Celebrating Great Films


Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Downfall

#93 at time of writing.

This film is critically acclaimed, particularly for faithfully depicting the last days of the Third Reich from a lesser-known perspective (inside the Führerbunker), and for breaking the taboo of having a German actor portraying Hitler. Indeed, Bruno Ganz's much parodied performance is exceptional.

Some controversy was stirred by the perception that this movie renders Hitler as a fallible human being rather than an inhuman psychopath - although I agree with the critics who argue that such an interpretation is probably more realistic (after all, he was sufficiently charismatic to seduce a nation into barbarism), and it certainly doesn't go so far as to inspire sympathy for the man.

But beyond these worthy features, this films feels basically like a dramatised feature-length BBC-style documentary. Granted, a high quality and involving documentary, but it's hard to shake the feeling that you're sitting through a rather interesting lecture instead of an epic historical film.

Bernd Eichinger's script relies on several historical sources including Traudl Junge's autobiography (the film includes archive footage of an elderly Junge herself speaking about her stint as Hitler's secretary in the bunker); and Director Oliver Hirschbiegel made efforts to accurately reconstruct the look and feel of the bunker. So, you can expect a good dose of historical accuracy, although there are also notable omissions such as the widespread rape of German women by Soviet soldiers after the capture of Berlin.

A disturbing bit of trivia from IMDb: The button that Adolf Hitler removes from his jacket and gives to Magda Goebbels is a Gold Nazi Party badge, awarded to high-ranking party members who had constant membership from 1925. Hitler gave himself Badge No. 1 in 1933, even though he was not the first party member. The Soviets found the badge in the bunker and it was stored in a vault at the Lubyanka, the KGB headquarters. In 2005 the FSB, the Russian Federation successor to the Soviet KGB, put the badge on display. In November that year, it was stolen in a brazen smash-and-grab raid. The burglar escaped even though he triggered the display alarms. So far, it has not yet been recovered.

I worry about the mindset of whoever has that on display in their living room.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

In Bruges

#193 at time of writing.

This gloriously unconventional film gets its interest from politically incorrect black humour and extended sequences of subtle tension. It's a drama of consequences, occasionally contriving unlikely coincidences to make its point, but pulling it off with style in the end. Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson excel as the protagonists at the core of the film. With an emphasis on characters and quirkiness instead of action, these hit men with hearts deliver a crackingly entertaining story.

Irish-English writer-director Martin McDonagh had previously made a short film called Six Shooter, which I watched immediately afterwards. The short had all the quirkiness and darkness of his feature-length effort, but without the satisfying neatness. He's a playwright by trade, which perhaps comes through in his writing, and it's fascinating to watch his development as a filmmaker. He must have been pleased as punch with a BAFTA, an Oscar nomination, opening Sundance, and a worldwide box office of $30million. The Bruges Tourist Board must've been dead pleased too. I wonder what he'll do next?

Monday, November 22, 2010

Some Like It Hot

#79 at time of writing.

This film must have been uproarious when it was released, a kind of Something About Mary of the Fifties, and it still has bucketloads of charm. With its classic plot and timeless slapstick humour, it's funny, sexy, and more than a little risqué (sufficiently so that it received a Condemned rating from the National Legion of Decency).

Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis look like they're having a lot of fun wearing lacy frocks and high heels, and Marilyn Monroe steals the show with her boop-boop-a-doop style.


Some Like It Hot was released at the end of the repressive 1950s at a time when the advent of television was threatening, and the influence of the Production Code's censorship restrictions was weakening. Director-producer Billy Wilder challenged the system with this gender-bending comedy, filled with sexual innuendo, unembarrassed vulgarity, free love, spoofs of sexual stereotypes (bisexuality, transvestism, androgyny, homosexuality, transsexuality, lesbianism, and impotence), sexy costuming for the well-endowed, and a mix of serious themes including abuse, alcoholism, unemployment, gangsterism and murder.

Stories abound of Marilyn Monroe's erratic behaviour on set, often showing up several hours late and forgetting her lines. She suffered from stage fright and refused to leave her dressing room, or sometimes insisted numerous retakes of simple scenes until she was satisfied. She apparently required 47 takes to get "It's me, Sugar" correct. After take 30, Billy Wilder had the line written on a blackboard.

She disliked Tony Curtis after hearing that he had described their love scenes as "like kissing Hitler." In his 2008 autobiography, Curtis notes that he did make the statement to the film crew, but it was meant as a joke.

