Wednesday 31 December 2008

Happy New Year!

My thanks to everyone who's stopped by this last year and especially to those who've taken the time to comment. There's a lot of stuff on the net and I appreciate you choosing to spend time here.

Best wishes to you all. Here's to a healthy, happy and wonderfully cinematic 2009!

My favourite films of 2008

Favourite rather than best, and with the proviso that this isn't the final, official list because due to a combination of work, family matters, and a nagging cold, I've not be able to see everything I have wanted to before completing it. But seeing as it's the last day of 2008, I figured I should put something up here.

There have been some glaring omissions in my viewing this year and that's reflected by the absence of several titles that you might have assumed I would have picked (Let The Right One In for starters.) I've also discounted anything I saw last year (Sweeney Todd, No Country For Old Men, There Will Be Blood) that was released in the UK in 2008 because I included them last time. There are, I admit, some surprises.

And so, in reverse, order.

21) Wall-E

20) Roman Polanski: Wanted And Desired

19) Che

18) Hellboy II: The Golden Army

17) Frost/Nixon

16) Valentino

15) Rachel Getting Married

14) Slumdog Millionaire

13) Revolutionary Road

12) Speed Racer

11) Gone Baby Gone

10) Doubt

9) Son Of Rambow

8) Hunger

7) Dean Spanley

6) [REC]

5) Iron Man

4) The Wrestler

3) In Bruges

2) The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button

1) Man On Wire

Brilliant Billy

If I had to choose my favourite Billy Wilder movie, it would probably be The Apartment which I watch at least once a year and which seems to get better and more caustic each time. Here, the New York Times' A.O. Scott salutes Wilder's alternate festive flick.

Tuesday 30 December 2008

Watchmen war

How depressing is this?

Surely Fox won't scupper Wolverine's chances with the geek crowd by delaying Snyder's movie.

They wouldn't... would they?

Wednesday 24 December 2008

Tis the season to be jolly

Here's wishing a very Merry Christmas to one and all. Eat well, be well, and treat your friends and family with love and respect. And may Santa bring you exactly what you wish for.

Between now and the New Year, reel world matters will be taking things easy, but I promise to have my films of the year up before the end of old. Until then...

Happy Holidays.

Tuesday 23 December 2008

End of an era

The once loved but now maligned VHS tape is no more. For today's youngsters for whom watching a movie means either downloading it from Hula or one of those file sharing sites, or else sticking a shiny platter into a DVD player or PS3, this won't mean a thing. But for those of us who grew up in the 80s, for who so many of our formative cinematic experiences arrived on VHS, this is a very sad day indeed. When I moved earlier this year, I gave away hundreds of old movies on VHS to a charity shop although I did keep a rather large box of films you either can't get on DVD (Static, for starters) or stuff I'd recorded off the telly years before. Compared to Blu-ray, compared to DVD, VHS sucked — poor quality image, lousy sound — but I still remember seeing Texas Chainsaw three times in 24 hours after renting it from my local video shop, or watching Reservoir Dogs every single a day for about three months in the Empire office when that film was banned on video. Sure they were bulky and cumbersome and you had to rewind the damn things, but I loved them nonetheless. VHS, RIP.

Monday 22 December 2008

Comic book movie of the year

Iron Man, without question. Slick, stylish, witty, with a shit-eating grin of a lead performance from Robert Downey Jr, I actually wanted to see it again as soon as it ended, although it only just pipped Guillermo Del Toro's superior sequel Hellboy II: The Golden Army to top spot.

As for The Dark Knight... I know there's plenty of love out there for that film, and while I thought the opening heist was brilliantly executed (I've watched it several times since being sent the film on Blu-ray) and Heath Ledger's performance made it into my best of the year, I still prefer Batman Begins. For me, when Ledger's offscreen, the film deflates. I'd also argue that it's too long, has one too many villains and a third act that's too messy and convoluted for it's own good but if you like the film you're not likely to listen. If the movie had ended with the lorry flip and didn't try to shoehorn Two-Face into the story, only to kill him, I probably would have liked it more. As it is, I know I'm in the minority, but that's okay.

Saturday 20 December 2008

Performances of the year

I'm sure I've missed some — and I've yet to see The Visitor or Changeling — but these are my favourite performances of 2008. If any of them pick up an award or two, cinematic justice will have been served.

Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler

Anne Hathaway and Rosemarie DeWitt in Rachel Getting Married

Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet in Revolutionary Road

Michael Fassbender in Hunger

Kristin Scott Thomas in I've Loved You So Long

Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight

Benicio Del Toro in Che

Brad Pitt in Burn After Reading

Thursday 18 December 2008

Getting there

Still ploughing through my stack of DVDs in an attempt to fill as many wholes before settling on my films of the year. Going to give myself till Monday as a deadline to see what I can before finalising my list. It may still be incomplete but it will be a list. (BAFTA wise I still have a few more weeks until the end of the first round of voting.)

Monday 15 December 2008

Dave Gibbons talks Watchmen

Tomorrow night at the Apple Store in London's Regent Street, Watchmen co-creator and Hugo Award-winning illustrator Dave Gibbons will be in conversation with yours truly.

Among the topics under discussion will be the Watchmen Motion Comic, Dave's Watching The Watchmen tome and the movie itself. Hope you can join us.

The event is free and begins at 7pm. Directions and details can be found here.

Friday 12 December 2008

Times bestseller author

According to The Times, my Sweeney Todd book was the fourth bestselling film and theatre book of 2008 which is, like, brilliant. My thanks to all who bought it and to Adam at Titan for pointing out this delightful piece of news which has really made my day. I am, as they say, suitably chuffed.

Microbudget movies

Here's the link to a piece I wrote for today's Guardian newspaper on how microbudget movies might be one possible future for the British film industry.

Thursday 11 December 2008

Those Golden Globes nominations

I don't want to be unkind about the Golden Globes because, for those nominated, it's a big deal, as a friend of mine was a couple of years ago. And yet it's a show driven by stars and ratings and the nominations tend to reflect that, with the gongs themselves dolled out by a group of foreign journalists nobody has heard of whose opinions and votes have, in the past — how shall I put this delicately? — been easily susceptible to outside influence. Having said that, it's great to see In Bruges being nominated in several categories, although the absence of both Richard Jenkins for The Visitor and Benicio Del Toro for Che from the Best Actor list shows what a strong year it is.

Still the man

I've never interviewed Clint Eastwood, much to my chagrin, although our paths crossed briefly the year he was president of the Cannes jury. Clint was coming out of the Majestic Hotel, I was strolling in. It was a beautiful moment. For me, at least. Clint didn't even notice. Then again, he was talking to Catherine Deneuve at the time. So who can blame him. Clint is a star unlike any other. Seems I'm not the only one who feels that way.

Got Milk

Fresh from its victory at the NY Critics Awards, I decided to watch Gus Van Sant's Milk last night and was glad I did. After a glorious experimental phase that produced Gerry, Elephant, Last Days and Echo Park, Van Sant returns with a more conventionally told tale of Harvey Milk (Sean Penn), the self-styled Mayor of Castro Street in San Francisco who became the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in the US and who was later gunned down by a disgruntled former colleague, Dan White (Josh Brolin). Penn, who all but disappears into the role, excels as the eponymous activist, Brolin, who picked up the Best Supporting Actor award from the NY Critics to go with Penn's Best Actor award, makes the most of the uptight White (arguably the most thankless role in the story), and the film brilliantly uses archive footage both to tell the story and to save on expensive recreations. A worthy tale well told.

Wednesday 10 December 2008

Random matters...

The new Terminator: Salvation trailer is here. Consider me officially excited.

The New York Times interviews Doubt writer-director John Patrick Shanley. I really wish Warners would release a special edition DVD of Joe Versus The Volcano — I adore that film.

Bill Willingham's terrific comic Fables looks like it might finally be coming to TV. If you haven't read his modern day spin on fairy tales and folklore, it's well worth checking out.

And the LA Critics choose Wall-E as their film of the year, stemming the Slumdog tide. But for how long...

Tuesday 9 December 2008

Oliver Postgate RIP

For generations of children Oliver Postgate was the man. Creator of Bagpuss, Ivor The Engine and The Clangers among other shows, Postgate, who has died aged 83, delighted many millions of British kiddies, myself included, with his wonderfully idiosyncratic brand of entertainment and animation. He may be gone but his creations live on. The Clangers were always my favourite.

Wallander on DVD

Out on December 26 via and available here. If you're in the US, you'll need a region-free DVD player. But it's worth it.

Monday 8 December 2008


Anybody out there watching Wallander with Kenneth Branagh as the Swedish cop and loving it as much as me? Wonderfully matter-of-fact in its storytelling and not at all sensationalist despite its often gruesome subject matter, Branagh is superb as the thoughtful detective, weighed down with the worries of the world, and the show looks terrific too; the first part having been shot by Anthony Dod Mantle with the second sticking to Dod Mantle's visual template.

