- Howl (2010), Ron Epstein & Jeffrey Friedman – James Franco is one of my top 2 most interesting actors at the moment. In this he contributes to a brilliantly creative invocation of time and place. A place where Allen Ginsberg’s poem “Howl” was ultra controversial. The film utilises a bold, three part structure and some insane visually exhilarating animation – two big gambles that definitely pay off. A reflexive examination of the creative process as well as an engaging period piece. Definitely one of the most original new releases you will see this year.
- 10 Years Before Merdeka (2007), Fahmi Reza – Indie Malaysian doco featuring an incredible British punk soundtrack. Captures the “general feeling of liberation in the air” that prevailed in the years leading up to Malaysian independence. Eisenstein influenced kinetic editing, combined with the aforementioned soundtrack lend the film an intensely fast pace which works strangely well.
- To Be and to Have (2002), Nicolas Philibert – French ‘fly on the wall’ documentary highlighting the value of a great and caring teacher. The kind of person I was lucky enough to encounter in my education, but who are ultimately far too rare (I only encountered one). Reminiscent of Apted’s Up series this manages to be extremely funny, but equally enlightening.
- Touching the Void (2003), Kevin Macdonald – This is a deeply psychological film. A glimpse into the psyche that possesses one to seek out immense adventure, to cut the supporting rope on another and to survive against all odds. The film is driven excellently by very honest participants and re-enactments that manage not to grate.
- The Beaver (2011), Jodie Foster – Given the concept, this was going to either be sheer brilliance, or a train wreck. I think it is the former. Depression is dealt with intelligently and with much thought. A man uses a beaver puppet to disassociate himself from his disease. The husband and wife relationship evolves with real nuance, and just when I thought it had painted itself into a corner, it swerves brilliantly to a satisfying ending. A subplot involving teen romance would have ruined the film in lesser hands, but here it enhances it greatly.
- Don’t Look Back (1967), D.A. Pennebaker – Classic Dylan doco reads like a beat film, in part a beatnik hunt for the elusive Donovan. Captures the hysteria that surrounded this greatest of recording artists during the 60s and the press desire to mould him into a message toting messianic figure. Closes on this brilliant scene:
- Persuasion (1995), Roger Michell – Wasn’t sure if Austen’s family drama and study of classism would transfer to the screen. But the language translates beautifully and the Cinderella character of Anne Elliot gives a classic narrative thread. Also there are occasional flashes of real style in the shooting of this which was a pleasant surprise. A toning down of the classism in the source novel and an excellent performance from Ciaran Hinds as Capt Wentworth help this to overcome a final third which perhaps shears too much narrative detail.
- Hot Fuzz (2007), Edgar Wright – Yarp, this is very funny. Many mates had hyped this right up for me, but it meets expectations. Pleasingly features an abundance of the silliness I have been lamenting as lacking in contemporary film. Pegg and Frost are a good double act, and it is always nice to see Timothy Dalton on screen. All in all, a delightfully bloody Brit comedy.
- Captain America (2011), Joe Johnston – I loved the shit our of this film. Making it a period piece was a bold call which really paid off. Featuring Tony Stark’s dad is some Marvel crossover which was not wholly annoying (quite the opposite). The wartime action is helped along by an engaging protagonist, quality wartime action and a great supporting cast featuring Tommy Lee Jones, Hugo Weaving and Hayley Atwell as the sassy broad.
- Cowboys and Aliens (2011), Jon Favreau – At its heart, this is a really good, well made Western and the aliens are for the most part interestingly incorporated. There are fantastic, perfectly unsubtle performances all round, from the likes of Daniel Craig, Olivia Wilde, Harrison Ford and Sam Rockwell. Helps to ensure this overcomes the odd cringeworthy plot twist, and the bloody horrific portrayal of Native Americans.