During filming, Monroe discovered that she was pregnant. She suffered another miscarriage in December 1958, as filming was completed. None of this troubled personal life comes through on screen, though; all we see is Marilyn's trademark sultry dumb-blonde magic.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Day 34

I'm on day 34 of my mad challenge to write 1000 words a day and get my novel finished by the end of the year.

It generally takes me at least a couple of hours, and sometimes twice that, to come up with 1000 reasonable words - so fitting that in around my day job has been challenging.

I've recently been suffering from a touch of stir-crazy since realising that I'm still not even halfway through and I have barely spent any time with my wife (who, bless her, has been remarkably supportive), let alone my friends and my films, for over a month.

At least, during the month of November, I'm in good company. Thousands of wannabe writers are torturing themselves in a similar way for NaNoWriMo. They're aiming to write 50,000 words in 30 days (about 1,700 per day) - I've so far managed a piffling 27,000 in 34 days (about 800 per day).

Yes, that means I'm currently 7,000 words behind. Well, I've got the day off tomorrow, and there's still a couple of hours left before I conk out today...

Monday, October 18, 2010

UK Premiere

My short film, The Man Who Married Himself, has its UK premiere as part of the BFI London Film Festival on Thursday this week!

I handed in my MA Creative Writing dissertation a couple of weeks ago, and I was intending to focus back on screenwriting - with a mission to write the next low-budget indy breakthrough hit.

But then I saw the Terry Pratchett Prize, for a debut novelist writing a time travel story set on Earth. I happen to be a quarter of the way through writing a comic science fiction novel about a time travelling janitor. Destiny?

So I've set myself a challenge to finish it by the deadline - that's 1000 words a day until 31 December. I've only been doing it a week and I'm already behind... to work!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Social Network

#133 at time of writing.

In 1999, David Fincher captured the zeitgeist of a generation brimming with pre-millennial angst in Fight Club. Now, a decade later, he's done it again. The Social Network is today's zeitgeist, and this time it's a true story. An important story that needed to be told.

It's a completely different film to Fight Club, of course, but it displays just as much confidence, humour and darkness. The Social Network tells how brainiac Mark Zuckerberg went from nerding out in his Harvard dorm room to becoming the world's youngest billionaire, thanks to inventing Facebook.

Aaron Sorkin's screenplay is based on Ben Mezrich's book, which in turn is based mainly on the testimony of an embittered Eduardo Saverin, who had to sue Mark Zuckerberg to get his credit for co-founding Facebook. Unsurprisingly, Eduardo Saverin's character comes across the best in the film, if a little naïve. (Brave to make an unflattering film about real and very litigious people...)

The real Mark Zuckerberg refused to be involved in the production of either the book or the film. So it's hard to say how accurate the story really is, but it's damned entertaining. And, personally, I believe the ruthless, asocial, quiet, brainbox version of Mark Zuckerberg that is portrayed in this film. I'm willing to see him as a bad guy. After all, he is responsible for a website that allows such despicable activity as Holocaust denial groups to flourish, whilst irrecoverably removing accounts - without warning - such as my friend's just because his Facebook name was David IHateFacebookAldhouse.

And this man, Mark Zuckerberg, who is now 26 years old and worth $6.9billion, controls the personal details of over 500 million active members. That's one out of every fourteen people in existence. Scary.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Buried

Unranked at time of writing.

At the time of writing, this film is scored 8.2/10 - more than enough to get it into the Top 250 if it had enough votes. That's my excuse for blogging it here, although to be honest I would have made up any excuse to talk about this exceptional film.

What makes it exceptional? It is set entirely in a coffin. Remember Phone Booth? That was a brave film (and so cool), daring to be set almost entirely in a phone booth, in real-time. Well, Buried is braver still.

Ryan Reynolds gives an intense performance as the only actor on screen. The film is claustrophobic and tense throughout.

Chris Sparling's script is a work of art - it reads like a breathless thriller, full of darkness and satisfying little twists. This is probably the best film that could have been made from it, managing to hold your attention for the full 95 minute running time with creative camera angles and only occasionally overbearing music.

Oh, and the Saul Bass-inspired posters for this film are beautiful.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Snapshot II - IMDb's Top 250 films Sep 2010

Back in February 2009 I did a snapshot of IMDb's Top 250 films. Let's see how the list has changed...

Since I blogged about them:

15 films have gone up in the ranking (in the order of blogging, Batman Begins, Fight Club, Pirates I, V for Vendetta, The Prestige, Full Metal Jacket, Dial M for Murder, The Thing, Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi, The Big Lebowski, Avatar, Rocky, Back to the Future, Kick-Ass, Inception).

