d like to do to Mother Nature” monologue. Yes, its deleted scenes are funnier than most movies.

The Revenger’s Tragedy - Alex Cox didn’t get the financing to make many films this decade but this one put most directors to shame. Christopher Eccleston leads the cast, seeking revenge on a powerful family that killed his love. It plays as a revenge thriller and a parody of this genre, as well as being the most twisted and inventive take on updating a magic text imaginable, having many moments of Brechtian brilliance. Eccleston is terrific in the lead. Remember, let those who seek revenge dig their own grave first.

Dominion: Exorcist Prequel - Dumped by hits own financiers, remade terribly by Renny Harlin, then released in a limited form when the remake was deemed an abomination, this was a more difficult than most assignment even for Paul Schrader. And it’s a beautiful film. While never terrifying, it has lovely sequences of build and strangeness (best of all the Northern Lights appearing during the exorcism), focusing on a man trying to regain his soul after the tragedy of World War 2. Stellan Starsgard, always a good actor, shines in this, full of subtle reactions that build powerfully, as he tries to find away to face evil and irrationality in the world.

Looney Tunes: Back In Action - Wired but funny as hell Looney Tunes film by Joe Dante. Essentially its Daffy Duck runs amuck through Hollywood, Vegas and Paris. The painting joke sequence is still one of the funniest of the decade. Brendan Fraser’s only good film this decade.

Office Space - The ultimate how to survive in a job you hate comedy, as a man decides not to care and starts getting promoted. Full of funny, twisted office-area interactions and paranoia’s, this works as an accumulation of details, scene by scene, rather than having a few stand-out moments.

The Way Of The Gun - The best pulp heist flick of the decade, where Benecio Del Toro and Ryan Phillippe kidnap a surrogate mother for the mob, taking her Mexico way. Is full of rich, interesting characters who reveal themselves in spare, careful scenes, this also has a twisted escalation of stakes as the interactions slowly get out of control. Also has great action, especially when Phillippe accidentally jumps into a hiding spot full of glass, gutting half his arm up.

Avatar - This is still too early to say how well it ranks ultimately with me. I only having seen it once, and recently, but gets poignancy for creating a truly original world out of many influences and then having the patience to stick with this world, showing it in careful detail. It has the naïve melodrama of the original King Kong and that’s no insult.

Hulk & Superman Returns - Hulk is a brilliant, distanced yet personalised look of split personalities within the tantalisation and look of a comic book, both and example of and a strangely affectionate study of pulp, melodrama and personal film-making. Is Ang Lee’s most interesting film. Superman Returns is the most romantic superhero film of the decade, is about the mythical aspects of the genre and the characters, is about a strange god who’s confused and affectionate towards the brave flawed people. The film has a lovely retro style mixed with an interest in bigger, expansive science fiction landscapes and feelings. Its a terrific example of personalised epic film-making.


The Village & The Happening - Two deeply crazy films, the first due to plot, the second due to plot and truly odd dialogue. And yet they are appealing. They village has a great mood to its opening section, a terrific fairy tale feeling, wonderful use of colour. Its end makes sense in a fairy tale type of way but isn’t set-up properly, as there is still a realistic expectation. The Happening is truly awful whenever anyone speaks. But as soon as its silent, when everything relies on images, there are some very interesting things going on. And then someone speaks and it gets awful. Especially if its Mark Whalberg, who’s terribly miscast. (Even more miscast than he was in Planet Of The Apes remake)

Land Of The Lost - This one is a very eccentric comedy that has not gotten a lot of love. But its eccentrically funny but I covered it on the 2009 list.

The Black Dahlia - DePalma’s mega-weird Ellroy adaptation moves too fast, has some plot points that are not elaborated on properly, has some very eccentric performances. Buts its style and oddness, its dark humour, its odd themes of constant doubling, obsession over the dead, mad hysteria driving everyone nuts is very compulsive. The brakes are off on this one and its great fun.

Hannibal - Hannibal is similar to The Black Dahlia. It has many plot problems, has an unadaptable novel, some OTT acting, a crazy gothic undertone, a very romantic but twisted ending. But the central relationship is interesting and odd, the villains and revenge methods are very strange, and the whole thing is rather wonderful, if under-rated.

