The Best Films of 2012

This has been a very good year for mainstream cinema. Several truly great directors are finally getting the budgets they need to realise more ambitious works, many of which have come to fruition this year, and although some of our favourite directors didn’t have releases, we still found ten films that made us happy enough to share!

There are some honourable mentions. The ferocious Lawless, the touching Rust and Bone, the beautiful The Master, the charmingly crazy Seven Psychopaths and the fiercely grim Killing Them Softly have all just avoided a place on the list.

Unfortunately there will, once again be some titles missing from our list. We here in England are yet to see Zero Dark Thirty, Django Unchained, Les Misérables, The Impossible, Cloud Atlas, Lincoln and various other inevitable classics that we’ll tearfully resist including in next year’s list (a films year is the year in brackets after its title on IMDB!). Anyway, here’s the best of the films America deemed good enough to let us have this year:

1MARK DUPLASS and AUBREY PLAZA star in SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED0. Safety Not Guaranteed

An incredibly sweet science fiction romantic comedy drama. Ostensibly about a man who believes he can travel back in time and the attempts of a small group of journalists to get to know him, the film is in fact about missed opportunities and regret. Time travel serves not as the driving force of the film but as a metaphor for everything the main characters have lost and long for, and although the mission is never treated seriously by anyone except the inventor, the notion of changing the past is clearly ever-present on every character’s mind. The film lives on its charming characters and earnest performances delivering quirky comedy and genuinely sweet moments. Perhaps a tricky film to get hold of due to its limited release, but well worth the effort.

03-23hgames_full_6009. The Hunger Games

As a big fan of the book it was hard not to get slightly pissed off with how Hollywood the Hunger Games was, but in all it was a pretty spot on adaptation of the book, and it gave us another really bad ass female protagonist. As P and I were saying to each other recently, the real ‘baddie’ in The Hunger Games is the state. As with Dystopia as a Genre the state always plays a key role in being ‘the bad guy’ and it’s great to see this introduced into a storyline that is accessible to teens.

Katniss, (Jennifer Lawrence), isn’t your typical teen riches to rags protagonist. After saving her sister from having to take part in ‘The Hunger Games’ Katniss takes her place and thus signs what seems to be a death warrant: 24 teens go in, only 1 comes out: it’s a bit like Battle Royale, with more cheese and less gore. Katniss and Peta (the male from her district) head to the centre of their dystopian world to get ‘groomed’ and beautified for the ‘games.’ LUCKILY, Katniss is a demon with a bow and arrow (phew!) and ends up looking super-hot (as Jennifer Lawrence tends to do.) You can guess the rest. Good cinematic experience? Absolutely, the scenes of the Capital are something else, and the costumes and landscapes…that’s if you don’t mind shaky cam, that would be my only bug bear… too much shaky cam.

Sightseers-0088. Sightseers

The British Film Industry typically survives these days by folding into the American Film Industry. Many of the biggest American films will make use of British cast and crew and even locations, but the themes and settings tend to be American. However, there are several small budget productions which often produce extremely interesting results. It is these films that are able to comment on modern British life and attempt to capture something of what (if anything) it means to live on this small island. Ben Wheatley shocked and delighted many with last year’s gory horror thriller Kill List but it’s this year’s Sightseers, written by cast members Alice Lowe and Steve Oram, which brilliantly captures the bizarre humour and mild disappointment that seems to represent modern British life and culture.

Taking place on a supremely unhinged caravan holiday, the film details the travels and romance of two extremely disturbed people. The film is perfectly written with lots of very dark humour and bizarre sincerity, is beautifully shot with plenty of surreal imagery and a perfect use of the breath-taking Northern English scenery, and the soundtrack is alternately quaint and unnerving. The moments of violence are highly stylised and very intense, which is all the better for contrasting the hilariously mundane moments of this demented holiday. Easily the funniest, darkest and most intense movie about caravanning released this year.

_63779774_skyfall7. Skyfall

The 23rd James Bond film came at the 50th anniversary of the series’ first film and is a celebration of everything the series has meant over the years. The film carefully balances Bond’s campy past with the expectations of the modern audience for gritty realism. We have a hero who is damaged and vulnerable, but also fierce and not above the odd one liner. A villain who is camp but realistic, with a secret island base, physical disfigurement and ridiculous hair. We have epic action sequences, some of which occur in exotic locations like Shangai and Istanbul, some of which in the London Underground and a Scottish manor house. The film is all about balance. Old and new, humour and sobriety, excitement and pathos. The best bond film ever made? There’s definitely an argument for it.

Unfortunately (spoiler alert) our Bond Girl, the alluring Bérénice Marlohe, is dispatched somewhat unceremoniously somewhere around the mid-point of the film. Along with Naomie Harris’ clumsy (though charming) field agent and Dame Judy Dench’s third act transformation from lion in a cardie to damsel in distress (and a cardie), we have some rather lacklustre female characters. But in the context of Solitaire, the girl Bond tricked into sex, Aki, the Japanese secret agent killed off and replaced, and Pussy Galore, the lesbian Bond was able to sleep with (because all lesbians just haven’t met the right man yet!), it’s more an unfortunate continuation than a step back. If you can keep your mind of it, there’s more to enjoy here than any previous Bond film and all but six of this year’s films.

664280-the-hobbit-an-unexpected-journey6. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

I wanted there to be an argument. I was ready. I didn’t know who would be on which side or for that matter care, but I wanted there to be an argument. I WAS READY. I was prepared to be on either side: The Hobbit, or our number one, which would be at the top of our list? I wanted there to be an argument! But, there was no argument. Don’t get me wrong, I loved The Hobbit, but it doesn’t stand up to the number one. (Mind you, not much does.)

Saying this, there are a staggering amount of good bits, Ian Mckellen alone being one (oh that beard), with that glint in his eye, and the youth that he has somewhat lost in LOTR. The small Elijah Wood Cameo. The way Cate Blanchett hasn’t aged a day in the last ten years. The dwarf songs, the pale Orc, the brown wizard, it’s all much more jolly and child friendly, but at the end of the day, so is the book! I’m not going to insult J R R Tolkien by recounting the story of the Hobbit, as if you haven’t read it by now! But to say that it is one of the greatest fantasy stories of all time…is somewhat of a given.

looper5. Looper

For the purposes of this paragraph, we will be referring to Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Jo Go Lev. It’s fine, he loves it.

Reasons to love Looper: 1. Bruce Willis, Juicy Brucey, om nom nom (can you guess if P or K wrote this yet?). 2. Jo Go Lev, Love, Love, Love. 3. Emily Blunt plays a hot farmer girl who has guns. 4. Time Travel, and with none of this ‘oh we’re gonna try and EXPLAIN how time travel works all of a sudden’ shit, it just works, in the future, deal. To explain, you know, simply…

Jo Go Lev works as a ‘Looper’ who are trained to kill people who are sent back from the future (where time travel HAS been invented) to the present (where time travel HASN’T been invented.) Follow? So Jo Go Lev then explains that at some point in a Looper’s life they get sent back to be killed by their past selves, in order to ‘close the loop,’ so the Loopers don’t piss off the big bad guys from the future. Enter Bruce Willis. You see, Bruce Willis IS Jo Go Lev, who has to kill Bruce Willis without knowing that Bruce Willis IS Jo Go Lev and in turn Jo Go Lev will become Bruce Willis so Bruce Willis must already know that Jo Go Lev is Bruce Willis but doesn’t know it. Follow? So then Jo Go Lev works it out and vows to kill Bruce Willis who has vowed to kill three children who may or may not turn out to be really evil in the future. Enter Emily Blunt, who has a real evil looking kid. So Jo Go Lev is protecting Emily Blunt’s kid who Bruce Willis has vowed to kill who Jo Go Lev has vowed to kill even though Jo Go Lev IS Bruce Willis in the future. It’s all very trippy. There’s lots of cool special effects and Bruce Willis does A LOT of running, which I am a big fan of. Jo Go Lev is unbelievably cool, think how cool he was in Inception with an extra slice of cool because he gets it on with Emily Blunt and ends up as Bruce Willis. Oh and some people are telekinetic, you know, cause.

(P note: It’s also quite interesting how the film invokes classic film noir in a sci fi setting whi… K note: Shut up! Jo Go Lev!)

moonrise-kingdom-06-470-754. Moonrise Kingdom

HEALTH WARNING: If you are IN ANY WAY allergic to Wes Anderson (as some people are), DO NOT watch this movie. Watching this movie was the most Wes Anderson experience of my life, I felt like if P and I had been being filmed watching it you would have only seen from the bridge of our noses upwards. However, if you are a fan of Wes Anderson’s style and humour, Moonrise Kingdom is one of the sweetest movies of 2012.

Two young lovers run away from home and Scout camp, meeting in a wheat field to be together. Their parents and Scout group (respectively) set out on a search to find them. That’s kind of it, essentially. Of course, as is with Wes Anderson, the beauty lies in characterisation and style. Bruce Willis as the lonely but lovely policeman, Bill Murray and Frances McDormand as the overbearing lawyer parents, Tilda Swinton as the scary social services lady and Edward Norton as the sweet unsuspecting Scout Master. You’re routing for the kids for the whole movie, hoping they have a happy ending and find a way to be together in spite of the terrible grownups. As I said above, it’s very Anderson, the camera positions, the staging, the costume, set, props, it couldn’t be anyone else; but I love Anderson, and I loved it.

The Cabin in the Woods3. Cabin in the Woods

Being self-referential hasn’t worked for everyone. You may well recall last year’s review of Scre4m or this year’s review of The Expendables 2 depending on what order I upload these lists. But Cabin in the Woods is able to justify its knowing self-assuredness within the plot and therefore is able to make affectionate comments about the tropes of the horror genre whilst also indulging them. The audience is treated to plenty of scares, gore, humour, and even some nudity but also a genuinely clever plot, lots of fun subversions and an ending that completely dispenses of all pretence and vanishes into its own sense of fun (despite the somewhat grim subtext).

2AvengersScreenshot. The Avengers (Assemble)

At the moment we are going through something of a summer blockbuster renaissance. Directors like Chris Nolan, Rian Johnson, Duncan Jones and even Quentin Tarantino are proving that you don’t need to be intellectually baron or feature racist robots to deliver big action or pull in big crowds. Yet some complain that standards are too high. There are too many dark moments in modern movies and flawed aging heroes encountering personal, psychological difficulties as well as physical challenges. We, of course do not join these people, but we are happy that we have a decent alternative.

Twww_buzzfocus_com_GH-37401_Rhe Avengers (Assembled) represents everything one might reasonably expect from a summer blockbuster without reaching the unreasonable demands that are somehow occasionally being met these days. A functional plot guides a character driven film through some fun and inventive action sequences towards a pleasingly simple moral of co-operation and friendship. The real selling point of the film is Whedon’s superb dialogue. The verbal duels between our heroes are just as pleasing as the physical brawls that punctuate the film though never overstay their welcome. Each character is given time to shine without anyone hogging the limelight or being left out. The film easily pleased both fans of the source material and the casual moviegoer.