2 have stayed the same (Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back, The Bourne Ultimatum).

And the rest have gone down - including 8 films that have disappeared from the Top 250 altogether (Almost Famous, Star Wars III, Hero, Walk the Line, Frost/Nixon, The Day the Earth Stood Still, The Hangover, Zombieland).

My mission is about 24% complete...



IMDb Top 250 films as of 25 September 2010:

RankRatingTitleBlogged?
1.9.1The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
2.9.1The Godfather (1972)
3.9.0The Godfather: Part II (1974)
4.9.0Inception (2010)Yes
5.8.9The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966)
6.8.9Pulp Fiction (1994)
7.8.9Schindler's List (1993)
8.8.812 Angry Men (1957)
9.8.8One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975)
10.8.8Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back (1980)Yes
11.8.8The Dark Knight (2008)Yes
12.8.8The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)
13.8.8Seven Samurai (1954)Yes
14.8.7Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (1977)Yes
15.8.7Toy Story 3 (2010)Yes
16.8.7Casablanca (1942)Yes
17.8.7Goodfellas (1990)
18.8.7Fight Club (1999)Yes
19.8.7City of God (2002)Yes
20.8.7The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
21.8.7Rear Window (1954)Yes
22.8.7Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)Yes
23.8.7Psycho (1960)
24.8.7Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)
25.8.7The Usual Suspects (1995)
26.8.6The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
27.8.6The Matrix (1999)
28.8.6Se7en (1995)
29.8.6Memento (2000)Yes
30.8.6It's a Wonderful Life (1946)
31.8.6The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)
32.8.6Sunset Boulevard (1950)
33.8.6Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)
34.8.6Léon (1994)
35.8.6Forrest Gump (1994)
36.8.6North by Northwest (1959)
37.8.6Citizen Kane (1941)
38.8.6Apocalypse Now (1979)
39.8.5American History X (1998)
40.8.5American Beauty (1999)
41.8.5Taxi Driver (1976)Yes
42.8.5Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
43.8.5Vertigo (1958)
44.8.5Alien (1979)
45.8.5Saving Private Ryan (1998)
46.8.5Lawrence of Arabia (1962)Yes
47.8.5Amelie (2001)
48.8.5WALL·E (2008)Yes
49.8.5The Shining (1980)
50.8.5A Clockwork Orange (1971)
51.8.4Paths of Glory (1957)
52.8.4The Departed (2006)Yes
53.8.4The Pianist (2002)
54.8.4Spirited Away (2001)
55.8.4Aliens (1986)
56.8.4To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)
57.8.4M (1931)
58.8.4The Lives of Others (2006)Yes
59.8.4Double Indemnity (1944)
60.8.4Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)Yes
61.8.4Requiem for a Dream (2000)Yes
62.8.4Chinatown (1974)Yes
63.8.4Reservoir Dogs (1992)
64.8.4L.A. Confidential (1997)
65.8.4The Third Man (1949)
66.8.4Das Boot (1981)
67.8.4The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)
68.8.4City Lights (1931)
69.8.4Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)
70.8.4Pan's Labyrinth (2006)
71.8.4The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)
72.8.4The Prestige (2006)Yes
73.8.3Back to the Future (1985)Yes
74.8.3Raging Bull (1980)
75.8.3Life Is Beautiful (1997)
76.8.3Modern Times (1936)
77.8.32001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
78.8.3Singin' in the Rain (1952)
79.8.3Inglourious Basterds (2009)
80.8.3Some Like It Hot (1959)
81.8.3Full Metal Jacket (1987)Yes
82.8.3Amadeus (1984)
83.8.3Downfall (2004)
84.8.3Cinema Paradiso (1988)
85.8.3The Green Mile (1999)
86.8.3Braveheart (1995)
87.8.3Once Upon a Time in America (1984)
88.8.3Up (2009)Yes
89.8.3Rashomon (1950)Yes
90.8.3The Maltese Falcon (1941)
91.8.3All About Eve (1950)
92.8.3Metropolis (1927)
93.8.3Gran Torino (2008)Yes
94.8.3The Elephant Man (1980)
95.8.3The Great Dictator (1940)
96.8.3Gladiator (2000)
97.8.3The Apartment (1960)
98.8.3Rebecca (1940)
99.8.3Sin City (2005)Yes
100.8.3The Sting (1973)
101.8.3The Great Escape (1963)
102.8.3Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)
103.8.3Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi (1983)Yes
104.8.3Unforgiven (1992)
105.8.3Bicycle Thieves (1948)
106.8.3Jaws (1975)
107.8.3Batman Begins (2005)Yes
108.8.3Die Hard (1988)
109.8.2Slumdog Millionaire (2008)Yes
110.8.2Oldboy (2003)
111.8.2On the Waterfront (1954)
112.8.2Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)
113.8.2Blade Runner (1982)Yes
114.8.2Hotel Rwanda (2004)Yes
115.8.2Touch of Evil (1958)
116.8.2The Seventh Seal (1957)
