1 · Before Sunrise and Before Sunset
I’m not sure how I went the length of the ’90s without seeing a single movie by Richard Linklater. I knew about Slacker, of course—one of those titles that attached itself to Generation X like, well, “Generation X”. But it didn’t seem like something I desperately had to see.
Like many, though, I was intrigued by Waking Life’s existential musings set to different animation styles, and I also wanted to reassure myself that my favourite Philip K. Dick novel was in safe hands; so when his movies started hitting Edinburgh screens with increasing regularity this year, I was there. First there was the matinee screening of Dazed and Confused, a ’90s film about the ’70s in the same way that American Graffiti was a ’70s film about the ’50s; like Graffiti, it also seems to have inspired a sitcom (That ’70s Show, Happy Days). Then there was the thoroughly enjoyable School of Rock. Finally, at the beginning of August, came the matinee double of Slacker (at last) and Before Sunrise, in preparation for the latter’s new sequel.
2 · Kill Bill Vol. 2
I thought long and hard about where this movie would sit in my top ten, bumping it up rung after rung every time I did. It’s a combined ranking, really, for Vols. 1 & 2, which together make up Tarantino’s finest hour.
I’ve seen plenty of people disagree; people who liked his earlier movies, even, but couldn’t stomach the violence in Volume One, or the dialogue in Volume Two, and couldn’t see the point in either. There’s enough film-student analysis of Tarantino and Kill Bill floating around the web for me not to want to add to it; but what intrigues me is why I was able to stomach this—not only stomach it, but be left impressed by it.
3 · Lost in Translation
Even revealing the title of my third-favourite film of the year has probably pissed off some readers (or at least random visitors arriving via Google), because along with the widespread adulation and almost-as-widespread expressions of indifference (okay, so it’s slow-paced; this ain’t Grand Theft Auto) were a few expressions of indignation. Lost in Translation was nothing more than an extended slur on the Japanese, some said—like that scene where Bill Murray didn’t realise that he was being told to “rip” a woman’s stocking, which was obviously mocking how the Japanese use the same sound for r and l. Outrageous.
4 · The Motorcycle Diaries
A few days after writing about its music I’m back onto South America, which exercises a growing pull on my imagination these days. Two of my favourite movies of last year, City of God and Touching the Void, were set there. Learning Spanish had something to do with it too, I guess; as has seeing some friends’ photos from a nine-day hike through the glaciers of southern Argentina.
Perhaps that’s why The Motorcycle Diaries has lingered in my mind longer than its straightforward road-movie storyline would seem to warrant. It was well-acted and plotted, but the tale of a pre-“Che” Ernesto Guevara isn’t as obvious a choice for big-screen treatment as his later life as a revolutionary. There’s enough incident here to keep the viewer engaged—life-threatening asthma attacks, daring swims across the Amazon—but the real interest is in seeing the length and breadth of South America’s landscapes and people represented on screen in a way that few mainstream movies have done before. The Motorcycle Diaries helps explain why this beautiful, varied, and difficult place inspired such fierce passions in Guevara, his friend Alberto, and others like them; and unlike Dwayne and Clare’s holiday photos, its amazing images are available to everyone.
5 · Shaun of the Dead
There’s nothing like a good comedy movie. And Starsky and Hutch was nothing like a... oh, all right, it was okay; I remember enjoying it well enough, right up until that awful cameo appearance by David Soul and Whatsisname at the end. But as Ben Stiller/Owen Wilson double-act movies go, this was about the least interesting.
6 · Super Size Me
It’s been a year for movies with a message. The biggest in every sense was enviro-disaster movie The Day After Tomorrow, which tried with special effects to do what scores of scientists couldn’t: convince the doubters that pumping the remains of the Carboniferous Period into the atmosphere might make our climate behave a tad erratically.
7 · Some Kind of Monster
One of my favourite segments of Jim Jarmusch’s Coffee and Cigarettes featured Iggy Pop and Tom Waits meeting up at a diner and tiptoeing around each other’s feelings, neither wanting to admit that they actually care about all of that rock-star stuff. I still find it entertaining to peer behind the rock-and-roll facade and get a glimpse of the ordinary Joes underneath; guess ten years of reading Rolling Stone hasn’t quite worn off.
You don’t get a better glimpse behind the facade than Metallica: Some Kind of Monster. With everyone calling it a real-life Spinal Tap I was expecting embarrassing bickering and self-important posturing, and there was plenty of that, but it turned out to be much more interesting: Some Kind of Monster shows what would have happened if Spinal Tap had actually got their shit together in the final act.
8 · Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Strange movies are hard to pull off. One that succeeded spectacularly was 2001’s Donnie Darko, so I was sorry to see that the Director’s Cut didn’t. In fact, it may be my least favourite director’s cut of all. Richard Kelly basically took all of the DVD extras and shoehorned them back into the movie, extending its length by 20 minutes. What was perfectly paced became ponderous; what was mysterious has been over-explained. The beauty of the original was that you weren’t always sure whether you were watching a tale of madness, of parallel worlds, or what; now it’s just a straight science fiction movie. Worse, the teen-movie aspect has been overshadowed by some completely gratuitous computer-graphics linking segments, which add nothing but already look dated. This is one case where the constraints imposed by the studio worked to the movie’s benefit.
9 · The Life and Death of Peter Sellers
Six months ago, figuring I was unlikely to be getting an iPod for a while, I picked up a cheap key-drive MP3 player to listen to on the bus. Before long I was trying to get more out of its pitiful capacity by filling it with low-bitrate recordings of The Goon Show, and listening to more of Spike, Secombe and Sellers than at any time since the age of twelve.
So I was well-primed for The Life and Death of Peter Sellers, the biopic which picked up his story at the height of his radio success. Everyone knows his movies—the Pink Panther series, Dr Strangelove, The Party, Being There—but his private life is less well-known. You might not want to know it, either, because seeing what a spoilt, egocentric maniac the man was takes some of the shine off the happy memories of his work. The more successful he got, the more hollow he became, as the “real” Sellers disappeared into a cacophony of funny voices; until, perhaps, just before the end.
10 · Shrek 2
I like a good dose of CGI as much as the next geek, and you can’t get much more computer-generated or imag(in)ery than this. If I’d had a chance to see The Incredibles before starting this countdown it might have pipped the jolly green ogre at the post, but that doesn’t mean Shrek 2 is no good: a sharp script made it as much fun as the first one, and the sight of Puss in Boots coughing up a hairball had me laughing harder than anything else at the movies this year.
After reading Atonement I compulsively bought most of Ian McEwan’s books—and then left most of them on the shelves. (To mature, like a fine wine.) When I saw the trailer for the movie version of Enduring Love a couple of weeks ago, I realised I’d better pull my finger out if I was going to read the book first.
Revenge is an Octopus Best Served Cold
Jane was away for half of last week, so I saw a couple of movies with friends: Jim Jarmusch’s Coffee and Cigarettes with Shag, and the Korean thriller Old Boy with David. The Jarmusch was great, especially the segments with Steve Coogan and Alfred Molina, and Tom Waits and Iggy Pop. Old Boy was pretty heavy but pretty gripping, with its story of a man held captive for fifteen years for reasons unknown, then released and given five days to find out why—and to seek revennngge.
Not many people at the movies on a cold Thursday night. Only a dozen in Cameo One: some bearded guy and his girlfriend sitting near us, and a few others here and there. David and I chatted about this and that through the Lynx commercials, then stopped when the trailers came on, as is only polite.