Inglourious Basterds (2009)

2009 #82
Quentin Tarantino | 153 mins | Blu-ray | 18 / R

Inglourious BasterdsWatching almost any film a second time can affect your opinion of it. It could reveal deeper levels of character or theme; it could allow you to see how the writer(s) subtly foreshadowed events, or built up to the big twist; it could be you spot jokes you were too busy laughing during last time; it could let you look at the imagery now you don’t have to concentrate so hard on the subtitles. Or it could reveal shallowness, that there’s nothing to be gleaned that you didn’t get the first time; or highlight the holes in a plot that seemed so well constructed before; or jokes that were hilarious fall flat when heard more than once; or the action sequences aren’t exciting when robbed of their freshness. A second viewing can reveal that you were too young to get it the first time, or that you’re now too grown up to enjoy it; it can reveal a bad movie isn’t so bad, or that without the hype it’s actually quite good; it can raise a favourite even higher in your estimations, or it can tear it down. And even if a second viewing just reaffirms exactly what you felt the first time, well, when there’s such a chance for change and it doesn’t occur, that’s an effect in itself.

This is why I try to post all my reviews after only seeing a film once. There’s nothing wrong with appraising a film after many viewings — far from it — but that’s not the point of this particular blog, focusing as it does on films I’ve never previously seen. (Whether a newcomer’s perspective is still worth anything once a film is months, years, or decades old is another matter, perhaps for another time.) Unfortunately, though rarely, a film slips through the cracks. As you’ve likely guessed, Inglourious Basterds is such a film: though I named it my favourite film I saw in 2009, I didn’t make any notes or write a review promptly. And so here I find myself, over eight months since I first watched itEli Roth and Brad Pitt are basterds — and, today, a year since its UK release —, having watched it a second time to refresh my memory. But has it changed my opinion?

Inglourious Basterds is, in some respects, a law unto itself. That’s probably why it received such a mixed reaction at Cannes; one that, notably, settled down to generally praiseful by the time it was officially released a few months later. It wasn’t, as had been expected, the story of a group of American Jews dropped behind enemy lines to murder Nazis, thereby spreading terror through the enemy ranks. That’s part of the tale Tarantino eventually brought to the screen, but what you’d expect to make up the bulk of the movie — as Aldo Raine himself puts it, “killin’ Natzis” — is skipped over with a single cut. The film is divided up into five chapters; the second is the one most directly concerned with the Basterds, and it’s also the shortest.

And that’s not the only thing Tarantino does differently. The whole film is a grab-bag of filmmaking styles, techniques and modes, thrown together with a gleeful abandon. Tarantino uses what he wants when he wants it, sometimes for no reason at all, and with no eye to creating a stylistic whole. If he wants a character’s name to appear in huge letters over a freeze-frame of them, he will; that doesn’t mean he’ll use it for every character, or every major character, or for every other character on that one’s side — if he wants it just once, he’ll throw it in just once. It’s like that square Uma Thurman drew in Pulp Fiction,Milk? Oui. only instead of being one thing once he does it again and again, with any trick he fancies, throughout the film.

I’m tempted to list them, but that would remove some of the fun if you’re yet to see the film. My favourites, however, are the subtitles that don’t always translate things — e.g. when a French character says “oui”, so do the subtitles. It’s pointless really, but also kind of thought provoking too: if, as a non-French-speaker, we say “oui”, knowing what it means, then are we actually saying “yes” or are we saying “oui”? I’m certain, however, that Tarantino’s subtitling choices weren’t designed to elicit such thoughts and probably don’t stand up to the scrutiny they’d require (such as: if the rest of a Frenchman’s French is translated to English, why aren’t his “oui”s? (As it were.))

This is just one of the things that signals the truth of Inglourious Basterds: it’s not really about World War 2 — though you’d be forgiven for thinking it was, considering it’s all set during World War 2 and all the characters are soldiers, resistance fighters or politicians — but is in fact about film, or cinema, or the movies, or whichever name you want to use. It’s not just his mix and match of cinematic techniques that suggests this — though the much-heralded use of Spaghetti Western style on a World War 2 setting works as fabulously as you could hope — but it’s overt in the text too.

