As always, the not quites: Big Fish is that increasingly rare Tim Burton film where he seems to be free of studio influence to do whatever he wants and tell a sweet, offbeat story. Freddy Vs Jason takes one great horror franchise, and one pretty crap franchise, and smashes them together in a funny, bloody fan’s dream. House Of 1000 Corpses is probably Rob Zombie’s best movie to date, and it doesn’t look like he’s going to recapture what makes it so fun again. Dogville is Lars Von Trier doing what he does best – pissing people off, experimenting with Cinema, and creating something unique. It’s bizarrely engaging and while it shouldn’t work, it really really does. The Last Samurai dropped at jsut the right time, as my love for Japanese cinema was at its peak. Ignoring all the White Guy Saviour stuff, and all of the wonderful hair, it’s a gorgeous movie and features a couple of great performances in Cruise and Watanabe. School Of Rock is quotable, fun, and reminds me of a lot of my the favourite movies of my youth – Bill And Ted, Kindergarten Cop, Wayne’s World etc. Jack Black is at his best, and it’s one of those movies you get sucked into watching every time it’s on.
10: The Dreamers (UK/US/France/Italy) Bernardo Bertolucci
Bertolucci should be enough to grab any movie fan’s attention, but through in Michael Pitt and Eva Green, and this seemed like it was made just for me. Naturally there’s a lot of nudity and sex here which may put some off and likewise invite a lot of idiots to watch it for the wrong reasons. There’s a lot of callbacks – to classic New Wave Cinema, to cultural shifts in the 60s, to Bertolucci’s life and career, but in essence it’s a captivating story with a great central trio.
9: Underworld (US/UK/Hungary/Germany) Len Wiseman
As Buffy was ending I needed a new sexy vampire heroine. Kate Beckinsale steps in, all leathered up and guns firing to save the world from a deadly vampire/Lycan war. It’s all very silly and serious, it’s all very stylish, but in terms of post-Matrix action movies it’s one of the best.
8: Kill Bill Vol 1 (US) Quentin Tarantino
This was the first Tarantino movie I ever saw on the big screen, and it felt like a big event. It had been half a decade since his previous film and it was a packed screening. Most of those there didn’t seem to ‘get’ the movie, but I enjoyed every second, spotting a myriad of Easter Eggs and enjoying the onslaught of violence and visuals. It might be his most straightforward, enjoyable movie.
7: A Mighty Wind (US) Christopher Guest
It honestly took me a while to come around to This Is Spinal Tap. I’d always liked it, but it took me longer to love it than most. A Mighty Wind I loved immediately – perhaps because I was more used to the format, perhaps because it wasn’t lampooning anything I cared about. There are some great songs and performances here from Guest regulars, and it’s an easy going movie which continues to unwrap subtle jokes with each viewing – sometimes a visual gag, sometimes a single line or word of dialogue you missed before, or sometimes an actor’s reaction. All of Guest’s movies are gold.
6: The Curse of The Black Pearl (US) Gore Verbinski
Is there a better example of a Theme Park attraction being turned into a movie than this? Depp should have received his Oscar, and it’s the closest we’ve come to a rip-roaring Indiana Jones style romp since The Mummy. It’s funny, rattling along like raft cutting through the waves, and everyone involved seems to be having the times of their lives. It’s such a shame the sequels are trash.
5: Zatoichi (Japan) Takeshi Kitano
Kitano had been steadily pumping out underrated film after underrated film – an amazing accomplishment for the quirky funny man best known in the west for Takeshi’s Castle. While many of his films dealt with common themes – masculinity, violence, inner turmoil, they were typically set in a modern, Yakuza setting. With Zatoichi he goes back to the legend of the blind Samurai to make the best film version of the character, starring as the title character himself. He does things with sound and editing in this film I’d never seen before, and uses the story to showcase those common themes with a keener eye for detail while not letting up on humour and action. Like many Asian movies of this era, it’s a travesty this saw zero interest by The Academy.
As always, here is the group which didn’t quite cut it: Napoleon Dynamite is one which always makes me laugh, but there’s something so… desolate about it? The Passion Of The Christ is just a well made gore-fest, while Team America has dolls fucking. It’s not Meet The Feebles, but what is? The Terminal is one of my favourite underrated Spielberg movies, Dead Man’s Shoes is one of Paddy Considine and Shane Meadows’ best. Hellboy drops in and out of my Top Ten – it’s great fun, even if I don’t love it as much as some – probably because I’m not a huge comic book guy.
10: District 13 (France) Pierre Morel
Merging real life stunts with little or no string work or CG guff, and the parkour and martial arts skills of a talented cast, District 13 is one of the action movies I show people who claim to not like foreign movies. It blows them away, every time. It also has the benefit of having a simple plot which still pulls the viewer in to the world of an over-populated Paris ghetto. Over time, gangs take over the ghetto and the police stay out, leaving millions fighting and stealing and trying to survive. We follow an undercover cop and a brother trying to rescue his sister from one of the marauding gangs. It’s a story you’ve seen a hundred times, but it’s told at breakneck speed with likable faces. Yet, it’s the action which keeps you coming back, a world away from CG superheroes punching CG supervillains out of CG Skyscrapers.
9: A Very Long Engagement (France) Jean Pierre Jeunet
Jeunet, and Tautou’s follow-up to Amelie was always going to be an impossibility – that movie was universally loved. A Very Long Engagement is a very different story and film, a romance of sorts told with a larger cast over a number of years, against the backdrop of War. The visuals are what it has most in common with Amelie as it is one of the most delicious looking films of the era. Jeunet’s usual suspects show up, along with supporting turns from the likes of Jodie Foster and Marion Colliard in a film about undying love and hope in the face of hopeless odds and loveless tyranny.
8: R-Point (SK) Kong Su Chang
It’s still annyoing that so few people know about this film. Even plenty of my online pals who enjoy Asian horror haven’t seen it. I get that it may be a hard sell given its unusual approach and confusing plot, but if anything I liken it to something like Aliens, but with ghosts. It’s a war film with a supernatural bent, it’s like the twisted sister to Session 9, with a similar atmospheric setting. It hits a lot of my sweet notes, without giving too many spoilers away, but there may or may not be something funky going on with time, reality, madness, it has hardened soldiers going up against a mysterious foe, and it does give two shits about convention. Just go in knowing that it’s set during the Vietnam War as a group of soldiers respond to a distress call, and knowing that I’ve recommended it.
7: Shaun Of The Dead (UK/US/France) Edgar Wright
Is it Edgar Wright’s best movie? Probably. Plus it came out at just the right time, when zombie movies were suddenly popular and legitimate, but before they over-saturated the market. I was never the biggest Spaced fan but I knew Simon Pegg from plenty of other things and him and Nick’s laid-back everyman approach to the apocalypse, as well as the filmmakers obvious love for the genre made it a treasure trove for me. Great gags, kills, and plenty of hidden treats in the cast including the great Peter Serafinowicz and George Dawes. That’s right, Matt Lucas will always be the man with the scores, George Dawes, none of that Little Britain wank.
6: Spider-Man 2 (US) Sam Raimi
One of the finest examples of how to follow-up a successful debut and continue a franchise. Of course it all went horribly wrong in Part 3, but everything goes right with Spider-Man 2. It’s bigger and better than the first part, adds a terrific villain in Doc Oc, and all of the surviving players from the first film step it up here. It has everything I want in a blockbuster comic movie, with the added bonus of me actually giving a shit about what happens.
5: House Of Flying Daggers (China/HK) Zhang Yimou
Zhang Yimou had been making breathtaking movies for many years, but beyond Asian film fans like me and well traveled critics, his films were completely unknown in the west. Then Hero came along and made a lot of waves, presumably riding on the wave of success of Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. That movie gave him a new status and fame across the globe and House Of Flying Daggers only spread that further. It’s an almost unbelievably beautiful film, spattered with energetic and exuberant martial arts set pieces. The use of colour, of music, puts most films to shame, and the lead trio of Andy Lau, Takeshi Kaneshiro, and Zhang Ziyi have rarely been better. At its core it’s a love story, but in many respects the plot is irrelevant – it’s just one of the most beautiful sights to behold.
4: Saw (US) James Wan
Saw was released smack bang in the middle of ‘Torture Porn’ but while that often unfairly vilified, often admittedly vile sub-genre generally focused more on gore and effects, Saw is 100% concerned with plot and the viewer. It wants to trick the viewer and take us on a horrific, twisting journey. While the series would keep it’s increasingly nonsensical twists it would become ever more reliant on gore and unique kills and lose what made the first so special. The story is convoluted without being obtuse, it’s more of a thriller in a horrifying scenario than a straight horror, and it’s bolstered by a great cast. It introduces one of horror’s more engaging serial killers – Jigsaw – and for much of the running time we don’t know what his end-game is, beyond wanting to punish people through the lens of his twisted morality. The film becomes an overlapping game of wits and cat and mouse and we have several intertwining plots – the two men who wake up handcuffed in a room, with only a corpse and a saw between them. The cops hunting Jigsaw. A man holding a woman and child at gunpoint. These are spliced together with various flashbacks and scenes depicting other characters and victims of Jigsaw, and it’s all blended together seamlessly in a swift running time. I can’t say I love the MTV camera thrashing effects which the series is known for, but I’m used enough to those now that I don’t care anymore. For a film which is essentially an extension of one particular scene in Mad Max, it keeps the viewer guessing, and flinching throughout.
