Nightman’s Least Favourite Movies Of 2004!

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This year was a whopper for seeing films which either pissed me off or let me down. SO much so that I have a few dishonourable mentions to get through first. Troy was the latest in the mini battle-epic trend which erupted in the wake of LOTR. It’s not a bad film by any means, but given that the books the movie is based on are the single greatest pieces of written art in history… it kind of deserved better. If you’re going to adapt The Illiad in a single film then you’re not going to get much better than this, but that’s precisely the problem – that book deserves a trilogy, connected to a trilogy for The Aeneid and The Odyssey. Do it like LOTR did things, and you’ll have some of the best movies ever made. The Notebook is one of those Nicholas Sparks things – you know, soppy romances for soppy humans – someone always has a rare disease, the characters are always cardboard cut outs – you know the deal. It’s the same as all the others. King Arthur is the movie I confuse Robin Hood with. Any of the Robin Hood’s actually. I think Keira Knightly was in this one. A classic story with an engaging mythology and room for plenty and ripe for a fitting adventure story boiled down to a Cockney night out.

Sideways takes a bunch of irritating twats you’d be praised for stabbing in real life, played by performers I don’t care about made by a Director who is yet to have made a single thing I’ve liked. Actually, Nebraska was fine. Casshern is a movie I used to make people watch just because how damn cool it looked back in the day. There wasn’t really anything like it. But it’s completely incomprehensible. It would be, presumably, like showing someone the sixth Harry Potter movie when they haven’t seen any of the others, or read the books, or speak English. I’m not sure whether it should be on my favourites list or this one. Alfie is a badly cast, ill-advised remake. The first worked because of 60s culture. The Noughties were a cultural void and London hasn’t been relevant in decades – moving the action to New York they should have just cast a native. Jude Law… Jude Law has looked human in precisely two movies, and ironically in one of those he was a vampire. The Wisdom Of Crocodiles and The Talented Mr Ripley. Every other movie who sort of looks like an emaciated squirrel. Izo was a Takashi Miike film I looked forward to – the synopsis of which (which may be the greatest of all time) is simply that a lethal killer goes back in time for the express purpose of killing, well, everyone. That’s the film. Like Casshern, I’m not sure if it should be on this list or on my actual favourites – it has a ridiculous cast, but there is almost no plot, the violence is over the top yet after a while it loses whatever made it amusing in the first place, it’s epic but way too long – all in all I was disappointed. Now lets move onto the top ten.

Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind

This is the one which most people who watch movies, fancy themselves a critic, or pass by my blog will shout about. It has pedigree from top to bottom in the cast and the crew. The performances are really the only thing going for it in my mind, with people being ‘shocked’ Carrey could do serious stuff even though he already had. But it’s just another one of those manic pixie dream girl movies, with Kate Winslet not being best suited to such ideals. Michael Gondry’s visual style and general movies are not things I’m a big fan of and it all comes across as too cutesy and twee, no matter how much soap-lite tragedy is plastered all over it. Add in a Charlie Kaufman script, whose stuff always sounds more interesting to me than it ever ends up being, and who almost never makes me care about any of the characters and we have a film with a good idea which doesn’t scratch any of my itches. It’s Total Recall, but without the violence and with only two breasts.

The Chronicles Of Riddick

I saw Pitch Black on release night and loved it. As a big Farscape fan at the time, it was cool to see Claudia Black on the big screen, and as a sci-fi horror dude it was great seeing a new voice hitting the scene. It seemed like a cult hit in the waiting and felt like it would make the careers of several of those involved. While it didn’t quite turn out that way, it still led to a couple of belated sequels. This first sequel, is a turd. The first film was simplicity tied up in a complex world. Alien feels complex when it is simply a story of cat and mouse – Pitch Black works so well because it played the same trick. The Chronicles Of Riddick adds layer upon layer of new faces, mythology, and useless plot, and in the end it feels less like a film, more like a visual glossary for study purposes.

Resident Evil: Apocalypse

Back when the first Resident Evil was released, I was a fan of the games. RE 2 was my favourite and while the first movie was ultimately a let down and only related to the games in the most surface way, I was still keen to see more. That has always been my history with the movie series to be honest – thinking that maybe they’ll get it right with the next one. Apocalypse is the worst of the bunch, largely due to the terrible, truly awful, direction by Alexander Witt. It’s an ugly, ugly film, the action is distorted to be unrecognizable, and the story – not that it matters much – descends so far into convoluted guff that the series never recovered. At least the later films had fun buying into how ridiculous it all was. Uwe Boll wishes he made a film this bad.

Bridget Jones: The Edge Of Reason

As if the first one was bad enough, shit enabling, fake plastic people trip-trapping from one quirky mishap to the next, we knew there would have to be a sequel. It’s more of the same really, but even more predictable. More worthless characters, terrible dialogue straight from the quill of a Carrie Bradshaw fan-fiction wannabee, and poncey hair whose sole purpose seems to be to encourage terror attacks on London.

Closer

Billed as a return to form for Mike Nichols, it certainly seemed that way when he brought together a decent cast and garnered positive reviews. When I first heard about it I was more interested in the Natalie Portman pole-dancing stuff. Alas, when I got around to seeing it there was little of the spark of Nichols’ earlier work. Instead we got a cold, grey, depressing look at relationships in the 21st Century where no-one is ever happy and everyone wants to be somebody else, but fails to say anything insightful about such a state of existence. The only notable point worth bringing up with regards to the script is the amount of swearing as it seeks to rival motherfucking Goodfellas, but the characters are faux-articulate walking lungs, mindlessly wandering through life just like a used condom traverses a swamp.

Blade Trinity

Also known as Blade: Ryan Reynolds Is A Twat.

9 Songs

There were some positive movements in British music in the early Noughties. None of those are used in this turd. Modern Britain’s answer to, well Confessions Of A Window Cleaner, it’s a series of kind of explicit sex scenes between two of the least screen-friendly performers you’d want to see getting their kit off and having their respective parts sucked. It’s empty and vapid and without merit as a narrative, the music is shit, and you can’t even wank to it because everyone is so ugly.

Ab-Normal Beauty

Ever since first catching Bangkok Dangerous and proclaiming it as one of the greatest films of all time, I’ve tried to catch everything the Pang Brothers have made – together or on their own. That has led me to crap like this – another good idea let down by too much plot, too many misguided attempts at artistry, and by making little sense. This one is about a conflicted, complex woman who becomes obsessed with death after seeing and photographing a car crash. It makes the list because not a lot happens, it’s difficult to find any point to it all, and it’s such a letdown when we know what the brothers are capable of.

Survive Style + 5

Did I get this free on Amazon? I think I did, otherwise I’d be horrified that I paid for it. In fact I’ve probably reviewed here on the blog. I know a lot of the Japanese stuff I watch is incomprehensible without actually being Japanese (I’m speaking from a cultural standpoint), but this is on another level – as well as simply being crap. Going back to it, it has its moments – the great Tadanobu Asano features in one segment, his is probably the most interesting one as he repeatedly kills his wife only for her to keep coming back. The stories loosely intertwine but it’s messy and manic, and beyond scratching that itch for some offbeat Japanese weirdness, it doesn’t offer much.

Let us know in the comments which movies would make your list!

The Stuff

The Stuff is another one of those movies which was just out of my reach in childhood. I was born in 1983, so many of the classic VHS titles of the 80s were familiar to me, but I couldn’t get near them until the DVD boom or today’s streaming. Thanks to a bunch of older friends and relatives, and older siblings of my friends, and thanks to be frequent jaunts into the video stores in my town, there was always a list of titles floating around my head as movies I absolutely had to see at all costs. In many cases these were movies which those acquaintances spoke of in hushed tones – everything from Basic Instinct to Evil Dead.  In mot cases it was the VHS artwork which caught my eye and solidified the movie’s position in my hallowed list. The Stuff had a great cover – some dude’s melting face, writhing in agony and despair as some sort of white gunk spilled from his empty eye sockets and mouth. Surely it was the greatest film of all time?

The Stuff  isn’t the greatest film ever made, but it is one of Larry Cohen’s best. Before I knew who he was, and before I’d seen The Stuff I was already familiar with his work. Q The Winged Serpent was a personal favourite of my youth and Return To Salem’s Lot was a curious sequel. Once I became more savvy towards film it became obvious that Cohen was somewhat of a political filmmaker – his often not too subtle satire veiled under the shlock of the time and other B Movie delights. The Stuff is no different, a clear attack on big business, advertising, consumerism, and the herd mentality of created needs and addiction. Surprisingly, it’s not the goriest film in the world – The Stuff (is it wrong that it looks delicious and I want to try it?) does frequently spurt from people but more often than not you simply see it slushing and slithering around like a gelatinous mass or worm, as it does a Body Snatchers number on whoever tastes it. Interestingly, Cohen would go on to write the story for Abel Ferrara’s 90s Body Snatchers movie.

