Friday, 7 January 2011

Films seen in 2010: Part Three

And finally...

41. Letters to Juliet – Lovers write letters to Juliet and ‘post’ them through the cracks of her balcony wall in Verona. A group of dedicated romantics respond to them, and the precocious Sophie (Amanda Seyfried), joins them while on an Italian holiday, and attempts to hunt down the author of an unanswered letter from years ago (why do Americans think it’s cute to interfere in other people’s affairs?). It turns out to be Vanessa Redgrave who steals the show, along with her grandson Charlie (Christopher Egan) who is far too fun and intelligent to ever fall for the wan and whining Sophie – but, of course this is rom com so they must...

42. Lions for Lambs – Three simultaneous stories tell of our involvement in Afghanistan from the points of view of soldiers fighting, teachers debating and politicians pontificating. Two of them are worth watching; the other one stars Robert Redford. As he is also the director, it is yet more proof that you should never direct yourself because you lose all sense of critical perspective.

43. Loose Cannons – We all know how important food and family is to Italians, so when a son decides to announce that he is giving up his father’s pasta factory and that he is gay in the same evening (while sitting around the dinner table of course), all hell breaks loose. The dodgy behaviour from the hideously homophobic conservative family is only slightly worse than the stereotypically camp friends who arrive to sing Barbara Streisand in the shower.

44. Made in Dagenham – A fantastic story about unions, industrial action and worker’s rights with all the sharp edges smoothed off for the mass market. Bob Hoskins and Miranda Richardson can do these roles in their sleep; Rosamund Pike and Sally Hawkins are predictably willowy and irritating respectively, but it still looks and sounds lovely.

45. Mao’s Last Dancer – This heavily doctored biopic of defected Chinese dancer Li Cunxin is far from subtle in its anti-communist propaganda and doesn’t for one second question that there may be another way. Capitalism rules – and if it doesn’t; they’ll invade and change the result anyway. If you can focus on the excellent scenes of male ballet dancing and ignore the hokey politics you might enjoy it.

46. Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day – Amy Adams is less annoying than usual as she plays a particularly ditzy character, and Frances McDormand is sublime as ever in the sort of role usually reserved for Emma Thompson. Set in 1930s Britain, this light-hearted bedroom farce with a slight sense of urgency brought on by the imminent war is a better film than most rom com pap.

 47. Morris: A Life with Bells on – a wonderful mockumentary that affectionately examines the ‘seemingly innocent pub pastime for bearded men with hankies.’ It is filmed through a series of interviews set up in such crisp conditions they appear like portraits done by old masters, where every item in the picture is significant.

48. My Winnipeg (FS) – Canadians are weird; look no further for evidence than this film. Guy Maddin directs a documentary in black and white about his home town; the film has a deliberately hallucinogenic effect that lulls you into a sleepy sense of security before making you question as to whether any of this is actually true.

49. Nine – A musical male fantasy about the terminally self-obsessed writer/director Guido Contini, surrounded by glamorous women. The women have names, but these don’t matter as they are merely constructs to massage Guido’s ego and only exist in their relation to him; kind of Chicago for the boys.

50. Nine Queens (FS) – Argentineans make thrillers too; in this one some con-men set up a heist involving rare stamps. You just have to guess who is double crossing whom. Don’t ask me; we don’t trust them anyway!

51. Paris 36 – Murder, political intrigue, music hall actresses and 1930s Paris – what’s not to like? It’s charmingly sentimental and there’s no problem so great that it can’t be solved with a song and dance routine.

52. A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese Through American Movies (FS) – A better director than he is a personal speaker, Scorsese still has a few gems to impart about film. ‘Spectacle alone will never make a great film. The audience want real people who they can relate to.’ This lengthy documentary (3hours and 46 minutes) is delivered directly to the camera and broken up by voice-overs over classic films, and is more educational than entertaining, like a well-worded essay with clear examples.

53. The Proposal – To stay in America, Canadian publishing tycoon Margaret Tate (Sandra Bullock) orders her young assistant to marry her, in return for promotion and publishing his first novel. He finds her demanding and over-bearing, but they are forced to spend time in each other’s company and guess what happens next... Yes, last year’s Green Card is as predictable as it sounds.