The ending. Sort of.The ending (and skip this paragraph if you haven’t seen the film) is the key to that, as I’m sure you either noticed or have read in other coverage. The power of cinema literally destroys the Nazis, changing the course of the war. Killing Hitler — and the rest — is one of those barmy notions that at first seems wrong, and then seems completely right. “If my characters had existed, this is what would have happened” is one of those genius notions that seems so inescapably obvious you wonder why no one’s done it sooner. Why do you necessarily need to obey history if the rest of your story is fiction anyway?

Back to other matters. It’s interesting just how long the scenes are, and in so few locations. Chapter One takes place solely in a small farmhouse (except for a few minutes outside it); Chapter Four is almost entirely in the La Louisiane bar; Chapter Five almost entirely in Shosanna’s cinema. And while the other two use more locations, their number isn’t great: Chapter Three features the aforementioned cinema, a cafe and a restaurant; Chapter Two a briefing ground, Hitler’s war room, some derelict location, and a prison. This isn’t a full list of locations and scenes, but it’s most of them. Tarantino hasn’t created some writerly exercise — “you are only allowed five locations, one long scene in each” — but he has nonetheless crafted most of his films in long scenes in few locations. I imagine this, along with “all that reading” La Louisiane(I believe more of the film is subtitled than in English), did little to endear it to the complaining masses who thought they were getting “Kill Bill in WW2”.

The chapter-ified structure and constant introduction of new characters suggests a Pulp Fiction-ish ‘short story collection’ at first, but it becomes clear as the film moves on into its fourth and, certainly, fifth chapters that it actually all builds together as one whole story. The chapter headings serve their purpose, denoting the various stages of the tale and allowing Tarantino to jump around, rather than having to find a way to move more seamlessly from segment to segment or somehow intercut them all. Indeed, unlike the other Tarantino films the use of chapters evokes — i.e. Pulp Fiction and Kill BillInglourious Basterds is quite solidly linear, at least as far as the progression through each chapter is concerned. (Chapter Two jumps about in time a bit, with a Nolan-esque stories-within-stories-within-stories structure, but even then does little to upset the linearity.)

ShosannaAnd for all those constantly-introduced characters, the acting is top notch. Christoph Waltz easily deserved the huge pile of awards he garnered, his quirky persona following in a long tradition of calm psychopaths in movies. You always know his pleasantries hide something far nastier; every scene he appears in is instantly tense. Mélanie Laurent is an instant one-to-watch as the film’s real central character, Shosanna, though she seems to have been sadly sidelined by all the praise heaped on Waltz. It doesn’t hurt that she’s the kind of woman you’d happily decorate a whole review with pictures of (though you’ll note I resisted). Michael Fassbender is the very definition of Englishness, without quite slipping into an irritating stereotype. It’s difficult to imagine the originally-cast Simon Pegg in the role, though I’m sure he would’ve brought something… shall we say, different… to it. Brad Pitt’s much-criticised heavily-accented performance is fine. While not as memorable as the others mentioned, I don’t see why some have had such a problem with it.

Between Tarantino’s writing and more excellent performances, we’re also treated to a host of minor but memorable characters: Denis Menochet’s farmer, managing to equal Waltz in the long opening scene;Give me my Oscar now Til Schweiger’s vicious German basterd; Diane Kruger’s glamorous, calm actress-spy; Daniel Brühl’s apparently sweet accidental hero and movie star-to-be; Martin Wuttke’s raving loony Hitler; and others too. Perhaps the only duff note for me was Mike Myers as an English General. I liked the Wayne’s Worlds and Austin Powerses (and haven’t subjected myself to The Love Guru for this reason), and he’s not exactly bad here, but there’s a part of me that couldn’t escape wondering exactly why he was cast in such a small and uncomedic role. A real Brit would’ve been more appropriate, I feel. Perhaps Simon Pegg.

Myers was one of the things I noticed more on my second viewing. So was that “care-free deployment of an abundance of film-specific techniques” — while they’re undoubtedly there, when one expects them they don’t seem nearly so surprising or all-pervading as they did at first. Clearly it’s the shock value: in the same way a jump scare or joke dependent on a surprise twist might only work once, so Tarantino’s occasional and somewhat incongruous flourishes don’t stick out as firmly when you know they’re coming. But that’s not a bad thing. There’s no joyous discovery of something new and slightly different exploding across the screenRun Shosanna! every once in a while, but it also proves they work, that he was right to employ them.