Southland Tales - Just crazy. Good luck working out the plot in this one. You have amnesia, porn, incompetent revolutionaries. It has an odd, unrealistic tone and problems with mood. But like many on this list section, its flaws and strange obsessions are what makes it work, and be worth a look.

Ghosts Of Mars - John Carpenter’s only film this decade has Ice Cube and Jason Statham, plus some other character actors wandering about getting killed, and the woman from Species. It is set on Mars, has monsters that are spirits who inhabit humans and turn them mad, cutting their faces up, is told out of chronological order. The downside is its not very good, doesn’t really make sense but is loads of b-movie fun. Dr Who has homage it twice, most recently in Water Of Mars (it’s the same plot, using water instead of air).

Alexander: Director’s Cut - This is a really stupid film. I hated it the first time I saw it. It has terrible, terrible writing, the worst wig ever, dull direction that misses many sane set-ups that would tell the story in half the time and with efficiency. The only person who’s any fun is Val Kilmer. And yet its become bizarrely addictive. This one is a cry for help I’m afraid.

The Truth About Charlie - This got a lot of bad press. It’s Jonathon Demme’s remake of Charade, with Mark Whalberg and Thandie Newton. And its not what you would expect. It doesn’t try to have an old-fashioned feel, instead going French New Wave meets eighties Demme style, where characters are established quick then get twisted and revealed using cheeky genre tricks. It’s a lovely, playful film. And most people hate it.


Before Sunset, The Pianist, Black Book, Tideland, Grizzly Man & Rescue Dawn, Public Enemies & Ali, American Psycho, The Terminal, Be Kind Rewind, Tallegeda Nights & Step Brothers, I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead, Almost Famous: Long Version, Che Part 1 & 2, Peter Pan, Let The Right One In.


Pitch Black, Blade 2, Hellboy 1 & 2, The Mist, Mission To Mars, Spiderman 2 & Drag Me To Hell, Matrix Reloaded & Matrix Revolutions, Star Wars: Attack Of the Clones & Revenge Of The Sith, Kill Bill 1 & 2, Death Proof & Inglorious Basterds, Donnie Darko, Wallace & Gromit: Curse Of the Were-Rabbit, Hero & House Of the Flying Daggers.


W., The Fountain, Pearl Harbour, Charlie’s Angels 2: Full Throttle, A Very Long Engagement, The Lady In The Water & Signs (One director, two terrible films. An achievement), The Producers, The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Ghost Rider, Be Cool, Roman Polanski: Wanted And Desired, The Invasion, Death Race, Elizabeth: The Golden Age, XXX2 & Die Another Day (Another two film one director achievement) - Can’t be bothered elaborating on their heinous natures. All are despicable or incompetent in one way or another.


Zodiac, The Darjeeling Limited, Hollow Man, Collateral, Burn After Reading & The Brothers Grimm - All terrific directors yet what the hell happened? Yet Mann, Gilliam, Verhoeven and Anderson followed these disappointments with what I consider some of their best achievements.

Red Dragon, Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines & Die Hard 4.0 - How not to make sequels to terrific genre series‘. Truly dispiriting in their base cynicism. At least Terminator got redemption with the TV show. The other two have withered and died.

Big Fish - Just boring, obvious, unimaginative with a terribly dull Ewan McGregor performance, hitting the cliché notebook. Burton has bounced back a little since here but it’s a bad, bad film to have on the film list. Horribly sentimental also, but without any actual point. Just father and sons don’t understand one another. Probably the worst of this bunch.



Deadwood - A great western-based drama about the painful and stunted rise of civilisation, seen through the gold rush in Deadwood. Ian McShane and Timothy Olyphant were wonderful as the leads, complicated, annoying, slowly losing their moral footing. The supporting cast and the tragedies of these characters made for engaging drama throughout, with major peaks or insanity and grace.

Battlestar Galactica - Great sci-fi, where a group of survivors of an apocalypse, are on the run through space, slowly turning on one another throughout, struggling to find some grace. It started complicated and grew even more complex as time went on, leading to an ambiguous that refused to answer many questions. A very original take of morality and religions.

The Wire - A great drama on institutions, be it drug business, the police, government, schools or the media, where compromise wins always, individuals always struggle, where tragedy awaits. A very humane look at survival in modern society.