The success of this film has sparked off the next generation of Marvel films and with big names attached to the project (Shane Black directing Iron Man 3?!), and DC doing its best to enter into the comic book movie arms race, it’s a pretty exciting time to be a nerd.

the-dark-knight-rises-20111221000535242-3580022_640w1. The Dark Knight Rises

An obvious choice. No other experience at the cinema offered the same anticipation, thrills, emotion, and genuine enjoyment as the third and final part of Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. An ambitious plot pitching one man’s torment against an entire city under siege, exciting and terrifying villains, some charming new allies, brilliantly choreographed action sequences, another fantastic score from Hans Zimmer, stunning visuals, beautiful cinematography, great production design, impressive practical effects and plenty of political and psychological depth to explore. Although the ambition and scope of the story does make the narrative seem overly dense and a little exhausting, this is still an obvious choice.

the-dark-knight-rises-20111222000218817-3580590_640wSurprisingly some internet users will find this to be a controversial choice of favourite film. As with all popular and critically acclaimed films there has been a backlash. It seems that the film lifted its political ideology from Charles Dickens “A Tale of Two Cities” and some people found the moral of revolutionaries often being worse than the dehumanising societies they rebel against and the manipulation of socialist fervour for cynical personal gain was inconsistent with the ultimately optimistic tones of the previous HA! Just kidding! No, apparently the film is terrible because it never explains how Bruce Wayne got back into Gotham City, or because it went from day to night really quickly or some stupid shit we couldn’t care less about. We will concede a little narrative clumsiness and some unsettling moral ambiguity but nothing big enough to make this anything other than our favourite film of the year.

This was a year in which the two highest grossing films of the year are our two favourites. A very good year indeed. Stay tuned next year for Transformers 4. Fuck.

Next will be the most disappointing films of 2012! Yay!

P and K for Perfectly Kewl!

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Top Ten Dystopian/Post Apocalyptic Novels

Dystopian fiction is no doubt my favourite literary genre. It is the beauty and difficulty that makes it so wonderfully gripping. Simply, Dystopia refers to a nightmare world, an alternative future to the one we expect to arise from this present. As a general rule there is often a catalyst that makes this present shift into the Dystopia of the novel, be it nuclear war, religion, a change in ideas, technology, medicine. The thing that really sets a great Dystopian novel apart is how and when to reveal what happened in the present to create this nightmare, the reader is left piecing together the facts and bit by bit.

The way a dystopian novel will touch you is so much more acute than any other genre will. The pain, sadness, longing and terrible beauty of a nightmare future make the reader feel so disconnected from the world they currently live in, and sometimes, that’s just what’s needed, to really see reality.

WARNING: though we shall try and not include spoilers, the very nature of the dystopian novel doesn’t allow much room for description without spoiling at least the premise. I cannot speak for P but I apologise…a bit. P EDIT: I NEVER APOLOGISE!

 10. We – Yevgeny Zamyatin

How does one work out mathematical happiness? Zamyatin’s 1920’s novel was banned in Russia, perhaps because of the accuracy of his depiction of state oppression, or perhaps because he hit too close to home. Our protagonist, D-503 lives in One State; in One State everything is calculated mathematically to make everyone happy. A certain amount of x will make person y happy and that x will also make z happy, and thus this time can be spent together. D-503 is fascinated by the idea that people used to use their ‘free’ time to do seemingly meaningless things, like walk the streets at night. D-503 meets a woman, also given a number instead of a name and, not unlike 1984; the woman reveals her involvement with a revolutionary group. One State are however determined, to rid people of freedom, of choice and most importantly, of imagination.

Many see ‘We’ as the original dystopian novel, touching ground that hadn’t been trodden before; attempting to show the readers how life would be if WE don’t hold onto our freedom, individuality and simply, comply.

9. Brave New World  – Aldous Huxley

In World State people are happy. The population is limited and thus recourses are plentiful. People are promiscuous. New life is now battery farmed and the people are encouraged to have…fun. Sounds great right? People are divided into 5 groups: Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta and Epsilon; each group has a different part to play in the running of World State, for example Alpha children will grow up to be leaders, and Delta consumers. Sex is a large part of Huxley’s novel; Bernard, an Alpha-Male who doesn’t quite fit in due to his small stature, has different views on sex, culture and many other things not considered by most citizens. The population are brainwashed, according to their group, and thus the state runs perfectly, in harmony, until eventually something terrible happens and the protagonists, John and Bernard, start to feel real emotions, and worse, start to show them.

Brave New World is no doubt an uncomfortable novel, with the amounts of sex and references to, it doesn’t make for a ‘holiday’ or ‘bed time’ read, but it does explore the connotations of taking away the capacity for humans to be whoever they want, which is something the population as a whole, take for granted.

8. The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins

As the only “Children’s” book on this list, The Hunger Games must be pretty special to make the cut. And it is. I read quite a lot of teen fiction, but I haven’t read anything that even touches the Hunger Games. (NB: Being able to claim that reading Children’s books is beneficial to my job is amazing.)

Katniss Everdeen lives in District 12, the mining district in the 12 that comprise her world. When Katniss’ younger sister gets chosen to participate in the ‘Hunger Games’ Katniss volunteers to take her place. In order to win the Hunger Games Katniss must kill the other 23 participants, including the boy from her district, Peter. Then the rules change.

The beauty of The Hunger Games is that they introduce teens into the world of Dystopian literature without explicitly stating the genre. Not overly different to the concept of Battle Royale, The Hunger Games has a brilliant balance of gore, romance and suspense. Unfortunately, the second two aren’t as good as the original, the concept is slightly dragged out, but are needed to complete the idea of revolution. The one thing that The Hunger Games does do, in comparison to other Dystopian novels, is address the idea of a revolution, it being possible, as opposed to impossible, as it is in many other dystopian worlds.

7. The Day of the Triffids – John Wyndam

Bill wakes up to find he is no longer blind, but everyone else is. After his brush with a ‘Triffid’ at work, Bill, having already had an incident with a Triffid as a child, had been unable to unwrap bandages that covered his eyes during an unexplained, yet beautiful, lights display. This coincidence saved his eyesight and throughout the novel he meets various people with similar stories, having slept through or missed the mysterious lights that turned everyone else blind.

A Trffid is simply a plant. A plant that can walk, but with humans controlling them and restricting their movement, tying them down and such, even their deadly poison is useless. Make all men and women blind, and shit hits the fan.

Much unlike other dystopian novels, Day of the Triffids spans over many years, extending beyond the initial almost-end-of-the-world. Wydam is a sci-fi master, describing the weirdest of circumstances in the most matter-of-fact way.

6. Never Let Me Go – Kazuo Ishiguro

Humans have developed a cure for all kinds of diseases; Cancer, MND, anything that can be cured by replacing a certain organ, blood, tissue.

The two issues that run throughout Ishiguro’s novel are morality, and love. About a third of the novel is set at Hailsham School, where the children are educated in a way that preserves their health to the fullest extent. The children of Hailsham hall are different. Though their boarding school life may seem idyllic, they are told never to leave, must check in regularly at certain checkpoints and their lives are rigidly surveyed and controlled. The terrible secret behind Hailsham hall, and it’s relations to a futuristic world, free of disease and illness, drives this moving story of love, destiny and mortality.

Mainly following the lives of Kathy and her friends Ruth and Tommy, the novel moves from school into their young adult lives where Kathy becomes and carer and thus sees the lives of other humans end.

Compliance is a cruel mistress.

NB: As most of the novels on this list Never Let Me Go was made into a movie, but actually a great one.

5. A Clockwork Orange – Anthony Burgess

A Clockwork Orange is a difficult read. Perhaps the unusual language, integrating Russian slang into English colloquialisms, will prove inaccessible. Perhaps the extreme violence and cruelty exhibited by our lead antihero will prove intolerable. Perhaps the grim vision of a future dominated by gangs and criminals and the only reaction to this recklessness is total authoritarianism and mind control will prove unthinkable. If not, then you may just battle on and find something special in this book.

Following the life of gang member, Alex Delarge, Burgess exposes a bleak future in which society is sick and the cure is worse than the disease. He tackles the problems that can arise when we try to fight immorality with immorality and thoroughly explores the criminal mind set against a dystopian future in which the hostile prison and sterile hospital is the only escape from the cold, vicious streets.

The book has something of a mixed reputation. Burgess himself disowned the novel as something he threw together in three weeks for money and declared that its message has been corrupted beyond repair by Kubrick (let’s not argue with that here). However the message is one open to criticism, namely that mankind has the right to be brutal and cruel and unkind if it wants to be and that trying to force it to be otherwise is to betray some fundamental human element….obviously there is room for argument there. But it cannot be argued that this is a powerful book, and accomplishes what all good dystopian novels set out to do. Warn us about the future.

4. A Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Attwood

The central issue in Margaret Attwood’s novel is the key feminist issue underlining so many female writers’ work.

Offred is a Handmaid, her job is to breed. Due to various nuclear and environmental issues, only a small number of women can conceive and bare children, these women become Handmaids and live in a household, trying relentlessly to conceive a child. The other issue here is religion; the strident followers of the state believe that it is a woman’s job to bare children, and a man’s to multiply- not necessarily with his wife, if she is past ‘it.’

A beautiful element of The Handmaid’s Tale is the ‘flashback’ element; it is difficult to balance the nightmare present with the normality of the past, especially when being described in first person, however Attwood manages it beautifully, weaving the story from our ‘normal’ past to the nightmare future she lives in.

3. The Road – Cormac McCarthy

The road is one of the crowning accomplishments of the incredible novelist Cormac McCarthy. Having worked for forty years around the subjects of human depravity, the godlessness of the world and desperate poverty and loneliness, it was the experience of fatherhood that inspired his most devastatingly human work. The story concerns a father and his son wandering the wasted world after some terrible apocalyptic event. The landscape is barren and cold, gangs of cannibals roam the land and death surrounds our two starving heroes. Their only protection is a revolver loaded with two shots, and it is implied throughout that these shots are intended for the son and his father. Yet at its heart this is a novel against the notion of suicide and the glimmer of absurd optimism is unique to most dystopian novels

The novel is dystopian in that there is no hope left. From the very start there is no chance of a happily ever after because the earth has simply stopped providing for us. Mankind has very few generations left before all the cans are eaten and we all starve to death, or eat each other to extinction. Tragically this is merely an exaggerated version of how the world really is. Yet our heroes do not give in, like the boy’s mother did, they keep walking south and then keep walking after that, and through tragedy and loss, they just keep walking and “carrying the fire” down the road. All good dystopian novels contain warnings about possible futures, and this novels message of maintaining our humanity in the face of overwhelming emptiness is extremely relevant.

2. On the Beach – Neville Shute

Shute’s dystopian novel about a post-nuclear war world is so beautifuly terrifying because it is so realisticly possible. The novel is set in Australia where the main characters are coming to terms with their impending death, by carrying on with life. Set partly on land and partly on a submarine Shute documents life as we know it ending, due to a nuclear war in the Northern hemisphere. Shute opens the novel with a quote that I’ve been in love with since I first heard it many years ago ‘This is the way the world ends, not with a bang, but a wimper.’ Taken from T S Eliot’s Hollow Men this quote perfectly describes a number of the books on this list; the dysoptian novel always has an air of slow and mellow decline and Shute does this wonderfully.

