Films seen July

Baby Driver (2017 – Edgar Wright)

 

One of those films that gets inordinately over-praised because it is an ‘original idea’, Baby Driver had a few decent car chases (but don’t get carried away – these weren’t anything special) and a jukebox, almost musical, feel to the soundtrack.  But aside from Jamie Foxx, the film struggled to find a single decent, engaging performance.  Kevin Spacey sleep-walked, John Hamm was woefully out-of-his-depth (the man is little more than a small-screen actor) and Lily James took a role that could have been performed by any one of the attractive, capable performers that flood into Hollywood.  But most egregious was the central performance from… christ, I can’t remember his name.  And I am tempted to google it – as I have been tempted to research as to why exactly he was foisted upon us, given that I have never seen him before (is he on telly or something?) – but I can’t find the willpower, given how irritating his performance was.  Much is made out of the fact that ‘Baby’ doesn’t talk much, but the reality of the film was that he wouldn’t shut up.  His performance was needy and inhuman, so committed was he to dancing and prancing and posing in any conceivable situation.

In short; there was a much better film here if only there had been a decent cast.

 

Seen on a large screen at the Bluewater Showcase.  Ticket cost £11 or so.

 

 

Song to Song (2017 – Terrence Malick)

 

In the UK this film has only been released for a two-week engagement on one solitary screen in London… so of course I went to see it.

By now, the critics have turned on Malick, and with the same level of predictability, a few lone voices have rushed to his defence.  Both groups are as frustrating as the other, because this was a moderately engaging film that seemed to explore two ideas with a degree of inscrutable intensity.  Firstly, that it takes an awful long time to figure out who you are, what your values are, and how you want to live in the modern world.  And that secondly, during this process of figuring yourself out, you will make some compromises that you will live to regret.

Now, neither of those ideas are particularly earth-shattering.  Nor are they permissible by those who see themselves surrounded by a generation of fecklessly indulgent millennials getting very passionate about various meaningless ideals (foremost of which are their own identities.  Second of which is Buffy feminist?).  But they are truthful (if not particularly honest) ideas, and this film, clearly suffering from Malick’s usual affectations, excavated them within a non-linear, but easily pieced together, narrative.  I liked it.

(Plus, I took the day off work to see it, and movies are always better when you are playing truant.)

 

Seen on the upstairs screen at the Prince Charles.  Ticket cost £4.50.

 

 

The Road Warrior (1981 – George Miller)

 

There’s only so much exploitation I can handle in my life, and Ozploitation can’t quite reach the upper echelons of my interest.  I think it’s something to do with the insincerity of the accent.  But this sequel becomes something radiant; a sweaty, almost impossible car chase that is littered with leaking petroleum and mangled carburettors.  It presents the utter hopelessness of dystopia; where the last remaining semblances of dignity and compassion have been abandoned, and only the survival instinct remains.

Seen on the downstairs screen at the Prince Charles.  Ticket cost about £8.50.  35mm screening – a lovely print (that called it Mad Max 2)

 

 

The Warriors (1979 – Walter Hill)

 

Wonderful to see, not least because I’d only ever seen Walter Hill’s very silly director’s cut before.  The heightened horror of New York City felt more and more perverse on the big screen… though I can’t help but feel that the ending just comes out of nowhere.  It almost feels like the budget just ran out at some point.  It doesn’t hold the same passion for me as some of Hill’s contemporaneous works, but it was still a delightful hour-and-a-half.

 

Seen immediately after the above on the downstairs screen at the Prince Charles.  Ticket cost £8.50, though why this wasn’t a double bill, I don’t know.  35mm screening and a lovely print.

 

 

The Beguiled (2017 – Sofia Coppola)

 

I had, rather shamefully, put an awful lot of hope into this film, such was my mealy-minded dismissal of some of the sexual politics at play in Don Seigel’s version of the same film.  But those criticisms (available here) were shallow in their thinking, and susceptible to the quick condemnation of art that plagues my generation.

Because those hopes were ultimately misguided.  This was a beautiful film, and full of some rich performances, but it was a superficial affair.  Coppola displayed little inclination to examine any of the sexual (or indeed, racial) politics that are inherent to the set-up.  Moments of heighted tension in the original film, such as the visit from the confederate soldiers and the destruction of the tortoise, seemed limp and lacklustre in this version.  A beautiful waste.

 

Seen on one of the small, but still bigger than most, screens at the Bluewater Showcase.  Ticket cost £9.

