Saturday, July 24, 2010

9/10ths Full of Movies Part Five. M to O

Welcome to Part Five of my entirely subjective reflection on a decade in cinematic exploits. Click here to see Parts One to Four. Please do chip in with any obvious omissions or disagreements.

M is for Millstone
The first half of the Noughties seemed heavily weighted with films beginning with M. The decade began back to front with Christopher Nolan's reverse masterpiece Memento. Pixar made us a little less afraid of the monsters in our closet in Monsters Inc. (01). It was also notable Billy Crystal's last decent contribution to movies. In 2002 Steven Spielberg just about avoided ruining the otherwise brilliant Minority Report with a stupid mawkish ending (it really should have ended two or three minutes earlier). However, he did much better with Munich (05) coaxing a potent performance from Eric Bana in the lead role. The Noughties seemed awash with sequels and threequels that really should have been just one stronger film. The two Matrix follow-ups, Reloaded & Revolutions (03), illustrated this better than most. While both had some stunning set pieces they also had far too much fluff such as the cringeworthy underground rave scene and overly long ramblings of the Architect. In 2003 and 2004 Clint Eastwood showed just how good he is behind the camera with Mystic River and Million Dollar Baby helping us forgive his involvement in Space Cowboys. Just before he bulked up to play the rebooted Batman in 2005 Christian Bale lost 60 pounds to play the tormented insomniac Trevor Reznik in The Machinist. I've never been able to look at a game of hangman the same since...

N is for Niggles
In 2006 I unlocked the hitherto impossible scientific dream of slowing time while watching Terrence Malick's dreadful The New World. It's 90% people walking through grass looking pained, 5% noble savage cliche, 3% Pocahontas and 2% Dancing with Wolves. Despite a running time of 135 minutes, it genuinely felt like watching a five hour epic. Ray Liotta has recently become a parody of himself in several truly appalling movie and TV appearances (including Hannah Montana!) while coasting lazily through them all. However, 2002 saw his last great performance in the dark and ethically muddy Narc. Along with most of the world I lauded Jared Hess for his second directorial effort Napoleon Dynamite (04). However, in hindsight this was a mistake as I now find the film irritating and sloppy. In 2005 I took a risk and paid to see a film at the cinema about which I knew nothing at all. That film turned out to be the brilliant and bonkers Russian epic Night Watch which has since become one of my top five films. Telling the story of a supernatural cold war between the forces of good and evil, Night Watch packed in more verve and creativity than a dozen 'Hollywood' blockbusters. The best movie beginning with N in the decade (and one of the best films hands down) was the peerless No Country for Old Men (07). It was the Coen Brothers at the top of their game and especially in the scene between Chigurh and the gas station owner which is a masterpiece of humour, threat and sparse wordplay.

O is for Orangutan
As we finish N with the Coen Brothers, so we also begin O. George Clooney simultaneously played up to his pretty boy image while also putting it permanently behind him in the wonderful O Brother Where Art Thou (00). As mentioned back in February in Part Three of this series Robin Williams plays creepy very well. His portrayal of the lonely and disturbed Seymour Parrish was almost unwatchably unsettling in 2002's One Hour Photo. Despite Quentin Tarentino's output declining in quality he still has an eye for a good thing and has taken to promoting films by talented directors from all over the world. One of the first was the brutal and beautiful Old Boy(03) by Chan-wook Park which had live octupi, hammer related dental action and a twist gut-wrenching enough to leave the viewer feeling physically sick. 2003 also saw Kevin Costner spearhead the periodic attempt to make westerns popular again by directing and starring in Open Range. Sadly he was unsuccessful in that goal, although he did succeed in creating a classic character-driven Western that is all the better for its over-familiar plot devices. While we're on the subject of old school movies, 2007's The Orphanage combined chills without excessive blood spills in a story driven haunted house tale that lingers in the mind long after the film has finished.

