Friday, 3 January 2014

Films of the Year 2013 - The Alternative Awards!

      Following on from the previous article of My Top 10 Films of 2013, here are some alternative awards. Again these are just my opinions, based on this list of films I saw last year (this time they don't necessarily have to be 2013 releases). Clicking on each title will also link to a relevant clip so do so if you are interested.

      Feel free to discuss and comment or offer your own suggestions afterwards!

The 3 Most Disappointing Films of the Year

       Last year my vote went to THIS. For this year’s edition, I am going to name 3 films.

       Now don't get me wrong, this isn’t a list of films that are bad – I certainly saw my fair share of those. Films such as A Good Day To Die Hard, Riddick and The Wolverine cannot be considered for this award as, although they were indeed disappointing films, I had rough idea of what to expect when going to watch them.

       Rather these films below are some that I had pretty high expectations for beforehand (usually based on who the director was or some potential Oscar buzz), and whilst some would still maintain that these were still excellent movies for them, I personally couldn't help but feel a little let down.

       I’m a big Ben Wheatly fan. Really. Kill List and Sightseers come both highly recommended. As a writer/director he always likes to do something completely different and surprising with each film and A Field in England is no exception.

      Now don't get me wrong – it is very interesting conceptually. It’s dark, wonderfully weird and very British and there are moments of sheer genius – but boy does it drag sometimes. Half the time you literally have no idea what is going on. And nothing is really explained at the end. It’s supposed to be that way, but highly frustrating because of it.

      A really interesting film but definitely one that tried my patience watching it.

You can read my review of A Field In England, HERE.

       Wow – how people raved about this one. Is it a good movie? Sure. A great one? Or even Tarantino’s best? No chance.

      Tonally, it’s all over the place. It’s part historical commentary on slavery, part exploitation revenge movie, part dark comedy - each component clashing horribly with the previous. The reason why people were so amazed when seeing this is because they had never seen anything like it – and the reason for that is that no other filmmaker has the clout (or indeed inclination) to be able to make something like this.

      Tarantino has the ability to make whatever kind of film he wants these days and that's definitely the case here. ‘Gratuitousness’ comes to mind in almost all aspects of the film and the ridiculous overuse of the ‘N-word’ (no matter how much people try to excuse it away with the historical context of the story) leaves a bad taste. I’m usually not bothered about that sort of thing but after the hundredth time… Really?

       I didn't hate the film…there are great things about it (Waltz and DiCaprio’s performances in particular) but I certainly didn't love it either.

You can read my article on Why Only Tarantino Could Have Made Django Unchained, HERE.

       Another one people absolutely raved about. Yes, the final moments of storming the compound is awesome – realistically played out and full of tension despite us already knowing how its ends (spoiler: Osama dies!) – but the rest of it? Doesn't even come close.
       If you enjoy films of people frowning, pacing around offices, walking down corridors, handling dossiers and staring at computer monitors then this might do it for you. Zzzzzero Dark Thirty more like.
       The only saving grace (and subsequently what makes the thing interesting at all) is that it’s based on true events. I can’t help but think it would have been so much better (and by turns more interesting to watch) if it was presented as a documentary. Kathryn Bigelow has made some thrilling picture in the past – this just ain’t one of them.

You can read my article on Zero Dark Thirty – A Case of Too Much Hype? HERE.

3 Films That Were Pleasant Surprises

       Now, let's go the other way for something a bit more positive.

       Once again, these aren’t necessarily must-see films (they don't even make the Top 20), but as the exact opposite of the above, I went into them expecting something awful and left pleasantly surprised.

       I can’t imagine any of you saw this one, or would probably even want to. It’s a small indie film about a guy who writes about his dream girl as a form of therapy, only to find that she manifests herself in real life. It sounds like an idea for an insipid rom-com but it actually turns out to be sweetly observed and touching.
       Paul Dano (forever playing wet characters) is perfect for the role, but its Zoe Kazan that really impresses - she not only wrote the script but also stars as the titular character.
       Beyond the initial kooky concept though, it’s an intelligent look at the breakdown of relationships, selfishness and abuse of power. The climax is just shy of disturbing too.

You can read my short review of Ruby Sparks, HERE.

