Category Archives: top five

Podcast – Santa Claus Conquers the Top Five Movies of 2010

podcast.jpgIn this very special Christmas episode, Mark Davidson, Laura Croft, Steve O’Hara and Dave Wark continue on their quest to find the Best Worst Movie of All Time with Santa Claus Conquers the Martians; discuss their favourite Christmas films; and reveal their highly anticipated Top Five Films 2010.
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Running Order:
Total Duration: 53 Minutes

Favourite Christmas Movies

Best Worst Movie – Santa Claus Conquers the Martians

Top Five Films of 2010

You can contact the podcast via observealot(at)gmail(dot)com

You can also subscribe to the podcast via iTunes:

Special Features
As a gift to people who read the blog, as oppose to just subscribe to the podcast via iTunes, here’s some stuff on the interweb relating to this month’s podcast:

Here’s the trailer for this month’s Best Worst Movie, Santa Claus Conquers The Martians:

Since the film is quite old, it’s in the public domain. This means you can watch it in its entirety via this link:

Altogether now:
Hooray for Santy Claus!

You can also look at Mark’s previous Top Five Films of:
2007, 2008, 2009

Your Thoughts
Finally, it’d be great if you could share your Top Five Films of 2010 in the comments section below. Do you agree with our list? Were there any glaring omissions from this year in film?


Edinburgh International Film Festival – My Top Five Picks

Yesterday the schedule for The Edinburgh International Film Festival was announced. We already knew The Illusionist, from the creators of Belleville Rendez-vous, was going to open the event and that Toy Story 3 would play in Edinburgh the day after its world premiere on 18th June.

However, yesterday was the day we found out about the other 131 movies that will feature at this year’s festival. Tickets go on sale on 3rd June at 12 noon. I’ve picked out five I think you should look out for:

Mr Nice
Directed by Bernard Rose

Based on Howard Marks’ autobigraphy, Mr Nice tells the tale of the Oxford graduate turned drugs smuggler, played by Rhys Ifans. Along the way he gets involved with the IRA, Mafia and wanted by the DEA. Expect a mix of comedy and action as we see the enigmatic Marks talk his way in and out of perilous situations:

Mr Nice Trailer

The Secret in Their Eyes
Directed by Juan José Campanella

El Secreto de Sus Ojos 02.JPGFrom Argentina comes the winner of this year’s “Best Foreign Language Film” at the oscars. It’s set in 1999, but features flashbacks to 25 years earlier, as our protagonist tries to piece together a case that has haunted him for decades: the rape and murder of a young woman in 1974. Pitched as part murder-mystery, part romance, this one is definitely a must see for any film aficionado.

My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done?
Directed by Werner Herzog

“Produced by David Lynch and Directed by Werner Herzog” should be enough to convince most film fans to go and see this one. Marketed as “Inspired by a true story” (the most misleading statement known to man BTW – what film is not inspired by at least one true story?), Herzog describes it as “a horror film without the blood, chainsaws and gore”. Although certainly from the trailer, it looks more like a psychological thriller than a fright-fest….

My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done Trailer

The Extra Man
Directed by Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini

extra man 04.jpgPossibly the most star-studded of this year’s films, The Extra Man sees Paul Dano, John C. Reilly, Katie Holmes and Kevin Kline join directors Berman and Pulicini (American Splendour) for a film that sees Kline take young playwright Dano under his wing. It seems this has the type of indie sense of humour one might associate with Wes Anderson, and its unsurprising that this made its debut at Sundance: a festival renowned for such quirky indie hits. I for one am a huge fan of movies of this ilk, and can’t wait to see Dano in a role supposedly markedly different from both There Will Be Blood and Little Miss Sunshine.

Third Star
Directed by Hattie Dalton

THIRD STAR.jpgRounding off this year’s fest comes Third Star, a British bromance/road-trip movie. Combining the type of comedy and emotion of something like Cemetery Junction, it features four friends going on what they hope will be a relaxing trip away, but practical difficulties and emotional revelations inevitably get in the way of such notions. The festival has put a lot of confidence in the movie by putting putting it in as the closing night gala, here’s hoping its World Premiere doesn’t disappoint.

