In a year in which Hollywood has completely failed to deliver
(again), most of the bigger blockbusters being sub-standard
sequels (the Matrix double, Terminator
3) and the only really quality big-budgeter being the
work of a New Zealand director working on his home turf
(Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King),
it's the independents that have delivered the goods once
again. As the new year kicks off, Slarek and Camus take
a look at what for them were the high points of the year.
Slarek had the easier job, having reveled in independent
and foreign language cinema all year – Camus is the one
charged with looking for bright spots in the mainstream,
though just had to include one key independent film. Both
present their finding below.
Best Films/DVDs of the Year by Camus
a disclaimer. I'm not the one to judge. I have not been
to the cinema half as much as I would have liked and even
on my regular trips the chosen movie would probably have
been a children's effort for reasons of fatherhood and family
sanity (see Camus's Disney essay). That said, there were
no 'best films' this year, merely those that didn't crushingly
disappoint as much as Matrix Ramblings.
Hollywood seems to be stuck on a Möebius Strip of predictability
and CG excess. Given this...
no order of any preference.
nod to Gollum here. Jackson's Lord of the Rings has had enough exposure so I'll just acknowledge
the whole trilogy with a suitably awed hush.
League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, which had a
rough ride with the press, actually stimulated the brain
once or twice. To have so many great characters from classic
books – oooh, books, nay, literature – was a blast of fresh
air. Despite knowing that 'it'll all end in explosions',
the parts were well played and a lot of knowing literary
references (which if they were movie references would have
bored me to my core) actually made me chuckle. In the end,
the absurdities were piled so high it was impossible to
get around them, but as faintly intelligent spectacles go,
it went with some aplomb.
Hulk : fans of Ang Lee (and who couldn't be after Crouching Tiger, The Ice Storm and Sense and Sensibility?) probably scratched
their heads at his next choice. Somehow he managed to impress
his own 'Ang-Leesness' on to Stan Lee's permanently pissed-off
green giant. ILM's work was surprisingly good but any Hollywood
mega-movie that ends with a battle in which one of the combatants
is pure energy... Ho hum.
Season Six: Forget the wealth of extras, forget
the cool packaging, forget the leap to 16x9. Of all things
a single gun-shot rips Tara and Sunnydale apart. More superlative
TV from the inexhaustibly brilliant Joss Whedon.
for Columbine: If, as the backlash courting press
would have us believe, Michael Moore has his facts wrong
or distorted why isn't he being sued from here to Timbuckthree?
Why has his literary ode to the common American (Dude,
Where's My Country) not brought forth naysayers and
rich suers? In short, perhaps he's touched a truthful nerve?
Despite the mawkish 'let's blame Charlton Heston for everything'
denouement, Columbine is startling cinema,
more so as it's documentary. I cannot wait – no really,
I have no nails nor quicks left – for his next... Fahrenheit
Nemo : for the temerity of its first scene, the
wholesale slaughter of the hero's wife and his 780 kids
|Slarek's Films of the Year
has been another exciting year for independent films, with
plenty of quality works and a few genuine delights. Nailing
it down to ten (after expanding it from five) has been a
task and a half, as each of the twenty or so films I initially
chose have unique qualities that make it hard to select
one over the other. British films have done particularly
well this year, with even partial successes such as The
Last Great Wilderness still the sort of film you
want to recommend wholeheartedly just for what it does get right. The two stalwarts of UK independent cinema, Mike
Leigh and Ken Loach, both delivered first-rate works with All or Nothing and Sweet Sixteen respectively, and if they didn't make the list then it's
no reflection on the films themselves, which were excellent,
but more because their regularly high quality output has
led us almost to expect works of this caliber.
