Haiku Review

Ev’ry August film
reviewed in haiku form. (And
you thought drabbles short!)

I can’t even remember what gave me the idea, but the other day I started writing haiku-sized reviews of films I’d watched, and before I knew it had written one for every film from August. So, in what may or may not become a new regular feature, I’m going to share them with you. You lucky, lucky people.

Technically a haiku is more than just the 5-7-5 syllable structure most people know: it should be about nature, and (to quote Wikipedia) “the essence of haiku is ‘cutting’… often represented by the juxtaposition of two images or ideas and a kireji (‘cutting word’) between them.” Obviously these haiku have nothing to do with the first of those conditions; as to the second, well, it comes and goes. At times, I’ve tried; others, less so. Hopefully none are just 17-syllable sentences split in three. Nonetheless, I don’t promise poetic quality with these.


Contagion
Gwyneth Paltrow eats,
whole world at risk of grim death.
Scares ’cause it could be.

End of Watch
Cops film selves, sort of.
Inconsistent P.O.V.
undermines reel-ism.

Inherent Vice [review]
Pynchon’s comedy
filmed by P.T. Anderson.
Laughs for weed users.

Interstellar [review]
Two-Thousand-And-One,
A Space-Time Anomaly.
Mainly, spectacle.

Justice League: The New Frontier
Uncommon premise
raises expectations, but
promise is squandered.

Life of Pi [review]
Tiger on a boat:
CG extravaganza!
Better than the truth.

Monsters: Dark Continent [review]
Genre transplanted,
but soldiers pose same quand’ry:
aren’t we the monsters?

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World
This: way the world ends —
not with a bang or whimper,
but a love story.

Shallow Grave
Danny Boyle’s debut.
Cold cash leads friends to distrust
and dismemberment.

Sherlock Holmes (1922) [review]
Moriarty v.
Barrymore. Gillette-derived
slight Sherlock silent.

Shivers
Amateur work by:
biologist, kills neighbours;
Cronenberg, upsets.

Space Station 76 [review]
Groovy future fun,
undercut by theme of frac-
tured relationships.

The Story of Film: An Odyssey
Epic history,
too personalised for some.
Piqued insight abounds.

Stranger by the Lake
French gays have the sex
with a killer in their midst.
A slow-burn beauty.

The Theory of Everything [review]
Eddie Redmayne won
awards, but the film’s heart is
Felicity Jones.

The Thing (2011) [review]
Under prequel’s guise,
computers doodle a mere
Carpenter rehash.

The Haiku Review may return next month. We’ll see how things go.

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The Thing (2011)

2015 #104
Matthijs van Heijningen | 103 mins | Blu-ray | 2.40:1 | USA & Canada / English, Norwegian & Danish | 15 / R

The Thing 2011At some point during the process of remaking John Carpenter’s seminal 1982 sci-fi/horror The Thing, someone clearly realised they were on to a hiding for nothing. (Why more remake producers don’t realise this is a whole other issue.) Fortunately for those that still wanted to make some money by exploiting a cult classic, the original film includes an in-built idea for a follow-up, and some wise (well, wise-ish) soul realised that was the perfect way in. And so the 2011 remake of The Thing is not a remake at all, but rather a prequel, depicting the events that occurred at the Norwegian base, seen only as a corpse-strewn burnt-out shell in the ’82 film. You’d best hope the remake-makers have some good ideas, because we all know how this Thing ends…

So our scene is set in the winter of 1982, when the crew of the aforementioned base stumble across a spaceship buried in the Antarctic ice. Nearby, they find a frozen alien lifeform, and excavation expert Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is flown in to help retrieve it. Once back at base, however, the thing wakes up, escapes, and all hell breaks loose.

As discussed, The Thing 2011-variety is not a remake of The Thing 1982-variety because, primarily, it takes place before The Thing ’82, and also because of drastic changes like making the lead character female and having some of the cast speak Norwegian sometimes. Other than that, what unfolds is just a variation on a theme. While it isn’t a scene-for-scene type of remake, it’s near enough to the ’82 version — including sequences that directly emulate similar counterparts from the previous film — that, were it not for the whole “it’s a prequel” aspect, you could be forgiven for thinking it was just a post-millennium-styled do-over; a “reimagining”, to use Tim Burton’s fun phrase.

