After all, it's just a ride….

The Films Of The Year 2013

uscWell here we are again gentle reader, yes it’s time for the annual torrent of elected excellence  as the menagerie finally scrys through the year just gone to make its final pronouncements. After the career woes of 2012 I think we can consider 2013 a major pendulum swing back to progress, two new assignments which blended quite smoothly into each other, the first to design and implement a bespoke eight figure regeneration programme, the second to take the reins of a long developing portfolio and drive numerous schemes to the next stage of delivery with all the panache and charisma of Lord Vader  - for the first time I think ever I’ve actually enjoyed managing a small group of minions and having negotiated a raise and contract extension we should be comfortable until the spring. But we’re here to talk about the movies of course, it’s been a year of explosive revelations detailing exactly what the powers that be think of our individual freedoms and how they all colluded to conceal their clandestine spooking and spying, so I reckon we could soon be in for a golden age of paranoid political thrillers given the climate of mistrust and unease we’re currently sweltering under. Most striking have been my efforts on the festival front, not only did one attend our first Sundance London fiesta and made yet another modest stab at this years LFF for the first time we took the these antics transatlantic with our first immersion at TIFF, the world’s largest by volume and second highest by profile gulags of all things celluloid, so now I have the delirious taste of foreign film excursions which may or may not continue in 2014. For various reasons I’ve decided that Cannes isn’t going to happen, but Venice or maybe Berlin could fit around my day job schedule. Closer to home we’ll gloss over the rather meagre results of my Herzog and Boorman BFI season efforts but we have made a late spurge on the Gothic  season, with plenty more chills to come with the January’s chilling roster, and we’ve covered a modest cluster of cinema classics – Chinatown, The Lady From Shanghai, A Matter of Life & Death and The Bride of Frankenstein alongside a rare Kubrick. Like many others I’ve been distracted by some small screen entertainment, including (off the top of my head ) the latest seasons of Justified, Mad MenThe Walking Dead, Boardwalk Empire, Treme, the first season of Hannibal and remarkably all five seasons of Fringe which I quite enjoyed, even if I wasn’t entirely sure how the paradoxical para-dimension yomping all concluded itself. Yes, I know, I’ll get round to Orange Is The New Black and the last season of Game Of Thrones when they arrive in box set form, ditto for the resurrection of Arrested Development which I’m really looking forward to wallowing in – Steve Holt!!

zombiHow about small screen movie seasons? Well, I have indulged in six director seasons that I can recall, the first was for Jacques Tourneur whom is best known for his Val Lewton collaborations on the likes of Cat People (which is getting a second remake by the way) which also dovetailed nicely into this creepy double bill, this unlocked access to some older material which I quite enjoyed, it’s always wise to broaden ones experiences of earlier studio era product if one is to be considered a bona-fide ‘film-bore-buff’. Then there was the machismo machinations of Walter Hill, the man who dearly strives to compete with the achievements of Anthony Mann, Peckinpah, Leone and Ford with his hybrid & revisionist Westerns, and rather than follow the obvious trail through his work - The Warriors, Southern Comfort, 48 Hours – I thought I’d take the more treacherous mountain paths of quality and revisited The Long Riders, Extreme Prejudice and Last Man Standing: the first was excellent, the second fun in a 1980′s testosterone fuelled way, the third a bewildering mystery – how can a film with such a cast and superbly talented crew make a film based on a Kurosawa classic so spectacularly dull and unengaging? That’s the elusive magic of the movies I guess, on paper some things should work but don’t, whilst in the reverse a ridiculous premise can catch fire in the popular imagination and transform the industry. I also embarked on a mini John Woo campaign (mostly derivative but some fun gunfights and avian maneuvering), after his London appearance I autopsied some of George A Romero’s lesser known movies (the cult oddity Knightriders, the fairly amusing The Dark Half, and the extraordinarily terrible Monkey Shines), we bid a found adieu to Mr. Soderbergh (see below) and this inspired a short Coen brothers season which again I’ll reserve comment upon until we reach the retrospective section. Lastly we indulged in a pre-TIFF Cronenberg season which I’ve already discussed here, so all in all an eclectic bonding of material, or indeed a menagerie if you will. But now it’s time to get opinionated…..

