100 Favourites II — The Top 10

And so I reach the pinnacle of my list — my most favourite films I’ve seen for the first time in the past ten years. (Well, if we’re being precise, in the past ten years and three months, but not counting anything from the last three months. But that’s less snappy.)

Over three previous posts I’ve counted down #100 to #11, but here’s the perfectly rounded number everyone loves for a list: the top ten.

#10
Dark City


4th from 2008
(previously 3rd | original review)

Before The Matrix there was Dark City, which tackles some of the same philosophical issues as the Wachowskis’ trilogy, only in a less opaque and verbose fashion — and, as I said, did so first. Of course, it lacks the groundbreaking action sequences that made The Matrix such a hit, but as a thoughtful piece of stylish sci-fi noir it probably bests its better-known thematic cousins. I also reckon it’s still a bit underrated… including by me, really, because it’s nine years since I first watched it and I still haven’t got round to seeing the Director’s Cut. (Note to self: fix that.)

#9
The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn


1st from 2014
(previously 2nd | original review)

Calling on the same skill set that produced the Indiana Jones movies, Steven Spielberg created an adventure movie that perfectly balances plot, action, and humour. Despite the freedom afforded by crafting the entire thing in CGI (rendered with stunning realism by Weta), Spielberg knows when to hold back and maintain a level of realism, only to cut loose when warranted. The top end of this list definitely skews blockbustery-y — well, it is “favourite” rather than some kind of “objective best” (not that that’d be strictly possible anyway) — but, nonetheless, I think Tintin is a very fine and underrated example of the form.

#8
Kick-Ass


1st from 2010
(previously 1st | original review)

As Watchmen was to superhero comics, so Kick-Ass is to superhero films: taking familiar building blocks from other films and TV series, it deconstructs the genre through a “what if someone tried to be a superhero for real” storyline, asking questions about the glorification of violence and the sexualisation of its characters — all while being a funny and exciting action-comedy. Perhaps it’s having its cake and eating it, and that leads some people to miss the point (some by enjoying it a bit too much, some by thinking it has nothing to say), but I don’t think that stops it being one of the best and most thoughtful superhero movies yet made.

#7
Let the Right One In


1st from 2011
(previously 3rd | original review)

It’s felt like you can’t escape vampires in film and TV for the last couple of decades, but trust a European movie to give them a unique spin, right? So it’s both a coming-of-age-y arthouse-y movie about two 12-year-olds and first love, and a scary horror movie about violent supernatural creatures. It works by not shortchanging either aspect, instead combining them to transcend genre boundaries. So it’s a genuinely touching, emotional and relatable drama, as well as a creepy and horrific fantasy thriller.

#6
Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation


1st from 2015
(previously 1st | original review)

There’s always been a bit of a ‘wannabe’ air to the Mission: Impossible films, like maybe someone thought it could fill the void left by Bond disappearing post-Dalton, only it took so long to make it to the screen that Bond himself got there first in the shape of Pierce Brosnan. Nonetheless, the series has trundled along… though I don’t want to sound like I’m doing it down too much because I’ve always enjoyed it — the second one made my first 100 Favourites list, even. But Rogue Nation is where M:I finally out-Bonds Bond. Mixing action thrills and a genuine sense of jeopardy with just-ahead-of-reality gadgets, a knowing sense of humour, and a cast full of likeable characters, it’s superb blockbuster entertainment.

#5
Seven Samurai


1st from 2013
(previously 1st | original review)

A phrase like “three-and-a-half-hour subtitled black-and-white movie” is going to conjure up a certain experience in the minds of most viewers. That experience is most probably nothing like Seven Samurai — although it is, of course, a three-and-a-half-hour subtitled black-and-white movie. On the surface it’s about a bunch of warriors protecting a small impoverished village that can’t defend itself, and it has a lengthy action-packed climax to deliver on such promise, but it rises above that thanks to its reflective attitude towards its characters and their very existence. No, wait, I said it’s not your typical three-and-a-half-hour subtitled black-and-white movie!