Oz- Some of this was shown in the last decade but I never saw it until beyond 2000. And its wonderful, brutal, human and contradictory.

For the rest of the drama is a drop-off to these interesting shows.

Robbery Homicide Division - A Michael Mann produced series, which didn’t last long, it had Tom Sizemore in a rare good performance as an obsessed LA cop. Not a patch on Crime Story yet its still wonderfully compulsive, if alas short-lived.

Dr Who Series 1 - The Christopher Eccleston stories, which set the series up with great verve, which it never quite hit again. This had the most interesting, unpredictable Doctor in Eccleston, who was never entirely sane, who was keeping down a lot of darkness, as well as finding great optimism everywhere, and a terrific central relationship that went stale when Eccleston regenerated. It’s regeneration scene is still a highlight of the revival.

Chuck - The most fun show. Loads of odd situations and scenes, with intriguingly mentally deficient characters. Its exists simply to entertain, with zero pretensions towards itself or the viewer.

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles - Very flawed in many ways but its peaks are terrific. It had an epic, involving story that slowly paid off over time, staying serious in character while keeping its pulpy origins.

The Sopranos - Certain seasons and episodes were terrific, others dull as dish-water. The most inconsistent good show ever, that went on for years too long, repeating the same dynamic in not always interesting ways.

Guilty pleasure - 24 - Not always the greatest drama, with many painful dialogue sequences, not to mention season 6, which was a disaster, but such pulpy fun at its best that its difficult not to enjoy.


Comedy was where this decade was very strong, much more than drama in terms of invention.

Black Books - Genius silly misanthropy from Dylan Moran. Whether it be performing native jungle surgery in Canada to writing children’s fiction, via a 900 page tome on Russian misery, this is a truly wonderful show. Bill Bailey makes a great comic fall-guy.

Futurama - Witty, irrelevant, imaginative show with some terrific characters and a twisted sense of nothing being sacred. Zap Brannigan and Kiff are the funniest double-act of the decade, Bender the craziest, especially when starring in a soap opera.

Jam & Nathan Barley - Chris Morris is a genius and these two shows prove why. Jam is like a twisted comedy version of a J.G Ballard novel, all about disconnection amidst absurd situations. But with dark jokes. Nathan Barley then goes on to prove that people are idiots and there is no way out, that the morons have charm and have taken over the ability of semi-knowledgeable adults to make any headway in life. It was a very frustrated show.

30 Rock - Have already written on this but its really funny. One of its strengths is the smaller characters, who slowly go crazy like Scott Asdit’s Pete, who is resorting to shoplifting to feel anything, or Dennis the Beeper king, a man with no brain, played by Oz’s Dean Winters, who objects to Hurricane Katrina because of what the people did to the stadium. Great throw-away gags like “Empathy is as useless as the Winter Olympics.” are also priceless.

The Thick Of It - The entire series shows the fall of labour, from a fairly functional but slightly incompetent organisation, to a party in crisis trying to find a new leader, to a party left with only the people nobody wants. Painfully funny.

The League Of Gentlemen - A complete, original comic-fantasy world, with dark humour that slowly builds and never stops being a bit disturbing yet funny. Too many hilarious characters and situations to list, its darker, sad under-current a dominant feature.

Arrested Development - Very funny comedy about an extremely dysfunctional and delusional family, this works as it builds a farce around characters who are only slight cartoons, taking recognisable emotions then building them into extreme situations which then build and build into gradual insanity. A great cast with the stand-out of David Cross and Dr Tobias Funke, a closeted gay man who can’t face the truth, going to absurd lengths to avoid basic self-knowledge.

Garth Mareghi’s Dark Places - A brilliant parody of ego gone mad, of bad 70’s TV, as a horror writer creates a show starring himself, and lets loose with every idea he has, few of them good in a conventional sense but wonderful as gags. Even though it has a rich set of characters, Matt Berry stands out as womanising drunk actor Todd Rivers, who plays Dr Lucien Sanchez, best bud of the main character. This guy is always funny, even standing in the background doing nothing. His descriptions of acting technique, from beats to soap opera actors and how they prepare, on the DVD extras is stunning and one of the best comedy moments of the decade.

