Coming soon...

Tuesday, December 7, 2010


I've let this place go to the dogs after being threatened by lawyers reprisenting big business. But that doesn't mean I have stopped watching movies. Although 2010 has been pretty bad apart from one or two absolute gems scattered throughout. Anyway, this is what I've seen recently-

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (2010) David Yates - I haven't been a big fan of the last few Harry Potter films. In fact, I haven't really thought they were great since The Prisoner Of Azkeban. However, this film bucked that trend. There are some really quirky choices in direction which let the film down a bit. And even after seven films, Daniel Radcliffe still really sucks at acting. But Rupert Grint and Emma Watson are excellent, the film feels tonally like Fellowship Of The Ring. And it sets up really nicely for Part 2. Good job everyone!


The Social Network (2010) David Fincher - David Fincher is one of the few really really special directors working today. His films are worth looking out for as soon as they're announced. So it comes as no surprise that he could make a film about computer coding so damn exciting. Charting the early meteorical rise of Facebook, focusing on the relationships between Mark Zuckerberg, Eduardo Saverin and Sean Parker, The Social Network is like All The President's Men for the 21st Century. Superbly written by The West Wing scribe Aaron Sorkin, and featuring excellent performances from all, but primarily Jesse Eisenberg as Zuckerberg, The Social Network is one of the best films of 2010.


R.E.D. (2010)
Robert Schwentke - Based on Warren Ellis' comic book of the same name, RED is about retired assassins who are being targeted by an unknown source, possibly connected to the CIA. Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich, Helen Mirren and the rest of the cast are clearly in it for the fun, and that's what the film is. It's not outstanding by any measure, but it is entertaining and easy to watch.


Centurion (2010) Neil Marshall - I'll admit, I really just watched this out of morbid curiosity. Neil Marshall's films can go either way. And going in with zero expectations probably saved the film for me. It's absolute schlock. And Marshall loves his gore. It's rubbish, but again, there are worse ways to spend 97 minutes. Worth it for Michael Fassbender actually doing a decent job with a terrible script, Dominic West chewing up the scenery, Olga Kurylenko being terrifyingly hot and seeing a head being chopped in half the same way about 3 times.


I Love You Phillip Morris (2009) Glenn Ficarra and John Requa - This was surprisingly decent. It's the true story of a conman who basically took the piss out of George W. Bush's Texas penal system continuously for years. All in the name of love of another man. Surprisingly funny and with two really great performances from Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor, it's a very over-looked film. Really entertaining.


Jackass 3D (2010) Jeff Tremaine - Awesome. There's not much to say really, you know what to expect. Except in 3D. Nearly puked. Laughed my ass off. No apologies!


Four Lions (2010) Chris Morris - I'm a big fan of Chris Morris. So when I heard he was doing a comedy about four suicide bombers, I chuckled away to myself. The film is pretty shocking in parts, but then having seen Morris' other work, that comes as no surprise. Very well performed low-budget comedy about a subject most people wont touch, Four Lions is exactly the right type of satire in this current climate. Really excellent.


[REC] 2 (2010) Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza - I thought this would suck. It takes place roughly five minutes after the first REC finished, and picks up exactly where that film left off. It's incredibly creepy, gory, and features quite a few jumps. A horror sequel that expands on the original in a very inventive way. And while some complain that it takes a bit of the mysetery out of the first film, which admittedly, it does, it doesn't rest on it's laurels and instead expands on the story. Proper horror done really well.


So there you go. Some more films I've watched recently. The end of the year review will be coming soon, which should cover a few more of the films I've seen. Some good, some rotten. Hopefully I'll get a full top and bottom 10. But I wouldn't count on it! The cinema is costing more and putting out crap, so it really puts me off going. However, we shall see.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

INCEPTION (2010) - Christopher Nolan

You know, it’s a wonderful thing when somebody or something continues to surprise you, no matter how much you think they’ve reached the pinnacle of their ability in whatever field that may be. These people are rare, and when they give the world something, it’s a joy to behold. One such person is Christopher Nolan. Every time I watch one of his movies, I think ‘well, that’s it. He’ll never top that film.’ Sure, it could be argued that Insomnia was a blemish on an otherwise incredible resume. But even as thrillers go, Insomnia is better than most.

After The Dark Knight, I thought Nolan couldn’t possibly do better. Oh, how wrong I was. His first original film since Memento, which in itself was adapted from his brother Jonathan’s short story. So it could be argued that Inception is Nolan’s first true original since his first feature, Following.

The story centres on Dom Cobb, incidentally, also the name of the protagonist in Following. Cobb specialises in ‘Extraction,’ which is essentially the theft of an idea. But to steal this idea, Cobb enters the dreams of the target, and manipulates them into giving him the information. After a botched theft, Cobb’s latest target, Saito has a proposition. Help him implant an idea in a rival’s mind, and he can help Cobb with an event from his past that keeps Cobb away from his family. This ‘heist,’ called ‘Inception,’ is theoretically impossible. But Cobb thinks he can do it. So he gathers his team and embarks on the mind-crime.