Shining a torchOf course, it isn’t as good. There are many reasons for this, one of which is the fact that, because they haven’t just remade the other film, every homage/rip-off they come up with is inferior. So the blood testing scene from the ’82 film is replaced by shining a torch in someone’s mouth to see if they have fillings. God help you if you’ve taken care of your dental hygiene. The climax is typically overblown — this isn’t a spoiler, I’m preparing you if you’ve not seen it: the survivors venture into the alien’s spacecraft to stop it taking off. Some people get a kick out of getting to see inside the ship, and I suppose you could say that at least the remake-makers are trying to offer something new. Unfortunately, new is exactly what it’s not. The Thing is a bizarre creature, growing and morphing and warping in disgusting ways — what strange kind of spaceship would it call home? A bog-standard metal-corridors kind of one, apparently. The lack of imagination is staggering.

But hey, at least the remake-makers committed themselves to replicating the ’82 film’s notorious practical effects — after all, that film is one of the pinnacles of effects filmmaking, the sacred text of the creature maker, and so its methods should be honoured. The Blu-ray special features talk about how they wanted to make full use of effects technology, combining practical and digital effects to get the best of both. The featurettes even show off the incredible animatronics that were built, the level of skill and detail, how well they performed on set… and completely ignore the fact that those animatronics were, infamously, all ‘painted’ over with CGI. To rub it in, as any film fan would expect (but as every movie producer seems utterly oblivious to), most of the animatronic models do look better than the CGI in the finished film.

Hot.The other element the making-of material is keen to underline is just how much effort was put in to make sure this ties back to its predecessor. Essentially, they looked at what was revealed about the Norwegian base in Carpenter’s film and used that to reverse engineer the events that had to occur in this film. However, the final result could’ve made some of these connections more explicit. For example, we don’t see when the guy who slit his throat performs that act. The moment is actually included among the disc’s deleted scenes, but why did they cut it?! The movie’s final scene, which directly links the two films, is intercut with the end credits — why?! It comes across as apologetic, like they’d rather it wasn’t there but feel it has to be. Either put the scene in the film proper, or put it as an after-credits easter egg for die hard fans; the halfway-house used in the final cut is just messy. If someone’s argument was, “casual viewers will find those linking scenes meaningless”, then watch your own movie! The helicopter being away for refuelling is referenced earlier in the film; Joel Edgerton’s character says they didn’t kill Lars but never says what they did do with him; and the last time we see Colin he’s alive (until a single shot of his frozen corpse, that is). To put it another way: they’ve done a bang-up job of making those things matter within the film itself, as well as in the context of linking up to the ’82 film, so why were they deleted or included only as an embarrassed afterthought?

But hey, odd choices abound. I mean, they only kept the same title because they couldn’t think of a subtitle that sounded good. Once again, it displays a lack of imagination that made a rod for their own back: many people thought this would be a straight-up remake, which turned them against it from the start; but if it had always been clear it was a prequel, designed to complement the original, maybe (some) viewers would’ve been kinder.

A rare practical effectOr maybe they wouldn’t, because The Thing 2011 is a lesser film than the original. It does still offer some suitably gross effects work, albeit lessened by it being obvious CGI rather than gruesomely physical constructions, but there are still some resultantly tense sequences. Heck, it’s the first film in I-don’t-know-how-long that actually made me jump, once. Some viewers complain that there’s no “who might be an alien?”-type tension because the characters aren’t well-drawn enough, but I had that problem with Carpenter’s film too.

Ironically, considering it’s the lesser of the two productions, I think this Thing might fare better if viewed in a double-bill immediately followed by its predecessor: all those thoroughly-considered links would pay off clearly, and you’d get the better film second, to end on a high note. Viewed by itself, at least The Thing 2011 isn’t that bad; a somewhat entertaining hour-and-a-half-or-so offering passable thrills.

3 out of 5

The Thing (1982)

2015 #97
John Carpenter | 109 mins | Blu-ray | 2.35:1 | USA / English | 18 / R

The Thing 1982It’s just an ordinary day at the US Antarctic research base staffed by helicopter pilot MacReady (Kurt Russell) and his compatriots, until a helicopter buzzes overhead dropping grenades on a dog it’s pursued across the ice fields. The dog finds sanctuary in the US base; the helicopter and its crew are less fortunate. Realising it’s from a Norwegian facility an hour’s flight away, MacReady and the doctor brave inclement conditions to investigate. They find numerous corpses and the base burnt to ruins. What horrors befell the Norwegian base? And have they inadvertently brought them into their own…?

