Friday, July 01, 2016

Halftime Top 10

O.J.: Made in America

Even though January of 2016 now seems like it happened 15 years ago, we are somehow only halfway through this fucking year, which means that it's a good time to look back over the last six months and consider how the year is shaping up, film-wise.

The answer is "not great", as evidenced by the fact that my number one film is arguably not actually a film, and the slate of mainstream fare has been pretty woeful with a few bright sparks dotted around the place. Still, there's plenty of promising stuff on the horizon - Manchester by the Sea! Rogue One! Kubo and the Two Strings! Moana! La La Land! - and I still have to catch up on a bunch of films that I haven't had a chance to see/haven't played anywhere near me (my anticipation for Green Room remains sky high), so there's still plenty of time for 2016 to sort itself out. 

Right, let's get to the top ten.

Sunday, June 05, 2016

Film Review: Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping (2016)

In creating a mockumentary about the rise and fall (then rise) of a vainglorious pop superstar, The Lonely Island (a.k.a. Saturday Night Live alumni Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone) set themselves a dauntingly high bar. By making a faux-documentary set in the world of popular music and all the ridiculousness that comes along with it, they invite comparisons with This Is Spinal Tap, a beloved cult classic whose influence on the mockumentary format continues to this day. It takes an admirable confidence to want to be compared to the very best, but it also invites a level of scrutiny that goofy comedies usually try to avoid.

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

Movie Journal: May

Isabelle Adjani in Possession (1981)
I watched 38 films in May, which breaks down into 31 features and 7 shorts. One of those viewings was a rewatch of Paul Thomas Anderson's Magnolia, a film that I love more and more with each viewing, and which I find myself revisiting every few years. In addition to being an emotionally draining experience and a virtuoso display of editing and pacing (it's three hours long and it feels like maybe half that), I always forget at least five or six of the famous actors who are in it, so even though I know the layout of the film pretty well at this point, it's still able to surprise. It also gets funnier and funnier with each viewing, possibly because the story gets a little less overwhelming each time, so the genuinely funny moments don't get lost as easily as they did on my first viewing.

The worst film I watched all month was David A. Stewart's Honest, which I watched purely to discuss it on this episode of Shot/Reverse Shot. As bad as a Swinging London-set film, shot by The Other One from Eurythmics, starring three-quarters of All Saints and drenched in all the worst excesses of post-Guy Ritchie British gangster films may sound, I was still surprised by how dreary the whole thing was. I was hoping for camp value - and it does deliver that during a climactic scene involving the Irish neighbour from Shameless, a machete and a fortuitous watermelon - but for the most part it's just incompetent enough to be bad, but not incompetent enough to be compelling.

Fair play to the supporting actors, though, many of whom have gone on to find work in things like the Twilight series, Doctor Who and Game of Thrones, instead of having their careers fatally derailed by association.

Now, to the good stuff. Here are the ten best films that I watched for the very first time in May of 2016.

Sunday, May 01, 2016

Movie Journal: April

Owing to a combination of work and family, this was a comparatively light month for me when it came to movie watching. I only watched 20 films that were new to me, though they all were of a pretty high quality so it balances out. Even the worst film I watched this month - Dheeraj Akolkar's Liv & Ingmar - wasn't bad per se, it was just a fairly middling documentary about two great artists that I hoped would be better. It did make me want to watch (or rewatch) a bunch of Ingmar Bergman films in the near future, so that's one positive to come out of an otherwise not especially enlightening experience.

Maybe my most significant viewing this month (aside from the ten listed below) was my rewatch (well, rewatches, since I watched it twice in one day) of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Everything I loved the first time - its energy, the new characters, the fact that everyone involved seems so excited to be making a Star Wars movie - was still present and correct, while the stuff that bothered me - the way the film stops dead every time an old character appears, the entire third act - didn't bother me as much. Its place as my third favourite Star Wars film is increasingly secure.

Right, to the business at hand. Here are the ten best films that I watched for the first time in April, 2016.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Film Review: The Jungle Book (2016)

One of the more surprising (not to mention lucrative) developments in recent years has been Walt Disney's decision to reach back into their cavernous back catalogue to create live-action versions of their animated classics. It's surprising both because of how successful those films have been (most notably Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland, which grossed more than a billion dollars worldwide back in 2010), but also because it's such a simple idea that it feels like it should have happened ten times over already. With a steady stream of similar adaptations due over the next couple of years (some of which make more sense than others), Disney's nostalgia-mining looks set to continue for some time. We can only hope that the next installments display as much love and wit as Jon Favreau's take on Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book. Or, more accurately, his take on the 1967 Disney version of The Jungle Book, since the story and design of Favreau's film has much more in common with that than the original stories.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Film Review: 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)

When the first trailer for 10 Cloverfield Lane appeared mere weeks before the film was due to come out - a shocking turn of events in an age of drip-feeding information, release dates being announced years in advance, and teasers for trailers for movies that won't come out for many months - and once it became clear that it wasn't a direct sequel to Matt Reeves' Cloverfield, the first thing I thought of, as is so often the case, was Halloween III: Season of the Witch. The third installment in the venerable horror franchise created by John Carpenter and Debra Hill is most famous for being the only one not to feature the character of Michael Myers, instead focusing on a supernatural storyline that had nothing to do with the slasher genre that defined (and was defined by) the previous films.

