Best Films Of The Decade Thus Far… (Part Four)

February 20, 2015 § Leave a comment

Apologies for the delay in posting. There was life, teaching, jealousy, betrayal, murder etc etc to contend with. But now I’m back, here to continue on with the list of the Best Films of the Decade Thus Far… So, shall we begin:

31. Sinister (Scott Derrickson, 2012)

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With The Exorcism of Emily Rose, Scott Derrickson showed that he could fashion a tense atmosphere and chilling sensibility without relying on cattle prodding jump scares that has plagued the genre so wildly as of late (*cough* The Conjuring *cough*). Sinister highlighted a step up in the Derrickson’s career; based around the mystery of a family murder, Derrickson creates a foreboding and gruelling tension beneath the surface, aided by a chilling soundscape. Sinister is a terrifyingly rich ghost story with plenty of scares and nerve shredding moments that should give even the most hardened of horror fans many a sleepless night. Not advisable to watch alone in the dark.

32. Moonrise Kingdom (Wes Anderson, 2012)

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I’ve always had a strange relationship with Wes Anderson. Until Moonrise Kingdom, I had never fully taken the dive into the pool of love that is reserved for the famed American indie director. However, after witnessing this heartwarming and often times hilarious coming of age story, I found myself hooked onto the Anderson love train. Featuring an all star cast, Moonrise Kingdom is a wonderfully funny and moving  film of adolescent love and rebellion, complete with Anderson’s wit and trademark visual masterstrokes. Without a doubt, my favourite Anderson title of all time.

33. The Hunt (Thomas Vinterberg, 2012)

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He may be making waves on NBC as the latest incarnation of Hannibal Lector, but in 2012, Mads Mikkelsen teamed up with Thomas Vinterberg to deliver this astounding account of one man’s life shattered by an innocent lie. Mikkelsen has never been better as teacher Lucas, who is ostracised by his friends and the community at large. It’s rich and complex storytelling, that handles its themes with confidence. It’s been a long time since Vinterberg has been this good.

34. The Act of Killing (Joshua Oppenheimer, Anonymous and Christine Cyn, 2012)

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Without a doubt, Joshua Oppenheimer’s stirring examination of a nations past traumas is one of the most powerful and gut wrenching documentaries of all time. Oppenheimer’s film challenges former Indonesian death-squad members to reenact the horrific crimes they perpetrated using any filmic genre they see fit. The result is breathtaking and something that needs to be seem to be believed. Never an easy watch, but unlike anything you will have ever seen.

35. Wadjda (Haifaa Al-Mansour, 2012)

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The story is simple; an enterprising young Saudi girl wishes to win her Quran recitation competition in order to buy a green bike she’s longed for. The first feature length film made by a female Saudi director, Wadjda, may have simple enough conceit, but in its execution, the result is a funny, heartwarming account of a young girl coming to terms with the repressed society she finds herself born into. Featuring a remarkable debut performance from its young lead, Wadjda hailed a progressive new voice in a part of the world that desperately needs one.

36. The Master (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2012)

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Divisive upon release, and still divisive whenever it comes up in conversations between me and my friends, The Master is a film that demands debate. Regardless of whether or not the film is really about L. Ron Hubbard and Scientology is neither here nor there. The Master is a film about belonging, about lost souls attempting to find their place in the world and a sense of self. Joaquin Phoenix is terrific as the WWII veteran, Freddie Quell, wandering aimlessly in a world that seems to reject him; but it is Hoffman’s enigmatic cult leader, Lancaster Dodd, that steals the show. Performed with startling power and a grace rarely afford to most, The Master is a reminder of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s commanding talents. Truly a performance for the ages.

37. The Invisible War (Kirby Dick, 2012)

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Perhaps one of the most important docs of the last half decade, Kirby Dick’s film is a damning account of sexual abuse and assault on women in the US military and the top brass subjugation of the victims of such abuse. The Invisible War exposed a side to the armed forces that many within its ranks were all but content to ignore and brush under the carpet. Thankfully though, that is no longer the case, with Dick exposing the faults of the faulty judicial system, with powerful testimonials from the victims themselves. An absolute must watch.