The Films Of The Year

Spring Breakers  (Harmony Korine, USA) - As usual this list isn’t aligned to any particular order of merit methodology, I’m certainly not suggesting that this lurid display of teenage flesh and fetishised firearms is my absolute favourite film of the year but for a pulsingly provocative piece you can’t go wrong with this day-glo drenched dirk of delirium – how’s that for going over the top eh? That Curzon Soho screening was terrific fun with an appreciative and attuned crowd which of course can be half the battle, so this was one of the most memorable screen experiences considering the amusing post screening Q&A and overall attentive atmosphere.  I’ve seen it again on Blu and as always the experience is diminished, but unlike Korine’s quite venomous detractors I do think there is some plausible social commentary lurking under the lurid surface, and in any case the film is worth a look just for James Franco’s performance which is simply hilarious.

Zero Dark Thirty  (Kathryn Bigelow, USA) – I think we’ve all been in meetings like this, huh? This dossier was complied way back in January so you may have redacted it from the memory banks, but now and again it infiltrates my mind and I remember just what an incredibly gripping procedural this was, even though the final outcome was historical ‘fact’. 2013 was littered with terrorist atrocities, invasions of civil liberties predicated and justified by the nausea inducing diktat of the so-called ‘War On Terror’, our precious betters across the globe raping our fundamental democratic for our own good, so with a steady stream of surveillance related scandals the temperature of the film chimes with the contemporary body politic. US cinema is content to continue with an emphasis on product and shifting units (particularly in the evolving Chinese market) so it’s somewhat heartening to see a few examples of important contemporary history getting a cinematic head-shot, and I always enjoy a film which has been read as propaganda and lies from both ends of the political spectrum – anything which riles people up that much is usually a lethally effective operation. On re-watch that final assault is one of the most brilliantly constructed pieces of cinema of the year, retaining an urgent realism and a gauntlet grip of environmental space, Bigelow and Boal continue to march from strength to strength and I hope they can re-enlist for a final film to complete the phenomenal US political trilogy of the early 21st century.

Side Effects (Steven Soderbergh, USA) - Out of the two final stage bows of Soderbergh I have to opt for this noirish little morality play over the ostentatious scope of Behind The Candelabra, although I reckon that like Ahnodlt that he’ll be back it’s kind of sad to see him hang up his viewfinder, as you could always look forward to a new film or two per year such was his inexhaustible appetite for storytelling. Despite its genre carapace this is a film not just a movie, with fleshed out characters, momentum, twists and developments, all underpinned with a trawling of wider cultural phenomenon – an increasingly self medicated society, widespread corporate malfeasance, indoctrinated deception, a gnawing, eidetic apprehension. I embarked on a small retrospective of his work to celebrate his career and as with the Walter Hill strand I revisited some of the lesser known films of his career - The Good GermanSolaris and King Of The Hill alongside well-regarded efforts such as The Limey, and erm Oceans 13. Since his attention grabbing debut Sex, Lies & Videotape he really has produced an extraordinarily eclectic body of work which is distinguished with a unique & brilliant visual style, a sultry command of character and unimpeachable eye for casting. Keep an eye out for one of next years cinephile treats, a re-release of the restored and recut Kafka which he has spent 10 years curating, but for now take your medicine of movies, a placebo to alleviate our social and economic anxiety.

Upstream Colour (Shane Carruth, USA) – Where do you begin with one of the most original and memorable film of not just this year, but the past decade?  In a Jonathan Romney penned dissection in Sight & Sound he made some compelling observations on perhaps the most successful return to the big screen this year (except for perhaps Cuarón), that the film’s sonic and visual flow invites the audience to make comparisons between the metaphoric connections we as an audience make between different narrative elements, it’s a mark of this films achievements that it has inspired we pretentious sorts to match its intellectual ambitions with some unorthodox queries of our own. As well as terrific connections and umbilical links to Primer some have cautiously pointed out that Carruth isn’t perhaps as singular a lone talent when set in the context of his forbears Resnais in the 1960′s or Roeg in the 1970′s, as their starved quest to find new ways of communicating  and telling stories through this embryonic medium. Anecdote wise I  like how he was only sleeping 90 minutes a night during the final months of production such was his work ethic and obsessive drive, and he has resisted of settling down with a wife or siring children as it ‘wouldn’t be fair to them and would interfere with my work – there’s a man who likes cinema. He’s currently  prepping his next film cautiously titled The Modern Ocean, let’s hope this doesn’t take him another decade to craft his next hallucination.

