Wednesday, August 29, 2012

10 films that shocked me

This is what passes for a dramatic moment in Le Quattro Volte: a man turns and looks at his dog. 
Will he or won't he pat the dog's head? Oh my, the tension is almost unbearable...

1. Le Quattro Volte This film really made me laugh - the way you would laugh if you went to a restaurant and you asked, in a very innocent, polite manner, to see a menu and the reaction from the (mentally unstable) waitress was to throw her tray on the floor and walk off in a huff. This movie really was an insult to the audience. I sat through half an hour of it just shaking my head; I couldn’t believe any film-maker could be that lazy and contemptuous of an audience, could expect viewers to watch this pathetic excuse for a motion picture. It’s the story of a goat- a goat eating grass. And that’s it. I’m not kidding you. They proudly advertise that this is a 'film without dialogue', but they forget to mention that it is also a film without a story, a point or any regard for the viewer.
2.The Philadelphia Story I had loved this film for many decades and I’m a great fan of all three stars- Grant, Stewart and Hepburn- so I was shocked when the last time I saw it, the dialogue really annoyed me. It seemed to want to defend the idle rich at all costs - and I realised it was a kind of smug movie. Right after that I also re-watched What’s Up Doc? (1972), a film often accused of being a poor 70’s attempt to re-make 30’s screwball comedies - and it seemed a lot better and a lot more honest!
3. The Next Three Days I was shocked at how powerful this movie was, especially as I’d heard some critics completely slating it. In fact it’s a great film and a lot better than Anything For Her, the French film it was based on. There’s something about the way Russell Crowe interacts with the camera in his recent works - State of Play was another example - that is really affecting, and is the definition of great film-acting. I think these are two towering performances and he’s operating now at a far higher level than he was at the time of Gladiator (he was excellent in American Gangster as well).
4. Looking for Eric I was shocked at how joyous and life-affirming and damn right funny the ending of this film was. You think you’re watching a typical miserabalist Ken Loach picture then it completely transforms into another kind of movie, in a way that totally works.
5. Distant Voices, Still Lives I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised to find the work of yet another acclaimed arthouse director is just a load of old baloney, but I’d heard so many good things about Terence Davies - from Time Out magazine and the Guardian especially - that I once again fell for the hype and expected great things. This film is not bad; it’s a moderate success, three stars out of five. But I went on to watch his second film - The Long Day Closes - and it was just the same thing but worse, and then The House of Mirth (dull, dull, dull). Incredibly Mark Kermode said of Of Time and the City, which Davies narrates, that it was a wonderful film partly because he has such a lovely voice. I listened to the trailer on Youtube and was so put off - he seemed to me to have one of the most annoyingly affected posh-English voices I’d ever heard - that I’ve avoided it ever since.
6. The Killer Inside Me I was just shocked at Michael Winterbottom’s poor judgment in the way he directed certain scenes in this movie. This is a man who’s made three of the best, most sensitive, most empathetic films about the post-9/11 world and the Muslims vs. The West dichotomy: In This World, The Road to Guantanamo and The Mighty Heart. When the disgustingly violent scenes start in this film it’s like watching a friend, who is normally very good-natured, get drunk and start swearing at everyone in a really abusive way. You just want to hang your head and look away.
7. Somewhere Sofia Coppola shocked me with the tediousness of Somewhere. In one scene the characters park a car 300 metres from a building and walk in and they show the entire slow, silent walk - about five minutes of it, it seemed- with no cuts. It was one of the most pointless and boring shots in all cinema of the 2000’s. And this was the first film I’d seen by her after the brilliant Lost in Translation: what incredible bathos!
8. Where the Wild Things Are Co-incidentally Sofia Coppola's ex-husband Spike Jonze also shocked me around the same time with this film. As I was watching it, I kept thinking: such a good director, such a bad film. I couldn’t believe how badly he blew it. Being John Malkovich and Adaptation were masterpieces, this was just a drag.
9. What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? I re-watched this again recently and was shocked at how good Johnny Depp was. DiCaprio was even better but he hasn’t driven his career into the toilet the way Depp has over the last ten years, so there was no great contrast to note in his case.
10. A Single Man I was shocked at how good Colin Firth was. Until then I hadn’t been much of a fan and thought of him only in things like Bridget Jones’ Diary and Love Actually and Jane Austen adaptations. I also saw another gay-themed film around the same time - I Love You Philip Morris - and was shocked at how Jim Carrey, who I usually love, annoyed the hell out of me. Ewan McGregor was also terrible in that very bad film but that wasn’t such a surprise, since to me he’s always been very uneven - bad in the Star Wars films and Velvet Goldmine and The Island, great in things like Shallow Grave and The Ghost Writer. (One last shock: the directors of I Love You Philip Morris, Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, followed that stinker up with a wonderful film: Crazy, Stupid, Love)

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