Category Archives: decade

Five Blockbusters That Aren’t Stupid (Hollywood Take Note)

Some recent postings on the site around whether Movie Audiences are Getting Dumber, or if The Movie Industry is close to an Implosion have resulted in a lot of discussion about the current state of Hollywood. Most seem to agree that there are too many dumb, overblown blockbusters out there and they would like to see something more than movies like Transformers, G.I. Joe or Pirates of the Caribbean are giving them.

I think it’s important before we criticize movies like those mentioned, we should always have a better ideal in mind. So if we think Battleship was a load of nonsense, we should be able to name a similar type of action movie that shows that genre of movie can, and should be much better (Aliens for example).

It is also vital we do recognize that there are films out there that do get it right, and that actually if we take a step back, there have been some really fantastic movies released over the past ten years. It is also my opinion that movies are not getting dumber, every decade has had popular films that lack creativity and intelligence. However, it is important that we as consumers do our best to avoid paying for films we know are not likely to challenge our intellect. That is, of course, if we have any interest in seeing things improve.

So with that in mind, I have decided to create a list that studios can refer to when trying to produce movies that not only have mass appeal, but actually contain a little bit of artistic merit as well. To make things even simpler, I have grouped them by genre, and only included movies from the past decade or so. There really is no excuse to EVER resort to desperately raiding your board games cupboard for inspiration for a movie ever again.

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Animated – Wall-E

Wall-E is my favourite of Pixar’s movies. No mean feat, when one considers Toy Story 1-3, Finding Nemo, The Incredibles and Up could all have an equal stake for this position in the list. Like those movies its brilliance centres in a simple, engaging story and a central relationship we are able to invest in. Its first act in particular is probably as close to perfection as thirty minutes of cinema can ever come.

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Superhero – The Dark Knight

All of Christopher Nolan’s films have than wonderful mix of intelligence and mass appeal. In that sense he is this generation’s Hitchcock. Someone who knows precisely what the audience wants, but also creates films with proper ideas and themes running through them. In The Dark Knight we see the theme of heroics as Batman must make the choice between his reputation and saving Gotham from itself. Rich, dense, but never truly losing its comic roots it is a film that has set a standard for what superhero movies should be.

Hugo poster

Family – Hugo

Martin Scorcese (Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, The Departed) is not a director known for making warm, fuzzy family films, and while Hugo is not a warm, fuzzy film it is nevertheless a lot more life-affirming than most of his work to date. Set in 1930s France it sees the young titular character searching for a key to a mechanical robot which is the boy’s last link to his deceased father. This film, like Wall-E has a superbly written story which is full of surprises, as well as containing characters with proper depth and issues of loss and bereavement that are explored beautifully within the film. Criminally under seen upon release, seek it out if you were one of the many who let it pass you by.

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Teenage – Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Like Wall-E I really could have chosen any from this series after the third one. However, I felt Azkaban was really where the series ‘grew up’ and started taking its central characters more seriously. From the simple changes, like the trio’s clothing changing from gowns to hoodies, to the more pronounced as Harry discusses the impact his parent’s death has had on him with Lupin on the bridge. The success of both the books and the films shows the appetite there is amongst teenagers for characters they can care about, get behind and identify with. The Hunger Games is a good example of another series which is carrying the torch for this type of film.

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Sci-Fi/Fantasy – Children of Men

From the same director as The Prisoner of Azkaban comes a sci-fi movie that doesn’t quite feel in the same category as more obvious examples from the genre like Star Trek or Avatar. The future we see is around 20 years from the present day as a disease has prevented humans from reproducing and they only have around sixty years until extinction. The story at the centre of this film is pleasingly simple. However, its themes of hope and survival are intelligent ally implemented. Also impressive is CuarĂ³n’s use of tracking shot, from the scene in the car when one of the protagonists gets shot, to a scene right at the end where a gunfight is brought to a standstill by a startling discovery. Sci-Fi/Fantasy has the ability to take us to other worlds and explore ideas in a way no other genre can. Children of Men shows the importance of making sure there are universal themes and depth beneath the world you have whisked your audience away to.

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Top 5 Movies of the Noughties

And now the moment you’ve all been waiting for… Or at least the most exciting bit for me. Coming up with my top five movies is an almost impossible task. I’ve done my best to do the research and not forget about some epic movie I loved. Then again, if I do forget something, does it really deserve a place on the list?