The real, stabingly tragic part of the whole story is that the characters and you, the reader, know they are going to die. There is no ‘if’ or ‘but’ or ‘maybe.’ From the beginning you know they will die, within the space of the book. Only a small number of books have made me feel loss like this one has, you grow so attached to the characters that a part of you wills something to happen, for the world to change. But alas, that isn’t how it works in Dystopia.

1. 1984 – George Orwell

Arguably the most famous, most popular and most groundbreaking of all dystopian novels, 1984 hits you like a fat kid running to the cake shop, and not stopping to apologise. ‘What the hell was that? I feel like something abusive just happened but I just can’t be angry at it!’

Winston exists in a world where everyone, and everything, every movement and every breath is watched. However, he finds a small space in his small flat where the tele-screen, that watches his every move, cannot see him, and begins to write about his life. Winston works for the Ministy of Truth, where the workers tailor the news and literature to reflect who is currently at war with whom, what is true and what is not.

Then he meets Julia. He knows he wants her, he knows she is like him, a doubter of the state. As their illegal relationship develops, as they engage in normal things like sex and conversation, as they get deeper into the world of the anti-state Orwell’s novel gets darker and faster.

Although it is undoubtedly cliché to place 1984 in the Prime position to put anything above it would seem wrong. No words can describe the feeling of finishing 1984, but without reading it that feeling cannot be conveyed.

Be warned. Big Brother is watching you.

2012 Oscar Picks

Once again we’ve run into awards season. The golden globes were ignored by most, the BAFTAS offered a chance to see Stephen Fry being Stephen Fry and Christina Hendricks’ dress causing several heart attacks around England, and now we’re building up to the main event. Although the Oscars have consistently failed to reflect the most beloved and well-remembered films of most given years (Chariots of Fire won over Raiders of the Last Ark, Ordinary People over Raging Bull and The Elephant Man, etc) we still get carried away with the spirit of celebrating a years’ worth of cinema.

Our picks will be a mix of what we expect and what we hope, with hope prevailing in most instances. We’re not going to go into the technical categories here. We’re not going to pretend to know the difference between sound mixing and sound editing. And given the visual effects category lacking any impressive practical effects, we’ll stay clear of that too. It goes without saying that we would prefer Transformers Dark of the Moon to lose all three of its nominations.

And with the fact that Transformers 3, one of the worst critically received films of the year, has three nominations freshly installed in your minds, let’s look at some Oscar snubs! Allowing Michael Fassbender to go without best actor for his devastating portrayal of a sex addict in Shame is very unfortunate. Tilda Swinton being overlooked for the haunting realisation of We Need To Talk About Kevin’s Eva is similarly terrible. Additionally, Drive is left out of everything except technical, my favourite film of the year, Melancholia, has been entirely overlooked, and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is not included for best picture. These are all quite upsetting, and it does mean that we lack the staggering masterpieces in the best picture category that we had last year. But those matters aside, let’s look at our picks for the ten awards we feel we can adequately judge and be objective about.

So, in reverse order of importance, starting with those losers everybody hates:

Best Writing (Adapted): Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Bridget O’Connor and Peter Straughan

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a very dense novel. At its heart is a story of betrayal and disillusionment, wrapped in a hunt for a soviet mole amongst four high ranking British Intelligence Officers. Add to that the Reptile fund, operation witchcraft, operation Testify, Lamplighters, Scalphunters and other technical jargon and you have a lot to pack into a two hour film. A six hour BBC TV show had previously succeeded in bringing George Smiley and his claustrophobic world of espionage to life, but the writers on this film manage to deliver something punchier, whilst somehow maintaining the deliberate pace. Scenes are shortened, rearranged and altered and all to great effect. Some details are even improved, such as the Russian cultural attaché Poliokov being identified as a soviet agent because he is saluted by a soldier, giving away his military background. In the film he mistakenly where medals to a military funeral…that’s quite a clumsy move for a spy! So for doing a difficult job and absolutely triumphing, Tinker Tailor gets our vote.

Best Writing (Original): The Artist, Michel Hazanavicius

If the Baftas were any indication then The Artist should sweep these awards, and deservedly so. The writing was certainly very important. With absolutely no dialogue until the final scene, the script had to find ways of emoting everything through visuals. No exposition to reveal the plot, everything must be articulated through the gestures and actions of the characters. The script delivers a terrific challenge to the actors to get across everything on the page onto the screen. The screenplay also plays with its own limitations as characters suddenly become aware of sound effects or are unable to hear each other speak without title cards. But the backbone of the script is the story, which is a very sorrowful story of times changed and fame lost. The writing is extremely charming and wonderfully poignant. It’s not only my personal pick for best original screenplay, but the most likely winner too.

Best Music: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Alberto Iglesias

The music of the artist needed to last the entire length of the film, and would replace sound effects and dialogue, and is therefore very likely to win this award. But for me, Alberto Iglesias’ sexy seventies jazz soundtrack to Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is just too perfect not to highlight here. The sound manages to be sorrowful and yet triumphant, slick and yet sleazy, and just generally perfect for its setting. Any fans of the original series may be sorry not to hear the original theme tune, but it is placed by a lovely trumpet piece to embody our hero and his tireless pursuit of the truth. The music haunts the often densely detailed frames of the film, providing essential atmosphere to the claustrophobic visuals. For perfectly complementing the tone, this soundtrack deserves to win.

Best Foreign Film: A Separation

This is not only my favourite of the five nominations, but also the most likely winner. The film offers an insight into the inner workings of a society all too readily demonized in the west. We follow an Iranian couple undergoing a divorce, and the strains put on this failing relationship by a court case involving the father possibly causing the death of the babysitter’s unborn child. What follows is a courtroom and family drama, as every character attempts to influence each other to bring the case to a close. The writing is very compelling as the characters are rendered with complete realism and portrayed brilliantly by their actors, from the aggressive yet emasculated husband of the pregnant maid to the strong independent mother who is desperately trying to affect a change in her life by leaving her husband. Direction is contemplative and enthralling and every element works well to bring the compelling story to life.

Best Actress in a Supporting Role: Berenice Bejo in The Artist

Wait, we’re NOT picking Jessica Chastain? The most bewitching creature currently revolving around the sun? Well why the hell not?! Because, for our sins, we did not see The Help this year. We just ran out of time, and there’s no way to buy it before the Oscars. So our real pick is Jessica Chastain, but our moral and most probable winner is Berenice Bejo, the incredible actress somehow managed to match Jean Dujardin’s energy and charisma. She is at the heart of this movie, she drives the plot and signals the change of climate that so terribly affects Dujardin’s character. She plays a lively and extremely talented beauty living in Los Angeles during the golden age of American cinema. She accidentally encounters the biggest film star of the time and accidentally steals his spotlight, to her eventual sorrow. Bejo is able to articulate the spritely enthusiasm and the deep, touching sorrow that she feels for her fallen hero. She definitely deserves this Oscar.

Best Actor in a supporting role: Kenneth Branagh in My Week with Marilyn

We are at a bit of a loss here. We didn’t see Moneyball or Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close due to a lack of interest in baseball and terrible reviews, respectively. But Kenneth Branagh definitely deserves some credit for his portrayal of Lawrence Olivier, and he does seem the most likely candidate (though it would be nice for Von Sydow to win this late in his career). Upon seeing the film, we didn’t even manage to recognise Branagh’s distinctive face in the role as he absolutely merged into the part of Lawrence Olivier. Although the camp pomposity is a little bit Johnny Sessions, it’s still a charismatic and enjoyable turn, distinguishing an otherwise fairly bland film (Miss Williams was quite good too).

Best Actress: Rooney Mara in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

Let’s none of us be fooled. This Oscar is going to Meryl Streep for The Iron Lady. There is absolutely no question about this, it’s going to happen. But although we did appreciate how faithful her performance was, we really hated that movie. The sappy script, the ugly direction, the utterly uncontroversial approach to an extremely controversial subject, we just hated it for being so…bland. So we couldn’t bear to give Streep her props for an accurate portrayal and would much rather see the statue go to Rooney Mara for being extremely brave. This script was sent around Hollywood for a few years, and several actresses turned it down because it was too controversial or difficult or nude. But Mara took the role, she dared to portray this character, and she did so masterfully. She succeeded in being incredibly fierce and strong whilst also conveying the fragility and weakness at the heart of the character. Amongst the difficult plot and incredibly hard to watch scenes of brutalisation, you needed a character you could like and be fascinated by in the foreground, and Mara was exceptional. It would be very gratifying to see her properly rewarded for this effort. Shame she won’t. As it’s definitely going to Streep…

Best Actor: Gary Oldman in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

The academy sometimes delivers Oscars to unworthy performances just because it is that actors turn, and they’ve never gotten one before, and are getting on a bit. Hence John Wayne winning for True Grit. This is one reason that Gary Oldman may win this Oscar, but it is not the reason we hope he will win and this role is far from undeserving. George Smiley has already been portrayed masterfully by Sir Alec Guinness, but Oldman is not doing a Guinness impression…he’s doing a John Le Carre impression. The tiny movements and restrained emotions Oldman is able to bring to this film really suits a world of tiny details. The character is one who has been betrayed by his country and by his wife, and he is just as unlikely to leave one than the other. He carries out his duties as a top ranking MI6 agent despite having lost faith in the system he defends “Don’t you think it’s time to recognise there is as little worth on your side as there is on mine?” His best moment is when he describes to Guillam the only time in his career in which he met his adversary, Karla, a scene he carries all by himself to powerful effect. This award will very probably go to Jean Dujardin, but I certainly hope it goes to Oldman. But it’s only his first nomination, there’s still plenty of time. Let’s hope this is only the start of him taking lead roles again.

Best Director: Martin Scorsese, Hugo

This, too, will probably go to the artist for its daring, if not particularly modern, directorial decisions, but frankly I’m running out of things to say about it, so with nothing for Tomas Alfredson or Fincher, let’s go with Hugo! A lot of this will have been said in the top ten list earlier this year but let’s focus on the direction. The characters are given time to develop and explore the mystery at a deliberate pace, whilst not losing the wonderful momentum that drives the plot. The comedic elements compliment the more thoughtful and sweet, and the tone is consistently strong throughout. The technical decisions are fairly bold, with most of the action occurring on a large set constructed at Shepperton replicating a period perfect French railway station. Significant moments are very memorable, such as the awakening of the automaton, the chases through the station and the on-set experiences of Méliès. Scorcesse defends his position as one of the most viscerally interesting and stylistically unique directors working, and we feel stands out amongst the other nominations…except Hazanavicius, perhaps.

Best Picture: The Artist!