Sounds complicated. And in true Christopher Nolan, the film requires absolute concentration. It is so rare nowadays that a film maker treats the audience’s intelligence with respect and demands work in order to understand the film. This is what Nolan works for, and we, the audience reap the benefits. Inception is one of the most enjoyable films I have seen in years. It really cannot be described as it has to be seen to be believed. Nolan quoted a movie mogul from the early days of cinema when he said he wanted to ‘start with an earthquake and build to a climax.’ And that’s pretty much what Inception goes for.

Some have complained that the early part of the film features a lot of talking. And it does. The world of Inception has to be created, and Nolan uses his characters to do that. Yet, it never gets boring. While there is explaining to be done, Nolan keeps you hooked with both ideas and execution. There are moments when you can’t help but be blown away by how these ideas are presented. Nolan understands science-fiction and what makes it so damn cool. And he delivers his ideas with gusto. And then there are the action sequences. I’ve seen the film twice now. I thought the impact would be lessened on second viewing. But I found myself giggling with delight at how these scenes are shot. And when really just makes them all the more spectacular is that the sequences are done physically. Nolan only uses computers when something is physically impossible. And so, there are scenes you know are done in the real world, and they leave you guessing at how they are pulled off. And that’s just more fun!

The cast are brilliant. Nolan has the ability to cast his films perfectly, taking risks where the average schmuck (you and me) may question the casting. I refer in particular to the back-lash that came from some quarters when Heath Ledger was cast as the Joker. Leonardo DiCaprio has the difficult task of carrying a film built on some pretty far-out ideas. And he delivers with gusto. Ellen Page has an equally difficult task of playing Basil Exposition, but she handles the role admirably. The rest of the cast, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Thomas Hardy, Marion Coutillard in particular is brilliantly creepy, Ken Watanabe, and Cillian Murphy are all fantastic.

Inception is the best science-fiction film in years. And after how good 2009 was for science-fiction, that certainly is saying something. And mercifully, Nolan has no time for 3D. I feel it certainly would have detracted from the experience. And an experience is what Inception is. It’s multi-layered. You will discover things on multiple watches that you missed previously. The sound design is amazing. Hans Zimmer’s score is as close a composer can come to actually delivering on a vision set out by a director. This is rewarding blockbuster cinema viewing. Hopefully studios will take notice of the quality of the film, the reviews and the box-office takings and green-light many more ambitious projects such as Inception.

I say this now. And I hope I eat my words in years to come- Inception is Christopher Nolan’s masterpiece. I sincerely hope he bests it some day.


TOY STORY 3 (2010) - Lee Unkrich

It’s been a while. To be honest, the cinema has been vomiting up some pretty poor fare over the last few months. But over the last week, I saw what will probably be numbers one and two on the top 10 list of 2010, so I figured I should say something about them. The first film on the list is the latest from the greatest studio now in production. Toy Story 3.

It’s been fifteen years since Woody and Buzz first hit the big screen, kick-starting the Pixar revolution into gear. Since that time, Pixar have gone from strength to strength. And in one way, Toy Story 3 is a fitting bench-mark to see just how far the studio has come. Both in technical ability, and in terms of story-telling.

Andy, the human key to the Toy Story world has grown up. He’s finished school, and is about to leave home for college. And by doing this, he must leave his childhood toys behind. But what is to come of Woody, Buzz, Jessie, and all the rest of the toys? Woody, Andy’s most cherished toy, will accompany him to college. But the rest of the toys will go to the attic, a sort of rest-home for toys until they are rediscovered by Andy and given to his own children. But a mix-up in packaging results in the toys being sent to day-care, a seemingly heaven for toys. But all is not what it seems in day-care. And the toys must escape, while Woody struggles to reach his friends and help them escape.

Being the final part in the Toy Story trilogy, Toy Story 3 packs quite the emotional punch. Like Andy, we’re leaving the characters behind. They’ve given us some cherished memories, but like all good things, they must be fondly remembered, and passed on to the next generation. Toy Story 3, really does make you laugh, but it’s laughter tinged with sadness. As with all Pixar movies, the film’s strength lies in it’s story. There are many studios that produce technically brilliant animated films, but few reach the heights of Pixar’s films. It’s Pixar’s ability to pack an emotional punch that has made films such as Toy Story, Wall-E and Up such incredible films.

And yet, I find myself going against the general consensus. I don’t think it’s the best of the trilogy. Don’t get me wrong. Toy Story 3 is both technically astonishing and brilliantly written. But there were parts of the film when I though I’d seen it before. There are some recycled story elements. Sometimes these work as winks and nods to what came before. But it is nit-picking. Toy Story 3 is (Buzz) Light-years ahead of it’s competition. In fact, it’s light-years ahead of most films. The voice-work is as usual, brilliant. In particular, the addition of the Ken doll, voiced by Michael Keaton is hilarious in both vocal performance and animation.

Toy Story 3 is probably the best closing chapter of any trilogy. And the Toy Story trilogy itself is near-perfect. The Pixar team are just awe-inspiring in their ability to craft stories that assault your emotions as well as your eye-balls. And with Toy Story 3, they really have knocked it out of the park. Again.


Tuesday, July 20, 2010

What the....?!

