Category Archives: Article and Discussion

Taking Delight in Depravity: ‘The Neon Demon’

After 2013’s Only God Forgives, I thought that the Danish film director, Nicholas Winding Refn, had entirely lost me as a fan. Unlike his earlier, more accessible films, Only God Forgives was an extreme: a mean-spirited, pandering film about nothing, a movie which thought of itself as very interesting and very smart when it was absolutely neither of those things. I found myself in the presence of somebody else’s dream; beautiful and weird, but entirely slow and uninteresting to me personally. When Refn does indulge in these beautiful, slow, violent fantasies, the key to enjoying it is whether you are prepared toaccept his vision and his style or not. With Only God Forgives, my mind and body fundamentally rejected the vision he set out, as I just couldn’t allow myself to indulge such an, in my view, ugly film.

My surprise was complete and utter when, after seeing his new film, The Neon Demon, I found myself utterly and completely entranced by it. It has all the same problems as Only God Forgives, and yet I found myself swaying onto the other side of the scale. It too is mean-spirited and some would say pandering, but with this experience I found myself totally immersed into the world Refn had created. The sharp angles of his vision, the red colours, the sinister beauty; I was totally in awe of all of it. Suddenly, all of the problems I had associated with Refn had become insignificant; this was a new level of self-awareness from the director, a winking, tongue-in-cheek approach to exploitation and violence which, instead of reminding me of Only God Forgives, had me thinking back to the riotous eyeball gouging, eyeball stomping absurdity of Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill. The violence in The Neon Demon is absolutely disgusting. It is vile. If I there had been more than a couple of people in my screening, I’m sure I would have witnessed a mass walk out. The final thirty minutes of the film are just an extended sequence of sexualised, cruel violence, mainly inflicted on the heroine of the film. Just when you think Refn has gone as far as he possibly could, the very final sequence tops everything he has ever done; a sequence so absolutely outrageous and disgusting the only thing you can do is either run out of the room or stand up and applaud. I immediately decided that this was brilliant, this was just superb; I was watching with a huge grin and widening eyes, watching a director push his vision to the very limit of sadism. However, as I pondered the film later, this enjoyment raised questions. Is it wrong to enjoy this manner of fictional violence? I have long been a huge critic of ‘torture porn’ filmmakers, who make films simply for the sake of extremity and push their audiences without the benefit of a narrative drive or even a particularly well-directed movie. This is where the problems lie in my enjoyment of The Neon Demon. I have to ask myself; what is the difference between The Neon Demon and the torture-porn films that I have been lambasting for so long? Is there a difference?

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I decided that there is a very tangible difference, although admittedly it is a very thin line that Refn is skating on. He can be a hard director to defend; you can’t blame any viewer for being offended by this particular film’s final scene, and there is weight to the argument that the film is all style and no substance (a criticism which is levelled at every Refn movie). On the contrary, that’s what I find so delightful about much of The Neon Demon – how it relishes being entirely based around style and violence, and instead of shying away from that flaw it layers on more and more of it as the film continues. Refn’s film takes a metaphor and stretches it to breaking point, and crucially, uses it as the foundation for the violence it portrays. The well-known saying is that if an industry or profession is difficult or challenging, some people would say it will ‘eat you alive’. Refn takes this one simple line, which is used in the movie, and makes it a reality (yes, our heroine gets eaten. Really). It isn’t a particularly clever way to introduce violence into your movie, and it definitely isn’t a subtle way to do it either, but it edges just the right side of nasty, depraved fun for it to work.

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Again, it can simply boil down to whether you initially accept Refn’s vision and world or whether you reject it outright. I fully rejected the vision set-out by Only God Forgives, and therefore rejected the nasty violence in that movie, which I felt entirely uninvolved, and almost bored to an extent. The Neon Demon is tongue-in-cheek; I felt like Refn was winking right at me in that final sequence. I knew what was going to happen, he knew that I had already guessed what was about to happen, and he was enjoying watching me squirm in the simple anticipation of the violence to come. This is the complete opposite of the feeling I had when watching violence in Only God Forgives, where I felt Refn was telling me how insightful his vision was, how bold, how fresh, as a policeman stuck some hairpins into a drug-dealers ears. At least with Neon Demon I felt like he was being somewhat playful with his own outrageousness, that he seeing how far breaking point was instead of attempting to pretend there was an incredibly deep, subversive meaning to his own nastiness. Not that The Neon Demon is without its narrative complexities; the script is Refn’s best yet, crackling and whispering out of the actresses with a consistently sinister edge to every word, every line. This is of course helped by a breathtakingly good performance from Elle Fanning, who delivers some of the film’s punchiest, and softest moments. The difference with Only God Forgives lies in its accessibility, as The Neon Demon manages to be both a hellish look at fashion industry, but also a stylish and exploitative horror film. Its ability to be two things at once stands it above Only God Forgives, which fell apart entirely if you didn’t accept its original, and only, vision.