Tune in for Part Six - P to R soon.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Bumper Movie Log

Wall Street ****
Knowing *
The Secret of Moonacre ***
Daybreakers ***
A Serious Man *****
Alien 3 (Director's Cut) ***
The White Ribbon *****
Life of Brian ****
2012 **
Air Force One **
Star Runners **
Raiders of the Lost Ark *****
Star Trek ****
Cloverfield ***
Temple of Doom ****
Shutter **
The Reader *****
Demolition Man **
My Name is Bruce **
Drag Me to Hell ****
Rogue **
Body of Lies ****
Up *****
Sherlock Holmes ****
Valhalla Rising ****
Eraser **
Solomon Kane ***
Monsters & Aliens ***
Pandorum **
The Fourth Kind **
Robin Hood ***
The Objective ***
Moon *****
Alice in Wonderland ***

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

9/10ths Full of Movies Part Four. J to L

Welcome to Part Four of my entirely subjective reflection on a decade in cinematic exploits. Click here to see Parts One to Three. Please do chip in with any obvious omissions or disagreements.

J is for Jigsaw Puzzles
Weirdly, there seemed to be a paucity of decent movies beginning with J during the Noughties. There was plenty of dross - Jackass 1-3 , Johnny English, Jersey Girl anyone? Thought not. 2001 saw Steven Spielberg returning to improbable science and large teeth with the third in the Jurassic Park series. The dinosaurs were bigger, Sam Neill was back and William H Macy (yay!) made the best of a terrible moustache. In 2005 the war movie got all confusing and two-sided in Sam Mendes' film version of Anthony Swofford's biographical account of the Gulf War Jarhead. I really wanted to like it but despite stunning cinematography it seemed to lack something important. According to women's magazine everywhere, late 2007 belonged to Diablo Cody and her all-conquering Juno. Apparently, the world was astonished that a woman who used to be a stripper was capable of stringing a few words together in a screenplay. As it happens, that screenplay turned out to be rather good and combined with excellent performances made Juno a worthy entrant into the movies of the noughties.

K is for Kaleidoscope
Looking back from the dizzying heights of Iron Man and Sherlock Holmes, it's hard to believe that Robert Downey Junior's stock used to be so low. Kiss Kiss (Bang Bang) in 2000 began the revival in many ways. It was ludicrously entertaining particularly when Val Kilmer's immensely camp Gay Perry is on screen. Tarentino split one film into two with Kill Bill Vols 1 & 2 (03 & 04)with stylish and verbose yet curiously empty results. In 2004 Stephen Chow made us laugh and whistle appreciatively at his utterly bonkers Kung Fu Hustle in which the fight scenes were astonishing, the visuals spectacular and spirit of the movie completely insane. The cartoonish chase scenes especially were reminiscent of Looney Tunes but fitted perfectly into the Hong Kong lunacy. The king of the modern epic returned to the history trough with Kingdom of Heaven (05). Ridley Scott shot the Crusade story with his customary gorgeousness but it did lack a convincing hero (Orlando Bloom - really?) and is much better in it's longer Director's Cut version. The other king to return in 2005 was Kong in Peter Jackson's punishingly lengthy retooling of King Kong. While at least an hour too long it was still a magical movie experience (Kong fighting Tyrannosaurs!!).

L is for Lemons

The Coppola clan found a new star in Sofia and her bittersweet tale of a pair of lonely Americans in Lost in Translation (2003). Bill Murray as the down-at-heel actor and an idealised Tokyo were the two standouts in a touching and funny story. In 2004 the talented Anderson (Wes as opposed to Paul WS) brought us the almost too whimsical Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, also tempting a stellar turn from a be-whiskered Bill Murray. Continuing the theme of comics turning in good dramatic performances, Steve Carell showed us that he was capable of more than shouting and falling over in the surprisingly dark yet affecting Little Miss Sunshine (06). The same year saw three movies tackle some of the darker periods in world history in the Last King of Scotland, The Lives of Others and Letters from Iwo Jima. Ulrich Mühe and Forest Whitaker turned in contrasting Oscar worthy turns as a Stasi operative and Idi Amin respectively. Clint Eastwood also drew a marvellous performance from Ken Watanabe in the stronger of his two Pacific war movies. The end of the decade saw possibly the best horror movie of the whole ten years and certainly the best film of 2009 in Let the Right One In. Ignore the upcoming US remake and revel in the unique vampire movie premise and unsettling atmosphere of the Swedish original. It couldn't be further away from the teenage nonsense of the Twilight series which makes it a Good Thing.