Snuffbox - Matt Berry then went on to make this show, a six-episode one season show that never got any real press, co-written by and co-starring Berry and American comic Rich Fulchner. It’s a wonderfully inventive, silly sketch show that’s difficult to describe, combining music, silliness then very dark sketches, centred by two disreputable characters who work as hangmen. It has a unique mood that’s not mainstream but is wonderful if you get on its wavelength.

Curb Your Enthusiasm - A terrific show that’s easy to under-rate as its so famous. While it has its own defined formula, as defined as a Looney Tunes cartoon, the like that Larry David manages to do a lot with what he has, bouncing off various strange characters as he tries to get through his day amidst disaster and conversations that will get him in trouble,. Odd conversations range regularly from his manager to wife, to people playing twisted versions of themselves, such as Ted Danson or Jerry Seinfeld, to name two whop have really gone for it in weirdness. High-light episodes are the crazy-eyed killer, the one with the dolls hair and the one where Larry insults a religious group by making comments about the Virgin Mary on Christmas Day. And the beloved death notice and incest survivors group. I could keep listing. Its very inventive.

Dr Terrible & Saxondale - Two terrific less than famous Steve Coogan creations, Dr terrible a wonderfully accurate and subtly funny send-up of Hammer and 60’s/70’s British horror (standout: The Killer Lizard story with the line “Ken this and ken this well!”). Saxondale looks at the failure and anger of a man who’s peak has passed him by and he can’t quite understand how life has gotten so dull, as he deals badly with aging and appropriate rebellion. A very funny creation.

The Venture Brothers - Funny twisted sci-fi parody, which would the be funniest sci-fi show ever if it weren’t for Futurama. The level of invention episode to episode is off the scale. Brock Samson is one seriously twisted character and he‘s the straight-man.


The Simpsons (recent) & Red Dwarf: Back To Earth - Embarrassing to what were two great shows.

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Best Of Year List


The Fantastic Mr Fox - I love stop-motion yet many of the films made with the technology can seem a little cold, insubstantial. Wes Anderson lets the characters tell the story, uses the technology for mood that strengthens but doesn’t overwhelm the film, and gives the technology a freshness that its long needed. The film has wonderful settings, distinct characters and set-up, proper defined villains who don’t over-whelm the story, and great jokes. A wonderful film.

Avatar - A naïve but beautiful pulp dream, about a man entering an alien landscape and finding direction. The plot doesn’t really matter with this film, the atmosphere and focus is on almost silent film-level narrative focus to evoke a sense of wonder. Which it does, repeatedly. Its flaws don’t matter. Best seen in 3-D, on the biggest screen imaginable.

Inglorious Basterds - A terrific and cheeky verbal grand guignol, where various outrageous characters face off during the war, walking through cinematic conventions and slowly going crazy, especially the Nazi’s. It has lots of warmth within its genre conventions, as well as a proper sense of its situations apparent absurdities, given life in throw-away gestures. There’s not enough delightful Nazi-hunting movies around.

Che Part 1 & 2 - Great on the process of revolution, its boredoms, hypocrisies, vaguely-realised success at best, depressions and ignored yet utter failures at worst, all based on ideals that few ill ever agree upon, even within the inner circle. Less about Che and more about the idea of revolution.

Let The Right One In - Beautifully moody horror film, a delicate vampire story, one of the best quiet vampire films since Daughters Of Darkness and Martin. Has terrific build-up of depressed lives and lack of options, served against the supernatural, which offers its own failures and lack of options.

Public Enemies - A wonderfully moody, straggly manhunt film, based on the Dillinger story but could be any criminal findings his life options winding down after the flashiness of the life dies and all there is left is desperation, paranoia and depression. Depp is good as Dillinger but Bale is wonderful as a very depressed, conflicted, spare FBI agent hunting him down, in one of his best performances.

In The Loop - The film version of The Thick Of It. That’s not a bad thing. Funny as hell about the delusion and departmental insanities and bickering in the lead-up to war, with characters being frequently stupid and selfish, and of course immoral, always with the back-up of a sketchily thought-out reasoning that looks abject and idiotic within seconds of it being said. Brilliant. Only Starship Troopers is funnier about war and its build-up.