I think we all know the answer to that second question. It wouldn’t be much of a movie if the answer was, “nope, they’re good.”

Derided by some on its release for being naught but wall-to-wall gore, The Thing naturally developed a cult following among horror/sci-fi fans. The funny thing watching it today is that, while the special effects still retain the power to shock in their gross extremity, they’re limited to a handful of quick-fire sequences; indeed, those seeking out The Thing to get their blood-and-guts fix nowadays often seem to declare it “boring”.

Naturally, they’re missing the point. At its heart, John Carpenter’s film is a psychological thriller: an alien is in the group’s midst; it has taken on the form of one or more of them; who can you trust? How can you tell? It’s both a dilemma in an abstract “sci-fi concept” sense, and no doubt a parallel from an era when spying and the threat of ‘the other’ infiltrating society were still major issues. I suppose it’s a facet that’s come round again these past few years, with the increasing rise of home-grown terrorists, previously decent citizens lured and brainwashed by propaganda. The most enduring themes are always timely, I guess.

Are you MacReady for this?Even if you don’t want to get deep about it, The Thing has the “who’s human?” thrills to keep you engaged on that level. Accusations of boredom no doubt stem from the fact it’s a bit of a slow burn, the early acts building suspicion and unease as MacReady and co investigate. Even after the true nature of the threat is revealed, Carpenter paces himself, though the frequency of incidents begins to mount inexorably as we head towards the climax. Well, that’s just good structure.

If the film has one problem, it’s there are too many characters. We know MacReady: he’s Kurt Russell, and he’s singled out early on as the hero — though we come to suspect even he may not be ‘right’ as the film goes on. As for the rest, I believe there are eleven of them, and at best they are loosely sketched. At least a couple are easily conflated and therefore confused, and for the rest, there just isn’t time to get to know them properly, so we’re less invested in what happens to them. There’s a reason most “who will survive?” movies have something like five or six characters in peril, not twelve.

In spite of all that, The Thing does remain best remembered for its extraordinary effects. Even though you know it’s rubber and silicon and corn syrup and whatever else, and even though the intervening thirty-odd years and lashings of CGI have enabled even more, even darker imaginings to be brought before our eyes, the visceral physicality of these effects, the way they play on long-established fears, and apply those to the human body in nauseatingly contorted ways, is plenty enough to render them still effective; certainly so within the context of a film that is, as I say, really more of a thriller than a gore-fest.

These people are going to dieFor me, it’s the psychological quandaries that are gripping and exciting, rather than any enjoyed disgust at the emetic special effects. However, knowing the characters a little better — thus caring if they’d been replaced or not, and also perhaps allowing us a chance to try to guess for ourselves — would have just made it that bit superior.

4 out of 5

The Thing was viewed as part of my What Do You Mean You Haven’t Seen…? 2015 project, which you can read more about here.

The 2011 prequel, also titled The Thing, will be reviewed tomorrow.

The Centennial Monthly Update for July 2015

It’s a month of mixed emotions here at 100 Films, not least thanks to it being the earliest I’ve ever made it to #100.

But before even that, this month’s menu:


What Do You Mean You Haven't Seen…?

This month I was, happily, faced with the choice about what should be 2015’s #100. Fundamentally this doesn’t matter, of course — it’s just another thing watched, which just so happens to be the 100th new thing I’ve watched since a point in time we have decided marks the beginning of a new time-cycle (…just to suck all the romance out of it, there). Given the aim and title of this blog, however, of course #100 takes on significance. In a last-week-of-December scramble-to-the-finish situation, which film is #100 doesn’t matter so much as the very existence of a #100 does; in the more leisurely situation of reaching that point in July, however, there’s time to reflect and consider what film will join the likes of Citizen Kane, The Hurt Locker and Lawrence of Arabia in the 100 Films #100 Club. And I mention this in the WDYMYHS section, rather than Viewing Notes or Analysis or something, because the natural choice for such an accolade seemed to be a WDYMYHS film. So from the list of what was left, I selected the movie I felt most likely (based on its reputation and so on and so forth) to chime with my own tastes — the movie I most felt ‘should’ wind up being a personal favourite.

But first — I’m behind on WDYMYHS, so have been intending to watch multiple selections within a month for a while now, and this month I finally managed it. So before the glory of #100, another WDYMYHS graced my list at #97: John Carpenter’s The Thing. I thought there was a lot to like, but I didn’t love it.

