film log 2011

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WARNING: CRAPPY RHYMES FOLLOW

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy 
dreary, drab, pale to the eye;

males, moles, Strong and Jones,
Firth, forth; his lovely bones.

Smiley, smokey, foggy, soggy,
London never seemed more dodgy. 

Retro, Russia, Istanbul,
Hardy this time keeps his cool. 

Cumberbatch is quite a catch
McBurney doesn’t have a match 

Oldman gets his Oscar nod
of all actors he’s a god

Panning, tracking, zooming in
Tomas Alfredson’s the King.

Crappy rhymes aside, go see Tinker Tailor: it’s pretty bloody brilliant.

I know I say this all the time, but nostalgia is one of the pillars upon which cinema is built. 90% of the films I’ve seen this year look to the past as a site of not only interesting stories and characters to be plundered, but also as some sort of mythical fantasy to restore our belief in a golden age of life and art, something we can retrieve perhaps though necromancy, bringing back the dead - not making but remaking, not creating but quoting. It was the case with one of my favourite films this year, the brilliant documentary Senna, and also one of my biggest disappointments, Super 8. I wallow in nostalgia for the past as much as any real cinéphile, but I am also growing increasingly suspicious and wary of the trickster mechanisms of retro-style filmmaking.

What Alfredson offers in Tinker Tailor is an extraordinary send-up of both a past time and of a past cinematic style, achieved through the combination of old-fashioned means and modernist narrative style. 

- There is not a hint of cheesy nostalgia in his London, not a whiff of imperial glory, not a majesty in whose service these soldiers operate - all you hear of the land of hope and glory repertoire is the distant sound of schoolchildren mangling a rendition of “Jerusalem”. 

- “The future is female” is written on the walls: somewhere out there there are women; somewhere out there is the present - not here. Here it’s the past. Here are men, born alone in a dusky, damp, drinkers’ world, trying to fuck each other. 

- What a joy to hear Russian, Hungarian, French and English in the same film.

- What a joy not to have anything over-explained.

- Alfredson’s film is incredibly classy and stylish without ever falling into the traps of props-porn or location tourism (even though we whooped with glee when we recognised Smiley’s house from the Georgian square across the road - hooray for Islington!)

- He can set up shots and like nobody’s business, and he is so incredibly well-balanced in his camera movements that I even managed to find some pleasure in his use of the zoom.

- Besides, of course great casting is half the job, and here he’s blessed with a brilliant ensemble of fascinating faces (John Hurt, Simon McBurney, Mark Strong, Ciaran Hinds), superb character actors (Toby Jones, an actor I have had the pleasure of working with, is just marvellous; so is Kathy Burke, in one of three female speaking parts in the film), and a wonderful, careful, determined lead in Gary Oldman.

- Dear David Dencik, I really enjoyed your work in this film. In another life your part would have been played by Peter Lorre, and you filled his shoes remarkably well.

- Dear Alberto Iglesias, the jazz piece at the beginning of this soundtrack is terrific and your score is unobtrusive and never calls attention to itself - which is possibly the best thing I could ever say about a soundtrack because I hate incidental and extradiegetic music.

- Dear Hoyte Van Hoytema, you are on your way to becoming one of my favourite cinematographers. Thank you for showing me more shades of beige than I thought were visible to the human eye.

- The film starts slow. I love slow films. If you don’t, stick with it - it gets really exciting about 45 minutes in.

- I better shut up now, Downton Abbey is about to start.

Film log 2011 - a summary

[Just FYI, and if you’re not interested, just for my records]

1. Pontypool (interesting idea, fairly good execution)

2. Encounters at the end of the world (Herzog meets suicidal penguins: AWESOME )

3. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (great cast and yeah, hum, OK if you’re into that sort of stuff)

4. Solyaris (the Tarkovsky original; mind=blown)

5. The Fountain (it’s totally flawed but I LOVED it)

6. The Girl who Played with Fire (yeah, hum, OK, if you’re into that sort of stuff)

7. The Girl who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest (doesn’t quite hang together like the previous two films, but yeah, hum, OK, while we wait and see how Hollywood fucks it all up)

8. Twilight: Eclipse (Jesus, people watch this shit for real? Like, with a straight face? LOL)

9.Toy Story 3 (AWESOME)

10. 127 Hours (overrated, loud and preachy, nah.)

11. Charlie Wilson’s War (underrated, smart and classy, yeah)

12. The King’s Speech (surprisingly good, but let’s not get beside ourselves. The most exciting things about it are the swearing royals, and some seriously good footwork from all the actors - I do appreciate that level of detail in a performance. have I bored you with my theory that if an actor’s feet are not in character the whole performance collapses? You see this very rarely in cinema nowadays, so good job British theatre training.)

13. Quantum of Solace (a complete and utter fecking mess)

14. Howl (flawed and not sustained throughout, but some really interesting ideas)

15. Never Let Me Go (unspeakably awful: it thinks it’s Tarkovsky but it’s actually Love Story meet The Island. Urgh.)

16. The Day of the Locust (wild Lynch precursor, Jackie Earl Haley was already a psycho as a child!)

17. Black Swan (HILARIOUS. And for me, not scary at all. Great fun, but I’m not sure if I was laughing at it or with it.)

18. Catfish (SCARY. And not hilarious at all. Endless discussions, thought-provoking.)

19. The Social Network (Second time round it’s even finer than I thought. And not just because Aaron Sorkin was in the room.)

20. Blue Valentine (Besides some impressive acting from Gosling there is nothing. tear-jerker kill me now.)

21. American Gigolo (really aged, but what a slick piece. Richard Gere is actually terrific in this, and I’m not afraid to say “he is a decent actor”.)

22. Blue Note: A Story of Jazz (fun, well put together, lots of stuff I didn’t know about the New York jazz scene)

23. The Fighter (enjoyable but really nothing new under the sun. Bale, you’re out of control, hooray)

24. Lars and the Real Girl (lovely, delicate, well-judged measures of quirky and tearful. Excellent cast.)

25. Breakfast at Tiffany’s (much much darker than I remembered. And oh my god Mickey Rooney’s entire role is so unfunny it’s offensive)

26. LA Confidential (much lighter than I remembered, but wow here’s a classy film)