Drag Me To Hell - Its about killing a bank worker and succeeding. Funny horror film with only one thing on its mind, giving the audience plenty of cheap, gratuitous scares. And killing cats. A great heroine and villain, does exactly what it needs to, delivers some funny sequences, especially the exorcism gone wrong.

Star Trek - Its about killing Spock and not succeeding. Terrific if shallow reboot, having few actual ideas but a great pace and sense of humour. The cast are game, the plot moves fast between the emotional points, hiding its flaws, and most importantly, the film captures the essential characters and their optimistic world. Its only the lack of purpose that brings it down but its still a hell of a lot of fun.

Valkyrie - It’s about killing Hitler and not succeeding. This is a little b-movie on a large budget. Its an unpretentious little thriller, about an important assassination attempts that came very close to succeeding, keeping its focus to the difficulties of killing Hitler and its near misses, also working on the logistics of the German government under the Nazis, which makes for an interesting world war 2 film. Its strength is the spare focus of the script, using visualisations rather than reams of dialogue for telling story, its weakness is the early parts of the duelling accents, which take a while to get used to.

Land Of The Lost - Its about killing Will Ferrell’s career and hopefully not succeeding. Just so funny and twisted as a film, with many strange backdrops, characters, with very odd character moments. Ferrell twists his innocent idiot acts into new, demeaning heights/depths as a man oblivious to any kind of logic/sanity, who starts a grudge fight with a T-Rex, suggesting that its dumber than the Polish, which is perfect against the strange, illogical backdrop.


W. - Truly, truly awful film. Just despicable in its soft, sentimental view of a truly dangerous man, not having any guts in character, politics, every character a cartoon. Oliver Stone should be truly ashamed of himself with this one.


World Cinema - Not seen as many good world cinema films as I should this year I’m afraid. I plan to rectify this. But most of the films listed below are my actual best experiences watching narratives this year.

Voyage To Cythera - A truly amazing film by Theo Angelopolous, about a former resistance fighter returning home and trying to stop the sale of land he fought for years ago, this is a visually and emotionally stunning film that’s probably one of the best film’s I’ve ever seen. The final half hour is literally stunning, even though little seems to happen. A masterpiece.

Culloden - Wonderful film about the stupid tragedy of the battle of Culloden, showing how it was under-planned and fought badly, before going on to show the brutality of the victors and the horrific aftermath of the battle for Scotland. Peter Watkins framed this as if making a new documentary, which leant it a real directness and clarity over the tragedy, making the emotions stinging.

Comrades & The Bill Douglas Trilogy - Stunning films, the Trilogy about a boy growing up in poverty and learning painfully how to be a man while Comrades is the story of a Union born and crushed, studying the poverty and tragedy as it takes its tolls on individuals and their families. These are amazing visual experiences that are difficult to do justice to in words.

The New World: Longer Cut - Stunning re-edit and expansion of Malick’s masterpiece, giving a greater sense of the seasons and lost emotions within the tragic first few years of American colonisation. Visually unmatched of course.

The Agronomist - Jonathon Demme’s wonderful documentary and Radio Haiti and its wonderful, tragic owner/manager. A great portrait of the tragedy of a country seen through the story of one man’s tragedy, told by a friend of the dead man. Demme’s best film, showing many emotions through brilliant use of music and documentary image.

The Cremator - The rise of fascism seen through the eyes of an idiot who eventually kills all of his family to be a good Nazi. A hilarious, very dark tale of a man losing his small soul, causing tragedy to all he touches. Scary in that there were probably many like him, and continues to be.

Satantango & Damnation - Bela Tarr does not make films for easy viewing. Satantango is seven hours long. Damnation is shorter but a masterpiece. What seems to be black and white misery are continual stories of people trying to survive complicated, un-idealised lives. Simply wonderful.

The Merchant Of Four Seasons & Fear Eats The Soul - There are other Fassbinder films seen this year but these two stood out, both operating on the failures of working class men and women, everyone trapped by society and their own demons of what they should be. Truly wonderful and far beyond and more complex to what Britain does with social realism.

The Match Factory Girl & Calamari Union - I have also seen more Kaurismaki than these but these two films stood out, the first about a young woman trapped in a working class hell of dysfunctional family and lovers, the second about the attempt to find a life for a large group of men, all wondering around a city with the same name, never finding any true direction. Two masterpieces.

