The Best & Worst of 2019

As it’s January 10th, what better date to post my top 10 from last year’s viewing? (Yes, I know: “an earlier one.”)

As well as my favourite films I saw during 2019, this final review-of-the-year post also includes my least favourite films, as well as a list of 2019’s most noteworthy releases that I missed.

Before we begin, a quick reminder that these lists are not selected from films released in 2019, but from all 151 movies I saw for the first time during 2019.



The Five Worst Films I Saw For the First Time in 2019

“Worst of” lists are very unpopular on Twitter nowadays (there was a whole to-do about them when the pro ones started popping up last month). I do kind of agree that they’re of dubious value, but it remains an unavoidable fact that some films are poor or disappointing and therefore, as part of an overall review of the year, it seems only fair to remember the weaker side of it too. (Especially as I’ve been so tardy with reviews this year, and therefore haven’t shared my negative opinion of all of these elsewise.)

So, in alphabetical order…

Cosmopolis
With Robert Pattinson being cast as Batman, there was a lot of commentary about how he’d done so much good work since Twilight — and I realised I hadn’t seen any of it. Someone described this David Cronenberg film as basically being a Bruce Wayne movie, so that seemed as good a place to start. Sadly, it proved nothing about Pattinson’s acting ability, nor Cronenberg’s enduring ability to make good movies. I found it confusing, cheap-looking, and boring.

Happy New Year, Colin Burstead
Talking of boring, here’s the most recent work from director Ben Wheatley. I’ve had mixed feelings about his previous films, but they were all at least interesting in some way. Colin Burstead is not. In the review I’ve written but never got round to posting, I describe it as “like an art house EastEnders” and say “it’s really slow and frequently abstruse.” Over a year after it first aired it’s still available on iPlayer, but I wouldn’t recommend you seek it out.

Holmes & Watson
I don’t rank these, but if I did Holmes & Watson would come last. A movie so shockingly inept it’s a wonder that it’s a studio movie made by seasoned professionals — I’m no fan of Will Ferrell, but you’d think at this point he’d be in movies that are at least competently produced. Weak filmmaking wouldn’t really matter if it was funny, because that’s the sole and defining purpose of a comedy, but there are no laughs here either. A total disaster. [Full review]

The Saint
Made as a pilot for a TV series, then retrofitted into being a movie after that failed to get picked up, it might seem like I’m kicking this when it’s down to name it a “bad movie”. The thing is, it would’ve been a bad TV show too. Its biggest problem is that, stylistically, it feels 25 years older than it is — like mid-’90s syndication filler, rather than the slick, contemporary, spy-actioner I think it wanted to be. The Saint is an IP with potential, but this does not utilise it.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
Okay, Episode IX probably isn’t one of the five worst films I saw in 2019 (I gave it 3 stars after all, though I was being generous), but it was certainly the most disappointing. Maybe I shouldn’t’ve had hope, but I enjoyed both Episodes VII and VIII, so I thought there was a reasonable chance they could stick the landing. I was wrong. And it makes the preceding Sequel Trilogy films lesser with it, because it exposes the lack of overarching point to any of it. [Full review]



The 15 Best Films I Saw For the First Time in 2019

Where others may do a top ten, or twenty, or fifty, nowadays I do a top 10%. This year I watched 151 films, so my ‘top ten’ has 15 films.

Although this list is selected from all the movies I watched for the first time in 2019, I did watch 34 films that had their UK release in 2019… plus four that will have their UK release in 2020, which is a first. So I’ve lumped those in with the 2019 lot and noted their ‘2019 rank’ in case you’re interested.

15
Brigsby Bear

Moviemakers like to make movies about people who set out by themselves to make movies — think Son of Rambow, Be Kind Rewind, or Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. Brigsby Bear follows in their tonal vein, as a quirky story about a young man freed from a lifetime of imprisonment who’s determined to complete the story of the TV show his captors used to make just for him. Think Room written by Charlie Kaufman and directed by Michel Gondry.

A very much overlooked, nigh-on forgotten minor Western, which I’m sure I never would’ve seen were it not for Quentin Tarantino including it in his pre-Once Upon a Time in Hollywood movie marathon (as an example of the kind of Western programmers that film’s actor hero would’ve starred in). But I’m glad he brought it to my attention, because I found it be a well-told, well-performed study of toxic masculinity and parental influence, with a splash of gun control rhetoric to boot. This may’ve been made in 1958, but it has a heckuva lot of accurate stuff to say about our society six decades later. [Full review.]

This is the kind of movie I’m not sure I’ll ever watch again, because living through its terror once was enough. I watched it back in February but there are images that still pop into my head to chill me. A masterful work of horror. [Full review.]

12
The Report

2019 #4 This is a movie not to everyone’s taste, as some middle-of-the-road reviews, and Amazon’s lack of backing for it in awards season, attest. It’s easy to dismiss it as a filmed Wikipedia article, because it’s obsessively accurate and methodical in the way it lays out the facts of its case — about the CIA’s ineffective use of torture post-9/11 — but, in fact, that fits both the style of its lead character-cum-hero, and the purpose of its existence, which I think is to help expose the truth more widely. After all, we know what went on, but who’s actually had to face any consequences for it? In apportioning blame, writer-director Scott Z. Burns is strikingly nonpartisan, refusing to let the Obama administration off the hook for their part. So it’s a shame it hasn’t connected more widely, because its message is important; and even besides that, it’s an absorbing thriller… about someone doing paperwork.

I probably saw better films than Mandy during 2019, but I saw few that were as aesthetically striking — and certainly none with a header pic that could equal this shot of star Nic Cage. It’s a nightmarishly surreal journey of revenge, with plot points and visuals that can’t be described, they just have to be experienced. And oh my, what an experience. [Full review.]

10
Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day

This overlooked ’30s-set rom-com boasts a starry cast and a likeable bounce, and I guess that’s where many people’s assessment of it stops — if they’ve even bothered to assess it at all. But what really worked for me was the way it feels like an actual movie from its era, with the quick-talking wit of screwball comedies, the slight earnestness of a simpler age, and the confidence to throw in some more serious undercurrents without the fear it will ruin the fun. Instead, they elevate it. As a throwback to classic cinema, it’s delightful.

9
Eighth Grade

2019 #3 On Letterboxd I simply stated this was “the most truthful movie about what it’s actually like to be a teenager I think I’ve ever seen,” and that just about sums up why its here. The milieu of its story is very Now — teenagers locked to their phones, living their lives through Instagram and YouTube — but look past the ultra-current specificity and there’s a universality in the experience of shy, insecure thirteen-year-old Kayla. Most of us have been there, and Eighth Grade captures just what it was like. (Before anyone asks/complains: this counts as a 2019 film because its UK release wasn’t until April ’19.)

The premise of Spike Lee’s detective movie sounds like a joke — “what if a black man joined the KKK?” — but it’s a true story. With that in mind, you may expect a deadly serious, heavy-going movie. Instead, Lee mixes in a lively humour that keeps the movie entertaining even as it hits you with serious points. And very timely ones, as the controversial (but, in my opinion, merited) closing moments make clear. [Full review.]

7
La Belle Époque

2019 #2 Reading reviews, I didn’t have particularly high hopes for this French romantic comedy-drama — it looked like it might be nice, and that’s about all. A pleasant surprise, then, to find there’s so much more to it than just a pleasantly diverting couple of hours. The story of a man who attempts to relive the day he met the wife who no longer loves him, it’s sharply witty, surprisingly beautiful in places, and genuinely emotional by the end. Surely it’s destined for an inferior American remake.

There are several true-story crime thrillers close-by on this top ten — if you watched them back-to-back with Searching, they might show it up a little bit, because it does get a little Movie Logic in its final act. But that’s worth letting slide because of the very particular way it tells its engrossing story. The entire movie takes place from the POV of a computer screen, as a desperate father tries to work out what’s happened to his missing teenage daughter. Pleasingly, the film doesn’t break its own rules, but uses the limitations to its advantage to create a new, timely way of viewing a narrative. And while the final act may be a bit grandiose compared to real life, its array of twists are satisfying. [Full review.]

Director Bong Joon Ho is attracting a lot of attention this awards season (heck, this year) for his latest, Parasite, and made my top ten last year with his long-delayed-in-the-UK sci-fi parable Snowpiercer. This surprisingly-hard-to-come-by (someone do a good Western Blu-ray release, please!) film wasn’t his first, but was what initially garnered him some attention outside Korea. A true-story-inspired crime thriller, it invites comparisons to David Fincher’s Zodiac in the way it follows obsessed investigators as they try to uncover the truth behind an unsolved wave of murders. Zodiac is one of my favourite films, but Memories of Murder is strong enough to withstand the comparison. (Also, yes, it predates Fincher’s film. I’m not claiming one copied the other, they just approach the same genre from a similar headspace.) [Full review.]

4
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

If I’m honest, I was prepared to dislike Scott Pilgrim — I mean, there’s a reason it took me almost a decade to get round to it. It always looked Too Cool; kind of too hipster-ish, though I guess in a geeky way. (Well, “hipster” and “geek” have been more closely linked than ever this decade, haven’t they?) I remember distinctly when it went down a storm at Comic-Con and so everyone believed it was The Next Big Thing, only for it to flop hard at the box office (providing a much-needed course correction on everyone’s view of the power of Comic-Con). But here’s the thing: it’s directed by Edgar Wright, and I should have trusted that. And so the film is everything you’d expect from the director of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz and Baby Driver — deep-cut references (this time to video games), piles of humour, but also a dose of genuine emotion. Best of all is how it’s ceaselessly, fearlessly, creatively inventive with its cinematic tricks. No other film on this list is so overtly Directed, but in a good way.

3
Sherlock Jr.

Sherlock Jr. is almost 100 years old now, but it still plays as fresh as a daisy. That’s the wonder of Buster Keaton, who mixes daredevil antics with genuine movie magic to produce an unforgettable farce with more laughs per minute than [insert your comedian of choice here] and more I-can’t-believe-he-just-did-that stunts than one of Tom Cruise’s impossible missions. They don’t make ’em like this anymore. Heck, they probably wouldn’t let ’em.

2
Rififi

This methodical French crime thriller is famed for its centrepiece — a half-hour heist that takes place in virtual silence — and that is indeed an unforgettably effective, edge-of-your-seat piece of cinema. But the film around it is so good, too: the events and plans that lead up to the heist; and the fallout of what occurs after. If you want to be a pedant then film noir “can’t be made outside America” — but even if that’s true, well, tough, because this is noir at its absolute best.

2019 #1 If my end-of-year #1s had a reputation, it would probably be for choosing recent movies. Every year I theoretically have the entirety of film history to choose from, but only once have I given my #1 slot to a film that was more than 18 months old. But this year takes that to extremes: I’ve given #1 to a film that isn’t even out yet (in the UK). Never mind Skyfall or Blade Runner 2049 only being 2 months old when I picked them — here, Portrait of Lady on Fire is currently -2 months old (its UK release is scheduled for 28th February). Still, it’s screened at plenty of festivals and had a few international releases, and received plenty of acclaim — well deserved, I think (obviously). It’s the kind of film that casts a spell, with its remote setting that isolates us with its characters, absorbing us into this vital moment in their lives; its thoroughly gorgeous photography, which is appropriately painterly; and a very particular pace, which some would dismiss as “slow” but I thought was just right. It also has a healthy, perhaps surprising dash of Gothic in how its narrative plays out, which particularly appealed to me. Basically, it’s an all-round stunning work. [Full review.]


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

I’m always loathe to mention “films that almost made my list”, because that feels like cheating (I may as well just make the list longer and include them). However, because I only included four films released in 2019, I thought I’d flag up a few more of my favourites from the year itself. These aren’t #16–19, then, but they are 2019’s #5–8, because they’re the four 2019 releases that came closest to getting in. But I’ll leave their exact ranking to your imagination and just list them alphabetically: Deadwood: The Movie, Jojo Rabbit, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, and The Personal History of David Copperfield. Of course, there were dozens of acclaimed and/or popular 2019 films that I didn’t see, so take this ranking with a large pinch of salt — if I revisited yearly rankings after I’d caught up on more movies, they’d change entirely.

Another honorary mention I want to make is more for a person than a film: Thomasin McKenzie, who almost single handedly earnt Leave No Trace a place in my top 15. I mean that as no disservice to everyone else involved — their combined work put it in contention, but it was McKenzie’s superb performance that almost tipped it in. (So, I guess that is #16.) And the other reason I’m mentioning her rather rather than just the film is because she was also excellent in Jojo Rabbit — easy to overlook among that film’s showy cast, but a pivotal and well-played part nonetheless. She’s definitely one to watch.