 

 

Dune (1984 – David Lynch)

 

You’re struck by just how fully realised the world the Lynch created on screen.  It may be a little ridiculous in places, but you never feel that any performance or detail of set design is drawing attention to the unreality of it all.  Everyone is fully committed to the world; a world that is clearly as much of a nightmare as the one presented in Eraserhead (1977 – David Lynch).  This is not true of most science-fiction.  These kinds of stories rely on an almost biblical sense of prophecy and world-building, and Dune is no exception.  So much time is spent establishing the messianic journey of Paul Atreides, that his ultimate fulfilment of his potential seems a little rushed.  It’s a film that makes you pine for a series of increasingly desperate sequels.

 

Seen on the downstairs screen at the Prince Charles.  Ticket cost £11.  70mm screening!

 

 

Eyes Wide Shut (1999 – Stanley Kubrick)

 

I was very hungover when I saw this.

(Which is to say that it remains my favourite Kubrick, but the uncomfortable exploration of sexual desire that haunts this film was lost on me as I fell asleep on several occasions whilst watching the film.  What I will say is that the quickly issued dismissals of certain affected aspects of Kubrick’s style, such as his use of rear projection, were almost unnoticeable when viewed on a big screen from a celluloid projection.  It’s one of those many instances where the clarity of home viewing, and the easily accessible pause button, do no favours to a film.)

 

Seen on the downstairs screen at the Prince Charles.  Ticket cost £8 or so.  35mm screening – lovely print.

 

 

War for the Planet of the Apes (2017 – Matt Reeves)

 

Planet = good

Beneath = brilliant lunacy

Escape = bit dull

Conquest = oooh, this is really quite good

Battle = yawn

Planet = affection for, given this is the first one I saw in the cinema

Rise = much, much better than it deserved to be

Dawn = awful hideous mess

And now War which was pretty decent, but no matter how good the CGI gets, and no matter how manipulative the plots of these movies are, I can’t help but get distracted by the fact that I am watching a bunch of cartoon monkeys on screen.  I suppose that at the end of the day I am going to root for a drunk, malicious Woody Harrelson over a bunch of anthropomorphic pixels.  He’s a better special effect at the end of the day.

 

Seen on a medium-sized screen at the Bluewater Showcase.  Ticket cost 6.50.

 

 

My Cousin Rachel (2017 – Roger Michell)

Another film dampened by a particularly wet performance – this time from some overpromoted posh boy actor (whose name is also not worth looking up) – who struggles to bring any shade to his character.  This is all that more pathetic when you consider that he essentially wants to sleep with his mum.  It is the weakness of the film that his character is placed at its centre, when the interesting person is Rachel Weisz’s eponymous cousin Rachel.  Indeed, Roger Michell’s (an above average director who always includes at least one breath-taking sequence in each of his films) direction only comes to life when she is on the screen.  Beyond that, the film is little more than the extreme competence of mumbling yokels and lavish production design that comes with any British costume drama.

 

Seen on the small, but adequate screen at the Panton St. Odeon.  Ticket cost £6.50.

 

 

Unstoppable (2010 – Tony Scott)

 

I just get really sad when I see a Tony Scott film.  Because it just breaks my heart that I’ll never have a new one to see.  He was (and is) my absolute favourite director, and…  it’s really difficult to get this down.

Like, I accept that there will be a lot of art that I will never get on top of.  I will never read all the books that I should read, or want to read.  I get that there will be James Bond films made long after I die, and therefore, there will be Bond films I don’t get to see.  But Tony Scott is finished.  His work is accomplished.  And there is part of me that desperately wants it to be unmanageable.

Because Unstoppable was so full of life and so focussed that you feel things would have started to turn around for him.  The critical establishment (which had been very sniffy about the last decade of his work) would have been presented with a series of deliberate, spectacular thrillers.  It felt like we were just about to enter a new phase of his work, that would have been as distinct as his 2000s work was from his nineties work.

The painterly exploration of image and editing had been mastered.  And what strikes you when you see these films on the screen is how controlled the shots he uses are.  He’s not cut-cut-cutting in that way that we simplify his style to; instead he only brings in the multiple camera presentation at moments of high tension, where he uses them to draw out the suspense and prolong the nervousness we feel whilst we watch the spectacle on screen.

And the film contains everything we love about him.  The texture of celluloid.  The verisimilitude of exact details within the production design and script.  The dedication to practical effects.  The central performance of such charm and charisma from Denzel Washington.  It makes you wonder how some films still manage to be good without any of those ingredients.

Unstoppable is Scott’s exploration of how competence is something essential that we don’t value enough.  We’re all looking for people with flair, but the reality is that it is the people who can get the job done, without fuss or arrogance, are the ones who ultimately prove to be exceptional.

Seeing this film made me go home and watch several other Tony Scott movies.  Hell, I watched Man on Fire (2004) twice in two days.  It’s that good.  He was that good.