Some people hated Inglourious Basterds (though not enough to keep it out of the IMDb Top 100), be it for the unexpected nature of its story or for the long talky scenes with lots of reading. But that’s just another reason I love it — not to be awkward or Different, but because by being so much its Own Thing it can provoke such strong feelings, in either direction. It’s common for Hollywood to produce films so bland they evoke bags of apathy from those with enough brainpower to realise the film doesn’t have any, so it’s quite nice to have a film that has a brain — and, more importantly, a personality (several, even) — that it isn’t afraid to show off, and isn’t afraid for you to dislike if you want. Love it or hate it, it demands to be seen and judged on its own merits.

To be frank, I’m not sure I liked Inglourious Basterds as much my second time. I may well like it more again on my third, when there’s less personal hype involved. I’d still give it the same star rating though, so at least there’s no conflict there.

You might argue that Pulp Fiction or Reservoir Dogs are better films, but — with its long idiosyncratic speeches and scenes, relatively extreme violence, use and re-appropriation of generic convention, Shosanna on filmcare-free deployment of an abundance of film-specific techniques, and, both through this and also directly in its narrative, its love of film as a medium — Inglourious Basterds isn’t just “a Quentin Tarantino film”, it is Quentin Tarantino. His choice of final line — “You know something, Ultivich? I think this just might be my masterpiece” — is clearly about more than Aldo Raine’s swastika-carving abilities.

5 out of 5

Inglourious Basterds is on Film4 tonight, Friday 24th October 2014, at 9pm.

It placed 1st on my list of The Ten Best Films I Saw For the First Time in 2009, which can be read in full here.

Don't forget the cream

Exiled (2006)

aka Fong juk

2009 #68
Johnnie To | 104 mins | TV* | 15 / R

ExiledThere are times when one feels under-qualified to review a film in a way that gives it its due. This happens particularly frequently when one’s blog covers first-time viewings of films that are often classics/significant/beloved/etc. My appreciation for Exiled has been increased by two other, more qualified, reviews: one from DVD Times, the other from Heroes of the East.

Having never seen a Johnnie To film and not being sure quite what to expect — either from the director or from what appeared to be a gangster/action film being shown on arts-centric BBC Four — my first reactions to Exiled were a little muddled. Having pointed you in the direction of those other reviews — which I should say I agree with, in the sense that they’ve changed my perspective on the film and leave me with a desire to see it again in light of their comments — I’ve decided that, instead of my own review that tries to conglomerate my initial thoughts with the additional perspective I’ve since gained (and which is best presented in those other articles), I’ll once again turn my notes into sentences and offer it up for your consideration.

The length of the sentences and clauses in the above paragraph suggest I’ve read too many academic essays in the last 24 hours, so I’ll just clarify: What follows are, essentially, my notes after first viewing. I’m not wholly in agreement with some of it anymore; with the exception, of course, of the score.

Exiled features several impressive action scenes. They’re Leone-like in the way there’s often an extended pause, the threat of violence hanging in the air — then a sudden burst, over quickly. But within this style there’s a lot of visual flair — unlike Leone, slow motion makes the moments last minutes, underlined by the entire climatic shoot-out taking place in the time it takes for a can of Red Bull to be kicked in the air and drop back down. As many a teenage boy watching would no doubt say, “cool!”

Elsewhere in the coolness stakes, Anthony Wong owns the sunglasses-and-trenchcoat look, appearing as a cross between a middle-aged businessman and a stylish hitman. Francis Ng looks equally cool, but in a more ‘traditional’ way. Quite what the ‘cool’ aesthetic does for the film/story/characters I’m not sure, other than increase its accessibility.