38. Beasts of the Southern Wild (Benh Zeitlin, 2012)

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This is one of those films that comes out of nowhere that blows you right out of the water and then some. Quvenzhane Wallis absolutely lights up the screen (literally and figuratively) as the young Hushpuppy who resides with her ill tempered, but loving father, Wink, in the aptly named “Bathtub.” Zeitlin’s film looks and sounds beautiful. With a beautifully rich score from Zeitlin and Dan Romer, Beasts of the Southern Wild is a remarkably poetic film about the joys and magic of childhood, even when faced with the harsh realties of the world that surrounds us.

39. Searching For Sugar Man (Malik Bendjelloul, 2012)

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After watching this film then listening to his records on Spotify, you’ll be kicking yourself for never knowing about Detroit born singer/songwriter Rodriguez before. Bendjelloul’s wonderful film tells the story of the myth surrounding the man only known as Rodriguez, who faded into obscurity in the US but whose music rose to dizzying levels of fame and relevance that few can only dream of within Apartheid South Africa. A remarkable story about the lasting nature of art and a love letter to one man’s music.

40. Amour (Michael Haneke, 2012)

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Michael Haneke is a director that in the past has been accused of being cold, and distant when it comes to his films and his characters, very much keeping them at a distance from the audience, choosing to study from afar rather than allow any form of empathy. But with Amour Haneke has perhaps made his most emotional and personal film yet. A beautiful story of the power of love, Jean-Louis Trintignant plays Georges, the loving husband who witnesses his wife (expertly played by Emmanuelle Riva) gradually succumb to old age and illness. Emotional, haunting and beautifully told thanks to Haneke’s stunning lyrical and poetic sensibility, coupled with two miraculous performances from its two leads, Amour is one of the most powerful films about love and one of Haneke’s best films.

 

Best Films Of The Decade Thus Far… (Part Three)

February 5, 2015 § Leave a comment

And so we continue on with this utterly pointless, but wonderfully fun, look at the Best Films of the decade thus far:

21. Wuthering Heights (Andrea Arnold, 2011)

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There have been many adaptations of Emily Bronte’s classic story over the years; but in the hands of Andrea Arnold (Red Road, Fish Tank), the story reaches startling new heights. Filmed in 4:3 aspect ratio, and aided by Robby Ryan’s sumptuous cinematography, Arnold captures the grim, damp, rain soaked and  moors of Northern England. The story of Heathcliffe and his ever painful longing for his one true love, Catherine, is magnified to devastating new levels by Arnold, aided by strong performances from its young cast. But more so than any other adaptation before it, Arnold has captured the humanity in Bronte’s Heathcliff, something that I have found to be a remarkably rare occurrence. One of the best adaptions of one of the greatest novels ever written.

22. The Raid (Gareth Evans, 2011)

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The concept is simple: A squadron of armed police officer find themselves trapped inside a multi-storey apartment block, infested with the worst of the worst kind of criminal, thug, and lowlife ever to grace the streets and must fight their way out. Gareth Evans’ blisteringly brutal debut is a symphony of violence. Its simple conceit, allows for a incredibly intense ninety plus minute thrill ride that never lets up until the final credits. With brutal efficiency, Evans and his leading man Iko Uwais choreograph and construct their action set pieces with thrilling intensity, breathing life into a genre that seemed to be running out of steam.  It’s already scored a sequel and a possible Hollywood remake, but don’t expect anything live up to the majesty of this balletic display of fists and fury.

23. The Deep Blue Sea (Terence Davies, 2011)

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Woefully underseen, Terence Davies adaptation of Terrence Rattigan’s play is a beautiful and mesmerizing gem of a film, anchored by two magnificent performances from Rachel Weisz and Tom Hiddleston. Weisz has never been better, channelling the complexity of Hester Collyer with a depth and feeling that makes you wonder why Rachel Weisz isn’t everywhere. With a strange, ethereal lyrical quality that has become Davies’ signature, The Deep Blue Sea is a haunting tale of love and sexual awakening that should ideally be seen by more.

24. Moneyball (Bennett Miller, 2011)

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Bennett Miller’s second feature is a sports movie without the sports. Rather than focusing on the players, the coaches and the dynamism of the field of play that has been a staple of the genre, Miller focuses on the back room politics, full of statistics and analysis and general number crunching. That may not sound like a terribly exciting concept for a sports movie, but in the hands of a director like Bennett Miller and screenwriters Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin, the result is altogether far more fascinating piece of work. Based on Michael Lewis 2003 non fiction book of the same name, Moneyball stars Brad Pitt as Billy Beane, general manager of the Oakland Athletics, an underachieving, financially unstable franchise, who takes them to league history with twenty consecutive wins, thanks to his unorthodox approach of statistical analysis and sabermetric approach towards scouting.  The final result is an underdog sports movie that is as exhilarating as anything that happens on the field.

