Skip to main content

Don't call me a mindless philosopher, you overweight glob of grease.

Movies on My Mind
Week Ending 3 September 2016

Lists

I do like a good list. But a good list. While it’s fun enough to see Edgar Wright’s 1000 favourite movies in string formation, I’d rather have a paragraph or two about why some of them are on there what stands out about a particular choice.  It’s why lists in the likes of Empire (or, grief, Total Film) tend to offer countdowns as the least satisfying kind of filler, with no one on the staff attempting to say anything fresh or different about the movie in question; it’s production line puff. There have been a couple of interesting super lists appearing in the past few weeks, Empire’s 7 Favourite Movies, open to anyone, and the BBC’s critics’ choice of the 21st Century’s Top 100. They tend to skew to readily identifiable persuasions, the populist and pseud-ish respectively, but ‘twas ever thus.

While I do like a good chin-rub, I’ve always leant more towards the anti-pretentious in terms of the perceived quality of movies. Aspirant ideas and noble objectives, pregnant on subtext and sometimes avowedly anti-commercial, are fine and good, but I genuinely don’t find art house or international (read: foreign language) fare more likely to be superior to that produced by the mainstream. Both are equally subject to destructive whims, it’s simply that on the one hand they derive unvarnished from the “auteur” and on the other they may be foisted on a filmmaker from without.

Which is leading up to: the BBC list is actually quite balanced between the two, even if the closest it gets to all-out commercial is Pixar and the (good, but still) vastly overrated The Dark Knight. I’ve seen about 70 of the BBC 100, and maybe 25 of them would be instantly vying for attention on my list of favourites. Relatively few are ones I’d actually express dislike for (Melancholia, Spring Breakers, Moulin Rouge!), or even indifference towards; most are of definite merit, just not such merit that they vie for classic status. In terms of my own choices, I don’t really hold much truck with the “Best” versus “Favourite” argument, albeit I understand why people would go that route. My picks are all favourites, and I wouldn’t really be comfortable throwing a garland at picture I merely classified as highly “worthy” in some attempt at flawed objectivity.

It’s heartening to see too that some “respected” critics are content to throw in the likes of Madagascar 3, This is the End and Revenge of the Sith, which is at least a sign that favourite wins out over best in some books. Although, I’m hard-pressed to accept A Pigeon Sat on A Branch Reflecting on its Navel as the best film of the past 16 years in anyone’s book (or Shutter Island nudging a Top 10, for that matter, and certainly not Death Proof).

Of the Top 25, the only one I’d contend isn’t really all that is Boyhood (although I don’t think Lost in Translation and The Master are quite up there, I certainly rated them). Which brings me to another point. It’s not such an instantaneous thing even thinking of 10 favourites since 2000; maybe I’ve just become harder to please.

Ones that could easily have been on what follows but aren’t (for this week): Apocalypto, Inside Llewyn Davis, Mulholland Drive (I like how the cited review of this one can basically only say it’s really good, wrapped up in nonsense-babble), Wall-E, Zodiac, The Fellowship of the Ring, Inception, The Royal Tennenbaums, Children of Men, Pan’s Labyrinth, and Amelie.

10. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

9. In Bruges

8. Ratatouille

7. The Tree of Life

6. No Country for Old Men

5. The Grand Budapest Hotel

4. Mad Max: Fury Road

3. The Prestige

2. Cloud Atlas

1. Dean Spanley


As for Empire, it’s funny seeing some of the choices, but the actual Top 15 are just what you’d expect (and none of them bad, although some require dissection – Gump – and others (Rockys and Potters) are variable.

7. The Good the Bad and the Ugly

The best western of all time? Surely. Sergio Leone’s best film. It’s that or A Fistful of Dynamite/Duck You Sucker! (which isn’t in this Top 7, but might be in next week’s).