As some of the more discerning readers (if there are any left...!) may have noticed, the title of the blog has changed. To gibberish. This isn't really out of choice, but necessity. For you see, I write this blog as a hobby. It's not something I make money out of, though several opportunities have arisen since I started the blog. That's not why I do it. I just like movies, and like writing about them. It's not my job, although it'd be spiffing to be paid to watch movies. So it's something I do for the joy, and the love of movies.

But last week, I received a delightful email from the legal arm of one of the major studios, demanding I change the title of the blog, or face legal action. No 'hey, how's it going. Fair dues to you for positively reviewing some of the movies of the studio I represent, but the title of the blog is infringing on a copyright' etc etc. Just an email threatening me personally with legal action. And since I don't earn megabucks and wouldn't have a leg to stand on anyway, I've had to change the title. It's not the actual changing of the title that's bugging me, but the manner in which it was carried out. And three and a half years after the blog first appeared. Cant accuse the legal firm of not being on the ball!

I did want to change the title to '**** ****** CAN KISS MY HAIRY BEAN BAG' but I thought that might also bring the wrath. So the title is now changed. Cheerfully! As for actual content, I may get around to reposting soon. But it's been a busy year, and the cinema certainly hasn't been attracting me with mediochre to poor titles, extortionate prices and sequels, remakes and bullshit 3D. Hey-ho! That's the way the industry's going!

Oh, by the way, if the author of the other Critical Mass blog out there is reading, gimme a shout. I'd love to know if you got a similar threat! Cheers!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

EDEN LAKE (2008) - James Watkins

Occasionally, two of my friends and I seek out the darkest, most disturbing films we can find and spend a night putting ourselves through these finds. Grim Night, we call it. Two nights ago, I had a Grim Night on my own. I got hold of James Watkins’ Eden Lake and sat down to watch it on Valentine’s night. Christ. It was dark. The British horror film manages to take common fears and magnify them with horrific results.

Jenny and Steve are a young couple, looking for a quiet weekend away at a picturesque flooded quarry which will be soon turned into a holiday resort. They pack up their four by four, bring a tent and head off. Unfortunately, the quiet seclusion is disturbed by a group of young teenagers, bent on mayhem. At first, the teens are a nuisance. But Steve’s pride leads him to confront the teenagers. This serves no purpose but to enrage the teens, who embark on a vicious vendetta on the couple.

The major success of Eden Lake is that director James Watkins creates an air of tension that is palpably uncomfortable. From the moment the first teenagers appear, you instantly feel uncomfortable, aware that these teens can turn nasty very quickly. They’re fiercely territorial, and Steve and Jenny’s intrusion on their turf will only lead to confrontation. Watkins never lets the tension drop, indeed it escalates steadily throughout the film.

The violence in the film is sporadic, but incredibly disturbing. We’re not talking ridiculous Saw-levels of blood spilling, but violence which, taken in context is quite realistic. Michael Fassbender’s performance as Steve just adds to the nastiness of the events as he (once again) delivers a brilliant piece of acting. Kelly Reilly also does very well, however, her character reacts to situations that at times feel rather contrived. But Jack O’Connell’s performance as the lead teen in the gang is by far the shining light of the film. Brett is a vicious, angry, nasty piece of work. However, there are reasons behind who he is. And O’Connell manages to convey these reasons without ever being obvious. It’s his performance with Watkins’ writing that is the success of the role.

Eden Lake is one of those nasty little films that you hear little about, but leaves quite the impression on you. It’s relentlessly grim, and the tension builds to an incredibly nasty climax. It does play on the fears of Daily Mail ASBO hysteria, but that’s necessary for the purpose of the film. It’s a great little British horror film, and shows the big-budget American films how it’s done properly. Great performances and incredibly nasty. Just the type of film to be watched on Valentine’s Day!


Sunday, February 7, 2010

SHERLOCK HOLMES (2009) - Guy Ritchie

Sherlock Holmes is one of the world’s most famous fictional characters. He’s iconic and has been the subject of many films. But since it’s the 21st century, the powers that be in Hollywood have decided that the famous detective deserves a reimagining. And who better to do this then Guy Ritchie, director of such cinematic greats as the remake of Swept Away and Revolver? Who better? Probably a lot of people. Anyway, Sherlock Holmes is Holmes for the MTV generation.

The film opens with Dr. John Watson and the London Police racing through the streets of London, on their way to some operation. They’re loading weapons, looking focused and ready to kick ass. On the roofs above, like some sort of X-Man, Sherlock Holmes runs, leaps and rolls his way towards the same goal. They’re on their way to break up some satanic ritual and human sacrifice conducted by the mysterious Lord Blackwood. And they succeed. Holmes retreats into 221B Baker Street and isn’t heard from for months. The day before his execution, Blackwood requests Holmes’ presence, during which he warns Holmes that the game is most definitely not over. Blackwood is then executed. But it would seem Blackwood’s warning is real as it appears that he escapes his own grave. So Holmes and Watson leap onto the case and try and stop Blackwood’s nefarious scheme.

