- The Cell (2000), Tarsem Singh – Tarsem Singh is a genius, but a warped one at that. This intriguingly structured serial killer flick is an extremely disturbing watch. The literal journey into the mind of a serial killer allows Tarsem’s mind to run wild and you receive full evidence of why he is possibly the most visually arresting filmmaker alive. Vince Vaughan reminds you how fantastic a dramatic actor he is, whilst Vincent D’Onofrio is chilling.
- Grizzly Man (2005), Werner Herzog – This doco tells the tale of an incredibly individual dude, Timothy Treadwell who spends half his year living with bears in Alaska. The portrait Herzog crafts shows us a man who doesn’t just like bears but wants to be one (or even thinks he is one?) The film, complete with Herzogian voiceover, reminds you how great a documentarian the German is. The film takes a broad view of the subject, considering the spiritual side, ecological side and criticisms of Treadwell. A confronting movie.
- Carnage (2011), Roman Polanski – To be clear, this is more a competently filmed and well acted conversation than a film. The characters start off as symbolic constructions rather than fully formed characters. Evolves nicely into a better second half, where Cristoph Waltz takes the acting honours. And finishes on one of the great closing shots of recent times.
- Take the Money and Run (1969), Woody Allen – A highly amusing early Allen film. Like most slapstick, this delivers jokes at a very rapid rate and not all of them work. But enough of them are inspired that the film breezes by, as Allen’s bumbling hero attempts and fails to lead a life of crime.
- The Fall (2006), Tarsem Singh – This is a film that is totally visually focused. A man, befriended in hospital by a young girl with a broken arm, spins a fairy tale to gain her favour. In reality this is an anti-fairy tale with a cowardly hero and themes of despondency and suicide. A funny, classic adventure story which looks truly spellbinding.
- A Separation (2011), Asghar Farhadi – This awards darling conveys a society far removed from the one I live in. A society where religion and ‘norms’ pervade every aspect of daily life. It is masterfully made and evolves into a detective yarn like nothing you have every seen before. There is richness and nuance here, in the narrative but also in the father-daughter and mother-daughter relationships.
- Immortals (2011), Tarsem Singh – Tarsem brings his indescribable visual flair to what otherwise could have been standard studio fare, and also tacks on some of his former works hyper-violence. There is a lot of poor acting, but this romp set in the world of Greek mythology so successfully combines the gritty realist with the fantastical in its visual presentation that it is really worth checking out.
- John Carter (2012), Andrew Stanton – Mainstream sci-fi silliness, but managed with enough charm to outstrip its faults. The story, a civil-war veteran transported to Mars where he finds himself in the middle of another civil war, is inspired. And the creation of the various creatures is impressive visually. Also sports an incredibly cute alien pet dog.
- 21 Jump Street (2012), Phil Lord & Chris Miller – I am in no way familiar with the original T.V series. But this is a cracker of a mainstream comedy. Jonah Hill is hilarious, returning to his broad comedy roots, whilst perhaps a little surprisingly he is matched by the comic timing of his offsider Channing Tatum. Hopefully there can be a few more comedic gems like this to help forget the tepid comedy output of 2011.
- Jurassic Park III (2001), Joe Johnston– Sam Neill returns to the third entry in this iconic series. For me, one word sells the film – Pterodactyls. These flying creatures really do elevate the action in this, the silliest but possibly most fun entry in the series. A lean running time ensures this is a great fun contemporary B-schlock film.
- Creature from the Haunted Sea (1961), Roger Corman – Incredible animated opening credits give way to an inspired, hilarious opening half which skewers James Bond and monster films. It’s all wonderfully absurd (especially once the monster appears) and could easily be a Peter Sellers or early Woody Allen film. But as good as the first half is, the second half is just weird, spiralling down into a nonsensical, exceedingly awkward multifaceted love story
- The Hunger Games (2012), Gary Ross – A great, but far from original premise, results in a film that is far from great, but engaging enough. This is mainly due to a cast in fine form. Lawrence is good as the new teen heroine, Stanley Tucci is wildly over the top and both Woody Harrelson and surprisingly Lenny Kravitz add a lot. Yes, the film could have been more action packed, more violent etc, but what is here is appealing enough.
Not Worth Watching:
- Alias Season 5 (2005), J.J. Abrams – Can’t shake a general sense of frustration at the overarching storyline across all seasons. Seems it had not been thought out in advance. The up and down flip flopping of the character of Sloane is a prime example. A tame conclusion to a series that started out so much better.
If you only have time to watch one Grizzly Man
Avoid at all costs Alias Season 5