Yes! Obviously. It’s the best film of the year! …or at least the best one they’ve bothered to nominate. Once you get past the charismatic and charming leads, the brilliantly original script and the fantastic music and production values you still have a worthy best picture winner in terms of the unique style, the ambitious scope and the significance of its message of optimism in the creative industry. The initial nostalgia inducing element works well, and is kept fresh by the little self referential sections, often occurring in dreams. The focus may be seem a little esoteric to people outside the industry or not huge fans of movies in general, but this story of a man who finds himself lost in new times is easily identifiable to anyone who has woken up one day to find the world has left them behind.  This is not only the most probable winner for best Oscar, but our personal choice….unless Melancholia was nominated…or Tinker Tailor…or Drive…It’s very good! Really.

P for Picture (Best)

Top Ten Most Anticipated Films of 2012

New year! Still, kind of. And whilst we sift through the remains of 2011 for the next month leading up to the Oscars we can look forward to the brand new year of movies ahead! We’ve got fucking Nolan people! Fuck yeah! No Coens, and we’ve had our Fincher, mustn’t be greedy! (Update: We get another one! Yaaay!) We are getting another Terrence Mallik soon, so we can expect some wandering around with whispering voice overs at some point. Several long term projects are reaching completion this year, some directors we haven’t seen in a while are coming back and Jessica Chastain has promised to be lovely on several more occasions. But there are ten events in movie making which we are looking forward to more than any other! So here they are:

10. Looper

The concept alone is enough to encourage excitement! Joseph Gordon Levitt is employed to kill illegal immigrants…from the future! That’s right it’s a time travel story, which always bodes for some silly fun. Only things go awry when Levitt recognises his next target…as himself! Only himself as played by Bruce Willis (because eventually JGL is going to grow into Bruce Willis or vice versa). If the incredibly silly plot isn’t enough to hook you then surely the star power will have raised an eyebrow. Supporting roles come from Emily Blunt, Paul Dano and Jeff Daniels. This feels like this year’s answer to the high concept sci-fi action flicks that pleasantly surprised us last year, like the Adjustment Bureau and Source Code. We’re really hoping this is continuing the trend of introducing an intellectual aspect to action movies. Even Total Recall levels of intelligence are enough for us. Little subtext or something….anything!

09. World War Z

The book took the interesting concept of the Zombie Survival Guide and applied an epistolary narrative. A film isn’t the easiest thing to pick out from the book and it will probably take a similar form to last year’s “contagion” (which does raise concerns that the thunder may have been stolen). It seems they have united the various narratives of the story by having a singular character (played by Brad Pitt) travelling the world, conducting the interviews which make up the novel.

Marc Forster (the director) has a hit and miss record of film making with highlights including The Kite Runner and Monsters Ball and recent misses including Quantum of Solace. But early commenters have made comparisons to Children of Men, the Bourne series (in terms of realism) and naturally The Walking Dead. With zombies very well covered in the decade since Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later, can the film inject some new life into the old corpse? Let’s hope so because Romero’s recent efforts certainly won’t.

08. Django Unchained

Quentin Tarantino is a divisive character. Some say he is revolutionary, others say he merely rips off obscure movies. Some say he writes the best dialogue in Hollywood, others say all his characters all just end up talking like Quentin Tarantino. We fall somewhere in the middle of these opinions, with films we love and films we hate, and Inglorious Basterds splitting us right down the middle. The basic consensus is that his first two were revolutionary and unlike anything seen before, but everything since has been too heavily rooted in its influences. But his films are always interesting.

Here he is remaking (or belatedly sequelling) cult western classic “Django”, a story about a man who perpetually drags a coffin concealing a machine gun around with him, getting caught up between rival gangs (somewhat like Yojimbo or its remake a fistful of dollars). The plot for Django unchained suggests this is not a remake as our hero sets out to rescue his wife from a plantation owner. The machine gun coffin is unmentioned, but surely, SURELY! The cast is impressive with our three favourite names in Hollywood, Joseph Gordon Levitt, joined by recent great Leonardo DeCaprio, Tarantino regular Samuel L Jackson, the fantastic Christoph Waltz and the ever powerful Jamie Foxx playing our hero, Django. The film will definitely be worth some attention this year.

07. The Hunger Games

Being one of those people who frequently bitch and moan about book to film adaptations it seems almost wrong that I am waiting with baited breath for the first of Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy to come to the big shiny screen. While reading the Hunger Games I almost missed my stop numerous times on the tube from sheer hunger-games-hooked-ness.

In brief: Katniss Everdeen (played by the acclaimed and totally hot Jennifer Lawrence, who is depressingly a year younger than me) makes the ultimate sacrifice for her younger sister and puts herself forward to compete in a Battle Royale style reality TV show in which 12 boys and 12 girls are placed in an arena, with one objective: to kill everyone else, including the other from their own ‘district’. Katniss and Peter are selected from District 12, the least prosperous of the 12 districts in Collins’ dystopian world. If the cinematic adaptation is anything like the books viewers can expect nothing less than a nail biting suspense. My hopes for the adaptation include: an amazing soundtrack, a heart thumping tension build (or two) and some serious sweaty teenage warfare.

06. The Bourne Legacy/ Skyfall

The two biggest names in spying both return this year with dramatic potential! The Bourne Legacy has the intriguing premise of being a Bourne film without Bourne. The film focuses on new character Aaron Cross, played by the rising star Jeremy Renner, trying to investigate Bourne and his actions after the events of the third film. Bourne’s complete absence from the story is a very interesting concept and we look forward to seeing how the writers have managed to get around him. Having Edward Norton and Rachel Weiz attached to the project also helps the hype. They certainly couldn’t have found a better director. Tony Gilroy has spent the last decade making up for writing Armageddon by writing and directing some of the most sexy and twisty thrillers we’ve seen. Aside from writing for the Bourne series he has directed Michael Clayton, State of Play (not the worst remake of the British TV series ever, that honour goes to Edge of Darkness), and Duplicity. So high hopes for him getting the tone and pace right.

Skyfall gained additional interest after being rescued from development hell by director Sam Mendes. We’ve all been reading the stories of Mendes cutting expensive action sequences in favour of character developing scenes. Regardless of the art film director’s impact, the script has always seemed interesting. The film is calling into question the one character of the Bond films that has always been beyond reproach: M! Apparently we are also getting a Q at last, played by relatively obscure actor (except for fans of Nathan Barley) Ben Whishaw. The gadgets promise to be less zany than the offerings of previous Qs but the prospect of some outlandish gadgets vaguely grounded in reality (which we got a taste of in MI4) is certainly very exciting! And with Javier Bardem as the villain and undisclosed roles for Ralph Fiennes and Albert Finney, the film promises to be a worthy instalment in the troubled series, perhaps finally acting on the potential of Casino Royale.

05. Moonrise Kingdom

Some may describe this entry as pretentious. But we’re huge fans of Wes Anderson here and have been looking forward to his next film for every one of the last three years, and after his last film moved him a little closer to the mainstream, we are intrigued to see what direction he will go into next. Although the plot of a New England couple running away encouraging a search party to be assembled to find them sounds like the typical quirky fare of Anderson (enough to get us into a theatre), the cast may just gather some wider interest. Anderson regulars Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman are joined by Francis Mcdormand (welcome back from Bayverse, Francis), Bruce Willis, Tilda Swinton, Edward Norton and Harvey Keitel (who we don’t get nearly enough of these days). Angellica Houston will also, surely, be in there somewhere. Anything by Wes Anderson will surely be a highlight of the year and we greatly anticipate his newest effort.

04. The Avengers

It’s been three years since Iron Man and the Incredible Hulk promised it. Since then we’ve had five movies, the latter two of which have pretty much been made entirely because of this. If this isn’t one of the best things we’ve seen all year, then it’s not just one movie that will have been wasted. The anticipation films for the Avengers have ranged greatly in quality but certain details concerning the Avengers suggest it has the potential to rise far about expectation. First and foremost, the involvement of Joss Whedon, the man who creates a cult with everything he does. He is writing and directing and his ability to write strong characters and snappy dialogue is very promising. Anyone who has read his run of the Astonishing X-Men knows he has the potential to do this very well.

One problem is that the villain isn’t terribly inspiring. He’s not new; we’ve seen him in Thor. And whilst Chris Hiddleston’s Loki was a decent enough villain in a film where the main draw is the origin story of the hero, he doesn’t seem enough to justify the assembly of such an epic team of heroes. But this does maybe suggest that more attention will be played towards the dynamic of the group, and that is where the potential lies! We have the cocky Iron Man, the arrogant Thor, the old-fashioned Captain America, the temperamental Hulk, the stoic Hawkeye, and the sassy Black Widow, all headed by the ever awesome Samuel L Jackson. If the film plays the humour and actions scenes right, this could easily be a great event in the year’s film calendar. Although the prospect of a Spiderman reboot is exciting, this is comic book movie we’re most anticipating this year! …well, maybe there’s one other one.

03. The Wettest Country

It’s amazing it’s taken this long to get to one of the many promised examples of Jessica Chastain being lovely this year into this list. But whereas we anticipate the new Terrence Mallik with aching buttocks, the wettest country promises to be considerably more exciting. Boardwalk Empire has rekindled interest in the prohibition era gangster stories, and as massive fans of Boardwalk we look forward to a big sexy movie of the trench coat wearing, Tommy gun totting, beer peddlers of the 1930s. Based on the novel by Matt Bondurant, and adapted by (somewhat oddly) the musician Nick Cave, the film will be directed by previous Nick Cave collaborator John Hillcoat and if the result is as interesting as “The Proposition” then it should be very entertaining. Hillcoat also recently directed the adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s masterpiece “The Road”, with fairly competent results.

The story concerns three brothers bootlegging in Virginia. One brother is played by Tom Hardy, a man who has been the highlight of everything he’s been in since Bronson (hell since Nemesis!), the second is familiar face Jason Clarke and the youngest brother will be played by Shia LaBitch…surprisingly this was not enough to fully break the deal for us. Hiring the most spitefully obnoxious actor since Paulie Shore was an unpleasant move for the makers to take but perhaps we’ll be proven wrong and he won’t spend most of the film screaming to camera or being an self-righteous asshole. Hell he might even like this project enough not to bad mouth the film and everyone involved ten minutes after filming ends. Who knows?! To make up for this black hole of charisma we also get Guy Pearce and Gary Oldman….and Jessica Chastain. Who thankfully is NOT Labitche’s love interest. That would have been painful.

02. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

About two years ago me and K were sat in the IMAX about to watch the Lord of the Rings All-nighter when the host of the evening introduced a guest “who needed no introduction”. We all turned to the back where a spotlight had been thrown to see a lone figure stood there. He walked down the aisle to the podium and such was the intensity of the light and the shock of the moment that it took a few moments to recognise the warm smile and familiar wrinkles that constituted the beloved face of Sir Ian McKellan. He told us some funny stories about the filming and complimented the freaks who showed up dressed as hobbits and then told us that filming had started in New Zealand on The Hobbit.

