The Past Month on TV #29

After the bustle of Christmas TV, it’s been a quieter January on the box here at 100 Films Towers. Nonetheless, I did catch up with one of the best series of 2017 — possibly of all time…

Blue Planet II
Blue Planet IIDespite the massive hype, I missed this when it aired. I say “missed” — I always intend to watch these big natural history shows, then never get round to them. I confess, it was new tech that persuaded me: after I saw it was all available in UHD on iPlayer, I had to give that a go. And…

Wow.

That’s the only word for it, really. Well, it isn’t — “stunning” would be another one. Incredible. Wondrous. Mind-boggling. I’m talking about both the UHD photography and the series itself here. In the latter camp we can also add educational, and informative, and eye-opening, but those are kind of a given — it’s a BBC David Attenborough series, of course it nails that part. Attenborough’s script and delivery strikes the perfect balance between acknowledging the creatures’ intelligence and personalities without slipping into anthropomorphising them. But many of the creatures and places we’re shown are almost unbelievable. Never has that old chestnut “we know more about the surface of the Moon than the oceans” seemed more true. James Cameron is planning to explore the alien life in Pandora’s oceans in Avatar 2, but he’s going to have to go some way to imagine anything more alien than what’s to be found in our real depths. I wonder if he’s seen this? He should. Everyone should.

If that wasn’t enough, the visuals are awe-inspiring. The vibrant colours of some of these creatures were incredible, unquestionably enhanced by the wider spectrum of HDR. The level of detail the extra resolution seems to afford made it all feel very real too — creatures like dolphins and sharks don’t show gaudy colours, but the texture and sheen of their bodies felt like you could reach out and touch it.

I wish you could see this in HDR...Now, I didn’t do a comparison to the regular HD stream, so I can’t really say how much better the UHD made things, but I do have a few observations. Related to it looking “more real”, after viewing I saw a good resolution photo taken for the series of one creature (this chap) which didn’t seem to capture the texture of its body in the same way the episode did. That could be the added effect of motion vs a still photo, but it could also be the extra detail from 4K. And talking of comparing still images, when a UHD episode was selected it displayed the iPlayer menu in UHD/HDR too, so I was able to do a direct comparison of each episodes’ key image. In particular, the one pictured above (from episode five) really showed off the vibrancy of HDR.

Finally, the making-of bits they have at the end of every episode looked more muted than the main show, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s because they were finished at HD rather than UHD. But that’s not to say those segments looked bad. So while I feel fairly sure the HDR image was better to at least some degree, I’m also certain that at least some of this marvellousness would come across in regular ol’ 1080p — quality does filter down with image resolution, and they’ve done such sterling work here.

Anyway. Like everyone else, I can’t recommend Blue Planet II enough to anyone… but doubly so if you have a chance to see it in UHD with HDR.

Little Women
Little WomenAs I mentioned last time, I’ve never seen or read a previous version of Little Women, but apparently this new one was pretty faithful so I figure I’m all learned about it now. The biggest change appears to be in the ages of the four eponymous heroines: in this version they look to be about the same age, in their late teens or early 20s at the start, but in fact they should be 16, 15, 13 and 12. Quite different. A challenge for adapters, though, because the story covers a timespan of five or more years (by my reckoning). Other films have dodged this by casting two actresses in some roles, but this adaptation sought to avoid that. It has its cons (an early petulant act comes across very differently if done by a 12-year-old versus a c.17-year-old, I think), but it is what it is.

Anyway, setting that point aside, it seems quite clear why the book has endured in popularity. (Or, if you prefer, books — in the US it’s one novel with a Part 1 and Part 2, but in the UK it’s separated as Little Women and Good Wives. This version adapts both.) There’s a certain tweeness and sweetness to it — it’s about four sisters who are poor but not that poor and all love each and do fun homely things and have romantic entanglements and so on and so forth — but it’s laced with enough seriousness and sadness (to say more would be spoilersome) to add a bit of welcome grit. Plus the big central romance doesn’t pan out how you might expect. Actually, it develops with a solid dose of realism that more romance-based storylines might benefit from.

This particular adaptation shines with the typical high quality of a BBC drama, with a recognisable elder cast (Emily Watson, Dylan Baker, Michael Gambon, Angela Lansbury) being equalled by a quartet of newcomers and almost-newcomers as the girls — including Maya Hawke, who looks scarily like her mother, Uma Thurman. (Once you’ve seen it, you can’t unsee it. Seriously, it’s like they’ve used time travel to cast a young Uma Thurman.)

Also watched…
  • Bright — Well, some people counted it as TV. Review here.
  • Death in Paradise Series 7 Episodes 1-2 — As sunny, breezy, and predictable as its island setting. Reliably lightweight and cheery viewing for dreary January.
  • The Great Christmas Bake Off — For a show just about people competitively baking that I watched in the middle of January, this was surprisingly heartwarming and Christmassy. (Not watched the New Years special yet because the trailer looked strangely disappointing.)
  • Not Going Out The True Meaning of Christmas — The plot may be predictable, but writer-star Lee Mack keeps the jokes coming thick and fast.

    Things to Catch Up On
    McMafiaThis month, I have mostly been missing the BBC’s pair of big, grim January dramas, McMafia and Hard Sun. They both seem to have received a very mixed reaction (not that I’ve been following too closely because, y’know, spoilers), but both have intriguing setups: the former a drama about the global business of the Russian mafia inspired by a non-fiction book; the latter a pre-apocalyptic sci-fi/crime thriller from the creator of Luther.

    Next month… no specific idea, to be honest. But I’ve got the latest seasons of The Crown and Peaky Blinders waiting to be binged, and plenty of Arrow and The Flash to catch up on.

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  • What Do You Mean You Haven’t Seen…? 2018

    In an emulation of last year, in 2018 I’m setting myself the goal of watching not only a dozen Blindspot films, but also a decad WDYMYHS movies. Last year there was a reason for this (marking my tenth blogiversary); this year, I’m doing it just because it worked before.

    In another similarity to last year, my Blindspot list is a ‘free choice’ selected from films I either already own or have ready access to (i.e. they’re available on Netflix / Amazon Prime / etc), while my WDYMYHS list is chosen by mixing together lists of must-see movies to find those that consensus says I should’ve seen.

    To select this year’s ten, I noted films from IMDb’s Top 250 (or whatever they want to call it nowadays) that I already owned or had ready access to, then saw which were also on They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They?’s 1,000 Greatest Films. Then I narrowed that long-list to films that also helped complete a list on iCheckMovies. After ruling out Princess Mononoke under my old “no duplicate directors” rule (because I really wanted to include Nausicaä on my Blindspot list; and also because I’d already had a shot at Mononoke during 2015’s list), these were my final ten — listed here in whatever order they ended up ranked.


    Das Boot


    The Lives of Others


    Full Metal Jacket


    Stalker


    Amadeus


    Scarface


    Ran


    Casino


    The Elephant Man


    Rocky

    Exciting observation: six of them are from the ’80s. No idea how or why that came about.

    Blindspot 2018

    In an emulation of last year, in 2018 I’m setting myself the goal of watching not only a dozen Blindspot films, but also a decad WDYMYHS movies. Last year there was a reason for this (marking my tenth blogiversary); this year, I’m doing it just because it worked before.

    In another similarity to last year, my Blindspot list is a ‘free choice’ selected from films I either already own or have ready access to (i.e. they’re available on Netflix / Amazon Prime / etc), while my WDYMYHS list is chosen by mixing together lists of must-see movies to find those that consensus says I should’ve seen.

