Wednesday, 22 December 2010

THEfilmBLOG Top 20 Films of 2010

Well my friends, here we are again, 2010 has brought us some rather memorable moments in the world of cinema, some good, some bad and, as always, some downright ugly. Seeing as my ventures to review Tron: Legacy have been put on hold due to the rather unusual snowy and icy weather outside (even for this time of the year) this will be my last post of this year on the blog, and keeping up with last year's Christmas tradition, there's no better way to finish than with the customary Top 20 list of the year!

20. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (March 2nd 2010) - "Tense, explosive and perversely creepy thriller, once again showing the wonders that the Swedish film industry has to offer."
19. Dogtooth (April 17th 2010) - "Would urge everyone who yearns for boundary breaking cinema to see this as soon as possible. Absolutely masterful."

18. Buried (September 30th 2010) - "A brilliant demonstration of fiercely intense, minimalistic, and ultimately, original film-making."

17. Gainsbourg (July 24th 2010) - "A provocative and imaginative window into a world of complete self-indulgence."

16. How To Train Your Dragon (April 3rd 2010) - "Smart script, hilarious scenes and heartfelt moments combined together with beautiful animation."

15. The American (November 26th 2010) - "A slow-burning and intelligent character study which may leave audiences pondering more questions than the film cares to answer."

14. Monsters (December 7th 2010) - "A superbly acted and deeply mature love story, set against a sparse, epic and ruthless backdrop of extra-terrestrial wilderness."

13. Shutter Island (March 12th 2010) - "One of the masters of modern, and classic cinema, returns with a chilling, provocative and gritty psychological thriller."

12. Up in the Air (January 14th 2010) - "Sit back and enjoy a wonderful, hilarious, uplifting comedy with enough drama, plot-twists and heart-wrenching moments that may even cause a few members of the audience to shed a tear."

11. The Secret In Their Eyes (August 19th 2010) - "A gloriously executed crime thriller, with some genuinely classy performances and exquisite surroundings."

10. Exit Through The Gift Shop (March 21st 2010) - "A honest and extremely humorous exploration into the art world, documenting its ultimate highs and its shameful lows."

9. A Prophet (January 2nd 2010) - "Intimate in its intentions, epic in its delivery."

8. Another Year (October 31st 2010) - "Combining the triumphs of love, wisdom and companionship with the painful awareness of loneliness, despair and realisation of one's own mortality."

7. Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (May 18th 2010) - "Unpredictable, intense, unsettling and even commanding the ability to raise a cheeky smile or light hearted chuckle, this is what a real Nicolas Cage performance is all about."

6. Black Dynamite (September 11th 2010) - "Leave common sense at the door and you will find a film which is surprisingly clever, outrageously funny and extremely sexy."

5. Winter's Bone (October 8th 2010) - "An emotionally numbing yet completely essential piece of American film-making."

4. The Social Network (October 15th 2010) - "Will The Social Network's portrayal of Mark Zuckerberg be one of cinema's great villains for the ages, or equally one of its most tragic?"

3. Of Gods and Men (December 4th 2010) - "A powerful and provocative drama highlighting the more positive and idealistic aspects of the Christian faith."

2. Toy Story 3 (July 19th 2010) - "I genuinely fail to see how anyone could not like this film or the films to come before it. Its closing scene will warm your heart and make you shed a tear. And if it doesn't, then at least it forever has a friend in me."

1. Inception (July 16th 2010) - "Hopefully a landmark and a wakeup call to the entire industry. Proof if you put your trust in a truly talented film-maker to attempt something entirely original, outside of countless reboots, remakes and comic book films, you can have your faith rewarded."

Bet you didn't see the top two coming eh? There were, of course, a few honourable mentions which unfortunately just didn't make the final cut, including Kick Ass, The Town, Tamara Drewe and A Serious Man. The King's Speech would have been included also, had it not been officially released in 2011.

And just like that, 2010 is over. Been a fantastic year for me, on the blog, would like to thank Richard and the lovely people at Panic Dots for giving me somewhere to bitch about films outside of this comfort zone. Ross, Laura and Jude for the immense amount of fun and randomness had on the Panic Shots podcasts (more of those in 2011!). Wee Claire for giving me work when I probably didn't deserve it. Ben Finch at The Gown for sending to see some of the films listed above. Ally Millar at for allowing me to piss off film fans on his domain. The ever classy Sarah Hughes for putting up with me on Saturday mornings at the Queen's Film Theatre press screenings. The lovely film bloggers I've gotten to know via Twitter, including Ronan at Filmplicity, Ruth at Flixchatter and of course, not least, all the people who have taken the time to read this blog over the past year.

Thank you.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! Now where's that bottle of red wine and my copy of The Muppet Christmas Carol...