Then on to #100 — the movie I felt most likely to love, that I should find a personal favourite. I have to say, it’s the kind of film I started WDYMYHS for — the very point of the exercise is to make me watch films like this; ones I’ve been meaning to for years, have been led to believe that I will love, but for whatever reason haven’t had a pressing enough reason to get round to. So that’s what led to Terry Gilliam’s Brazil being 2015’s #100. Thank goodness, it lived up to the hype. Naturally I watched the “final cut” he created for Criterion (is any other version readily available these days? Apart from the “avoid except for academic interest” “Love Conquers All” version Criterion bundle in, that is), which I might think is a little on the long side, but, well, I still greatly enjoyed it.

Anyway, that’s 100 done. Hurrah! And with that said, of course July wasn’t just about those two films…


July's viewing
Scanners
#91 Returning to Jedi (2007)
#92 Necessary Evil: Super-Villains of DC Comics (2013)
#93 Scanners (1981)
#94 Song of the Sea (2014)
#95 The Death of “Superman Lives”: What Happened? (2015)
#96 The Voices (2014)
Brazil#96a X-Men: Days of Future Past – The Rogue Cut (2014/2015)
#97 The Thing (1982)
#98 Lilo & Stitch (2002)
#99 TMNT (2007)
#100 Brazil (1985)
#101 Salvation Boulevard (2011)
#102 RED 2 (2013)


Viewing Notes

  • I backed The Death of “Superman Lives” documentary on Kickstarter a couple of years ago now and have been patiently waiting for it to turn up ever since, so it was kinda weird when half the internet (not to mention Proper Film Magazines ‘n’ that) was talking about it a few weeks ago. At some point I’ll post a proper review, but if you’re interested in its topic then it’s definitely worth a look.
  • Utterly meaningless, but it’s also the first film I’ve watched this year that’s title begins with ‘D’. Odd for such a common letter. (The only other unrepresented letters at this point are Q, U, Y and Z. And X, technically, as Days of Future Past isn’t on the main list.)


Analysis

July 2015 was a month of mixed results. On the one hand, watching 12 new films ticks a number of boxes: it smashes July’s low average (previously 5.86, now 6.63); as that might indicate, it’s also the highest July ever; it continues my at-least-10-per-month-all-year goal; and it’s the ninth month in a row to show an increase year-on-year.

On the other hand, it’s the lowest-tallying month of 2015 so far, and only the second month to fall short of the yearly average (which still rounds up to 15). That said, not included is that I spent time this month re-watching the Lord of the Rings trilogy, in its extended form to boot. Add that to The Rogue Cut and you get 16 films for the month — much more normal (well, normal for 2015). So, y’know, swings and roundabouts.

And, as mentioned, I made it to #100 — that excuses plenty in my book. It’s the earliest I’ve ever reached it, the previous best being September 9th. That was all the way back in my first year, 2007, making it perhaps the only record 2014 didn’t claim. This year has been rather good by my standards, so it’s one I don’t foresee breaking again. I mean, if I had five consecutive best-ever months (i.e. better than I’ve ever done, x5) then I could squeeze it in by the end of May. Well, you never know.

Over in prediction corner, if I can keep up my ten-minimum for another five months, as desired, 2015 will end no lower than #152. Remember, my previous best is 136, so that alone would leave me feeling pretty darn chuffed. Bolder estimates: my pace so far has me reaching #175; if I could consistently reclaim the 2015 mode average (which is 15), I’d hit #177; if I can manage to continue the year-on-year monthly increases (an increasingly tough task, as the end of 2014 was so strong), I get as far as #178. A finish anywhere northwards of #170 is a 25% improvement on my previous best, so that’d be more than grand.


The Arbies
The 2nd Monthly Arbitrary Awards

Favourite Film of the Month
A few films this month were good but didn’t quite live up to my expectations, which makes this feel like a pretty clear choice: it’s Brazil again.

Least Favourite Film of the Month
It’s taken me eight years to get round to it, so I clearly can’t’ve been that fussed, but I really wanted to enjoy TMNT. I didn’t not enjoy it, per se, but it wasn’t all I wanted it to be either.

Best Portrayal of a Dog, Cat, Deer, Fish and Bunny Monkey
Ryan Reynolds, your superhero sins are forgiven. (Also, the Comic-Con Deadpool trailer looked great, so that too.)

