The Pleasant Surprises of 2012

It has not been a bad year, and although we’ve had some disappointments we’ve also had our expectations exceeded once or twice and on one or two occasions even gained some unexpected classics. This isn’t a list of the second best films of the year, rather a list of the best worst. Here’s the list of the most pleasant surprises we had in the cinema this year.

10. Snow White and Huntsmen.

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The trailer didn’t exactly sell this one. Nor did the concept. It certainly seemed like a bland attempt to sell a classic children’s story as a dark fantasy epic. Of course that’s exactly what it is, but what’s surprising is the degree of success it achieves. The production design is beautiful, the introduction of the famous plot points is actually quite clever and the action sequences manage to be pretty interesting. The acting is unfortunate. Kirsten Stewart gets more use out of that one expression of hers, Charlise Theron hams the shit out of it, and Aussie Chris Helmsworth boldly attempts a Scottish accent. The characterisation of the seven dwarves could also have been better, especially as these particular dwarves contain a one word summary of their personality in their own names! Perhaps it would be better labelled as “not as bad as we thought”, which is still a pleasant surprise as it really did look terrible!

9. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

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There has been no shortage of funny film titles or concepts that exhaust their novelty shortly before the second act (this year’s Iron Sky is testament to that). Abraham Lincoln slaying vampires in his spare time is up there, and the deathly serious tone of the trailer did as little to excite us as the addition of once great names like Tim Burton (Charlie and Chocolate Factory) and Timur Bekmambetov (Wanted). But the film was pretty solid. The plot mixes events of Lincoln’s life with vampire hunting pursuits very naturally, offering a pretty compelling alternate history. The acting is good all round with no attempts to match the silliness of the concept, but not playing it too po-faced either. The special effects are a low point with some pretty dodgy CGI being relied upon. But the choreography is great and the film does manage to illicit a few thrills. Not the directors best vampire movie, but definitely a pleasant surprise…the fact that we got this released in 2012, but NOT the Steven Spielberg biopic, was a less pleasant surprise.

8. How I Spent My Summer Vacation

Get-the-Gringo-Reveiw-Starring-Mel-Gibson-and-Kevin-HernandezOur expectations weren’t too high on this one, so it wasn’t very difficult to surpass them. Mel Gibson has been a somewhat controversial actor what with his films about Scottish nationalism and brutal Jesus tortute, and his personal life filled with the racism and the Antisemitism and the sexism and the hard-core Christianity and just generally being a very unlikable human being. And the trailer sold this as a very generic revenge flick a la Payback. However HISMSV or (Get the Gringo as it was amazingly originally called) is surprisingly good! A great deal of the plot occurs in a Mexican prison where we witness a new and unusual way of life, unlike any prison we’ve seen on screen before. Gibson is down on his luck and often on the short end of things and just generally staying as far away from suave as possible. This is a very good move as it does generally build up some pathos for the character and his predicament. The well-choreographed gun fights with real squibs also helped. An enjoyable romp, one might say (for example; Me, just there).

7. Safe

safe1Oh how the Stath has fallen of late. After some high energy nonsense in the early Transporter and Crank films Statham seemed to settle into very uninteresting Hollywood B-movies. But for the first time in six years we actually enjoyed a Jason Statham movie! It’s unbalanced, it massively dips in quality during its third act, and pretty much rips of Mercury Rising, but there’s a lot to enjoy! Firstly Statham himself is putting some effort into his performance of an ex special forces guy who is on the pointy end of a implausible Russian Mafia vendetta which causes him to be perpetually lonely. He is then put in charge of a vulnerable and, more crucially, tolerably-acted young girl. The fight sequences are awkwardly filmed but well-staged and there’s enough excitement to keep the pace moving well. Ok so this wasn’t all that special, but it restored hope in Statham, which was sorely lacking.