Alexandre - A Sokurov film about an old woman visiting her grandchild in a war zone, finding the war to be more complicated and tragic than circumstances will allow anyone to acknowledge. This film takes its time, showing the humanity and flaws of all. An amazing experience.

How I Won The War & The Bed-Sitting Room - Two Richard Lester farces with more on their mind than jokes, both evoking an atmosphere of dread and lack of basic comprehension. War has an idiot leading a group of soldiers to death in World War 2, always sticking to a social convention that is corrupt and useless. Bed has survivors of World War 3 trying to find a way to survive a surreal landscape, where meaning is gone and direction is absurd. Two intelligently bleak films.

I have also been rewatching lots of Ozu, which I’ve covered before. Ozu is one of the greatest directors of the twentieth century. Practically every film he makes is of stunning quality. It is difficult to spotlight only one or a few of his films.


The Mist - Frank Darabont finally went nasty with this one, easily his best film, a twisted tale of human survivors trapped in a supermarket during a deadly mist, slowly turning on one another. Essentially a very downbeat siege movie, with a decent cast and a killer punch line. Rarely do horror films go as dark as this.

The Orphanage - A terrific Spanish-language film, about a mother looking for her adopted son, slowly trapping herself in a large house, driving herself mad with trying to work out what happened. The twist, when it comes, while perhaps not entirely surprising, does have an emotional punch (even if it has a slightly OTT coda) but the film is creepy, atmospheric and always striking visually.

The Legend Of Hell House - A creepy little movie based on a Richard Matheson novel, about four people trying to solve the mystery of a haunted house, getting the problem right yet wrong. Has a terrific set-up and development of characters into nasty violent and sexual situations, some decent actors working these problems, ad a decent pay-off, which is where these tales usually fail. A nice little ghost story.

Brides Of Dracula & Kiss Of the Vampire - Two wonderfully atmospheric vampire films. Neither of them are the most famous of these films but are among the best, Brides being a Peter Cushing-led vehicle, trapping vampires at a local castle then a girls school while Kiss has a family of vampires trapping a travelling couple. While the plots seem anonymous the atmosphere to both are wonderful, with top-level visual sequences and great individual shots. Kiss almost works as a pulp version of Eyes Wide Shut.

Demons Of the Mind & The Reptile - Top-level eccentric Hammer, Demons focusing on the incestuous madness that traps a rich family, twisting conventions and monster stories to reveal what made the legends of the horror genre while The Reptile has a father trying to protect his daughter, failing and leaving a lot of dead bodies behind. Yet it is affecting. Two truly wonderful, under-seen horror films.

Rasputin The Mad Monk & Plague Of the Zombies - Two oddball hammer films. Rasputin, enthusiastically played by Christopher Lee, who uses his powers to manipulate Russian aristocracy, becoming a unique and twisted monster, while Plague has an aristocrat simplifying the local population for profit, while providing some great atmosphere. While trying to have the normal horror elements, these are actually strong stories that don’t need the horror.

The Curse Of Frankenstein, The Revenge Of Frankenstein & Frankenstein And The Monster From Hell - Three terrific Frankenstein films starring Peter Cushing, the first two showing early promise, starting with an ugly monster, then in Revenge having a handsome monster. Both have wonderful pathos and savagery, Cushing a cruel mean protagonist. Monster From Hell finds Cushing at the end of the series, as an older man, watching yet another monster fail while working in an asylum, the film having time to have the monster story against wilder characters and a wonderful, near absurdist atmosphere. Outside of James Whale, these are the best Frankenstein tales.

Captain Kronos - Vampire Hunter & Paranoiac - These two are utterly insane films with great moments that directors being respectable would never manage. Whether it being a vampire who travels through the day, stealing youth instead of blood or Oliver Reed caressing a skull, these two were unforgettable. B-movie work at its very best.

Tarzan The Ape Man & Tarzan And His Mate - Two great Tarzan films, that set up the Johnny Weissmuller-Maureen O’Sullivan films. They have a terrific air of leads, Weissmuller a great Tarzan while O’Sullivan brings the acting and the needed story beats, some terrific villains, both natives and white hunters, and some terrific action. Tarzan movies could never really top these two films. Tarzan and his mate also has nude swimming.

