Monday, December 20

2010 Roundup

I have not seen every movie that was released this year. In fact, I have probably seen less then half I wanted to see this year. There still is a slew of movies I'm absolutely going to see when they get released here (Black Swan, Somewhere, True Grit, The Kings Speech). So this list of "awards" is going to be lacking at best. Nevertheless, I would like to point out some of the highlights of this year.

2010 has been a bit of a weird year in terms of movies. A lot of established directors have turned out great films, some new names have appeared out of the blue and some potentially game-changing movies were released. It was also the year the 3D really got hold. But overall, I think it's one of the better years in recent memory in terms of Hollywood movies. I'd like to give credit to some of the best ones here.


Special Mention: Hans Zimmer for Inception. Not only was it a really good score, but the sound BRAAAAAW suddenly became a very funny punchline. Thanks for that. 

Runner-up: Daft Punk for Tron: Legacy. A mix of classical sounds with their catchy beats which is just absurdly epic.

WINNER: Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross for The Social Network. They would have won this award for their reworking In the Hall of the Mountain King alone, but the rest of the soundtrack is just as good. It made a movie that was already great even better, yet it also holds up on it's own. Without a doubt the best soundtrack of the year, and perhaps even one of the best albums period.


Honorable Mention: Mary and Max. Even though it was a complete surprise to many, those already familiar with Harvey Crumpet knew what to expect. Even so, it's a delightful little movie that uses clay to convey moods, which just might be the best way to use the stuff.

Runner-Up: Exit Through The Gift Shop. Most people went to see this movie for a single reason: Banksy. This enigmatic figure is one of the revered artists of the last decade, and possibly the one that made us all look the silliest. But the movie didn't really reveal anything about the man: in fact, it only shrouded him in mystery even more. It was, however, a very funny documentary (mockumentary?) that made some pretty nasty comments about the state of art right now. 

WINNER: Kick-Ass. Even if it didn't turn the superhero mythos as much on it's head as I would have liked, it was still a major surprise to anyone who didn't follow the comic book world closely. Empire opened their review with "Where did this come from?". Roger Ebert gave it one star, his lowest possible rating. And nerds everywhere witnessed what's perhaps the first indie superhero movie. Hate it or love it, there's no denying that this really shook up some dirt.


Runner-Up: Another Year. This movie shows us a married couple and their friends going through a pretty typical year in their lives. Nothing much happens, very little changes, and it ends in much the same way as it starts. I was spellbound for an hour and a half. Only Mike Leigh could have pulled this of, and made one of his best movies ever while doing so.

WINNER: Four Lions. The basic question Four Lions asks is this: what if the terrorists aren't a network of highly-trained radicals, but a bunch of absolute idiots? The answer to this is of course: that would be hilarious and terrifying at the same time. Four Lions's main characters are a group of gormless fuckwads who decide to participate in the holy war, but even though they're made fun off a lot the movie never sympathizes with their cause. It's one of the most original and interesting movies made about terrorism to date, precisely because it tells us a story from the inside that isn't as serious as you might expect. Kudos  also to director Chris Morris for having the enormous balls to flip terrorism the bird.


Runner-Ups: a tie between Inception and The Social Network. After years of only Pixar and Tarantino telling us some really intelligent stories, the success of these two movies just might bring the good screenplays back into mainstream Hollywood. I certainly hope they do.

WINNER: Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. This wins solely for the fact that it didn't just mix established genres, it mixed entire media. Comic book storytelling and video game logic were all seamlessly blended in with film by Edgar Wright. This is made all the more impressive by the fact that it's still simply a blast to watch.


Nowhere Boy
The Kids Are Allright
Un Prophete

So, yeah. I haven't seen them yet. 


The Human Centipede
Valentine's Day
The Twilight Saga: Eclipse

I honestly wonder which one of these would make me puke first. Not that I'm any hurry to find out. 


Runner-Up: Toy Story 3. It simply does everything right, and then goes the extra mile. It's the best Pixar yet. What's more to say?

WINNER: Inception. There are two things that Hollywood films have always been good at: character-driven stories and special effects. Cristopher Nolan, in one of the bravest moves of the year, blended a complex and refreshing plot with stunning visuals, and made one of the most unique films of the last 10 years. It's not since The Matrix that a blockbuster movie has both challenged and entertained us so much, and for that it gets my title of Best Movie of the Year.


The best song of the year? Nah. But certainly one of the most overlooked ones.

Saturday, December 18

Shorts Circus: The Cat Piano

I saw this at the Holland Animated Film Festival a while back, and it absolutely enchanted me. Especially wicked for fans of noir.