#4
Rashomon


3rd from 2008
(previously 5th | original review)

I’d wager most would rank Seven Samurai higher in the Akira Kurosawa canon, but I give Rashomon the edge because the form of its storytelling appeals to me. It retells the events surrounding a murder from the subjective viewpoint of each of the characters who were there, and of course their accounts differ. Its title has become a byword for such narratives, but there’s more here than just trendsetting plot construction — it’s a fantastically made film, exquisitely shot and magnificently performed.

#3
Zodiac


2nd from 2008
(previously 2nd | original review)

David Fincher’s meticulous true crime thriller may be his best movie — and when we’re talking about the man who made Se7en and Fight Club, that’s certainly saying a lot. It may look like it’s a murder thriller — it is about the hunt for a serial killer, after all — but in many respects it’s more about obsession and addiction, and how such things can come to take over your life. But if you don’t want to ponder that kind of thing, there’s always chills like the basement scene to keep you viscerally engaged. (The slightly-different Director’s Cut is the better version of the film and, if we’re being specific, would be my pick here; but I watched that a couple of years later, so it was the theatrical cut that figured in 2008’s top ten.)

#2
Skyfall


1st from 2012
(previously 1st | original review)

The James Bond films have always been action blockbusters, and more often than not immensely popular and successful ones. Skyfall changed the game though: by hiring Oscar-winning director Sam Mendes it was instantly booted into Prestige Picture territory — and still managed to deliver the most financially successful film in the series’ long history, the first billion-dollar Bond. But box office success is not why Skyfall is #2 on my list. It’s the beautiful cinematography; the way it adds thematic weight to the character without breaking the formula; the sense of Bond’s history without over-explicit reverence — and the way those aspects makes it both familiar and fresh at the same time. Plus it delivers on the action, larger-than-life villain, and one-liners just like a Bond film should. Its artistic success may be a case of the stars aligning and lightning striking (the lacking-by-comparison follow-up Spectre proved that), but Bond has rarely been better.

#1
The Dark Knight


1st from 2008
(previously 1st | original review)

Eight years and three months ago, when I named The Dark Knight my #1 film of 2008, I wrote that “I’m unashamedly one of those who believe The Dark Knight isn’t just one of the best films of 2008, it’s one of the best films ever.” It’s nice to be able to stand by such a brazen assertion. And, having thought long and hard about what I would declare as my most favouritest movie from the 1,283 new ones that I’ve seen in the last decade, I clearly do stand by it. I love superhero movies, I love crime thrillers, and I love epics, so it’s no surprise that a movie which combines all three — and does them all well — would top a list of my favourite movies.

Now: what’s a good list without some statistics?

Advertisements

January 2015

How do you top the most successful year of your blog ever? Well, let’s see …


January’s films

Ghost Dog#1 The Crab with the Golden Claws (1947), aka Le Crabe aux Pinces d’Or
#2 Parker (2013)
#3 Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (1999)
#4 Shadow of the Thin Man (1941)
#5 Machine Gun Preacher (2011)
#6 Last Passenger (2013)
#7 Persona (1966)
#8 The Big Knife (1955)
M:I-4#9 Kingdom of Heaven: Director’s Cut (2005)
#10 The Sugarland Express (1974)
#11 The Thin Man Goes Home (1945)
#12 Hancock (Extended Version) (2008)
#13 Argo (Extended Cut) (2012/2013)
#14 The Hound of the Baskervilles (1981), aka Priklyucheniya Sherloka Kholmsa i doktora Vatsona: Sobaka Baskerviley
#15 Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011)
#16 Transcendence (2014)


Viewing Notes

  • Since enjoying Spielberg & Jackson’s Tintin movie at the tail end of 2014, I’ve found myself a bit obsessed this January: I’ve started reading the books (been meaning to for yonks — I bought a complete box set in Amazon’s Black Friday sale several years ago) and acquired all the other films that are available on English-friendly DVDs. Reviewing The Crab with the Golden Claws is just the start of it for 2015, I should imagine.
  • Two more Thin Man films viewed — I’m almost at the end. Hence Thin Man Thursdays.
  • That Hound of the Baskervilles is a Russian TV version from the ’80s, widely acclaimed among Sherlockians. I’ll be reviewing it as part of the Russia in Classic Film Blogathon in early March.
  • Can’t believe it’s taken me this long to get to Ghost Protocol! I really enjoyed it too. With this year’s fifth movie recently moved up to a summer date, there’s every chance that’ll make this year’s list too, even if I wait for the Blu-ray again.