    Although this is a ‘free choice’ list, I did get a helping hand: I determined I wanted to include films directed by Alfred Hitchcock and Ingmar Bergman, but how to choose which from their lengthy and acclaimed filmographies? So I turned to iCheckMovies to see which were on the most lists, had the most favourites, that kind of thing. That produced clear frontrunners for each director, and they’re the ones I went with.

    Below are all 12 of my selections, in alphabetical order.


    The 400 Blows


    Attack the Block


    Big Fish


    Black Narcissus


    The Hunt


    Nausicaä of the
    Valley of the Wind


    Snowpiercer


    Strangers on a Train


    Suspiria


    True Romance


    The Wild Bunch


    Wild Strawberries

    Exciting observation: eight of them (aka two-thirds) are non-US productions. How cultured of me.

    The Best & Worst of 2017

    Having listed all I watched in 2017 and analysed it thoroughly, it’s time for the finale: what I thought were the best films I saw last year.

    After that, a list of major new releases that I missed, thus explaining why they’re not in my best selection (i.e. because I haven’t see them).

    But first, the less honourable list: the five worst films I saw in 2017.



    The Five Worst Films I Saw For the First Time in 2017

    In alphabetical order…

    Into the Wild
    Youthful Pretentiousness: The Movie. That it was written and directed by a 47-year-old, but seems to have gained none of the perspective maturity should afford, makes it even worse. It’s also a true story, and we should maybe feel sorry for the guy involved, but… well, he kind brought it all on himself, didn’t he?

    London Has Fallen
    You can just about enjoy this as a dumb actioner if you switch your brain off, but you really have to try to have a good time with it thanks to the cheap production values, rampant xenophobia, and furious American patriotism. If you still need putting off, consider this: I bet Trump loves this movie.

    Space Jam
    Last year Space Jam was recommended as one of the 50 “Must See Movies Before You Grow Up”. I disagree. It’s not funny, it’s not clever, and, even allowing for the limits of mid-’90s technology, it’s not very well made. It’s joyless and flat; a waste of time and effort. Also, one of this year’s two one-star films.

    Vehicle 19
    This is the other. It’s a low-budget thriller starring Paul “the one from Fast & Furious who died” Walker as a regular guy who gets in the wrong rental car and finds himself embroiled in a political conspiracy. It’s also all shot from within the car. That’s the kind of filmmaking conceit I enjoy, but Vehicle 19 provides nothing else entertaining to go with it.

    Warcraft: The Beginning
    Writer-director Duncan Jones, who showed such promise with Moon and Source Code, wasted several years of his career making this. Apparently he was keen to live up to what fans of the franchise expected, not just produce a generic fantasy movie with a brand name. Maybe for those guys he succeeded. For the rest of us, it’s… well, to be frank, it’s just crap.



    The 17 Best Films I Saw For the First Time in 2017

    This is the top 10% of my viewing from 2017. I saw 174 new films this year, which means this year’s “top 10” has 17 films. Should you think that’s excessive, just scroll on down and start reading wherever you please.

    As always, this list is culled from all the movies I watched for the first time this year, not just new releases. However, I did watch 44 films that had their UK release in 2017, and seven of them are on my list, so I’ve noted their ‘2017 rank’ too.

    2017 #7 Luc Besson’s gorgeous-looking Euro-comic space opera is a strange, sometimes messy movie, but somehow it keeps getting better the more I think about it. (Full review.)

    Disney’s Polynesian princess has fantastic tunes, exciting adventure, hilarious gags, and, of course, a lot of heart. Also, a storyline that isn’t at all about finding romance. (Full review.)

    2017 #6 Matthew Vaughn’s spy sequel endured a pretty mixed reception back in the summer, but I loved it. It’s inventive, provocative, irreverent, and fun. (Full review.)

    The zombie subgenre should be played out ten times over by now, but then you get something like this. As with the best zombie flicks, it’s more about the humans than the monsters. But also it’s about the intense and suspenseful action sequences.

    This French-Danish animation delivers understated beauty in its deceptively simple visual style, and an equally subtle but strong feminist streak in its story of one girl’s mission to reach the North Pole.

    If there’s any horror creature more played-out than zombies, it’s vampires. Unless you’ve got a new angle, of course, and this fly-on-the-wall ‘documentary’ about a gang of Kiwi vamps imbues its subject with hilarity and new, er, life. (Full review.)

    Grown-up sci-fi in this thoughtful and plausible exploration of man’s first contact with alien life. Would surely make a great double-bill with Arrival. (Full review.)

    2017 #5 The latest attempt to bring the giant ape to the big screen is a creature-feature B-movie writ large, emboldened with all the CGI modern Hollywood can afford. Despite the marvellously pulpy story, director Jordan Vogt-Roberts brings a surprising amount of class to the endeavour, with some gorgeous cinematography and strikingly staged sequences. This may be 2017’s most underrated blockbuster. (Full review.)

    2017 #4 Christopher Nolan’s first non-sci-fi/fantasy movie for 15 years is ambitious in other ways, trying to condense a massive military operation into a single movie — with added the pressure of it being a story both not often told and of immense importance: it represented a massive turning point in the Second World War. He carries it off with bold filmmaking that focuses on the intensity of the experience for the men in the thick of it, which is where he places the viewer. It’s 90 minutes of non-stop ratcheting tension, with a bit of well-earned patriotic catharsis at the end. (Full review.)

    Dan Gilroy’s neo-noir thriller foregrounds Jake Gyllenhaal’s performance as a guy looking to make his fortune by racing around nighttime L.A. filming bloody crime scenes. There’s a state-of-the-nation element in the satirisation of trashy TV news and its bloodthirsty producers, but the real star is the, er, star: Gyllenhaal’s well-measured turn as a driven, unpredictable, possible psychopath. (Full review.)

    The director of Once delivers another fable about people finding love through music. This time it’s about a gaggle of school kids, lending a coming-of-age universality and a kind of nostalgic melancholy — you don’t have to have been in a band, or grown up during the film’s 80s setting, to relate to the bittersweetness, the horrors and the wonders, of young love. (Full review.)

    I watched It’s a Wonderful Life out of a sense of duty: it’s an iconic Christmas film, well rated on polls like the IMDb Top 250, but (obviously) I’d never seen it. I set out merely to rectify that, expecting to find something a bit saccharine and twee… but, blow me down, it’s not that at all: it’s a beautiful, brilliantly made, genuinely moving film. I even got something in my eye during the (inevitable) conclusion. My only regret is I didn’t watch it sooner.

    2017 #3 I don’t think many people (if anyone) expected much when they rebooted Planet of the Apes back in 2011, but what’s followed is one of the great movie trilogies of our time. This concluding instalment could’ve lived up to its title and been an epic battle extravaganza, but that probably would’ve been a soulless disappointment. Instead, it remains focused on its characters — primarily Andy Serkis’ remarkable performance as the apes’ leader — to tell a tale that’s as much about internal battles as external ones. (Full review.)

    Empire magazine picked this as their best film of 2016, and I wouldn’t necessarily disagree with them (even though, today, I’ve ranked another one higher). The story of a young delinquent bonding with his reluctant foster father, it features the kind of quirky comedy, but with heartfelt dramatic undertones, that you only tend to get from small countries and their indie movies. It manages a perfect tightrope walk that renders it both sidesplittingly hilarious and sweetly moving. (Full review.)

    I watched Kubo and Wilderpeople back to back all the way back in January, and felt at the time they were dead certs for my top ten — and here they are, almost a full year later, side by side again in the very upper echelons of my list. I thought long and hard about that, dear reader, because I didn’t want to be placing them here on the autopilot of 12-month-old suspicions. Now, I’m sure I’m not. Kubo is a majestic adventure movie, with truly stunning stop-motion animation and a powerful story, that deserves to be recognised outside of the confines of “animation” or “kids’ movies”. (Full review.)