Saturday, December 11

Pulling Rabbits: On Hayao Mayazaki

We all owe a lot to Walt Disney. He and his team have given us movies that are imaginative and colorful and have become dear childhood memories for generations on end. A side effect to all this, however, is that animated movies are now almost automatically labeled as “kiddie movies”. This is a shame. Animation is as good a way to tell a story as live-action, and in many cases it allows for things that are simply impossible in “real” movies. Point in case: the films of Hayao Miyazaki.

Miyazaki is the head of Studio Ghibli, and that name alone is enough to have many a filmnerd squeal with glee. Under his supervision this animation studio (which is one of the last one left which still works with hand-drawn animation) has created movies which should (and are beginng to be) recognized as the modern classics they are: Spirited Away, My Neighbour Totoro and Grave of the Fireflies, among others.

What a sweet old man.

The choice to keep working with the time-consuming method of hand-drawn animation isn’t simple stubbornness, though. One of the adavntages of drawn animation is that everything in the frame is put there by the same means. In effect, this means that the characters all look like they perfectly blend in with the world, even if they’re non-human. In live-action with CGI you can clearly tell which characters are real and which aren’t (see Avatar), but in an animation film humans can interact with demons, animals and forest spirits without them looking out of place. And that is exactly what Miyazakis characters do. Even though a normal world is sometimes hinted at (see the beginning of Spirited Away), all his movies plunge into a mystical world of shapeshifters, enormous insects and witches.

Which is not to say his movies don’t mean bussiness. Far from it. In Princess Mononoke a giant demon-monster, who seems to be build entirely out of crawling worms, attacks a village and kills everything around him until he is stopped. This happens in the first ten minutes of the movie. At the climax, a god is shot in the goddamn face. And for those of you who have seen Spirited Away: remember No Faces angry rampage through the bathhouse, eating everything that crosses his path? Not the kind of stuff you’d call family friendly. 

Oh yes, that's EXACTLY what you think it is

A lot of labels have been put on the work of Miyazaki: humanist, feminist, environmentalist. But I think those are hollow statements. Miyazaki isn’t a political activist. He doesn’t try to make any sort of point. He’s just trying to tell a story. And if that means having strong female characters: so be it. Which, truth be told, makes it a lot more enjoyable to watch. No-one likes getting a point rubbed into their face, after all. Even if he has any cause, he treats in the best way possible: not by telling everyone how right he is, but just telling a story while assuming it.

What sets Miyazaki apart from so many other modern filmmakers is that he isn’t cynical. He looks at the world with a child-like wonder, and tells about it with the wisdom of an old man. He is one in a long line of bards, the type of persons who tell the stories of their ancestors in their own special way. And like the other bards, Miyazaki is too much intertwined with his craft to ever give it up: even though he announced his retirement in 1997, he came back four years later to make Spirited Away, which promptly won him an Oscar.


And once again an Icelandic song for Miyazaki. What is it that makes their styles line up so well? Maybe it's the whole "island" thing, or all the fish... Well anyway, here is Sigur Rós

Wednesday, December 8

Shorts Circus: Cashback

Let's take a detour from our plunge into insanity and take a look at one of the most artistic and beautiful short films I know.



Tuesday, December 7

The War on Information

I normally reserve this spot to talk about movies, but I feel compelled to write this piece. I think there is something going on right now which will drastically change the world in the future, and people are mostly overseeing it. This won't be an opinion piece, since I haven't made my mind up either. The only thing I want to say is that this subject is going to be big, and possibly a landmark for the world in which we will live in the future. And that most people today are too apathic towards it.

That subject is Wikileaks.

The direct reason for me writing this is this article. It turns out that Anonymous, the most well-known and possibly the most powerful collective of hackers in the world, have declared their support for Wikileaks. And to show it, they have begun attacking websites which have cut ties to Wikileaks. No websites were brought down, and it was a pretty harmless affair all in all. But it's what the spokesperson said that really got me thinking. I quote: "We feel that Wikileaks has become more than just about leaking of documents, it has become a war ground, the people vs. the government".

The people vs. the government. Let that sink in for a moment.

I take this as a declaration of war. This would mean a civil revolt. And the thing is that for one of the first times in history, arms would be not be taken up against a government because they were oppressive, but because of their very structure. The governments that are most affected by the leaks are democratic ones (or at least try to be) and are generally considered not to be corrupt police states. It's not the people in the government that are revolted against (they were voted in, after all), but the very structure of those governments. Or, to be more precies: the fact that the western world is currently being run in a way that allows (and in many cases even forces) their government to keep information from their citizens.

This is a bigger deal than it seems like. We live in an age where information is the most valuable resource there is, and people have gone to war for much less. And if this should turn into a citizen revolt for the free spread of information, the government is bound to lose. Anonymous hackers are the guerilla soldiers of our time: they can strike hard, fast and mean, and disappear without a trace. The music industry and Scientology (among others) have gone to war with them, and they didn't stand a chance. Coupled with the fact that this is one of the biggest distribution-of-information scandals ever, and certainly the most politically harmful, this has the potential to turn into a full-scale war between the government and the hackers.