Most Evil Alien
The Thing from The Thing, or Stitch from Lilo & Stitch? Stitch from Lilo & Stitch, or the Thing from The Thing? Oh, it’s a tough call! Ok, Stitch does redeem himself (itself?), so I guess the Thing edges it.

The Audience Award for Most-Viewed New Post of the Month
This award goes to another award — my Liebster Award! Maybe y’all want to know about me more than I thought you did.


Reviews


Archive Reviews


In Memoriam

Just a couple of weeks ago, I commented here on the enduringness of our elderly dog, Rory. Sadly, not very long after that post, his long-standing health problems meant it was time for us to choose to say goodbye.

I know non-pet-owners often don’t ‘get it’ when a beloved pet passes away — I grew up in a very non-pet-y home, so I’ve been that person in the past. However, it’s a terrible wrench, even when it’s been inevitable for a while and you know you made the right decision.

Rory was a rescue, found as a stray, with enough health issues that we’ve been taking him to the vet essentially non-stop since we got him. He certainly went through the ringer even with us, starting with a dreadful skin condition, which eventually cleared up entirely after years of uniquely-formulated treatment. He lost the tip of one ear in an assault by another dog, and had his neck punctured in another (both encounters entirely unprovoked!) Then there was the more regular old-age ailment of arthritis; and, two-and-a-half years ago, he slipped a disc and his gall bladder packed up at the same time, leading to a tense Christmas/New Year spent at a specialist vet hospital (and to me not making it to 100 films in 2012).

Experienced owners in the family said they’d never seen a dog be so ill and pull back, but pull back he did, and for another couple of years to boot. He’d been judged too old and fragile to endure a back operation, so he lived with that slipped disc for those years, on pain killers of course, but he kept on. He was a little fighter, right to the end. In his last week, his spine problems finally reached a point where he could only stand for short periods intermittently, even for his beloved food, and that really meant it was time.

We’ll never know what happened to Rory in the years before he knew us, but — in spite of his catalogue of woes — we gave him six years, one month and one day of loving happiness. I don’t believe in an afterlife, but if there is one, I do believe dogs are far more deserving of it than any of us humans. I’m sure Rory would enjoy being able to run free again, in between eating copious amounts of bacon and sausage. It breaks my heart that I’ll never see him again, but at least he’s at peace and out of pain.

(“From around the blogosphere”, the list of 5, and so on, will all return next month.)


Next month…

With the thrill of #100 passed, there’s a whole new level of excitement…

#1000 is coming.

The countdown begins imminently, as 2015’s #103 (i.e. the very next new film that I watch) will be the blog’s #991.

Expect banners, people.

What Do You Mean You Haven’t Seen…? 2015

Six of One & Half a Dozen of the Other


My challenge-within-a-challenge (in which I must attempt to watch 12 renowned films within the next 12 months) returns for a third year, this time with a natty subtitle — or for short, WDYMYHS:SoOaHaDotO.

Yeah, let’s not call it that.

Why the unwieldy subtitle? Well, since its inception (in the distant past of two years ago), WDYMYHS has been torn between recommending critically-acclaimed must-sees and widely-popular must-sees — the first year erred towards the former, in reaction the second year skewed to the latter. This year, I had an epiphany: why make a list that tries and fails to serve two masters, when you could just make two lists?

No, I’m not going to try to watch 24 specific films (I know my own limits. Well, I don’t, but that’s one I know is doomed), but rather two lists of six — one of critically-acclaimed films, one of more populist movies. Hence the Clever subtitle.

As with last year, we’ll get straight to the two lists, and follow it up with not-for-everyone analysis of how they compare to previous years and an overlong explanation of how they were devised.

The Critical List

Raging Bull (1980)
Score: 608
TSPDT #21 | Sight & Sound 2012 #29 | featured on 1001 Movies to See | Academy Awards Best Picture nominee

The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)
Score: 599
TSPDT #15 | Sight & Sound 2012 #12 | featured on 1001 Movies to See

L’Atalante (1934)
Score: 589
TSPDT #17 | Sight & Sound 2012 #14 | featured on 1001 Movies to See

Persona (1966)
Score: 587
TSPDT #24 | Sight & Sound 2012 #16 | featured on 1001 Movies to See

Le Mépris (1963), aka Contempt
Score: 554
TSPDT #38 | Sight & Sound 2012 #27 | featured on 1001 Movies to See