Dialogue is kept to a minimum, appropriately. Whole character arcs and motivations pass by without a word of explanation, allowing the viewer to fill in the gaps. It works just fine — there’s no need to spell them out, and they’re not so obscured as to be baffling. There’s an audacious twist around halfway through, which removes the apparent point of the plot and suggests it’s all really about something other than the obvious. [This in itself should be a sign that a lot of what follows in my comments is rubbish…]

Is the story just an excuse to link the spectacle of action? [This, I think, is where my notes really lose the plot.] Yes and no. The story is hardly revelatory, nor is there a great deal of character exploration (or any, in most cases) to suggest To is aiming for a different angle on a familiar tale. But while the action set pieces are exciting and visually engaging, they’re not so unusual as to suggest someone conceived of them and then a story to connect the dots. Is it style over substance? [No.] Again, to an extent. I suppose there’s not a great deal of substance, and there is quite a bit of style; though, again, the latter isn’t as show-off-y as style-over-substance films usually are.

Alternatively, I suppose the plot is quite shallow [it isn’t really]: even things that suggest stories and development — such as Boss Fay weighing in on Boss Keung’s territory — don’t really develop into much, instead becoming a backdrop for who’s shooting at who when.

Whatever it is, it’s entertaining. Especially if you like people shooting at each other in cool ways and gangster-based thrillersome plots.

Note the dramatic device of the photos [which, I think, in themselves disprove my ponderings that the film lacks depth]: the first shows the characters when young, at the beginning of their ‘career’; the second is at the start of this story, effectively being the midpoint/bulk of said ‘career’; and the last one is at death, the end of this ‘career’ — though it’s the same group in each, they’ve all changed between every photo, even the last two taken just days apart. It’s a relatively subtle but effective motif.

So much for my unadulterated notes. Anyway:

4 out of 5

Director Johnnie To’s 2012 film Drug War is on Film4 tonight, Thursday 15th January 2015, at 1:15am.

* BBC Four showed this in 16:9, but the OAR is 2.35:1 — and it showed, with compositions often looking cropped. Shame. ^

Another year over, or: Third time unlucky

“Another year over,” sang John Lennon, “and what have you done?” (Well, if you re-arrange the lyrics he did.) Failed to reach 100 films, that’s what.

Well… There’s a first time for everything. It had to happen sooner or later. There are many more fish in the sea– wait, what? Anyone got more accurate clichés to add?

As at least one person kindly pointed out on Twitter, reaching 94 films isn’t a poor effort really. And there’s still plenty of reviews from 2009 left to write and post — just look at that lengthy coming soon page! And I shall, as ever, be posting my highs and lows of my viewing year, plus the complete list and a bunch of largely pointless statistics, just as soon as I get a chance to put all that together.

So, a new decade begins. Fingers crossed for at least 1,000 new films…

2009’s summary posts will be republished in November.

2009 In Retrospect


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.

(500) Days of Summer
The Boat That Rocked
A Christmas Carol
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
Jennifer’s Body
Julie & Julia
Monsters vs. Aliens
Paranormal Activity
The Princess and the Frog
The Proposal
Public Enemies
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
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!

2009: The Full List


So, 2009… the first year I failed to reach my stated goal. Still, I saw 94 new films and bothered to review several others — and here’s a full alphabetical list of the lot of ’em!

