When it comes to the time for end of year lists, there’s always contention and debate around exactly what should qualify for a list. Some people see films in London or at festivals which may not then get a release until the following year for those mere mortals watching films in the provinces like myself. I was on the verge of having to debate whether or not to include Birdman in this year’s list, but the decision was taken out of my hands at the weekend by horrendous traffic on the M11 and the Central line having ground to a complete halt. That’ll teach me to try to get into London anytime after Christmas.
What I did manage to see when I got there was the Back To The Future trilogy. It’s the first time I’d seen the sequels in the cinema, but I’d seen the original on its last reissue a couple of years ago. This year I’ve managed to see more classic films than ever before, as well as discovering a few unheralded gems. Attempting to put together a top ten list on a critic basis for these kind of films is fairly pointless – while most people are trying to catch the good films of the current year, there’s just too much that makes it back into cinemas to be able to claim to have seen all of the quality of older films – but I thought as a one off this list would highlight just what it’s possible to see in cinemas these days if you’re willing to look beyond current releases.
I’ve managed to watch a total of 28 films this year in cinemas that were released before 2011, from restored 3D classics like House Of Wax and Inferno to classic films with children such as Wrony and The White Balloon. I’ve continued to fill in my Hitchcock back catalogue with To Catch A Thief and seen historical curios such as Sexmission and Nekromantik. If you don’t already, I strongly suggest in 2015 you open yourself up to the possibilities of just what cinemas are showing these days, and here’s my ten favourites from days gone by. I had never seen any of these films in a single sitting before watching them in a cinema this year.
10. Ghost In The Shell
Seen at the Cambridge Arts Picturehouse on re-release
What I learned: So that’s where the Wachowski brothers got most of their ideas! I’ve never really seen much anime, another area of film that I need to explore in greater detail in years to come.
9. Mad Max 2
Seen as part of the Mad Max double bill playing at Picturehouse cinemas
What I learned: That Mel Gibson’s probably better when he’s not saying much, Lethal Weapon films notwithstanding.
8. Down By Law
Seen at the Cambridge Film Festival ahead of a limited re-release
What I learned: That once upon a time, it was possible to enjoy Roberto Begnini in films without any baggage, and that Jim Jarmusch’s films from back in the day did both brooding and entertaining just as well as their modern counterparts (such as this year’s Only Lovers Left Alive).
7. Some Like It Hot
Seen as part of the classic Sundays season at Picturehouse cinemas
What I learned: That I’d clearly left it far too long before seeing my first Billy Wilder film; I have another four sat on DVD at home waiting for me to get chance to watch them.
6. The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari
Seen in restored form on re-release at the Cambridge Arts Picturehouse
What I learned: That silent horror movies that are nearly a hundred years old can still retain a huge amount of power, especially if seen in a darkened cinema late on a Sunday night.
5. Bicycle Thieves
Seen as part of the classic Sundays season at Picturehouse cinemas
What I learned: Rome is one of my favourite cities that I’ve ever visited, and it’s still just as special even when it’s the setting for a post-war tragedy.
4. Play Time
Seen at the BFI Southbank ahead of a limited nationwide re-release
What I learned: that it’s worth keeping an eye on what’s showing in London, as this was well worth a trip down. I could have walked back in and watched this again straight away thanks to the sheer level of detail that Jacques Tati crammed into every frame.
3. 2001: A Space Odyssey
Re-released as part of the BFI’s Sci-Fi: Days Of Fear And Wonder season
What I learned: that this is a film you need to see on the big screen. I’d tried half a dozen times as a student and never gotten into it, but had no such issues when able to appreciate its full majesty in the cinema.
Seen at the Cambridge Film Festival prior to a limited re-release
What I learned: That Peter Lorre’s face might just be one of my favourite things in all of cinema.
1. Jules Et Jim
Seen on re-release at the Abbeygate Cinema in Bury St. Edmunds
What I learned: That, through the films of the likes of Scorsese, Tarantino and Wes Anderson, I’ve been a huge fan of the French New Wave for years. This sows the seeds of so much that I’ve loved in the cinema, and it was all I could do not to sit and giggle with glee at Truffaut’s technique and verve. Even the deeply nihilistic ending was right up my street.
2013: The General
2012: Lawrence Of Arabia
2011: Funny Games (original)
2010: The Shop Around The Corner
The passing of another month, and it’s been a hot July in the UK, which is never good news for cinema attendance. I’m gingerish, so will do a definitive boiled lobster impersonation if left in the sun for more than around 20 minutes, but part of my cinema philosophy involves seeing films in the company of others, so I’m hoping for both self-interest and selfish reasons that the heatwave doesn’t maintain too much longer.