The Edinburgh Film Festival runs from 16th until 27th June. Tickets can be booked in advance on the website:

Joss Whedon’s Avengers – 5 Reasons To Get Excited

9524BEDF-7AA5-456F-A40F-14964C79D987.jpgThis week came the news that Joss Whedon is in final negotiations to direct The Avengers movie. For those of you who don’t know, The Avengers is the name given to Marvel’s flagship team. Originally this was Hulk, Iron Man, Captain America, Ant-Man, Wasp and Thor. Although part of the success of the series has been its ever-changing roster, so characters like Spiderman and Wolverine have also been Avengers at various points in time.

For those of you who don’t know who Joss Whedon is, he’s the creator of the TV series Buffy, Angel, Firefly, Dollhouse as well as the internet musical Dr. Horrible’s Sing-A-Long Blog.

Excited yet?

5CC3D523-A91F-4447-8B1C-453CB64BA650.jpgHere’s Five Reasons I think you should be:

1) Dialogue.

Possibly what fans will most closely associate him with. Whedon is the master at one liners and pop culture references. Expect both of these, as the superheroes make fun of one another abilities and try to balance the importance of what they’re doing (inevitably, saving the world) with the ludicrously of having characters called “Captain America” and “Ant-Man”.

2) It’s an ensemble piece

What do Firefly, Buffy, Angel, and Dollhouse all have in common? People with various skills joining up to keep evil at bay. Well, that’s a coincidence, because that’s exactly who the Avengers are. The joy of his shows for me has always been spending time with characters that get on so well and feel like a family. Hopefully he’ll be able to create that sense of community in the two hours he’ll have for this movie.

3) It’ll be camp one minute then break your heart the next.

If we know anything about Joss Whedon’s stories, it’s that:

a) They can be quite camp: For example, characters breaking into song, characters with names like Buffy, and characters with incredibly tight pants.

b) They’ll break your heart: Whedon shows never end well. I won’t list the characters that have died, but those of us who’ve seen the finales to his shows know that the relationships and characters we treasure most are inevitably the ones he chooses to take away.

For an example of something that does both, look no further than Dr Horrible, although be warned: You may laugh and cry uncontrollably as a result.

So don’t be at all surprised if one of the more minor characters in the Marvel world is dead by the end of the Avengers movie.

4) Joss Whedon knows his comics.

He did a run on Astonishing X-Men which is considered among fans to be one of the best written stories in its forty year history. He’s also a self-confessed comic geek, who has been linked to movies like X-Men and Wonder Woman in the past. This is the chance he’s been waiting his whole career for.

5) It’ll be epic.

This is the first time a movie like this has ever happened on this scale. We’re going to get up to five movies which introduce us to all these characters, then one big one where they join forces to kick ass together. What’s not to love?

Top 5 Time Travellers

B2E5BE13-8D5C-4CC0-8B48-54AE5221169B.jpgToday (Saturday) sees the return of Doctor Who, complete with new Tardis, new assistant and a new Doctor, played by Matt Smith. Time travelling as a concept, was arguably popularised by H.G. Wells Time Machine. Certainly the common notion of having a vehicle/device to transport you through time can be linked back to this story. In celebration of this most paradoxical of plot-devices I’ve devised the following list:

Top 5 Time Travellers

5. Bill & Ted
Every time I think about the plot of this movie, I wonder if I got it right. Bill & Ted get taken on a trip through time so they can pass their history class, otherwise Ted will be shipped to military school, and the Wyld Stallyns will never make the music that forms the utopian society of the future with its very simple philosophy:

Be Excellent to each other. And Party on Dudes!

It’s strange that I was first introduced to Genghis Khan, Napoleon and Abraham Lincoln through this movie (and possibly also the short-lived animated series) but there you go. In fact, growing up most of my knowledge of non-British history comes from films/shows like Forest Gump, Animaniacs, etc. It makes me wonder how many kids nowadays were first introduced to Shakespeare and Dickens through their appearance in Doctor Who? Or whose primary knowledge of the past is through the excellent Horrible Histories series? Anyway back to matters at hand:

0E965B5A-3357-4E0B-AD18-5A34D568B34F.jpg4. Donnie Darko
Perhaps a less obvious time-traveller than all the others. However, his conversations with the bunny rabbit, following of worm holes, and so on have definitely earned him a place. Without spoiling anything, its surprising that his decision at the end of the movie hasn’t been considered more often by time travellers. It and It’s a Wonderful Life would make a brilliantly murky double bill.