    2017 #2 This is the third movie in my top ten driven by music (the others were Kubo and, of course, Sing Street) — which is neither here nor there, merely a connection I literally just noticed. In this instance “driven” is the operative word, because it’s about a brilliant young getaway driver who choreographs his escapes to music blaring from his iPod. Writer-director Edgar Wright extends that conceit outward into the entire movie, with almost every key sequence perfectly underscored by an eclectic soundtrack. The action is thrilling, the dialogue is snappy, and the whole concoction is pure movie-magic entertainment. (Full review.)

    2017 #1 Talking of placing things on autopilot, here’s another I made sure to have a good think about. When I first thought, “I wonder what my #1 movie will be this year?”, my mind immediately fired back with, “Blade Runner 2049.” But I made sure to think it through, in ways I won’t bore you with, and I came fairly close to putting Baby Driver here, but in the end I settled on Denis Villeneuve’s sci-fi sequel (meaning the Canadian director tops my list for the second year in a row). I’m not even sure where to begin praising or explaining why this film is my favourite of the year, there’s just so much about it that’s perfect: the numerous thought-provoking sci-fi concepts that are carefully explored; the endlessly gorgeous cinematography (if Roger Deakins doesn’t get that Oscar now…); the way it builds out of the first movie but doesn’t entirely rely on it (as Drew McWeeny put it in his top ten article, “Blade Runner 2049 stands as a work of science-fiction that is so packed with ideas and invention and character that the single least interesting thing about it is that it also happens to be connected to another movie”)… I could go on (but that’s what my full review is for). It’s an incredible piece of work that can stand proudly alongside the classic original — which is perhaps its greatest achievement.


    As usual, I’d just like to highlight a few other films.

    Firstly, I can’t end this without mentioning the 31 films that earned themselves 5-star ratings this year. Already included in my top 17 we had these 13: Baby Driver, Blade Runner 2049, Contact, Dunkirk, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, It’s a Wonderful Life, Kubo and the Two Strings, Long Way North, Nightcrawler, Sing Street, Train to Busan, War for the Planet of the Apes, and What We Do in the Shadows. The remaining 18 were: The 39 Steps, Black Swan, City of God, The Conversation, Drive, The Exorcist, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, The Girl with All the Gifts, Her, In the Loop, It Follows, Manchester by the Sea, A Matter of Life and Death, Moon, Moonlight, Nocturnal Animals, Rurouni Kenshin: Kyoto Inferno, and Yojimbo. Plus there was also full marks for the Black & Chrome version of Mad Max: Fury Road, and for two films I reviewed after watching them during my Rewatchathon, Jaws and The Terminator.

    Additionally, let’s recap the 12 films that won Favourite Film of the Month at the Arbies, some of which have already been mentioned in this post and some of which haven’t. They were all in contention for my top 17, but obviously they didn’t all make it in. So, in chronological order (with links to the relevant monthly update): Kubo and the Two Strings, Fandango, Long Way North, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Nightcrawler, Baby Driver, War for the Planet of the Apes, Shin Godzilla, Kingsman: The Golden Circle, Blade Runner 2049, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, and It’s a Wonderful Life.

    Finally, a special shout-out to several of this year’s big superhero movies, which I enjoyed a lot but didn’t quite make it into my top 17: The LEGO Batman Movie, Logan, Spider-Man: Homecoming, and Thor: Ragnarok. I liked most of the others too (even Justice League, as my review attests) but, unlike those four, they were never seriously in the running for my top 17.


    I watched 36 movies from 2017 during 2017, including most of the big blockbusters, but that still leaves a considerable number of notable releases that I missed. As is my tradition, then, here’s an alphabetical list of 50 films that I’ve not seen and are listed as 2017 on IMDb (with a couple of exceptions for films that are really from 2017 but happened to screen at a festival or two in 2016). In many cases these ‘missed’ films are awards-y movies that aren’t actually out in the UK yet (there are “2017” movies scheduled through until at least July 2018).

    The films in this list have been selected for a variety of reasons, from box office success to critical acclaim via simple notoriety — some of these are films I have no intention of watching!

    Beauty and the Beast
    The Death of Stalin
    The Hitman's Bodyguard
    Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle
    mother!
    The Shape of Water
    The Dark Tower
    Fast and Furious 8
    It
    Logan Lucky
    The Post
    Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
    All the Money in the World
    American Made
    Battle of the Sexes
    Baywatch
    Beauty and the Beast
    The Big Sick
    The Boss Baby
    Call Me by Your Name
    Cars 3
    Coco
    The Dark Tower
    Darkest Hour
    The Death of Stalin
    Despicable Me 3
    The Disaster Artist
    Downsizing
    The Emoji Movie
    Fast & Furious 8
    Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool
    The Florida Project
    The Foreigner
    Geostorm
    The Greatest Showman
    Happy Death Day
    The Hitman’s Bodyguard
    I, Tonya
    It
    It Comes at Night
    Jigsaw
    Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle
    The Killing of a Sacred Deer
    King Arthur: Legend of the Sword
    Lady Bird
    Lady Macbeth
    The LEGO Ninjago Movie
    Logan Lucky
    The Lost City of Z
    Molly’s Game
    mother!
    Okja
    Phantom Thread
    The Post
    Power Rangers
    The Shape of Water
    The Snowman
    Their Finest
    Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
    Transformers: The Last Knight
    Victoria & Abdul
    Wonder

    …and many more.


    And that’s 2017 all wrapped up. Well, apart from the fact I’ve got 54 reviews left to write. That’s the worst it’s ever been. I’ll be a while getting through them yet (even if I posted one a day from tomorrow, I’d still be going in March).

    Anyway, a belated Happy New Year to you all. May 2018 bring you the viewing of many films — at least 100, amiright?

    2017 Statistics

    Yesterday I published the full list of my 2017 viewing. Well, I say “full” — I didn’t put my Rewatchathon viewing in there. I’m not going to include it in these stats either (mostly). Maybe I’ll do something differently about that at the end of 2018, but for now this all remains focused on my primary goal: watching at least 100 films every year that I’ve never seen before.

    In today’s post we do the fun stuff: look at all sorts of statistics about that viewing. Hurrah!

    In the end, I watched 174 new feature films in 2017. That’s my third highest final total, behind 2016’s 195 and 2015’s 200, though it’s quite far ahead of fourth place, 2014’s 136.

    I also watched two extended or altered cuts of features I’d seen before. They’ll be included in all the stats that follow (except the running time one we’ll get to in a sec).

    However, those 176 films are not the full story. As I mentioned in my introduction, this year I set myself a secondary goal — Rewatchathon — in which I aimed to make myself watch again at least 52 films I’d seen before. Obviously this took viewing time away from my main goal, and I became curious how 2017 would compare to previous years if those rewatches had been main list views. To keep things fair I had to go back and tot up my rewatches from previous years. Fortunately, I have complete records for that as far back as 2009 (I have a little over half of 2008, which suggests it was a good year, but not good enough to challenge the last couple). The number of films I rewatched fluctuated wildly at times (21 in 2013, 4 in 2014, 20 in 2015, etc), but unsurprisingly the biggest overall totals came in the years when 100 Films was also high. The only years that passed 200 were the last two: altogether I watched 206 films in 2016 and 223 in 2015. In 2017, I watched… 228. So, yes, this is officially my most film-filled year on record.