5. City of God
Based on a true story, this movie centres on the street kids in Rio de Janeiro, and how they end up getting involved with the gang violence/drug dealing in their neighbourhood. Possibly one of the most affecting and startling films I’ve ever seen. This isn’t because the violence is any worse than the average 18 rated action movie, it’s because it’s being carried out by kids, and is also based on a real account. The main drug dealer in the movie, Li’l Ze’s final scene is truly startling yet strangely poetic. A fitting end to “The Wire” of Brazilian cinema.

4. Wall-E
Wall-E’s opening twenty/thirty minutes has widely been acclaimed as one of the best openings ever. After that, it’s supposed to fall flat. I would disagree. I think so much has been made of its opening, you forget how enjoyable the rest of the movie is. The scene where Wall-E and Eve are flying outside the ship, the vision of humans as 100% consumers, the captain’s joy as he sees the video showing him earth. I can’t really think of a time watching this movie I didn’t have a smile on my face. My favourite of Pixar’s movies from the past ten years. I hope they continue to give us hit after hit in the ‘tennies’.

3. United 93
The only movie on the list I have no desire to watch again. In fact, the only way I see me watching this again is if I have to for some teaching/academic purposes. Like Schindler’s List, a movie I feel everyone should watch but which is not ‘entertainment’ like most movies are. Rather it’s an account of how the event of 9/11 changed the world, and the people on United 93 were the first to have to decide how to react to it. Because of Greengrass’ style: using real people to play their roles in Flight Control, and some relatives of the victims to play people on the flight, this felt so real I was blubbering like a baby by the end. A movie like few others, I thoroughly recommend you seek it out.

2. Pan’s Labyrinth
I grew up watching Disney Movies: Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, etc. All of these movies have a ‘fairy tale’ quality which I love. Talking animals, magic, simple narratives and clear lines between good and evil. Pan’s Labyrinth is Disney for grown-ups. Del Toro expertly combines quite a simple narrative with a lot of complex themes. The world he creates is both beautiful and haunting, inhabited by equally scary humans and monsters. I’ve watched the movie three times now, and still think there’s more going on here than I’ve managed to unravel. Hopefully my newly purchased blu-ray edition will give me something else fourth time around.

1. There Will Be Blood
One of the most remarkable movies this decade. If it merely featured music and visuals, I think it would still be incredibly watchable. As it is, the characters of Eli and Daniel Plainview and both perfectly pitched as rivals determined to win the hearts and minds of a community. Day-Lewis’ performance is one of the all-time greats: taking a character could easily be seen as an evil villain and allowing the audience to root for him for most of the movie. One of my friends described it as having the ‘hangover’ affect: where you continue to think about scenes, characters and themes long after it finishes. Watch it. Be underwhelmed. Then realise a week later the majesty of what you saw.

Feel free to post your own top 5 movies of the decade below:

Top 5 Directors of the Noughties

Part 2: My Top 5 Directors of the Decade
Now for the exciting bit: choosing my favourite directors of the last ten years.

5. Clint Eastwood
Films: Gran Torino (2008), Changeling (2008), Letters from Iwo Jima (2006), Flags of Our Fathers (2006), Million Dollar Baby (2004), Mystic River (2003), Blood Work (2002), Space Cowboys (2000)
I’ve only seen three of the movies above, but enjoyed them enough to put Eastwood in the list. A director that seems to have got better and better this decade, with a real knowledge of what makes films work. Like Spielberg, he paces a movie almost perfectly and knows how to create characters that you will care about. I look forward to seeing him direct Morgan Freeman as Mandella in Invictus in February, and actually think he’ll be the Spielberg of next decade: taken for granted because he’s too consistent.

4. Guillermo del Toro
Films: Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008), Pan’s Labyrinth (2006), Hellboy (2004), Blade II (2002), The Devil’s Backbone (2001).
I’m gonna ignore Blade II, since I haven’t seen it. I do know it’s the only one of the films above he did not also write, so don’t feel too guilty about doing so.
Anyway, the other four films on the list are really very good. Pan’s Labyrinth, in particular is one of my favourite films ever. The reason I think del Toro deserves a place on the list is his character design: the monsters in Hellboy and Pan’s Labyrinth are some of the most unique I’ve ever seen. In the age of CGI, it’s also refreshing to see someone use mainly animatronics and make-up: another reason his films stand-out so much. His next movie is “The Hobbit” and I have every confidence his work on that movie will make him a household name. In the meantime, if you haven’t seen The Devil’s Backbone or Pan’s Labyrinth go and rent them now.