6. 2001: A Space Odyssey

And it is a trip. This is where Kubrick peaked for me. Having pushed the envelope as far as he could on the potential, the possible and the infinite, anything else had to be a retreat, no matter how inviting/alarming/blackly comic/mesmerising his encounters with Droogs, Napoleonic wars, hostile hotels, docklands warzones and masonic rituals would subsequently be.

5. The Big Lebowski

One of those pictures that has gone far beyond cult status, and has thus reached a kind of Withnail & I level of exhaustion with its over-exposure. Nevertheless, it’s a work of genius.

4. Kind Hearts and Coronets

Still as fresh, razor-sharp and hilarious as it was nearly 70 years ago. Dennis Price and Alex Guinness were never better, and Joan Greenwood is beyond beguiling.

3. The 'Burbs

If The Big Lebowski burst the cult barriers, Joe Dante looks set to remain entirely safe in his offbeat bubble, the aberration that was Gremlins aside. This is the picture that has grown most in devotion since his heyday, however, and rightly so. Tom Hanks best performance (controversial?) but it’s Bruce Dern who rocks the most.

2. The Adventures of Baron Munchausen

Brazil will forever be Gilliam’s triumph in the eyes of those anointing general acclaim, but this is the picture that most reflects his unquenchable spirit, vaunting ambition and over-extending imagination. And for a film with mortality constantly on its mind, it might just be his most positive work.

1. The President’s Analyst

James Coburn ranks as one of cinema’s great underrated stars. With his silver locks and tooth-bound grin, he appeared in a string of classic roles (Duck You Sucker!, Cross of Iron, Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, Hudson Hawk) that ought to overshadow his better known parts (Our Man Flint, The Magnificent Seven, The Great Escape). Best of all is this very much of its era but simultaneously timeless satire of culture, counter-culture, Cold War politics and pressurised presidents. 

The Mandela Effect

So did C-3P0 always have a silver leg? Did Dolly from Moonraker once have braces? Did Forrest’s mother always say life was like a box of chocolates? In the case of the latter, and without really wanting to trawl back through the movie to check, I’d be minded to suggest the confusion arises from Gump’s momma telling him it is like a box of chocolates at one point and his recounting it at another.

But the silver leg thing… I don’t remember that. And it does make much more sense for Dolly to have braces because… well, Jaws has braces. I mean, she’s adorable either way, but it was an instant signal they were simpatico.

And if they're genuine anomalies, symptoms of the Mandela Effect, does this mean the Hadron Collider is messing with out reality(ies)? With trifling trivialities such as these, ones that inevitably leave some of us askance and others putting it all down to age, faulty memories, or not paying enough damn attention in the first place? Anthony Daniels has said C3P-O definitely had a silver leg from the get-go, but as someone at the heart of any reality warping, he’d presumably have to be able to directly affirm it. Can we ask Oliver Stone if JFK’s car had four seats or six? I know he wasn’t there (well, I don't know, maybe he was, now), but if anyone has an opinion on it, he should. I don’t pay enough attention to cars to have a strong opinion on that one; I was just going back and to the left as instructed. And Does the lion lie down with the lamb in Isaiah 11:6 or does a wolf do the job instead?

Answer: Like Darth’s “Luke, I am your father”, it appears to have forever been a popular misquote. Much as I love a conspiracy, and doubt very much the Hadron Collider is doing anything commendable (at very least, a bunch of “whacky” science nerds are play-human sacrificing in carparks, a double-double bluff if ever there was one), the biblical quote suggests one of those repeated memes that has become the established form, rather than a CERN-complicit charge satanic conspiracy to change sacred scripture. Alternatively, if you want to keep a conspiratorial theme running, it could be latest distracting psyop.

Which doesn’t mean CERN isn’t heaving with Satan-worshipping scientists enacting their latest version of a  Babalon Working, just that these glitches in the matrix do seem to tend to elicit the skeptical/not really that crucial response. The problem is, which isn’t to doubt others wholly invested in this, that you read enough cumulative references to reported pop culture anomalies in songs, movies and TV (and deaths) and it leads the initially intriguing to become less than transfixing.