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Further emphasis on the difference between this extreme violence and another type of extreme violence is the new Eli Roth film The Green Inferno, which serves as a good reminder for the total crassness of torture-porn film making. Roth’s insistence to make his films as terrible and unbearable as possible continued with his new homage to Cannibal Holocaust, where a group of people who wish to protect the Amazonian rainforest crash-land in the jungle and, ironically, get captured and brutally murdered by the tribe they were trying to save. The violence is mostly as nasty as you’d expect; there are sacrifice scenes aplenty, cannibalism, typical of a Cannibal Holocaust homage. The problem is that Roth, in his typical eye-rolling crassness, decides to intercut the violence with moments of what he (presumably) intends to be humour. In a bizarre scene, the imprisoned group watch one of their friends get brutally murdered in front of their eyes, which is then preceded by a female member having a bout of diarrhoea , complete with comical fart noises (this lasts for almost a full minute of screen time). This is the very limit of Roth’s capacity for humour, resorting to levels of crudeness typically reserved only for Adam Sandler, in Roth’s persistently puerile attempt to shock and outrage.

In contrast I feel that when watching Refn’s work, he at least attempts to earn his use of violence by attempting to give it some semblance of narrative thrust. As disgusting as The Neon Demon can be, its nastiness is at least partially enlightened and driven by its story, however extreme the violence may be. Simple torture porn is used as a means to simply be as gross and as crass as possible; to sink so deep into depravity that neither the film nor the audience benefits from it. Through The Neon Demon, it feels as if Refn has managed to achieve a very difficult balance of depravity and self-awareness, where the nastiness is justified by the world it inhabits, and the director’s insistence to push the boundaries comes off as bold, rather than entirely provocative. Lots of viewers will react very differently to the film, but I felt thrilled watching it, as I was entirely on board with Refn’s ideas and motives and backing them to succeed the entire time. It has the same flaws as his other work but The Neon Demon gripped me and pulled me in, and kept a hold of me even when it started to enjoy its own nastiness. In doing that, I enjoyed its violence too; it felt bold, it felt fresh and it felt new, even when somebody could very easily argue it was none of those things. Refn made me think, in those final moments, that he was the most outrageous, daring, innovative and sadistic director working in the business today. That is quite an achievement.

Fear, Paranoia and ‘The Witch’

The most impressive thing a horror movie can do for me is to involve me personally, as a viewer. To bring me into the story, to get under my skin and immerse me so deeply that I am the unseen character, the watching camera who is just as threatened as all of the characters, is a terrifying and impressive experience in equal measure. Remind yourself of John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982): the audience is invited to become the detective, to work out who the monster is posing as, for their own safety as well as for the characters too. Audience participation is something which most horror movies don’t even attempt, let alone actually execute, so when a film does it as perfectly and as maliciously as Robert Eggers’ The Witch does, you have to sit up and take notice. Not only is it a meticulously crafted example of psychological horror, it is also an absolutely brilliant, textbook example of audience participation in the genre.

The Witch is a film without a Witch in it. The story follows a 17th century Puritan family, who have been cast out of their community and are attempting to set up a farm when their youngest son mysteriously vanishes.  The father claims it was a hungry wolf, the wife believes God has punished them, and yet their youngest twins seem to know what the audience has been shown: that the baby was stolen and killed by a witch. Soon, more family members disappear and fingers start getting pointed at Thomasin, the eldest daughter, in fear that she is the dreaded Witch. The family has spiralled out of control in desperation and paranoia, but what of the audience? The setting of The Witch is crucial to this discussion: this 17th century, deeply religious family have no means to deal with grief, and their paranoid ideas about sin and judgement take over when they are confronted with a loss in the family. Eggers immerses the audience in these fears; he shoots every frame and every moment as if it were directly from the eyes of a member of the family, with confusion and fear seeping into every shot.

