Sunday, 20 December 2009

Best Of Year List

BEST FILMS RELEASED THIS YEAR

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 na├»ve 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.

VERY ENTERTAINING

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.

WORST

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.

BEST FILMS SEEN THIS YEAR

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.

Pulp

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.

BEST TV SHOWS

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.

SHOWS SEEN FROM PREVIOUS YEARS

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.

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