Another Vancouver International Film Festival has come and gone and we saw quite a few movies this time around. While there were tons to see, here are my five favourites of the twenty-plus I saw, presented in alphabetical order.
Year in Review
Editorial, Movies / Comments Off on VIFF 2019: My Favourites From The Festival
Editorial, Movies / Comments Off on Matt’s Favourite Dozen Films of 2017
Another year, another list of favourites. 2017 has been a … turbulent year in the real world but a stellar one for film. You may have noticed that I haven’t been writing much lately, VIFF coverage aside, but I have been gong to the movies. As of this writing I watched 323 movies in 2017, 70 of which were 2017 releases. Not too shabby considering that I only go to one festival.
Before we get to my dozen favourites there are a few things worth sharing. First, a few that I haven’t seen yet:
- Call Me By Your Name (wr. James Ivory, dir. Luca Guadagnino)
- The Florida Project (wr. Chris Bergoch & Sean Baker, dir. Sean Baker)
- I, Tonya (wr. Steven Rogers, dir. Craig Gillespie)
- The Post (wr. Josh Singer & Liz Hannah, dir. Steven Spielberg)
- Phantom Thread (wr & dir. Paul Thomas Anderson)
- Professor Marston and The Wonder Women (wr. & dir. Angela Robinson)
Some of these were due to scheduling on my part (I have a day job!) and some on the films part (Neither The Post nor I, Tonya are out here yet), but all of them seem like exactly the kind of movies that would end up near the top of my list.
Second, these choices are presented in alphabetical order except my favourite which will come last. There are a variety of reasons for this but mostly it comes down the fact that they are all good movies that I have a hard time grading relative to each other because they are all so different. Consider also that some of them I have seen multiple times and others just once and that second viewings are often where I end up solidifying an opinion and you end up with a list that looks like this.
Third, don’t have any honourable mentions but I will probably write some further thoughts on 2017 in a separate post.
So without any further ado, here are my favourite dozen
Editorial, Games, Movies, News, Reviews / Comments Off on Simon’s Games And Movies Of 2017
It’s been a hell of a year, to put it mildly. Thankfully, we’ve had a great twelve months of games and movies to take our minds off the world slowing falling into a Trump-shaped festering sinkhole.
Movies, News / Comments Off on Awesome: David Ehrlich’s 25 Best Movies of 2017 Video Countdown
Editorial, Movies / Comments Off on Matt’s Not-Quite Best 12 Movies of 2016
2016 was a good year for film, and anyone who tells you different didn’t see very many films. I’ve already posted my best films of 2016, but there were plenty more films that didn’t make my best of list that you should definitely make the time to see.
So then, let’s take a look at the not-quite best of 2016, presented here in alphabetical order.
2016 has been conspicuous by our absence. It’s been a hell of a year, one with many ups and many many downs. It’d be easy to say that the downs of 2016 were to blame for the lack of writing here, that the year was just so shit that I couldn’t take it anymore. That’s definitely not the case though as for me personally it’s actually been a pretty great year. It’s the good stuff that has kept me from writing.
I don’t even know where to start with the cultural icons we’ve lost this year. I can’t eulogize them all and even if I did, what more could I say? I could tell you the stories of why Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher are equally important in my headcannon (and I might yet) but in the end it just hasn’t felt like my place.
One thing I can tell you about this year though is that despite all the shit it has been a great year for cinema. So much so that when it came time to figure out my top ten films of the year I couldn’t get the list lower than 12 (and I narrowed it from nearly twice that number).
So, in an effort to get going again, let’s close out this year with the 12 best movies of the year according to yours truly. These are presented in no particular order, except for the two that truly stand out as the best of the year.
Editorial, Games, Movies / Comments Off on Simon’s Best Games and Movies of 2016
2016 has been conspicuous by our absence. It almost seems strange that, in a year where everything went wrong, with so many adored artists and creators being whisked off to the afterlife, the events of the last twelve months have barely been registered on Awesome Friday.