And god, I miss him.

 

Seen at the NFT screen 1 at the BFI Southbank.  Ticket cost £8.  35mm screening – beautiful print.

Films seen June

In the Cut (2003 – Jane Campion)

 

Campion’s deeply sexy neo-noir is one of those films that was initially glimpsed whilst flicking through the channels on late night television.  It’s a film whose reputation preceded it, so inextricably linked to the collapse of Meg Ryan’s stardom following some rather minor indiscretions and awkward Michael Parkinson interviews.  On that initial viewing, it was quite breath-taking, so rich was the texture of the impasto cinematography.  Over the years, the pleasure has only grown.  There’s a bitter-sweet intensity to finally seeing it on the big-screen (on celluloid no less) knowing that the colours, the shadow and depth of sensation is unlikely to ever be as vivid as it was on this night.  It is unpatronising, considered and features an extraordinary central performance from Ryan.  Until this point she was not a naturalistic performer, but here, not only is she acting with a high degree of realism, she also effectively presents a barrier between herself as a performer and the audience.  We are never entirely sure of her thoughts, never certain of her intentions, and as such, it is utterly beguiling to watch her.

 

Seen on Screen 1 at the Curzon Soho.  Ticket was a fairly hefty £17.  35mm presentation (absolutely beautiful print!) by the Misc. Films collective followed by a fascinating Q&A by Jane Campion.  Highlights included: her utter generosity when answering heavily loaded questions from the audience, a hilarious mix-up between Tinder and Kinder and a standing a few feet away when she was asked to dinner by a complete stranger in the audience.  Good times!

 

 

Wonder Woman (2017 – Patty Jenkins)

 

So it’s a very important movie for a lot of people, and I enjoyed it an awful lot.  There are moments – such as the exposition heavy recap of the history of the Amazonians – which are presented with a grace that is rare in big-budget cinema.  And the emotional honesty – the non-patronising affection Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor displays for Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman (a superb mix of naivety and elegance) – is quite brilliant.  These DC movies are so good, and so much better than their Marvel equivalents, because they reframe human emotion into fantastical settings.  The Marvel movies are just a bit basic in comparison.  And they’ve ploughed this very modern idea of superheroes having no obligation to save humanity to an admirable extent.  I accept that I will never find this movie as powerful as others do because I have never wanted for cinematic role-models, but we just need to get to the stage where this is everyday, rather than uncustomary.

 

A huge screen at the Bluewater Showcase.  Ticket only cost £6 or so because I was able to go on a Monday.

 

 

The Mummy (2017 – Alex Kurtzman)

 

I mean, look, it’s a Tom Cruise film.  I’m going to see it on its opening weekend.  And, y’know… um… this was not a good film.  I laughed out loud when I saw their ‘Dark Universe’ logo and it was downhill from there.  (and Jesus… ‘Dark Universe’… because I get it, every fucking film needs to be a franchise nowadays, but if your solution to bring together a number of steadfast properties as Frankenstein and Dracula – all of which have managed to sustain dozens of films over the history of cinema – is to create literally the dullest secret society imagined, you need to take a long step back from making movies.)

The appeal of a latter-day Tom Cruise film is his absolute dedication to performing a stunt or sequence that is innovative and breathtaking.  And there are good moments in this film – there’s an underwater sequence that is particularly engaging – but they aren’t anything special.  For the first time in forever I feel I watched a Tom Cruise film that was just treading water.

  • By my count this is the third out of his previous four films that was filmed in part in England.
  • Jake Johnson as a sarcastic haunting is a brilliant idea… that is just dropped. Why would you choose to negate the most charismatic idea within your movie?
  • Annabelle Wallis brings little to the movie, other than an underwhelming ability to repeatedly utter the dialogue ‘Nick?’ about fourteen-thousand times.
  • Russell Crowe manages to do two bad English accents in this movie – his standard cod-Shakespearean accent as imitated by Chris Hemsworth in his Thor appearances, and his new working-class-cockney voice.

 

A good-sized screen at the Bexleyheath Cineworld.  Ticket cost £11 or so.

 

 

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul (2017 – David Bowers)

 

There are tonnes of these fairly worthless kids films in cinemas all over the land, and if you’re a parent, you probably see them all the time.  I’m not.  But I’ve been showing the kids I work with Harold Lloyd movies over the past few weeks and it’s completely blown their minds.  I mean, they scream and laugh as they watch them and then immediately want to see more.  They can name Safety Last (1923) and Feet First (1930).  I don’t really have a point to this, other than to say, can’t we just aspire to something more.  Why do we insist that children’s movies have to be safe and patronising and sentimental?