The General (1926)
Score: 553
TSPDT #36 | Sight & Sound 2012 #43 | featured on 1001 Movies to See


The Populist List

A Clockwork Orange (1971)
Score: 1,116
IMDb #75 | Empire 500 #37 | Empire 301 #54 | iCM Most ✓ed #83 | Reddit #50

City of God (2002)
Score: 782
IMDb #22 | Empire 500 #177 | Empire 301 #132 | Reddit #58

To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)
Score: 587
IMDb #81 | Empire 500 #180 | Empire 301 #132 | Reddit #121

The Thing (1982)
Score: 501
IMDb #167 | Empire 500 #289 | Empire 301 #64 | Reddit #118

Brazil (1985)
Score: 483
Empire 500 #83 | Empire 301 #106 | Reddit #154

Princess Mononoke (1997)
Score: 480
IMDb #72 | Empire 500 #488 | Empire 301 #203 | Reddit #91


(All rankings were correct at the time of compiling and may have changed since.)

Good lists? Bad lists? Please do share any and all opinions. As per normal, my progress will be covered as part of the monthly updates.

Now then:

Stats

I’ll come to how all of that was compiled in a minute, but first a few (well, quite a lot, because you know I like these bits) observations.

First, those scores — pretty meaningless without knowing the method, I know (we’ll come to that, jeez!), but you can’t help but notice how high A Clockwork Orange’s is. Here’s the best I can do for perspective: what I’m calling “the theoretical maximum” for the Populist List is 1,636 points (it’s actually possible to score more, but let’s not get into that). Compared to that, A Clockwork Orange scored 68.2%. Sound low? The film in second place, City of God, comes to 47.8%, while the last included film, Princess Mononoke, has just 29.3%. The world really wants me to watch A Clockwork Orange. The Critical List is much closer: the “theoretical maximum” there is 908, from which Raging Bull has 67%, whereas last-place The General has 60.9%.

Long-time readers will surely have remarked on the inclusion of Raging Bull. It was part of 2013’s inaugural list, but I failed to watch it. It was excluded from re-inclusion in 2014’s, but I intended to watch it of my own accord (as it were)… and failed. I decided a year was long enough to hold out — especially as it topped the Critical List and came second on the Populist List — so it’s back in. I think this will be a new rule going forward: if I fail to watch a film, it has to ‘sit out’ the next year, but is eligible for inclusion the year after.

I have to say, the Populist List didn’t really turn out the kind of films I was expecting — I thought it would be an entire list of movies like The Thing and Brazil. I suppose it proves a point I’ve made in the past: despite their reputation among cineastes, lists like the IMDb Top 250 and Empire’s reader polls aren’t completely stuffed with blockbusters. OK, you’re not getting the depths of arthouse on there (i.e. the stuff the Critical List has selected), but A Clockwork Orange and City of God are hardly Transformers 4. Well, I haven’t seen them, so I suppose maybe they are…

I actually tried to make both lists skew ‘newer’ (not because I dislike older films, but because some of these lists tend to be a bit biased against them — TSPDT admits they ‘punish’ newer films), but it barely came out at all in the final 12: the newest film is 2002’s City of God, which is 13 this year; the next is Princess Mononoke, which is 18. I suppose that’s better than 2013, when the most recent film was from 1984. The effects were felt further down the chart, but that’s of little relevance to me now; though if I’d locked out Raging Bull entirely, 2011’s The Tree of Life would have nipped in. (More on this later.)

For what it’s worth, The General and The Passion of Joan of Arc are the two oldest films to have featured in WDYMYHS, and L’Atalante is fourth (third being City Lights from 2013’s lot). That extreme aside, this year’s list are quite spread around: whereas 50% of 2013’s were from the 1950s and 50% of 2014’s were from the last 20 years, no such pithy evaluation can be made this year. The ’60s and ’80s present three films each; there’s the two from the ’20s already mentioned; and then one apiece from the ’30s, ’70s, ’90s and ’00s. The 76 year gap between the oldest and newest pips 2013’s 53 years and 2014’s 73 years.

It’s also worth noting that there’s a greater variety of languages and countries of production included this year. Non-English films made up three in 2013 and two in 2014, but this year it’s six — half the list! That said, The Passion of Joan of Arc is actually silent, and I may well watch the Neil Gaiman-penned English dub of Princess Mononoke, both of which would take the wind out of these sails a bit.