3: The Grudge (US) Takashi Shimizu
I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating. I loved the Japanese Grudge (and to a lesser extent the prior TV versions), I loved Ringu. I didn’t like the US Remake The Ring and I therefore wasn’t overly hyped by The Grudge getting a US remake. Over time more promising details emerged – Grudge creator Takashi Shimizu would be directing, Sarah Michelle Gellar would be starring – suddenly I was hyped. Honestly, The Grudge is on par with the Japanese originals, going for a bigger budget, more bombastic version of the exact same story. Most of the original scenes and scares are in place, but what made those effective for me is that there are slight twists on what I expected – a jump scare from a different position or moment – all enough to give me a great time viewing it. Of course I saw this in a packed screening, and people were going nuts at the scares, especially when it was obvious they hadn’t been exposed to the originals.
2: Kill Bill Volume 2 (US) Quentin Tarantino
Volume 2 is distinctly different from Volume 1. Both are great, but both have completely different styles and tones – different enough that they can be enjoyed individually. This one is interesting because it is both a slower burner than the first film, but has the benefit of also racing towards a conclusion. We get more information on Bill and The Bride as individuals, as partners, and we dispense with much of the over the top stylized sequences of the first for a more introspective, near Western style flick. As you would expect, the cast and dialogue are uniformly great, it’s funny, insightful, it has a huge rewatchability for me, and it wraps up in a satisfying way.
1: Dawn Of The Dead (US) Zach Snyder
This one made it onto my Top Movies Of The Decade post, so go read my thoughts there.
Let us know in the comments which movies you would pick!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Lets begin as always with the films which just missed out on making the Top Ten. 300 took one of my favourite stories from all of the myths and legends and historical stories I read in my youth and gave it the full Zack Snyder/Frank Miller treatment. It wasn’t the first time this story had been told on the big screen, but this is an adaptation of Miller’s comic book version – as such it takes many liberties – but at its core it’s still about a relatively small number of warriors making a final stand against an overwhelming force. I’ve always loved stories like this, and films like this – Zulu, The Two Towers would be the most obvious ones until this dropped. It also works as a siege movie – Night Of The Living Dead, Assault On Precinct 13 come to mind. At the time, Snyder was fresh off the Dawn Of The Dead remake and Miller had done Sin City – both of which I loved, so it seemed like a match made in heaven. It’s everything I thought it was going to be, but with the macho and the visuals ramped up to 12. It’s just sillier than I hoped it would be – too much CG nonsense, stupid love-plots, and the dialogue doesn’t hit like in Sin City. Still, it delivers in the big men killing other big men with big swords stakes, plus it looks great.
This year saw every critic and movie goer falling into the No Country For Old Men or There Will Be Blood camps. As tends to be the case with Oscar hype movies, I put them on the back-burner and don’t watch for a couple of years after release when the hype has fallen away. I’m in the Coen camp in this respect – There Will Be Blood was all about the Lewis performance for me and honestly not a lot else. It’s obviously a great movie, directed within an inch of its life by Anderson, but for me it doesn’t amount to much. I feel no need to revisit it, and it doesn’t tell me anything. No Country For Old Men I rank a little higher, but I’m not some huge fan of it either. I recognise it more for its greatness rather than how much I think about it and want to watch it again. It’s the movie I’d want to rewatch least out of any in this post, but is elevated by numerous terrific performances.
Eastern Promises continued the David Cronenberg renaissance from A History Of Violence as he teamed up once again with Viggo Mortensen for another trip into non-body horror related thriller territory. It still has some notably brutal scenes – most memorably in a bath house – and also features Naomi Watts and Vincent Cassel. It’s moody and shows an uncharacteristic restraint from a director known more for the outlandish. Inside is another shocking example of French Extremism – don’t watch it if you’re pregnant. It’s, on the surface, a home invasion movie with a heavily pregnant woman coming under attack from another woman but to say anymore regarding the plot would be spoiler territory. It has two alarmingly good lead performances, and it is pretty brutal. Superbad is the cream of the crop of Noughties Apatow/Rogan/Hill brand of comedy – it’s just a great hang-out movie and feels like the ‘next generation’s’ American Pie.
10: Black Snake Moan (US) Craig Brewer
Black Snake Moan feels like one of those films which is still waiting to be discovered. It got the wrong sort of attention at the time of release due to some sexualised out of context shots of Christina Ricci and the use of a chain by Samuel L Jackson (both of whom deserved Oscar nods). The film definitely feels like it was marketed incorrectly when in truth it’s more like an offboat drama focused on the relationship between Ricci and Jackson, and Justin Timberlake as Ricci’s boyfriend. It has elements of Brewer’s style which viewers of Hustle And Flow will be familiar with and it’s also very funny. It’s a film about a nymphomaniac who is beaten and left for dead, and found by a bitter old religious man with a penchant for the blues who decides to rehabilitate her. It probably will take a very specific kind of person to be pulled in by that synopsis, but with Ricci and Jackson on top form, it is highly recommended.
9: Sweeny Todd (US/UK) Tim Burton
Regular readers will know by now that I’m not a musical fan. But I am a Tim Burton and Johnny Depp fan – one of the finest cinematic partnerships since the 90s. While Burton had been hit and miss for a while, Depp was at the height of his powers and could do no wrong. I remember going in to the film expecting it to be a dark romance, and being familiar enough with the origins of the story that seemed reasonable. What I didn’t expect was that it would be so grim, so bleak. Even Burton’s darkest fantasies tend to have a happy ending, a glimmer of hope, but this has nothing of the sort. I was a little disoriented walking out of the screening first time and that feeling has never really left. I don’t have much to say about the songs – at a push I could recall one or two melodies off the top of my head – but the performances are universally terrific. It’s not a Burton film I revisit often, but it is one of his best.
8: Grindhouse (US) Robert Rodriguez/Quentin Tarantino
No cinemas near me offered the full Grindhouse experience – instead I had to see the two films individually. Planet Terror is my favourite of the two and I only saw Death Proof a few years later. Both are dirty, grimy, shlocky and peppered with the sort of violence, character types, and dialogue we know and love from Rodriguez and Tarantino. Planet Terror is basically a romance in the middle of a zombie outbreak, featuring memorable turns from Michael Biehn, Rose McGowan, and Freddy Rodriquez, with Death Proof being a showcase for stunt driving, car chases, and Kurt Russell. Stick on any film by these two directors and you’re always in for a good time, even when they’re doing little more than paying homage to their favourites.
7: Angel-A (France) Luc Besson
I still don’t really understand why Angel-A is not talked about. You take any best of list from this year and you take any person’s favourite Luc Besson movie list – this won’t be on either. It’s wonderful, both unlike anything Besson has ever done yet right in line with what he always does. It’s almost like his upturned version of Amelie. The moment I saw the poster – one of my favourites of all time – and I was sold. Based on the poster alone there was no way I wasn’t going to enjoy the film. I mistakenly went in thinking it was another sci-fi film, the lady towering over the man some sort of hulking feminine cyborg, but no – it’s just a romance between a complete loser and a gorgeous woman several leagues above his class. The title does give away a certain fantasy element, but that only loosely comes into play later.
Jamel Debbouze plays Andre, a pathological liar and loser who decides the world would be better of without him – and that he would be better off dead than being chased by the thugs he constantly owes money. As he prepares to kill himself by leaping off one of the many bridges over the Seine, he sees a woman getting their first. After saving her life, she pledges herself to him and they travel over Paris trying to sort out his various debts. It’s a consistently funny, charming, and visually stunning film – probably the most visually impressive work Besson has completed outside of The Fifth Element, except here there is a much lesser focus on effects. It always wows me when I watch it and it always surprises me that no-one knows it exists.
6: 30 Days Of Night (US) David Slade
Another movie based off a comic I’ll never read, this has a great premise – there is a town, little more than an outpost, so far north that once it reaches a certain part of the year it doesn’t see sunlight for a month. So? So throw in vampires. That’s enough for me, but also add Ben Foster, Josh Hartnett, and Melissa George and we’re up another few notches. Then add the fact that it’s actually good – tense, bloody, and with vampires which feel truly demonic, animal, and we have a winner. David Slade went from some of my favourite music videos to Hard Candy, then to this. Then to the Twilight franchise, but we don’t talk about that. There weren’t many good or even interesting vampire movies in this period – 30 Days Of Night manages to be both.