3. Peter Jackson
Films: King Kong (2005), Lord of the Rings Trilogy (2001-2003)
To make the LOTR trilogy seemed like an almost impossible task. It seemed you essentially had two choices: leave out large chunks and hence water-down the epicness of the source material, or make some sort of TV series out of it: without the budget to bring Middle Earth fully to life (think BBC’s Narnia). Jackson, somehow, managed to produce three 3+ hour movies that audiences loved. Return of the King is this decade’s highest grossing movie worldwide. Setting new standards for battles and CGI character design (Gollum), LOTR is successful simply because it relies on the strength of the original tale to propel it forward. Given that the books are 1000+ pages long, this is a remarkable achievement. There is no other trilogy like it, and I don’t think we’ll see another series of movies like this for a long long time.

2. Paul Greengrass
Films: The Bourne Ultimatum (2007), United 93 (2006), The Bourne Supremacy (2004), Bloody Sunday (2002)
“Shaky-cam” is a phenomenon which has become very popular over the past ten years, and Greengrass is the director most closely associated with this technique. Giving his films a realistic gritty feeling, the technique itself has given rise to some of the most unique films of the last ten years (cf. Cloverfield and District 9). The reason it works is because it makes the unimaginable believable. Through Greengrass’ movies we can completely imagine what it’s like to be superspy Jason Bourne, to be on the streets of Derry during Bloody Sunday or what it might have been like to be on a plane hijacked by terrorists. This gives these stories an emotional connection that most films simply cannot achieve. Perhaps Greengrass’ greatest achievement, however, is a movie he had nothing to do with: Casino Royale. The opening scene where Bond uses his licence to kill for the first time could have easily fitted into Supremacy or Ultimatum. His next film, Green Zone, reunites him with Matt Damon. Here’s hoping it’s another breathtaking movie from an expert storyteller.

1. Christopher Nolan
Films: The Dark Knight (2008), The Prestige (2006), Batman Begins (2005), Insomnia (2002), Memento (2000)
This truly has been Nolan’s decade. Starting out with cult-hit Memento, he’s went on to become the most exciting director in Hollywood. The Dark Knight is the superhero movie to end all superhero movies. It really has set the bar high for making exiting, compelling, intelligent blockbusters. At the other side of the decade, Memento is by far the most creative movie we’ve seen this decade. Given the money Nolan now has available, it’d be great to see him making something like that again at some point over the next ten years. Given how little we know about his next movie Inception, that could well be the return I’m hoping for. Regardless, his ability to weave a narrative web is such that his movies have yet to disappoint. Long may it continue.

Part 3: My Top 5 Movies of the Decade comes tomorrow. In the meantime why not post your own top 5 directors below:

Review of the Decade: Movies

I’ve decided to split this review into three parts:
1) The Most Important Trends of the decade
2) My top five directors of the decade
3) My top five movies of the decade

Part 1: The Most Important Trends
When looking back on the noughties, it’s cool to see how things have changed since the 90s. How will this decade be remembered? What films or genres will sum up how things have changed? Here’s some things I’ve noticed. Feel free to contribute your own below.

Foreign-language movies
Name a foreign-language movie you watched in the cinema before 2000? Foreign movies existed, they just weren’t very popular, and the few anime movies that did get released over here were dubbed in English anyway. In 2000, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon showed foreign-language movies could do well in the box office. Since them we’ve had films like Amelie, Pan’s Labyrinth, Slumdog Millionaire, and Babel using subtitles in their movies, yet being very well received by English-speaking audiences. Such movies are great for the industry, since foreign-language films are free from Hollywood’s clutches, often producing a more creative and exciting experience for the audience.

The replacement of hand-drawn animation by CGI
The late 80s/early 90s was surely the golden age of hand-drawn animation. Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King are all modern classics in the truest sense of the term. In 1995 Toy Story changed the industry. Using the story-telling techniques of Disney classics, but with computer-generated graphics with which to tell their story. Disney’s never recovered. And since then Pixar have ruled the animation roost with every film (with the possible exception of Cars) being of a very high quality. Since the turn of the century, the industry has very much run with CGI. However, as we reach the end of the century, we’re seeing a certain nostalgia towards the ways of the past. Hits like Coraline and Disney’s The Princess Frog mean we’ll probably have a much more diverse range of techniques within the medium. Meaning the noughties may well be remembered as the decade of CGI.

Super-hero movies
In the 90s we had Batman… and not a lot else. Superheroes were relegated to animated shows on Saturday morning, and very much seen as a genre for kids. In the noughties two movies changed all that: X-Men and Spiderman. The former showed how to bring characters invented 40+ years ago into the 21st century. The latter showed how to do it and make shedloads of money. Now, we have more superhero movies than you can shake a cape at. So much so that Marvel, which almost went bust in the 90s, now has its own movie studio. There was talk in the mid-noughties of Marvel/DC running out of good characters to adapt. However, Iron Man showed how a relatively unknown character could make millions at the box office. Therefore I don’t see the superhero movie phenomenon stopping anytime soon.