Holmes is an interesting character. In Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories, he’s a brilliant investigator who constantly outwits not only his nemeses, but also the police. I’ll admit, I don’t have a great insight into the character. So Guy Ritchie’s film could very well be the greatest depiction of the character put to screen. But approaching it as just a stand-alone film... it’s not very good. There are great elements in the film. The production design is brilliant. It’s not perfect. The team seems to have hummed and hawed over whether the film should be steampunk or not, and decided it shouldn’t. And this is a shame. There are steampunk elements to it, but not enough. Robert Downey Junior and Jude Law have a great report in the film, and certainly seem to be having a good time.

And yet despite these things, the film falls flat. It’s packed full of stylistic camera shots and bits of editing, and while I’m a huge fan of really different cinematography and direction, I found the constant slow-mo and sped up footage incredibly annoying. The style is definitely Guy Ritchie’s, but I don’t think it works in the context of the film and events, and really bogs down the film. And with a story that really doesn’t resonate, this is a real problem for the film. I just didn’t care what was going to happen. It’s a strange case (heh), because some of the choices, I liked. The dirtiness of old London, the violence that didn’t feel subdued, the sense of history surrounding the city, all great. And yet something was missing. And once again, this missing element boils down to poor writing when it came to the story.

Robert Downey Junior has been doing some great work recently. He was incredibly entertaining in Tropic Thunder, and was perfectly cast as Tony Stark in Iron Man. And yet, for some reason, he feels miscast in Sherlock Holmes. It wasn’t a terrible choice. Downey’s definitely got the cockiness they were going for in the character, but again, something felt off. Maybe it’s because they made Holmes too much of a rogue, I’m not sure. But there is something not right about this Holmes.
Jude Law is perfectly fine playing Watson. In fact, the choices they made for that character certainly felt more right. Watson is a war veteran, and carries the injuries associated with that. But it also makes him tough as nails. I’m not sure if this is an accurate depiction of the character, but next to the Holmes of this film, it did feel right. Mark Strong’s Lord Blackwood, however, was not a well-written character. Strong’s a great actor, but he’s all sneers and bellowing vitriol here. There is absolutely no depth to his character. And as I’ve said before, a hero is only as good as the villain he’s up against.

Overall, Sherlock Holmes misses more times than it hits. It’s not awful. And certainly isn’t the worst film Guy Ritchie has ever directed. But it’s a great disappointment. In bringing the character into the 21st century, it feels like the crew spent far too much time concentrating on making the film look modern, without giving him a modern context and decent story to justify the modern direction. It’ll keep you mildly entertained for 2 hours, but it’s not in any way a great film. Maybe the teasing introduction of Professor Moriarty will provide a decent antagonist for Holmes’ next adventure. We’ll have to see.


Tuesday, February 2, 2010

UP IN THE AIR (2009) - Jason Reitman

We live in times which are rich for satire. It’s easy to poke fun at the state of the world, but sometimes satire can wander into the territory of cliché. Yet Jason Reitman’s latest film, Up In The Air manages to be satirical without ever being patronising. It’s a film that is perfectly timed for the world today. A world of unemployment, foreclosures and a society struggling for identity and direction.

Ryan Bingham has possibly the worst job in the world. He is the person companies hire in order to fire their employees. All he sees every day is people on the verge of nervous and emotional breakdown. And yet, he loves his life. He is constantly moving, working out of a suitcase. He travels the US, lives in hotels and counts air miles as achievements. And yet, he is alone. He barely talks to his two sisters, and has few friends. But his life is on course for a change. His company are introducing video conferencing, which would allow it’s employees to fire people from one central location. This threatens Bingham’s lifestyle. So he takes his company’s wunderkind, the developer of the video program, Natalie Keener, on the road to see what exactly it’s like to fire a person.

As I’ve mentioned, Up In The Air is the perfect film for these times. It deals with themes that many people can relate to right now. Unemployment is rife, companies are closing, and people just feel a sense of constant loss. It’s to Reitman’s credit that he uses real people to depict the people being laid-off by Bingham. Apart from a few actors who depict more plot-central characters, everybody Bingham fires are people who recently lost their jobs. Reitman instructed these people to tell the camera what they would have liked to have told their former employers, and the emotion really carries over. It adds gravitas to the film and makes the emotional impact more palpable.

George Clooney has found the role he was born to play. Ryan Bingham is suave and charming. Yet he seems detached from proceedings. It’s isolation he’s chosen, and perhaps, being a movie star and not interacting with ‘normal’ people like the rest of us, Clooney brings some of himself to the role. It’s a great performance from him, and indeed, the rest of the cast. Newcomer, Anna Kendrick plays Bingham’s charge, Natalie Keener. Keener is straight out of college and has something to prove, and yet is incredibly vulnerable when it comes to personal issues. She breaks Bingham’s isolationism down as he shows her that people aren’t just statistics. They’re perfectly cast against each other and lend real credibility to the film.

Jason Reitman’s career has taken off very well. His first three features, Thank You For Smoking, Juno, and Up In The Air are commercial and critical successes that deal with issues people can relate to. Up In The Air is probably the best film he’s made so far. It manages to capture the mood of the average person, while managing to tell a well-rounded personal story. It’s a very very good film, and worthy of the nominations it has received.