3. Hiro (Heroes)
Say what you want about Heroes, in its prime you couldn’t help but smile as Hiro got to grips with controlling time and space. His determination to follow a hero’s arc, based on superheroes he has read about, feels like a very noughties concept. I often felt sorry for his character as he went on all these ridiculous journeys in later seasons, why couldn’t his adventures be as cool as his role-models like Superman or Spiderman?

2. The Terminator
Come with me if you want to live.
There’s a lot of great things about the first two Terminator movies. Perhaps the most obvious is the fact that Arnie has only ever been believable in his role as an almost indestructible being. He truly was born to play a robot.

Beyond that, I think the idea of a mother being told her son is destined for greatness is a very powerful one. And Sarah’s arc in doing her utmost to protect and develop her son has a surprising amount of depth in it.

Finally the time travel in the movie exists essentially without rules. It’s never really established how the technology came about, or whether its creators know whether it’s even possible to change the past. It’s probably the only movie about time travel where the concept is of little importance to the characters involved.

69116E14-3AA6-47BC-BE6F-277BB70CC455.jpg1. Marty McFly
Marty McFly almost sums up the 80s for me, or at least teen movie stars in the 80s. He’s wise-cracking, slick, and confident; he’s the guy all the geeks in 80s movies wanted to be. As a child my favourite scene was always the climax of him playing “Johnny Be Good” to get his parents together. Although the brilliantly played scene when he ends up being seduced in his mother’s bedroom has probably overtaken it since then.

It’s influence on me is such that the rules established in this movie about setting things right for the future, and not seeing your future self are the rules for time travelling. And I always have a deep suspicion for any story where claims to the contrary are made. Example of the types of conversations that go on in my head: “He’s meeting his former self – why isn’t the universe imploding?! I’ve never seen something so ridiculous in all my life! Don’t they know ANYTHING about time travelling?”

Over to you now: What are you favourite time travellers? Is there any movie/television show whose time travel rules you consider absolutely definitive?

Top 5 Kick Ass Kids


The idea of kids beating up adults is hardly new. One can trace it back through time to when a certain Israeli boy, with ideas well above his station, decided to take on the might of a Philistine giant. After whacking him on the head using a Dennis-the-Menace-style sling shot, he then goes all R-Rated by decapitating him.

Given the long history of these type of stories, it’s hardly surprising to see so many depictions in today’s culture. This week, for example, sees the controversial release of Kick Ass, a movie which features a 12-year old swearing like a trooper as she slices dices and shoots her way past foes in a manner Tarantino’s Bride would be proud of.

In honour of this new edition to the world of violent child protagonists, I’ve compiled my Top Five. Feel free to embarrass me with obvious omissions.

5. Karate Kid
Violence won’t solve all your problems, but it will get you the respect of your peers; allow you to beat up your worst enemy; and win over the girl. Contained within the seemingly innocent world of Karate Kid was surely a much darker message about diplomacy versus action. Thankfully, another generation is going to receive this important message in the upcoming remake starring Jackie Chan.

4. Battle Royale
Surely the violent kids movie to end all violent kids movies. With the hope of reducing overpopulated Japan, teenagers are stuck on an island together in some warped, literal version of Survivor. The rules are you get one weapon (which range from axes to saucepan lids), and if there’s more than one person alive after 72 hours, everyone dies. A movie that could surely only have ever been made in Japan, it’s like Lord of the Flies with machine guns.

3. Peter Pan
Poor Captain Hook. Imagine being on an island with tweens and teens, who were not only going through adolescence, but had the indecency to remain in that state forever. No wonder he went mad and started chasing crocodiles. Also, what self-respecting adult would let children fly with swords in their hands? Health and Safety anyone?

2. Home Alone
So robbers are about to break into your house. You know the time, you know what they look like. But rather than merely contact the police, you decide to enact some crazy mouse-trap like scheme involving tar, heated door knobs and paint tins. Clearly those black and white gangster movies have had some kind of crazed psychotic effect on your brain. Then again, being forgotten twice by your parents in the space of a year is bound to have deep-rooted psychological implications.

1. Let The Right One In
Like Karate Kid, this features a boy getting bullied. Only, instead of Mr. Mayagi, he gets the girl next door to help him out. Only thing is, the girl next door is a vampire – A vampire who can scale buildings like spiderman. Her ability to inflict pain on her adversaries makes Kick Ass’ Hit Girl look like Malibu Stacy.