117.8.2No Country for Old Men (2007)Yes
118.8.2Fargo (1996)
119.8.2Princess Mononoke (1997)
120.8.2For a Few Dollars More (1965)
121.8.2Heat (1995)
122.8.2The Wizard of Oz (1939)Yes
123.8.2Avatar (2009)Yes
124.8.2District 9 (2009)Yes
125.8.2Strangers on a Train (1951)
126.8.2Cool Hand Luke (1967)
127.8.2The Sixth Sense (1999)
128.8.2Donnie Darko (2001)
129.8.2High Noon (1952)
130.8.2Snatch. (2000)
131.8.2The Deer Hunter (1978)
132.8.2The General (1926)
133.8.2Notorious (1946)
134.8.2The Big Lebowski (1998)Yes
135.8.2Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2003)Yes
136.8.2Annie Hall (1977)
137.8.2Platoon (1986)
138.8.2Yojimbo (1961)
139.8.2There Will Be Blood (2007)Yes
140.8.2The Manchurian Candidate (1962)
141.8.1Ran (1985)
142.8.1The Lion King (1994)
143.8.1Into the Wild (2007)
144.8.1Ben-Hur (1959)
145.8.1The Big Sleep (1946)
146.8.1Million Dollar Baby (2004)
147.8.1Toy Story (1995)
148.8.1Witness for the Prosecution (1957)
149.8.1The Wrestler (2008)Yes
150.8.1It Happened One Night (1934)
151.8.1Life of Brian (1979)
152.8.1Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)
153.8.1Wild Strawberries (1957)
154.8.1Finding Nemo (2003)Yes
155.8.1The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)Yes
156.8.1Trainspotting (1996)
157.8.1Gone with the Wind (1939)
158.8.1The Terminator (1984)
159.8.1Groundhog Day (1993)
160.8.1Scarface (1983)
161.8.1Stand by Me (1986)
162.8.1The Graduate (1967)
163.8.1The Thing (1982)Yes
164.8.1Dog Day Afternoon (1975)
165.8.1Amores Perros (2000)
166.8.1The Wages of Fear (1953)
167.8.1Grave of the Fireflies (1988)
168.8.1Gandhi (1982)
169.8.1The Secret in Their EYes (2009)Yes
170.8.1Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998)
171.8.1Ratatouille (2007)
172.8.1V for Vendetta (2006)Yes
173.8.1Star Trek (2009)Yes
174.8.1Twelve Monkeys (1995)
175.8.1The Grapes of Wrath (1940)
176.8.1Casino (1995)
177.8.1The Gold Rush (1925)
178.8.1 (1963)
179.8.1Les diaboliques (1955)
180.8.1Judgment at Nuremberg (1961)
181.8.0The Night of the Hunter (1955)
182.8.0The Killing (1956)
183.8.0The Princess Bride (1987)
184.8.0How to Train Your Dragon (2010)
185.8.0The Incredibles (2004)Yes
186.8.0The Wild Bunch (1969)
187.8.0The Kid (1921)
188.8.0Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949)
189.8.0The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)
190.8.0Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927)
191.8.0The Exorcist (1973)
192.8.0In Bruges (2008)
193.8.0Children of Men (2006)
194.8.0Dial M for Murder (1954)Yes
195.8.0Kick-Ass (2010)Yes
196.8.0Good Will Hunting (1997)
197.8.0Nights of Cabiria (1957)
198.8.0The Hustler (1961)
199.8.0Rosemary's Baby (1968)
200.8.0Ed Wood (1994)
201.8.0The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007)
202.8.0Harvey (1950)
203.8.0Big Fish (2003)
204.8.0Rocky (1976)Yes
205.8.0A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)
206.8.0Sleuth (1972)
207.8.0King Kong (1933)
208.8.0Let the Right One In (2008)Yes
209.8.0Network (1976)
210.8.0Magnolia (1999)
211.8.0Kill Bill: Vol. 2 (2004)Yes
212.8.0Mystic River (2003)
213.8.0Stalag 17 (1953)
214.8.0Letters from Iwo Jima (2006)Yes
215.8.0Shadow of a Doubt (1943)
216.8.0The Battle of Algiers (1966)
217.8.0Brief Encounter (1945)Yes
218.8.0Rope (1948)
219.8.0Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)Yes
220.8.0The African Queen (1951)Yes
221.8.0The 400 Blows (1959)
222.8.0Ikiru (1952)
223.8.0Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
224.8.0Duck Soup (1933)Yes
225.8.0Crash (2004/I)
226.8.0Patton (1970)
227.8.0The Truman Show (1998)
228.8.0My Neighbour Totoro (1988)
229.8.0Toy Story 2 (1999)
230.8.0Planet of the Apes (1968)
231.8.0Manhattan (1979)
232.8.0La strada (1954)
233.8.0The Conversation (1974)
234.8.0Barry Lyndon (1975)
235.8.0Anatomy of a Murder (1959)
236.8.0Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966)
237.8.0All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)
238.8.0Roman Holiday (1953)
239.7.9Monsters, Inc. (2001)
240.7.9Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)
241.7.9The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
242.7.9Spartacus (1960)
243.7.9Infernal Affairs (2002)
244.7.9Little Miss Sunshine (2006)Yes
245.7.9Rain Man (1988)
246.7.9The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)
247.7.9Mulholland Drive (2001)
248.7.9Arsenic and Old Lace (1944)
249.7.9Howl's Moving Castle (2004)
250.7.9Edward Scissorhands (1990)