6. Sinister

sinister-FHM-topHorror movies are having a bit of a crisis these days. Genuinely interesting horror films like Berberian Sound Studio or V/H/S get festival and art cinema releases whilst noisy and pointless big name horror sequels and remakes like Silent Hill Revelations and Piranha 3DD get all the fanfare. Some genuinely creepy films do get put through the mainstream circuit, like Silent House, House at the End of the Street and Red Lights. All deeply flawed, but better than average. The best of these was undoubtedly Sinister which offers some genuine scares and creepy atmosphere. The highlight of the film is the 8MM footage that begins the haunting. The framing and staging of these pieces are almost iconic in their creepiness. The initial image of a family being hung is incredibly unsettling, only made worse by the bizarre music accompanying the horrific images. Admittedly a great deal of the films impact depends on how comical you find the appearance of the film’s villain, bagul. But if you can forget that he looks like a Noel Fielding creation then you’ll find this one of the scariest films of the year.

5. The Grey

liam-neeson-in-the-grey-trailer1Liam Neeson fights wolves. That’s an amazing punch line to a joke but not really a premise for a good film. Surprisingly the film actually offers a grimly philosophical view of death in which the wolves are a symbolic threat to our brooding heroes. Neeson provides his best role in a very long time and is supported by some interesting characters who refuse to conform to classical survival movie clichés. The film takes it’s time and explores some ambitious themes such as modern masculinity, the cruelty of nature and it’s place in our present psyche’s and most importantly differing attitudes towards death. A film with a lot to say…for a film about Liam Neeson fighting wolves.

4. The Raid (Redemption)

The-Raid-BA surprise simply because we didn’t see it coming! Where did this film come from so suddenly? A Indonesian martial arts film directed by a Welshman which breaks its way into the mainstream? Who ever heard of such a thing? Yet the film is a startlingly impressive action movie. It recalls the excitement encouraged by Ong Bak. Real stunts, brutal fight scenes and the odd emotional kick, all of which is often overlooked in western equivalents. The premise is very simple, as it is with most great films of its type, and the director makes full use of the claustrophobia and tension offered by the grim premise. The momentum behind Ong Bak ran out somewhat prematurely. Let’s hope Gareth Evans and Iko Uwais are able to keep it going a little longer.

3. End of Watch

823487_059Low expectations were partly encouraged by the marketing of this film which seemed to suggest it would be found footage. And that’s not the only pleasant surprise as it rapidly becomes obvious that the writers have done a large amount research into the lives of the LAPD and the kinds of dangers they face. Consequently this does feel like a documentary with fascinating little vignettes roughly drawn together into a somewhat contrived overall narrative involving a Latino gang. But this is one of those rare films in which the heroes are substantially more compelling and interesting than the villains. If the film has a failing it is that the dialogue is somewhat awkward. Everyone talks like out-of-place white people trying to talk in black street slang…even the black characters and especially the Hispanic people. This may well be true to life, but it added a great deal of cringe value to some of the more serious scenes. In spite of that, the film was compelling.

2. Ted

ea_ted1Any fans of Family Guy will know that the series has taken something of a dip lately. So the prospect of Macfarlane’s live action debut was as much a cause for anxiety as excitement. But this is clearly the funniest film of the year. The premise is fun with lots of potential (most of which is realised) and the film is constantly pushed on by hilarious performances and cameos (including Ryan Reynolds best role in years (tragically)). There are a few failed jokes and a few recurring jokes that really need to be allowed to die (Seth Macfarlane has seen Airplane! We get it, please move on). Everyone involved in the film is clearly giving it their all and it seems that Macfarlane giving it his all is something worth seeing. Anything else is just The Cleveland Show.

1. Dredd

Dredd_01(2)A low budget adaptation of the source material that gave us 1995’s Judge Dredd? Not a lot of anticipation going on. And the trailers presenting a clichéd gruff hero with an epic chin and batman voice with a plot we’ve already seen in The Raid didn’t help. And yet this was actually a good enough film to be vaguely considered for the top ten list! The key to this films quality is maximizing it’s elements. It has an interesting and violent hero, an under-trained yet gifted sidekick, a dystopian society, a terrible yet sympathetic villain and a fantastically tense story. None of these elements are overused or wasted. The visual style of the film is another highlight, with bloody gore and dank environments. The use of slow motion is not only not contrived but actually written in to the story. The 3D was quite fun in its gimmicky realisation but ultimately disposable and, as usual, not a part of this films quality. Sometimes you can tell a film is a cult classic the first time you see it. This is one.

