Celebrating Great Films

Thursday, April 20, 2006

The Incredibles

The Incredibles#80 at time of writing.

Pixar are a phenomenon. They blasted into the box office with Toy Story, redefining what could be done with computer animation. They followed it up with A Bug's Life, which was at least as good as DreamWorks' contemporary computer-animated ant movie (what are the odds?), Antz. Then, against all odds, they outdid the first Toy Story film with its sequel. For an encore, they produced Monsters, Inc. - a triumph of imaginative comedy.

That's when they pulled out the big guns. Finding Nemo was mind-blowing. Beautiful, touching, hilarious, epic... and absolutely impossible to follow.

The trailers for The Incredibles aroused excitement and cynicism in equal measure. Yay! Another Pixar film! But superheroes? Surely they've lost their touch after a lucky run. Surely after their first five near-perfect films they'll slip up, or lose momentum.

Couldn't be more wrong. The Incredibles is just that. Incredible.

The sheer number and variety of characters, scenes and textures raises the bar sky-high for computer animated films. The idea is simple enough: a family of undercover superheroes, while trying to live the quiet suburban life, are forced into action to save the world. But the result is sublime. A supremely comic and stunningly imaginative blend of the mundane and the fantastic. It makes me want to get up from my seat and dance. Or double over laughing. Or shed a gooey sentimental tear.

This summer, Pixar's seventh feature film will be released, Cars. Yay! Another Pixar film! But cars? Surely they've lost their touch after a lucky run...

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl#241 at time of writing.

This film swashes every single buckle out there. You might think you've seen a hundred pirate films before, but when you actually try and recall them you will realize you haven't. Peter Pan pretty much fixed the genre in our heads, and nothing since has really captured the full potential of swashbuckling buccaneers on the high seas.

Right from the off, this film makes you want to use words like "rollicking" and "rip-roaring". Becorseted breasts, roguish heroes and flamboyant villains abound, me hearties. Johnny Depp's wonderfully comic performance and Geoffrey Rush's extravagant gravitas steal the show. You can watch this again and again (indeed, I have) and you'll enjoy it every time.

It has to be the first film ever based on a theme park ride. It captures the atmosphere of the Disneyland ride, and even homages entire segments: the skeletal pirates, the jail scenes with the key-dog, the burning town with the red-headed prostitute (who slaps Captain Jack), and of course the song "(Yo Ho, Yo Ho) A Pirate's Life for Me" - among many others.

It was brought to life by screenwriting duo Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio. Terry Rossio is a bit of a hero of mine, thanks to the inspirational columns on his website, Wordplay. He admits that this is the first live-action film where everyone involved seemed to believe in what he and his writing partner were doing, right from the start - which was a truly great experience. And all it took was "10 produced features, three #1 films of the summer, $4 billion in overall worldwide sales, and an Academy Award® nomination."

Forgive the cheesy ending, and bring on the sequels! Arrrr...

Worst films of all time

I recently subjected myself to a second viewing of Batman & Robin. I have got drunk and set off a whole reel of film while the camera was still in my pocket before, and I enjoyed those photos more than I enjoyed this film.

It is not just an insult to the Batman franchise; it is not just an insult to the film industry; it is an insult to humanity. Why - how - do films like this get made?

It got me to thinking - what are the worst films of all time? I don't mean films that are so bad they're good (there was a film I saw on late-night TV in the early 90's called Eat and Run that I would put in that category - it was a no-budget film about an alien that descended to New York City and ate Italian people, leaving only their buttons behind). I mean terrible, agonising films.

It turns out that IMDb have a Bottom 100 list. Here are some of the highlights:

Personally though, Batman & Robin takes the biscuit for me. That's $125,000,000 that would have been better spent even if it was used to paint the moon red. Holy marathon, Batman! F*** off!

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

#36 at time of writing.

"How happy is the blameless Vestal's lot!
The world forgetting, by the world forgot
Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind!
Each pray'r accepted, and each wish resign'd"

Every time I watch this film I fall in love with it more, to the point where I can't help welling up with tears as soon as Beck starts crooning "Everybody's Gotta Learn Sometime" to the opening credits.

This is my kind of film. If I had to choose a personal top 250 films, it would be full of films like this. Except that there aren't any films like this.

Kate Winslet and Jim Carrey are cast completely against type, and they turn in perfect performances. Michel Gondry is a visionary director, who comes up with the densest mosaic of artful scenes that has ever existed in a plot-driven movie.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

There's no denying that this film is the combined result of a rare unity of vision between a group of extremely talented people, but the champion for me is Charlie Kaufman, the screenwriter.

I deeply admire Kaufman's style - turning genres on their heads by introducing a fantastical element, and then playing out that fantastical concept to breaking point. His collaborations with Spike Jonze, Being John Malkovich and Adaptation, were genius - the most original and subversive films for years.

Eternal Sunshine shows the same spark, but it has matured. The themes of love and loss are indeed eternal, and this film will certainly last forever.

Some links:

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Taxi Driver

Taxi Driver#37 at time of writing.

This film is extremely high up IMDb's Top 250 list. I was expecting to be blown away - not by CGI and melodrama, but by being forced to think and to reassess the world I live in - that's what makes a great film for me. But I didn't get what I expected.

Instead I got an understated, slow-burning, sinister film. A good film, but it probably would not have made my personal top 250. Then again, now that I am making more of an effort to watch the so-called classics, maybe I need to rethink my opinion on what makes a good film.

I also recently watched the classic films that made Jack Nicholson an A-lister: Easy Rider and Five Easy Pieces. They too were slow-burning, cynical, unexpected films that were undeniably very good, but perhaps not to my taste. But, a week or two later, I remember them. I remember the crucial scenes. They have made an impression on me. They linger. So maybe they are making me reassess the world I live in, in a subtler, deeper way. Maybe these nuanced films will blindside me, and by the time I get round to watching them again, I won't understand why I didn't always love them.

Robert De Niro has been rightly lauded for his infinitely sensitive portrayal of Travis Bickle, the insomniac Vietnam vet of limited intelligence whose job as a cabbie hides him from all but the seediest sides of society until it's all he knows. De Niro worked twelve-hour days for a month driving cabs as preparation for the role. And he was clearly under the character's skin - his most famous line from the film was improvised. I had always assumed "You talkin' to me?" would be scary and menacing, but it was dripping with sadness and isolation.

Cinemap 2006

Look what I'm working on at the moment...

Cinemap Preview

Each line represents a different genre, and there are a few extras thrown in.

I'll probably post the finished product here soon!