What Do You Mean You Haven’t Seen…?

In case you missed it, earlier this month I wrote a 2,800-word introduction to 2015’s “What Do You Mean You Haven’t Seen…?” — aka WDYMYHS:SoOaHaDotO. (I promise not to call it that again.)

After nearly failing last year by leaving Serious and Heavy films ’til right at the end (Requiem for a Dream wasn’t a very Christmassy film for the end of December, but at least it was a brilliant one), I made a particular effort to start with one of this year’s more difficult films: Ingmar Bergman’s psychological two-hander Persona. Apparently writing about it is to film critics as Everest is to mountaineers, so that should be a fun one to review…


Analysis

To reach 100 films in a year at a steady pace, you need to watch about eight films every month. Having spotted my record-equalling run of double-figure months in December, I’ve decided I’d quite like to have a whole year of the same. Last year is the closest I’ve come to such a thing, with nine out of twelve months having 10+ films.

I’m off to an excellent start to achieve it in 2015, though, with 16 films in January — aka double the requirement for reaching 100. Naturally this means a new record for consecutive double-figure months, now at eight in a row. It also blows away all the possible indicators: January’s average total is 8.7 and 2014’s monthly average was 11.3, so it’s far beyond either of those. In fact, it’s the highest ever January, in the process besting all but one month from 2014.

I’ve explained before that January is absolutely useless as a predictor of the entire year… but where’s the fun in leaving it at that? So if I were to continue at this pace, 2015 would end up on an improbably-high 192 — take that 2014 and your beat-the-record-by-seven 136! It seems unlikely that’ll happen, I agree, especially as January’s tally has not once been close to the year-end average. That said, it’s normally a good-but-not-great kind of month, often bested immediately by February and March — that’s what happened in 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013, while February topped it in 2008 and March almost doubled it in 2014 — so things may be looking even rosier in a few weeks’ time. Plus, even if I ‘only’ achieve my stated goal of 10 films per month from here on out, I’ll still end up in the 120s, which would put 2015 among the highest-totalling years.


This month’s archive reviews

I’d quite like to get my archive reposts finished during 2015, leaving the slate clean and the site complete for 2016, my tenth year. There’s still a long way to go (just under 170 reviews, plus a load of editorial-type posts), but at this rate I might make it. To kick things off, 20 archive reviews were reposted during January…


Next month on 100 Films in a Year…

Despite being the year’s shortest month, February has twice topped the year for total monthly viewing, and a couple more times has been among the top ‘scorers’. Equally, on three occasions it’s been one of the year’s lowest. The rollercoaster continues in 28 days…

The Crab with the Golden Claws (1947)

aka Le Crabe aux Pinces d’Or

2015 #1
Claude Misonne | 58 mins | download | 1.37:1 | Belgium / French

Le Crabe aux Pinces d'Or DVDBy 1947, Hergé’s boy reporter/adventurer Tintin had already been around and increasingly popular for nearly two decades; had survived World War 2 and the controversy of being published in a Nazi-controlled newspaper; and the release of his adventures had recently been transferred to a dedicated magazine, Le Journal de Tintin. What better time to bring the character to the big screen?

Adapted from the ninth Tintin adventure, which is the one that introduces popular supporting character/co-lead Captain Haddock, the plot sees Tintin following clues left by a dead seaman to uncover an opium smuggling operation being run on Haddock’s boat without his knowledge. Animated via stop motion using doll-like puppets, the film was only ever screened twice before being seized when its producer declared bankruptcy and fled to Argentina. A print is stored at the Cinémathèque Royale in Belgium, where it seems it used to only be available to paying Tintin club members, but in 2008 it was released on DVD in France. English-friendly versions are available online, not least via YouTube. The picture quality is poor, but, having gone to the trouble of acquiring a higher-res copy, I can say it doesn’t get much better. It is in the wrong aspect ratio, though — approximately 1.69:1. It doesn’t look too distorted, but if you see a 4:3 version it suddenly looks right. (I presume the DVD was incorrect because I had to adjust the copy I downloaded.)