 

A medium-sized screen at the Bluewater Showcase.  On the plus side, it was free as I took fifty eleven-year-olds to see it.  On the down side, I spent 30 minutes trying to get to the bottom of who hit who in a fight that broke out before the film.

 

 

Streets of Fire (1984 – Walter Hill)

 

I’m going to write about this film at considerable length in the months to come.  Suffice to say, it is an all-time favourite.

 

Seen on the upstairs screen at the Prince Charles Cinema.  35mm showing – every reel of the film was in a different condition – some looking pretty good, some were neon pink.  That’s the joy of these celluloid screenings; watching a film on Blu-Ray will ensure the experience is consistent.  On celluloid, it is vibrant and alive and will be truly different each time you see it.  I had a shitty day at work, but the audience were really into the film and I loved every minute.  Ticket cost £11, but came with a beer and a slice of pizza.

 

 

Transformers: The Last Knight (2017 – Michael Bay)

 

Which is a beautiful mess.  Because for a lot of the running time you’re trying to figure out what is going on (and who is voicing the violently obsequious robot British butler), but it doesn’t really matter, because every thirty seconds you’re blown away by a shot of absolute breath-taking beauty.  It’s that construction, that deliberate location of shot following shot to overwhelm and outstand the viewer that is the signature of Bay’s artistry.  Anthony Hopkins has been going around on the press tour calling Bay a true master of the medium, and most interviewers have treated these statements as nigh-senile ramblings, but he’s not wrong.  Bay is propelling cinema forward, forcing the viewer to become more active, more engaged in what they are watching, and despite the speed of his editing, he is still composing highly-classically beautiful shots.  We will talk about Bay in the terms we reserve for Hitchcock in the years to come.

It’s a brilliant film because there is a short sequence where a homicidal Transformer annihilates a horde of Nazis during the Second World War…FOR NO REASON WHATSOEVER.  And, love it or hate it, that is movies at its best.

 

Seen on a huge screen at the Bluewater Showcase.  Ticket cost £11.40.

 

 

Aliens (1986 – James Cameron)

The traditional view of Aliens is that Cameron took Ridley Scott’s sci-fi horror and turned it into a sci-fi action picture.  I don’t think I’ve ever questioned this opinion, but seeing it for the umpteenth time, I was struck by how limited a reading this is.  Not only is there far less shoot-em-up action than you remember, the majority of the film is a deliberate reflection of Scott’s entry (some shots are deliberately paralleled).  The creeping tension of an incoming unstoppable killing creature intent on destroying you is as prevalent here as it was in the first film, and the sadistic corruption of pregnancy perpetuated by the xenomorph stand in contrast to Ripley’s essential nurturing nature.

70mm showing of the theatrical cut on the downstairs screen at The Prince Charles Cinema.  The experience carried a certain bittersweetness whenever Bill Paxton appeared – he really was an extraordinary screen presence.

 

(I was also due to see The Beguiled (1971 – Don Siegel) on 35mm at the Prince Charles, but it was during the heat-wave and melting points caused the trains to go up the spout and I didn’t make it in time.  Disappointing.)

The ASIDESTEPS CANON – no Jaws sequels – vol. V

Sequels, prequels and remakes.  One of the greatest pleasures of movie obsession is seeing the films you love reimagined, seeing how different directors bring their own peccadillos to the proceedings.  Remaking movies is as old as cinema itself, so quite why the concept is so frowned upon nowadays, I have no idea.  Anyways.  These are my personal favourites (though it bears underlining that in nearly every case the original movie is superior.)  No Jaws (1975 – Steven Spielberg) sequels though because they’re all terrible.

41. Predator 2 (1990 – Stephen Hopkins)

 

Sequel to Predator (1987 – John McTiernan)

 

Danny Glover does an admirable job anchoring this film given that previously, the only thing capable of defeating the Predator was the epitome of human physicality.  His charisma and ongoing narration colour a darkly claustrophobic viewing experience.  Transforming the implicit danger of the first film where it feels as if the world itself is attacking Schwarzenegger and co., Predator 2 chooses to make its antagonist a much more present and realised threat.  Urban fears are quite different after all.

42. Another 48 Hrs. (1990 – Walter Hill)

 

Sequel to 48 Hrs. (1982 – Walter Hill)

 

Following the original buddy-cop film, Another 48 Hrs. maintains the explicit threat of a highly charismatic black man overwhelming the social order maintained by the white man.  Eddie Murphy would replicate the thrill of this across Beverly Hills Cop (1984 – Martin Brest) and its subsequent sequels, but they lacked the mountainous Caucasian hostility found in Nick Nolte.  The genuinely terrifying interplay between the two releases itself in the laughter of the audience.  It’s the cinematic equivalent of laughing at a funeral for ninety minutes.

