Saturday, 15 February 2014

2013 film countdown, finale

My top 5 non-2013 films of 2013 are all named after someone. There's the secret of success, folks! More fun stats at the bottom so as to avoid further countdown spoilers.

Pre-2013 films: top 5

5) The Godfather Part II

We start off with a film that is both a sequel and a prequel. Cop that, George Lucas.

Second in Francis Ford Coppola's Godfather trilogy, this continues the saga of the Corleone crime family after the events of the first film, and also shows us its beginnings. Al Pacino's Michael Corleone looks to expand his empire while flashbacks to the 1920s follows Robert de Niro's Vito Corleone surviving and thriving as an immigrant to New York.

Ahh, this is fantastic. It has the same beats as the first Godfather film, but what kept it interesting for me (apart from the great film making, which (spoilers!) I'll get more into later in the list) was the addition of the Vito Corleone flashback story. It brought a new dimension to the character in terms of portraying his meagre beginnings and his rise as a criminal leader. Similarly, Michael Corleone was further developed as a character, delving into what makes him tick and how his role in the family has consumed him.

4) Annie Hall

Another film featuring rough times in New York City. (Ha!)

Alvy Singer, played by director and co-writer Woody Allen, is a New York comedian who falls in and out of love with Diane Keaton's titular Annie Hall. This rom-com bounces back and forth and chronicles their relationship's ups and downs.

For me, it was Diane Keaton that made this film so good. I mean, it's a great film overall even without that--all fantastic are Allen's directing, the endlessly quirky script, the universal themes--but it's Keaton's irresistibly charming turn as Annie that is what made me fall in love with this classic.

One of the best romantic comedies of all time.

3) Searching for Sugar Man

A documentary about two South Africans and their quest to find out whatever happened to enigmatic 70s musician, Rodriguez.

I don't really want to say any more than that. This is one of those movies where the less you know the more you'll enjoy it; I came into this cold and think that contributed to me loving it so much. That said, I think it's a credit to the film makers that they told this so damn well that I'd watch this again even knowing the entire story. Which brings us to...
Yep, another documentary. Non-fiction is a blossoming love for me.

In 1974, high-wire artist Philippe Petit broke in to the New York's World Trade Center and did a wire walk between its famed Twin Towers. This film is about that day.

Even though this is a documentary, you feel as if you're watching a thriller, worrying for the protagonists even though you know they'll win the day. That masterful storytelling is what makes this film truly great. In contrast to Searching For Sugar Man, you know straight away how this ends. You are told all of this early on in the movie. I mean, he's the main guy they interview for the documentary, it's based off the book he wrote about the event, and a photograph of the act serves as the poster and DVD cover. And yet you can't help but be on the edge of your seat for 90-odd minutes. It doesn't hurt that it's a great story, too.

Possibly the best documentary I've ever seen.
Oh hey, look, another film with Diane Keaton in it. Anyway, I guess you saw this coming.

The first and arguably best of the Godfather films, this introduces us to the Corleone crime family, headed by the ageing Don, Vito Corleone, played by Marlon Brando. His age as well as recent events involving rival families sees him transfer power to his sons, the short-tempered Sonny (James Caan) and the reluctant Michael (Al Pacino), who must take it upon themselves to resolve the disputes in their own ways.

Everything in this film is just about perfect. Directing? Check. Great, well-paced screenplay based on an intriguing struggle for power story. Photography: lush. Distinctive music--that main theme is unforgettable. And what a powerhouse cast, from whom I can't remember any bad performances. They really did a great job of bringing out a range of different characters, mostly from within the same family. I think the most interesting character development to watch was Michael and how he shies away from the family business but eventually gets pulled into the fold. One of Pacino's best roles.

Fantastic movie to end my list. And with that, I give you the kiss of death. Till next year!


