Sunday, December 22, 2013

My Top Ten Films of 2013

So it was inevitable that I was going to publish a list like this, so without further ado here is my ten favourite films, in order, of 2013:

Snubbed by Hollywood for apparently being too gay this touching and hilarious Liberace biopic premiered on HBO therefore denying both Michael Douglas and Matt Damon for Oscar nominations.  It got a cinema release here in the UK and I loved it.

An obvious choice that will be in everyone’s end of year lists, this sci-fi thriller was a cinematic phenomenon reminding us all what we should expect from the big screen.  To all those people who pirated the film online, as they couldn’t be bothered to pay to see it: you missed something special.

An understated documentary that gave an insight into the terrible AIDS virus of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s.  A heartbreaking and brilliant film about the power of people in the face of government prejudice – it was released in a year where LGBT rights are expanding at an amazing rate in the West, but there is still so much work to do.  A humanizing and important film.

Film Review: The Act Of Killing (Joshua Oppenheimer) 2013

The Act Of Killing

If you like watching uncomfortable and ethically ambiguous films then the new film from Joshua Oppenheimer is the godfather of worrying documentaries.  The entire film is a meditation on suffering and humiliation told in such a radical form that the audience becomes complicit in the horrors that are presented.  The filmmakers have contacted thugs and gangsters that undertook the extermination of ‘communists’ in the ‘60s in Indonesia and asked them to tell their story by making a film of their own; thereby creating the cruelest and most uncomfortable meta-documentary/making-of films that I have ever seen.

The film does not spend long giving context to the Indonesian killings that occurred in 1965-66, so with that in mind I feel that I can make a few comments on the content of the film without really knowing anything about that era.  Oppenheimer does not try to educate the audience about that time, but instead uses those events as a catalyst to explore Indonesian politics and culture today.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Mark Kermode: Hatchet Job - Book Tour review

It might seem a little 'meta' to review a live book tour about a book that critiques the process of film criticism, but I would feel bad If I were not  to legitimise the enjoyment I had of the evening by committing a few words to (digital) paper.

For those who do not know Mark Kermode, he is the recently promoted chief film critic of The Observer, as well as being the important half (sorry Simon!) of the Kermode & Mayo Radio 5 Film Review Show.

I love Mr. Kermode for many reasons:
  1. He lives in Brockenhurst (where I grew up)
  2. He has an unashamed love for films that are not aimed at his demographic (Twilight, to pick an obvious example...but there are plenty others)
  3. He loves horror
  4. He's in a skiffle band and he loves Larmer Tree Festival
I could go on but won't.   He is also very good at discussing films.

I must admit at this point that I haven't actually read his latest book yet (I think Santa might deliver it...)  But I did read It's Only A Movie, a cinematic autobiography, and The Good, The Bad and The Multiplex, an analysis of the economic and semiotic problems with blockbusters and digital cinemas.  Both were very funny, but also wonderfully celebratory of the magic of cinema - allowing the same passionate geekism towards Werner Herzog instead of Zak Snyder, Chris Nolan and other comic book films that have captured modern geek culture.

Mark spent the evening reminiscing about pithy bad reviews ("Hatchet Jobs") from critics past, as well as expanding on the central idea revolving about the powerful viral appeal of negativity as opposed to thoughtful reflection on good cinema.  He managed to walk the line between cinematic stand-up and cultural theorist, without committing to either position.  It was easy to see why he has such a strong following - he makes you feel like he is chatting to you one-to-one, and he loves a good in-joke.

He also had some excellent answers in the Q&A.  I asked him about how to gain more invites to press screenings and he immediately launched into an interesting reflection on how times have changed for film critics...  And when he finished he asked me if it had been helpful.  Lovely bloke.

His book Hatchet Job is available now and would make a very good christmas present

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Rise of Ballet in Popular Culture

Over the last couple of years there has been a real interest in ballet, especially now that the Bolshoi season is shown in full at PictureHouse Theatres as well as at Odeons.

Love Tomorrow (Christopher Payne)

For years the cinema has been attacked as the cultural younger brother of Opera, Theatre and Ballet – a mass culture format to entertain the masses that can’t afford the more expensive high arts.  Yet every now and then a film arrives that celebrates high art within the popular medium – so to celebrate the arrival of Love Tomorrow on DVD (available here), here are some of the finer examples:

Film Review: Saving Mr Banks (John Lee Hancock) 2013

Every now and then a film is released that has such an overt conflict of interest that it can make you cringe.  Anyone who has seen Happy Gilmore will recognize that product placement can ruin a film, even if it is a comedy.  However the new film from Disney has just the right level of self-deprecation and awareness to give different viewers different enjoyments.
The story follows P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson) deciding whether to sell the rights to Mary Poppins to Walt Disney (Tom Hanks).  Disney has invited her to Hollywood so that she can be involved in the scriptwriting process, but she is cynical from the start and is horrified that they have included music and animation into her stoic and serious character stories. 
The film is intercut with scenes from Travers’ childhood where she grew up in Australia.  Her father was a banker with an alcohol problem but a wonderful imagination, who slowly begins to jeopardize his career with his drunken flamboyance.