It has been two years since that day and now we have a trailer! The trailer starts with Frodo and Bilbo and the familiar sound of Howard Shore’s music accompanying Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth. Instantly it’s 2001 and we’re watching the first trailer for Fellowship of the Ring, first glimpses of the Shire and the characters that inhabited our childhood. Only now we go back further to the 13 little dwarves, the wizard and the hobbit whom we first discovered as children. We are given a song, some of the epic scenery and a few glimpses of battle! Although the actual book has significantly less action than the Lord of the Rings, it seems that the script writers have moved outside the narrative to reveal other important events that we didn’t previously see in the book, such as the battle between Gandalf and the Necromancer. However the writers only have the right to adapt the Hobbit, not the Silmarillion or unfinished tales. So they have to be careful of how much they include. Perhaps we’ll be seeing a whole new version of events! All we know is that this looks to be a continuation of the franchise that meant everything to us as teenagers…let’s just hope it’s not another Phantom Menace.

01. The Dark Knight Rises

In lieu of an article fully detailing all the reasons we cannot fucking wait for this, please accept this picture of us ejaculating over the movie’s poster.

Ok I couldn’t figure out how to upload that and now the police have it, so let’s have that article!

What we know of the Dark Knight Rises is only what Nolan has told us. The film is set eight years after the Dark Knight, the villain is Tom Hardy’s Bane; we will also get Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman, Joseph Gordon Levitt looking intense, Marion Coutillard looking stunning, and the fucking Batwing. The trailer for this film is truly exhilarating. Not as exhilarating, however, as the first six minutes of the film which was offered to anyone who saw Mission Impossible 4 at the IMAX. Without spoiling anything, it was equal in its ambition and menace to the Joker’s bank heist. The big surprise is that the villain is significantly more intimidating as this six foot high wall of muscle and attitude that swaggers through his scenes with a sense of indestructability. His voice….is a problem. Although the voice Tom Hardy is using sounds fantastic in a classical British Bond villain kind of way, it’s very muffled and hard to understand. We’re talking Ken Watanabe delivering key exposition over the sound of a helicopter levels of incomprehension. This made us very worried, but then we get news that Christopher Nolan has completely remixed the audio to make Bane easier to understand. Oh Nolan, how could we have doubted you?

The film promises to be devastatingly emotional (watching how frail and upset Alfred seems in the trailer is already hard to watch) and amazingly ambitious in its action scenes. In an age of doing everything with CGI, we’ve all seen the real Batwing which Nolan actually built to use in this film and the explosions he set off in an actual stadium (a sequence seen in the trailer). The other element that adds potential to this film is that Nolan has said that this will be the end of his batman. This guarantees something pretty climactic and considering Nolan hasn’t been shy about killing off key characters in the past, we do have to wonder if he is going to literally put an end to the caped crusader. Though there is another option. We’ve seen men rappelling into the bat cave in the trailer. What looks like Wayne walking with a cane. Is there a chance that Nolan is going to do to Batman what Bane did in the comics? …time will tell. And it’s the single most anticipated thing this year.

Worst Films of the Year 2011

It’s also been a bad year, with the lack of certain directors contributions making it all the more painful. Aside from more bland remakes and unimaginative sequels we’ve also had lots of good ideas poorly executed and terrible ideas executed at all. Although we have continued the trend of simply avoiding bad looking movies such as Alvin and the fucking chipmunks 3 we have tried to check out the more infamous titles this year and will hopefully be able to provide a more complete list…in the same way a used toilet is complete, not to get scatty too soon. We’ll save that for number one!
 

10. Sucker Punch

st A lesson: if you put chicks in charge of a battle robot they will paint a pink bunny on it.

Zack Snyder is a controversial little figure. Having a unique directorial style can have that effect on the audience. Starting a career off with a remake of one of the most popular horror films of all time can also have that effect. Here Snyder reaffirms that he is a very talented visual director…but a writer he ain’t! And here we are treated to Zack Snyder’s writing. Perhaps what this is trying to be is a high concept action thriller, but the concept isn’t necessarily sophisticated as much as it is needlessly convoluted. We have a heroine who escapes from her shit life by imagining another equally shit life in which she imagines garish action scenes which provide no tension as we know they’re entirely in the main characters head! There’s no emotional investment here. It becomes hard to know what actually happened in the narrative as we are forced to interpret the exaggerated levels. It’s like a liars Inception. If we are told she killed a guy, then on the next level up perhaps she just punched him which means on the surface level she may have just gave him a look or something. It’s confusing and doesn’t actually add anything to the film. The acting isn’t great. Hiring people from High School Musical can do that. It’s also difficult to claim this is a feminist film when the actresses wear incredibly short skirts…in their own imaginations. Empowering hotness perhaps. The film seems to just want to provide a plethora of action clichés. Anime swordfight, WW1 with zombies, Lord of the Rings, the great train robbery, the action may look pretty but it doesn’t excite as much as it would if we cared about what was happening. Style over substance but the style isn’t enough to win it.

9. Hobo with a Shotgun

Bluray helps you see the misery!

Here’s how not to do nostalgia. Imagine super 8 with capital punishment for pedos. The grindhouse beast created by Rodriguez and Tarantino has hardly inspired modern masterpieces. In fact Planet Terror is the only good thing to come out of those two hours of infamy. Directors seem to think that something which was funny as a two minute trailer would work just as well as a two hour movie. I loved the machete trailer, that doesn’t mean I would actually like to sit through the damn thing! The story concerns a hobo who arrives in a ridiculously OTT town in which no one has subtle emotions and violence runs wild on the streets. Not the realistic muggings, rape, general delinquency kind of violence. No, it’s more the kind of violence that would happen if you took all the guys on Xbox Live and put them in a town together. The hobo then decides to strike back with his own brand of Vigilante justice…and a shotgun. Everyone is killed indiscriminately. Whether they be a murderer, paedophile, exploitative film maker, all are equally deserving of violent death. The big bad in town then hunts down the hobo with many zanily unpleasant antics along the way. The film has major problems with tone. We see a silly wacky performance followed by a bus full of school kids getting torched with flame throwers. The visuals are really nasty to look at. Everything is a shade of green or yellow, in some subliminal attempt to get us to throw up. This is an ugly film, in every sense.

8. Priest

"Have you drawn on my face again?"

This film kicks off with a pretty kick ass animation. An animation which provided such a strong example of “diamond in the rough” that it was almost sufficient to keep this off the list. Just like the final fight did for the Immortals. But you can see the animation on Youtube and the rest of this is bullshit, so here it is at number 8. The film is an adaptation of a quirky Japanese anime, and just like all western adaptations of things that are Japanese and or quirky, it entirely misses the point and instead decides to remake the searchers with CG vampires. Some promise does make it through. The walled cities are somewhat like the Mega cities in Judge Dredd but without Rob Scnieder (which immediately improves any dystopian future). The slightly retro eighties feel to the future and especially the confession booth scene is quite pleasing. The problems really start once they leave the city and arrive in an undeveloped steam punk wild west. The characters are just bland if not annoying in some instances, most of the action occurs in identical caves relying on tedious jump scares or terrible looking CGI for impact and the overall plot doesn’t make too much sense. It establishes a terrible dystopian society established to protect people from the terrible vampire beast. It’s hard to root people mindlessly killing for for religious reasons, even when the enemy is literally demonised. We do have a good villain in the form of Karl Urban who tends to be pretty good in anything he’s in (perhaps not the Doom movie) and who plays the role quite maniacally and is definitely channelling older villains like Gary Oldman’s intense performance in Leon. Our hero, however, who is trying to get across grizzled and world weary, but just seems…tired. This director seriously needs to stop trying to make Bettany an action star. He’s not suited for it! The film was also edited down from an R-rating to a PG-13 rating, which meant reducing the blood and re-editing the sound effects to be less graphic. This is extremely obvious as cuts end quickly and actions seem to have no sound effects to accompany them. This severely dampens the effect the film was trying to go for with its dark and gritty style. Seeing an arm break with only a dull thud sound or a man being drained of his blood with no sound at all is incredibly jarring. Ultimately this is a film with a lot wasted potential. The design is good, the idea is good, the dichotomy at the centre is interesting, but the direction, acting, and composition of the action leaves it hollow. Like a corpse soundlessly drained of discoloured blood.

So that’s priest. It’s lame (in a very accurate sense of the word). But do check out the animation on Youtube. It’s better than the rest of the entire movie.  

7. Stakeland

"Is this right?"

Show don’t tell is the old adage. This film is a fantastic example of how not to write a script. The exposition in the narration offered by our hero explains all the things they couldn’t be bothered to write. “Over time we became close” is not something you can have a character actually say in a film. We must see the closeness developing. The hero and love interest actually say very little to each other in the film and aside from the student-mentor relationship, no characters are developed! We will see a character die and then the group pick up someone who fulfils the exact same purpose. Not that we see much of this group dynamic as there are very few scenes of our group travelling and talking and bonding. It’s like zombieland with none of the funny endearing dialogue. In fact it’s essentially like zombieland told from the perspective of the zombies. They just arrive at a place, bad stuff happens, they move on. An old point must be picked up here, at what point did we lose track of vampires? We’ll get to this in another item on this list, but it seems like we’ve forgotten about what the blood sucking freaks are meant to be all about. Here they are portrayed as mindless zombies who run at their victims and immediately bite them to death with little to no reasoning ability. Personally I blame 30 days of night. We also have a plot about some kind of religious cult who are claiming this world after the vampire apocalypse. Religious cults in post-apocalyptic worlds are a fairly tired concept at this point and a unique spin is really required to make it interesting. Here it seems to just serve to give our heroes some more human villains to fight. It’s just thoroughly bland and pointless…ironically.

6. Battle: Los Angeles

The CGI machine exploded!

Speaking of bland. Have you ever watched a friend play Resistance? You realise just how dull the visuals are and unexciting the action scenes are when you’re not actually required to orchestrate them. Well this is like that, if you were also jumping up and down on a trampoline. There is no plot. None, it’s soldiers fighting robots that might contain Aliens or water melons, whatever. They run around the streets occasionally shooting their guns but with few squibs placed on the enemy, making it hard to tell if they’re hitting anything. Shaky cam is used very poorly here. Remember in Saving Private Ryan when it was really effective at bringing a sense of chaos to proceedings? Well now it just makes everything blurry and confusing and slightly nauseating it has to be said. Characterisation is performed only in the first ten minutes, after that you might be able to spot Aaron Eckert’s chin, the only chick in there and the main black guy who has a problem with Eckert, but that’s pretty much it. The problem with this film is that it’s one very VERY long action scene, but the action isn’t very good! It’s blurry and confusing. The really aggravating point of this movie is that the trailer was good. It seemed to suggest this would be a serious approach to Alien invasion. Unfortunately it just didn’t make any kind of emotional connection, not even on an adrenaline fuelled basis. The closest you can get to watching paint dry on film…grey paint…brown wall. It’s modern FPS games: the movie!

5. Conan the Barbarian

Just kill the guy with the laptop.

