2007 has been an interesting year for film and television, not only have we seen some decent examples of both (and some obligatory terrible ones), the dawn of the digital age has been breaking with ten reminders per hour that TV will become solely digital soon, as well as the emergence of Blu Ray and HD DVD formats on the shop shelves, and largely remaining there I might add!
Although I try to watch as many films as time and money will allow, there have still been some I have wanted to see and missed, but I will endevour to remember the highlights of what I have seen come out over the past year. I'll also dip my toes into the world of television briefly. The films I will cover had their UK cinema release at some point in 2007 but whether I saw them on the big screen or later on DVD release is neither here nor there so I'll bunch the lot together. I hope that's alright for you discerning Outsider readers!
The year started strongly with some brilliant January releases. Alejandro González Iñárritu's follow up to 21 Grams, Babel was an excellent morality play with trademark focus on vulnerable characters and excellent performances from the ensemble cast. Brad Pitt was Inarritu's latest mega-star to undergo his treatment and came through as an entirely believable man pushed to the edge by the extremes of his situation, reinforcing belief in him as a true acting heavyweight after some dodgy roles like Mr and Mrs Smith and Troy, and paving the way for The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, which I have yet to see but looks every inch a meaty role.
As an Outsider favourite, Darren Aronofsky's The Fountain was always going to be of interest to this site, but would the promising young autear's larger budget for this project compromise his independent sensibilities? Thankfully not. As a straightforward narrative this may confuse, but as a semi-arthouse meditation on the transcendent nature of spirituality Aronofsky stays true to his offbeat roots. See my review of the DVD release for the full lowdown.
Nick Broomfield treated us to a truly affecting representation of the Morecambe Bay tragedy of 2004 in Ghosts, using techniques familiar to fans of Ken Loach, Mike Leigh and even Lars Von Trier's forms of modern realism.
Possibly the film with the biggest payoff in relation to its hype at least in the early part of the year was Kevin MacDonald's The Last King of Scotland, which saw a performance by Forrest Whittaker most satisfying to a fan like me who thought before this he was never quite given a chance to shine. This also turned out to be the vehicle for James McAvoy's burgeoning career, who multiplied his success on this project with Atonement later in the year. McAvoy was a very satisfactory foil to Whittaker's powerhouse of Idi Amin and is equally deserving of the praise lavished upon Whittaker and director MacDonald.
The Spring saw David Lynch's Inland Empire arrive menacingly at our shores, ready to blow our minds once more and show us that this maverick is far from ready to sell his sole to Hollywood! This is Lynch at his most potent with narrative loops and dead ends filthily tracking leftfield characters with shadowy motives. I have yet to decide how I feel about this one, but that's the way I work with Lynch, it took me til 2005 to decide Lost Highway is one of my favourite ever films and jury's still out on Mulholland Drive! What is of no doubt however is the limitless genius the man has in creating something so totally his own, if there has ever been an argument for the auteur debate it is David Lynch.
From one David to another, this one being of the Fincher variety and the film in question is Zodiac, a biopic serial killer tale. It's just such an obvious idea for the studio to pick Fincher to direct this, he did make Se7en after all. And I was really hoping for a return to form after the uninspired Panic Room. What I got was something that cared more about plot than character. And that's not a total surprise as both Se7en and Fight Club relied on their plot twists, although both drew more complete characters than Zodiac. Detailed and interesting it was, but unfortunately its flatness and overlong running time made it an overall disappointment. Will we ever see the David Fincher if the mid to late 1990s again? I hope so. But we do have a Zodiac director's cut and extras packed DVD release to look forward to in the coming months.
