Celebrating Great Films

Monday, November 11, 2013


#50 at the time of writing.

Went to see this film, about two astronauts that get stranded in space, at the IMAX yesterday. Totally worth shelling out the extra cash to see it 3D on the big screen. It's more like a theme park ride than a movie. And what a ride!

The first 15 or 20 minutes is presented as one long shot with no cuts, extremely impressive given that the actors are floating around in zero gravity fixing a space station module with the sun setting on Earth in the background.

Sandra Bullock may have seemed like an unlikely choice to play the main character (alongside George Clooney), but she does fantastically well, even making you believe some of the bits that could have seemed silly in lesser hands. A dream role for her, I imagine. (Angelina Jolie and Natalie Portman were previous choices.)

But I suspect that this would lose much of its impact on a small screen. Like I said, more of a ride than a film. The writing felt at best formulaic, and at worst slightly annoying. The end could have been immensely emotionally impactful, but it somehow missed the beat. The music was once or twice intrusive. And the science requires a bit of suspension of disbelief - like everybody knows that tears in space don't fall!

However, undeniably extremely suspenseful, tense and intense. A great achievement. Well done especially to Alfonso Cuarón for realising such an ambitious vision.

Definitely worth watching the companion piece, Aningaaq. And the other, unofficial companion piece...

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Toy Story

#112 at the time of writing.

The genre of digitally animated movies owes a huge debt to Toy Story - the first feature film to be entirely computer animated. If this film had been rubbish, the genre might have sputtered and struggled to get going. But with an unblushing emphasis on character and story, animation giant John Lasseter's Pixar (using Steve Jobs' computers) deservedly exploded onto the scene and never looked back.

The early Nineties: Terminator 2 had shown that digital trickery could be used to great effect; Lawnmower Man proved that digital effects were no substitute for a crappy story. After a couple of limp decades, Disney were experiencing a resurgence of success with musical animated features such as Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin. Enter a quirky non-musical feelgood film about toys that come to life, and boom - cartoons are cool again, for adults as well as children.

Re-watching this for maybe the tenth time recently, I continue to be struck by just how wonderful it is. The jokes! The characters! The phenomenal voice work from Tom Hanks! It hasn't aged at all. And it's hard to believe that such a high quality movie could possibly have been matched - perhaps even outdone - by its two sequels. (The best trilogy of all time?)

The story of Toy Story's production, and the hiccups along the way, makes fascinating reading.

Sunday, November 03, 2013

A Beautiful Mind

#190 at the time of writing.

I watched this film again today and found it compelling and ultimately very emotional. It's the story of genius mathematician John Nash's battle with schizophrenia - the Hollywood version rather than being comprehensively accurate, but the spirit of the tale rings true.

The way his delusions were handled in this film was particularly effective for me. I understood the helplessness he must have felt, the seductiveness of the mental trap he found himself in. And also the fear and frustration that his wife had to overcome to support him (Jennifer Connelly in an Oscar-winning performance; the movie also won Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay).

According to IMDb's trivia, this was named as one of "The 20 Most Overrated Movies Of All Time" by Premiere magazine. Which makes me think that Premiere don't know squat. (Looking at the rest of the list only confirms it.)