The original isn’t really a classic piece of cinema. It’s fun. A good excuse to see Arnie punch a camel (as if an excuse were needed). It also has an amazing soundtrack by Basil Pouledrois, some good practical effects and James Earl Jones is always a great villain. The remake has none of these things. The villain is bland and his goal isn’t all that clear other than a good old fashioned “hunt the macguffin”. The soundtrack is extremely unimpressive; the visual effects mostly a dull CG affair, though a certain amount of imagination has been put towards some of the gore. Our hero isn’t that bad. Jason Mamoa may be familiar to fans of Game of Thrones and Baywatch and he doesn’t do a terrible job here. He’s certainly muscly enough and brings a certain charm to his misogyny. The script is just poor. It makes very little use of Howard’s world, perhaps more use than the original film, but still doesn’t use any of the interesting plots he came up with. At some point someone will read The People of the Black Circle and perhaps a good film will get made. Until then we get Conan chasing an old man around some matte paintings (models would have been better? At least it’s something real), trying to defeat CG tentacles and guys made of sand. This is not going to energise a franchise and really it has considerably less going for it than Conan the Destroyer, the film that killed off the franchise last time. It’s really not a hard formula to perfect. Have some kind of plot, some affable characters, and a lot of battles between Conan and real opponents with some decent physical effects and gore. All we really want from this is a more mature Lord of the Rings. It’s tough to get studios to agree to mature fantasy which excludes the family market, we can’t afford to waste these opportunities! At least we have HBO and they’re Game of Thrones series. God bless HBO!

4. Twilight

"Just pretend it's Jacob! Just pretend it's Jacob!" I'll leave it up to you who's thinking that.

Twilight, in my opinion, represents everything that is wrong with today’s youth. By some horrible twist of fate I have managed to see all the Twilight movies and the latest has to be the most ridiculous so far. Be warned that I’m about to ruin the incredibly involved and controversial plot for BreDawg as I’m calling it. Bella (K-Stew) and Edward (R-Pats) get married (in the sunshine, because in SPARKLY SHINEY TWILIGHT WORLD vamps don’t burn; never mind about Vampire folklore Meyer, just make it up as you go along, yeah?). Then they shag, and of course she gets preggo- because Stephanie Meyer is a Mormon and therefore fully accepts that sex immediately leads to pregnancy (not mention extreme pain). So Bella and Edward’s baby is a demon (of course) and is trying to kill Bella from the inside, just like all sinful relations should! Now in the book this problem is solved by Edward throwing the whole ‘I’ll never turn you into a vampire’ thing out the window and saves her by Siring her (because in SPARKLY SHINEY TWILIGHT WORLD Bella can’t just die.) However, the first film ends before it gets there. Robbing us of the only payoff the film could possibly have. This really did not need to be two movies! A forty minute wedding? Fuck that! This is just a cynical attempt to sell two tickets to one movie.

This seems as good a place as any to really get into what’s wrong with vampires these days. The old classic monsters were all moral fables. Frankenstein was about not using that dreadful science thing (luckily it worked and the practice pretty much died out), The Mummy was about not digging around in the past (luckily Cameron is furthering the cause of no one being able to study history), The Wolfman was about being careful about the wild side of one’s psyche, Jekyll and Hyde same deal and Dracula about beware eroticism! A fancy man from the east comes over, steals all the chicks, and then gets killed by the Victorian gentlemen “protecting” the ladies. Depicting the vampires as the good guys who are unreasonably killed due to old fashioned values about women and their place is certainly an interesting perspective…not one a Mormon is too likely to get right. The vampires don’t represent lust here, no….they sparkle! And the main vampire only gets laid once. The moral of the story seems to be that men are entirely unable to control themselves in bed, so if you agree to have sex with one, tear your shit up and potentially kill you and probably get you pregnant too. BEWARE THE PENIS! LOOK OUT! THERE’S ONE BEHIND YOU! The main vampire family are so utterly neutered that they are fucking vegetarians! Perhaps now that Edward actually has a taste for blood, he might just loose his nut and eat Bella…then the kid.  

Oh and there’s some Wolfey shit too, but no one really cares about that, they only put Jacob in for some alternative man-candy for those who aren’t into the pale look. Tragic, really. Let’s not talk down to tweenage girls, shall we?

3. Green Lantern

The mask disguises everything except all his features.

There is a problem with all the DC superheroes that aren’t Batman, and ironically enough it is the very opposite of this problem that makes Batman one of the best superheroes ever. Quite simply they are all way too overpowered! Once you have established that your hero can spin around the earth backwards to reverse time and can survive being shot in the eye, then really there is no threat that can’t be overpowered. The Green Lantern shares this problem with Superman, and is therefore not a superhero that we’ve given any attention to in his book form.

Having said all that, this movie is a terrible waste of any superhero. The powers Hal Jordon are given are essentially the ability to become a cartoon character. He is able to summon anything he can imagine which includes big comical fists, fake harrier jets, and in one particularly amusing scene a race car built around the frame of a falling helicopter. The powers are not used imaginatively here; more often than not it’s just incredibly silly. Which would be fine, we’ve all enjoyed silly superhero movies in the past, but the tone is not silly! It’s quite serious, with foreboding music, serious performances from the antagonists, and some fairly dark death scenes.

The main problem with this film is visceral. The effects are terrible. Ryan Reynolds clearly got into shape for the role and looks great in the few scenes we actually see his real body but almost immediately he is put into a CG costume. I’ve complained about terrible CGI a lot, but god damn does this film find new levels. They put Ryan Reynolds face onto a CG body with a CG mask across his face. They couldn’t even find a length of fabric to put across his face! It’s all fake and the juxtaposition of real flesh and fake suit highlights how terrible it looks. The aliens look cartoonish and pose little threat, the alien world looks silly and fails to impress as the flight sequence was clearly meant to do and overall the film just didn’t have any presence or impact. Ryan Renolds is good. He’s very charming and looks the part of an unlikely hero. Shame he wasn’t in this more often because the cartoon of him they use isn’t as good.

2. Scre4m

Eventually they found the body.

So rarely do I leave a cinema these days, or indeed any days, and someone asks me what I think and I have to reply “It’s just so fucking postmodern!” The film has become so very self-referential in such an overly familiar way. The gag of starting the movie and it turns out to be a movie within a movie is done three or four times, which is utterly exhausting. It feels like a comedy sketch rather than an actual film. The whole film seemed to have more in common with Scary Movie than Scream. However all Scream movies are guilty of being examples of the thing they are supposedly exposing. They will highlight flaws in the genre and then fully indulge in them. This includes one instance of completely hitting the nail on the head in terms of criticism.

In one of the four fake openings a character observes that in the Saw movies it’s entertaining to see all the different ways a character might die. This actually extends to the Friday the 13th movies and the sleepaway camp series, both of which would put effort into making the deaths quite inventive to help keep the interest. The fact that every character in the Scream movies is just stabbed to death (and not graphically enough to earn an eighteen rating in this instance and often in quite a jokey way to remove all impact) makes them incredibly dull. The other character in the scene counters that you don’t care about those characters and therefore the imaginative deaths have no impact. This is supremely fucking arrogant as the film is insisting that we will care about these characters and that this care will make us upset that the deaths are happening. Firstly, these deaths are played for laughs, we haven’t had a tragic death scene in these movies since Scream 2 and Dewey’s supposed killing. Secondly, the scream series may well be single handedly responsible for making the protagonists of horror movies unlikeable. Scream seems to be the first movie to replace the sweet, good natured kids of the eighties slasher flicks with obnoxious high school stereotypes who we are supposed to be happy to see die. Thirdly the scream movies have been repeating these characters since the first film, and it is easy to point out the “randy” or the “Billy” or the “Tatum” in the new characters.

The film is entirely unimaginative, with nothing new to say on a very tired point. The movie makes some attempt to address the matter of remakes, but fails to actually make any judgement of them. The referencing serves as a gimmick, and detracts from any sense of tension as we see people about to be stabbed to death and pleading “I can’t die! I’m the comic relief!” in a way that no real person ever would. The film isn’t paying homage to horror movies anymore, it’s observing their flaws whilst flaunting them. No subtlety, no ingenuity, and really the film is quite typical of writer Ehren Kruger, who also gave us…

1. Transformers: Dark Side of the Moon

Hopefully a metaphor for the beef''s career

T3 is a truly numbing experience. As an exercise in mindless tedium, unashamed repetitiveness and unimaginative cynicism it is truly without equal and fully deserving of the bottom spot on this list. On every level we find something to annoy. The premise of the moon landings being a cover-up for an investigation of alien activity is fairly interesting but dropped quickly in favour of an absurd plot to move the Transformer home world next to earth, an act that would doubtless fuck up local gravity, tides, and god knows what else, rendering the planet worthless to the villains. The writing is atrocious with McGuffins and old clichés passing for storyline. The acting varies between the aggravating annoyances of Shia LaBitch’s incessant whining and screaming to the utter blandness of Not-Megan Fox’s plastic love interest. Supporting performances from Coen Brothers regulars John Tutturo, Frances McDormand and John Malkovich are supremely hurtful, as is Leonard Nimoy’s lifeless portrayal as the villain of the piece, in which he evens perverts his old catchphrase as a mantra for evil as opposed to good (“The needs of the many, outweighs the needs of the few” now apparently evokes communism and other such evils, rather than the merit of selflessness). This is fractionally less offensive than having the real Buzz Aldrin salute the massive pile of CGI and announce that it is an “honour” to be green screened near him. All get to spout the inane surfer dialogue whilst “acting” out “comedy” sections including a secret agent named “Deep Wang”. Despite these zany comedy antics the film is determined to be more serious this time. In the same film we have innocent civilians vaporised to death and an effeminate martial arts butler.

Deep Wang: He’s not funny…but in 3D!

Moving into the second half of the needlessly long ordeal we find incomprehensible action scenes featuring most of the action occurring just above, below or to the side of the frame. They also completely lack in drama as all the characters that count have already been established in the last film to be immortal (not to mention that the scene used in every one of the trailers doesn’t appear until the last fifteen minutes of the film), killing any tension that a movie featuring massive poorly animated CG robots could have had. It’s also completely impossible to tell which robots are on which side. If they’re painted a bright colour then they are probably on the “good” side, though they throw in a massive red evil robot and a good silver robot just to mix things up a little. I enjoyed two scenes in this movie. In one a group of soldiers pointlessly skydive into an area most have just driven into without problem. The scenes of them soaring through the skyline didn’t look as fake as the rest of the movie and were fairly well directed (no frustrating camera actions, and for the most part the action centred on screen). The second came when a building collapsed and the heroes were forced to try and escape. This involved real actors moving around real sets and therefore had a feeling of tension to them. Soon enough though Bay’s giant mechanical shaft attacks and we’re back to not caring.

Promotional art? Toy? Still from the film? Who’s to tell.

The music underscoring these scenes is also completely unimpressive, opting for either trite patriotic horns performing exasperated sighs to generic drums or impressively bland American soft rock which tends to accompany the scenes of our heroes at rest. What happened to the sexy bombastic electronica from the trailer? Speaking of the heroes whilst not being whipped around by robots, every scene at the start of the film is garishly lit in the typical Michael Bay style making it look like all the action is taking place on the surface of the sun. The film also makes use of national pride or tragedy to cynically invoke response from the audience. You can imagine idiots booing as the villain destroys the Lincoln memorial just so he has somewhere to sit or the autobot’s ship being destroyed in a scene creepily reminiscent of the challenger explosion. Less said about huge falling towers the better.