Now, 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. In chronological order (with links to the relevant monthly update), they were The Player, Memories of Murder, Isle of Dogs, Searching, The Meg, Deadwood: The Movie, Sherlock Jr., Rififi, The Red Shoes, For Sama, La Belle Époque, and Eighth Grade.

Finally, I never end this without mentioning all the films that earned themselves 5-star ratings throughout the year — especially as I haven’t reviewed most of them yet, so they merit their moment in the spotlight. During 2019 there were 25. 13 made it into my best list, so rather than name them again I’ll let you have fun guessing which were the two to only get 4-stars (hint: only one of them is in the actual top 10; and the other has a review, so you can easily find it out). The remaining twelve were Les diaboliques, The Favourite, For Sama, Isle of Dogs, Jojo Rabbit, The Killer, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, The Player, The Red Shoes, Roma, Rope, and Waltz with Bashir. Finally, I also gave full marks to Monty Python and the Holy Grail (which will be the subject of a “Guide To” at some point) and three short films, Pleased to Eat You!, Hey You, and Facing It (all reviewed in this roundup).


I watched 34 films from 2019 during 2019, which means there are plenty of noteworthy releases I didn’t see — so here’s an alphabetical list of 50 I missed. (Why it’s 50, I’m not quite sure; but I’ve been doing it for 13 years, I’m not changing it now.) They’ve been chosen for a variety of reasons, from box office success to critical acclaim via simple notoriety; plus I’ve made an attempt to include a spread of styles and genres, successes and failures.

As usual, I’ve followed IMDb’s dating in my selection process, which means there are movies listed here that haven’t actually come out in the UK yet. And some films have likely fallen through the cracks because they’re listed as 2018 but I wasn’t aware of them in time for last year’s list (though I’ve made one exception in that regard). But there are always more films worth noting than can be included, anyway. I mean, this year my starting list was 119 films long (maybe I should increase how many I include…)

1917
Doctor Sleep
It: Chapter Two
Le Mans '66
Parasite
Spider-Man: Far from Home
Aladdin
Godzilla: King of the Monsters
Joker
The Lighthouse
Us
X-Men: Dark Phoenix
1917
Ad Astra
Aladdin
Alita: Battle Angel
Apollo 11
Bait
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
Booksmart
Cats
Doctor Sleep
Dolemite is My Name
The Farewell
Fast & Furious: Hobbs & Shaw
Frozen II
Gemini Man
Godzilla: King of the Monsters
Hellboy
How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World
Hustlers
It: Chapter Two
Joker
Jumanji: The Next Level
The Kid Who Would Be King
Klaus
Knives Out
Last Christmas
Le Mans ’66
The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part
The Lighthouse
Little Women
Marriage Story
Men in Black: International
Midsommar
Parasite
The Peanut Butter Falcon
Pokémon: Detective Pikachu
Rambo: Last Blood
Rocketman
A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon
Shazam!
The Souvenir
Spider-Man: Far from Home
Terminator: Dark Fate
The Two Popes
Us
The Wandering Earth
Wild Rose
X-Men: Dark Phoenix
Yesterday
Zombieland: Double Tap


Whew, another year over!

Time to do it all over again…

The Best & Worst of 2018

Later than planned, here it is: my picks of the best (and worst) films I saw in 2018! Plus, as usual, a list of some major titles I missed, thus explaining why they’re not on my top list (i.e. because I haven’t seen them).

I’d hoped to have this up by Sunday morning, but life increasingly got in the way, not helped by it being a more mammoth task than usual. You’d think picking a top 26 would be easier than picking a top 10 (there are more slots!), but you end up with the same dilemmas, just further down the scale. And, of course, a longer list means there are more films to sort into order — I mean, how do you decide which is ‘better’ between a dystopian sci-fi parable, an excoriating relationship drama, and a groundbreaking action movie when you love them all? And that’s just one example…

Anyway, this is what I ended up with. And just a final reminder before we get going: these films are selected from all 261 movies I saw for the first time in 2018, not just new releases.



The Five Worst Films I Saw For the First Time in 2018

This year I watched some films so bad that The Snowman hasn’t made the cut. Perhaps The Snowman is worse than some of these films, and certainly everyone involved in it should’ve done better; but it seems something went wrong during its production (15% of the screenplay wasn’t even shot!), so I feel like those involved can’t be wholly to blame. However, the following five films are (to the best of my knowledge) just bad. So, in alphabetical order…

The Cloverfield Paradox
The third film in J.J. Abrams’ sci-fi anthology series was dumped on Netflix at short notice, presumably in the hope people would watch it before hearing how terrible it was. Its sci-fi concepts are internally inconsistent, while the Cloverfield connections were clearly retrofitted with reshoots. [Full review.]

Geostorm
Talking of nonsensical sci-fi, this is even worse — not only is the science stuff implausibly done, it can’t create plausible character logic either. Big dumb popcorn fun shouldn’t be this dumb, because it stops it being fun. [Full review.]

Lost in Space
I avoided this movie for two decades because I heard how bad it was, but then caved when the Netflix reboot came along. Sadly, its reputation is fully deserved — it’s bad in every way you’d care to consider. Even Gary Oldman’s no good in it. And, 20 years on, it also looks incredibly dated. [Full review.]

Phantasm
This is a cult favourite with some people (known as “Phans”, I believe), but I thought it was awful. None of it makes any sense, from the mythology to the way characters behave, and it’s not very well made, either. [Full review.]


Skyline
Another sci-fi movie! I clearly made some poor genre viewing choices in 2018. Anyway, even his is Cloverfield meets Independence Day filtered through the minds of the directorial brothers behind Aliens vs Predator: Requiem, and is every inch as terrible as that sounds. [Full review.]



The 26 Best Films I Saw For the First Time in 2018

Rather than end the year with a good ol’ top ten, since 2016 I’ve been doing a “top 10%”. This year’s record-obliterating tally was 261, so it’s my biggest top “ten” ever too, with 26 films. Think that’s too many? Feel free to scroll down and start wherever you like.

As I said at the start, all the movies I watched for the first time in 2018 are eligible for this ranking, not just new releases. However, I did watch 50 films that made their UK debut in 2018, and nine of them made it into my top 10%, so I’ve noted their ‘2018 rank’ too.

This French steampunk adventure features gorgeous animation to render a creative alternate history. A sharp turn into pulp sci-fi almost lost me, but it’s too wildly imaginative not to enjoy. [Full review.]

Probably the most iconic Bollywood movie of all time, Sholay’s 3½-hour running time has something for everyone: it’s an action adventure comedy romance musical thriller! [Full review.]

24 The Lives of Others

This German Cold War tale is tense and thrilling like a spy movie, but emotionally and politically loaded like an art house drama.

2018 #9 The year’s best fourth-wall-breaking superhero comedy. It’s a kid-friendly cartoon, but there are plenty of jokes aimed at adult superhero fans too. [Full review.]

A rounded portrait of life and combat beneath the waves, with one of the most effective surround sound mixes I’ve ever heard. [Full review.]

A newsroom satire so insightful and timelessly pertinent, you could remake it virtually word-for-word set today. [Full review.]

The blind masseur-cum-swordsman turns babysitter in this atypical but excellent instalment of the long-running series. [Full review.]

Rocky returns to train his dead friend’s son in this spin-off that honours the series’ legacy to emotive effect. [Full review.]

The kind of movie that makes me nostalgic for a time I never experienced (and, to be honest, wouldn’t necessarily actually enjoy). [Full review.]

Our felty friends take to the high seas for one of their best movies, packed with swashing buckles and superb musical numbers. [Full review.]

16 Suspiria

Dario Argento’s seminal shocker was remade this year, which led me to finally see the original. It’s a masterpiece of uneasy atmosphere, with striking colours and music.

2018 #8 Hilariously funny, with some of the best line deliveries of the year (or ever), and cleverer than it has any right to be, this is so good it makes up for the bait-and-switch of the cute dog being prominent on the poster but not in the film. [Full review.]

2018 #7 Fantastic performances colour in all the shades of grey for some complicated characters in this dark (but, at times, surprisingly funny) drama. [Full review.]

Once eyed by Tarantino for a remake, this instalment sees Ichi attempting to atone for all his killing… only to get drawn into protecting a village from a vicious gang boss. [Full review.]

2018 #6 The Marvel formula, now available in black. But there’s more than that to this film, which plays like an Afrofuturist Bond movie. [Full review.]

A gang must fight their way home across a city out to get them in Walter Hill’s actioner, which is thrilling thanks to an almost-mythological simplicity and directness. [Full review.]

2018 #5 Netflix attracted a lot of attention by suddenly announcing and releasing this “choose your own adventure” movie at the end of December. Unlike when they pulled that stunt in February (see my worst movies list, above), Bandersnatch merited the hype. It could’ve been a gimmick, but, in the hands of Charlie Brooker and the Black Mirror team, content mirrors form, and we’re treated to a paranoid sci-fi story that couldn’t’ve been told as well any other way. [Full review.]

2018 #4 Spider-Men other than Peter Parker have been a fixture of comic books for yonks now, but here they make it to the big screen, accompanied by a powerful message about who can be a hero. Realised with startlingly inventive animation, it’s destined to be a genre classic. [Full review.]

Stanley Kubrick’s Vietnam movie is best known for its bootcamp first half, with the abusive drill instructor played by R. Lee Ermey, who brought his experience of having done the job for real. Nonetheless, I was impressed to find the second half (set in Vietnam itself) was equally affecting. [Full review.]

2018 #3 I’d rather gone off the work of Paul Thomas Anderson in recent years, and a drama about a London fashion house in the ’50s didn’t particularly appeal either… but blow me down with a feather, the combination has produced this work of exquisite beauty. Maybe not “beauty” in the traditional sense, but as a character study of two very particular souls, with more than a touch of Gothic melodrama about its style and story, it’s my kind of beauty. [Full review.]

2018 #2 This year, the superhero movie went full comic book, with both Spider-Verse and this bringing the storytelling style of a team-up event series to the big screen. In the case of Infinity War, it was the (beginning of a) culmination of ten years’ work that has revolutionised the blockbuster movie business. But even leaving that aside, what Marvel produced here is a film with a scope, scale, and narrative style not quite like any other. [Full review.]

The darkness that’s barely concealed beneath the pleasant veneer of American high schools is exposed in this pitch-black comedy, which mixes violent teen wish fulfilment with a certain degree of societal satire to boundary-pushing effect. It’s not as transgressively shocking 30 years on as it might’ve been back in the ’80s, but it’s still so very.

Yes, I only got round to seeing La La Land this year. The Best Picture winner that wasn’t, you can certainly see why everyone thought the tradition-led Academy Awards would pick this as their winner — it is, in part, a love letter to classic Hollywood musicals. But the songs are better than just pastiches, there’s a realism to the storytelling and performances that’s more modern, and the whole film sings with the joy of moviemakers dedicated to producing something beautiful. [Full review.]

If La La Land is about beauty, Snowpiercer is about human ugliness. Its setup may stretch credulity (following an apocalyptic event, the remnants of humanity all live on one long train that constantly circles the globe), but just go with it and you’re treated to an insightful commentary/allegory about class divides and interdependence, wrapped up in a pulse-pounding action thriller with the relentless forward motion of… well, you know what. [Full review.]

The third film in Richard Linklater’s Before trilogy catches up with Celine and Jesse in middle age, after years of togetherness, with two kids (plus his kid from a previous relationship) and a host of problems bubbling under the surface. Midnight is notably different from the lovey-dovey-ness of Sunrise and Sunset, but it’s a powerful examination of the tension in a long-term relationship, and all the more so because we’ve connected with these characters on and off in real-time. The first two leave you feeling warm and fuzzy; this is more like being punched in the gut. And yet, together, they are one of the greatest trilogies ever made. (I really hope they do a fourth one, though.) [Full review.]

2018 #1 I have the whole history of cinema to choose from, but, once again, a new release tops my top ten. Sometimes, with hindsight, I wonder about my picks for #1; other times, I’m pleased to see I was right many years later, as my top film stands the test of time. I suspect this will be one of the latter, because the lengths to which writer-director Christopher McQuarrie and, especially, star Tom Cruise have gone to show us something we’ve never seen done before, and to entertain us with cleverly conceived and astoundingly executed action sequences, is really above and beyond the call of duty. It’s resulted in one of the best action movies ever made. As the first film I felt compelled to see twice on the big screen for nearly a decade, not to mention that I listened to over six hours of podcast interviews with McQuarrie as he dissected it every which way, there couldn’t really be any other pick for my film of the year. [Full review.]


As ever, there were lots of films I liked a lot that there simple wasn’t room for (my original long list, which I add to throughout the year, had 93 films on it). If I just listed a bunch more films I liked that would be kinda cheating (why not just do a longer list?), but, nonetheless, there are a few I’d like to highlight for specific reasons.