So if it’s not overly gory, and if it has all this overt political stuff in its plot, why should the less discerning Horror viewer want to watch? Well, because Michael Moriarty. Here he is at his most smug, smarmy best – all Wall Street suits and ties, a walking ballbag of quips and testosterone who doesn’t appear to have thrown a punch in his life yet is just as efficient in a fight to the death as James Bond. His character is hired by a bunch of unsavoury Ice Cream moguls, seriously, to investigate the makers of The Stuff and find out what it is to either shut it down or share a slice of the pie. As he investigates he learns a lot more and finds his dubious allegiances tested. Along the way he meets a kid escaping from his Stuff-obsessed family, a hot executive, an old friend/rival, and a gun totin ex-military maniac. It’s like The A-Team, but weird. It’s also quite funny, and all the more amusing in retrospect thanks to the effects and how advertising works today.

As much as 80s Satires go, The Stuff is right up there with the most outlandish but effective. Cohen always makes an interesting movie and Moriarty always does whatever the hell he wants. Don’t go in, like 8 year old me did, expecting a bloody, scary, melt-fest. Go in expecting a few chuckles and some charming nostalgia and weirdness, and it gets the job done.

Nightman’s Updated Favourite Films Of 2005!

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So 2005 is another one of those years where I forgot a bunch of movies I love and didn’t include them in my original list – silly boy. I’m going to update it to 11 – adding a new film which should have knocked Land Of The Dead off the list first time round. The order doesn’t really matter anyway. In my almosts, I’m adding a few of the great films I forgot about too,

Corpse Bride is that rare ‘modern’ Tim Burton movie which reminds us that he can be a great filmmaker when he’s doing his own thing. It’s just creepy enough to make the kids snuggle up to you on the sofa, but not scary enough to give them nightmares. It has the Tim Burton look and style, and is enjoyable for the whole family. The Devil’s Rejects is also fun for the whole family, if your family are inbred murderers of the Texan variety. It’s probably still Rob Zombie’s most enjoyable movie and the distilled prime example of everything he is as a filmmaker – that Southern vibe, that 70s grindhouse look and style, sadistic characters, sick humour, and lashings of violence. It’s a sequel to House Of A Thousand Corpses – but you don’t really need to have seen it first, though it’s good too. A History Of Violence is Cronenberg, so it should be one any film fan’s list regardless. It takes him in a fresh new direction from his body horror roots, acting more like a twisting drama filled with secrets. Viggo Mortensen firmly leaves Aragorn behind with a chilling performance in this one, and everybody else is good.

Serenity was Joss Whedon’s first bash at big screen stardom, a fan-pleasing coda to the short-running Firefly. I’m not as huge a fan of the show as most, but the film is a fun watch. Election is Johnnie To’s finest work, almost up there with Infernal Affairs but focuses more on the criminal underbelly than twists and double-crosses. It’s another must watch once you get into Hong Kong cinema.

11. Noroi (Japan) Koji Shiraishi

Found footage and creepy Japanese long-haired shenanigans – that’s possibly a hard-sell. I know plenty of horror fans who dislike one or both of those sub-genres but usually I persuade them to watch by saying that while found-footage it isn’t run around the woods nausea inducing, and while there are long-haired shenanigans they are not of the Ringu or Ju-On variety. On top of that, the director had a history within the found footage genre to the extent that by the time he made Noroi he was savvy enough to deliver the unexpected, and he would go on to make the notoriously nasty Grotesque. 

Noroi follows a film-maker and documentary expert on the paranormal who is working on his latest show – investigating a curse and a number of people who claim to be embroiled in different types of paranormal activity. We see his capturing of these incidents and over time the word, or name ‘Kagutaba’ comes up repeatedly. Without getting into spoilers, the stories are somehow connected and a sordid history of abortions, theft, murder and all sorts of goodness oozes out. It’s a film which doesn’t go near jump-scares or obvious answers but instead succeeds because it’s so unnerving and goes places where few films dare to tread. It’s also one where you need to watch all the way to the end for some mid-credits extras. If you want a J-Horror film which doesn’t fit the mold and which hardly anyone knows of, you can’t do much better than Noroi. 

10: Land Of The Dead (US) George A Romero

Back to our original Top Ten – I was as hyped as anyone when it was announced that Romero was returning to the genre he created, decades after. So it’s not as good as his first three Dead movies, but it’s still a fun ride, and it’s still political. Moving the action to a more familiar location (of sorts) it’s set in the present day in a world which has learned to survive alongside the walking dead. Quite understandably, the wealthy are still safe from most of the problems the rest of the world face, living in skyscrapers while everyone else slums it on the streets, protected by the military, the average gun-toting civvy, and by a convenient river acting as a moat. Dennis Hopper is one such rich guy, hamming it up in one of his most amusing final roles, while John Leguizamo and Simon Baker play two soldiers who make dangerous journeys in a Mad Max style souped up vehicle for medical supplies and more. Leguizamo shines as the opposing force to Hopper’s white politician and there are a slew of in-jokes and cameos to enjoy. Mostly it’s an excuse to give Romero a big budget and let a master do what he pleases. In the wake of The Walking Dead it does feel a little like 1 series of that show condensed into a single movie, but it’s also a thank you to the fans.

9: Hostel (US) Eli Roth

I feel very much that this is the one film most likely to drop off my list when I get around to seeing more movies from this year. Eli Roth is always hit and miss for me – his humour is usually very misjudged though generally the ideas are sound. Hostel is notorious as a standard bearer for torture porn – an excuse to cut up nameless nobodies for our entertainment. There’s  much to be said in support and opposition to that statement, the obvious political asides being as simple as using the template as a satire on US Imperialism and as an extreme reaction to the torture tactics used by terrorists, military, and government alike. While I won’t say Hostel is clever, I will say it’s not as dumb as most people think. It’s just a bloody good time which takes mainstream US brutality to new levels as it follows a group of Millennial backpackers who are captured in Europe and find themselves as unwilling guinea pigs in some sort of Millionaire-led murder business. Basically, if you have enough money, you can pay to hurt and kill another human in whatever way you please – with our protagonists being the victims. There’s plenty of blood and to Roth’s credit the first half of the movie is spent trying to get to know these people. There’s not a lot to know about them, but at least they’re not standard slasher fodder.

8: A Bittersweet Life (SK) Kim Jee Woon

A Bittersweet Life is another prime example of the sort of boundary pushing film Hollywood used to make but seems to have given up on in lieu of treading increasingly safe and tame waters. The plot of the film itself is safe, tame – a hitman is employed by his boss to kill the boss’s cheating girlfriend, and he refuses. Stuff happens. What raises it is the fact that Kim Jee Woon directs – expanding upon his eye for detail and grim truths as exemplified in his previous film A Tale Of Two Sisters. He has found a niche in capturing breathtakingly beautiful shots against horrifying or violent backdrops and situations, and he rarely cares for conventions. Throw in Lee Byung-hun as the hitman with a change of heart who keeps everything grounded. Like any number of South Korean movies from this period – it’s a must-see.

7: Sympathy For Lady Vengeance (SK) Chan Wook Park

The final entry in Park’s esteemed trilogy is maybe the weakest, probably my least favourite, but still head and shoulders over 90% of what was released this year. It may be the most accomplished and beautiful of the bunch. Like the first two films it is presented as a straightforwards revenge story, but as revenge is never clean there are plenty of twists and complexities. It follows a woman (Lee Young-ae) as a woman just released from prison for a murder she didn’t commit, and her quest to hunt down the real perp. Starting out as a seemingly reformed model prisoner due to newfound spirituality, we slide down her rabbit hole and are dragged along another characteristically grim tale. As with the above entry – this one demands your attention.