       Tom Cruise, playing an ass-kicking agent of some sort. Nothing new here, right? And yet this film has plenty of surprises up its sleeve.
       As well as having to contend with not being a 6ft5 brute (as the Jack Reacher novels portray him) Cruise (and writer/director Christopher McQuarrie) have gone the extra mile to make this film stand out.
       As a character he has a wise cracking bravado (usual for the genre) but it’s mixed with the more realistic portrayal of the world he inhabits – therefore making him the larger than life character that he needs to be. Witness him repeatedly ask his assailants if they are sure they want to proceed just before a brawl on the street; or the chaotic fight with two inept but powerful thugs in a cramped bathroom.
       The opening sniper attack is a tense affair, there is a visceral realistic car chase in the middle and Jai Courtney and Werner Herzog(!) as the villains are great to the point where you wish they had more scenes.
       It's not unmissable, but Jack Reacher (Cruise and McQuarrie’s interpretation of the character anyway) is fun to watch and hopefully there will be a follow up soon - there are plenty more books already published in the series to choose from.

       It looks like a brainless action flick – and guess what… it is! The White House being assaulted by terrorists and the POTUS taken hostage is the second of its kind this year (along with Roland Emmerich’s White House Down), but the secret weapon here is Gerald Butler’s Mike Banning.
       The bastard love child of Leonidas and John McClane, he dispatches endless terrorists with such aplomb you can’t help but warm to him. Sometimes his one-liners are so bad they go all the way around to becoming good again and his Scots accent occasionally slips through – but when he’s burying his knife into someone’s skull or growling lines such as: “Why don't you and I play a game of fuck off. You go first.” - it can be very entertaining.
       Arguably this kind of film doesn't need to exist – but Gerald Butler definitely needed it after starring in one too many rom-coms of late. Give him more of these roles, please!

The 3 Most WTF!? Films of the Year

       I’m not going to include A Field in England here as I have already mentioned it above (although it would certainly fit into this category). These films aren’t here because they are necessarily good or bad, but just because they are plain weird. Who knows, it might be your thing…

       After the dabbling in those Halloween remakes (with mixed reception), Rob Zombie is back to original material, this time with Lords of Salem – about a radio DJ in modern day Salem played by Sheri Moon Zombie (of course). One night a record in an old wooden box arrives which, when played, has all sorts of weird effects that I wont spoil for you.
       That in itself is fairly normal, but it's the trippy visions, scenes of arcane rituals and creepy witches that start to make this film a bit bonkers. The way it’s shot in Zombie’s preferred 70s style (also with all practical effects – yay!) further adds to the weirdness of it all.
       And I haven’t even mentioned the goat riding, priests stroking dildos or the demon midget with tentacle dicks…

       Based on Junji Ito’s horror manga of the same name, the best way to describe parts of Gyo is like World War Z  but with fish. The basic premise of the story is that fish sporting biomechanical legs have taken to invading the land and attacking people. So as well as all the smaller vicious critters – which are threatening even when not in massive numbers – you get scenes of a huge shark scuttling around a house, crashing through windows and attacking people.
       Probably not recommended to watch if you have a fish phobia.
       But don't worry - it gets weirder. As the reason behind this fishy invasion is gradually revealed you get people turning on each other, bloated rotting bodies and various crazy fart-powered machinery. Morbid but disturbingly brilliant.

       Whilst, the previous two films still had some semblance of a vaguely coherent storyline, Leos Carax’s Holy Motors does away with all of that. The very basic premise is this rich guy who rides a limo to various locations. In each he dons an elaborate disguise and takes part in some kind of scene. Now these are various and range from the fairly mundane (acting out the concerned father to a troubled teen), to the fairly strange (being serenaded by Kylie just before she jumps off a roof), to the what was the point? (running on a treadmill and shooting a gun, then making love - all in a mo-cap suit), to the WTF am I watching?? (dressed as a madman, hobbling through a cemetery, chomping on flowers, crashing a photoshoot to kidnap Eva Mendez so that she can sit in a cave with her whilst sporting a hard-on)…
       And that’s maybe only about half of the bizarreness that goes down. Critics loved the hell out of the movie though. Crazy genius or pretentious twaddle? You decide!
       Definitely the weirdest film I saw in 2013!

You can read my short review of Holy Motors, HERE.