5: Paranormal Activity (US) Oren Peli
Well, I had to. Say what you will about the franchise, or the trend that it started, but when you talk about the most important movies of the decade and the most important horror movies of all time – you have to talk about Paranormal Activity. Made for basically nothing, it grossed more money than The Thing, Halloween, and A Nightmare On Elm street combined (three of my favourite movies ever). It was nothing short of a phenomenon, using effective marketing and a simple premise to maximum effect – a couple notice unusual phenomenon happening inside their home and decide to place cameras around the house hoping to catch something supernatural. That’s it, and yet it spawned a series which you just know is going to be continually remade over the next hundred years. Personally, I think they perfected the formula in the second film which is essentially a remake while also acting as a prequel/sequel. But it all started here. Say what you will about the annoying characters and the stupid decisions they make, the performances, and the scares which to many amount to nothing more than a period of stillness and calm followed by a sudden jolt, but it’s one of the most effective films I’ve ever seen in a theatre at making the audience freak the fuck out and for that alone I’ll always love it.
4: 28 Weeks Later (UK/Spain) Juan Carlos Fresnadillo
I love the original 28 Days Later. It’s fun, inventive (even if it did rip off one of my own stories), and tows the line between nihilism and hope perfectly. 28 Weeks Later catches hope in bed with your neighbour, beheads it, and feeds the corpse to the neighbour’s kid. Fresnadillo has only made three films and they’re all gold – this, Intruders, and Intacto. It doesn’t relate to the characters of the first movie but rather expands the universe to show what was happening around the rest of the country before, during and after.
It begins with one of those most pulsating, heart-pounding intros I’ve ever seen – Robert Carlyle abandoning his wife when his house is attacked by hordes of the infected before running over hill and dale towards a boat. That shot of him sprinting over the fields with a number of the creatures gnashing close behind him is genuinely chilling and sets much of the tone for the rest of the film. That tone is unremittingly grim. Carlyle is great as a cowardly jerk and the main child protagonists manage to not be annoying. Aside from that opening, there are some memorable scenes – Carlyle coming face to face with someone later in the film and of course the helicopter mowing down the infected scene is gleefully silly. I understand that people will always choose the first movie over this, but don’t sleep on this one either – it’s a fun, dirty ride.
3: The Mist (US) Frank Darabont
I think by this point most people know how this movie ends. I won’t spoil it anyway, but it has gone down with some amount of infamy over the years. Everything up to that point is in many ways like the perfect horror film for me – it’s a seige movie so we have a disparate group of survivors holed up in a single location, trapped in by a mysterious, murderous force. For the King fanboy there are tonnes of crossover references, most notably with The Dark Tower, and the cast is uniformly great – it’s like a dry run for The Walking Dead before that show started killing off everyone remotely interesting and leaving us with a cast I could maybe name three characters out of. As King stories go, it’s very simple – there has been a storm, a dad and his sun go down to a local store for supplies, but a sudden all encompassing mist sweeps in and traps them inside with other townspeople. It soon becomes clear that something is in The Mist, and it’s hungry.
That’s all you need for an enjoyable, easy to dismiss movie. King and Darabont spend more time on the characters and the threat and the mystery to raise the film so that it becomes unforgettable. Tensions rise, differences are exposed, factions are drawn, and lines are crossed and before long it’s not only whatever is outside causing the danger, but the person over in the soup aisle. All of this makes that ending more effective. My only complaint is the ropy nature of some of the effects – good ideas and creature designs, but let down by cartoon effects. Apparently watching in the originally planned Black and White counters a percentage of this issue.
2: Enchanted (US) Kevin Lima
There’s really no reason why I should like this – it’s a Musical for a start. But I first saw this on a flight to (or from) Chicago (or possibly Mexico…) and I just loved everything about it. It was Disney, so it probably wasn’t going to be that bad, and the idea of an animated cliched Disney Princess coming into ‘the real world’ was fascinating – there’s so much they can do with a premise like that. Plus I recognised Amy Adams from Buffy so that helped. Within a few minutes I knew I would love it. Adams is fantastic, everyone plays up wonderfully to their tropes, Patrick Dempsey and Rachel Covey are perfectly cast as your typical work-obsessed single father and starry-eyed kid, and the whole thing is just one of the most utterly charming films you’ll ever see. Most people say the same thing about Mary Poppins or The Wizard Of Oz or something, but this is my version of those films. I shouldn’t like this, as a cynical horror fan who wants everyone on screen to die or go through horrific trauma, but there’s no getting away from how lovely this is. I even love most of the songs, and it’s a soundtrack which is in regular rotation for car journeys. It’s every bit as good and necessary as the best of Disney’s Animated Features.
1: Rec (Spain) Jaume Balaguero/Paco Plaza
While France was pumping out more and more extreme, troubling, and gore-filled movies Spain wanted in on the fun. Rec is perfect on multiple levels – a technical marvel, filled with effectively jumpscares and genuine horror created by building upon its premise and setting. The whole Rec series is worth watching, but the first is the best. It’s what I wanted the Resident Evil movies to be.It raised the bar for found-footage/POV horror, and nothing has really matched it since.
The film begins as a reporter and her cameraman are filming a documentary about a local Fire Crew – spending a night with them, hoping to catch them in again and show the dangers of the job. The crew gets a call to investigate a screaming woman seemingly trapped in her apartment so the reporter and cameraman tag along. What at first seems like a routine investigation turns violent as the screaming woman attacks. As the group tries to work out what is happening, the apartment block is shutdown from the outside by military people in hazmat suits – the documentary team, fire crew, police, and other residents are trapped inside with what appear to be people turned violent due to some zombie like infection.
Rather than having static placed cam or overly shaky cam, Rec makes more use of light – or the absence of it – and the genuine confusion and tangible fear of the characters to illicit emotion from the viewer. It’s more reminiscent of real world news stories of reporters in war zones, the ones where the reporter and cameraman are hunkered down while a gun battle goes on in the background, or running from the scene of an explosion. Even though it gets supernatural and then spreads the Rec mythology wings in its final scenes, it’s that realism which marks it out from other found footage films. The proximity to danger, the claustrophobia, the sudden violence – it all adds up to provide one of the finest horror experiences of the decade.
Let us know what you think of the films above and what your favourite films of 2007 are!
Greetings, Glancers! Wrestling is not something I talk about much on my blog – mainly because I can’t be arsed writing about it as keeping up with the 100 hours a week content is a big enough pain, and because there are plenty of bloggers out there who are much more dedicated and knowledgeable than I am. Still, it has been something which has been in and out of my life for as long as I can remember. As I sit here with nothing else to write about in September, I realised that I’m quite far behind on my Wrestling viewing. Summerslam has come and gone yet I’m only just finished watching the Raw and Smackdown after Wrestlemania. And I’m at least 7 weeks behind on Impact. Avoiding spoilers is one thing; catching up is another. So I thought I’d make a little Wrestling list.
In Primary School in the late 80s and early 90s – the early years of the explosion of the WWE (then WWF) thanks to main events like Wrestlemania and Royal Rumble, many of my friends were wrestling fans and those who weren’t still got swept along by the marketing and associated toys. If I had a dubious blue style plastic ring complete with announce table and Heavyweight Belt, another friend had an even more souped up model with walkway or Titantron. Actually – here’s the one I had (I still have it):
I went away from it for a while, coming back as the Attitude era was picking up and going toe to toe with WCW. This was my second golden era as a new batch of characters reflecting the writing and tone of the time and yet they were still fighting alongside and against many of the household names from my childhood. Those large than life, yet real-life superheroes were performing entertaining feats of strength and agility that had long since been removed from much of the action movies I had also grown up on, and while the storylines rarely changed, they remained silly and pantomime enough for me to shout at the TV like a yahoo.
Wrestling has always worked in peaks and troughs. A few years after WCW collapsed and most of their talent joined Vince and Co, the Wresting world began to recess from my view – many of the new stars didn’t interest me, plots and gimmicks became too stale, and a lot of the humour and violence was lost. Now in my twenties, I had my own life to live, but as nature and life can sometimes be cyclical it wasn’t long before I started watching again, first with TNA and then back to WWE. A new and enthusiastic batch of younger, fitter, more self-aware and savvy performers had burst onto the scene and my wife (a fan from the 80s too) and kids started watching too. The speed was often increased, there was a focus on Woman’s Wrestling (particularly outside of WWE), and there was more content than every before, including Mexico and Japan’s offerings, Ring Of Honor, and now AEW and Shine/Shimmer. It was not surprise to me that many of the surviving heroes from my younger days were still hanging around, that plenty of the Attitude Era guys were getting major airtime, and that it was as fun and over the top as ever. There’s simply something comforting knowing that these people are still out there selling it every night, and with each generation a new set of heroes is born and drawn to those bright lights and four corners.