6: Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (US) Shane Black

Without knowing it for much of my life, Shane Black had been one of my favourite people for most of my life. Predator has been an all time favourite of mine for as long as I can remember but in my younger days, while I knew the character names, I really only remembered Arnie’s name when it came to the cast. Later he would three further all time favourites – The Long Kiss Goodnight, The Last Boy Scout, and Last Action Hero. It wasn’t until I started to think about how movies were made and who made them that I began to connect the dots. Of course by that point he had dropped off the face of the planet, seemingly to never return. Then  it was announced he would be directing his first film – this is the result. There’s no way I wasn’t going to at least enjoy this, but it’s a typically incisive, funny, violent story with the usual macho leanings upgraded for a new decade. It’s great to see Val Kilmer back on screen, it was a launch pad for Downey Jr to get back on track. It’s more of a Noir than anything he had done till that point, but his trademark writing keeps it unique as 100% Black.

5: The Descent (UK) Neil Marshall

Neil Marshall had gained my attention a few years earlier with his debut Dog Soldiers – an adventurous werewolf movie with more comparisons to Aliens than any Universal classic. The Descent drops much of the fun of that movie, dispenses with the more macho influences, and instead gives us one of the most tense, atmospheric, and claustrophobic movies in recent years. It’s the best of a spate of similar sounding movies from the period which saw a group of travelers going into some sort of underground world and meeting with various mishaps. Where this one differs is with its reliance on character and emotion – yes it’s a film about being trapped underground, yes it’s a film about the monstrous creatures which you may find once trapped, but it’s also a film about grief and guilt, about escape and resilience, about friendship and loss. Marshall also wisely makes the first half of the movie simply about these women, their fears and motivations, and their struggles to keep it together once they head into hell. It’s a shock then when the first creature does appear, and the film takes on a new edge. My only complaint remains that the cast are too similar in features which can make distinguishing them in the gloom problematic first time around.

4: The 40 Year Old Virgin (US) Judd Apatow

Much of the comedies which have been successful this decade and up till present day haven’t worked for me, either descending or focusing on bro-bullshit or because the dialogue is delivered in this faux unscripted manner. Or simply because they’re not very funny. Judd Apatow sometimes strikes the right balance between juvenile humour and honesty, a blend smoothed out by likable performers and a solid script. The 40 Year Old Virgin is probably my favourite of his movies with plenty of zingers and a more refined Carrell who doesn’t need to do his whole straight man-The Office-shouty shtick. For the most part. Of course the usual Apatow pals show up in supporting roles but the clincher is having Catherine Keener as the object of Carrell’s affections.

3: Revenge Of The Sith (US) George Lucas

For a while it seemed like this was the end – the culmination of Lucas’s grand plan. Since then Disney has released another 15 Star Wars movies and has plans for another 83. Per year. Jokes! Revenge Of The Sith, is easily the best of the prequels. It’s not without its faults, with Padme being reduced to a birth vessel and the whole not being as emotionally powerful as it should have been. I think that’s more of a fault with how the trilogy was laid out, with casting from the outset, and an overburdened script that was never set up to allow us to scream, cheer, and cry. But still, it has some of the best action of the whole series, it does feel like the collapse of good and the success of evil, and Ian McDiarmud deserved an Oscar nomination at the very least for his performance.

2: Sin City (US) Frank Miller/Robert Rodriguez/Quentin Tarantino

The benchmark for visually unique and authentic comic book movies, Sin City nails the tone, look, and dialogue of Miller’s series – a collage of disturbing and violent and sexually charged intersecting stories which truly does feel like flicking through the ragged pages of a seedy comic you picked up on a whim for a few bucks before the last metro home. Rodriquez and Tarantino both do their thang and pull together a terrific ensemble, including such repulsive and creepy creations as whatever the hell Elijah Wood and Nick Stahl are supposed to be. It’s a mixture of pulp, thriller, action, with obvious twisted noir principles, swept along with a cool, detached pace.

1: Batman Begins (US/UK) Christopher Nolan

It’s in my Top Movies Of The Decade post, so if you want to read my thoughts, go check it.

How Many Of My Films Were In The Top 10 Grossing Of The Year: Two

How Many Of My Films Were Nominated For the Best Picture Oscar: None

Let us know your picks in the comments!

Nightman’s Least Favourite Movies Of 2006!

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Welcome back. No doubt there will be some turkeys this year, and probably a few bad movies. Lets see what I picked.

Nanny McPhee

This was one of those films which rubbed me wrong (and not in a good way) from the beginning. The title, the cast, the trailer, it was something I convinced myself I would never like, and hopefully never see. These sorts of British comedies fill me with bile and it reminded me, obviously, of Mary Poppins, which I can’t stand. But wouldn’t you know, once the kids come along you inevitably get pulled into watching stuff like this, especially when my wife keeps telling me the kids can’t watch Robocop. In all fairness it wasn’t as bad as I was anticipating and it’s perfectly fine for kids. There wasn’t as much singing and polite ‘humour’ as I had feared would be there, but it’s not as inventive or interesting as it thinks it is. So this makes the list purely for being one of those movies I will never like, but kids might enjoy it. Not as much as they would enjoy Robocop.

Ultraviolet

On paper it seemed like a no-brainer; Milla Johovich, vampires, tight clothes, guns – it was basically Underworld. Unfortunately it doesn’t make a lick of sense and it lacks a single cell of the style of Kate Beckinsale’s vamp slaying series. When it comes to crap like this, I’m not hard to please – hot woman killing monsters – go! Not everything can be elevated to Buffy levels but it’s not difficult to knock out a better than average brainless action flick. It has been highly publicized that director Kurt Wimmer and Johovich were blocked out of several aspects of the movie which goes some way to explaining what a complete mess this is. Wimmer went from the pretty great Equilibrium to this – and hasn’t directed a movie since.

V For Vendetta

What a load of egotistical tosh. A film with so many words but absolutely nothing to say, preaching in the echo chamber of basement dwelling fanboys and faux anarchists whose idea of rebellion is celebrating when the train conductor forgets to check them for a ticket and they get away scot-free. A film which unleashed a bunch of teenage freedom fighters so brave they fight behind a mask and a screen. It’s a film with a message so bland that any extremist from any angle can hold it as sacred. It’s the politics of entitled suburbia, or in truth it’s politics for profit – just like every politician you claim to despise. If these people were in charge of a Revolution, I’d want to be on the other side. Plus it’s almost as incoherent and drab as Ultraviolet. Almost. Do a faithful retelling of Moore’s work, then we might have something worthwhile. Sadly it’s one I was hyped for – it looked great from early pics, it features Natalie Portman, it…. had cool masks. Pull the mask off and you have little more than misguided nihilism and a generic story about a fight against a totalitarian state. It’s a film I wanted to love, but it just made it so damn hard, like a dog who keeps shitting in your shoes. While wearing a mask which clearly makes it look like an idiot.

X-Men The Last Stand

Bryan Singer made two of the best comic book movies ever in his first two X-Men flicks. He stepped down for part three, and it all fell apart. Brett Ratner, whose career remains a mystery to anyone who has ever seen a film or been near another human, took over, slapped a helmet on Vinnie Jones and let him headbutt doors. You take the well established characters and their relationships, piss all over them, kill most of them off, and ignore the series’ own mythology. And lo, what was left was the worst comic book movie since Superman IV: Nuclear Dude. 

Superman Returns

Singer dropped from X-Men for Superman. Back then, when I cared more about such things, I was hyped. Then I watched it and eehhhhhhhh. I guess Routh looks good in a cape. Eva Marie Saint’s in it. Kevin Spacey is Kevin Spacey, pretending to be Lex Luthor – and Luthor has never looked so tame. Does anyone remember what happened in the film? Something about Lois being pissed off that Superman flew away? Then stuff blows up? It never made me care and I have no interest in revisiting.

Dead Man’s Chest

Black Pearl was one of the most fun adventures for years – unique and with a great cast, pace, and plenty of thrilling action. Dead Man’s Chest, like all of the sequels, should really be called Pirates Of The Caribbean: Which One’s This Again? Guys, it’s a movie based off a rollercoaster – the original had a simple plot. By the time this rolled around it ballooned into one of the most needlessly convoluted plots you’ve ever had the displeasure of not giving a fuck about, the amount of retcons is ridiculous, and the cast clearly don’t want to be there. It looks good though. Like boobs.