2010 Academy Award nominees

Well, it's that time of year again. The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences have announced their nominees for this year's Oscars. It's a fairly predictable list of movies, with the big news being the listing of 10 films for Best Picture instead of 5. And yet, they still cant get it right. There is not one nomination for one of last year's best films, Moon. Swing and a miss.




Inglorious Basterds - QUENTIN TARANTINO
Precious: Based On The Novel Push By Sapphire - LEE DANIELS
Up In The Air - Jason Reitman


JEFF BRIDGES - Crazy Heart
COLIN FIRTH - A Single Man
JEREMY RENNER - The Hurt Locker


MATT DAMON - Invictus
STANLEY TUCCI - The Lovely Bones
CHRISTOPH WALTZ - Inglorious Basterds


HELEN MIRREN - The Last Station
GABOUREY SIDIBE - Precious: Based On The Novel Push By Sapphire
MERYL STREEP - Julie and Julia


MO'NIQUE - Precious: Based On The Novel Push By Sapphire


CORALINE - Henry Selick
THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG - John Musker and Ron Clements
UP - Pete Docter

So there ya go. The major ones. Surprises include (pleasantly) District 9 for Best Picture and the amount of nominations for Inglorious Basterds, the most over-hyped film of last year. The only other film to come close in the hype stakes was The Hurt Locker. It certainly wasn't everything the critics made it out to be.

Also, a special congratulations goes to Nicky Phelan, my class-mate from college on his nomination for best Animated Short, Granny O'Grimm' Sleeping Beauty. I sincerely hope it steals the show!

Monday, January 18, 2010

THE ROAD (2009) - John Hillcoat

Cormac McCarthy is currently viewed as America’s greatest living author. His books are bestsellers and No Country For Old Men, released as a film in 2007, was a multi-Oscar winning film. His Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Road, a post-apocalyptic road story has now been turned into a film by The Proposition director, John Hillcoat. The book was outstanding, but can the adaptation live up to what is viewed as a modern classic?

The world is dying. After some unnamed apocalyptic event, society has crumbled, millions are dead, and those who survive face a hopeless, grey, dark future. A man and his son travel alone along a road, heading for the coast. They don’t know what they will find there. But they will do all they can to survive the journey. Along the way, the encounter gangs of violent killers, people forced into cannibalism, and lone survivors, trying to find a life but without much hope.

Sounds like a pretty upbeat and joyful film, eh?! It is a grim and relentlessly downbeat film, however there is plenty of beauty to be found within. Central to this are the performances. The cast is populated by very few characters. Other than the man and the boy, most other humans they encounter last barely a few scenes before they are dispatched, or go on their own way. And yet there is not one performance that is in any way weak. The whole film hinges on the relationship between the father and his son. It is through their eyes that we see this dying world. The father is a pragmatist, and will kill to protect his son, the light of his world, and one of the few pure things left in their world. Yet despite his pragmatism, his humanity is been sapped by the fear, paranoia and hopelessness of their situation, and it is up to his son to keep him from losing his humanity completely.

This was the overriding theme of the book, and Hillcoat has successfully managed to retain this vital element in the film. Central to his success is his superb casting of Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit-McPhee as the father and son respectively. Mortensen conveys his desperation to instil good values in his son while fighting a situation that brings out the worst in humanity superbly. He successfully manages to be the average man stuck in extraordinarily grim circumstances. Newcomer Kodi Smit-McPhee mixes the wide-eyed innocence of a boy who is aware that the world is a dangerous place, but still has the innocence that comes with wanting to be the good guys. And he manages to balance these two elements perfectly. These are two remarkably subtle performances and embody the characters of the book superbly. Also making appearances are Michael K. Williams and Robert Duvall. Both are brilliant in two tiny, yet pivotal roles, and in particular, Robert Duvall does outstanding work with so little to go by.

The Road could very easily have been a disaster of a film. Yet Hillcoat’s brilliant direction finds beauty in what should be a hopeless and somber film. There are few special effects. And yet the world looks like a post-apocalyptic landscape. It’s a film of remarkable subtleties and at times gut-wrenching harshness. And it’s this balance that is what makes The Road such a success. Brilliant performances, a sparse and yet poignant script and outstanding direction make The Road an outstanding start to 2010. We can only hope it’s the beginning of a trend.


Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Fuck you, 2009. Don't let us down, 2010

2009. What a year. By June, I’d given up hope on finding any film worth celebrating. In fact, it was fast becoming the worst year I could think of in terms of film. By December, nothing much had changed. It was an awful, awful year. So bad, I lost interest in seeing a lot of the films released in the cinema. Hence the paltry 52 posts in the entire year. That, and laziness.
But there was hope. Despite a truly awful year for film, there were some highlights. And those highlights were fantastic. Those films that really stood out were genre pieces. In fact, out of my own personal Top 10, only two films weren’t genre pieces, or animated films. 2007 was the year of the western. 2009 was the year of sci-fi. And the differences between the sci-fi films showed that big-budget genre pieces work when thought is put into them, and small-budget genre pieces work without the need for massive budgets.
So, here’s the real Top 10 of 2009. I’m in a belligerent mood as I write this (thanks very much weather and Irish Rail), so if you don’t agree, well... go to hell!