25. Margin Call (JC Chandor, 2011)

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The repercussions of the banking crisis of 2008 are still being felt across the world today. With Margin Call, director JC Chandor examines the initial stages of the crisis in the microcosm of one Wall Street Investment Banking firm. Exploring themes such as greed, the corrupting effects of capitalism and the American Dream, the film plays out almost like a thriller. Masterfully told and expertly performed by its star studded cast, Margin Call is one of the defining features of one of the major political moments of the last two decades.

26. Tyrannosaur (Paddy Considine, 2011)

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From its harrowing opening, in which Peter Mullan’s Joseph, brutally kicks his dog to death, before burying and mourning the loss of perhaps the only friend he had left, one knows that Tyrannosaur is not going to be a easy ride. For his debut behind the camera, Paddy Considine has chosen some startling subjects to explore, such as rage, friendship, compassion and domestic abuse. Olivia Coleman, primarily known for her comedic timings back then, was a revelation as Hannah, the religious second hand shop employee who suffers horrific physical and mental abuse from her husband (an equally magnificent Eddie Marsan) and finds solace in her friendship with Mullan’s Joseph. The result is powerful, harrowing and often times difficult to watch, but with its story of the power of friendship and two lost souls finding one another, the experience is richly rewarding.

27. Martha Marcy May Marlene (Sean Durkin, 2011)

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Before she got her telekinetic Scarlet Witchiness mojo on, Elizabeth Olsen delivered a breakout performance as a young woman who suffers from delusions and paranoia, after escaping from an abusive cult in the Catskill mountains. Sean Durkin’s haunting debut is a truly unnerving and experience, featuring a startling breakout performance from Olsen, while John Hawkes proves once again, why he is one of the finest character actors of his generation.

28. The Intouchables (Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano, 2011)

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Perhaps one of the most life affirming and heartwarming films of the decade thus far, The Intouchables is a touching and moving account of the friendship that develops between Phillippe, a parapalegic millionaire and Driss, a working class Frenchman who only attends the initial interview for the job just so he can continue receiving welfare benefits. The end result is a heartwarming account of friendship and what it means to live life to the fullest, and that it is never too late to change one’s life.

29. Into The Abyss (Werner Herzog, 2011)

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In my opinion, Werner Herzog’s documentaries are far more accomplished and are of far greater significance than many of his narrative works. Into The Abyss is arguably his most powerful work to date as a filmmaker, narrative or otherwise. The film profiles the case of Michael Perry, a man on death row, convicted of murder and accused of multiple others. Unlike previous efforts, the film is sparse in its narration with Herzog barely appearing on screen, instead allowing the power of the subject matter to do the talking. It’s a hard film to watch, but an important film in the debate surrounding the notion of capital punishment in today’s world.

30. A Royal Affair (Nikolaj Arcel, 2012)

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I’ll admit it; at first, A Royal Affair did not appeal to me in the slightest. On the surface, it seemed that it was just one of those wishy washy period film in which a young married woman has an extramarital affair in a society built on convention and blah blah blah and all that. Oh how wrong I was. As well as being an utterly captivating and moving love story, the film is also a beautifully realised examination of power, corruption and the separation of church and state. Mads Mikkelsen and Alicia Vikander are brilliant as Caroline Matilda of Great Britain and her lover, the Danish royal physician Johann Friedrich Struensee, while Mikkel Folsgaard is a standout as Christian VII of Denmark. A real surprise and one of the finest period pieces of the first half of this decade.

 

Best Films Of The Decade Thus Far (Part Two…)

January 28, 2015 § Leave a comment

And so we continue with our look at of the best films of the decade thus far:

11. Incendies (Denis Villeneuve, 2010)

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French Canadian director Denis Villeneuve’s story of twins Jeanne and Simon journey to the middle east to trace their family history and fulfil their mother’s last wishes, is both a harrowing and haunting account of the terrible repercussions of war and conflict in a land ripped apart by it for centuries. Adapted from Wajdi Mouawed’s acclaimed play, Incendies is a gripping story of the echoes of past trauma. Utterly compelling, right up until its traumatic conclusion, this is a film that highlighted Villeneuve as a director to watch. It’s no wonder that Hollywood eventually came calling.