The Bourne Ultimatum

#155 at time of writing.

The Bourne trilogy collectively represent the best action thriller films of the Noughties, and The Bourne Ultimatum tops the series off brilliantly. One hundred percent up to date, breathlessly paced, realistic and compelling.

Matt Damon has the Bourne trilogy to thank for successfully reinventing him from Meh Damen into a rock-hard action star.

But the real stars here are behind the scenes. The script is intelligent and economical, Paul Greengrass's direction leaves your head spinning with its blistering pace, the music keeps your adrenalin pumping relentlessly...


Bourne is so cool that even Bond tried to imitate him - A Quantum of Solace is basically James Bond shoehorned (unsuccessfully) into a Bourne film.

There a couple of scenes where the shakiness of the camera is too intrusive, and Jason Bourne makes at least one decision that seems to be more for dramatic effect than practicality ("If you were in your office right now we'd be having this conversation face-to-face"); but the effect is sufficiently dramatic that all is easily forgiven.

I made the mistake of watching this film late at night; it got my blood going so fast it took me ages to settle down and get to sleep.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

Unranked at time of writing.

Painfully cool. As in, immensely cool, and just a little bit painful.

I really wanted to like this film, and there's a lot to like: it's funny, original, endlessly inventive, and packed with geeky video game references. But (and I hate to say this) I was bored.

Hard to pin down what was wrong with it. Lack of chemistry between the main characters? All flashiness and no content? I dunno. There seem to be enough people who loved this film to propel it into the IMDb Top 250, but for me it would have worked better as a TV series - it just didn't have enough substance for the big screen. One for DVD perhaps; there are certainly enough background jokes to deserve a second viewing. Or perhaps the comics are where the real fun is at.

Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Ramona Flowers was suitably awesome, and I thought Alison Pill as Kim Pine punched above her screen time. Michael Cera was, well, Michael Cera - which is no bad thing.


I'm still rooting for writer/director Edgar Wright. Shaun of the Dead is one of my favourite films, and it's great to see him hit the big time. I look forward to the third in the Blood & Ice Cream trilogy.

Edgar Wright apparently obtained permission to use the famous theme song from the NES title, The Legend of Zelda, by writing a letter to Nintendo, saying that it is considered to be "the nursery rhyme of this generation". Loving the 8 bit music.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

A Film A Day...

I recently succumbed to a ridiculous whim and bought a job lot of 171 DVDs from eBay wholesale, for just over £1 each. I kept the best ones, about half of them, and sold the rest for £1 each almost immediately.

Thus, my DVD collection is now a DVD library. And suddenly I have loads of films I'm excited about watching.

My learned friend Jeremy Sheldon makes sure he watches a film every single day. This week, without really intending to, I have achieved just that.

Thursday: Nacho Libre. Flat and unimaginative comedy in the vein of Napoleon Dynamite. 3/10.

Friday: The Expendables. A wasted opportunity. Big on gore, low on everything else. 3/10.

Saturday: Animal House. Now I know where Ferris Bueller got his inspiration! Genius. 8/10.

Sunday: Serenity. Fun science fiction flick, though you can tell it's an extension of a TV show. 7/10.

