Sunday, August 26, 2012

Top 10 24/08/2012

In Bruges. I hesitated at this as I wrote it off as a Guy Ritchie style gangster frolic with quirks but when I caught it on tv recently I was pleasantly disabused. This is a strongly imagined, intelligent, characterful and continually funny piece about misconception and its consequences and the great mover redemption. Two London-based hitmen cool their heels in Bruges after a hit-gone-wrong.

Brendan Gleeson is a delight as a mild mannered professional whose calm surely hides tempests of will. Colin Farrell, always a hit with me whenever he plays his native Irish, is all frenetic chaos and brattishness. Ralph Fiennes outdoes his starmaking turn from Schindler's List and grows through it like an unkillable weed to Pinteresque Cockney force. And for the third time I've seen her (Heartless and The Silence of Joan) Clemence Poesy provides an effortless brainy sexiness and, particularly when smiling, seems to generate her own lighting. All that and a great third act that gives way to a fourth (not a coda but a full blown act in its own right) whose presence in the structure did not bother me in the slightest.


Eraserhead. Perennial.

Bronson. I'll treat this to a piece that compares it to Chopper later but for now this tough biopic of a career prisoner in the UK system stunned me with its force and sheer dandyism. Tom Hardy, as unrecognisable as any good character actor should be, takes us from the expected ultraviolence to a tenderness that is more powerful for its troubling sincerity. This, from the Meister of Drive, Nicholas Winding Refn, is a kind of slap in the face to a lot of Brit cinematic severity from over the last few decades (War Zone, Nil By Mouth, Wonderland, Naked etc.) Lads, it seems to say, this might be grim but it's still cinema.

Ringu. Self-assured, this horror tale allows the momentum of its terrifying core to dictate pace and intensity until the shivery climax answers what no one dared imagine. I watched this again recently to see if it still held the power I felt from seeing it in the Lumiere. I knew what was coming and still broke out in a cold sweat.

Seven Samurai. Saw the Blu-ray of this recently and was once again wowed by its depth, thoroughness and great humour. It's long but never really feels like it as Kurosawa maintains a constant balance between heavy and light. Mifune amazes me with his ability to go from buffoon to genuine strength without a note of contradiction. Deserves every sigh of its reputation.

Hara Kiri. A revenge tale as patient and meticulous as a tea ceremony. The sheer economy of the minimal sets and trust in actors to tell their characters' tales in word as well as deed. When the pieces fall to the conclusion and the action breaks out into the open field we witness one of the most haunting fights on screen.

Picnic at Hanging Rock. Still the most haunting tale of European naivete meeting the Australian wilderness on screen. A big spooky heart at its centre is created from a very few shots, none of which are particularly processed or generically horror.

Heavenly Creatures. Peter Jackson lifted off from his arch schlock and into the stratosphere of 90s mainstream cinema, towering above the assembly line grade blockbusters and rom coms with this piece about true love and imagination. All that does get corrupted by murder but it nevertheless is examined bravely and with the same kind of fascination Jackson knew welled in the minds of his audience. Both leads shine, even through dowdy glumness and teenage petulance. Nothing before or since by Jackson does it for me the way this one does.

The Ugly. Another transtasmanic entry. This time it's Scott Reynolds' entry in the serial killer chic that cursed the '90s with so much popcorn prurience. Reynolds removes the sleaze from the genre and establishes a compelling central account which is enriched by a stream of consciousness technique that, handled poorly, would have destroyed it. Paolo Rotondo surprises with a face of ice cream and a heart of reinforced steel. Silence of the Lambs can keep its undeclared Barnumesque cynicism, I'll take this mystery train over it any day.

Werckmeister Harmonies. Bela Tarr's masterpiece (IMHO). This cinema verite folktale, medieval quality satire on human vanity ascends well above its dour setting and gives us a centre in the extraordinary performance by German import Lars Rudolf. Constructed from a series of very very long takes which are alternatively deceptive because of the great choreography they contain or compelling in how they force us to really look at and consider what we are witnessing. Best of all, this film can simply be enjoyed for the story on its surface but greatly rewards even casual delving into what is really going on beneath it. I admire Tarr's approach but nothing he has done is so consummately powerful as this. One work of genius is more of a shot than most of us can dream of.

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