    (An additional bit of stats business: in previous years there was the odd rewatch that I also reviewed, meaning it was included in the stats (it’s the “other reviews” bit in the graph above). My Rewatchathon is putting an end to that. I’ve reviewed some stuff from it but certainly not everything, so it would be a bit weird to just count the handful of films I did happen to review. I could count every single film I watched for the Rewatchathon, but that feels somehow against the point. It means my stats for previous years don’t compare with 100% accuracy to these, but I was always inconsistent on which rewatches I counted anyway.)

    Additionally to all that, I also watched five short films. They don’t count in any stats… except the one they do, which we’ll get to in half a sec.

    The total running time of the 174 new features was 316 hours and 43 minutes, which (as the graph shows) is in line with what you’d expect given the number of films. Add in the two alternate cuts and five shorts and the total running time of all films was 321 hours and 59 minutes.

    This year’s most prolific viewing format was streaming for the third year in a row, but it suffered a bit of a drop: it accounted for 76 films, which was 43.2% of my viewing — down from 57% last year, and even below the 47% from the year before. Where did those percentage of views go? Well, a few different places. I’ll get onto those in a sec. Firstly: this year I bothered to count up which streaming services I used. It was all divided between the three main players on this side of the pond: Netflix, Amazon (including both Prime and rentals), and Now TV. Amazon accounted for precisely 50% (38 films), with Netflix on more-or-less 30% (23 films), and Now TV bringing up the rear on 20% (15 films). I’ve mostly used Netflix for series this year, mind, whereas I don’t think I’ve watched more than a couple of episodes of anything on Amazon (and Now TV do TV as a separate subscription).

    Second place went to Blu-ray, with 46 films (26.1%) — up from last year, but otherwise my lowest since 2012. As I say every year: I own hundreds of the things, I need to watch them more. (It’s worse for DVD, mind, but we’ll come to that.)

    There’s more of an ‘upset’ in third place, however: cinema! It’s been in last place for five of the last six years (the one exception, 2012, it was second-last), and it didn’t have a particular strong showing before that. Indeed, 2017 marks my greatest number of cinema trips in one year since this blog began, with 18 films (10.2%). In fact, that’s more than the last seven years combined. I intend for this to continue in 2018, but I don’t know if it’ll increase — it’s so much more cost effective to wait for films at home these days…

    Next, there’s a small increase for downloads, with 14½ films (8.2%) — the half because I had to download City of God when my DVD copy crapped out halfway through. It’s overleaped television, which continues its slide from dominance (it was first from 2009 to 2012) with 13 films (7.4%).

    Bringing up the rear is an even more ignominious faller: the humble once-beloved DVD, with 8½ films (4.8%) — actually a slight increase from last year! I mean, it’s up from 8 to 8½ and from 4% to 4.8%, but still…

    In amongst all that, I watched 11 films in 3D (a mix of Blu-rays, downloads, a TV rental, and one in the cinema) and 1 in 4K. I have a feeling the latter will increase in 2018, but I’ve no idea by how much.

    Which brings me to the HD vs. SD, to which I’ve added that meagre UHD offering this year. HD includes all but one stream, all of Blu-ray and cinema, all but one download, and just under a third of my TV viewings. In the SD camp there’s one streamer and one download (obv.), just over two-thirds of my TV viewing, and the handful of DVDs. The final result is 88.4% in HD, boosted by 0.6% in UHD. It’s slightly up on last year, but not a huge amount.

    In terms of the films’ age, the most popular decade was the 2010s (same as since 2012) with 114 films (64.8%). That number’s down on last year, though the percentage went up (I watched about 20 fewer films overall, remember). In second, however, the 2000s saw real gains (albeit small ones), going from 18 up to 21 (11.9%). The only other decade to make double figures was the ’90s, holding steady on 15 (8.5%).

    Below that, there were a smattering of films for every decade back to the ’20s: the ’80s clocked eight (4.6%), the ’70s reached seven (3.98%), the ’60s had four (2.3%), the ’50s only two (1.1%), the ’40s a slightly better three (1.7%), and the ’30s and the ’20s netted just one each (0.6%).

    Last year, the percentage of films I watched in English dipped below 90% for the first time. This year it was back over it, though only at 90.1%. That’s 160 films wholly or partially in English. However, there were more others than recently: 32 languages were spoken in total (plus one silent film), up from 24 in the 2015 and 2016. Distant second was an uncommonly strong showing for Japanese in 15 films (8.5%), while everything else was in single figures. Of particular note is American Sign Language cropping up in three films, and Ancient Egyptian and Pawnee both putting in appearances for the second year in a row.

    It’s the same story in countries of production, with the USA producing 138 films — 78.4%, up from last year’s 73.6%. Distant second was the UK with 42 films — that’s 23.9%, identical to last year. Again mirroring the language stats, Japan had an unusually strong showing with 14 films (7.95%), by far its best result (its previous high on record was six). Just behind were Canada and France on 13 (7.4%) each. Next was China, its nine representing a continuing increase, mostly co-productions as Hollywood continues its interests there, I’d wager. Concurrently, former co-production fave Germany is on the way down, with just six (almost half its figure from last year), which is tied with Australia.

    Running down the list, there’s Hong Kong on five (after a big bump last year thanks to a load of Shaw Brothers films, this is back to normal), New Zealand on four, and three each for Denmark and Ireland. Five more countries had two apiece, and 12 countries contributed to a single film each. That’s a total of 29 countries represented, just one down from last year.

    A total of 143 directors plus 13 directing partnerships appear on 2017’s main list. Of those, 18 had multiple credits. The man with the most was David Lynch on four — and that doesn’t even include Twin Peaks: The Return (or whatever we’re calling it nowadays). Behind him on three apiece we find Clint Eastwood and Keishi Ōtomo (the Rurouni Kenshin trilogy). Then there’s Taika Waititi, who directed two films himself plus one as co-director; and Michael Bay, who directed two films plus an alternate cut; and George Miller, who only has one main list film to his solo name, but was also behind an alternate cut and a quarter or another film. Keeping things simple with a pure two each there’s Mel Brooks, Paul Feig, Ron Howard, Duncan Jones, Shūsuke Kaneko, David Mackenzie, Penny Marshall, Tokuzô Tanaka, and Adam Wingard. Finally, Wes Anderson and David Leitch both helmed a main list feature and a short, while this blog’s most-featured director of all time, Steven Spielberg, had one new feature and a quarter of another. The rest took one each, although in the shorts we can find Luke Scott, son of Ridley, taking charge of two of the Blade Runner 2049 prequels.

    For the past two years I’ve specifically charted the number of female directors whose work I’ve watched. There were just four female directors in 2017’s viewing, with five films between them, which is 2.84%. That’s better than last year, but worse than 2015 — and none of them are very good figures in any case.

    On a brighter note (for me), 11 films from the main list currently appear on the IMDb Top 250 (or whatever it’s called nowadays). Their positions ranges from 21st (City of God) to 210th (Thor: Ragnarok). However, because that list is ever-changing, the number I have left to see has only gone down by seven, to 69.

    At the end of my annual “top ten” post I always include a list of 50 notable films I missed from that year’s releases, and continue to track my progress at watching those ‘misses’. In 2017, I’ve seen at least one more movie from every year’s list. To rattle through them (including the overall total seen in brackets), this year I watched: one from 2007 (34); four from 2008 (24); three from 2009 (29); three from 2010 (30); one from 2011 (33); two from 2012 (32); one from 2013 (32); five from 2014 (41); and four from 2015 (32).

    Finally, in the first year of watching 2016’s 50, I saw 30 of them. That’s the best ‘first year’ ever, just beating the 28 from 2015’s list that I watched during 2016.