that just missed the list that were still terrific cinema
included Philip Noyce's compelling if sometimes formulaic Rabbit Proof Fence, Keith Fulton and Louis
Pepe's fascinating and tragic Lost in La Mancha,
Abbas Kairostami's minimalist Ten, Stephen
Frears' Dirty Pretty Things, Peter Mullan's The Magdalene Sisters, François Ozon's exuberant 8 Femmes, Álex de la Iglesia's hilarious La Communidad, Nakata Hideo's intelligent,
creepy Dark Water, Dai Sijie's touching adaptation of his
own novel, Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress,
Stephanie Black's passionate documentary on the plight of
the Jamaican economy, Life and Debt, Juan
Carlos Fresnadillo's ingenious Intacto,
and Kitano Takeshi's Dolls.
selected my top 5 DVDs separately. A great film may receive
mediocre treatment on DVD, and plastering a disk with thousands
of extras isn't going to persuade me that The Matrix
Reloaded is worth buying. Some obvious candidates
haven't made my list for various reasons. The Indiana
Jones trilogy suffers from the same problem as
the upcoming Star Wars one – over-exposure.
That and I really hated Temple of Doom. The Alien Quadrilogy is a genuinely extraordinary
must-have, but without the participation of David Fincher
and without his much fabled director's cut (adding footage
without the involvement of the director is frankly not on)
then this box set remains incomplete and becomes a candidate
for a further, definitive release later on. We know the Lord of the Rings special editions are
really something, but the whole concept of producing two
versions of the same film at the same time, the most complete
of which you cannot see in the place it should be seen –
the cinema – is annoying and seems to have a marketing sensibility
built in from the outset.
Films (in no particular order)
to Her – Pedro Almodovar scored again with this
beautifully made study of two men in love with two women
– nothing unusual here, but the women are both in comas,
and the friendship that develops between the two men because
of this sees the director for the first time concentrating
wholeheartedly on male emotions and relationships. Not all
of it is emotionally safe, either – in the later stages,
Almodovar really tests our loyality to a character we have
come to sympathise and identify with in one of the most
difficult moral trips for an audience since Todd Haynes' Happiness.
Heart – A low budget British treat from directors Tom Hunsinger
and Neil Hunter, this smartly written, wonderfully performed
and intricately constructed film looks at the same series
of events from three very different perspectives, tantalisingly
revealing key character detail as it progresses. A moving,
intelligent and exquisitely made work that deserves to be
more widely seen. Check out our DVD review.
Lantana – Ray Lawrence returns to cinema after a 16 year absence
and hits gold with this terrific drama of chance, loss and
failing relationships. Impressively shot in natural light,
it features a superb ensemble cast, Anthony LaPaglia in
particular shining as the world-weary cop Zak. DVD review.
Callar – The second of four British films that made the list, this
second feature from Ratcatcher director Lynn Ramsay
confirms her as one of the most exciting film-makers of
recent years. Samantha Morton again proved her worth as
the title character, who escapes to Spain with her workmate
on money advanced on a novel written by her dead boyfriend.
Ramsay's direction is bold, unconventional and at times
electrifying, not least in the extraordinary, Lynch-like
opening sequence in which Morvern lies almost lovingly beside
the body of her boyfriend, accompanied by the flash and
hum of Christmas lights.
for Columbine – In a year of ropey US mainstream films and a worrying
drift towards the idolisation of covert security forces,
Michael Moore's provocative, entertaining and frightening
documentary was a lung-clearing blast of fresh air. The
film infuriated the American Right, who repeatedly attacked
it for supposed factual inaccuracies and bias, in the process
often getting their own facts wrong and displaying a bias
far more insipid and intransigent. Sure, Moore's approach
is at times a little scattershot, but in post Patriot Act
America his refusal to toe the government line and stand
with George Dubya against the rest of the world is to be
treasured. On top of that the film achieved three key things:
it re-invigorated the documentary as a cinematic form; it
made a lot of excellent points and made them bloody well;
and it did what the very best documentaries should always
do – it provoked debate.
of God – From the brilliant opening scene, in which a chase to
retrieve a runaway chicken leads to a stand-off between
a heavily armed gang and the police with the terrified
lead character caught in the middle, this electrifying Brazilian
drama blew just about everything else out of the water and
should be essential viewing for anyone who really cares
about cinema. With Scorsese tripping up with The
Gangs of New York, this immaculately made tale of
the gangs of Rio de Janeiro stole its thunder in every respect.