And so, in a momentary spin-off from my usual Movie and Music based lists I present my, in no way exhaustive, list of favourite Wrestlers of all time. These are my personal picks based on a mixture of character, performance, ability, and just what they’ve meant to me over the years. It is not supposed to be a best-of, and indeed many of those listed will not be the usual picks. Most though will hardly be surprising to the hardcore. I’ve tried to limit this – believe me there are many many others I would love to mention, but hardly anyone will read this anyway and those who do will likely be bored by the time they reach this sentence. I’m doing this off the top of my head too, so I guarantee that within five minutes of publishing it I’ll remember one of my absolute favourites that I’ve somehow missed. So lets just get on with it. In alphabetical order:
Made of of Faarooq and Bradshaw, also known as The Acolytes, The APA were a no nonsense, tough as nails tag team who would just as quickly take your money in a game of poker as beat you in the ring. Faarooq (Ron Simmons) had been a successful solo wrestler, winning the WCW Heavyweight Championship, but it wasn’t until he paired with Bradshaw as part of The Undertaker’s Acolytes group that both men’s career’s took off. After splitting off from The Dead Man, they continued as the APA – a shady, money focused business racket and would go on to win their third Tag Team Championship, in between acting as bodyguards for whoever needed (could pay for) them.
AJ Styles was known for his hybrid style wrestling during his tenure with TNA and became one of their most valuable assets. As the Company’s fortunes began to sour, he jumped ship like many others. His final piece of characterization on TNA hinted heavily that the real AJ was not happy – growing his hair, beard, and becoming a loose cannon biker type. There was still some interesting stuff as he refused to get involved in the Aces & Eights war (for my money the most interesting stable of the last decade) and then suffering through a dubious title split thanks to Dixie Carter. After losing his match against Magnus to ‘reunify’ the two heavyweight title (don’t ask), AJ left the Company.
AJ’s earliest matches in TNA in the various X Division battles are the stuff of legend – pitted against similar high-flyers like Christopher Daniels, Petey Williams, and Chris Sabin, as well as great feuds with Kurt Angle, Abyss, and Samoa Joe, AJ was one of the most consistent and successful names on the books. That success has only grown since moving to WWE as he quickly became Smackdown Champion and held the title for a year. Recently he has been drifting between characters to see what sticks, currently as some sort of heel after a decent feud with Randy Orton. AJ has one of the most varied move sets in WWE at the moment and consistently looks fresh when viewed alongside many of the other big hitters with a much more limited series of moves, and is equally comfortable on the mat and in the air.
Austin Aries is arguably my favourite wrestler of my own third generation of viewing (generations based on my intro post). His gimmicks have changed over the years and he remains a highly divisive figure among fans and promotions. Nevertheless, the one thing which both fans and detractors call out year upon year is his ego – no matter whether good guy, bad guy, or somewhere in between, it’s his ego which stands out. From The Belt Collector to The Greatest Man Who Ever Lived, A Double has provided many of my favourite moments in Wrestling in the last ten years, not least his creation of ‘Option Three’, beating Bobby Roode, and his stint fighting Aces & Eights. A six time X Division Champion, Aries – likes Styles – has a varied collection of moves and ways to antagonize his opponent which never fail to get a laugh out of me.
Aries moved to WWE with a hefty amount of heat behind him, but it always seemed like NXT and WWE didn’t really know what to do with him. I’m not sure of what happened behind the scenes but the two never seemed to click even though on the surface he’s exactly the sort of character – Heel or Face – that the company desperately needs. A promising start led to an injury which pushed him into commentary for a while, before an unsuccessful run at the Cruiserweight 205 Live belt seemed to sour things. Aries returned to Impact again, destroying Eli Drake in what I hoped signalled a return to success for the Company. While the Company’s fortunes seem to be turning, slowly, Aries didn’t last long and left after losing his Heavyweight title in the now infamous Bound For Glory headliner. That particular feud was one of the strangest I’ve ever witnessed with multiple reports conflating and conflicting what was real or planned or scripted and where lines blurred. In any case, Aries is no longer part of Impact or WWE, and the wrestling world is poorer for it, though he’s still lurking in the Indies and MLW. Any chance AEW? (Note, Aries has since given his turn of events in a recent interview with Killer Kross which makes for great reading).
Tag Teams can be hit and miss for me, usually built on some silly gimmick which instantly annoys me or sours quickly. Beer Money was one of the exceptions – an extension of what the APA stood for and acting like a couple of Stone Colds – beer drinking, hard hitting badasses who consistently got the job done. Made up of Bobby Roode and James Storm, the long-haired coupling who had worked against each other before in Team Canada (with Petey Williams and Eric Young) and America’s Most Wanted (with Gail Kim and Chris Harris). The pairing always felt natural and a combination sass and power, with the no fucks given attitude of Austin. Feuds with the Motor City Machine Guns, Team 3D, and the Main Event Mafia consolidated their prowess and influence but it was with Ric Flair’s revamped Four Horsemen – Fortune, that the group took off for me.
From there the group turned Heel to Face and then began branching out as dedicated solo performers. This in turn led to one of my favorite sequences in TNA as both Roode and Storm competed in Bound For Glory for the Heavyweight Championship. Roode was cheated out of victory by Kurt Angle, but Storm was then given a shot and won the title. Being best mates, Storm gave Roode a title shot only for Roode to turn heel and smash a beer bottle over Storm to win the championship. That was essentially the end. Both competitors went one to become personal favourites on their own, with Roode moving to WWE to glorious success and Storm remaining at Impact for a while, selling the likes of EC3 before moving to the newly reformed NWA.
What’s not to love about The Boogeyman? A horrendous and misguided misrepresentation of Lord knows what, he was the latest in a long line of GABBO-esque viral advertising, built up with creepy surprise promos for weeks until he was finally unleashed. And he was… what? Some Baron Samedi-looking ogre with a penchant for live worms and alien voodoo, yet for all the hype and shrieking he never truly amounted to anything or achieved much. He has hyped as the next super-freak, and then faded away to randomly appear in Raw Reunions for larfs. Imagine of Bray Wayatt’s latest incarnation had had a single match after all of those Sesame Street skits we saw, then was never seen again – that’s kind of like what happened to The Boogeyman. What a waste.
This is going to be the most surprising inclusion in my list, but I genuinely think Chad Gable is the best all round athlete on WWE at the moment. While they persist in pushing gimmick based tag teams (New Day/Viking Raiders), completely bland tag teams (The Revival), and the more showy high fliers (Ricochet/Aleister Black), Chad Gable seems to be consistently sidelined. They haven’t quite figured out what to do with him – to me he’s the next natural Kurt Angle and just needs that one-liner or character change to truly break out. He had a decent run alongside Bobby Roode but they weren’t given any interesting storylines or teams to feud with – the same can be said for his stint with Jason Jordan (remember him?) Gable’s skills can’t be argued against – he is a former Olympian and is one of only two people to hold the NXT, Smackdown, and Raw Tag belts. He has seen a recent upturn by almost going all the way in the revamped King Of The Ring tournament (apparently – I still haven’t caught up to that point yet at time of writing). I’m not sure the whole Shorty G thing is going to work – it’s about time he got taken seriously as a hero figure instead of the constant drifting between Roman and Seth. He does need extra skills on the mike, but that only comes with extra time in the spotlight.
Diamond Dallas Page
A hero and inspiration to many, DDP’s exploits are far reaching and famous. Already clearly a good guy and well thought of within the business, his work with helping to rehabilitate wrestlers, athletes, soldiers, and anyone else was highlighted in the excellent Jake The Snake movie. In the ring, he was one of the major draws in the latter days of WCW, only starting to wrestle at the ripe old age of 35. It was a few years after he started that he began to make waves on television, feuding with Eddie Guerrero, NWO, and the Macho Man before truly ‘making it’. After winning several titles he made the move to WWE where he won another two championships. His Diamond Cutter probably remains my favourite cutter in the business.
Where Gable is my pick for ‘should be much bigger than he is’, DJZ was my pick a few years ago for the next big thing. Along with a number of newer high-fliers from Impact such as Andrew Everett, DJZ has all the tools to be huge. A series of injuries has hit him, almost killed him, but he keeps coming back. A clear risk taker, he pulls out moves you’ve never seen before and does the classics with style, as well as being great on the mike. He has the pretty boy snarl to be a popular heel, and has the comic chops to be a cult face. He has had numerous successful runs on Impact, from his early days as Zima Ion eventually picking up the X Division Belt then a funny turn as part of the Bro Mans with Jessie Godderz, Robbie E, and Robbie T when he adopted the DJZ persona. If you’ve never seen an Ultimate X match, or an X division match in general with DJZ, you don’t know what you’re missing. Since leaving Impact, he has moved to NXT and will hopefully make a push onto one of the main brands – they need more interesting heels than Corbin.
Out of all the tag-teams borne out of the Attitude Era, there were really only two who mattered to me – The Hardyz and these guys. They feuded on and off for years, along with Edge and Christian, in their infamous tables, ladders, and chairs matches – the very matches which really sucked me in during my second phase of viewing. Happy to be ‘the bad guys’ up against the pretty and heroic Hardy Brothers, Devon and Bubba were bruisers, adorned in snow camo-trousers, and always ready to smash you through a table or headbutt you in the groin. The team also transitioned over to TNA but it was Bubba (who became Bully Ray) who had the most single competitor success. He would be one of the front running heels for a few years in TNA – his story with Aces & Eights, Brooke Hogan, and Dixie Carter reaching melodramatic, can’t miss Soap Opera issues. As a team they were very fluid – they never looked like high fliers but would frequently be seen hanging off a ladder or leaping off the top rope just like their biggest rivals, and they had the shoot snark to go along with their in ring talents.
