The Great 2011 Film Challenge Part 3

I challenged myself to watch 100 films I've never seen before in 2011. By September 4th, I had achieved this. Hmn.

So now the challenge is to breach 150.

That's doable. Harder, though, will be to write about all those that I've seen by the end of the year.

I shall do it in instalments, sir. Not only does that make it easier to read and write, but it also means that I get more content which should serve to raise my rankings in Google! Everybody wins!

So, here's part one, and part two was incorporated into my post about my afternoon at the BFI Mediateque.

Part three, then:

1. Valerie & Her Week Of Wonders
This one, coveted by those lovely hauntological types, almost defies categorisation. It's essentially a vampiric coming of age tale, but it's more Holy Mountain than Let The Right One In. Yes, it's so full of bleary dialogue, hazy imagery and striking symbolism that, even given its short runtime, watching it feels like sleepwalking. The word “dreamlike” was made for films like this.

2. Persepolis
Rendered in stark black and white so as to echo the graphic novel source material, this one's as humbling as it is inspirational. At one point our hero, having survived revolution in Iran, is driven nearly to the brink after having lost her European boyfriend. There's probably a lesson there – that if we ever feel as though things are bad in the west, well – you have no idea. And yet, it never feels preachy (even though it occasionally preaches) and, despite the weighty subject matter and poignant ending, it somehow manages to be a lot of fun, too.

3. Tropic Thunder
Idiot actors making a film about Vietnam get stuck in a real combat situation and, for a while, don't realise it. A pretty obvious idea, but nonetheless, this film is mental and very, very funny. The “grunt” dialogue is hysterical (“Our asses don't get fragged in this bullshit valley, first thing I'm doin' is payin' my two bucks so I can watch Brooklyn bust his cherry on a sweet little mama son's dinky-down poon-tang!”) and the films-within-films are fantastically realised. Only Tom Cruise's caustic and offensive producer threatens to ruin the fun, but apart from that this is a genuinely funny modern comedy that bears repeat viewings.

4. Step Brothers
At one point, Will Ferrell's character places his ballsack on his step-brother's beloved drumkit. But the testicles you see aren't real. Rather, they're synthetics which cost around $10,000 to make. That alone should give anybody an idea as to what sort of film this is: They take their gross-outs very seriously. That the synthetic balls cost so much entails that nobody can describe the scene as “throwaway”. They'll have you know that a lot of money went into it, thank you very much. Are we to therefore assume that just as much time and effort was dedicated to every other facet of this film? Well, if so, it certainly shows. As modern comedy goes, you can tell which films are doomed to be forever considered as trite and disposable (The Hangover and any recent spoof) and which are worthy to be considered as part of a new classic canon. I would without question place this in the latter category.

5. Romance & Cigarettes
One of these days I'm going to make a list of musicals for people who think they don't like musicals. This would be a strong contender for the top spot. Rather like Flight of the Conchords, the characters only break out into song when they no longer feel able to express themselves otherwise. In the tunes, then, are their secrets, their dreams, their desires. And it doesn't harm, of course, that the songs are such energising standards from the likes of Dusty Springfield, Tom Jones, James Brown, Cyndi Lauper, Bruce Springsteen and Elvis Presley. Add to this genuinely sympathetic characters, Steve Buscemi, Christopher Walken and a performance from Kate Winslet which can quite literally be described as “hot” and you have something which I found quite impossible not to enjoy.

6. Monster Squad
I wasn't sure whether to include this one. I had most certainly seen it before, but was so young when last I did that I didn't really – if you get what I mean. It had been so forgotten that when I watched it again, though the odd scene invoked a disquieting sense of deja vu, overall it felt like I was watching it with fresh eyes. So it counts, right? Right. Well, any child with even a passing interest in ghosts and ghoulies would be in their element with this one in which Dracula, Frankenstine, a mummy, a werewolf and The Creature basically team up in order to ruin everybody's day. Though ostensibly this is a horror film, it's almost certainly got a young audience in mind. That said, this particular incarnation of Dracula is one of the creepiest – and therefore best – that I've ever seen. The reason it works so well is that he's essentially your stereotypical image of Dracula – all fangs, capes and weirdly arched hair – but played not for camp laughs, but seriously. It works, trust me.


7. The Sea Shall Not Have Them
A World War II propaganda film in which a rescue mission is launched for a lifeboat full of spunky Brits which is floating dangerously close to the coast of occupied France. “But it's dangerous out there!” “Well we're going anyway, for the sea shall not have them!” Yeah, it's propaganda, but if propaganda is to exist, I've less a problem with this sort of stiff-upper-lip-spirit-of-the-blitz-chin-up fare than I have with something like, say, Birth of a Nation, in which the Klan are portrayed as heroes.

8. The Boys In Blue
The sole cinematic endeavour of Cannon and Ball – I've still no idea why I watched this one to the end. Never let it be said that I'm not prepared to suffer for my blog. Who are Cannon and Ball? Well, they're a comedy duo from another time. Some would describe this time as “more innocent”, others as “sadly regrettable”. To get a good idea of the sort of antics they get up to, just try and imagine The Chuckle Brothers if one of them was a sex offender. In this one they're policemen trying to tackle an art-smuggling racket. It ends with them disgraced and losing their job – despite having solved the crime and returned the art – and walking forlornly into the distance on a rainy airfield. I've no doubt that this ending was designed to open up the possibility of a sequel in which the had gained some other form of employment – window cleaners, or something – but seeing as their careers in film ended here, it ends up being quite hopelessly bleak.

9. Follow A Star
This is a Norman Wisdom film. It starts off quite brilliantly – with two sweaty men in vests tensely tackling a monstrous machine which turns out to be a trouser press – but after this things develop/descend into your more standard Wisdom fare. Personally, I've lots of time for the innocent antics of Pitkin, but overall this one's unusually cruel. The plot involves Norman shadowing and later eclipsing the fame of a concert hall singer. Of course it's all played for laughs, but I couldn't help but feel for the poor singer – the look on his face as his world collapsed around him was heartbreaking. If you consider that music hall really was all-but destroyed by the cinema, then this film comes across as quite vindictive – history as written by the winners.


10. Definitely, Maybe
A romantic comedy in which Ryan Reynolds – despite listening to R.E.M, Yo La Tengo and The Flaming Lips, at one point claims total ignorance of Nirvana. How the hell do they expect us to take this stuff seriously if apparently so little thought went into its writing?

That's all for now. Another ten soon. Sure.

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