Ark – Aleksandr Sokurov's extraordinary film proved to be so
much more than just a bold cinematic experiment. A hypnotic,
intelligent trip through 300 years of Russian history, set
in the magnificent St. Petersberg Heritage Museum and presented
in a single stedicam shot with a cast of over two thousand,
this left me with my jaw on the floor at times, though admittedly
alienated as many as it seduced. But it filled the cinema
– at least people came out to see the film before making
a judgment. And sorry, DVD viewers, but the cinema really
was the place to see this one.
Tragedy – After years of intriguing but sometimes hugely disappointing
works, Alex Cox finally lived up to his Repo Man potential and how with this wonderful adaptation of Thomas
Middleton's play, updating it to a futuristic, decaying
Liverpool. A terrific central performance from Christopher
Eccleston is well supported by the likes of Derek Jacobi
and, in one of his best roles to date, Eddie Izzard. DVD review.
This World – Michael Winterbottom's DV-shot, based-on-true-story look
at the plight of two young asylum seekers as they make the
difficult, sometimes nightmarish journey from Afghanistan
to the UK. At a time when the tabloids are still using the
very term 'asylum seeker' to whip up prejudice,
this should be essential viewing for all UK citizens, if
only to show them what the words hardship and fear really
mean. Another film whose overpowering effect is inevitably
diminished on the small screen.
Away – Hayao Miyazaki has been making great animated features
for years, but reached his biggest international audience
yet with this beautifully realised take on Alice Through
the Looking Glass. There is more imagination in five
minutes of this film than most movies this year have demonstrated
in their entire, weary length, and after six viewings I
still feel I'm watching something new every time. Do yourself
a favour, avoid the American dubbed version and hunt out
the original Japanese language one – it's sheer perfection.
The DVDs (again in no particular order)
and Loathing in Las Vegas (Criterion region 1) – Criterion took a genuine modern cult
classic and gave it supreme treatment, with a terrific transfer
and a ton of excellent extras. Time after time this company
delivers, though at a price, especially to us UK residents.
Time for a Criterion UK?
Happiness of the Katakuris (Tartan region 2) – OK this release seems to have been sourced
from the Ventura region 1 disk, but it shows how Tartan
are just getting better and better, no longer settling for
a ropey cinema print (Ringu, Audition)
and really putting care into their releases. Fine picture,
5.1 sound, a very funny commentary, and great making-of
documentary and more, all for a Japanese black comedy of
family values with musical numbers. Wonderful. DVD Review.
Special Edition (Enter One region 3) – Mamoru Oshii's compelling live-action
manga is given a first rate anamorphic transfer and boasts
both 5.1 EX and DTS 6.1 ES soundtracks, plus a fine collection
of extras that are actually subtitled in English. Joy.
Hills Have Eyes (Anchor Bay UK region 2) – Anchor Bay could fill this section
alone with the excellent work they are doing with cult films
both here and in the US, and it was great to see this early
work from Wes Craven – which blew me away when I first saw
it at the cinema (and pissed of one of my film tutors when
I gave it a good review in the campus magazine) – given
such handsome treatment, with an anamorphic 1.85:1 transfer,
DTS sound remix, a commentary by Craven and Peter Locke
plus a whole lot more.
Life on the Street (A&E Home Video region 1) – For my
money the best US cop series ever was not something
I ever expected to see on DVD, so poorly had it been treated
by schedulers in its native land and over here, effectively
forcing the cancellation of the show. I was resigned to
having to watch my scratchy VHS copies for ever until A&E
answered my dreams and delivered series 1 and 2 in a box
set, then followed it up with series 3. Just one thing guys
– keep 'em coming! DVD Review.