Best Films (Not a very good year for films. Most of the best are comedies.)
Four Lions - Chris Morris’ first film is a twisted take on movies and point of view, taking suicide bombers with every cinematic empathetic cliché you could imagine, with a parody of the “documentary” movie fad. Plus there’s the dialogue, which is wonderfully, intelligent and inventive look at stupid men arguing.
The Other Guys - Another terrific Adam Mackay -Will Ferrell collaboration, which is a twisted take on the cop buddy movie genre, but here every cop is a step away from the looney bin. Ferrell is odd and twisted as the repressed “sane” cop who slowly loses his calm (and has a repressed and funny
relationship with his wife) while Mark Whalberg starts his career rehab with a really funny, prissy take on a typical Mel Gibson character, who has learned dancing sarcastically. Best of all is Michael Keaton as the over-worked boss, with two jobs to pay for his “DJ son who’s exploring his bisexuality”, who has some truly strange lines. Also Steve Coogan finally has a good American part as the white collar villain. Its kinda brilliant while having a seemingly traditional narrative.
The Informant – Matt Damon in one of his best parts for Steven Soderbergh (in Soderbergh’s most Richard Lester film), playing a delusional corporate whistle-blower, who’s actually more of a crook than those he’s selling out. Layers upon layers of lies are laid out, while Damon gets more and more pathetic, as basic reality and interaction is mocked. Funny as hell, slightly chilly but over-looked film.
Scott Pilgrim Versus The World – A stylish look at a man trying to get over the idea that his girlfriend has dated other men. Its enjoyably OTT in editing and reactions, very old-style in script, visually having 80’s style shallow expressions mixed with older-style framing in direction. Not as original as some reviews suggest, but a hell of a lot of fun. Michael Cera beating people up never stops being funny.
The Hurt Locker – This one works great as an eccentric character story, of a man mad defusing bombs in
Inception – This one is lots of fun, has some great visuals and ideas, interesting layers between different worlds, dreams, memories. Has good character and performances, has terrific visual ambitions. The downside is its too long, with too much action that doesn’t relate to the central idea. Still a terrific film.
Not Perfect But Fun
The Expendables - Not as good as the latest Rambo, which is old-style 80’s action done to perfection, but is a very entertaining action ensemble. Stallone directs pretty good but has the grace to give the best stuff to his other cast members. Statham gets to have fun with the action moments while
Mickey Rourke and Dolph Lundgren get the eccentric speeches. A bit cheesy but so what.
The Slammin Salmon - Another Broken Lizard film that is ignored by everyone, a funny take on Glengarry Glenross, as a group of waiters compete for the most sales in a
Iron Man 2 - Yes the plot is a mess. It goes on for a bit without finding a narrative centre. It could lose twenty minutes quite easily. The central drama is a bit unfocused. On the other hand,
The Wolfman - An old fashioned Wolfman movie. And that’s it. Of course, there’s nothing new here but its just fun to enjoy the atmosphere, the actors doing some crazy acting, characters wandering around a cold English landscape. And of course there’s the wolfman going on the hunt every once in a while (especially in an insane asylum and through
Burke And Hare - John Landis’ comeback film, which was unfortunately ignored. A shame as, like The Wolfman, it’s a fitting tribute to an older era of film-making, to the early seventies eccentric hammer movie, with lots of gore and silly jokes. There’s some nice murders, dark humour, and a nice line of equating body-snatching to capitalism.
Predators - The pulpiest movie you could ever find. Its stupid, under-produced, has many wayward narrative moments (anything that’s not part of the hunt is pretty stupid), doesn’t really have an ending. And still it works. Should have a health-warning to the amount of brain cells that will commit suicide while watching the film.
The Imaginarium Of Dr Parnassus - Expected more from this. It’s not bad but Terry Gilliam never came up with anything new. The idea of the traveling show through modern times was terrific, the cast were good, there was a lot of potential in the images, but the direction seemed to throw a lot at the screen without variation. It’s a minor film by a director who I like a lot, who’s done a lot better work in the past.
Clash Of The Titans - This one is the front-runner for worst of the decade. Only one moment is at all competent, going to the underground. Which lasts about ten seconds. The rest is a lot of fights that mean nothing, with dull characters and no atmosphere. Worst of all, they waste some truly great myths on their way to incomprehension. Yes, there’s a sequel to dread.
The Girlfriend Experience - The direction is interesting, the acting fine, the idea pretty good. But it has the worst screenplay ever. This film has plenty of dull dialogue (which is worse than bad dialogue, as it drains you as you watch) and never knows how to place its intentionally vague characters in any interesting or potentially revealing situations. Instead it meanders on, testing your patience, as you wonder why the writers are incapable of writing even a basic scene. This is like a short film stretched to ten times its natural length.
Best Films Not Seen Until This Year
Petulia, Up, Alice In Wonderland, Little Dieter Needs to Fly, Blood On Satan’s Claw, The Box, The Vampire Circus, Theatre Of Blood, Count Yorga, Funny People, Observe & Report, Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince, Fast And Furious, Trick R Treat, Ninja Assassin, In Bruges, The Hangover, Halloween 2.