The Critical Mass Top 10 of 2009

10. Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs- CWACOM may not be the top animated film of 2009. It won’t beat Up to the Oscar. But it is a brilliantly surreal, beautifully designed and animated, bit of laugh-out loud fun. At times it’s like a kid’s version of Silent Hill weirdness. But there’re jokes here for everyone. And a voice cast that is made up actors chosen for the role, not for their name; they’re all great as their characters. And who wouldn’t be happy to see a film in the Top 10 that features both Mr. T and Bruce Campbell?!

9. The Wrestler- Released way back in January (here), Darren Aronofsky’s film about a washed-up wrestler, played by a once washed-up actor is the perfect storm. A brilliant script, a savagely personal and brilliant performance by Mickey Rourke, and a director who is a contender for the best director working today, The Wrestler is the personal film at it’s best.

8. In The Loop- A British comedy that at the same time does and doesn’t feel like a British comedy, In The Loop is a brilliantly-written piece of savage satire. Peter Capaldi’s Malcolm Tucker is a prime contender for the character of 2009, and is supported by a cast of characters who are all brilliantly written and performed. It’s rare that a film surpasses it’s television version, but In The Loop often does.

7. Star Trek- Purists may have many problems with this ‘reboot.’ But what can’t be argued is the Star Trek franchise was dead on it’s feet. In steps J.J. Abrams to give the series a shot of adrenalin. The story may not have set the world on fire. But it was fun, accessible for non-Trek fans, and Chris Pine makes for a great Kirk. Sci-fi came back with a bang.

6. Paranormal Activity- Little can be said about this film without spoiling it. And it deserves to be seen without knowing anything. A tiny budget, simple set up and terrifying pay-offs, it’s horror at it’s best.

5. Let The Right One In- I don’t like vampires. At least, I don’t like what vampires have become. They’re fucking everywhere now. But Let The Right One In is a vampire film that does away with the clichés and distils a horror film to it’s bare essentials. As much a film about fear of children as fear of vampires, Let The Right One In is lauded by those who’ve seen it. And rightly so.

4. Moon- When I saw Moon, I declared that no film would top it in 2009. It’s a brilliant debut from Duncan Jones and has two top actors at the top of their game, both of them Sam Rockwell. It’s a 1970’s paranoid sci-fi film for the 21st Century, all story and performance, with a concept that’s not that wild. And it proves you don’t need big computer effects to deliver brilliant sci-fi.

3. Avatar- But then sometimes big computer effects can blow you face off. 12 years in the making, and worth every second and penny, Avatar brought James Cameron back to what he does best- big budget, balls-out action sci-fi. Hyped to be ‘the future of cinema,’ Avatar could very well be the future of the blockbuster. A huge step forward in technology, with a world that is jaw-droppingly real, and some of the best special effects ever put to film, Avatar proves that if you want mega-budget, action-packed spectacle, put a bit of thought and care into it. Not the top of 2009, but certainly a huge step forward for the industry.

2. District 9- Simply put, the best science fiction film of the last 10 years. Alegorical, funny, tense, with both human and alien characters we can identify with, District 9 is what happens when a very talented no-budget filmmaker is picked up by a hugely successful filmmaker who also made the transition to big budget. District 9 started as a brilliantly-made short. Peter Jackson saw it and gave the director, Neill Blomkamp the money to turn it into something bigger. Blomkamp never lost his original vision and the result is a brilliant piece of sci-fi.

1. Up- It was a difficult choice between District 9 and Up. But in the end, Up is just such an achingly beautiful story, that it really just had to take the top spot. Pixar are technical geniuses. Each of their films is flawlessly executed. But none of the films have had a story quite like Up. After the first 10 minutes, the entire cinema was stunned into tearful silence. Later on, we were all creased with laughter. This wide-ranging emotional impact is rarely seen in films, let alone animated films. Pete Docter delivers a film so brilliantly executed, the real tragedy is that it wont be recognised as the best film of 2009 by the academy. There’s still a stigma that surrounds animated films; ‘ah sure they’re just for kids.’ Fuck you. Up proves that animation is no less of an art-form than live-action. A perfect film.

So, not bad all in all. Couldda been worse, I guess. But I’d like to thank the film industry for throwing out such a large proportion of films that ranged from incredibly average to just plain awful. The list above really are the diamonds in the rough. And now... ugh... onto the dregs of 2009. While I’d like to list 10 films that really bugged the shit out of me, truth be told, I avoided a hell of a lot of films this year. So you won’t see the likes of The Time Traveller’s Wife, Year One, The Ugly Truth or 2012 on this list. The last of which is actually a shame. Emmerich’s becoming something of a regular fixture on the worst-of lists, so it feels kinda lacking without him. Anyways, here are seven films I wish I could erase from history, all of which were released in 2009.

7. Orphan- Whoah, nelly, is this a stinker. It’s a tense psychological thriller. Or else, it wants to be. But the scene where a ‘nine year old’ seduces her adopted father is both jaw-droppingly misguided and unintentionally hilarious at the same time. Still, the 12 year old Isabelle Fuhrman makes for one hell of a villain.