12. The Social Network (David Fincher, 2010)

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David Fincher and Aaron Sorkin’s retelling of the origin of social media magnate, Mark Zuckerberg is a marvellously dark and twisted tale of ambition’s chilling corruptive influence. Jesse Eisenberg shines as wunderkind Mark Zuckerberg while Andrew Garfield highlights star quality as former friend and colleague Eduardo Saverin. Sorkin’s dialogue crackles in every scene, and combined with Fincher’s stylish visual storytelling, and Atticus Ross and Trent Reznor’s stunning soundtrack bring to life one of the finest examinations of 21st century culture.

13.  Senna (Asif Kapadia, 2010)

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I am not a fan of Formula One. Not my thing. So it’s a testament to Kapadia’s rousing documentary about one of the true greats of the sport, that it had me utterly engaged from the off. Comprised almost entirely of archival footage, Senna chronicles the rise of Ayrton Senna; from his early days riding around in go karts to his eventual rise as one of the legends of the sport and his thrilling rivalry with fellow driver Alain Prost. It’s a moving story, epic in its narrative, confidently told by Kapadia. One of the absolute finest sports documentaries of modern times.

14. The Arbor (Clio Barnard, 2010)

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Within the last five years, Clio Barnard has emerged as one of the most exciting contemporary British filmmakers working today. Using actors to lip sync to recorded interviews of its participants, The Arbor is a unique and startling documentary. The film chronicles the turbulent life of the late Bradford playwright, Andrea Dunbar (Rita, Sue and Bob Too) and her strained relationship with her daughter, Lorraine. The result is a harrowing and far to little seen film, that marked Barnard out as a director to watch.

15. Blue Valentine (Derek Cianfrance, 2010)

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Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams fall in and out of love in Derek Cianfrance’s beautiful depiction of the beginning and end of a couple’s relationship. Gosling and Williams are terrific as the couple, so young and full of life on the one hand, and then so full of resentment on the other. The startling contrast between the past and present highlights the strength of two actors at the top of their game and a director in full confidence of his subject matter. Much of the film and the dialogue was improvised by both actors, giving their relationship a realism and authenticity that most on screen couples could only dream of having.

16. A Separation (Asghar Farhadi, 2011)

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The first Iranian film to win the Oscar for Best Foreign Language feature, Farhadi’s film is a blistering account of contemporary life in Iran and then so much more. It’s narrative simplicity allows for a film that is psychologically rich and complex, with Farhadi giving his characters his full priority and attention. The result is a powerful expression of life and culture in contemporary Iranian society. The performances are outstanding, helped by beautifully observed and detailed characterisation. A true marvel that should most certainly be sought out.

17. This is Not A Film (Jafar Panahi and Mojtaba Mirtahmasb, 2011)

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Smuggled from Iran to the Cannes film festival in a flash drive hidden inside a birthday cake, This Is Not A Film is a film of defiance and protest, reminding us of the power and importance that film can still have in this world. Under house arrest, awaiting to hear an appeal of his six year prison sentence and twenty year ban on filmmaking, Iranian director Panahi films himself reading from one of his disapproved screenplays, marking out the borders of his set in true Brechtian fashion. The film is an astonishing film of self expression in the film of tyranny and oppression.

18. Bridesmaids (Paul Feig, 2011)

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Perhaps one of the finest and funniest mainstream comedies of the last twenty years, Bridesmaids could’ve easily have been nothing more than a saccharine chick flick with the occasional toilet humour. But in the hands of Paul Feig and writers Kristen Wiig and Annie Murmolo, the result is a glorious blend of great wit, well drawn characters and some masterfully executed physical gags and toilet humour to go along with it. Laugh out hilarious from the get go, the film is also a great tale of friendship, loaded with heart and warmth that most comedies seem to lack these days. A sure fire classic if there ever was one.

