After a brief intermission, welcome back to the wonderful world of movies and, as has become traditional, I’m going to start this year with a couple of weeks’ worth of looking back at the best films of last year.
Once upon a time this exercise lasted the whole of January but I’ve been able to whittle the best releases on blu-ray and DVD down to just a couple of dozen or so movies so a fortnight should do it. Next week we’ll move on and look at horror films, comedies, foreign flicks and the ones that wouldn’t fit easily into any of the traditional categories.
OK. Let’s get to it. The envelope please...
And let me make immediately clear that these are not Oscar picks for 2014 but some of the various films that were up for – and even won – statuettes at the 2013 Oscars. Most of the winners are now available for home viewing and some of them hold up very well.
Life Of Pi looks just about as stunning at home as it did on the big screen. It really is a wonderful film, effortlessly surpassing the limitations of a story of a boy in a boat with a tiger. The tiger itself is a work of wonder, the shipwreck is masterful, and director Ang Lee’s firm grasp on storytelling never wavers.
And Django Unchained is still an adrenalin rush of subversive rule-breaking. Slavery and comedy side by side? It still causes a jolt but the man’s films are so viscerally watchable that you can’t take your eyes off it.
Meanwhile Zero Dark Thirty has lost a little of its appeal in this fast-moving modern world. It seems a bit yesterday already. But, even not-so-current it’s an impressive piece of film-making, as is Argo, which now looks like a rather iffy Best Picture winner, but is still a lot of fun as a perfectly-formed caper movie.
For a year that was touted as “the year of sci-fi” the pickings – Oblivion? After Earth? - have been pretty slim. Neill Blomkamp’s Elysium was pretty decent but cleverer, in a time-travelling / 12 Monkeys sort of way was Looper, which gave us Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a young Bruce Willis and had heart along with smarts.
Then there was the riotous delight that was John Dies In The End. Which isn’t really sci-fi (but does have time travel bits...). It’s a sorta horror comedy from Don Coscarelli, director of the legendary Phantasm films. Everything gets thrown into the weirdness blender here, coming up with exploding monsters, a time-travelling mind-altering drug called soy sauce, Paul Giamatti, and more laughs and ideas than you could fit into ten ordinary movies.
Yay for Bond and Skyfall! An absolute triumph of style over substance (though by making a couple of references to Bond’s childhood it pretended to have the latter too) this is a Bond film that has it all, from the spectacular opening chase onwards.
Iron Man 3 rocked too, finding the perfect blend of humour and action, while Star Trek: Into Darkness upset pimply on-line fanboys but knocked the socks off just about everyone else with its finely-honed combination of spectacle, philosophical discussion and Spock/Kirk bromance.
There was also the “guilty pleasure” side of action, perfectly embodied by Pacific Rim, as dumb and delightful as its monsters were huge.
There were more docos on my list than any other category, so I’ll have to keep this brief. Any of the following are absolutely recommended with no reservations whatsoever: The Imposter – incredibly, a French conman pretends to be a missing American teen and is accepted into his family, but that’s just the beginning... ;
Searching For Sugar Man – after decades of obscurity singer Rodriguez is rediscovered by South African fans and finds he is a legend in that country;
The Queen Of Versailles – the jaw-dropping rise and fall of an ostentatiously rich American family;
You’ve Been Trumped – Donald Trump builds a golf course in Scotland and behaves like a swine (repeatedly); Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence In The House Of God – an excoriating film about decades of child abuse in the Catholic church. You may think you’ve heard it all before, but you haven’t.