Mary and Max

Review of the Year 2010: 10 Movies You Should Have Seen And Probably Didn’t

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Over the past few years I’ve become more and more of a cinema obsessive, which is why you’re reading this blog now. But this year has made me realise how truly lucky I am; a loving wife, two low maintenance rabbits and a slightly petulant cat, all my own hair and three quarters of my own teeth, the rest sadly rotted away on a diet of cinema popcorn and fizzy drinks when I was younger. But for the last three years, I’ve really expanded my horizons and seen the films that looked interesting, even if they didn’t look like they’d be especially popular. It seems I’m pretty much on my own in doing that, or at least sometimes it feels like it.

If you live in a tiny town in the middle of nowhere, then you have my sympathy. But if you don’t, then you really should have been getting out this year to see more films like this. I see my job as to helping to encourage the masses on a similar journey to widen their horizons – thankfully, being able to write stuff like this on the internet saves me physically having to drag people off the street. (Although don’t think for one minute I haven’t given it serious consideration.) Next year, no excuses, and if you’re looking for a New Year’s resolution, then I suggest going to see at least one film that looks like your kind of thing but that you wouldn’t normally make the effort for. To help you in your decision making process, here’s 10 you should have seen this year.

10. City Island

You have to feel sorry for Andy Garcia. He hawked himself round what passes for chat shows on British TV these days, from everything from Top Gear to Loose Women, and for what? His best performance in nearly 20 years, an excellent Italian-American modern day farce with a wonderful cast, and the showing I was at – on a Saturday night, in a major multiplex – had four other people in, all of whom left after 20 minutes. Whoever you are, you missed a treat.



9. Chico & Rita

I saw my first surprise film this year, at the Cambridge Film Festival, and listening to the buzz from the audience beforehand, you would have thought it would be anything from Despicable Me to The Social Network. It turned out to be a rather grown-up animation about jazz in the Forties and lost love, but it would seem that springing this on people as a surprise is not only the best way to get people to see this, it might well be the only way.


8. Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale

In a year when readers of Empire voted Die Hard as their favourite Christmas movie, it’s clear that modern audiences like something a bit different in their Christmas stockings. I can only hope that more of you got to see this than at the screening I attended, which was sparse to say the least – this is a real Christmas treat, but one for those who still embrace a little of the cynical Ebeneezer in themselves. When Christmas is as commercial as it has become, then a little Finnish horror satire goes down a treat.



7. Skeletons

Here’s a movie that fought like a tiny David against the Goliath of cinematic distribution, creeping into art houses for occasional screenings whenever it could and spreading as much as possible by word of mouth. When one of those mouths belonged to one of the supporting cast, the excellent Jason Isaacs (and hello to Jason Isaacs, by the way), you would have thought people would be keen to track down a genuinely satisfying slice of Britishness. Well done to the special few who did.

6. Black Dynamite

So many American comedies these days end up being just “meh” rather than “ha-ha-ha”, so when one comes along that is consistently laugh out loud funny, it’s just unfortunate that the fact it’s a blaxploitation spoof seems to mean it struggles to get an audience. It’s a key example of where keeping an open mind (mainly about the fact that you only need the most passing of familiarity with the source material to get pretty much all of the jokes) can open you up to new and worthwhile cinematic experiences.



5. The First Movie

This is a prime example of keeping your eyes peeled for special events coming up at your nearest flicks, because there are often some hidden gems. Mark Cousins toured his wonderful documentary of his visit to an Iraqi village and his introduction to the power of cinema for the local children. Over twenty cities around the country were lucky enough to get not only the film, but to quiz Mark after the screening, and to understand the true passion that cinema can drive. If he can go to Iraq to do it, then surely a trip to your local cinema isn’t too much to ask.

4. The Secret In Their Eyes

There was much consternation when this beat out both A Prophet and The White Ribbon to the Foreign Language Oscar last year, mainly from people who freely admitted they hadn’t seen it, but it’s easily fit to sit in the same company as those other two (even if, admittedly, I would have given the Oscar to Haneke. But I digress). It’s a murder mystery and a love story that span twenty five years, and has probably the most audacious single shot of any film in the past few years. I can only assume that most people had decided that A Prophet and The White Ribbon must be better, and decided not to bother. Shame on you, frankly.


3. Dogtooth

Now here’s a prime example of a movie that’s a hard sell. It’s Greek, kind of a drama but kind of a comedy, it creates a world and then makes its own rules and then exploits the possibilities of those rules to the fullest extent. It’s completely bonkers, vaguely incestuous and an incredibly uplifting but also savagely violent ending, like a sadomasochistic Shawshank Redemption. I can tell you’re tempted just by reading that, aren’t you? Well, some things defy marketing (just look at the poster if you don’t believe me) but everyone I’ve spoken to or read who’s seen this thoroughly enjoyed it. So how do you get people to watch it?