P for pretty good.

The Most Disappointing films of 2012

We’re an excitable lot here at NGB, and sometimes we forget that the film industry can be cynical and unimaginative. Luckily Red Tails was there to remind us. But we still had our hopes dashed a few times along the way! Here are some of the most heart-breaking:

10. Underworld: Awakening.

Underworld-Awakening

Expectations: Ok, they weren’t great. But the Underworld films have always had a distinct style, a sexy smoothness to its action and Kate Beckinsale in a Catsuit. More than enough to make us happy.   

Reality: Kate Beckinsale is, indeed, in a catsuit (so that’s one up over Underworld: Rise of the Lycans), but this film really made you work to enjoy it. Tedious plot, no characterisation whatsoever, and some pointless 3D to wash out the already miserable colours.  A very dull, uninteresting film.

Saving Grace: Catsuit.

9. Contraband

Contraband

Expectations: The release of this was actually quite low key, but the trailer promised a somewhat simple revenge story within the context of a gritty mafia underworld. The involvement of interesting cast members like Mark Wahlberg, Kate Beckinsale and Giovanni Ribisi only raised expectations.

Reality: The trailer completely underplayed the main unique point of the film, smuggling. Wahlberg is a retired smuggler convinced to complete one last job (word actually recommends the rest of that sentence when you start typing it). Although it’s interesting to see this element unfold, it doesn’t break the formula nor offer any new surprises. The actors turn in subdued performances, the action is only functional and the plot is laughably predictable.

Saving Grace: The smuggling angle is a little interesting.

8. The Expendables 2

The Expendables 2

Expectations: Well the first expendables movie didn’t exactly demand a sequel. Or a second viewing. Or a first one. But we had a new writer, a new director (who at one point directed the action classic Con Air) and the trailer promised some interesting action sequences. So we thought they may have learnt from previous mistakes.

Reality: The action is certainly better. We have more ambitious set pieces, a couple of decent shootouts and even a reasonable fight scene, all carried out in some interesting settings. But we still have frenzied direction, poor choreography and some very obvious CGI. Ultimately it’s not enough to make up for the lack of character, the horrendous acting, moronic script and, worst of all, the nauseating self-awareness. The film doesn’t so much wink at the audience as grasp it by the genitals and beg for approval. The nadir being Chuck Norris telling a Chuck Norris fact so long and unfunny it seems crueler than the earlier torture scene. Maybe they felt that by forcing us to remember better films from these actor’s glory days it might encourage some feeling of warmth. No luck though. The film is slightly better than it’d predecessor but still self-indulgent and joyless to the point of actually being annoying.

Saving Grace: The opening sequence is pretty good, and it’s always nice to see JCVD.

7. Piranha 3DD

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Expectations: The first Piranha 3D was the very definition of guilty pleasure. Alexandre Aja delivered horrific violence, black humour and Kelly Brook having underwater lesbian sex (awesome lesbian sex can substitute for oxygen). With a few daft cameos thrown in, there was nothing not to like. The second film promised to be only more of the same and that was alright by us.

Reality: The stupid title should have been a warning. We do get more cameos, most of which are actually pretty good, but otherwise the film actually feels smaller than its predecessor. The scope, violence and most crucially the fun is greatly diminished this time round. This film is definitely more of an A-cup (briefly considered rating all films by cup size, but then remembered we’re not Nuts (yet)).

Saving Grace: The Hoff and the return of Ving Rhames.

6. Taken 2

Taken-2-with-Liam-Neeson

Expectations: The first Taken film was a very old fashioned but pleasingly gritty low budget action film with plenty of menace and aggression. The trailer promised something repetitive but potentially enjoyable.