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

The King's Speech - Review

There always seems to come a time in every British actor or actress' career where they must play the role of a historical British monarch. Riding on the success of his career defining performance in A Single Man and sampling the glory of Best Actor nominations across the award circuits, Colin Firth comes storming back with another film, determined, this time, to take the all the prizes with him too. But is The King's Speech worth its pre-Oscar hype?

Set across the years between the First and Second World War, The King's Speech concentrates on the rise of King George VI (Firth) and his personal woes, including his infamous stammer and disdain for public speaking. Obviously being royalty, having an ability to engage the public in moving and inspirational speeches tends to be a necessity of the job. In attempt to overcome this disability he's entrusted in the care of the eccentric and flamboyant speech therapist, Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush).

Over the course of the film, the two men of distinctly different social classes come to blows but ultimately forge a friendship which will last a lifetime. Colin Firth's portrayal of George VI (or simply Bertie to his family and friends) was a fascinating insight into the king's troubled personal life. His tragic inability to speak, both in public and to his family, was also tender and, in a way, heart-warmingly humbling. While Firth will deservedly get the plaudits for his regal starring role, it was Geoffrey Rush's witty, genuine, off-the-wall performance as Logue which personally blew me away, with immense comic timing and inability to be overwhelmed while in the presence of his most prestigious client.

The supporting cast was littered with enough real quality to make any award body take notice, and make most audiences marvel in delight. The graceful and articulate Helen Bonham Carter gave a honest and loving performance as the late Queen Mother, Elizabeth. Michael Gambon was sharp and somewhat intimidating as Bertie's father, King George V. Guy Pearce was arrogantly brilliant as Firth's brother and predecessor, King Edward VIII.

While the excellent Timothy Spall shone once again, in his second portrayal as the great Winston Churchill (his first was in October's god awful stop animation, Jackboots on Whitehall). Was also a pleasure to see the classy Jennifer Ehle - who starred opposite Firth in, perhaps, his most famous role as Mr Darcy in the BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice - as Lionel's wife.

Tom Hooper should also be credited for making a visually engaging period drama, which never once felt tired or dull on the eyes, as a lot of these quintessentially British affairs can so often become. The film's themes are also an uplifting and enjoyable treat for all, a story of friendship between essentially a prince and a pauper, a man's journey to overcome his own personal adversaries and become the king he was born to be. Yes we won't lie, this isn't original by any means, these are classic tried and tested formulas that can be found across a pantheon of cinema, but rarely to this level of detail and panache.

Final Thoughts
The most elegant buddy comedy in cinematic history? Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush's performances make The King's Speech an enthralling journey which is heart-warming, humorous and genuinely sincere. By the time this review goes to print the film will have swept numerous nominations at this year's Golden Globes and, in this critic's mind, is very much worthy of it. Highly recommended.


The King's Speech is in cinemas across the UK from January 7th 2010

Friday, 10 December 2010

The Tourist - Review

The Tourist - a remake of the little known French film called Anthony Zimmer - has a leading duo that most film-makers could only dream of pairing. Starring, perhaps, the two best looking actors on the planet at the minute, Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie, does the film's plot have more to it than the shallow reasons most people would probably choose to see this?

The story plays on plot points from a wide range of espionage capers, from The Bourne Trilogy to Alfred Hitchcock's North By Northwest and even touching on some of the latter day Bond films, albeit with a more light-hearted touch. The Tourist tells the story of Frank (Depp), an American tourist travelling across Europe who encounters a beautiful stranger (Jolie), who inadvertently sets him up to take her fall with the likes of a powerful gangster (Steven Berkoff) and an Interpol agent in the form of the under-rated, Paul Bettany.

While Angelina Jolie played her usual strong, dominate, female role well, even bringing back her Lara Croft accent, it was Depp who unsurprisingly shined in the role of Frank. Forever known to audiences as the cool and over confident Captain Jack Sparrow in the Pirates of the Caribbean films, it was quite refreshing seeing him play a hapless likeable loser, for a change. Paul Bettany's character could have been expanded upon, as the obsessive agent hell-bent on bringing Jolie's accomplice, the mysterious Alexander Pearce, to justice. As a slight nod to the Bond franchise, the film clearly lends from, it was a pleasure to find Timothy Dalton on typically fine form as Bettany's boss.

Despite the terrific performances, which were a genuine pleasure to witness on screen, the plot fell rather flat, at times. Its extravagant use of romantic European locations, such as Paris and Venice, often came across more like a Christian Dior advert than a gripping thriller full of suspense and mystery. Also particularly bothersome was the film's two key plot twists just before and during the final act, which felt like they were just shoe-horned in to stop people from falling asleep.