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Can we trust what the director shows us? Animals are framed as if they are the devil’s accomplices; an immobile rabbit keeps reappearing in the woods, while Black Philip, the new family goat, seems to have a strange relationship with the young twins of the family. Eggers frames them as if they were strange and unnatural, and the audience is not given a minute to doubt whether or not they are actually evil. Without knowing it, the audience has been immerses and transported into the setting of the movie, and has also taken on the myths and paranoia that the family hold. We, the viewer, are shown the monster very early on, in the flesh, and we therefore explicitly believe what the filmmaker has shown us. It is easy then for the director to make us believe other things through suggestion, and even make us doubt the main character of the film, and whether or not we can trust her innocence. The audience has become the scared and paranoid seventh member of the family; hiding in the corner, pointing fingers and latching on to impossible truths, just like the rest of the group. We believe the children when they say that Black Philip has talked to them. We believe the mother when she exclaims that their young son, Caleb, has been possessed through witchcraft. Most of all, we believe Robert Eggers when he tells us that Witches are real.

 

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The Witch is a masterful example of audience participation. The viewer is projected into a world where grief is bestowed upon you as a punishment, your eldest daughter could be a witch, and your black goat could be Satan in disguise. The key to the true terror of The Witch is that we believe these fears completely and utterly, that we indulge in this paranoia and join the family in collapsing into the terror and confusion. Robert Eggers manages to pull off an amazing trick; he gets you to believe in the devil without you even realising.

The Advantages of Being Imaginary: My Love Affair with The Purple Rose of Cairo

I want what happened in the movie last week to happen this week; otherwise, what’s life all about anyway?”

It is very hard for me to try to express how truly special I believe The Purple Rose of Cairo to be. Woody Allen’s thirteenth film as a director is one which the famously self-criticising filmmaker regards to be one of his finest works, and it is easy for me to see why. Now, whenever I am questioning my own desire to study cinema, or worrying about the potentially harmful effects of living your life purely in a form of escapism, I think of The Purple Rose of Cairo. For me, it perfectly encapsulates the joy of cinema but also the danger of escaping into another world; it’s funny, heartwarming but also incredibly bittersweet and sad, defining my love affair with cinema in a way that no other film can or could.

Allen’s cinematic fantasy revolves around Cecillia, played by Mia Farrow, who is locked into an abusive marriage and an unhappy job as a waitress, around the time of the Great Depression in 1935. To escape from her problems (and her husband) she goes to the cinema, where the handsome hero of the film jumps down into the real world to be with her and only her. Soon she is caught in a strange, fantastical love triangle, where she has to choose between the fictitious handsome character of the film, or his real-life double, the actor who plays him. Allen is presenting a cinephile with an impossible choice; jump into the imaginary, but wonderful world of the cinema with a dashing hero, or choose reality, and all the perils and uncertainties that come with the modern-world. Understandably, and sensibly, Cecillia chooses reality.

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But he abandons her.

The Purple Rose of Cairo is so full of joy in so many areas; it’s bursting with heartwarming moments and brilliant jokes, which is typical of early Woody Allen. However, just like in other Woody Allen classics (Manhattan in particular), the wit and the joy are punctured by a moment of pure grief. In The Purple Rose of Cairo, the audience is tricked, just like Cecilia, into accepting the reality presented by the film; it makes no sense for Gil Shepard, the actor, to fall head over heels for Cecilia after only briefly meeting her, and the revelation that he was using her the entire time should come as no surprise to her nor the audience. Yet, it is still utterly devastating. Allen, in submerging the audience in such cinematic treats throughout the movie, and delivering such a consistently funny script, tricks the viewer into expecting a typical Hollywood happy ending. Instead, Cecilia, who is now homeless, jobless and heartbroken, does the only thing she knows will bring her joy; going back to the cinema.

