Enter the Void
Probably the most interesting film of the year, in the sense that it does a hell of a lot of things that I’ve never seen in any other movie. The basic premise is that it follows the death and following spiritual wanderings of a small-time American drug-dealer living in Tokyo, Japan. This young man, Oscar, while under the influence of potent hallucinogens, gets trapped by the Tokyo police, and ultimately shot through the chest during a drug raid (Japan is particularly strong in its treatment of drug-users, dealers, and traffickers, even small-time dealers like Oscar). As he dies his spirit leaves his body and drifts through the streets and buildings of a neon Tokyo, as well as making stop-over journeys in his past, and in places that defy easy explanation. Reference is made to the Tibetan book of the dead, and the soul’s journey after death, but it’s left ambiguous over whether Oscar’s soul is actually leaving his body, or whether it’s just a hallucination caused by hallucinogens and sheer panic over dying. It’s fascinating throughout, in a way that I really want to see more in film; it does thing I couldn’t imagine other films even skirting around. Hell, even the opening credits are a strange assault on the senses. However, there’s a good reason why this isn’t my favourite film of the year (Four Lions still holds that title); it’s just way too long, and meandering. It’s two hours and forty minutes long, and it could have lost thirty to forty minutes on the cutting room floor without suffering. However, as an emotional and sensory experience it’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Most people will probably hate this film. And that’s not some veiled attempt to criticise; I fully understand why someone would detest this movie. It has a hell of a lot wrong with it, but it’s also got a hell of a lot in its favour, and I really, genuinely felt a lot of affection for it, even if it does fall down somewhat at times.
Never Let Me Go
An adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel of the same name. It’s a subtle and composed look at an alternate England where some people’s entire purpose in life is to donate their organs so that other, regular people, can live. We follow the lives of three of these people; Kathy, Tommy, and Ruth, as they grow up in a controlled boarding-school environment, and go out into the world, eventually to have their bodies slowly broken down to complete their one purpose; their one use. It’s a controlled, and remarkably removed look at a frightful scenario, where certain people are merely organs for harvesting. They’re not treated like people, but it’s not an exaggerated film where they’re treated like animals. It’s ambiguous; no one really knows exactly how to act, or how to treat them. And the fantastic thing is how reserved it is; like the source-novel, it’s not exaggerated, and it doesn’t become some race to escape their terrible fate. Everyone just accepts what’s going to happen. The tension and sadness is palpable, and painful even.
The Disappearance of Alice Creed
Two men decide to kidnap an adult daughter of a hugely wealthy man for the ransom money. The first few minutes of the film are filled with a sense of unpleasantness and dread, even though very little is actually happening. Soon enough they kidnap her, and everything follows on from there. It’s a highly unpleasant film, and suspenseful in a very real way. Also, it shows Gemma Arterton as a genuine acting talent; she’s fantastic throughout, as are the other cast members in a tiny film with a tiny cast. It’s set almost exclusively in one small flat in an undisclosed location, and we see how these two men treat Alice Creed as they wait for the ransom money to be sorted. They struggle over how to treat her; you can tell that neither is really entirely comfortable with what they’re doing, and cracks certainly begin to show. She is treated unpleasantly, of course, and there are some genuinely horrible scenes. It’s extremely impressive how it manages to give us a scene where Arterton, a hugely attractive woman in my books, becomes naked and it’s not at all leering, nor does it summon a single shred of sexual feeling in the audience. This is a deeply unpleasant, but highly watchable movie. It’s compelling throughout, and certainly worth seeking out.
The Social Network
Well this is just effortlessly clever, witty and compelling. Jesse Eisenberg is phenomenal throughout, and, well, it’s one of those films where I don’t even feel like there’s much to say about it. It’s just wonderful. It’s one of those films I just get the desire to watch from time to time for no reason whatsoever. That’s it, really. Go watch it if you haven’t. And if you have consider watching it again sometime soon.
A monster movie in which the monsters very much play a supporting role. Hell, it’s called Monsters, yet it’s not really about the Monsters. And luckily it’s not one of those films where it thinks it’s being very clever by heavily insinuating that we, the humans, are the monsters. It’s a road movie, and a very emotionally quiet love story. A NASA probe brings back alien spores into the area surrounding the Mexico-USA border, and huge alien creatures begin to colonise the whole damn place. It’s cordoned and walled off, and called ‘The Infected Zone’. But life goes on, and people adapt. Years after this a photo-journalist who covers the zone is forced to accompany his employer’s daughter to Mexico’s Atlantic coast so that she can get the last ship before the creatures’ breeding season to the U.S. They miss the boat, and he’s forced to find a way through the infected zone to the border. We follow their travels, and very occasionally get to see the aforementioned monsters. As I said before, it’s kind of a love story. It all hinges on the relationship of the two principal characters, and the ending is one of those underplayed moments where nothing is said and nothing needs to be said. Also, considering it was made for less than $500,000, and all the (hugely impressive, and again underplayed) special effects were done by the writer-director on his laptop, this movie is not only an achievement; it’s an illustration of how the lowering barriers of entry for movie-making are bringing imaginative new talents into the industry and the medium as a whole.