It’s difficult to think of a more popular villain in all of wrestling – maybe Triple H? Ric Flair of course? Guerrero transcended the Heel role, becoming more of a scoundrel or loveable rogue through his ‘lying, cheating, and stealing’ and finally becoming an outright icon for good. When in WCW, along with Benoit, Perry Saturn, and Dean Malenko as The Radicalz they took their long standing relationships and became a successful stable. The group left WCW shortly before the company collapsed and all four men went on to varying degrees of success with Vince and Co. It was Eddie who stood out as the pantomime character – his Lucha Libre stylings were mostly unique in the company and he had a knack for pre-memes, thanks to ‘mamacita’, ‘Latino Heat’, and other terms which caught on. It was rare that he ever got a clean win, forcing numerous disqualifications by tricking the officials and becoming romantically involved with the likes of Chyna and Vicky. His womanizing persona won over the crowd, leading to multiple titles, but his physical ability earned his respect, with many fans and fellow wrestlers calling him one of the best of all time. With at least 10 WWE championships, two from WCW, and multiple from other promotions, it’s difficult to argue against that fact.
As mentioned in some of my other entries, Benoit was one of the most successful performers to transition between WCW and WWE, his Air Canada and Crippler Crossface particularly devastating, and his alignment with Perry, Dean, and Eddie a long-lasting winning partnership. Of course every wrestling fan knows that it all ended in tragedy and horror, and I get the impression that there is a lot more about this story and the general physical and mental strain which the Business can cause that will come out in the future. When he was alive, Benoit was one of the best in-ring performers in the world. He may not have been the most electrifying on the mic but his dedication and skills always paid off, leading to one of the most emotional WWE World Heavyweight wins I’ve ever seen. In his time in the two main promotions, he was a two time WCW tag champion, 1 time WCW World Heavyweight Champion, 3 time TV champ, 2 time US Champ, 4 time WWE Tag champ, 4 time Intercontinental champ, 3 time WWE US Champ, and 1 time Royal Rumble Winner.
Eli Drake came to the forefront just as TNA/Impact was on ‘the turn’. It was losing money, viewers, and performers left, right, and centre and Eli Drake quickly bcame noticed as the best mike performer thanks to his early Dummy button gimmick. His catchphrases quickly caught on with the crowd and he became a fan favourite. In many ways I would say Drake is the best mike man since The Rock, someone who has clearly influenced his persona and energy. Drake is not always the most elegant in the ring, but his connection to the crowd and series of devasting moves ensured his matches are always entertaining. He was certainly a major part of keeping the promotion alive during a number of transitory periods, earning several championships and teaming with a variety of stars from Drew Galloway, Scott Steiner, and Jessie Godderz and feuding with Grado, The Broken Hardeyz, and El Patron. Just as he was struggling to find a new outlet and form in his final months in Impact, he parted ways during some controversy surrounding his feelings about intergender wrestling, with Sami Callahan picking up the mantle. Drake is now with NWA, but would be another great fit for AEW or WWE thanks to his hilarious skills in front of the camera. I get the feeling, like EC3 and many others, that WWE wouldn’t know what to do with him.
For my money, Gail is the greatest female wrestler of all time. At the very least she is my favourite. Great on the mat, in the air, on the mike, and with a flexible move-set, she was part of the first true explosion in woman’s wrestling. Always creative in her matches, her long-running feuds with the likes of Awesome Kong, The Beautiful People, and Taryn Terrell remain some of the most electrifying matches you’ll ever see. Even though she won the Woman’s Championship in her first match in WWE, her time with them was not the most fruitful with Kim accusing the company of not knowing what to do with female talent, and specifically Asian talent. Equally alluring a performer as Heel or Hero, Kim relished both positions but as time went on the crowd were less convinced to see her as a bad guy, such was the respect they had for her. She bowed out of competition this year as a seven time TNA Knockouts Champion, selling Tess Blanchard as the next generation. It’s unfortunate now given how Women’s Wrestling has gone from strength to strength that so few wrestling fans, blinded by the glitz of WWE, know who Gail Kim is and that so few of today’s performers would be where they are without he accomplishments. Gail now works backstage on Impact, popping up every so often in front of the camera.
There were a couple of major draws for me when WCW came to Channel 5 in the UK in the late 90s. I knew the big names who had been around the block for the company and of course those convinced to join from the WWE. Goldberg I knew nothing about, until I saw him on Channel 5, learned about the undefeated strike, and watched him in action myself. The guy was simply unstoppable. A powerhouse who would regularly shred opponents to pieces thanks to his Jackhammer and the best Spear in the game. Unfortunately this was around the time he kept being hit by injuries, and within a couple of years the company folded. Goldberg would eventually move over to WWE, the 1 wrestler I most wanted to see make the move, and he continued from where he left off, feuding with the best and going on another streak. His most ntoable feud was against Triple H and pals as he successfully won the World Heavyweight Championship and defended it against all manner of usual HHH shenanigans. I’m still bitter Kane didn’t win the title, but HHH gets what HHH wants. After losing the belt, Goldberg had a brief feud with Brock Lesnar before leaving the company – a feud which would be picked up again years later. There have been few performers as explosive as Goldberg – it’s a shame injuries prevented him from making a longer-lasting impact.
The Hardy Boyz
The Attitude Era was all about 90s cool, but it wasn’t always the easiest task making the ‘roided up, beefcakes of the 80s seem all that appealing to the post-grunge, post-meta 90s landscape. Enter The Hardy Boyz, sleeve tats, punk ethos, dyed hair, piercings, and they didn’t look like superheroes. They almost looked like, with a little bit of training, you or I could match up to them. Crucially, they brought a rarely before seen high-flying, daredevil style to wrestling which took the business to a new level; it wasn’t just muscle bound freaks you could lift a limo with one hand while choking out a rhino with the other. It was guys like you or me who could run, climb, flip, and dive of twenty foot ladders through cunningly placed tables like no-one’s business. I credit WWE’s continued success at the tale end of the century and into the next, to these guys and The Rock, for changing the game like no others. You knew every match was going to be an event, a spectacle, and you knew you were going to see violence the likes of which was usually reserved for Hong Kong movies. Matt and Jeff would continue across multiple promotions, both as a team and as solo competitors, trying new personas such as Jeff’s Willow and Matt’s Broken Hardy, culminating in such madness as lawnmower jaunts in the grounds of the Hardy complex, and sentient drones.
He’s still the most famous of them all, right? Even though his fame has been tinted by a lot of awful personal stuff and stories which have come to light, nobody quite embodies the unique pantomime/gladiator lore as Hulk Hogan.
Jake The Snake
If Hulk was generally known for standing up for all that was good, right, and American, then Jake The Snake was known for, well, having a giant ass snake in a sack. Jake never was able to translate one of the most unique gimmicks into Championship success, but he remained one of the most popular and visible stars of wrestling throughout the 80s and into a less decisive 90s. He was the first WWE figure I wanted to buy – in those days that particular toy range each had a special move – a button to make them kick or slam etc. Jake’s was a fist you could pull back on a spring and release. I chipped my tooth thanks to this fist, within days of purchase. His Resurrection documentary is a great watch, a fantastic insight into the man and the business, and his appearance on the Joe Rogan podcast is a must listen for any Wrestling fan.
My all time favourite Wrestler. People love The Undertaker – I love The Undertake, but The Dead Man’s brother appealed to the adolescent underling in me and ticked all the right boxes. He was a towering behemoth, a horror movie villain, a mute and seemingly indestructible powerhouse with a move-set which mimicked his brother’s, with a few twists of its own. Plus he could conjure fire. I don’t think The Company ever gave Kane his due, and still don’t. At minimum they should be wheeling him out each Royal Rumble as an opportunity for him to eliminate a few people and act as an opportunity for one of the up and comers to take him out and make a name for themselves. Too often, Kane has been used specifically to sell someone the company wanted to push and too often has he been used purely to make someone else look good, without allowing him to shine himself. No, his ten plus tag team championships and two time Heavyweight belts aren’t enough. He still holds PPV appearance and Royal Rumble Elimination records, but like a certain Austrian bodybuilder before him, a life in politics has taken him away from his true calling – beating the shit out of people for my entertainment. He still has a couple of good runs in him.
As The Hardy Boys made waves for their high-flying antics in and out of the ring, a young woman by the name of Lita came to prominence by helping out Essa Rios, a new Lucha fighter. He was okay, but she caught the eye thanks to her gritty punk style, good looks, and her top rope moonsault. It seemed inevitable that she would become the anti-poster girl for WWE, feuding with the more traditional upstarts like Torrie Wilson and Trish Stratus. Lita and Trish’s bouts were the first authentic female matches the brand had, and while they still had their fair share of underwear related matches (no complaints from me at the time), it was clear than Lita was spearheading a new movement and proving women could be just as good, and just as much of a legitimate draw, as the men.