It’s in its ending that The Purple Rose of Cairo really makes me think about my own relationship with the big screen and the wider world of cinema. Some find solace in this ending; at her lowest moment, Cecilia seems to find hope and joy in the beauty of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dancing ‘cheek-to-cheek’ in the iconic Top Hat. Even when everything has fallen apart in her life, cinema is there to pick Cecelia back up and give her laughter and wonder. This interpretation of the ending appeals to me personally; there have been points, as I’m sure there have been for every type of cinephile, where cinema has saved them in a particularly bad moment. Cinema has undoubtedly saved a lot of people, me and Cecilia included, and so maybe this final shot is a celebration of the power of cinema, and how it can help those in need escape from their lives for just a few fantastic hours.

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However, I think the more likely mood that Allen wished to convey is one of sadness, one of pain and desperation, and this is where the other aspect of my passion for cinema establishes itself. Is it healthy to immerse yourself in fiction so deeply? For every moment I love studying and learning about cinema, doubts always manage to creep in as to whether it’s a healthy thing to devote your life too. The ending of The Purple Rose of Cairo is absolutely extraordinary to me, in that it both perfectly conveys my love for cinema and escapism, and also the fear and doubts I have about immersing myself too deeply. The Purple Rose of Cairo fully defines my love for cinema, and even the doubts I have about my own passions. It is such a subtly intelligent movie; it has so many brilliant and accessible jokes, but also the potential and quality to truly make you think about your own relationship with cinema and the reasons why you even watch movies in the first place. What more could you ask for from a movie?

The Unique Aesthetic of Alien 3

Firstly : this is not a defence of Alien 3

I’m not going to discuss the commendations and criticisms of David Fincher’s often maligned third instalment of the Alien franchise. I could easily write about the amazing opening, compared to the extraordinarily awful ending. There are debates to be had over the different versions of the film and the varying differences between the two, for good or for bad. You can talk about the early (and now fan favourite) script of the film written by Vincent Ward, or a basic discussion as whether it was fair for Fincher to actually disown and discredit his involvement in the film entirely. The question has been asked for a while now; is Alien 3 actually any good?

I’m not going to answer that question. 

The major, underlying interest I have with Alien 3 is that it has absolutely no respect or reverence for the films that have preceded it. David Fincher, even with studio interference, managed to create a film that now stands out entirely as a singular point of intrigue, which is extremely impressive for a film that was the third of an already successful franchise. Fans like to discuss (and bemoan) the narrative decision to kill off Ripley’s fellow survivors from Aliens, including the ten-year old girl Newt, who was at the emotional centre of the second film in the franchise. This is often seen as a misjudged narrative decision and many find it disrespectful towards Cameron’s film, but it highlights a crucial point, which is that Alien 3 is not concerned with being part of the franchise and is instead desperate to establish itself as its own beast. It doesn’t want be shackled down with the characters of a previous movie, so what does it do? It kills them immediately. Harsh, but understandable. However, after ditching Vincent Ward’s ambitious script, Alien 3 had a troubled writing process and actually ended up proving to be slightly generic in its narrative; Ripley crash lands on a ship populated by prison-inmates, the Alien kills people, Ripley has to save the day on her own. This follows the same narrative beats as pretty much every other Alien film, and will probably be copied for the inevitable modern sequel too. To leave his own mark on the film, Fincher clearly decided to create a completely new visual aesthetic for Alien 3, and it is in this creative decision where this third instalment truly stands itself out from the rest of the franchise.

To cut a long story short, Alien 3 looks absolutely amazing. Fincher, in his rejection to conform to a simple sequel, completely changed the aesthetic, the setting and the colour palette of the Alien franchise, to the point where you can scarcely believe its an Alien film. Both Ridley Scott’s Alien and James Cameron’s Aliens are beautiful films, with their dark colours being illuminated by bright, but often brief, moments of light. The visual sense of Alien is often darkness, where the cinematography showcases the flashing interior lights and mechanics of the future world that the viewer is spectating. These films are clearly science-fiction; the audience is aware of the concepts of a spaceship and an alien in their most basic forms, but these films created a new aesthetic, a completely new version of the future. The interiors and designs of these environments in Alien and Aliens are completely new and completely unique.

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Alien (1979) had a perfect aesthetic: dimly lit, narrow hallways that created the monstrous tension of the films final chase scenes.

What is important though, is that these two movies aren’t unique when compared to each other. Aliens is a completely different type of movie to Scott’s original; Alien is a slow, meticulous slasher film, whereas Cameron’s sequel increases the stakes and the enemies and turns into a military action-shooter. Cameron twisted the genre to his own vision, but he kept the same visual style, lifting Scott’s original vision right off the screen and placing it into his own reel. The shot below, from Aliens, features a new character, but the visual aesthetic is identical to Scott’s original. Cameron didn’t create a new vision with Aliens, he just refined (and some would say perfected) Ridley Scott’s original work.