While compiling my top 10%, I hit on two kinds of movie that I felt should be eliminated from consideration but that I still really wanted to mention in some way. In other years, any or all of these films might’ve made the “best” list, but it was a tough year and something had to go! Well, that’s exactly what “honourable mentions” are for, right?

The first are movies that were not traditionally “good”, but I still got a lot of enjoyment out of them; what some people might call “guilty pleasures”, I guess. In particular I’m thinking about Gods of Egypt (my review explains all about that) and the 1975 Zorro, which was an entertainingly chaotic romp. Also Happy Death Day, which I really enjoyed as a tonal throwback to turn-of-the-millennium teen horror movies, and Benji, which is a young kids’ film through and through, but with a loveable doggy star to ‘aww’ over.

The latter crosses over somewhat into the second category: films that were only fairly good overall, but I bloody loved one element of them — so, Benji in Benji, for example. Also: Winnie the Pooh in Christopher Robin, the Live Aid sequence in Bohemian Rhapsody, and all the action sequences in The Villainess. If I did lists like characters or scenes of the year, they’re the kind of the thing that would be right near the top.

Now, let’s recap the 12 films that won Favourite Film of the Month at the Arbies, all of which have already been mentioned in this post, one way or another. In chronological order (with links to the relevant monthly update): La La Land, Black Panther, Happy Death Day, Avengers: Infinity War, The Warriors, Sanjuro, Mission: Impossible – Fallout, Christopher Robin, Heathers, Suspiria, Creed, and Snowpiercer.

Finally, I never end this without mentioning all the films that earned 5-star ratings in the year. There were 39 in total during 2018, including 22 that made it into my top 26. Those were Avengers: Infinity War, Before Midnight, Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, Black Panther, Das Boot: The Director’s Cut, Call Me by Your Name, Creed, Fight, Zatoichi, Fight, Full Metal Jacket, Heathers, La La Land, The Lives of Others, Mission: Impossible – Fallout, Network, Phantom Thread, Sholay, Snowpiercer, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Suspiria, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, The Warriors, and Zatoichi’s Pilgrimage. The remaining 17 were The 400 Blows, Big Fish, Compulsion, The Director and the Jedi, The Elephant Man, The Hunt, Laura, Paper Moon, Princess Mononoke, Ran, Sanjuro, Scarface, The Shape of Water, Strangers on a Train, Terminator 2: Judgment Day 3D, They Shall Not Grow Old, and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Plus I also gave full marks when I wrote about rewatches of Blade Runner 2049 (in 3D) and Superman: The Movie.


I watched 39 films from 2018 during 2018, which leaves a considerable number of notable releases that I’ve not yet seen. Therefore, as is my tradition, here’s an alphabetical list of 50 films that I’ve not seen which are listed as 2018 on IMDb. That means some of these ‘missed’ films are awards-y movies that aren’t actually out in the UK yet, but that’s the way this goes. (I have included one film that’s listed as 2017, because it only had a handful of festival screenings that year. But there was another that I was going to put here which was actually released in several countries at the end of 2017, so I decided it shouldn’t be allowed. That was, ironically, You Were Never Really Here. Oh how I laughed at the accidental pun. Now you can too, readers.)

As always, the films in this list have been selected for a variety of reasons, from box office success to critical acclaim via simple notoriety. There are many more I want to see that I could have included, but I always make some attempt to include a spread of styles, genres, successes, and failures.

Aquaman
Creed II
First Man
Mary Poppins Returns
Sicario 2: Soldado
Suspiria
BlacKkKlansman
Early Man
Isle of Dogs
The Predator
Skyscraper
Venom
Aquaman
Bad Times at the El Royale
Bird Box
BlacKkKlansman
Bumblebee
Cold War
Crazy Rich Asians
Creed II
Early Man
Eighth Grade
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald
The Favourite
First Man
First Reformed
The Girl in the Spider’s Web
Green Book
The Grinch
Halloween
The Happytime Murders
Hereditary
Holmes & Watson
If Beale Street Could Talk
Isle of Dogs
Johnny English Strikes Again
Leave No Trace
Love, Simon
Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again
Mandy
Mary Poppins Returns
The Meg
Ocean’s 8
Pacific Rim: Uprising
Peter Rabbit
The Predator
Ralph Breaks the Internet
Rampage
Roma
Searching
Sicario 2: Soldado
A Simple Favour
Skyscraper
A Star is Born
Suspiria
To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before
Tomb Raider
Upgrade
Venom
Vice
Widows
A Wrinkle in Time


Whew! That’s that over for another year. (Well, aside from the insane number of reviews I still have left to post…)

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 seen 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 unwelcome sequel 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 the added 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?

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?

The Best & Worst of 2016

I watched so many films in 2016 that I’d forgotten I saw some of them so recently. Going back over the list, there were films I watched as late as March that I was amazed weren’t things I’d seen a couple of years ago. I don’t know what this signifies, really, other than that watching almost 200 films in a year has warped my perspective.

Anyway, it’s now time to consider the quality of that viewing: which films were the worst? Which the best? And what did I miss?

So without further ado…



The Five Worst Films I Saw For the First Time in 2016

This year I saw some films so bad that Home on the Range hasn’t made my bottom five! In alphabetical order, they were…

300: Rise of an Empire300: Rise of an Empire
300 was hardly the height of cinematic class, but this makes it look like an accomplished work of auteurism (though, considering how Zack Snyder has continued down a similar aesthetic path, perhaps it always was). It’s just poorly made, with flat performances, cheap direction, aimless violence, and CGI that wouldn’t look great in a computer game.

Cool WorldCool World
Maybe if director Ralph Bakshi had got his way Cool World would be a masterpiece. Maybe not, too. Torn between conflicting interests (it’s a kid-friendly movie with adult content) and with distractingly poor technical aspects (the animation and live action often seem mismatched), it’s an unappealing mess.

HomeHome
DreamWorks’ animated movies never quite achieve the crossover acclaim that greets almost anything Pixar spit out, which is sometimes a shame… and sometimes it really isn’t, like with this irritating movie about an irritating alien and his irritating human friend. Pixar have never made anything this annoying. Not even Cars.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Let's Do the Time Warp AgainThe Rocky Horror Picture Show: Let’s Do the Time Warp Again
“Is this even worse [than The Rocky Horror Glee Show]? Well, that’s a bit like someone forcing you to eat a dog shit and a cat shit before asking you which tasted nicer.” Most accurate review I’ve ever written.


The Twilight Saga: New MoonThe Twilight Saga: New Moon
New Moon contains the single funniest scene in any movie I’ve seen this year. Unfortunately, New Moon is not a comedy (not deliberately, anyway) and that scene is not a comedy interlude (not deliberately, anyway). For all the Twilight saga’s other sins, I will forever love it for giving us Face Punch. (Oh, but the rest of the film is pretty terrible.)



The Twenty Best Films I Saw For the First Time in 2016

Last year I commemorated the fact I’d doubled my titular target by also doubling the size of my top ten, joking about having never done a percentage increase before. But that got me thinking: what if I did? So from now on my “top 10” will be a “top 10%” — which this year means it’s a top 20 again.

My guiding principle when ranking this year’s picks became films that excited me — not in the adrenaline-pumping sense of having fantastic action sequences, but in the sense of films which left me feeling thrilled by their cinematic achievements. Not that I’m saying every film here is some wonder of Cinema, just that the notion guided some of my choices. It’s ended up with some very good, perhaps even better, films slipping down the chart. But never mind: as is usually the case with lists like this, it’s only a snapshot of my thinking right now.

Finally: as always, this list is created from the movies I watched for the first time this year, not just new releases. However, I did watch 38 films that had their UK release in 2016, and six of them are in my top twenty, so I’ve noted their ‘2016 rank’ too.

An intelligent, considered sci-fi movie that ponders artificial intelligence and its potential right to life, but also a gripping psychological thriller about three individuals locked in a bunker. And there’s Oscar Isaac’s dance scene too.

Sion Sono’s comic book epic mixes battle rap, comic grotesques, ultra violence, gratuitous nudity, more barmy notions than you can shake a stick at, and probably the kitchen sink too, into possibly the most batshit-crazy movie I’ve ever seen. Is it trash or art? It can be two things.

Wes Anderson described his typically-idiosyncratic young-love adventure as “an autobiography about something that didn’t happen”, which is possibly my favourite description of a film ever. A movie for the romantic adventurer in every childhood bookworm.

The best comedy or musical of 2015 is neither of those things, but it is one in a pleasing run of intelligent sci-fi movies Hollywood is offering these days. Trust Ridley Scott and Matt Damon to make a movie about using science to grow potatoes into a gripping adventure.

An underrated le Carré thriller starring Sean Connery as a book publisher coerced into helping MI6 and the CIA bring over a defector, alongside Michelle Pfeiffer as his Russian contact. Strong performances enliven a typically le Carré plot: grounded, plausible, unguessable, with a surprising conclusion.

2016 #6 A neo-noir crime thriller about racism featuring nudism and drug abuse… from Disney! It’s still a kid-friendly animated comedy, of course, but one that functions particularly well — arguably even better — for adult fans.

It looks like such a boilerplate indie movie that I kinda expected to hate this, but it caught me off guard with characters I related to and a story that I found affecting without being saccharine. Probably the most emotional a movie has made me feel this year.

Famed for Daniel Day-Lewis’ awards-scooping performance that is arguably one of the greatest of all time, there’s actually much more to Spielberg’s biopic. Playing like a gorgeously-shot period version of The West Wing, if you like men politicking in gaslit rooms, this is heaven.

Now we move into my Top Ten. Yeah, I know it’s #12, but I really thought these two would make it. I guess they’re kinda =10th, then; though that would be cheating… Anyway: I hadn’t even heard of this movie before this year, but the coincidence of a blog post and a Blu-ray release led me to purchase it and I was so glad I did. It’s Rear Windscreen meets Duel Down Under in a superb Ozploitation thriller.

2016 #5 Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling reveal rarely-seen comic talent as a pair of not-actually-that-nice guys who nonetheless have some morals in Shane Black’s spiritual sequel to Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. This has just as convoluted a plot, and it matters just as little — its major asset is that it’s frequently hilarious.

2016 #4 Yes, really. And, just so we’re clear on what’s going on here, neither Civil War nor Doctor Strange are in my Top 9. Is BvS ‘better’ than anything Marvel Studios put out this year? Hm. But is it a more interesting movie? I thought so. Zack Snyder made a dark, morally ambiguous, imperfect movie that reflects the dark, morally ambiguous, imperfect days we live in. Perhaps it’s just too timely for its own good? People don’t seem to want a movie that questions our heroes and our relationship towards them in a world where real-life heroes feel in short supply. It’s clearly not the movie a lot of people think they need, but maybe it’s the one they deserve right now.

Of all the films on this list, Cold in July has arguably the most surprising plot: it takes sharp right-angle turns at several points, never breaking the style and genre it sets itself in, but instead shuttling the viewer off in entirely different directions than expected. By the time it reaches its action-packed climax, you have no idea quite what it’s going to do — and how better to end a neo-noir thriller than that?

2016 #3 This may be all the way down in 8th place, but in some respects it’s #1: I’m not sure I’ve had more pure fun watching a movie this year than I did during Deadpool (The Nice Guys would be closest). Okay, so it’s a little puerile really, but the humour comes thick and fast, and the regular fourth-wall breaking undercuts not just the film but the whole superhero genre. Having talked about the excitement of great Cinema at the start, this isn’t that, but it is a fantastically good time.

Steven Soderbergh transforms a pretty straightforward revenge story into an elliptical narrative that has you constantly questioning what you’re watching — is it flashback, flash-forward, a dream, a plan, a fantasy…? In the end it’s probably none of those things, but Soderbergh’s unusual editing techniques create an arthouse/mainstream mash-up that is a uniquely querying, mystifying, yet satisfying experience.

2016 #2 In an era when Hollywood considers “science-fiction” a byword for “action-adventure”, it’s all the more remarkable that an intelligent, adult drama like this was backed by a major studio. It’s partly a timely message about the need for mankind to understand each other across nations and work together, but it’s also a thoughtful meditation on the human condition — what it means to be human, what it costs us, and if it’s worth it. Director Denis Villeneuve paces events sublimely, imbuing the alien spacecraft with a wonder and fascination that you’d’ve thought lost in modern “anything is possible” cinema, but the film really belongs to Amy Adams and her layered, affectingly real performance.