One of the greatest highlights this year for me personally was Shane Meadows semi-autobiographical portrait of skinhead culture in the 1980s This Is England. I am a huge fan of Meadows' previous work and rate him, as many others now do, as British independent cinema's saviour for the 21st century. This Is England is a strong and affective piece of cinema that stands proud alongside his previous masterpieces A Room for Romeo Brass and Dead Man's Shoes. The only missing element in this film for me is Paddy Considine, the De Niro to Meadows' Scorsese, although that's more of a selfish quibble than a serious criticism. In addition to the aforementioned Ghosts the year has provided two fantastic British independent films and has refueled my hope in this country as a true ally of decent European cinema.
And now for something completely different...
Ah, the great British summertime of the 21st century would not be what it is without that vicious mortar attack of Hollwood blockbusters America blazes upon us each year. Categorically the worst film I have seen this year was one such incendiary device named Die Hard 4.0. The first in a set of big action star vehicle revivals, it manages to further cement the stereotype of the American hero as a brainless violent and remorseless idiot, not unlike their head of state. The repulsion I feel at discussing this travesty of explosion-based unrealistic, unimaginative, unethical arse coupled with its lack of right to be mentioned on the same page as most of the films in this article forces me to cease anymore ranting and get onto more deserving works.
During the most mainstream time of the movie calendar it was at this point I saw my guilty pleasure of the year, Transformers. Yes it's a Michael Bay film. Yes it is very silly. And no, on this occasion I don't care. I know this is terribly hypocritical of me, especially in view of my above comments, but I am a child of the 80's and although the Transformers craze was a wholesale consumerist plot and a cynic like me should loath it on principle, I must bow down to my childhood memories and the reliving of them through this fantastically ridiculous film. My favourite film criticism quote of the year is when Empire magazine's Olly Richards in an article on Transformers said 'Michael Bay never found a plot whole so troublesome it couldn't be solved by blowing it up.' I couldn't say it better myself, but when a film is based on a cartoon TV series that was based on a toy, arthouse it will never be!
As Halloween approached I got all excited about the prospect of horror film season. I steered clear of most of this years beasts of that category. Call it an educated guess that Shrooms or Saw (bloody) IV wasn't going to cut the mustard for me. Earlier in the year I did catch Hostel 2, which was less of a disappointment to me than I was almost hoping for. Eli Roth is no great director. Cabin Fever was pretty good and the first Hostel was too, but it comes as no surprise to me that Roth is Quentin Tarantino's protégée. They both 'borrow' liberally from here, there and everywhere and by wrapping these films up in mainstream form they fool the unwitting masses that these films are in some way original. As much as Hostel and Hostel 2 subvert the horror genre with some nice character and plot switches, they embrace its more clichéd and Hollywood attributes too. With Roth's next film we will get to see an entire movie comprised of trailers for films that do not exist, a la the Grindhouse trailers in between Tarantino and Rodriguez's most recent pictures. So where once Quentin was a champion of subversive and intelligent cinema he is now the mentor of a film geek set to mimic the greats for some time to come. Oh joy.
But there was one horror film out at Halloween to save my complete despair in the genre, 30 Days of Night. Although flawed, this film had more to it than most recent vampire pictures and some brutal and terrifying moments. My review of the beast can be found on this site. 30 Days is director David Slade's second feature, his first, Hard Candy, is a totally different animal, although manages to terrify in another way altogether. Watch this space for my retrospective review of Hard Candy's 2006 DVD release, as I don't want this one to slip through the net!
Unfortunately, like most, I have not been able to watch half the films I've wanted to over the year so I'm going to give a brief list of those that have avoided my gaze. On the top of this list has to be Control, Anton Corbijns biopic of the depressive Joy Division frontman Ian Curtis. As a big fan of the band this is naturally of great interest to me but it would seem to be a great indie picture regardless to your knowledge of the subject matter.
Danny Boyle's Sunshine is another curiosity I have yet to view, although I have heard mixed opinions on the sci-fi romp. Sean Penn's Into The Wild and Werner Herzog's Rescue Dawn definitely belong at the top of my 'to see on DVD release' list, the former looking slightly more intriguingly offbeat, yet the latter to see another emaciated Christian Bale role.
