Read and watched in 2013

Read in 2013

Watched in 2013

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.

An Unexpected Trilogy

Or, there and there and there and oh good grief they’re still getting there and then finally, please, hopefully, back again (in 2014).

I enjoyed The Hobbit and it has some good moments. The saddest thing is the sneaking feeling that just will not go away to the effect that the whole thing is … well, unnecessary.

The Fellowship of the Ring in 2001 was a movie whose time had come. It was ground breaking and deserves to be remembered as a great film just for what it accomplished – showing what could be done. (For story telling, null points.) And then of course there had to be the other two, because the first on its own would be pointless.

But The Hobbit did not need to be made. Not that need is a requirement for any piece of entertainment, almost by definition. But it didn’t. I will concede it needed to be split into at least two parts. Whether it needed to be a trilogy, I will hold fire on until I’ve seen all three. But, need? No. And what could have been achieved with a similar budget and more original imagination? We shall never know.

[It emphatically did not need to be 3D and I’m glad I didn’t bother. 3D would have given a little extra depth to some of the effects. It would have enhanced the story not at all. 2D rules.]

It gets off to a great start, just as the book requires, with Bilbo’s mounting frustration at his uninvited guests. I knew from the trailers that they would include the “Far over misty mountains” song, and a shiver went down my spine as they sung it. It sewed this group of disparate dwarves (dwarfs?) together and showed them for what they were – refugees and dispossessed inheritors of a shared culture. I hadn’t expected them to leave in the comedy “That’s what Bilbo Baggins hates” song number, let alone make it work, but they did, and it worked, and I was very pleased.

The back story was worked in well, for the benefit of the uninitiated, and it didn’t get in the way. The destruction of Dale and Smaug’s attack on the mountain had to be shown, of course, and they were all they should have been. (Dale in particular put in mind of Pompeii, an innocent city quietly going about its business until destroyed by fire; I wonder if that was deliberate, either on the part of Tolkien or Jackson?) Sylvester McCoy unexpectedly popped up as Radagast and was a little extra treat in his solo scenes. It’s with his later scenes, leading a bunch of orcs and wargs a goose chase over the mountains, that we begin to get the distinct feeling of padding. And then we meet Galadriel, who displays a cunning talent for rotating 180 degrees about her vertical axis without actually moving (that elf magic, eh?) and who doesn’t really need to be there, and after that … After that we really do sink into “enough, already” territory.

Beneath the Misty Mountains, the “riddles in the dark” scenes were precisely as they should be. The scenes with the dwar(ve)(f)s could have been slashed by at least 25%. I’d press for 50. There is only so much running around inside a video game that you can do before it all gets a little sameish, and it’s not playing fair with the audience when the lethality of a fall from a great height is a variable quantity depending on who is doing the falling and what the plot requires of them. And that … thing hanging from the goblin chief’s chin did not belong in a 12A movie. It wouldn’t really belong in an 18 movie. Maybe the type you can watch in hotels where you’re assured it won’t show up on your bill.

And then we’re out of the frying pan and oh Melkor please let it stop. Which it eventually did, with the eagles setting our heroes atop what I’m pretty certain was Lord Kevin’s Watch from the Thomas Covenant series. Making me wonder how they intend to get down. Maybe the next movie will fast forward through that bit. Or they can always call the eagles up again.

It’s entirely possible you could read this and assume I didn’t enjoy it, which would not be entirely correct. The goods outweigh the bads. But I am glad it was too dark to look at my watch. Still, roll on 2013 and let’s see what you have for us …