This update arrives a little later than normal (though it’s not much, is it) because I was up ever so late last night night watching… well, read on and I’ll tell you.
Most of this month’s viewing was given over to getting value for money out of my Sky Movies subscription, which meant I once again had to squeeze my WDYMYHS film in at the last minute. And so I chose…
Once Upon a Time in America, Sergio Leone’s near-four-hour gangster epic.
At such a length it was perhaps not the ideal thing to be squeezing in right at the end, but I planned to dedicate two nights over Easter to Leone’s masterwork… and ended up watching it in a single sitting. And it doesn’t feel as long as it is, which is always a good sign.
#22 Big Trouble in Little China (1986)
#23 Johnny English Reborn (2011)
#24 Anonymous (2011)
#25 Garfield (2004)
#26 Battleship (2012)
#27 The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)
#28 Haywire (2011)
#29 Meet the Parents (2000)
#30 The Raven (2012)
#31 Conan the Barbarian (1982)
#32 My Week with Marilyn (2011)
#33 Dungeons & Dragons: The Book of Vile Darkness (2012)
#34 The Italian Job (2003)
#35 Broken Arrow (1996)
#36 Flightplan (2005)
#37 The Debt (2010)
#38 Once Upon a Time in America (1984)
Let’s cut to the chase: this is 100 Films’ most successful March ever. It’s the highest total I’ve ever reached by the end of this month, only equalled twice before: 2010 and 2011. But they were both bolstered by strong Januarys and Februarys — meaning that, in isolation, this is the most films I’ve ever watched in March. It’s also my second best month of all time, beaten only by December 2008, in which I raced through 19 films to make it to exactly 100 in my second year.
The high tally is thanks largely to my obsession with getting value for money out of my Sky Movies subscription, which pushed almost all other concerns aside this month. In the end, only three of the 17 films I watched didn’t come courtesy of Sky: The Hobbit, because I got the US Blu-ray early and just had to see it; a last-minute squeezing-in of this month’s WDYMYHS film; and, of all things, Dungeons & Dragons 3, because it was on telly and I kinda fancied it.
All told, I watched 18 films on Sky this year (four of them in the closing days of February). That’s two more than I managed last year, when I had the service for a week or two longer, so that’s good too. I’ve also recorded a couple more for future viewing, so even better.
Five Favourite Fantasy Films
How do you define Fantasy? Say it to most people and they picture a Lord of the Rings-type alternate-world sword-and-sorcery epic of monsters and other creatures. But it’s also used, not inaccurately, to cover the likes of Pirates of the Caribbean, Toy Story, Groundhog Day, and some things that might appear to be sci-fi — IMDb’s Top 50 Fantasy films includes three Star Warses and Avatar. Are any of these wrong? No. But none of those are eligible for what I mean here. So do I actually mean sword-and-sorcery films, then? Well, according to a bit of Googling, Lord of the Rings isn’t (I didn’t think it was).
So, in this instance, by “Fantasy” I actually mean some indefinable concept that isn’t just swords-and-sorcery but isn’t the entirety of fantastical cinema; that has some arbitrary rules that I can’t even begin to define (if I think it counts, it counts; and vice versa). And so from that helpful explanation, my selections are…
- The Lord of the Rings: The Motion Picture Trilogy
Of course. Some would argue it’s cheating to include an entire trilogy as one film, but Jackson made it as one film and it’s really a single tale that has to be divided to make it possible in cinemas, both financially and for the sake of the audience’s posteriors. But I’ve watched it in a single sitting, something I’ve not managed with some much shorter works, so that makes it OK by me. And I’ve spent all my words here saying that because, really, do you need me to tell you why this tops the list? (Not that this is a ranked list. But if it were, this would top it.)
I did think my main rule for this list would be “set at least partly in an alternate world” (see things like Narnia and Stardust), but that would rule out Harry Potter (which is clearly Fantasy) and this. If we’re talking swords-and-sorcery, this definitely has swords and it probably has sorcery too. How else do you explain immortality? Except with some BS sci-fi claptrap in the sequels that no one, not even their makers, wants to remember. It may be campy and ever so ’80s, with the most hilarious array of mismatched accents ever committed to film, but goodness me do I love it.
A modern, British-tinged take on the tone of The Princess Bride — two elements that give this the edge, for me. It’s also less of a spoof, more of a straight take on a fantasy adventure with an awareness of the comical and a resolute lack of po-faced-ness. There’s a reason Neil Gaiman’s a beloved author, and there’s a reason Matthew Vaughn is a mainstream filmmaker we should all keep a very close eye on.
This is a bit of a cheat, because it’s actually a two-part miniseries… but in its entirety it’s shorter than Return of the King, and for some inexplicable reason is listed as a film on Wikipedia, so I’ll allow it. Starring Sam Neill as the titular wizard, it follows his life as it intersects with King Arthur and co, rather than focusing on the latter. It co-stars Miranda Richardson as a deliciously evil Queen Mab, and the rest of the cast is an all-star line-up including Helena Bonham Carter, Isabella Rossellini, John Gielgud, Rutger Hauer, James Earl Jones, Martin Short, and Lena Headey. The extensive special effects looked incredible at the time and still hold muster, but of course it’s the storytelling that really attracts.
- The 10th Kingdom
If Merlin was a bit of a cheat, this is a great big one, because The 10th Kingdom is actually a seven-hour miniseries. But tough, because I love it and it’s not well enough known. Here in the UK it aired on Sky back in the days before I had said channel, and so my first encounter was through the excellent, lengthy novelisation by Kathryn Wesley (actually Kristine Kathryn Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith). It took me six years (felt longer) and an import of a Scandinavian DVD (for extra special features) to finally see the series, and while an early-’00s US network TV show couldn’t entirely live up to the budget bestowed by my imagination, it did a pretty fair job. Also, it’s immeasurably better than the similarly-themed but (disappointingly) more-successful Once Upon a Time.
And one I don’t like…
- Dungeons & Dragons
Quite what inspired this turn-of-the-millennium wannabe-blockbuster I don’t know — it came out the year before the double-whammy genre kick-start of Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter… but it feels much more than a single year older. It’s not all bad — some of the scenic effects shots are quite good, and there’s a certain joy in Jeremy Irons’ ludicrously campy performance — but, mostly, it is. The CGI is dreadful, the acting isn’t any better, and the location work makes it look like Power Rangers. If it wasn’t bad enough in itself (which it was), the glossy quality of Rings and Potter just 12 months later revitalised the genre to the point that this was blissfully consigned to ignominious oblivion.
For all that, I currently have a bizarre urge to watch it again…
So, what are you favourite fantasy movies? Did I err by missing out a Harry Potter, or a Narnia, or a Disney, or The Hobbit? Should there have been more from the genre’s ’80s boom? Should Highlander and/or The 10th Kingdom be stricken from the list? Feel free to use your own arbitrary rules too.
Now that I’ve sacrificed my Sky Movies subscription to the Great God of I Only Got It For The Oscars But Was Contractually Obliged To Keep It For A Month (And Golly Isn’t It Pricey!), it’s back to my DVD and Blu-ray collection, which is in serious need of some attention. Titles you may expect to see in next month’s list include Argo, The Amazing Spider-Man, Looper, This is Not a Film, Men in Black 3… Whether they will turn up is another matter…
One you won’t see, however, is Game of Thrones season two. Because it’s a TV series, isn’t it. But that’s where I’m going to begin my post-Sky Movies viewing. Shh, no spoilers please.