Little Miss Sunshine

I picked this up as part of some buy 5 DVDs for x quid in an Xtravision closing sale shortly after this was released because my wife ‘had heard it was good’. Now, movie fan that I am, I knew it had been an Indie critical darling and had one or two names in the cast I enjoyed. Maybe it was the hype, maybe it was all the awards and praise it had received, but when I watched this – with a completely straight face growing more dour with every passing minute – I wondered how much the filmmakers had paid The Academy to get all those glowing reviews. I don’t get why this is a comedy. Comedies, even when they’re bad, have jokes, wit, something. This has a bunch of twats in a van and then one of them dances and it’s over. My wife, who would be more inclined towards this sort of thing shifted in her seat uncomfortably when it ended, looked at me, and said ‘sorry’. Making me watch this, she knew, was the equivalent of cheating, and she felt just as guilty as if I’d caught her in bed with the postman.

The Black Dahlia

American Crime novels getting a glossy, gritty big screen adaptation generally leads to great results. The Black Dahlia is a personal favourite novel and Brian De Palma seemed like a strong choice for helming the violent, twisting tale. I don’t know where this went wrong – the lead characters of Bucky and Lee don’t feel right, and the narrative – already fairly complex – shoots off in meaningless directions without ever being tied up. Turns out the film had around an hour cut from it, hence the puddle of chaos we’re left with. It looks the part, at times, but what should have been a worthy successor to LA Confidential feels more like a bad Chinese translation of an episode of Police Squad – without the laughs.

Babel

I loved Amores Perros when it was released. I kind of liked 21 Grams. I was bemused by Babel moreso by the praise it garnered than how plain the film was. It’s certainly well-edited and directed and Brad Pitt is better than he’d ever been (he’s best when he’s not trying to play an outlandish character), but Jeebus you’d think there’d never been a film before following different characters and narratives which, shock, are actually tied together. The Morocco piece is the only section worth watching, everything else feels incredibly tacked on – we know early on that that’s the narrative and all the rest is dressing. It’s a shame then that the characters of Richard and Susan, are kind of dicks. The supporting actress Oscar nods here are complete mysteries, but at least Inarritu got back on track shortly after this.

Dreamgirls

My almost yearly musical pick, Dreamgirls features a fantastic Eddie Murphy acting rings round a bunch of nobodies. If there was ever a mainstream, big budget musical I was going to enjoy, it was going to be this, given that it focuses on actual decent music – not something musicals ever do. Sadly, it stains the Motown style with modern day hacks and their sensibilities, completely stomping all over everything which made Motown worthwhile. With less emotion and complexity than my left bollock, it’s yet another self-serving story which confuses character with costume, performance with camp, and soul with glitter.

Another year in the sack, and another list of films which I know some hold dear. For me though, they represent both the worst, the most disappointing, or the most undeserving of praise when there were many more movies which you should be talking about. Let us know your picks in the comments!

Nightman’s Updated Top Ten Films Of 2006!

I’m doing something a little different here – I’m adding another film because I somehow missed it in my original list and given that it’s one of my favourite films of the decade, it should have been there. Silly me. I’m not changing the order – I’m just adding it as Number 11, even though it would probably have been at 3, 4, or 5 if I’d remembered to put it in first time round.

11. Black Book

We begin with the one I’d missed first time around – even though I saw and loved it at release. Sometimes when making these lists it’s easy to forget. Nevertheless, Black Book is Verhoeven’s Magnum Opus. It’s not my favourite from him – given that he’s made Robocop, Total Recall, Starship Troopers etc, but it’s not far off. It’s his return to more legitimate film – not sci-fi – and a return to WWII. It’s just as powerful and violent as the stuff he’s widely known for and in Carice Van Houten he has a powerfhouse lead performance. This deserves to be mentioned alongside Schindler’s List as one of the all time great WWII movies.

10: Paprika (Japan) Satoshi Kon

There’s a case for Satoshi Kon being the greatest animated feature director of all time. He never had the chance to make a bad movie. Well, he had plenty of chances, but each movie he released before his untimely death is unique and brilliant, filled with ideas which others have shamelessly riffed on, and visuals forever etched in your memory. Paprika was his final film, following Tokyo Godfathers (classic), Millennium Actress (excellent), and Perfect Blue (an all time great). Put quite simply – there would be no Inception without Paprika, just like there would be no Black Swan without Perfect Blue. Yet nobody knows these films, in the West at least. It is startling and inventive from top to bottom, yet the story can feel labyrinthine. A crowning achievement by one of the greatest filmmakers the world needs to learn from.

9: The Host (SK) Joon-ho Bong

I’ve always loved monster movies – one of my earliest movie memories is of a Godzilla movie – no idea which one, and something about the mix of special effects and the ability of a film to make me sympathize with a creature I should be terrified by turned me into a big fan of creature features. I’d been watching plenty of South Korean movies since the late 90s, but I believe The Host was the first monster movie I’d seen from the country. Like many Western movies it blends humour with the action and horror, but where is stands out is in the emotion, the dedication to character, and in the numerous gut punches which Hollywood movies typically shy away from. The effects are a little dodgy in places, but putting that aside it’s one of the best movies of its kind.

8: Death Note (Japan) Shusuke Kaneko

I’m not a huge Manga or Anime person, so any time a live action movie comes out based on one or the other, it doesn’t mean a lot to me. I watch the films on their own merits, and I typically only watch those with a premise which sounds interesting or from a director I enjoy, or if it features some actor I like. When I saw this starred Tetsuya Fujiwara of Battle Royale fame my interest was piqued. Then I read the synopsis – a student finds a book with the power to kill anyone whose name is written in its pages, and decides to use that power to make the world a better place. The book thing sounded a little YA and silly, but that moral core – killing anonymously to make the world ‘better’ sounded ripe for goodness. What I didn’t count on was a giant fuck-off animated apple eating angel/demon thing lurking in the background. Yeah… it’s a strange hybrid film.

The film, and the series steps away from its premise to become a game of wits between the holder of the book and a brilliant and eccentric (and teenage?) detective called L. It twists like a bizarre noir thriller as private and personal and public struggles collide and intertwine and Light – the holder of the Death Note – seeks to consolidate his power without losing touch. It was more enjoyable than I was expecting, and the rest of the series is pretty good too.

7: Idiocracy (US) Mike Judge

What is it about MIke Judge? His stuff is always entertaining – Beavis And Butthead was one of my favourite shows growing up, King Of The Hill remains sorely underrated, Office Space is the definite workplace movie, and Idiocracy – clever at release – seems increasingly prescient with each passing month. It stars Luke (I’m not Owen) Wilson as a military librarian (is that a thing?) who is selected for a brief suspended animation experiment alongside a prostitute. As always happens with these things, they are forgotten and left there for 500 years, waking in a future where materialism and advertising are the only things which matter, and society has been dumbed down to such extremes that they try to water plants with Gatorade. The satire is on point, but the humour wide enough that everyone can get a laugh out of it, and the visuals are surprisingly unique. With endearing performances and plenty of laughs, it’s one of the best comedies of the decade.

6: Children Of Men (US/UK) Alfonso Cuaron/Pan’s Labyrinth Guillermo Del Toro.

First time around I somehow missed Pan’s Labyrinth – unacceptable. I’ve slapped it in alongside Children Of Men for no reason. It probably remains Del Toro’s finest work, detailing his love of fantasy and horror to heart-rending extremes, placing the story in a very real time and place against a frightening backdrop. It features some of the best creatures in modern cinema and some of the most knuckle-gobbling set-pieces which never fail to set your heart on edge. As well as being brilliantly acted by the young heroine Ivana Baquero and her wicked step-father Sergi Lopez. One of the easiest ways to get people into non-American Cinema is to stick this on.

Children Of Men brings an oft-ignored authenticity to dystopian fiction – it looks just like our world today, shunted a couple of steps to the right. With the wrong steps taken today, you can imagine ourselves in a world just like it in the future. Clive Owen is never better, and the action has a gritty realism to it – anyone who has witnessed or been part of a riot, a car crash, a skirmish, or outright war will have familiarity with the pulsating set-pieces here. Such incidents are not clean, they are not lived through step by step – they happen around you, absurdly, leaping at you unexpectedly, and the best you can do is keep your head down, react instinctively, and run. It’s another Cuaron masterwork.

5: The Hills Have Eyes (US) Alexandre Aja

Who would have thought it – a remake of a filthy Wes Craven classic by some French guy – would not only be better than the original, but one of the best horror movies of the era? There are some caveats – The Hills Have Eyes original isn’t that well thought of and in truth it’s not a particularly special movie. And this isn’t just some French guy, but the director behind the glorious High Tension from a couple of years earlier. His vision for The Hills Have Eyes doesn’t stray very far from the original at all – it’s still the time honoured story of a family outing gone wrong, of the wrong road taken, and of the lengths suburban white folks will go to for survival, for revenge. It’s wonderfully brutal, excessively so, with a a streak of black (blood red?) humour throughout. Crucially, it has the bigger budget and a more accomplished cast behind it. It’s more fun than people remember and is something easy for a weirdo like me to stick on and chill out to.