The film represents the nadir of action cinema. Other efforts this year have reminded us of how much fun the genre can be when you maintain some elements of reality, such as actual people performing daring stunts or a fight involving two real people demonstrating careful choreography. This utterly worthless piece of trash is the highest grossing movie of the year and has already started talks of a sequel, possibly without Bay or LaBitch (so already it’s more promising than the last three). If they are looking for someone to replace Shia, may I suggest the action legends Paul Dano or David Schwimmer both of whom would look just as comfortable in the role as LaBitch did. Bay will go on now and maybe without having to use giant robots all the time he will be able to make something else using lame jokes, bad pacing and terrible action. So with the Transformers trilogy finally behind us, what did it all mean? What was the point he was trying to make with these movies? Each one ends with a judgemental monologue from Optimus. Is there any political agenda or social commentary going on here? Unfortunately we’ll never know. Because the only people who care about this movie would never think to look. 

P for Phuck it and K for Krap!

Top Ten Films of the Year 2011

2011 was a year in which we had no Nolan. We had no Cohen’s. We almost had no Fincher. To make matters worse we did have Bay, which we’ll get to on another list altogether. For now we have to maintain the happy thoughts and despite those omissions we have had some great films this year! Political thriller the Ides of March demonstrated Americans can be left wing sometimes. Spielberg reminded us of how he could thrill us like when we were kids in the light hearted adventure Tin Tin. David Fincher’s Girl with the Dragon Tattoo faithfully (for the most part) adapted a Swedish Crime Story whilst Swedish Director Thomas Alfredson did the same to British spy novel, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, both with terrific results. Breath-taking real stunts and action came from Brad Bird’s live action debut Mission Impossible 4, whilst Sherlock Holmes 2 demonstrated an intellectual hint to the genre. Terence Malik’s Tree of Life led the way with breath-taking visuals and My Week with Marilyn offered further chances for great actors to shine. Throughout all of this Jessica Chastain was lovely on several occasions. But of all the great moments of the year, which ten stood out for these particular bored nerds? Well let’s find out!

10. X-Men First Class

If this film has a problem it is that it has so much to do. It has to establish two very strong characters, then have them meet, develop the villains, have the heroes put the first class together, train them, develop a dynamic between them, demonstrate the rift between the two main characters, have them resolve the villain problem and then come apart from each other. It’s enough material for several films, including a Magneto the Nazi Hunter film, a section that clearly stands out as a highlight. But we do get the best of every section. We get the best of a the revenge plot, the best of the training underdogs, the best of the cold war espionage with mutants (the mission in Russia was pretty fun!) and the best of a character study, examining two men with different opinions on the same problem. The acting is excellent as James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender are excellent in their parts and it doesn’t take much to establish a good chemistry between them. The period detail and tone of the film is perfect and consistent. The only fault is that it would have been nice to see some of these plot points spread over a few films. For now, let’s just hope they don’t fuck up wolverine again next year.

9. The Guard

In premise the film resembles Hot Fuzz and yet the style is entirely unique as it plays the material considerably darker, with a deadpan tone highlighting the quirky comedy. The story concerns a drug dealer played by Mark Strong, being hunted by FBI agent Don Cheadle who is forced to join forces with the local Irish police force “the guards” and specifically his new partner gloriously portrayed by Brandon Gleason. Gleason’s character indulges in every vice available and yet maintains an attitude of quaint country calm. The contrast of a rural Irish community cop starting the movie by taking an Ecstasy tablet found in a car crash and announcing that it’s “a fuckin’ beautiful day” is amongst the funniest things put to film this year. The movie keeps interest well through the staples of the buddy cop movie, including the big shoot out at the end. It also manages to include a great deal of emotional interest, as with Gleason’s sick mother. Really the highlight of the film is Brandon Gleason, who is effortlessly charming despite exhibiting every vice you wouldn’t want your local policeman to have, let alone one investigating a major drug deal. The film is part of a tradition of comedy drama films featuring predominantly Irish talent (usually with an English villain) including In Bruges and Perrier’s bounty and easily matches them.   

8. Tyrannosaur

It’s tough to maintain such a menacing atmosphere when you’re sharing a cinema with someone who laughs during the big rape scene. But it did! Paddy Constantine’s directorial debut is amazingly accomplished, though it may make us very concerned about Constantine’s private life. The film features Peter Mullun living in a village somewhere in the North of England who cannot help encountering violence wherever he goes, like a psychopathic Victor Meldrew. One day he encounters the sweet natured charity shop worker, played by Olivia Coleman, who is being abused by her deranged husband Eddie Marson. Coleman, who comes from a comedy background, is astonishing as the weary housewife driven closer to the violent stranger by her cold, malicious husband. All roles are played edgy and are complimented by the moody direction of the fledgling director. Hopefully this won’t be a one off like Gary Oldman’s Nil by mouth and we’ll be treated to further grim treats from Constantine. But for now we can appreciate this dark and disturbing view of life in the north (the only view one can possibly take of life up there in the mountains, with the trolls and dragons I believe they have there).

7. Hugo

Scorsese turns his hand to yet another film genre and once again is able to demonstrate a unique perspective. The film is a family movie and unlike most family movies of the year (The Smurfs, Alvin and the fucking Chipmunks (full title)) it is actually intended to entertain the entire family. It must be stressed first that we saw the 2D version, as we hate 3D. 3D killed my father. He thought the truck was much closer than it was and fell into a lawn mower. So we don’t see things in 3D and will be unable to affirm or rebuke the claim that this movie represents the future of cinema by using a tired old gimmick from the sixties. What we can confirm is that unlike Ronnie Corbett this movie is very extremely strong without the stupid glasses. The acting is great all round (except for Ray Winston who seems to be failing to impersonate himself), with particular skill from our two young leads. Chloe Grace Moretz works well with the accent and manages to be very interesting and sweet. The direction is fantastic as Scorsese once again demonstrates his flair for the visual bringing a French railway station of the 1910s to life with impressive sets and camerawork. What makes the film special though is the purpose it sets out to fulfil. The film is a love letter to cinema and the film making process in the film is portrayed as the idealised creative process, invoking feelings of joy, wonder and accomplishment. Hopefully this will become a classic as the years pass and thought of just as fondly as Cinema Paradiso.

6. Super 8

Speaking of homages to older films (though not quite as old here); super 8 recalls the early Spielberg films of the seventies and eighties and manages to be every bit as entertaining as the early summer blockbusters. The film follows a group of young friends as they attempt to make a low budget B-movie, only for their town to become involved in some sort of government conspiracy involving an implausible train crash, an insanely intense Biology teacher and a mischievous alien. The feel of the movie is very appropriate for the period of its setting with minute details placed to provoke the strongest nostalgia possible, even in people who weren’t alive in the seventies. The young actors are very genuine in their performances and successfully create the atmosphere of youthful curiosity these films thrive on. The scenes that need to be endearing are endearing, the scenes that need to be tense, are very tense! The film succeeds in reminding us of what it feels like to see young characters we care about put into considerable peril.

5. Drive

It seems that this year we had a lot of films looking backwards. Hugo took influence (and delight) from the early silent films, My Week with Marilyn revelled in its 50s setting and the next entry after this one found its stylistic and spiritual influence in the past too. Drive demonstrates a slightly sleazier flavour to nostalgia as it revisits the sleek, sexy veneer of the nineteen eighties. As bright, neon stained visuals are complimented by a pounding techno soundtrack, the atmosphere of neon noir hangs heavily over a story of crime, revenge and love! Carey Mulligan provides a great deal of heart in her performance as the love interest, just as she did in last year’s Never Let Me Go and as she’ll probably do in this year’s Shame (not to typecast). Ryan Gosling succeeded in being likeable and menacing as needed, but the real achievement is Albert Brooks as the terrifying villain. Having busty redhead Christina Hendricks on board didn’t hurt either. The action is great and often quite understated whilst lovingly prepared with physical effects. The resulting moments of extreme violence are effective at shocking the audience, paying off the masterfully built tension. If film makers can continue to find the best of the past and bring up to date with this kind of quality then we have many good years ahead.

4. The Artist

Speaking of being referential to yesteryear, the Artist is a modern silent, black and white film which takes rewarding risks with its presentation. The style works beautifully as the setting for this story of an artist finding himself at odds with the times. The film plays with its unique style making humorous or emotional references to its own limitations and strengths. It offers rare opportunities to see old fashioned slapstick comedy, dance numbers and genuine talent, uninterrupted by the overly technological habits of today. By removing dialogue we are forced to focus on the tiny details being offered by the direction and the superb actors who fill the picture, from Malcolm MacDowell to John Goodman. The leading man and lady are infinitely charming, immediately arresting the audience so that we are totally gripped by their struggles with an evolving Hollywood. With the tiniest expressions they can entirely change the mood of the piece. The main message of the film is that the past still has a lot to offer, even as times change and the film doesn’t just advocate the notion but champions it.

3. 50/50

This is often a surprising choice to anyone who hasn’t actually seen the film. The comedy elements may lead many to assume this is a very light movie with little to say beyond a few crude gags. What is being overlooked there is the amazing amount of heart this movie has. Apparently based on the true story of the films writer coming to terms with cancer with the help of his friend, Seth Rogan (who recreates this period of his life in the film) the story concerns Joseph Gordon Levitt being diagnosed with spinal cancer. We then see the impact this has on his life, often with humour but just as often with a crushing realism that made this quite a hard watch. How many comedies can actually generate a tear in its finale? This succeeds, and in no small part because of the great chemistry between Levitt (giving his best performance so far here) and his co-stars, particularly Seth Rogan who takes the concept of Bromance to a truly wonderful place. The film is ultimately about how important other people can be in our lives and how good fellowship can help us overcome huge amounts of adversity and suffering.

2. Take Shelter

Take Shelter was perhaps a little personal for me, but even out of context I really think this is one of the most emotional films released all year. Rising star Michael Shannon is the lead who increasingly believes a terrible storm is coming which he and his loved ones must prepare for. As he builds the shelter in his home a terrible strain is put on his home life and work, and as he begins to lose all the things he hoped to protect he is forced to ask some very difficult questions about his mental health. The film is about what happens when the head of a family is compromised. It demonstrates the impact this has on his loving wife, Jessica Chastain, and deaf daughter who desperately needs the money he is spending on his shelter for an ear operation that could save her hearing. A lot is at stake in this movie and if I have one complaint it is the ending which I feel goes against the moral of the story as an exercise in recognising our own weakness and trusting the ones we love. However the penultimate scene in which the family finally enter the shelter is one of the tensest and most upsetting that I have seen all year. The performances alone make this film one of the best. The atmospheric direction merely provides space for Chastain and Shannon to shine, as they will both hopefully continue to do in years to come.