Monday: The Secret In Their Eyes. Great slow-burning character piece. 8/10.

Tuesday: Gamer. Why are there so many bad reviews of this? I loved it. Good zeitgeisty script. 9/10.

Wednesday: Slither. Not too clever B-movie horror parody. 4/10.

Thursday: The Illusionist. On one hand, brilliant and beautiful silent storytelling. On the other hand, slightly irritating characters and not as good as Belleville Rendez-Vous. 7/10.

Friday: I'm just about to curl up with WarGames...

(Disclaimer: I'm sure my ratings show all kinds of bias and are no doubt heavily dependant on how I was feeling at the time - but hell, that's my MO.)

Monday, August 23, 2010

The Secret in Their Eyes

#166 at time of writing.

Once in a while, a film comes along that manages to keep you glued to the screen without lots of action or glamour, but simply by compelling character development and a decent plot. This Argentinian offering delivers with confidence, subtlety and wit.

It's a film about closure. The protagonist, a retired legal counselor, seeks to quench the demons of his past - a traumatic injustice, a lost opportunity for love. The plot unfolds gradually, step by step, gathering force and substance without cutting any corners. The characters are complex and real, and I enjoyed their company for the duration of the film.

Juan José Campanella's directing is impeccable, the production is slick and inventive (there is one particular shot of a football stadium that high-budget Hollywood movies would be envious of), the acting is spot on, the story is satisfying - what more could you ask? More than deserves its 2009 Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. Go see it!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Self-love is all the rage right now

The Man Who Married Himself, the short film I wrote last year, has done it again. It won the Grand Prize for Best Comedy Short at the Rhode Island International Film Festival.

The news I'm waiting for now is whether it will be accepted into the BFI London Film Festival so I can invite all my friends to come and see it!

Monday, August 02, 2010

Nothing to do with films

OK, this post is nothing to do with films. I'm asking a favour.

In short, Cadbury are running a Pocket Game competition and I would love you to vote for my entry, which has already been shortlisted into the final round!

http://www.pocketgamecompetition.co.uk/media/914790-Choc-a-Block-Cadbury-Pocket-Game

You'll need to create an account on the website in order to vote, but don't worry - you can opt out of marketing emails.

The voting closes on August 9th. If my game wins, it will get manufactured and distributed to some 25000 people at the Olympics, which would be Very Cool.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

I'm an award winning screenwriter!

...Or, at least, co-writer of an award winning short film!

The Man Who Married Himself won Best Comedy at the LA Shorts Film Festival. That is very exciting news, particularly because that qualifies it for an Oscar nomination...

See here for the full list of winners.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Toy Story - The Best Film Trilogy?

I stumbled across a fascinating analysis that attempts to identify the best film trilogies according to both IMDb voters and professional critics.

The conclusion is that IMDb voters rank the following trilogies as the best of all time:

Lord of the Rings
Star Wars (original 3)
Godfather
Toy Story
Indiana Jones

The order changes if you only count the top 1000 voters, but those are still the top 5.

Astonishingly, but deservedly, professional critics (as collated by Rotten Tomatoes) rate none other than the Toy Story trilogy as the best of all time. Their top 5 includes most of the trilogies preferred by the plebs above, plus the Trois Couleurs trilogy.

It's a great article, with graphs and everything. Have a look!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Toy Story 3

#9 at time of writing.

Wow. I haven't laughed out loud so often, and cried so hard, since... well, since Up. But if you exclude Pixar, since ever.

That's right. I'm a grown man and I bawled my eyes out.

Pixar are the masters - nay, the gods - of story. With Toy Story 3, they once again excel themselves. There is not one moment that allows your attention to flag, and the plot masterfully achieves that most challenging of goals (as taught by Terry Rossio): it's decisive, set-up, inevitable and yet genuinely unexpected.


This wonderful threequel complements and augments the first two films beautifully, whilst simultaneously laying a fair claim to being one of the best animated movies ever. Indeed, IMDb voters have propelled it into the top 10 movies of all time, of any genre. (With Inception currently at #3, July 2010 is proving to be a month of astonishingly high-quality film releases, at least as far as IMDb voters are concerned.)

The emotional core of Toy Story 3 is provided by the question: What happens to Andy's toys when he grows too old to play with them? A typical Pixar mix of loss, jealousy, hope and high-jinks follows, with an ending that will reconnect you to your inner child - and perhaps have your real children wondering why you are sniffling and teary-eyed over a bunch of toys.