Editorial / Comments Off on Ten More From 2015 You Should Totally See
2015 was a good year! I already told you my ten favourite films from 2015 but those ten were hard to choose. My first pass over the list of movies I saw resulted in 25 candidates for the top ten, 15 of which were ultimately cut. So rather than make a worst of list like I have in previous years (Pixels was the worst film of last year, no others need be mentioned) I’d rather tell you about ten more you totally should see. So let’s do that.
Podcast / Comments Off on Awesome Friday 2015 in Review Podcast!
Holy shit it’s been a year! We’re back with a year in review podcast episode where we dive head first into Star Wars, Creed, Mad Max, Spectre, and Call of Duty: Black Ops 3!
Editorial / Comments Off on The Top Movies of 2015, According to Matt
It’s been a good year for film. There’s not really any other way to say it. I saw 60 odd films this year, far fewer in theatres but far more at home than last year, and of those I remember the majority being good!
There are a whole bunch of movies I haven’t seen yet: Anomalisa, Duke of Burgundy, Diary of a Teenage Girl, Carol, Son of Saul, Bridge of Spies, The Look of Silence, Green Room, and so many others. Bone Tomahawk, one I’ve been particularly looking forward to, isn’t even out in Canada yet.
Films that are fantastic but didn’t quite mke the list include Trainwreck, Ant-Man, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, Brooklyn, It Follows, The Martian, The Hateful 8 and (again) so many others. In the end it was tough to narrow it down to just ten films because while it was way to choose my top three, choosing only seven more proved pretty tough. There were a lot of great movies in 2015.
For the last several years I’ve also put together a worst-of list but this year I decided not to do that. I know some people look forward to it but I’ve decided to focus on the positive rather than the negative despite the latter being the bigger draw on the web. And besides, we all know that Pixels was the worst film of the year by a country mile.
So what did make the top list? I’m glad you asked.
Editorial / Comments Off on Matt’s 2014: The Best Dozen
Best of lists are hard. Choosing the films I liked best isn’t hard, but keeping it to a reasonable number and ranking them is. One thing that’s not so much hard as it is annoying: coming up with something to say other than “I loved this and you should watch it”.
I saw a lot of films this year but there are plenty I missed. I didn’t see Birdman, Whiplash, or Mommy, all of which are on many other best of lists for the year (and in the case of Whiplash I can guess it would have made mine) but I also did see Boyhood, Gone Girl, 22 Jump Street, and a host of others that didn’t make my list.
All in all I saw over 75 of the movies released in 2014. Not a huge percentage when you think about it but certainly more than the average person.
So with all that in mind here are my favourite dozen movies from 2014.
News / Comments Off on Awesome: Mashup of the Best Trailers from 2014!
The Sleepy Skunk presents the best movie trailers of 2014. note, not the best movies, the best trailers. That’s ol though because even terrible movies can have amazing trailers. Hit the jump for the nearly 7 minute video and a full list of the movies as they appear.
It’s now 2013. Another year is over so here’s a brief look at what I thought of 2012.
Favourite Film – The Avengers
There’s so much I can say here but what it comes down to is that I’ve been waiting for this film for basically my entire life. Having been reading Marvel comics since I was a kid seeing all these characters brought to the big screen in a way that doesn’t suck on their own was good, seeing them all on screen together in a way that doesn’t suck is fucking amazing. Because let’s face it: a lot of superhero movies suck.
You see it’s not just that this is a good film that makes it my favourite of the year, hell I’ll even admit that there are a bunch of objectively better films that came out this year, but The Avengers is the geek dream realized: comic book continuity brought to the movies. Proof that you can create an entire universe in film and it won’t be rejected by the masses. Proof to the studios —finally— that their audience is full of intelligent people who are looking for an interconnected film series with characters that stand both on their own and as a team in a single universe. Yes I realize I just said the same thing three times. If you think The Avengers isn’t a milestone in filmmaking consider this: Fox just hired Mark Millar to oversee X-Men continuity and DC had the ending of Man of Steel retooled to leave it open for a Justice League style team up movie down the road.
And aside from all that it’s just a damn good movie. It’s near-perfectly cast, they’re all clearly having fun, Joss Whedon’s script is lively and full of humour and it features one of the best action set pieces of the year. Who knew basically destroying New York could be so fun? More than that though, Joss Whedon understands that what makes a large cast work isn’t the action or the bad guys plans, it’s the relationships between the characters and he completely nails this aspect of the film.