2. Mary and Max

This is where I get so utterly frustrated at the distribution model we have in this country, and how hard it is for quality product to get an audience. This is a movie that graced barely a dozen cinemas in this country – it got to my local, but for one showing only. That showing was sold out, and was packed full of people, like me, blubbing their eyes out at the end of this incredible Plasticine animation, which tackles the difficult subject of mental illness head on and combines humour and sadness to impeccable effect. At the time of writing, it’s sitting at number 218 in the IMDb Top 250. Of all time. So why is it such a struggle to get people to watch?



1. Of Gods And Men

But you know, it’s not too late. You might still be seeing the poster for this in your local cinema. The poster with quotes including “beautifully told story of bravery” and “an outstanding ensemble cast” on it. The poster with the fact that it won the Grand Prix at Cannes this year slap bang in the middle of it. That poster is still in 31 cinemas around the country as we speak. If it’s in one near you, then don’t miss out. (It’s got the French bloke off of The Matrix and the bad guy from Moonraker in it, if that helps. No?)

If you’ve read this, then thank you. Now help to restore my faith in humanity – please comment if you’ve seen at least one of these movies this year in a cinema. If not, then you know what your resolution needs to be.

The Half Dozen: 6 Most Interesting Looking Movies For October

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It’s that time again – except it isn’t. Today is the 12th October, in case you’re not reading this on the day it was written, and normally I get my half dozen out at the beginning of the month, so as to whet your anticipation for the upcoming cinematic extravaganza to come in the next four and a bit weeks. So what gives? Here’s half a dozen excuses to go with the trailers; don’t say I never get you anything.

1. For the first time since I got married, more than five years ago, I took two weeks off work in a row. The first of these consisted of me sitting in the Cambridge Film Festival for long stretches, the second sitting in Cornwall or on the M25 for long stretches. So I got behind on my blogging in the first week, then it stopped altogether in the second. Whoops.

2. On my return, my wonderful Dell laptop decided that it didn’t recognise the power lead, and so while I awaited a new one I then went slightly stir crazy.

3. Having seen 21 movies in 11 days during the period of the Cambridge Film Festival, even I was admitting to a little movie fatigue. (Actually, that’s not true, I was going cold turkey in Cornwall, but it probably did me good to have a bit of a break.) You also got two in September, thanks to said film festival, so I’m not feeling too bad right now.

4. All of the reasonable or good movies out in the first couple of weeks of the month I’d actually already seen (Made In Dagenham, A Town Called Panic, at a push Mr. Nice), and by my entirely arbitrary rules I exclude anything from this line-up if I’ve already seen it.

5. There were a fair few indifferent movies released as well (including The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud, the trailer for which actually made me lose the will to live briefly. Do track down the poster, though, in which Zac Efron looks legally dead).

6. I did write a Half Dozen before, but my cat ate it.


I am obviously guilty, so I will hide in this bath


Right, enough excuses – here’s the six that have most intrigued me this month. I managed to see all six of September’s selections (the first time I have seen all of my Half Dozen in a particular month) – let’s see how I do this time.

The Social Network

This is, so far, the most perfectly constructed trailer of the year, from the editing to the use of Scala’s cover of Radiohead’s Creep, and I have a physical compulsion to watch this to the end if I start it. David Fincher’s Seven remains one of my all time favourite films and he’s never produced a film any less than interesting – I can’t wait to see what he’s done with Aaron Sorkin’s dialogue.


For some reason, this summer’s trifecta of action entertainment, The Expendables, The A Team and The Losers, failed to deliver in large quantities two things – satisfying action and any genuine sense of fun. Maybe we’ve not had our last shot at that this year though, as this has a quality cast to die for – not least Ernest Borgnine, who’s 94, God bless him, and felt this worthy of turning up for. Gotta love him.

Mary and Max

Yet another example of how the most interesting animation is often being done in environments other than computer graphics. With a fascinating voice cast and some potentially complex material, this one looks truly fascinating.


My only disappointment in this is that they’ve underestimated the willingness of people such as myself to sit through the five and a half hour original mini-series, the version on general release clocks in at a mere two hours and forty-five minutes. I may have to see it twice in an attempt to replicate the desired bum-numbing effect.

The Kids Are All Right

Oscar nominations are already being suggested, and this would seem to be typical fodder for the awards season. In an unfortunate way, this actually makes it slightly less interesting, but hopefully the expectations won’t hold it back, and I also hope it can avoid comparison to other movies, in a “this year’s Little Miss Sunshine” kind of way. Oh, wait…

Burke and Hare

Simon Pegg is another one of those actors that has worked up enough good will that I will give anything he does a go. When it’s a new John Landis movie, that really shouldn’t be a stretch. However, I’d be lying if I said that the extremely broad tone and the very wavery accents weren’t making me just a tad nervous, but it certainly qualifies as interesting.