Oculus  (Mike Flanagan, USA) – Alas, still no trailer to speak of so I’ve resorted to that glimpse of the short which reflects the film, I’ll be sure to post a fractured glimpse of the finished article once it arrives on-line. I’m whisking my brain matter to remember the last time a horror film flayed such a visceral reaction in me during a cinema visit, we probably have to scutter back to Martyrs  for such a nail-biting expansion of genre and manipulation of macabre mechanics. Sure there have been some terrific horror films in the intervening years – I listed some of them here -  and this has a similar confidence in maintaining an electric atmosphere in a single location, of taking a faintly absurd premise into genuinely shudder inducing dimensions, and not resorting to the ‘cattle-prod’ tedium of The Conjuring, the Paranormal Activity movies and all their devilish ilk. Oculus is no masterpiece but it is a superbly executed genre piece which restored my faith in the movement, a dexterous delirium which shows that with a little imagination even the most absurd of premises can invoke a very nervous and heart-thumping cinema experience, so I’ll be keeping a reflecting eye on Mr. Flanagan from here on in…..

The Kings Of Summer (Jordan Vogt-Roberts, USA) – What’s this? A comedy on the Menagerie annual list? Inconceivable!! Personally I’m not fond of reliving my school days as I’m afraid I was mercilessly bullied by both pupils and faculty, ever since I was caught masturbating in the showers – that was one school trip to Auschwitz which no-one forgot in a hurry. Well, what can I say (I’m so so sorry) but again from a sheer audience appreciation approach this was a terrific experience at Sundance UK, there was a palpable sense of anticipation in the air and as soon as the laughter started braying around the auditorium the affection was infectious for the full duration of this golden-hued, coming of age dramedy. Nick Offerman is hilarious as an ogre of a father to our hero Joe (newcomer Nick Robinson) and Biaggeo (Moisés Arias) is one of the best comic creations of recent years – an exuberant, spirited celebration of Bacchanalian youth, first crushes and sun drenched afternoons in the wilderness.

Gravity (Alfonso Cuarón, USA) – Let’s celebrate what it didn’t do shall we since the inevitable backlash has begun? No, it wasn’t perfect and some of the dialogue beats could do with a polish, and yes a bereaved back story is a common narrative driver in American cinema so it is circling a cliche mapped by numerous sputniks, but it doesn’t resort to mawkish flashbacks, there’s no frantic cutting to mission control to destabilise the momentum – and clearly this is a film about momentum – thus it risks a silent wordless climax which is relatively revolutionary beyond the epoch shattering SFX. It’s a film built on economies, of swiftly establishing Bullock’s isolation and sets her journey to emotional and physical ressurection in a mere ninety minutes,  a triumph of precision that one hopes like Inception may convince the studio executves that original material can be just as beguiling and fruitful on both economic and narrative planes. I applaud the opinion that this is in many ways a return to early cinema, a celebration of the visual as a shared experience in a dark room as a breathless collective, an experience built on vision, sound, and spectacle with a linear trajectory to spear the empathy. One of the best anecdotes I’ve heard about the film was that the SFX leads attended an industry symposium earlier in the year, attended by their technical peers from across the globe, and when they explained how they achieved certain effects and techniques there were audible gasps in the crowd and confused mutterings of ‘but…but that’s impossible‘, so yeah, I’d say this was quite an achievement. Some films need the benefit of time to have their impact truly assessed and appreciated but I’m hailing Gravity as a landmark in cinema, of cloaking an audience in the wonder of our shared humanity as we descend through a similar disintegrating orbit, while we all clutch longingly for the stars.

Why Don’t You Play In Hell? (Sion Sono, Japan) – As usual one film about film storms my list with a cackling glee, as Sion Sono’s blood streaked valentine to 35mm massacres and ferocious film fandom collide in movie mayhem. This was one of the most over-ripened films of the year, it’s burst intestines soaking the screen during the closing celluloid eruption which was one of the most purely entertaining stretches of action cinema in 2013,  it even surpasses the barrels sequence in Desolation Of Smaug  which on a second viewing was actually a little tedious. I caught this in Toronto around half-way through the festival and as such my energy was flagging a little, so this was the perfect amphetamine shot to remind me just how much darn fun cinema can be on a simple playful level, its warm affection for the art-form matched only by its visceral pyrotechnics and crimson soaked sets.