Another thought-provoking science-fiction movie (for those not keeping count, it’s the fourth in this list), Predestination has been less heralded but deserves to be better known. Adapted from a short story by genre giant Robert A. Heinlein, it’s satisfying both as a tangled time travel mystery (with some great twists, whether you guess them or not) and as a consideration of human and historical issues about things like identity and feminism.

2016 #1 I’m as surprised as anyone by how much I liked The Revenant, having not been particularly enamoured of the previous Alejandro G. Iñárritu films I’d seen, but this gruelling survival-story Western oozes excellence from every frame. Leo’s pretty good, as are the rest of the cast, but Emmanuel Lubezki’s cinematography is the highlight: appropriately crisp depictions of wintery nature, an incredible use of natural light, and single-shot sequences that blow Birdman out of the water. By telling the story primarily with these visuals, Iñárritu has created a work of true cinema.

Like Lincoln, this is a beautifully-shot biopic about people stood around in rooms talking. The big gun it has in its corner, however, is an actual West Wing writer — its creator, no less — Aaron Sorkin. Sorkin’s screenplay is a precisely constructed marvel, brought to the screen by a quality cast capable of wrapping their tongues around his magnificent dialogue, and in Danny Boyle a director with the right visual sensibilities to make the material sing. What could have just been an Apple fanboy’s wet dream is instead a gripping character drama with a surprising corporate thriller vibe at times.

An orange to The Raid’s apple, this sequel is bigger and grander in every conceivable aspect. A sprawling crime epic, spanning many years, many locations, and many characters, it’s the antithesis of the tightly-focused first film — but all the better for it. Even with the more intricate plot, there’s still plenty of time for elaborate action sequences, crafted with even greater skill and inventiveness than the first movie. It’s surely one of the greatest action movies ever made.

In a top twenty filled with crime thrillers (see: #15, #11, #9, #7, #2), gorgeously-shot movies (see: #13, #6, #4, #3), and remarkable female leads (see: #20, #15, #6, #5), it’s only fitting that a film which does all of these so skilfully should top my list. Emily Blunt is the powerhouse FBI agent who finds herself out of her depth in a complex cross-agency investigation that leads her, and us, to some dark and morally questionable places. It’s all incredibly shot by the reliably amazing Roger Deakins. Between this and his other entry in my top ten, I think Denis Villeneuve has marked himself out as one of the most exciting directors working right now.


I always want to include this section of my post, but sometimes I’m not quite sure what to put in it — if it was just some more ranked films, I’d’ve included them above. But this year I have something concrete to begin with, because there were several films that I surprised myself by not including in my top twenty. They were films that I really liked — and, perhaps even more so, lots of other people really liked and include in their lists — but which, for some reason, when I was sorting through my options, fell by the wayside in favour of… well, in favour of the films that did make it in. I’m talking about films like Captain America: Civil War, Doctor Strange, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (maybe that’s not on many other lists, but I really enjoyed it), The Iron Giant… and, of course, Rogue One. My already mixed feelings about the latest Star Wars movie were massaged by happening to read Andrew Ellard’s Tweetnotes and Film Crit Hulk’s dissection of the film while preparing this list, and while I don’t necessarily agree with everything they have to say, between them they managed to clarify and illuminate some problems I already had with the movie, and that kinda put me off its inclusion.

A shout out, too, for those less-widely-loved films that I really, really liked but couldn’t quite justify being in this top twenty — films like Crimson Peak, Dragon (Wu Xia), The Good Dinosaur, Grand Piano, Lost River, Pan, and Andrea Arnold’s Wuthering Heights. And despite all those Shaw Brothers movies I watched, none ended up charting — but One-Armed Swordsman came close.

Finally, I can’t end this without mentioning the 26 films that earned 5-star ratings this year — especially as I haven’t actually published reviews for nine of them yet! So, 15 made it into the top twenty, but as they’re spread throughout the list I’ll name them again: Arrival, Cold in July, Deadpool, Ex Machina, The Limey, Lincoln, The Martian, The Nice Guys, Predestination, The Raid 2, The Revenant, Road Games, The Russia House, Sicario, and Steve Jobs. The other 11 were: 12 Years a Slave, Barry Lyndon, Hamlet, The Iron Giant, Macbeth, Napoleon, The Pianist, Spotlight, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, Witness for the Prosecution, and Wuthering Heights. Additionally, short film The Present also got full marks.


During 2016 I watched 38 movies that were released in 2016, but of course that means there were plenty I missed. As usual, then, here’s an alphabetical list of 50 films that are listed as 2016 on IMDb (unless IMDb got it glaringly wrong) that I’ve not yet seen.

They’re chosen for a variety of reasons, from box office success to critical acclaim via simple notoriety — though I’ve decided to not include any more bloody Ice Age films on these lists, because they keep making them, they keep doing pretty well at the box office, and I keep not watching them.

The BFG
Ghostbusters
The Jungle Book
La La Land
Moonlight
Nocturnal Animals
Finding Dory
The Handmaiden
Kubo and the Two Strings
Moana
The Neon Demon
Silence
Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie
Alice Through the Looking Glass
Allied
Assassin’s Creed
Ben-Hur
The BFG
Blair Witch
Bridget Jones’s Baby
Don’t Breathe
Eddie the Eagle
Everybody Wants Some!!
Finding Dory
Ghostbusters
The Girl on the Train
Gods of Egypt
Hail, Caesar!
The Handmaiden
Hell or High Water
Hunt for the Wilderpeople
I, Daniel Blake
Independence Day: Resurgence
Inferno
Jack Reacher: Never Go Back
The Jungle Book
Kubo and the Two Strings
La La Land
The Legend of Tarzan
Live by Night
London Has Fallen
The Magnificent Seven
Manchester by the Sea
Me Before You
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children
Moana
A Monster Calls
Moonlight
The Neon Demon
Nocturnal Animals
Now You See Me 2
Passengers
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies
Sausage Party
The Secret Life of Pets
Silence
Sing
Sing Street
Sully: Miracle on the Hudson
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows
Warcraft: The Beginning
Your Name

…and many more.


And that’s 2016 over… apart from the 36 reviews I still have to post, of course. I think that’s one of my worst ever. That’s what comes of not doing my advent calendar.

It’s also the end of 100 Films’ first decade, which I intend to make even more of a fuss about than I already have when the official birthday rolls around at the end of February. I’m thinking lists, and probably statistics. Any excuse for some statistics.

But, for now, all that remains is for me to thank you for reading and wish you all the best with your own film-watching endeavours. Let’s hope 2017 is a better one for us all.

2015 In Retrospect

2015 was, as I’m sure you’ve gathered, the largest ever year of 100 Films — or 200 Films in a Year, as it’s currently known. For 2015 only, I think, because I have no intention of trying to replicate that feat next year (see here for more on that topic).

How better to finally wrap up a year than with a look at the best and worst, right? As always, my picks are not culled from films freshly released in 2015, but from this list of my personal viewing. (For what it’s worth, that list includes 22 releases from 2015, as well as 37 from 2014, some of which others would count as 2015 titles… and some of them have indeed made my best-of list.)

You can also vote for your favourites from my pick, and find out which 50 most noteworthy new films I didn’t see. There might be a few surprise along the way, too.

So without further ado…



The Five Worst Films I Saw For the First Time in 2015

In alphabetical order…

Avengers Confidential: Black Widow & Punisher
Marvel may dominate the live-action superhero arena right now, but DC has the edge in animation — and work like this is going to do nothing to change that. An uninteresting story that’s blandly told in every regard, this is a total waste of time.

Blitz
There are a lot of very, very good actors in this Jason Statham vehicle, but it’s a terrible film that’s even below standard for the star, let alone his supporting cast. So bad it feels like a spoof, there is no good reason for anyone to watch this movie.

Jack the Giant Slayer
X-Men’s Bryan Singer is the latest filmmaker to take a fairytale and give it the Lord of the Rings treatment. That formula doesn’t work here, unfortunately. The result is a flat, cheap-looking, overlong bore. Another waste of good talent.

Parabellum
Alfred Hitchcock once said that “movies are real life with the boring parts cut out.” I guess this isn’t a movie, then, because it’s not real life and it’s boring as can be. My least enjoyable viewing experience this year.

Runner Runner
Again, talented stars (Ben Affleck, Gemma Arterton) slum it in a poorly-constructed thriller with no thrills. That it’s from the director of The Lincoln Lawyer, an excellent thriller that made my top ten a couple of years ago, only makes matters worse.



The Ten 20 Best Films I Saw For the First Time in 2015

Given the extraordinary personal achievement in my viewing this year — doubling my titular goal — I’ve decided to also double my year-end top ten. It seemed appropriate.

Obviously I haven’t done such a percentage-related increase (or reduction) of my list before now, but then no previous year has seen quite so remarkable a change in my viewing total. In other (smaller) years, these additional films may well have made the cut, so this is a way of giving them their due. (Besides which, my list is numbered, so you can ignore #20 to #11 if you want.)

Final point: although this list isn’t limited to 2015 releases, there are six included, so I’ve noted their ‘2015 rank’ too.

2015 #6 After all the behind-the-scenes kerfuffle, Ant-Man probably had the lowest audience expectations for any Marvel Studios movie since Iron Man. Perhaps that’s what allowed it to become the mostly purely entertaining Marvel movie since Iron Man, too.

The Mission series here reconfigures itself as the modern equivalent to classic Bond, washing down espionage thrills with gadgets and humour. The result is fantastically enjoyable, and only so low on this list because of a certain other film a bit higher up…

John Cusack and Minnie Driver have never been more likeable as a guy and the prom date he jilted, brought back together by their high school reunion. Oh, and he’s now a hitman, in town on a job. Consitently funny, this is first-rate action-comedy entertainment.

An idiosyncratic crime drama from writer-director Jim Jarmusch, Ghost Dog stands alongside the otherwise-peerless Léon as a hitman movie that may not deliver enough action thrills for some, but is seeped in distinctive qualities of its own.

Martin Scorsese’s best-regarded works may hew towards the mainstream-intellectual, but here he sets his sights on genre material — specifically, a psychological mystery thriller — and produces a corker. Heavily Gothic in tone, it’s the first of several such films on this list.

A British-made India-set ‘Western’, this beautifully shot Boy’s Own adventure is rollicking old-fashioned entertainment from start to finish. It’s buoyed further by a cast of top-drawer British character actors, topped off with Kenneth More and Lauren Bacall. Magnificent.

One of the most acclaimed films of all time — if we’re talking “the history of cinema”, it’s certainly more important than anything else on this list. Almost 90 years old, it remains surprisingly accessible to modern eyes. An exceptionally affecting experience.

2015 #5 In a year overloaded with spy thrillers, this Bond pastiche stood out by, a) getting in early (it was released last January in the UK), and b) being a helluva lot of fun. Thematically questionable it may be, but the filmmaking verve is a joy to behold.

2015 #4 2015’s highest grossing film, this sequel/reboot of the beloved franchise has proved somewhat divisive. It certainly has flaws in characters and plot, but director Colin Trevorrow has bottled genuine Spielbergian awe and wonder, and that counts for a lot.

If this were only a top ten, I’d’ve slipped this in higher up, as much to recommend it as anything. In many respects it’s a familiar mismatched-people-fall-in-love rom-com (hence why its position dropped), but the uncommon melancholic tone makes it feel unique.

I’d wager it’s impossible to describe a Wes Anderson film without recourse to words like “quirky” and “unique”, both wholly apt epithets for The Grand Budapest Hotel, naturally. Others include hilarious, clever, inventive, controlled, and delightful. The last may be the most appropriate of all: this is a film full of delights, from the performances, to the dialogue, to the locations, to the design, to the camerawork. Anderson is the kind of filmmaker who has a cult following, which can sometimes be a bad omen. Based on this evidence, his fandom might just have the right idea.

2015 #3 There has been an awakening — have you felt it? Well, of course you have. Everyone outside of China has. Half of them twice. The J.J. Abrams-led return to a galaxy far, far away may have received a mixed reception, due to it essentially being the cinematic equivalent of a greatest-hits cover album, dealing in nostalgia more than it does originality… but it’s clearly been made by fans with an eye to crafting something that’s both enjoyable and recognisably Star Wars-y — two balls the prequel trilogy less dropped, more hurled to the ground. It’s a thrilling adventure with likeable new characters and, in my opinion, interesting new villains. There’s scope for the makers of Episodes VIII and IX to produce something even better off the back of this, and that’s exciting.