4: The Departed (US) Martin Scorsese

When I first heard this was announced I thought ‘cool, Scorsese is doing a trilogy’. Then I heard it was actually taking elements from the three Infernal Affairs movies and squeezing them into one movie, and I was apprehensive. America’s recent attempts at remaking Asian classics, usually in the horror genre, had not gone well but if anyone had a good shot and doing it well then it was Martin Scorsese. Turns out I had no grounds for concern because it’s at least on par, if not much better than the originals. Something about having the familiar cast of faces and having it on more familiar cultural territory lends a different vibe and I find that I watch this one more than I go back to the originals. With a stellar cast including Jack Nicholson, Alec Baldwin, Matt Damon, Mark Wahlberg, Di Caprio, Farmiga, Sheen, Winstone, it’s the crime movie fans had been waiting for since Goodfellas.

3: Apocalypto (US/Mexico) Mel Gibson

How is this film still so little known? I don’t get it. People clearly must be put off by the language, by the setting but Apocalypto is easily more thrilling and action packed than any number of Marvel movies and is equal to the achievements of Braveheart and The Passion Of The Christ. I much prefer this to those two movies – it shaves things down to the bare essentials; a tribesman is captured by a powerful cult and taken to their city to be sacrificed, leaving behind his heavily pregnant wife and child in a pit steadily filling with water. Not only does he have to escape and overcome insurmountable numbers, but he has to return home to rescue his family before they drown. It’s a pedal to the metal chase movie, a mixture of First Blood and Mad Max, which just happens to be set hundreds of years ago in the South American jungles. It’s wonderful, and you owe yourself a watch.

2: Borat (US/UK) Larry Charles

I believe Borat made my Decade movie list, so I’m not going to talk much more about it here. It’s lung-collapsingly funny, that should be enough

1: Casino Royale (US/UK/Czech/Germany) Martin Campbell

Same as number 2, this made my decade list, so go read that for more info. I love Bond, and this is one of the best.

Let us know your favourites in the comments!

Nightman’s Least Favourite Movies Of 2007!

So 2007 saw me struggle to pick ten movies I genuinely loved – I wonder if I will also struggle to find ten films I was truly disappointed by or thoroughly disliked.

Spiderman 3

It’s not that I didn’t enjoy Spiderman 3 – it’s just that the previous Raimi movies were so much better that this always felt like a let down. We all know the memes, we all know the story which throws too many bad guys on the screen, and we all know that the film has been ridiculed ever since. It’s fine, it just loses the core heart from the previous films by having less focus on Kirsten and Tobey, and by making The Sandman a non-entity. In other words, this is a tough year for me to find 10 films worthy of appearing on this list.

Black Sheep

It’s New Zealand and comedy gore. It’s zombie sheep. There’s no reason on Earth why I shouldn’t love this. But for whatever reason, I sat there shaking my head throughout, wishing it had the magic of an early Peter Jackson monstrosity. I saw this in the Cinema while my wife was at a Rod Stewart concert – make of that what you will. It’s just a silly tale about zombie sheep killing a bunch of annoying New Zealanders, and it’s not as much fun as that sounds. Still, I’d pick that over seeing Rod Stewart.

Live Free And Die Hard

Another sequel, and another film which I didn’t dislike as much as others seemed to. It’s just that it became indistinguishable from any other action movie. Willis seems tired, kicking off this latter portion of his career where he doesn’t give a shit. The Die Hard movies were always great precisely because they stood out from other straight action movies – they had a wisecracking charm and they were inventive. This is just a perfectly serviceable action movie in need of an injection of what made the first (and third) movies so great.

The Invasion

I so dearly wanted to love this – the fact that I didn’t is probably why it’s on this list. Honestly, the original idea behind The Invasion Of The Body Snatchers should be the gift that keeps on giving. The first three movies adapted from the book – the 1950s, 70s, and 90s versions each appeared in my Top Ten movies of their respective years. I love them all. There’s just so much that can be done with the idea of a creature taking your face and slowly taking your town – in today’s political climate I shouldn’t need to spell out how powerful, and how good a Body Snatchers movie could be. The Invasion even has a great cast. It’s just so beige – there is no emotional connection, little tension, the stakes feel low. Watching it you feel like one of the clones – staring at a series of sounds and images which mean nothing to you. Hell, I even still sort of enjoyed it, but just kept wishing it was more.

Into The Wild

A movie which celebrates the life of an idiot. It’s certainly well made, it looks gorgeous, and it has a decent soundtrack. Decent cast do good work, but man it’s one of those movies you always find on people’s ‘most underrated lists’ or on those clickbait ‘most amazing movies we guarantee you’ve NEVER seen’ sites. It’s just an okay drama in which not a lot happens, and we get to watch a privileged asshole ruin his life and emotionally destroy his family, all because he wanted to ‘find himself’. It’s your standard white-boy gap year bullshit which takes a tragic turn because the dude believed he was untouchable.

Atonement

This film has a lot to answer for. It was one of the first to slap Keira Knightly into the typecast period drama mire she has found herself in ever since, it brought us Saiorse Ronan who has yet to make a film I’ve fully enjoyed, and it was so overrated to balloon proportions that people still hold it up as a masterpiece. It was never a masterpiece, it’s another film which focuses on people you would choke while simultaneously holding underwater, and is more generic than Stabby Joe Part VI: Stabby’s Back. The only thing going for it is that, admittedly breathtaking, landing one shot. Beyond that it’s just vapid, emotionless pap – an episode of Downton Abbey blown up for the big screen. It was Joe Wright’s breakout – he’s yet to make a film I’ve liked.

I Am Legend

We’ll get this out of the way – I liked I Am Legend. It’s not on the list because I think it’s a bad movie. Well, the CG is routinely awful but that’s to be expected. It’s on the list because I Am Legend is my favourite book of all time. It is legitimately one of the most important books ever written, not purely because without it there would be little to no of what we know as Horror Cinema and Fiction today, but because it’s an extraordinary piece of work which hasn’t aged a day since the 1950s, one which takes its subject matter seriously, and is both emotionally devastating and prescient. It deserves, not just a good film, but a great film. What we get instead is a Will Smith action vehicle, light on scares, on heart, and while it has been praised for it’s depiction of a post apocalyptic world, it really doesn’t come close to Matheson’s original vision. I’ve enjoyed every version of his book that I’ve seen on screen, but I suspect every one is going to disappoint me.

A bland year all round for me, with little to recommend or remember. 2007 is frequently heralded as one of the best years in Cinema history, but for me it is decidedly meh. Of course there’s still a bunch of movies I haven’t seen, from Critical darlings, commercial smashes, and little known potential gems so if I ever revisit this list in the future, it may look different. For now though, let me know in the comments if you agree about any of the films I’ve included, or if any of the above are your personal favourites!

Nightman’s Least Favourite Movies Of 2008!

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Lets continue our descent into ineptitude with 2008 – a film which saw many good films, and many bad films. Just like any other year then. Here’s a few films which stink more than a Congressman’s spunk.

Donkey Punch

If I ever do a worst of decade post (I won’t) this abomination would be somewhere near the top. Every single molecule of this dangling testicle should never have existed, every second is pain incarnate, and it makes me angry that money was spent to hearken it forth into the world. I want to use the word despicable, but I don’t think I can quite pull it off. It’s just badly made shit, like when you mistakenly go into a public toilet at 2.00 after the drug-crazed loon with vomit in his hair staggers out – inept performers, hateful characters with zero redeeming qualities that you wish would be killed off within the first thirty seconds of meeting them just so you can look at the yacht’s interior for the next 90 minutes in peace. Harry Knowles loved it – that should be on the poster as the best warning to keep viewers away that money could buy. A more angry blogger than I might say that everyone involved in expelling this turd from the bowels of inadequacy deserves to be fisted into oblivion by Andre The Giant.

Doomsday

It’s not that Doomsday is a bad film (it isn’t very good), it’s that after Dog Soldiers and The Descent I was hoping for something amazing now that Neil Marshall had more than a couple of five pound notes to rub together. What we got is Mad Max Vs Snake Plissken. Even that sounds awesome, but somehow it’s just a little shoulder shruggy. The action doesn’t quite live up to expectations, and all the future cyberpunk stuff isn’t all that interesting. It feels like the film a teenage boy would make if he had the money and loved those aforementioned films. It’s fan fiction which brings nothing new to the table. It’s a fine middle of the road action movie to catch if you’re channel hopping, but instantly forgettable.