19. The Tree of Life (Terrence Malick, 2011)

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Whenever I talk to people about The Tree of Life, I still find myself in heated and divisive debates. Is it a masterpiece or just a dull, ponderous vanity project for its reclusive director? Well, seeing as how it’s on this list, I’m going with the former. Terrence Malick is a poet, but instead of a pen, film is his canvas. Granted, the whole dinosaur thing at the beginning was a little bizarre and off key, but with his trademark visual style and Emmanuel Lubezski’s sumptuous cinematography, the story of one family in 1950s America, highlights a director at the peak of his game. Possibly his most personal film yet, Malick manages to create a visual ode to family and adolescence, featuring a beautiful magnetic performance from Jessica Chastain.

20. Once Upon A Time In Anatolia (Nuri Bilge Ceylan, 2011)

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The plot is simple, but the execution is breathtaking. Beautifully shot and hauntingly realised, Ceylan’s tale of police on the search for a dead body in the middle of the rural Anatolian town of Keskin is a mesmerising and lyrical portrait of the day and night in the life of a police investigation. Utilizing his stunning locations to full effect, the film is an exquisite entry into a director’s oeuvre whose canon is yet without fault.

 

Best Films Of the Decade Thus Far 2010-2014 (Part One)

January 25, 2015 § Leave a comment

Are we really halfway through the decade already? Seems like yesterday we were all ushering in 2010, lamenting about how it only yesterday that we were ushering in the year 2000. Ahh, good times.

But while we can despair about the inevitable passage of time that flits effortlessly and teasingly before us, it is safe to say that we can look back on the last half of the decade with a smile. For the first half of this past decade has been a remarkable one for movies. Anyone who’s whining about the current state of cinema obviously hasn’t been looking hard enough, as there have been some truly remarkable pieces of  cinema to grace our screens since the turn of the decade.

Thus in the first of a new series, I’ll be looking at some of my favourite movies since 2010. Note, this is not a list of what I would define as a “Greatest Of” list, but rather a list of my own personal favourites and films that are more than worthy of note. So, without further ado, shall we begin? Good:

1.  Exit Through The Gift Shop (Banksy, 2010)

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Subversive British street artist Banksy exchanged brick walls for the cinema screen in 2010, delivering a stupendous documentary of the highest magnitude. Exit Through the Gift Shop began life when one amateur French filmmaker, Thierry Guetta, attempted to befriend Banksy only to have the camera turned back on him. The result is a stirring examination of the art world and the nature of celebrity and one’s own image. As Banksy documents the mystifying rise of Guetta’s alter ego Mr. Brainwash and his subsequent descent into arrogance and absurd vanity, Banksy utilises an array of cinematic tools to electrifying results.

2. The Ghost Writer (Roman Polanski, 2010)

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Despite his polarising nature, there is no denying Roman Polanski’s skill behind the camera. Co-written with novelist Robert Harris, The Ghost Writer is an expertly crafted thriller of intrigue, deceit and deception, with enough twists, turns and double dealings to keep you firmly locked to the edge of your seat right up until its devastating conclusion. Ewan McGregor is the titular Ghost Writer, hired to write the memoirs of a former British Prime Minister, Pierce Brosnan, only to end up getting more than he bargained for when he begins to uncover some very unsavoury things. The result is one of the finest and underrated mainstream thrillers of the last half decade.

3. The Illusionist (Sylvain Chomet, 2010)

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In the pantheon of greatest animators, Sylvain Chomet ranks among the very best of them. Belleville Rendez-Vous is fully deserving of classic status, and The Illusionist is another beautifully designed and heartwarming tale of an unlikely friendship. The film follows the adventures of an out of work French illusionist, who travels to Scotland and befriends a young girl. Inspired by a story by the great Jacques Tati, the film is visually stunning, with Chomet’s trademark whimsically inventive animation bringing the highlands of Scotland to life in beautifully rich detail. Despite its somewhat melancholic ending, the film is strangely uplifitng, the father/daughter relationship formed by the Illusionist and his young counterpart is exquisitely played, with more heart and emotional depth than most live action films could ever hope to achieve.

4. Four Lions (Chris Morris, 2010)

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Chris Morris has never been one to shy away from controversy. Brass Eye still remains one of the boldest, daring and outstanding satirical programmes in British television history; but in 2010, Morris moved to the big screen with this riotously hilarious comedy about four would be Jihadi suicide bombers from Sheffield. It’s a subject that could’ve easily been mishandled, but in Morris’ hands, the film is hysterically funny, full of witty observations, absurdly marvellous physical sight gags and oddly moving. A gem of a film and one of the finest comedies of this or any decade.