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Aliens (1986) saw James Cameron pay respectful tribute to Ridley Scott’s original, perhaps at the cost of originality. 

Alien 3 refuses to even seriously acknowledge Scott and Cameron’s films. The dark hallways of Alien, with their shafts of light cutting through the air, are completely gone. Fincher re-imagined the aesthetic of the Alien franchise to be one that invoked ideas of Hell, of blood and suffering, and most important of all, fire; a place where Ripley was truly alone, and a place where those who died were cast straight down into hell. Fincher takes the concept of the station full of male prisoners, many of who are self-confessed murderers and rapists, as a literal metaphor for hell, and he showcases this through consistent and stunning visual lighting that evoke the punishment of the underworld. The darkness of the previous movies occasionally remains, but Alien 3 is a much brighter film, with an often orange/fiery tinge, that often shows you everything in plain sight. The film often has a sinister menace to its interiors; although there is nothing to leap out of the looming dark, there is nowhere to hide either. Ripley’s vulnerability is often shown by her being bathed in the bright light of fire; she not only has no dark corners to hide away in but also nobody to protect her either; she is alone in hell with the devil.

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Ripley has a consistent look in all the Alien films, apart from Fincher’s Alien 3. 

Whether you take issue with the narrative and pacing of Alien 3, which often lends itself to criticism in both versions of the film, it is hard to exaggerate how totally admirable Fincher’s visual stance is when tackling this series. Looking at other franchises, like The TerminatorStar WarsLord of the Rings, each individual film in each series is recognisably part of its shared universe. Each sequel builds on the previous instalment, both in story and in visual flair, with the vast majority of sequels sharing the previous films ideas and examples of visual style, in order to create a consistent universe. Even Alien: Resurrection, the film after Fincher’s Alien 3, decides to go back to basics and once again copy the same aesthetic that Ridley Scott introduced; the dark corridors of spaceships is reproduced to the point where it loses all sense of true identity, of true worth. I won’t make any true judgements as to the true, cinematic quality of Alien 3 (it’s a very long discussion to have), but I will say that it is a far more interesting and engaging film when compared to Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Resurrection. The fourth in the series combines dull visuals and a conventionally silly narrative, which is baffling considering that Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s masterpiece, Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulain (or simply Amélie), excels in both of those aspects. You may think that neither are particularly good movies, but at least Alien 3 really tried to do something different, to add something into the franchise’s universe. In doing that, it has now taken on a life of its own, away from the franchise.

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There is so much light in Alien 3; the creature and the victims are often in plain sight, and the terror comes from what you can see rather then what you can’t.

 

There is always something to be said for a film that strives to be totally different from those around it, especially when already part of a successful franchise. Alien 3 deserves to be remembered as its own, bizarre project, which suffered at the hands of the studio who made it and from the criticisms of fans, who (understandably) couldn’t accept it as a sequel to its two beloved predecessors. However, I can’t help but truly admire the film for its boldness and brashness; its unwillingness to conform to the films that preceded it and a determination to stand out from the crowd. It may not be the best Alien film, but I definitely think it’s the most interesting; while the other films have a cold reality to their style, Alien 3 plays out like a fiery, beautiful nightmare.

 

Coming back after a long break – UPDATE

Dear Reader,

I’m back! After a long break (a whopping ten months) I’ve decided to try and re-start my old film blog once again. I used to have a real spark for writing about film, but after starting studying film full-time in University the sad truth was that my old passion became my homework, and the desire to do it in my free-time seriously dropped off. I think it deserves another chance though; I want to rediscover that hunger and desire that led me to set up this blog in the first place, even if some of my earlier reviews are hard reading now. I hope my experience in University will have helped my standard of writing, and to potentially make them a more academic, interesting read for everyone. I don’t want to just go to the cinema and write about the latest blockbuster from Marvel, or DC. Instead, I want to talk about the films that I personally am interested in, whether that be very new or very old, a classic or a hidden gem. I’m going to try and stop reducing movies to simple rankings, and instead just analyse and talk about them, focusing on what I think is interesting about them (and mostly ignoring films I don’t find interesting).