Thank goodness Pixar and Disney made up. When they split over creative differences in 2004-2005, Disney started up an animation division titled 'Circle 7 Animation,' which would have been in charge of churning out sequels for Pixar films without consulting Pixar. The original plot for Toy Story 3 was going to be about Buzz Lightyear having a defect and being shipped to Taiwan to be fixed, and the other toys shipping themselves to Taiwan to rescue him. Judging by Disney's decidedly mediocre record with sequels, we should be grateful that Pixar are back in charge.

The UK government are doing WHAT?

UK Film Council to be abolished? I'm so angry I'm speechless. I will let my alarmingly eloquent friend at Polygonic speak for me.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Inception

#83 at time of writing.

Just came back from watching the IMAX premiere of this with a few friends. I don't think I've come out of a film and talked about the plot - and the ending - so much since Donnie Darko. Without giving anything away, the last ten seconds of the film show something completely mundane, but had the whole room on the edge of their seats. When the screen went black, there was a collective gasp and spontaneous applause.

So, definitely entertaining. Definitely tense. Sufficiently clever and ambiguous to stir up a few hours of après-film conversation. Christopher Nolan has successfully maintained his near miraculous record of directorial excellence.

The central concept of stealing (and planting) ideas within people's dreams allows for some beautiful images of bending cities and gravity-defying hyperreality. Inception owes a lot to The Matrix, perhaps with sprinklings of Synecdoche, New York. Subtle it is not, but who needs subtle - this is Hollywood.

However, it has flaws.

Don't get me wrong, I heartily recommend this film. It's a big-screen film, confident and ambitious. But I think it suffers (although not nearly as fatally) from the same problem as the Matrix sequels. (Let's speak of them just this once, and then never again.) It is an overdose of exposition plus action. The plot is so complicated and so carefully laid out that character and emotional involvement feel squeezed into the edges.

As far as dream-within-a-dream films go this might beat Vanilla Sky, but I prefer the disorientation of eXistenZ or the emotion of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Still, I would gladly watch Inception again.

(Side note, David Walliams was sat behind us!)

Monday, July 12, 2010

Buy tickets now for The Man Who Married Himself screening in LA

If you are near Los Angeles on Wednesday July 28th, be sure to check out the short film I co-wrote last year, The Man Who Married Himself, starring Richard E Grant.

It's showing as part of the LA Shorts Fest. Tickets are available as of today.

Friday, July 02, 2010

City of God

#18 at time of writing.

This is a stylish and impactful rollercoaster of a film that devastatingly evokes the cycle of poverty, crime, drugs and violence that can trap the children of Brazil's Cidade de Deus, and favelas like it, in the suburbs of Rio de Janeiro.

The characters are all children, almost all of whom carry guns, and most of whom will be killed before the age of 20. The film follows one child in particular, Buscapé (translated as Rocket), who goes to great lengths to try not to get caught up in the criminal underworld, but without success.

The story, acting, directing, cinematography, editing - everything - is first class, but the thing that makes this film unbeatably compelling is that it is based on truth. Not in the Hollywood "inspired by true events" way, but for real. Some shots in the movie are recreations of genuine photos from the drug war the film dramatises. All of the child actors (with one exception) were amateurs recruited from the favelas themselves. And, of course, the story and the characters are based on Paulo Lins' eponymous account of living in the City of God during the 60s, 70s and 80s.

According to director Fernando Mereilles, much of the script is improvised. For example, when we hear Buscapé (Alexandre Rodrigues) talking to Marina (Graziela Moretto) about how he had never taken a hot bath, that was not scripted. Rodrigues was telling Moretto, during a pause in the filming, about his life in the slums.

The DVD also contains a horrifying and fascinating documentary about the modern-day City of God. Becoming a hoodlum in Cidade de Deus isn't just a fringe career option for disenchanted rebels and social outcasts - it's the main industry.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Festivals

If you're in the USA, there's a couple of chances coming up to watch The Man Who Married Himself. The Los Angeles International Short Film Festival (July 22-30), and the Rhode Island International Film Festival (August 10-15). Watch this space for more news.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Four Lions

Four Lions
Unranked at time of writing.

At the time of writing this film has a score of 8.2 on IMDb, but - being a low-budget indie British film - it doesn't have enough votes to get it into the Top 250.

I LOVE that British cinema can tackle such brave material. Hollywood could never be so blasé about domestic terrorism. The director Chris Morris is best known in the UK for a couple of extremely controversial TV comedy series back in the late 90s/early Naughties, in particular an episode of Brass Eye that unflinchingly parodied and exploited our nation's uneasiness about paedophiles. With this comedy about inept suicide bombers, his ability to put his finger on the core of our cultural paranoia and push the boundaries seems to be as strong as ever.

