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The 10 best films of 2012

December 31, 2012   -   1 comment   -  

At the beginning of the year, I listed my 12 most anticipated films of 2012.

Some of those films were worth the wait (The Avengers), some weren’t (The Dictator), while others haven’t even arrived yet (The Great Gatsby). However, there was enough gold out there to make this list of the top ten films of 2012.

As with any list like this, it’s all entirely subjective, so while there are technically great films out there that should appear (and would, were it a top 100), there are only ten spots. But here goes… my favourite films of 2012:

Haywire

Gina Carano was super hot in Haywire

Released by Steven Soderbergh at the beginning of the year, Haywire was more than just a female interpretation of The Bourne Identity – the film represented the birth of a female action star in ex-cage fighter Gina Carano.

With an impressive supporting cast including Antonio Banderas, Michael Douglas and Michael Fassbender, Haywire stood out from other action thrillers due to the lack of gimmicks. No flashy cinematography was needed (the reality-based fight scenes didn’t need embellishment) and the simple screenplay kept things powering along. The ending was a bit weak, but it wasn’t enough to keep this off my list.

 

Titanic 3D

Titanic sinking in Titanic 3D

I’ve made no secret of how much I love Titanic, and how excited I was for James Cameron’s 3D re-release, so it was a huge relief when it turned out to be just as good as the 1997 version, if not better.

No other film has matched the 3D Cameron gave us in Avatar, but Titanic 3D was as near as anyone has come – really making the most of the gorgeous cinematography and superb performances. The time, care and money lavished on Titanic 3D made it feel like a new film. No, I didn’t cry at the end – you shut your dirty mouth.

 

The Raid

The Raid

Every so often two films come out at the around the same time, that share a number of striking similarities (think Deep Impact/Armageddon, Volcano/Dante’s Peak, Capote/Infamous) – this year, it was The Raid and Dredd. Both films involved cops, trapped and massively outnumbered in a high-rise building, trying to make their way to the top in order take out a drug kingpin. And while Dredd was awesome, The Raid was better, thanks largely to the outrageous martial arts abilities of Iko Uwais.

 

Life of Pi

Life of Pi

Ang Lee’s adaptation of Yann Martel’s ‘unfilmable’ book is one of the most remarkable examples of cinema ever, let alone this year. The acting from first-timer Suraj Sharma was impeccable, while the direction and cinematography were simply astonishing. For once, the 3D improved the cinematic experience, rather than ruin perfectly good shots. This was a film that begged to be seen on the big screen.

Argo

Ben Affleck in Argo

Ben Affleck: one of the best directors working in Hollywood today. Who the hell would have guessed that? After the success of Gone Baby Gone and The Town, Affleck continued his run of great cinema with Argo – the true life story of a covert operation to rescue six Americans from Tehran by pretending they were making a sci-fi movie.

Tense and much funnier than you’d expect, Argo boasted some wonderful character acting. Yep, including Affleck himself. I hate that guy.

 

Here Comes The Boom

Kevin James in Here Comes the Boom

Every year I do this list, and there’s always something that causes readers to email me and ask me how long I’ve been an alcoholic. Here Comes The Boom is this year’s example.

Kevin James plays a tubby teacher who tries to save the school’s under-threat music department by fighting for money. In a cage. Yes, it’s remarkably similar to Warrior in some respects, but where that was a serious drama, this is very much a comedy.

I’m well aware this film wasn’t for everyone, but in this case, my fondness of MMA made a real difference, and I got a serious kick out of seeing the likes of Chael Sonnen pop up in teeny tiny cameos. Furthermore, Bas Rutten’s comic turn was genuinely one of the funniest of the year. Who’d have thought that a decade ago he made a living punching lumps out of people.

Utterly unbelievable, and completely daft, this feelgood film and its cast were hard to dislike.

 

The Avengers

Scarlett Johansson as The Black Widow in The Avengers

I refuse to call this film by the name given for its UK release. It’s The Avengers, and it was awesome. I was uncertain that Marvel would be able tie the various superheroes together in a cohesive way, but then it hired Joss Whedon who produced not only one of the best comic books films of the year, but one of the best anything films of the year, full stop.

 

Moonrise Kingdom

Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom

From frame one, this film screams ‘I am a Wes Anderson picture’. Moonrise Kingdom was the director’s first live-action feature since The Darjeeling Limited in 2007, and contained all his usual touchstones – perfect framing, an idiosyncratic soundtrack, unlikely casting and beautiful acting.