The countries of origin are undeniably spread, though. Ignoring co-production technicalities, last year only offered two non-American movies, and the year before four (the three foreign language ones plus Lawrence of Arabia, which I’ve got down as a US/UK co-production but am counting as British). This year, the US is still highest, but only with four films — there’s France thrice and the UK twice*, as well as Brazil, Sweden, and Japan.

As for directors, Kubrick’s back again, in the form of A Clockwork Orange (obviously). No surprise there, as it was ranked very highly in each previous year but eliminated under the “no repeat directors” rule. Full Metal Jacket and Barry Lyndon also made their way into the Top 6s (the former for Populist, the latter for Critical), but were similarly eliminated. I guess one will end up on 2016’s list (unless I drastically change how I do this… which I might). After sitting out last year, there’s a return for Bergman, in the shape of Persona. For the first time, no Hitchcock or Charlie Chaplin — they both had multiple entries near the top in previous years, but this time Chaplin managed 18th on the Critical list with The Gold Rush, while Hitchcock’s first appearance is on the same but way down at 70th. 70th! On the Popular list, it’s not until 84th. Have I seen all the great Hitchcock movies already? There’s an awful lot of his films I’ve not seen, and I thought some were well-liked (whither The 39 Steps?**), so I’m quite disappointed about that.

Other noteworthy directors included are John Carpenter, Carl Theodor Dreyer, Terry Gilliam, Jean-Luc Godard, Buster Keaton (taking Chaplin’s place?), Hayao Miyazaki, Martin Scorsese (for the second time… with the same film), and Jean Vigo. The list is rounded out by City of God’s Fernando Meirelles, who made the excellent The Constant Gardner before seeming to slip back into obscurity, and To Kill a Mockingbird’s Robert Mulligan, who I don’t know anything about and (to be frank) doesn’t seem to have helmed anything else noteworthy.

The curious among you may be wondering (by which I mean, I wanted to know so thought I may as well tell you) what other films would have been included if I’d taken all 12 from either list? Well, the next six eligible films on the Critical List would have been, in rank order, Barry Lyndon (re-included because of no Clockwork Orange), The Tree of Life (as mentioned), Ugetsu Monogatari, Shoah, The Wild Bunch, and The Magnificent Ambersons. (Fanny and Alexander and Wild Strawberries also scored enough to qualify, but Persona rules them out.) On the Populist List, what I was saying about “films like The Thing and Brazil” would have been borne out: the extra six would have been Raging Bull (having not been blocked by the Critical List), Drive, Rocky, District 9, The Sting, and Black Swan. (I know those films aren’t like the others, per se, but hopefully you see what I’m driving at.)

Process

This year’s scoring system is heavily based in last year’s, with some tweaks and changes, for various reasons.

The most obvious is that there are two lists, using two completely separate sets of contributing lists. The basic principles are the same for both, though: I took the top 250 entries on each contributing list and those films received a score out of 251 for their position — so #1 would score 251 points, #2 would score 250, and so on down to #250 scoring 2 points. Many of the lists go past 250 entries, however, so any film lower than that (but which came to my attention by being in the top 250 of a different list) received a single bonus point just for appearing.

There was a further 50 point bonus for appearing in the top 250 of more than one list. Last year that was an extra 50 points for each additional list; this year it’s a one-time deal. As with last year, there was an additional bonus based on the number of ‘official lists’ a film appears on at iCheckMovies.com — i.e. A Clockwork Orange is on 30 lists, so got 30 points.

With the basics established, let’s get list-specific:

The Critical List was compiled from:

Finally, to help swing the list further in favour of recent films, the top 100 of the 21st Century’s Most Acclaimed received another 25 points. Fat lot of good it did any of them.

WDYMYHS 2015 Critical Top 50Now, here’s an interesting thing: I very quickly got bored doing the maths on all this. The previous two years, I’ve worked it all out in my head as I went. Year One, very easy (A+B ÷2); Year Two, more complicated, but doable; Year Three, two whole sets of rules and so many films…! So I spent an afternoon learning a bit more about how Excel works and got it to do it all for me. Imagine an evil laugh here.