Reality: All sense of threat is removed from this bland, uneventful and far-fetched film. The tension that the previous film thrived on is abandoned in favour of a rushed pace that prevents any event gaining any actual gravity. The plot is very contrived, the acting sub-par (oh dear, Famke Janssen. Can’t you be a sexy Russian assassin again?), and the action mundane. Ultimately it seems that the Taken franchise has already run out of things to say and has now settled into mediocrity.

Saving Grace: Whoever choreographed the fight scenes came back. He’s quite good.

5. Lockout

lockout-guy-pearce

Expectations: Aside from attaching Luc Besson’s name, which does still carry some weight (in spite of Columbiana), the trailers promised Escape from New York in space! A charming, silly, but ultimately exciting adventure. Sometimes a good premise delivered competently is all we need, but in fact this had the ingredients of being a little bit special.

Reality: Ultimately the film comes over as smug and soulless. Guy Pearce takes a damn good shot at roguish and cheeky but just misses and hits smarmy and annoying. The jokes all fall flat, and the half smiles offered are extremely aggravating. The tone is very jarring as it quickly moves between extreme violence and lame puns. The chemistry between the two main characters is very forced and more similarly resembles the chemistry between Sulpher and Oxygen. There is a point near the end when it seems the film is about to conclude, but a late (and unfortunately predictable) revelation extends the run time to audible sighs of exhaustion from the audience.

Saving Grace: The concept is good. Escape from Space!

4. Total Recall

total recall

Expectations: An old thought experiment. What if Ridley Scott had adapted “We can remember it for you wholesale?” instead of “Do Androids dream of electric sheep?” What if Blade Runner had stared Arnie, and featured lots of silly make up and big shootouts? If presented with two plots, one in which a man tries to alter his memory and ends up doubting what is real and what is fabrication, and the other in which a bounty hunter is hired to kill six dangerous robots, which would you assume was the intellectual sci-fi classic and which the Arnie action fest? Here was am attempt to see how the premise would stand up to a serious treatment.

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Reality: It’s neither Verhoeven nor Scott. It’s Wiseman. The unimpressive, bland director behind Underworld and who is currently, tragically, remaking The Mummy. To say it didn’t live up to the source material is obvious, to say it didn’t live up to the Verhoeven film is inevitable, but this really did slip below all expectations. Completely devoid of any attempt to address the idea seriously or introduce some interesting new angles on the story, all we get is the exact same story and circumstance with new shiny, fake looking action set pieces. This really is the lamentable product of the cynical Hollywood remake machine.

Saving Grace: It’s nice to have all three of Kate Beckinsale’s movies on the same list…shame it’s this list.

3. The Bourne Legacy

Film Title: The Bourne Legacy

Expectations: The Bourne Trilogy. That’s the expectation. Three taut action thrillers with great action, compelling plots and a slick style. It’s a high standard but surely the creative forces that managed the series wouldn’t let it go to people who don’t know what they’re doing, right? Also, it had a great cast!

Reality: The film would have been significantly better had it not bore the Bourne name. We’re not just saying that because it wouldn’t have raised expectations so high, but the involvement with Bourne actually does slow down the plot and adds unneeded details to the already tricky exposition scenes. Had this simply been a story of one man trying to get revenge against the organisation that betrayed him, we may well feel warmer towards it. But aside from the confusing Bourne plot connections, the film lacks the style and energy of a Bourne film. Also Renner and Weisz are a poor substitute for Damon and Pontente.

Saving Grace: One or two of the action scenes like the laboratory.

2. The Amazing Spiderman

Andrew Garfield

Expectations: We got behind this! It even made our top ten most anticipated films of last year list! Sam Raimi’s Spiderman was flawed. The tone was a little camp, Peter Parker was underdeveloped as a character and Spiderman lacked his trademark wit. We looked forward to some interesting villains and a darker tone.