  • All 5 films named after a person (4 men, 1 woman)
  • 3 films starring Diane Keaton
  • 2 documentaries (first time any of my top 5s, I think)
  • 2 films from the same series (another first)
  • A combined total of 15 Academy Award wins (Marlon Brando declined his Oscar for Best Actor in The Godfather as a protest against how American Indians were portrayed in Hollywood)

Thursday, 30 January 2014

2013 film countdown, part 7: two and a half mehs

The older films I saw this year were, for the most part, average at worst. I'd say only the last two on this list were films I disliked with any passion, so I'm literally figuratively scraping the bottom of the barrel here.

Pre-2013 films: bottom 5

5) Chloe

A woman (Julianne Moore) suspects her husband (Liam Neeson) on cheating on her and hires a prostitute (Amanda Seyfried) to spy on her.

A drama/quasi-thriller that is very predictable. It has some decent film-making but the plot just does not get very interested. By the second half of the film, you just want it to end already. It probably has more flaws, but that's its biggest crime.

And, really, watching a film starring Liam Neeson where doesn't threaten to hunt down and kill somebody is just an exercise in disappointment.

4) Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

What if Abraham Lincoln was secretly a vampire hunter?

Cool concept, right? Except I don't think there was enough going on here to keep me interested the whole way through. I guess it falls into the trap of trying to be too clever and complex in its plot than it really needed to be. Timur Bekmambetov, known for visually stylish action, is kind of wasted here.

3) Snow White and the Huntsman

Speaking of visually stylish yet ultimately dull re-imaginings...

The twist here is that the huntsman sent to kill Snow White ends up saving her and becoming a hero of the story.

Which, I admit, was not hooking me in to begin with. I mean, the Snow White tale does not rate highly in my favourite fairy tales, so it was going to take a lot of convincing for me to like this film. I thought the pacing of the story was poor, and in all it went for at least half an hour too long. There are moments when you wish they'd just get on with the action. And despite the efforts to put a unique spin on a classic tale, the story just devolves into generic fantasy.

I think the visual effects, while a bit inconsistent in quality, looked great at its best. I will note that this movie's visual effects Oscar nomination was the only reason I even watched it, so I was being more critical than usual with that aspect. The acting was another one of the positives--there are some good actors in this, and none lay an egg (figuratively; although none lay one literally, either, not that I'd rule it out with this plot)--but it does nothing to save this from being a boring, sub-standard adventure.

2) Breathless (2012)

New York Herald Tribune! No wait, wrong Breathless.

After finding out her husband has stolen a large sum of money, a Texas housewife kills him in order to keep it all for herself. The problem is that she has to find it first before she gets caught.

I'm not sure I ever gave this film a chance, given it had the gall to use the name of a French New Wave classic. That said, it is a poorly-conceived thriller that enters farce territory with the amount of ridiculous twists it throws at the audience. I guess that was the whole point of it, but all it succeeds in doing with its attempt at cleverness is irritate rather than impress.

1) Goon

Oh boy, this was bad.

Seann William Scott, whose name contains one too many Ns, plays Doug Glatt, a nice but dimwitted bouncer with a talent for fighting. After getting into a fight in the stands during an ice hockey game, he quickly becomes the hero of team, being recruited in the role of enforcer.

I first heard about this film a few years ago when I was looking up info on Kevin Smith's Hit Somebody. That project, which eventually evolved into a miniseries, was similarly about a hockey player whose main skill was fighting. It's based off a great Warren Zevon song of the same name.

Since Hit Somebody kept getting pushed back due to funding issues, Goon overtook it and came out in 2011. Fast forward to the middle of 2013. Hit Somebody was still nowhere on the horizon, so I decided to check this one out. I was a bit unsure about how this would turn out but, unlike Breathless above, I wanted to like this movie because of how much I love hockey. I really tried to like it. But I just couldn't.