5.  Of Gods and Men (Xavier Beauvois, 2010)

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Perhaps a film more relevant today than it was when first released, Beauvois’ remarkable film tells the true life story of a group of Trappist monks who lived in harmony with the largely Muslim population of Algeria until tragedy befell them during the 1996 Algerian civil war. The film is a quiet and contemplative effort, highlighting the monks ongoing struggles stay behind with the people of the villager or flee as the war escalates around them and encroaches ever closer with each passing moment. Beautifully realised and performed, Of Gods and Men is a moving story that’s thoroughly deserving of classic status.

6. Animal Kingdom (David Michod, 2010)

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David Michod’s debut feature is a riveting account of a notorious Australian crime family and the result is utterly captivating. Loosely based on the notorious Pettingill family, Michod’s film peppers his cast with an incredible set of performers, including Jackie Weaver, whose scene stealing matriarch, Janine ‘Smurf’ Cody hails as one of the finest and most chilling performances of this first half of the decade.

7. Winter’s Bone (Debra Granik, 2010)

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Before The Hunger Games came along, Jennifer Lawrence came to prominence with this gripping indie gem of a quasi-detective story. Lawrence was Oscar nominated for her role as Ree Dolly, the young woman living in the rural Ozarks, looking after her young siblings and terminally ill mother, while investigating the disappearance of her worthless father. Granik along with co-writer Anne Rosellini and cinematographer Michael McDonough, capture a strange and captivating world in the rural landscape of their setting, making for a truly haunting tale of rural life and strange inner family dynamics. A film responsible for launching Lawrence onto an unsuspecting world.

8. Toy Story 3 (Lee Unkrich, 2010)

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It’s difficult for any franchise to maintain a certain level of quality throughout subsequent return, but the team at Pixar failed to get the memo. The third entry in the saga that launched Pixar as a household name, is just as funny, moving and inventive as its predecessors. You have a heart made out of pure stone if you don’t find yourself teary eyed by the film’s end. In a way it’s a shame that they’re going ahead and making a fourth entry as this was more than a worthy cap to one of the finest trilogies of all time.

9. Restrepo (Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington, 2010)

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Few films capture life in the war zone as superbly as Restrepo. Directed by journalists Junger and Hetherington, this powerful documentary follows one year in the life of a group of soldiers in the Korengal valley in Afghanistan, considered to be one of the most treacherous and dangerous in all of Afghanistan. It’s an incredible document of life on the front lines, as the soldiers live day to day dealing with grief, boredom, threats of Taliban assault and relations with the local villagers; the film is a stirring portrait of a devastating time in early 21st century history. An absolute must watch.

10. Inception (Christopher Nolan, 2010)

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While Christopher Nolan will undoubtedly be remembered for his seminal Dark Knight Trilogy, it is his mind bending science fiction tale of dream thieves that truly captures the director’s talents. With a complex plot, and a brain scratching central conceit, Inception is a blockbuster for the mind (quite literally, as it turns out). With stunning visuals, a smart script and thrilling spectacle, Inception just goes to show that not all big Hollywood blockbusters have to rely on superheros or big ass robots beating ten times of shit out of one another to be successful.

Check back soon for Part II…

‘American Sniper': The Most Unfortunate And Depressing Reflection Of Our Time…

January 18, 2015 § Leave a comment

american-sniper-clint-eastwood-bradley-cooper-e1412297056905 When the Academy Award nominations were announced this past Thursday, I was a little surprised to see American Sniper up there vying for Best Picture. I hadn’t seen the film at that point, but the reviews that I had read had been decidedly mixed at best. Then, the film scored one of the biggest January openings of all time, raking in a whopping $90 million plus haul. Most of the major trades have used words like “Shocker”, “Astounding” and “surprising” to describe American Sniper’s haulage. Needless to say, the film’s success has taken many by surprise.

Clint Eastwood’s true life tale stars Bradley Cooper as Chris Kyle, hailed as the most lethal sniper in American military history. It tells the story of Kyle’s rise to sniper in the Navy Seals and his four tours in Iraq and his struggles to balance his military and family life.  It would be easy to say that the film’s six Academy Award nominations, including one for Bradley Cooper, has played a factor in the film’s success this past weekend. But of course, that would be too simple. By that logic, Selma, Birdman and every other best picture nominee should’ve been raking it in this weekend. But alas, ’tis not the case. 