But the Hadron Collider. Still a bad thing. Quit with the human sacrifices, guys. Even the fake ones.

Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

What ho, Brinkley. So, do you think we’re going to get along, what?

Jeeves and Wooster 2.4: Jeeves in the Country  (aka Chuffy)
The plundering of Thank You, Jeeves elicits two more of the series’ best episodes, the first of which finds Bertie retiring to the country with a new valet, the insolent, incompetent and inebriate Brinkley (a wonderfully sour, sullen performance from Fred Evans, who would receive an encore in the final season), owing to Jeeves being forced to resign over his master’s refusal to give up the trumpet (“not an instrument for a gentleman”; in the book, it’s a banjulele).

Chuffnall Hall is the setting (filmed at Wrotham Park in Hertfordshire), although the best of the action takes place around Bertie’s digs in Chuffnall Regis (Clovelly, Devon), which old pal Reginald “Chuffy” Chuffnell (Marmaduke Lord Chuffnell) has obligingly rented him, much to the grievance of the villagers, who have to endure his trumpeting disrupting the beatific beach (it’s a lovely spot, one of the most evocative in the series).

Jeeves is snapped up into the e…

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Exit bear, pursued by an actor.

Paddington 2 (2017)
(SPOILERS) Paddington 2 is every bit as upbeat and well-meaning as its predecessor. It also has more money thrown at it, a much better villain (an infinitely better villain) and, in terms of plotting, is more developed, offering greater variety and a more satisfying structure. Additionally, crucially, it succeeds in offering continued emotional heft and heart to the Peruvian bear’s further adventures. It isn’t, however, quite as funny.

Even suggesting such a thing sounds curmudgeonly, given the universal applause greeting the movie, but I say that having revisited the original a couple of days prior and found myself enjoying it even more than on first viewing. Writer-director Paul King and co-writer Simon Farnaby introduce a highly impressive array of set-ups with huge potential to milk their absurdity to comic ends, but don’t so much squander as frequently leave them undertapped.

Paddington’s succession of odd jobs don’t quite escalate as uproariously as they migh…

That be what we call scringe stone, sir.

Doctor Who The Ribos Operation (1978)
Season 16 is my favourite season, so I’m inevitably of the view that it gets a bad rap (or a just plain neglected one), is underrated and generally unappreciated. Of its six stories, though, The Ribos Operation is probably the one, on balance, that receives the most accolades (on some days, it’s The Pirate Planet; many moons ago, back when DWAS was actually a thing of some relevance, The Stones of Blood won their season poll; there are also those who, rightly, extol the virtues of The Androids of Tara). I’m fully behind that, although truthfully, I don’t think there’s an awful lot between the first four stories. Why, I even have great affection for the finale. It’s only “KROLL! KROLL! KROLL! KROLL!” that comes up a bit short, which no doubt makes me a no good dryfoot, but there you are. If that Robert Holmes script is on the threadbare side, through little fault of his own, The Ribos Operation is contrastingly one of his very best, a hugely satisfyi…

I do… very competitive ice dancing.

Justice League (2017)
(SPOILERS) Superheroes, and superhero movies, trade in hyperbole, so it shouldn’t be surprising that DC’s two releases this year have been responded to in like, only each at opposite ends of the spectrum. Wonder Woman was insanely over-praised in the rush to fete a female superhero finally leading a movie, crushing all nuanced criticism in its wake. Justice League, meanwhile, has been lambasted on the basis that it’s more of the same as Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, only worse – to the extent there have been calls for a Zach Snyder Director’s Cut, which is quite an extent, as extents go – as it’s guilty of being an unholy clash of styles, grimdark Zach scowling in one corner and quip-happy Joss pirouetting in the other. And yes, the movie is consequently a mess, but it’s a relatively painless mess, with the sense to get in and get out again before the viewer has enough time to assess the full extent of the damage.

