Monday, January 01, 2007


A very Happy New Year to one and all!

I'm always interested in these end of the year lists that the world and his wife seem to write, summing up the cinematic highs and lows of the preceeding 12 months. So never being slow to jump onboard a bandwagon I thought, why not do something similar? 2006 was generally a good year at the cinema. It started with a bang, died in the middle and slowly picked up again. Some films, like Munich or Flags Of Our Fathers had alot of buzz but ultimately disappointed. Some were critically and commercially mauled like Lady in the Water and turned out to be really quite good. The Oscars were going along rather predictably until the retarded Crash apparently became the best film of the year. Penguins marched, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest became the 3rd film in history to take over $1 billion at the box office. It was a busy year. So here are the 10 best and 10 most miserable cinematic experiences I had throughout 2006. Some films like The New World for example, would have made the list but I'm only including films I saw on the big screen. Others like Ultraviolet or The Shaggy Dog would doubtless be on the list of drek had I made the effort to see them. Some films look too bad even for me to waste my time going to see. Anyway enough introduction. Here are the films, not presented in any particular order...

The Best.

1. Capote.

What a great film Capote is. A fascinating central character, a phenomenol central performance by Philip Seymour Hoffman and most surprisingly, a really great script. Capote is what most biopics tend not to be. Interesting. By focusing on one period of his life, rather than the standard birth to death approach (I'm looking at you Ray and Walk The Line) the filmmakers were able to illuminate Capote's key traits, fears and flaws. Very little screen time felt wasted, scenes were economical yet powerful, unshowy direction, outstanding supporting cast, a really great film.

2. Brokeback Mountain.

The big gay cowboy drama proved to be that rarest of things, a film deserving of the hype. So wonderfully understated, powerful and an important film. When Walmart bans sales of a DVD, that is saying something. Why the controversy? Simply because here was a film taking gay people, gay characters, their relationships and the treatment of those relationships by sections of society, seriously. No camp comedy foil or safe best friend of a female protagonist here. Simply real people trying to find a way to survive. And who can't relate in one way or another to that? A phenomenol performance from Heath Ledger, aching scenes between he and Jake Gyllenhaal and indeed he and Michelle Williams, beautiful cinematography and a fascinating deconstruction of one of America's greatest cinematic icons, the shepherd. Sorry, I mean the cowboy.

3. The Proposition

Bleak, bloody, brutal. This film came out of nowhere somewhat and completely blew me away. Dripping with atmosphere, its central hook, one brother must kill his older brother to save the youngest, draws you in. But after a while you forget that's why you're there as the characters and setting pin you to your seat. After a few wrong turns, it's nice to see Guy Pierce in a good role but Danny Huston steals the film with Ray Winstone not far behind him. A strangely unsettling film, it stays with you long after the cedits have finished.

4. Pan's Labyrinth

What a film. The only film this year to make me cry at the cinema for all the right reasons, it's a wonderful piece of film making from start to finish. The reason it works so well is because the real world elements are more frightening than the fantasy world little Ofelia finds herself in. The design, the cinematography, the music, the script and story, a fantastic villain, simply a joy from frame one. A great piece of imagination, though to describe it just as a fantasy film is to undersell it. A strong contender for film of the year.

5. Children of Men

I had enormous hopes for this film when I first heard about it. The central idea, women have mysteriously stopped giving birth and the population is dying, is fantastic. And though I hate Clive Owen, I was really psyched to see the film. When I saw it, I didn't think it was the classic I had hoped for. It bizzarely drops the ball at times, Michael Caine's air guitar, in fact his character generally annoyed me, Clive Owen and Julianne Moore blowing ping pong balls into each other's mouths, their whole history was totally unconvincing and Clive Owen's character was very underwritten I felt. But when the film hit, it was incredible. The opening scene, the attack on the taxi, everything in Bexhill, the film is remarkably well made, its setting of London in 2029 is totally convincing, its depiction of the treatment of imigrants, frightening and resonates with what's happening in the world today. In the end I wanted to give this film 10/10 and have it on my all time top 10 list. I'll just have to make do with 8/10 and the top ten of the year.