At the moment when The Avengers finally assemble for the third act of the film I was one of the people standing and cheering and I full expect that the next time they assemble I will be again when Avengers 2 comes out in 2015.
“I don’t want to talk about time travel, we’ll be here all day.” is my favourite line from Looper. This is the scene in which writer/director told us “stop worrying and enjoy this story because the story is what matters.” All of this is completely true. Looper is a film that tells you that it’s about time travel but it’s really about love and it’s effect on our lives. That message, coupled with fantastic performances from the cast, a brilliant script make this a must see.
Skyfall is the best James Bond story in years. It’s also the third act in a larger story that sees the latest Bond become fully realized and ready to move the franchise forward. Combine that with some of the best action direction of the year from Sam Mendes and you’ve got a recipe for a great movie, which this is.
If you’dve told me last year that one weekend in the summer all the guys I knew would be in a theatre watching a movie about a teddy bear (and all the girls were watching a movie about a stripper) I’d probably have given you a funny look, but that’s pretty much exactly what happened when Ted came out. It takes the aging buddy movie schtick and manages to make it fresh again, it’s hilarious from start to finish and it gives Mila Kunis a character to play. What more could you want?
Favourite Game – Punch Quest
I actually struggled with this category because in all honesty I don’t really have that many memorable gaming experiences from the year. There were a few flash-in-the-pans like Borderlands 2, but it ended up not holding my attention for more than a couple of weeks. Punch Quest however I can’t seem to get enough of.
There’s not really that much new stuff here, it’s an infinite runner that features punching. Strange at it may seem, that simple addition makes it completely addictive, and like all good single player games it engages me to keep playing by asking me to compete with myself and also by offering upgrades that make the punching cooler, routes that lead to boss battles or treasure troves, and a host of other “I can’t wait to see what comes next” moments in the gameplay.
Biggest Disappointment – The Dark Knight Rises
You know I could go on and on and on about The Dark Knight Rises but I am not going to go into specifics because I already did on the podcast but also because the specifics don’t really matter.
Sure, there’s plot holes that you could drive a bus through and there’s a lot of them but you know what? Batman Begins and The Dark Knight both have some pretty big holes in them too. The difference is that where Batman Begins and The Dark Knight are both compelling stories and The Dark Knight Rises is not.
Batman Begins had Bruce Wayne training and learning to become Batman. The Dark Knight pitted Batman against The Joker, his philosophical opposite. The Dark Knight Rises had Batman face off against his equal after learning to become Batman again, twice. This is not compelling, it’s repetition. Bane, despite Tom Hardy wearing the mask, just isn’t interesting and all his characters weight is robbed by a last minute twist.
I feel like Christopher Nolan might have been going for fan service with this one (and let’s face it, if the story were a comic book few people would complain because comics are strange), tried to work too much into the story and the end is an non-compelling mess.
And how did Bruce Wayne get half way around the world with no money or ID in just a few days time and then enter Gotham while it was on a total lockdown, anyway?
Halo 4 may have made all the money but I personally didn’t connect with it in the same way that I did the previous 5 entries in the franchise. I can’t quite put my finger on why, but every time I got stuck I got frustrated rather than spurred to push harder as I did in Halo: Combat Evolved, Halo 2, Halo 3, Halo: ODST and Halo: Reach.
Prometheus was meant to be Ridley Scott’s triumphant return to SciFi and to the Alien franchise. It’s pretty safe to say that this was one of my most anticipated releases of the year, so when it turned out to be a convoluted mess you could say that I was disappointed. Listen to the podcast episode in which we talk about Prometheus to get a better idea of how I felt.
Top Three I haven’t Seen/Played
I’ve tried to see Django Unchained twice now and both times I’ve gone down to the theatre every showing has been sold out. Love it or hate it, people are certainly seeing it. I have mixed feelings about Tarantino as a whole but I loved Inglorious Basterds and this one looks to be right up the same alley of bloody American history.
I’ve heard very mixed things about Les Miserables but I very much want to see it for myself. I love the idea of live singing in a movie but I can see where that might detract from the show as well. Plus it’s full of people that I like, including Anne Hathaway and Hugh Jackman.