 

 43. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991 – James Cameron)

 

Sequel to The Terminator (1984 – James Cameron)

 

Directed by the master of sequels himself, T2 is a hint of the apocalypse itself.  Disaster upon disaster as machinery simultaneously fails and dominated humanity.  The ability to adapt (as homo sapien had to do as it spread across the primitive world) is essential – if only to compete with the fluid, mutative T-1000.  Cameron is obsessed with how the human form will need to change – the machine hybridisation of these films will be superseded with the virtual reality avatars of… um… Avatar (2009).  The moment when Sarah Connor sees the T-800 once again is a moment of sheer, exhilarating terror.

It’s easy to dismiss the non-Cameron sequels, but I find each of them to be engrossing, and each of them feature some grounded action sequences.  They lack that populist touch, that playful approach to chase sequences, and the genuinely therapeutic attitude towards the characters that Cameron brings to each of his films.  Filmmaking is only worthwhile if it’s obsessive.

 

 44. Die Hard 2: Die Harder (1990 – Renny Harlin)

 

Sequel to Die Hard (1988 – John McTiernan)

 

Appealingly throwing John McClane into the plot of another pulp paperback, Die Hard 2 plays upon the overwhelming and occasionally baffling geography of an airport.  Films often operate within identifiable landmarks, but the real appeal is when we get to see behind those doors we’re not allowed to step across.  Real appeal is also found in very big explosions, of which this film has many.

45. Die Hard with a Vengeance (1995 – John McTiernan)

 

Third in the Die Hard series

 

For years Samuel L. Jackson popped up in supporting roles in movies (he’s much older than you think), but by the mid-nineties he was becoming the main appeal of many films, and was best used when he was presented as a disruptive force.  Film with an appealing widescreen sense of scale by McTiernan, this third entry seeks to present a highly cinematic New York as defined a location as the skyscraper and airport of the previous entries.  It’s not entirely successful in this regard, but it maintains a sense of momentum the pummels the film along.

We won’t talk about the subsequent films in the series that followed.

 

 46. Lethal Weapon 3 (1992 – Richard Donner)

 

Third in the Lethal Weapon series

The Lethal Weapon series is one of rapidly diminishing returns as the rough edges of the first film (particularly in regard to Riggs) are sanded down.  But the films have a unique approach to sound design as Donner places babbling, seemingly improvised dialogue low in the mix against effects and music.  The series ultimately benefitted from the addition of the manic energy of Joe Pesci, but it would have been preferable if he had brought some of the sense of danger that he brought to other roles – ultimately, the films had become just a little too safe at this point.

47. Rocky III (1982 – Sylvester Stallone)

 

Third in the Rocky series

It’s extraordinary to think of the achievement made by Stallone in the production of this film – leading a huge cast & crew, setting up multiple cameras and getting hit repeatedly by Mr. T. whilst at the same time subsisting on only half a dozen egg yolks and burnt toast every day.  But’s Stallone’s endearing honesty comes to the forefront as he explores the consequences of a hero beginning to believe his hype and losing himself in the vagaries of fame.  It also explores Stallone’s most conscientious choice of direction – his use of montage.  Here he reduces cinema to its broadest strokes – motion and energy are processed at great speed by the viewer’s mind whilst at the same time the filmmaker maintains absolute control over the unravelling of time.  It amounts to a manipulated sense of fatigue as we gain an understanding of the exhaustion that Balboa feels.

48. Rocky IV (1985 – Sylvester Stallone)

 

Fourth in the Rocky series

Underrated as a writer, Stallone is dedicated to exploring the frailty of the human form and mind – it’s easy to forget that “We fill each other’s gaps,” is the most honest account of the necessity of love ever expressed.  Here, Stallone delves into the weight we sometimes feel, when others project their hopes onto our own lives, and the duty with which we endure this vicarious desire.  Dolph Lundgren remains the most hostile opponent Balboa had to face, and few films capture the bizarre nationalistic hubris that envelops America.

Rocky V (1990 – John G. Avildsen) remains the only film in this series not worth watching; its attempts to pass on to the next generation failing.  The Rocky series depends on the scrutiny of Balboa’s life.

49. Rocky Balboa (2006 – Sylvester Stallone)

 

Sixth in the Rocky series

After some years of experiencing a stagnant film career, Stallone returned to the role that made him – and in turn, cemented Balboa as an almost documentarian character study.  Bereaved, bereft and broken, Balboa has become a shadow, subsisting on stories and faded glories.  Whilst there is a deftness of motion to the fight scenes, the real delight of this film is found in the simple passion of Balboa – no man has ever purely expressed the determination to just keep living in the face of such brutality, brutality that will take everything you love from you.

