Saturday 31 December 2011


At the end of last year I moaned about people’s attitudes to remakes and sequels and unfortunately due to the abundance of such films that flowed through this year, it seems that once again I’m  bitching about such things once more. Sorry.

The ever excellent MAMO podcast made the amusing point this year that all these people whining about remakes of foreign films are talking about movies that have already been adapted for them. Getting on your soapbox about the latest remake is one thing but the fact that they haven’t realised that said foreign film has been adapted to make sense for them in the way of subtitles anyway, helps make the argument moot.

 It seems that even the makers of the original features are now even above such talk. To find out that director Tomas Alfredson thought that his reaction towards American remake Let me in was childish, speaks volumes to a tinterweb brigade who are quick to yell BOYCOTT and ORIGINAL MOVIES when the next upcoming remake is announced but a quick to step in line when the next book/comic/graphic novel to film adaptation launches. It hasn’t escaped me that despite all this “Hollywood is so unoriginal” talk, the highest ranking film based on an original idea (Bridesmaids) lies 12 in worldwide box office gross.  Closer to home in the U.K. we see that yet again despite some fine features making appearances and friends not only on these shores but in the U.S, you’d be hard pressed to find the likes of Attack the Block making even a dent in the top U.K 30, let alone the top ten. This makes the homegrown antics of The Inbetweeners Movie quite an achievement, whether based on a T.V program or not.

The final entry of the Harry Potter series speaks much of the cinematic landscape. Based on a book, brand awareness in heaps, bankrolled by Warner Bros yet filmed here with British talent. Yes, lavish praise was once again heaped on the wizard franchise by muggles. And while I agree that such films like Potter and Bond are around and keep highly skilled crew in jobs in our world famous studios. The amount of profit made by these ventures don’t appear to putting as money into our fledging British film industry as one would like. It does however help allow mediocre films like Clash of the Titans sequels to get funded.

This brings me to the problematic area of distribution in which our mainstream cinemas still don’t believe in a fair fight. When I first worked in a cinema; I remember discovering that two major studios owned it. Much may have changed since I’ve left but I’m sure that the major studios still have the biggest stake in our cinemas and the ultimate decisions in what get shown. I’m constantly frustrated that movies seem to only be slanted towards an ignorant 15-24 male demographic whose only concerns are Robots hitting each other but this is something one must grin and bear until I move closer to London again and allowed to wallow in the glorious glow of the Curzon Cinema in Soho. As a lover of cinema, I will still try and seek out smaller gems when I can. The problem is of course, it’s most likely to be a home with microwave popcorn. Away from cinema screens filled with noisy, iphoning, dingbats.

Such talk explains why things don’t appear to be changing. If people are waiting to watch certain types of cinema at home, online or on blu-ray with massive screens then why would cinemas try and alter the viewing choices? The major budget films are all about those first three days (or more depending on those advanced screenings) in as many screens as possible, and it seems to be working still (despite falling viewership) Smaller films (particularly overseas markets) seem to be happy with the long game with the knowledge that it could find the audience it desires on the smaller screen. It’s all good asking for change, but even when the likes of Jonathan Rosenbaum have decided to set up shop at home than the cinema then many must be asking “what’s all the fuss about?”

With all this said I still watch as many movies as I can. It’s easy to bemoan many aspects of modern viewing (and I do at length), but the love of sitting in a dark room watching a movie still bewitches me. My only ask is that film should be viewed more importantly, as an art form and as a way we shape our culture. With the ability to capture motion being so easy for us these days, we take for granted how powerful the medium can be. Yes, entertainment does and will always be a factor when I pick up something to watch but one of the things that makes warm is when a film as the ability to teach, spark thought or debate, and of course move you. This year has been one in which such aspects have made that mark.

My favourite ten of the year (as always in no order):

Grubby crime cinema from Australia. More in line with Greek Tragedy than Goodfellas. Michôd's feature debut is may have a low key feel, but the tension is ratcheted to its highest. It’s opening scene hooked me. It’s final moments left me on the ropes.

Melancholia is at times just as visually arresting as Von Trier's Antichrist, but is a far more precise being. Von Trier is far more accurate here and one of the reasons seems to be that the subject matter is closer to his heart. The dark clouds of depression loom large over both Antichrist and Melancholia but the latter shows a director whose far more in the mood to tackle (and even embrace) his demons then letting them run amok. Self absorption and pomp are still abound from the "best director in the world" but this is far more focused, far more at peace.

It slips from action to drama without difficulty, it shrugs off its unoriginality and sketchy plot with well drawn out themes, strong lead character and visual flair. The music is immediate and kept me in the moment and I adored the films quiet loud quiet rhythm. Hanna doesn't say much different, but it has the ability to be more articulate when it's shouting it's message from the hills.

Unrepentant to the end, provocative and just as relevant for now as it is for the era it’s set in. Like it’s lead character it’s tough to watch at times but compelling throughout.

Malick’s film is a celebration of life, a joy in contemplation of us merely existing and how this fact alone can provide resonance in others. That our simply being here can provide happiness to those we touch.  This simple and yet deeply profound and affecting ideal is why I loved the film.

I thought it would be the weakest blockbuster of the year. Turns out was the most exhilarating one and one of the only summer flicks that actually wanted to tell a story. The film also featured one of the most fist pumping, barnstorming set pieces of the year, set on the San Francisco Bridge.

If I wanted to act clever; when talking about Drive, I'd say something along the lines of: A brutal symphony, tinged with flecks of 80's nostalgia and machismo.  But I’m better off in stating that Drive is a highly entertaining, stylish piece of trash. A classically tragic anti-hero, a soundtrack that once heard you can’t shake off and a beautifully shot L.A. I was in heaven watching this.

Alfredson's film works so well because it take time over showing how deeply isolated the spy game is. Close relationships are broken, belittled and bargained for, information is called gold dust for good reason and moral compasses are as murky as the films cold, drab colour scheme that Alfredson utilises to enhance the tone of the film. The film is literally as grey as the the shades these characters dwell in.

The GuardIn yet another year in which I found most of the Hollywood comedies waning somewhat, it’s was wonderful to stumble upon this low-fi Irish indie gem. A film I hope find its audience on DVD like it’s kissing cousin In Burges.

Ramsay’s direction as never been so precise, while Swinton simply dominates the screen in this psychological battle of wits. The films draining central relationship  (with Ezar Miller giving a particularly malicious performance) manages to keep it’s ambiguity and tension to the end.

Other Film highlights: Meeting directors Duncan Jones (Moon, Source Code) and Joe Cornish (Attack the Block). The biggest thing for me this year however was meeting one of my idols; Mark Kermode, in Oxford and talking to him about The Ninth Configuration, Thelma Schoonmaker and Shutter Island