3-D movies
Since Beowulf in 2007, 3-D movies have taken box offices my storm. Films like My Bloody Valentine and Final Destination have shown that by adding 3-D to the title, you can suddenly make a whole lot of extra cash (especially because of the extra levy cinemas are charging for the privilege) I personally think 3-D adds little to the movie going experience. I feel Avatar would have been just as breathtaking on a normal screen. However, I think horror and animated movies will continue to do well using this format for the next five years or so. After that, unless cinemas charge the same for both 2-D and 3-D, it’ll die a second death at cineplexes.

Please post your own comments below, whether viewing this on facebook, or blogger.

Review of the Decade: My Top Five Comedy/Drama TV Shows

I think the noughties will be fondly remembered “The Renaissance of Television” in much the same way as the seventies in film is referred to as “The Hollywood Renaissance” (or more commonly “The New Hollywood). This decade has redefined what a good TV series is about. The evidence for this is in many different forms:

Budgets
In the 90s having a $10 million dollar pilot would have seemed ludicrous. Lost changed all that. As a result, we’ve come to expect movie-quality special effects, and haven’t been disappointed. Even a show like Battlestar Galactica was able to impress viewers with its visuals, despite not being on a major network channel, or attracting a particularly high viewership.

It’s not television, it’s HBO
HBO has produced a great number of TV dramas this decade (Sopranos, The Wire, Six Feet Under, etc.) However, it’s slogan kind of sums up the shift in attitude from viewers/critics towards television. Television is no longer about soap-standard storylines. Now we get the type of stories/drama one expects from medium like films and books. Aside from adaptations of classic books, viewers rarely got that quality of drama before the turn of the century.

The talent TV attracts (both on and behind the camera)
Arguably, the best writers are now in television. If movies are a director’s medium, then television is most certainly a writer’s. As such, oscar-winning writers like Diablo Cody (Juno) and Alan Ball (American Beauty) have chosen to do their own TV shows. TV affords writers both the freedom and volume of work movies never will. Also, shows like 24 and Damages allow writers to tell stories that would be impossible to tell in a movie.
In front of the camera, we’re seeing more and more famous actors star in their on TV shows. Martin Sheen, most famously, but also Glenn Close, Hugh Jackman, Christian Slater, Tim Roth and Steve Carell.

The sales of boxsets
Networks are notoriously bad for publishing how much they make from boxsets. What we do know is that both Family Guy and Futurama were resurrected because of them. It’s also likely high-budget Band of Brothers was given a spiritual sequel (The Pacific [2010]) because of them. Aside from extra revenue, boxsets have transformed the way viewers watch television series. Shows like The Wire are better experienced over a short period of time, since it allows viewers to get references to specific lines and events they would struggle to remember had they watched the show 2 weeks previous.

Top Fives
Now comes the tough bit: naming my top 5 TV shows in drama and comedy. This comes with a few disclaimers. Firstly, I haven’t seen The Sopranos, Deadwood, or Six Feet Under. I also haven’t seen enough of Curb Your Enthusiasm to judge it fairly.
Secondly, I’m leaving Buffy off the list since it started in 1997, and was half-way through its run at the turn of the century. Needless to say, if I had have included it, it would have been top.
Finally, I’ve left a myriad of shows off the drama list people who know me might expect to see. All I would say is that each show on the list offered me an emotion or experience no other show could. Appearance in the top five is purely subjective to me as a viewer, and doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate the overall quality of those shows that are missing.

Comedy
5. Harry Hill’s TV Burp
This show should never be as good/funny as it is. It’s perfectly aware most of the comedy comes from clever editing and silly costumes yet I find the mix strangely appealing. Random without being ‘wacky’, and satirical without ever being mean. Harry Hill is a genius. Either that or high on every drug known to man.

4. Never Mind the Buzzcocks (Amstell years)
Buzzcocks was always known for taking the mick out of it’s guests. However, Amstell managed to make that role his own. The way he managed to dismantle his celebrity guests was always worth viewing, whether they went along with it (Josh Grobin) or not (Preston). The show’s lost a lot without him, here’s hoping he changes his mind and comes back to where he belongs.

3. Arrested Development
More jokes per second than any other comedy series in history. Arrested Development had a style like no other show before or after. Impossible to sum-up why its unique or even funny without under-selling it. However, the scene when Tobias describes himself as the world’s first analysist/therapist is probably the funniest/wittiest/silliest visual jokes I’ve ever seen.