Especially because the list of films due out in August is so promising, nestling as it does between the back end of summer blockbuster season and the start of the festival season in September. I do take my time over this list every month, perusing the upcoming lists of films at the Internet Movie Database, Rotten Tomatoes and Launching FIlms among others to try to find the cream of what’s coming up. So in an average month for preparing this post I typically watch all or part of around 30 trailers to attempt to whittle this down to the six best.
That’s been as tricky as ever this month, so to shake up the format a little I’ve first narrowed it down to a dozen, and then paired them off in some tenuous themes for a head-to-head battle to the death. I’ve included the trailers for both, so feel free to tell me if I’ve got any of these face-offs wrong. (It also means I have an excuse to skip the trailer for Only God Forgives, as (a) there’s nothing else like it coming out, and (b) it was in last month’s rest of the year preview.)
LET BATTLE COMMENCE! (Sorry, got a bit carried away there.)
The Well Regarded Horror Movie Face-Off: The Conjuring vs. You’re Next
Since the demise of the late, much lamented Empire magazine event in August, variously called Movie-Con or Big Screen, I have instead spent my pennies on a day at Film 4 FrightFest. Last year threw up a right mix, from the sublimely twisted (Maniac) to the unintentionally ridiculous (Tulpa), and for those attending the opening night, they’ll be treated to You’re Next as their final film. I’ve got R.I.P.D to “look forward to” in my six film on the Saturday, so if you’re around at the Empire Leicester Square on the 24th, do say hi. (Warn me on Twitter first so I know you’re coming.) But of the mainstream horror releases, these two look to be the pick of the crop this month. I’ve always been a fan of harder shocks and gore (hence buying a ticket for FrightFest), so only one winner in this category.
WINNER: You’re Next
The Funny / Serious Steve Coogan Face-Off: Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa vs. What Maisie Knew
Steve Coogan once did a live show called “Alan Partridge and Other Less Successful Characters”, and that might sum up the permanently typecasting effect that being Norfolk’s premier fake celebrity has had on Steve Coogan’s career. But in a month where a man who’s given us the likes of “He must have a foot like a traction engine!” and “Dan! Dan! Dan! Dan! DAN! DAN!… DAN!… DAN!” has a film out there can only be one winner.
WINNER: Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa
The Almost Inevitably Disappointing Follow-Up Face-Off: Kick-Ass 2 vs. Elysium
I thought that both Matthew Vaughn’s Kick-Ass and Neill Blomkamp’s District 9 were outstanding of their examples of their genres, neither quite as ground-breaking as they seemed at the time, but both thought provoking pieces of high quality entertainment. Vaughn has passed the torch to Jeff Wadlow on the Kick-Ass sequel, while Blomkamp looks to be revisiting a little of the same ground with his sophomore feature film. Both will inevitably disappoint slightly in regard to their predecessors, but which one will suck slightly less?
The Sharp Indie Comedy Looking To Avoid The Summer Blockbusters Face-Off: The Kings Of Summer vs The Way, Way Back
August is so packed with comedy that I had to hold a preliminary round face-off between two face-offs, and the Big Name Comedies Putting It All Out There Face-Off was the unlucky loser. Pain And Gain looks interesting, but We’re The Millers appears to have been entirely built around the principle of watching a 44 year old woman take her clothes off. Instead we have Steve Carrell and Sam Rockwell versus Nick Offernan, Megan Mullally and the blink-and-you’ll-miss-her Alison Brie. The winner here is simply defined by the trailer that made me laugh the most.
WINNER: The Kings Of Summer
The Enigmatic Trailer Of Mystery Face-Off: Upstream Colour vs. Silence
I defy anyone to determine what either of these are about based purely on the trailers. No peaking at the synopses. I SAID NO PEAKING! Anyway, Upstream Colour wins this one on the entirely arbitrary basis that it’s been renamed so us simple folk in the UK are allowed to spell it correctly. (Did you know that color / colour was also once spelled culoure and coolor as well? Crazy times.)
WINNER: Upstream Colour
The Old Films Back In The Cinema Face-Off: Jurassic Park 3D vs. Plein Soleil
And finally for this month, a pair of films sneaking back into cinemas, both literary adaptations (Crighton and Highsmith respectively), but that’s about where the similarity ends. Also sneaking back into cinemas this month – if you can find them – are the likes of Michael Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate and Otto Preminger’s Bonjour Tristesse.
WINNER: Plein Soleil