12 Years A Slave  (Steve McQueen, USA) - I’ll admit it, that trailer looked like such Oscar worthy bait that I immediately confirmed my own prejudice, that this would be a worthy story of struggle and redemption with a final heartwarming image which dissipates the real horror of the enslaved phenomenon but the presence of McQueen in the directors chair did give me pause.  From its opening frames you immersed in the antellbulum atrocity which is suffocating in its absolute horror, and as the lights went up and the credits spooled I felt riveted to my seat with little idea of what on earth I should make of the rest of the day after such an experience. Through podcasts and certain reviews I subscribe to their has been a rather disquieting instinct of criticising the film for one element – all the white people in this film are evil, are slavers, are oppressors, are scum. Pushing aside the demographics that most of these observations have come from white, middle class, educated cultural practitioners it strikes me as just how powerful a film can be that these unconscious, ingrained divisions can slither to the surface, as just perhaps the major thrust of the filmmakers and associates wasn’t to crucify the prejudice and horror of the era in the limited time available to them (two hours), that they must provide balance as of course not every white person agreed with the market, the aura of this criticism being that the film’s black director, star and screenwriter should just stay in their place. It’s also a false allegation, mild spoilers but Cumberbatch is a ‘reasonable’ owner (if that isn’t an oxymoron of a phrase), the oppressor who accepts Grundy’s ideas and to improve their lot and turnover but as a member of the gilded gentry within this unbelievable portion of history he’s still a slaver, his ‘property’ still have no agency or freedom, an observation which by its very nature is much more instructive of the prevalence and ingrained social horror of slavery within this definitive account of this issue in cinema history. In terms of balance I offer a critical take on the film which is extraordinarily well written here, for me this film stands proudly alone bruised and undefeated, with some of the most memorably haunting images and shocking sequences of the year.

Under The Skin (Jonathan Glazer, USA) – If there is one film among this collection of reprobates destined to be a future analysed cult classic then Jonathan Glazer’s deeply smitten and literally extraordinary look at our planet through an interlopers eyes is the one. Like Gravity an avalanche of plaudits have tumbled out into the stratosphere as it marched purposefully through a parade of festival disrobings, and I’m extremely curious to see how this stands up to a second scrutiny when it gets a general UK release in February. So for now I’ll just say this haunting piece wields discord like Johansson oozes an otherwordly sensuality, if men are indeed from Mars then she is from a venom laced Venus.

joduneThere’s far too many American films in that list for my liking, not because I’m being a snooty critic but I simply haven’t seen enough foreign material for my despite the offerings available at the festivals, but as I’ve said before you have to prioritize and juggle screening schedules, and even then its impossible to see everything and hold down a day job. I’ve seen around 480 films this year, near to 100 of those actually at the flicks, so I can also heartedly recommend Mud, All Is Lost, Like Father, Like Son, Night Moves, Cold Eyes, The House I Live In, Prisoners, Nebraska, Jodorowski’s Dune, The Act of Killing and  Blue Is The Warmest Colour. Wait a second Minty? I think you’ve overlooked something, hmm? Well you know what, no I haven’t – I re-watched To The Wonder twice over a weekend back in the summer and I’m afraid to say that well….erm…err….I just don’t think I like it that much. Sure the original flushes of romance back in my initial review gave it a positive spin and of course it is essential viewing, Lubezki’s photography alone is as stunningly beautiful as always, but on further inspection it’s simply to diffuse and distanced, almost a parody of Malick’s increasingly obtuse style. Some of the visual metaphors are forced – hey let’s have a shoot of Batman mournfully wandering around the top of the house whilst in the same frame Olivia mournfully whispers around the ground floor of the house, ’cause they’re on different levels yeah? – and it just doesn’t earn its characters emotional intelligence, the whole adultery subplot for example is completely cold and remote. Maybe this will be seen as a work of unparalleled genius in the years to come, maybe it won’t, but as it stands whilst it’s still recommended I’m not sure if I don’t feel just a little bit jilted. Still, maybe Knight Of Cups will arrive next year and that long mooted documentary will finally evolve into IMAX screens…..