Funny Games

Hey, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with this movie. I liked it. It’s just – what’s the point? It does nothing that wasn’t done in the original, beyond giving the great Michael Pitt another chance at stardom. Just watch the original.

Iron Man

The one that started it all, eh? Except that it wasn’t, but we can ignore those others which really came first, eh? Honestly, I’d love to be able to ignore this too, but the monster which sprung from it has been unavoidable. I never cared much for the character of Tony Stark and while RD-JR gives the film some life (except that it’s the same shtick he pulls in every film) it’s just your bog standard generic superhero origin story, but without the emotion. It does have hundreds of millions of moneys thrown at it, so it doesn’t look like a piece of shit. Credit for putting the framework in place for building a world I couldn’t care less about. By no means a bad film, just one big meh.

Indiana Jones And The Crystal Skull

Look, I didn’t hate it like most people did. I grew up with the original trilogy and was as excited as anyone that we’d be getting another. Yes it was unfortunate that it didn’t come ten years earlier, but what are you gonna do. The adventure is still there, Ford is still good if too old to be swinging about jungles, but the script is totally bogged down by unnecessary pap, and a little of the magic is gone. Plus, those monkeys… who thought that was a good idea?

Hellboy II

I loved the first Hellboy. It didn’t take itself seriously, it took a different approach and had a different look to most comic book movies. The second one struggles – the story isn’t as engaging, they don’t build upon the world or the characters, and it doesn’t hit the same beats as the first. It’s not bad, I still enjoyed it, but it was a let down given how much I enjoyed its predecessor.

Mama Mia

Welcome to your yearly shitty musical entry. Look, I get it – just like there are people who enjoy fox-hunting, there are people who enjoy musicals. They’re not for me. To its credit, it doesn’t do what most musicals do by either having the cast members’ singing voices dubbed or casting theatre types who can sing but have no screen presence. Also to its credit, you can’t go wrong with ABBA. Except… you can, because they only have about ten worthwhile songs and the rest are retreads of those ten. And they build a nonsensical plot based around the lyrics of some of these songs and throw a host of unlikable performers onto the screen to meander through the hackneyed dialogue. Even the likable performers don’t come out unscathed. And it’s at least 50 minutes too long. It’s a movie for your mother in law – by which I mean – it’s not a movie. It’s a musical on screen. Imagine how different the world would be if the money spent on, and made by, this movie had gone towards building a hospital. Or a recording studio to allow people to make good new music. Or a bunch of smaller budget movies.

I Want To Believe

Another X-Files movie – great. Honestly, I was a big fan during the series initial run, and came back for both return seasons. But the over-riding thought after seeing this was – what was the point? It is literally an extended standalone episode with no link to any of the show’s over-arching mythology. Normally I wouldn’t care, and I’ll take more X-Files where I can get it, but this particular feature length episode is bland mid-season filler. It feels like this was a script which had languished for years as a straight to DVD thriller before someone had the bright idea to retcon it into the X-Files universe to guarantee a few million in return. It’s worth a watch, but I fail to see who is really going to enjoy it – people who haven’t seen the show won’t care, and those who have won’t get what they want. A very strange choice and a very strange movie. I still liked it… but what was the point?

Mirrors

Yikes. Every year there’s a horror film which gets under my skin for all the wrong reasons. The original ‘Mirrors’ is a fairly decent example of K-Horror – nothing special. This is dumb, devoid of scares, and doesn’t make a lick of sense. There’s one scene in this movie which gore-fans point to, but it washed over me without incident. A horror movie with Keifer Sutherland and directed by Alexander Aja should work for me, but this was just balls all round and not worth typing further about.

Bangkok Dangerous

Every year we are treated to roughly ten Nic Cage movies – 80% of these are straight to DVD shite, and the other 20% are straight to DVD WTF. Every so often you get a good one or a legitimate one. Normally none of those movies would make my list because you expect them to be balls, but this one I looked forward to, foolishly, because the original Bangkok Dangerous is one of my favourite all time movies. It’s just wonderful. This remake takes the very bare bones from that movie – basically the mute hitman – saps it of all style and emotion and humour – and that’s about it. It’s tragic that so few people have seen or heard of the original, and given that it’s a foreign movie, when I try to recommend it to people, they invariably reply ‘isn’t that a shitty Nic Cage movie’? Seriously, find the original and watch it – not this.

There you go – a less controversial selection this week, with a few clangers and a few many people enjoyed if not outright loved. Let me know your picks in the comments!

Nightman’s Updated Favourite Films Of 2008!

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2008 was a great year for cinema – quite a few of my picks here made my end of decade post, and a number of the more obvious choices will appear on many critics’ best of lists. Lets get the almosts out of the way first:

Son Of Rambow is an early Will Poulter showcase – he continues to be a star in the making but hasn’t quite caught on the way he deserves to have yet. It’s a funny and charming coming of age film about two friends – both outcasts in their own way, and from different social backgrounds as tends to be the way with these films. The hook is that they’re both Rambo fans and decide to go make their own homage movie. The best moments are just the boys arsing about trying to do stunts and make an action movie. Director Garth Jennings would go on to make Sing but is perhaps best known in Britain for his various comedy performances and involvement with some of the biggest names. You know he’s respected when the likes of Edgar Wright, Jessica Hynes, Adam Buxton, and Eric Sykes all pop up here. Wall-E is, well you should know it by now. I didn’t love it first time around but came to enjoy it more when watching it with my kids later. A film of two distinct halves – the first being Wall-E alone on Earth and the second an ever more realistic vision of a future where we’re all fattyies 100% reliant upon technology and entertainment. Fred Willard even pops up later, so extra points there.

Equally charming is another Ghibli treat – Ponyo is the delightful tale of a boy and his… fish. A magic fish of course. It’s basically The Little Mermaid but without the forced romance and drag witch. It’s Miyazaki so you know you’re in for a beautiful, heart-melting experience. It’s just a sweet story with enough imagination to charm viewers of any age. The Informers on the other hand is not about charm. It’s all about disgust, malaise, debauchery. And it’s wonderful. I almost had this in my top ten, and in truth I feel like adding it in there instead of number ten, but why bother. I don’t really understand why this film has flown under the radar. For the sleaze balls you have any number of Amber Heard nude scenes, and for everyone else it’s a Bret Easton Elis story directed by the guy who made Buffalo Soldiers. If you need more, and I get why many will, just check out the cast – Brad Renfro, Kim Basinger, Billy Bob Thornton, Winona Ryder, Lou Taylor Pucci, Mickey Rourke, Chris Isaak, Rhys Ifans. The film received almost universal shrugs and derision with most people completely missing out on the fact that it is supposed to be one big nightmare – a satire on vapid existence, on wealth, and not so much the pursuit of fame or money – just the complete lack of meaning behind it all. It might not be for everyone, but it honestly deserves for recognition.

10: Johnny Mad Dog (France/Liberia) Jean-Stephane Sauvaire

Johnny Mad Dog is the film that I kept saying ‘Don’t you mean Johnny Mad Dog’ to when people began talking about Beast Of No Nation. It’s almost the same film – the main difference being the lack of an Idris Elba. If I can say anything to convince you to watch it, it’s just that – Beasts Of No Nation, but earlier. If anything it’s more gritty, more brutal, and the fact that almost all of it focuses on the kids makes it all the more upsetting. There’s also a definite sense of the bizarre given some of the antics the child soldiers get up to – not to mention their costumes.

9: Pontypool (Canada) Bruce McDonald

Even though I’ll watch any old rubbish horror movie, it’s the ones with an interesting premise that pull me in and stick with me. Pontypool has one of the most intriguing you’ll ever hear – a disease (?) is spreading and seems to be passed on via language – certain words – and those who succumb become slightly more sentient versions of the 28 Days Later creatures – manic, violent, and equally likely to kill themselves as batter you to death. On its own that’s enough to get me invested, but throw in the setting – an isolated radio station where a late night DJ and his skeleton staff suspect something is amiss as they  receive unusual calls. It’s still fresh now, and it plays admirably with its low budget and central ideas.