As for the film itself, it’s incredibly faithful to Hergé’s original tale — it may not be adapted frame-for-frame, but it’s incredibly close. A couple of action sequences have gone astray, presumably because that’s harder to achieve with puppets, but it also streamlines the story slightly. I can’t speak for the French dialogue, but the fan-made English subtitles are word-for-word with the book. Of course, that may be where they’re sourced from.

Haddock, Tintin, Snowy, 1947 styleIn my review of the Spielberg film, I remarked I hadn’t read the albums it was adapted from so couldn’t vouch for its fidelity. Watching this, it’s clear that a sizeable chunk of the storyline was actually adapted from The Crab with the Golden Claws, to the point where I was starting to wonder if Moffat & co had taken the entire plot from Crab but subbed in the MacGuffins from Secret of the Unicorn. In the end, about half of this made its way into the 2011 film, including everything aboard the Karaboudjan, the lifeboat and plane sequences, and some of the desert material, too.

In this version, there’s quite a good bit where Tintin and Haddock escape from the Karaboudjan but we don’t see any of it, instead following the traitorous Mr Mate as he discovers all the crewmembers our heroes have tricked and tied up. As with everything else, this is book-faithful, but works even better on screen. Plus, Captain Haddock has a musical number, about his love for “the bottle and the sea”; and later he has another with Tintin, too. The main lyric is, “tra la la la lai doo”.

Technically, it’s not the most sophisticated stop motion you’ll see, but it’s not bad considering its age. The models are of their era too, but pretty good on the whole. The two exceptions are, firstly, the black characters — a weakness of Hergé’s book, they were replaced with white characters in later years, but this is faithful to the original version. The dolls aren’t any better than Hergé’s drawings. Secondly, the facial design of Tintin’s doll Le Crabe aux Pinces d'Or original advertmakes it look as if he’s permanently shocked by everything.

The Crab with the Golden Claws must be the most adapted Tintin adventure now (it was also animated in both the ’50s and ’90s series), which isn’t necessarily warranted: it was a tale compromised by the circumstances surrounding its publication, and apparently is largely a rehash of an earlier story. It’s not without merit, though — all of the good stuff was filched for the Spielberg film, funnily enough. This version isn’t bad, but is really no more than a funny little curio. One for the hardcore fan, be that of Tintin or the history of stop motion animation, or the insatiably curious.

3 out of 5

The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn (2011)

2014 #134
Steven Spielberg | 107 mins | Blu-ray | 2.35:1 | USA & New Zealand / English | PG / PG

The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn1981: Steven Spielberg reads a French review of his movie Raiders of the Lost Ark. His high-school-level French serves him well enough, although there’s repeated use of one word he doesn’t know: Tintin.

25 years later: Spielberg has been struggling to make a film version of Hergé’s character for quarter of a century. While developing a live-action version that would feature actors under heavy prosthetics so as to resemble their comic book counterparts, he realises Tintin’s famous dog, Snowy, will need to be computer generated. He reaches out to Peter Jackson and Weta, fresh off their ground-breaking work on The Lord of the Rings. Their test footage is so successful, it gives Spielberg another idea…

2011: after 30 years, Spielberg finally brings the boy reporter to the big screen as a motion-captured animation. Reviews and public reception are mixed, particularly in the US, but they’re all daft because The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn is bloody brilliant.

Combining events from three of Hergé’s original albums, the story sees Tintin (Jamie Bell) purchase a model ship that is highly desired by the mysterious Sakharine (Daniel Craig). A riddle hidden inside the model sets the ever-inquisitive reporter on a quest to find out what nefarious deeds Sakharine is planning, along the way bumping into drunkard Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis), who holds the key to the entire mystery. Cue a globetrotting adventure that, yes, is very much in the Indiana Jones mould.

Tintin and HaddockApparently some Tintin purists weren’t so keen on the actual adaptation — elements of The Crab with the Golden Claws have been mixed in to a plot primarily taken from The Secret of the Unicorn, the sequel/second half of which, Red Rackham’s Treasure, is reportedly used sparingly. Plus, in the original tale Sakharine is a minor character who wasn’t responsible for much, apparently. As someone who’s only read one of those three volumes, and even then not since I was young, such things didn’t trouble me. What superstar screenwriters Steven “Doctor Who” Moffat, Edgar “Cornetto trilogy” Wright and Joe “Attack the Block” Cornish have captured is the spirit of Tintin: an engrossing mystery-adventure, laced with gentle satire and smidgens of slapstick comedy, but with real stakes and peril too.