6. The Prestige

This was another film I had very high expectations for. Christopher Nolan makes interesting, diverse films, Christian Bale is always worth watching even if Scarlett Johannson isn't and I really loved the story and setting. Walking out I was initially disappointed because the ending which everyone had been talking about as being an incredible surprise, for me was (most of it at least) predictable from about a half hour in. But the more I thought about it, the more I realised the film was so much more than that. Two great characters, each willing to do anything to beat the other, an intricate structure of flashbacks and flashbacks within flashbacks, yet done with such confidence and clarity. Plus this was a film about magic. Nothing else. And I really liked that the film simply was what it was and didn't apologise for that. This really was a director working at the top of his game. Shame then that he'll be now going back to Batman...

7. United 93

Watching World Trade Center this Summer, I felt like I was buried under hundreds of tonnes of rubble. I may have even preferred that. The first film however to deal with 9/11, specifically the eponymous Flight 93 which crash landed in Virginia, was a different matter. Utilising non actors in key roles, people who were really there on the day, gives the film a more immediate resonance. But United 93 is a fantastic film for many reasons. Cross cutting between events on the ground and events in the air, in much the same way director Paul Greengrass did with Bloody Sunday, achieves an enormous level of tension. Edgy handheld camerawork, great performances, even knowing the doomed plane's outcome doesn't spoil the experience of the film. Difficult viewing certainly, but essential viewing also.

8. This Is England

I admit this is something of a cheat as the film isn't out yet. I saw it at the London Film Festival but I saw it in 2006 so it appears on the 2006 list. When it opens in cinemas, seek it out. The latest film from Britain's best film director Shane Meadows, sees many of the director's trademarks. Handheld camerawork, naturalistic performances, an uneasy mix of humour with the ever present threat of violence. This Is England has elements of both A Room For Romeo Brass and Dead Man's Shoes but is its own film absolutely. At times hilarious, at times unbearably tense, the film is seriously accomplished and had to be included on this list. And it's yet another film that uses a different time to comment on our own time, and does it expertly. Politics really seems to be returning to the multiplexes.

9. Good Night, And Good Luck

Ah Gorgeous George. Who knew he had it in him? Good Night, and Good Luck (Am I putting the comma in the right place? I'm not sure.) is a wonderfully classy, literate film. Shot in beautiful black and white by DP Robert Elswit, fantastically performed by the entire cast, especially David Strathairn, wonderfully written by Clooney and Grant Heslov (the guy who played Arnie and Tom Arnold's buddy in True Lies. How random is that?) and superbly directed by Clooney who thankfully ditches the ticks and indulgences of his first directorial effort, Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind, the film is relevant, gripping and expertly combines shot material with archive footage to create a cohesive whole. Clooney won Best Supporting Actor at the Oscars this year because, well, they couldn't ignore him and had to give him one of three he was nominated for. Though he was never going to win Best Director, I honestly believe a Best Screenplay award would have been way more appropriate.

10. Casino Royale

I really, really, really want to love the blockbusters of today as much as I love the blockbusters of old. Alas, most of the time they suck. So when one comes along that is in any way good I leap on it and so, completely undeservingly but hey, what are you gonna do, I offer Casino Royale as the last of the year's best films. I say it's undeserving but Daniel Craig has never been better, the pre-credits sequence is great, the free running sequence is great, the fight in the stairwell is great, the airport sequence is great, the torture scene is great. Okay it runs out of steam and ideas but it's fun and exciting and it succeeds for the most part in what it sets out to do which is
more than can be said for most films of the genre, indeed most films full stop. Bond is back. And it's only taken him 30 years to get here. I do not recognise Roger Moore as Bond and never will.