The C.I.A. say that Zero Dark Thirty isn’t realistic but I’m not sure I care. I’ve yet to hear a bad review, and it has one of the more interesting production histories of the year. Plus, Jessica Chastain. Just sayin’.
That’s about all I have for 2012. All in all it was a pretty good year for film for me, but not so much for games. Hopefully that changes in 2013!
Be sure to check out Simon’s Best of 2012 before you go, and have yourself a great 2013!
Best film – Looper
There’s so much to like about my film of 2012. Great script, stellar cast, strong direction from a relative newcomer…but Looper‘s best trick was what it didn’t tell you. The trailer would have you believe that you’re going to be watching a time travel action movie, young self hunting old in an indie twist on Terminator. What you actually got was a slow-burner that certainly had these elements in the background, but was really an exploration of family loyalty, the consequence of action, and how love can mutate and save at the same time. It gave us a further element to the age-old nerd dilemma: kill or spare young Hitler? Looper dares to suggest an alternative – change him, before it’s too late? It’s really something special, and the final message that Love Is The Answer resonated deeply over the weeks that followed the closing credits.
Also, it blatantly sidesteps the inevitable discussions on the holes in its time travel: Bruce Willis tells us directly that it just doesn’t matter. Deal with it. Watch the damn movie.
Ghost Rider 2 – Really, one of the most enjoyable cinema experiences I’ve ever had. Take away the need to “act”, let Nic Cage be crazy and mo-cap the shit out of him, use the Crank directors, combine for great success.
Avengers – Awesome superhero ensemble party with Whedon serving fine cocktails. High art? Nope. Amazing, enjoyable, thrilling and genuinely funny? Yep. In spades.
Skyfall – Not just a great Bond film, but a fantastic action thriller that will hopefully act as a blueprint for the future of the franchise.
Best Game – Super Hexagon – iPhone
What’s the meaning of life?
Sorry, let me backtrack a little and give you some context. Super Hexagon has a simple premise: don’t die. Walls of death approach and all you can do is rotate your tiny triangle around a central hexagonal spoke. Inch through the space, repeat. Score is time. One touch is death, game over. Press to restart. Over and over and over again. Time slows and seconds become milestones. First twenty, thirty, forty. Sliding forward, each instant restart a chance to improve and slice away at your best score. Last a minute, and the game tells you you’re wonderful. You feel it too, with a sense of elation that is unmatched by many other “deep” games. And that’s just the first level – knowingly labeled “Hard” – before you fling yourself further down the rabbit hole in comparative, superlative and Hyper versions.
How can something so simple – an iPhone version of a Flash game, for God’s sake – leave such a lasting impression on so many gamers? I think it’s the purity. There’s absolutely zero fluff or filler in the design. Story, character, Freemium DLC (spit) – all eschewed in favour of a single beating heart. It reminds me of the hours I spent playing the version of Geometry Wars Waves buried in Project Gotham Racing 4 (if you haven’t tried it, I recommend throwing five bucks on a used copy and heading straight to the arcade cabinet in your garage). It’s almost like it contains the very root of everything I love about gaming, distilled and concentrated in one single action.
But, then, it goes even a little further. It feels like its trying to tell you something about yourself, about life. The desperation to stay alive, the fact that you have to read the situation, make your decision, move and live by the consequences. You can never go back. Indecision is the enemy and leads to failure. Read, move, act with instinct and trust that deep, deep voice inside.
There have been a few times where I’ve looked at the encroaching walls and my brain has given up. You can’t do it, it says. That’s it. Game over. Then I watch passively as my fingers take over and lead me through the gaps with millimetre precision. Maybe that’s why the iPhone version is actually my favourite – the timing windows for the gaps are buried somewhere very deep in my nerve endings. It’s also with me all the time, and is the perfect distraction for the occasional spare two minutes between being an effective teacher and responsible parent. I play it and the world shrinks away for ninety seconds, the music vibrates my fingers, my heart pulses in time with the screen.
What’s the meaning of life? Who knows. But for me, this year, it’s been Super Hexagon; keep moving, trust your instincts, make your decision, and go. You can never go back.