The Full List

Airplane! (1980)
Aliens (1986)
Alien³ (1992)
Alien Resurrection (1997)
Alone in the Dark (2005)
An American in Paris (1951)
Angels & Demons (2009)
Anne Frank Remembered (1995)
La Antena (2007)
The Apartment (1960)
Ashes of Time Redux (1994/2008)
Avatar (2009)
AVP: Alien vs. Predator (2004)
AVPR – Aliens vs Predator: Requiem (2007)
Babel (2006)
Batman (1966)
Big Nothing (2006)
Blade Runner: The Final Cut (1982/2007)
Brute Force (1947)
Children of Heaven (1997)
Cinderella (1965)
Copycat (1995)
Culloden (1964)
Dark Floors (2008)
Eastern Promises (2007)
Exiled (2006)
Fatal Instinct (1993)
A Few Good Men (1992)
Flags of Our Fathers (2006)
Flesh for Frankenstein (3D) (1973)
For All Mankind (1989)
For Your Consideration (2006)
Friday the 13th Part III (3D) (1982)
Glory (1989)
The Great Dictator (1940)
Hamlet (2009)
Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert Tour (3D) (2008)
Hard Candy (2005)
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009)
High Anxiety (1977)
High Society (1956)
In Bruges (2008)
In the Shadow of the Moon (2007)
Inglourious Basterds (2009)
Insomnia (2002)
Jumper (2008)
The Kite Runner (2007)
The Knack …And How to Get It (1965)
The Lady from Shanghai (1947)
Lethal Weapon (1987)
The Man in the Iron Mask (1998)
Marnie (1964)
Michael Clayton (2007)
Murder on the Orient Express (1974)
No Country For Old Men (2007)
Paths of Glory (1957)
Predator 2 (1990)
Rage (2009)
Red Riding: 1974 (2009)
Red Riding: 1980 (2009)
Red Riding: 1983 (2009)
The Right Stuff (1983)
Ripley’s Game (2002)
Rock n Roll Nerd (2008)
Runaway Train (1985)
Sarah Silverman: Jesus is Magic (TV edit) (2005)
Saw (2004)
Saw II (2005)
Saw III (2006)
Saw IV (2007)
Seance on a Wet Afternoon (1964)
Shadow of the Vampire (2000)
Sherlock (2002)
Sherlock Holmes in Washington (1943)
Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (2004)
Solaris (2002)
Son of Paleface (1952)
Son of Rambow (2007)
Stand By Me (1986)
Star Trek (2009)
State of Play (2009)
Stranger on the Third Floor (1940)
The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974)
There Will Be Blood (2007)
The Thief of Bagdad (1940)
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009)
Transporter 3 (2008)
Wallander: Before the Frost (2005)
Wallander: Mastermind (2005)
Watchmen (2009)
Watchmen: Director’s Cut (2009)
Where the Sidewalk Ends (1950)
The X Files: I Want to Believe – Director’s Cut (2008)
X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)

Alternate Cuts
Alien: The Director’s Cut (1979/2003)

Other Reviews
The Birds (1963)
Flash Gordon (1980)
Predator (1987)
Some Like It Hot (1959)

Commentary! The Musical (2008)
Cut (2009)
The Gruffalo (2009)
The Lunch Date (1990)
The World of Tomorrow (1998)
The Wraith of Cobble Hill (2005)

The Full Statistics

In the end, I watched 94 new feature films in 2009, the first year I’ve failed to reach 100.

I watched three features I’d seen before that were extended or altered in some way. Two of them even factored in the main list. I also reviewed four films I’d seen before. (All 99 films are included in the statistics that follow, unless otherwise indicated.)

I also watched six shorts this year, which by some coincidence falls exactly mid-way between the number I saw in 2007 and the number I saw in 2008. Exciting stuff. (Shorts aren’t counted, except the total total running time.)

The total running time of new features was 166 hours and 51 minutes. The total running time of all features and shorts was 177 hours and 44 minutes.

I saw 6 films at the cinema this year, including, for the first time, one in 3D. That’s far beaten by the number of new films I saw on DVD though, which stands at 29 (rising by just one if counting extended/altered films, five if counting all features). Surprisingly, however, that’s also soundly beaten by the number I watched on TV: 44, including 8 in HD and, appropriately, 3 in 3D. This compares to 14 in 2007 and 10 last year, making 2009 a highly unusual year by comparison. Otherwise, I watched 8 via download, 6 on Blu-ray and 1 via online streaming, which is a first (for a feature-length film) for me. VHS has finally disappeared however, dropping steadily from five in 2008 to two last year, and now to zero.

The most popular decade this year was, as ever, the 00s, with 51 films. Of the rest, 10 were made in the 90s, 12 in the 80s, 5 in the 70s, 8 in the 60s, and 6 each in the 40s and the 50s. The oldest film on this year’s list dates from 1940. (Where alternate cuts offer up multiple decades (Ridley Scott, I’m looking at you) only the decade of production/original release is counted.)

My average score was 3.7, equal to 2007’s and 0.1 higher than 2008’s. Seems I’m consistent. This year that average comes from 21 five-star films (up on both previous years) and 4 one-star films, the first year I’ve doled out more than one of the latter. The majority of films, as usual, scored four stars (there were 42 of them this year). There were also 21 three-star films (down on 2008, which was down on 2007) and 11 two-star films (in the same ballpark).

15 films appear on the IMDb Top 250 Films at the time of writing, which is slightly up from last year. Their positions range from 28th (Avatar) to 231st (Glory). From Empire’s Top 10 of 2009 (only to be found buried away here, apparently) I’ve managed just two. As ever, there are too many other lists around to consider them all.