50. Creed (2015 – Ryan Coogler)

 

Seventh in the Rocky series

Despite its depiction of a determinedly individualistic sport, the Rocky series has always stressed the importance of allowing others into your life.  Creed move the series into new arenas, shifting the series’ focus on the immigrant experience away from the Italian-American to the African-American it depicts the struggle to define identify within a relatively short history.  This shifting of focus is reflected in the incidental music, where the brass of previous entries is mixed with more contemporary beats and rhythms.  And the fight scenes are extraordinary, modern technology allowing them to be seemingly filmed without cuts.  You never give up.  Never give in.

The ASIDESTEPS CANON – b-sides vol. VII

The Canon.  One hundred films with nothing from the top 250 Sight & Sound poll.  These are the b-sides; un-canonised, free from decades of perception and discussion, but great films in their own right.  No apologies, no pretensions.

film_89w_sistersd_original

61. Sisters (1973 – Brian De Palma)

 

Because maybe there’s something better than Psycho (1960)

 

In a world of utter deification of the master, it’s refreshing to see a daring cover version of a half-remembered film.  But De Palma is not content with a retread; he layers his film with a greater level of perversion, racial tension, voyeurism and the spectacular decision to develop the changing protagonists featured in Psycho.  By ensuring the protagonist of the second half of the film observes the murder of the protagonist of the first, there is a drive to film that surpasses the occasional lethargy that is found after Hitchcock’s shower scene.  The ending reinforces the utter senselessness of existence and the curiosity of supporting character in the cinema.

 sorcerer

62. Sorcerer (1977 – William Friedkin)

 

Because cinema is all about tension

 

Cinema is at its greatest when it plays with tension; the careful balance of image, time, performance and action are delivered slowly and deliberately in order elicit/provoke a reaction from the audience.  This is why there is such a necessity to the horror and comedy genres, which so carefully control tension for scares and laughs respectively.  Sorcerer is neither of these, but for a film to feature one moment of utter tension is masterful; for one to feature a number indicates a piece of complete integrity.  Misbegotten upon release, it is a film of total hubris; one where the wideframe image is used to devour the performances within it and demonstrate the holistic deconstruction of the self.

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63. Breaking News (2004 – Johnnie To)

 

Because movies are a series of moments

 

With the complete saturation of media, and the increasing way in which they determine a story rather than report it, Breaking News is prescient glimpse into the way in which it could impact upon the most violent on situations.  Like many great films, it uses a constant evolving scenario format; from the single-shot gunfight opening, to claustrophobic Carpenteresque genre picture, to familial domestic comedy, to the closing, desperate car chase.  It has a playfulness and wit that is specific to the superb career of To.

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64. Unfaithful (2002 – Adrian Lyne)

 

Because there is beauty in cruelty

 

There is a quiet moment on a crowded commuter train where Richard Gere realises his marriage is over.  He takes off his glasses, pinches his nose, and it is one of the most devastating moments represented on screen.  Adrian Lyne’s wonderfully beautiful, but completely cruel masterpiece excavates the consequences of betrayal and regret.  My dad once told me about this film; he had stayed up late watching it on telly in the hours after my mum told him of her affair.  I don’t think I’ll ever know what that was like.

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65. The Grey (2011 – Joe Carnahan)

 

Because it is meaningless, meaningless; a chasing after the wind

 

So completely not the Liam Neeson punches wolves movie that this was sold as, this is a devastating, desperate deconstruction of male identity and the limits of survival.  It shows us that everything we have built – our successes, identity, physicality and social dominance – prove worthless in the face of nature’s unsympathetic eye.

werewolfhed

66. An American Werewolf in London (1981 – John Landis)

 

Because some films have everything; sex, death and comedy

 

There’s a brilliant moment in this film where David Naughton is left alone in a house after having sex with Jenny Agutter and he has nothing to do.  It’s not his house and he’s alone and he just has time to kill before he can fuck her again.  It’s a beautifully observed moment in a film that successfully balances comedy horror and sex – leading to a populist, delightful film.  Landis was able to blend these often contrasting elements with a deft hand; this, The Blues Brothers (1980) and Trading Places (1983) is an extraordinary run of films… and then he murdered some children.

