Archive for July, 2009

The Pasenger posterMichelangelo Antonioni is a complicated uncompromising director, he can alienate viewers because his films demand the viewer pay attention and think about what they are viewing. Those who don’t pay attention to or think about the film they are watching will probably never realise that it is their loss not the directors! The Passenger is a perfect example of his work and in some ways better than his more famous Blowup. There are long periods of wide-angle long shots without dialogue followed by conversations that are essential to the character development but not always relevant to the plot. In many ways it is Jack Nicholson’s best ever performance as an actor. It has all the gravitas of Five Easy Pieces but with real restraint. It is the kind of performance he could give in his sleep but usually chooses not to in favour of grandstanding over the top performances.

The PassengerSet in Europe and an unnamed African country the film combines a linear narrative with flashbacks that give insights into the story and its lead character. The story is actually not that important, it is all about the journey David Locke (Jack Nicholson) takes. The film starts with him driving around the aforementioned unnamed African country looking for the rebels that appose the government. On returning to his hotel he discovers a man he had befriended a few days has died. Disillusioned with his life he swaps identities with the dead British businessman David Robertson (Charles Mulvehill-a producer making his only appearance as an actor). As he assumes the dead mans identity David is drawn into the mans life. Along the way he hooks up with a young tourist played by Maria Schneider (best known for Last Tango in Paris). The locations are truly stunning and Antonioni and his cinematographer Luciano Tovoli really make the most of them with great if occasionally wandering camerawork. This includes the infamous and hugely complicated shot towards the end of the film and the opening that is bereft of dialogue for about four minutes. If you don’t mind the slow pace this is a beautifully crafted and rewarding film that demands multiple viewings.

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Although this years best picture Oscar winner Slumdog Millionaire was a great film I actually think The Dark Knight is a better film. This has got me thinking so I have compiled a list of the last ten best Oscar winners along with the films I would have chosen.


2000: Winner: American Beauty (1999) – My Choice: Fight Club(1999)

American Beauty

fight club 











2001: Winner: Gladiator (2000) – My Choice: Crouching Tiger, hidden Dragon (2000)


Crouching Tiger, hidden Dragon












2002: Winner: A Beautiful Mind (2001) – My Choice: Amelie (2001)

 A Beautiful MindAmelie












2003: Winner: Chicago (2002) – My Choice: Hero (2002) 













2004: Winner: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003) – My Choice: City of God (2002)

The Lord of the Rings The Return of the King

City of God













2005: Winner: Million Dollar Baby (2004) – My Choice: Million Dollar Baby (2004)

Million Dollar Baby

Million Dollar Baby












2006: Winner: Crash (2004) – My Choice: Oldboy (2003)*













2007: Winner: The Departed (2006) – My Choice: Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) The Departed Pans labyrinth











2008: Winner: No Country for Old Men (2007) – My Choice: Juno (2007)

No Country for Old Men












  2009: Winner: Slumdog Millionaire (2008) – My Choice: The Dark Knight (2008)

slumdog millionaire

The Dark Knight












Lost in TranslationTo summarise I agreed with the academy once. More than half my choices were foreign language films. I desperately wanted to award Lost in Translation but City of God was just that little bit better.





*Oldboy was not nominated for any Oscars; it was released in America in 2005, therefore I have put it against 2006 films. All other films are competing in year they where nominated in at least one category.

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Sweeney Todd represented a return to form for Tim Burton after a few shaky films. Could Alice in Wonderland be the next step in that process? The first teaser trailer certainly looks promising.

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Essential Clint Eastwood

Although Clint Eastwood’s  earlier films where largely overlooked by the academy he has become the darling of the Oscars in recent years with his films winning several Oscars including two best picture, two best director and five for acting.  Does he have the best actors working for him or does he just get the best out of the ones he has?  The simple answer is probably both!  And this is the key to who is probably the greatest actor turned director.  His films are littered with great charters played supremely well by great actors.  Below is list of must see films directed by Eastwood.  Picking just ten was difficult as all his films are worth seeing for one reason or another.  I have tried to pick a combination of the best, the most interesting, the most memorable and the most groundbreaking:

Play Misty For MePlay Misty For Me:  “Careful! I might put your eye out” Eastwood’s directorial début is the story of a one night stand with an obsessed fan that turns into a taught suspense thriller as she begins to stalk him.  Think fatal attraction but better!  Eastwood plays it safe with the Carmel setting and Jazz score but puts his heroic mescaline image on the line by casting himself as a self centred character who becomes a victim.  The slow deliberate direction and the great use of the beautiful location show great maturity from the fledgling director and points the way of things to come. 

The Outlaw Josey WalesThe Outlaw Josey Wales:  “Bounty hunter: A man’s got to do something for a living these days – Josey Wales: Dyin’ ain’t much of a living, boy.”  This film stands up as one of Eastwood’s best westerns along side the “Dollars trilogy” and Unforgiven.  It has all the classic western themes such as revenge and redemption and is full of great characters.  Most notably Lone Watie played by Chief Dan George to great comic effect. 