    In total, I’ve now seen 317 out of 500 of those ‘missed’ movies. That’s 63.4%, up from the 58.4% I’d got through by the end of last year. Basically, I’m watching them faster than I add them — which is a good thing. (As usual, this year’s new 50 will be listed in my next post.)

    To finish off 2017’s statistics, then, it’s the climax of every review: the scores.

    At the top end of the spectrum, I awarded 32 five-star ratings in 2017. That’s more than last year, even though I watched fewer films, meaning the percentage was well up — 18.2% vs. 2016’s 13.2%. It’s above my all-time five-star average too, which is 16.85%. Am I getting more generous or just picking better films? Such is always the debate. Maybe it’s the latter, though, because my four-star ratings dipped to 78 films — still second place, but at 44.3% it’s well down on last year and below the all-time average of 45.8%. Commensurately, the percentage of three-star ratings were above average: those 49 films equal 27.8%, over the all-time 26.4%. All that said, we’re not talking numbers that massively outside the norm here (as we’ll see shortly).

    Rounding things out at the bottom end, there were 15 two-star films (8.5%), which is very much a normal amount, and a mere two one-star films (1.14%), which is also pretty normal (across ten years the average number is 2.1 a year).

    And so all of that brings us the average score — the single figure that (arguably) asserts 2017’s quality compared to other years. The short version is 3.7, the same as the last two years, as well as 2007 and 2009. We have to add a few more decimal places to get a precise idea, however (if we don’t, seven out of eleven years score either 3.6 or 3.7). To three decimal places, 2017 scores 3.699. That’s 0.024 higher than 2016, meaning it takes fourth place on the all-time chart, sitting just 0.031 behind 2015 in third. These are tiny margins, as always — I guess that means my scoring is pretty consistent.

    And that’s all your numbers and graphs done for another year! It’s OK, you can read them again if you want.


    More quality assessments, with my lists of the best and worst films I saw last year.

    2017: The Full List

    2017 — the 11th year I’ve been doing this 100 films challenge, and the fifth consecutive year I’ve surpassed that goal. Below is the full list of new films I watched this year, all linked up to reviews and that. (“And that” being my “coming soon” page for the dozens of films I’ve not actually reviewed yet.)

    My “Full List” post is an annual tradition round these parts, of course, but this year it undergoes its biggest change of format since 2012, when I switched from listing my viewing in chronological (aka numerical) order to listing it alphabetically, and also added the “as it happened” section. This time, however, it’s an even bigger change — the biggest change to this annual tradition ever, in fact.

    I’ve got rid of the statistics.

    “What, completely?” No, of course not — as regular readers will know, they’re the best part of the year! (They’re my personal highlight, anyway.) Now they’ll be in their own post. Frankly, I don’t know why I haven’t separated them off sooner. Tradition, mainly. Anyway, I think they belong there. Expect that post tomorrow.

    In the meantime, there’s also a new addition to this post: TV reviews. As this was the first full year I’ve run my “Past Month on TV” column, and as there’s an ever-growing consensus to consider television on an equal footing with cinema as a narrative visual art form, and as that’s a position which I broadly agree with, it felt only right that I included my TV reviewing in this big ol’ list of reviews.

    So, time to crack on with things. As this post is just a long list of words and pictures, if you don’t fancy the scroll (or the swipe, if you’re on one of them newfangled touchy-screens) here are some handy links to jump to whichever bit might interest you:



    Below is a graphical representation of my 2017 viewing, month by month. Each of the images links to the relevant monthly update, which contain a numbered list of everything I watched this year. This is also the only place where I’ve listed the 52 films of my Rewatchathon. There’s other exciting stuff in there too, like my monthly Arbie awards.












    And now, the main event…


    Alternate Cuts
    Other Reviews
    Shorts
    Alien: Covenant

    Babe: Pig in the City

    Black Swan

    Candyman

    Death Note

    Don't Breathe

    The Driver

    Get Out

    Ghostbusters

    Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2

    Hidden Figures

    Jackie Brown

    Kubo and the Two Strings

    Logan

    Moana

    Moonlight

    New Tale of Zatoichi

    Robin Hood: Men in Tights

    Rurouni Kenshin

    Sing Street

    Star Wars: The Last Jedi

    That's Entertainment

    Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me

    War for the Planet of the Apes

    Your Name

    Mad Max: Fury Road - Black and Chrome

    The Terminator

    Hotel Chevalier

    .

    Across 16 ‘monthly’ columns I reviewed a significant amount of television this year, and so I thought I should include it in my wrap-up. But rather than just link to 16 posts each containing a grab-bag of programming, I thought it would be more useful to list every series I commented on and then link to the relevant post(s). That also shows up just how much TV I watch…


    Tomorrow (hopefully): analysing all of the above in exciting statistics!

    Soon: ranking all (well, some) of the above in my lists of the best and worst films I saw this year.

    My Top 5 Most-Read New Posts in 2017

    Last year I published a Top 5 of my most-read new posts in 2016, mainly to point out that I had no idea why the post that was #1 was #1. This year there’s no such oddness, but as I found it an interesting(-ish) exercise nonetheless, here we go again…

    This year, all five of my most-read posts are from my TV review column. I don’t know if the TV-reviewing blogosphere is just less saturated than the film one (I’d wager not) or if the fact I combine multiple series in each post has a massive impact on their popularity (more likely), but they’re what get the biggest numbers for new content.

    But this is a film blog (it’s in the title), so this year I’m doing two top fives: the genuine top 5 most-read new posts in 2017, which is also the top 5 most-read new TV-related posts, and then the top 5 most-read new film-related posts.

    Without further ado:

    The Top 5 Most-Read New Posts in 2017
    (aka The Top 5 Most-Read New TV-Related Posts in 2017)

    5) The Past Month on TV #21
    including Game of Thrones season 7 episodes 2-5, Top of the Lake: China Girl, Twin Peaks season 3 episodes 11-14, Line of Duty series 3 episodes 4-6, Peaky Blinders series 2, The Bletchley Circle series 1 and 2, The Musketeers series 3 episodes 1-3, Sherlock’s pilot, and Wallander series 4 episodes 2-3.

    4) The Past Month on TV #13
    including A Series of Unfortunate Events season 1, Sherlock series 4, Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life, Peter Pan Goes Wrong, the Arrowverse crossover Invasion!, Elementary season 5 episodes 1-3, Outnumbered’s 2016 Christmas special, and the Vicious series finale.

    3) The Past Fortnight on TV #22
    including Marvel’s The Defenders season 1, Game of Thrones season 7 episodes 6-7, Twin Peaks season 3 episodes 15-16, Designated Survivor season 1, and Rick and Morty season 1 episode 1.

    2) The Past Month on TV #16
    including Doctor Who series 10 episode 1, Marvel’s Iron Fist season 1, The Flash / Supergirl crossover episode Duet, The Crown season 1, Line of Duty series 2, Twin Peaks season 2 episodes 1-9, 24: Legacy season 1 episodes 5-8, Broadchurch series 3 episodes 4-8, and Unforgotten series 1.

    1) The Past Month on TV #15
    including 24: Legacy season 1 episodes 1-4, Broadchurch series 3 episodes 1-3, the 89th Academy Awards, Luther series 4, Peaky Blinders series 1, Twin Peaks season 1, Death in Paradise series 6 episodes 7-8, Elementary season 5 episodes 10-13, and Let’s Sing and Dance for Comic Relief series 1 episodes 1-2.

    The Top 5 Most-Read New Film-Related Posts in 2017

    In 6th to 9th place were more TV posts. The following ranked 10th to =13th overall.