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67. The Hunger (1983 – Tony Scott)

 

Because trash is truly beautiful

 

A beautiful film in a career of beautiful films, Tony Scott takes the ethereal, iconic, almost alien presences of Bowie and Deneuve and revels in their appallingly wonderful faces.  Scott sought to document the vapid indulgences of the wealthy metropolitan elite (the final shot where Sarandon is transposed to London underlines this) and effectively encapsulates the most vapid and irresponsible of decades.

 driver2

68. The Driver (1978 – Walter Hill)

 

Because you can say a lot without saying a lot

 

In the extraordinary runs of filmmaking, Hill is rarely mentioned but from Hard Times (1975) to Streets of Fire (1984) he created a series of focussed, tense films that explored isolated individuals.  The epitome of this run is The Driver, a terrifying clash of male egos, that is ultimately surpassed by the most hostile and beautiful of screen presences – Isabelle Adjani.  But whilst the spare, man-on-his-own-doing-a-job has been often replicated, it has never been pared with such gripping car chases.  Car chases are impossibly wonderful on screen, such is the absolute control over movement, tension and space – and impossible to present in any other medium.  This film features some fine examples of the form.

 duel-steven-spielberg

69. Duel (1971 – Steven Spielberg)

 

Because some films aren’t even films

 

And whilst this film is not so much a car chase as an extended exercise in developing tension.  It is an oppressive experience, only underlined by the horrendous tin-can experience of sitting in the driver’s seat in the burning sun.  There is an alternate history where Spielberg continued to make the sweaty genre pictures in the Duel vein; his control of framing and camera movement would have brought a unique power to the form, but his eclectic, expansive filmography is valuable for the moments like this, Empire of the Sun (1987) and Munich (2005.

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70. Looking for Mr. Goodbar (1977 – Richard Brooks)

 

Because there are masterpieces on Youtube

Diane Keaton is often the best in films that are designed to demonstrate the talents of the men in front of, and behind the camera.  She is a chaotic screen presence, even in movies where she is playing relatively straight parts.  Looking for Mr. Goodbar is an exploration of the private lives that are found behind the most generous benign public faces.  ‘Good’ people are easily simplified, and the edges and contradictions and compromises that come from dedicating your life to others are delicately presented on screen.  There is a creeping horror to the picture, as if Keaton is far out of her depth, and her enjoyment of sex is not matched by an understanding of the essential selfishness and cruelty of man, who will seek to denigrate her for enjoying her body whilst they simultaneously clutch at her skin.

The ASIDESTEPS CANON – b-sides vol. VI

The Canon.  One hundred films with nothing from the top 250 Sight & Sound poll.  These are the b-sides; un-canonised, free from decades of perception and discussion, but great films in their own right.  No apologies, no pretensions.

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 51. Certified Copy (2010 – Abbas Kiarostami)

 

Because truth rarely matters.

 

I live inside this movie.  I walk its streets.  I reflect on what is true and what is not.  It’s a film where you can’t help but reflect on it and parse the slightest gesture, the muttered comment.  But it exists as more than a puzzle because of the truths it speaks to.  There is a moment where an old man tries to impart all the wisdom he has gained and shows that meaning can come from the smallest movement – placing a hand on a shoulder.  Cinema is a Frankenstein medium, all art steals, but this shows the worth that comes with stealing.

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 52. The Silence of the Lambs (1991 – Jonathan Demme)

 

Because reading films is worthwhile.

It’s a gripping film, confrontational in its direct, head-on style of shooting.  But it’s a film that has been drowned in budget price impressions and reactionary readings.  It can be saved.  Clarice is implicitly queer, she has few interactions with men, when they objectify her, she resists.  She is always a little too close to her dorm-mate.  Lecter is her campy queen, he sits back and amuses himself as she navigates the heteronormative world.  A world never more evident when men do horrible things to women.

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 53. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981 – Steven Spielberg)

 

Because my eyes were opened.

 

I’m not thankful for parents for much… but showing me this film when I was seven years old is one of them.  I can’t express how much I loved this film, clambering over climbing frames in public parks using a rubber snake as whip.  You can keep your Star Wars (1977 – George Lucas), it was Indiana Jones for me.  And as an adult, I love it just enough, it’s action-every-ten-minutes setpieces, its wit.  And as Steven Soderbergh told us, you can turn the colour down and watch it in black-and-white and it’s just as good.

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 54. Streets of Fire (1984 – Walter Hill)

 

Because everything’s better with a Jim Steinman soundtrack.

 

Walter Hill thought that this film was the future, a post-apocalyptic urban comedy western.  Musical.  It’s a musical.  Whose songs were written by Jim Steinman and Stevie Nicks amongst others.  I spend a good few minutes each month thinking about what society would make these songs popular.  Taking the glorious neon light from 48 Hrs. (1982) and stretching to create an entire cityscape, Hill injects a romanticism into his brutal, pared-down scripts.  There is a moment where Michael Pare turns ‘round to see his love before he leaves her life… he can barely do it… every inch of him wants to stay… and he turns, and leaves.  It’s the most heart-breaking moment in cinema.  To think, Hill imagined that this was the first part of a trilogy…

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 55. Blow Out (1981 – Brian De Palma)

 

Because we all live with ghosts.