Four Lions is funny, edgy (thankfully not nearly as bad taste as it could have been), and intelligent. Most of the jokes come from how stupid the wannabe terrorists are, and a careful balance is struck to make sure that all cultures are mocked equally. I enjoyed it, but I came out the cinema feeling more could have been done with it. I wanted to know more about why the characters had decided to become terrorists. I wanted something deeper. Perhaps I wanted too much - the fact that Chris Morris has squared up to these topics at all is already much further than any sane man would go, and I am grateful for that.

There have been some truly excellent British films recently which are scored lower on IMDb, but I think deserve more. In particular, I recently watched The Disappearance of Alice Creed - man, Gemma Arterton can act - and the brilliant An Education.

(Trivia from IMDb, if you believe it: "On January 23rd 2010, Four Lions had its world premier at Sundance. On the same day, the UK 'terror threat' level was raised to 'severe' due to non-specific 'chatter'.")

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Kick-Ass

Kick-Ass
Unranked at time of writing.

I watched this film without much expectation, and was pleasantly surprised - not to mention thoroughly entertained. It functions as a very funny parody of the superhero genre whilst also being an excellent example of the genre.

It features a hapless teenage loner who decides to become a superhero, and fails catastrophically. However, his endeavours get him embroiled with a criminal gang and a duo of much more successful superheroids, including a sweary and shockingly violent eleven year old girl played memorably by Chloe Moretz. (Dude, she was born in 1997 and she's old enough to be saying c*nt in Dolby surround sound. Doesn't that make you feel old?).

Think Spider-Man meets Kill Bill. Kick-Ass indeed.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Premiere

Yay! My wife and I attended the private premiere of The Man Who Married Himself at BAFTA's Princess Anne Theatre yesterday, and it was brilliant.

The film looked great on the big screen. The music added a whole new dimension, emphasising the tragic elements of the main character's loneliness. People laughed in the right places, clapped plenty... there were even one or two heckles. :)

I'm generally not great at schmoozing at those kind of events, but it was fun to chat to Warren Clarke (he praised the film, and offered me one piece of advice for the future: "Write bigger!"), and Mark Joseph who I'd met on the set, and Film Four people, and some of Garrick's friends and family.

It's incredible how many people were involved in making an 11-minute film. Everyone worked so hard on it, with such an incredible amount of goodwill, mostly for little or no money - what other industry (apart from the charity sector I suppose) can claim that kind of dedication?

So, soon the film will be touring festivals and I'll be persuading all my friends and family to go see it. You too! Go!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

10 Rules For Writing

My wife sent me an article about various writers' ten rules for writing fiction. It's fascinating to read how disciplined, intelligent and well-read everyone else is.

These are the ten rules I seem to live by:

1. Do anything - anything - to put off starting to write. Read about the bystander effect on Wikipedia. Play Scrabble on your iPod Touch. Just sit there and stare at a blank screen for forty minutes.

2. Leave the house. A cafe or a pub is a more productive place to write, particularly one without a wireless internet connection. Start by drinking Cokes, because 2pm is too early to be drinking alcohol. After a couple of litres, when the sugar buzz is making your eyes shake, start on the beers to calm yourself down.

3. Stay up ridiculously, self-destructively late. Several nights in a row. You'll know you've had the right amount of lack of sleep when you're barking at passers-by on the street for walking too close to you.

4. Dwell on a particular line of dialogue for at least an hour without moving on. Then realise how long you've been stuck on it, put in a placeholder, and end up cutting it later anyway.

5. Edit, edit, edit the first ten pages before you've written anything else. Editing is so much easier than writing more.

6. Bring your laptop everywhere with you in the utterly misguided hope that you'll pull it out to snatch a few minutes of writing on the train or wherever. Having to carry your microchip-brick all over town is a useful kind of penance for being a lazy writer.

7. Deadlines are essential enemies. It is perfectly natural to leave it just a little too late so you end up writing in an antisocial blood-sweating panicked frenzy. Face it, that's the only state in which you ever get any writing done anyway.

8. When you've finally finished a first draft, assume that there's nothing wrong with it, and refuse to listen to any constructive feedback for at least three weeks.

9. When a project is at last finished and out in the public domain, rest on your laurels. For goodness' sake don't do any more writing until you've milked all the mileage you can (to mix metaphors) out of what you've already written.

10. Remind yourself that you enjoy writing. It's fun.

Honestly, it's a wonder I ever get any writing done.