 

Young Adult

Charlize Theron and Patton Oswalt in Young Adult

Even though she won an Oscar for Monster, it’s still strange to look at Charlize Theron when she’s all polished and on the red carpet or in ostentatious perfume adverts, and think that she’s a good actress. But she is, and Young Adult proved it once again.

Theron plays a misanthropic teen-fiction writer who returns to her hometown to try to steal her high school sweetheart – now happily married and expecting a kid. From the same writer/director team as Juno, the performances in this brilliantly sour anti-romantic comedy were routinely excellent, particualrly from Theron and Patton Oswalt as her geeky, disabled ex-schoolmate.

 

Chronicle

Dane DeHaan in Chronicle

Released among a pile of over-marketed tat, Chronicle didn’t get the audience it deserved.

It was a relatively low budget film about three teenage boys who gain superpowers, looked better than a lot of this year’s big releases, and had a surprising air of reality about it.

Chronicle wasn’t just all about the action though, it also boasted some surprising performances, not least from main protagonist Dane DeHaan who has since landed the role of Harry Osborne in the next Spider-Man film.

Due to most of the film looking like it was shot on a home movie camera or mobile, it looks just as good on the small screen as it did on the big – so track it down.

A version of this article first appeared in the Kent Messenger series of newspapers.

PictureBox Films

Star Wars: having my cake and eating it

November 1, 2012   -   0 comments   -  

A few months ago I wrote a piece called Why George Lucas Isn’t Getting Any More Of My Money. In it, I explained how – even though I still love Star Wars and want to see the new releases – the director’s incessant tinkering and apparent egomania meant I couldn’t in good conscience chuck more money at him and his “improved”, “remastered”, “ultimate version” cuts of the beloved movies.

C3PO and R2D2

And then, a couple of days ago, the news dropped that Lucas had sold Star Wars and the rest of Lucasfilm to Disney, who immediately announced parts seven, eight and nine.

It seems you can have your cake and eat it.

You’re not what Oxbridge is looking for

August 23, 2012   -   2 comments   -  

 

A combination of exam results in the news and an excellent blog by @pme200 has reminded my of my own Oxbridge experiences.

My parents didn’t go to university and until I hit my late teens, I didn’t know anyone who had gone, so the very idea of heading off to get a degree was still quite grand. At this point, going to uni wasn’t simply something people did after sixth form to delay getting a job, it was a serious life decision.

So, I took the whole process very seriously, and what I knew for certain was that if I wanted to stay in the UK, the very best degrees were from Oxford and Cambridge. My head had been filled with all sorts of stories about so and so’s son who is ever so bright and has gone off to study an Ology at Cambridge, and the woman down the road with the fantastic car wouldn’t be half as successful had she not gone to Oxford. And so it followed that, if I was going to be the first in my immediate family to slog my way through to uni, I was going to do it properly and make sure it was Oxbridge.

cambridge university

Never did it occur to me that I – being from a not-particularly-well-off family, having no powerful friends or acquaintances, and being brought up on a succession of rundown army housing estates – would not be looked upon favourably by the educational elite.

But that’s how it was presented to me by my college’s Higher Education advisor when I first talked about where I wanted to go.

“Jamie and Tessa Fakename will be our Oxbridge applicants this year, trying at all would be a waste of everybody’s time.”

Jamie and Tessa Fakename (I am using a fake name for them – did you spot that?) were two very well-spoken, very well-off twins who everyone in college either knew or knew of. As you can probably tell, I didn’t know them, nor did I know what their parents did in order to end up being so wealthy, but I did know that they were the golden boy and girl of the college and if they were the Oxbridge candidates for the year, there was little point in me even thinking about it.

And yet…

I have always been stubborn to the point of obdurate (in our family, it’s called ‘grit’), so I pushed the advisor on the subject; what did she mean “it would be a waste of everyone’s time?”

“Well,” she said, “if Cambridge is going to accept someone from this college, it will be someone like Jamie or Tessa, not you.”

“But my grades are the same.”

“That’s besides the point. You’re not what they’re looking for.”

Which was the sum of any and all arguments over the following weeks. I could protest all I wanted, but the long and the short of it was, according to this advisor – this woman tasked with helping young people make enormous decisions and push them to be the best – Oxbridge knew what it wanted and what it wanted was not me.

The arguments continued for another week or so, but besides pointed remarks about her not wanting to waste her time coaching someone without “an Oxbridge aura” and references that “UCAS don’t look kindly on people who rock the boat” no new information was forthcoming.