6. Knowing- What a wonderful thing it is to watch Nicholas Cage single-handedly destroy his own career. Why? Because when he’s good, he’s very good. But when he’s bad, he’s the Wicker Man. And Knowing continues the trend of gravitas in the face of laughably stupid premise. Knowing is bad M. Night Shyamalan. Which, after Lady In The Water and The Happening is pretty fucking awful. While I watched this ludicrous film of disasters leading to an ‘event,’ as I witnessed Cage’s character race stupidly into the middle of a plane crash, I couldn’t help but smile. Art imitates life.

5. X-Men Origins: Wolverine- What happens when you take a well-established, much-loved genre character, $150 million dollars and give them to a director who clearly has no idea where to point the camera and what special effects should look like? You get Wolverine. Terrible script, worse director and CGI that is so shockingly poor, I thought I was watching the internet-leaked workprint. I know Hugh Jackman loves playing Wolverine, but Christ, the man deserves better than this.

4. Angels And Demons- They’ve stolen a Higgs Bosun particle from the Large Hadron Collider! Need I say any more?

3. Terminator Salvation- If this list was about the films that had the most potential, the most expectation surrounding it, and still managed to turn the film into one giant cluster-fuck, Terminator Salvation would win. The first time I saw it, I’ll admit, I thought it was all right. But I reckon I was suffering from swine flu... or something. What can I say about McG? I’ll refrain from mentioning the fact that his name is absolutely fucking shit. The only thing going for it is it takes longer to type the word shit than it does ‘McG.’ Anyway, Terminator Salvation. A film made up of stupid decisions. The omnipotent and brutal Skynet keep their distance and don’t really bother the humans instead of wiping them out in one quick operation? Skynet has human-sized corridors and human-friendly interfaces? They build USB ports into their killer-bike things? They have killer-bike things? They allowed the director of the Charlie’s Angels films get his talentless mits on this? Either James Cameron is still wiping the tears of laughter off his cheek after seeing this mess, or else he’s wiping a tear off his cheek after witnessing what’s become of the iconic franchise he created.

2. G.I. Joe- How does Stephen Sommers still have a career? His resume reads like a list of war crimes. The Mummy, The Mummy Returns, Van Helsing and now G.I. Joe. This ghastly pile of garbage is just a load of clichés, badly-written characters, flash-backs (the talentless writer’s crutch to avoid putting thought into writing) and inexcusably poor special effects. Marlon Wayans used up any credibility he gained by being in a Darren Aronofsky film a long, long time ago. Any director, other than his equally talentless brother, Keenen, who hires this ‘actor’ should immediately hand in his DGA membership. The only redeeming thing about G.I. Joe is that I saw it on an airplane and didn’t have to pay to see it.

1. Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen- Michael Bay. Essentially a pornographer with a budget of $200,000,000 but a strict warning to keep it PG13. Treats his female characters with all the subtlety and chivalry of Ted Bundy. Treats the audience like they’re drooling idiots. And in some way, they are. Including me. For paying for this inexcusably bad film. Megan Fox. Somehow missed the bus for pornography central and wound up in Hollywood. Has as much talent as a pair of tits whittled from wood. Has dark, soulless eyes, not unlike those of a shark. Can’t even manage to run convincingly. Shia LaBeouf. Fuck him. He contributed to killing Indiana Jones. John Turturro. Oh my god, how the mighty have fallen. Has gone from being a Coen Brothers darling to stripping down to a g-string for a cheap laugh.
There is so much wrong with Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen that it actually hurts my brain to try and remember it all. Logic is thrown out the window. Geography is bafflingly ignored. The pyramids at Giza are wilfully destroyed because, ya know, fuck the Egyptians. America has shit to blow up. Robot testicles. Robot heaven. Also, side-kicks and incidental characters are so incredibly racist, even George Lucas must shake his head in disbelief. I’ve said it before, and I’m saying it again. FUCK YOU MICHAEL BAY.

Four bad, and three awful films. Have to congratulate Michael Bay though. He’s managed to make the film I most hate in the world. I have a list of bad films. But they’re just bad. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen actually makes me angry.

And in a change to regular programming, since I couldn’t come up with at least ten bad films of 2009, I’ll share with you some things that made me smile in 2009. You lucky people! Little bits of media that made the year that little bit more pleasant. They may be worth checking out, you may hate them. But they made me skip, jump, head-bang and shriek with delight! Also, these are in no particular order.


Charlie Brooker’s Newswipe- After five seasons of Screenwipe, the foul-mouthed, yet incredibly insightful TV pundit turned his eye to news on television. Informative, eye-opening and always hilarious, it thankfully returns to television in January. Sometime.

David Attenborough’s Life In The Undergrowth- Yeah, yeah. It was released in 2005. But I only got to see it this year. And fuck me, is it crazy. A more appropriate title would have been David Attenborough’s I Swear, We’re Not Making This Shit Up. It’s absolutely engrossing and at times, completely unbelievable. Fantastic viewing.