At the end of both 2007 and 2008 I included lists of 50 notable films I’d missed from that year’s releases. With all of 2009 taken into account, I’ve managed to see four more from 2007 (bringing the total number seen from that 50 to just 21), and, equally, a mediocre four from 2008’s list (shamefully, I actually own or have recorded 14 of the remaining 46). Hopefully further films from both lists will crop up in 2010.

A total of 87 directors appear on this year’s list, as well as two partnerships (both pairs of brothers) and two directing teams. Topping the list of those with multiple films is Darren Lynn Bousman with three (all Saw sequels), while there’s two apiece for James Cameron, Alfred Hitchcock, Rob Reiner, Ridley Scott and Billy Wilder. Zack Snyder also appears twice, with two cuts of the same film.

35 of the films are currently in my DVD/Blu-ray collection (plus four of the shorts).

Still to come…

I’m not done with 2009 yet. Aside from 21 outstanding reviews (by which I mean they’ve yet to be posted, not that they’re exceptionally good), there’s my Top 10 and Bottom 5 of what I saw this year. All of that to follow shortly… or, y’know, one day…

Culloden (1964)

2009 #48
Peter Watkins | 69 mins | TV | 12

CullodenCulloden tells the story of the 1746 battle — famously, the last fought on British soil — and the events that followed it, as if it were covered by a modern TV news report (albeit a feature-length one).

This adopted style — a first — makes for an effective presentation. As a form it obviously foreshadows the docudrama, a method of presenting history which is so popular today, though not quite in this way. Writer/director Peter Watkins gratifyingly refuses to break from his premise: the whole film is very much like an extended news piece, featuring interviews, facts, and the famous BBC objectivity — at no point does the narration inform us who is good and bad, right and wrong, yet leaves us with little doubt about Watkins’ opinions (which are pretty low of just about everyone).

In fact, the film is fuelled by much youthful righteous indignation from Watkins, in his late 20s when Culloden was made. That said, his (perhaps unrealistic) idealism is still in evidence in every interview I’ve seen with him from decades later (though in those cases applied to what TV is and should be). But he allows it to dominate proceedings here, too often focusing on the awful conditions of the poor or the wrongs committed against them by Nasty Rich Folk. Should we be cross about this? It is 1746 after all — of course life was awful for common folk and the upper classes were rich twits who rode roughshod over them. That’s how things were in The Past, for thousands of years before it and hundreds of years after. With our modern developed sense of morality it all looks Nasty and Wrong, but we can’t go back and change it so why get so upset about it? Surely such vitriol is better directed at places where this is still the case?

While Watkins’ righteousness is clearly present before and during the battle, it’s really let loose in the aftermath, as English soldiers commit all sorts of atrocities to the Highlanders. Perhaps this was genuinely shocking and deserved in ’64, and it’s still true that the actions taken were unforgivably horrid, but it’s no longer shocking — not because we’re desensitized to violence at this point, but because we’re now very aware that we have done horrendous things throughout our history even while painting ourselves as the good guys (as we still do today, of course). Early on he describes the workings of the clan system, ostensibly factually but with a clear undercurrent of its unfairness; yet at the end bemoans its destruction by the English. Maybe this is why Watkins struggles to find anyone likeable in the film: they’re all as bad as each other.

Even if his overly moral stance falters, Watkins’ filmmaking techniques rarely do. The use of ordinary people as actors works fine most of the time, though occasional performances or scenes show off the cast’s unprofessional roots. Watkins’ theories about how TV should be run and the involvement of the public in the way he did here may be romanticised and impractical, but it’s hard to deny that his application of them worked wonders. Performances frequently aid the documentary effect by seeming just like those in genuine interviews or news footage, whereas even the best professional actors trying to emulate such reality are usually mannered enough for the viewer to realise they’re acting.

Best of all, however, is the titular battle. These scenes are extraordinary, creating a believability even the largest Hollywood budget has often failed to challenge. It’s epic but also involving, disorientating but clearly told, brutal without needing expensive prosthetic effects or an 18 certificate. It’s a brilliant example of camerawork, sound design and editing combining under inspired direction to create a flawless extended sequence.

