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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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?
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.
Is is the end of another year already? I swore, after my attempts to watch 100 movies in the cinema in a calendar year two years ago, that I would never again scale such ridiculous heights of cinema addiction. 119 movies and counting this year, and every time I set foot in the cinema, that pointless personal milestone is edged ever further upwards, until the fateful day four weeks from now when the counter will reset to one again. I’m averaging about ten a month at the moment, so I’m guessing I’ll end up somewhere around the 130 mark – but what delights await me, and indeed all of us, in this final month of the year?
Well, first off is Monsters, which allows me to remind you of my self-imposed condition that any movie I’ve already seen doesn’t make this list. Well, I’ve already seen Monsters, I loved it (you can find it in my Best of 2010 list, link at the top of the page), and I hope you will too, but it has slightly Marmite tendencies. Well I love Marmite, and I loved Monsters.
Anyway, it’s out, and also not making the cut are a number of other big names: Jolie and Depp in The Tourist, which tonally lurches about through the trailer like someone trying to riverdance on a mountain bike; the third in both the Narnia and Fockers series, and given that I’ve had no interest in the first two of either, am not inclined to the third movements (and neither trailer had anything to convince me otherwise); the Christina Aguilera campfest Burlesque, where Xtina’s normal singing style, when she sounds as if she’s gargling meerkats, appears to be her one and only burlesque talent; and Love and Other Drugs, which has the positive of top Hollywood stars forgetting where they left their clothes but also Oliver Platt doing a bizarre Jack Black imitation. (Speaking of Jack Black, well, let’s not. Let’s just not. Please, let’s never speak of him, or the Swiftian grave-spinner that is Gulliver’s Travels, again.)
Most tragic of all is the omission of Of Gods And Men, the highly rated French movie, which isn’t included because there wasn’t a decent trailer on YouTube and I couldn’t get the other one I found to embed properly. Along such fickle lines the dance of fate takes place. Anyway, here are the six I was most taken by this month.
I’m a sucker for a good Christmas movie. Frankly, who isn’t? I’m a bit of a walking Christmas dichotomy, though; on the one hand I’ll lap up traditional Christmas fare like It’s A Wonderful Life and Miracle on 34th Street, but on the other I need some Bad Santa in my life as well, and everyone of course knows that the best Christmas movie ever is Die Hard. (I’m not even joking.) Please be aware that, although this is a PG site, there is a rather naughty word at the end of the trailer. Hopefully it’s worth it.
I can remember an office trip to see Lost In Translation many years ago. Two of us were completely in love with the movie at the end, the other was totally disaffected. Such is the way of Sofia Coppola, and while her work can sometimes be incredible, this trailer seems to be a supreme attempt not to give anything away about the movie, other than it’s got Stephen Dorff in it, and Dakota Fanning’s sister looking so much like Chloe Moretz you wonder if there’s some odd Hollywood actress laboratory churning these girls out from their magnificent cloning machine. Still, it has an actual mumblecore soundtrack, and it couldn’t feel more classically “indie” if it tried.
The Shop Around The Corner
One of the highlights of my movie year was my trip to the BFI and Empire Movie-Con this summer, about which I blogged extensively. As I happen to be down in London for something else, I’ll be taking the opportunity to catch this while there, as I attempt to improve on my desperately poor knowledge of classic movies. Jimmy Stewart is also one of the finest actors of all time, so to pass up the opportunity to see him on the big screen would be a crime. Even the trailer is great – they absolutely don’t make ’em like this anymore, and that’s a shame. It’s so great to get away from our over-processed, fast food lives and luxuriate in something like this.
Here’s where the self interest ramps up a notch. It really wouldn’t take much convincing to get me to any movie with the legend that is REG (or Richard E. Grant as he is known otherwise) to it, and throw in Tamsin Greig, so great earlier this year in Tamara Drewe, and I’m there. As it turns out, when I am there, so will be the writer / director, Richard Bracewell, for one of my local cinemas, the Abbeygate Picturehouse in Bury St. Edmunds, is having a Q & A with Richard. Which I will be hosting. I will be astonished if that last sentence hasn’t prompted you to whip out the credit card and head to the booking site right now. Go on – we’ll wait for you.
There now follows a brief intermission to allow people to buy tickets.
Right. Done? Excellent. See you there.
Another of my highlights of the year was my IMAX double bill of Toy Story 3 and Inception. The IMAX couldn’t be further removed from somewhere like the Abbeygate, with its comfy sofas on the back row in the cosy upstairs screen, but I love these different aspects of the cinema experience, and TRON is about as big as it gets. This will be my fourth visit to the IMAX this year, and if you’ve never been then there may never be a better time – TRON is what the IMAX experience is made for. Apparently, the beginning of the movie is in 2D, but they’ve brightened it up so you can carry on wearing the silly glasses before it gets to the fun stuff.
And we finish the year on the most intriguing movie of the selection. Part of the value of this is going in not knowing the outcome, so it’s a shame that I inadvertently read an article in the Guardian magazine the other weekend which has blown the whole thing. So whatever you do, don’t go and Google that article – stay as fresh as possible, for from what I know, it should be well worth it.