I wasn’t rich, I dropped some of my Ts and my bus pass was free. It didn’t matter how talented I was or what potential I had, as far as she was concerned, I wasn’t worth the effort.

In the end, I made my selections, got my first choice (University of Kent at Canterbury) and did pretty well, but it wasn’t until much later on that the way I had been disregarded offhand simply because of my background really started to rankle. Although I was pissed off, in my youthful foolishness I had simply come to accept that this woman knew what was what, and that the likes of me weren’t suitable for Oxford or Cambridge. But, as time wore on and I met people who had attended those universities I came to realise, half of them were no smarter or richer or posher than me. What gives?!

It’s not Oxbridge that has the attitude problem, nor is it the students; rather it’s the people in positions of power in our schools and colleges who buy into this outdated notion of what Oxbridge is supposed to be and go out of their way to put off prospective candidates.

Chances are if I did apply I wouldn’t have even made it to the interview process, and even if I had all those fucking bicycles would have put me off, but this advisor – with her prejudices about who I was, what Oxbridge was and the importance of keeping people like me in their place  – should have at least let me damn well try. Now I know (for the most part) it doesn’t matter which university you went to, it’s experience that counts, but back then, to me, Oxbridge was the pinnacle of personal achievement and I got shot down before I was even on the runway.

I bear no ill will towards the Fakenames- I doubt they knew what was going on and even if they did, what could they do about it? Nor do I resent the universities themselves for not doing more to destroy their archaic images. I do, however, resent that woman in her brown glasses and green cardigan telling me I wasn’t right for somewhere because she hadn’t caught up with modern Britain.

So, for what it’s worth, there’s my Oxbridge story. No great revelations, although I still wonder from time-to-time why Jamie and Tessa and all their money attended the same cheap, fraud-beset college in a London overspill town as me.

Charging journalists for an interview? It had better be good

June 16, 2012   -   0 comments   -  

Ever wonder why most of the interviews you read with celebrities are virtually identical?

Well, it’s because very often they are the same interview, just packaged differently. Despite the “Exclusive interview!’ lies you’re fed, few outlets actually get to have one-on-one time with the stars of new movies, and have to make do with dry, generic interviews done in-house and sent out to thousands of websites, magazines and newspapers across the world. There are only so many ways a put-upon feature writer can make it sound like they actually met the subject of their article, and so what we are left with are piles of interviews with the cast of The Avengers, each one framed slightly differently, but with remarkably similar quotes.

Now there’s another option open to journalists, but as with most things, it costs. Canadian journalists at this year’s Cannes Film Festival were being charged thousands of dollars for interviews with the likes of Brad Pitt, Kristen Stewart and Nicole Kidman.

brad pitt promotes killing them softly at cannes 2012

Alliance, the Canadian distributor for Stewart’s film On the Road and Pitt’s new movie Killing Them Softly, sent out a “menu” of prices to various outlets prior to the event, letting them know how much different people cost if they wanted to talk to them. While Brad Pitt started at £2400 for a 20 minute interview, McConaughey was a bargain at just £1200. Presumably with two funny anecdotes and a high five thrown in for free.

Unsurprisingly, journalists rebelled.

However, this isn’t the first time something like this has happened. Harvey Weinstein tried a similar tactic back in 2007 with Tarantino’s Death Proof, and that didn’t go down well either. The cash-for-questions style scheme resulted in a huge storm of bad publicity; and wouldn’t you know it, the same has happened here. Not least because in the handful of interviews that were secured with Brad Pitt to promote Killing Them Softly, the dunce happily announced that he was hooked by the script because it was “making a commentary” on our consumerist society. Ho ho ho.

Let’s ignore for a second the fact that journalists shouldn’t be expected to pay for the privilege of helping film companies promote their latest rubbish. It’s concerning that, even though the actors and actresses involved are now being paid to speak, they STILL just trot out the same old tired cliches.

Most outlets are running on a shoestring budget and will never be able to afford to pay for interviews (nor should they) but if they are able to, then they should be rewarded with far more than a semi-awake celebrity gurgling on about how ‘challenging’ their latest role is, and how the director is a ‘genius’.

Would you pay £2400 for that? I wouldn’t. Why the hell should I pay to listen to megarich celebrities promote the movies they’re starring in? Films they’ve already been paid more than you or I will EVER earn to promote as part of their multi-million dollar contracts.

They should be paying us for making the turgid nonsense that spills out of their mouths sound like it came from someone with a grain of personality, and not just a polished automaton parroting whatever their publicist has told them to say.