Terry Gilliam’s 1984 for 1985 is set in a dystopian Britain almost as bad as our current one, where mindless, faceless bureaucracy rules the day. It’s the kind of film where a typo can lead to a man’s death; where Jonathan Pryce fantasises about being a sword-wielding angel fighting a giant silver samurai; and where Robert De Niro turns up as a terrorist plumber. You know, if Wes Anderson is “quirky” and “unique”, I don’t think we’ve yet invented words to describe Terry Gilliam…

I promised you more Gothic and here it is. Director Chan-wook Park places 7th on my top ten for the second year in a row with this dark psychological thriller about a reclusive teenage girl who meets her uncle for the first time when he comes to stay following her father’s death. He’s charming, but mysterious — what are the secrets that everyone seems to know but her? Dripping with style and atmosphere, Stoker is a feast for the eyes and ears; a beguiling, sensuous, classically Gothic thriller.

2015 #2 Director George Miller returns to the Mad Max series after a 30-year hiatus for the stand-out action movie of… well, “the year” seems to undersell it. Once upon a time he was bold enough to make a chase the entire third act of a film; now, the chase is the entire movie. This is action filmmaking elevated to a genuine art form — literally, if the award season buzz is anything to go by. While the done-for-real stunts are busy boggling your mind, there slips by a story that’s surprisingly rich in theme and character. It gives added weight to a type of storytelling that could only be achieved on film — there’s a reason Miller started with a storyboard and only bothered to write a screenplay when the studio insisted.

A third dose of Gothic now, this time with a heavier dose of the “horror” element that’s so often attached to the term. Gemma Arterton and Saoirse Ronan are mother-and-daughter vampires on the run, hiding out in a seedy seaside town, where Ronan tries to lead some kind of normal life as a perma-teen while her mother’s busy doing what she’s always done: whoring. These vampires aren’t glamorous or sparkly, but damaged and discarded. Byzantium is not a very popular film, but its tarnished charms and fatalistic stylings, powered by two strong central performances and atmospheric direction, made me love it.

Selecting these 20 films was tough, then putting them in order was just as hard, but one thing was a lock from the start: these are my top four films I saw in 2015. The only question was the order they went in, which on another day may have been completely different — any one of them could’ve been #1. This little-seen documentary (Channel 4 premiered it in the middle of the night a few months ago, although it’s available on YouTube) takes us to a small, poor town in India where the locals make their own movies, and they’re a roaring success. It’s an inspirational film about living your dreams even when the world won’t let you, though undercurrents of reality stop it from becoming too tweely self-congratulatory. I’m not overstating it when I say I believe this is an absolute must-see for any lover of film, and probably a good many people besides.

I feel like I’m being in some way Awkward with many of this year’s choices, because there’s a notable strand of films that aren’t particularly well regarded by viewers en masse (see: #11, #7, #5, now #3). Well, I’m not being awkward, dear reader: I loved all of them, and I loved this one most of all. Like several of those others, it crafts a unique mood with lashings of style, in this case inspired by ’80s movies and music. Dan Stevens is a mysterious ex-soldier who enters a family’s life and brings a load of trouble in his wake, but is he (anti-)hero or villain? Even by the end, you might not be sure. Witty, exciting, stylish, idiosyncratic, this is one guest I want to stay forever. (Sorry — it seems I can’t end any piece about this film without a terrible pun.)

34 years before Fury Road, there was The Road Warrior. A post-apocalyptic Australian Western, it sees Mel Gibson’s titular drifter drafted into defending an oil-rich community from a violent gang of fetish-attired marauders. While the film has much to offer throughout, the real joy is the third act: a balls-to-the-wall multi-vehicle chase, as Max and co attempt to escape in a heavily-armoured oil tanker and the gang give chase in a fleet of vehicles. Maybe it’s not as slick or extravagant as Fury Road, but it was done without a lick of CGI (for all Fury Road’s “done for real” claims, there’s an awful lot of computer work across that movie) and that added tangibility gives it the edge for me. Not to mention that it did it first — without Mad Max 2, we wouldn’t even have Fury Road.

2015 #1 Not as life-affirming as Supermen of Malegaon. Not as stylish as The Guest. Not as groundbreaking as Mad Max 2. Certainly not as ‘significant’ as a host of films further down this list. But from the moment the familiar beats of the famous theme tune begin to pulse over the company idents at the top of the movie, Rogue Nation engages you in a perfectly-crafted entertainment. It delivers sequence after sequence of finely-tuned action-thriller excitement, both from Tom Cruise’s crazy stuntwork and writer-director Christopher McQuarrie’s Hitchcockian control of espionage scenes. The plot may only be solid rather than any great shakes, but it’s supported by likeable heroes, a menacing villain, and well-pitched humour. It’s all topped off with Rebecca Ferguson, who could hold her own in a stand-off with Daisy Ridley and Charlize Theron for 2015’s most kick-ass heroine. Mission perfected.


As ever, I welcome your opinion on my top ten — not just in the comments section, but also in the form of a lovely poll. Multiple selections are allowed, so feel free to pick several favourites.

And if you feel I’ve made an unforgivable omission, I welcome your scathing criticisms in the comments.


Despite doubling the size of my selection, this was still a really, really tough year for picking favourites. Competition was harder than ever, not just because I watched 200 films (47% more than even my next biggest year) but because I made a conscious effort to watch fewer time-killers and more things I’d really been intending to see. As a result, films that I enjoyed immensely or admired intensely fell by the wayside, leaving several big guns to duke it out for the limited slots.

As if doubling my top ten wasn’t enough, the tightly-fought race got stuck for a while at 30 titles. The closest to making it in was my 1,000th film, Mark Cousin’s epic 15-hour documentary The Story of Film: An Odyssey (so epic that my review draft is still in the form of 4,300 words of notes). It hurt to leave it out, but something had to go. The remainder of those 30 (which I guess would be #22 to #30, then) were, in alphabetical order, The Babadook, Gone Girl, High Noon, Looper, Paddington, Scanners, Spectre, Stranger by the Lake, and Wings. In most other years, any of those could’ve found themselves comfortably in my top ten.

I can’t end this without mentioning the 38 films that earned themselves 5-star ratings this year. 17 of them made it into the top 20 — I won’t list those again, so you can go find the three four-star imposters for yourself (clue: they’re right at the end… or start, in the order I’ve written it). The remaining 21 five-starers were Argo, The Babadook, Boyhood, Boyz n the Hood, Dreams of a Life, Filmed in Supermarionation, Fury, The General, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Gone Girl, High Noon, Interstellar, Looper, The Philadelphia Story, sex, lies, and videotape, Shallow Grave, The Story of Film: An Odyssey, Stranger by the Lake, Whiplash, Wings, and The Wrestler. Reading through those again, there are several I feel should’ve been in my top 30… or 20… but what would I take out in their place? This year’s been too good, clearly.

Finally, on the same topic, there was one five-starer from each of my additional kinds of reviews (I love it when that happens — so neat). They were: non-list review 2001: A Space Odyssey, extended cut X-Men: Days of Future Past – The Rogue Cut, and short Feast.


Naturally, there were a considerable number of notable releases this year that I’ve yet to see. In my annual tradition, here’s an alphabetical list of 50 films — chosen for a variety of reasons, from box office success to critical acclaim via simple notoriety — that were released in 2015 and that I’ve not seen.

As is so often the case, it’s a funny old mix, because there were some films that seemed too ‘significant’ to leave out. This is why, despite recording my progress with these in my statistics every year, I’ll never, ever see 100% of them. For a current example, Minions is the 5th highest grossing film of 2015, so on the list it goes; but I didn’t really like Despicable Me and haven’t watched Despicable Me 2, so what are the chances I’ll ever decide to spend some of my time on Minions? Pretty darn slim, I reckon.

Anyway, the 50 I’ve chosen to highlight — some of which I do very much want to see — are…

Amy
Beasts of No Nation
The Big Short
Black Mass
Blackhat
Bridge of Spies
Brooklyn
Carol
Chappie
Cinderella
Creed
Crimson Peak
The Danish Girl
Everest
Ex Machina
Fantastic Four
Fifty Shades of Grey
Furious 7
The Good Dinosaur
The Hateful Eight
Home
Hotel Transylvania 2
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2
In the Heart of the Sea
It Follows
Joy
Legend
Macbeth
The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
The Martian
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
Minions
Pan
Pixels
The Revenant
Room
San Andreas
The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
Sicario
Snoopy and Charlie Brown…
Spotlight
Spy
Steve Jobs
Straight Outta Compton
Suffragette
Taken 3
Ted 2
Testament of Youth
The Visit
The Walk


And so, after all that verbosity, the largest ever year of 100 Films comes to an end.

Apart from the 21 reviews I still have to post, of course. (In that respect, 2014 isn’t even finished yet.) But no matter, it will be done.

For now, all that remains is for me to thank you for reading, to wish you all the best with your own film-watching endeavours (having spent several days shut away in my own world of statistics and lists, I’ve a few people’s posts to catch up on!), and to say “see you soon” for 2016 — the 10th year of 100 Films! I have some stuff planned…

2014 In Retrospect

It was 100 Films’ greatest ever year in terms of sheer size, but it was also one of the highest-scoring too, with the most five-star ratings I’ve ever awarded and the second-highest average score to date. Now it’s time to look back over the list and ask: Which were the cream of the crop? Which were the dregs? And which significant new films did I not even see?

To top it off, you can make your voice heard by voting for your favourites (plural) in this year’s top ten poll. Exciting stuff.

So without further ado:



The Five Worst Films I Saw For the First Time in 2014

In alphabetical order…

Chicken Little
Disney are back at the height of their powers of late, at least as far as the box office is concerned, with the phenomenon that is Frozen. Things weren’t so rosy in the early ’00s, though, leading them to abandon traditional 2D animation for the burgeoning world of 3D CGI. Their first effort was this dross, instantly proving it wasn’t the style of animation that was the problem.

G.I. Joe: Retaliation
I only gave this two stars (as opposed to one) for two reasons: 1) the rather cool cliff-swinging fight sequence, which deserves to be in a better movie, and 2) because for some unknown reason I’d given the Team America-esque first one two stars, and this is marginally better. Really, though, it’s awful: messily told, tonally uneven, ridiculous in any number of ways. Even as a daft actioner, it’s no fun.

Ghost Rider
Ghost Rider’s maligned sequel, Spirit of Vengeance, wasn’t particularly good, but at least it embraced the trashier, grimier aspects of the character (even if it was only in a PG-13 way). This first attempt to bring the Marvel anti-hero to the big screen tried to force the concept into the shape of a trad blockbuster, ending up with a Constantine rip-off. As hardly anyone liked Constantine, that wasn’t a very good idea.

Nativity 2: Danger in the Manger!
I liked the first Nativity — it’s not high art, but it’s a perfectly lovely Christmas movie. This follow-up has to switch out Martin Freeman for David Tennant, which isn’t a problem, but the new story is. Not that it’s much of a story, more a series of loosely-connected misadventures. Throw in a climactic concert made up of truly dreadful new songs and you have a disappointingly charmless sequel.

Transformers: Dark of the Moon
Michael Bay can make good movies, but he seems to have forgotten how. There are many things wrong with this third Transformers flick, but what’s most shocking is how ineptly it’s put together. For experienced filmmakers, there’s no excuse. Apparently this year’s fourth instalment is even worse, but it’s tough to imagine how. To quote a character in the movie: “does it suck or what? I mean it’s like a bad sci-fi film.”

Dishonourable Mention
Sin City: Recut & Extended
Not bad enough to actually make the bottom five, this recut took a film I remembered loving and messed about with it so much it made me doubt if I’d ever liked it in the first place. It could be my tastes have changed in the intervening nine years, but I suspect it’s at least as much due to the frustrating and near-pointless rearrangement of the running order. I recommend you stick to the theatrical cut.



The Ten Best Films I Saw For the First Time in 2014

The fascinating story of the outrage provoked in Britain by gory horror movies in the early days of VHS. Excellently constructed from talking-head interviews and archive clips, it not only tells the tale clearly but also presents spot-on juxtapositions. Informative both for those who lived through it and those for who it’s now part of history, the important message is how easily such censorship was allowed — even encouraged — and that we must be on the look out for it again. Unfortunately it is happening again, to the internet this time, and once again is being championed via misinformation from those with a vested interest. I guess more people need to see this film…

The gang’s all here for an all-eras X-Men team-up, the original cast teaming up with the First Class lot, and led by original franchise director Bryan Singer, for a time-travelling adventure inspired by the classic comic book storyline. Some surprisingly deep characterisation, buoyed by strong performances from a first-rate cast (how many of them are Oscar nominees/winners?), rubs shoulders comfortably with witty and inventive action sequences. The series that kicked off the current Hollywood superhero obsession proves it can still hold its own among the big boys that have come since.