Heartbreak RidgeHeartbreak Ridge:With all due respect, sir, you’re beginning to bore the hell out of me.” This may at first glance be a strange choice along side classics like Unforgiving and Million Dollar Baby but watching Heartbreak Ridge again for the first time in years you suddenly realise that it stands up well and is a really good film.  Eastwood demonstrated his comic timing as both an actor and a director.  The story is compelling and its themes are as relevant as ever.  Even back then people wanted to work with him Mario Van Peebles learnt to play guitar just to get a role in the film. 

BirdBird:  “The bird has just a little time to flutter” Eastwood’s love of jazz made him the perfect director for this Charlie Parker biopic.  The film is beautifully photographed and gives a real sense of 40/50’s America.  But it is the acting that makes the film great.  Eastwood gave Forest Whitaker the role of a lifetime and he repays by giving the performance of a lifetime (I include his Oscar winning Last King of Scotland performance in that).  Whitaker shows all the pain of Parker’s troubled life in a completely compelling performance. 

White Hunter Black HeartWhite Hunter Black Heart:You, my dear, are the ugliest goddamn bitch I have ever dined with“.  A fictional account of a movie director who becomes obsesses with hunting and killing an elephant that has a striking (intended) similarity to John Huston whilst filming The African Queen.  Eastwood’s performance (and the use of an accent other than his own) is different to his usual but completely believable. The film is worth seeing just for the scene where Eastwood’s character confronts an anti-Semitic dinner guest (the quote above comes from that scene).  It is at this moment you realise the character is not beyond redemption.  

UnforgivenUnforgiven:That’s right. I’ve killed women and children. I’ve killed just about everything that walks or crawled at one time or another. And I’m here to kill you, Little Bill, for what you did to Ned.” Unforgiven tears away all the mythology of the western genre (that Eastwood helped to build up) and gives us a gritty, dirty and violent vision of the old west. Like all his other great films the thing that makes this film stand out is the first rate acting. Eastwood’s William Munny is a fantastic character but the film shines because of the first rate support from Gene Hackman, Morgan Freeman and Richard Harris. 

Million Dollar BabyMillion Dollar Baby: “Frankie likes to say that boxing is an unnatural act, that everything in boxing is backwards: sometimes the best way to deliver a punch is to step back… But step back too far and you ain’t fighting at all.” A truly hard hitting (bad pun completely intended) movie.  I went in to the film expecting it to simply be a sports movie and that would have been good. Whilst other sports have suffered on film boxing often comes out well, there have been lots of great boxing movies, Raging Bull being the best. What we got was so different to what I was expecting. The film is moving along nicely when it takes a huge U-turn.  The characters played by Eastwood himself, Hilary Swank and Morgan Freeman are all excelant in their own right but there is more to it than that.  The relationship and interaction between the characters is what makes the film.  If you haven’t seen the film it is both devastating and uplifting and a must see film. 

Mystic RiverMystic River:We bury our sins here, Dave. We wash them clean”. What starts out as a simple murder mystery becomes so much more.  A tragic haunting film that will stay with you long after you have seen it.  Sean Penn proves that he is the best actor of his generation with a towering performance.  The lighting and photography (Provided by Eastwood’s usual cinematographer Tom Stern) is truly stunning giving a moody atmospheric backdrop for the film.   

Flags of Our FathersFlags of Our Fathers & Letters from Iwo Jima: “I know it’s a good thing, raising the money and that, ’cause we need it. But, I can’t take them calling me a hero. All I did was try not to get shot. Some of the things I saw done, things I did, they weren’t things to be proud of, you know?” I have included these films as one as they are two sides of the same story shot back to back.  Letters from Iwo Jima is probably the better of the two and is about the Japanese defeat on the island, it is based on letters Letters from Iwo Jimadiscovered on the island.  It goes deep into the mentality and philosophy of the Japanese people and their army.  Flags of Our Fathers concentrates on the stories of the six men who raised the flag and the iconic photograph of them doing it (or not as the case may be!)  It follows them back home and how they were used for propaganda.  The young cast do a great job in a thought provoking film. 

Gran TorinoGran Torino: Get me another beer, Dragon Lady! This one’s running on empty” I have controversially chosen Gran Torino over the more critically acclaimed Changeling simply because Angelia Jolie’s great performance aside I actually think Gran Torino is a better film.  Eastwood’s character Walt Kowalski is a cantankerous old man who seems to be the sum of all the characters he has played throughout his career.  What I wasn’t expecting is just how funny the film would be.  I have heard suggestions by people who have taken quotes from the film out of context that it is a racist film.  I actual fact although it does have a few things to say on the subject it is far from racist if anything it is the opposite.  It deals with many other topics including:  life, death, love, loss, hate, age, race, religion and identity.  The first must see movie of 2009.

Also take a look at this article about Clint as an actor.

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At Last!

Last week I made a plea for my local cinema to put something on for me to see as I hadn’t been since seeing Public Enemies two weeks ago.  Although Harry Potter is still going strong in three screens and Bruno in another two there are a couple of films opening this week one of them looks interesting.