I think World War II was my favourite war.

Small Soldiers (1998)
An off-peak Joe Dante movie is still one chock-a-block full of satirical nuggets and comic inspiration, far beyond the facility of most filmmakers. Small Soldiers finds him back after a six-year big screen absence, taking delirious swipes at the veneration of the military, war movies, the toy industry, conglomerates and privatised defence forces. Dante’s take is so gleefully skewed, he even has big business win! The only problem with the picture (aside from an indistinct lead, surprising from a director with a strong track record for casting juveniles) is that this is all very familiar.

Dante acknowledged Small Soldiers was basically a riff on Gremlins, and it is. Something innocuous and playful turns mad, bad and dangerous. On one level it has something in common with Gremlins 2: The New Batch, in that the asides carry the picture. But Gremlins 2 was all about the asides, happy to wander off in any direction that suited it oblivious to whether the audience was on …

‘Cos I’m the gringo who always delivers.

American Made (2017)
(SPOILERS) This is definitely more the sort of thing Tom Cruise should be doing, a movie that relies both on his boyish™ charm and at least has pretensions of ever so slightly pushing the envelope of standard multiplex fare, rather than desperately attaching himself to an impersonal franchise (The Mummy) or flailingly attempting to kick start one (Jack Reacher: Never Go Back); remember when Cruise wouldn’t even go near sequels (for about 20 years, The Color of Money aside, and then only the one series)? American Made is still victim to the tendency of his movies to feel superstar-fitted rather than remaining as punchy as they might be on paper (Made’s never quite as satirically sharp as it wants to be), but it at least doesn’t lead its audience by the nose.

You diabolical mastermind, you.

The Avengers Season 4 Ranked – Worst to Best
Season Four is generally held up as the pinnacle of The Avengers, and it certainly maintains the greatest level of consistency in the run. Nevertheless, as I noted a few reviews back, one viewer’s classic is another’s ho-hum with this show, perhaps because it doesn’t elicit the same kind of exhaustive fandom to establish any level of consensus as some series. There follows my Worst to Best ranking of the season, told mostly in pictures. The index for full episode reviews can be found here.

Rejoice! The broken are the more evolved. Rejoice.

Split (2016)
(SPOILERS) M Night Shyamalan went from the toast of twist-based filmmaking to a one-trick pony to the object of abject ridicule in the space of only a couple of pictures: quite a feat. Along the way, I’ve managed to miss several of his pictures, including his last, The Visit, regarded as something of a re-locating of his footing in the low budget horror arena. Split continues that genre readjustment, another Blumhouse production, one that also manages to bridge the gap with the fare that made him famous. But it’s a thematically uneasy film, marrying shlock and serious subject matter in ways that don’t always quite gel.

Shyamalan has seized on a horror staple – nubile teenage girls in peril, prey to a psychotic antagonist – and, no doubt with the best intentions, attempted to warp it. But, in so doing, he has dragged in themes and threads from other, more meritable fare, with the consequence that, in the end, the conflicting positions rather subvert his attempts at subversion…

You’re never the same man twice.

The Man Who Haunted Himself (1970)
(SPOILERS) Roger Moore playing dual roles? It sounds like an unintentionally amusing prospect for audiences accustomed to the actor’s “Raise an eyebrow” method of acting. Consequently, this post-Saint pre-Bond role (in which he does offer some notable eyebrow acting) is more of a curiosity for the quality of Sir Rog’s performance than the out-there premise that can’t quite sustain the picture’s running time. It is telling that the same story was adapted for an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents 15 years earlier, since the uncanny idea at its core feels like a much better fit for a trim 50 minute anthology series.

Basil Dearden directs, and co-adapted the screenplay from Anthony Armstrong’s novel The Strange Case of Mr Pelham. Dearden started out with Ealing, helming several Will Hay pictures and a segment of Dead of Night (one might imagine a shortened version of this tale ending up there, or in any of the portmanteau horrors that arrived in the year…