I hope you haven’t missed me too much, and I hope I can actually commit to this blog properly for the first time!

Love,

apuffofJack

apuffofJack’s Top Five Films of 2014

It’s been an especially mixed year in the world of cinema. The quality has fluctuated between serious highs and serious lows, between forgettable blockbusters and awe-inspiring independent efforts. In compiling this list I had to exclude a few really wonderful films; 12 Years a Slave and The Wolf of Wall Street won’t appear on this list because they were screened to most critics in 2013, and the fact I only saw them this year doesn’t make them viable for the list. I also haven’t been able to see critic’s favourites such as Birdman or Whiplash due to their later début dates in the UK, after being praised highly over in the US. This is a very personal list, and is the very best of what I’ve seen this year, and what moved, thrilled and shocked me the most.

Number 5: The Wind Rises

Hayao Miyazaki’s (supposed) final movie The Wind Rises is a special film for many reasons. It signals the end of an era, as the master of animation himself finally hangs up his pens and calls it a day, after garnering almost universal acclaim for his magical, timeless masterpieces of the genre. The Wind Rises is the perfect farewell, a more adult tale about a genius war plane-designer who has to wrestle with his morality as his creations are sent off to kill, all while he finds love and suffers heartbreak. In comparison with his other more imaginative, more child friendly films, The Wind Rises is a fascinating change of pace that almost becomes an autobiographical journey from Miyazaki himself. While being both beautiful, tragic and uplifting, I cannot run from the overbearing feeling that this is the final goodbye to one of my favourite ever film-makers. His films have charmed and inspired people for decades, and The Wind Rises epitomises all that was wonderful about his career. In The Wind Rises, Miyazaki simultaneously says goodbye to us all, while fondly reminding us of the journey his animation has taken us on. Magical cinema.

 

Number 4: The Babadook

As a lover of the horror genre, but a great advocate against the modern horror style of film-making, The Babadook is an extraordinary tribute to the greats that made my hair stand up on end. In Jennifer Kent’s début movie, Essie Davis gives an Oscar-worthy performance as a suffering widowed mother, Amelia, who has to tend for her problematic, troubled child Samuel, played by Noah Wiseman. After they read a mysterious book together called ‘Mister Babadook’, their lives plummet into fear as Samuel’s problems escalate and Amelia struggles to retain her sanity as she deals with her son while also fighting the suspicion that his fears are very real. With sound production to equal The Exorcist and atmosphere that rivals The Shining (plus one of the scariest monsters ever to grace horror cinema), The Babadook is a horror film for purists, a movie that relies on pure tension and atmosphere to scare you, bordering the plot so finely between the psychological and supernatural elements as to truly unsettle and disturb. A perfectly executed horror masterpiece.

 

Number 3: Under the Skin

A truly unsettling, visceral take on science fiction, Jonathan Glazer’s tale of an alien both living among us and feeding on us in a bid to survive is a staggeringly ambitious piece of work that is as beautiful as it is haunting. A masterful visual effort, Under the Skin baffles the senses in extraordinary surrealist scenes which depict the alien, played by an almost unrecognisable Scarlett Johansson trap and kill men almost through their own desire and lust in chasing her. She smiles and flirts from her van’s window in the middle of night-time Scotland and then casually takes them back for emotionless, frightening scenes of strange death. At times it is almost erotic, sometimes even quite funny, but most of all it creates a nightmarish atmosphere which really does creep under the skin. Big ideas are explored by Glazer through this incredible tale of a very different type of alien invasion, and Johansson perfectly inhabits a being that is both incredibly appealing and attractive but also strangely off centre, as if out of touch and out of mind with humanity. Wonderfully shot and lifted by the best score of the year, Under the Skin is among the year’s very strangest, and very best films. It works so well because we’ve never seen anything like it before, a truly unique tale of humans told through the eyes of an alien.