54. Public Enemies – Johnny Depp plays America’s most wanted; bank robber, John Dillinger. Despite the clear shooting of 1930s Chicago with all its glitz and glamour, the decision to play Dillinger as a normal person rather than a gangster hero makes the film seem a little flat. Even the fantastic line, ‘I like baseball, movies, good clothes, fast cars, whiskey, and you... what else you need to know?’ doesn’t thrill the way it should.

55. The Red Baron – Probably the worst film I saw this year. Baron Manfred von Richthofen discovers that shooting people out of the sky isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. It was as though cartoon characters came to life, except the drawings themselves would have been more animated.

56. Scontro di Civilta per un Ascensore a Piazza Vittorio – all of the occupants of a multi-storey apartment are connected (literally) by the lift in the heart of the building. When Lorenzo Manfredini goes up in flames in the lift, it transpires that everyone had a motive for murder, which they intone in voice-overs throughout the film. As well as being an Italian version of an Agatha Christie drama, this is also a thought-provoking and memorable parable about integration and unity.

57. Shrek Forever After – The fourth film in the franchise is exactly what you would expect –a fine blend of myth, nursery rhyme, fairytale and popular film culture played out against an eclectic soundtrack. The moral of the story appears to be that true love lasts beyond the initial flush of romance, but we are warned, ‘It’s all just a big fairytale.’ The highlight is seeing Puss in Boots’ alter-ego as a fat cat.

58. Shutter Island – Leonardo di Caprio delivers a powerful performance in Martin Scorcese’s psychological drama set in 1954 and on a rock that looks a lot like Alcatraz. The perfectly pitched gothic delusions keep you guessing to the end and thinking about it long afterwards.

59. Somersault – One word: Why? The film received many plaudits for ‘newcomer, Abbie Cornish’. I can only imagine that this is because she takes her clothes off a lot. You might like it if you are a teenaged male, but if you are looking for some acting, plot, decent direction, character development, unpretentious cinematography, clever script... look away now.

60. Sunshine Cleaning – Quite a cute film with an unusual subject matter; a crime-scene clean-up business. Although Amy Adams is terminally annoying, Emily Blunt is my new favourite actress – the story is secondary to the characters, and at least they have some.

61. Summer in Berlin (FS) – Two female flatmates live in Berlin and try to get through daily life as best they can. They make bad romance and career choices and end up drinking, smoking and talking on the balcony. Judging from this, film director Andreas Dresen must be Germany’s answer to Mike Leigh.

62. Tokyo Story (FS) – One’s duty to one’s parents is always fraught with anguish. In this black-and-white film set in Japan it takes on cultural as well as generational divides. Shot largely from low angles, there is a sense of discomfort throughout.

63. A Very Long Engagement – Mathilde (Andre Tatou) searches for her fiancé, Manech (Gaspard Ulliel) who is missing presumed dead after the Battle of the Somme in WWI. She is persistent and manipulative, using her deformity (she had polio as a child) and her winning smile to obtain information. The many threads to the story are a little distracting as Mathilde tracks down anyone who might have known Manech, but they are all well-acting, including a star turn from a cycling postman (Jean-Paul Roave). The whole is sweet rather than saccharine.

64. La Vie en Rose – Absolutely brilliant: great acting; great singing; great cinematography; great film. End of.

65. Volver – I never liked Penelope Cruz until I saw this film. When she is acting in her own language (rather than the stilted oh-so-sultry characters she normally plays in English) she is natural and wonderful, and the cute family story is a great vehicle for her obvious talent.

66. Das Weisse Band – A black-and-white psychological drama about a small village in 1914 with a group of supposedly innocent children, where there are mysterious deaths, accidents, tortures and disappearances; a sort of Teutonic Crucible if you will. The director (Michael Haneke) asks should the sins of the fathers be revisited on the children and for how long. As he is German, there is obviously an ulterior motive for this question.

67. Wild Target – The stellar cast (Bill Nighy; Emily Blunt; Eileen Atkins; Rupert Grinch; Rupert Everett; Martin Freeman) prevents this predictable rom com/ art heist thriller from becoming stale and turgid, but it is still full of obvious gags and unlikely coincidences. What it lacks in plot (a lot) it fails to make up for in originality – the constant bitching and bickering between the leads assures us they will end up together (for that is comedy convention) even if the lack of chemistry and extreme age difference make this less than convincing.

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