Final Thoughts
Johnny Depp and Angelina Joile's presence gives The Tourist a tonne of creditability and, cynically, box-office receipts it probably wouldn't of attained with any other leading pair. Though the plot is mostly entertaining fluff, the characters, at times, feel under-developed. Casual film-goers looking for their fix of Depp or Jolie looking pretty on the big screen will undoubtedly enjoy the pair's light-hearted and playful chemistry, though the rest of us, who like their features to contain a bit more substance, may feel this trip to the cinema to be a somewhat hollow venture. But hey when in Rome...or Venice...


The Tourist is in cinemas everywhere now.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader - Review

It begs the question, if the pencil pushers at Disney can't seem to make visually breathtaking and universally enjoyable Narnia adaptation, what makes the people over at 20th Century Fox - synonymous for making mostly bland and uninspiring family films, not to mention, Avatar - think they can achieve a different result?

Set a year after the previous film, Prince Caspian, the film forgoes two of its main protagonists, Peter and Susan, to concentrate on their younger siblings', Lucy and Edmund, (George Henley and Skander Keynes) return to Narnia on an epic quest across the ocean, lead by the newly crowned, King Caspian (Ben Barnes). New additions to the cast include their bothersome cousin Eustace (Will Poulter) while everyone's favourite on-screen geek, Simon Pegg replaces the brilliant Eddie Izzard as Reepicheep the mouse.

One of the few good things that can be said about the Narnia films, unlike the Harry Potter films to a certain degree, is that you don't necessarily have to see the previous instalments to understand what's going on. The works of C.S Lewis can exist as stand-alone tales. That doesn't however take away from the films - including this one - being so flat and mediocre.

Maybe it was the casting of the children, - which didn't work in two films previously - perhaps it was the overly colourful play-school sets or regrettably it might well have been the source material now becoming slowly out-dated in an age of broodier tales such as Harry Potter, His Dark Materials and A Series of Unfortunate Events. Whatever the case, the Narnia movies just aren't the overly pleasant cinematic experiences they could (and indeed should) have been with more passionate and committed film-makers at the helm than the man who gave us the hideous Bond film, The World Is Not Enough.

George Henley and Skander Keynes as Lucy and Edmund, felt as though they were lifted straight from a slow and tedious ITV Sunday evening drama. While their on-screen cousin played by Will Poulter (credit where it's due, he was excellent in Son of Rambow) came across more like a nagging old pensioner than a cynical 13 year old. Ben Barnes however fared much better in this film than his début appearance in the series, feeling much more at ease, with the role of Caspian, having dropped the silly Spanish accent - even if it does open him to harsh criticism in regards to the Chronicles' overall continuity.

Though director, Michael Apted, tried to be daring and ambitious with the fantastical settings and action pieces, the entire feature felt largely like it was being held very tightly by a leash. Whether that was in regards to the film's budget - greatly reduced since being dumped by Disney - or the lack of vivid detail into these moments through the original source material, I imagine few would really care. The CGI was second-rate and though I only saw it in 2D, in the cinema, I can't imagine being charge an extra five quid for a shoddy post 3D conversion would raise my opinion any further (quite the opposite in fact).

Final Thoughts
The latest Narnia film, to enter its much maligned series, suffers the same shortcomings as its predecessors. Not dark enough to match the brilliance of the later Harry Potter films, not even comparable to the awe-inspiring vision of Peter Jackson's epic Lord of the Rings. Not to mention, if you're of a certain belief, your skin might crawl at some of the less than subtle religious parables. I'm a fan of the books, I believe they're some of the most beautifully written fantasy novels ever committed to paper, but it might be best for all concerned, if the powers that be, called time on these cinematic explorations into The Chronicles of Narnia for now. No good can come from them.


The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is in cinemas throughout the UK now.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Monsters - Review

What I'm about to suggest may seem completely insane, but bare with me for a moment. If you're reading this and you happen to be a devoted sci-fi geek, such as myself, and it's your turn to pick a film in the cinema for you and your girlfriend (or boyfriend) - who happens to not be a devoted sci-fi geek - then Gareth Edwards' début movie might be the, date night, feature for you.

Monsters tells the story of photojournalist, Andrew Kaulder (Scoot McNairy), as he reluctantly escorts his boss' daughter (Whitney Able) through Mexico back to the United States. The only catch seems to be that half of Mexico is now overrun by some giant extra-terrestrial squid-like creatures, making life rather horrific for the locals. So far so Jurassic Park meets Cloverfield.

What sets Monsters apart from the strewed brand of, soulless, sci-fi survival horrors I suffer through on a yearly basis (Skyline is unfortunately still fresh in my mind) was that it wasn't really a survival horror at all - despite trailers and posters suggesting otherwise. Though tensions are high and there's always an intense edginess that something terrifying is just around the corner, the film is surprisingly a rather touching and intimate love story between two lost souls - like Lost in Translation, except replace Japan with an alien infested Mexico.

