Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Films seen in 2010: Part Two

But wait, there's more: here's the second installment...

21. Date Night – Tina Fey and Steve Carrel are forced to play a variety of roles in this action/rom com when they are mistaken for big-time criminals. Their clutzy, clumsy, running into things shtick is light and entertaining, and there are also some original action sequences – a tug of war between two interlocked cars; domestic squabbles in the middle of a gunfight; and perhaps the funniest pole dancing you’ve ever seen. And it begins with The Ramones singing Blitzkrieg Bop so it can’t be all bad.

22. The Day the Earth Stood Still (FS) – This was deservedly a classic of time (1951); it’s still a classic of our times. The ‘special effects’ aren’t particularly spectacular by today’s standards (Klaatu wears a shiny silver shell-suit) but the politics (in which the aliens land on earth and tell us we must stop waging war on each other or we will destroy our planet) are remarkably familiar.

23. Daybreakers – In 2019 a plague has converted almost everyone into vampires and blood is swiftly running out. There’s got to be another way, according to researcher Ethan Hawke, but capitalist greed drives those who control the market and so keep the prices high – Sam Neill. This fails to be the analogy it wants because it can’t rise above the banality of the dialogue.

24. Die Hard with a Vengeance – Bruce Willis teams up with Samuel L Jackson to save New York from psychotic bomber Jeremy Irons. It may be fifteen years old, but if chase sequences, explosions and action plots are your thing, then it’s still a pretty good example of the genre. Yippee ki yay, motherf*%#er!

25. Disgrace – This film follows the book so faithfully, I wondered why anyone had bothered to make the film, unless it is just another chance to prove that John Malkovich is indeed, odd. If so, mission accomplished. There’s some stark and powerful imagery leaving nowhere to hide for the ugly nature of apartheid and its consequences.

26. District 9 – Township Johannesburg is invaded by aliens resembling giant prawns in a strangely moving and thought-provoking exposé of human behaviour. Directed in a fake documentary style, Neill Blomkamp manages to infuse stereotypical storytelling devices with a fresh twist. Some excellent performances and domestic politics make this a low-budget triumph.

27. Easy Virtue – So much better than I had expected, and probably equally appealing to both the British and American market. When a young Englishman marries a glamorous American and brings her home to meet the family, there is a delicious culture clash heightened by an intriguing soundtrack. Based on Noel Coward’s play, there are farcical elements but no warmth.

28. Faintheart – LARP-ing (Live Action Role Play) isn’t what you expect from an action hero, which is why this is a comedy. Eddie Marsan shows his sensitive side as he re-enacts eleventh-century battles and tries to win back his son and his ex-wife. Nice enough but nothing spectacular.

29. Fifty Dead Men Walking – An IRA film that doesn’t take sides? That’s probably because the director is Canadian (Kari Skogland) and the acting talent is British (Jim Sturgess and Ben Kingsley) rather than American. This is a political/action thriller that doesn’t spout platitudes and no-one makes any mawkish speeches about being a free man.

30. Flame and Citron – Two men in the Danish resistance during WWII start to worry that they may be being used to settle personal scores rather than secure political motives. It’s so focussed on playing up the uncertainty of the assassins that it loses its way and the plot becomes disconnected.

31. Good – Not all Nazis were nasty, apparently. Viggo Mortensen tries to convince that some were just caught up in events, but all actions have consequences, fame comes at a price, and this isn’t the best example of either platitude. I’m also still not convinced by Viggo Mortensen as anything but a slightly sulky ring fellow.

32. Green Zone – Matt Damon stars in this war film about the search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and the consequences of their lack of appearance. Paul Greengrass directs one incident in Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s brilliant book, and the film manages not to be too bad either.

33. The Grocer’s Son – This French tale is pleasant without being pretentious and you slowly grow to like the honesty of the well-acted characters. Although they don’t really do anything, they do it endearingly in beautiful scenery. Sometimes less really is more.

34. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Part One) – I miss Hogwarts. As with the books, I prefer the Enid Blyton to the JRR Tolkein aspects. From an exciting magical romp, the story turns into a pedestrian quest , and not even the majesty of Malham Cove can lift the tale from the slough of despond. As the first installment of the seventh part of the story, this was inevitably going to suffer from over-exposition. There are hints and flashbacks aplenty (with extra cameos for departed characters) but the story itself is stilted and reined in; waiting for the final episode to unleash the great battle between the force and the dark side.

35. The Hurt Locker – One that actually does deserve the Oscar. War is disturbing and there are no easy answers, either for the elite bomb squad in Iraq or for us on the sofa at home, watching the almost unbearably tense drama unfold. It is appalling, but for some it is also appealing and who is to say who is right? The best film of last year.

36. The Informant – Matt Damon plays against type and the result is both believable and entertaining. Bumbling and beefed up, he is a naive whistle-blower trying to protect honest folk from corporate greed. Or is he? The humour is subtle rather than sledge-hammer and the tone is sardonic rather than slick. Director Steven Soderbergh has done a great job with this material.

37. Inglourious Basterds – Tarantino does WWII in the film a lot of people were waiting for. Although there are some excellent long sequences of dialogue and tension, it’s nothing you haven’t seen before from Tarantino and in fact, the heavy-handed mix of comedy and gore doesn’t sit well with the horrors of the Holocaust. Yes, it’s still too soon, but more than enough for me from the geek-genius.

38. Into the Wild – When I read the book, I thought Christopher McCandless was a spoiled little rich kid who made some stupid decisions that led to his untimely death, and I didn’t really care. Sean Penn’s direction elicits a sympathy that was absent from the original narrative – is this because Hollywood has to identify with the hero?

39. Iron Man 2 – Over-the-top fight scenes and action sequences featuring guns, cars, machines, weaponry and lots of explosions are ten-a-penny, but as we’re talking Robert Downey Jnr. there is still a smattering of humour and flawed genius. There are spies, baddies, double-crossing, a love interest and textbook narcissism which leads to (or is the result of?) a strained father/son relationship. But really, it’s all about the toys.

40. Knight and Day – Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz are both good action heroes but they have no chemistry together. This is still entertaining enough as an action-thriller as an everyday girl is caught up in extraordinary events. The set pieces race along although they don’t connect with any credibility.

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