I believe there’s something else to American Sniper’s success; something dangerous that runs deep beneath the surface of its narrative of one man’s moral dilemma; something that runs deep in the societal collective consciousness; something deeply disturbing and frightening; a mindset, brought on by horrific events throughout the world within the last few months, particularly of the tragic events in France, and perpetuated and nurtured by the media outlets, particularly the American news media. In the wake of the events surrounding the killings at Charlie Hebdo and the increasingly fearful rhetoric and rise of organisations such as ISIS and Boko Haram, and their constant perpetuation by the world’s media, questions surrounding issues of Free speech, security, internet surveillance and loyalties to country and religion are at an all time high. Even more worrying is the rise of anti-Islamic sentiment which, thanks to the actions of a couple of asshole extremists, seems to have peaked once again at home and abroad, once again, perpetuated and nurtured by the news media.

Many commentators and media outlets have brought opinions in regards to the notion of Islam and Muslims and the rise of extremism and what should be done about it. Jeanine Pirro of Fox News suggests that we should just kill all of them and be done with it, because of course, violence is always the solution to everything; especially when that violence involves guns and things that go boom. Some have described Islam, such as Mr Rupert Murdoch as a “Jihadist cancer” that Muslims should accept responsibility for. Rightfully, these people have been ridiculed on Twitter by sensible and smart folks who realise that not everything in this world is divided into black and white, no matter how hard people like Fox News attempt to make it so. “We need to do something, root them out, destroy them, protect ourselves, they’re evil, all of them” are just some of the things that most of us would’ve heard in the past few weeks.

News reports of these extremists make them look terrifying. Wearing all black, wielding large machetes, as we hear of the mass slaughter of hundreds if not thousands of people, they dispel rhetoric of murder and mayhem if we refuse to succumb to their backward and savage worldview. Seeing images like that and seeing the images that emanate from France, it’s easy to understand where the fear comes from. It’s easy to understand where the hate and the necessity for some people to divide the world into the simple moralistic world view of Good vs Evil, of Us against them.

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American Sniper is a film that succumbs to this worldview. It is a film that does away with debate and complexity; a film that proudly conveys it’s “Us vs Them” flag waving mentality; Americans (the good guys) vs the evil no name extremists assholes who are hell bent on slaughtering every last one of us and making Freedom an subject of memory. American Sniper is not a film that revels in complexity, but rather a film that bathes in its own chauvinist Americana and simplified worldview. In the beginning of the film, Chris Kyle’s father describes to his sons that there are three kinds of people in the world: wolves, sheep and the sheepdogs. The protectors, the ones that look after the weak and mild are the sheepdogs. They protect the sheep from the predatory wolves that are out there who plan to slaughter us when we least expect it; predators who bully us into submission. An edict in which the film is wholeheartedly willing to exploit.

Chris Kyle is a full blooded American. A Texas cowboy who loves his country more than life itself. A family man who signs up to the NAVY SEALS after witnessing the aftermath of terrorist bombings at US embassies around the world. He is a man who will do whatever it takes to protect his country, his fellow soldiers and build a better world for his family, even if it means sacrificing his soul. There is no complexity in war for Kyle. The Iraqi people are no more than enemies to him; threats to him and his men and it’s his job to protect his fellow soldiers from these Iraqi savages, even if those savages include children. Chris Kyle is a Conservative’s wet dream.

There is absolutely no doubt that Eastwood is anything other than a formidable director. A heart stopping opening has Kyle ponder the dilemma of killing a child who may or may not throw a grenade at American soldiers. It’s a horrifying situation, one that I can never imagine ever being in, and both Eastwood and Cooper’s stirring conflicted understated performance highlights Kyle’s inner turmoil at this morbid dilemma. During this opening, I had hope for the film; hope that the film would be much more than the flag waving, patriotic, simplistic take on the American solider and his place in this War on Terror.