Directed by Lars von Trier (often controversial but always interesting) and staring Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg Antichrist has been described as “the most controversial film at the 2009 Cannes Festival”.  It is Empire magazines film of the week and has a solid four star rating but with the caveat “You may never forgive us for recommending it”.  The BBFC have passed the film uncut but have given it an 18 certificate but does say some scenes will be “shocking and offensive to some viewers”.  As I am not easily shocked or offended I will probably be seeing it at the weekend.

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Must see is a overused expression when describing movies but in some cases it is true. One such example is Billy Wilders classic Some Like it Hot. It is easy to say why a film is good but impossible to say why it is brilliant as brilliance is totally inexplicable and all the better for it.

Marilyn Monroe

For those who don’t know what it is about (shame on you) I will provide a brief synopsis. Set in the late 1920’s Joe (Tony Curtis) and Jerry (Jack Lemmon) are out of work musicians following a police raid on a funeral parlour/speakeasy where they play in a band. After loosing their coats on a dog race they borrow a car from a friend but when they go to collect it from a Chicago garage unwittingly find themselves witnesses to the St Valentines day massacre. Running for their lives they end up on a train to Florida with an all female band. (badly) disguised as women they fit into the band with the help of Sugar (Marilyn Monroe in her best ever role). Things get complicated when Joe impersonating Shell oil hair and millionaire ‘Junior’ becomes romantically involved with Sugar whilst Jerry is pursued by a real millionaire Osgood (Joe E Brown). Things get even more complicated when a convention for the “friends of I-talian opera” comes to town including their former boss (and the perpetrator of the massacre) Spats Colombo (George Raft).

some like it hot

If it isn’t the best comedy ever I would like to see a better one. One of the things that stands out is the perfect characterisation. The gangsters are like gangsters in a gangster film (with a comic twist playing on stereotypes). Tony Curtis and particularly Jack Lemmon are pure comedy with perfect timing and Marilyn Monroe is a perfect caricature of herself. She looks hotter and more beautiful than ever and is dizzy beyond belief but totally adorable. The script and direction are pure perfection allowing absolutely no room for error. It truly is a film that could not be improved upon. The photography in comedy films is often forgotten but in this it is again perfect blending styles seen in film noir and melodrama making the film totally believable. It is easy to forget it was made in 1959 and not in the late 20’s when it is set.

If you have already seen this film go see it again to remind yourself how good it is. If you haven’t go and buy the DVD and once you have fallen in love with this masterpiece lend it to everyone you know who hasn’t seen it. If you don’t like it don’t worry not everyone can have good taste!

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Quentin Tarantino Reservoir DogsWhen I was a student Quentin Tarantino was the hottest, hippest, coolest director around.  Reservoir Dogs had finally come out in the UK in 1993 more than a year after all the Sundance hype.  True Romance directed by Tony Scott based on a Tarantino script also came out in ‘93 and Pulp fiction in ’94.  (To this day I still can’t see how Forrest Gump won best picture ahead of Pulp Fiction and The Shawshank Redemption but that’s another story!) So in 95 we were all looking forward to Natural Born Killers.  Directed by Oliver Stone, a director with real pedigree having previously made the classics Salvador and Platoon as well as some other great films.

natural born killers cThe film uses many different styles with a range of different formats, lenses, lighting and unusual camera angles all edited together in a frenzied way (incidentally the editing took 11 months, nearly six times longer than it took to shoot; not surprising considering there are around three thousand cuts). This is combined with animation and, and other obscure things such as when the film briefly turns into a television sitcom about a dysfunctional family featuring the brilliant Rodney Dangerfield.  All this adds up to a truly visceral experience that is more an assault on the senses than a motion picture.  The script has changed a lot from the original Tarantino script.  Influenced by the media’s impact on high profile cases such as the O J Simpson trial Stone delivered a psychedelic satire. 

1970 Dodge Challenger RT Natural Born KillersThe film is basically a sort of road movie about a spree killing with similarities to the Starkweather-Fugate killings portrayed in the Terrance Malick film Badlands (or the Bruce Springsteen song Nebraska) although Stone’s protagonists Mickey (Woody Harrelson) and Mallory (Juliette Lewis) are more violent and with a higher body count.  Having first seen the film I was really disappointed, I think I called it as an “incoherent self indulgent mess”.  All the subtleties and humour of Tarantino’s dialogue was lost to a brash angry film.

natural born killersSo that was it I did not see the film again until earlier this year.  As I really disliked it first time around I don’t know why I watched it again but I am glad I did.  I really enjoyed it.  The editing and use of animation that had incensed me all those years ago now looks years ahead of its time.  In a multimedia, big brother age the satire proved all the more prophetic.  Most notably I found the film far less angry and more hopeful than after the first viewing.  A bad film hasn’t suddenly become a good film over night but I now realise that it was never as bad as I first thought, it may have been quite a good film all along.  I will have to see it again to make my mind up!

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