The story focuses on Doug's rise through the hockey enforcer ranks and the development of his romantic relationship with Eva, played by Alison Pill. The thing is, none of the story elements are told particularly well. It's meant to be a comedy but the humour is so basic that to call it juvenile would be to devalue those types of jokes and gags. To add to that, none of the characters are really very likeable, but the main character is perhaps the least likeable of all. He's portrayed as such an idiot that there's no sympathy at all for him when he's down on his luck.

I'm really not sure why this film was made. I guess the creators saw what Kevin Smith was doing and wanted to beat him to the punch (get it?). Now, I'm not saying that Kevin Smith came up with the idea of hockey violence in film because it has been done it in the past, a notable example being 1977's Slap Shot, and while I didn't totally love that film, it at least had a good sense of humour. And, I mean, c'mon, Paul Newman. Anyway, my point is, the problem here is not originality, but that the film is so sloppy in almost every respect. I will, however, give it credit for this: it makes you want to eject the disc and beat the crap out of it with a hockey stick.

Saturday, 18 January 2014

2013 film countdown, part 6: for a few movies more

I'll preface this post by noting that I saw a total of 100 films in 2013, which is a record for me. Not nearly as much as that crazy cat, Jez. His goal this year is to watch 365 films he hasn't seen before. I think I'll be saner and just try to exceed 100.

And now for some older films that I saw in 2013. Mostly, I have good things to say.

Pre-2013 films: highlights

Sergio Leone's Dollars Trilogy

Narrowly missing out on the top 10 were these classic spaghetti westerns starring Clint Eastwood as the Man with No Name (even though he has a name in each of the films).

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly had the most complex plot, the best cinematography, easily the best soundtrack, and one of the greatest scenes I've seen in any film (the three-way stand-off). It is undoubtedly one of the most well-made films of all time. But here's the thing: I liked For a Few Dollars More better. I guess it was more fun. Who knows. Maybe if I re-watch them in a few years my feelings will change.

A Fistful of Dollars, being Leone's first foray into westerns, was clearly the weakest of the three, but it was still very enjoyable.


Famous for its (faked) single shot, this well-regarded Hitchcock film centres around two friends who are so confident they have pulled off the perfect crime (hah!) that they have a dinner party while the body is still in the room. Unfortunately for them, James Stewart also stars in the movie. Suckers.

Based on a play, this certainly felt like watching one on the screen (in a good way) and I would kind of like to see a stage production of it.

The Godfather Part III

All I knew about this one going into it was that it's set even further into the future of the Corleone family, and that it's nowhere near as universally liked as the first two films, to put it mildly. I guess my expectations were pretty low but I thought it was a really good film. Sure, it was not as good as the first two films in the series (Why aren't they listed in this post? Spoilers: they make my top five.) but I thought it was a fitting end to the trilogy, and had some nice call backs to Godfathers I and II.

The Expendables 2

Unlike the first Expendables film, which I thought tried too hard to have a complex, coherent plot (and failed), this one was just good, silly, unadulterated action movie joy.

Blood Simple

The directorial debut of the Coen brothers, back in the day when only Joel got the directing credit. This is a fairly slow moving crime thriller, almost Lynchian in its mood-setting. I didn't love it but it is worth a watch. Comparing this to their later films, you could see that the Coens were at this point already finding their own style of storytelling. There is the violence that you would expect from them, but the killers aren't quite as cold as in Fargo or No Country for Old Men.

A Streetcar Named Desire

Worth mentioning because of Marlon Brando, who does a good Marlon Brando impression.

Official 2012 World Series Film

Go Giants!

The Italian Job

I was somewhat disappointed in this one, probably because I'm too used to modern car chases. That said, I can't stay mad at it thanks to this classic scene.

Bull Durham

Again, another disappointment. It wasn't a terrible film but I just didn't think there was enough baseball. Sports is usually the primary reason I watch sports films, after all. To that extent, I enjoyed Major League more than this.