Top 5 Television Seasons of 2009

The last of my top fives for a while, this concerns what I consider the television highlights for 2009. Unlike film, it’s impossible to come close to watching everything that comes on, so this list is by no means definitive. My only rule for doing this was that the show must have been broadcast somewhere on British television this year. As such, I’ve had to include one honourable mention below for a show broadcast in America this year, but which has still not been picked up beyond its first season by any network in the UK.

I think it’s also worth mentioning my biggest disappointment for the year: and that’s the final season of Battlestar Galactica. At the start of last year this would have been top of a hypothetical Most Anticipated Shows of 2009 list. And, while I enjoyed it fine at the time, over the year I’ve come to appreciate just how big a disappointment the finale was.  It failed to adequately answer a lot of questions, and threw away important themes that had been set-up through out its previous seasons. However, my disappointment for the finale and season can be adequately summed up with one word: Starbuck.

Anyway, enough with the negatives, let’s talk about the positives:

Honourable Mention:
Friday Night Lights: Season 3 (DVD: Region 1 only)

Not only has this not been broadcast in the UK, only season 1 of it is available on Region 2 DVD. Such is my love of the show, I’ve imported the last two seasons from America in order to watch it. It’s such a pity so few people watch this show. I actually think this will be a show people discover over time, and hope it gets the audience it deserves as word gets around about it over time. (Much like that HBO show based in Baltimore).  Season 3 was the end of an era, as most of the characters we’ve come to love were graduating high school.  This season was, in my opinion, the best so far, as the audience and writers know all the characters so well the storylines really hit home.  Tyra’s arc this season (and in the series as a whole) was a real highlight for me: summed up by my tears of joy/sadness/emotion when she writes her application letter for college.  The season ended on an unexpected cliff-hanger, which I’m certain will give the show a great lease of life when it returns.

5. Torchwood: Children of the Earth (BBC 1)
Torchwood finally reached its potential with this 5 episode mini-series. Season 1 started poorly, but picked up a little towards the end. Season 2 understood better that making an ‘adult’ version of Doctor Who doesn’t mean having to have lots of swearing and sex. This story gave it the room to come up with the kind of haunting, bleak story Doctor Who could never attempt. A brilliantly paced story with a great mix of action, horror and drama. I hope they can continue that kind of form when it returns for a full season, presumably at the end of this year.

4. Mad Men Season 2 (BBC 4)
An incredibly well-written show which can so much with so little. It’s hard to describe why a show about an advertising agency in the 60s is so watchable. Perhaps it’s because the characters constantly surprise you without acting “out of character”. An episode can give you just one scene with a character that totally changes the view you’ve had of them for the past two seasons. (One scene from The Golden Violin comes to mind). If you’re a fan of shows like The West Wing and The Wire you should definitely check it out.

3. Lost – Season 5 (Sky One)
(Spoilers for the end of Season 4)
The show that never stops getting stranger. This season our lostees were not only lost on an island but lost in time. It’s crazy that they never introduced us to the time-travelling elements of this show, but thankfully the writers have taught us to expect the unexpected and I feel as though these elements really paid off. The Variable, my personal fave, summed up how well the writers could use this new dimension to create great moments of drama. As normal, the season ended on a cliff-hanger. Only this one is so big, I literally have no idea what season 6 will be about. It starts again in about four weeks and I can’t wait.

2. Dollhouse – Seasons 1 & 2 (Sci-Fi UK)
(Spoilers for season 1 ahead)
It’s strange to think that a year ago, I hadn’t even seen one episode of this show. Like Torchwood (and Buffy and Firefly) it got off to a shaky start. The procedural nature of the early episodes not suiting the stories its creator, Joss Whedon, has become known for. Since about half-way through the first season, however, its become an incredible show. Not least because of the ground-breaking Epitaph One: which showed us a startling version of the not-so-distant-future our protagonists helped create. That episode has really propelled the second season of the show, where we see the characters make the seemingly innocuous choices that will lead to the end of civilisation as they know it. A show which really rewards second viewing since the writers sow a lot of seeds early on that they pay off later. Like Firefly, I think this will be a show only appreciated after it has stopped airing at the end of this month.

