Here is my list of what I think are the top 6 cinema releases of the year that was. As a general observation it is very mainstream which is a tribute to the quality of work coming out of Hollywood but also a slur on Limerick where I am based at the moment and the lack of an outlet for alternative and independent movies.
Number 6 in my list was actually the most difficult to decide upon, it was a case of deciding which film was that extra bit more impressive than a number of others to just make it into the list. The film that earns the honour is Batman Begins with Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang just loosing out. Warner Brothers had no choice but to rehash the Batman series after Batman and Robin and surprisingly they chose well with director Chris Nolan (Memento) and one of the best ensemble casts of the year (Freeman, Neeson, Caine, Bale and Oldman). There is plenty to nitpick with this film but like the original X-Men this has created a distinctive look, a compelling central character and removed itself significantly from the shadow of the distinctive Burton films and the ridiculed Batman and Robin. Like X-Men and Spiderman the first act of the film establishing the character of Bruce Wayne and the Batman mythos is far more interesting than the by the numbers conclusion however if they continue to invest such quality in the follow-up you can safely file this movie under ‘Potential’.
Number 5 is The Constant Gardener. Any adaptation of the dense and convoluted works of John Le Carre that successfully condenses one of his stories into a 2-hour running time should be commended. This film earns a place in the list for being a well-constructed thriller, a compelling romance story and finding enough time to develop characters and give us time to enjo the majesty of Africa. Ralph Fiennes subtly goes through the entire range of emotions as he tries to uncover the reason for his wife’s murder, the audience learns with him, sharing in his doubt and confusion. Each of the elements of the film whether it be its earthy natural look in the scenes in Africa, in granting the most unique view of the London cityscape I have seen in a long time, its attention to detail so that every scene is pivotal lead to this being one of the most original and dynamic movies of the year. This film gave me something new to consider, I thank it for that.
What self-respecting movie-fan could include a remake in his list of movies of the year? At that a remake of a classic movie, loved by generations of people based on source material that has an equally adored position in people’s minds. Well this is the first of two remakes in the list, this spot going to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I could go on about the great partnership of Burton and Depp, the great performance by Depp, the fantastic look of the movie, the score, the non-annoying kids and the great way in which the movie is faithful to the book, revitalising it and equally adding elements that enhance the story. More important than all of that is that this movie is more fun than you can shake a stick at, that’s good enough for me and certainly good enough for the No. 4 spot.
No. 3- Renee Zellweger, interviewed on Parkinson last year told of her next project where she played the wife of a great man, it was that simple and she enjoyed describing it that way. How right she was, the story of Cinderella Man is straightforward but it tells such an important story of how there are decent men amongst us. The look of the movie is that of old-romanticised Hollywood that probably never existed. The scene with Crowe begging for money in a club room of boxing agents, the dynamism between Crown and Paul Giamatti (his agent) and the great family scenes are that of a heart-felt drama and these are then coupled with thrilling and tense fight scenes. This movie succeeds in avoiding becoming a cheesy, preaching movie and instead is a spiriting movie of survival that makes you feel good and that can never be a bad thing.
Another remake I hear you say as I put King Kong at No. 2. I thought exactly the same when following the hoopla over the Lord of the Rings trilogy it was announced Peter Jackson was to remake King Kong. My doubt was added to when I first saw the trailer for this movie and wondered why they were even bothering with using real actors as it took from what could have been a great animated movie. I still contend that a movie watcher can instinctively know when there is a real live object on the screen and despite the strong feelings people felt towards Jar Jar Binks, it is easier to relate to a real actor. Nevertheless I was blown away by this movie, Peter Jackson is a noble movie-maker and properly developed the movie so that for every bit of awe you felt for the spectacle you equally believed in this story and its characters. It looked fantastic, the monkey was great and Naomi Watts surely deserves an Oscar nomination for making eyes watering look so sexy and the thrilling conclusion atop the Empire State Building deserves as much respect as the original. Until now I begrudged the kids of the 70s for having such important movie-makers emerge during their decade, getting Peter Jackson is a nice consolation
The best movie of the year was Serenity. This movie slipped in under the radar for many just as much as the TV show that inspired it did in the States but nevertheless it is everything a movie should be. So good a storyteller is Joss Whedon that he constructed a movie that welcomes new comers to the premise with open arms and confirms to fans of the original show that it was in fact brilliant, answering their questions from the show, keeping the same cast, upping the action and treating 9 characters with respect. The story is a medley of every inspiration for Joss Whedon- Spaghetti Westerns, Space Adventures and stories of ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. Importantly, every cliché is turned on its head, people die for real, the humour is quirky, subtle and laugh out loud and the story is epic, personal and enthralling. Too many people have not seen this movie, they have missed out spectacularly.