Retrospective Films

The Last Tycoon (Kazan, 1989) - Based on the F. Scott Fitzgerald scribed account of studio wunderkid Irving Thalberg I saw this many years ago and was singularly unmoved and unimpressed, it simply didn’t connect. Now being longer in the tooth and hopefully wiser I can see its one of the more fascinating accounts of Hollywood golden era, as studio executive De Niro - and 70′s De Niro is always worth watching – navigates the enormous day-to-day pressures of studio management. Keening actress divas, paranoid stars, incandescent writers, irascible executives, rushes recriminations, mischievous directors and on and on, the gangs all here and it struck me at exactly the right time as I was researching golden era studio mechanics and just finished reading this. The central romance with budding starlet Teresa Russell is immaterial and Kazan’s direction a little on the forced side, but as a snapshot of the period it has a terrific authenticity and slightly mournful air of an epoch fading into history.   Kazan is famed for the performances he can coax out of his players and what a cast he had to play with – Bob Mitchum, Ray Milland, Jeanne Moreau, Donald Pleasance, the aforementioned Teresa Russell, Tony Curtis, Angelica Huston in one of her first roles, and yes even good ole Jack Nicholson smirks through the movie, a factoid which should arm you with a response to the pub quiz busting question ‘In which film did Jack & Bob Niro star in together?’ They don’t make em like this anymore….

Thin Ice  (Jill Sprecher, 2011) –  Like The Kings of Summer this was unexpected left-field surprise, an automatic upload to my lovefilm account which when it arrived had me scratching my head as I had heard nothing about it, and presumably this went straight to DVD here and barely squeaked a cinema release in the US. I’m an easy mark for grifter movies so as the reptilian plot began to shed its scales I found myself increasing drawn into the con, with a few deft sidesteps to keep you guessing whose fucking who, both literally and metaphoirically. It has a great script in terms of plot mechanics – it’s essentially about a jerkish, cheating insurance salesman who sees an opportunity to defraud an elderly man out of a million pound violin  - which has taken on a meta dimension as finally doing some research around the film I’ve discovered the picture has suffered that usual fate, the final cut seized by the producers and recut to their wishes. So what was the original intent? Difficult to say, but as nasty little neo-noir this was a treat, and both Greg Kinnear and Billy Crudup are deliciously sleazy….

The Big Liebowski  (Joel Coen, 1997) - Yeah, a real obscure cult classic this one eh Minty? Well, I hadn’t seen this for a good few years and whilst some of the dialogue exchanges have entered the cinematic lexicon it’s not a film which has particularly challenged my favourite Coen shortlist – I’m much more attracted to The Man Who Wasn’t There, A Serious Man, No Country For Old Men and Millers Crossing - thus a re-watch on Blu-Ray was quite a revelation. It has it all, the broad, larger than life parade of Coen grotesques, the almost unique sense of humor, the impossibility of predicting where the plot will lurch next, and crucially a rewatchability factor which most movies never achieve. The structure culled from Chandler’s The Big Sleep really leapt out at me this time, like a lipstick smeared cigarette it’s quite an arousing combination of LA old and new, and surely one of the crucial movies about the City of Angels in the 20th century. Bridges is of course brilliant and there is something to cherish in almost every scene, whether it’s a sight or dialogue gag, whilst the plot strikes with an organic momentum which is very rare for comedy movies which usually foreground the gags at the expense of structure.  It’s probably their last consistently brilliant farce, as Burn After Reading and O Brother, Where Art Thou? are eminently watchable and worth revisiting every few years or so, but none of them quite scale the lofty heights of this bona-fide cult classic. For the record Barton Fink also matures like a fine Pétrus, as a post-modern hybrid on cinema and sweltering story-telling it also improves with age.

Cockfighter (Monte Hellman, 1977) - It was with a clucking joy that I finally got to see this after many years of aimlessly wandering around like a headless chicken, yes I’m aware it’s out there on YT but I refuse to watch films in such a compromised format unless its trashy, throwaway stuff without much artistic merit – fine for a Corman B movie, really not appropriate for a key 1970′s cinephile feast. I think it has been relatively difficult to source in the UK and never received a TV broadcast due to the animal cruelty dimensions of the film which is regrettable, I guess PETA weren’t exactly knocking around back then eh? In any case this is a final piece of Hollywood of the 1970′s which has been sorely missing, it has a very grainy and swarthy Southern feel given the rural setting and Hellman’s linear direction, and of course Warren Oates and Harry Dean Stanton are just terrific as always. A second big thank you to our Melbourne correspondents in supplying the ‘print’….