If this war is truly fought out, things are going to change. Big. What the hackers are advocating, true transparency, is impossible to achieve with the power structures we have at the moment. Diplomacy without any holding back is like a relationship in which you constantly have to tell the other person what you dislike about them. It just doesn't work. And if the hackers manage to get the government on their knees, (this isn't all that hypothetical: if they get serious about it, they can completely block the information flow) we will see a complete restructuring of the power structures we have lived under for over 200 years.

I admit that this scenario has a lot of conditions to live up too, mot of which will probably never be realized. For my money, the hackers will probably call it quits long before they can claim their places as kings of the trolls. But as someone who has spent some time on the internet, I can assure you that this is going to change things one way or another. The music industry got a pretty bad shock when confronted with Napster, something they are still recovering from.

Imagine that happening to our governments.

The point to all this isn't that something should be done about this. I wouldn't have the faintest idea what to do. But I am absolutely sure that this is going to be a turning point in the way the internet will be used and structured in the future, and convinced that this is going to influence the way we are governed in the future. Reading up on it wouldn't be too bad an idea.


Yeah, what else?

Friday, December 3

Shorts Circus: Mr. Ando of the Woods

This is, quite possibly, the strangest thing ever. Which makes it awesome.


Review: The Deer Hunter

Let me sum up what I know about the Vietnam war:

- The hippies were against it,
- The Americans lost it,
- It really, really sucked to be in it.

As you might have guessed, almost everything I know about this war comes from movies. But it's pretty amazing how alike most Vietnam movies are: they show some nice dudes who go off to war, and they slowly go absolutely mental. That's the basic plot of Full Metal Jacket, of Apocalypse Now and, yes, of this one. But even though this movie is considered just as much a classic as those other two movies, The Deer Hunter tells that simple story in such a boring way that you really shouldn't bother.

The movie stars Robert DeNiro, Cristopher Walken with a babyface and John Savage as the guys about to go to war. These are tough guys, which the movie shows by having them handle tons of molten steel in a factory. Subtle. We see these guys hanging out, getting drunk, and hunting deers. This goes on for almost an hour. And they talk an awful lot. A. Very. Awful. Lot. In one of the final scenes of this first hour or so, there is a bit where the bunch goes hunting and John Cazale (who plays one of the main characters friends) forgot his boots. He asks DeNiro if he can lend his spare pare. DeNiro refuses this, because Cazale always forgets his stuff. The rest of the guys tell him he's a dick, and eventually he lends Cazale his boots. This simple conversation takes more then 10 minutes to complete. Sure, it might typecast the characters, and it might be "realistic" but this endless torrent of dialogue makes their words almost meaningless. And it is boring as shit to watch. Besides, wasn't I watching a movie about the Vietnam war?

Yes. In a single cut, we are thrown from the safety of a late-night bar to the action in Vietnam (this is pretty awesome, I'll give the movie as much). DeNiro, Savage and Walken are captured by the Viet Cong and are forced to play Russian Roulette. This is the one part of the movie everybody remembers, and with reason. It is pretty damn good. It's tense, gory and it really shows these guys battling something as elemental as chance. Good stuff. But before you know it, they escape and all get hauled back to safety. Chris gets a chance to flex his acting skills in a great shot where he breaks down from the PTSD, and then it's back to America for these boys. And that is where the shit really hits the fan.

When the guys come back, something happens that no-one ever saw coming: the soldiers are having trouble getting back to their normal lives. Gasp! This takes up the full final hour of the movie. As you can imagine, this is once again boring as shit. We see De Niro breaking down in his hotel room and crying on his bed. This scene lasts forever, and tells you something that you could have guessed would happened from the get-go. Maybe it was shocking back then, but it's not like PTSD is some problem that gets ignored on a large scale anymore.

I think that's the main problem with this movie. We already know what it's trying to tell us. This was one of the first movies about the Vietnam war (made even before Apocalypse Now, but that wasn't really about the war), and it was pretty explosive back then. But watching this movie is like watching a movie about the Holocaust now: we know it happened. It was terrible. But unless you can show us something we haven't seen before, it just won't move us anymore. I'm sorry if I'm a jaded person, but I just don't feel any great human tragedy in this movie, nor do I think many people from my age will. I won't advocate a boring movie. This one can get kicked out of the canon right away, if you ask me.


P.S. If you're interested in an original take on the Vietnam War, check out Rescue Dawn.

Loads of good songs about the Vietnam war, but I think this is one you've never heard before. Listen to the lyrics, they are incredibly powerful.