8: Cloverfield (US) Matt Reeves

The big surprise of the year, though looking back the biggest surprise seems to be that everyone was surprised by it. Buoyed by an excellent marketing run, Cloverfield also uses the hand-held fashion of the time to craft a literal Escape From New York. My problem with the film was always the characters – there isn’t anyone here you give a shit about and if we’d been allowed to feel an ounce of affinity with them this would probably be higher up my list. The story is simple – something crash lands in New York City and begins attacking everyone and everything. It’s some sort of gargantuan alien creature scene only in brief glimpses on news reports and through flashes between skyscrapers. I have zero problem with the shaky cam – this is the perfect film for it even though the whole ‘I have to document this’ excuse falls apart pretty quickly. The shaky cam heightens to war-torn confusion of it all – people don’t have any idea what is happening in the middle of a battlefield – you’re only concern is getting the hell out of there as quickly as possible, and that’s what we see. It’s a rollercoaster ride, wisely helped by the inclusion of smaller aliens and while it doesn’t live up to the promise, in reality could we have expected much better?

7: Rambo (US/Thailand) Sylvester Stallone

Who’d have thought it – the return of John Rambo? And who’d have expected it to actually be both good and faithful? When Stallone wants to, he can still pull it out of the bag. This is just ridiculous carnage – an 80s Action movie with an 80s Action hero, but with the violence blown up to 11. The plot is almost irrelevant – Rambo is helping out a bunch of missionaries who get caught up in an Asian war zone – but at least it isn’t completely vapid. The supporting cast contribute well – Julie Benz and Graham McTavish the obvious standouts. Stallone keeps the pace ticking along until the brutal climax and there’s simply something comforting about seeing an old character resurrected from your childhood, whether they’re standing on stage, swinging a lightsaber, or in this case, ripping out throats with their bare hands.

6: Ip Man (HK) Wilson Yip

From ripping out throats, to jabbing them 48 times in one second. Donnie Yen has been a beast for at least thirty years now, but the Ip Man series may be his crowning achievement. Beyond being a showcase for his badassery, and beyond hitting that personal sweet spot for me of being both a martial arts movie and telling a (sort of) history of Bruce Lee, you have Wilson Yip – the director who seems to know how to get the best performance from Yen. Yip and Yen have teamed multiple times and have a shared understanding of choreography and character to the extent that, and I know it’s a cliche, but that watching the fights are more akin to watching a dance – with the added benefit of it not being a fucking dance. The fights in Ip Man are so painstakingly practised and directed that each one is a thing of beauty – all heightened by the fact that we come to care for the guy and his family.

Ip Man is a martial arts teacher in a very large pool – at this place and point at time it seemed like every street in the vast city has multiple competing martial arts schools – each with their own styles, fighters, masters, and rivalry. Ip Man stands out by being almost invisible – he isn’t interested in getting into disputes or proving he’s the best, but simply wants to train, learn, and live out a peaceful existence. It’s not necessarily a unique story when it comes to the genre, but in Yen we get a sympathetic human we can stand behind rather than the standard faceless pile of fists and feet. When the Japanese invades, Ip and his family lose their home and business and he is forced into mining to make ends meet. It turns out that the Japanese are offering additional food to the Chinese if they take part in unsanctioned fights – except that the Japanese military have been killing some of the Chinese fighters when they lose. Ip is understandably enraged and wipes out a number of the Japanese fighters which attracts the attention of their General.

Plot is often secondary in Martial Arts movies which generally means ridicule for the more discerning critic. Placing this in a ‘genuine historical setting’ (seen from the Chinese side) helps matters and this becomes a standard enough story of heroism, patriotism, glory, and family values that you’ve likely seen before in Chinese Martial Arts. But it’s the fights, the nuances, and the performances which raise this above the myriad others. I’d probably recommend starting here for anyone interested in Donnie Yen and it’s a high budget, classy starting point for anyone keen to gateway into the genre. As someone who has seen the dregs on offer, this is light-years ahead and offers incredible, breathless action.

5: Let The Right One In (Sweden) Tomas Alfredson

So far the horror films on my list this year haven’t been out and out scare-fests, but have rather been subtle, introspective, or done something new with an old favourite. Let The Right One In captures each of those points – taking the vampire mythology and offering new twists, yet makes it a character piece, a romance of sorts, a coming of age story, and drip-feeds us dread, unsavoury pedophilia subtext, while being shot through the lens of abandoned beauty. This was one of the first modern horror movies which truly cared about how it looked and sounded and how both were portrayed – the current wave of so called elevated horror all owe something to Let The Right One In.

Like Ip Man, this is something of a sweet spot movie for me. I love vampire movies and horror, and I love coming of age films – especially ones which feel genuine, ones which I can relate to. I didn’t know too many vampires growing up, but isolation, bullying, looking for close friendships are things I know all too well as do many others. The film downplays much of the horror and mythology and the darker elements of the novel and focuses instead on the friendship and loneliness and need. Oskar is a boy with no friends, no confidence, bullied into fantasizing about bloody revenge. Eli is a vampire who needs to feed and tasks a familiar with killing on her behalf so that she can keep living. For much of the film Oskar doesn’t know the truth, and even when he does their established friendship works, even if it does take on some sour, manipulative notes. Hell, who wouldn’t want an all powerful vampire in their corner?

The film doesn’t take a jumpscare approach, rather relying on the horror inherent in its ideas – needing to kill, needing to protect a killer, bullying, abuse. It all looks gorgeous too – there’s something wonderful about snowy nights and landscapes on screen, about quiet moments shattered by sudden violence. It’s a horror movie for critics to appreciate, for non-horror viewers to get on board with even though they’ll brand it a thriller, and it should of course please horror nerds. With two great lead performances, a career defining directorial from Alfredson, and shot by Hoyte Van Hoytema who earned Her, Interstellar, and Dunkirk from this.

4: Departures (Japan) Yojiro Takita

As the 2000s went on I began to side more with South Korean cinema than Japanese. After the J-Horror bubble burst, only the obvious big hitters like Koreeda and Miike and Sono were repeatedly bringing the goods. Departures came out of the blue, surprising everyone to win the Best Foreign Oscar this year over some front-runners. It, and the three movies remaining on this list are covered in more detail in my end of decade favourites list. It’s a film which caught me off guard and may do the same for you – the director I only knew from the decent enough Hiroyuki Sanada vehicle Onmyiji, and out of the cast it was really only Ryoko Hirosue I knew – from her days as a Nintendo model and Wasabi. It’s tender, heart-tugging, funny, and has one of the best soundtracks of the decade.

3: Martyrs (France) Pascal Laugier

So, America had the whole Torture Porn market cornered. Then Spain came along and said ‘hold my scalpel’. Then France beheaded the lot of them with a baguette and farted in their general direction. There’s a reason why there is a whole movement called French Extremism, and Martyrs is the peak. It’s just brutal, exhausting, and difficult to get through yet utterly compelling, impossible to forget, and once its over you know you’re going to be drawn back to it again to experience the twists once more. It made my end of decade list, so read more there. Quite simply, if you’re a horror fan you need to see it. If you’re not… it might put you off the genre forever or become one of your all time favourites. There are those horror movies which even the most ardent anti-horror film critic can’t deny – this is one of them.

2: The Dark Knight (US/UK) Christopher Nolan

It’s one of the biggest, most popular, and best movies of the decade – of the last two decades. You know it, you love it.

1: Love Exposure (Japan) Sion Sono

There are some movies you want everyone to see. Each of us finds a small handful of movies each year that no-one seems to know about and you tell all of your friends and co-workers and anyone you can get your hands on because, dammit, those movies need to be seen. Love Exposure is near the top of that list for me. It’s just perfect and is everything I love about film, somehow. It’s… not really anything. It’s not horror, it’s not action… it is a bit of comedy, a bit of drama… it’s just a bit of everything shat into a blender and squirted out into a four hour long cup, whatever the hell that means. Sion Sono, like other madcap hero Takashi Miike, does whatever he wants it seems. There’s just no way any other person on the face of the planet at any other time in the history of the world could make the films these guys do. Sono in this case has dealt with suicides and cults in Suicide Club, revenge in Hazard, comedy in Into A Dream, horror in Exte, drama in Land Of Hope, musical in Tokyo Tribe, and brutal thrillers in Cold Fish and Guilty Of Romance. Love Exposure trumps them all, with its panty obsessed fetish ninjas, budgie-shouldered cult leaders, daddy-pleasing pervs, child-slapping religious nutcases, and all the rest. I suppose in the end it’s a romance – my kind of romance. It should have been at the Oscars for Best Picture, Sono should have been down for best director, and Hikari Mitsushima should have won Best Actress. But who cares about awards – if you love Cinema, even if you have a passing interest in movies, you have an obligation to see Love Exposure. I know most people hate it when someone one really pushes a movie onto you – I get that too – but believe me when I say that your life will be better with this in it.