    =4) iBoy / Thor: Ragnarok
    Netflix original iBoy was released all the way back in January, so had 11 full months to rack up hits. Marvel’s latest adventure, Thor: Ragnarok, came out just over two months ago, but quickly surpassed iBoy… only for iBoy to close the gap again in a small last-minute resurgence, weirdly. They both have hundreds of hits too, so it’s a helluva coincidence they should wind up with exactly the same total.

    3) Logan
    The second (and last) superhero movie in this top five. Like everything in this list, my review was posted shortly after it hit cinemas — people love new releases.

    2) Dunkirk
    Christopher Nolan’s almost-arthouse WW2 IMAX-shot epic is, according to most, one of the best films of the year and a frontrunner in the imminent Oscars race. Whether that explains why it got so many hits back in July, I don’t know. It might explain why it got nearly ten times as many hits in December as it did in November, though.

    1) Alien: Covenant
    Ridley Scott’s second attempt at launching a new trilogy in the Alien universe met with a mixed reception across the board, but excelled in this category at least. It can’t’ve hurt that I posted my review a couple of days before it even came out in the US — if there’s one thing people love more than reviews of recent releases, it’s reviews of things that aren’t even out yet. It hasn’t experienced a recent increase in interest like Dunkirk either, with 70% of those hits acquired in the first two weeks after I posted it. It’s also already my fourth most-read film review of all time. Who’d’ve thunk it?

    One final observation…

    Looking back at my most-viewed posts in individual months, in 2015 Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone came top in ten months and Chamber of Secrets in the other two. Then in 2016 Philosopher’s Stone was my most-viewed post every single month. But in 2017 it’s been top just four times. Fair play, that’s still far more than any other individual post (TV #15 and TV #22 are joint second with two apiece), but it’s gone from being unassailable to being regularly bested. There were even three months — a whole quarter of the year — when it didn’t make the top five.

    The days of those two Harry Potter reviews accounting for an obscene proportion of visitors to this blog seem to be over… to be replaced by people looking for TV reviews. Funny old world.

    The Conclusory Monthly Update for December 2017

    And so another year comes to an end — welcome to 2018, dear readers!

    Before that, I’m going to spend the next week-ish raking over the remnants of the year just ended. First up: the month of December, and my final tally of new films watched in 2017.


    #164 Murder on the Orient Express (2017)
    #165 Her (2013)
    #166 Atomic Blonde (2017)
    #167 Men in Black 3 (2012)
    #168 Your Name. (2016), aka Kimi no na wa.
    #169 Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)
    #170 Hidden Figures (2016)
    #171 It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
    #172 Forbidden Planet (1956)
    #173 Elf (2003)
    #174 Scrooged (1988)
    Star Wars: The Last Jedi
    .


    • 11 new films this month sees me reach a final total of 174 for the year, my third highest ever behind 2015’s 200 and 2016’s 195.
    • But that main list total was undoubtedly decreased by putting effort into my Rewatchathon — what if I added the two totals together? Well, there’ll be more on that in my annual stats post later in the week…
    • Other than that, it’s a bit of an unremarkable monthly tally: it’s below the December average (previously 11.55, now 11.5), below the rolling average of the last 12 months (though it bests December 2016, so raises that from 14.42 to 14.5), and below the average for 2017 (previously 14.8, now finalised at 14.5).
    • Earlier this year, Empire magazine published their latest reader-voted 100 Greatest Movies list. Watching It’s a Wonderful Life means I have just 2½ to go: La La Land (yep, still not seen it), True Romance, and the film I can never remember if I saw as a kid or not, E.T.
    • This month’s Blindspot film: sci-fi classic Forbidden Planet, which is still impressive in its own way but has inevitably been out-sci-fi-ed in the last six decades.
    • This month’s WDYMYHS film was more science fiction: Her, which is basically an episode of Black Mirror. A good one, though.



    The 31st Monthly Arbitrary Awards

    Favourite Film of the Month
    I watched a few Christmas films this year, which makes a change, and one of those is also my favourite film of the month. As it’s a long-fêted classic I was a little sceptical about how good It’s a Wonderful Life could actually be. Turns out, it’s magnificent.

    Least Favourite Film of the Month
    No real stinkers this month, but my least favourite was another Christmas film: Will Ferrell comedy Elf. It’s alright, but no classic.

    Most Kick-Ass Women of the Month
    Sure, Rey could get you good with a lightsaber, and whatever-Charlize-Theron’s-character-was-called-in-Atomic-Blonde could hand your arse to you in a single-take stairwell fight, but the women of Hidden Figures fought the patriarchy for real — and racism, too, while they were at it.

    Favourite Porg of the Month
    Porg, Millennium Falcon, window

    The Audience Award for Most-Viewed New Post of the Month
    You might think the release of a new Star Wars film would walk this, but you’d be wrong: the victory goes to my monthly TV review, which this time covered The Punisher, Detectorists, The Good Place, and so on. It’s the sixth time a TV post has won this award in 2017 — that’s half the year, folks! (The Last Jedi was of course the most-viewed film review, and by a considerable margin: out of all posts it came 6th, with the next new film post at 32nd.)


    I didn’t do my review advent calendar again this year, but by coincidence I did post exactly 25 new reviews.


    My Rewatchathon goal of 52 films should’ve averaged out at 4⅓ a month, but I came into December with seven left to get through. Did I manage it?

    #46 The Terminator (1984)
    #47 For a Few Dollars More (1965)
    #48 Star Wars: The Force Awakens 3D (2015)
    #49 Home Alone (1990)
    #50 Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge (2017)
    #51 Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon (1942)
    #52 Airplane! (1980)

    Yes, I did — but only just: I watched Airplane on December 31st.

    It’s been about 25 years since I last watched Home Alone. It’s not a bad kids’ film, is it? I’d forgotten how little of it is actually the famous stuff with the burglary and the traps.

    My full review of Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon from 2008 is linked above, which I mostly stand by (I found Lionel Atwill’s Moriarty less underpowered now), but it’s also worth noting that this time I watched a colourised version. I jotted a couple of thoughts about that in my Letterboxd diary here.

    Speaking of which, there are also a couple of notes on my Force Awakens rewatch here.


    Everything kicks off again, for the 12th time.

    Before that: all the stats and lists pertaining to my 2017 viewing.

    The Past Christmas on TV

    Ah, Christmas — it could be called “the season of TV” here in the UK. (Apparently Christmas Day telly is Not A Thing in most/all of the rest of the world. What do they do, actually interact with their family?! Madness.) Consequently, although it’s only two weeks since my last TV overview, my list of stuff watched that could go in this post included 26 different programmes. That’s all those one-off specials for you. From that long, long list, here are the ones I felt like writing about…

    Doctor Who  Twice Upon a Time
    Doctor Who: Twice Upon a TimeAnother year, another divisive Doctor Who Christmas special. It’s the third time that the Christmas Day spectacular has to serve double duty by writing out the programme’s lead actor, and it follows the format set out by David Tennant’s swan-song The End of Time and Matt Smith’s finale The Time of the Doctor by being a very inward-looking fan-focused edition. I’m not sure that’s the right tack to take on Christmas, quite frankly, when the show’s playing to a wider audience of more casual viewers than normal. Former showrunner Russell T Davies and immensely popular leading man Tennant had earnt that kind of indulgence by the time they exited, and the series was pretty much the biggest thing on British TV at the time, so most of those so-called “casual viewers” were actually regular watchers of the show anyway. I’m not convinced exiting showrunner Steven Moffat and departing Doctor Peter Capaldi are quite in the same position.