Most Surprising Debut

       I’ve already talked about him in my 10 Best Films of the Year so I wont say much more. Just look at the picture. LOOK AT HIM!
       All joking aside though, it wasn't just the look - his performance was great for a first time actor. It was in turns, quietly restrained, menacing, weary yet determined in the face of the pirates’ increasingly desperate situation. He helped make these ‘villains’ appear not as clear cut wrongdoers but sympathetic humans thrust into a hopeless situation.
       All together now: “Relaaaax, Irish. Everything ‘gon be okay…”

You can read an article I wrote on Captain Philips, HERE.

Most Memorable Villain

       Although Elysium’s characters were generally seen as the weakest component of the movie, there was one that definitely left an impression. Sure he was one-dimensional as they come, but damn – Kruger was one bad-ass sonafabeehatch!

       A katana wielding bearded bastard with a predilection for exploding people, he’s an expert in various forms of high tech weaponry and sports a thick South African accent that is spat out with such vigour it is in equal parts comical as it is utterly terrifying. His job is just to kill – that’s what he does and he’s pretty damn good at it.
       He’s so relentless and hard to put down he comes across as a genuine threat in every scene he’s in. Even when he has his face blown off he just comes back – madder than ever!
       The fact that he was played by Sharlto Copley (an actor not known to come across as particularly macho or threatening in his previous roles) was all the more surprising.

You can my review of Elysium, HERE.

Worst Ending

       It’s rather disappointing when a film with such an interesting premise ends up going nowhere with its characters (the ‘Four Horsemen’ end up merging into one blob of a plot point with no real purpose), but it’s a downright insult when the big ‘reveal’ turns around and slaps the audience in the face and laughs.
       I don't want to spoil it for you, but it literally makes no sense. A good movie ‘twist’ is one with which you can later re-watch the film and see all the clever parts where there were subtle hints laid but you probably missed. Where the story can be reverse engineered so that you can see it was cleverly built around this one great idea. Where it enhances the whole movie and makes you marvel at the genius of medium’s storytelling techniques (for good examples of this, see The Usual Suspects, Oldboy, The Others, etc…).
       This film does not have that. It literally says, ‘Let’s pick the least likely person to be the big secret instigator of the movie’s entire chain of events. Don't worry, we can just have them explain some bullshit reason to the audience to sell it, although it goes against everything that has happened throughout the movie, how the characters were presented, their motivations and actions…’
       It’s stupid, illogical and a cheat of an ending. The film was gradually crumbling as it progressed anyway but that so called ‘twist’ was like a balloon deflating and blowing you a big fat raspberry at the end.

You can my review of Now You See Me, HERE.

Best Fight

       This one wins just because it just really stood out for me. Tiger Chen has a bit of a scuffle near the end of the movie with Iko Uwais (yes, him from The Raid!) but this was a bit of a letdown largely due to Chen’s refusal to fight him (it’s in an arena for the entertainment of rich folk – and he’s had enough of the job)!
       Instead, it's the final showdown with villain Keanu Reeve’s dastardly Mark Donaka. The way Donaka strides into the temple all in black, steaming mad and ready to pummel Chen to death sets the mood. And it’s all good from there.
       Despite being directed by Keanu, the film is a Chinese production and so the fighting is filmed in a classic kung-fu style - the camera wide and distinct lack of Hollywood quick cuts and rapid editing - so you can actually see the fight choreography.
       These two have known each other for a long time (Chen was the fight coach to Reeves on The Matrix) and it definitely shows in this fight - they don't hold back. Oh yeah, Yuen Woo-ping is also credited as the action director!
       Sure it comes across as a little cheesy at times (Keanu repeating: “You owe me a life!”), but I'll be damned if I can remember a more satisfying fight scene this year.

Non-Chinese Person Most Wanting to Be Chinese

       Not content with starring as ‘the only black man in the village’ in last year’s self-directed The Man with the Iron Fists, RZA has another go living out his fantasy as the ‘Blind Master’ in the risible GI Joe: Retaliation.
       I mean, come on. Just look at him.

       Pasted on white eyebrows? Seriously?

       Universally derided – even by fans of the film.

       Just…. why….?

       And that just about wraps it up for this 2013’s film roundup. Agree? Disagree? Leave a comment!

2nd Jan 2014

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