To work out the scores for the Critical List, then, here’s the code (is it code? It looks like a code. Let’s call it code) that I wrote:

=SUM(IF(B2=0,0,(IF(B2<251,252-B2,1))))+(IF(C2=0,0,(IF(C2<251,252-C2,1))))+(IF(D2=0,0,(IF(D2<251,252-D2,1))))+(IF(E2="Y",50,0))+(IF(F2="Y",25,0))+(IF(G2="Y",50,0))+H2+(IF(D2=0,0,(IF(D2<101,25,0))))

That does everything I just described, automatically, when the correct values are entered in the correct columns — i.e. the ranking for each list, plus Y or N for 1001 Movies and Oscar noms. I’ll be frank, this is one reason there’s only the single multi-list bonus this year — that’s what I wrote into the code, and when I remembered later that it wouldn’t be adding another 50 for the third, fourth, etc, lists, I frankly couldn’t be bothered to work out how to do that. I’d wager it can be done, though.

The Populist List has even more constituent elements — and an even longer (though, technically, less varied) code to work it out. First, the contributing lists were:

  • The IMDb Top 250 — aka the movie list. Well, until TSPDT came along. Now I guess it depends on your personal preference which is more relevant. This changes all the time, so was very much the version hosted by iCM on 5th January 2015.
  • Empire’s The 500 Greatest Movies of All Time, commonly known as the Empire 500. Supposedly “the most ambitious movie poll ever attempted”, it was conducted by Empire magazine in 2008 and features the opinions of “10,000 Empire readers, 150 of Hollywood’s finest and 50 key film critics”.
  • Empire’s The 301 Greatest Movies of All Time, aka the Empire 301. Technically the new version of the above, held last year to mark Empire’s 300th issue. Arguably not as good. As you can see from the numbers up above, some films have moved around a lot.
  • iCheckMovies’ Most Checked, being the movies the greatest number of iCM users have seen. I think one of my most-complete lists, as I’ve seen 209 of the 250.
  • The All-Time Worldwide Box Office chart, not that it had any bearing on the final selection (you’ll note none of them are on it).
  • The Reddit Top 250, in which Reddit users have picked their favourite movies. Constantly updated a la the IMDb version, I believe.

As mentioned before, those were all initially limited to the top 250 entries and weighted equally. Following that, however, there were 25 bonus points to be had for being in IMDb’s top 100, the Empire 301’s top 50, or iCheckMovies Most Checked’s top 50. All of that made the Excel code look like this:

=SUM(IF(B34=0,0,(IF(B34<251,252-B34,1))))+(IF(C34=0,0,(IF(C34<251,252-C34,1))))+(IF(D34=0,0,(IF(D34<251,252-D34,1))))+(IF(E34=0,0,(IF(E34<251,252-E34,1))))+(IF(F34=0,0,(IF(F34<251,252-F34,1))))+(IF(G34=0,0,(IF(G34<251,252-G34,1))))+(IF(H34="Y",50,0))+I34+(IF(B34=0,0,(IF(B34<101,25,0))))+(IF(D34=0,0,(IF(D34<101,25,0))))+(IF(E34=0,0,(IF(E34<101,25,0))))

I don’t expect you to understand or have a use for that, I’m just showing off.

WDYMYHS 2015 Populist Top 50In the end, there were 121 films on the Populist long list and 82 on the Critical one. If you want to have a look at the top 50 of each, as featured in the small pictures earlier and to the right, you can find full-size versions here and here. You’ll note the Critical List isn’t filled out in full. At the end of a long day of list-making and code-writing, I couldn’t be doing with scouring the 1001 Movies and Oscar nominees lists for films that, even with those bonus points, couldn’t make the top 12 (never mind the top 6 that actually mattered). The reason some further down are filled out is because they were done incidentally as I went, for one reason or another. (You’ll also note that the row numbers are out by one from the ranking numbers, which is thanks to the Title row. Sadly I don’t know how to change that, if you even can.)

The End

And so there we have it! It felt less complicated a system than last year to me when I set out, I think because last year I was working out/making up all the rules and this year just tweaking and re-applying them. Making Excel do the heavy lifting for me, though, that was new and tricky, but worth it.

Now all I’ve got to do is actually watch the films…


* These numbers are somewhat debatable. For the record, I’ve counted A Clockwork Orange as British. ^

** I did a quick test to find out, and it should actually be in the mid-50s on the Critical list. Why wasn’t it included? Because the only numbered list it appears on is TSPDT, at 511th, and I only went up to 250th when first compiling from there. Its appearance on 1001 Movies gives it a big points boost after that. This does slightly concern me: how many other films am I missing that would have scored just as well? However, I don’t think it’s possible for anything like that to have cracked the Top 6, so in the end it doesn’t really matter. ^