Honourable mentions go to The World's Fastest Indian, Inside Man, The Departed, Lady In The Water, Borat, Syriana, Brick, Shooting Dogs, The Wind That Shakes The Barley and The Three Burials of Malquiades Estrada.

The Worst. As always, there was plenty to choose from...

1. Match Point

Jonathan Rhys Meyers is gorgeous. No doubt about that, I could look at the guy all day long. But I defy anyone to watch Match Point and think the guy can act. It's horrible to watch, wooden, mannered, superficial and they're the good points. This film was nominated for Best Original Screenplay which, given that there's precisely nothing original in it, left me somewhat mystified. Unconvincing, boring, unintentionally hilarious, its depiction of London where everyone lunches at The Tate and emerges from designer shops carrying little cardboard bags grates on the nerves. Woody Allen apologists may say this is simply the romanticised view of London he's been doing of New York for decades. Perhaps, but at least many of those earlier films had wit, character, story. Basically, they were good. Plus often the city of New York was a character in itself. In Match Point, London is not a character, rather a trendy location offering tax breaks. If Match Point had been set in Ireland there would have been Guinness, fiddles and dancing at the crossroads. This film needs to curl up under a rock and die.

2. Superman Returns

It's now official. The Usual Suspects was a one off. Brian Singer is the greatest working one hit wonder. Superman Returns was painfully, excruciatingly, horrifically boring. If directing means sucking the life and entertainment out of whatever it is you're filming, then Singer can rest knowing he has done his job. The writers too need to stand up and be counted for providing one of the flattest, dullest, excitement and adventure free scripts for an adventure film ever written. In a Summer that disappointed time and again, Superman Returns still managed to stand out as bad. Such a non event. Here's hoping the insufficient box office prevents sequels and Brian Singer can maybe try making a film that doesn't involve alien heroes or mutant heroes. You know, something with a story. Imagine that Brian!

3. Basic Instinct 2

I suppose the real question here is, what was I doing at the cinema when this was playing? A fair and reasonable question. No, I wasn't there for the sex. I thought it would be a laugh. It wasn't. At all. Sharon Stone, doing her best to tell us that women in their late 40s can still be sexy, seemed to forget that they can also have dignity. Michael Caton Jones also gave us Shooting Dogs this year, a very powerful, well made film. One can only hope that this pile of steaming cow shit was what allowed him the freedom to do that film. Why Lord? Why?

4. An American Haunting

There's an absolutely hilarious moment in An American Haunting when Donald Sutherland walks out of his house into the woods and the ghost appears, accompanied by the predictable screech of violins to try and make us jump. Instead of acting scared, running away, in fact instead of reacting in any way at all, Sutherland simply stares at it blankly and walks away as if to say, "I was in Don't Look Now. You'll have to do better than that if you want to frighten the Sutherland." One imagines that was a genuine reaction to the director's efforts at generating fear on set and not a directed piece of acting. Quite what he and Sissy Spacek were doing in this God awful joke of a film is mystifying. My mate and I were the only two people in the cinema the day we saw this. We were two too many.

5. Thank You For Smoking

There is nothing more annoying than crap films getting good reviews and this is one of those times. In every way, this film fails. It's satire is as weak as piss, its characters wafer thin, its jokes unfunny. This film is so dull that thinking about it is making me... zzzzzzzzzzz

6. Miami Vice

Even the Farrell mullet billowing in the wind while its owner drives a speedboat couldn't make this film interesting. The worst films of this year were deathly dull and Miami Vice may be tied with Superman and Thank You For Smoking as the dullest of the lot. Beautiful to look at, certainly, but cat shit with diamonds on it is still cat shit. This film made Collateral look like a masterpiece. Hell it makes one or two films on this list look like masterpieces. Foxx and Farrell look more like undercover cops than any undercover cops ever in the history of cinema. Worth seeing for the scene where Farrell takes a shower and his hair simply explodes, only to be towel dried by Gong Li a little later, as if she's towel drying her poodle. This is a sad, sad moment for one of the great modern directors.