Film Review: Hail, Caesar! (2016)

Early in Hail, Caesar!, Joel and Ethan Coen's farce set at an MGM-esque movie studio in the early 1950s, the narrator (Michael Gambon) refers to the films overseen by producer/fixer Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) as pieces of gossamer. It's a poignant phrase to describe the kind of shimmering popular entertainment being cranked out by the fictional Capitol Pictures, but it also feels like the Coens are lampshading how light and frivolous Hail, Caesar! feels compared to some of their other films. Much as Woody Allen ended You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger by invoking Shakespeare's line about sound and fury, or the Coens ended their own Burn After Reading by having J.K. Simmons acknowledge that the story didn't amount to much, the "gossamer" line feels like a pre-emptive apology for the film which contains it.

Friday, April 01, 2016

Movie Journal: March

Much of my viewing this month was driven by an overwhelming desire to fill in some gaps in my knowledge of the French New Wave. I'd watched most of Godard's major work from the '60s and basically everything that Truffaut made, but the death of Jacques Rivette in January made me realise that there were some big names from the movement whose work I had never seen. Starting with Rivette's Paris Belongs to Us (which didn't make the top ten for the month but is still great), I started rinsing Hulu's selection of Criterion titles in order to see as many of the unseen films from the period as possible. So far, it's a decision I've been very happy with, and I would not be surprised if future journal entries end up being very French indeed.

After a subdued February I tried to make up for it with a hectic March. As such, I watched 31 new films this month, along with a long overdue rewatch of North by Northwest, which remains sublime even though I'm not sure if I'd include it in my top 10 Hitchcock films. Definitely would make the top 20, though. I mean, probably.

The worst film I saw in March was the Thai horror film Shutter, which I decided to watch purely because it was expiring from my Hulu queue. This is more of a relativistic assessment than the result of the film being egregiously bad. It's an effectively creepy ghost story with plenty of jump scares that genuinely freaked me out. The problem is that it has only one trick (a moment of silence is followed immediately by the sudden appearance of a horrible looking ghost, accompanied by loud music) and when every scare in a film is essentially the same, it gets a little tiresome by the end. In the case of Shutter, it goes beyond tiresome and ends up being kind of funny, particularly during the last half hour, when each of the ghost's appearances feel more and more like the Scary Movie parodies that would have been made if Shutter had been a big enough phenomenon to warrant the lazy mockery.

And now, here are the ten best films I watched for the first time in March of 2016.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Ed's Top 20 Films of 2015

The Cobbler...a film which will not be appearing in this list.
First off: yes, this countdown of the best films of 2015 is a tad late, both compared to when everyone else published their lists, and when I have published lists in the past. There's a couple of reasons for that, but the main one is that I decided that I wanted to wait until after the Oscars had been handed out, because that extra two months would allow me to catch some of the films which, due to time and availability, I was completely unable to catch in November and December.

Then the Oscars passed, and it became a matter of good old fashioned procrastination. But using that extra couple of months did allow me to watch a lot of films from 2015 and, while most of them didn't end up making my Top 20, enough did that the list wound up being significantly different to the one I would have written back in December. So in this one instance, laziness/a lack of planning on my part proved to be a real boon.

While this list is by no means definitive, I'm pretty happy with it, and think that it offers a good reflection of the films that meant the most to me last year. It also offers a chance to consider my viewing habits and where I might be lacking. This year, I tried to see more foreign language films than I have in recent years, but I still don't feel like I have done enough on that front, and I didn't see nearly enough films directed by women or people of colour. That's partly the result of wider problems in the industry, but it is up to me as a viewer and a critic to seek out more work by people who aren't white men because their perspectives are pretty well served at this point. These are all areas that I can and should try to improve upon in 2016 and beyond, and hopefully the list I publish next March (or whenever) is a little more diverse.

Monday, March 07, 2016

Shot/Reverse Shot: 131 - Piracy Redux

We got a lot of feedback from our previous episode on Piracy, so this episode is the Shot/Reverse Shot equivalent of the BBC's Have Your Say as Matt and I read out some of the correspondence we have received, both from those who are fervently against illegal downloading, those who see no problem with it, and those who exist in the moral no man's land between the two. I also find time to complain about ITV's The Wine Show, which may be the most middle-class show anyone has devised.