Thursday 28 November 2013

Top 30 Of 2013: 30 To 26

30: Birdemic 2: The Resurrection by James NGuyen

This might sound like a joke, and this won't help with recent accusations of contrarianism, but Birdemic 2 truly deserves a spot on here, even if it's at the bottom. Yes it is completely inept at every possible level, with the lack of skills here reaching an almost surreal quality, all the more surprising that nowadays it is not that hard to do a decent film with even an iPhone, and the "actors" are uniformly terrible, laughably so. But while there is a long history of "so bad it's good" films, with Asylum churning out one after another rather cynically, this is different. James NGuyen might have zero talent whatsoever, but he gets top marks for blind enthusiasm, in an Ed Wood kind of way, and there is a real love of cinema on display here, the film being peppered with unexpected references to classics such as Sunset Boulevard.

And the film is genuinely funny, whether you are laughing with it or at it, it's hard to tell. Personal favourite scenes are the "club" one (really somebody's living room), bizarrely extended to nearly 10 minutes, and any of them featuring the actors battling up the "birds" (which look like some Word 95 Clip Art) with a broom. The film is a tribute to the hidden face of Tinseltown, to all of those who are never going to make it, all these terrible actors doing bar jobs, all these directors with big dreams... While it was not released in the UK, it is available worldwide on VOD hence its inclusion.

29: Frankenstein's Army by Richard Raaphorst

For some directors, cinema is a way of expressing their views of the world, the injustice, the dramas, the beauty, the complexities of human nature... Not for Richard Raaphorst. For him, cinema is a toolbox which allows him to let his imagination run wild and conjure up some nightmarish and twisted visions of flesh and metal. While occult nazi horror is a subgenre which has not quite delivered its promises, this is an exception. Frankenstein's Army is completely mental and exhilarating, a mix of old school gore, dark humour and insane creature design (by the director himself), a throwback to some of the 80's schlocky horror which oozes inventiveness.

28) All Is Lost by J.C. Chandor

In the wrong hands, that story of a man lost at sea, in an increasingly desperate bid for survival, could have turned so wrong and mawkish. J.C. Chandor, who made a big splash with Margin Call a few years ago, does not let sentimentalism go in the way, which makes the film all the more affecting and successful. We know nothing at all about the life of the man outside the sea, there is no teary flashbacks of family life back in the land, and the film is as much about loneliness as it is about surviving, about man facing an indifferent nature in all its might and immensity. Quietly affecting, with a subtle and understated performance by Robert Redford, All Is Lost is a small gem.

27) Twixt by Francis Ford Coppola

Having grown tired of overblown and big budget films, Francis Ford Coppola seems to have found a new inspiration recently, with small budget indie and experimental films you would more expect a young director to tackle. After the wonderful Tetro, he is back with this very unusual tale of a writer on a tour, who stumbles into a small town full of mysteries. The best thing about Coppola at the moment is that he just does not care about any external factors, he just want to have fun and follow his inspiration, and there is a wonderful artistic freedom on display here. There are echoes of Stephen King, of Twin Peaks but where he truly shines is with the beautiful dream scenes which conjure the early days of cinema, Louise Lumiere, surrealism and French romanticism. Twixt is a gorgeous and playful film, unlike anything else I have seen this year.

26) Frances Ha by Noah Baumbach

While generally very well received, Frances Ha had some labelling it a hispters fest, which is missing the point. Far from merely wallowing into the lives of a certain kind of twenty somethings in New York, the film is an acerbic portrayal of their lifestyle, their idealised friendships and hopes pitted against their own competitiveness and selfishness. I particularly liked the way it laid into the myth of the best friend forever at that age that we have all bought into. Lives change, people take different paths, and there is an almost dark comedy to Frances' trials and lack of success when all her friends are doing so well. Particularly amusing is her catastrophic and lonely Paris escapade. Darker than first appears under its charming facade, and a deliciously witty and amusing film, Frances Ha is a real joy.

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