 

Number 2: Gone Girl

After reading a great many of critic’s ‘best of the year’ film lists, I noticed an unfortunate lack of David Fincher’s fantastic adaptation of Gone Girl. I’m flying the flag for it now, right into second place for its wonderful mystery, beautiful cinematography and what must surely be the Oscar winning performance of Rosamund Pike as ‘Amazing Amy’. The story of a man accused of his wife’s murder takes every kind of twist and turn imaginable as Fincher expertly crafts expectations and ideas in the audiences’ mind, only to wipe them all away with a slippery plot that sets out only to excite and shock. A wonderfully biting satire of relationships and marriage, plus the media’s influence on our lives, Gone Girl hit a chord with me that I have not quite managed to shake since I saw it. I loved every second of it, from its satirical points, its blackest of the black humour or its nerve shredding suspense. I haven’t always been the biggest fan of David Fincher; I’ve never got the appeal of Fight Club and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button was a bloated mess. However, he hit all of my buttons this time around, and I don’t hesitate when calling it one of his finest ever films.

 

Number 1: Boyhood

What else? The presentation of twelve years of a young boy’s life, shot over twelve years using the same actors is not only a wonderful film, but a revolutionary example of film-making. Richard Linklater’s crazily ambitious project will be regarded as a classic for decades to come as it perfectly captures the moments not only of a boy growing up, but of a family breaking off and repairing itself constantly under the strain of time. Even though the film contains terrific acting and direction, the simple experience of seeing a human grow up in front of you is unforgettable, a marvel of the medium. It transcends cinema, becoming not only the best film of 2014, but also one of the best films of the last ten years. It finds something in this simple journey of growing up that we can all connect with; a perfect blend of the highs and lows that almost find the answer to what it means to be human, and what it means to get older. There have been a lot of great films on this list, films that scare, uplift, and excite. But I can’t describe any of them as miracles of cinema. With Boyhood, it almost feels like a duty to lavish the highest praise possible upon it. It perfects everything it tries to do, and infinitely more in the process. It is inescapable and unforgettable; an instant classic that will be revered for years to come.

Why ‘The Emperor’s New Groove’ is the Best Disney Film Ever Made

The Emperor’s New Groove is a different breed of Disney film. It evokes pure fun, ditches contrived sentimentality and takes the audience on a ride where the sole purpose is to have fun. While other, more popular films were written by serious, academic screenwriters, you can imagine the writers of The Emperor’s New Groove telling silly jokes, standing on their heads and wearing funny looking hats while brainstorming the most ridiculous of ridiculous cartoon scripts. The film started life as a fable, a sentimental epic like Mulan or Pocahontas, and somewhere along the way it got scrapped and handed to the writers at Disney who just want to have a lot of fun. It has a wonderful voice cast, hysterical jokes and an irresistible sense of mindless joy that should spread to children and adults alike.

Following Emperor Kuzco, an arrogant and selfish ruler (fittingly played by David Spade) who gets betrayed by his royal advisor Yzma (Eartha Kitt) and turned into a Llama. He must use the help of kind-hearted peasant Pacha (John Goodman) to get back to his Kingdom and restore his humanity, while Yzma searches him out to finish him off. It’s a wild ride of a plot, willing to take huge risks with comedy to stand out from the animation crowd. It succeeds; the characters occasionally break the fourth wall to point out plot holes, there are subtle sex jokes a plenty and a memorable sequence with somebody’s shoulder angel and devil. It’s a Disney film that takes creative risks in a way that no other has tried before or since, and should be mentioned as one of the studio’s all time greatest efforts. It has a whirlwind pace that grabs the audience, tosses them around and leaves them feeling dizzy but elated at the end of it. Give me this kind of comedy and pace over The Lion King any day; The Emperor’s New Groove openly rejects the need to bog its audience down with sentimentality. It sets out to have a lot of fun, and I can watch it again and again and still laugh at the same stupid, cheesy, risky jokes.

Did I mention it has Tom Jones in it? Because it does.

Although it did well commercially and has picked up a cult following, The Emperor’s New Groove was never singled out by critics as a true Disney classic. Of course, it has its flaws; a small minority of the jokes fall a little flat, and if you don’t like the eccentric style of the film then you won’t find much to love. However, for someone like me who is constantly a bit sick of such serious, clichéd morality tales from Disney, then take a look at one of the studios’ efforts which tried something a little different, a little new. It rejects the conventions that made Disney the powerhouse of animation it is, it swims against the current to give us something entirely unique, fresh and exciting. For me, it is the greatest Disney film ever made; not because it is flawless (it isn’t), but because it is the only Disney film I can watch and know, with complete certainty, I will have an absolutely joyous experience. You can’t say that about many films in cinema. It inspires fun.