Most Cliched Film Seen This Year
Michael Clayton – No cliché goes unturned. Self-tortured scumbag lawyer/bagman forced to re-assess his life. Corporations are corrupt. Life is awful, people die. Yawn. Can’t it just go into knowing self-parody and ease the pain. Such a dull, bloody smug and lifeless movie.
Best Direct To DVD
Universal Soldier: Regeneration - Didn’t expect much from this one but it was great. Vane Damme versus Lundgren at
Dr Who Series 5 – A brilliantly inventive reboot to the show. It has a great new eccentric lead, a terrific companion, and some wonderfully odd stories and villains. Especially the Smilers and Weeping Angels. The finale is brilliant, twisting the usual end of the world story into an epic but intimate fairy story. This is how you do pulp.
Sherlock – Terrific, funny, spiky reworking of Sherlock Holmes, done with great pace, pulling together lots of great Sherlock Holmes stories from the past. Best of all is the pairing of Holmes and Watson, a mix of affection and real frustration on both sides.
Caprica – It was flawed, had some boring parts, has been dumped by the network. On the other hand it is brilliantly ambitious, crazy, has given Eric Stoltz his best part in years, and makes robot evolution and religion very interesting. Like Dollhouse, its crazy ambition makes its flaws not worth caring about.
Community – Probably the least ambitious TV show premise ever, seven odd friends at community college, somehow works due to great casting and crazy humour. The stories develop at a moderate pace but that’s not ever a problem, as it allows for odd character beats and lines. High-light, a paint-ball Mexican stand-off in the men’s toilets.
30 Rock & Chuck - Old reliable shows that I keep on watching. Have good episodes and weaker ones but the casts work well and the peaks make following the shows worth it. High points were Alex Baldwin as a muppet (30 Rock) and Morgan Grimes, now the world’s most incompetent spy, who has to arrange the rescue all the competent people (Chuck).
Good TV Shows Seen This Year (I have been catching up on a lot of old shows this year for various reasons)
Breaking Bad – This one is all crazy. A man dying of cancer becomes a meth dealer to provide for his family. It’s twisted, vicious and funny, with its central characters becoming trapped very quickly in the choices closing down due to dealing. Lots of gallows humour and moments of oddball humanity. Consistently brilliant, with great acting.
Tinker Tailor Sailor Spy and Smiley’s People – John le Carre adaptations, with Alec Guinness as Smiley, master spy in the body of an old, tired man. Both are terrific in that the world is full of compromises, odd character details and subtle betrayals, all of which feel relevant to real life interaction, not that of a spy world. The tiredness informs the worlds. Great work from a terrific cast throughout.
Carnivale – The fight of light versus darkness, set in the American
Mad Men Series 1 – This one is odd in that it’s exactly the show you expect from the trailers. The cover of the 1960’s sophisticated world hiding darkness. And that basic simplicity does hobble it a bit at times. But it also has some great characters and dialogue, situations that go in unexpected directions for some great moments, with a terrific set of central performances. But it still doesn’t feel as smart as it thinks it is, needs a bit more crazy.
The Office: American Version – I have to admit to preferring this to the original British version, which I liked but found to be over-rated and dark for the sake of it but without depth at times. The American version is broader, less consistent in tone but also funnier and more interesting in character, has character depths being slowly revealed, and finds more life, kindness and eccentricity in the situation than the British version.
Psychoville – A twisted whodunit with a very strange conclusion, which is more fairytale the further it goes on, and is full of wonderful oddball characters and ideas. Best bit is clown court, with the hunt for the dinosaur soft toy coming a close second. It also has a great one-shot episode ala Rope.
Sherlock Holmes (Jeremy Brett version) – A terrific moody series of adaptations, with Jeremy Brett being a wonderful, moody, twisted but sensitive Holmes, wondering through a supernatural twinged series of stories. Highlights include “The Final Problem” and “The Sign Of Four”.
The Day Of The Triffids - The original BBC version, made in 1980, which had a great mood about the slow fall of civilization, as the population goes blind and plant-creatures start to eat them. While it sounds pulpy, the story and characters are placed within realistic reactions and motivations, and the darkness comes from how mankind reacts to one another.
Coupling & Jekyll – Two terrific Stephen Moffat series, the first being an energetic comedy on dating, which gets twisted due to basic stupidity and repression of the characters, the second being a sci-fi-focused take on Jekyll & Hyde, which continually builds and focuses on character rather than effects.
Dr Who old stories – The War Games, Inferno, Carnival Of Monsters, The Ark In Space and Revelation Of The Daleks –These are all great old-school Dr Who stories. The War Games is Patrick Troughton’s final story, a ten part epic through various wars, leading to his regeneration. It’s terrifically moody and eccentric, in black and white. Inferno and Carnival Of Monsters are Jon Pertwee, Inferno an alternative world story with evil versions of companions that’s tense and moody, while Carnival Of Monsters the best of this bunch, a terrifically eccentric tale of worlds within worlds, entrainment as sport, and odd dialogue. The