Journey – PS3 – Beautiful, moving and meaningful. So rare to get this from a game these days.
FTL – Mac – Just getting into this, but it’s already worming its way into my thoughts. It’s certainly made me consider doors as a higher priority.
Biggest disappointment (game or movie) – The Dark Knight Rises
I’m sure Matt’s chosen the same. You only need to listen again to our podcast to hear the abject disappointment hanging on every groaned syllable. His analysis will no doubt act as a highly-detailed magnifying glass over one of the year’s biggest films, but let me be the blunt hammer to his scalpel. The Dark Knight Rises ultimately does the unforgivable – simply put, it is just A Very Bad Movie.
Not a rarity, not this year or any year, but let me tell you why this badness is especial:
This is a Christopher Nolan movie
Inception has spoiled me. It’s practically ruined anything remotely in a similar genre. The last film that had that effect on me was Fight Club, especially as I was then a student of filmmaking who, right up to that point, arrogantly thought I could improve on anything with my unsurpassed dynamic vision and seemingly limitless talent. Fight Club left me physically shaking in a taxi, wondering how the hell I could ever be that good. Inception did the wondrous thing of telling a story that could only have been told in that medium, by that director. Insomnia, Momento, The Prestige; all additional rock-solid signs that Nolan utterly understands the silken weave between pace, time, story, setting and character. How could all this vision, this experience, result in something as wooden and splintered as Rises?
The Dark Knight exists
Batman Begins sowed the seeds of new Batman, moving away from Schumacher day-glo pyrotechnics to a version more grounded in the real. TDK then took this formula and dared to cast some young actor from A Knight’s Tale to continue Jack Nicholson’s Joker legacy. Do you remember the furore surrounding Health Ledger’s casting? I’m sure I even contributed to it. All the whining stopped immediately when the second film finally released. But was it just Ledger holding it together? No. Nolan’s a director who can bring out the best from all his actors (a reaction by Al Pacino in Insomnia is still the greatest piece of acting I’ve ever seen on film) so Ledger’s star turn is not a singular lynchpin. The script, slow and steady and full of malice. The characters, so well-rounded and interesting. The movie fit together as an intricate Chinese puzzle box. You left the theatre feeling like you’ve been exposed to what happens when the best are allowed to work together.
Conversely, DKR felt like I’d just read the readers’ questions section in Cosmopolitan.
The story is bad
I’m not going to list all the problems with this script and plotline (pro tip: Google them), but suffice to say they have more holes than an infinite golf course.
Disappointment is an understatement, then. An altogether dreary and unsatisfying ending to one of the most invigorating superhero reboots in cinema history.
Cabin In The Woods – Great premise, wonderful execution, terrible ending that negated the actions of the previous fifty minutes. Shame.
Promethius – Went in with low expectations, found the end result to be even lower. Very beautiful but ruined by a terrible script with some of the worst space scientists I’ve ever seen.
Halo 4 – Halo is all about story for me. Note to 343 Industries -“story” does not mean “go here, do this set of three things, repeat”.
Top 3 I haven’t seen/played:
Cloud Atlas – I’m reading the book at the moment – and it’s entirely wonderful – so I’ve delayed watching the movie as I don’t want my imagination forced to picture Halle Berry instead of my own Luisa Rey. Really curious to see how on earth anyone could ever think they could make a movie of this book. Adored Run, Lola, Run, so it’ll be a visual feast if nothing else.
Smashed – I’ve been saying for a long time that Mary Elizabeth Winstead is one of the best young actors working at the moment, and this seems to the film that finally supports this claim. It only had a limited run here, so looking forward to catching it before the Oscars so I can throw some support behind it.
Tokyo Jungle – The PSN title that lets you play as a Pomeranian, trying to survive post-human Tokyo amidst hyenas and lions. It sounds like an utterly unique gaming experience that could only have emerged from Japan.
Happy New Year!
Podcast / Comments Off on Episode Eight: The Year In Review
In the last episode of 2011 we look back and talk about the movies and games that came out, which we liked and which we didn’t, and was it a good year or not?
Full show notes for this episode will follow in the new year when Matt has some free time.