    Oh, but what does it matter? Capaldi’s been brilliant, and is brilliant here again. It was great to see Pearl Mackie back as the wonderful Bill, even if her return felt like a massive fudge about. How you felt about Clara’s cameo really depends on your opinion of Clara (I wasn’t surprised she cropped up; I also wasn’t bothered). David Bradley was absolutely spectacular as a recreation of the First Doctor, originally played by William Hartnell, who Bradley managed to evoke without doing a flat impression or a disrespectful re-envisioning. I’d love him to pop up again in the future, but that would make this a bit less special. The actual plot was a bit of nothing, though it led to a lovely conclusion on the battlefields of World War One — oh, and how good was Mark Gatiss in an almost thankless little role as a WW1 soldier? His reaction to the news that there would be a World War Two was heartbreakingly understated.

    And so, after Capaldi’s overwritten exit speech, we come to Jodie Whittaker’s debut as the Thirteenth Doctor. “Oh, brilliant,” was all she could say before she was kicked out of a crashing TARDIS — just as Tennant, Smith, and Capaldi all were immediately post-regeneration. We’ll have to wait until the autumn to get a proper handle on her interpretation of the role. Under the guidance of a new showrunner, Chris Chibnall, hopefully it’ll be worth the wait.

    The Miniaturist
    The MiniaturistThe BBC’s two-part adaptation of Jessie Burton’s 2014 bestseller promised to be a supernatural treat, though in that respect the trailers were somewhat misleading. Set in 17th century Amsterdam, it’s about a girl who marries a wealthy merchant, but finds his strict and secretive household is not all she’d hoped. He buys her a dolls house as a wedding gift and she commissions a miniaturist to produce items for it, but she soon starts to receive things she didn’t order — things which suggest the miniaturist somehow knows people’s secrets, and can possibly see the future… In actuality, The Miniaturist is more of a period drama, albeit one with lashings of Gothic that were right up my street. It was beautifully made, with a fantastic eye on the costumes and locations, and cinematography that evoked painting of the era. There were strong performances too, particularly from Anya Taylor-Joy (yes, her out of The VVitch and Split), once again brilliant as the initially delicate but increasingly confident lead, and Romola Garai as the merchant’s overbearing sister.

    There were some striking revelations and twists along the way (even if we guessed a few of them), but where the narrative really struggled was as it moved towards its conclusion. Weirdly divided into ‘halves’ running 90 and 60 minutes respectively (did they accidentally make it half-an-hour too long, or half-an-hour too short?), the second episode felt like it was merely playing out the obvious repercussions from the first episode’s cliffhangers and reveals. The answers about the titular character were particularly underwhelming. Thematically, there was something there about being the master of your own destiny, but if that’s what they wanted to convey then I didn’t think it was played out as effectively as it should’ve been. A real mixed bag, then: I loved the overall style and many individual elements, but a disappointing second half failed to stick the landing.

    A Christmas Carol Goes Wrong
    A Christmas Carol Goes Wrong
    A follow-up to last year’s magnificent Peter Pan Goes Wrong (see the “also watched” section), this sees the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society attempt to redeem themselves by gatecrashing the BBC’s new production of A Christmas Carol. Cue a parade of slapstick, farce, puns, tomfoolery, and general merriment. Last year’s production was adapted from an already successful stage show, while this is a brand-new production, which perhaps explains why it doesn’t feel as meticulously fine-tuned as Peter Pan. It’s still funny (though, as the Twitter reaction proved, this style of comedy isn’t to everyone’s taste), but it didn’t surpass last year’s instant Christmas classic.

    The League of Gentlemen  20th Anniversary Specials
    The League of Gentlemen“Oh God, I’d forgotten,” says one character early in the first instalment for almost 15 years of BBC Two’s pitch-black comedy series. He’s been confronted with some other returning characters, but I have to say that the sentiment kind of sums up my reaction to a lot of this revival, in two ways: firstly because I had to keep rummaging in my memory to make connections back to a series I haven’t watched for a decade and a half, and secondly because the hilarious grotesquery of the League came crashing back. Revivals of once-great comedies can be a mistake — they’re often little more than an exercise in nostalgia; and this one is certainly aimed at fans, as the vast majority of it continues or riffs off stuff from before — but, in spite of that, it still felt fresh and edgy, not like a gang of middle-aged men reliving past glories (the other thing that goes wrong with revivals). So it was all really rather good, and it’s gone down very well too. Officially it’s a 20th anniversary special rather than a fourth series, but might we see more? I think it would be welcomed.

    Comedy roundup
    300 Years of French and SaundersSo much comedy, so much of it a passable time-killer that I have little else to say about. The highlight was probably 300 Years of French and Saunders, an excellent celebration of the comedy double act, reminding us of many of their greatest hits alongside a few nice additions. It made me want a whole highlights series repeating all their many hilarious film spoofs. Shakespearean satire Upstart Crow offered a neat riff on one of the better-remembered storylines from modern Christmas classic Love Actually, which it executed with surprising subtly (or, at least, I had to point out the references to my fellow viewers, which was followed by half-an-hour of scouring through Richard Curtis’ film for the relevant scenes). I enjoyed the pilot for Tim Vine Travels Through Time back in September, so was delighted to see a Christmas special in the schedules. It’s good clean silly fun. The same can’t quite be said of Mrs. Brown’s Boys. I only ever watch it at Christmas if I’m around other people who are, but I always laugh more than I feel I should. Other than that, I also chuckled (to one degree or another) through festive editions of Gogglebox, Have I Got News For You, Live at the Apollo, Michael McIntyre’s Big Show, QI, and Travel Man, plus the annual Big Fat Quiz of the Year, one-off Miranda Does Christmas, and a Romesh Ranganathan standup special.

    Black Mirror  White Christmas
    Black Mirror: White ChristmasBlack Mirror series four was released last Friday, but I haven’t even watched series three yet. Well, I did only watch series two just before series three came out, so I guess I’m catching up at a set speed. One of the obstacles (kind of) was this, the show’s only Christmas special — you can’t watch a Christmassy Christmas special any time other than Christmas, can you? Of course, I could’ve watched it last Christmas, but shh. Originally airing at Christmas 2014 (so I’m only three years behind), the feature-length edition introduces us to a couple of blokes isolated somewhere on Christmas Day telling each other a trio of technology-inspired tales that (surprise!) turn out to be connected after all. It nails Black Mirror’s best-known qualities: future technology that’s incredibly plausible due to being just slightly more advanced than our own, the way it considers how such marvellous innovations would actually be used and affect us as human beings, and particularly how it might go horribly, horribly wrong. Merry Christmas!

    Also watched…
  • The Dresser — This adaptation of Ronald Harwood’s superb play, starring Sir Ian McKellen and Sir Anthony Hopkins, was actually on over two years ago, we just finally got round to watching it now. Should I have counted it as a film, perhaps?
  • The Galaxy Britain Built — The centrepiece of BBC Four’s Star Wars Night, a new documentary on the British designers and craftsmen who contributed so much to the look and feel of a galaxy far, far away — and continue to do so today, in fact. You’re welcome, geekdom.
  • The Highway Rat — I normally devote a bit more time to discussing these animated specials (previous ones include The Gruffalo, Room on the Broom, and Revolting Rhymes, all brilliant), but I was a bit underwhelmed by this year’s offering. The actual animation was as beautiful as ever, but the story and writing left something to be desired. Hey-ho.
  • Peter Pan Goes Wrong — Sadly this highlight of last Christmas wasn’t repeated this year, but my parents still had it recorded so I got to see it again. Last year’s review is here.
  • Snow Bears — This was an odd one. The BBC are normally so good at nature documentaries, yet this took a bunch of different bits of footage and mixed them up into a fictionalised narrative, and did it so obviously that they had to put a disclaimer at the start. Some cute stuff with bear cubs, mind.

