Saturday, January 17, 2015

Ed's Top 20 Films of 2014

A Million Ways to Die in the West…a film which will not be appearing in this list.
Owing to Christmas and New Year, much of which I spend in a cottage in the Lake District with no access to the outside world (and which had the perfect atmosphere for a slasher movie), I didn't get the chance to put my Top 20 films of the year list up on New Year's Eve as I have done traditionally. Then, when I realised that two films I was desperate to see would be opening near me in the second week of January, I decided to sit on the list a little while longer. Now, I feel ready to release it into the wild.

I would not consider the following list to be a definitive account of the best films of the year - I still have a bunch that I want to catch up on in the next few months - but it is a pretty full account of the films that I loved in 2014.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Film Review: Into The Woods (2014)

Into The Woods, Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's great stage musical in which a host of fairytale figures - Red Riding Hood and her wolf, Cinderella, Rapunzel, their respective princes - all meet in the titular forest, after which their stories collide and their Happily Ever Afters go askew, is not the easiest play to bring to the screen. Like most Sondheim shows, it's heavy on rapidly delivered lyrics full of dazzling wordplay ("Son we've no time to sit and dither/while her withers wither with her"), which means that movement is understandably limited, and therefore not massively cinematic. And much of the charm of the original show lies in the limitations of realising a fantastical world onstage. Presenting an actual forest populated by magical things, rather than allowing audiences to imagine them with a canny bit of stagecraft, makes it all look a little more ordinary, while also making some of the more traditional visual choices - such as the way that Johnny Depp's Wolf looks like someone with whiskers glued on to his face - look weird and out of place.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Ed's Top TV Shows of 2014

Eight or nine years ago, I wrote a blog post on my MySpace page bemoaning the end of The West Wing and The Sopranos. I won't bother posting a link to it because it was absolute dogshit, but the basic thrust of it was that with the end of those shows, as well as other early '00s critical darlings like Six Feet Under, I couldn't imagine that TV would ever be as good as it had been over the previous five or six years.

In retrospect, and given the prevailing (and largely correct) wisdom that the last ten years or so have been a Golden Age of Television, that sentiment looks more than a little silly. Like, "buying stock in a blimp company the day after the Hindenburg disaster" silly. 2014 did little to dispel the idea that television (specifically American television, particularly cable networks and the nascent efforts of streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime) is in rude health. Not only did a host of returning shows deliver great episodes, but a slew of new series debuted, with many displaying a level of confidence and quality that is quite startling (it's no coincidence that almost a third of my picks are shows which started this year).

I could probably have put another 10 shows on this list and been happy with it, but these are the 20 series which delivered great, often nearly flawless seasons of television in 2014.

Note: It should go without saying that this list is subjective since I'm picking them based on my personal preference, but it's also worth pointing out that I've only included shows if I a) watch them regularly and b) watched the most recent season. So shows I love but am behind on (The Good Wife, Rectify), shows that I have seen a bit of but not enough (The Mindy Project), or gave up on several years ago (The Walking Dead, Sons of Anarchy) were not considered.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Shot/Reverse Shot - 2014 Round-Up

It's the time of year when everyone is busy putting together their end of year Top 10s and reflecting on the year that has passed. We at Shot/Reverse Shot are no different, although we are funnier than most. In this round up we discuss the big stories of the year, the TV shows that we liked, the films that we didn't, and the films that we have crowned, through a complicated and clandestine system of voting, the very best that 2014 had to offer.

In addition to our usual chatter, this episode features montages of dialogue and music from films released this year, often to comment on the different segments of the episode. A breakdown of which songs and films were included can be found below.


Music: Jim Croce - "Time in a Bottle" from X-Men: Days of Future Past/Mica Levi - "Lipstick to Void" from Under the Skin.
Dialogue: J.K. Simmons in Whiplash/Kim Dickens in Gone Girl /Jake Gyllenhaal in Nightcrawler

News Round-up

Music: Mica Levi - "Lipstick to Void" from Under the Skin
Dialogue: Jesse Eisenberg and Christopher Morris in The Double/Tilda Swinton in Snowpiercer

Box Office

Dialogue: Michael Keaton and Edward Norton in Birdman

Who Had A Good Year?