Unfortunately though, that’s about as far as any kind of depth goes in the movie. Instead, the film opts for a brand of chauvinist American propaganda, rising American soldiers up as heroes, even victims (but not victims of the politicians and policies that sent them there, but victims of evildoers themselves) whilst reducing every Iraqi to a savage insurgent, hell bent on killing every American they lay their eyes on. Every single kill that Kyle makes within the film is justified. Every single Iraqi seen (with the exception of one) is a violent, murderous, devious and faceless individual, armed to the teeth ready to slaughter at a moment’s notice. They have no character beyond the broad strokes they are painted with. The only Iraqi character that is warranted a name is one that is aptly named “The Butcher” a man first seen killing a child with power drill. A savage brute and evil terrorist if there ever was one.

American Sniper presents a fallacy that all these brown looking middle eastern types who talk funny are nothing more than savage gun toting maniacs, with nothing on their minds but killing. Hell, even the children feel obligated to get involved. They are never once allowed to extend beyond the savagery that they are presented with. Something that easily fits into the narrative of the Fox News’ of this world.

AMERICAN SNIPER

At one stage, it seemed that there was an attempt on the part of the filmmakers to try and present both sides of the conflict, much like Eastwood once did so brilliantly with Flags of our Fathers and Letters From Iwo Jima. In American Sniper, the film introduces an Iraqi sniper; the flip side of the coin to  Cooper’s Kyle. But alas, this nameless Iraqi sniper is no more than a mute adversary, whose robotic nature and programming is only driven towards his next kill. The one time we do see this nameless Iraqi sniper in his family home, he is seen with his supposed wife, but we’re not sure because she is neither afforded the power of speech or anything that resembles human action. This sniper is seen with his rifle before him, spinning a bullet on the table, awaiting the call to alert him to American troop movements. He has zero personality, zero intent beyond the next kill; he lives only for death, his life nothing more than the destination of his next bullet.

American Sniper’s simplistic moralistic worldview of “Us vs Them” fits in with the mindset of the times in the wake of the events in Paris, that it isn’t any wonder that people have flocked to the film; we are good, they are evil; there is no debate, nothing else, just a comforting, dangerous edict of good vs evil; Americans vs Terrorists, freedom vs violence and fear of death and subjugation. Kyle is a celebrated figure in the movie, as evidenced by the film’s coda, even though Kyle himself was such a divisive figure himself in real life, with some like Lindy West describing him as a hate filled killer. American Sniper is not a morally ambiguous complex film as some have described in their review of the movie. Instead, it is far from ambiguous as a film can be.

It’s worldview is absolute, unwavering and simplistic. Kyle may be a tormented soul, but only tormented in the way that he struggles with the decision to stay in Iraq and help his fellow soldiers or return home to his family. Sitting in a counselling session, Kyle states that it is not the killing the torments him, but the idea of all those American soldiers he failed to save. A noble cause. There is no moral ambiguity; no complexity, no question about why or what they are fighting for; no point of view from the other side of the fence; just Us and Them and nothing more, because in today’s Post 9/11 world, in which groups like ISIS and faceless extremists threaten out very existence every day, that’s all that matters. There is no denying the sacrifice that these soldiers made in those ensuing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The overwhelming damage, physically and psychologically on both sides of the conflict is devastating. Indeed, it seems that in criticising the film, I could invoke the wrath of those who claim that “I hate the troops” and all that, which I don’t.

But American Sniper is a dangerous film, a film that presents a fallacy that conforms to a timely mindset of fear and prejudice, that simplifies complex issues, reducing them to simplistic moralistic values that only serves to compliment a worldview that reduces a people to nameless, voiceless monstrosities whose sole purposes in life is to kill and destroy. The film should’ve been something more, something smarter than it was. Instead, it is nothing more than propaganda, belonging to the likes of those types of war films that were released during World Ward II that reduced the nature of war to nothing more than a rousing battle cry of sacrifice and flag waving patriotism, reducing the world to a Machiavellian stance of “Good vs Evil.”

You would think that in 2015, we would’ve moved past this. You would think that we would realise that generalising an entire people because of the actions of a few, would be a state of mind that would’ve been sentenced to the black abyss of time by now. It is no wonder that people have flocked to such a film as American Sniper. It presents Chris Kyle as a real life superhero; a man of honour and sacrifice, his power being the scope of his sniper rifle. And in this world of faceless evil, of unseen threats and villains that hide in the shadows and could strike at our hearts at any time, any place, is it any wonder that people long for a sheepdog who would protect them from the wolves huffing and puffing at our doors?

 

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