Culloden was a bold experiment in filmmaking — indeed, the notion of a distant historical event being presented as if covered by news cameras still sounds innovative — and Watkins mostly pulls it off, with stunning battle sequences, effective performances and a high concept that is never betrayed. A few minor weak points aside, the only serious flaw is that Watkins lets his overdeveloped morality run unchecked. His application of a modern outrage to what seems a typical historical situation grates quite quickly but never abates, ultimately reclaiming a star from what is nonetheless an exemplary effort.

4 out of 5

Culloden placed 8th on my list of The Ten Best Films I Saw For the First Time in 2009, which can be read in full here.

Cinderella (1965)

aka Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella

2009 #91
Charles S. Dubin | 78 mins | TV | G

CinderellaThis clearly made-for-TV adaptation of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella (the second of three, to date) is a rather weak affair, easily demonstrating why no one seems to remember it.

The story is almost a scene-for-scene recreation of Disney’s version at times, although considering the limited variation in adapting the story — unless one decides to get quite radical or flesh it out, that is — that’s forgivable. The cast are largely unmemorable, the exceptions (not for good reasons) being Stuart Damon, whose acting is poor but singing is fine, and Ginger Rogers, who is barely noticeable as the Queen, particularly as she doesn’t do what she was most famous for. Fair enough, she was in her 50s, but the only other reason for her presence is to provide a star name at the top of the cast list. And Celeste Holm I recognised from High Society, which is neither here nor there.

Dubin does the best he can with TV studio limitations, using colourful painterly backdrops and trying to find some variation in camera angles, but it’s largely as flat as the sets. The musical numbers are quite entertaining, if mostly insipid, not that any approach R&H’s best anyway. I couldn’t tell you much about any of them within a few hours, never mind longer.

Anyone combating the might of a Disney classic is going to struggle, but that doesn’t prevent a decent effort from being produced. Between a below par set of songs from Rodgers and Hammerstein and weak staging, this Cinderella doesn’t even come close to that.

2 out of 5

The World of Tomorrow (1998)

2009 #69a
Kerry Conran | 6 mins | Blu-ray | U

The World of TomorrowBefore Sky Captain, there was this: a six-minute reel, shot, edited and, er, special-effects-ed, by Conran on an amateur basis over four years, demonstrating the production techniques and storyline he had in mind for a feature-length homage / reimagining of ’40s cinema serials.

We’re used to incredibly impressive home-crafted effects-laden films these days, but keeping in mind this was finished 11 years ago, it’s quite impressive. Judged now, it’s clearly the very early days of such composited digital filmmaking, lacking some of the complexity and flair we now see. What it does still suggest is that, given a full budget, such an idea has potential, both in terms of the method and the retro-sci-fi ’40s-serial-style story. Certainly, in my opinion, it did produce a very entertaining film in exactly that vein.

In comparison to its big brother, nearly every shot is exactly duplicated in the final film. In fact, most don’t look much more primitive here. The resolution’s lower, it’s perhaps a bit jagged round the edges, and it’s in deliberately dirtied black and white rather than the glowing sepia-hued colour of the feature, but it shows the concept worked from the off.

The World of Tomorrow isn’t a great film in its own right — indeed, as the closing captions suggest, it’s really an extended trailer / proof of concept for something bigger. In the latter regard it shows all the requisite promise, and thankfully someone in the industry noticed too.

3 out of 5

No Country for Old Men (2007)

2009 #5
Joel & Ethan Coen | 117 mins | DVD | 15 / R

This review contains major spoilers.

When I saw No Country for Old Men, a new round of films were vying for the Best Picture Oscar. Now, as I finally post my review, a whole new load have been nominated, voted on, and await the final result. Sometimes I feel decidedly behind the times.

The first time I watched No Country for Old Men was in a screenwriting seminar. On R2 DVD (the format for said seminar) it runs one hour 57 minutes, but in the two-hour seminar we got through the whole film with plenty of pauses for discussion (of its narrative structure, with particular emphasis on the application of fate/chance/coincidence, if you’re interested). Obviously this entailed skipping chunks of the film to get to the end within the time. I was rather annoyed that our tutor hadn’t bothered to forewarn us this would be the subject of the seminar in such a way, because it meant I had no chance to see the film properly beforehand. Now, watching the film in full, I can clearly see the odd bit we skipped over, yet I don’t feel I missed anything terribly significant.