A talented cast are up to the task. Bell adopts a posh-ish accent for the titular hero, and while some of the accusations of blandness aren’t wholly misplaced, he’s plucky and determined enough to make for an appealing lead. The king of mo-cap, Serkis, is able support as Haddock, while Craig makes for a very effective villain — I hope his post-Bond career, whenever that arrives, sees him playing villainous roles more often. Interestingly, it was his mannerisms that have survived the animation process the most. I mean it in an entirely non-critical way when I say every other character could have any actor behind the mo-cap baubles, but Sakharine’s face and body move with all the recognisable movements and expressions of his actor.

Of course he can't talk, he's a dogThe slapstick is mainly hoisted by Simon Pegg and Nick Frost as the physically-identical Thomson and Thompson — a true advantage of animation, that. I imagine some find their parts tiresome because of their inherently comic role, but they’re likeable versions of the characters. Even more joyous is Snowy, though. Well, I would like him, wouldn’t I? His internal monologue, such a memorable part of Hergé’s books, is omitted (as it is from every film version to date, I believe), but he’s full of character nonetheless. Some of the best sequences involve Snowy running in to save the day. I don’t think they quite got the animation model right (the one glimpsed in test footage included in behind-the-scenes featurettes looks better, for my money), but his characterisation overcomes that.

Bit of an aside, but I think there’s something notable about almost everyone mentioned so far: Moffat, Wright, Cornish, Bell, Serkis, Craig, Pegg, Frost… All British. I know that’s because we’re awesome ‘n’ all, but I think it’s also indicative of Tintin’s status in the English-speaking world — which more or less boils down to “unknown in America”, but also “pretty darn popular in Britain”. At least Spielberg, the man who wanted to cast an American as Harry Potter, seems to know this (further evidence: they’ve hired another British screenwriter for the sequel). For whatever reason, Tintin has never clicked in America, while the books remain very popular over here. It therefore feels like there’s a better chance for the films’ fidelity by using Brits (who have the correct tone and style almost ingrained) than by using people coming to the stories entirely for the first time, and perhaps bringing a more generic blockbuster sensibility. On the other hand, this might just be a horribly xenophobic way of interpreting a coincidental appearance by so many Brits in key roles — after all, Tintin’s Belgian, so it’s not like using Brits is “true to source”.

Action directionOf course, one very important person is neither British nor Belgian: Spielberg. The screenplay’s balance between peril and comedy is spotlessly enhanced by his peerless direction. In a world stuffed to the gills with lesser blockbusters that palely imitate the groundwork Spielberg and co laid in the ’70s and ’80s, work like this should remind people why he’s still the master of the form. The film is shot with an eye for realism (so much so that some viewers have been convinced it was filmed on real locations with real actors, with some CG augmentation for the cartoonish faces, of course), which helps lend a sense of plausibility and also genuine jeopardy. It’s easy to get carried away when working in CG animation, but often the most impressive works are ones that behave as if they’ve been shot largely within the limitations of real-world filmmaking technology.

That said, Spielberg isn’t afraid to make use of the freedom afforded by working in a computer-generated realm when appropriate: there are some spectacular individual shots, the most obvious being a single-take chase sequence down a hillside through a town. Even better are some of the transitions, which would be literally impossible to realise in live-action — without resorting to effects work, anyway. They’re hard to accurately describe, especially without ruining them, in part because each instance is different; but they do all look incredible, and, again, serve the story rather than being flashy for the sake of it.

It always went ok on Flight Simulator...The tone on the whole is resolutely PG — actually, like many an action-adventure blockbuster used to be before everything went slightly darker and PG-13. So, for example, Tintin wields a gun on occasion, but never at another human being. The focus is on the story, which happens to lead to some adrenaline-pumping sequences, rather than a lightweight excuse to link together a bunch of punch-ups and chases. Ironically (though, for anyone who knows what they’re talking about, entirely expectedly) this makes the action all the more exciting. It also mean there’s a lighter touch than many current blockbusters offer; a greater presence for humour, including among the action. I guess that’s not fashionable these days, when everyone’s become so po-faced about their big-budget entertainment. However, with the likes of Iron Man and Guardians of the Galaxy proving immensely popular, perhaps the tide is turning, and maybe the still-on-the-cards Jackson-helmed sequel will find itself better received because of that.