Starship Troopers  (Paul Verhoeven, 1997) – More 1990′s, what can I say? I am throughly confused at some critics and cultural types distaste for this movie, as if the fascist overtones are what makes it dangerous, when of course that is the entire fucking point of the film. People seem to want their movies increasingly formalized, packaged and shrink wrapped, of being disposable commodities and a brief distraction from our daily grind through the system, so when a genuinely subversive work somehow gets made it should be celebrated and praised not dismissed as poor satire or right-wing propaganda which is everything that Paul Verhoeven stands against throughout his entire career. The point is that Starship Troopers is thrillingly exciting, it’s action packed, the SFX is still potent which amusingly passes the illusion test easier than a majority of material these days, and that genuflection of enjoyment is what makes it truly dangerous, as its symbiotically connected to itself as political theatre. Isn’t it great to see in our age of austerity, of spiking suicide rates and the proliferation of food banks in my country the plans for this multi billion dollar destroyer, or the Mach 6 Blackbird replacement? Those quivering Afghan peasants must be asymmetrically weeping into their boots, and it is these sickening dimensions of modern political society and its priorities which Verhoeven was illuminating sixteen years ago. Do you want to know more?

Films To See In 2014

wolfQuite often when I reach this part of my annual overview I can struggle to immediately identify five films to get the blood pumping, I honestly don’t conduct an enormous amount of research into this other than a cursory scan at the likes of this and word of mouth buzz which may indicate what is percolating on the horizon. The imminent steals are a new Scorsese with The Wolf Of Wall Street - a rather lacklustre trailer I thought but Marty back in his natural stomping grounds is worth the price of admission alone – not to mention the increasing clamour that this mammoth three-hour film may just be equal to the likes of Casino or maybe even Goodfellas - now that’s got me fucking excited. Then David O. Russell continues his remarkable career resurgence with American Hustle, as I write this in late November the first words are trickling out from industry and AFI screenings with praise such as ‘con-artist masterpiece’ being hurled around Twitter with a coke fuelled abandon. Spike Jonze’s Her has been accruing similar adoration and I must admit that the tsunami of praise has thawed my initial chilly response to the trailer, as allegedly a film about how we live now this could be affectionately significant. I have significantly lowered my already horizontal expectations of the loathsome looking Winters Tale, it shouldn’t hurt at this point but that really does look like a significant part of my teenage literature adoration is going to get smothered under a tsunami of schmaltz, oirish platitudes and mediocre production resources. Now that it’s finally screeched into the world Gareth Monsters Edward catastrophe framed retelling of Godzilla looks appropriately epic to me, I guess those 9/11 allusions ain’t getting buried anytime soon – a more adult version of Del Toro’s waterlogged Pacific Rim?

snowIf 2013 was a stellar year for SF in terms of volume rather than quality then 2014 should continue the mission, although Snowpiercer may have suffered at the hands of the snippy Harvery Scissorhands it’s allegedly still terrific in its original format although the chances of it arriving here in its unmolested incarnation are increasingly cold – in an amusing example of life imitating art some critics shelled out for the Eurostar to catch the train set-film in Paris back in November and as a chorus they agree the expense was worth it. The Wackowski’s are clearly not resting on their laurels with the intriguing looking Jupiter Ascending, I suspect like that Cloud Atlas it will have some arresting moments but will overall be a bit of incoherent mess, just like the rest of their career. Although its possibly in the periphery of SF I still have hope for Escape From Tomorrow, although the US reviews have been tepid at best with the greatest emphasis placed on the films guerilla production its actual content has been dismissed and confused and immaterial.  Nolan’s DP Wally Psfter’s directorial debut Transcendence could be intergalactic, Cruise is back in control in Edge Of Tomorrow, then there is Beyond Outrage, the Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes finally gets swinging, the long mooted Sin City: A Dame To Kill For takes to the road, Noah could be biblical folly and to maintain the cultural antenna I guess I’ll see X-Men: Days Future Past, the Robocop reboot, Monuments Men, and The Raid 2 should get the blood pumping. Finally, and most excitedly for the menagerie Inherent Vice is scheduled for 2014 (which I think is optimistic but whatever), Fincher returns with another crime thriller Gone Girl and Michael Mann is back with international cyber-criminal caper Cyber, that’s a bad title but it might arrive in 2014, or perhaps further downloaded in 2015 as it only finished principal photography last September.