Cut short or no, it has an excellent use of no music — the Coens still create massive amounts of tension, numerous shocks, etc. It’s highly skilled direction and editing. There are a number of very good scenes along the way (even if the best remains somewhat dulled from constant repetition in the run up to the 2008 Oscars). And it all looks mighty pretty too, especially on Blu-ray (my re-watch format of choice here). The cinematography was probably my favourite part of the film.

As noted, it’s really about Fate, randomness, chance. Some clearly think this brilliant; I remain unconvinced. It lacks satisfaction. Maybe that’s real life — no, that is real life: random and lacking closure and satisfaction. But this isn’t real life, it’s a movie; and a movie with a near-fantasy (or, more accurately, horror) aspect too, in its unstoppable villain; so I think I want my proper tied-together plot, thank you very much, not a de facto hero who’s shot almost at random by a gang who have little to do with the story and a frequently irritating villain who exits the film fundamentally unscathed.

I’ve read one critic assert No Country for Old Men is the only worthy Best Picture winner of the past decade. I’ve seen another argue There Will Be Blood is the only genuine classic produced in the noughties. Any number of them have no doubt espoused similar such views. Critics, eh — always contradictory.

Anyway, No Country for Old Men: thoroughly unsatisfying,

4 out of 5

Originally posted on 5th March 2010.

There Will Be Blood (2007)

2009 #7
Paul Thomas Anderson | 152 mins | DVD | 15 / R

There Will Be BloodI used to consider myself a fan of Paul Thomas Anderson; however, I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m merely a fan of the film Magnolia. As I explained when I covered Boogie Nights, I love Magnolia, thoroughly dislike Punch-Drunk Love, and was ultimately uncertain about Boogie Nights. There Will Be Blood’s significant Oscar nominations and wins seem to have cemented it as Anderson’s most acclaimed work, but I wouldn’t consider myself a fan of this either.

That’s not to say it’s a bad film, but it is at times a baffling one. It makes minimal concessions to its audience from the very start, beginning with an extended montage that covers relatively vast tracts of time with virtually no dialogue, before segueing into a story that introduces and discards characters and events with little hint of their relevance, and eventually makes a huge leap forward for an equally impenetrable ending, all the while under- (or perhaps over-) scored with Jonny Greenwood’s disquieting music, sounding like the THX logo writ large. I can’t help but wonder if I missed something crucial along the way because, even after two and a half hours, I had no real idea what the film was about.

Leaving that aside, the film is technically excellent in just about every field. Daniel Day-Lewis easily deserved his Best Actor wins for his role as oil magnate Daniel Plainview, a performance so subtle that there initially seems little to it but which slowly peels away the layers to uncover much more. Anderson’s screenplay helps him along with an array of scenes written to textbook levels of perfection (almost literally: in a screenwriting class we studied in depth the scene where Plainview negotiates a land purchase from the Sunday family). Little Miss Sunshine’s Paul Dano delivers a superb supporting turn too, even if his casting as brothers Paul and Eli Sunday adds a level of confusion where there isn’t meant to be one (considering there was originally a different actor cast as Eli). Dillon Freasier also offers good, understated work as H.W., Plainview’s 11-year-old son.

Individual scenes are certainly well handled. The opening may offer little in the way of explanation, but with minimal dialogue, well-chosen images and events it expertly conveys Plainview’s rise to prominence and establishes his position without ever doing more than is necessary. The sequence with the burning oil derrick is visually stunning and, for me, the first point at which the discomforting score really worked (though it must be worth noting that Greenwood actually composed that cue for a different film). As already mentioned, many of the dialogue scenes are also exemplary, among them the much-quoted bowling alley finale. Anderson is capable of crafting moments of immense power, even if their cumulative effect is perhaps unclear.

It’s difficult to judge a film I have such conflicted feelings about, especially when its high critical consensus leaves me with a nagging feeling that, somewhere along the way, I missed something of vital importance. I’m not really a fan, and I’ll no longer call myself a fan of Paul Thomas Anderson, but his work is certainly interesting and definitely merits revisiting.

4 out of 5

Originally posted on 5th March 2010.