30 Days Of Night - A great little vampire movie, with Josh Harnett leading a group of survivors through a night that lasts for 30 days, while being attacked by vampires. Like the similar Pitch Black, this is superior atmosphere and character-led pulp that eventually lets loose with some terrific monster action.

Halloween (Remake) - This one was very under-rated, a film I fully expected to hate but didn’t, spending time with a young Michael Myers before he goes on his murderous rampage. While the second half horror stuff is fun its not as good as the original. What is terrific is the first half, as young Michael slowly goes mad, with some very striking visual moments. Not a great film in its totality but its moments gives it a lot of drive and its better than many a smug genre title.

Fast And The Furious: Tokyo Drift - Best full-on trashy b-movie I saw all year. In fact I saw it in January 2nd and twice since then. The plot is basic butt the movie is fun, has a good lead, a great car chase gimmick in drifting, and a general, appealing unpretentiousness and good humour. And its in Tokyo, which is an interesting backdrop. What more do you need for a b-movie. Easily the best of the generally under-achieving series.


Battlestar Galactica Season 4.5 - Great ending run to a terrific show. Highlights were the mutiny (especially Zarek wiping out the civilian after they had been spineless and stupid one time too many) and Tigh getting messed around by his various loyalties to human and cylon, and his conflicting emotions, with a terrific moments of thematic threads coming together at the conclusion, topped off with an ambiguous ending and a great final line for Baltar “I used to be a farmer once“.

30 Rock - Funny as hell throughout, with many strange, strange jokes and plot lines, is the most insane current comedy, with the best right-wing parody in Alec Baldwin’s character that there’s been for years. They will parody anyone for a laugh, with a stunningly good run of great supporting characters. Best supporting character, of course, is Dr Leo Spaceman, a man who advises a large breakfast before major surgery. And that’s one of his more responsible decisions.

The Thick Of It - Now focusing on the failure of labour itself, rather than one weak minister, its humour has gotten sadder and tired but is subtly vicious, as everyone looks trapped within a cycle of defeat made by their own horribly stupid ambitions, unable to see beyond them, even the competent people like spin-doctor Malcolm Tucker. No-one has a clue and everyone are like tired animals ready to be put down. The Nicholson-Tucker “This shit just got real” take-away scene might be the funniest of the year.

Chuck - The most engaging show of the year, aiming to please and not being bogged down by angst. It has a terrific lead and outside of 30 Rock, the oddest and funniest supporting cast. It pretty much delivers exactly what it promises, a silly fun spy romp set in the workspace.

Curb Your Enthusiasm Season 7 - Some great comedy, odd situations, such as how to dump your cancer-victim girlfriend without looking like a bastard, best of all was in little moments between Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld, two wonderfully twisted individuals.

Futurama: The Wild Green Yonder - A great finale for the series of films, which then led to a renewal and more shows. Has a great nasty sense of humour about environmentalists and industrialists. Fry is even more stupid than usual, which is an achievement in itself.

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles Season 2 - Much stronger than the first year, with a wide range of characters, some nasty twists and a brilliant ending. After the disappointment of the films, this one really redeems the Terminator storyline. It has technology versus humanity subtly developing in strange plots, looks at the oddness of time-travel at a personal level, is about the futility of the struggle for most of its characters on the day to day. The characters coming back from the future wars were especially interesting, all doomed in one way or another. The John Connor character also showed interesting, devious moves that suggests a cold, calculating leader, which was very appreciated.

24: Season 7 (makes up for 24: Season 6) - Melodramatic and implausible yes. But grittier and pissed-off than before, with the return of Tony paying off, as he is a frustrated and damned, going full-bore into something that’s usually back-story, about how to truly go under-cover. Interestingly the finale was more about ostensibly supporting characters and their arcs (Tony and a FBI agent Renee, who goes extreme into unconventional methods) rather than Sutherland’s Bauer character. Was the same guilty pleasure that it was before, mixing the compulsive with the insane.