1. Melancholia

One day a full length article about this film will go up on this site, probably comparing it to Tree of Life and explaining why this movie is on the list whilst Tree of Life isn’t. I am a huge fan of Lars Von Trier and consider Antichrist to be one of the most misunderstood movies of recent years. This film is a lot clearer on its message and it’s one that anyone who has spent some time thinking seriously about death will be all too familiar with. After an epically beautiful introduction showcasing the keen eye for striking shots Von Trier and his team have, the story is split into two parts. The first is a family drama in the same tradition as Festen. There is a wedding taking place but things are far from perfect as tensions between guests and hosts are played out and the veneer of control that Kiefer Sutherland and Charlotte Gainsbourg try to exert over proceedings is slipping. Meanwhile the bride, Kirstin Dunst, who initially takes a great deal of joy from the problems they have getting to the venue, becomes increasingly depressed and disillusioned with the forced ritual of the wedding and soon seeks to disrupt and spoil it in any way she can. This segment is dramatic and often amusing; sporting its ensemble cast which includes such greats as John Hurt and Udo Kier. In the second half of the movie the plot concerns a travelling planet called Melancholia (due to its deep blue colour) passing close to the Earth, only to start concerning people that it will actually collide. This worldwide panic is portrayed only through the four characters inhabiting the manor house, and the contrasting attitudes to the potential disaster range from denial to acceptance. The symbolism is worn on the films sleeve as the film is an excuse to examine attitudes towards death and ultimately the prevailing view is quite pessimistic. Our hero is totally unwilling to buy into the traditions and rituals put in place to make us more comfortable with our own mortality and instead accepts the inevitability of death with a cold sense of calm which can be very unsettling to watch. The film is a beautiful and well executed study of a very important issue and I feel is Von Triers best work and the best film of the year.

That’s our list of the best films of the year! Soon will be the considerable harder list, the worst films of the year, in which we take an opportunity to vent a year’s worth of bile and anger. Look out for it!

P for probably not going to be revised in two months…

The Rising Sun and Fallen Blades: P’s top ten Japanese films

Japanese culture has always fascinated those in the west. Ever since the first European traders brought back fashionable items of Oriental art four hundred years ago, the interest in all things Nippon has grown in influence and power. Japanese movies, in particular, have always provided something unconventional, special or just plain over the top! From the fascinating customs and orders of their feudal past to the fantastic visions of a technological future to come and of course the extreme and unrelenting violence, the Japanese directors and writers have shown the world a unique and stunning perspective of the world around us.

I have had to limit ourselves in some respects. It would be easy, for example to just fill this list with Akira Kurosawa films, or indeed samurai films in General or anime films or horror films. However to do so would be to simplify the sheer range in vision of the Japanese masters. Therefore, each genre of Japanese cinema has been restricted to one entry each, which should hopefully represent their unmentioned contemporaries. If you haven’t seen many Japanese films, then these may be a good place to start.

10. The Street Fighter (Gekitotsu! Satsujin ken, 1974)

This has nothing to do with the popular Japanese video game series. Instead this is the story of Takuma Tsurugi (played masterfully by Sonny Chiba), a martial arts master for hire getting caught up with Yakuza. The Toei company boldly decided to have Chiba as the ultimate anti-hero. After completing one job to save a man from execution, the man’s brother and sister are unable to pay for his services. He therefore beats them both and sells the sister into a life of prostitution. Containing a healthy blend of sex, extreme violence and fun, the Street fighter movies are definitely among the best of their genre. You may have seen them referenced in True Romance (writer Quintin Tarantino is notably a huge fan of Japanese Cinema). The film may be considered an exploitation film, and Chiba does seem to be channeling Bruce Lee, however the entertainment quality here is unbeatable to any fan of mindless martial arts action. Watch it for the violence, and the kick ass sound track.

09. Tetsuo: The Iron Man (testsuo, 1989)

Distinctly feeling like a music video by Tool, Shinya Tsukamoto’s baffling cyberpunk brain child is shot entirely in black and white and has menacing and gritty feel of all the classic eighties body horror flicks. The story concerns Tetsuo, a fetishist whose particular kink involves the insertion of random pieces of metal into his body. After inserting a metal rod into his leg leads to infection by maggots the man runs into the road and is hit by a car. The man driving, along with his girlfriend, dump the body in a nearby ravine only to be cursed by Tetsuo, transforming the man slowly into a walking scrap-heap. The film is very hard to watch, with brutal portrayals of self-mutilation, grainy visuals and a throbbing industrial soundtrack, however the subject is fascinating, the surreal nature of the presentation a definite drawing point and the overall presentation will definitely keep you watching until the end, for better or worse. The Japanese soon earned a reputation for extreme cinema, and with movies like Tetsuo, it’s not hard to imagine why.

08. Lone Wolf and Cub: Babycart at the river styx (Kozure Ôkami: Sanzu no kawa no ubaguruma, 1972)

The Lone Wolf and Cub manga series by Kazuo Koike is a masterpiece of samurai fiction. It contains incredible attention to detail in its plot lines, setting and characters all portraying the world of feudal Japan. Some of this quality carries through into the six Lone Wolf and Cub movies made by the Toho company and it is the second film of the series that makes the list here. After the first film establishes the character of Ogami Itto and his infant son Daigoro, this sequel sees them through perhaps their most entertaining adventure. Hunted by a trio of terrible assassins, each master of a deadly samurai weapon, the father and son team continue to travel through the land, seeking vengeance against Yagyu Retsudo, the leader of the traitorous Yagyu clan, reponisible for the death of his wife. The movie is most often remembered for its gore, and indeed the sword fights are brutal and violent, however the film contains a fascinating insight into the glorified world of the Samurai, and Tomisaburo Wakayama once again provides a brilliant portrayal of the silent swordsman. Western audiences may be more familiar with the film “Shogun Assassin”, which was made be editing together footage of the first two films. However I strongly suggest you acquire a box set of the original superior movies.

07. Ringu (1998)

J-Horror has recently become something of a cultural phenomenon in the last ten years or so. This can largely be attributed to the success of the japanese movie Ringu. The film is about a video tape which kills the viewer one week after viewing. This intriguingly original concept plays strongly upon fears of modern utilities, a common theme with Japanese horror. The greatest success a horror story my have is to make you fear the mundane. And after this film, it’ll certainly make you think twice about sleeping in the same room as a television . Some may prefer the jump scares of the Hollywood remake, however the original must be seen and appreciated for it’s chilling atmosphere and contrasting simplicity. The infamous television scene is also far better when performed with the subtelty of the original.

06. Spirited Away (Sen to Chihiro no kamikakushi, 2001)

Studio Ghibli is often called the Japanese Disney, an apt description as the studio Ghibli films always contain the youthful curiosity and wonder of their main director, Hayao Miyizaki. Spirited away (or the spiriting away of Sen and Chihiro) is a wonderfully cheerful film about a young girl moving house. On the way to the new family house, her parents decide to pull over and explore a nearby tunnel. On the other side they find a disused fairground which they decide to explore. However as the sun sets the fair ground is inhabited by the demon world, and her parents turn into pigs. Sen, protected by the loyal wizard Haku, must find a place to live and work in this strange world, and ultimately find a way to turn her parents back to normal and return to her world. The stunning visuals of the film, warm humour and likeable characters make this a true classic for all audiences. definitely good enough to give Disney a run for its money.

 

05. Versus (2000)

Pure, Japanese craziness. The film is directed by Ryûhei Kitamura, one of Japans more eccentric directors (which is a very long list to be on top of!) and concerns the 444th portal to hell. Two convicts escape from prison and meet with their escape team of crazy-of-the -op yakuzas, only to have them turn on them, resulting in an all out Yakuza gun fight. Only those who die in this forest, come back to life! Very quickly the film becomes a zombie movie as the Yakuza and convicts must fight for survival. However in this movie filled with surprises, it soon becomes clear that something else is going on entirely. The film’s over the top characters, absurd plot and ridiculously fun action have made it a cult classic.

04. Ichi the Killer (Koroshira Ichi, 2001)

Takeshi Miike is legendary. The director of such bizarre films as the surprisingly sinister Audition, the perversely entertaining visitor Q and the all out ridiculous dead or alive. However his greatest and arguable most extreme movie is Ichi the Killer. The plot focusses around the ultimate masochist, Kakihara and the ultimate sadist, Ichi. Kakihara seems to be looking to avenge the death of his boss, however he is really looking for the person who can inflict the perfect pain. Rape, hypnosis and mass murder ensue as the movie races towards the confrontation between Kakihara and Ichi. The baffling ending is pure Miike. Although lacking the complexity of his Triad society trilogy, the film’s plot has many twists and turns, with great acting and brilliant style. The music, direction and effects are all perfect, making Ichi the killer a thoroughly enjoyable crime drama.

03. Godzilla (Gojira, 1954)

Forget Mathew Broderick and Roland Emmerich. The original 1954 monster movie is a classic. Featuring impressive visuals, a simple yet symbolic plot and a massive killer lizard, Godzilla is monster movie perfection. During the second world war, an injury had been inflicted uniquely to Japan. The only two Atomic bombs ever used in combat were used against the japanese, killing 80,000 civilians and destroying two cities. This attack left a very unique impression on the Japanese psychology which would manifest in its culture. Fittingly, less that ten years after the attack, Godzilla arrives. The result of american nuclear testing, Godzilla rampages through the city of Tokyo, confronted by the military and Tokyo citizens. Although later movies would be more lighthearted and pit Godzilla against various wacky and colourful monsters, the original was very serious and grimly portrayed the results of nuclear testing on Japanese cities….via a massive lizard. The birth of a legend. Try and see it a cinema.

02. Ghost in the Shell (Kôkaku kidôtai, 1995)

Choosing this over Akira was extremely difficult. However ultimately I had to choose Ghost in the Shell for its ambition, intellect and concept. In the future nearly everyone has a cyber brain. These brains increase thought processes, reaction times and most crucially can connect wirelessly to the net. This allows improved conversation, greater knowledge and terrorism. This is where section six comes in. Major Krusinagi is charged with defending the country from ghost hackers, cyber terrorists and the elusive criminal known as the puppet master, who can hijack people, implant false memories and make you act to fufill his criminal will. The movie contains a great deal of philosophic content as well as impressive visuals and thought-provoking moral issues and social commentary. This was an early exponent of combining adrenaline filled action with complex ideas.

01. Seven Samurai (Shichinin no samurai, 1954)

Well it had to be really. Akira Kurosawa is one of the all time best directors and Seven Samurai is generally considered to be his best work, and for good reason. The 1992 film Unforgiven was largely praised for destroying the glorified concept of the western cowboy. However many of the themes present had already been explored forty years earlier by this classic samurai film. As a group of vicious bandits terrorise a village of farmers, the inhabitants collect together their grain and hire seven samurai warriors to protect their village. A plot so classic that it has been frequently reused in hollywood from the magnifficent seven to a bug’s life, the characters are all subtly fascinating without being overstated, their interaction with the villagers provides a sharp social commentary about the hypocritical and unhelpful reality of the Samurai code and it destroys the myth of the noble samurai, unwilling to break his strict code of ethics and instead provides a more human look at this legendary historical warriors. The action scenes are beautifully filmed and just as exciting as anything produced in the last ten years. The music is dramatic and brilliantly in keeping with the detailed setting. Although for many it gets by on more than enough nostalgia points, the central film itself is stand alone brilliant and just as inspiring to new generations as it was to the original audience.

P for Putaro (and Pai Pai! Hehe!)