DC Critics pick

Following last week's win from the National Board Of Review, the Washington DC Film Critics have also got behind Danny Boyle's Oscar frontrunner, Slumdog Millionaire which I watched for a second time the other night and. have to say, enjoyed as much as I did the first time. Good to see Mickey Rourke getting some love too.

Best Film: Slumdog Millionaire
Best Director: Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire)
Best Actor: Mickey Rourke (The Wrestler)
Best Actress: Meryl Streep (Doubt)
Best Supporting Actor: Heath Ledger (The Dark Knight)
Best Supporting Actress: Rosemarie DeWitt (Rachel Getting Married)
Best Original Screenplay: Jenny Lumet (Rachel Getting Married)
Best Adapted Screenplay: Simon Beaufoy (Slumdog Millionaire)
Best Animated: Wall-E
Best Documentary: Man on Wire
Best Foreign Film: Let the Right One In
Best Ensemble: Doubt
Best Breakthrough: Dev Patel (Slumdog Millionaire)
Best Art Direction: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Films Of The Year preamble

At some point in the next couple of weeks I'll be compiling my films of the year list. I have been steadily making my way through my pile of BAFTA screeners and yet I have a sizeable list of titles still to see. To be frank, it hasn't been what I would call a vintage year for movies, certainly I haven't seen anything on a par with Zodiac or The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford from last year, films that I came out of on a cinematic cloud, films that I'd happily call masterpieces and defend them against all comers. And yet, there have been a handful I would consider to be very, very good indeed, bordering on excellent. I have a sneaking suspicion I know what my top film is already, but, like I said, I have a number of potential candidates yet to watch, any of which could throw a spanner in my list.

Following Fringe

Ever since Sky One was reintroduced to my Virgin TV package I've been hooked on Fringe. Alas, I've missed episodes 2-4 but every one I've seen thus far has kept me gripped. Sure it wears its influences loud and clear (X Files, Alias) but I'm loving the spooky science and metaphysical mumbo-jumbo nevertheless. I just wish they'd give Joshua Jackson's character Peter Bishop more to do, but I figure that's coming. And Lost returns soon...

Saturday 6 December 2008

Forrest J. Ackerman RIP

It's sad to report that Forrest J. Ackerman, editor of Famous Monsters Of Filmland magazine and coiner of the term "sci-fi" has passed away at the age of 92. As I wrote here a while back when news of his ailing condition was announced, I once had the good fortune of visiting Forry at his Ackermansion in LA, spending the best part of a day with him, being treated to lunch at his favourite smorgasbord and then rooting around the treasure trove of his stellar collection of film memorabilia and books, holding part of the ship from Silent Running and geeking out at the sight of the letter Stephen King wrote to him aged ten or so. While Starburst and Fangoria were my bibles growing up, being too young for FM in its heyday, Forry and Famous Monsters were, nevertheless, a source of inspiration for me as well as generations of horror and fantasy film fans worldwide, he "discovered" his good friend Ray Bradbury, and was always generous in sharing his tales and knowledge. Many tributes have popped up online. Aint It Cool News has some here and here's the LA Times' obit.

[Forry photo: Mark Berry]

Friday 5 December 2008

It's a good name

Many years ago I interviewed Smallville co-creator Miles Millar after he had sold his script Mango (about a talking orangutan) for a million dollars. Miles is English but had moved to LA to pursue his dream of being a filmmaker. Since Mango, he's not only created Smallville with his writing/producing partner Al Gough but scripted a bunch of movies on his way to his ultimate dream of being a director. Well, according to this Variety story, that dream is a little closer with the pair making their directorial debut for Disney on a supernatural tale called, yes, Salisbury.

Thursday 4 December 2008

A tad more Terminator

Is it me, or is Terminator: Salvation looking more and more promising?

Tuesday 2 December 2008


Apologies for the paucity of posts in recent days, I've been balancing a mix of family stuff and work commitments that have prevented my presence here of late.

Last Thursday, however, I had a cinema to myself as I basked in the majesty of David Fincher's magnificent The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button prior to chairing a BAFTA Q&A with the great man himself that evening. It was the first time I'd actually met Fincher although I interviewed him for an Empire cover story back in 1995 for Se7en and in person he's as charming and smart as you imagine him to be, but also incredibly funny.

As for Button, ignore those reviewers who claim Fincher's movie is cold and unemotional. I cried buckets at the end and Pitt's performance is quite brilliant, his finest to date. While it's a character made possible by special effects, it's so much more than a technical exercise as Pitt not only captures the heart and soul of Button but superbly conveys the duality of the role — externally one age, internally another — to such a degree that you immediately ignore the makeup and amazing CGI and concentrate entirely on this man and his epic journey.