2. The Office
The most influential comedy show of the decade by far. It created its own way of shooting comedy, with fewer laugh-out-loud moments, and more ways to make the audience feel uncomfortable. However, it also created characters more real and believable than most comedies have ever managed to do. People could see aspects of their old boss in Brent, or knew a co-worker like Gareth. For my money, the final scene between Tim and Dawn is one of the greats in television history. Much better than anything a show like Friends (or even Frasier) produced in its 10 year run.

1.The Daily Show
John Stewart presents this show about politics where guests are often academics with the most mind-numbing books known to man. Sounds like fun, huh? Thankfully his brand of wit, intelligence and one-liners make for an incredibly funny show that has also had a pretty big influence on young voters. (Apparently it’s the main source of news for a fairly large percentage of 18-34 males). Given the soft nature of most American TV journalists, it’s great they have someone willing to bring them to account. It probably tells you something about American culture that it takes a comedian on a cable channel to take on that role.

Drama
5. Lost
The show that more or less sums up big-budget network drama this decade. Brave and unique in its use of flashbacks and character-centric episodes. Also distinct in the way it managed to infuriate viewers (especially in seasons 1-3) with more mysteries that Agatha Christie’s entire back catalogue. However, the reason I like it so much is that its had a vision from the start, and has stuck with it. Polar Bears, The Numbers, The Dharma Initiative, Oceanic Flight 815, and so on. Lost’s influence on television will remain long after it has finished. Despite other shows having better characters and tighter plots, the one thing that makes Lost unique is that it’s never predictable. And for any show to have that quality after five seasons, it must be doing something right.

4. Doctor Who
Trying to resurrect (or perhaps more accurately regenerate) Doctor Who was always considered a poison chalice this time ten years ago. The only people that wanted it were DW fanboys, who were notoriously difficult to please. In getting Russell T Davies to take on the series, the BBC took a huge risk. His most successful series was Queer as Folk, hardly Saturday-night family viewing. He then hired Billie Piper, best known for singing one of the most annoying songs of the 90s (and no I’m not referring to “Honey to the Bee”, which let’s be honest is a pop classic). The cards were stacked against him, and yet remarkably he came through.
There’s a number of reasons it works: The Doctor is a true original character: the mix of brains, arrogance and eccentricity always make for compelling drama. And the companion acts as the voice of the viewer, questioning the seemingly all-knowing Doctor and making sure he maintains the humanity he’s developed over the years. Finally it works because RTD understands that to make an episode compelling you don’t ask ‘what monster is most terrifying to the viewer’ but rather ‘what monster is most terrifying to The Doctor/Companion’? And trust the viewer to come along for the ride.

3. Band of Brothers
This show is unique in the sense it only lasted ten episodes, and yet I feel I know the characters just a well most series that last ten times that. BoB takes you on an adventure with one company in the 2nd World War from boot camp to VJ day. Based on real accounts, the drama allows you to feel and experience what it was like for these young men to fight for their country. What you come out of it with is an intense emotional connection to the men of the company: the pain of losing their best friend, the fear of battle, the elation of victory, and so on. A truly ground-breaking series. Can’t wait for ‘The Pacific’ next year.

2. Friday Night Lights
Attachment to characters is something all TV producers hope to deliver but rarely achieve. Do we really care that much about the fate of Joey in Friends or Jack Bauer in 24? Or are they just tools to allow for a great one-liner or a compelling piece of action?
However, in FNL I really, actually care about the fate of its leads: I have cried watching this show more often than any other. The moments that bring tears feel real because as far as I’m concerned Matt Saracen and Coach Taylor are real people. Even though I know they’re not.
The show’s premise is that it’s about an American High School Football Team. In reality, it’s about Dillon, Texas and the characters that live in that place, and the way football allows their lives to interweave. It does for teen drama what ‘The Wire’ did for police procedurals (i.e. shows you how rubbish everything up to then has been in comparison).

1. The Wire
According to The Guardian there are two types of people: “Those who love The Wire and those who haven’t seen it.” Quite a claim, but then again this is quite a show. Unyielding in its vision, this is anti-CSI at its finest. A single episode has few resolutions, and few arcs. Instead, the creators describe each episode as a chapter of the book that is that season. This allows for an incredibly compelling and involving show. Where every little detail is picked up in a later episode, and we come more attached to every character for every extra scene we spend with them. Another show which will be looked back upon as a masterpiece of the medium. My hope is over the next ten years “The Wire” is the TV show writers look to as the gold-standard in serialised story-telling.