Reality: There is a great Spiderman film in here. The first act lives up to the expectations. It is darker and grittier and all the cheesier elements of the original have been discarded in favour of some realistic and sometimes meaningful moments. But the film wastes a lot of opportunities and doesn’t quite do enough differently from Raimi’s version to silence the detractors who cried “too soon!” Though sometimes in trying to avoid specific scenes from Raimi, the film can gloss over fairly important things, like Spiderman’s impact on the city. Andrew Garfield walks a thin line between charming and annoying and doesn’t always stay on the right side. It is nice that he plays a geekier, sweeter role, but the wisecracks aren’t very well written and his more confident persona can be very grating. The villain is unimposing and more than a little silly and in fact would have been better saved to the sequel, allowing Parker to just pursue his uncles killer whilst learning the true obligations his powers impose. Ultimately the film managed to disappoint just about everyone, and we can only hope that the already green lighted sequel lives up on some of the projects potential.

Saving Grace: The first act, the tender moments, the initially slow pace.

1. Prometheus

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Expectations: Did you SEE the trailers?! They were amazing and the viral commercial for the David android was the icing on the cake. It seemed that Ridley Scott had finally returned to form with an exciting new sci-fi film in the mould of his 70s career high. It is also very rare to get pure sci-fi films made these days, so we needed this to be good.

Reality: And the film is good. The acting is solid, the production design is elegant, the music is superb, even the basic premise is golden. But the problem is Damon Lindelof’s script. Lindelof is the script writer for Lost, a TV show that survived by offering just enough excitement and intrigue to string the audience along to the next episode/season. This is precisely what we get here. An interesting premise, some confusing plot twists, and dozens, absolutely dozens of poor decisions and unexplained mysteries intended to hook you for the next film. But films need to be standalone experiences. This just comes off as a very long teaser for its sequel. The dialogue and characterisation are dire. “I’m a geologist. I like rocks. I LOVE rocks!” said the guy with the ginger Mohawk and tattooed head. Bad character decisions, baffling plot directions and some bizarre, poorly explored message about spirituality absolutely spoiled this film. Easily the biggest disappointment of the year.

Saving Grace: Everything! It’s actually a pretty good film…except for the script.

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!

Product Placement vs. A Moment In Time

Here’s something I’m ready and happy to admit: I can’t take a good photo. Just like someone who doesn’t waste away hours of the little free time they have blogging and reading may cobble together a sentence that takes your breath away, I have occasionally accidently captured a moment in time that makes for an aesthetically pleasing photograph but as a professional, I would suck. Various friends and housemates of mine work in the film, design and photography business; I can’t count the amount of conversations I’ve had surrounding the question: what makes a good photograph?

Commercial photos of products do nothing for me. Not only do I not take any joy in observing the photograph but also I can’t think of a time that a photograph of a product alone willed me to buy. Taking, as an example, a photo taken by friend and professional photographer David Wilman.

So, I can see why the products are laid out thus. The shapes of the bottles compliment each other, the product names are visible and the background creates a sense of calm that allows the consumer to feel a sense pleasantry while viewing the products. I couldn’t take a photo like this, I couldn’t even begin to think about how and it’s just all too much for me. The bottles are too perfectly placed. The colours are too complimentary. It’s clear why the photographer set up the scene this way, to please the client, to tick the boxes. Alas, it doesn’t paint 1,000 words but just three: consume, consume, consume.

Reversing all this; I would now like to share with you a photo, also by David Wilman that made me say ‘Stop! Go back! I like that.’

A perfect example of a moment in time: candid, improvised, real life. The differences are obvious. Firstly the contrast between the content: people not product. Outdoors not set in a studio. It takes still, a keen eye, a quick shot to capture a scene that’s on the move; after all, time waits for no man (or camera.) I figure the real test of heart behind a photograph is if it could tell an infinite number of stories. The Little Red Joggers are child convicts, they’re on their sports day or they’re living in a dystopian future in which they’re training to become level one a citizen.

Distinguishing between different types of photography is something that the general public, photographers, clients, artists all do on a regular basis without even really realising it. In the same way that a talented writer might knock out descriptions for estate agents websites, photographers must also pay the rent.

Draw the distinction, keep the art form alive: capture the stories.

– K for Kandid

For other photography by David Wilman click Here

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.