For years there has been a symbiotic relationship between the press and publicists. They give us interviews with their ‘talent’ which helps us attract readers and in return we help to raise awareness about their films with little focus on whether the product is actually any good. Think about it – when was the last time you read a lengthy interview with a movie star or saw an actor on a TV show where the product came off badly? Never – that’s when.

And now publicists like Alliance want to rock the boat and make the press pay? This can only end one way, and it won’t be the press being made to look stupid and forced to back down.

An Alliance spokesperson said: “The fee is simply a means for the expenses to be shared… These stars travel by private jet, with their agents, make-up artists and hairdressers; someone’s got to pay.”

Yep, sure they do – but not the people you are relying on to promote your films, idiot.

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If you liked this piece, try How short-sighted PRs are hurting their clients

How short-sighted PRs are hurting their clients

June 10, 2012   -   5 comments   -  

After months of hype and a very cool viral campaign, Prometheus is upon us.

You may have noticed that, unlike most new releases, the number of reviews out there before the release was quite small. Usually when this happens it’s because the studio knows that their film sucks, and they don’t hold preview screenings for critics so that the public have no clue that what they are paying £15 per ticket for is a steaming dog egg.

However, Prometheus is not a bad film, far from it – it’s an excellent piece of sci-fi, and if taken as a standalone film and not part of the Alien canon, is well worth your money.

Massive Prometheus head

In the case of Ridley Scott’s new film, the issue lies with shortsighted and downright rude PR people barring access to press screenings.

Let me explain – journalists are currently in the middle of a war where legitimate film, theatre and art reviewers with real audiences are being pushed aside in favour of people who have the right email address.

Reviewers for movie sites, entertainment magazines and regional papers with readerships in the millions are being left out in the cold so that PRs hand out tickets to a fashion writer at The Independent and her friends simply because she works at The Independent. They know she is never EVER going to write about the film – and neither are the myriad other idiots they bend over backwards for – but they work for a national so they come first.

Press officers and PRs play the same silly games with West End shows as well. Theatre sites with larger readerships than most national newspapers get blown out because some back office people at Radio 4 want to see Andrew Lloyd Webber’s new show. These people aren’t actually going to be on the radio talking about the show so they aren’t going to either inform the public about it or help shift tickets. What they do have, however, is a BBC email address – and that’s all the PR sees. They might have iPads glued to their forearms, but they’re stuck in the past and don’t understand that giving a pair of tickets to a site like Den of Geek is ten times more powerful than giving out six tickets to The Mirror’s new health and beauty intern.

And these decisions are damaging them.

I know of a writer who – despite being film writer for a HUGE website – was not given access to see Prometheus, but in order to do her job went and watched the film at a local cinema on the morning of release and then marked the film down one star from what she actually thought of it.

Now, I’d never do something so underhand (journalistic integrity still means something to some of us), and it’s petty and devious, but this writer told me: “How else will the PRs learn?”

If more people behave like her, then good films will suffer, PRs will retaliate, and the cycle continues.

It’s easy to look at reviewers and say “They should just be grateful to be seeing these things for free,” but that’s not the point. It’s their job, and readers expect to see reviews. When a publication can’t deliver on a review, the reader goes elsewhere for it. If that continues, then sales/traffic goes down, advertising rates drop, newspapers, magazines and websites go under and people lose their jobs. And all because Tilly at The Guardian wanted to watch the film and blagged extra tickets for Bunty, Marmaduke and Other Tilly too.

I’m fortunate that I’ve never fallen foul to this practice, but I wholly understand the frustration felt by those who have. A number of colleagues have been refused access to big releases of late (including Prometheus) with the excuse “we haven’t got space for you”, but when there are smaller films coming out, the same people are all too eager – pushy almost – to get these “less important” outlets in the screening room. Even using thinly-veiled threats about refusing access to bigger films if the outlet says, actually, it’s not really interested in the exciting new docu-drama about lactose-intolerant Argentinian cartographers.

Of course, at this point PRs will argue that it’s not their fault, that film studios and show producers want to see big names on the press list (and by big names, they mean titles that they recognise, even if those titles have dwindling numbers and no decent writers). But ultimately, the PR is there to win coverage for their client and a website with a daft name but which has 1m+ devoted readers is going to do far more than a moron who doesn’t even cover that subject and who turns up late, already drunk and then disappears halfway through the performance.

The relationship between press and public relations has never been entirely harmonious, but this latest trend has the potential to cause huge problems if the balance between the two sides isn’t redressed.

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If you liked this post, try this piece on journalists being charged to interview actors.

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