Dollhouse - This came together in the second half of the first season then has started a great build that has developed into the second season, the stories developing a very dark undercurrent of an apocalypse beginning with technological prostitution and dreams of what could be, as people’s memories are wiped and reprogrammed every week, starting small but becoming a larger conspiracy. As the situation becomes increasingly insane and paranoid, it gets more interesting, playing with identity and exploitation in a twisted way. Has a very good collection of flawed and compromised supporting cast-members, they developing to be the dark life of the show around a engaging lead.


Monty Python’s Flying Circus - Brilliant. I’ve only seen individual sketches and episodes before. This year I watched them all and it was terrific, smart, silly, twisted, disrespectful. Bets of all is that they truly went for the insanity in ways that many modern comedies never would. Even the episodes that are weaker had enough connective brilliance to bring them up to a level above and beyond. Some of the better later episodes had episodes that kept the same characters throughout, which gave it another edge of lunacy and darkness as things got crueller and nastier and led to the films.

Star Trek Seasons 1 - 3 (The Shatner episodes) - Shatner being moody then sensitive, then going after any available woman, Nimoy being stable and dignified. Old school effects, decent traditional sci-fi stories that had the appel of freshness in their playing. What’s not to love. Still superior to everything hat followed.

Old Dr Who’s

The Invasion - An old Troughton serial, versus the Cybermen in London. Great fun.

Genesis Of the Daleks, Pyramids Of Mars, The Brain Of Morbius, The Deadly Assassin, The Talons Of Weng-Chaing, City Of Death, State Of Decay - Tom Baker being eccentric and genuinely alien, the plots being gothic yet fresh, the dialogue having lots of subtle humour to it. Best era Dr Who.

The Caves Of Androzani - Best Peter Davidson story is his final story, with lots of crazy factions killing each other and Davidson trying to survive. And failing. Has the best new doctor first line by Colin Baker.

Miami Vice Season 3 - At the point of about to get worse and unwatchable but not quite there yet. Still full of terrific, stylish, dark mood.

Buck Rogers In The 25th Century - 70’s insane camp. Can’t really defend this one but liked it. Oh my.

Friday, 11 December 2009

G. I Joe

G I Joe is exactly the film you'd expect. Its utterly terrible yet fun because its so bad, so utterly without merit, like a fat seagal film with a mega-budget. From the director of Van Helsing.

What's interesting is the slumming actors. There's the usual awful leads, this time unknown but are still terrible. But this was the film that many a decent or known actor figured, it'll be woeful but the part's small (or minor so you're in the shadows for months) so will pay well, as its a megabudget film and Michael Bay isn't directing. So you have Adebesi from Oz slinking in the background, a guy from loads of indies like Three Kings doing the same. Seinna Miller is in it and is one of the best "performances" in the film, as she knows she in a really, really stupid film and plays along, camping it up.

Best of all are the villains. We have Joseph Gordon Levitt (from Myserious Skin) as a freaky scientist up to no good and Christopher Eccleston as an arms dealing scumbag who figures it'll be fun to kill everyone for no real good reason. Now these two obviously read the script and are going all Olivier-ham excessive in their total lack of commitment (or even basic professional courtesy) and should have gotten centre stage because the movie they're in is a lot better than the one we're watching for 90 percent of the time. Levitt wanders around like a man who has escaped from a Marlon Brando acting class and is trying to out-do the master, with a penchant for kidnapping his sister and turning her into a sociopathic whore who wants to destroy paris. He has a gas mask the entire film, that's all I'm saying. Eccleston has the most excessive Scottish accent in history (He did a good one in Shallow Grave so we know he can do it properly) that's a total parody in itself, the accent so insane you know that it's intentional, seeing what he can get away with and get paid, who's leeching on Sienna Miller like a serial rapist, having a thug kill any man that even touches her. (The only bit of sicko acting in the film is Eccleston interacting with Miller. He's obviously thinking things you can't do in a film called GI Joe while slumming in a untoward manner.) Its a shame late-era Brando or Orson Welles are dead because with them and with these two crazy bits of acting in the film, and a script as nuts and as bad as gi joe would make cinematic bad movie nirvana. I think most of the goodwill this film gets from viewers is because its villains are so obviously dismissive of the film that its wonderful. I just hope Werner Herzog sees this one and puts Eccleston and Levitt two together in a film set in a strange country. I think this has to happen.

So while being a truly awful film it has its moments. So its a must see in a strange sort of way.