Darren Aronofsky’s multi-pronged narrative about the evils of addiction is sometimes cited as one of the bleakest films ever made. Even if you’re prepared for that, the verve of the filmmaking transcends expectations. Finely-tuned editing and attentive sound design gradually position the viewer for the climax, a fast-cut perfectly-scored assault on the senses that almost batters you into submission. It may ultimately be grim and without hope, but it’s so amazingly crafted that you’re left longing to experience it again regardless.

Snatched off the street, locked in a bedsit for 15 years, then inexplicably released and given just days to figure out why it happened — that’s the concept behind this dark South Korean thriller (remade in America to no fanfare and even less acclaim in 2013). Oldboy mixes what could almost be a straightforward revenge thriller with weird, almost surrealistic touches, for a whole that is ready-made to be cultish without the self-conscious Cult-ish-ness that such things are normally saddled with. It ends with twists and revelations so hard-hitting they equal even the famous single-take hammer-featuring corridor scene.

Found-footage and superheroes — two current cinematic obsessions, reviled by some and beloved by others. They had to come together eventually. Director Josh Trank keeps a handle on affairs, so that the film always sticks to concept without becoming samey, while screenwriter Max Landis reveals the true nature of his characters as he leads them from low-key beginnings to a barnstorming citywide climax that’s a bit like the ending of Man of Steel, only really good.

Why aren’t there many thrillers set inside the jury room? I’d wager because 12 Angry Men got there a long time ago and nailed it. A man is on trial for murder; we join the case as the twelve-man jury enter their deliberation room. Eleven of them are absolutely certain; one thinks they ought to discuss it. For the next 90 minutes, twelve men sit in one room and talk to each other… and it’s absolutely gripping, tense and thrilling, with moments that make you virtually punch the air with excitement. It’s a masterclass in constrained filmmaking, from director Sidney Lumet, and acting, from a cast of twelve peerless performers.

The sequel to the prequel of the Planet of the Apes takes the fad for all-CGI characters and brings it to maturity with a fully-realised ape society, played by mo-capped actors led by Andy Serkis, that is far more interesting than the human portion of the story. This is a story of interspecies relations where everything could be fine if it weren’t for past distrust and people constantly bringing guns along — like the best sci-fi, it reflects our world back at us. They claimed Avatar proved motion-captured performances should be considered alongside ‘the real thing’. Rubbish. Dawn, however, makes that case completely.

Hated by Stephen King, author of the original novel, and his most die-hard fans, Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation sees Jack Nicholson and family as the caretakers and sole residents of a remote hotel over a snowbound winter, when very creepy things begin to happen… Goodness knows what any of it ultimately means (I know there are plenty of wild theories — I’ve got Room 237 recorded to catch at some point), but as an exercise in eliciting emotions of dread and almost-primal fear, it’s second to none.

The sixth feature film to star Hergé’s boy reporter (yes, really) sees the master of action-adventure cinema, Steven Spielberg, bring us the best Indiana Jones movie in over 20 years — only it’s computer animated and stars a blonde Belgian chap with a posh British accent. Rendered with incredible realism by Weta, with a screenplay that perfectly balances investigation, action and humour, and direction that knows when to maintain verisimilitude and when to cut loose with all the freedom CGI can offer, Tintin is a quality entertainment. Very nearly my film of the year, but for…

Regular readers will know I love a single-location thriller, and this is one — it just happens that the single-location in question is the entire orbit of planet Earth. There may not be much of a plot (“woman gets stranded in space; tries to get to safety”), but it doesn’t matter: director Alfonso Cuarón reminds us of his mastery of the single-take, using it to better connect us to the characters’ experiences. I’m sure people were right that it’s best in 3D on a huge screen, but even in 2D on a telly it’s spectacular. It’s also the third film in my top five that’s only been made possible thanks to advances in computer graphics — that surely says something about how an intelligent use of CGI still allows filmmakers to innovate.



Top 10 Poll

As ever, I welcome your opinion on my top ten — not just in the comments section, but also in the form of a lovely poll. This year you can pick multiple options, so feel free to vote for all your favourites.

And if you feel I’ve made an unforgivable omission, do feel free to berate me below.



Honourable Mentions

Yet another record: for the first time ever, all of my top ten films are ones I awarded a full five stars to. That’s once again testament to the quality of this year’s viewing, because I felt sure at least one four-stars-er would make the list. To be precise, that was The Green Hornet, which I know isn’t widely liked but I rather loved — I called it “one of the best superhero movies of the current generation”, in fact. On the day, though, I couldn’t in good conscience say it was better than any of the films I have included. I guess that confers 11th place on it.

In total, 27 main-list films earned themselves a five-star ratings this year. As well as those in the top ten (for which, see above, obv.), the others were After the Thin Man, All is Lost, La Belle et la Bete, Dead Poets Society, Good Morning Vietnam, Good Will Hunting, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, In Your Eyes, The Kings of Summer, Rear Window, Saving Mr. Banks, The Searchers, The Secret of Kells, Sightseers, The Thin Man, The World’s End, and Zero Dark Thirty. Additionally, both of the ‘other’ titles I watched and reviewed — The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (Extended Edition) and miniseries The 10th Kingdom — also scored full marks.

There are any number of other films I could highlight here — my long-list for the top ten had over 50 movies on it, and at least 25 of those were genuine contenders — but two categories stand out. Firstly, after finishing the Falcon series earlier in the year, towards the end I made a start on The Thin Man, watching the first three out of six films. They’re excellent fun, the tonal inspiration for the likes of the Saint and the Falcon (which I’ve previously covered in full), but on the whole even better. Expect reviews before too long.

Finally, we all know superhero and comic book movies are everywhere right now, and will continue to be so if the announced plans of Marvel Studios, Warner Bros, Fox, Sony, and the rest, come to fruition. It’s felt particularly true for me this year, with not only a few well-received recent releases (Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Guardians of the Galaxy, X-Men: Days of Future Past), but also getting caught up on an array of recent entries (all but two were from the past decade, and one of those is only 11 years old). All told, there were 22 superhero, comic book, or related movies on this year’s list — that’s 16%. For a single subgenre — and not one where I’ve (say) dedicated myself to watching the entirety of one series — that does seem rather a lot…



The Films I Didn’t See

As is my tradition, here’s an alphabetical list of 50 films that were released in 2014 but I’ve not yet seen. They’ve been chosen for a variety of reasons, from box office success to critical acclaim via simple notoriety. It’s biased slightly towards ones I might actually see at some point, though there were a couple of highly-successful or much-discussed ones I felt couldn’t/shouldn’t be left out. Feel free to assume which ones those are.

22 Jump Street
300: Rise of an Empire
’71
American Sniper
Big Eyes
Big Hero 6
Birdman
Boyhood
Calvary
Divergent
The Equalizer
Exodus: Gods and Kings
The Expendables 3
Godzilla
Gone Girl
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Fault in Our Stars
Foxcatcher
Fury
Hercules
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
How to Train Your Dragon 2
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1
The Imitation Game
The Inbetweeners 2
Inherent Vice
Interstellar
The Interview
Into the Woods
Locke
Lucy
Maleficent
The Maze Runner
A Million Ways to Die in the West
The Monuments Men
Mr. Turner
Mrs. Brown’s Boys D’Movie
Muppets Most Wanted
Nightcrawler
Noah
Paddington
Pride
The Raid 2
RoboCop
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
The Theory of Everything
Transcendence
Transformers: Age of Extinction
Unbroken
Under the Skin



Party like it’s Nineteen Ninety Nine…

It’s 100 Films’ ninth year — crikey, when’d that happen?

Expect more archive reposts (can I finish them before my 10th anniversary?), a third round of “What Do You Mean You Haven’t Seen” (it’s got a killer new acronym…), and — fingers crossed — both my 1,000th review and the official 100 Films’ #1000!

All that and hoverboards. We were promised hoverboards.

2010 In Retrospect

2010 has been kinder to 100 Films after the last two years, where I first barely scraped to 100 and then failed to reach it (not that I’ve gone on about it). This year, I made it to 100 in September before going on to a grand total of 122 — which, if you’re interested, makes it my second best year, behind the first by seven films.

But now 2010 is over — well, obviously, it finished a week ago — but I mean that 100 Films’ 2010 is over, this being the final post related to those 122 films… other than the half-dozen reviews I’ve yet to post, that is (and that too is an improvement on last year, when I had 20 left over). This final look back has my usual mix of features: a ‘Bottom Five’, a ‘Top Ten’, some ‘Also Ran’s, and ‘Didn’t Run’s too.

I’m sure you don’t need reminding at this point (but just in case) that this is all a review of my 2010 — the films I saw for the first time, not those that hit cinemas for the first time. If you’d like a list of the 122 titles that had a chance of reaching either of these lists, please look here.

Sitting comfortably? Good. Then how about:


The Five Worst Films I Saw in 2010

Max Payne
This year’s only single-star film nearly didn’t sink to such depths, but it was ultimately deserved. It’s an action movie without much action; a thriller without any thrills; a fantasy movie that isn’t meant to be one. It’s also a load of rubbish and you should avoid it. Play the game instead.

Righteous Kill
De Niro and Pacino, together, for a whole film! Cor! Except it’s more bore (see what I did there?) in Jon Avnet’s needlessly complex thriller, with filmdom’s most guessable twist — there’s a good chance you’ll’ve got it from the trailer. Watch their one shared scene in Heat on loop instead.

The Seeker: The Dark is Rising
Another British children’s fantasy book series reaches the big screen, but unlike uber-success Harry Potter or the Narnia series, this is ruined the traditional way: Americanisation. Though set in Britain with a largely British cast, ruinous changes abound. A few good moments can’t redeem it.

Elektra
If you thought Daredevil was bad, don’t even consider going anywhere near its spin-off. I liked Daredevil, but I could find little to enjoy in this sloppy, ill-considered fantasy/action flick. It’s this kind of incohesive tosh that kills whole genres. How do such risible screenplays even get made?

The Emperor’s New Groove
I could’ve put something like Iron Eagle as my last choice, but I just don’t care enough about it to hate it. Emperor’s New Groove, on the other hand, is a Disney animated film — I always want to like Disney’s animated films (I guess it’s a childhood thing) and this one is rubbish. Boo.


The Ten Best Films I Saw For the First Time in 2010

This year’s top ten seems inordinately coloured by comedy — perhaps, more than ever, it’s not so much the “best films I’ve seen” as “my favourite films I’ve seen”. Look out for a few more serious honourable mentions at the end.

10) Clue
I think it’s safe to say Clue isn’t the greatest film ever — indeed, I’ve ranked nine above it (ho ho), and there are certainly Better films I’ve left off this list — but I enjoyed it immensely, now that I’ve finally seen it. I can’t help but think its lowly-to-non-existent reputation means a lot of others who’d enjoy it haven’t seen it either.

9) Is Anybody There?
Comedy-drama — or “dramedy”, if you’re American — often comes in for stick for being neither funny enough to be a comedy nor dramatic enough to be drama. And, sometimes, this is rightly so. When pitched right, however, it’s like real life, and that’s the tone Is Anybody There? hits. An affecting exploration of loneliness, regret, hope, and more.

8) Sherlock Holmes
The Guy Ritchie-directed reinvention of Sherlock Holmes could — perhaps should — have been a blockbusterised disaster. Instead, he’s still the genius detective we know and love, only now with added ass-kicking abilities. No, it’s not the definitive Holmes, but it is a jolly good and surprisingly inventive take on the character.

7) His Girl Friday
Sharp, fast, intelligent, hilariously funny — they don’t make films like this any more. Quite literally. Instead, we have the risible …Movie series pumped out at us every year. Something to do with the lowest common denominator Hollywood world we live in, I’m sure, though that’s an explanation rather than an excuse.

6) Coraline
Last year two documentaries formed the centre point of my top ten, this year it’s two children’s films — but both are ready to be enjoyed by adults too. In fact, Coraline’s so dark and scary in places one might argue it’s more aimed at a slightly older audience. Plus Eamonn Holmes hates it. What more recommendation do you need?

5) Nanny McPhee
More childish than Coraline, perhaps, but there’s an awful lot to enjoy nonetheless. Far more than the Mary Poppins rip-off it looks like from the outside, Nanny McPhee rattles along through a colourful but grounded tale that imparts moral messages without battering you round the head. It’s properly magical.

4) Anatomy of a Murder
Procedural crime dramas relentlessly fill our TV schedules these days, but few can hold a candle to Otto Preminger’s masterpiece. The precision-engineered storytelling masterfully refuses to deviate from the case at hand, and who but James Stewart could be a lawyer defending a murderer and still have us cheering for him to win?

3) Inception
Christopher Nolan’s latest managed the rare feat these days of being a genuine blockbuster with an original story, and converting that into high praise and box office too (and without the ticket-selling boost of 3D). More impressively, it did this while baffling much of its audience. Remains to be seen if it benefits or suffers from repeat viewings.