7. The Omen/The Wicker Man

Two films in one entry is a bit of a cheat but fuck it it's my blog, I'll do what I want. The double whammy of "Let's take a classic 70s film, shit on it, shove it through the Hollywood grinder and serve it to the public", The Wicker Man and Omen remakes were simply awful. The Wicker Man may just have the edge over The Omen but it's tough to say. So utterly pointless, so badly executed, quite how these films could get it so badly wrong is almost impressive. Almost. In The Omen, little Damien is reduced to a simpering, spoilt, irritating child with all the menace of the Easter Bunny, Liev Schrieber is no Gregory Peck, the deaths are ruined and despite the film retaining the original's London setting, not one member of cast or crew set foot in old England. I know this because many of the road signs visible in the film were written in Czech. As for the Wicker Man, the most frightening thing in that film was Nicolas Cage's stretched skin and weird teeth. Dire.

8. The Matador

"Pierce Brosnan completely reinvents himself" they cried. "You'll forget he was ever Bond" they shouted. "A revelation, a great performance" they cheered. "A monkey who can't say hello convincingly and manages to ruin what few good lines the film has" I say. Another one of the bad films with generally good reviews, The Matador was a waste of time from start to finish. One of those films that thinks it's very funny and clever, the film is made all the more irritating because you just know Brosnan is loving the fact that everyone will think he's reinventing himself just because he swears a bit, grows some stubble and walks through a hotel in his underpants. Newsflash people, HE'S EXACTLY THE FUCKING SAME AS HE ALWAYS IS!!! This is Brosnan, he's not the great chameleon of acting, it's Brosnan. BROSNAN! I don't care if he's calling himself Bond, Julian Temple, Thomas Crown or Larry the fucking Leper, he's always the bloody same. The Matador is tedious, unfunny shite.

9. Crank

A reviewer of the Jennifer Lopez film Enough wrote possibly my favourite review of any film and I'd like to use it now to describe Crank.

Watching it is like being bitch-slapped out of a coma.

I have nothing more to say.

10. Firewall

I was torn between about 5 films for the last spot but in the end I went with the latest nail in the coffin of Harrison Ford's career. Just when you thought Hollywood Homicide was as bad as things could get, along comes a "thriller" that offers us Ford sitting in an office chair shooting a fire extinguisher at a baddy as an action sequence. "We really must consider Mr Ford's arthritis when planning the action for Firewall. What does everyone suggest?" "How about we sit him down in a swivel chair, spin him around and have him take out a baddy with a fire extinguisher?" "Oh you're good. You're good!" Worthy also of a mention is the bit where, the kidnapped family having carried the pet dog with them all throughout the film for no discernable reason, Ford, hot on their trail, remembers in the nick of time that they put GPS in the dog's collar as he kept running away and is then able to locate them. GPS in the dog collar. Someone give that writer an award. I had alot more fun at this film than I did at any of the others on the "worst of" list but thrillers are not supposed to be this funny. The most tense bit was watching old Harrison run and fight like he wasn't 63. And with Indy 4 officially announced and ready to begin shooting in May...well who am I kidding? I'll be there on opening day. The point is Firewall blows like a starving hooker.

Honourable mentions go to Stranger Than Fiction, V For Vendetta, The Sentinel, The Da Vinci Code, Snakes on a Plane, World Trade Center, NightWatch.

And so roll on 2007. Babel, Rocky, The Fountain, Transformers... yes that's right, I'm mildly excited about Transformers. Oh who am I kidding, I can't wait! I'm not ashamed to say it. In the end I'm sure I'll end up ranting about God knows what on here throughout the year. I love it really!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think I agree with most of your comments, for once.

I guess I'm willing to forgive Bryan Singer though, I mean he is a producer of House. But yes he should give up directing.

5:26 pm  

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