The Bens 2013

Being my awards in various categories for movies watched during 2012. It’s not what it’s about, it’s how it’s about it. See here for the full list of contenders.

Best movie

Winner: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. It wins for many reasons, not least doing a good job of compressing the plot that the BBC took 6 episodes to relate into a couple of hours, and also of making it plainer. Sadly I already knew who the Circus mole is (again, having seen the Beeb version) but I understood better how the apparently unrelated stories of Jim Prideaux and Ricky’s Russian girlfriend all fit together with the secret Witchcraft thingy.

It was also a wonderful recreation of the seventies – I could almost smell the tobacco smoke arising from the impregnated fabrics.

Tintin is here for being a darn good Tintin adventure with an astonishing combination of lifelike CGI graphics that actually look like the artwork of a Tintin movie. Word-perfect casting for our hero and for Captain Haddock.

Skyfall … well, under most circumstances a Bond movie wouldn’t make the shortlist for this category, even though any direction from Quantum of Solace is up (bringing Roger Moore back would be about the only possible way of going further downhill). But it scores for taking the traditional Bond parameters and pushing them up to 11, at the same time as reaffirming some venerable Bond traditions. And for the very clever way two machine guns pointing in a fixed direction manage to spray enough bullets to bring down a dispersed crowd of hoodlums.

Best animation

Winner: The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn. See above for one reason why. Also, extra extra cudos for fidelity to the original. So often a movie recreation of a childhood friend loses all the magic. This wasn’t an updating or a re-imagining that completely misses the point of why the original is so fondly remembered (looking at  you, Thunderbirds). No, it was a Tintin adventure. Done for the cinema. An expert merging of media that played to the strengths and the requirements of both.

The Pirates! also scores in a less flattering category – see below. But an Aardman animation is never less than excellent, at least in technical terms.

Rio – well, Rio was fun. CGI, yeah; brain candy, yeah; but fun.

Best offbeat indie thingy

Winner: Dean Spanley. Two of these I had never heard of before and this is one. We only watched because it was New Year’s Day and the TV was still on following the concert from Vienna. Father/son bonding as Edwardian Englishmen, rather than Hollywood, would do it, with wonderfully understated roles for Peter O’Toole and Jeremy Northam and Sam Neill, of whom see more below.

The other I hadn’t heard of is A Serious Man, a Coen Brothers movie set in 1950s mid-America and based loosely on the story of Job. Funny, offbeat, and an underplayed ending that seems like a sudden anticlimax, then becomes suddenly chilling when you remember what happened to Job’s children.

Margin Call is a gripping tale, strongly overlapping with reality, of a New York finance firm realising it is way too over-exposed and dumping its toxic assets … and incidentally triggering a financial crisis, and knowing that will happen, but doing it anyway because a firm’s job is to protect itself, not the world. A great cast including Kevin Spacey, Spock Jr, Dr Maturin and Jeremy Irons, and if it weren’t for Dean Spanley it would be the clear winner.

Best actor

  • Sam Neill – Dean Spanley
  • Nigel – Rio
  • Al Pacino – Glengarry Glen Ross

Winner: Sam Neill. Neill is usually seen with a knowing/knowledgeable/smart-ass (delete according to role) smirk, but it is completely absent from this. Instead we get a po-faced, dignified clergyman with a taste for Tokay and a previous existence as a dog.

Nigel is the villain of Rio, an obnoxious, English cockatoo, with a great musical number about why he is so evil. Includes the line ““I poop on people and I blame it on seagulls!”

Al Pacino does Al Pacino – in this case a dodgy salesman who will stoop to anything, and I mean anything, to make his sale.

And now the offbeats …

Most unexpectedly good

Winner: The Sentinel. Michael Douglas achieves the almost impossible task of making us believe he actually could (still) be a Secret Service agent with the life of the US President in the palm of his hand. And Keifer Sutherland is pretty good too.

Most disappointing

Winner: Private Peaceful. There’s two, count ’em, two adaptations of Michael Morpurgo novels here: how did neither come to be much good? Especially this one. I was almost in tears at the end of the novel. The movie suffers badly from trying to be clever and making us think that two unjust executions are about to take place, rather than the one of the novel … and tying itself into knots to maintain the illusion, when all it had to do was stick to the story to get it right.

I’ve commented above on The Pirates! as an animation – and sadly that is all it has going for it. An Aardman animation is usually heart warming and fun too. This wasn’t. It almost dies of inertia in the first half hour.

Most Oh Good Grief Is It Still Going On?

Winner: The Hobbit. At least the other two weren’t actively padding just for the sake of having lots of cool 3D effects.

Best despite knowing how it would end, really

Winner: Young Adult. We all knew, didn’t we, really, that the seducer of virgins would turn out to be a bounder and a cad, and Clooney’s character would be an idol with feet of clay, and Charlise wouldn’t break up the guy’s happy marriage and would end up as sad and lonely and non-wise at the end as she was at the start. But Young Adult wins because, as well as Charlise’s performance, and some sly digs at the art of ghostwriting, we have fun with other characters along the way. A mature and grown-up look at what marriage is like between two adult, grown-up people who have put their pasts behind them.

Most actually I really didn’t see that coming

Winner: Looper. Well, I didn’t. The Descendants almost makes it, except that I had a strong feeling there would be a happy(ish) ending even if I couldn’t see what. But Looper – wow.