This combination of profound loveliness mixed with unsettling imagery could've easily been a recipe for disaster - especially with the sparse scattering of appearances from the alien menace in the film - if it were not for the two brilliant leading performances. Whitney Able and Scoot McNairy's chemistry was so seamless on screen it comes to no surprise to find out, after the curtain raises, the two are actually married in real life. Their characters were both multi-layered, likeable souls from the film's opening moments right through to its ambiguous end.

Similar to last year's excellent District 9, Monsters' social observations were as subtle as they were highly provocative. I found it fascinating to see instead of run in horror and despair, that the locals of Mexico simply tried to just 'get on with it', adapting to life with the aliens - albeit with mixed results - instead of America's rather potent and ironic answer which is to just build a huge wall to keep the ghastly beasts out, including any potential refugees. If any happen to approach the American boarder, well, you just blow them up. Simple and effective, if not the most humane of plans I have to admit.

Monsters most impressive feat however was that Gareth Edwards shot the entire production - filled with grand cinematography and impressive visual effects (he processed entirely in his bedroom on a Mac using store bought, Adobe Autodesk 3DS Max) - on a shoestring budget of $500,000. This isn't to say the special effects were quite as good as a film with a few million extra latched onto it but the film never once felt cheap or rushed, holding my attention through its entire running time. The production was also carried beautifully by a moody ambient score by electronic artist, Jon Hopkins.

Final Thoughts
Despite the hype Monsters, regrettably, isn't quite "the next District 9, Jurassic Park or Cloverfield". It is however a superbly acted and deeply mature love story, set against a sparse, epic and ruthless backdrop of extra-terrestrial wilderness. If Gareth Edwards can achieve something like Monsters on a minimal budget, it excites me to see what the future holds for yet another shining light in a, seemingly, growing list of high quality British film-makers.


Monsters is in cinemas throughout the UK now. Belfast audiences can see it in the wonderful Queen's Film Theatre from Friday December 10th 2010.

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Of Gods and Men - Review

As 2010 comes, slowly, to a close, the films which will undoubtedly dominate the 2011 award season come rolling out, in abundance. Already praised heavily at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year, picking up the coveted Grand Prix and the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury, does Xavier Beauvois' latest film - in the director's chair - live up to the hype?

Based on a true story, the film centres around the monastery of Tibhirine where Trappist monks live in harmony with a, largely, Muslim population in Algeria. When Muslim extremists invade the village and the threaten the monks' way of life the story tells the remarkable tale of these men and how they defied their home country and the wishes of the Algerian government to stay on and fulfil their admirable work.

What made Of Gods and Men such an, at times, beautiful and, regrettably, very tragic tale was, despite being drowned in rather profound Christian and Muslim parables, the heart-warming and humbling performances from its wonderfully constructed ensemble. Lambert Wilson (of The Matrix 2 and 3 fame) gave a triumphant portrayal as the head of the monastery, Brother Christian. A strong and reasonable leader with a warm heart and a respect for his fellow man.

Michael Lonsdale's (mainstream audiences might know him from his appearance in Spielberg's Munich) performance was particularly moving as the wise and knowing Brother Luc, also acting as the physician of the local community and seemingly involved in some of the film's most powerful scenes. Various moments including being, in a way, the architect of the only scene to involve actual music and close-ups of the main cast as they share a final meal with wine, and the face up to the painful realisation of their inevitable fate.

The film's overall theme was highlighted brilliantly in one particular scene involving Wilson and one of the Muslim extremists as the walls of religious persecution break down and the similarities within The Bible and The Qur'an come to the forefront. The collective chants/hymns between monks served as rather haunting transitions between acts and gave intriguing insight into their way of living, usually to the backdrop of some stunning cinematography.

The ending - which anyone in tune with their history and world affairs will undoubtedly know - is dragged out to a sad conclusion, more so, because by the time you leave the cinema, you feel you've gotten to know these kind and honest men and care dearly for them. The slow and silent walk to their doom doesn't make for easy watching, being one of the few films of 2010 to make me shed a slight tear.

Final Thoughts
A very powerful and provocative drama dissecting the more positive and perhaps idealistic aspects of the Christian faith. Regardless of where you stand on the topic of religion, its hard not to love and respect the characters on display, their undeniably platonic love and respect for each other as well as highlighting their humanistic flaws, doubts and uncertainties. A cinematic treat, and sure to be in the running for Best Foreign Language film at the Oscars next year.


Of Gods and Men is in selected cinemas through the United Kingdom now.