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

2013 film countdown, part 5 (or, act 2, part 1): old school

First of all, a correction. Looking through my best and worst of 2013 list, I increasingly felt that I treated the bottom two films a little too harshly. Or, more to the point, I didn't think they deserved to be lower than the pile of crap that was The Counselor. So, I take it back. The Counselor was well and truly the worst film I saw last year.

And now back to good films. These are some of the best of the older films I saw in 2013. I saw lots of classics for the first time, and could probably make a top 15 or 20 list if I wanted to, but I take enough time writing a top 10 so I'll stick to that.

Pre-2013 films: #10-6

10) The Sting

Paul Newman. Robert Redford. The perfect crime.

Story-wise, that's all you really need to know to pull you in (or put you off). It's classic caper fare, with Paul Newman and Robert Redford playing confidence men who join forces to pull off a big take.

This was nominated for ten Academy Awards for the year it was released, taking out seven of them, and you can see why. It boasts some big acting talent, a great script (although I did find the ending a little telegraphed), and a whole lot of fun seeing the schemes of the two con men play out. Also, The Entertainer plays to the opening titles. I enjoyed this quite a bit.
Alfred Hitchcock. Grace Kelly. The perfect crime. Wait, I said that for the last one, didn't I? Speaking of criminal schemes...

A man hires someone to off his unfaithful wife for her money and concocts an elaborate way to do so. When things don't go right, the man improvises.

Firstly, I thought the character of the chief inspector was fantastic, and very British (the film being set in England). Secondly, Grace Kelly. I don't think I need to add any more to that one.

I felt this was the culmination of Hitchcock's obsession with ingenious ways to kill people that I noticed being explored in Shadow of a Doubt, and put to action in Rope and Strangers on a Train. Of course, as always, not everything goes to plan, wherein lies the intrigue of the film. The crime is very much different to the one in The Sting, but it's no less entertaining to watch unfold. It's a testament to the script and directing that it's suspenseful even though it is mostly dialogue and has minimal set changes. High-end stuff from Hitchcock.
The perfect crime. Again? Sigh. From the golden age of anime comes this sci-fi mystery classic.

Patlabor is an anime and manga franchise following the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Special Vehicle Section 2 (SV2 for short) who pilot mecha/robots called Labors. This first film in the franchise from the late 1980s is set in the near-future (ok, it's set in 1999, but we never did get those giant robots in real life back then, sob) and the city's Labors suddenly start going out of control. SV2's division 2 must investigate the cause before things get much worse.

What I loved about this was its complex plot that was a good blend of police mystery and sci-fi. That and giant fucking robots, of course.
The perfect cri... oh goddammit. Anyway, this one is weird.

I'm not even sure what to say about this one. I mean, it's good. Very good. It's also disturbing. And weird. So fucking weird. But in a good way? I don't know.

So yeah, just go watch it.
Aha! Not the perfect crime this time! C-C-C-C-COMBO BREAKER! Somewhat appropriate to close out this post with another seven Oscar winner.

This classic biopic is a dramatisation of T.E. Lawrence's military career during World War I. It begins with Lawrence's death and subsequent funeral, at which people are asked if they knew the man. Nobody really has a clear answer. Flash back to his service in the Middle East. Lawrence is shown as charismatic yet often aloof without the right motivation and not content with his current post in Egypt. After some convincing of the right people, he gets sent to Arabia to parley with Britain's Arab allies. It's here that his true character comes out.

There's so much to love here. The epic adventure story, the character development, Peter O'Toole's breakthrough role--I don't know whether or not the real-life T.E. Lawrence was like the one portrayed in the film but it's a testament to O'Toole's skills as an actor that the character came off as so multi-layered--the gorgeous cinematography from the end to end. And that soundtrack! This was a film so confident in itself that it began with a sweeping overture before you even see the first frame. I'm so glad I managed to catch this in a theatre because, despite its length (the restoration clocks in at 227 minutes), it's a great cinematic experience.