Let me know your favourites of 2008!

Wake Wood

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Wake Wood is somewhat of a downer. There have been quite a few horror films in recent years dealing with how parents cope after the death of a child, some dealing with the psychological trauma, others taking a more visceral approach following the lengths some parents will go to either to get on with their lives or bring their child back. It’s a tradition going back most famously to Pet Sematary, but naturally it’s a fear as old as time with numerous fairy tales, myths, and stories from antiquity using this unimaginable tragedy and the associated grief as a starting point. Wake Wood lies somewhere in between the visceral and the psychological, not truly succeeding at either, but not truly failing either.

Make no mistake – Wake Wood is a Serious Horror Film – Caps all the way. It wants to hurt, and it wants to remind you of folksy tales like The Wicker Man and drama like Don’t Look Now. It doesn’t have the money or the directing chops of either of those, but it also doesn’t want to scrimp on the gore. It’s difficult to see who the film is really for then because, while plenty of people will want to see a film like this if you heavily market it towards one crowd they’re likely going to be pissed of by the blood or by the artistry. As mentioned – the artistry is more akin to someone just learning the ropes by mimicking their forefathers, while the blood is limited by budget and, well, good taste.

We open with the fairly upsetting mauling of a child by a dog – the girl, Alice, does not survive. Her mother and father – Louise and Patrick – move to a rural village called Wakewood and try to get on with their lives. The people of Wakewood seem friendly enough, though like any of these off the grid towns, there’s something a little off about them. Turns out they have a history of resurrecting the dead via a ritual with a series of rules. This is where some of the more interesting parts of the film come in, hinting at a sprawling history. There are various ancient trinkets and tools and rules employed, but they’re not really discussed or explained. These sorts of things are always interesting to me and I’d like to have known more about their purpose or origin. The main guts of the rules are straightforward enough – to raise the dead, you need another corpse. The person you want to raise must have been dead for less than a year. The person can only return for three days, and the person cannot go beyond the borders of the town. Naturally, as Patrick and Louise makes their decision, each of these rules comes in to play.

Everything about the film is cold, sullen, the muddy brown of a forgotten English graveyard – the performances (featuring Aidan Gillen and Timothy Spall), the direction, the look of the thing right down to the costumes. It’s mournful and bleak, even in its happiest moments and anyone looking for a slice of quirky horror or a hint of joy should shuffle by. It’s not without it’s charms – watching it reminded me of many a gloomy painting or Doom Metal album cover. It’s played out with conviction and its sense of grit and foreboding feels real – if there is a town out there which can bring people back from the dead, this certainly feels like it – insular, brow-beaten, and with the look of a tweed clothed farmer nonchalantly pistoning a bolt through a bull’s skull.

Let us know in the comments what you thought of Wake Wood!

Nightman’s Least Favourite Movies Of 2009!

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Greetings, Glancers! We kicked things off with the controversial 2010 and we now start moving backwards into the mists of time to have a laugh at my other misguided choices of least favourite films from each year. What does 2009 have in store for us? Have a look below.

Watchmen

Zack Snyder had been on a roll for me – Dawn Of The Dead is one of the all time great remakes, 300 is a silly, stylish slice of violent fun based on one of my favourite stories. It made sense that he would tackle a comic book adaptation, and adapt one of the less mainstream series. As you’ll see me say frequently in these posts – it’s not that it’s a bad film, it’s just not very good. Or more appropriately, it just didn’t work for me. On the plus side it looks great – not quite on par with the visu-shock of Sin City, but it certainly fits the bill of standing apart from the ‘realism’ of Marvels visual output. But like everything else Snyder has released since Watchmen, it’s so overfed on plot, so packed with stuff, that in the end I don’t care about any of it. I can’t remember any of the character’s names – Blue Cock – was that one? Outfit Girl? Running Dude? Wrong Face? Fuck knows. It’s another example of a film which should have been something I thoroughly enjoyed, but instead it was overblown and forgettable.

Wolverine

The X-Men movie series got off to a bang – the first two movies remain two of the finest comic book movies ever. Then some nameless twat got a hold of the series and ruined it for part 3 – one of the worst movies ever made. Luckily the series returned (and then subsequently fucked up again) and we got a series of spin off based on everyone’s favourite beardo, Wolverine. Like Watchman, this should have been something I enjoyed, but it’s drivel. If I can’t remember what anyone was called in Watchmen, I can’t remember anything that happened in Wolverine. I think there was snow in one scene. Maybe I was drunk when I watched it? In any case it went in both eyes, and straight out the back of my skull with zero recollection of what happened.

The Hangover

If the 2010s saw the rise of Alpha male bullshit, then the Noughties have a lot to answer for. I’m not saying The Hangover is to blame for a lot of the sickening sexual entitlement we see today across the entertainment industry, and up and down through politics… I’m not saying it’s even to blame for a rise in the absolutely terrible junk which passes for comedy in Hollywood these days. What I am saying is that it’s a pretty shitty movie, vastly overrated, and at least influenced a number of people to see the protagonists as worthy role models. It’s the ultimate bro movie, and for that reason alone, it deserves to be called out as the piece of shit it is.

The Hurt Locker

I was the first person to applaud when Katheryn Bigelow won her Oscar. But that was more as a sign of respect for her work on Near Dark, Strange Days, Point Break. She’s a terrific director. The Hurt Locker… I still don’t get why it is so acclaimed. A character study of little insight, a drama without tension. You notice how the acclaim for Renner’s performance seem to focus on his physical appearance – the fact that he’s not some Tom Cruise lookalike or hunk? You may as well start handing out Oscars for actresses based on how impressive their tits are. At best it is a very well made, good looking drama which was released at exactly the right time. At worst it’s an unrealistic Hallmark movie that just happens to have a master director in charge.

Halloween II

Ho-lee-shit. Listen, I didn’t mind the first Rob Zombie Halloween. He wanted to do his own thing, so by all means give it a go. The second effort is possibly the worst film I’ve ever seen in a theatre. Where to begin? There’s no sense writing a badly articulated diatribe about this – it’s so laughably bad that Police Academy 7 is ashamed of it.

Fame

That’s right, you can pretty much bet that if a crappy musical came out in any given year, it’ll be on my list – if I’ve had the misfortune to have seen it. The original is pretty terrible outside of the fact that it has some ripping tunes. This is the same, but worse, and without the ripping tunes.

An Education

Cripes this was banal, with a small disinterested ‘b’. The film which sadly unleashed Carey Mulligan on the world, it tells the story of… well I can’t really remember. It doesn’t matter does it? I don’t think I’ve yawned through a movie more than this – to its credit I didn’t fall asleep (that’s reserved for made for TV court dramas with names like Breach Of Contract or Justice For Bob, or Mrs Smith Gets A Divorce And Then Has A Custody Battle Over Her Infant Son, Jonas). 

The Fourth Kind

I’m a big fan of Milla Johovich. Sure the quality of her movies rarely goes higher than mindless action, but she’s always committed. The Fourth Kind seemed right up my alley until I watched it and wondered where are the scares that hardened horror fans seemed to be freaked out by. Remember that Ant And Dec movie Alien Autopsy? It had more scares than this.

The Lovely Bones

Peter Jackson had long been one of my favourite directors, from his early shlock, through The Frighteners and Heavenly Creatures. The LOTR trilogy is peerless. King Kong was a good 2 hour movie, blown up to off-putting CG-worship proportions. Then came The Lovely Bones – a misguided and offensive mess which looks as if it was made by a team who had never worked with each other before and had no experience of working on film. I’ve never read the source material – it always seemed like one of those Jodi Picault books to give housewives something to cry about. The movie certainly gave me something to cry about – the fact that Peter Jackson could have ever made something so insipid.

Lesbian Vampire Killers

I mean, it was going to be this or one of the shitty Ricky Gervais romps, wasn’t it? As much as I am mystified by people who enjoy Gervais, at least his films are generally competent. This isn’t, and has the added flaw of starring James Corden, whose one high moment was appearing in a Tango advert. It also stars Matthew Horne, whose one high moment is having a funny surname.

Let me know in the comments which of the films above you think I’ve got wrong. Are there some you love? Which movies released in 2009 would be at the bottom of your pile?