The Office- The US version. I thought this series would have run out of steam a long time ago, but Season Five still seems fresh, mainly thanks to Steve Carrell, Rainn Wilson and Ed Helms. It’s pretty clear a lot of what these guys do is improvised, but that just makes it even better. And Steve Carrell is actually a pretty damn fine actor.

Flight Of The Conchords- Season Two of this brilliant series aired this year. The comedy was sharper, the songs catchier and Murray had more to do. The series is over now, but at least it went out on a high.

Battlestar Galactica- I know, a lot of people were disappointed in the ending. But I wasn’t. Sometimes we don’t need to be spoon-fed answers, and life doesn’t always deal in absolutes. And while it’s clear Ronald D. Moore had a bit of a hard time trying to tie up loose ends, the series was so strong overall, that I’ll forgive it it’s faults. And also, The Plan was a damn fine watch.

It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia- Good lord, it doesn’t get more low-brow or vulgar as this. And that’s what’s so good about it. And it’s absolutely incredible to see how far an Oscar-nominated actor like Danny Devito is willing to go. Frank Reynolds, I salute you!


Gallows- Grey Britain- Anger-infused punk is back. And it’s fucking awesome.

Florence And The Machine- Lungs- Helluva debut album. Full of really catch songs, and Florence Welch has a helluva voice.

Dan Deacon- Bromst- Great album, even better live gig.

La Roux- La Roux- Only discovered this in the last week or so, but it’s pretty damn good.

Fuck Buttons- Tarot Sport- These guys create a sound that is incredibly epic sound. Loud, bombastic electronic noise. Brilliant.

Susan Boyle- I Dreamed A Dream- Simply incredible. No, really. Nah, just kidding. If I have to hear about this ‘phenomenon’ again, I may just put a skewer through my ears.


Street Fighter IV- There's no need for any other fighting game to exist. As close to the perfect fighting game as any game has achieved. Maybe Super Street Fighter IV will perfect the game.

Batman: Arkham Asylum- The best super-hero game ever made. One of the most solid, well-designed, brilliantly written games I’ve ever played, it’s also a game I flew through in a week as it was so addictive. The combat is simple, yet unrelentingly fun, and both Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill reprise their roles of Batman and The Joker respectively. Amazing fun.

Left 4 Dead 2- Improved on it’s predecessor in many ways. Simple premise. Multiplayer gaming in it’s purest form. Funny, gruesome, often terrifying, always action-packed.

Assassin’s Creed 2- Got this for Christmas. Played it nearly every day since. Free-running is pure fun, the violence is brutal and savage, and it’s an actioner with puzzle elements. Could end up being crap. Most likely won’t.

Canabalt- Have you got an iPhone or an iPod Touch? Then get Canabalt. The premise is simple. Jump over obstacles while the city crumbles around you. But it’s incredibly addictive. Hell, even if you don’t have one of Steve Job’s gadgets, go here.


Sheikra, Busch Gardens, Florida- I visited Busch Gardens 10 years ago. It was (and remains) the best theme park in Florida. And Sheikra, the latest roller-coaster in the park is balls-out terrifying. I hate heights. So a coaster that drops you from two heights is right up my street. It's brilliant, and worth checking out if you go stateside.

So there you have it. Some of the shit I liked in 2009. So what’s there to look forward to in 2010. Well, first up, The Road. It’s an adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s novel, and while stateside, they’ve already seen and done this, it’s our turn here in Europe. The book was brilliant and painfully beautiful. Can The Proposition’s John Hillcoat do it justice?

Peter Jackson’s ambitious The Lovely Bones could go either way. It’s not a massive release like Lord Of The Rings, or the upcoming Tintin, but the guy does special effects very well, so it could be very good. The old monster, The Wolfman gets revisited. Benicio Del Toro, Anthony Hopkins and Hugo Weaving headline, so on paper, it looks good. But Joe Johnston has his ups and downs, so it could go either way.

Leonardo DiCaprio has two pretty big films coming out this year. First of all, there’s Shutter Island, the new film directed by Martin Scorsese. To me, judging by the trailer, it looks like a very stylish Wicker Man (the original and best one. Not the balls remake).

And then there’s Inception, the film I’m most looking forward to. Word has it, it cost more to make than The Dark Knight. It’s Christopher Nolan doing original again, and nobody knows anything about it. My And considering that every new Chris Nolan film is his best film, I’m already pretty excited. Especially after seeing that second trailer.

Other stuff I’m really looking forward to is... Matt Damon, Bourne goes Baghdad in Paul Greengrass’ Green Zone... Legion looks rubbish, but high-concept fun rubbish... Ridley Scott does medieval once again with Robin Hood. And with Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett on board, it’ll at least be acted well... Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, always at their best when working together release Cemetery Junction in April... Liam Neeson plays Hannibal Smith in The A-Team. I dunno how that cannot be good... Sam Worthington tries to solidify his name as the blockbuster go-to guy with the frankly awesome looking Clash Of The Titans... and Harry Potter begins his final school year with Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows: Part 1... Oh, and some other Pixar film called Toy Story 3. Never heard of it.

2010 on paper, looks a helluva lot more promising than 2009. I, for one, hope it proves to be better. At least Michael Bay can’t put a taint on it with some awful abortion of a film. Thank heaven for small mercies.