metrIn terms of retrospective activity the BFI’s Gothic season continues to chill and I have plans to honour a certain monocled film director with a fairly extensive small screen season that I thought would be instructive to cover here as it evolves, it’s truly criminal that he has barely raised a mention here in six years despite his position in my top echelon of helmsmen. I shall attempt this in tandem with my Universal Monsters stream which will continue with a lychanthropic fury, I did at least get from birth to a wedding.  More urgently a certain black comedy turns 50 next month and I’ve already got my tickets nuked for a special BFI screening – I can’t wait to see that again up on the big board with some top military brass involved from the production also reporting for duty. Finally of course everyone is praying for a certain tale which has curiously been scheduled for a November launch - is the summer schedule becoming too cluttered even for the major A list directors? – as chatter begins to coalesce around a certain puzzling presdigitator returning to originally scribed material – I’m thinking of purchasing shares in the question ‘Is this Nolan’s 2001: A Space Odyssey?

vhs-shopI don’t particularly wish to close on a solemn note but I think we need to mourn another passing, if last year we bid an adieu to celluloid film stock as the primary cinema delivery mechanism then this year we must pay our respects to the humble brick & motor video shop, now an almost extinct species on the high streets of the civilised world. I have something of a personal stake in this passing, I grew up browsing through the video section of our corner shops before graduating to my first job in a chain Video Shop at the tender age of 16, so I have some knowledge of the retail business from both sides of the counter. I helped pay my way through college by working in a small local store during my studies, and I have stories which would cause much merriment of Surrey’s commuter belt porn renting habits, or how I could almost come to blows with punters over their philistine opinions. The death of the high street store has been cemented by the final dissolution of Blockbuster at the hands of Netflix, Lovefilm and their cruel collaborators, I have little sympathy for that corporate entity but simply as a wider concept I can’t help but feel that another phase of cinephile education and indoctrination has passed into history.

zombie flesh vhsNo more gazing longingly over the lurid video covers with just a tantalising glimpse of cleavage, monsters, brutal violence or preferably all three, the fond aroma of the era of Porky’s, The Exterminator, The Evi Dead or Lemon Popsicle  as with entire libraries now available at the coax of a mouse the simple act of accidental discovery has been sorely compromised. I think there is something to be said for genuinely browsing a physical store and finding something new purely by chance instead of perusing a directors, actors or genres IMDB profile for future viewing material, whilst the Internet has brought many unseen gems and atrocities to our software shores the thrill of the chase has gone, the chance to genuinely stumble across a long rumored rarity, whilst of course we must welcome the advent of YouTube and associated sharing sites for the general health of cinema dissemination the proliferation can sometimes prove too much, and of course this shift to watching material on your phone or tablet should have been strangled in its infancy as it degrades the respect for the image. The shivering excitement caused when from a completest perspective you finally sourced a copy of Raimi’s Crimewave, or Fulci’s City Of The Living Dead, or being so dreadfully excited to see The Wanderers which Simon Hodgkins from class 3E watched at his step-brothers and said it was even better that The Warriors, or most notoriously given it’s UK ban until 1999 that fifth generation copy of A Clockwork Orange illicitly ordered from the classified section of Melody Maker, when all these films are available at the touch of a few buttons I can’t help but think that a certain indescribable something has immaterially slipped away. I’m sure there are a few remaining stores out there and like vinyl or even CD’s a heathy black market will remain among collectors who still yearn for the tactile packaging, the cover art and the physical manifestation of a product beyond a file languishing on your hard-disk or streamed from a remote server across the oceans, and there have been a few VHS themed documentaries this year (none of which I’ve seen yet) which seem to be getting a good deal of warmth, so let’s close 2013 with a misty-eyed salute to those yearning days of discovery (this intense site should bring back some memories) and honour the few remaining survivors who still fight the good fight;

One response

  1. Will Gilbert

    Pretty solid top ten, need to add a few to my watch list.

    My Top Ten Films of 2013:

    1. The Act of Killing
    2. Gravity
    3. Zero Dark Thirty
    4. Django Unchained
    5. Stories We Tell
    6. American Hustle
    7. Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa
    8. Before Midnight
    9. The World’s End
    10. Frances Ha

    Honourable mentions: Mud, Spring Breakers, Behind the Candelabra, Drinking Buddies, Rust and Bone, A Hijacking, Captain Phillips, Upstream Color, Fruitvale Station, A Touch of Sin, A Field In England, Iron Man 3, Side Effects and A Band Called Death.

    12 Years a Slave, Her, Inside Llewyn Davis, The Wolf of Wall Street & Nebraska don’t get released in Australia until Jan/Feb 2014.

    January 1, 2014 at 11:42 AM

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