I genuinely don’t understand the muted reaction to this first Tintin, though. It perhaps shows where blockbusters have gone awry in the last decade or two, and perhaps the incidental disdain animation is viewed with among some — I wonder: if the same movie had been produced in live-action, would some of those critics have been better disposed to it? I don’t think it would have actually been a better film, and perhaps it would even have been slightly worse (some of the visual impact would be lost), Herge's Adventures of Tintin!but some viewers would have seen it (even subconsciously) as more of a “real movie”.

As I said at the start, those people are Wrong. The Adventures of Tintin is a fantastic adventure movie, and should prove to anyone who doubted Spielberg after Kingdom of the Crystal Skull that, when it comes to globetrotting action-adventures, he’s still the man to beat.

5 out of 5

The UK network TV premiere of The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn is on BBC One today at 4:25pm.

It placed 2nd on my list of The Ten Best Films I Saw For the First Time in 2014, which can be read in full here.

Tintin and the Mystery of the Golden Fleece (1961)

aka Tintin et le mystère de la Toison d’Or

2013 #46
Jean-Jacques Vierne | 97 mins | TV | 1.66:1 | France & Belgium / English | PG

Tintin and the Mystery of the Golden FleeceSteven Spielberg and Peter Jackson weren’t the first to bring Hergé’s journalist-adventurer to the big screen, oh no… though you have to go quite far back — and much more obscure — to find the previous efforts.

The Mystery of the Golden Fleece was the first of two live-action Tintin movies made by the French in the ’60s. It seems quite a low-budget affair, but that might just be applying modern tastes to an era of more simple means. For all the flat direction and pound-store costumes, there’s still a globetrotting plot involving sunken ships, numerous chases, helicopters, and that kind of thing. Some bits drag a smidgen for a modern viewer, but mostly it moves at a decent enough lick, as Tintin and co trot around Greece, Turkey and the like in pursuit of / being pursued by a gang of criminals who are interested in the boat Captain Haddock has just inherited, the titular la Toison d’Or. This isn’t quite a Bondian adventure, though its child-audience aims lend a certain charm and innocence that will certainly appeal to the right audience.

Indeed, this is exactly the kind of film I can see gaining a cult following, if it doesn’t have one already. Even for the occasional points of clunkiness, it offers some genuine humour and some old-fashioned derring-do that’s never less than good fun. Plus there’s the bizarre sight of seeing characters costumed and made-up to faithfully recreate their comic-book counterparts plonked in the middle of the very-real world. If you’ve ever been to a Disney theme park, imagine some of the characters they have scattered around wandering out onto the streets. There’s a double bonus for English-language viewers, thanks to a stereotypically iffy English dub that only adds to the fun.Tintin via Disneyland (I don’t know if the BFI DVD includes the original French, Turkish and Greek soundtrack, but on TV it was entirely dubbed into English. There’s a French Blu-ray, but it doesn’t look to be English friendly.)

And then there’s Snowy. Regular readers will know I can go a bit soppy for a great dog in a film, and Golden Fleece offers a Snowy who should be up there with the likes of Uggie in the annals of movie-dog history. He steals most scenes he’s in, and of course he’s in it a fair bit.

I wouldn’t say Tintin and the Mystery of the Golden Fleece is a bad movie by any means, but it’s not going to work for everyone. Some would find it dated and twee and, if forced to watch it, would despise every moment of the experience. I really enjoyed it, however; in a slightly ironic way, I suppose, looking back on simpler times of cut-price production design and funny dubbing; but also as a well-intentioned adventure movie, in the old-fashioned meaning of that genre that doesn’t involve a millions-of-dollars action sequence every seven minutes.

If it isn’t a cult favourite yet, I may just have to start that cult. And I think we’d probably give it an extra star, but in the interests of broad consumer advice:

3 out of 5