- Red Dog (2011), Kriv Stenders – This Aussie flick is based on a novel, sorta based on a true story. The love story running through it is a little lacklustre, due to a frankly poor performance by Rachael Taylor. But this delivers two of the most brutal emotional punches to the gut you will see this year (just ask my girlfriend who spent most of the film blubbering). Atmosphere of outback Australia is brilliantly drawn through scenery, cracking soundtrack and some really nice performances from a great supporting cast.
- His Mother’s Voice (1997), Dennis Tupicoff – This animated doco short is simple, yet crushing. The voiceover comes from a mother whose son was shot and killed. She relates the night it occurred, whilst highly stylised comic book and noir influenced animations are onscreen. Once her tale finishes, the exact story is told again, but with ‘life drawing’ style animations onscreen. This is a harrowing film, but it is really important to watch. The intense emotion is invoked not by the filmmaker being manipulative, but by the simple expression of the most basic human emotions. The use of animation forces the viewer to focus on the voice and the tale it is relating, whilst repeating the same story reminds one of the impact a single event can have. Unfortunately I cannot find a link to the whole film online. But if you go to http://www.dennistupicoff.com then click films, His Mother’s Voice then you can play some clips. If you ever get the chance to watch the whole thing, make sure you do.
- Monrak Transistor (2001), Pen-Ek Ratanaruang – Engaging Thai film which cycles through genres – starts out as a teen coming of age comedy, then elements of the musical, a heart rending drama and finally thriller. The performances throughout mean this shifting of tone is enjoyable rather than off-putting. Whilst the central romance and story of love lost occasionally gets obscured, when it is focused on the film succeeds.
- Waltz with Bashir (2008), Ari Folman – Generally considered the first feature length animated doco, this is more an exploration of the nature of memory than an examination of a specific war. The visual aesthetic is incredible, and the dynamic filming style enhances the animation. The film ends with the mostly silent showing of live action stills, showing the stark horrors of war that have already been animated for the audience. This is widely available and both interesting and powerful. Here’s the trailer:
Not Worth Watching:
- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 (2011), David Yates – The most cynical moneymaking exercise in film history funnily enough feels like half a film. Visually uninspired, bad dialogue, deeply average (with plenty of dashes of bad) acting and bland battle scenes to top it all off. What’s the point of having magic if it brings no nuance or excitement? I was hoping for quality, big budget spectacle film. All I got was the budget.
- Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011), Rupert Wyatt – I could tell this was attempting to make statements regarding the animal testing and the like but they’re not made very well. There are a couple of terrible caricature characters including Draco Malfoy as ‘pure evil’ in an abysmally acted role, and the head of the big pharma company. The relationship of the main couple is woefully underdrawn as well. On the plus side the effects are utterly incredible, some of the best ever seen. But effects don’t make a film.
- 15 (2003), Roystan Tan – A Singaporean gangster film which focuses on the homoeroticism of gang culture. Shame what is such an intensely interesting idea gets drowned out in the excessive, distracting ‘MTV’ style and an early desperation for a hip aesthetic. Episodic narrative is at times confronting with its suicide themes, and occasionally interesting, but more often than not cannot overcome the weight of the shitty acting and sledgehammer subtle political commentary.
- The Lincoln Lawyer (2011), Brad Furman – I generally try and treat films and their literary sources as entirely separate entities. But when you take Michael Connelly’s cracking thriller of a novel and turn it into something as tepid as this, it heightens my disappointment. McConaughey brings none of the novel’s Micky Haller’s life and humour to the screen and Ryan Phillipe’s attempts at sinister fall woefully flat. Finds its feet in the last half an hour, but too late.
- Limitless (2011), Neil Burger – Wow, what a disappointment. This ‘thriller’ is utterly listless and not at all gripping. The story arc feels all out of whack. Too much time devoted to unnecessary exposition and not enough to establishing the protagonists romance with the Abby Cornish character. Symptomatic of an overall lack of heart. And it closes on an ill-advised coda which wraps things up way too easily.
If you only have time to watch one His Mother’s Voice
Avoid at all costs Limitless