1. The Thick of It – Season 3 (BBC 2)
I had heard the The Thick of It was really worth watching, but just never got round to watching it. So when the film In the Loop, which is based on the series came out, I thought I’d better check it out. I wasn’t disappointed. Its blend of political satire, awkwardness and strangely poetic swearing won my over. So much so, that the film is definitely my favourite comedy of 2009. The third season started in October, and I wish I’d watched from the start. In the age of MPs expenses, its dark take on the inner workings of politics feels all the more pertinent. The episode where they appear on Five Live was a personal favourite: with joy turning to anguish and back to joy for the two parties and their MPs at every turn.  When Tucker and his Conservative rival clash at the end, the blend of machoism and insecurity was one of the best written pieces of drama I’ve seen.  That scene superbly sums up why the show works: despite big personas, the characters are written as real people, meaning the dramatic moments hit home just as well as the comedic ones.

Oh and if you’re interested my top five most anticipated shows of 2009 would be:
5. Breaking Bad (Seasons 1&2 – I’ve yet to see either)

4. Glee 
3. Doctor Who 
2. The Pacific
1. Lost

Top 5 Most Anticipated Movies of 2010

Another day, another top five. This time it’s about movies not yet released. This list, unlike the others, is very much my inner fanboy coming out to play. I have no idea what the quality of these movies will be, but I do know the excitement I feel when thinking about their release.

5. Inception
This film is directed by Christopher Nolan (Dark Knight, Prestige, Memento) so it makes the list for that reason alone. The plot isn’t that clear as yet, but its tagline: “Your Mind is the Scene of the Crime” implies this will be a psychological thriller where it’s not always clear what reality is. It also makes me think Nolan will also exploring the true intent of his characters’ actions: the strongest theme in his work to date.
I’ll let you try and make sense of the trailer:

4. Kick Ass
Directed by Matthew Vaughn, who worked with Guy Ritchie on Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels then Snatch before going on to direct Layer Cake and the excellent Stardust by himself. Kick-Ass concerns a group of have-a-go-superheroes without any actual superpowers. Among them is the incredibly violent Hit-Girl: played by twelve-year old Chloe Moretz. I think you get a good sense of the mix of violence and humour from the pre-watershed trailer:

As well as the 18-rated post-watershed trailer which introduces you to Hit-Girl, and as such contains very strong language, so NSFW:

3. Up in The Air
I spoke last week about my love for the trailer of this movie. Having listened to the film’s director Jason Reitman (Thank You For Smoking, Juno) talk about this project, as well as film critics in America, I can’t wait to see it. George Clooney plays a character who’s job it is to fire people. He spends most of his life in hotel rooms and airports doing his best to make connections, so long as they aren’t human. Zing! – One day I will write trailer monologues:

In a world of connections, Ryan is doing his make to make some – cut to him making a flight – and avoid others – cut to him making excuse after leaving a woman in a hotel room.

Thankfully they didn’t hire me to do the trailer, and made this wonderful one instead:

2. Toy Story 3
I’ve heard Toy Story 1 & 2 described as “The Godfather” of animated movies: an amazing first feature followed by an even better sequel. Here’s hoping the third one doesn’t turn out to be like the ill-judged Godfather Part 3 then. The film opens with Andy going off to college, so the toys are taken to a day-care centre. Once there, the unbridled chaos of dozens of little toddlers leads them to plot their escape. Pixar’s last three movies have all been in my top five of their respective years. They’ve succeeded, because unlike the Shreks of the animated world, they realise that making adult-friendly films goes beyond making smutty jokes that go over kids heads (Do you think he’s maybe compensating for something?). It’s about story. Here’s the trailer:

1. Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World
Scott Pilgrim is based on a comic book series by Bryan Lee O’Malley and directed by Edgar Wright (Spaced, Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz). It tells the story of 23-year-old Scott Pilgrim who’s in the post-uni, pre-work stage of life. His life changes when he meets Ramona Flowers, literally the girl of his dreams. Mixing action, music and pop-culture references, this is one of my favourite comics ever. I’m super-excited about seeing the film, which stars Michael Cera as the lead, and also includes a grown-up Kieran Culkin as his totally platonic gay-bedmate.
There’s no trailer for the movie yet, so you’ll have to make do with Edgar Wright’s description of the film, interspersed with sword-fighting from the cast: