Wednesday, 23 December 2009

2009 in film

2009 is gone and done with now (unless the apocalypse starts tomorrow). As a lot of bloggers will be doing, I thought I'd run through some my movie highs (and lows) of 2009, based solely on the films I went to see:

'X-Men Origins: Wolverine'
Falling off the back of the horrible mess that was 'X-Men 3: The Last Stand' (which was preceded by two great X-Men movies), the story of Wolverine had the potential to be amazing, with years and years of source material to play with, including a deep origin story in comic form. But what we got was a CGI-filled, car crash with stupidly unrealistic and unjustified action and one of the worst endings in cinema history.

I knew nothing about the graphic novel before going to the movie. All I'd heard is that it was "the greatest graphic novel of all time." So while I had high expectations, I wasn't holding my breath - movies of great comic books rarely happen.* I assumed it would be a visually stunning action-fest; it was. But what we also got was an incredibly deep story and characters you were really able to get involved with and love (for all the wrong reasons!)

'District 9'
I couldn't not mention Neill Blomkamp's outstanding sci-fi / political film set in South Africa. I expected it to be quite good (based on the trailers, marketing and my love of sci-fi). What we seemed to get was a sci-fi film written by a non-sci-fi fan. Maybe that's what made it so good - it didn't fall down on the usual elements. It's not a film I'd watch over and over but I'm very glad I've seen it - it's made me think about my own writing very differenlty. I look forward to everything else Blomkamp produces!

'Star Trek'
I went in being a semi-fan of the Star Trek world (really down to my love of the Next Generation movies) but the whole thing was never amazing. I expected this to be a lot better than the original series and it was. However, there were some clear problems with the whole thing: our inability to care that Spock's planet gets blown up, the villain Nero's complete absence - resulting in him coming off as very 2D - and bloody Jar Jar Binks Pavel Chekov!

'Underworld: Rise of the Lycans'
A huge improvement on the original films, but not great by anyone's standards. Running at less that an hour and a half, you're left wanting more, which is a good and a bad thing. It doesn't try to be anything it's not - you get a straightforward (slightly unrealistic) story with basic characters, but also some smashing action and brilliant performances from the cast. Great cinematography too!

'The Imaginirium of Doctor Parnassus'
This wasn't a bad film. But it could have been so much better! Terry Gilliam had a vision and, to be fair to the guy, he stuck to it. The problem is - his vision was half-cocked. The movie has some great ideas and stunning visuals but it's all at the expense of story and characterisation. Nevertheless, a great performance from the late Heath Ledger - not even Johnny Depp is capable of filling his shoes in this one!

MOST IMPROVED FILM (based on previous films in the series)
'Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince'
I'm no fan of the 'Potter' franchise, mainly because I don't feel JK Rowling has any clue how teenage boys behave. That problem is still evident in 'The Half-Blood Prince' but everything else has improved - comedy, action, story. If you can overlook the anti-climax (the absence of the book's action-filled school-battle finale was a big mistake!), it's an all-round heart-warming film.....apart from that moment!

'Angels & Demons'
Just like 'The Da Vinci Code' this film has a very basic formula (heads-up anyone wanting to write a film like this!) Threat to the establishment > expert uncovers clues > expert explains clues to audience > expert finds more clues > explains to audience > more clues > explains > clues > explains > shocking revelation > final showdown > catharsis restored. It's painfully obvious who the 'villain' of the piece is as well. Hint: it's the only actor apart from Tom Hanks you've heard of!!!

'Inglourious Basterds'
As I watched Tarantino's latest romp, I laughed heartily as baseball bats obliterated faces. I expected it to be on the level of 'Pulp Fiction', which blurred my judgement. I left the cinema very happy, praising it like mad. Then I stopped and thought "there's a whole subplot in this film that could easily be removed!" Tarantino is a master of suspense (there's an amazing opening scene) but had this movie come from anyone else, I'd be slating it as much as 'Twilight'! [Note: this was a strong contender for Most "Up-Itself" Film]

'X-Men Origins: Wolverine'
As I've already said - horrible! For a more detailed insight into my utter hatred of this movie, try this link. In an attempt to please everyone, the film ends up pissing us all off! I hate this movie so much that I recently had a dream where I was actually in the film. From there, I provided a critical commentary to Hugh Jackman as to why Gambit can't fall 50 feet why the action is painfully terrible why Blob belongs in cartoons only why adamantium bullets through skulls are never that convenient why his career is over!

The Comedian - 'Watchmen'
Here's a character who rapes people whenever he feels like it and guns down the woman carrying his baby without a second thought. He's an all-round bastard and we hate him. But somehow I love this character! There's a certain "bad-ass" appeal to him, but it's more than that; he's a vital part of the story, seeing the world in a unique way. And for a guy called "The Comedian," he ain't that funny! Maybe the stunning opening action scene is what did it, or the merely the fact that he's played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan. Either way, he's my top character of 2009!

"Just a matter of time, I suppose" - 'Watchmen'
As mentioned above, the opening to 'Watchmen' is amazing. Brutal, significant and at the same time loving and realistic (just not...y'know....really realistic!) Enhanced ten-fold by the presence of a Nat King Cole song, this scene is truly unforgettable. Take a look at the scene on youtube [SPOILERS FOR THE FIRST 10 MINUTES OF THE FILM]

I prepared this blog before seeing Cameron's 'Avatar.' My previous top film of 2009 was (unsurprisingly) 'Watchmen.' James Cameron had a lot to live up to, having produced one of the greatest action/sci-fi films of all time and practically rocketing Arnold Schwarzenegger's career. So I went in expecting greatness, though a part of me felt certain I'd already played the story out in my head and it was boring, cliched and corny. But alas - James Cameron didn't disappoint.

The story contains nothing original - it's very formulaic and predictable. Even from the trailers I was able to predict what would happen. But the way that story is executed is what makes it so great to watch. I'm not just talking about the special effects either - which are easily the best I've ever seen; the incredibly real feel to the whole film is done by true emotion from the CGI characters and superb interaction from the environment. Cameron is a master of storytelling and action-driven plots, which means 'Avatar' never leaves you bored during its 2hr 45min run-time. You find yourself uncontrollably smiling at times and seconds from crying at others. 'Avatar' is a roller-coaster ride of emotion, action and visual beauty.

So there we have it - another year of film gone and a very good year with 'Avatar' and 'Watchmen' alone. There are some films I'm really looking forward to next year. Here's a list, with hopeful realease dates:

'Daybreakers' (January)
'Legion' (January)
'The Wolf Man' (February)
'Alice in Wonderland' (March)
'Clash of the Titans' (March)
'Iron Man 2' (May)
'Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time' (May)
'Toy Story 3' (June)
'Predators' (July)
'The Expendables' (August)
'Conan' (unknown)

Everyone have a shiny Christmas and great New Year!!!

*Apart from 'Batman Begins,' 'The Dark Knight,'
'X-Men,' 'V for Vendetta,' 'Daredevil,'
'From Hell,' 'Constantine,' 'Blade,' 'Sin City.' quite a few good comic book translations.


John H said...

Hey Neil - Nice list (although I disagree with pretty much most of it ;) ) I'd be interested to see what you thought of the Watchmen graphic novel now you've seen the film. Especially if what you enjoyed most about the film was the depth of the characters.

Objectively, I think the film struggled under its own weight and, unobjectively, they trashed my favourite character and fluffed several of the key moments - but I'd definitely give the book a go as it doesn't have to worry about being a linear narrative! Plus, you know, it's really quite good.

Happy new year, squire :)

Neil said...

For some reason Watchmen just passed right over me. But I'm definitely going to give it a read simply because I like the film and - as you say - the comic is meant to be better.

My only worry is that after reading, I'll like the film less - maybe even hate it?! But so be it!

Either way, adapting such a work doesn't seem like an easy task at all - I sure as hell wouldn't like to do it! Now let me loose in the X-Men verse and I'll have me some fun ;)

And a happy new year to you too, sir :)