I mentioned Kane as my all time favourite, but it’s Undertaker who understandably gets the headlines. He’s been seemingly around forever, he changed the game when it comes to entrances, gimmicks, back story, and he managed to evolve with the business numerous times to remain one of the biggest draws in the business. A character of effortless cool, who doesn’t get a chill down their spine when that bell first tolls, or when you wait in anticipation for the dead man to rise, sit up after being hit with a finisher only to deliver a hellish chokeslam and tombstone of his own? Sure he’s retired about 12 times now, and is last few one off matches haven’t exactly inspired confidence, but when all is said and done he’ll be remembered as one of the greatest of all time.
Speaking of all time greats, Sting was the man who kept both WCW and TNA afloat for decades, the one man WWE wanted but couldn’t get. From his bleach blond roots to his conversion to his Crow persona he was a mainstay on ‘the other wrestling promotion’ and a source of respect to everyone in the business. It should have been big news when Sting finally made the jump to WWE, except he suffered a career ending injury in basically his first match, and that was that. When I watched WCW in the early 90s, Sting was to WCW what Hogan was to WWE – bigger than life, heroic, and with a series of moves which been adopted by others while keeping the name he gave them – The Stinger Splash, the Scorpion Death Lock etc. His move to The Crow look, and the related storylines, is one of the best character changes in Wrestling history. Whether as part of NWO, as a heroic face, or in his TNA days, Sting was number one and picked up 6 WCW Heavyweight Belts, 3 WCW tag titles, 2 WCW USA championships, 5 TNA World Titles, and become a two time Hall Of Famer.
The Ultimate Warrior
If I’m honest, I was always more partial to The Ultimate Warrior than Hulk when I was younger. He looks ridiculous in retrospect, but in the 80s and early 90s, The Ultimate Warrior was essentially a real life He-Man. How could anyone have that much manic energy and have so many muscles? The combination of colour and ability made him an obvious stand-out performer. Since his death, a whole lot of rumours and stories and true accounts have come out about the man behind the war paint which have certainly soured his legacy, but as in in-ring performer and a major foil for Hulkamania, there have been few better.
One of the first images I ever remember seeing on a Wrestling Magazine was of Foley, as Cactus Jack, face bloodied and head wrapped in barbed wire. As an already devout action movie and horror fan, I needed this in my life. I already knew Cactus Jack, but only through the heavily censored footage I had seen – they were the matches that were ‘too violent for TV’ or they ‘used REAL violence’ as opposed to what I already knew was fake in the industry. It wasn’t until Foley moved to WWE, initially as Mankind,that I got to see his brutal matches without cut always or censorship. Chair shots, trashcan lids, staples, bats, and everything else were employed in the early days as Mankind started pissing off The Undertaker, kick-starting one of the all-time great feuds. That of course culminated with Paul Bearer dropping Taker, a number of first-time matches (Buried Alive, Boiler Room) and of course the infamous Hell In A Cell encounter – frequently highlighted as the greatest match of all time. No matter what persona Foley adopted, his characters were always quirky and filled with repeatable one-liners. There have been few equal to Foley’s mic skills and knack for getting the crowd on board, and there aren’t many true innovators of violence more influential than him.
We go from one of the best mic-talkers, to the best there has ever been. You go back and watch old promos from the best in the business, to the 80s, and they are almost all ridiculous. Cheesy, hammed up, and amusing, charming, and dated in their ways. You shake your head and wonder how you enjoyed the stuff at the time. Then you watch The Rock and he just continues to blow everyone else away. His lightning fast speeches, his hilarious interruptions, his timeless one-liners and whip-smart humour – he single-handedly destroyed the old guard promos and challenged every other wrestler on the planet to just bring it with even half the skill and style he did. No-one has met the challenge yet. Of course, that would be nowt without in-ring ability.
Stone Cold Steve Austin
As much as I love Kane’s booming intro, there are two pieces of music/sounds which sit at the top of the pile as perfect heralds for incoming mayham. The Undertaker’s doom coloured death knell chime, and the explosion of glass which signals Stone Cold’s manic march to the ring. These two pieces are as perfect as you can get – both symbolizing the character, both instantly recognizable. In this day and age of symbols and memes and endless sharing, the impact that a single sound can have around the planet has never been higher and even now, years after Stone Cold has retired, that crash sends audiences into a frenzy as he heads down to burst open a few cold ones and stun whichever poor sod happens to be in the ring at the time. An all round bad-ass, a good talker, and with one of the most sudden and devastating finishers in the business, while Austin was injured and forced out before his time, he still notched up 14 championships in WWE as well as three Royal Rumble wins and is of course a Hall Of Famer – he picked up a few in WCW too.
As far as, for lack of a more respectful term, joke teams go Too Cool dropped at the right team. While the Attitude era has a little more saucy, a little more hardcore, there was also a lot of room for fun and nonsense. Too Cool exemplified this, with their wide-eyed gazes, dances, Rikishi love, and worms. Everybody enjoyed mimicking their moves and they were popular enough to win the tag championship twice. Today’s most popular teams such as The New Day have a lot to thank Too Cool for.
Maybe the greatest of all factions – New World Order went through various incarnations and saw the likes of Sting, The Big Show, The Million Dollar Man, Bischoff, The Macho Man, Konan, Jeff Jarrett, Bret Hart and many others involved, but it was the mainstays and instigators – Hogan, Hall, and Nash – who created and solidified their legacy. Coming in like a group of thugs, seeing Hogan turning Heel and wanting to take over the business. They were the team, and the main reason, most people tuned in to Nitro over Raw in the 90s and remain one of the most influential groups in Wrestling history.
One of the first ‘big men’ who was a complete all rounder – grappler, bruiser, high-flyer, as adapt off the ropes as he was lethal with submissions, Joe was one of TNA’s finest villains. Since moving to WWE he hasn’t managed the same level of impact, usually reduced to more heel plots where he tends to ‘get personal’ with friends and family members but is still clearly a fan favourite in the company. His feuds with Angle, AJ, Magnus, and a good guy turn versus Aces & Eights saw him as one of TNA’s most respected and successful performers, picking up nine championships before earning another four in WWE.
A man whose entire character seemed to be based on a single gimmick – a ridiculous one – somehow manager to build on that to become one of the most entertaining talkers in both WWE and Impact. That gimmick? Quite simply, he would announce himself when he had a match, hurling out his name (similar to ‘Best In The World Shane McMahon’), then pause for a couple of seconds, then repeat his surname. That’s it – Mr Kennedy….. Kennedy. It was nonsense, but somehow it worked. I used to head out to bars on a Saturday night – metal bars mostly – and after a drink too many I would mimic his shout. Without fail, some other drunken loon would repeat ‘Kennedy’ before I could. He’s infamously the only person to lose the Money In The Bank briefcase before cashing in, but he did become USA Champ and Two Time Heavyweight Champ in TNA.
Frequently called out as the best all round Wrestler of all time, it wasn’t always plain sailing for Angle. He had a rough time in his early days in WWE, not coming across well to fans, but thanks to feuds with Eddie Guerrero and honing in on his comedy skills, he eventually won the universe over, then allowing his obvious in ring talent to shine. For someone who won an Olympic Gold Medal with a broken freaking neck, his success was inevitable. In many ways his most thrilling matches were with TNA, where he decided to go for more daredevil moves and being part of some of the best solo and group feuds in the company’s history. He has of course returned to, and retired from WWE due to many legitimate neck injuries, but he leaves behind a career which saw him pick up 6 TNA Heavyweight Championships, 1 X Division Title, 2 TNA Tag Titles, 2 WCW belts, two Hall Of Fame medals, and for WWE – 5 Heavyweight, 1 Tag Title, 1 Euro Champ belt, 1 Hardcore Belt, and 1 Intercontinental Champ. Presumably he’ll pick up the 24/7 belt at some point.
There you go – my favourite wrestlers ever, from the top of my head. I know I’ve missed some of the most famous and plenty of the current stars – but let me know in the comments who would be on your list!
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.
Greetings, Glancers! As they say in Pointless, it’s time to come back down the line. Yes, it’s time to go back through my favourite movies by year lists and update them with additional thoughts and information to expand beyond simplified originals, starting with 2009 and working backwards towards 1950.
Lets begin briefly with those who almost made the cut. Although we’re now ten years plus removed from 2009, the year was always going to be remembered for one movie above all – the all conquering Avatar. While we continue to wait for the next blue tinted extravaganza from James Cameron, time has been kind enough to the film. It still looks glossy and the 3D technology involved is still a marvel. The story was never very interesting first time around and it quickly collapsed into Transformers Vs Jurassic Park, but it remains one of the most important spectacles in Cinema history. It’s not one I will see myself revisiting often as time goes on but you can’t go without experiencing it at least once.
Harry Brown is like Get Carter for pensioners – or Get Off My Lawn. Capitalizing on much of the fear of ‘hoodies’ and society’s post millennium breakdown and paranoia it tells the satisfying story of an ex marine, now elderly man living in a run down council estate. Having lived through many years of war and violence you’d expect him to be enjoying his twilight years in luxury, but instead he has to deal with gangs and hoodies and chavs who prevent him from seeing his wife in her dying moments. With the police unable to help and refusing to end his days in fear, he goes on the warpath. It’s all a little right wing in the vein of Michael Winner, but I’ve always had a soft spot for vigilante movies – who hasn’t wanted to flip out and beat the shit out of a gang of scumbags or bullies? The cast certainly helps elevate matters – Michael Caine hasn’t been this badass since the 70s and a host of GOT faces will be familiar. There is the usual assortment of go-to thugs who have made a career of these types of roles – Jack O’Connell, Sean Harris, Ben Drew, and Joseph Gilgun all give committed performances. There were quite a few films of this ilk at the time, from Eden Lake to Gran Torino and director Daniel Barber went on to helm the Hailee Steinfeld/Brit Marling ‘Western’ The Keeping Room which is always well worth a look.
Moon is a film I was interested in from Day One, but took a few years to actually see. It’s Sam Rockwell alone (mostly) on the Moon near the end of his three year term as the only living worker maintaining a mining facility. It would be entering spoiler territory to give away anymore of the plot, but if you’ve seen the obvious influencers – Silent Running, Solaris, 2001, then you won’t be too far off what unfolds if you were to hazard a guess. It’s an opportunity once more for some moral and philosophical wondering under the guidance of Duncan Jones and writer Nathan Parker who specializes in this sort of high concept hard genre stuff. Rockwell is terrific and it was a little misguided when he was overlooked at The Oscars.
District 13 Ultimatum is… well, if you liked the original (and you should), it’s more of the same. This series has some of the best physical action you’re likely to find, taking the visceral quality of the Bourne movies and throwing in copious amounts of parkour. Both films have me wanting to leap out the living room window and begin tearing my way through the neighbours gardens – over walls, through bushes, up drainpipes and bounding from rooftoop to rooftop. Bringing back both David Belle and Cyril Raffaelli from the original we see quickly that the French ghetto is still in bad shape, with rival gangs fighting over filling the gap left after the events of the original. Again there are plenty of obvious allusions to political situations but we cam here for the action and it doesn’t disappoint. If you’re bored of superheros and CG and building crashing to the ground this will revitalize your interest in action.
Up is yet another near perfect movie from Pixar. I don’t love it as much as most people do and its best moments are in that opening, but it’s still a lovely tale about dreams and friendship that it’s hard to criticize. My only issue with the recent Pixar and Disney animations is the ‘chubby’ nature of the art – almost every film and character follows this style and even by the time Up was released it was long past time for a change – a change which neither Company has made since.
Bruno is exactly what you would expect if you’ve already seen Borat or the Ali G Show. It’s basically a carbon copy of Borat but with a different character – an excuse to ridicule the vain, the stupid, and the generally right wing. It’s offensive, it’s hilarious and the only reason I don’t enjoy it as much as Borat is that Borat is such an endearing character, in spite of being a terrible human. My wife’s parents loved Borat – they had to switch Bruno off within ten minutes. Ok boomer comes to mind.
District 9 got a lot of positive reaction this year, critics suddenly deciding that genre movies were worth discussing as long as they had a political subtext, however on the nose it may be. Never mind the fact that horror and sci-fi have always done political subtext better than almost any other genres. I came for the gore and the swearing and the ludicrous over the top performance by Sharlto Copley. I like the low budget creative approach and the fact that the aliens aren’t what we were used to seeing, and the descent to action in the final sections feels like a fun payoff. Again, I don’t think it’s as good as the praise it received at the time, but I’d take something like this over almost every other Best Picture nominee this year. Finally, The Road possibly should have been nominated in that category – a bleak and uncompromising take on McCarthy’s book with a great lead performance by Viggo Mortensen. John Hillcoat follows the approach he showcases in The Proposition and makes it a film well worth re-watching.
Just one final late entry, which probably should have made it into my original Top Ten, but I somehow overlooked that it came out in 2009 – The House Of The Devil. It’s a great slasher throwback, and everything simply works.
Now into the top ten.
10: Dead Snow (Norway) Tommy Wirkola
2009 was peak, or end of peak zombie renaissance territory, and even then most viewers were tired of the whole shtick. Enter Tommy Wirkola who smashes fun back into the genre which had become a little too serious. Dead Snow is one big episode of Wile E Coyote And Road Runner – a natural stepson of Braindead if not Evil Dead. The pitch is great – what if a gang of Nazi soldiers who had been frozen in the mountains woke up again in an undead search for gold? Actually, that’s not great, but it is hilarious. To set up the story we throw in your standard Cabin In The Woods tropes – friends staying in the wilderness for a weekend with all of their relationship crap and then unleash the zombie Nazis. The film neatly balances the shocks and humour and goes wildly overboard with the gore and kills to satisfy any gore-hound. While the cast and characters are almost irrelevant, Vegar Hoel impresses as a modern day Euro-Ash and expands upon that role to ridiculous levels in the sequel. It’s just silly, mindless fun with particularly chunky gore effects.
9: The Princess And The Frog (US) Disney
Call me old fashioned, but I still prefer hand drawn. It largely avoids the aforementioned chubby animation and just feels more tactile and committed. I’m not discounting the work CG animators perform, but when I see hand drawn it simply pulls me in more and gives me a greater sense of the the person behind the creation and the love and care which went into the work. The Princess And The Frog is yet another lovely, simple story from Disney – it’s them going a little meta, recognizing the tropes they helped perpetuate, and having fun turning them around. The voodoo setting and the first African American Princess are all positives, the voice work is particularly strong with the likes of Keith David, Anika Noni Rose, and Jim Cummings standing out. The songs may not be the huge hitters which translate well to the charts, but Almost There joins the ranks of classics which the Company has created over the decades and there are enough sentimental and scary moments to make it memorable. It’s not top tier Disney for me, but it’s in that large and wide B Grade territory where much of their material resides.
8: Micmacs (France) Jean Pierre Jeunet
I’m not sure why this film flew under the radar so much. It’s the director of Amelie making another utterly charming and quirky comedy drama, complete with all of the visual flair he is known for. It deserves a hell of a lot more recognition and while it’s no Amelie, that’s a bit like saying Heat is no The Godfather. It has that exaggerated colour scheme not quite comic book look which you’ll be familiar with from Amelie and A Very Long Engagement, and several of his usual cast members pop up, from Dominique Pinot to Urbain Cancellier.
The film follows a man who seems to be incredibly unlucky when it comes to weaponry – first his dad is killed by a landmine, then he is shot in the head by a stray bullet at work one day. Becoming something of a freak due to the bullet remaining in his head, he joins a group of similar outcasts who happen to live in a junkyard – a contortionist, a maths genius, a human cannonball etc – he has a history in mime. Essentially they become their own circus and they plot to get revenge on the weapons manufacturers who are causing so much grief in the city and around the globe using their unique talents not unlike The A Team. It’s all very charming, fast-paced yet gentle, and is one of the more unique comedies you’re likely to catch – old fashioned yet with a dark satirical streak. Something like this is always more interesting to me than generic rom coms or alpha male comedies.
7: Jennifer’s Body (US) Karyn Kusama
Karyn Kusama doesn’t make many movies, but each one is worth watching – maybe with the exception of Aeon Flux. I kept away from Jennifer’s Body – assuming it was another generic teen horror with a cast picked for their looks rather than their talents. If you’re in the same misguided mindset as I was, consider that it was written by Diablo Cody – Juno, Tully, Young Adult – and very much follows the dialogue and smarts of those movies. The film made me a supporter of Megan Fox – she’s great in this – and also features Adam Brody, Amanda Seyfried, and JK Simmons. It’s a film which has seen some deserved re-evaluation since the mauling it received at the time – when I watched it a couple of years after release I couldn’t believe that so many critics, and myself, had been so wrong.
Seyfried is your typical awkward teenager, ironically (?) called Needy whose best friend is her polar opposite – Jennifer, the popular cheerleader. Best friends since they were young children, the film truly captures the urgency and closeness and ‘us against the world’ feeling you have with such intense friendships when you’re young. Unfortunately, Jennifer seems to pick up some sort of disease which turns her into a killing (eating) machine impervious to harm. Naturally the friendship becomes strained.
The film ticks all of the boxes for horror fans – it’s bloody, some kills are inventive, and its funny. But at its core it’s a character piece – we care about the two leads, the writing is so sharp and the performances endearing that it’s difficult not to see yourself in them. The film is largely told in flashback too, but I’m not sure if that was a conscious decision to allow the audience to reminisce – it seems more likely that teens are the core audience, but ten years later the script still works. It also works as a take down of macho tropes and of some of the seedier aspects of masculinity.
6: Antichrist (Denmark/France/Germany/Italy/Poland/Sweden) Lars Von Trier
Lars man… who never know what you’re going to get with a Lars Von Trier movie, but on the flip side you always know exactly what you’re going to get. Controversy, and a whole lot of messed up shit. And recently – lots and lots of talking. Antichrist starts off in a tame enough way – a couple are shagging while their infant child takes a stroll out of their upstairs window and topples to his death. Naturally, this is all filmed in glorious, beautiful slow mo in a disconcertingly tender way. This intro kicks off the remainder of the plot – the grieving parents cope (or don’t) in their own ways, with the husband (Willem Defoe) a therapist electing to take his wife (Charlotte Gainsbourg) to a good old cabin in the woods where he can treat her personally. Things… don’t go to plan.
This being Lars, the film doesn’t simply descend into the torture and mutilation the tabloids would have you believe. No, we have our usual lengthy insights into the human psyche, merging philosophical jargon, music, literature, history, and manic foxes. Reality gradually becomes skewed, dark believes and fears carve their way out from beneath the skin, and scissors come into play. If you’re familiar with the turn the last act of The House That Jack Built takes, that’s quite similar territory to the final stages of Antichrist. You probably won’t want to re-watch this one, but every movie fan owes it to themselves to see it once. You can say the same for any Von Trier film – every one is worth seeing.
5: Trick R Treat (US/Canada) Michael Dougherty
Horror fans and Halloween go hand in hand, with movie marathons on the day or in October being a staple of each passing year. The same films come up each October – Halloween being the most obvious choice, but Trick R Treat deserves to be second on that list. It’s such a fun, creepy anthology – the stories just the right length and with the right festive tone and variety. Hell, there’s even a new mascot in Sam. Anna Paquin, Brian Cox, and Dylan Baker all feature, but it’s director Michael Dougherty who ties it all together. With only the Godzilla sequel and Krampus to his name in terms of directing, this is his best work. Even if you don’t enjoy horror, there is something here for everything – even the most ardent anti-horror watcher still succumbs at Halloween, and this is perfect for everyone.
4: Triangle (UK/OZ) Christopher Smith
Another terrific little mind-bending, overlooked horror movie with a great premise. Firstly, Christopher Smith has been hit or miss for me – mostly hit. Creep was a disappointment, not making use of a great location, Severance was sort of fun but inconsequential, and Black Death was very good. Triangle is his most ambitious and enjoyable movie.
Having Melissa George in any movie is a plus – a modern scream queen who generally picks better material than most. She stars as Jess, a single mum who is heading out for a boat trip with friends. They hit a storm and lose their boat but stumble upon a deserted liner. Although the liner is seemingly unmanned, there is fresh blood and various signs of people having been there very recently. As the friends search, they suspect they are not alone and we fall into a slasher style one by one pick off march. Except nothing is quite what it seems and without getting too much into spoiler territory, some time-looping stuff happens.
I usually enjoy these sort of high concept horror movies – there have been quite a few which take or twist a similar premise recently – TimeCrimes and Coherence being another couple I would recommend. If the snapshot above doesn’t interest you, possibly the fact that Liam Hemsworth is in a supporting roles might? It is a twisting affair which should be of more interest to non-horror fans and it raises a lot of questions which The Babadook would later be heralded for. It’s one of the best horror movies of 2009 and one of the more challenging and unique of the decade.
After Kill Bill, Quentin began slowing things down for himself – he’s pretty much a one film every 4-5 years kind of guy now. For years he had been dropping hints about making a WWII movie, his own Dirty Dozen and in 2009 it dropped – instantly becoming everything we would have wanted. It’s vintage Tarantino in style – vignettes, time-jumps, quotable one-liners, speeches, and set-pieces. He rips up the history book and makes his own alternate version of WWII and populates it with plenty of sinister character types – yes, none of the people here feel real, they’re more like heightened stereotypes. Brad Pitt is more fun than he’s ever been and Christoph Waltz is a revelation. After this Tarantino went on a bit of a down turn for me – Django was fine, The Hateful Eight was less than that. But this remains great – not Pulp Fiction great, but almost, and just as watchable.
2: Drag Me To Hell (US) Sam Raimi
Sometimes when you’ve been out of the game for so long, you just lose it. While Sam Raimi had hit a commercial peak with his Spiderman movies, something was calling out to him from beyond, a niggling rat gnawing at his creative cortex and saying ‘blood, cats in mouths, hoofed demons, vomit geysers’. Thankfully for us he embraced that voice and gave us one of the most fun film experiences of the year – a return to his slapstick horror roots with a film which both judders, disgusts, and tears belly laughs deep from within.
The films stars Alison Lohman (who is wonderful here) as a sympathetic loan worker who, against her own morals, refuses to pay out to a gypsy woman begging for her help. She wants that promotion you see, and her selfishness and annoyance at being seen as the whipping boy forces her to be harder than she normally would. After work, the gypsy attacks and curses Lohman’s character. Over the next few days she is tormented by attacks, nightmares, and visions and realizes the curse is true – finding out that if she does not find a way to reverse the curse she will be, literally, dragged to hell within three days. Cue mouth cats and vomit.
Raimi is having a whale of a time here – sure he employs plenty of cheap shocks but they mostly work – his mojo has not been lost and the film’s shocks are an antidote to the morose and stale torture porn of the time. Lohman is backed by the ever reliable Justin Long, with Dileep Rao providing some of the lighter moments. Horror doesn’t get much more fun than this.
My number one is the only film from this year which made it into my favourite films of the decade list – click the link to read my more detailed thoughts on it. It’s just a dirty little horror film raised by an exceptional performance from Isabelle Fuhrman who I feel should have got an Oscar nod. Of course that would never happen, but it is easily one of the best performances of the year. The film is more than just that performance, its creepy, has a neat twist, and also features Vera Farmiga and Peter Sarsgaard. Highly recommended, as everything else here is.
I promised I wouldn’t do it, but if you didn’t know by now I’m something of a liar. A couple of years ago I posted a series of Top Ten movies lists by year, and they were just that – a list of my ten favourite movies of the year with no gloss, no explanation, no guff. For those who like to get into the nitty gritty, I then wrote my favourite movies of the decade posts in which I did go into detail about why I loved what I loved. The purpose of the list posts was just to give a simple snapshot of what I enjoy without verbose embellishment; a quick snack before bed.
Now I’m going to go back to those Top Ten Lists and do the embellishment. I’m not going to change the ordering or add or drop my choices – I’m simply going to add a few lines about why I love the movies and maybe encourage anyone who hasn’t seen them to give them a shot. And because I like talking about what I like. Rather than starting with 1950, I’m going to go backwards from 2009. In addition, I might complete the original series by adding simple lists from 2010 – 2019. I still don’t feel I’ve seen enough movies in these last nine years to create lists which I can standby, but at least they’ll act as a current snapshot.
So, for anyone who likes to ready my ramblings or who has been waiting for me to cover in greater detail some of my picks – the time has come. Also, remember this post? It was my argument over ‘Essential’ being a subjective term when it comes to movies, because as viewers we have our own needs and desires and backgrounds – so to decide what is Essential you must first define the viewer? Yes, it’s as crap as it sounds. I’m going to begin posting some of my lists based upon that notion – essentially (sorry) looking at some of the most beloved movies of each year, starting in 1960, and arguing if they are truly essential (spoiler alert – they’re not).
That’s that then. If you like what I do, tell your friends. Recommend my humble blog to the guy who keeps coughing on your commute to work. Tell your da that you have some new toilet reading material for him. I’m not earning money from any of this, but knowing I have billions of followers is bound to be an ego boost and might even make me put a bit more effort in to what I write.
Ten albums – not many bands make it that far these days, and certainly not with the same level of consistent success and quality. And this album is now ten years old and the band is still going. That’s one of the many reasons to love them. This album, described as their ‘last shot at mass communication’, has many moments of pop goodness and embraces some choice and unusual influences (Gospel and Motown) while not relinquishing their central roots. Sadly, this was one of the main instances of the band simply picking the wrong songs to be singles – but luckily there were still three and therefore a bunch of alternatives to ponder over. Here is my ranking:
I Think I’ve Found It
All We Make Is Entertainment
Don’t Be Evil
A Billion Balconies Facing The Sun
It’s Not War
The Future Has Been Here 4Ever
Postcards From A Young Man
Some Kind Of Nothingness
My main issue with a lot of the B-Sides around this time and till today, is the reliance on uninspired instrumentals and Nicky vocals. I managed to replace one song with a B-Side for my fantasy tracklist:
It’s Not War
Postcards From A Young Man
Broken Up Again
I Think I’ve Found It
A Billion Balconies Facing The Sun
All We Make Is Entertainment
The Future Has Been Here 4Ever
Don’t Be Evil
I toyed with adding I’m Leaving You For Solitude or Midnight Sun, but they don’t really fit the grandiose nature of the album. This seems like a respectable album. Let us know what your ranking would be!