Saturday, 21 March 2015

Best of Last Decade... That I Saw, At Least

Paul Dano prays for Daniel Day-Lewis in Paul Thomas Anderson's "There Will Be Blood" (2007)

Having been rather pleased both with compiling my list of the best films of this decade (so far) and with the result and people’s contentions therewith, I’ve decided to put together another. This one, as the last, is pretty conventional in subject matter: The Best Films of a Decade – the last one, to be specific: 1 January 200031 December 2009.

This list is given with the same proviso as the last: there is a myriad of films of the decade before this one which I have yet to see. Including such critical darlings as Mulholland Drive, 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, Memento, United 93, Brokeback Mountain, Far From Heaven, Lost in Translation, Sideways, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, The Darjeeling Limited, Funny People, Zodiac, The Royal Tenenbaums and City of God, among many, oh far too many others. I, erring as always on the side of caution, wish to add another caveat: last decade was a while ago, and while most critics released such lists at the end of 2009, mine is appearing five years later. Perceptions have changed, however slightly, and it’s been a while since any of us has seen some of these titles. Therefore, I authorise and welcome a great deal more criticism for my picks here than anyone gave for my last list. Know that this one is fare more malleable than the last one.

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Love in the Time of ALS

“The Theory of Everything”

Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones in "The Theory of Everything"

The similarities between James Marsh’s Stephen Hawking bio-pic,
The Theory of Everything, and Morten Tyldum’s Alan Turing bio-pic, The Imitation Game (reviewed on the blog), have already been pointed out and commented on far too many times, and are any way obvious to all readers and viewers. They shall not be listed here. What I shall say is that they’re so similar, I had to check a number of times to make sure that The Theory of Everything is not a Weinstein Company production, which it very much resembles (and which The Imitation Game is), and I can quote a paragraph from my review of that film here, and it’d be just as apt:

“Viewers … know what to expect – a staid and ingratiating account of an extraordinary individual going through tough times, but managing to grandstand their … emotions before a satisfying end is reached. Sets, costumes and diction are meticulously crafted to fit the period … and only conventional camera and editing techniques are used: we wouldn’t want those getting in the way of the quiet heroism of whichever protagonist is being honoured this time. Admiration is our watchword.”

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Miles to Go


Reese Witherspoon in "Wild"

is directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who directed last year’s Oscar-winning Dallas Buyers Club. I mention that at the outset so that anyone who saw the earlier film can have an idea of what Wild is like, before I’ve said anything about the experience of watching it. The two differ, naturally, in particulars, but the idea of narrowly focussing on a single character, and the techniques used by Vallée and his crew, are markedly similar, and, if you have any strong feelings, either positive or negative, for Dallas Buyers Club, you hardly need go on reading this.

The differing particulars of Wild: our central character is Cheryl Strayed (Reese Witherspoon), who, in the wake of her mother’s (Laura Dern) death and subsequent lapse into heroin addiction and infidelity to and divorce from her husband (Thomas Sadoski), hikes the entire Pacific Crest Trail, running parallel to the west coast of the US. The trail is a little over 4,000 kilometres long, and the film, consistently candid in tone, never shies away from showing the physical toll it takes on Strayed. For the first part of it, her boots are too tight, and she suffers much pain from walking in them for weeks; when she does finally get rid of them, her alternative – sandals and duct tape – brings on dreadful blisters. On the first night, she realises she’s brought the wrong fuel for her gas stove, and must go for more than a week eating cold and raw food. Her monstrosity of a backpack is nearly bigger than she is, and requires considerable effort to lift, and stamina to carry around. For her entire journey, Strayed must endure the scrapes over her shoulders and down her back from carrying it. And she stinks, badly and inveterately.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Best of the Decade... So Far

The ethereal Jessica Chastain in Terrence Malick's "The Tree of Life" (2011)

Finally being done with all the frenzy of awards shows, “Best of 2014” features in every magazine and newspaper in the world, and, of course, having heard everyone’s disdainful judgement of the Oscar winners and the show, film commentary sites have now begun compiling a new sort of list. New Year’s Day 2015 marked the middle of this decade (if you began counting on New Year’s Day 2010, which we know to be incorrect), and all self-respecting film pundits have thrown in their choices for the best features released so far this decade.

Naturally, having no wish other than to be yoked to the critical bandwagon, I’ve had to compile my own list of The Best Films of the Decade So Far, which has proved rather cool – this is my first list of The Best Films of anything, and I’m quite excited that I get to share it here right after composing it. I’ve read some critics’ assertions that they have to confer with themselves at length over the order of titles on a list, and over what should be put in or left out. I managed to compile this one rather quickly, and to form something which I feel represents my feelings somewhat truthfully. Richard Brody writes, “A list is not a game; it’s an image in words.” As enjoyable as it is to write your own, and bare some small part of your feelings to readers, it’s also pleasing to read others’ lists, being as personal and revealing as they are.

Indiana Jones and the Remake for Profit

DVD Notes: "The Adventures of Tintin"

Tintin and Captain Haddock in a troublesome situation in "The Adventures of Tintin"

In my introduction to The Back Row, I wrote that I’d be seeing films years, even decades after their release, and shouting out my own uncouth commentary from my seat among the distracted and amorous here at the back. So far, anyone who missed my introduction and my mention in it of 
Singin' in the Rain and Raging Bull, will think I’ve never seen a film released before 2008, the earliest date of a film I’ve reviewed so far. Now, my first review of a Steven Spielberg film would have been a marvellous opportunity to begin remedying this, with some of the Boy Wonder’s most iconic and beloved features being landmarks in the New Hollywood of the 1970s and early 1980s. Alas, these, my first notes on Spielberg, are of one of his 2011 releases, The Adventures of Tintin (the other being War Horse), and I’ll have to go a little longer with readers doubting my level of cultural literacy.

The Adventures of Tintin is based on three of Hergé’s beloved Tintin albums: “The Crab With the Golden Claws,” “The Secret of the Unicorn,” and “Red Rackham’s Treasure.” These were written and published in the 1940s, and, though Spielberg describes the setting of his film as “just timeless Europe,” it seems very much constrained to that time. The place, however, seems to have been changed – the books were set in Belgium, but everyone here has a distinctively British accent, and when a currency is mentioned, it is Pounds Sterling. No matter, this is enough of a globe-trotting enterprise for the beginning and end points not to be of too much importance to an audience rapt with heedless activity.