2) Toy Story 3
Returning to a beloved franchise over a decade later would be a mistake in the hands of most filmmakers, but this is Pixar. Toy Story 3 is a worthy successor to its ’90s predecessors; a funny and moving tale that tackles big, emotional themes while still providing a kid-friendly adventure-comedy. It may well be the best film of 2010.

1) Kick-Ass
I’ve not had so much debate over my #1 film before (though 2008’s 2 & 3 kept me busy for a while). Despite provoking outrage in some quarters, Kick-Ass is an arresting deconstruction of the superhero myth, both as “what if someone really did it?” and how the genre has been presented on our screens. Funny, exciting, it really does… yeah, you can add the pun.


Special Mentions

As usual, I just want to highlight a few other films, for various reasons.

I normally mention the 5-star films first, but this year I found it tougher than usual (or, at least, tougher than last year) to settle on the final few slots in my top ten. The films that consequently just missed out by a sliver of fate — and the way my opinions wavered on that particular day — were The Hurt Locker, M and Speed Racer. A few others survived almost as long, but those are the ones I really struggled with.

Secondly, then, I must mention the 16 films that earned themselves 5-star ratings this year. A very respectable seven of them made it into the top ten, namely Anatomy of a Murder, Coraline, His Girl Friday, Inception, Kick-Ass, Nanny McPhee and Toy Story 3. It always seems silly to include 4-star films over some of those that achieved full marks, but that’s life. Two more are among those ‘almost’s — The Hurt Locker and M — while the other seven main listers I left out were The Damned United, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, Miracle on 34th Street, Die Puppe, Slumdog Millionaire and The Spiral Staircase. Finally, from outside the main list, was The Special Edition of Beauty and the Beast — or Beauty and the Beast SE to you and I.

Penultimately, a quick mention for a few noir-ish oldies. None of them quite managed to squeeze into my top ten, but this year I’ve really enjoyed the likes of Ministry of Fear, The Outrage, Odd Man Out and, of course, The Spiral Staircase. Plus, the cake-centric intro to my Ministry of Fear review is still one of my favourite things I’ve written for this blog.

And finally, while I’m on older pictures, a quick nod to the rest of the Ernst Lubitsch silents I watched in a rather intensive week back in January. Die Puppe was my favourite, but it was great all round to indulge in a chronological run of one filmmaker’s early work. I find silent movies to be a rather rich flavour of film — there’s much to appreciate, but too many too close together and it gets a bit sickly. I rather gorged on them that week, hence why there’s been no repeat (as yet) of my Silent Week concept. Hey-ho.


The Films I Didn’t See

As ever, allow me to remind you that this hasn’t been a Top 10 of 2010 (only my 2010), but as new films do feature it’s worth considering that there were, as always, a number of notable releases this year that I’ve yet to see. Unsurprisingly — I mean, I only made three trips to the cinema and only saw seven 2010 films in total.

In my annual tradition, then, here’s an alphabetical list of 50 films — chosen for a variety of reasons, from box office success to critical acclaim via simple notoriety — that are listed as 2010 on IMDb and that I’ve not seen.

This year, I considered changing my remit to cover films released in the UK in 2010, for a more accurate account of what I might actually have seen. Using IMDb’s dates means various films fall through the cracks — foreign films that take time to get here usually, but also productions like Season of the Witch, which was made in 2009 but not released ’til early 2011. But I hate it when you see all of [X Year]’s Best Picture nominees turn up in an [X+1 Year]’s list of best films simply because over here they were released a couple of days into January instead a couple of days before it. IMDb’s year of production is, one might argue, as arbitrary a way of dividing them up as UK release date, but it does last longer in the consciousness — and it stops The Best Picture Of [X Year] turning up in a My Favourite Films Of [X+1 Year] list. I suppose I’m at a slight advantage though: by definition I don’t have to have seen these films, whereas a magazine / website / film review programme / blogger has to have had the chance to see something (and, obviously, to have used that chance) to put it in their year-end Top 10.

But hark at me, I’ve waffled on for an age about something fundamentally unimportant. Here’s the damn list.

127 Hours
4.3.2.1
The A-Team
Black Swan
Buried
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
Clash of the Titans
Despicable Me
Easy A
Eat Pray Love
Exit Through the Gift Shop
The Expendables
The Fighter
Four Lions
The Ghost
(aka The Ghost Writer)
Green Zone
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1
Hot Tub Time Machine
How to Train Your Dragon
Iron Man 2
Jonah Hex
The Karate Kid
The King’s Speech
Knight and Day
The Last Airbender
Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole
Let Me In
Machete
Monsters
Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang
Piranha 3D
Predators
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time
Red
Resident Evil: Afterlife
Salt
Saw 3D
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
Shrek Forever After
Shutter Island
The Social Network
Tangled
The Town
Tron: Legacy
True Grit
The Twilight Saga: Eclipse
Unstoppable
Vampires Suck
Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps
Winter’s Bone


Still here?

That’s the end, then. And if you read it all, you encountered somewhere in the region of 78 films (slightly more if you followed the Lubitsch link). That was worth coming all the way down here for, wasn’t it?

Right, I’m off to watch some more films. I’ve got another 100 to get through you know.

And that’s the end of my repostathon, too!
The blog’s archive is now as up-to-date as it’s ever likely to be.

2009 In Retrospect

Introduction

2009’s well and truly over (well, aside from the 20 reviews I still haven’t posted), so it’s time to reflect on what has been.

It’s been a somewhat inauspicious year for 100 Films, actually, failing to make the titular target for the first time and not necessarily seeing a great many classic films along the way. 2007’s Top Ten held undeniable classics like Brief Encounter and Citizen Kane, while 2008’s managed the likes of Rashomon, Notorious, and the 9th greatest film of all time [as of 2015, it’s gone back up to 4th]. I don’t mean to spoil this year’s lot, but it looks kinda tame and modern (70% come from the last three years) by comparison.

Equally, whereas the first two years saw just a single one-star film each, this year (as noted in my previous summary post) I’ve awarded four. Clearly my recent viewing choices leave something to be desired — indeed, for all of this I have only myself to blame.

In case you forgot…

As regular readers are undoubtedly aware — but it doesn’t do any harm to re-emphasise — both the Bottom Five and Top Ten are based on what I’ve seen for the first time this year, not what was released this year (hence why I was wittering on about not having many all-time-classics to include). To this end, you can see the list of contenders here, which I’m certain includes some that are bafflingly absent from what follows.

Each of the Top Ten comes with a further recommendation, also plucked from this year’s viewing, of a film that is in some way similar. Why? I’m not sure, it just seemed a good idea. They are not numbers 11 to 20 in my favour.

And with that out of the way for another year, here are the lists:

The Five Worst Films I’ve Seen in 2009

Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert Tour
My original review was more verbose than this ‘movie’ deserves, so let me sum it up in one word: tosh.

AVPR – Aliens vs Predator: Requiem
AVP was pretty rubbish, but AVPR performs the impressive feat of turning its predecessor into a pleasurable memory. As I said in my original review, “the inconceivably thorough degradation of a once-great franchise is its greatest crime.”

Alone in the Dark
Makes AVPR look good. Actually, it doesn’t — I don’t think anything could — but if forced I’d still rather re-watch those franchises being destroyed than suffer through this incomprehensible and unexciting mess another time.

Sarah Silverman: Jesus is Magic
Comedy should be funny. That’s pretty much a basic principle, I’m sure everyone will agree. Whether it’s also cutting-edge, old-fashioned, gentle, satirical, offensive or comfortable, it at least needs to be funny. Which, in this film, Silverman isn’t.

Sherlock: Case of Evil
This wins the final spot over the likes of Transporter 3, The Man in the Iron Mask, The Red Riding Trilogy and Cinderella simply because it was so wiped from my mind I had to look up my own review to remember what it was. Case of Evil is moderately passable in itself, but by being literally forgettable it earns a place here.

The Ten Best Films I’ve Seen For the First Time in 2009

10) Rage
Just sneaking in at the outside edge of my top ten is Rage. It looked like a film I wouldn’t really enjoy — a full feature-length of fashion industry people nattering to camera while exciting events took place off screen — but a high-quality cast and the fact it was free persuaded me. I’m glad it did, because I actually enjoyed it immensely. Sometimes I do like gimmicks, and this one works.
See also: The Knack …And How to Get It, because it’s the next-most experimental/arty thing (that isn’t also in this top ten).

9) Alien Resurrection
I ummed and ahhed over this, but in the end Resurrection beat the other two Alien sequels into my top ten. Is Aliens a better film? Probably. Well, certainly. But Resurrection is under-loved and, in my view, a little gem… in it’s own twisted, dark kind of way.
See also: Aliens, obviously.

8) Culloden
The faux-documentary is everywhere these days, but few are quite as original as Peter Watkins’ 1964 effort. Instead of comedically covering a fake band/movie/dog show, Watkins presents a real historical event as if it’s been covered by a modern-day current affairs programme. The concept is executed consistently and flawlessly, while even on a small BBC budget he manages to craft epic and affecting battle scenes.
See also: Paths of Glory, for more wartime miscarriages of justice.

7) Star Trek
I’m no Star Trek fan, and that’s one of the main reasons this latest franchise entry makes my top ten: it’s not the Second Coming some seem set on celebrating it as, but it’s a fine action-adventure that I actually enjoyed — more than I can say for most of Trek. It’s also distinctly fun, in the bright, colourful, occasionally a little silly vein, a quality that’s in disappointingly short supply among modern blockbusters.
See also: Avatar, also bright and colourful, but woefully over-hyped.

6) Rock n Roll Nerd
Perhaps enjoyment of this depends on your opinion of Tim Minchin, but even if you’re not a fan (yep, I hear there are some people who don’t like him) it remains an interesting glimpse behind the scenes of the world of stand-up comedy (part of it anyway), alongside the journey of a sudden rise to fame and a sweet domestic ‘subplot’.
See also: Commentary! The Musical for more behind-the-scenes-styled comedy songs.

5) For All Mankind
Two documentaries mark the mid-point of this year’s top ten, but this just edges in the lead because of its Importance and poetic beauty. The story of the Apollo missions is told effectively if sparely, but it’s the visuals that are the real joy here.
See also: In the Shadow of the Moon tells the same story, but with the astronauts’ recollections decades later.

4) Son of Rambow
There’s something about Son of Rambow… The shape of the story is familiar, the lessons learnt hardly new, and some of the sillier subplots rub incongruously against the realist primary narrative. And yet none of that matters because it’s beautifully written, directed and performed, full of skill and charm, amusing and moving in equal measure. And personally, I quite like barmy subplots.
See also: Stand By Me, another set-in-the-past boyhood coming-of-age tale.

3) Watchmen: Director’s Cut
I’ve barred myself from giving this the top spot because, as noted in my review of the theatrical cut, I still can’t be certain my opinion of the film is divorced from my opinion of the novel: so faithful is Snyder’s adaptation, so indicative was the trailer and other pre-release coverage, that even watching it for the first time it felt like I’d seen it before. It’s flawed, but it’s also brilliant.
See also: Batman (1966), an equally divisive superhero movie. Totally different, mind.

2) In Bruges
Looking over my whole top ten this year, there’s a bit of a “it’s not for everyone” theme developing. With its foul language, extreme violence, politically incorrect humour and somewhat inconclusive ending, In Bruges undoubtedly falls into that category. But for anyone who can stomach those things it’s a wonderfully entertaining film in every respect. A bit like my #1…
See also: Ripley’s Game, another Europe-set hitman thriller with a comic edge.

1) Inglourious Basterds
Tarantino’s latest seems to have been quite divisive with audiences, possibly due to misaligned expectations. As a blast — or, rather, several blasts — of pure cinema, resplendent with a cornucopia of irregular screen tricks and motifs scattered throughout with carefree abandon, it’s an awful lot of fun. Unlikely to best Reservoir Dogs or Pulp Fiction for mainstream acceptance, perhaps, but there’s something for every kind of cineast in here.
See also: The Thief of Bagdad, equally episodic, playful and joyously filmic.

Special Mentions

As ever, I can’t end this without mentioning the 17 films that earned themselves 5-star ratings this year (including some that are yet to have reviews published). Six of them made it into the top ten: For All Mankind, In Bruges, Inglourious Basterds, Rage, Son of Rambow, and Watchmen: Director’s Cut. Normally I’d just list the others, but first I’m going to pick out two that came closer than most to cracking the top ten: The Great Dictator and The Thief of Bagdad. I suppose that makes them 11 and 12. The remaining nine included: Aliens, Anne Frank Remembered, La Antena, The Apartment, Glory, Paths of Glory, Watchmen (failing to make the top ten because of the Director’s Cut), and Where the Sidewalk Ends.

Finally, the 17th was Blade Runner: The Final Cut. As with Leon last year, I didn’t feel justified including in my Top 10 a film so similar to a version I’d previously seen. As it was excluded from consideration, then, it gets its own paragraph here.

Additionally, I felt five-stars were deserved by a few films I’d seen before (The Birds, Some Like It Hot, Flash Gordon) and one alternate cut (Alien: The Director’s Cut), not to mention two shorts: The Lunch Date and Commentary! The Musical.

More randomly, well done to X-Men Origins: Wolverine for finally putting a film under ‘X’ on my review list; and to The X Files sequel for doubling the number. Just ‘Y’ left to fill…

The Films I Didn’t See

As I’m certain you’re aware, this isn’t a Top 10 of 2009 (only of my 2009), but new films do feature, and with that in mind there were a number of notable releases that I’ve yet to see.

In my annual tradition, then, here’s an alphabetical list of 50 films (listed as 2009 on IMDb) that I’ve missed this year. These have been chosen for a variety of reasons, from box office success to critical acclaim via simple notoriety.

2012
(500) Days of Summer
9
The Boat That Rocked
Brüno
A Christmas Carol
Coraline
District 9
Drag Me to Hell
An Education
Fantastic Mr. Fox
Fast & Furious
The Final Destination
G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra
Glorious 39
The Hangover
The Hurt Locker
Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs
The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus
In the Loop
The Informant!
The International
The Invention of Lying
Invictus
Jennifer’s Body
Julie & Julia
Knowing
Monsters vs. Aliens
Moon
Nine
Paranormal Activity
The Princess and the Frog
The Proposal
Public Enemies
Push
The Road
A Serious Man
Sherlock Holmes
The Soloist
St. Trinian’s 2: The Legend of Fritton’s Gold
The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3
Taking Woodstock
Terminator Salvation
This Is It
The Time Traveler’s Wife
The Twilight Saga: New Moon
Underworld: Rise of the Lycans
Up
Where the Wild Things Are
Year One

A Final Thought

“It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…”

See, 2010’s already begun!

2008 In Retrospect

Introduction

And so 2008 is finally at an end (really this time). It’s always odd, looking back, and seeing just how long ago January was… and yet, at the same time, how close it feels.

The films I’ve watched, numbered as they are, provide an especially concrete example of this. Take this pair: Dark City was just the second film I watched in 2008, but it feels barely months since I first saw it. Atonement, on the other hand, was only the seventh film — barely a month after Dark City — but it feels like years ago. But that’s Time for you: entirely relative.

This is why, as I go through the year watching my new films, I keep a pair of lists. The first, and longest, is the ‘short’ list for my Best Films Of 2008 — being the best films I’ve seen (for the first time) in the year past, not the best films released (for the first time) in that year. The second, mercifully shorter, is the short list for my Worst Films Of 2008 — again, ones I’ve seen. These lists are handy in making sure I don’t forget anything… and meaning I don’t have to trawl through all 100 again!


What follows…

…is quite simple: first up, my five Worst Films, in no particular order; then, my ten Best Films, in a lovely countdown. Each of the latter is accompanied by a further recommendation from this year’s viewing. These aren’t numbers 11 to 20 on my list, but instead films I’ve seen this year that are in some way similar to the one they’re attached to.

With that all over-explained, here goes:


The Five Worst Films I’ve Seen in 2008

The Baskerville Curse
This was only the second single-star review I’ve doled out in two years and 254 reviews (including the shorts). I maintain it’s an overrated Holmes tale, but it can be adapted well — I like the 1939 version more than my review suggests, and also the BBC’s 2002 effort. This needlessly renamed version wastes its short running time on the story’s less important elements (train journeys! letter writing!), depicted through low-quality animation with no atmosphere. Disappointing.

The Invasion
A slow, predictable plot and ludicrous final message scupper this effort, which is a shame because it’s the sort of allegorical sci-fi tale that’s probably ripe for a good retelling.

Superhero Movie
Lazy in every respect (so it can make do with this lazy comment).

Southland Tales
Last year I picked one film for this list that, as well as being weak in itself, stood for all the year’s disappointments. While there weren’t so many this year, this was undoubtedly one. I haven’t seen Donnie Darko for a few years so I don’t know if I’ve grown out of it (some seem to have), but it was a great experience when I first saw it in the cinema and I’ve eagerly awaited Kelly’s follow-up ever since. That he turned in such a confused mess was truly disappointing. Hopefully his next effort will be better.

Cube²: Hypercube and Cube Zero
A slight cheat, I know, but together they took an excellent, original, stand-alone sci-fi film and tried to turn it into yet another horror franchise. One might live with that if they were decent pieces of work, but both are risible, missing all the points that made the first so great. An exceptionally good example of why wholly unnecessary sequels are wholly bad.


The Ten Best Films I’ve Seen For the First Time in 2008

10) Sunshine
As this year ends Danny Boyle is garnering much praise and Oscar buzz for his new flick, but this SF effort is possibly my favourite of his films to date. Yes, it completely loses it in the final stretch — and it’s that ending that held off a fifth star from me, and I think generally damaged its critical standing too — but to that point it’s an exciting yet believable (enough, anyway) space-faring drama.
See also: The Fountain, a more metaphysical space mission as just one part of a no-doubt-meaningful century-spanning narrative.

9) Cloverfield
There’s never been hype quite like Cloverfield’s, and I was surprised as anyone when it actually paid off. Probably a pain on the big screen, it really suits your TV. It’s not the scariest horror ever (its PG-13 rating surely put paid to that) and it’s a bit slow to get going (especially if you’re any older than the protagonists, it seems), but once it does it holds impressively faithful to its high-concept camcorder style and uses it to good effect on several occasions.
See also: Russian Ark, for a whole film shot in a real single take.

8) Hellboy II: The Golden Army
I enjoyed the original Hellboy, but here del Toro perfects the formula. It’s no small feat to balance character drama (where two of the main characters are a giant red demon and a fish-man) with humour (genuinely funny humour at that), spellbinding production design, and thrilling action sequences, but del Toro does it with ease. Pan’s Labyrinth may have captured more critics, but personally I’d rather enjoy this one again. Fingers crossed that a third entry can overcome all the odds, so stacked against it, and grace our screens one day.
See also: Transformers, a surprisingly entertaining blockbuster (narrowly missing out on a place here).

7) Notorious
Notorious was one of those semi-accidental discoveries for me — “there’s a Hitchcock on I’ve not seen on telly? Let’s give it a go.” Packed with incident, and with an unforgettable crane shot, it was certainly worth it. (Hitchcock fans may want to keep an eye on the blog in 2009 — I’ve acquired almost all his films on DVD recently and may get stuck into them soon.) [I didn’t.]
See also: Rebecca, another excellent Hitchcock-directed romantic mystery.

6) Hairspray
A bit of fluff with an incredibly catchy closing number that always turns up on the Royal Variety Performance and the like? Yes — but also so much more. The toe-tapping tunes (there’s a cliché I never thought I’d use) and lovable characters make it an above-average feel-good flick, but it’s the surprising presence and assured handling of A Serious Issue that notch it up to such heights.
See also: Mamma Mia!, if you like your musicals feel-good and familiar.

5) Rashomon
My first encounter with Akira Kurosawa was undoubtedly belated, but certainly worth the wait. Rashomon is a seminal work, its title now a byword for multiple-perspective narratives, and the reputation this affords it is certainly deserved. Modern films may attempt to trade off this style, but are often nothing of the sort (Vantage Point, I’m looking at you) — Rashomon is the one true version.
See also: Throne of Blood, another brilliant Kurosawa adaptation, this time of my favourite Shakespeare.

4) Stardust
Dubbing this “the British Princess Bride” rather undersells it. Stardust is a truly magical film, packed with wit, action, delicious villains, a star-packed cast, a stirring score, genuinely special effects, British locations that look as stunning as anything New Zealand had to offer, and — of course — more. The odd duff note (Ricky Gervais, I’m looking at you) can’t detract from the pure fun on offer.
See also: Enchanted, a beautifully executed riff on a similar fantastical genre.

3) Dark City
It was a close call which film landed third and which second, and on another day it might’ve been the other way round, but Alex Proyas’ dark sci-fi was narrowly pipped at the post. It’s all but forgotten, which is a shame because it does what it does amazingly — including much of what the Matrix sequels had to offer, only five years earlier and in a way that makes sense. To say too much would be to ruin it, and I definitely don’t want to do that. A long-awaited director’s cut was finally released on DVD this year — reportedly now the only decent way to watch the film, it will surely find a place on next year’s list. [It didn’t.]
See also: Cube Zero, pretty dreadful but with a similar(ish) retro-industrial-SF production design.

2) Zodiac
David Fincher is a wonderful director, currently adding another string to his bow with the highly praised Curious Case of Benjamin Button (see #10 on this list for a similar situation). For me, Zodiac is possibly his best film yet, a thoroughly atypical serial-killer thriller that sticks to the facts over a lengthy running time, yet manages to hold your attention too. Again, the (only marginally longer) DVD-released director’s cut is likely to find a place on the 2009 list. [It didn’t, but did in 2011.]
See also: L.A. Confidential, more period-set investigation of brutal crimes thick with conspiracy.

1) The Dark Knight
No surprises here. 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. There’s little else to say that hasn’t already been said — especially as I’ve already reviewed it twice.
See also: Iron Man, this year’s other billionaire-in-a-suit superhero, with less plot but more laughs.


Special Mentions

I can’t end this without mentioning the 16 films that earned themselves 5-star ratings this year. Seven of them made it into the top ten (much better than last year, I think). Those were: Dark City, The Dark Knight, Hairspray, Notorious, Rashomon, Stardust, and Zodiac. Last year I commented that I’d since rethought some of the 5s I’d handed out; not so this year, and most of the following came very close to making the top ten: Atonement, Cathy Come Home, Double Indemnity, The Green Mile, L.A. Confidential, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, Rebecca, and Throne of Blood.

There was also a 5 for Leon: Version Integrale. I’ve singled it out because it’s one of my favourite films ever, and I felt this cut was different enough from the original version to number it individually… but not different enough to include in my Top 10. Here’s a whole honorary paragraph instead.

Additionally, two shorts scored full marks for the first time this year: Pixar’s Presto, which preceded WALL-E on the big screen and can now be found on that film’s DVD; and Aardman’s Wallace and Gromit in A Matter of Loaf and Death, a Christmas treat that will be getting its own DVD release. There were also 5-star re-watch reviews for Bond re-boot Casino Royale and inadvertent franchise-starter Cube. And finally, the ubiquitous Dark Knight earned itself a second full set of stars thanks to its stunning IMAX version.


The Films I Didn’t See

As has been noted, this isn’t a Top 10 of 2008 in the traditional sense (at all), but new films do feature, and with that in mind there were a number of notable releases this year that I’ve yet to see.

So, after the intense interest of doing this last year, here’s an alphabetical list of 50 films listed as 2008 on IMDb that I’ve missed. These have been chosen for a variety of reasons, from box office success to critical acclaim, from fame to infamy. (Most of the alphabet’s covered too, but, frustratingly, not quite all of it.)

10,000 BC
Australia
Babylon A.D.
The Bank Job
Body of Lies
Burn After Reading
Changeling
Che Parts One & Two
The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Day the Earth Stood Still
Defiance
Doomsday
Doubt
The Duchess
The Edge of Love
Frost/Nixon
Get Smart
Gran Torino
Hancock
High School Musical 3: Senior Year
How to Lose Friends and Alienate People
In Bruges
Journey to the Center of the Earth 3D
Jumper
Kung Fu Panda
Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa
Man on Wire
Max Payne
The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor
The Other Boleyn Girl
Rambo
The Reader
Revolutionary Road
Righteous Kill
RocknRolla
Sex and the City
Slumdog Millionaire
Speed Racer
The Spirit
Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Transporter 3
Tropic Thunder
Twilight
Valkyrie
W.
Waltz With Bashir
The X-Files: I Want to Believe
Yes Man
Zack and Miri Make a Porno


Final Thoughts

I didn’t think I was going to make it to 100 films this year (as I may have mentioned), but it shows what a little determination — in the final stages at least — can do for you. Better luck next year, perhaps.

Maybe I’ll be able to pack in a few more unseen classics too — looking back over this year’s films to choose my top ten, many seemed almost like total-boosting placeholders. That’s not quite the truth of the matter, but it may have skewed the top ten a little (“no WALL-E?” some may ask, for just one oddity).

Still, what’s done is done. Now, to catch up on the reviews left hanging from ’08 (eleven!), and then it’s on to ’09…