    Things to Catch Up On
    Little WomenI may’ve watched 26 different programmes, but there’s still an awful lot I’ve missed. Like the BBC’s new three-part adaptation of Little Women — I’ve never read it or watched another version, so here’s my chance to get cultured. Less worthy but no less lovely, there’ve been a couple of Great British Bake Off specials featuring contestants from the BBC years even though it’s now on Channel 4. Gasp, indeed. And despite that long list up above, there’s still a handful of comedy specials I’ve got to catch up on, like Not Going Out, Would I Lie to You?, and even some not featuring Lee Mack. There’s bound to be something else I’ve forgotten — I’ll have to go through the Radio Times, again…

    Next month… New Year, new shows!

  • Blindspot Review Roundup

    Spoilers for my next monthly update: I’ve completed watching all 22 films on my 2017 Blindspot and “What Do You Mean You Haven’t Seen…?” lists. Hurrah!

    What I haven’t done is reviewed them all. Indeed, 17 still languish in my review backlog — that’s 77%. (In fact, I’ve only actually reviewed one Blindspot film — The Exorcist — with the other four being from WDYMYHS.)

    So, with the end of the year fast approaching — and, with the new year, a new batch of films to watch — I thought it high time I cracked on with those reviews. Here’s a quick roundup of a few, linked by all being adapted from novels, which may be the first of several such omnibus editions.

    In today’s roundup:

  • Dances with Wolves: Special Edition (1990/1991)
  • Jackie Brown (1997)
  • Silver Linings Playbook (2012)
  • The 39 Steps (1935)


    Dances with Wolves
    Special Edition

    (1990/1991)

    2017 #26
    Kevin Costner | 227 mins | DVD | 2.35:1 | USA & UK / English, Lakota & Pawnee | 15 / PG-13

    Dances with Wolves

    Oscar statue1991 Academy Awards
    12 nominations — 7 wins

    Winner: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Sound, Best Film Editing, Best Original Score.
    Nominated: Best Actor (Kevin Costner), Best Supporting Actor (Graham Greene), Best Supporting Actress (Mary McDonnell), Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Best Costume Design.


    The behind-the-scenes story of Dances with Wolves is almost as grand as the movie itself. An actor turned director whose inexperience led to production delays and budget overruns, leading to rumours the film was a pending disaster like Heaven’s Gate a decade before it (some nicknamed it “Kevin’s Gate”), and the studio who wanted a 140-minute cut having to settle for the 180-minute one that director delivered. The resulting film never even reached #1 at the box office… but still went on to be the highest grossing Western of all time, and became the first Western to win the Best Picture Oscar in almost 60 years. It was so popular that a 53-minute-longer extended cut was released a year later, which Costner later denied being involved with.

    Having not seen the theatrical cut I can’t offer an opinion on which is better, but the near-four-hour extended one certainly feels its length. That’s not necessarily a bad thing — this is an epic in the truest sense of the word, with a large story to tell on a grand canvass; although it’s concurrently a drama about just a couple of people from different cultures coming to interact. It’s almost too big to digest in a single go — I’m even not quite sure what I made of it. You can see why I’ve spent 10 months not writing about it.

    Anyway, I admired its scope and ambition. I wouldn’t say I loved it, but it merits revisiting someday.

    4 out of 5

    Jackie Brown
    (1997)

    2017 #49
    Quentin Tarantino | 154 mins | Blu-ray | 1.85:1 | USA / English | 15 / R

    Jackie Brown

    Oscar statue1998 Academy Awards
    1 nomination

    Nominated: Best Supporting Actor (Robert Forster).




    Jackie Brown has long been my Tarantino blindspot. I caught up with Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction after he was already established and they were regarded as modern classics, then was old enough to see the Kill Bills at the cinema and have followed his career from there. But, for some reason, his third feature has always eluded my attention. My tenth anniversary “heinous oversights” list seemed a good time to rectify that.

    Some people argue that Jackie Brown is secretly Tarantino’s best movie. I add “secretly” there because it gets a lot less attention than the aforementioned movies that came either side of it. That’s not a bandwagon I’m prepared to jump on. To me, it feels a little like QT was trying to emulate what worked about Pulp Fiction without just making a rip-off of his own movie, and therefore it’s a bit of an inferior copy. That’s not to say it’s a bad movie by any means. The eponymous character is particularly interesting, as you’re never quite sure what Jackie’s up to; what her plan is. She seems to be telling everybody everything, but she has to be screwing some — or all — of them, right?

    Possibly I was just approaching the film in the wrong way. Tarantino has called it “a hangout movie”, which he explained thus: “Jackie Brown is better the second time. And I think it’s even better the third. And the fourth time… Maybe even the first time we see it we go, ‘Why are we doing all this hanging out? Why can’t we get to more of the plot?’ But, now the second time you see it, and the third time you see it, you’re not thinking about the plot anymore. You’re waiting for the hangout scenes… It’s about hanging out with the characters.” Personally, I’m not in any desperate rush to hang out with these characters again. But who knows, maybe I’ll get it the second time. Or the third. Or the fourth…

    4 out of 5

    Silver Linings Playbook
    (2012)

    2017 #61
    David O. Russell | 115 mins | TV | 2.35:1 | USA / English | 15 / R

    Silver Linings Playbook

    Oscar statue2013 Academy Awards
    8 nominations — 1 win

    Winner: Best Actress (Jennifer Lawrence).
    Nominated: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Bradley Cooper), Best Supporting Actor (Robert De Niro), Best Supporting Actress (Jacki Weaver), Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Film Editing.



    Bradley Cooper’s performance — 3.5/5
    JLaw’s performance — 4/5
    JLaw’s dancing — 6/5
    Direction — 2/5
    Screenplay (first two acts) — 3/5
    Screenplay (bit where it suddenly gets plot-heavy and all exposition-y to set up the third act) — 1/5
    Screenplay (third act that seems to be from a completely different, much more conventional movie) — 2/5

    Average =

    3 out of 5

    The 39 Steps
    (1935)

    2017 #60
    Alfred Hitchcock | 83 mins | download (HD) | 4:3 | UK / English | U

    The 39 Steps

    This adaptation of John Buchan’s adventure novel is one of the best-known among director Alfred Hitchcock’s early works, and for good reason.

    Galloping briskly along with a running time under 90 minutes, it’s a film where mood, tone, and the wonderful execution of individual sequences are all allowed to trump plot, which is somewhere on the spectrum from unexplained to nonsensical. We follow the likeable wrong-man hero Richard Hannay (Robert Donat) as he runs away from a gang of villains who barely feature. That they have a nefarious plan is outlined early on to kickstart the action; what they were up to is explained in the final scene to give the story some resolution; and in between they’re pretty much just a force chasing our hero. It’s almost like the villains are the film’s MacGuffin: it doesn’t matter what or who they are, just that they want to catch Hannay and so he must escape them. It’s how he escapes and what happens during his escapades that matters to us; that provides our entertainment.

    It almost plays like a spoof in that regard — the plot is such stock spy-thriller fare that it doesn’t need to make sense in and of itself, we just get what it’s driving at. Of course, considering the age of the film, it’s more proto-spy-thriller than neo-spy-thriller. Whatever you class it as, over 80 years since its release it remains rollicking entertainment.

    5 out of 5

    Dances with Wolves, Jackie Brown, and The 39 Steps were viewed as part of my Blindspot 2017 project, which you can read more about here.

    Silver Linings Playbook was viewed as part of my What Do You Mean You Haven’t Seen…? 2017 project, which you can read more about here. Other WDYMYHS reviews already published include Hail, Caesar!, Into the Wild, Nightcrawler, and Room.