That is really all I can remember to have made an impact on me film-wise in the past twelve months, and if there were others that have slipped my mind I'm very sorry, but I'm sure together with the other contributors of this site this will create a rather comprehensive lowdown.
Before entering the world of the small screen here's a few titles to look out for in 2008; I am Legend, Omega Man remake or straight book adaptation, or neither? Juno, Hard Candy's Ellen Page stars in an unusually smart teen comedy. The Brothers Bloom, a story about sibling conmen starring Adrien Brody and Rachel Weisz and directed by Rian Johnson, who debuted with the excellent Brick. For the Batman fans there will be The Dark Knight and for mainstream-monster-movie-mayhem look out for Cloverfield.
Now as if all that isn't enough…
Dominating the television screens of Great Britain have once again been the American dramas. Forget 90% of homegrown drama series, as you probably have already, this has been a year for U.S imports. There are two I will speak of, in my mind the only two really worth talking about, Heroes and Studio 60, On The Sunset Strip.
These programmes both kicked off in 2006 in the U.S and had experienced very different fates by the time they were established on British TV. The former has recently ended the first part of its second season States side, whereas the latter has already been binned. Despite their differing success in America I personally love them both the same.
Heroes is a spin on a concept that has been around since the ancient Greeks, the idea of 'super' powers. This theme has been molded and developed through the ages and has found a home in the pages of comic books over the last sixty or so years. Smallville thought it a good idea to cash in once more on the Superman franchise and create an O.C. style teen drama which I think is frankly rubbish. But Heroes has wholly upped the ante on the whole superhero genre with something that is just about on this side of plausible but carries with it all the thrills and spills of the best comic books around. The characters are well drawn and well acted and the plot is wonderfully apocalyptic. This I say about Season One (the one to have been screened on the BBC), as for the second season American viewing figures have suffered more troughs than its predecessor, so the discerning British public will have to wait until later in the year to give their opinion (apart form of you're a ‘knock off Nigel' in which case it is available to download on a multitude of torrent sites). Regarding the hype and general excitement generated by this programmes supposed originality, maybe these people should have a look at the good but less consistent U.S series The 4400 which started a whole two years before Heroes and within bare incredibly striking resemblances to many of Heroes' themes.
Studio 60, On The Sunset Strip has been a source of joy and irritation to me. Joy because it is a wonderful, intelligent, funny and occasionally moving series with a brilliant cast and incredible dialogue, and irritation due to its premature death. Why such a programme after the success of The West Wing (also devised by Aaron Sorkin) was such a ratings failure is a mystery to me. Maybe America has been so overfed with snappy dialogue, sparkling exchanges and much walking and talking by Sorkin and friends over the last few years that another such series is too much for their Seinfeld-loving minds to handle. Whatever the reason, it's a darn shame. Poor Matthew Perry had finally shown his true acting potential and thrown his all into a role, somewhat autobiographical in the case of his drug addiction, merely to see his character along with the rest of the series get cancelled after one fantastic season. Shame on you NBC!
Before I depart for British TV comedy land I have to mention the demise of The Sopranos. Thank god there was one great U.S drama I loved that went the distance, yet still sad it was to see Tony and co. for the last time, and what a last time! The brilliantly ambiguous ending to the final episode was perfect to end a series where intentions were never totally overt. A classic series that has been a huge pleasure in following through the seasons.
Last but not least I'll just say that British TV comedy has always ruled, and continued to do so in 2007. Peep Show continued on form with its fourth series and there were new series' of both the fabulously surreal, psychedelic silliness of The Mighty Boosh and down right foolish geekcom The IT Crowd, all of which I lapped up with glee after stressful wadings in the pool of the mediocre and banal that comprises the most part of our 'idiot box' (quote from Peter Kay's Don Tonay in 24 Hour Party People). I strongly recommend anything with Noel Fielding, Julian Barrett, Richard Ayoade or Matt Berry in. There are the Footlights of the 21st century!