Music: Redbone - "Come and Get Your Love" from Guardians of the Galaxy
Dialogue: Chris Pratt in Guardians of the Galaxy/Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon in The Trip to Italy/Most of the Cast of Neighbors/Ice Cube in 22 Jump Street

TV Round-up

Music: Theme from Transparent by Dustin O'Halloran
Dialogue: Bradley Whitford and Jeffrey Tambor in Transparent/Matthew McConaughey in True Detective/John Oliver in Last Week Tonight*/Ilana Glazer and Hannibal Buress in Broad City/Peter Dinklage in Game of Thrones/Keegan-Michael Key, Romany Malco and Jordan Peele in Key and Peele/Andy Daly in Review

*I didn't initially intend for Oliver's lines to serve as a comment on Rust Cohle's character but I'm kind of happy that it turned out that way.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Ed's Top Ten Albums of 2014

It's been several years since I last wrote a Best Of/Favourites album end of the year list. This is not a reflection on the quality of music in the intervening years - I've loved plenty of albums released during that time. Rather it's because as I started writing more about film, I started buying and listening to fewer new albums, instead choosing to catch up on artists that I've neglected or just missed out on the first time around. Over the past year, I've tried to correct that behaviour by listening to as much new music as possible, so I feel more comfortable putting together a list of the albums that delighted, beguiled and haunted me over the past 12 months.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Shot/Reverse Shot: The Alternate 100 - Part 10!

Yes, that's right, 2014 is nearly done, and so is the Alternate 100. After six months and ten episode, Shot/Reverse Shot's attempt to create a canon of the under-appreciated, under-discussed and just plain under-rated goes out with a bang, as we discuss time travel, space hippies and French animation.

This episode is especially good if you want to hear me completely fail to keep it together while talking about Black Dynamite.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Film Review: Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014)

How do you even manage to make this boring?
What's the worst thing about Michael Bay?

It's a necessary question, since few filmmakers are as critically reviled as Michael Bay. Probably only Aaron Seltzer and Jason Freiberg, the crown princes of terrible, laugh-free parodies, and Uwe Boll, the king of joyless video game adaptations, come close. Yet Bay is in a whole other league since, unlike those three, his films actually make a lot of money and shape the cultural dialogue. He's also far more influential than they could ever hope to be since his chaotic visual style - nicknamed "Bayhem" - has helped (a word I use begrudgingly) shape blockbuster cinema for two decades. Why does a man whose commercial instincts are beyond a shadow of doubt make films which are almost universally hated?

Friday, December 12, 2014

Film Review: Unbroken (2014)

In theory, Unbroken should be a very good, if not great film. It has so much going for it. It has a fantastic real-life story, that of Louis Zamperini, an Olympic distance runner who joined the airforce in World War II, then spent several years in a series of Japanese prisoner of war camps. In bringing the story to life, the film has the benefit of a screenplay written in part by Joel and Ethan Coen, cinematography by perpetual Oscar bridesmaid Roger Deakins, and a lead performance by Jack O'Connell, the young British actor who gave one of the year's best, most incendiary performances in David Mackenzie's Starred Up. In execution, though, all that talent combines to make a film which only occasionally manages to be good, and for the most part is just bland and flavourless.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Shot/Reverse Shot: The Alternate 100 - Part 9

2014 is drawing to a close and so is the Shot/Reverse Shot Alternate 100. For the penultimate installment, we talk about a couple of classic horror movies, films that triumphed over incredibly low budgets, and the angriest footsteps in cinema history. I also make a comparison between the 1962 film Carnival of Souls and the music of Daniel Johnston, which is great if you fall in the centre of a very specific Venn diagram.

Note: On several occasions in this episode I mix up The Sweet Smell of Success and The Secret of My Success. I blame this on being tired and the fact that those two titles are sort of similar.

Monday, December 08, 2014

OFCS Awards Nominations

Earlier today, the nominations for the Online Film Critics Society's (OFCS), an organisation of which I am a member, 18th annual awards were announced. Reflecting a generally strong year with a great breadth of quality, the nominations run the gamut from expected and long-standing critical favourites like Richard Linklater's Boyhood, which landed six nominations and shares the lead for most nods with The Grand Budapest Hotel, to the lesser discussed but still brilliant likes of Under the Skin and The Babadook. I'm particularly delighted to see Essie Davis nominated for Best Actress for her performance in the latter film, which is far and away my favourite performance by any Actress (or Actor, for that matter) this year. It's an all-round solid slate, and while I'd have liked to see Tsai Ming-liang's Stray Dogs nominated for Best Film Not in the English Language, what are you going to do?

The winners will be announced next Monday, the 15th, and I will spend the next week trying to catch up on the films I've yet to see in time for the final vote. You can see the full list of nominees below.