There’s an illicit thrill in De Palma’s pervy, trashy profoundly queer thrillers, but here we see him in a far more sombre mood as he details the limits of obsessiveness.  In what is one of John Travolta’s finest performances, we see his inability to escape the forces of politics and the overwhelming death drive.  Ultimately, he chooses to use his trauma as an anecdote, a resource in the cheap emptiness of his profession.  Hopelessness has never felt closer.

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 56. Legend (1985 – Ridley Scott)

 

Because some worlds are better than others.

 

Ridley Scott’s fourth film is a profound exploration of world-building.  Here the rich luxiourisouness of design and storytelling create a mise-en-scene where emotion is pure and on the surface.  There is an exhilaration to this film, as we radiate in the delight of a world quite unlike our own.  If only evil was as transparent as it was here.  There are three substantially different cuts of this movie, and unfortunately it is hard to recommend one over any of the others; each as its own strengths of score, pace and performance.

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57. Bigger than Life (1956 – Nicholas Ray)

 

Because we all see flashes of red.

 

Ray’s presentation of a fragile psyche demonstrates the limits of any individual.  Even the people we trust the most, who we invisibly rely on to maintain the decency of society – our teachers – are susceptible to poor mental health.  But this film is from the fifties, and poor mental health is not presented as anything prosaic.  Instead, it is an opulent mix of hysteria, colour and religion.  Society’s maintenance is paper-thin, it will take very little to destroy it.

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 58. California Split (1974 – Robert Altman)

 

Because it’s worth the risk.

 

With an output as prolific as his, it is often hard to navigate the waters of Robert Altman.  But California Split remains a cinematic love-letter to his profound love of acting profession.  He allows some deeply charismatic individuals to fully inhabit people, free of the responsibility of close-ups and holding attention.  It is up to us to seek them out, find them within the frame and indulge in their make believe.  I can sit on a train, and every other person is as real as I am.  There is a horror to that that we refuse to explore, but Altman was a director fully capable of capturing the significance of every soul in a frame.  A story is never complete within one of his films, only abandoned.

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 59. Days of Thunder (1990 – Tony Scott)

Because I feel the need for speed.

 

Tony Scott’s opulent, hazy mix of colour, sound and speed is a textural delight.  Every second of screen buzzes with excitement, as we piece together information in our minds from milli-seconds of image.  There are directors who spend lifetimes seeking to capture perfect images and Scott would throw them away in a moment.  And then cut to another deeply moving echo of reality.  Supported by a truly epic soundtrack that blends wailing guitars, synthesisers and arrhythmic percussion, and a script that is openly honest in its representations of ambition and belonging, it is a visual masterpiece, and speaks to something quite deep within myself.

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 60. The Innocents (1961 – Jack Clayton)

 

Because there’s nothing better than a ghost story.

A profoundly unsettling film, both for what is said and unsaid on screen.  For what is said, we get a deliberate unravelling of multiple fading cuts, inexplicable images and a wonderful central performance from Deborah Kerr, who gives her a governess a virginal certainty and sexual repression that allows us to explain her hauntings as hysteria.  For what is unsaid, we see the inextricable entwinement of sex and death, and the horror that unravels when this is directed at a child.  It is an abusive, ambiguous masterpiece.

The Last Days – Chapter I – Another 48 Hrs. (1990 – Walter Hill)

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Released in 2013, Now You See Me was a modest success.  Modern Hollywood’s terror of new ideas led to a sequel being commissioned.  The inevitable title, ‘Now You Don’t’…was rejected, in favour of the more prosaic Now You See Me 2.  I doubt that this decision was made lightly.  Creatives and accountants sat around for days debating the accessibility and profitability of various potential titles.  What to choose?  The simplicity of the simple 2.  Follow that 2 with a colon and a subtitle to set out the increased threat facing the hero.  Choose instead a Part 2 to suggest it was all one big story planned out from the start.  Try a 2 for utter incoherence.

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The Driver (1980 – Walter Hill)

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Voluntary isolation.  It’s not something that many people understand.  Say to a colleague that you’re going to the cinema on your own and they look at you as if you’ve mentioned casually that you enjoy killing infants.  Some people are happy in their own company, and find the simplicity of their existence easier than the chaos of other people.  Other people will take from you, they’ll compromise you.

Continue reading “The Driver (1980 – Walter Hill)”